Artwork by James Koskinas from the Twilight Angel Website
This weekend, I was invited to attend screenings for two very different independent film projects. Both gave me pause. The first was a pilot the producer is hoping to sell to Netflix. Condescending, poorly written, and a disaster in almost every way, it was all I could do to stay awake. The second, Twilight Angel, was powerful, evocative, and completely engrossing. No actors were hired, no sets created. The entire feature length film took place in an artist’s studio. Riveted, I forgot my surroundings and was completely immersed.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m bothered. I celebrate creativity in all its forms, rejoice in the individual pursuit of passion, and encourage all to follow their dreams. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between embracing creativity and abusing it.
In the first film, the director/producer seized on an idea he thought he could sell. Conceptually, the idea has merit. It’s quirky, funny, unique, and could be visually stunning. What he did with it wasn’t. Instead, he magnified stereotype to the point of ridiculous, smashed too many vignettes into an ill conceived story, and made a product not worthy of either the entertainment or art label. In short, he didn’t love his characters, the city where the story is set, or the work itself. The result was utterly unwatchable. It made me sad, and even angered me slightly, that he could so abuse the idiosyncrasies that make us human by not fleshing the characters into real people.
The other film, though a rough cut, was fabulous. The product of three people passionate about art in all forms brought their creative energy together to shoot a film that reveals artistic process and the depth of human experience in a way I’ve not seen done. It was captivating, alive, and rich to the point that I even questioned my own motives for some of the things I do. Inspiring, thoughtful, and beautifully executed, Twilight Angel moved me on conscious and subconscious levels.
Over the years, my friends and I have debated the merit of commercially viable work versus the work intrinsic to the artist’s personal journey. Always, the question, “If you can’t sell it, what’s the point” rears its dangerous head. My answer has always been that if you’re honest in what you do, do it with passion, and execute it with respect for your audience, it will sell in spite of you. People want the real deal. Maybe the market for a particular work is tiny. Maybe it’s not. Regardless, if you pour your heart and soul into your work and then take the time to deliver it well — proper framing, hiring a good editor and cover designer, etc. — then it is a marketable product regardless of its content.
It may take time, time perhaps better spent producing the next work, but it will find an audience. If, however, you are throwing something together because you think it will sell, there is no love in the work. You will produce something like film #1 and absolutely embarrass yourself.
Steve Jobs said “The salesmen who led the companies were smart and eloquent, but ‘they didn’t know anything about the product.’ In the end this can doom a great company, because what consumers want is good products.”
Film #1 was about the sales potential. It had nothing to do with good product so it missed completely. Twilight Angel, on the other hand, was all about product. They didn’t worry about sales while they made it. As a result, it is exceptional.
Another Jobs quote, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” I think we all do. The question his statement begs is this: Will our ding be an ugly little dent no one wants to acknowledge, or will it be one God puts his finger in and explores?
Choose excellence over marketability. If you’re only going for what you think people will want, you’ll never make it. If you go for what you love, then it doesn’t really matter what other people think. In the end though, a product produced with love will sell.
What do you think? Please let me know in your comments. I love hearing from you.