I used to be the film kid who didn’t play with others. My dream was to be the traditional auteur: writer, director and editor. A triple threat not to be messed with.
In reality, I was just too afraid to ask for help.
Fortunately, I learned (the hard way of course) that a great film really does take a village. During my senior thesis film class, I finally put my pride aside and sought out the best damn collaborators. Then I began to appreciate the power in numbers.
This whole “do-it-all-by-yourself” auteur mentality isn’t really cool anymore. I think about the industry professionals I admire and they all have one thing in common: they build solid teams. Recently with the rise of a DIT (do-it-together) movement, I’ve witnessed the film collective is making a steady comeback.
Fun fact: Lars von Trier (“Melancholia”) was a member of the collective, Dogme 95, a group of filmmakers that created projects under their own strict aesthetic rules back in the late 90’s.
I don’t think every collective has to be as extreme as good ol’ Lars. Today’s groups seem to originate from a need to take their creative energy and develop a sustaining platform for creating content. Unlike a production company, collectives also carve out a unique collaborative space for nurturing artists without a primary goal of staying out of the red.
If you’re still not convinced, here are two great examples of folks DIT-ing right now.
“I think Court 13 is about living the story, about trying to create the actual feeling that you are trying to shoot on set. You want to shoot a party, you have a party. You want to shoot a flood, you go to a flood. Its trying to get the real thing on camera and emotionally too.”
It seems fitting that Court 13 was born from a short film about an egg. The collective behind the Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was alive and kicking long before they introduced us to a little girl named Hushpuppy.
Describing themselves as a grassroots independent filmmaking army”, members of Court 13 first assembled to for “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin’s senior thesis simply titled “Egg”. Seriously, the “About” section on their website is just as magical as the feature film that would eventually put them on the map. Anyone looking for a little motivation should stop and go read it sometime.
I honestly had no idea these crazy kids had done so much prior to “Beasts”. As I browsed through the music videos and short films on their site, I couldn’t help but picture them as a traveling band of gypsies setting up film camps in whatever new place they found themselves in. The medium and circumstances might change, but the spirit remains unwavering (“We make films about communities, as a community”).
“It’s important that we work as a community, we can’t get anywhere if we are all working unconscious of each other’s work and resources. I am a co-founder of a filmmakers collective called Cinema Stereo (cinemastereo.org) and we are attempting to do just that. Collectivize as a means of elevating all of our work to more visible platforms”
The name of this group brings to mind the word “amplify” and we all know several voices shouting a message are much more powerful than a single whisper. My first introduction to NYC-based Cinema Stereo was through Twitter. Back in January, one of the filmmakers I follow had tweeted that his film collective would be screening their short films in Chicago. I couldn’t attend but still clicked the link out of curiosity.
It turns out I recognized almost all of the artists in the lineup (Twitter is so big yet so small) but had no idea they had organized together, becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Cinema Stereo is personally exciting to me as I’ve been able to see these directors translate their very specific manifesto (“restoring the humanity and diversity of Black narratives, while making the dopest shit of all time”) on the big screen. Shorts like “Close” by Tahir Jetter and “Say Grace Before Drowning” by Nikyatu Jusu and the feature-length “An Oversimplification” by Terence Nance stay with you long after the credits roll.
Even their website draws you in. The homepage is a curation of the members’ blogs! How awesome is that?
As my film hero, Ava DuVernay says “We don’t need permission.” There is absolutely nothing more inspiring that artists who make their own opportunities.
Say right now, you’re penning the dream script. The one you’ll enter in contests and submit to studios. Your blood sweat and tears held together by three copper brads.
What if there was another route to getting the story made?
When you’re just starting out, creative control is all you’ve really got. Why not band together your greatest resources (film friends from college) and make that feature, short, webseries, or trailer on your own terms? And why stop there? Tackle the festival circuit together. Host a screening series of your individual works. Lift one another up!
It might lead to laurels and fame or just be a way to do the work you love with people you like on a consistent basis.