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A "Career" In Indie Film? Better Have That Second Job Lined Up...

By Ted Hope | Hope for Film April 21, 2011 at 8:30AM

I don't want to discourage anyone to not pursue their dreams. I just want to encourage people to do it in a realistic manner. On the other hand, I also don't think anyone should live their life dedicated to being safe and secure. We do need to pursue and push for better things. But then again, I also don't think anyone should be reckless in that pursuit. Cracking the code about trying the impossible (aka a life in the arts) is a back and forth proposition, and success is often based on good timing as much as merit.
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I don't want to discourage anyone to not pursue their dreams. I just want to encourage people to do it in a realistic manner. On the other hand, I also don't think anyone should live their life dedicated to being safe and secure. We do need to pursue and push for better things. But then again, I also don't think anyone should be reckless in that pursuit. Cracking the code about trying the impossible (aka a life in the arts) is a back and forth proposition, and success is often based on good timing as much as merit.

If you ask me, pursuing a career in Indie Film these days requires one to have an alternative money stream to pay the bills, and there lies the rub.

Last week I tried to explain to a multi-hyphenate that I admire why I recently found it so hard to read scripts. The fear of falling in love with a new project haunts me. Such passion would lead to reckless behavior if I actually like what I read. To commit to another film means that I will be investing my labor for little financial return (and none for the three years or so it takes to get it up and running). Granted I profit from the films I make, but generally speaking my profit is more spiritual and cultural than the sort that allows me to keep my apartment and not surrender my home to the banks. It's hard to generate new work when I know what the rewards will be (very low in terms of money). I guess that means I am certified insane -- probably just like you -- because I can't help but keep doing it despite knowing that I will get the same return that I have on the other 65+ films that I have produced, and -- comparable to the way our world rewards other endeavors -- that ain't much.

Last week, after that discussion, I tweeted: "Frustrating: creating ambitious stories on reasonable budgets that generate wealth for others no longer a viable occupation." It's a sad song, perhaps best followed by a round of shots for all around (whiskey that is, not the sorts reserved for enemies). But it is a song that can be sung for a lifetime, even a satisfying one despite the sorrow, and particularly pleasing if we move forward with open eyes. The opportunity to use your labor in service to art that enriches culture and inspires others is a tremendous privilege, even if the price tag is minimal, or even non-existant.

So do film schools teach this? I think we would have more directors, producers, and writers creating more wonderful work, if we understood better how to earn a living doing one thing while we give our heart and mind to something else entirely. What are the jobs that lend themselves to a second profession on the side? How do people gain the skills that allow them to juggle to careers? What would such a practical curriculum look like? Does anyone know of one that has been established? New and old both certainly need it.

Thinking of all the assistants out there now, with dreams of writing, directing, and even producing, I wonder what will happen to them when they start to approach 30 years old. If this is the trade they've learned and they have done it for so long, nothing else is any longer an option, they are fucked as their skills and habits don't readily apply to other endeavors. I will never forget how when we wrapped Hal Hartley's AMATEUR, a long time friend and co-conspirator of mine came up to me and let me know he had gotten into law school. It totally took me by surprise. He had recently started gaffing and it seemed to me his filmmaking career was taking hold. He replied that indie film is only for the young, and as he was turning 30 and in love, he wanted to have a family, and indie film just wouldn't support it. He was right.

When one has to choose between their art and having a family, it is clear that art is not a career. When one has spent 25 years quite "successfully" producing indie movies and yet finds the industry more volatile and treacherous than ever before, it is clear that indie film is not a career.

Yet the effort to create ambitious work, to inspire others, and bring people together, to change the world through one's creations, to challenge the form and the apparatus with ones dreams and actions -- what could ever be more crucial or satisfying?

If one can't support oneself, but one must create, and create challenging and ground breaking work, how can they ever go hand in hand. It goes back to indie film now being a hobby (and not a profession): if you want to create, you best plan on finding a job that will pay the bills first. If only I had...

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