Cal State LA recently asked me to make the opening remarks for their Golden Eagle Film Festival (no,I don’t know why either). I was initially going to talk about filmmaking in the third world, but what I did end up writing was something surprisingly more reflective than I’d wanted it to be. Note: when I talk about “The Film Industry” I considered only studio films because “industry” connotes “films made with the purpose of making money”. But really, that’s not the point of this. The last thing I want is for people to misconstrue this as one of those “OPM is dead”-type things. It’s really more of a document of the State I’m in; both literally and figuratively.
So I don’t really know why I’ve been asked to talk to you today. Not only am I not from here, but I’m what some may consider a deserter, or a traitor to the cause. Let me introduce myself—my name is Quark Henares, and I am a filmmaker from the Philippines. I’ve made a bunch of music videos and commercials, a couple of TV shows and four-and-a-half films. I considered myself having the best job in the world, and yet, the day after the premiere of my last movie, I left everything behind to go to business school. There were many reasons behind this, but one of the big ones was our dying industry. In my ten years in the Philippine film industry we went from making more than a hundred movies a year to just around 25. What used to be the third biggest producer of movies in the world, making everything from action to fantasy to romance to protest films just started focusing on two genres: horror and romantic comedies— because they were cheap, and they had mass appeal. The more movies I made, the less soul they had in them, and there are few things more heartbreaking than losing joy in something you love. That’s when I thought to myself that maybe I could help more as a suit, a corporate guy who understands and respects creative people rather than as a single creative individual. And what better place to study the business of entertainment than the center of it all: Hollywood.
But then I came here, and learned that the exact same thing was happening in the US. Things get scary when you see a trailer for the latest film by a master like Terence Malick only to be followed by an announcement that it’ll be available on iTunes the same day it gets released in theaters. People have been saying that TV is a more exciting medium these days, and I’d tend to agree. Most movies currently released by studios are “tentpole” films or “four-quadrant films” and the fact that these terms even exist, that marketers have classified movies into demographics and target markets, does not bode well for the medium we know and love. While it’s the scariest time to enter the entertainment industry, it’s also the most exciting time. All the rules are changing, and the recent successes of House of Cards andArrested Development on Netflix or sites like Funny or Die are simply proving that maybe we don’t need TV networks or traditional media when it comes to consuming or creating quality content. Maybe you’ll upload one of these films tomorrow and they’ll end up having more views than the latest episode of Modern Family. It’s completely possible. I mean, if it happened to Psy it could happen to you.
Today, in a few minutes, you will have one of the happiest moments in your life. Many of you will feel, for the first time ever, what it’s like to experience something you toiled over and worked so hard for with a huge audience. You will laugh with them, you will cry with them. You will hear that silence when something dramatic and poignant comes onscreen. And this very special moment can only happen with cinema. As opposed to a play or a concert, where you’re performing for an audience; or a TV show or book where your audience is experiencing your work in the comfort of privacy, cinema is the only medium where you can experience your work with your audience en masse. I remember experiencing that for the first time during my own short film screening when I was in college, and I have to confess I became addicted to that feeling. And that’s when I realized I wanted to become a filmmaker for the rest of my life.
And yet, with this comes the hard realization—from this point onward, your film is no longer yours. And no matter how hard I try to convince you of this, you will never truly be able to accept it. I know, because I’ve been trying myself for a decade, and I still can’t. This is when you will also start going through that weird phase – a phase that only other artists—ESPECIALLY artists who work in pop culture, go through. Because no matter how much praise or accolades you receive—just one blog entry, one 140-character tweet, could ruin your day. And you will doubt yourself, and you may go so far as to question your value as an artist or the validity of your voice.
So I guess the only advice I can really give you is this: in the end, it comes down to the relationship between you and your work. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you have to make your work for yourself. You have to be true to your voice. Granted, you’remaking movies for an audience, but if you yourself are not happy then why bother? In ten years you will forget the reviews, good and bad. You will forget the fanfare, and the press, and whatever controversy may have accompanied your movie. All you will have is you and your film. And the question, then, will be “can I stand by my film?” Will I be able to show this to the person I’m in a relationship with ten years in the future and be proud; because it represents me, or at least represents a big part of me at a certain time in my life?
And this is what I wish of you. It will be a struggle: you will work long hours and lose a lot of money and wonder if it was all worth it. You will get your heart broken many, many times. I just hope that once in a blue moon you will make something that is worth it to you, whether critics or audiences think it’s good or bad. Then in the year 2080 your grandkids can show it to your great grandkids and go “you see that? That was your great grandpa.” Good luck, and congratulations on being creators today.