#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 50th: The Art and Business of Film

Fifty!?  How did this happen.  I only have 2 posts left after this?  I may start to get sentimental about all of this. In 2 weeks I will be able to say I made it!  I made it through a full year of blog posts.  I will have made it through 52 weeks of giving advice on film and screenwriting.  And in 3 weeks time I will be sitting around on Tuesday night feeling like I am suppose to be doing something (well probably not, Tuesday night is cheap night at the theatre, I’ll just go to a movie).

But then on Wednesday morning when the new Writer Laureate takes over and I can just sit back, relax and bask in their well of wisdom (I know who the new Laureate is, but I don’t think it’s been announced so I will keep it quiet).

In other news, the edit of Alyssa’s film, Brittle, has just been completed.  There’s still some work to do in the post production department, a sound edit, color correct and a score.  But our collaboration lives on and you will continue to hear from both of us in the world of film.

And a better late than never congratulations to the finalists in the CSSC.  I believe I speak for all the judges when I say that I enjoyed reading your scripts and I hope you all continue to follow your passions and bring great stories to the world of film.

So, recently I just watched the beautiful film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Th. Dreyer and I have something on my mind.  But before I get to that, I have to give you some background about the film.

After I watched the film, I looked it up online and found out about it’s amazingly tragic history.  The film was finished in April 1928 and screened once, it caused an uproar and the film was heavily censored and released again in October 1928.  The church used it’s sway to change the edit so the Catholic judges, who would eventually condemn and burn Joan of Arc at the stake, would be sympathetic.  Then in December of 1928 the original negatives were destroyed in a fire after very few prints had been made.  But Dreyer would press on, he made a new edit from takes that he had originally dismissed from the film.  However, in 1929 this negative would also be lost to a fire.  Dryer was at a loss and had to watch as reissues of his film were censored, cut and distributed.  In the 50′s a copy of the second negative was found and re-edited to include a soundtrack, subtitles instead of intertitles and pictures of stain glass windows and church pews behind the rest of the intertitles.  This prompted Dreyer to write this in a letter to the studio:

“The editor… has tried to make the film more accessible to the general public – by appealing to the public’s bad taste.  Since you appreciate art films, it would indeed be a worthy act on your part to make a copy of the silent version with the intertitles on a simple, black background, as I did in the original.  An old film ‘classic’ is a museum piece that should be restored to it’s original form.  In my opinion, to ‘modernize’ such a film is an absurdity.”

Dreyer wanted his film restored to it’s original form, the studio wanted to make it accessible to the public.  It is these two conflicting ideas that I want to discuss.

Film is an art, you cannot say it any other way.  It takes artists to make films, it is something that is created and displayed to the public and provide insight and emotion.  But film is also the most business oriented art form.  Film is a business, you cannot say it any other way.  Film’s cost a lot of money to make and therefore films have to make a lot of money.  Because there is so much money invested from so many different pockets, a film often comes under scrutiny and changes have to be made to best ensure it will become a commercial success.

And so a filmmaker must always attempt to balance art with commercialization.  And since commercialization is a stigma of artists, it can be difficult to find this balance.

But Dreyer brings up a very good point.  In no other art form would anyone EVER consider making changes to an art work instead of restoring the original.  Imagine someone discovering a lost Picasso and deciding they would ‘modernize’ it.  It’s unimaginable.  But in film, it is a relatively common practice.  It is even becoming a practice to re-edit your own films in order to modernize them.

Film is also the one art form that every single human being is qualified to critique.  I could tell you if I like a painting or a sculpture or a dance number or any other art exhibit, but I don’t know enough of the subject to really give a good critique beyond I liked it or I didn’t.  But when it comes to film the general public is an experienced art critic.  They have seen countless films and TV shows from very soon after birth right up until the present and they know what they like, what they don’t like and they can often determine some of the reasons for their feelings, one way or the other.  This means that to be a filmmaker means to put your film up to scrutiny to the entire world.  This combined with the business end of filmmaking will make the dollar the most powerful force dictating a film.

Unless you stand up for your artistic integrity and find a balance.

So what I want to say is, never forget that film is an art and never forget that as a filmmaker you are an artist.  If you are making film’s to make money, then you are making films for the wrong reason (or you need to be a producer).  You are an artist, you want to create, inspire and evoke emotions in the general public with your art work.

So stand up as an artist, never forget that film is a business, but never be consumed by it.  Film is an art form like any other, and so it should be shown the same dedication and respect.

Dreyer would later get his wish (although after his death) in 1985 when The Passion of Joan of Arc was restored to it’s original form from a copy made from the original negative.  The copy was found in a mental asylum in Oslo, Norway.

About Evan Jobb

Evan Jobb is a screenwriter and producer and is the returning Writer Laureate with the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition. He placed 4th place in the 2009 Canadian Short Screenplay Competition an 9th in the 2010 Competition. His 2011 award winning short film, "Those Forgotten" is currently available at CBC Downloads. When he isn't writing he is teaching science and math to junior high and high school students. He currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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