I was sitting at home when it happened. There, in the audience of the Kodak Theater was someone I recognized. Luke Matheny, director of God of Love. And he had just won the won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short.
Tall, with a mess of wild hair, he’s easy to pick out of a crowd. I recognized him from the filmmaker party at the DC Shorts Film Festival. I’m an executive judge with the festival and have been sort of an uber-volunteer for DC Shorts. I’ve judged films, taken photos, checked-in filmmakers, supervised volunteers, distributed catalogs and managed the screenplay competition (which I like best of all).
God of Love won the Audience Choice Award at DC Shorts. It was a breakout hit, according to The Washington Post.
I didn’t actually get to talk to Matheny at the party in September of last year. I met other filmmakers, including the director of Touch (a poignant short film I really liked) and the hilarious brains behind Enter the Beard. After a couple drinks, I’m not a bad mingler. I’m not one to flit about a room, a social butterfly, but I enjoy meeting creative people. As a writer, it’s really inspiring to me.
And that’s the way I felt seeing Matheny bound up from his seat in the audience. Inspired. I’ve written screenplays before, and even won a local screenwriting contest, but Hollywood seemed like an impossible and futile dream. (And perhaps not a very desirable one, as I learned after a visit to the set of The West Wing.)
I also felt confused. I like DC Shorts because it’s the anti-thesis of Hollywood. The short films we show are singular works, not the product of committees filled with MBAs. They’re made on small budgets and are works of passion. And DC Shorts is programmed by Washington-area filmgoers. Anyone can be a judge and help decide what gets included in the festival. (Regular people are such good judges, in fact, that Ryan Kearney of TBD thought that there were better films in DC Shorts than the Oscars.)
To go from the democratic world of our festival to bright lights of the Kodak Ballroom – that’s something I never thought I’d see. I didn’t think there were any connection points between the two worlds. We were separated by thousands of miles and completely different sensibilities.
Moviemaking in Hollywood is about millions of dollars, bloated egos and budgets, teams of writers and executives tearing apart good stories. It’s about loud explosions, hackneyed catchphrases and plots that make no sense.
DC Shorts is about the filmmaker. Singular. It’s a festival for filmmakers, programmed by movie lovers.
The Oscar win is great for Luke Methany and, by extension, great for DC Shorts.
But people shouldn’t wait to be discovered by the entertainment industry. Instead, they should write that book, paint that painting, film that movie. Don’t ask for permission, don’t look for validation, just tell your story.
You could have the greatest idea for a movie in the history of the world. But Hollywood will still reject you. It’s better to be an angry filmmaker. Better to make your art on your own terms.
2 thoughts on “One Degree of Separation: Me and the Oscars”
Joe, when you talk about what Hollywood does to great works of art — be they films or novels — I recall the battles Terry Gilliam had to wage when trying to get The Fisher King released. Hollywood wanted a “fireworks” kind of ending (which is what they got, although anyone could see that was Gilliam’s way of giving them the finger). But if I recall, the release of the film was delayed by a good year, maybe more, b/c Gilliam wouldn’t budge. Then you’ve got the other situation where a great and powerful novel like “The Lovely Bones” gets completely murdered (seriously, no pun intended) by the likes of Jackson and Spielberg. I think it comes down to Hollywood seriously disrespecting the audience. But I digress. I agree with your advice — write your novel, create your movie, paint your mural. Do it your way while you can. Once you sign on the dotted line, your creative life is no longer your own…
Thanks for the comment, Janice! You’re right, once you start getting paid, it can be hard to maintain your editorial independence. I think that’s the conflict in a lot of creative people – how they tell their story but also make a living. I think that every artist has to decide what level of compromise (even no compromise) that they’re willing to accept.