13 Sep TALES OF SLOW ART
Good, Cheap, Fast…Pick any two.
Although the adage is more from the business world, it will inevitably come up when chatting with other artists about film-making, writing, music, etc. And in a weird way, it seems to cuts right to the heart of a common struggle for most every creative person I know.
So, let’s pick.
GOOD – well, of course, I pick good. What kind of artist doesn’t want good? I guess maybe if I’m into mass-producing pastel landscapes for hospitals and office parks. Bad-art jokes aside, let’s just assume that we’re all shooting for good.
CHEAP – Unfortunately, most artists have to pick this one by default. It’s why the word “struggling” is always hanging out in front our name. And since we are forced to take the cheap ticket we are forever blocked from getting to pick…
FAST – Man, how I’ve always dreamed of just throwing money at things, especially as a filmmaker. But even worst than the wanting of more funds, is how, time and again, I have deluded myself into thinking I don’t need money to be fast! I’m thrifty, I can wheel and deal, I’ve got Armenian blood in my veins. Why can’t I have all three?! And as I watch my week-long project turn into a month-long project, then the months fade into years, I tell myself, next time around it will be different. It never is.
In November 2000, I was told that the funding for an independent film I was set to direct and star in had fallen through (here’s a bitter-sweet announcement in Variety about it). My script, titled Beatrice, had taken over four years to write and raise interest in and now it was suddenly dead. Sick of Hollywood bullshit, I headed back up to my hometown, Oakland, intent on make a movie on my own terms. No more waiting around for years to raise money, I had come up with a plan so I could start shooting right away! It was going to be good and cheap and fast.
The new project was based on an old play I had found called L’Illusion Comique, about a dying man trying to learn the fate of his estranged, illegitimate son. What drew me to this story was it’s episodic structure: three independent tales about the son’s life, woven together with isolated scenes involving the father. My plan was to shoot each portion of the son’s life, like three separate short films, using each one to help to raise money and interest to shoot the next one. Then ultimately, I would use all the footage from the son’s life (75% of the film) to attract a big name actor to play the father for the final shoot! All and all, I figured I’d be done and ready to show the finished feature within a year.
I actually remember explaining my master plan to friend back in LA before I started. He was also a filmmaker (well-connected and well-funded) who was at the time about to begin shooting his own film. We joked about running into each other at the film festivals the following year.
Well, my film, Illusion was eventually made, staring Kirk Douglas, Michael Goorjian and some guy named Bryan Cranston. And we did make it to the festivals … over 5 years later. And when I did in fact run into my well-funded filmmaker friend at one of those festivals, he was there to premiere his third film since we had first spoken.
Now in truth, lack of funds is not the only reason for being artistically slow. Something ideas just take awhile to mature. Many artist friends of mine are perfectionist, constantly tinkering, tweaking, re-framing, reinterpreting, trying to stumble onto some illusive ‘goodness’. More often than not they’re balancing their art with other aspects of their lives: friends, family, making a living. There are endless speed bumps that can make finishing a project take forever. But sometimes those bumps do feel like mountains, and sometimes after too much pushing, many artists tend to let go of their Sisyphean boulders and give up.
Some Hope for Being a Slowpoke Artist
I recently listen to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell that gave me some serious hope (Link here). In it he explores the decades-long evolution of the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. For any slowpokes (or Experimental Innovators as Mr. Gladwell would call you) looking for inspiration, I strongly recommend a listen.
And for anyone who doesn’t understand what’s so awful about being a slow artist, here is my main point. Underneath the agony of being slow lies a terrible dread that the real reason I’m so slow is because I’m a complete and total fraud. That what I’m creating is actually not all that ‘good.’ Because all truly inspired art should happen fast, like Mozart-fast, and not being able to channel the Gods every time I sit down to work must mean that something just ain’t right.
Well, art can happen fast, and occasionally even slowpokes like me are blessed with that kind of flow. But it’s not the only way. And that’s my point.
– M. Goorjian
P.S. That script of mine, titled Beatrice that lost its funding back in 2000, well, this October 2016 it will finally reach the finish line in the form of my new novel, What Lies Beyond the Stars. Over 20 years since I first wrote that story, after endless drafts and countless iterations, Beatrice will finally arrive. Hallelujah.
P.P.S. If you’re a slowpoke artist like me please share your tale with me in the comments below.