The Simple Beauty of Hobby Filmmaking

I’ve been thinking a lot about the realities of making visual entertainment over the last week, listening to a lot of podcasts having some good conversations. I keep thinking of what we do as separate from “the industry.” It’s a YouTube show, self produced, community-financed, which is all wonderful, but I don’t think of it as existing within the context of the professional film industry. But after thinking about a lot of it and listening to the pros talk about it, what we’re currently doing is so much more about self expression than a lot of the industry.

I listened to an amazing call-in interview that NexTV did with producer Matt Bass, and much of it was centered around finding the outlet who’s content philosophy matches the story you’re trying to tell, and how every institution packages its stories in a very definable and consistent manner. It’s how everything can be justified for production. A proven track record of success telling a certain type of story. So if you want to be on a certain outlet, you have to learn to write the kind of story they want to tell. Fair enough. Makes perfect sense. That’s how financiers can justify injecting so much money into a project and feel a modicum of safety about return on investment.

Then I was listening to an episode of the Nerdist Writer’s Panel with a bunch of TV writers. In addition to it being hilarious, mostly because of Dan Harmon’s (creator of Community) snarkiness and tendency to self destruct anytime someone puts a microphone if front of him, it was also very interesting to hear the writers talk about the toll it takes. Four of the writers in the room had just gotten engaged as their shows went into hiatus. And one of them said, “It feels like you have to, doesn’t it? Like, ‘Please, don’t leave me; let’s get married.’” Meaning, when you’re part of a TV writers room, especially if the group is having a tough time breaking episodes, your whole life is work. You could be living in the same house with your significant other and it’ll still feel like a long distance relationship. It doesn’t take much imagination to think that’ll start taking its toll.

Then I was listening to the Movie Crypt podcast and they always talk about getting boxed into one specific thing. Not just “this is your genre,” but “this is your sub-genre.” Not “you’re a horror director,” but “you’re a franchise gore director, we don’t think you can do a supernatural thriller.”

And all of this is industry stuff. That’s the deal, y’all. A lot of it feels like it’s in direct opposition to inspiration or the creative process, but it seems to be the rules of the game.

As a hobby filmmaker, I get to tell exactly the story I feel like telling. I’ll get some push or pull from the people I’m collaborating with, and make changes accordingly, but that just makes the show stronger and injects it with diverging perspectives. I do it in the time I make for it. I have to manage it while balancing a day-job and an occasionally active social life, so it constantly gets shuffled around, but it’s not taking too much of a toll on my relationships. At most, it works on my guilt-center, because I feel like I’m not spending ENOUGH time on it and things are taking too long. If I feel like taking a break from my comedy-drama superpower series, I can make a horror short or two, engage another aspect of my genre interests without anyone telling me “no.” The downside is I have to do it all on a shoestring and the audience is smaller. But it’s very centered around my personal drive and excitement for the stories that are interesting to me in the moment.

I may have made myself a little too comfortable in this format, and never made the effort to package myself as a salable writer or director. I just keep following my interests, crafting stories instead of crafting a pitch-able portfolio of slick looking sizzle reels or writing samples. That’s on me. It’s made for a great few years though.

Thanks for reading.

–Jake

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