Thursday, April 23, 2015

Using Netflix as a Filmmaking & Film History Graduate School

So you want to make films? You really have no excuse today for not being a filmmaker if that's what you want to do. The cheap options are entirely at your disposal and a mere summer job at McDonald's should net you enough money to pull it off with some level of professionalism. If you already own a cell phone and a Netflix account, you can get started right now—no job required.

How much is Netflix streaming a month? $15? I'm not even entirely sure. The bill for this service is so insanely low compared to the value it provides, that most of us don't even realize how much it offers.

You could go blow tens of thousands of dollars on a BA or MA in Film Studies, or you could just get a Netflix subscription and sit back and watch and watch and watch. Watching films over and over and over is pretty much the best thing a budding novice aspiring to any area of cinema can do to learn. By watching films you will develop tastes. By developing tastes, you will gain critical thinking skills. You will decide what you like and what you don't like and in doing so your opinions will help form the critical thinking processes necessary for almost any area of film production. Writing, photography, editing, acting, music, and more are all up there on the screen for all to see and scrutinize. With Netflix, you get the best bang for your buck.

There is a lot of crap on Netflix, you say? I know. We all know. There is also a massive amount of under-the-radar masterpieces that many people do not even know about. And you know what? The crap serves an important purpose as well. If you only watch what you like, you might not recognize bad filmmaking—especially bad filmmaking that is being produced by you. Artists often have the hardest time being self-critical. Watching lots of B, C, D, and X, Y, Z grade films are necessary to grow as an artist. If you only stick to highbrow art-house cinema, you will be selling yourself short. There is as much craft and passion in a crappy film as there is in a masterpiece. Watching bad films might wind up surprising you with a charm and quality that you did not expect to experience. The distinction between some of the highbrow and lowbrow labels are nebulous at best. There is still a lot of sludge in Netflix but I stand by my advice that you should not shy away from even the crappiest films. A wide knowledge of cinema is important so that you can have a complete grasp of the world you wish to inhabit.

Now back to the cell phone as a filmmaking tool. No one seriously thinks the films one produces while learning need to be of RED camera quality. Grab a cell phone, write a short story, gather a few like-minded friends and shoot! What the hell are you waiting for? You are learning! Your film industry job will not come till you show that you've been through the trenches. You'll need to make a bunch of awkward crappy shorts and half-assed student films before a serious endeavor can be accomplished.

A lot of great filmmakers never went to film school. Stanley Kubrick himself just watched films and was mostly just hyper-inquisitive and self-taught.

The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. —Stanley Kubrick

By watching Netflix you will see what came before, what's being produced now, and decide where you want to take the industry. Each artist adds a drop to the pool and nudges the direction art takes. Do not for one second think that what you do does not matter. Even a short put-up on youtube will have some impact on someone.

Here is a varied group of films I consider great on Netflix right now that I recommend to anyone wishing to grow their film knowledge or learn as a student in any area of cinema. Searching "Classics" on Netflix should keep you busy for a year. And don't think, just click and watch.

The Dead Zone
The Dark Crystal
Fantastic Voyage
Rosemary's Baby
The Apartment
The Graduate
On Golden Pond
Runaway Train
Rain Man
Waking Life
The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
Beberian Sound Studio
Beyond the Back Rainbow
Cinema Paradiso
Man With a Movie Camera
3 Days of The Condor
Marathon Man
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The Secret of Nimh
All is Lost
Glengarry GlenRoss
The American
My Left Foot
Terms of Endearment
Sunset Bulevard
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Upstream Color
Another Woman
Russian Ark
Jane Eyre

Here is a list of what many would consider to be of a more lowbrow nature. I often find the label annoying but I'm listing these films separately nonetheless.

Troll Hunter
Escape to Witch Mountain
Night of the Living Dead
Day of the Dead
The Dunwitch Horror
Godzilla Raids Again
9 To 5
King Kong (1976)
Night Breed
The Crow
Zeta One
A Force of One

There are literally hundreds and hundreds more to be added to both lists. In addition, TV shows like M*A*S*H, Star Trek, X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and dozens of other great TV series will keep you busy forever! So skip film school. Get watching. Get filming. Get editing. Get cracking.

You have zero excuses!

Generation X: Welcome to Your Midlife Crisis

The reason why will shock you…
One simple trick worked…
You won’t believe what happens next…

Generation X, I have some bad news for you: You are going to die.

I see the midlife crisis in each and every one of us, quietly worried about our own mortality. The weight and body image thing is just a side effect symptom of the fact that we are afraid to die too soon. We’re worried in the dark back corners of our minds if we will be around for the graduation, wedding, grandchild, and more.

I see all the neurosis I once could not understand in my own parents, now glaring back up at me on the scale each day. I know my BMI. I take my blood pressure. I turn off Cartoon Network to watch CNN. I shop for wild caught salmon. I buy almond milk. I drink water. I worry what’s in my kids’ 529 accounts. I’m happy when we pay off a car. I’m happy gas is slightly cheaper lately. I use a coupon to buy lawn fertilizer. I re-watch Reality Bites and The Big Chill. I go to bed at 9:30 pm and I wake up at 5:00 am. I eat smelly disgusting kale chips with my wife and I somehow now have developed a taste for them. I buy olive oil and grass fed butter. I eat portioned ice cream out of a bowl now rather than just eating the entire container. I go to Whole Foods and cringe at the prices and wonder how much it might cost to live an extra 10 years, or if that is even possible, and do I want to, and if so why?

I see how skinny is the new élite upper-crust ideal, and that any observable excess weight is the new unspoken social pariah to be looked down upon, or politely encouraged away. This viewpoint comes under the guise of health, of course, never vanity. I watch as undiluted flagrant arrogance, judgment, superiority and snobbery leak from every corner of our generation, and how we have managed to somehow become even less self-aware of our annoying behaviors than our parents' generation, who we were so very critical of only a short time ago. I see the media having a bigger affect on us than it did on our parents… even though we know it’s all bullshit, yet we somehow still buy the game and play along anyway, which makes it that much worse. I see us try to micromanage our children way more than we ever were, and I wonder if we will remember what it was like to distain nagging advice and authority when they finally rebel against us and tell us to fuck off just like we did.

I see the midlife crisis online each and every day among my generation as they post helpful advice articles, work out, Botox, get boob jobs, pump up, slim down, nip, tuck, douse in face acids, wrinkle creams, spray tans, and keratin treatments, drink shakes, juice, pulp, clean eat, skip meals, change diets, give up meat, shop organic, hike, bike, walk, run, skate, box, cross-train, pop pills, dine in, dine out, and on and on and on. Then I watch the news about centenarians, blue zones, and people living past 100. And I read articles about how science will soon let us live for hundreds of years. I read how eggs are now good and how margarine was a big mistake, and certain fat is good, and other fat is bad. I read about how too many vitamins might cause cancer. I read about how coffee, blueberries, red wine, fish oil, green veggies, are all crazy good for us. I read about anorexia, orthorexia, bigorexia, megaroexia, drunkorexia, pregorixia, and lots of other “-rexias.” I hear TV commercials for pharmaceuticals, asking if I have or have ever had kidney or liver problems, or if I am pregnant or if I plan to become pregnant, or about erections that may last for 4 hours when the time is right.

And then I see somber news about how Angelina Jolie had a mastectomy. And how Tom Hanks has diabetes. And how Robin Williams committed suicide. And the stretched faces of those celebrities who couldn’t stand to see themselves age. And the unfortunate few who went too far and fucked their faces up permanently for the worse. Then I see tabloid articles about the celebrities who did not age well. And articles about the cute kid actors who turned out ugly. And the miracle ones who have managed to look young. Or the ones who inject cement into their asses to have more junk in the trunk.

In simplistic terms, I see that my kids can eat almost anything because they are kids, and adults cannot because we are no longer kids. Fit or not, most kids do not go to gyms to impress their peers, or read diet books, or post ever-so-clever informative articles on Facebook. When I look back on the photos of myself and my peers from decades past I can see we all look younger. And we were so less self-conscious then, too. Our skin was brighter, no blotches, our faces glowed, our bodies slimmer, less paunchy, less stringy, less saggy, less everything. Our tattoos were sharper. Even our hair changed. We all had so much more, and much nicer hair when we were younger. Now we are bald, or balding, or gray, or receding, or damaged, or thinning, or dyed with gray roots. And rather than embrace all this as a natural process, we ignore it and hide from it and try and cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen.

I marvel at how kids lack the vain self-awareness us older people have. My son and his friends all have magazine bodies but they don’t care about them. He has the body I once had and lost, yet he slinks out of the house each day, drowning in an oversized hoodie. Does he know how amazing he looks to the adults who now work out for their imitation teen-style body like a second job? Does he care? Do his friends all realize they look like Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue models? Nah. YOLO. TMI. FTW. YEET. WTF? They have their own worries and their youthful bodies are not one of them. We only worry about something after we’ve lost it, or if we have to work crazy hard to maintain it. Then we post it like a trophy.

Now that my generation has seen the wizard behind the curtain, we worry. We worry about everything. And good God do we have a zillion opinions. Facebook has now become the advice columns for our generation. We post every new article that affirms what we think we believe, and then we feel smug that we know better. We declare what we’ve become with each change in our micro-ideologies, almost on a weekly basis. We hope our new fresh start, like a new t-shirt, will be the magic bullet to get us back to what we’ve lost, rather than going forward and embracing what we’ve become…middle-aged.

We cling to these new ideas and secretly fear our peers will judge us as failures if we abandon them and give them up. Full confession: My juicer is in the garage. My gym shoes are packed away in a plastic bin. My gym membership is canceled. I only rode my mountain bike a few times. I can barely get any air when I try to ollie on the skateboards that I now keep on the wall of my man-cave, more for decoration than for practical use.

I’ve given up on many diets too. In all, I’ve briefly adopted and abandoned the paleo, pescetarian, vegetarian, Mediterranean, vegan, Atkins, and No S diets. I also lost 20 pounds once by cutting carbs and using supplements, only to gain it all back.  I bought skinny jeans—yuck! I was also miserable and depressed despite the weight loss. Only one person commented that I lost weight, too. I also hated myself for secretly hoping for vain affirmation from my peers too. It disgusted me.  

The Internet is more than ready to feed our need for self-help. It is filled with posts about 10 things we should stop doing or start doing right away, regarding everything from parenting, diets, politics, education, religion, and beyond.

I don’t care what I am as long as long as I can find an article about it so I can feel better about my insecurities and myself. 

As long as I can be labeled, I’ll be happy.


Here are a few articles to add to our woes:

Top 40 signs of a midlife crisis revealed
Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?