It’s a phrase I hear on a fairly regular basis: “Relax, it’s just a movie”. Variations include “Chill – it’s only a movie” and the more simple “It’s just a movie”. Sometimes the phrase “Movies aren’t real” gets tossed at me, but I lump that into the same category.
Typically this phrase comes from a third, uninvolved party near the end of a heated debate about a movie. Was the plot illogical or unoriginal? If the movie was an adaptation, how closely did it stick to – or not stick to – the original source material? Did you find the dialogue silly? Did you just generally like or hate the film, only to find yourself up against another person who felt the complete opposite?
On the face of it, I understand the comment – people have gotten worked up about something, and they are taking a stance. Maybe it’s all in fun, maybe it’s not, but someone else doesn’t support the discussion or is tired of your arguing, so they try to shut it down…by saying something that I find to be disheartening and inconsiderate.
I am a filmmaker. It’s what I do full time, it’s how I pay the bills. Sometimes it’s corporate, sometimes it’s commercial, and occasionally it’s purely creative, but make no mistake, I do it professionally.
Many of you who will read this have jobs, and many of those jobs probably required training of some type, possibly a degree. In the case of doctors and lawyers, you’ve spent more time in school than most mariages last.
And based on what I see on Facebook alone, many of you take your jobs quite seriously. You announce advancements and promotions with enthusiasm, you complain when your day goes badly, you lament that no one sees your excellence, or that you can’t get the job you trained for or wished for.
Would I be right if I said to you, “Relax. It’s just a job”?
For my profession, I went to college and studied acting, photography, writing, and general filmmaking, including history, theory, media law, and physical production. I do not have a degree, but I’ve been working professionally in film and media in one form or another since 1986, and actively shooting super 8 film or volunteering at the local cable station since 1978.
To put it bluntly, I know my shit. People who see my work say I’m good. That’s because I work hard, I plan, and I care – I want the work to stand the test of time. As many filmmakers have said, “Pain is temporary, film is forever.”
It’s easy to dismiss two geeks who are going at it over Star Trek or Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe or some other damn thing, but these works mean something to them – as most of you have at least one creative, artistic form of media that means something to you.
“Star Trek is stupid, but bag on The Bard again and I’ll rip your freaking tongue out.”
“You can’t get through Crime and Punishment, but 50 Shades of Gray saved your life?!?”
“Please – DO NOT debate me on the place in history the whole of the Harry Potter franchise will one day occupy…”
So you see, it’s really all about perspective and personal taste.
I can’t count the number of times a friend has told me “relax, it’s only a film” and then turned around and regaled me with tales from some obscure book series I’ve never heard of and could not possibly care any less about, but I wouldn’t dream of saying that – because to them, it matters.
So when I set out to make a film, I care about everything. I have to, because I’m creating something from scratch, literally forming a story in 3 dimensions, right before your eyes. I have to think about structure, dialogue, character arcs, the look, the sound, the pacing. If I do my job well, you will enjoy the work and won’t even be aware of WHY you enjoy it, you will just know that you did.
As a matter of fact, you all know when you didn’t like a film, and you often vent about it here on Facebook as well. Sometimes you didn’t heed the reviews, or a film just rubbed you the wrong way, but occasionally films are just badly made.
Films, like books or art or music, good or bad, are the end result of a lot of effort, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. To just dismiss even a bad work with “it’s only a movie” is understandable, as your problems are real and you have money concerns and it won’t change your life or create peace in the Middle East, so who cares?
Well, you do, more than you realize.
Did you never have a favorite movie or book as a child? A favorite album as a teen? Did a movie never inspire you, make you want to be that doctor, that pilot, that dancer, that artist? Does “50 Shades” take you out of the doldrums for a few hours? Did you want to be a race car driver after seeing “Days of Thunder” or a paleontologist after seeing “Jurassic Park”? Were you not transported out of your world and into another for a few hours of escape?
Were you not entertained?!?
You can move on from an entertainment, set it aside, and get on with the reality of your life, but do not dismiss what any entertainment does for you, has done for you, and will do for you in the future. It may not be your cup of tea, but please, don’t say “It’s only a movie”. It might not only be the next person’s cup of tea, it may be their fillet mignon. Or their chocolate cake. And I promise you that someone worked very hard on it.
If you look at today’s films, they are becoming more and more corporate and are clearly calculated to appeal to a young crowd with disposable income, and yes, you all complain about that on Facebook, too. Sometimes these films are entertaining, and sometimes they aren’t, but is it possible that some of these films are being made by people who take money seriously but don’t take the film seriously?
Trust me, you want your filmmakers to take their craft – and their films – seriously. Without that, you don’t get Citizen Kane, 2001, Lawrence of Arabia, Jaws, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Avengers, or even for better or worse, Battlefield Earth and The Room.
In the future, if you should hear me debating the values of the original trilogy versus the faults of the prequels or questioning the many mistakes Jor-El made in trying to save his son, you are welcome to turn away, roll your eyes, or decide that you just don’t care, but please, don’t tell me to relax, or that it’s just a film. To me it’s something much more – it’s what I do.
I’m a filmmaker because films made me want to be a filmmaker, and in making films, I hope to inspire others.
And without inspiration, none of us would be anywhere.
Wyatt Weed: After 18 years working in the film industry in Los Angeles, Wyatt Weed moved back to the midwest to make films in St. Louis. His experience in acting, FX, and directing has built his reputation as a talented filmmaker. His third feature film, Four Color Eulogy, will be released in theatres in the fall of 2015.