I was listening to a Jerry Weintraub interview the other day. He has a new book out, which I immediately ordered. He’s a producer of films and Broadway, but he started in music. He was talking about why bands break up and, basically, he said that there’s a point when a band becomes a business, and the band members become business men. When that point it reached, it’s all over.
Filmmakers are increasingly encouraged to be their own businessmen. We are told that we need to put together a business plan, know our audience, self-distribute. All of this to survive the horrible state of the industry.
On top of this, there is hardly any discussion in the media about the art of film. Hollywood has made critics cynical; they must guess an audience reaction to a film rather than simply judge it themselves. The headlines are more concerned with the box office of any given film than its quality. The NYT Arts section often carries the same stories as Variety, sometimes even scooping it. And the stories are the same doom and gloom that every industry is suffering through. The internet has made the Hollywood trades available for everyone, so we can all see who got hired at Fox or whatever.
It may sound naive, but this stuff will kill you as an artist. A filmmaker concerned about the film business, or as whiny about it as all the indie filmmakers I follow on twitter, is not concerned about making interesting films, or furthering the art. The irony is that they are sitting around like studio executives looking for the next big thing instead of sitting around like artists and creating it.
Hollywood has always had this business mentality. It’s a company town. Go to a party and they are most likely talking about the box office and the latest CAA star. One of the reasons I left LA was to get away from that.
Yet here I am in NY, and I know more about this business than I even need to know. Sure, as you work in it, you get to know it, and that’s part of the problem. Filmmakers need to gather around and discuss their techniques, their desires, their art. They need to look at films they love and decide what they think works and what doesn’t. They need to look at the established artistic dogma and see how to change it. That’s how exciting work is created.
Whether an audience will want to see that or not, it’s really not the point. Hopefully, they will. Historically, they have not. You can’t think about it like that, no matter what the producers say. Art can please an audience, but that cannot be its main purpose.
Audiences are craving something new and exciting. They might not know it when they see it, but give them a little time and they will, and you will have changed the world. You might not be any richer, but if you want to make money, maybe art wasn’t the right choice. There’s always Hollywood. Or Wall Street. There’s a reason why artists starve.