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Music for the Weekend: Kerosene by Crystal Castles.
As a result of the interest in my short film 7x6x2 (which hopefully everyone will be able to see soon), I’ve been asked to create something I haven’t had to do for the past ten years: a director’s reel.
All of the work I’ve done in the film industry to this point has originated from two sources: my own brain and through the generosity of friends, friends who at some point I helped along the way. I haven’t had the need to put a reel together for new work. But I’ve found that in my pursuits of financing my next film, people want to see what I’ve done, and truth be told they don’t have the time to sit and watch all my films - they need something concise, to the point, and effectively displaying my talents. Hence a reel.
Being that I’ve never put a reel together before, I’ve been at a bit of a loss in terms of where to start. My writer/ director instincts keep trying to tell a story, and that’s not really the point of a director’s reel. I’ve watched countless director’s reels online (just type ‘director’s reel’ into YouTube and Vimeo) and they largely seem to be a series of images stitched together by music. There’s no narrative, and it’s all peppered by an occasional outburst of performance.
I totally understand the purpose of cutting a reel this way, which is to largely draw attention to advertising work. I’ve been told by many agencies that I’m an outstanding ‘image maker’ and that I know how to put together a composition right there alongside some of the best in the business. These are platitudes that humble me immensely, but my inner artist wants to tell stories - I just don’t want to make images for the sake of making images.
Perhaps I’m being unrealistic here. The bread and butter of many filmmakers is doing ad work, and I’ve done my share from an art direction and storyboarding standpoint. But I made the conscientious choice to focus my directing energies on narrative film; it’s the reason why I left a lucrative career in science, which is to not make Chevrolet ads, but to create my generation’s versions of Blade Runner and The Shining. As the cliche goes, what I really want to do is direct.
Taking a few much-needed steps back, I have to shelve my directing ego and see the bigger picture here, something which every stubborn indie writer/ director/ producer must do. There is a fine distinction that must be made, which is the difference between the business of art, and the art of business. The business of art is to create something truly amazing - something that stands above its competition and innovates - and to do it on a budget that guarantees a return. Think of a film like Looper or Beasts of Southern Wild or Drive - all films done on budgets ranging from modest to micro, all of them pushing the envelope of what we expect from movies and what is currently out there on the market. They all have a distinctive artistic vision that is largely uncompromised, and because of that they stand out from the pack and have garnered the attention of audiences willing to pay for a new experience.
The art of business doesn’t care about all that. There is no such things as new experiences and artistic visions. If you tell a potential investor that you have a distinctive artistic vision, they’ll kindly show you to the door because in the world of return on investments, artistic vision is synonymous with box office poison. Business by nature is a conservative venture, and not in the sense that business people don’t take risks - they do that every day - but rather that they take risks on the things that won’t sink them in the long run. Business favors a sure thing that delivers moderately over a maverick that has potential to explode any given day. The art of business is therefore packaging a high risk venture as a calculated risk, and not as a shot in the dark. Which is where a good, solid reel comes into play.
I have to assemble my reel with the eyes of a conservative investor, which is to see narrative films existing first and foremost as advertisements, as trailers, as television spots. It’s done this way because these are the things that primarily get butts in seats. Narrative dexterity and nuanced performances aren’t what sell a film in a trailer - its beautiful images, electric pace, recognizable faces and a really kickass song/ music composition. Thinking as a conservative businessman, I know in my mind the project worth investing in is the project that I can outright sell. If the project is a hard sell, then it becomes more and more difficult to rationalize financing it.
A good reel filled with beautiful images, a memorable music track, and expert pacing is the first indicator that a director knows how to create moving images that first and foremost sell. It’s not just “this kid knows how to put a movie together,” it’s moreso “this kid knows how to sell a product.” And that’s what you need to display if you want to get money to make movies, because it takes the very rare investor - or your parents - to invest in a filmmaker who can’t demonstrate marketability.
But the art of business is also being a chimera, which is the most exhilarating challenge of all. I simply refuse to sell out - again I didn’t quit a beautiful life as a scientist to make middle of the road movies - I want to stay as bold, odd and indie as fuck. And there’s no reason not to think this way, because some of the greatest filmmakers working today - from Quentin Tarantino to Danny Boyle to Kathryn Bigelow - continue to make widely distributed films that refuse to compromise, but ultimately their films are genre films that can be sold, and sold well. These folks refuse to sell out, but if you were to cut a director’s reel together of Kathryn Bigelow’s work, it would seem like she makes ads for the US Army and Chevy trucks. Danny Boyle’s reel would look like a compilation of music videos. They don’t need to sell themselves as narrative aces, they just have to sell movies.
So now I’m on the quest to find that perfect piece of music to cut my reel to, and it’s taken me through the deepest depths of my music library. And anyone that is familiar with my music library knows that it’s pretty much a bottomless abyss of music. Over the past twenty-five years (I’ve been buying records since I was twelve), I’ve amassed a collection of over three thousand albums, ranging from northern soul to death metal to the sounds of southern baptist doomsday cults. Of course that music won’t be appropriate for a reel, but I need to find something that is not only beautiful, atmospheric and catchy, but also very true to my aesthetic. If I had a dime for every reel cut to Linkin Park’s “Cure for the Itch" then I wouldn’t need to be cutting a reel in the first place. But that shit sells, and who am I to argue with that? I’ve narrowed down my musical choices, and will start cutting in earnest this weekend. We’ll see what comes of it! Have a great weekend!
So now I’m on the quest to find that perfect piece of music to cut my reel to, and it’s taken me through the deepest depths of my music library. And anyone that is familiar with my music library knows that it’s pretty much a bottomless abyss of music. Over the past twenty-five years (I’ve been buying records since I was twelve), I’ve amassed a collection of over three thousand albums, ranging from northern soul to death metal to the sounds of southern baptist doomsday cults. Of course that music won’t be appropriate for a reel, but I need to find something that is not only beautiful, atmospheric and catchy, but also very true to my aesthetic. If I had a dime for every reel cut to Linkin Park’s “Cure for the Itch" then I wouldn’t need to be cutting a reel in the first place. But that shit sells, and who am I to argue with that? I’ve narrowed down my musical choices, and will start cutting in earnest this weekend. We’ll see what comes of it!
Have a great weekend!