If you’ve been following film news recently, you know that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas think the movie industry is taking a nosedive. Here’s a quick recap from Spielberg when he was on a panel at the University of Southern California.
We can’t expand the week. We can’t expand the 24-hour cycle. So we’re stuck with so many choices. The enormous amount of available content has pushed movie studios to be more conservative, banking on the power of event films to break through the white noise of a crowded marketplace. You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal — and even maybe historical — projects that may get lost in the shuffle because there’s only 24 hours.
Take a look at what’s happening at your local theaters this summer and see if you disagree. This observation is not sitting well with many filmmakers and theater-goers, specifically those that love originality and content that drives emotional connection, beautiful storytelling and unforgettable characters. A note to all of you hopelessly, romantic viewers, nostalgic for the better storytelling of yesterday – don’t lose hope. There are many emerging filmmakers breaking through the muck that have the talent and drive to reach their audience with meaningful stories in a time of such enormous change. We’ve been meeting these filmmakers and inviting them to talk about their influences and projects for the past several months and will continue to do so. Look back at some of those filmmaker’s posts after you read today’s guest blogger’s thoughts on the state of cinema. Please welcome filmmaker, Rashaad Ernesto Green.
photo by Daniel Patterson
As I grow older, I find myself too often saying ‘movies aren’t what they used to be.’ I know… I sound way too old school, like my father sounded to me when I was young. However, my father didn’t critcize the films we were watching. He saved his reservations for music and my love for hip-hop. I never argued with him and I tried to understand what he was saying. I would listen to his old school R&B records and hear the difference. That didn’t mean I stopped listening to hip-hop, but I definitely formed a great deal of appreciation of what my father described as “real music.”
With regards to film, I’m not sure if the same can be said for young people today. With so much content and ability to entertain themselves at their fingertips, why would they force themselves to watch relics of another era, especially when it wasn’t shot in high-def? I often ask young people if they’ve seen ET, Rocky, or La Bamba, and they look at me like I’ve got three eyes. And I would say that’s okay if the films today added up. But sadly, they don’t. There was a time in my youth when it seemed that every film that came out was fantastic. Karate Kid, Goonies, Lean on Me. There was actually a standard Hollywood seemed to abide by, which simply stated that a film had to have a good story in order to be made. It didn’t matter which genre it was, it didn’t matter if a film had stars, and it didn’t matter how many things blew up. Story: beginning, middle and end; interpersonal relationships and character dynamics. These were the things that mattered.
I made my first feature in 2011 entitled Gun Hill Road, that explores the dynamics of a Latino family in the Bronx whose father returns home from prison after three years to discover that his teenage child is transgender. One comment left from a viewer was nothing happens in the film. And from his perspective, this may be true. Although there’s plenty of sex, violence and tension galore, no one is killed. There’s no CGI, no car chases, and nothing blows up. It’s a story about people.
This generation is in danger of being raised on films that don’t place as much emphasis and importance on story. That’s why the entire culture is turning to cable television for their entertainment.
When I was in high school and college, there were a few films that had a profound impact on my life. They informed the way I think about myself and how I see the world. I remember seeing Good Will Hunting three or four times in the theater. Spoiler alert: no explosions. It affected me greatly, especially the scene where Robin Williams keeps repeating himself to Matt Damon… “It’s not your fault.” I could really relate the characters’ struggle.
Another film that touched me deeply was Life Is Beautiful. Although they spoke Italian and suffered immense atrocities, at its center was a story about love and the relationship between a father and his son.
So what is to be done? How do we save this generation from films without great stories? How do we prevent me from sounding old when I’m actually still young?!
Not to fret. All hope has not been lost. As emerging filmmakers, we find ourselves poised in a very unique position. Audiences everywhere are starving for great stories about human beings. And luckily, we live during a time where we don’t have to rely on anyone outside of ourselves to get our films made. The advance in technology has created a wonderful opportunity for storytellers to seize. We no longer have to wait for that all important ‘yes‘ from above. We can say ‘yes’ to ourselves. So, go out there… Make your film! Don’t look back. And when we wake up 10-20 years from now, hopefully we can turn to our children and say, “Wow, that was a great movie!”
Back to those other filmmakers, you know, Lucas and Spielberg. Lucas closed the panel of film industry doom by saying “now is the best time we can possibly have. It’s a mess. It’s total chaos, but out of that chaos will come some really amazing things. And right now there are amazing opportunities for young people coming into the industry to say, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to do this and there’s nobody to stop me.’”
Graduate of Dartmouth College and NYU Graduate Film School, recipient of the Princess Grace Foundation Award and Spike Lee Fellowship, New York native Rashaad Ernesto Green was included on the 2010 edition of Filmmaker Magazine’s elite 25 New Faces of Independent Film list as well as indieWIRE’s 2009 Ten New Voices in Cinema. His short films have screened on HBO, BET, Sundance and won accolades at festivals internationally. He’s been supported by HBO, NBC, Time Warner, Sundance, Tribeca Film Institute and IFP. Rashaad’s first feature and thesis film Gun Hill Road premiered in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition, opened #1 for Independent films at the box office summer of 2011 and is now available on DVD. Please visit www.gunhillroad.com & www.mialmafilms.com for further details.