Advice to aspiring filmmakers: If you can’t be good, be delusional

I’m not sure how I wound up there, but this morning I found myself reading Jonah Weiner‘s thoughts about James Nguyen’sBirdemic: Shock and Terror,” the latest “so bad it’s good” production to find some success as a midnight movie and to get more than its share of coverage for so doing. Then I watched the ABC News video which I will present without further comment, except to apologize for the small size of the image. (ABC’s player won’t permit altering the size, for whatever reason.) You might also want to check out this amusing BBC item about it as well.

Okay, so now it’s time to talk about something I’ve learned about the movie world and frequently expressed verbally, but never online.

In my travels around the very lower rungs of the film world, I’ve noted that there are exactly two ways to have a career as a filmmaker. Be extremely well focused, productive and hardworking — being hard working to the point of actual madness won’t hurt, if you and your loved ones survive it — be very smart, passionate, creative, thoughtful, and lucky and you might have a decent-to-great-career.

The  other path still involves hard work, or perhaps simply a truly bad case of ADHD and/or mania, and no particular amounts of intelligence or creativity is called for, though passion and luck are still required. But here’s the secret to the second path — no matter how badly something turns out, you must never entertain the thought it might actually be bad. When you ask your best friends what they thought of your script, if they start to look down and change the subject, you must assume that they are doing that because the script is so good they are beyond words. If you’re of a nastier disposition, assume they’re jealous. If you’re somewhere in between, assure yourself that they’re simply unable to comprehend what you’re going for. Can’t blame them if for not being as brilliant as you are.

The next step is to use your honest passion to persuade clueless and/or desperate crew and actors to be in your film for little or no payment and, if you can’t afford to self-finance, get star struck dentists or CPAs to “invest.”  When the film is completed, ignore the three awful reviews you were able to garner and dwell on the fact that your film was an official selection of the Rancho Cucamonga Film Festival. Do not notice — much less learn from — your mistakes. That would involve not being delusional, and you need your delusion the way a shark needs teeth.

At this point, you will perhaps be able to find bottom feeding producers who will note that you’ve been able to complete a film — a real achievement in itself. They may then choose to pay for another film for reasons of their own. If not, there are always more dentists and CPAs. The beauty of video technology is that you need fewer of them than you once did, though you’ll also have more delusional competition than before, too.

And then, my son or daughter, you may just have a career. Not a brilliant career, but a career. I have seen this happen with my own two eyes. How do you think Ed Wood kept on working throughout his life, writing novels and screenplays and directing movies despite the fact that he had absolutely no talent for any of it?

But what do you do if your film has the kind of luck that “Birdemic” is enjoying and becomes a midnight cult hit? What if theaters nationwide are full of inebriated youth laughing derisively — an indignity that never quite happened to Ed Wood, though I’m sure he could have used the cash? Do you bow your head in shame all the way to the bank and make off for an island paradise, never to be heard from again? No, because if you had any shame, you wouldn’t have made that terrible but funny movie in the first place. You might have, in fact, made something boring, and that’s the worst fate of all for a movie.  Much better to have created something truly memorable.

Nguyen appears to have trademarked the phrase “Romantic Thriller” and declared himself the “master” of it. That takes some balls™.

  

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