How do you define filmmaking?

[Vic Alexander, indie filmmaker]It's a form of self expression that involves using actors to tell one's story. Since self expression is an individual prerogative, every filmmaker will do it differently. Some filmmakers let the actors tell the story from their own perspective; others keep a much tighter control over the portrayals of life. Some actors, usually the young ones, like working with directors that give them a lot of leeway; but the older, more experienced actors prefer to be given precise directions and a more detailed screenplay.

Depending on budget, the type of filmmaking one engages in differs significantly. With a small budget, one that uses moneys allocated by the filmmaker himself (or herself), a filmmaker can be much more creative. This allows for more flexible techniques of self expression. A film may end up being highly abstract, or, conversely, very simple. It really depends on a filmmaker's personal impulse, because after all the filmmaker is putting up his (or her) own money.

When a filmmaker is working with other people's money, making a union picture with name actors, the style of filmmaking becomes a lot more collaborative. Sometimes there is very little self expression left. The filmmaker must deliver to the distributor a film that will recover its budget and hopefully make a stupendous amount of money. Unions and name actors require a lot of money, and so filmmaking becomes more like a business than an art form. In fact, this type of filmmaking should be placed in a different category, and the person in charge should be called a film director and not a filmmaker. The title "filmmaker" should be reserved for indie filmmakers, filmmakers that aren't employees of a studio or contractors who work for the distributors.

Indie filmmakers should endeavor to maintain control over the artistic integrity of a project at all cost; therefore, with bigger budgets, there should be as few investors as possible. Of course, it takes a few years, sometimes a few decades, before a filmmaker can command the respect of investors (or even studios) in being allowed to control all the artistic aspects of a production. In such cases, the traditional term used is having "final cut." Final cut is a filmmaking term, not to be confused with the editing program called final cut pro. Final cut means that the director decides when and how the movie is finished (not the editors or the producers, and certainly not the actors), and once delivered to the distributor, no one will have the right to touch it. The movie must be released as the filmmaker delivered it. Nowadays, there are almost no filmmakers with that sort of power.

So in order to keep filmmaking as a form of self expression, the filmmaker should exercise a lot of caution in developing his career and guarding against loss of control over the medium.

One of the best ways to grow as an indie filmmaker is to develop healthy relationships with talent, both behind and in front of the camera. When a story requires many people, the choice of people one works with should be carefully considered. Developing a good group of filmmakers is therefore very important. Personal judgment and experience are paramount. When working with actors, it's important to remind them that the movie is a filmmaker's medium and that the portrayal of the characters should follow a unified vision, so the end result is a story that hangs together dramatically. It's like an orchestra with many instruments; everyone must work harmoniously and on cue.

Having said all this, working creatively with actors is one of the most wonderful experiences of being an artist. It's what filmmaking is all about. Having a personal vision and being a filmmaker is the most rewarding career in the world.

Mar. 22, 2012

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