Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Courage and Ego To Be Bad

On Monday, FA is hosting another screening at the Echo Park Film Center. We love the people, purpose and programs of the Center and do 4 to 5 screenings a year there. Often, we show select FA films and other inspired and inspiring works from LA-area filmmakers.

But this Monday, we are offering up a different kind of inspiration. We are calling it "FA's First and Worst". It is a selection of films made during FA's first few years in existence. And believe me, much of this work is excruciatingly bad.

So, what is to be gained by exposing an audience to such abysmal cinema besides self-mocking hilarity? Perhaps nothing. Self-mocking hilarity is pretty fun all by itself. But what I also hope the screening will do is inspire other filmmakers.

Inspire? Where is the inspiration in films that are poorly shot, poorly acted, poorly written, poorly sound-recorded and in all other ways a poor excuse for filmmaking? Well, first of all, they were made when so many potential films simply are not. Of course, there is a strong argument to be made that this is not a good thing. But I argue that any film made is a good thing. Every filmmaker needs to start somewhere. Every filmmaker needs to explore their craft and artistry. And, as I've said elsewhere, in that exploration, they need to be willing to fail. And to actually fail. Often. There is no reward without risk. And there is no risk without failure (unless you are absurdly lucky). Failure, for lack of a better word, is a necessary part of the evolutionary process. The problem isn't in the making of bad films. It is in the showing of them. Which is why we don't often show these films and why we are making no bones about the "quality" of this screening.

The other reason we are showing the films is as a measuring stick of, not just FA's, but each filmmaker's individual growth. A few of us have become fairly accomplished filmmakers - but you might not guess it possible from the work we'll have on display. But how do some filmmakers evolve (while others do not)? How do they find their creative voice and develop the filmmaking skill to make that voice sing?

By having the courage to be bad...and/or the ego. Yes, I say courage. Because it demands exactly that to face the blank page or a surly film crew armed with an idea that is rarely flawless. But where courage fails, ego steps in. Dreams of glory or an over-inflated self-importance can also push us forward, allowing us to take the necessary risks in our own creative evolution. To risk failure.

But that is only half of the equation. The other half is being able to eventually look at the filmic creation you've realized with the cold, objectivity of an IRS accountant (minus the self-loathing bitterness, perhaps, although that is often hard to escape). And from that, learn and grow. This may take some time as the fearless ego that may have helped push you forward, now becomes an emotionally fragile, but psychologically combative resistance fighter - protecting the fantasy you have of your work from the reality of it. Using the ego to push you forward sometimes feels like borrowing money from the mob. It gets you through your immediate difficulty, then presents inextricable difficulties of its own down the road.

But ego is a reality in our process. Let's face it, ALL creative beings have a monstrous ego of some sort. Yes, there can be raw, artistic courage in us, but there is usually a healthy dose of ego, as well. Therefore, managing that ego is key to creative growth. Luckily, you can use one kind of ego against another. Meaning the kind of ego that fuels creative ambition will eventually steamroll over the fragile ego that wants everyone to like your work and , therefore, holds you a prisoner from your creative development.

But the desire to do great work can also be a "calling" that is much more than ego and even something more than courage. I won't even try to explain it other than to say I believe it is what separates truly visionary filmmakers from merely competent ones. But even filmmakers who have been "called" to do great work must go through the evolutionary process. Have you seen any of Scorcese's or Coppola's very first student shorts? Or stuff they did with friends even before that? At some point, the simple desire to make any kind of film and the ego that begged for people to like it was supplanted by something stronger - part ego, part calling - that drove them toward the type of work that distinguishes them as truly great filmmakers.

Now, of course, there are filmmakers who never challenge their own work and continue to make bad films. Luckily, If they are bad enough, they have genius of their own. And there are filmmakers who simply do not have the raw materials and/or artistic perspective to be great filmmakers, and all of their creative ambition will never make them more than competent filmmakers. But is that so bad? All of us will eventually reach the peak of our own potential if we keep making films and, in the process, risk failure, risk making bad films.

But filmmakers don't need to show these films to anyone other than those who will love them unconditionally.

But we do. And we will wear our incompetence like a badge of courage...and hopefully filmmakers will take inspiration from it....and much hilarity.

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