Sunday, December 31, 2023

Symposium Reflections - Part VII

This writer has been on an interesting journey throughout their unconventional filmmaking career—to say nothing of how the film industry has evolved in that time—and continues to do so.

The phrase “Existential crisis” has come up repeatedly throughout 2023 for many filmmakers, with drawn-out, overlapping strikes, local projects flying off their respective rails, and witnessing community filmmakers repeating the same mistakes they always have.

We might also consider the unchecked egos of quasi-professionals as they double down on their efforts to try and use the perceived chaos around them to build personality cults from the ashes of moribund careers they don’t realize have already fallen victim to the Peter Principle, at a time when honest communication and solidarity between professional and aspiring filmmakers is needed more than ever before—ideally guided by the knowledge and experience of industry veterans.

In a frustrating example of artificially heightened drama in service to pathetically low stakes, only those on the outside, looking in, can take anything resembling comfort from the fact that what they’re witnessing is mostly isolated from the actual film industry—or only in a remote, tangentially affiliated corner of it. Nevertheless, real damage can occur. Real talent with career potential can find itself sabotaged in service to the empty promises of charismatic but feckless dreamers trying to build reputations on everything they say they’re going to do.

In an effort to encourage novices, the Utah Filmmakers Association has always tried to err on the side of inclusivity regarding what defines a Utah Filmmaker. However, identifying oneself as a “filmmaker” does NOT automatically mean they are “part of the film industry.”

We have previously discussed how “industry” is defined by commerce with capital investments needed to determine feasibility, build infrastructure, plan, develop, and—most importantly—pay people to do the actual work. All of which results in a quantifiable economic impact. Communicating that inextricable economic component of filmmaking is a key part of the Mission of the Utah Filmmakers Association.

Anyone interested in filmmaking will notice its effect on the algorithms pushing targeted advertising through their social media feeds. Every other post seems to be an advertisement or sponsored content featuring online film schools or industry professionals with international name recognition, offering informative—albeit non-accredited—classes and instruction through established online learning communities and distance education platforms.

However, I’ve also seen quasi-professional community filmmakers who believe that they have gained enough insight into the craft that they, too, are qualified to offer advice to aspiring filmmakers—sometimes for free through blogs, vlogs, social media, and panel discussions at local conventions—often prefacing their rudimentary knowledge with references to their “industry experience.” Others try to commodify their “inside knowledge and expertise” by charging “tuition fees” for “hands-on training” on a “real” film set. Vetting their professional credentials is certainly possible, but not many people have the time or inclination to put in that sort of effort, and embellishing one’s IMDb profile is not exactly a herculean task. Eager “students” are often unaware—or only figure it out towards the end of their “class” that their “tuition” was, in reality, how their instructor was funding their latest film project. Instead of hiring cast and crew for their production, they sold a class where students would pay for the privilege to learn how to make a movie at the feet of a self-proclaimed master. Should that film ever find distribution and see a return on its investment, none of that revenue will likely find its way back to the “students” that made it possible.

These quasi-professional gurus have been selling their brands for years, featured prominently at local events, where they are invited to share their “insider” perspectives on what they have come to perceive as “the film industry” or set up their own “classes” and “workshops” where they generously “share” their wisdom for a modest fee or an ambiguously defined “donation.”

This writer sees no need to call out any of these charlatans by name, but they will no longer be politely ignored. After years of silent observation, we will no longer hesitate to recognize and acknowledge such problematic behavior, the potential harm that they can cause—to individuals and to the local industry—and direct potential marks to legitimate resources such as those promoted by the Utah Film Commission and dedicated institutions like the Utah Film Center.

Again, there is no need for a formal “blacklist.” Instead of worrying about who to avoid, we will work to identify the people, organizations, and events that all aspiring filmmakers should want to work with and have established the Utah Filmmakers Associate Program to make that happen.

Over the last couple of years, concurrent with the UFA’s 20th Anniversary, the Utah Filmmakers nonprofit organization has been considering its role in the local community and Utah’s film industry. To clearly define its path moving forward, it has evaluated the programs it has implemented—those that have worked and those that have not—projects to which it has made significant contributions and sought to gauge the impact it has had on the careers of its members.

Utah Filmmakers has consulted with experts in the non-profit sector, advocates for the continued development of creative industries, and film industry veterans with a desire to expand our infrastructure—especially regarding the training of the next generation of filmmakers in a rapidly evolving industry—and exploring options to partner with existing organizations in service of our mission.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and—especially where guest posts are concerned—do not necessarily reflect the official policies and/or practices of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association, its Officers and/or Associates.