No, this isn't a crime story. In theatre and film a mafia refers to a group of artists with a common background that often work together. These groups can be centered around universities, like the Yale Mafia (Meryl Streep, Wendy Wasserstein, Sigourney Weaver, etc.), the Julliard Mafia (Robin Williams, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, etc.). They also form from writers or theatre groups, such as the (David) Mamet Mafia (Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, Stuart Gordon, etc.), Steppenwolf alumni (Gary Sinise, Joan Allen, Glenne Headly, etc.).
I got to thinking about art mafia groups again while at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts West Coast Alumni Christmas party. For some reason, NCSA (or, now UNCSA) has never formed a strong mafia. It's something we often discuss, but no one is sure what to do about. Like so many who attended, I didn't graduate from there, but went on to Virginia Commonwealth University – another school with a weak mafia.
So what makes a strong one?
I think it requires a good mix of disciplines: writers, actors, directors, cinematographers and especially business people. A group that doesn't have a good mix is going to have a hard time putting projects together and getting them before an audience. Loyalty is important, but each member also has to look out for themselves. Many mafias claim people who "made it" outside of the group, which is fine. These stars can come back to their friends to launch projects in a familiar atmosphere.
Making do with less, or a certain level of discomfort, is an element. I fell into the Mamet Mafia in Los Angeles when I worked on the stage production of Edmond that years later became the film. It was amazing to watch actors with Broadway credits I'd kill for climbing ladders, sweeping the stage, taking tickets, etc. We formed a theatre group that lasted for about 10 years. Those who were willing to do the dirty work became trusted friends and co-workers. Those who didn't, didn't. From there, I was able to build an ensemble that got my film made.
Dances With Films has started to form a bit of a mafia. Mojave Phone Booth got started in the lobby of the festival, and yesterday, I got an e-mail from DWF alumni who have just gotten funding together for their next movie. They want me to play a role, which I'm always happy to do. The 2-Minute 2-Step, which is an exercise in less-is-more production, has put together teams that I hear have gone on to work together on other projects.
And it's not just filmmakers. The internet has helped novelists get together. As I write this, I've been exchanging e-mails with one of my partners on From The Write Angle. She has been kind enough to do a beta read on my next book. We got together on the net forum, Agent Query Connect.
Which brings me to another topic.
Without A Box, the submission service for filmmakers, has moved its forum to Facebook. That's fine, but I tend to get lost on Facebook. I miss the close connection a stand-alone, topic-specific forum can bring. So I've dedicated a page on this blog called QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. This is a place for all of us to use as a forum. Please feel free to post in the comments section just as you would in a forum.
Who knows, maybe we'll get our own mafia started.
What about you? What groups did I miss? Have you gotten a project together from your experience with DWF? Would you like to?