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March 14 at 8:30am

Guest Post: James Fair: The butcher, the baker, the amateur filmmaker – getting the language right…

What’s in a name? A lot more than we initially suspect, frankly. We have been talking about “what is “Indie”" for decades — and probably will for decades to come. My attempt to define “Truly Free Film” has lead me to be called on the carpet more than once for not making TRULY Free Film (we can talk about that in a future post). And that discussion is just for specific monikers. What happens when we start to get poetic and delve in to the realm of metaphor?

Today’s guest post is from contributor and filmmaker James Fair, and he shows quite well how much the choice of language matters.

Christopher J. Boghosian and Mark Savage both wrote great posts recently that used analogies to identify some of the challenges that face the filmmaker (the baker and the priest respectively). Last year I wrote a post for Randy Finch about why we should be careful with the language we use to identify ourselves as filmmakers, and I want to expand upon why I think it is important here.

This community is broadly dedicated to exploring and establishing new models of cinema to replace the rapidly diminishing old models. It seeks to reflect, understand and decipher the current issues facing the filmmaker. However, I believe that one potential conflict between the past and the future is the connotations of the language that we use to describe things. As ideas and concepts change, the meaning of language changes too…

Let me give you an example. Let’s take the ‘professional/amateur’ divide. Within filmmaking the common belief is that you are professional if you are paid and make a living from it, you are amateur if you don’t. But, working in a university, I meet many people who would argue that LITTLE of the film industry is ‘professional’, because it rarely requires examinations or formal training to work in many of the roles, which means that it isn’t strictly a profession at all, it is a ‘job’. The formal training is the distinction between the two, and plenty advocate that filmmakers don’t need to be trained. Describing filmmaking as an ‘avocation’ doesn’t seem as derogatory as a ‘hobby’ because of the connotations attached to the ‘calling’, as Mark Savage pointed out. The term ‘hobbyist’ doesn’t seem appropriate because filmmaking doesn’t often result in the pleasure and relaxation associated with ‘hobbies’!

Why is this important? Ultimately, I believe it is our human nature to want to classify things and identify our position within society. It is a way of understanding both others and ourselves. I am a ‘nobody’ filmmaker creates a distinction from a ‘somebody’ filmmaker. Therefore their situations are different. I am a ‘professional’ and you are an ‘amateur’ means you are not qualified to understand me. The titles position us within society and even within this community that Ted has created. Even worse, the connotations of these titles have the potential to divide us – the ‘amateur’ thinks they makes films for the ‘love of the art’ whilst the ‘professional’ is a ‘sell-out’. Andrew Keen’s book ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ attacks amateurism for being sub-par quality, unpaid and unqualified. However, I’ve seen great quality stuff from unpaid people and I’ve seen sub-par quality stuff from qualified people. Our lives are more complex than these labels give us credit for.

Therefore, using analogies and metaphors are useful constructs when trying to explain our unusual choice of career to others within society. They help us draw parallels with others around us and help understanding. However, as the debate that followed Mark Savage’s post showed, the choice of metaphor is critical, as they too come with connotations. In the last few weeks alone we have seen filmmaking sharing similarities with the baker, the priest, the gambler and the real estate agent. Can we be all or any of these things? They have such different connotations! Describing my role like that of a priest may help me secure funding in future, describing myself as a gambler probably won’t. This would be a really great topic for discussion here… what is the best metaphor or analogy and why?

Whilst I believe is that the success of the community depends upon the diversity of people; these titles shouldn’t be barriers to our conversation. The new models of cinema haven’t been discovered yet so all constructive voices can help us through the paradigm shift. We can all make valid contributions. We should identify with our similarities as filmmakers not our differences. There are occasional voices that aren’t constructive, who prefer to hide behind the anonymity of a false name when they troll abuse. If you have belief in your conviction, put your name upon it. The falsehood discredits your argument. The language you use and the way you choose to identify yourself informs the way that everyone else will perceive you.

James is a lecturer in Film Technology at Staffordshire University in the UK. He is currently editing his feature documentary about the North African Sahara, due for release later in 2011.


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March 4 at 8:15am

Guest Post: James Fair: The Path To The New Model: Share Our Failures

Yesterday, James Fair guest posted here on “The Path To The New Model: Join The Community”. Today he returns with an important recommendation for all us to share not just what works, but what doesn’t. We can get beyond the repetitive culture of remakes of yesterday’s hits. We can find new stories, new formats, and new ways of working, but it takes the willingness to be both FAIL and SHARE the experience.

Perhaps the barrier to a successful ‘revolution’ is our own inability to share our failures. We are always keen to promote our successes to others but we rarely want to admit to the mistakes we’ve made. However, the mistakes are arguably more valuable if we can learn from them. Ideally we should all share our mistakes so that we can all collectively learn from them, but it goes against our conditioning. We don’t want to appear unsuccessful. We don’t want to admit to failure, yet it is a fundamental component of the scientific method. This method emphasises the construction of a hypothesis, and then a process of trial and error testing followed by conclusions from the findings, good or bad. Encouraging mistakes, understanding their causes. This then indicates progress, and a move forward.

Placing an emphasis upon success means that filmmaking gets locked into a process of repeatability – namely ‘hit’ culture – whereby filmmakers are always under pressure to repeat the success of something that went before. There is very little emphasis upon encouraging or understanding failings; there tends to be a rejection of anyone who fails to deliver the success. How do you deliver such success? The easiest way is to use the tried and tested model. And then we get into a situation where we have lots of movie remakes and sequels.

The ‘slow-climb up the hierarchy’ model, or the ‘fantastic short director who then gets discovered’ model result in one shared outcome – a filmmaker who finds themselves making a feature for the first time, with pressure and expectation on their shoulders. There have been very few steps established within industry that actually encourage new filmmakers to experiment with their filmmaking, and stay with them until they establish a ‘voice’. This may be why critics feel that conventional cinema is becoming so homogenous and boring, because the pressure is there to deliver a solid performance from the beginning. Little room for manoeuvre, little room for mistakes.

Digital technology has made amateur experimentation affordable, but it is only when we share the experiences (the good and the bad) that we collectively feel the benefit. It is an Open Source project in search of a new model – Truly Free Film – the same way that Linux is an operating system that benefits from collective contributions. I personally benefitted a great deal from reading posts upon this website when making a feature in 72 hours in Australia last year. In turn I contributed a series of posts about the experiences to complete the loop. These are the ways we can collectively move forward. Sharing the failures is contributing to a cumulative success.

James is a lecturer at in Film Technology at Staffordshire University. His latest feature, The Ballad of Des & Mo, was shot and edited in 72 hours at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2010 and was in the Audience Top Ten. The film screens this weekend (Saturday 12th Feb) alongside the Berlinale Film Festival – people interested in going along can register here or email james@hellocamera.ie


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March 3 at 8:20am

Guest Post: James Fair: The Path To The New Model: Join The Community

It is easy to speak and to write of community, but how do we actually work together to make it better? We are dispersed across the globe, some professional, some amateur, but all driven by passion for a more diverse and ambitious film culture. We have the tools. We have the know how, but we still have a long road before us. Stepping down the path requires us to put one foot in front of the other, and make some progress, even if it might be in the wrong direction. Today’s guest post is from filmmaker and lecturer James Fair, a regular contributor to this blog and discussion.

The web is full of amateurs that can collectively fail a whole number of times until a pattern of success can be accumulated from the collective mass. A website like HopeForFilm/TrulyFreeFilm charts the various different experiments that people are taking and enables us to benefit from the cumulative thought. Can this be the path to a new model for Truly Free Film?

I don’t believe that this process is entirely new or exclusive to the Internet. History is full of examples where many people simultaneously chased identical goals, often experimenting along similar lines until circumstances played a big part of what technologies and processes were kept. For example, the history of the film camera has a variety of notable pioneers (Muybridge, Dickson, Edison, Lumiere to name a few), each influencing one another in processes of refinement and standardization until we arrived with many of the specifications that we have continued to use to this day (gauges, frame rates etc.). History has a tendency of simplifying the past with the fallacy of narrative. We forget the turbulence of emerging trends and technologies and formulate a neat recollection of how and when things appeared. Let’s look at playback technology alone; did you buy Betamax or VHS? Did you buy laser-disc or wait for DVD? Were you Blu-Ray at the start or did you gamble on HD-DVD first? If you bought into the wrong one of these technologies you made a costly mistake; such is the price of being at the cutting edge!

I have written a few times upon TFF about the ‘paradigm shift’ and the fact that we are encountering new ways of thinking about every aspect of filmmaking: production, distribution and exhibition. The most exciting and simultaneously daunting factor about these new ways of thinking are that the methods are not yet fixed and established. When the ‘digital revolution’ was being heralded at the end of the last millennium and the disintegration of traditional models began, few envisaged that it would take a lot longer to establish new protocols and procedures. We seem to have been left with the ‘age of uncertainty’.

In many ways, digital technology has developed an affordable culture of trial and error. Many people like myself are just shooting our features and seeing what sticks and works. This is the ‘amateur’ way, driven on passion and enthusiasm. Marshall McLuhan argued that this ‘amateur’ way led to some important discoveries that ‘professionals’ and ‘experts’ never envisaged because they had fixed modes of thinking that prevented them questioning the ground rules. McLuhan used Michael Faraday as an example of a scientist who made great scientific discoveries, because of, not despite of his lack of formal education. McLuhan included The Beatles as a further example of young pioneers who pushed boundaries, not because of any great formal knowledge of what they were doing, but because they were empowered to explore all music without limitation.

The unique benefit of the Internet is that these experiments are not taking place in isolation anymore. We have the cumulative effect of many minds all addressing the problems that we face. Critics, like Andrew Keen, argue that the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is not very valuable if everyone is unknowledgeable in the first place. But here on Truly Free Film/ Hope For Film it appears Ted fosters a broad cross-section of filmmakers, all in a perpetual state of interaction so that good practice can be shared and understanding accelerated.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how sharing our failure can lead to our mutual success.

James is a lecturer at in Film Technology at Staffordshire University. His latest feature, The Ballad of Des & Mo, was shot and edited in 72 hours at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2010 and was in the Audience Top Ten. The film screened last month (Saturday 12th Feb) alongside the Berlinale Film Festival – people interested in future screenings & bookings can email{encode=” james@hellocamera.ie” title=” james@hellocamera.ie”}

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September 10 at 8:10am

James Fair On The 72-Hour Movie Project – Reflections (Pt. 5 of 5)

By James Fair

If I think back to the drunken bet in Dublin, when I said that I could make a feature in three days, I believe I have proven my point. I think the audience approval makes my point even further, as it was not only made in three days, but people also liked it. More importantly, I hope that we have helped demystify the production process and gone some of the way towards inspiring filmmakers to try different approaches.

However, the goalposts are now being moved, and people are asking whether it will have a life after the festival. I hope that it can, although it now competes alongside other films in the conventional fashion, jostling for distribution and exhibition deals. If we go back to the aims and objectives, we never designed a plan for what we would do at this stage, which was perhaps a mistake.

I believe there is currently a great deal of methodical examination of distribution and exhibition channels being conducted simultaneously by academia and by business. I have a constant concern that cinema is being marginalised in favour of more dominant screens, especially those of Internet and iProducts. [...]


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September 9 at 8:39am

James Fair On The 72-Hour Movie Project – Production (Pt. 4 of 5)

By James Fair

Unsurprisingly, most of the fascination around the 72 Hour Movie project ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’ surrounds the process of filming and editing it so quickly, especially in relation to the projects that can take months. In this post, I’m going to focus on how we turned it around in such a short time. I wrote a post for Ted a while back titled ‘The Shape of Things’ that explored the organisational structure of the 72, so I won’t repeat that here. Instead I’ll concentrate upon the necessary elements that must be present in order for the process to work alongside the organisational structure.

The simple target is to maximise effectiveness from the effort. People assume that you would have to work hard to make a film in 72 hours, but that is not as valuable as being productive and efficient. In fact, it is the opposite! To be productive and efficient is to achieve a significant amount with a small amount of work. Efficiency is the ratio of the useful work performed by a process to the total energy expended. If it is hard work, something has gone wrong. [...]


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September 8 at 8:30am

James Fair On The 72-Hour Movie Project – The Script (Pt.3 of 5)

By James Fair.

On a number of occasions, people have said to me that the success of ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’ at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) was the strength of the script. I am naturally flattered, because I wrote it, but I am also a little embarrassed, because I do not view it with the same reverence and respect as others seem to. I’m not saying that the success wasn’t due to the script, I am saying that the script was part of the process.

Honestly speaking, I would never waste a developed idea for a film upon the 72 Hour Movie project. I cherish some of my script ideas too much to use them in such a hurried production circumstance. So I deliberately wrote a script that would suit the purpose of making it in 72 hours, using the process as a catalyst for the script. [...]


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September 7 at 8:15am

James Fair On The 72-Hour Movie Project – Getting Funded (Pt. 2 of 5)

Fourteen months ago at the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland, my producer Gary Hoctor and I sat opposite Ted Hope. We were pitching our 72 Hour Movie project and Ted was listening intently. The majority of the producers and financiers we met in the large hall that day listened intently, but unfortunately none could offer us money. Admittedly, Ted helped us a great deal by giving a few pointers, along with fellow American Richard Abramowitz; many of the Europeans only offered tea and sympathy. A year later our 72 Hour Movie project ‘The Ballad of Des & Mo’ was in the audience top ten at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). So how did we get from the rejection in Galway to Melbourne in those twelve months? [...]


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