“It takes a lot of guts to go against the current…hats off to you.”
Since announcing the beginning of production of Inwood Drive, the story of how a community of largely volunteers fought back against the abortion industry and won, eventually shutting down 4 abortion clinics in the state of Indiana, that one, single message is the extent of the feedback I’ve gotten from people within my own industry.
That’s it. Just one. In 4 months.
Okay, so to be fair, I don’t announce film projects looking for a pat on the back from my peers. The production business is pretty brutal, so you don’t exactly expect it. Truthfully, half of your peers hate you because they think they’re competing with you (and the whole world), and the other half don’t know how to say anything nice unless they’re trying to get something from you. It’s not like when you get engaged or get married or have a new baby – and everyone feels that obligation of sorts to chime in and tell you congratulations. But there’s more to it than just that.
How many hungry, aspiring filmmakers or crew members do you think have clamored to submit their reels and resumes for the opportunity to work on a feature film with a 23 time award-winning producer who’s produced films for over 25 years, won Sundance, played Cannes, and done deals with major studios? How many film students have asked for a chance for an internship or an opportunity to show their skills and potentially pick up more work with an experienced professional in the motion picture industry?
Exactly zero. Very interesting.
Granted, the very first time I announced a feature motion picture production and started looking for crew, it was over twenty years ago, and the last time I began a feature length motion picture production was over a decade ago, so I thought maybe things have just changed. And indeed I was right. I just wasn’t right for the reasons I thought I would be.
What’s changed, first of all, is that there are now, quite easily, one hundred times the amount of aspiring filmmakers in the world, and that includes even places like Indiana. The YouTube phenomenon has produced what is, undoubtedly, the biggest explosion in content creation that the world has ever seen. It’s been brought about by the easy access to high quality filmmaking equipment for pennies on the dollar, compared to the “old” film days (not more than a decade past), plus the ready outlets for streaming content like YouTube and the likes. There is such a glut of aspiring content producers that it’s harder than ever for good work to even be seen. It is altogether wonderful and terrible at the same time.
But, if that’s all that has changed, that there’s even more supply and even more demand, wouldn’t it make sense that there would be even more hungry, aspiring producers, directors, cinematographers and crew who would be clamoring for a chance to work? Wouldn’t they want to learn from those with more experience, to further their own careers? It would make sense, except the content creation explosion is only a minor part of what’s really changed.
When we shot “In the Company of Men” in the mid 1990’s, it was not a terribly “PC” film. I don’t remember the term “PC” even existing back then, other than to describe our desktop tower computers that we mostly used to play Solitaire and Tetris and log onto America Online to send those new fangled emails. Regardless, the film itself is pretty offensive on a lot of angles. Misogynistic, homophobic, slightly racist, verbally abusive – just a few of today’s “hashtag” labels that could easily be used to describe the story and the characters. Yet, no one thought twice about it then. Sure, it was billed as “controversial”, but that only drove the ticket sales even more, especially with the film festival crowd. Never in a million years would you be concerned about your personal safety or the future of your career over a film like that. People either loved it or hated it, but hating it didn’t mean they hated you as the filmmaker. They talked about it in the lobby on the way out of the theater, and they moved on with their lives. They would look at you as the producer and label you as a bold, controversial filmmaker, then give you an award for it and buy you a drink at the end of the day.
Add to that, I not only had no problem putting together an all-volunteer crew of twenty for that film, with no track record of my own and no promise of the film ever going anywhere, I also had no problems at all putting together cast and crew for the next film after that, and I was still operating in the film desert, also known as the American Midwest. “Flyover country” to those who live and work on the coasts. And because of that, people were hungry to work, and to learn, and they were lined up for just the opportunity to work on a real movie. Work ethic and raw drive won the day every time.
But I’ve found that’s not the case any more, especially if you’re producing content that is labeled as “controversial”. I was advised by several – and indeed advised myself for several years – that a film dealing with the actual life and death realities of abortion could be a career killer in the popular world of commercialized content creation. Take a stand for something that actually matters, like life, and you have no idea where the next arrow in your back will come from. It’s not “PC” to go against the grain of what the popular media, indeed the popular culture, has said is acceptable. You speak up, they shout you down and shut you up. That’s how it works now. I wonder if the next generation will even know what it means to have an honest conversation or tell an honest story for the sheer fear of being shunned, or worse.
Yes, what’s changed more than anything is that we have willingly given up our right to free speech. We’ve stood idly by while anyone who dares to be rooted in principles or openly confessing as a Christian is summarily targeted, smeared and driven into submission in the shadows – the mere accusation now being enough to convict in the courts of public opinion. A generation of spineless up-fronters (I can’t call them leaders) who cower at the mere thought of being “slammed on social media” have forgotten how to be bold, how to stand up for themselves, and how to fight back against bullies. My guess is they never had it in them to begin with.
In other words, boldness in the film industry, like every other industry, has given way to cowardice. Those who once took a bold, defiant stand with their films now cower in the safety of their socially acceptable production circles, terrified of losing their ad agency sugar daddies or being maligned by some corporate brand manager or board of trustees member who sees an opportunity to take someone down because they don’t like someone’s perceived politics or stance on a particular social issue. The true indie filmmakers, the ones who tell the stories that are true but often against popular culture, are all but extinct. In their place are throngs of social media stars with the same chains on them as the mainstream media that they claim to supplant – the chains of advertiser dollars. You see, nobody wants to lose followers or revenue, so they have to stick with what’s safe and popular, all too often at the expense of the truth.
So, does it surprise me at all that our announcement of the production of “Inwood Drive” has been met in our circles by the thunderous sound of silence? Nope. Now if I had announced the production of an amazingly violent and overtly sexual zombie epic, I would have people lined up around the block wanting to help. But announce a film about shutting down an abortionist whose license to practice was revoked by the state because he willingly sent underage girls as young as 13 back into rape/incest and sexually abusive situations? Covering it up instead of reporting it to child protective services so that it could be stopped? Nope. That’s too controversial. You’re on your own with that one.
And all of your “friends” take one step back from you.
It’s quite pathetic to see the people that come along when they think you’ve got something they might be able to latch onto and hitch a free ride. And, I’m talking about my filmmaking “peers” in particular. Prior to starting “Inwood Drive”, I had a lot of them hanging around, waiting in the wings, wanting to help when that next big film project came along. But their silence now is like the air leaving the room. It’s painful to your ears and to your mind. You feel it deep down in your chest.
And you remember it, too.
I’ve observed that there are not many bold risk takers in film any more. They’ve all moved on to their safe spaces, beholding to the corporate institutions that they once vowed to take down, and the commercial market pressures that they once promised to never allow to pollute their work. The only hope for change and bold leadership in content creation is a generation of Christian producers and directors who want nothing to do with Hollywood, nothing to do with the status quo, nothing to do with scrambling to be popular, and will keep themselves from being polluted by the world.