Saturday, October 04, 2008
George Lucas in Love
George Lucas in Love (1999)
Director: Joe Nussbaum
2000 Deauville Film Festival: Canal+ Short Film Award
2000 Florida Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Film Festival: Best Short Film
2004 Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards: Pioneer Award
We already watched George Lucas in Love in class, but here's a quick summary: Young George Lucas, senior film student at USC, hits writer's block on his script about a farmer and his bad crop of space wheat (or space corn or space wheats). In a parody of both Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love, he overcomes his writer's block as several recognizable characters and events happen to make appearances on his campus.
George Lucas in Love has five awards (that I know of). The two Audience Awards are a good hint that it's a fan favorite and has mass appeal. That brings me right to my main point: What is the ceiling for a short film? It's an especially important question for those of us who aspire to be filmmakers.
Joe Nussbaum could hardly have made out better. The film was released stand-alone on VHS in 2000 and hit #1 on Amazon.com's sales list. It also came out on DVD with a couple of bonus features in 2001. A short film getting its own major release - not in anthologies or collections - is virtually unheard of.
The film became his calling card in Hollywood - George Lucas is a confirmed fan - and eventually led Nussbaum to direct the poorly received Sleepover. Don't worry. That wasn't the end of his career. He has also directed American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile, Sydney White, and is prepping to direct a film called B.F.F.
That path to success was viable in 1999, before video on the internet was a reality. Is it still open today? Considering we spent a week discussing the consistently large DC Shorts Film Festival, the festival route is still the best way to get your name out. Instead of competing with all the noise on the internet and being forced to promote yourself instead of your work, your film already has a guaranteed audience: people who want to see films good enough to get into the festival.
In other words, it's easy for agents, producers, and talent scouts to go to film festivals that have pre-selected the films most likely to impress them. They have better things to do than trawl across YouTube hoping to find something they can sell.
And what of the stand-alone DVD release? Maybe a different kind of DVD release. Now that anyone can make their own DVDs, it's easier than ever to distribute your calling card to agents and producers in Hollywood. But it's not being released to the general public. There won't be another George Lucas in Love. Not when there's all that noise on the internet to distract them. People are probably not going to pay money for a ten minute film.
That allows me to change the subject once more: If the ceiling for the films themselves is to win awards and accolades for the filmmakers, what is the ceiling for the filmmakers? Is it the ability to gain financing for more short films in the future? To make short films for a living? If that's the filmmaker's choice. Just remember: You'll be making commercials and music videos for hire. The general public is not going to rush to the theaters to see or pay money to buy a DVD of the latest Guy Maddin niche genre film. Name recognition and mass appeal will not necessarily follow. And if it does, guess what? Some Hollywood producer will offer you so much money that you'll have no choice but to take the Hollywood plunge.
And then what about the career in features? The glamorous Hollywood life? The big explosions? The chance to punch Michael Bay for popularizing those big explosions? Maybe you won't like it. Maybe Los Angeles just isn't your style and you want to go back to directing commercials and making art school films or movies that cause audiences at Telluride to erupt in anger.
Whatever your preference, I argue that Hollywood will always remain the ceiling - and the dream - for every filmmaker. No baseball player signs a professional contract with the intention of topping out at Triple-A. Everyone has the same dream: Make it to the majors. Filmmakers will always have new stories to tell, and only Hollywood offers them enough support to make their narrative dreams come true.