If a Film Screens in a Forest, and No One is There to Watch It... is it Still Worth Making?
I spent much of today making my 2015 Directing Samples DVD. For those of you reading this and aren't in the business, the sample DVD is essentially my resume of work. Often people don't have the time to watch all my films before deciding if they want to hire me as a freelance director, but they usually have time to watch a 3-5 min clip here or there. I try to make one every year to keep everything up to date. Some will watch a web link but most are still used to popping in a DVD and sitting on the couch.
As I went through my work I felt satisfied for the first time in my life about where I am in the process of being a filmmaker. Often the gap between what I intended to make when writing a project and what I ended up with in the end is as large as the Grand Canyon. Recently I feel like the difference between goals and result are shrinking for me. Ira Glass explains the process I feel so clearly in the video below.
My body of work is growing in ways I hadn't noticed. When I'm living my life, it definitely feels very different. Like "I did a webseires there, a client job here, a graphics project for fun there" and in between a lot of days of just waiting, editing, sending out resumes and hoping that the last job wasn't truly "my last job." There is also another big reason why my body of work doesn't quite add up for me: Internet Views (Damn you, YouTube view count!)
There are projects of mine that I am a huge fan of. Moon and Sun or The America Series are two of them. But when I check the number of plays on YouTube, they certainly haven't gone viral. Some of them seem like more of a success than others, except the ones that appear to be most successful are the ones that I keep checking... which means I'm not sure how many of those views are simply me refreshing the page verses new people actually watching them.
I uploaded a video many years ago without thinking much about it. It was a single clip that I published while having fun with Tina on the streets of Cape Town. The other day I checked back at realized it was my most watched video. There wasn't a big crew (just me and T) and I did absolutely no tweeting/facebooking/instagramming about this video. And yet it has views in the 30K range. I fear I may never crack this YouTube algorhythm. Or perhaps I know how but for whatever reason shy away from doing so.
There is the question that I repeat to myself: Why am I making these films? I don't have a problem with "arts for arts sake." I quite love it. I love reading poetry written for personal diaries or seeing unfinished paintings that were meant only for the artist themselves. But the process of making a narrative film is to tell a story and "to tell a story" implies that there is an audience to receive it.
Obviously when a piece of work I created doesn't get many views, I go through the usual hamster wheel of thoughts: "well it must suck. Or not be relatable. Or maybe it was just ahead of it's time (yeah right) or behind the times. I should stop watching 90's movies." All of that holds water until I go back to my video about a street performer in Cape Town. It wasn't filmed on a RED camera. We had one microphone. No script. Just me filming life in front of me. And I uploaded it and tagged it horribly. And yet, 30K views. What-the-what??
This spring Tina and I will begin working with a friend who does social media and PR. He believes thats the problem with why our work hasn't gone viral even though we're cranking it out as fast as two people can. We'll try new things and fun experiments. We'll get the Google Adsense account going, the tweets scheduled, the Instagram feeds curated and the Facebook ads optimized. But don't think I'm holding my breath or calling my dad saying "This year is going to be the year!"
Because honestly I don't know what makes something work and what doesn't. What makes something go viral and what doesn't. And if it doesn't work, at least I know that in the forest when my films screen I'll at least be there to watch it along with my wife. I am a lucky man to say that. If you care to watch with me, this is the film I made that I'll watch tonight.