During our recent interview, Francis Ford Coppola caught me by surprise when he said in no uncertain terms and with no qualifiers that “the movie business is not a good business to be in.” As publisher of a magazine about the “art and business of making movies” for almost 15 years now, hearing this from one of the masters of the medium struck me as somehow wrong. Here is a man who is as unabashed an optimist and romantic as any I’ve ever met; who has persevered through the decades despite obstacles that would have defeated many of us… and he is the first and only one to tell me that this is not a good business? Something was wrong with this picture, and that notion seemed especially true when in the same breath Coppola was describing to me the various stages of production his several new movies are in.
Clearly, Coppola no longer makes movies because he cares about the business aspect of making movies, if in fact he ever really did. The only thing he cares about now is the art and his passion for his subject matter. That’s an enviable place to be, and if anyone has earned the right be there, it’s a five-time Oscar-winner who has given our culture some of its most beloved cinema experiences. Sadly, most of us can’t afford to raise and spend the kind of money it requires to make a movie and then not care about whether or not it generates a dime. And so we need to seek a balance in the way we make our movies.
The art/commerce tipping point is different for each of us, but in order to reach the finish line it’s important to know what it is. What exactly motivates
us to take on the back-breaking challenge of making a feature-length movie? Two things got me thinking about the eternal artistic balancing act as I sat down to write this column. One is the fact that this fall I’m about to embark on another moviemaking adventure of my own, the third one I’ve gone on in the last 10 years. My first, Men in Scoring Position, was a low-budget 35mm character study (i.e. lots of dialogue, no big set pieces) that found distribution through a boutique distributor in L.A. I was the writer, producer and director, and making it was a very satisfying experience. The second was a documentary called No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail. On that project I was co-producer and co-director and that was probably too many “co”s for me to achieve the same degree of personal satisfaction with the process. The film is being independently distributed to date and, while it won a couple of awards and got good reviews, I think it suffered from a lack of unified artistic vision.
While certainly not making anyone wealthy, both my first two films made back their production costs. I learned that it’s more satisfying to make less money when you have more control, and I know that’s what Coppola understands, as well. It also seems to be a concept that our cover story subject, Jodie Foster, is embracing. As the first moviemaker to ever appear on our cover twice (the first time was in the fall of 1995), the 44-year-old Oscar-winner is still struggling to get her personal stories made, even after more than four decades in the business (see pg. 76). But as the star and producer of Neil Jordan’s The Brave One, out in September, she is doing what she needs to do to make that happen, even if she has to sacrifice the prolificacy of some of her Hollywood peers. And that seems a small price to pay. For me, making my third feature is another labor of love, with independent financing yet again, and once again I’m acting as producer. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll keep you posted on my progress in this column.
The second reason I was thinking about the balancing act that moviemaking will always be is that we picked a winner for the Vancouver Film School/MovieMaker Scholarship. Her name is Angela Harvey, and she’s a young woman from Atlanta, Georgia who is leaving the business world
behind after a decade of hoping and wishing and working toward her goal of becoming a moviemaker all on her own. Now she’s going to get the support
she needs and I have nothing but confidence that this remarkable young woman who has become so adept at balancing the important elements in her life with the necessary ones will reach the heights of success as a moviemaker. Congratulations, Angela, on your achievement. By the time you graduate
may you understand how to navigate those rough distribution waters as well as you understand how to keep your dreams alive.
When I attended the Vancouver Film School in the early ’90s it changed my life in so many ways. I hope that in some small way this fourth annual
Film Education Edition helps you make your own moviemaking dreams come true.
Have a great summer and we’ll see you back here in September for the Guide to Making Movies. Be sure to check out our video excerpts of my Francis Ford Coppola interview and all the other great stuff on MovieMaker.com.
As always, please remember that we really do welcome your feedback on all we do. Happy moviemaking.