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The Extended Film Family PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Apr 16, 2005 at 02:00 AM
I recently got the chance to rewatch the wonderful Tim Burton Ed Wood. Watching Johnny Depp portray the world’s worst filmmaker, surrounded by his crew family of “misfits and dope addicts”, got me to thinking about other extended film families. Because of the film Wood’s infatuation with Orson Welles, the connection to the great director and his Mercury Theater family wasn’t that great a leap.

In real life, the Mercury Theater--at least in the beginning--was actually a tighter-knit group than Wood’s, perhaps because, again in the beginning, the Mercury gang did not consist of dope addicts and misfits. They were hard-working, serioius artists and craftsmen primarily gathered by Welles, whose infectious personality and ambition fueled them all. Wood had a similar enthusiasm that was equally contagious. The main difference: few in the Wood camp had any talent. What they had was--usually--passion.

In today’s indie world, extended film families abound. Part of this is economy: when you find a group of people willing to work for free, you tend to stick with them. If you treat them right, they’ll stick with you. And through the projects, if your ideas and passion are sutably infectious, then your dreams will spread throughout the family. That’s usually how it works.

Last column, I referred to these families as Tribes, but in Tribes/Companies/Etc., the ancillary members come and go. Two or more movies may not always have the same DP. Crew members, interns, etc--there will be different faces littering the edges of the wrap photos. The core families remain invariably the same over the years, until the company is dissolved, or it is taken even further by the principals, leaving the less-dedicated--or differently-motivated--sadly behind.

This is one of the few really heart-warming things about indie filmmaking. If you’re a director, or a principal of the company, and most of the cast/crew are there through the impact of your dreams, take a moment to be thankful for your family. They are the driving engine of your creative machine. You may be wearing a lot of hats, but you’re not wearing them all. You can’t do everything on your own. By now, I’m sure you’re aware of this.

At this end of the spectrum, most people--I think its safe to say--hope their family has the strength of the Mercury Theater, and fear that it may be closer to the Ed Wood camp. Nobody wants to make crap movies. What would be the point of doing it? Movies take a ridiculous amount of time, and a painful amount of work, to complete. If you believe you’re making shit, you’re less-inclined to see it through. This feeling is pervasive through the family, trust me.

In the Happy Cloud Tribe, we have built up quite the impressive extended family over the years. Debbie Rochon, Jasi Cotton Lanier and Lilith Stabs are our very talented 1st cousins, B-Movie Theater’s Ron Bonk has become our beneficent uncle. But at the core, the faces haven’t changed much: myself, Amy Lynn Best and Bill Homan remain the principals, with Charlie Fleming, Sheli Fleming and Tim Gross our family backbone. This has been the constant for two features, a documentary, and three shorts, not to mention miscellaneous side-projects, with many of them playing very different roles in each project (much like a classic theater company). And every day, I’m grateful not only for their support, but for the support of our extended family as well. I hope that no matter what we do in the future, we’ll do it together (insert final song from Grease here).

Do I hope we’re like the Mercury Theater? You bet. I hope we go on to make great things in the future and leave an impact on the indie world. I also hope we don’t burn out on our first project and never equal or surpass it--a valid fear regardless of the level of filmmaking. Do I fear we’re closer to the Ed Wood camp? Yes and no. I often lack Wood’s enthusiasm, but share his driving ambition. We don’t have any drug addicts in the tribe, but we have a large number of misfits, myself included. I do hope that, if we do share more attributes with the Wood camp than the Welles, we are closer to the folks in the Ed Wood movie than in real life. In real life, the Wood family members weren’t that fond of each other, and often, the addictions took away from the focus.

In Burton’s version, they were lovable misfits, bound together with a singular dream. When Bill Murray, as “Bunny Breckenridge” turns to Depp’s wood, both floundering in a swimming pool, and asks “How do you do it? How do you get all of your friends to get baptised so you can make a monster movie?”, that’s the defining moment of the film to me. Treat your friends well; treat your cast and crew--family or tribe members--like the gold that they are. And if you do, they’ll allow themselves to be baptised so that you can make a monster movie. And maybe you won’t go down in history, but ultimately, you’ll have a good time doing what you love.

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