This week I thought I would tell you a little bit about my career in filmmaking. I fell in love with making moving pictures, but I was never much of a cinephile. I have always preferred to read the book rather than see the movie. I used to go to the Cannes Film market in May each year to try to drum up some business for the company, but I never saw a single film at the festival, although I had ample opportunity. Colleagues of mine would rush off after meetings to see new films, but I just couldn’t be bothered.
I suspected that a lot of the films there were pretty awful and would not be to my taste. The French do festivals very well, don’t get me wrong, but what is a film festival but a huge sales pitch. The red carpet, the euphoric comments from fans, the whole shebang seemed to be so phoney.
Remember some of the really bad films that got the Palme d’Or over the years. The arts are a lot like this: full of hot air and glamour, but with very little substance. Most of the time you are going to find that the movies headlined at festivals don’t live up to their reputations. What some journalist finds tantalizing, most of us are going to think is absolute shit.
Remember that Cannes is not an equal opportunity film festival. You don’t get into Cannes without influence. English language films are at a major disadvantage unless they have Hollywood stars or name directors. French-language films from Quebec do very well, but they have always had a huge advantage over Canadian English-language productions because they are not in direct competition with US and British films. So a first timer with a French-language film can often slip through the francophone competition (France, Switzerland and Belgium) and get into the Cannes Festival! Not so for English-language films, however, well acted and competently directed. The same rule applies to a lot of other festivals.
I learned this the hard way with a movie entitled “Women Without Wings”. We presented the film at Cannes one year with a market screening, but we got little or no interest from journalists and distributors. Of course, they don’t tell you this in film school. It doesn’t matter how good your movie is, it won’t fly in international markets without marquee value (name actors, established directors, distribution, etc.) I have often been to film markets and conferences where successful distributors talk about the “waterfall”, meaning the revenue stream, to crowds of independent filmmakers who will probably never see a revenue stream in their life. Most independent films are made with credit cards, borrowed or otherwise, and the only public for these films are family members and friends. The film industry is full of dreamers without the slightest hope of ever being successful or making any money.
My fascination with cinema started in the 1970s. I loved the creative and technical aspects of cinema where the director re-creates reality with the camera and through editing. I loved operating film cameras, lighting sets, and editing films. Making movies was great fun, but watching movies was never a passion for me. The shooting, the editing, the sound mixing, the music compositions, etc. I haven’t seen a movie in a cinema for years. I am not a good public for movies. I see too many mistakes due to incompetent directors, writers and even cameramen.
Over my career, I directed 5 feature films, photographed and lighted 8 feature films, hundreds of documentaries and sponsored films, and wrote and edited numerous scripts before writing three historical novels. Maybe in writing novels, I have found some real satisfaction after so many years. Although I feared that I wouldn’t be able to complete a novel, I have learned how to do a competent job at it. It really is all about writing and re-writing. It’s a long slog and it seems to take forever, but there is a good deal of pleasure in discovering new facets to a story during the writing process. So yes, I enjoy the writing and, of course, it doesn’t depend on a crew of twenty people and more, and in this case time is often more important than money.
What lessons did you learn from your respective careers?
I hope you all have a pleasant week.
*Originally posted in October 2018