FEATURE FRUSTRATIONS

   "Man On Wire" (2008, James Marsh)

 

Rudyard Kipling's "If" rests against my studio wall at home, so that whenever my eyes wander from the 15 inches of pixels that hold my career, they fall on his words. Kipling writes from the perspective of a father, speaking to his son, presumably on a birthday considered to be "coming-of-age" (which seems to happen every morning, to this human). The second stanza goes as such: 

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

Over the past years, this poem, given to me by my grandparents who survived far more terrible moments than I perhaps ever will, has given me courage on the path of the filmmaker. And I could not think of better advice for facing a long-term project such as a feature film. Whether a film is 1 minute or 100 minutes, there will always be inexplicable, teeth-gnashing problems to contend with -- people dropping out, freak weather events, batteries having zero charge... The amount of energy it takes to organise a series of disconnected elements into a coherent system feels sometimes like I am managing a nuclear supercollider and hoping that, somehow, the subatomic particles of the movie will collide, fuse, and create their own universe. Meeting Triumph and Disaster is part and parcel of the filmmaking. If I thought I understood those two words, it was within the scale of a short film. A short film is, relatively, a spark in the supercollider; a feature is it's very own sun. 

 

Writing over 14 drafts. Delaying shoots by 4 months. Contending with sceptical financiers. Each blow in the fight to make a feature film feels titanic the first time you take it. And Killer Whales is, by any standard, a tiny feature film -- I simply cannot conceive of the gumption it takes to make Fitzcarraldo for instance, when Werner Herzog pulled a whole steam boat across a mountain in the Amazon. But I can weather the blows -- it is the length of time that is most dangerous for me. On a project this long you lose your bearings. Rewriting is but one example: the film that this was in version 1 is night and day from where we are now: how to know if we've gone off course from our original intention? How to know if I've gone off course from my original vision as a director? And how to re-connect with that vision? Each time you rewrite, you break "the things you gave your life to...And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools". And you hope that the Frankenstein-esque Monster that you are continuously re-moulding has more life than before... 

 

Despite this breaking, of both work and Self, I do believe that it is the process that leads to the greatest growth, and the greatest art. In Sanskrit, according to My Dinner With Andre, the verb "to be" is synonymous with "to grow". As vexing as the frustrations of a feature may be, they are ultimately the catalyst for igniting the sun that burns within my heart, and that guides me to ever deeper perceptions of life. If I can keep fuelling it, and not let those titanic blows extinguish its heat, then I may just make it as the artist I aspire to be.

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