Thursday, November 02, 2006

Amateur or Professional?



So what’s the difference between amateur & a professional? The dictionary defines amateur as “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” While the dictionary defines professional as: “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain”. The word amateur comes from the Latin word “amator”, which means lover. I kind of like the word amateur, but it’s used a lot to look down on individuals who do not do what they love full-time. What made me think about this is what is happening now in the realm of filmmaking. Digital video has made filmmaking more accessible to the masses. All you need is a computer & a camera and you can do a lot with that. Along with the Internet one can be seen by millions all at the touch of a keyboard or mouse click. Of course this flood of films has produced some interesting and some not so interesting films. But why look down at these people who do it for the love of filmmaking or the love of a genre. Coppola once said something in the same vein and that was that one day a farm girl from Ohio will make a movie that will blow the socks off the industry, and she’ll do it all from her computer in her bedroom. Already we are seeing signs of this. Shorts, documentaries and some features are being made at half the fraction that Hollywood usually pays out.

It takes passion, determination, and something worth saying to get a movie made. Yes, we all know that the story needs to be worth hearing, but usually these people who are creating these types of work are ones that newspapers and the media would label “amateur”. Now I kind of twinge at the use of this word, but part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that “yes I am a amateur, and I like it”. The Cinema has been something that is special to me. It means a lot to me, and it’s my love for it that has gotten me this far. Sure I’d like to make some money at filmmaking, but if I really were interested in getting my investment back I would have sunk my money in a less volatile scheme then making a film. There is no guarantee that I’ll ever make a success out of this endeavor, but I’m hoping that if I keep plugging away I’ll get it, and be a better filmmaker, and maybe a more successful one.

I’ve been reading, and have met several people out there who make films for next to nothing, and every time they keep coming back for more. It seems that the one’s who are successful at filmmaking get out of their cliques, and venture out into the world coming into contact with other cinephiles, and lovers of cinema. We learn from each other and grow from that. There are others who don’t venture out of their circle of influence and only wind up to be pigeon holed as a genre director/producer or “amateur”..

I think in order to be successful you need to bring something personal to you’re work. Sure we can all write about the action adventure we see regurgitated on TV and in the movies, but what will separate us from all that is the personal. How can we connect to the viewer, and how she or he connects with us. I’m not saying that one genre is better then the other. I love many genres. I just feel that in order to be successful you have to come up with something new that others can relate to. Amateurs do this because it’s what they know, and it’s their strongest suit. We are becoming more and more a society that is very selective, and one that has specific needs or wants. I see more and more films that are either in the category of horror, supernatural, or family orientated films. All from different distributors that seem to cater to their target audience. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Who can say? Are having so many choices a good or bad thing? I think those answers are best answered at a personal level. A don’t think people watch ONLY one particular genre. They like variety, and the Internet, and cable provide that for them, but if you look at cable they repeat their product over and over again, so that’s telling me that there aren’t enough shows out there to fill program schedules.

Now I’m sure there is product out there to program for these markets, but maybe not of the caliber that network TV or cable is used to. Where am I going with this? Simple it all comes down to money. Amateur & professional productions are usually categorized by production budget. Is the film shot on film or digital tape? Are there stars in the film that markets can exploit to its audience? After all we are still a celebrity driven culture. We like to see beautiful people up there on the screen. Star power adds another hook that you can market you’re film with.

So there is a line between amateur and professional, but audiences don’t care. If you’re story is solid, and the production is of professional caliber your sell your film. What do I mean by professional caliber? Lighting, acting, editing, sound, & direction are important. TV has been around for some time now, and the audience’s are getting smarter. They know bad when they see it. They also know poor quality when they see it. What destroyed the video market in the mid to late eighties was that video companies were beginning to pick up product of inferior quality. Usually the film was shot on video and it was slickly packaged for video stores to buy. Back then all you had to do is show a few exploitative elements on the package and you would be guaranteed a sale. The audience got wiser, and are now much more selective in their buying habits.

I like the word amateur, but I don’t like the connotation that the word brings. Bad acting, poor sound, and so-so story. It’s good that YOU care about YOUR film, but should anyone else? Is there a market out there you can target? The days of the big advances from distributors are gone. No longer do distributors fork over huge sums of cash for a film that you made. These advances now don’t even cover your production expenses, so you have to be smarter. There is a lot of product out there, and though a lot of it is of poor quality there is still a lot of product out there for them to choose from. The one’s that the distributors will choose will be ones that will be good, and have some sort of exploitative element so they can hook their audience. The word is entertainment, and that is what the distributors are in the business to do.

So great you’re an amateur filmmaker what can you do? If you have no money start looking outside your circle. Use professional actors. Maybe go see some local plays and see whose good. There are a lot of great actors out there dying for exposure. Pay them something for their time. We all have to eat. Write, write, and then re-write you’re story. Get people involved early in the work, and let the seed grow. Research you’re chosen genre that you would like to write about. All this is called doing you’re homework. It doesn’t matter on what you shoot on now as long as your story is good, and you know you’re medium. It’s okay to be a “lover” of the cinema, but unlike writing a book, or taking a picture, or painting a painting, filmmaking is a collaborative art form, and one that is expensive. We just can’t go out and buy a canvas and some color paints and start drawing our masterpieces. Filmmaking is dependent on a variety of art forms to come together, and is subject to the whims of the entertainment marketplace. You have to be smart & know you’re end goal for you’re film, so keep that “amateur” status in your heart, but strive to be a professional, and then maybe just maybe you will graduate to doing that next film.

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