As I’ve mentioned before, there’s pretty much only one reason that my shot-on-miniDV first feature ended up getting decent commercial distribution (which, in turn, led to me being considered a ‘proper’ filmmaker albeit one on a very, very low rung of the ladder).
I climbed an obstacle.
Cutting footage on a home PC was tough at the beginning of the century. It wasn’t something that the average home PC could do straight out of the box; it required a souped-up kit, capture cards and software that certainly wasn’t standard issue. It cost money, time and patience.
I cut Trashhouse on a home PC with a 20GB hard drive, (which at the time was a ridiculously huge amount of storage space and cost me a whole load of money). The flick is completely a product of its production context; the average film student watching the movie now would be dumbstruck at how amateurish certain elements of it look. From a technical point of view it’s all over the place; the grade is inconsistent, the compositing is shocking and there are CGI elements that look laughably poor in 2013 (and didn’t exactly look brilliant by 2004). It doesn’t look like the commercially released indies of 2013, which are within spitting distance of Hollywood in terms of visual qualities and technical expertise. But, in 2004, it didn’t really have to. The fact that it existed at all was enough to at least get a few potential distributors to watch it; there were only a tiny number of indie features getting produced in the UK each year.
There are some good things about TrashHouse, which ultimately meant that I got the chance to keep making films. These good things are the stuff aside from the technical stuff. It’s got a pretty decent script and some interesting ideas in it. If people go to it looking for a mainstream horror flick with high production values they’ll be bitterly disappointed, but if they go to it looking for a lo-fi oddity they’ll hopefully still find stuff to enjoy.
It’s a product of the obstacles I had to climb to get it made, and it only found its way onto the shelves of major stores because I had to climb those obstacles.
At the risk of sounding all “Eeh, in my day it were all fields around here”, which is never a good look, (especially when the day you’re talking about was only about a decade ago), I think what the new generation of filmmakers need more than anything else is some obstacles. Otherwise every brave new voice is competing with EVERYONE who can pick up a camera and produce something that looks perfectly great without really putting in any particular effort. The democratisation of film production comes at a price; if you give everyone a voice, you fast discover that an awful lot of people have got fuck all to say but they keep shouting anyway. The voices that would otherwise have immediately stood out get swept away on the tide of mediocrity. Bark bark bark.
At the time that clerks hit, Kevin Smith was an original voice. The reason that people heard him was because (can you guess?) his movie had to climb huge obstacles to get made. Shooting a movie wasn’t something that guys who worked in convenience stores could easily do, and Smith’s determination just to get the bastard made meant that at least a couple of people watched his flick out of curiosity. The fact that it existed meant that at least a few sets of eyes would be interested in watching it. As it happened, that was enough to set the ball in motion and make sure that the original voice got heard.
Nowadays, there are a hell of a lot of guys who work in convenience stores who are making movies. Some of those movies look close to professional. Very few of them are an original voice waiting to be heard, and my worry is that the ones that are have no way whatsoever of standing out. The average member of the public isn’t just going to keep watching no-budget movies looking for a diamond in the rough; they’ll decide they don’t like ‘them’ as if ‘they’ were a homogenous mass and go straight back to watching Hollywood product. There is nothing inherently interesting about making a 90 minute movie for no money, because it’s literally something that an eight year-old can do.
In the past, there were potential gems that never got made.
Now, they’re getting made and nobody’s actually watching them.
In a way, I think that’s worse.
PS. Despite all this, I still encourage people to go out and shoot movies. Go figure. My hour-long live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws is full of advice about how and why to do it. It’s a bit NSFW (gore, nudity and naughty words) and is embedded below.