As I end a long session of reviewing edits I've made on the second feature, "What's the Use?" I think about where I was mentally (creatively speaking) two years ago, right before we were to jump into this film somewhat blindly, on "the edge of catastophe," if I may quote Mr. Malick, and after only five weeks of script writing and preproduction. Perhaps desperate to be on set again, eager to break from the restraints of mid-to-high range budget chasing and just go "micro," I threw away all caution and shot a feature while working over full-time at two jobs. (Insane, yes, I know.)
The result was a film shot at a completely wrong frame rate, with dodgy audio, and a decent enough story. Good, but not great, as I have already described the "final" cut to Kickstarter backers. Hopeless? Of course, this feeling wafted through me and probably some of my closer colleagues on this film, from time to time, when we thought we had picture locked, but after reviews of the cut, realized this was not the final cut at all, but just the beginning. Even after having already done a feature, I am constantly surprised by this process of reaching the finish line.
I guess a lot of filmmakers go through this. But my point is not to belabor too much on these hazards of just jumping into the deep end and trying to stay afloat, but to also give some applause for so blind an approach, because, with the obvious limitations that have come from this method, I have been forced to see this story and this visual style in a way that would never ever have come to me had I shot this film in a more planned way with lots of pre-production work.
To sum it up, this film is demanding its own gestation period. Having worked on the film for a long time, put it away briefly, come back and printed out frames of scenes, (there are close to 200 frames covering my bedroom/studio walls), worked on it, put it away again, something quite interesting has happened. It is something that is teaching me about the merits of time, patience, persistence, and to appreciate master filmmakers like Kubrick and Malick who take (or took in the case of the former) time to make their films what they wanted them to be.
The natural limitations and less-than-positive visual aspects of "What's the Use?" have forced me to stretch, to rethink the story, to add elements that were never planned as in animation sequences and motion graphics. To embrace the tools of cinema and make this film into some wild visual entity that frankly, I have not seen very often in film. I am actually becoming excited again to be in this world, watching edits with some crazy sound track from Boris or Sunn O))) tunneling through my mind, or just watching cuts without the sound on. Reaching out for editing tools and techniques like Venetian Wipes and Split Screen effects that are not used much anymore in indie films, (and actually are sometimes laughed at, but who needs the opinion of snobs?). It's about embracing the unusual, not being scared to drift from the restrictions of plot and standard coverage.
Would I have been able to discover this had everything gone as planned two years ago? No. Not at all. Taking the time to sit with this little monster of a film and let it tell me what it wants, when I'm willing to listen, requires a skill most of us modern folk lack: patience. But giving art the time it needs to breathe, to move around inside our brains when we are sleeping or eating or petting the cat, is crucial. I would love to become a Rainer Werner Fassbinder in many ways, with his crazy productivity, but I am slowly realizing that that is not to be. I have my own cycles, and while I never stop working (except for a Mad Men episode, or to go to any one of my various paying jobs), I have to let my work rest and be challenged. I am not happy with average work at whatever skill level I am at when I make it. The hard part is just accepting that films for me will take longer than I ever want them to, no matter how much I plan to embrace simplicity. Sigh...if only life, with good health, lasted longer.