Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Never Ending Need for Independence

Dances With Films festival is going on all around me as I type this on an unfamiliar laptop graciously provided by Hula Post Production. A few feet from me filmmakers are shooting a 2-Minute 2-Step movie on the Canon 5D Mark II cameras that will be seen on the big screen tomorrow night. I'm having to pause between sentences so the clicking of the keyboard doesn't show up on their soundtrack. In a few minutes I might have to run up to do a Q & A with a filmmaker for a movie I saw months ago, but the audience just experienced. I say all of this as much to set the scene as to beg forgiveness for typos, grammar mistakes, or thoughts that wonder off into the abyss.

I've written before on the importance of gatekeepers like agents, producers, film festivals, distributors, publishers, etc. to filter the massive amounts of raw artistic product down to what is of some kind of professional quality - but as important as these bar-raisers to the artistic community are, it is equally important that there be a way to work around them.

Business and the Arts have always been siblings. Squabbling, fighting, dysfunctional, jealous, loving, horrible brothers and sisters. Neither can exist for long without the other. Even in an Artless world, Business would need artists to help package and promote their products. When the product is the Art, then the rivalry gets even more intense.

One of the biggest thorns in this relationship's side is how they deal with risk.

In Business risk is to be avoided. Sure, they pay lip service to the saying "Nothing ventured nothing gained" or "High Risk, High Reward" but at the corporate level there are stockholders to consider. Every business plan must include a risk management assessment. Sure, if an executive takes a big risk that pays off s/he is the hero of the day - but no one has ever been fired for playing it safe. Don't make waves, and you'll have a long and happy job in the corporate world. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In the Arts, bland is death. Doing what has been done before, in the same way that it has been done before guarantees you a short, not-so-profitable career. We all know Picasso, but who knows the artists who today paint just like Picasso? We all know Star Wars, but who made a lifetime's worth of money making the many derivative space operas of the late 70's/early 80's?

So, the Artist struggles hard to create a work that is unique in some way. This is of course, impossible, given the 100,000 years of human existence - chances are, whatever an artist might think of, it's been done before. Still, they apply their creativity, sweat, blood and tears to make something unique.

When they are done, they present it to their brother/sister, Business, to say, "Hey, let's get this out to an audience."

And Business's first question is, "What's it like?"

"It's like, what it is," says the Artist.

"Yes, it's very good, and quite unique, and I personally like it - but it's not like anything that's come before it."

"Yes," says the Artist, "Exactly! It's that great?!"

"No, it's not great. I have to present this to a committee and tell them what kind of budget we'll need and how much return we can expect."

"Yeah, so?"

"I need to know; is this the next Harry Potter? Is it the next Notebook? What is it?"

"It's the next new thing," says the Artist.

"I've got kids to put through college," says the Businessman. "I can't risk that on the next new thing. I need another version of the last successful thing."

And so it goes.

Stepping into this void are the Independents.

They say to the Artist, "I'm small. I'm light. I don't have a board of directors, just a few crazy investors who want to make the kind of high rewards that come with high risk. I can see your vision, and I have the means to present that to the world."

And the Artist says to the Independent, "Really? What have you done that I'd know?"

And so it goes.

Somehow from this chaos, the content - call it art, call it product, call it popcorn entertainment or literature - flows like water to the sea. Some of it falls from the sky directly on its destination. Some of it falls as snow on the highest mountain and may not find the ocean for centuries. Some falls in a desert and will not reach an audience until it has evaporated and fallen again.

But wherever you look, it is there. The Art. The Ocean, the rivers, the rain. Struggle though we might to see our projects through, we know there is a way. No obstacle is too great to stop the flow. That's why Business builds waterwheels and power generators. They profit from the flow.

Thanks for reading.