Back when I made my first film, I was practically devoid of any of the filmmaking knowledge I have now. I’d never read a book on filmmaking, so I relied entirely on others to get my vision from the page to the screen. I must’ve come a long way. With no formal training of any kind in the art or craft of filmmaking, my homemade education is comprised of two things: movies and (some) books. I find that’s all a filmmaker needs nowadays, that and maybe some informative blogs on self-distribution, since that particular landscape is constantly changing.
My first short film was supposed to be Cunnigula, a darkly comedic piece of about 32 pages. But once all 16 hours of Mini DV footage was dumped into a spliced-together computer, it branched out into the realm of the feature film, clocking in at an hour and 35 minutes! By mixing absurdity and comedy, I was able to create a mostly enjoyable, though exceedingly ribald experience that made viewers laugh hysterically during the show, but kept them pensive long after. Despite what you may accurately infer of the surface subject matter by the title, at its root Cunnigula is really an exploration of addiction, and the audience got it.
But it took too damn long! The challenge for me now as writer, director, and editor is to tap into those myriad emotional states much more efficiently (and quickly).
Cerise, which marks my seventh short film, comes pretty close. The current edit stands at a solid 21 minutes sans credits. During the next week or so I hope to use some of the feedback offered at the July 7th test screening and trim it down to 20 minutes with credits. But for a filmmaker, there’s more to the film than the finished product. For me, Cerise also marks my greatest achievement as a short screenwriter. I put to practice much of the knowledge I’d gained from reading screenwriting books. Then, I allowed myself to deconstruct the script a week prior to shooting because I realized (with the help of my good friend Troy) that I really didn’t need much of the material I’d typed (though it would make for an interesting experimental film à la David Lynch.) And even while editing, I saw that there was even more that I didn’t need.
I started off with a 25 minute film and painstakingly whittled it down to the current 21 minute version, brushing out the last of the pesky dust that remained in the machinery.
What I’ve learned from all this is that we can read all the books we like, but all books should be kept in the reference section of Barnes and Noble; there’s no knowledge but in doing. As filmmakers, we need only watch movies to see the basic elements of story at work. And how do you perfect that knowledge? Write a script and make a mediocre film of it. Then write another and make a better film of that script. It’s partly instinctual, partly practical. That’s exactly how it was when I first wrote Cunnigula; I knew nothing of Syd Field’s three acts or Joseph Campbell’s hero quest (all I knew was Aristotle’s Poetics, which is still a great reference 2,300 years later!), nor had I any clue about the dos and don’ts of screenwriting. The only thing I learned was how to properly format a screenplay, and even that felt very logical. Story lies in the practice of telling it.
Alas, Cunnigula and all its copies are buried somewhere in my brother’s basement next to the rest of my past; now it’s time to soar onward with Cerise “to infinity, and beyond!” I’ve grown a great deal, and with this latest short I’ve gone from controversial to “cute” (the last word many would expect to hear regarding my work), but the journey between these two prominent Cs in my life has proven invaluable to my development not only as a filmmaker, but as a more well-rounded individual as well.
And just wait until you see what I’ve got cooking up next!