Creative Process #10: Privilege
Working on a film like FRACTALS is a privilege. By that, I don't mean that people are lucky to work on a film with me. I mean that in order to be involved, people's lives must be structured in a way that enables them to participate.
Working on most small, no-budget films is a form of privilege, which ironically stems from the lack of budget. If you have a budget, then the cast and crew can do it as a career. However, if you don't have a budget, then everyone involved needs a certain amount of time, flexibility, and financial stability in order to be involved.
Granted, I always try to give people a stipend to cover their travel costs, but it's not a salary. When the pandemic hit, most of my cast dropped out. For some, it was because of safety concerns. However, most of them left because they lost their income. They no longer had enough financial stability to spend time on a project that didn't really pay.
This doesn't mean the cast and crew of Fractals was made up of a bunch of millionaires. That's an entirely different level of privilege. If everyone involved were a millionaire, we would have had an actual budget. However, everyone had enough to survive. Moreover, their source of financial stability offered enough flexibility that they could work on a feature-length film.
Since everyone involved needed time/flexibility, no one with a full time 9-5 job could work on the film. Single moms, people juggling multiple retail jobs, or people fighting debilitating illnesses, couldn't collaborate. Granted, if they were really determined, people in one of these groups could probably figure something out, but it would have been much more difficult. It's difficult enough that I've never been able to work with people like that. It's also probably a big part of the reason why I've always struggled to attract diverse casts and crews.
On top of time, flexibility, and financial stability, which applied to the actors, every member of the post-production team needed to have access to expensive audio, editing, or visual effects technology.
Not only did the lives of the cast and crew need to be structured in a certain way, but everyone involved was also educated enough that they could fulfill their role. The actors knew how to translate difficult dialogue into performances. The editors, audio engineers, and musicians knew their crafts. And they all deserve credit for actually understanding my weird, experimental film. A lot of the people I interviewed didn't.
While I've mentioned the actors and crew, at the center of the production is me. I had enough time and flexibility that I could spend hundreds and hundreds of hours on the project. I own the equipment necessary to shoot and edit a film, in part because I work in production, but also because I earned enough that I could afford the equipment that wasn't necessary to my day-to-day work. Thanks to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), even though video production jobs have been decimated during this past year, I have enough financial stability to plan for the future. And I have the skills, education and connections to, not only write, produce, and direct a film, but create one decent enough that I can get other people onboard.
Because of all this, everyone involved is able to reap the benefits. The film industry is incredibly tough, and it's hard to get experience on a feature-length film. Even if the film never goes anywhere, the entire cast and crew get that experience, resume-fodder, and positive referrals. In a nutshell, it gets them one step closer to films that actually pay because it's so damned impressive. When you look at it this, way, getting meaningful work in a fully-financed film takes an incredible amount of privilege.
No one involved in this project has the traditional privilege that you so often see in the film industry. No one has well-connected parents who can get them roles or jobs right out of high school. Fractals isn't a production cast entirely with the children of celebrities and produced by ivy-league business graduates. It's filled with struggling artists, actors, and musicians who are hungry and passionate enough that they're willing to work their asses off on a film that pays in honorariums.
Filmmakers can't just wrack up credit card debt, produce a film, win Sundance, and be given a couple million dollars to make their next film. That time has passed. The most recent Sundance winner already had a budget of a couple million dollars. And if you want to secure that much funding to make an independent film, you need to either come from a wealthy family or know an enormous number of people who are willing to contribute and help you with fund raising.
You can also spend years working your ass off to build a solid reputation, which is what I'm trying to do.
Lastly, here's what Fractals is really giving us: If anyone involved "makes it", we're going to be the ones who talk about living on rice and beans for a month while we tried to build our careers. Our successes will be rooted in the fact that we were able to overcome the lack of money and connections by working on project after project, and taking advantage of every opportunity that came our way.
But being able to work on projects and take advantage of opportunities - that's the privilege.
Written with the assistance of Jan Major on March 20, 2021
Edited and Released on 08/01/2021