Friday, December 5, 2008

The State of the State

During the Cucalorus Film Festival, I attended a panel discussion called "The State of the State".  This panel was intended to inform everyone of the current status of the film world in relation to Wilmington, North Carolina.  They are constantly replaying this discussion on the local cable access channel and I feel the need to weigh in.  Pardon while I slip into Hunter S. mode.

The room is emptier than I expected it to be, especially for something this important.  During previous years I was more interested in the screenings, trying to see as many movies as possible.  This time I hit up every single workshop and panel I could.  I have definitely started to become more focused on production and keeping my own productions going.  That's why I'm sitting here letting the drunkard next to me talk on about the usual B.S. that these people talk about during the festivals.

The folks on the panel are talking amongst themselves while the audience writes out what will turn out to be the same old tired questions that everyone asks about the "state of the State"; where do they see the film industry in Wilmington going, do they know of any major productions coming to town, how will the looming actor's strike effect us, etc.  It's honestly a little sickening.  I for one just want to make movies.  I don't really care HOW that happens, just that it does.  This is probably why I don't get along well with many "industry" people in this town.

Finally, the time comes to start the panel.  Actor Peter Jurasik stands at the podium as moderator for the night.  On the panel there is Johnny Griffin, head of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, Hilarie Burton, actress (One Tree Hill) who has recently started her own production company called Southern Gothic, Lou Buttino, chair of the UNCW Film Studies Program, Bill Vassar, head of Screen Gems Studio, recently re-elected Senator Julia Boseman, and a few others who's names I can't remember.  Also, in the audience was Duke Fire, head of Cape Fear Community College's Film and Video Production Program.  Peter asks the panel questions and they answer in turn.

Sadly, the answers were a series of "this is what we SHOULD be doing" or "this is what we COULD be doing" with no solid answers as to HOW exactly we go about doing it.  This is one of the great disappointments of this town, this self-described "Hollywood East", all the people in charge are a lot of talk.  To quote Faulkner (it's the South, why not), it was a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I don't do well playing the political game.  I can handle the handshakes and a certain degree of B.S., but it starts to weigh on me after a while.  Why aren't we actually doing something about the state of our State instead of merely talking about it?  If we worked together, the industry here could become something really impressive.  We have actors, crew, locations, a STUDIO!  What's stopping us?  Politics, or better yet, Hollywood.

Being a branch of a larger studio, Screen Gems is lorded over by corporate control and the horrible Hollywood system.  Independent productions flounder here unless they have a lot of money to throw around.  Of course, by their nature, true independent productions don't have a lot of money.  If they did, they would not be independent (unless you're following Hollywood's new definition of "independent" with big name celebrities in the lead roles).

There needs to be a new underground film movement.  Some have gone to the web as an alternative.  During the writer's strike, Joss Whedon got his friends together and shot a web-serial called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" (of course, his friends include Nathan Fillion of "Firefly" and Neil Patrick Harris).  We need more creators like Joss who just say "let's do it" and get their cast and crew together.

Independent is no longer a valid term.  It's been co-opted by Hollywood and twisted to fit a new definition.  Why should the real creatives follow the lead of a system that spits out nothing but crap, remakes, or adaptations of better works?  This is where the underground starts.  It's for anyone willing to "burn their bridges" in this "small town" of Wilmington just to make what they want to make.  Because it shouldn't matter if you're friends with everybody, just those that are like-minded and focused.

There are three people on the panel who might be willing to join this little movement, but I would never approach them to do so.  They have to make that first move.

Finally, the panel comes to an end with no new findings.  There are plenty of ideas, but no way to implement them.  Everyone rushes the stage to try and meet Hilarie Burton (who I will admit I was taken by when she started talking about some of her thoughts on how the system should work and why she didn't ever plan on living in Hollywood).  I stick around and say hello to a few local actors who sat in on the panel, find out what they are up to.

The room clears out as everyone walks downstairs into the mass of people waiting in the lobby of Thalian Hall.  I pass Jason Ritter walking out, not realizing it is him until later.  The mass of people in the lobby is choking off all the oxygen, I go out to return a phone call and get some air.

It's time to make some changes to the system.  Who's with me?

William the Bloody Determined Redd

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