Sunday, July 24, 2011

driving without mirrors

I almost felt as if I had stepped into a Robert Altman film today.  There were a lot of separate story lines going on -- and they may or may not connect.  I’m not certain I am near the title roll yet.

It is Sunday.  That means church.  Laurie of honduras gumbo asked last week about personal church attendance.  I suppose I attend for two reasons.  One, I like worshipping with other people.  Two, I like meeting new acquaintances and talking with those I already know.

But something odd happened in the community prayer.  I believe we should pray for big things.  An end to war, poverty, and social injustice.  And then go out and do something about.  Making that kingdom on earth, as we so often pray, a reality.

My friend Ron was leading the prayer and mentioned something about bombings and killings in Oslo.  I had no idea what we were praying about.  A week ago I cancelled the newspaper subscription on my Kindle because I didn’t have time to read it. 

But it occurred to me during the prayer.  How could I pray for that kingdom if I had no idea what was going on in the world?  So, back on my Kindle it went.

After a nice lunch at the casita, I headed down the hill (I still need to show that hill to you) to listen to Paul Schrader’s master class.

I really had no idea what to expect.  But the little live theater was filled -- mainly with young Mexicans wearing headsets to hear the lecture translated into Spanish.  We looked like extras in a Star Trek trial scene.

Schrader talked for a half hour about his background, his work, how he writes scripts, and the drastic changes he sees in the future of the entertainment industry.  He then answered questions for over an hour  -- elaborating on his points in some detail.

This post is far too short to adequately summarize his points in any detail.  But let me give you the flavor with a few quick bullet points.

Schrader believes film schools are good for two things.  First, separating students (or their parents) from large amounts of money.  Second, setting up networks – that are an invaluable tool.  The unfortunate thing is that students are being churned out where no demand exists.  And those who do get jobs will learn their real skills on the job, not in school.  (A point that applies to more than the film industry.)

Good writing is based on finding a personal problem, turning it into a metaphor, and then working it through oral recitation until the tale is ready to be written.  And then it needs to written, rewritten, and revised until it is tight enough to be a script -- always with an eye to where a well-written scene should fall within the overall story.

Almost every writer has trouble with one part of the story -- the ending.  Schrader had few suggestions on this point.  And that surprised me.  He started writing as a form of self-therapy.  Most writers do that.  We write about our experiences because it is what we know.  What has happened to us.  What we have not experienced is our own ending.  I suppose that is what makes Mishima such a powerful film.  He wrote his own ending.

He spent most of his time on the current crisis facing the entertainment industry.  When he started writing in the 60s, the film industry was going through a crisis of form.  New ways were being found to write and film tales about anti-heroes.

He sees a far greater crisis facing today’s industry -- a crisis of delivery.  The studios are pinched for revenue and are producing little more than films aimed at children or teenagers.  The independent film makers have fallen off by 80% in the last five years.  The only good writing that is currently taking place is for episodic long-form television -- such as, The Sopranos.  The one-eyed witch is having her revenge on the cinema.

That leaves the current generation of film makers to figure out how to deliver their films to the public.  The music industry model of selling digitally may work.  As a result of digital sales, 60% of the money that once went to the music industry, stays in consumer pockets.  But no one has yet figured out a good model for films.  Partly because the cost of making films is far higher than making music.

That is one issue the festival is addressing with its participants.  Mexico has a large problem because the cinemas almost exclusively run Hollywood films.  But Netflix (which I understand will be available in Mexico this year) may step up to fill the void.

And how does that all tie in with my day?

I like to think that I live in the moment.  But too often, like most people, I find that I try to drive while looking in my rear view mirror.

Like the film industry, I may not exactly know where this new century will take me.  But, at least, I will try to keep myself informed -- and in touch with a cultural life that has reinvigorated me.


blog said...

"The unfortunate thing is that students
are being churned out where no demand exists.  And those who do get jobs
will learn their real skills on the job, not in school.  (A point that
applies to more than the film industry.)"I agree and think the schools are mostly a waste of time - much like the scools they have to teach people to become sound engineers. However I have to take issue with your suggesting screenwriting has no job demand. The film industry has been starving for good original screenplays for a few years now - they are having to resort to remakes like "True Grit", "Arthur" and many more. It is pretty common knowledge that there is a desperate call for fresh new material - but not the kind coming out of these boiler plate screenwriting schools.

Steve Cotton said...

Schrader addressed that point.  Hollywood is simply not interested in well-written scripts these days.  They want sure-fire revenue streams.  There are plenty of great writers out there.  But they are gravitating to episodic television programs.  He referred to the remakes as being so ironic that they have little depth.  The ultimate end of postmodernism.

I wish it was not true.  But the industry is changing.

Rick said...

It's great Schrader appeared at the festival.  I know there are many students at Guanajuato University interested in the Mexican film and T.V. industry and sounds like he gave them some frank advice.

Dont know Babs but that the hill is a small price to pay (wheezing) for the bit of distance it gives you from Centro, not to mention some great views and the inevitable fitness.

blog said...

I have heard a lot of Schrader's rap before. There has always been a separation between good film and commercial crap. No question that a lot of the industry is about mindless action films because there is an audience. There is also an audience for serious films.

Giving out a realistic and perhaps pessimistic assessment of a glamorous career path is always the bent and really the responsibility of those who are there or have been there. This message is really important when addressing film school students - no doubt.

The bottom line is good films are still being made and good scripts are still wanted (perhaps more than ever).

Steve Cotton said...

And that is a positive message for you.  I did not mention it in the post, but I seriously considered moving to Los Angeles two years ago to pursue a second (third?) career in screenwriting.  But I decided to play out the role of beach bum.  And now look where I am.

Steve Cotton said...

Babs's property is a great place to stay -- far enough up the hill to have a great view and to be away from the noise of the town while being a short walk away from the action. The walk down the hill, of course, is much easier than the climb back home.