In this day and age, it couldn’t be easier. If you want to watch a film you can almost spit in any direction and hit an appliance that’ll make it happen. In fact, many of us can just reach into the pocket and take hold of a device whose main function of “calling people” has taken a back seat to its video/gaming capabilities. Words like “Netflix,” “Hulu,” “Vimeo,” and “Youtube” have become synonymous with an instant encounter with any motion picture - from the biggest Hollywood blockbuster to your cousin Joey’s reenactment of that scene from “Blade Runner.” It has never been a better time to be a film junkie, which, consequently, makes it the worst time to be a creative in the field.
Now hear me out. While I make such a statement, let it be known that I also praise the world wide web for letting me see that small Swedish film that will never make it to the “Cinema 28 3D IMAX Xtreme theater” downtown. It’s a great time to love foreign and independent film because the iTunes’ and Netflixes of the world have made it possible for me to see them in the middle of “God knows where” and “Hell if know.” But, as the old saying I’ve repurposed goes, “with great movie watching power, comes great moving watching responsibility.”
There was time where I was watching a movie a day…a DAY. And this was not during my one summer extensive film watching experience “The Criterion Summer” (shameless plug). That was this month. Think of it…at 2 hours per film, that’s 14 hours a week. I was watching two work shifts worth of film and television a week. There is no way that is healthy, either physically or creatively.
And therein lies the rub. With so much media at our fingertips, can creative people be as creative as they used to be? It can’t be easy. I know it hasn’t been for me. There used to be just my own little self whirling around in my brain but, after a week of film, now there’s a whole mess of ideas, styles, and characterizations that are rolling around in there with me, making it harder for my own originality to shine through. Maybe its just me but, how many times have filmmakers considered an idea and then, after viewing, say a really great horror movie, find themselves now wanting to make their first idea now with a horror slant or tone?
It’s a bit of a catch 22. Most filmmakers get into the craft because they have been heavily influenced by film and see it as a great medium for expression. So they do two things- try and make their own original films and watch as much of other people’s work as possible. But, by watching others, they are influenced and their work becomes less original to their own creative core. In that case, they either develop a film that reminds them of other’s work (far too often referred to as a homage instead of laziness) or go back to the drawing board and watch more film in hope of inspiration. It’s a viscous cycle that’s hard to break.
So how do we break it? It’s called “The Blockbuster Video Effect.” There was a time where we paid to rent each film we watched and, because of that, we were more selective. Now services like “Netflix” give you a whole video store for the price of two rentals a month so, instead of being choosy with what we watch, we just take in more than ever and consume the bad with the good. To be the best creative people we can be, we should see these internet services not as buffets, but as simply more options on the menu. And, though the world of technology would like to convince you otherwise, absence still makes the heart grow fonder and consuming film in proper portions would not only help exercise our creative juices but also make our more selective film viewing experiences that much more enjoyable.
Now this could easily be taken as a “go outside and play” sermon, but I tell you that’s not the case. For creatives, we should be spending the majority of those reclaimed 14 film-watching hours for working on our own ideas and stories. Good art takes time and, because of that, you’ve got to put in those hours “at the gym.” Imagine what that would look like - a whole generation of filmmakers separated from the umbilical cord of film consumption, but nursing on the mother of inspiration only when necessary.
I’m not sure the world would be ready for it…and that makes it all the more intriguing.