Moving Pictures

I’ve often said I could watch a documentary about paint drying and find some meaning in it. This is not because I find meaning where other people find only a headache from the smell of five gallons of Sherman-Williams laytex interior. It’s simply due to the fact that I love documentary filmmaking. More so than any other genre, the documentary has the power to inspire, entrance, educate and involve me. It gives a brand new meaning to the term ‘moving picture’.

That’s not to say that your garden-variety Hollywood blockbuster doesn’t have the ability (albeit occasionally) to work the same kind of magic. Like any red-blooded American man, movies are not just a source of entertainment–they’re also a source of dialog that my friends and I still take adolescent pleasure in quoting to each other whenever an appropriate (or inappropriate) moment reveals itself.


Like most geeks in my generation, I’ve seen many of my favorites over and over again since I was a child. I was 7 when Star Wars was released in 1977. If pressed, I’m fairly confident I can quote entire PASSAGES from that movie, complete with sound effects and a running trivia commentary culled from issue after issue of Starlog, Fangoria, and Famous Monsters. I can do the same for Blade Runner, Brazil, Apocalypse Now, and all of the Alien movies.

But those films move me in an entirely different way. They move me as a geek, a science fiction writer and closet movie nerd. Other films move me as a human being.

Some of these are fictional, Hollywood blockbusters, too–even if they are sometimes based on true events. Schindler’s List and The Gray Zone both fall into this category (and both have similar themes, but that’s simply coincidence). Two examples that ARE NOT based on true events are Vanilla Sky and Magnolia (both of which star Tom Cruise, but, again, that’s simply coincidence). But documetaries–the nonfiction of the film world–hold a special, and often magical,  power over me.

Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father is an amazing example of a moving picture. And it makes you think about how many lives you affect just by going about your daily life. Like the butterfly that flaps his wings in Newfoundland and whips up a hurricane in Fiji, you can never be certain how the smallest actions will affect those you come into casual contact with.

It’s something to think about as I begin preparations to start filming The Lost Idol of Amun-Ra, a 1950’s sci-fi spoof some friends and I are making. Though I am a cynical Gen-X’er by birth (and proud of it), I suppose it’s possible to attach some greater meaning to even an indie sci-fi/comedy. Possible, but doubtful. After all, the greatest power a comedy has is its ability to make us laugh. That is, in itself, enough for me.

So what makes us think we can make a movie? Modern technology has made a LOT of things possible. For me,

 THE REASON  is another indie movie–a horror film called 5 Across The Eyes. This movie was so BAD, so AWFUL, that I had a revelation: if these people could make and market a movie I could check out in my local Hollywood Video, well…wait a minute! I can do that! And better! After/if you read my review of this steaming pile, you might think I’ve been a little harsh, considering what I’m working on myself. So go ahead: rent it. THEN tell me if I was “too harsh” or not.

In a way, movie-making is in my blood. My cousin is a big-name actor (Ed Harris), and my brother has played a couple small roles when we were living in Orlando. Okay, so that doesn’t exactly make me Hollywood royalty…I suppose the real reason I never considered doing it before was simply that movie-making always seemed like something that had to cost millions and required a diploma from a film school–neither of which I have. That’s where technology comes in. Affordable digital video cameras have brought movie-making to the masses in the same way that digital recording technology has made it possible for musicians to make an album in their living rooms. 

The main thing you have to have in order to get your ideas across in a movie is a good story. Since I consider myself a fairly competent storyteller, I figure I have a shot. I guess I COULD run to Ed and beg his help, but I’d rather send him a finished product and say: “Whaddya think, cuz?” Otherwise, I’m really just a pathetic name-dropper and since I respect what he has accomplished…well, this is the better way.

As for moving people, the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” may or may not be correct. I think a good movie is made better by a great story…so my “secret weapon” is to start with a great script. BTW, I’m working on a software review of Celtx version 2.0.2 but if you don’t want to wait around, let me just say this: Celtx is an incredibly versatile, easy-to-use scriptwriting program with templates for movies, comic books, stage plays, etc. If you want to get into screenwriting, download the free version and give it a go.

Well, wish us luck. We’re going to need it.  



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