Okay, I’m sick in bed, so I get to write for fun…finally.
I was watching this TED vid called “5 Ways to Kill Your Dream.” One of the things I like most about what the speaker Pesce said is that there is no such thing as “overnight success.”
A friend that I met a few years ago thought I was a “first-time director” when I invited him to a screening of my short film, NUNE. I didn’t correct him. I just let him think that.
With amazing technology, yeah, anyone can be a first-time director and get away with it. But what these people don’t know is that it takes many years of studying cinema techniques, film history, and aesthetics to learn proper filmmaking followed by production experience. I was fortunate to have really old-school teachers who really knew how to analyze a cut. And the thousand of hours you spend watching films, critiquing, analyzing and writing reports on them all adds to your dimension as a filmmaker.
Film school was fun because I went to an art school. I was against going to an industry type of school that teaches you filmmaking for commercial gain. Perhaps that was a mistake once I left college. But today, I don’t regret it because I’m seeing how awful the business of film really is. So I am glad to have stuck with the artistic path. I loved watching how other filmmakers create, especially the ones that did stop motion animation by hand.
The difference between an art film school and a commercial film school is that you spend more time developing your voice and style. You get to be in a deeper place of beauty. You are not thinking about what you’re going to do for a living. You’re immersed.
NUNE was the first film I made with commercial value. Because it qualifies for IMDB, it looks like I woke up yesterday and made a movie. But it was no “overnight” endeavor. Just because people don’t talk about their past, doesn’t mean they don’t have one. I have been making films for over 10 years in private industries. I just don’t show work that doesn’t reflect what I want to be known for. I’ve consistently produced and directed. I made over 30 movies. I did a lot of experimental and avant-garde work although the film industry has no respect for that. Experimental filmmaking is the heart of the artist filmmaker. Avant-garde is what you do as a poet would do—not all poets are published, very few are. You do it because it’s good practice, because you love it.
With NUNE, I realized that if I didn’t make commercially viable films, I would just be preaching to the choir by making art that speaks to other artists. It’s important to me that I begin to serve others—through my creativity, and film and art is a great way to do it. And the best way to do it is to make it marketable, otherwise, no one will ever see it. This was a delicate balance but the choice was right because the fan viewership has been really rewarding. It shows me that the only real reason to make films is to offer healing to society.
This may contradict my love for art for art’s sake, but in a capitalistic society, everything, including art, must be a “product” in order to get noticed. The art is still there–it just has to be more giving to what the public can handle. Failing to play this game defeats the goal of giving something precious to the world. But it has taken me many years to understand Art vs. Commerce.
The two have always been polarized and many artists struggle with this problem. I came to understand it from a spiritual point of view by recognizing that both sides can be negative. The negative art world tells you money is bad—and if you love it, you are not an artist. The commerce world tells you art is bad—because if art can’t sell, you’re not a successful artist. It gets more elusive when artists earn million of dollars for a piece of shit they stroke on a canvas. It gets elusive when a multi-million budget commercial film rigged with A-listers calls the movie “truly independent.” So you see, the devil wears both faces. One white, the other in shadow. They alternate. They weave illusions to trap and destroy you in a narrow cause. That is why the topic is spiritual because it’s all about liberation.
Once I saw the negativity, I worked toward freeing myself from it. As result, I ended up in a sort of “no man’s land.” My work is too stylistically arthouse to be commercial, and it is too commercial to taken seriously by the art scene. I had to disconnect from the avant-garde world I used to know because I’m an enemy now: I went from making weird abstract work to commercial narrative fiction. One thing remains consistent: my work remains pure regardless of the approach.
I try to be myself no matter what because in the end, that’s what everyone likes. This is reflected in the way NUNE was created.
Throughout film school, I had a very strong inner vision and this was where my confidence came from. Most of the time, I spent arguing with my mentors because they were thinking too much inside the box and telling me I couldn’t do this, and I couldn’t do that. That’s the story of my life.
But what’s interesting is that I did stuff in film school where I basically got away with murder. No one produced the types of extreme stuff my friend Jack and I were creating in school. We were all out crazy. While the other kids were doing stupid good cop/bad cop, chase movies, and boy-gets-girl stories, we were building upon the transcendental even at the cost of being utterly subversive.
Because I understood film editing so well, I never needed anyone to finalize a cut for me. I always knew when a cut felt right. It was never a matter of five or ten people telling me what works or doesn’t work. That is the herd mentality.
Out in the world, you also end up with the herd mentality. You get a few bozo film festival people looking at your film and don’t understand fuck about what you do—so they ask the herd. And the herd says yes or no. It takes very confident people to see what works and doesn’t work, and to stand up for their vision. Few don’t. So many fear what others think of them. If this trait didn’t end for them when they left high school, it will never. High school is that place in your life where you decide whether or not you’re going to become an individual. And for those who haven’t figured that out, they become a danger and social liability to people with vision.
When I edited NUNE, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what works or doesn’t work. I consider myself a master editor even if no one else may recognize it. It’s in my blood. So when I edit the sound of howling wind flowing through the high school hallway—there was a motive for that. Or when birds are chirping inside the school or how the film starts out with an abstract galaxy sequence. No one needs to understand that. But I do. They are not without intention.
In the end, those weird touches end up being the things people love most. When the reviews come in from fans of the movie, they point out those small things they love, yet those same things were points against me from so-called professional critics. Whereas every film festival consultant told me my short film was too long and needed to be cut down to 20 minutes, the real audience disagreed. The festival people know only business. They don’t watch films. They watch minutes, sucking dick, ticket sales and pleasing sponsors. Over 80% of the reviews we get, the biggest complaint the fans have is, “I wish it was longer!” And for people who actually take the time to watch the film rather than scrolling through it, they say the same thing…the film makes them want more. This goes to show you that the marketplace does not understand people. They only understand their own herd mentality. So I am glad I went with my natural instincts and cut the film the way G*d moved me.
I am also very happy when collaborators say to me, “Ji, please make another movie so we can work together.” They are high as me when I’m doing something creative. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for them to work on an art film. Most filmmakers follow the herd (or the dollar, same thing) because psychological thrillers and horror are hot. I’m doing the opposite because I want to end the fear stimulus and desensitization of violence.
Pesce was right. There is no such thing as“overnight success” because I have lived over 9 lives to get to where I am today. I’m not waiting for an overnight success because I never felt anything I’ve done to be less than successful.
When I was in high school, my pottery teacher, who was also my art teacher was this fuddy-duddy wholesome man. I once showed him a painting and said to him, “This is my masterpiece.”
He goes, “You can’t call that a masterpiece because a masterpiece is something that is the best piece in your body of work at the end of your life. That’s how it becomes a masterpiece.”
I said, “That’s not true. A masterpiece is how you create it. And when I make something, it’s a masterpiece.”
Everything I do is a “once” factor; it’s life and death. It’s permanent so it better be my best.