So I was recently rummaging through old files on my computer when I rediscovered several documents that composed an early pet project of mine.
Fifteen years ago I had founded a now-defunct website aimed at indie filmmakers called VENT!, which served as “group therapy for down-but-not-yet-out movie makers.” Essentially it offered practical advice and true anecdotes about the often harsh realities of independent film production, at a time when low and no budget movies were being churned out in droves by people who were far removed from the Hollywood studio system.
It also featured very detailed – and very candid – interviews with some then up-and-coming indie filmmakers, such as Larry Fessenden (HABIT, WENDIGO), Matthew Harrison (THE RHYTHM THIEF, KICKED IN THE HEAD), and Fred Carpenter (MURDERED INNOCENCE, JESSE).
Upon rereading the interview with one filmmaker in particular, I thought its final section not only imparted excellent words of wisdom for indie filmmakers, but could be applied to all artists.
Robert Celestino (YONKERS JOE, LEAVE) has been directing indie films since 1991. Bob is not only somebody I admire, but also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He is the epitome of a passionate artist: he loves making films, and will see them get made by hook or by crook, even if it takes years. He once literally gambled everything he had in order to raise enough money to make his acclaimed early film MR. VINCENT (1997). I don’t know if it’s gotten much easier for him, but he’s still doing it to this day. Doing what he loves.
Below is an excerpt from our interview, circa 1998. Feel free to substitute “film” with novel, album, or sculpture. I think it exemplifies the spirit of any dedicated artist.
I’m advising a couple of young filmmakers now, and my feeling is that I’ll give them as much as they’ll take. If they’re not going to come after it, I’m not going to give it to them, not because I know any more than they do, but I know it’s a business where tenacity and passion are a requisite. You have to ask yourself, is it worth it? Is it worth it to put in these years, to have to work 24 hours a day when other people are partying, enjoying love and family and sports? Is it worth it when there’s nothing else? You don’t live your life. You live your films, and that’s a big sacrifice. You can’t have it both ways, not in my opinion. And forget the limousines, the fame, the big house and the money. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to have all those things, but that’s not what it’s about. The ultimate reward you’re going to get is looking at those dailies (the first positive film prints developed from footage shot the previous day). That’s as good as it gets, it does not get any better than that. So if you can really answer “Yes” to “Is it worth it?” then go ahead and try it. I wouldn’t recommend any filmmaker go to Atlantic City and put it all on the line. You have to be where I was at that time. But I do believe that the shit gets filtered out, that who’s supposed to be there, gets there, and nobody gets it easy. Spielberg earned his way. Tarantino had his filmmaker’s plight. The odds against you are such that you got a better shot at becoming a congressman than to make films on a steady basis. I’m not there by a long shot, and there’s still so much to do, but I’m in striking distance.