As MovieMaker Magazine embarks upon its second hundred issues, I’d like to take this opportunity to re-introduce our publication—and introduce myself in the process.
At noon on Saturday, October 15, 2011, on a weekend break from casting actors for my first feature film, I took the subway to lower Manhattan and walked to Zuccotti Park. It was cold enough that I had to keep my collar up, and I walked around the perimeter of that temporary community, looking at the various residents in their canvas and plastic tents. I had come hoping to see the nucleus of a nascent revolution, but the air smelled vaguely of urine, and half the protestors were soliciting donations with hand-written signs. “We can’t work while we’re here,” one sheet of cardboard read. “If you can afford to gawk, you can afford to donate.”
Disappointed, I headed back toward the subway. But as I approached the barricades on Church St., someone handed me a flyer. In the northwest corner of the square—beneath the 70-foot-tall, orange I-beam sculpture, “Joie de Vivre”—the 99% Theater Company was staging their first production: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I had to stay, both out of a cynical and morbid curiosity (Godot is a tough play to do well on the West End), but also out of excitement; I couldn’t then, and can’t still, think of a better narrative to incept a discourse on the disillusion the protesters were feeling.
A year later, the fervor of the Occupy Movement has waned—in no small part because their rage never coalesced into a coherent ideology. But that staging of Waiting for Godot has stuck with me, not because it was particularly good (when Lucky hobbled onto the “stage” with the noose around his neck, goaded by Pozzo’s whip and carrying Pozzo’s provisions, a woman at the periphery of the circle held up a sign reading: “At least Lucky has a job!”), but because it was ambitious. Art shouldn’t reinforce social and aesthetic mores, it should challenge them.
When Tim Rhys founded MovieMaker Magazine back in 1993, Sundance was the burgeoning gatekeeper of independent film, but it was not yet a king-making empire. Steven Soderbergh had laid the groundwork with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the Coen brothers had won the Palme d’Or for Barton Fink, and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs had been banned in England. But in the early ’90s, to be “independent” still meant you were, by definition, an outsider, working, not in collusion with, but in opposition to, the studio establishment.
As the decades have passed, though, the definition of “independent” has changed (or at the very least, grown obscure). Disney purchased Miramax, and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction grossed $240 million internationally. The Coen brothers’ Fargo was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1997, and won two. In 2001, Soderbergh had already wrapped production on Oceans 11 when he accepted his Best Director Oscar for Traffic. By 2008, the Sundance Channel, founded by the Institute in 1996, sold to Rainbow Media for nearly $500 million.
This metamorphosis of “independent” film, from pariah to golden child, is both laudable and deserving of circumspection. If an auteur, utilizing little more than creativity, passion, and guile, can establish himself as a force in the moviemaking industry, that industry must be, by nature, at least nominally meritocractic. But if a filmmaker can’t remain autonomous, making movies on her terms, and her terms only, then “independent” is nothing more than a buzzword.
In the coming issues and years, we at MovieMaker are going to do our best to investigate the ever-fluctuating health of independent film. We know that a large portion of our readership is comprised of intrepid filmmakers, forging ahead every day with the goal of both making a living and making art.
This is the most exciting possible time for us to be analyzing and contributing to the moviemaking conversation. With a seemingly endless spate of new technological advances—in cameras and computers, distribution, and funding—arriving almost daily, the entry cost for filmmaking is lower than ever. But with that nearly ubiquitous access to inexpensive knowledge and equipment comes a responsibility. The future of moviemaking hinges on how we adopt and utilize the tools at our disposal. But if we are ambitious and innovative at every turn, we’re going to change the world. In fact, we’ve already started.
Those five actors in Zuccotti Park last year, self-financed and self-directed, took a play they didn’t have the rights to produce, and performed it on the street for free. Their product wasn’t perfect, but it was audacious, and a year later I’m still thinking about it. The power to influence through art, we must remember, has nothing to do, intrinsically, with money. It has only to do with creativity, passion, and dedication. With that in mind, we at MovieMaker are going to do our absolute best to cover, not just the films that everyone is talking about, but the films we think deserve a voice. Identifying limits-pushing filmmakers was part of Tim’s philosophy when he founded the magazine 20 years ago—and it’s going to be a critical aspect of MovieMaker‘s next 100 issues. MM