The MovieMaker Manifesto: A Document for an Oppressed Majority
If French film in the 1950s was a convalescent in a hospice, as Godard and Truffaut claimed, the Nouvelle Vague euthanized the patient in his sick bed.
Fifty years later, and 6,000 miles west, American multiplex movies are not a patient withering on an operating table, but an occupying army of investment bankers with nothing worthwhile to say, and infinite money to say it.
Independent film functions, to some degree, as a counterpoint to this culture of $300 Million re-make blockbusters that clog theaters from March to October. But the proprietors of those gargantuan, loud, and soulless films remain a stalwart enemy. If you disagree, throw away this magazine. But if you concur that the tentpole-philic studios are noise mongers—hawking brightly colored, artificially flavored abominations—you should also agree that we need to disembowel the system.
Independent filmmakers are trying. (We know you’re trying.) But mumblecore is a dull penknife wielded by a child, nipping at the monster’s haunches. To fundamentally change the power structure, we need a cavalry 10,000 strong, swords drawn, charging toward Hollywood on lathering steeds.
To rally this army, we need generals, American moviemakers who, like Tibet’s Dhondup Wangchen and Iran’s Jafar Panahi, are willing to die for their causes. How many American directors are ready to risk their lives for a film about two 20-somethings whispering in bed about how they’re drifting apart? None! Our martyrs must be bold! And our martyrs’ films must become our Magna Cartas, our Declarations of Independence. Our martyr’s films must be dangerous, incendiary documents. And these films must never apologize for trying to do something new.
The bywords of our revolution shall be “courage” and “ambition!” And we shall fight until our oppressors—those gold-diggers in their glass cathedrals, greenlighting the next comic book sequel, the next board game adaptation, the next redundant remake—retire in shame and controversy. Men and women of contemporary independent film, auteurs and fans alike, you downtrodden and enraged creators of beauty, you repressed thinkers of monumental thoughts, join us! The battlefield longs for your throaty roars, the sweet percussion of your boots stomping through the mud!
1. Unless the social stakes in your film are high, avoid meandering, plotless narratives at all costs. Reserve neorealism for the inherently dramatic. Middle class white kids eating cereal in bed is not inherently dramatic.
2. Except in the hands of the most masterful actors and directors, interiority is not interesting. Nor is silence. Nor is dispassion. Tell a story that overflows with fervor.
3. Palatable is a synonym for forgettable. Art must be a shock to the system. If no one loves or hates your film, you’ve failed. Always seek to elate, surprise, undermine, or offend.
4. Do not confuse wit with sustaining insight. Conceiving a film should be more rigorous than composing a Facebook status.
5. Every visible cut breaks emotional momentum. Cut only when you must cut, not when you think you should cut. A well-composed, well-choreographed scene may only require a single shot.
6. Moviemaking is expensive and arduous. Make a film not because you can, but because you must. But do not expect acclaim simply for shooting a feature-length picture. You are not an artist because you worked hard.
7. Every movie that seeks to make a financial profit without earning an artistic one deserves eternal anonymity. Exclusively commercial film ruins culture. Commit to lofty ideals, and refuse to let your confidence embarrass you. Take yourself seriously!
8. You cannot replicate a Hollywood picture on a truly independent budget. You must recognize your physical and financial constraints. Focus your ambition on story, concept, composition, dialogue, and performance.
9. Dedication trumps pedigree. Recognizable actors add nothing to a film unless they commit wholesale to your vision. Cast actors and crew who will make grand sacrifices for you, but realize that harmony is overrated. Court the difficult, so long as the source of that difficulty is always in service to the work.
10. The audience thinks it wants relief, but it needs relief like it needs processed foods and reality television. Give them what they really need: Enlightenment!
11. From architecture to clothing, we live in a world of creators who are chiefly concerned with utilitarian economy, not posterity. This is short-sighted. Strive to create cinema that will stand the test of time.
12. Only by resolving to tell a precise truth are you doing your audience justice. If you don’t know what you want to say, no one will care how you’re saying it, and you’ll waste everyone’s time.
13. In Iran, even the most diffused cinematic criticism of the government can result in the filmmaker’s imprisonment. And yet they continue to make films. Do not take your freedom of speech lightly. Be controversial!