‘The Pursuit of Self-Discovery’: Why Independent Cinema is an Aspiring Filmmaker’s Greatest Asset

In Ben Escobar, Featured, Industry Insights by Impact Admin

By Ben Escobar –

How many times have you seen a really good movie and immediately after can’t help but say, “I want to make movies like that one day,” and then you give it a shot, but then end up failing miserably? Depending on the number of movies you’ve made, probably more than you’re comfortable with.

We’ve all been there. And it’s within that failure that we can fall in the trap of saying, “I’ll never be as good as [insert name of director]!” But what’s interesting about being an artist, or even just a human being, is realizing that everybody has failed countless times in their line of work.

It’s just the cycle of talent.

But what is there to learn from our failure that we thought was going to be so great? It’s done nobody any good—everyone’s hated your work, they’ve highlighted your flaws, and they don’t want anything to do with it. All that’s left is to keep your work to yourself, and do a handful of things with it: 1) You could burn it and quit, then find something else to do in life, 2) You could lie to yourself and try to convince the world that your work was actually a masterpiece, or 3) You could rise from the ashes of your mistakes with a smile on your face, and start typing the words to your next script.

I remember back in the days of high school football, when my team was lucky enough just to win more than 3 games, the coach had something inspiring to say before every game. But at the end of every pre-game speech, he advised us that regardless of whether we succeed or fail, he wants to see us charging at 100mph.

Taking a similar mindset to your creative work can get you lightyears ahead of the game. Every chance you get to make a film, no matter how big or small, should never be done with the goal of being better than someone or something else. It’s toxic, it’s prideful, and it’s embarrassing. Instead, consider it as a learning experience, but most importantly, an opportunity to expand yourself as an artist.

Using the valuable time you have at a young age to experiment, fail, and try again, is the most important thing you can do as an artist. It allows you the time to realize what you’re good at, what you need to change, and what else is there for you to learn. You may grow up thinking that you’re destined to make the perfect Star Wars movie one day. And while that’s a nice dream to have, you would be doing yourself an enormous favor by denying yourself of those childhood creative instincts, and expanding them into something that expresses yourself as an artist and as a human being.

Be honest with yourself—why do you create? Why filmmaking over every other medium? Why is your art worth the risk?

If you don’t have an answer, that’s okay. The simple solution is to grow in your self-awareness and create more things. But beyond that, you may take interest into a world of cinema dedicated to successful artists who are still trying to find answers to those questions. And it’s in that pursuit of self-discovery that cinema’s true power comes to light.

Similar to the opportunities made from film school or pure ambition, independent cinema offers an opportunity for filmmakers to do something different from the more commonly known, mainstream cinema. There are less rules, less greedy minds, and a lesser audience. The original script is often held true to the story, and the potential of cinematic artistry is maximized.

Simply put, it’s not about impressing. It’s about expressing.

If you were to ask an established filmmaker like Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan, “Why is your art worth the risk?” The casual response may be, “Because I enjoy it.” But if you were to ask another filmmaker, say, Lars Von Trier, who is less widely-known by a general audience, “Why is your art worth the risk?” He would probably reply, “Because I need it.

In studying the works of many independent filmmakers, I’ve noticed a golden thread of an instinctual necessity behind their art. Beyond the money, beyond the fame, and beyond the criticism against their work, these filmmakers dare to go places that very few others think about. Allegories on their depression, fears, trauma, or even their fascination with everyday human interaction. Criticisms on society, tyrannical government, or religion. These are alternate realties bursting with real human emotions for those that want to escape to a place where they can finally experience something that just might be better than life itself.

Where do we come from? Why? What do I matter? What importance does anything I’ve seen or done have on the world? Life is littered with questions that beckons these artists every day… And they can’t help but attempt to answer them through the lens of a camera or the words of a screenplay.

Independent cinema changed the way I watched movies. It challenged me to use my art as an opportunity to say something about myself and the world in a way that impacts an audience. It challenged me to appreciate human interaction and the mistakes that come alongside everyday life. And ultimately, it has challenged me to continue the beautiful risk of filmmaking, not for the sake of greatness, but for the sake of change.

Films like The Florida Project that juxtapose a real-life crisis of homelessness and poverty in Florida alongside life through the eyes of a child, unable to discern everyday poverty from paradise, or A Ghost Story, which uses the childlike image of a bed-sheet ghost as way to tell a coming of age story about love and the life-long attachment we hold for old homes, and even David Cronenberg’s classic, Videodrome, which foretells the horror of finding an escape in modern-day technology, all leave a lasting impact on an audience, and reveal something unique about the artists behind them. They also teach valuable lessons in creativity and filmmaking, emphasizing the importance of the artistry behind cinema.

There are countless more independent films all throughout history that teach valuable lessons on art and life—unique mementos of cinema that are always waiting to be discovered.

So, this leaves us with the same question—why do you create? Why is your art worth the risk? There is no single right answer, but perhaps you may find one for yourself by studying the examples of those like you.


About the Author

Ben Escobar is a screenwriting and production student at JPCatholic (Class of 2018) who boasts an immense love for all things relating to the art of cinema. His favorite director is Richard Linklater and his favorite movie is Swiss Army Man.

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