Non-Filmmakers Learning From Woody Allen

What can entrepreneurs learn from Woody Allen? Apparently a lot!

What can entrepreneurs learn from Woody Allen? Apparently a lot! I was intrigued by this article on TechCrunch that lists 9 things non-filmmakers can learn from his career. Of course, as a filmmaker I have appreciated his films, both the hits and misses. He has remained independent and true to his own vision through 50 years and many earth-shaking culture shifts.

Woody AllenIt’s worth digging into the details, especially stories from different seasons of Mr. Allen’s career, his disdain of the Academy Awards hoopla, etc. But here’s an excerpt:

In today’s day and age, we want to transform decades of work into years or even months. Allen built up his career over five decades and kept at it persistently, even when scandal, or a bad movie, or a bad article, would cast gloom over his entire career. But he shrugged it off.

So what can we learn from Woody Allen?

  • Wake up early
  • Avoid distractions
  • Work three to five hours a day and then enjoy the rest of the day
  • Be as perfectionist as you can, knowing that imperfection will still rule
  • Have the confidence to be magical and stretch the boundaries of your medium.
  • Combine the tools of the medium itself with the message you want to convey
  • Don’t get stuck in the same rut – move forward, experiment, but with the confidence built up over experience.

The same can be said for successful entrepreneurs. Or for people who are successful in any aspect of life. Is Woody Allen a happy man? Who knows? But he’s done what he set out to do. He’s made movies. He’s told stories. He’s lived the dream, even when it bordered on nightmare.  I can only be so lucky.

Read the whole article, “9 Things Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Woody Allen”

The Tree of Life’s Invitation To Grace

Now out on DVD, Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, is an ambitious and evocative film that challenges viewers with a wide-ranging narrative that touches on deeply personal moments between family members and the biggest of all questions, the creation of the cosmos.

Now out on DVD, Terrence Malick’s latest film, The Tree of Life, is an ambitious and evocative film that challenges viewers with a wide-ranging narrative that touches on deeply personal moments between family members and the biggest of all questions, the creation of the cosmos. While some people find Malick’s work to be tedious, and inscrutable, I find The Tree of Life to be a compelling, if imperfect, examination of the deepest questions of life and relationships.

Malick introduces his thematic conflict of Grace vs. Nature in the persons of Mr. & Mrs. O’Brien, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. They are parents to three boys, growing up in the 1950s in small-town Texas. The film closely follows the life of the oldest, Jack, played beautifully by newcomer Hunter McCracken and, in middle age, by Sean Penn.

“There are two ways through life; the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” With these words, Jack’s mother introduces her invitation to live in grace. She is a playful, warm, loving presence in the boys’ life. Contrasting this is Jack’s father’s point-of-view, that of Nature; “It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world.” He is a man consumed by frustration and disappointment. He is driven to fight for every scrap of ground, every rung on the ladder of success. And his mission is to instill his values in the lives of his boys, dismissing the way of grace espoused by their mother.

The unexpected death of R.L., the middle son, at age 19 sets the conflict in motion. This moment in time is explored briefly in the beginning of the film but the majority of the film is told in flashback to the sometimes idyllic, sometimes tempestuous childhood of Jack and his brothers. Older Jack (Sean Penn) is introduced as he attempts, now in middle age, to deal with the conflict and unresolved guilt from his childhood. Jack’s journey as a boy and as an adult is explained by Jack himself, “Father, Mother, always you wrestle inside me. Always you will.”

Malick’s brings this world to life in his typically lyric, evocative storytelling style. He makes liberal use of jump-cuts and repetition, and a floating, fluid camera. Long periods pass without dialogue, allowing the actors and their subtle expressions to convey what is happening. This style has its detractors and certainly demands more from an audience. However, I never found myself lost to the story, even when Malick inserts a lengthy montage, ambitiously taking us all the way back to the Big Bang (flashback-of-all-flashbacks!) Malick’s use of recurring images and sounds, the ocean, doorways, trees and light, contrasting modern steel architecture, create a beautiful visual and aural tapestry that invites multiple viewings.

Of course, a film that risks much and challenges its audience is bound to fall short at moments and have its detractors. The Creation Montage is one major aside that seems a bit long for its intended story purpose. I also questioned the passivity of the Protagonist, Jack. As a youth he is very active in boyish ways but seems compelled to act in ways that escalate into actual cruelty to his younger brother–the way of nature. Interestingly, he paraphrases St. Paul’s observation from the 7th chapter of Romans about doing the very thing he doesn’t want to do. As the adult Jack, Sean Penn spends most of the film looking tired and pensive. He never makes a decisive step to address the conflict.

On more reflection, I am oddly comforted that Jack is never forced to act, as an adult, in order to find forgiveness and grace. He is drawn to it by his mother and brother. They open a door and invite him to step through. Isn’t this really what grace is all about? Normally we say that a Protagonist must act, must choose, must risk. Malick seems to be saying, “No, grace can come to us in other ways.” This is truly Grace – unmerited favor rather than self-saving action. It’s not typical Hollywood, and it is a compelling message for us.

13 Rules For Realizing Your Creative Vision

I find myself needing to shift back and forth during the course of a film project – from being a pirate and letting the chips fall where they may (The ‘Done Manifesto’ stage) to the obsession stage where I am looking to polish and perfect.

If you have ever worked to launch a project or product, you know how different it feels than when you’re working on something that is well-established. I like this “Done Manifesto” as a way to capture the need to work and think differently in the wild days of beginning something new – like at the beginning (and at various stages) of a film project.

Click here to see the full graphic from FastCoDesign:

Infographic Of The Day: 13 Rules For Realizing Your Creative Vision | Co. Design.

But the funny thing about realizing a creative vision–whether it’s a startup or a personal project–is that it requires a set of working rules that is almost the opposite of the slow, careful deliberation that typically rules our working lives.

Examples of principles they suggest:

#1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion

#8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

#10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.

In a filmmaking process, I’m trying to think of the dividing point when a project moves from the startup phase, where rules like this apply, to the stage where something is established and you need to begin to shift your thinking. I know that brainstorming and the first stages of scripting benefit from these rules. Even the first stage of rehearsals with actors and the first assembly edit of the film.

I find myself needing to shift back and forth during the course of a film project – from being a pirate and letting the chips fall where they may (The Done Manifesto stage) to the obsession stage where I am looking to polish and perfect.

If you’re an indie filmmaker, you probably need to learn to function in both modes. Not always an easy thing to learn.

VOD Rides to the Rescue of Indie Film

Are you an indie filmmaker? Amidst the chaos of dropping DVD sales, seemingly worthless deals on Netflix, and the daunting expense of even a small theatrical release, here’s some brighter news.

I’ve thought that VOD showed the only promise for true independent films. Here’s an article that says others (who know much more than me) think the same way – and are making it work!

VOD Rides to the Rescue of Indie Film | The Wrap Movies.

Eamonn Bowles, president and co-founder of Magnolia Pictures, told TheWrap. “Platform releasing, where you opened in a couple of theaters and hoped to expand later, was a recipe for disaster. The paradigm was broken, so we had no choice but to hit on something that made sense.”

After all, just a few years ago, with a number of high-profile art house distributors such as Miramax and Warner Independent Pictures shutting off the lights, it seemed like independent film might be dying.

Of course, that was when we completed our indie feature, “The Enemy God”. I thought, “What great timing! The whole independent world is dying and remaking itself into something – and no one knows what it will look like!”

But read on. Things seem to be settling, even if only a bit.

Today, independent film companies are feeling better about not just the prospects for on demand, but are also bullish about the new licensing fees being paid by streaming companies like Hulu and Netflix.

Gary Delfiner, senior vice president of digital distribution at Screen Media, told TheWrap. “There are more and more outlets for filmmakers to get their films out there. It’s not just TV and cable and theatrical anymore. If you make your product in the right budget range, you have a lot more outlets to get it out there.”

You still have to do your homework: know your audience and target them with an appropriate story and appropriate budget. That’s not always easy in itself, but at least there are some VOD platforms that seem to be viable AND give hope for a financial return.

THE MICROBUDGET CONVERSATION: SCRIPT V. STORY | The Filmmaker Magazine Blog

As we’ve been in the process of making a ‘micro-budget’ short film, I have been thinking about the viability of such ventures.

As we’ve been in the process of making a ‘micro-budget’ short film, I have been thinking about the viability of such ventures. I know it’s possible to work like we have been working – with volunteer cast and crew and donated locations and gear. And I believe our film, structured, scripted, planned, and all that, will benefit from the approach.

This article, published a while back on Filmmaker Magazine’s blog, makes the argument that micro-budget filmmakers should embrace an alternative approach that emphasizes the discovery of stories that flow from real life, rather than struggling to come up with the perfect screenplay.

 … if our goal as micro-budget filmmakers is to make films free of budget restrictions, we need to find alternative methods that embrace the places we live, allow us to believe they are interesting, and trust the people around us to bring us some really interesting material. We all know this familiar adage: life is stranger than fiction. Once we let life leak into our narratives, I think we will be shocked at the abundance we suddenly have with the stories that are available.

THE MICROBUDGET CONVERSATION: SCRIPT V. STORY | The Filmmaker Magazine Blog.

I have a lot of experience in documentary filmmaking so I can appreciate the freedom and excitement of seeing stories unfold in the process of making a film. And I can see the author’s point that taking this approach can get filmmakers away from the computer and into the real process of making something. There is a part of me that does sometimes want to just pick up a camera and see what happens.

How Do You Know When It’s Done?

I think this is a common malady among indie filmmakers. I know I will see something on every viewing that strikes me as odd, something that needs a little smoothing, a lingering doubt about a creative choice I’ve made.

Ah, that feeling when you make the last edit, tweak the last audio level, hit ‘render’ on your video file…

I love that moment when I know I have finished my film. It’s something I’m eager to show to the world. There’s nothing left hanging. It’s the last time I fire up the project in my editing program.

Actually, it’s hard for me to see that moment clearly. As a filmmaker who has his hands in the minutia of my films, that moment is actually really blurry. I may not even see it until it’s history. In the case of “Street Language” my new short, I’m the guy who wrote the script, did much of the production management, directed the film, and have been completing the post-production after a friend did the rough cut for me. Some pieces are really put to bed: script, acting, the picture cut, even the music at this point. But, because I’m a slightly obsessed filmmaker–I call it ‘high standards’–and because I have the whole film sitting on my own hard drives that I can fire up anytime a thought strikes me, this film seems to be inching slowly toward being really “done”.

I think this is a common malady among indie filmmakers. I know I will see something on every viewing that strikes me as odd, something that needs a little smoothing, a lingering doubt about a creative choice I’ve made. I know I’ve been over the film to the sub-frame level in many parts. Some choices are ones I’ve examined many times and come to the same conclusion. And I know that there are no perfect films–to the filmmaker. Look at George Lucas, causing a ruckus because he’s still tweaking Star Wars, after over 30 years!

If George does it, maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty. I know other filmmakers who walk away and don’t look back; and sometimes I think they should have.

I am really happy with this film. Preview audiences have loved it. My wife cried at the right time when I showed it to her (and doesn’t think I’ve wasted my time and our money making it.)

I know I’ll walk away and be done with it, soon. I’ve finished hundreds of projects in my career. But when you’re in this stage, just after all of the really heavy lifting is done, but before it’s set loose on the world, there is a little season of hesitation, button pushing, and oh-so-close satisfaction.