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“…The Void of Productivity From the Entire World Has Seized Me:” Alex Ross Perry on Writing During Quarantine

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

What surprises me is how noticeable the absence of production and a pipeline of “contemporary cinema” is to my mental stimulation and creative process. I would not be shooting right now, but knowing that projects are prepping, wrapping, editing, targeting release or available for me to see, either at a commercial theater or a film festival, reminds me what I am working toward when I sit at the desk every day. The studios currently employing me to write scripts will make movies again, likely quicker and easier than the independent productions I better understand. Perhaps my scripts will be waiting when that happens. But the void of productivity from the entire world has seized me. I cannot stop a needling problem of: why? Am I doing all this writing work to send the scripts out into a void from which no film can be adequately produced? And yet, every day, I sit and I revise and I work to the best of my ability. 

This is what it looks like from inside my current, extremely fortunate position of employment via studio screenwriting. But the other side of me, the side that would like to be writing a new “original” script “of my own” to produce however I can… that side is utterly silenced. There is simply no reason at the moment to imagine that what I could offer is reasonable, desirable or possible in six months, a year, two years… whenever things have stabilized. And many of my friends who I speak with regularly feel the same. Studios and TV shows will find a way, probably by throwing money at the problem, to shoot as soon as it is safe. Those of us reliant on quick fixes and bending the rules will not be worth the risk of gathering dozens of people for weeks on end. 

Inherent in making these movies—even before that, in writing these movies—is the dream of an exciting film festival premiere with some slippery form of distribution to follow. With nothing resembling either of those in the world right now, even by proxy to witness and read about from afar, I find it hard to believe people could continue plugging away apace, working to write a script when there is no indication of how or if it would ever be possible to produce (this on top of that fact that, obviously, those have always and will always be concerns anyway). But, what on earth to do with the thing once it is ready? I personally need that inspiration and aspirations in order to work. I am finding a world devoid of them to be baffling and hollow.

Alex Ross Perry is a Brooklyn-based writer and director.

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