Either You’re In or You’re In the Way

I just finished reading the amazing true story of how twin brothers Noah and Logan Miller, who had never made a film before, managed to make a a feature film with an all-star cast including Ed Harris, Brad Dourif, and Robert Forster (all Academy Award nominated actors). They grew up poor in Northern California, and their father, an alcoholic, was homeless for the last 15 years of his life. They never went to film school. They had no money. They lived practically on the brink of poverty while writing and hustling their scripts in L.A. And yet, as unlikely as it may be, they were able to convince Ed Harris and several other key players that their script was worth getting behind, and they accomplished their dream. They wrote about the whole experience in their book, Either You’re In, or You’re in the Way.

Their film is called Touching Home (it’s a true story of their efforts to break into professional baseball and also their struggles with their father.) I read the book first, then watched the film. The film is solid — it had some very touching scenes, the story is brutally honest, and it has a great message. I feel that I actually appreciated and understood it a lot more because I read the book about its making first. I think everyone who watches the movie should also read the book. (Maybe they can sell the book and movie together in one package? Kind of like when I bought the Batman Begins collector’s edition and it came with a Batman graphic novel? ) Nevertheless, under the circumstances, the fact that they were able to make such a film in the first place is extremely impressive.

While in film school, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar with John Dykstra, who is known for being the Visual Effects Designer of Star Wars (1977), Spider-man, and Spider-man 2. Someone asked him how he fell into his line of work. He said “Follow your bliss.” That stuck with me. I’ve come to the conclusion that following your bliss is the hardest path anyone can take. It is the polar opposite of taking the path of least resistance. Most people follow the path of least resistance, and do what society, or people around them, tell them to do. It takes a lot of determination, hard work, and gumph to resist that urge and do what really makes you happy.

Reading about the Miller brothers determination humbles me, because they worked a lot harder at following their bliss than I have so far, in my opinion. I decided in 2005 that I would be a filmmaker, and make feature films. So far I haven’t completed a feature. I’ve completed several short films, both fiction and documentary, an animated short film, and produced many commercial projects, but I have yet to complete my first feature. (Well, technically I have made one feature, because one documentary project that I made was 90 minutes, but it was a personal film for that person and their family, not for public release.)

With the technology that we have today, anyone who wants to make a movie…can make a movie. I used to think, I’ll make a few short films, get them into festivals, and then get recognized by Hollywood producer-types, and then I’ll make a feature. That goes to show that our perception determines our reality. If I think I need Hollywood to make a feature, then I do need them to make a feature. The reality is technology is rapidly closing the gap so that normal people can basically do anything that previously required a corporation with a large bank account. Before the internet, if you wanted to write articles that would be read by thousands or millions of people, the only way was by working for large traditional media companies like newspapers and magazines. Now, anyone can write a blog. If you’re good at what you do, people will recognize that, and the world can become your audience. One person can do that. Without funding, and without involving large corporation.

One person can also choose to be their own Hollywood. Hollywood is the equivalent of traditional media publishers. Traditional media like newspapers and magazine are physical mediums. Traditional, analog film is also a physical medium. It has to be physically distributed to theaters in order for people to watch it. Now we have digital film. Cameras like the 5D Mark II and others record motion pictures in the exact same way that the old physical film cameras do, 24 progressive frames per second, and even have a very similar look for technical reasons such as similar color gamut and latitude, and interchangeable, cinematic-looking lens. And now, with the internet, anyone can distribute their films to anyone, anywhere. The physical and financial limitations are being erased. People who doggedly hang on the old technology fail to realize that technology has always and will always change, and one technology is not more legitimate for use in art than another. Saying that a specific technology is legitimate because has been around for a certain amount of time is a self-destructive argument, because it invalidates the first people who used that technology. Therefore D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein and others who were pioneers in using analog film to create motion pictures were not legitimate artists like Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci, who worked in mediums that had already existed for centuries. I don’t believe that. I believe the pioneers who use a nascent technology to create art are true artists. Those who make digital films today are the D.W. Griffiths and Eisensteins of the 21st century. Are there still problems with this new technology? Yes. But there were also problems with film back when Griffith made his first feature, and there still are problems with film today. There is no such thing as a perfect technology. It simple doesn’t exist. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world, using imperfect technology to make imperfect art. And anyone who tells you otherwise is full of #*&@.

I feel a little bit like I’m rambling, but if you’ve gotten this far and you’re still reading, (I’m thoroughly impressed) then you deserve to be the first people to whom I commit today, that I will change, I will work harder to follow my bliss. I’ve got movies that need to be made, and nobody in the world is going to make them but me. So I need to get off my lazy butt and get these stories told. I have no excuse. I don’t need Hollywood; I am Hollywood. I am no less capable of making movies than any person or establishment on the planet, unless I get hooked into believing I’m not. In fact, I think the majority of Hollywood movies suck and we all deserve a lot better. We aren’t the sniveling idiots executive producers make us out to be. Yes, we can watch intelligently made movies and “get it.” So on top of my commitment to get my stuff made, I also commit to make it the best it can be, something that doesn’t insult your or my intelligence, something that adds to the world, and makes people more fulfilled and better for having watched it. Like my short animated film Death Pad, for example. Oh, oops. That doesn’t fall into that category. I’ll do better next time. 🙂

And if you’re reading this, and you are like “Hell, yeah, that’s what I’m about too!” then hit me up on facebook or twitter, because we need to be working together, regardless of where you live or what language you speak. But if you are like “This guy is delusional” then please don’t, because…either you’re in, or you’re in the way.

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2 comments

  1. Patrick Kothbauer · · Reply

    Hi Daniel!
    Just wanted to give you some positive energy (all the way from Sweden)!!
    This post was very well written and truly inspiring for a budding filmmaker
    like myself.

    I have a question and would love to get your opinion.
    What’s your view on the pros and cons of filmmakers collaborating on
    scriptwriting, direction and production (like the Cohens, Wachowskis , Damon/Affleck on
    Good Will Hunting, etc).
    If you had a choice of partnering with someone on – would you?

    Also, on another topic, do you have any advice on how to escape obscurity
    and to get clients – what worked for you?

    Best regards and keep up the great work
    /Patrick

    1. Thanks Patrick! Right back at you!

      I’ve never done a project where I “co-directed” with someone else, but I’m thinking about doing one. I’ll have to let you know how it works out! IMO though, it sounds like a great idea, if the other person shares a similar vision, but can also add something with their unique perspective on it.

      I would say the best way to get recognized is to do the best work you can. There are a lot of tricks to get your work seen, but in the end whether it will actually motivate people to want to work with you/support your cause comes down to how good your work is. So I think the key to success is just to keep learning and practicing and do your very best. And of course, to do that, focus on what you are passionate about!

      Hope that helps! Best regards,
      Daniel

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