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in Filmmaking
on Sep 5, 2008

The blog post, below, titled “Breaking In,” in which filmmaker Marc Maurino discussed the tensions between jobs, job security and filmmaking, inspired several responses. You can find them in the comments section to the original post, but filmmaker David Munro just wrote with a longer reply so I’m posting it here as its own entry.

It’s David Munro (New Faces ’98, Full Grown Men). I read Marc Maurino’s reply to your newsletter entry. It got me thinking, too.

Unlike Marc, who is just now contemplating his next move as a talented aspiring director, I drank the full jigger of indie Kool Aid in the go-go ’90s and took the plunge. I left a well-compensated job as an advertising creative to attend film school (the decidedly anti-commercial San Francisco State), made several award-winning shorts and in an almost religious conversion devoted my life to long-form filmmaking. It strikes me as terribly ironic that much of the current prognosticating about the future of the filmed medium now centers on content that is not too different from the :30 commercials I once wrote and directed.

I have many friends who attended industry-oriented film schools – AFI, USC, NYU – but I chose a program that I knew explored the full range of cinematic possibilities, from Scott Bartlett’s frantic 1968 avant garde masterpiece OffOn to Abram Room’s to the 1927 landmark of naturalism Bed And Sofa. My first film history professor, a card-carrying Berkeley commie, taught that restorative three-act narrative structure – far from being the inevitable template we now regard as axiomatic – could have just as easily tilted Eisenstein’s way if the Russkies had the marketing muscle and commitment to promote it. (My professor has since absconded to the communally-friendly confines of upstate New York).

Lacking a trust fund or any well-to-do friends, it took me ten years after graduation to finally make and release my first feature film, Full Grown Men. As the recipient of the 2007 indieWIRE Undiscovered Gems Audience Award (which got us a limited theatrical release this Summer) I feel like the door of alternative film distribution barely grazed my ass before shutting completely behind me. I feel so fortunate to have realized my dream, even on a modest scale, and I ache for those who are similarly inspired but are only now beginning the journey. People say to me, “Why don’t you teach?”, but this seems like the height of hypocrisy – a Ponzi scheme energizing a new crop of filmmakers only to confront the same Quixotic obstacles that bedevil us all.

How can an art form that defined a century be teetering over history’s ashcan? It’s as if painting or music might suddenly vanish. But I guess sonnets had their day, too. I must confess my short films were more formally ambitious than my feature, so even when prospects for eventual sale looked brighter than they do now I made certain concessions to narrative and audience expectations to make Full Grown Men more commercially palatable (though to read some reviews, maybe not).

I suppose in some ways the medium, once ignominious, has merely returned to its roots, as a novelty and a spectacle. But to have experienced the breadth and depth of its potential, to have sat in so many darkened rooms in thrall of images and ideas that could find their expression in no other form, I feel the need to pour out a forty for the culture-shaking films to come that may never be.

There are so many reasons why visionary film is imperiled, all well-documented in your blogs and elsewhere, I won’t belabor them again here. But sixty seconds on a cell phone will never approach the experience of two hours in an arthouse church. Like poetry great films have to wash over you, consume you, vex you. They aren’t sketches. They are dense canvasses. To think that they may become bygone curios seems criminal. But then, George Bush was our president for eight years. So there’s no accounting for taste.

I’ve no doubt true artists will continue to find their way, regardless of running time or shooting format. That’s what revolutionaries do. Perhaps it’s our time in the mountains, to lie in wait, and counterstrike when they least expect us. I’m growing a beard just for the occasion.

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