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The String And The Pebble

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Filmmaking is an art form, which means there is no right or wrong way to approach it.  The balance between commerce and art is one gray area to explore, and where a movie lands in this span is up to each filmmaker.  I wrote a bit about finding this balance here.

Finding such a balance also involves technology and budget.  On one hand, having a substantial budget can result in more options, and more resources used to achieve one's artistic goals, and may result in a more marketable film.  At the other extreme, the tools necessary to create a film have become rather inexpensive.  Spending time instead of money, making other sacrifices, and shooting and editing on cheaper equipment can result in a satisfying film... but there are pitfalls to avoid here.  Learning how to push the red record button on a prosumer camera and edit two shots together with your home editing software does not make you a filmmaker.  Affordable, easily accessible equipment does not excuse one from the task of learning the craft and developing a skill set.

Money, technology, and a balance between a marketable film and a fulfilling, personal, not-easily-packaged film are not the only factors to contemplate.  The established (oftentimes more expensive) "right" way to do it, versus the freedom of truly independent DIY filmmaking is a battle that also includes artistic daring.  Creative innovation should be stabilized by an understanding of what has worked and what has failed, not only in your own past movies, but in the general landscape of cinema.  Breaking the rules is essential, but not learning the rules first is a sin.

If you want to be an architect because you feel today's artistic standards are stale, by all means, shake things up and design a brilliant and innovative mall or office building.  Break some rules and you'll become a legendary architect.  But if your buildings collapse in a month because you didn't learn the rules before you broke some, instead of a celebrated designer of cutting edge buildings, you'll be known as the guy who killed all those people in those horrible building collapses.  Making films without learning the rules first may not lead to such grim consequences... you won't have blood on your hands, but you'll have made some sloppy, or downright terrible movies.

I don't follow the Bollywood scene, but one of its most prominent screenwriters, in a recent interview, had something to say about balancing brave, artistic innovation with established and expected film language.  His words caught my interest - and I believe his insightful take on the matter sums things up in a unique and fascinating way.  Javed Akhtar (Seeta Aur Geeta, Sholay) described the issue not in terms of balance, but as a necessary conflict.

He spoke of a pebble tied to the end of a string.  A child is playing with this simple toy, swinging the pebble at the end of the string overhead, like a helicopter blade.  The child lets the string out, continuing to sling the pebble in a widening circle.

The string is tradition.  The pebble is revolt, or innovation.  The two work together.  Without the pebble, the string, being swung in wider and wider circles, would not extend out nearly as far.  Without the string, the pebble would simply drop to the dirt.  All great art flourishes when rooted in this conflict.  The relationship between the two... the string and the pebble... tradition and innovation... is essential.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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