02 June 2010

Chamber Music & 21st Century Filmmakers

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

I've wanted to write this post for a long time.  It's one of those that's been in the back of my head, but I needed to let stew a bit.  A bit being five years or so.  But hey, better late than never.

It was Sheri Candler's appearance on Film Snobbery last night that cemented the need for me to write this piece now.  She made the astute point that the reason the DIY-DIWO whatever it's called distribution method is being talked about so much is because people are finally getting it.  And it's about damn time, too.  Some people aren't, but I'm not here to make converts into the DIY method.  I'm here to talk about my experience with another industry that went through the same growing pains in the noughties as the film industry is experiencing now.

For half of the noughties, I was in the music industry.  OK, I wasn't "In" the industry, but I was a composer, classically trained, and all that.  And I witnessed people falling all over themselves about piracy, about stealing, DRM, about rights, and most importantly - how to make money being a creative person in an age where the attitude of the general public is (and note that I'm not including fellow creatives of the same discipline here - like it or not, we're making content for a segmented and targeted portion of the general public - NOT other filmmakers, musicians, etc.)...

"If it's on the Internet, it's free."

Unfortunately, what's missed in that naive and selfish notion is that I don't know how you get your Internet for free.  I pay a bill that makes me feel like a bullfighter being gored every month to partake in the splendor of the WWW.  The computer (or phone, or television) isn't free.   Yet, it's expected that the content on there is free.

I digress.  Perhaps that's another post for another day.

I was a musician.  I'm still a musician.  It's all storytelling anyhow.

The point here is that as a musician and composer, the only time I aimed for a symphony orchestra to play one of my pieces of music to begin with (or in the rock world, stadium shows) was when I wrote a piece for symphony orchestra.

The great thing about music was that there were various forms and structures put into play that didn't require massive performances or symphony halls for performance.  Pubs. Churches. The Street. Subways.  Community center.

The film world, on the other hand, has always had one, two, maybe three performance venues at the most:

1.) Cineplex
2.) Art House Theater
3.) DVD

And let's face it.  None of those are ideal.  We can add online and television in there as well, but the issue is that while the distribution method always changes, the form being distributed hasn't.  It's still made up of the same language and conventions.

Music, on the other hand, was custom built for a variety of distribution platforms and live event theatrical performances.  String Quartets.  Chamber music.  Cello ensembles.  Steel Drum/Marimba duets.  The list is infinite.

And I would never compose a piece of music for a trumpet/piano duet as I would for a symphony orchestra.  I would never expect it to be performed in a symphony hall.

The film form is tremendously limiting in numerous regards, so much so that filmmakers everywhere produce the same works in the same format (there are two - short form & feature, plus the burgeoning web series, though that owes more to television) using the same language and expect it to be received in the same way in each different distribution platform.

That's like writing a trumpet/piano duet and expecting it to be performed live with a symphony orchestra.

I thrived on composing small pieces of music for carefully designed live event performances.  I never wrote the same way for each piece; in fact, I tried to know exactly where the piece was to be performed AS I WAS COMPOSING so that I could optimize my style for that venue.

In the filmic world, I never expected Gather 'Round the Mic to show theatrically.  I made The Fourteen Minute Gap specifically for online viewing (more specifically on an iPod or mobile device).  The script I'm currently writing would most likely work in theatrical, though it's not my primary goal.

To borrow a phrase from music, I make Chamber Films.  Specifically orchestrated pieces designed for specific forms of audience consumption.  However, unlike my time composing, where I wrote two symphonies and vowed "never again," I would, of course, love to make something that's viewed optimally in a movie theater with a bunch of people (Idiots, check your cell phones at the door, I've got a taser). 

Is this method limiting to me?  Not at all.  In fact, I find it a new creative challenge.  An opportunity to explore different forms of storytelling - and an opportunity to further my brand out to a wider audience segment.

So why do we as 21st-century filmmakers make films that we think must only play theatrically when what we're really making are Chamber Films?  It's a matter of adaptability and banishing fear of the unknown.

But the bottom line: for me, self-distribution and not playing in theaters is not a crushing defeat.

It's the only way forward - as long as you write the right music.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


Sheri C said...

oh I do like your thinking Mr. Weaver! It is totally ok to have films play in other places besides the cinema. Knowing your audience and where they like to see a film helps you to temper your expectations.

I, for one, am ok with my cinema going experiences to be limited to a few times a year. It is the rare film that makes me need to see it in a theatrical setting, for various reasons. I do watch a lot of films though. If you want to reach me, do it where I prefer. And it is up to you to figure that out, or like, ask me.

If you have a great story to tell me, it should transcend the location I choose to watch it in or the format. Operative words I CHOOSE. I.

Tyler Weaver said...

In spite of my unabashed enjoyment of Tom Waits... I'm flattered.

And you hit it in the last paragraph - "great story to tell." You didn't say movie. You said story. I approach film as another storytelling medium and business - not a calling, not anything other than what it is.

The audience chooses. I have to deliver for them.

Luke James said...

Top piece of work TW. Yup, it's back to that common sense thing again. And I do love the reference to 'free' - you know my/our feelings on that subject.

I do love Sheri's eloquence too: "Knowing your audience and where they like to see a film helps you to temper your expectations." True of all media, subjects and styles in relation to storytelling.

This is just a quickie because it's 02:17 GMT and I should be in bed. Bloody good posts keep me awake though!

Nice one.

Cheers, Luke :)

Tyler Weaver said...

Thanks for commenting, Luke!

And yeah, I think the "free" post will have to be next. I've got a few more thoughts on the matter.


roy said...

ya i agree your points about the film making sir.
In these modern days,musicians may also use the software like Fleximusic Composer to create their music with high quality..........

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