Jul 12

The Starving Artist Cliche

I recently had a debate with one of my twitter followers who stated that the budget for my Kickstarter campaign is too high, and I quote…

“I’m having a hard time swallowing $60 grand is required – What kind of budgetary message does that send to new [film]makers?”

Fair enough… however just about every independent filmmaker I know is either complaining that they can’t make a living doing this or that they are broke. And what strikes me as even more peculiar is that many seem in some not so subtle way to prefer living with “the starving artist” tag.  It has become (specifically in my native Brooklyn or as the French say – tres Brooklyn (Whatever)) some sort of badge of honor to struggle while doing your art. I think it’s all crap.  My goal as a filmmaker was never to struggle as I do my art. There are more than enough inherent obstacles in the film industry, you don’t need to add artificial ones in order to fit into a cool stereotype. The truth is there are few things worse (as an artist) than not being able to pay your rent while simoultaneously trying to be creative.

So to answer the question of my skeptical tweeter… my message to new filmmakers would be that you don’t have to be a starving artist to be a good artist. I make a good living doing corporate videos, and I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t also be the case with my creative personal projects granted they utilize the same resources. Filmmaking is not something you can fund yourself and do well.  The equipment costs the same, my crews rates are the same, my time is the same, I still have to carry film insurance, so I choose to maintain the same budget on my creative projects as I have on my commercial work.  If I wanted a cheap hobby I would have taken up a paint brush.

When I first started as a videographer I would do a project that I would charge 5 – 6K for today for $750 or less.  I did this by cutting corners, wearing many hats, and rushing work. Some corporate project managers don’t care enough about quality to pay any kind of a premium, so I did what I had to do to get my foot in the door.  Once you establish that you will work for cheap It is tough to break through that perception and get a fair rate. Especially when corporate clients will leverage other struggling videographers against each other to keep your rates down.  It’s only after fighting through that ceiling that I was eventually able to get for myself on a regular basis what I consider a fair rate.

So ask for what you are worth, push past the initial resistance from your peers to maintain some hipster struggling artist cliche, and eventually when your work is good enough you will get what you are worth.

Here is a link to the Kickstarter page that sparked this debate.


Sep 11

Brooklyn Boheme Premiers

This past Thursday Brooklyn Boheme which I have been co-editing and animating for the past two years had it’s red carpet premier.  It opened the 15th annual Urban World Film Festival at the AMC 34th street theatre’s. Guests included Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Mario Van Peebles & Maxwell. There was such a buzz of anticipation for this film that they had to book another theatre because the premier sold out in hours.

As a person who edits primarily for the internet, there is an unfamiliar natural high that you can’t duplicate online.  Knowing that all these people are judging and reacting to your work on the big screen in real time is both humiliating and exhilarating.  You can see me in the slideshow below (2nd pic) anxiously waiting for the film to start with Spike Lee and Chris Rock sitting a couple of rows back. As it turned out mistakes notwithstanding the premier was amazing! The audience laughed, applauded, and nodded in all the right places.

After the screening directors Nelson George, and Diane Paragas had a Q & A session where the audience showed allot of love.  After two years of countless hours editing, re-editing, arguing, and wishing for it to be all over, seeing it play even if only for that one night made it all worth it. Support this film, it’s a great story about an art movement in one Brooklyn neighborhood that transcends race.


Photos courtesy of themoviesthatshouldbemade.com

Aug 11

Movie Review: Page One – Inside The New York Times

Page One Inside The New York Times directed by Andrew Rossi brings to light more than any other work in recent memory the volatile relationship between old and new media. Told mostly through the eloquent narration of The Times media and cultural columnist David Carr, this film documents a year in which lay-offs, bankruptcies, and closures were a daily reality in the world of print. Carr who is a former crack addict acts as the heroic figure for the old guard as he seeks to find his place in a world where social media sites like Twitter, organizations like Wiki Leaks and video channels like Vice TV have drastically reshaped the media landscape. In one memorable scene where Mr. Carr visits Vice Magazine to do a story on the young upstart, while being interviewed one of it’s founders Shane Smith boasts to Mr Carr; “We know how to speak to young people,” referring to some shocking video footage obtained in Africa by the Vice crew dealing with cannibalism and public defecation. ‘The New York Times isn’t cool enough to publish stories about cannibalism. Mr Carr interrupts: “Before you ever went there, we had reporters there reporting genocide after genocide. So just because you put on a fucking safari helmet and look at some poop, that doesn’t give you the right to insult what we do.” then Mr. Carr says, “So continue.”’  As it was framed in this edit (The New York times being the David against the Vice’s Goliath), I couldn’t help but cheer for Mr Carr.  There seems to be a disconnect and growing divide between old and new media that I think is to the detriment of the whole.  This film explores and in some ways attempts to traverse that gap using The New York times as it’s case study.   I strongly recommend anyone who is involved in new and old media to put this film on your to view list.


Jun 11

Brooklyn Boheme – First 5 Minutes Teaser Preview

Living in East Flatbush Brooklyn during the 80′s and 90′s I witnessed mostly through popular media the cultural and artistic renaissance that was happening only a few miles away in Fort Greene Brooklyn.  Spike Lee, Eryka Badu, The band Living Color, Mos Def, Wesley Snipes, Saul Williams, Chris Rock, Branford Marsalis were just a few of the names who’s work I followed from that part of Brooklyn.  Another artist from this region who’s work I followed was Nelson George who’s book Hip Hop America became the first in depth literary piece on the genre that I read.  So when Nelson and co director Diane Paragas approached me to assist on the editing of a documentary about that artistic movement I was pretty excited.    It is my biggest editing project to date and I am learning allot.  This film titled Brooklyn Boheme is a gem of a story and I can’t wait until the world gets to see it in it’s entirety.  In the meantime they have released a teaser from the first 5 minutes of this film.


May 11

The Visualmakers – Preview Trailer

Here is the 1st trailer for the documentary The Visualmakers a film “that seeks to find out what unites us as independent filmmakers who use the latest breed of relatively affordable digital tools.” The filmmakers interviewed here feel a bit like the stereotypical “insider club” of old media directors but the sound-bytes and shots are great.



May 11

Tiny Feature Saturday’s – SoLost: The Holy Land Of Cinema?

This video courtesy of Dave Anderson features The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin Texas.  This one of a kind theatre is kind of like The Prairie Home Companion for the theatre going crowd.  According to the vimeo page…

“From Master Pancake Theater to Hecklevision to Sing-Alongs and Quote-Alongs; from nighttime “Jaws” screenings from inner tubes on a lake to a car-eating Robosauras breathing fire in their parking lot to Leonard Nimoy shocking fans with a surprise world premiere of the new Star Trek, this is a spot where every day brings a grand new film event.”

They also have an aggressive policy on talking during their films.  According to the founder and CEO Tim League

“If you talk… we’ll warn you sternly, if we have to warn you a second time that warning will say ‘If I am coming back, you are leaving,’ there is no third warning.  And If I need to bring the police in, I will bring the police.”


Rumor has it they will be bringing their show to New York and Los Angeles in 2011.



Apr 11

Stocktown X South Africa: A road movie – Trailer

This film by Swedish based directors Teddy Goitom and Benjamin Taft set out to capture the creative street vibes of South Africa presenting another perspective from the young creative forces around big cities in Africa. The yet to be launched website stocktown looks pretty cool too.

Source: Teenagefilm.com



Mar 11

Teenage – Teaser | A Film By Matt Wolf

Based on a groundbreaking book by the punk author Jon Savage, Teenage is an unconventional historical film about the invention of teenagers. Bringing to life fascinating youth from the early 20th century—from party-crazed Flappers and hipster Swing Kids to brainwashed Nazi Youth and frenzied Sub-Debs—the film reveals the pre-history of modern teenagers and the struggle between adults and adolescents to define youth.

Incredible archival material mixes seamlessly with 16mm recreations featuring actors. Based on actual teenage diaries, the footage resembles period home movies made by kids themselves. Stylized narration dramatizes this turbulent story and a contemporary soundtrack heightens emotions. The result is a visually explosive, pop meditation on how teenagers were born. Teenage is in-progress and seeking funding. The film will be completed in 2012. Log onto the Teenage website for more info.

Mar 11

Film Review | Bill Cunningham New York

I must admit that I never heard of Bill Cunningham until I became a fan of the On The Street video slide-shows on The New York Times website.  I was immediately intrigued by Bill’s voice and manner of speaking and wanted to know more about him.  The film Bill Cunningham New York by Richard Press absolutely satisfied that need.  Bill Cunningham has the whole visual history of fashion in New York in the last 40 or 50 years.  He is the pioneering force behind fashion street photography.  You might think that someone with that kind of legacy working in the center of arguably the most self absorbed industry in New York might have an ego to match.  Instead what we find is an unassuming photographer of the utmost integrity, so focused on his art that he can’t be bothered with the perks of life, fame or celebrity.  As he put it “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses, I’m interested in clothes.”

This film also gives an intriguing portrait of the colorful group of fashionistas and artists that make up Bill’s circle of friends. Most notably a series of scene stealing cameos by one of Bill’s Carnegie Hall neighbors photographer to the stars Editta Sherman.  In one memorable scene Editta in her 90′s who is constantly pressing the camera crew for more attention refers to herself as a legend of Carnegie Hall, in turn the crew asks her whether she means legend or fixture?  This film is littered with gems like that.

The most touching moment in the film came when with much trepidation the crew asks Bill if he has ever regretted not having a relationship. For one brief somewhat uncomfortable moment, Bill lets us in and reveals without words how his love for his art did not come without sacrifice.  Myself being a 40 year old single male simultaneously addicted to, yet terrified of living the rest of my life alone, it gave me a rare glimpse as to where such single minded focus can lead. No pun intended.

Also to be acknowledged is Richard Press’ fly on the wall approach to filmmaking.  As the filmmaker states on his website…

“Bill’s reticence to be filmed set the practical terms for how the documentary could be made. The spectacle of a camera crew, sound recorder, and boom operator would be impossible. We had to capture him the way he claims to capture his own subjects: “discreetly, quietly, and invisibly.”

While this approach may be a bit unorthodox to traditional filmmakers, blending in is an approach long embraced by New Media filmmakers everywhere.  We have always taken our cues from the event and street photographers.  It is great to see this approach utilized in a film about the photographer that pioneered this approach.  The editing of Ryan Denmark should also be applauded.  Seamlessly incorporating vintage footage with contemporary footage added to Bill’s never-ending Worker Bee aura.  Plus it’s always cool to see old footage of pre-Guiliani Times Square. I was also very impressed with the photographic animation of Keira Alexandra.  It was critical that the photo sequences look and worked right, and Kiera nailed it.

My one criticism is that the filmmakers did not go into much depth about how Bill makes his living.  Bill says that “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.”   So how does he make his living?  The only insight is an off hand reference from Bill about having a “Day Job,” accompanied with vintage b-roll of him coming out of the old New York Times office on 43rd street.  His belief that even taking a glass of water translates to a loss of freedom can’t possibly play out in a practical world right?  We will never know from watching this film.  A more in depth look at how his income streams fit into this rigid philosophy would have served the audience well.

That aside, the power in this film lies in the fact that it strips away all the nonsense and frivolities that New York society places on art and breaks Bills work down to it’s bare essentials, the clothes.  If you have somehow forgotten how you felt at that moment when you first realized that you would sooner give up your right arm than put down your camera, your paintbrush, your notepad or whatever tool you use to express yourself, this film acts as a poignant reminder.


Bill Cunningham New York is playing at the Film Forum through Tuesday March 29th.  For other dates log on to the official website here.


Feb 11

Tarantino – Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

If you remember recently I posted a video titled “Everything is a Remix” that showed a frame by frame comparison between Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill and some of the movies that inspired it.  Recently an individual by the name of Mike White posted a comment on my blog that read “apparently you guys haven’t seen this.” along with a link to a film he produced called “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?”  This film was a frame by frame comparison between Tarantino’s breakout film “Reservoir Dog’s” and a film by Ringo Lam titled “City on Fire.” The similarities are amazing and leave little doubt as to where Tarantino found his “inspiration.”  Judge for yourself.

As mentioned in my second “Everything is a Remix” post, taking something and making it yours is nothing new to art. However when the inspiration is obvious, not giving credit or acknowledging where one gets his or her ideas is at best in bad taste, and at worst downright illegal.

After watching “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” I checked out another video from Mike, this one an MTV news report on the controversial ban of Mike’s film from the New York Underground Film Festival. The MTV report ends with a Tarantino comment denying the plagiarism accusations and even going as far as saying that he would look forward to watching “City on Fire.”  The MTV clip is followed with another side by side comparison with one of my all-time favorite movie scenes (the “Ezekiel 25:17″ scene), from my all time favorite film Pulp Fiction, which was eerily similar to the title crawl in the 1973 film ‘The Bodyguard’ starring Sonny Chiba.


One IMDB comment summed up this charade the best.

“Who do you think you’re fooling, QT? Yes, the teens who watch MTV News and haven’t seen “Who do you think you’re fooling?”. But anyone who did see Mike White’s short won’t believe you.

Back in olden times before the Internet, it was more difficult to cross reference old films with new ones, so Tarantino took his chances.  It seems that as time has passed and information became more readily available, more people got wise to Tarantino’s game. These days he readily reveals his sources and openly pays homage to genre films, even incorporating some of the stars from the movies that inspired him. However at the very beginning it seems that QT stole what he thought he could get away with.  Well you know what Picasso said, “Good artist borrow, great artist steal.”