Embracing Your Independence
By: Shari Berman
Recently, I was at a FilmmakeHers meeting where one of the members commented that she wrote her last script at her corporate job where she was being paid to answer the phones that rarely ever rang. I made a comment that went something like, “So, they are paying you to write and you are just being kind and volunteering to answer the phones. You are making money at your art. Congratulations.” This was a joke, of course and we all laughed heartily and drank more wine.
Artists of all kinds – whether they be painters or dancers or filmmakers - get depressed when their brains go down the terrible path of making money. Even if they love their corporate career or various That Girl day jobs – the thought “I’ll never make a living at this” or “I’ll never get paid for my personal work” turns the need for wine in to the need for bath tub gin. Though it is easily said that you don’t need to make money at your art to prove your art is changing the world or reaching people or is just great to look at, we do live in a capitalist society and so it proves difficult to separate the two. It is hard enough living the constant struggle to find funding for your art, but turning that corner in to making a profit with it can become overwhelming. (By the way, this is not to say some people don’t make a living through their art, obviously, there are people who do – though I think many have compromised what they set out to do and I often ponder if that is good or bad. However, that’s a discussion for another time so I’ll leave that there.)
For artists who are struggling with the hideous five letter word M-O-N-E-Y, I’d like to share the following you. Earlier this year, I had decided to quit making films. It was a private decision, didn’t even tell my dog, let alone my husband or friends. I just decided. I’d live my life saying “oh, I have this idea” or “oh, I’m thinking about”, but it was just over and I didn’t want to talk about it. There are various reasons I was feeling this way, but they are irrelevant. Suffice it to say I was done. I had to go to this meeting with an industry person though because a friend had kindly connected me to the individual I was meeting with and I didn’t want to be rude.
I honestly was expecting a slick shark in tuna’s clothing to show up to this meeting, but that wasn’t the person I was faced with. I was face to face with a human being. A real, genuine human being who asked me “what do you want to do – really want to do in this industry?” And of course, I couldn’t answer truthfully that I wanted to shove my head in the wall of this industry and leave it there, so I dredged up one of those cliché answers we are all taught: “Well, I write my own work, but I’m very open to other people’s work and would direct that. I’m very open…” blah blah blah – almost vomited on myself as I spoke - and this real human being looked at me with kindness. (I’m sure it was abundantly clear that I was trying to come up with the “right answer”. Also, I am a terrible liar/BS artist.) He wasn’t offended, he just smiled. (He has heard my lame answer before and gets where it is coming from.) We started talking about films – specific films we are passionate about. After two times of us almost packing up the meeting because I was not feeling up to asking him a list of questions that in the past would have sprung to mind, I said for some unknown reason “I have these two ideas.” And I succinctly explained them each in three sentences. I’ve never been so succinct in my life. He seemed surprised and I suspect it is because he has only seen the one “mainstream” film I have ever made. He said, “Those sound great. They are real independent film projects and not typically what you see in Hollywood.” And I thought I had fallen in to an alternative universe and at any moment it might implode. He didn’t say, “Well, what is the target audience?” or “Is this going to resonate with teenagers as they are the largest group of movie goers?” or “This is a business after all sweetie and not HS film club. Those just sound weird.” Instead, he said “It seems to me you want to make your own projects and you are a true indie filmmaker. I am happy to help you in any way I can when you are ready to share your materials.” And I asked him if there is money out there for independent filmmakers, deep down knowing the answer. He said that he has found many indie directors are independently wealthy or they do what I do. They have corporate careers to support them so they can make their films. And at that moment – though you would think I would feel despair because “no one is dropping a bag of gold at your feet” was part of this comment - I felt this feeling of utter relief. And this gentleman went on to talk about the types of films his company cares about – independent films, with new ideas and new ways of doing things, films about how people think and not just about how they can blow things up with fabulous CGI. I’ve watched many of the films the company is connected to, but up until that moment it never dawned on me why I was so drawn to films by that company. They get indie film. There are people out there who get it. And they apparently understand and respect the situation indie filmmakers exist in with regards to funding and struggling to not starve to death in the process of getting a film made. Who knew?
So, when you are feeling like you want to hide in a dark room, alone with your movie in your editing system or perhaps still in your script writing software, remember this: Remember that though the “industry” is a business, you are an artist. You do get paid to write your script at your desk and simply volunteer to answer the phones. You are on the right path. Keep going. Besides shoving your head in a wall will most likely be a painful experience and require health insurance, but that’s another matter…