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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page)
to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.
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Dear Prof. Carney,
For a number of years Ive
been wanting to write you a letter thanking you for your books and articles.
I first cam across your writings about six years ago when I innocently
bought Pragmatism, Modernism and plowed through it in three days.
About an hour after I finished the book I walked across the street to
watch The Shawshank Redemption and had an absolute life crisis.
I spent the next two hours squirming in my seat trying to suppress my
rage. I couldnt figure out what was most upsetting: the crass manipulation
that I was being subjected to (and had unknowingly been subjected to view
years and years of other "good" "well acted" movies
with "good dialogue" and "interesting plots"), or
the fact that your book had robbed me of the ability to sit back and enjoy
what in the past I would always have considered a "pretty good movie".
Some months later your "Chilly View" interview was published
and that clinched it. I spent the next several months digging up every
other book and article of yours that I could find, burning my eyes out
at the microfilm machine and severely irritating my local libraries, who
eventually got so sick of me that she told me that I was selfishly abusing
the interlibrary periodical loan system. This was very embarrassing, and
she still gives me a "oh you pain in the ass" look every time
I visit the library.
I can honestly say without
any hyperbole that your writings have completely changed the way that
I think about films, all art and ultimately even the way I think about
my life. It felt strange and sort of silly to think that a book of film
criticism had changed my life in such a profound and overarching way (and
I apologize because I know it must really sound like Im pouring it on
here) but its true.
Thank you for showing me things
that I have never seen or thought of before, and for giving form to things
that I had felt and thought but had never been able to articulate. Not
all of the changes that Ive made have been easy and Ive had to surrender
some mental and emotional comforts, but what I had to give up has been
well worth what I feel Ive gained. Im sorry that this letter is a bit
maudlin (Ive managed to put off writing it for half a decade, so its
a bit ripe), but I really wanted to tell you what your writing has meant
On a lighter note, there are
a number of less grave things that I wanted to thank you for as well.
There are a number of things that I never would have been exposed to were
it not for your mentioning them in a positive light, thereby recommending
them such as:
Stanley Elkin, of who I feverishly
tore through all but three of his books in a little over a year. I had
to force myself to stop and save some for later. Elkin has become my favorite
modern novelist absolutely.
Paul Taylor, who Ive now seen
two times. Having had zero experience with live dance I was completely
in the dark as to what to expect and was totally unprepared for such an
overwhelming experience. When I saw Esplanade and it got to the part where
theyre crawling across the shaft of light crossing the stage I inexplicably
and horrifyingly started bawling. I was so shocked and embarrassed and
hadnt anticipated crying so I didn't have a handkerchief. So I
sat there trying to hold myself rigid and discreetly wipe my nose on my
sleeve. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
Coming Apart, which
was the craziest and best-by-a-mile move that I saw last year. I just
bought it on DVD even though I dont have a DVD player yet.
Killer of Sheep, which
is maybe the greatest film Ive ever had the tremendous good fortune to
The list goes on and on: Ordet,
Last Chants and Rembrandt Laughing, Little Stiff,
One Inch Equals a Hundred Miles, Morgans Cake and Emerald
Cities, Wanda, Mikey & Nicky, Lovers and Lollipops,
The Scenic Route, etc. etc.
What I would most like to thank
you for is what Ive gotten though the greater understanding of Cassavetes
that you have provided. Its helped me to be less cynical, to be more
accepting of people, and its given me hope (sorry again).
I continue to look forward
to the inspiration and enlightenment that youve so consistently provided,
and thank you again for all your efforts. And I cant wait for that History
of American Independent Film book that hasnt come out yet. Where is it!?
P.S. I have one suggestion
for your website, and that is to provide an up-to-minute list of films
and things that you recommend. I realize that such a list would not be
all that large but it would be immensely helpful to have such information
sooner rather than later. For example, youve mentioned Tom Noonan in
your most recent articles. When I first saw that I was a bit confused
because I vividly remembered seeing the trailer for What Happened Was
back when the film was originally released. The reason that I can
still remember seeing a trailer seven or eight years after the fact is
that it was so awful I could hardly stand it. it made the film seem like
an oh-so-ironic, gratingly (???) black comedy, and the absolute lost thing
in the world that I would want to see. Which of course is not the case.
There are a few other things that I missed the first time around but later
saw per your recommendation. Being kept informed of whats interesting
while theres still time to give my money to those who most deserve it
(would be a god-send). I realize that providing such a service would invite
countless millions of bad filmmakers to beat down your door harder and
more often than they already do, and I certainly dont wish that upon
Also could you please write
your next books about Ozu and Kiarostami. And Emily Dickinson. And BFI
monotypes about Mikey and Nicky and Killer of Sheep. And
maybe a Mark Rappaport book while youre at it. Thanks!
Dear Prof. Carney,
You may or may not remember
me, but a little more than a year ago I met with you because I was in
the middle of trying to decide whether to come to BU or go to NYU. Well,
it was not easy, but I chose NYU for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless,
I do regret not being able to have had you as a teacher.
I have learned a great deal
from you though. Last semester, there was a Carl Dreyer retrospective
at the Film Forum here in New York, and I went to everything they showed.
They were almost all first-time viewings for me, and as I saw the films,
I worked my way through your book on Dreyer. It is absolutely essential
to the way I appreciate Dreyers achievement today.
I guess its obvious that your
work means a lot to me. Ive read a lot on film in the past two semesters,
from many many writers, but (for me at least) your work as far and away
been the work I value most. Ive had to seek it out for myself though;
it hasnt been assigned reading in any courses Ive taken. I have thus
encouraged Professor Sklar at NYU to assign some of your writings in his
History of American Film courses, along with screenings of Cassavetes
and Burnetts work. (He thought it was a good idea, by the way.)
So, Professor Carney, all I
really wanted to say was "thanks" for doing what you do. Even
though I missed the chance to have you as a teacher at BU, you have taught
me a lot, opened my eyes in many ways, and changed the way I think about
movies. (I look forward especially to the Leigh book!) Thank you.
Dear Prof. Carney,
We have never met, and you
have no idea who I am, but I want to thank you nonetheless. Your writing
has enlightened me, challenged me, and, above all, inspired me, both as
a filmmaker and as a film lover.
I am sure you get plenty of
letters from people saying that you have articulated their passions and
frustrations about the potential of film and how that potential is frittered
away by contemporary film culture (critics, actors, and directors). Add
this letter to that pile. I was inspired to make films after seeing Faces.
When I read The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and
the Movies, I felt like there was a community for me, that I wasnt
alone in my desire to make something good (as opposed to something easy).
So thank you. Its already hard enough to try to make non-robotic films.
Its made even tougher because so few people think that its a legitimate
Im enclosing something I wrote
before beginning pre-production on my first film, Honey. Its called the
Honey Manifesto. I gave a copy of it to every member of the cast
and crew before I gave them the script. Although I wrote it before I had
read any of your work, I think you will find that the Manifesto follows
similar lines. Having a common mission made the shoot a joy, at any rate,
because everyone was motivated by and working for the right thing trying
to make good art....
Youre probably asking yourself
what the hell this is, wondering why someone felt the need to write an
introduction to a script instead of just handing you the script and letting
you make up your own mind. I cant really answer that, except to explain
what Im not trying to do by writing this. Im not trying to give you
an interpretation of it ahead of time. Im not trying to compensate for
the scripts weaknesses by pointing them out or describing them as strengths.
What I am trying to do is explain a little bit about my intentions behind
writing it so that you can orient yourself to what is, in fact, a sometimes
confusing and stylistically odd script. In other words, sometimes when
you read something, particularly something by someone whose work you havent
read before, it can take a while before you get what the author was going
for. You try to fit a square peg into a round hole instead of realizing
that the peg belongs in a different hole. Just to damn myself a little
bit, the first time I saw Mean Streets, I thought it was a lame
gangster movie with shitty production values. I didnt get what it actually
was (a movie about small-timers) because I was looking so hard for something
else (the big-time Godfather-type Mafiosi). Needless to say, Ive rewatched
it since then. This is not a film that tries to be edgy. This is not an
"independent" film, with all the rules that apply there. Im
not trying to be anything except honest.
|In all of this vastness, we are one of only 27,000 (according to the Verdants). Oh, miracle of miracles. One bright pearl. Rejoice at the good fortune. And work for change.
guess the starting point for the Honey script was when I watched
Contempt at the Film Forum and saw the incredibly real fight sequence
that dominates the middle part of that film. It was something I hadnt
seen before, and it was incredible. The dynamics between the man and the
woman were complex and true to life. She would sulk, he would ignore her,
she would ask him some passive-aggressive question to get his attention,
he would pay attention to her, she would ignore him, he would apologize,
she would use that as an opportunity to get in one more free shot, this
would make him angry, he would storm off, she would run after him and
apologize herself, he would take his free shot, and so on. It blew my
mind. This was the first time Id seen something this real about such
a basic, fundamental experience. The second thing that amazed me about
it was that Godard basically stopped the film and gave the fight thirty
minutes (I wasnt timing it) to fully explore its ins and outs. Having
been brainwashed by Syd Field and like-minded books, I was reminded that
you didnt have to chop everything up into small pieces, that putting
the plot mechanisms in action did not have to be the overriding principle
shaping a movie. He wasnt doing this to be cool he was doing it because
this is the way life was. And now it seemed so obvious, so simple except
that telling the unadorned, messy truth is so much harder than being coy
or intellectual or overtly stylized.
Around this time I was reading
a book of Bergman screenplays and was also stunned by Scenes from a
Marriage, by the way he picked up on the nuances of where relationships
dissolve into mistrust. Both of these works paid extraordinary attention
to detail. Everything was not spelled out for you. The "plot"
was nothing more than the sum of the activities of the people on screen
that is, it was simply about their lives. It didnt always make sense,
until you reflected on it. In that way, it felt real to me. One of my
favorite quotes is this one from Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood
backwards but it must be lived forwards." As you read Honey,
Im sure both of these influences will be readily apparent.
Another influence that led
to the writing of the screenplay was what was going on in my life. I had
just finished writing a screenplay (October Surprise) that was
meant to be a commercial script. It wasnt, by virtue of the fact that
no one paid (or has paid) me for it. I had written something that my heart
wasnt into and found out Id sold my soul for nothing. October Surprise
was a decent script, but its very formulaic (in the "instigating
incident on page 10" sense). At the same time, my girlfriend was
working around the clock, and we had just decided to get married. So in
a feverish 6-day period, I wrote the first draft of Honey. It was
the antidote to all that was going on in my life. It exorcised the anger
I felt, the fear of commitment, the fear of being alienated and abandoned
by the person I love and trust the most, stuff I wasnt even in touch
with. I would write something down and say, "Good Lord. What the
hell was that, and where did it come from?" It was scary but exhilarating,
because I wasnt trying to make it any particular thing, neither David
Lynch nor Steven Spielberg. It was liberating because I willfully ignored
all the "rules" that make most screenplays totally artificial
and completely predictable. It had unfamiliar rhythms to it. It was work
reading it. Not everything was spelled out in it. And I really, really
liked it so much so that, for the first time in a long time, I didnt
give a shit what other people thought of it. I still dont.
So, whats it about, you ask.
Honey is an almost unpitchable film, because the whole reason I
wrote it was in reaction to pitchable films. Theres no high concept to
it (or, as in the typical indie film, a high concept that can be brought
in with a cheap budget). Theres no clear-cut story with a smooth, regular
arc to it. But it aint Hiroshima Mon Amour, either. What its
about, really, is how crazy things can be. How you can reach this point
with another person where theyve hurt you and youve hurt them and youre
both thinking, "My God, I didnt know I was capable of doing that
to someone, and I didnt know I was capable of withstanding that from
someone," and yet you dont just run away because sometimes you have
nowhere else to go. Its about finding out for the first time that love
is damned hard, that it takes a lot of work and a lot of courage in the
face of signs that tell you to turn around and run away. Its about that
moment when youre waiting for the other person to turn the other cheek
and they get mad because theyre thinking, "Ill be damned if Im
going to do it after all youve done to me you turn the other cheek"
and then you get angry because you feel that way and cant he/she see
that theyre really the one in the wrong. Its that moment when something
breaks and youre both waiting for the other to clean it up because each
of you is sure that you cleaned it up last time and isnt it just like
him/her to always expect you to make everything better. It takes you through
the moment where most films leave off, asking the question, "Is the
realization enough?" In the average Nora Ephron film, the movie is
about the characters struggle to realize something, but once the realization
comes its crystal clear that they need to act and that they need to do
particular things to achieve happiness. Honey is about the way
it feels in (my) life, the questions you have after the epiphany is
the realization right, or is it another delusion masquerading as truth?
Do I have the courage to go through with it if it is the truth? And what
if I go through with it, and thats not enough?
Stylistically, I wanted to
focus on small moments by that I mean, the large moments that appear
small. I wanted the film to key you to noticing the little but telling
details in someones behavior and/or language that tells you whats going
on. There are few clues in the script; there will be few clues in the
film. Thats not to obscure things willfully, but instead to present the
facts and let people make their own judgments, and make people think about
the judgments theyre making. There is no "Good Guy" or "Bad
Guy" or "This is a Sad Moment" music and lighting in real
life, so I dont want any in my film. And if you think someone is the
good guy and then theyre bad, or vice-versa, thats part of the experience
I also wanted the structure
of the movie to be conducive to having the really great actors establish
that reality. Long scenes will give actors room to establish their rhythms,
to get us immersed in scenes without the usual pressure of going to a
scene, getting the simple picture (like an insert, or a reaction shot,
or whatever) and then going somewhere else. I guess I kind of want the
movie to feel like youre watching a documentary that started somewhere
in the middle, where the characters act like theyve known each other
for a while and are not doing or saying things for the audiences benefit
("Well, Janie, in the past six years weve been going out, from when
we started at Harvard University in Cambridge until now when we both are
living with your parents in upstate New York, Ive really had to struggle
in my job as a screenwriter while youve worked as a waitress to support
us"). Like people in real relationships, the people in Honey
start and stop on a dime and have all kinds of shorthand for what is going
on. In some way, that will make audience members (and you, reading the
script) feel like outsiders but every character in the script will also
feel that way at one point or another. So Im not standing around like
Oz (or Christof) holding the viewer at arms length. What I want it to
feel like is life where just as you think you werent expecting it
and makes you see what you thought you knew in a whole new light.
Take the first scene in the
script. A man and a woman, the woman dressed provocatively, the man drunk
and in a suit. Hooker and john, right? The scene plays and at the end,
they laugh. Weird. Then you see her pull out a wedding ring. Is it an
affair? You see her come home at the end of the day. The same guy is there.
You wonder for a second, surely this cant be the same situation, because
we would have had clues that said, "Dont take this first scene seriously,
its just a put on." But that would be a different movie. But then
you learned that the first scene was actually something very different
from what you thought it was. You see John and Ruth (the man and woman)
in a whole new light and yet youre never really going to forget that
you thought she was a whore and you thought he was a john. But thats
because theres a reason theyre role playing even though its not readily
apparent what that reason is.
I want the whole movie to have
these moments of discovery, and I guess thats the real reason Im writing
this introduction to counsel patience in reading the script. To let
you know that youre in capable hands, that Im not going to leave you
stranded, that there is some purpose to the under-writing. Its like the
old riddle about the man who rides on an elevator who gets off at the
16th floor when others are on the elevator but who gets off on the ninth
floor and walks up when hes alone. (Its because hes a dwarf.) The difference
in Honey is that there are riddles, but they dont look like riddles,
or theyre not announced as riddles. Youre not looking for the trick.
Complexity appears in things you thought were completely simple and
yet the new insight coexists alongside the old. Its like the Vases/Faces
picture that describes either a vase or two profiles, or the "Whats
on a Mans Mind" poster of the mustachioed man or a naked woman running
down his face. Both interpretations are valid. They come from the same
set of lines. But by putting them in different contexts, different aspects
are highlighted. And maybe, just maybe, the film can get you to see both
sides of the picture at once.
So the script is written with
this in mind or I should probably say "under-written" with
this in mind. I dont take a stand on some things because I want one viewer
to say "Hes an asshole" and her boyfriend to say "Hes
just reacting to that bitch." Or the other way around. As you read
it, there will be confusing moments, ambiguous lines, rapid mood swings
that seem unmotivated until you get all the facts (which is sometimes
much later and seemingly incidental), struggles to understand. I wrote
the script that way because thats what I want watching the film to be
like. In this, the creators, the viewers, and the characters are all trying
to understand each other, to persevere, to live.
Anyone who is thinking about
working on this production should understand that it will be difficult,
not in the sense of draconian workdays, but in the sense that there will
be no refuge in bullshit. I want us all to get together and say farewell
to the easy, dead, "movie" interpretation and try to get somewhere
rawer, realer, more human. To hold hands, cast and crew, and take a flying
leap into unknown territory. I am interested in working with people who
want to make a great film, one that is great even if everyone hates it,
one where people feel alive during the process, feel open to possibilities,
free of ruts, where they push and stretch and pull themselves in places
they didnt know existed or didnt have the guts to explore. And that
means everyone. I want to create an environment where no one feels self-conscious,
where everyone feels safe to explore, because what well be doing is dangerous
enough as it is without cynicism and self-consciousness. So that is, I
guess the other requirement of working on the film that you be brave
enough to go there with someone when theyre really out there, and not
cover your own ass with sarcasm or irony saying, "Whoa, thats weird."
Because thats the kind of slickness, the kind of bullshit, that sterilizes
creative impulses. If you work on this film, you have to make the commitment
not to cop out on the people youre working with. Because the situation
will be unsafe and uncomfortable, we will have to make sure we dont alienate
or abandon each other. If you dont want to learn potentially harsh things
about yourself or you cant deal with the potentially harsh discoveries
someone else makes, this is not the proper place for you. I realize thats
not the prevailing attitude on most sets. But thats the point.
Finally, moving to the realm
of the practical, heres what I envision about the production. I think
we can shoot it in about 8 shooting days, which means every weekend for
a month (or, if people can take off work, less time than that). I want
to shoot it on DV, not just because its all I can afford, but because
a smaller crew lends itself to more intimate performances. It is not merely
coincidental that the Cruise and the Celebration were shot on video. I
wont have money to pay people up front, and I have no idea if anyone
will be interested in distributorship, but a distribution deal is the
last thing on my mind. Im making this film because its compelling to
me, and simply doing it will be compensation enough. And if youre interested
in making something real, I hope youll work with me.
P.S. Some of the films Ive
watched during the revision process (most of which were suggested by Josh
Apter, who has helped me immeasurably) are: La Promesse, La
Haine (Hate), Faces, Husbands and Wives, The
Celebration, and Once Upon a Time in the West. (If these dont
resonate with you, its not a big deal its just shorthand in case youve
Dear Prof. Carney,
I was intrigued by your essay
"The Path of the Artist." How you described with clarity the
importance of story telling by the filmmaker was excellent. You focused
on seizing the nature of mankind through characterizations of real life,
proving that people are not entirely good or not entirely bad, that people
cannot be categorized in these terms because they then become reduced
or elevated beyond the natural limitations of humanity. The truth of mankind
is found in his intricacies, it is evident in his actions: a man comes
home, tucks his children in bed, makes love to his wife, and rests easy
after a night of carousing and adultery. His love for his family is genuine
but so is his desire to drink and sleep with strange women, although not
justifiable, the actions are authentic nonetheless. In Hollywood movies,
this man would not exist, only a politically correct imitation would remain,
lurking the screen a two-faced liar without any redeemable qualities.
But that isnt real, life doesnt function under any moral code, and there
isnt a blatant message of whats right and whats wrong at the end of
After reading your essay I
was motivated to view the films you listed as honest representations of
life, and after seeing Cassavetes A Woman Under the Influence,
Kiarostamis Taste of Cherry, and De Sicas Bicycle Thieves,
I found true film as art. You wrote, "As an artist, all you can leave
behind is some indication of what life meant to you..." and I couldnt
agree more. The artist absorbs his experiences in life and interprets
them through a medium most intimate to the artist: words, pictures, film,
etc. But for a long time I pained to see this exist on film, and who could
blame me when a movie like Braveheart is commended for its passion
and veracity? The truth is, films like Braveheart disillusion those who
search for quality filmmaking. Many of the directors and films you listed
I had never heard of. Why? What do they lack? Nothing, of course. The
only thing theyre missing is the over-the-top sentimentality and the
stock characters who would pop if you could only prick them with a pin.
Art is the honest representation
of life, and your words supported this truth profoundly. Bring truth to
the characters and they will bring truth to the story. With this incentive
Im moving into the realm of filmmaking, screenwriting particularly. My
younger brother and I are both interested in filmmaking, and we were both
taken by your three-part essay. We have the same interests in film and
filmmaking, but know that further studies in writing and directing are
essential (at least we think they are). After Spring 2000 I will have
graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelors in English
and my brother will be moving into his senior year of high school. The
both of us want to take the next step into filmmaking, and were looking
for some direction to help us move. Your understanding of what makes for
great story telling and filmmaking made me write to you. I too have an
immense love for great stories, for real characters, and for films that
dont make me feel alienated or imperfect after I walk out of a theater.
With my devotion to bring a writer and my intense interest in film, and
being where I am now, I must ask if there is any advice or suggestion
you could pass on to me that could help. If so, I would greatly appreciate
a reply. I hope that my words here have proven that.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I have sent a letter to you
requesting two of your books but I also wanted to write a separate letter
of gratitude to you. I greatly admire your work on film, art, and our
culture. I am sure you are a very busy man but I hope this letter finds
you and that you have an opportunity to read it, for I would like to express
to you the profound effect your teaching has had on me.
In December of 1998, I bought
Rick Schmidts Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices. At the time,
I was a very dissatisfied Criminal Justice student and, for whatever reason,
the book seemed interesting to me. I must have read the forward, "The
Rules of the Game: An Interview With Ray Carney" ten times within
the first week I purchased the book. In that foreword I learned things
that I had never learned in all those years in school like: art is important
and that one can learn from it; what a film should be about and what role
it can serve in society; the potential of film. All of these ideas you
expressed and the names of these strange filmmakers and their films greatly
Shortly then after, I came
across A Woman Under the Influence at my county library. I turned
it off four times while watching it only to turn it right back on. I
in no way prepared for the emotional investment the film demands. However,
by the time I finished it I was hooked. I wasn't sure what Cassavetes
was doing with that film but I felt like that was the first film that
I had ever seen (this from a movieholic who others would ask which movies
they should go see) and that I wanted and needed to be a part of it.
My desires have been drastically
altered since reading your work (Films of Cassavetes: Pragmatism,
Adventure of Insecurity, the Movie Maker articles, and others
found on the Internet) and viewing all of Cassavetes films and many other
filmmakers. Until then, I never thought that film or art was important
and why should I have, considering the movies I saw. Initially, I sought
to do something in a social service role because I thought that would
be more valuable to others. I lived my life as a walking, talking resume.
What else should a 22-year-old do when jobs and career define your existence
and worth. Fortunately, I was able to realize the truth that everything
I was doing had absolutely nothing to do with me. I knew I was lost. I
could see it in the results. I was numb. And, there is no reason to feel
finished at 22.
Thankfully, I found art. I
spent 1999 parking cars for Subaru of America for $10 an hour. I read,
I watched films, I began reading the bible for the first time and praying,
and I just tried to figure out whats been going on with me since 1975.
I feel human again and I have hope and purpose. I sincerely thank you
for your teaching and your initial and continual positive influence on
In four weeks I will begin
making a no-budget digital film. It is not a career move or a lottery
ticket to me. It is something that demands of me that it gets made and,
God willing, if anyone ever sees it, I hope that it has a kind of spiritual
influence on them as your work has had on me.
Once again, thank you for being
such an exceptional teacher and I hope you continue your efforts. We need
more like yourself if we ever have any intentions of growth. I apologize
for the length and confessional nature of this letter but I felt compelled
to express to you the effect you and the artists you have exposed me to
have had on me. Thank you and best of luck to you and your future endeavors.
I do not have enough talent, I depend on reality."
Dear Prof. Carney,
I had written to you earlier
this year hoping to show my appreciation for your invigorating words in
"The Path of the Artist." You responded by writing in my copy
of The Films of John Cassavetes, "To Kian - Keep fighting
for truth in art and life. All best wishes on your work." Simply
put, those words are helping me persevere in my art. Your words are sincere
and cut straight to the heart, like Cassavetes films. Your book distinctly
brings to light why Cassavetes films are so powerful and real, and ultimately,
important, not only to filmmakers and artists, but to humanity. In the
interview portion of your book you said "...art is about one heart
speaking to one heart, and nothing can stop that from happening,"
and that is the reason why art is so important to us as human beings.
We are possessed by feelings that at times seem clear, and at times seem
confused, and at times are both. But in reality we do not understand life
and why we do the things we do, or say the things we say, or hurt and
love the same people. "I dont want movies and characters I can understand.
Just as I dont want life that I can understand," because our complexity,
our interactions with one another, are unexplainable, and that is beauty,
that is art. You also said the greatest art is an attempt at trying to
understand our own confusion, that it "...doesnt give us what we
want, but what we need." When I sit to write, whatever it is I am
writing, I at times become frustrated because I trap myself into thinking
that the actions of my characters might not be accepted by the viewer,
even though my characters come from a very sincere place within me. You
help me realize that I am using criteria created by the Hollywood machine,
producing and reproducing clichés, characters who are always sharp
and do the right thing, so the story can move along to that foreseen outcome.
You give me confidence in what I am doing, through your openness to new
avenues of artistry, saying how great art gives us "the weather in
an emotional place we havent yet visited," through the films you
recommend that continually blow my mind, and your own honest individuality
that comes forth through your words.
Recently I watched And
Life Goes On and Life Is Sweet with a couple of my friends,
people I love and admire for their acceptance of new ideas and their
(among other things). They like these films, but at the end they said,
"I dont get it. What was it about?" I couldn't answer. How
do you answer a question like that? How do you explain 'feelings'? How
do you explain a film's deep truthfulness when experience takes the
place of words? I guess these are the barriers you talked about, the
we all build no matter how much we think well never make these same
myopic mistakes again.
Ultimately, the reason Im
writing is to tell you when you said "Im only one voice so it doesnt
make much difference," youre wrong. It makes a difference to me
and to the other people who hunger for true art. When Im pent-up and
lose faith in my work, I pick up your book and it fills me with an intensity
to continue. And other people like my friends, who may not "get it,"
at least know its there and they know how much it means to me, so they
I wish I had this love for
great films before college, and I wish I had studied under your instruction
at B.U. I hope your students value the opportunity they have. All I can
do is continue to fight, and so I will.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I promise I wont bother you
again. I can imagine how your days might be (with about 100 guys like
me sending you e-mails, plus the ones regarding jobs, family, etc.). I
just wanted to say thanks. I never thought you were going to reply. I
have written to several people and they never have answered back. But
Im always taking shots and lookbingo! Thank you. I really appreciate
Thanks again for the enlightening
words. I want to know more, but unfortunately here in Mexico I havent
found your books. Ill try to order them in the United States, although
I dont like that much to send my credit card number. But I will get some
of those books. Believe me. Ill also look for Mike Leighs earlier films,
which Im anxious to watch. Its really, really sad you dont teach summer
courses, but well, as you said, reading is the best education. Ill try
to acquire your books and hopefully we can meet and chat in a far (or
near, you never know) future.
Thanks again for everything.
Rene Herrera G.
Dear Prof. Carney,
. At some point in the next
two years when Ive finished a screenplay and work/family pressures allow,
I plan on breaking out and making a film guerrilla style. I am reading
classics from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Strindberg to Brecht, I am listening
to Teaching Company audiotapes on literature, lit crit, philosophy, religion
and reading the masters as I can (Plato, Augustine, Emerson, Nietzsche),
I am watching great films and trying to study craft (Kieslowski, Cassavetes,
Egoyan, Sayles) Ive explored acting/writing with Judson Vaughans WHAT
films based in Atlanta (a studio/workshop that trains actors/writers by
writing/performing scenes and building to shootable screenplays, three
WHAT films made so far by participants). I am looking at weekend workshops
on cinematography/film editing/digital camera work, etc.
So I am trying to shape myself
as an artist for film and/or stage. I wonder if there is any reading list/filmography/schools/on-line
courses/whatever you specifically recommend
I have gut feeling that my
best teacher will be my own muse but wondering if you have suggestions.
(I am sure you get bombarded with requests of this nature near constantly).
Its just that I want to avoid our cultural mediocrity, stay away from
this phony vision of self/life that Hollywood/celebrity nausea inflicts
on us. You seem a stark voice in the wilderness fighting against this
rotten tide of ill pettiness. I will continue to read through your body
of work which I believe attempts to answer many of these questions and
if there are any specific thoughts you have time to toss out, I would
greatly appreciate it.
Thank you for your consideration.
Dear Prof. Carney,
I found your very special
book offer on your page on the internet. I was delighted. I have been
a fan of John Cassavetes since 1991 when the Eastman House in Rochester,
N.Y., ran a retrospective of his wonderful films. I have never been able
to look at a movie the same way again. Johns films capture for me the
very stuff of life the muck, the mire, the beauty and struggle of living,
and somehow even the REASON for living as well.
His work has changed my life.
Even a simple things as a walk down 7th Avenue in New York, surrounded
by the intensity of individual human life, all caught up in the singular
action of living, all somehow, some way, out of live (though few Im sure
would see that in themselves). John has ennobled the world for me. I see
with new eyes. Of course, this can sound like so much sentimentality and
fluff, and in the wrong hands it would be. But not in Johns work.
Of course, I have read all
of your earlier work on John, and liked it very much. Also, I have the
PostScript from several years ago, and your most recent articles
for Movie Maker Magazine. All of them are inspiring. Of course,
I have been in search throughout the years for copies of his work on video.
Finally, most of it is out now (Im sure you know this already), thank
whatever holy whomever is in charge of that sort of thing!
...I have struggled to use
Johns work as a kind of guidepost. It continues to be an ongoing process.
Thats how its supposed to be....
Thank you again.
Dear Prof. Carney,
After coming across an essay
of yours in Rick Schmidts How to Make a Feature Length Film at Used
Car Prices, I became intrigued. Your rhetoric reminded me of a professor
I had in my undergraduate studies as a painter. He was an admired man
not because of his pleasantries but for his candor. I have found this
same trait in your writings.
As a student of film, I have
seen many films and read many books on filmmaking, but hardly any of them
speak so loudly to my soul as an artist....
Dear Prof. Carney,
I cannot thank you enough for
sending me your collection of interviews, essays, studies, and thoughts
on filmmaking, art, and life. And the cover page you wrote me moved me
deeply. Your words are a true inspiration to me. I have been reading the
collection religiously, not storming through but carefully absorbing the
words. At first I began reading at night, before I went to bed, but after
an article or an essay I found it hard to sleep. My mind was too stimulated,
I was overwhelmed with thoughts of art, its purpose, its beauty, and everything
else it encompasses. As a result, I resorted to reading it in the morning,
to give me the energy and enthusiasm to write and read my own work, and
even while I wait tables I could feel the excitement of knowing that I
am involved in something beautiful. Art is always on my mind. The things
you say, the films I watch, the books I read, the paintings I see, and
the music I listen to, all come together and keep me moving.
I have met many professors
in and outside of the academic environment and have discussed at lengths
with them the issues that concern me most, namely literature, film, and
the state of spirituality in America. And I have found that most of these
scholars are suffering from a terminal case of short-sightedness. Most
of them are too self-righteous to grasp what I mean when I say, "Understanding...compassion...different
reasons, different realities...learning not to judge..." How these
professors see the world and how they believe the world should function
seems to be limited to their field of study. It seems as though each tireless
year they spent in acquiring their doctorate a brick had been placed around
their hearts and minds, eventually building a wall where thoughts are
allowed to exit but nothing is ever allowed to enter. This reminds me
of what Cassavetes said, "You have to fight sophistication...its
a trap, a kind of death," but I must admit that I am at times almost
convinced that they are in the right and I am too young and too naive
and too inexperienced to know what Im talking about, even though what
I feel is a truth that I hold dear. Its hard to let it out. Sometimes
I feel like screaming and physically shaking them out of place. They have
their arguments neatly laid out with facts to support them, and I have
a confused mixture of emotions I wish I could articulate. But then it
comes back to you. You are a man with the intellectual tools to express
and beautifully argue the importance of art. Your admirable openness and
love for embracing new ideas, new experiences, other truths, other lives,
is astounding. You are a rare human being. You have taken what life offers
all of us- the tragedies and triumphs- and decided to go through the experiences
to get out, instead of going around. In this day and age when it is easy
to pacify the pain and deny our weaknesses with facades of coolness, you
teach others to explore life and endure it. You teach that the study of
art is the study of strength, that we all rise and fall at times, but
ultimately truth is nothing to fear because it only brings on optimism
towards living. With your words, I am learning how to organize and interpret
my thoughts. I use your words as foundations for building my own experiences
in life and my own belief in what art means, and what great art truly
is and what it does. Thank you. Im sure you know that this goes without
saying, but for my own comfort I would like to make it clear the reason
I write to you. Not to flatter you, or to expect anything in return, but
because of who you are. I understand the importance of art, of how it
frees us from the confines of the world, of how ultimately it can create
human empathy for anyone, regardless of who they are. And this leads to
love and the harmony of living, of what life is really worth. And you
are fighting for it, all of it, for the hope that those of us who feel
such beauty will fight with you, and help plant the seeds for those that
will come after us. And maybe it will grow, maybe years from now, hundreds,
thousands, however long it takes, there will be a desire for humanity
to fill its heart and soul instead of its wallet and home. I thank you
Enclosed is a tape with selected
performances by Bill Hicks. In the vein of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor,
Bill Hicks rants and raves about the degradation of American society,
culture, and spirituality. He is incredibly candid, bringing in his own
life experiences and beliefs, some of which the audience loves (as you
will hear), and some of which will remain unpopular for a long time. He
is continually on the attack, mustering up genuine anger and hatred for
the way things are, but although he seems to only point his finger at
others and never at himself, behind this performance is an obvious vulnerability
and insecurity. His performances exhibit just how complex people are,
and how an unquestionable love for humanity and art can be mistaken for
apathy and pessimism, especially by those passively self-righteous. Ultimately,
that is what many artists want, to bring to light the beauty of life and
what life is really worth. And they hope that somehow their work will
help people remove themselves from the concerns of material and financial
prosperity, to a life of enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment. Another
Cassavetes quote comes to mind, "Film is an art, a beautiful art.
Its a madness that overcomes us...And the hope is that the audience will
forget everything and that celluloid will change lives. Thats a preposterously
presumptuous assumption, yet thats the hope of every filmmaker."
I hope you enjoy listening to the tape, Bill is hilarious.
Again, thank you for allowing
me to be so candid with you. When there is someone out there I can identify
with I cant help but expose who I am and what I feel inside. Thank you
for your fighting, and for the time you have given me to prove that I
will continue to fight with you for truth in art and life.
With great appreciation,
Dear Prof. Carney,
I first read The Films
of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism and the Movies, back in
1997 while in attendance at the Victoria Motion Picture School in my hometown
of Victoria, British Columbia. A terrible institute at its best, the school
was poorly staffed and offered very little in terms of stimulating and
enlightening courses. I was one of thirty, very naïve schmucks who
coughed up $10,000 to hole up in a two-story garage in a warehouse complex
that was also home to a sausage factoryMm-Mmm! You Cant Beat B &
C Meatsand a furniture depot. Never was the mere concept of "originality"
ever discussed or encouraged. They taught me little more than how that
"Hollywood glamour" is made possible. All that banal bullshit
that isnt even of interest to the average filmgoer, let alone an honest
and true filmmaker. Nothing that you discussed in your aforementioned
book, or in your interview preceding Rick Schmidts book was ever, ever
alluded to within the curriculum. There was no encouragement to be an
explorer. They taught me how to be a teamster, a grip, an office clerk,
a street sweeping fool. Were it not for your book I would not have realized
any of this.
I was familiar with Mr. Cassavetes
work long before I heard of you (believe it or not he gets his own mini-festival
now and then here on the CBC), and I find your book to be a fine, comprehensive
companion to all of his films. I was relieved to hear that my own frustrating
and maddening experiences with Mr. Cassavetes, most notably with Faces
and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, are not a sign of my own
burgeoning incompetence. Though I never met the man, John Cassavetes has
been a most enlightening teacher of courage, pride and the crude beauty
of life. That is true of you as well, Mr. Carney. It takes balls to challenge
the idiom of the Hollywood machine, railing against all that is phony,
irrelevant and insincere. There seems to be very little urgency on the
part of our "entertainment media" or even the average filmgoer
to revitalize our stagnant artistic output. I know, I know, I know: Their
chief interest is that almighty dollar. Even thought they will never change
their hideous ways, that doesnt mean that voices such as yours, and visions
like Johns, shall lose their potency or importance. I like it raw. I
like it real. Unfortunately, this aesthetic is not a profitable one. The
outlets for Shadows and its kin are few and far between. Its only by
reading your articles, or the praises of Martin Scorsese, do I feel comfortable,
somewhat galvanized, by the loneliness of being a student of John Cassavetes.
It is a very select club we are in. Wouldnt you say so?
You will find enclosed with
this humble letter either a money order or check or cash or pop bottles
in the equivalent of ten American dollars. Please rush me a copy of John
Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity, for my own writing career
has been derailed by doubts and a lack of excitement, and your new book,
plus a return visit to my old friends Ben, Frost, Jeannie, Mabel, Lelia,
Manny and Cosmo could be about the best thing for me today.
Thank You For Listening.
I have recently obtained a
copy of your book "Cassavetes on Cassavetes." It is excellent and I wish
to express my gratitude for all your hard work. It has inspired me to
take a look at his films again which in turn has helped me to learn more
about this life. It is amazing to realize, though, that like the great
misunderstood artists of their time (VanGogh, James Joyce, etc.) many
years down the road, the films he made will be considered profound masterpieces
that yield many answers to the riddles of our existence. I now own 3 of
your books on this great artist and I want to thank you for giving me
further knowledge and understanding of his works.
Hello Ray Carney,
The arrival of "Cassavetes
on Cassavetes" in my mailbox today was much, much needed. My wife and
I are shooting a film we wrote this fall...and the assorted ghosts of
Self Doubt, Inc. have been visiting me at all hours lately. (My wife,
on the other hand, is absolutely and maddeningly confident.)
It has been said that all of
mankind's troubles stem from doubting what we know is right in our hearts.
Well, I don't know about the rest of the planet but it's certainly the
case with me.... Your book was just the grounding "kick in the ass" I
needed. It is aligned with "what is right" and it sure as hell beats antidepressants.
;) I am very grateful for your hard work. I will get the word out. (My
wife is considering it required reading for the classes she teaches.)
Jack van Landingham
PS. Obstacle #3,593: Most of
the actors from my core group are quite good and quite non-union. SAG
told me I would lose my own union membership if I don't do it their way
(them reviewing my script, casting it by their "rules", etc.). I told
the SAG bureaucrats that I am an ARTIST FIRST and will do my film my way--not
theirs (if I have to declare FINANCIAL CORE in order to do so). They looked
at me like I was crazy (but, these sort of looks have always been like
rocket fuel to me). To be a searcher (and not a sheep) is heresy on the
Planet Earth... Well, I've got 521 pages to read (backwards, forwards,
Dear Mr. Carney,
I just wanted to take this
time to thank you again. I don't know if you remember me, but I wrote
you a while back thanking you for the many essays you have written that
have in one way or another influenced me in my filmmaking. We are currently
in production (with only three days of shooting left!) and it has been
thus far a challenging yet rewarding experience for all of us involved.
I have learned much throughout our filmmaking (primarily that I have yet
to learn much, but hope to never know everything), including a half-understanding
of my own views of the film's subject matter. For instance, when principal
shooting began I sympathized with the main character based merely on the
fact that he was my brain child, but I have since learned that he is a
loathsome character worthy of little or no pity. But I am ranting... Again,
your words have been greatly inspirational throughout these days and will
continue to do so I am sure. I end with a quote from Cassavetes that I
find to be particularly prophetic.
"If youre worrying about how
to finance and distribute your movies than you shouldnt bother making
movies. You make movies because you need to make movies. Everything else
is unimportant. If you wait to get the money to make a movie then you
shouldnt make the movie. If you need distribution in place before you
have the courage to make a movie then its not a movie worth making. There
are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make
money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your
money. That is the purpose of making a movieto put your life into somethingnot
get something out of it."
L. Marcus Williams
Dear Mr. Carney,
You don't know me, but a friend
of mine from an acting class several years ago Xeroxed a copy of your
article entitled "Pulp Affliction" and just recently sent it to me to
read. I am a graduate of NYU's film/TV program from years ago and co-own
a documentary television production company with husband based in NYC.
(You can check us out on our website at www.Molesworth.com.) I wanted
to drop you a quick e-mail for a couple of reasons. First and foremost
because the article blew me away. You articulated beautifully and profoundly
what I've always felt about the film industry here in the states as a
whole. More to the point however, I've just completed my first feature
length film script. I co-wrote it with a writing partner, but it is based
on my life. It deals with a sensitive issue, one that we feel we've handled
honestly, beautifully, tastefully and with humor. We've been told it's
an "art" film by several people whom I admire. I don't dare flatter myself
by saying that, but it touches me deeply that they feel that way. I may
decide to direct it if I am unable to bring a talented first rate director
on board. I love a challenge.... Thanks so much for having written that
article...it gives my spirit hope.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Looking forward to the Cassavetes
book..... Your writing is stimulating and inspiring in a very depressing,
capitalistic age. I find solace in your words as I am now working on a
90 minute work for the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, which
places the unquestioned "modern concert ritual" (which dates back to the
European 18th century) in an ambiguous context. I find resistance all
around me. No one really cares to question the very basic medium that
we work in, preferring instead to invoke the dumbing-down of content in
order to reach broader audiences (assuming that people are stupid has
never been my strong point). I sometimes feel very lonely and your words
really do help. Thank you for them.
I look forward to hearing from
Dear Ray Carney:
A few years back, you very
generously sent me a copy of your Cassavetes on Cassavetes manuscript,
with an attached note stating that you had been having great difficulty
getting a publisher interested. Well, I can't tell you how glad I am that
Faber & Faber has finally put it out. I had expected it to be much
the same as the ms. you gave me, but I was overjoyed to find this version
twice the length and a virtual goldmine of new information. Not only is
it a thorough guide to Cassavetes' work and life, but I dare say it's
also a guide to living a fully ambitious and artistic life. I'm also glad
to see that its not a hagiographic work; while Cassavetes remains my favorite
filmmaker, and a fascinating human being, it's good to know that he had
very human insecurities and foibles. Thank you for keeping his example
alive, and please keep up the great work.
Hi Professor Carney,
I used to study in Iowa and
now Im back in Malaysia. Im working in the TV commercial industry. I
have been working on documentaries and I was also shooting short films.
Now Im writing quite a bit and one day I hope to shoot a movie.
Its interesting that I get
to see more clearly as Im now in my homeland. It was like a swamp in
the States. The movies and TV were fabricated for maximum effect and consumption.
For us looking for something different, we bought the fake indies instead
and thought that everything would be different now. Everything was so
well manufactured and packaged. And I was steering a straight course that
I thought was something close to "art". And then "art"
became a loathsome word because the word seemed too hip for the crowd.
I was an engineering student then but I had always wanted to write and
shoot my own films. Later I graduated from engineering school, worked
for two years, came back home and now Im in the advertising industry
to secure a job so that I could continue to write and shoot the things
Id like to see. Ive read "The Path of the Artist" from magazines
my friend brought back recently from the US. Its really refreshing to
read your writing. And a professor friend of mine brought back a Frank
Capra book that you wrote. Im now reading The Films of John Cassavetes
and I cant put it down.
I watched "A Woman Under
the Influence" a few weeks back and Im still thinking about it.
I could only remember feeling that intensity and total visceral experience
in viewing Robert Bresson and Kiarostamis films. It was like an earthquake.
My intense film-going experience started a year before I went to the States
and then most of the time when I was in Iowa I watched as many films as
I could. And there I was, watching what many people felt was "necessary"
films: Welles, Hitchcock, Lee, Lynch, Stones, the Coens Brothers, Scorsese,
and etc. We were attracted to the loud bangs. It was hip because we understood
the in-jokes and the structure and tricks. And then I came home. Thats
when I started reading American literature and encountered good Japanese
writings and films (I saw Mikio Naruse and Ozus films) and I was seriously
into photography and arts. So I went half way through the globe and back
and found Faulkner, Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Hemingway (I prefer his
short stories and non-fiction writings), and all. And that was the beginning
of an interesting revolution to how I would now perceive the world. The
world as it is. And a world I cant read it like a film because its so
much more complex and strange and irrational and perpetual. And very much
unlike the films that have thought us to see the world in a simplistic
and reductive way. How successful we are in deceiving ourselves and limiting
One day a friend who came back
from the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival told me about Frederick Wisemans
new film Belfast, Maine and told me how it was like. It gave me
real jab in the arm. I have read so much about him and sadly to say theres
no access to his work whatsoever. And for that matter the same with some
of the not-so-known American filmmakers (whom you championed) who work
outside the system. A lot of times I feel like a lone-ranger because the
local arts and cultural scene is very much exercises in smirks and points-taken
sort of thing and I seem to be the only one who doesnt really "get
it". Most of the time the artists wear sunglasses to create and we
wear sunglasses to the theater and gallery as well.
I must also tell you that I
watched Wanda recently and its great and Ive been telling my
friends to see it so the VHS tape is now going around. At least now I
look up to artists like Cassavetes, Bresson, Ozu, Renoir, and I have no
regrets in diving in and fight the current because thats what matters.
While I get distressed and angry over my paying advertising job I know
Im not alone.
I wish Id have taken your
courses. Anyway its been very inspiring.
Dear Mr. Carney,
My name is Christopher Rozzi.
I am a comedian living and working in New York City. For the past several
years I have been watching and studying John Cassavetes work and continue
to be inspired by him in every way. I have read one of your books (The
Films of John Cassavetes) and was most intrigued by the chapter on
Chinese Bookie in which you mention his use of "mistakes". I look
forward to the Cassavetes on Cassaveteswith great anticipation.
The reason I have written to you is that a few years ago you spoke at
a theater in New York called the Anthology film archives (which is located
a block away from my apartment). Unfortunately I was performing my show
out of town that weekend and could not attend. A friend of mine was there
and said that you showed some rare footage of Cassavetes directing which
I would love to see. I was wondering if you would be speaking any time
soon and/or if this footage is available somewhere. Just wondering. Thanks
for your time.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Thank you so much for your
reply! Thank you also for your integrity, its truly inspiring...I'm not
a filmmaker(though it is a fantasy of mine), I'm actually a musician(saxophone,
woodwinds).So, your analogies to Bird and Diz really hit the mark for
me. When I'm improvising, there is really nothing better than being truly
responsive with the other players...
The movies have always been
a passion. I did alot of acting as kid and so forth. I didn't realize
how good the movies could be until I saw FACES, though. That's about the
time I picked up your Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism,and
the Movies. Now I have a completely new standard. I'll take Elaine
May over Tarantino anyday!!!
By the way, theres a few films
you've mentioned that I can't seem to find: Killer of Sheep,
On the Bowery, My Brothers Wedding. Any word on when, or if
they will make it to video? Can't find anything by Loden or Driver either...a
pity isn't it?
Thanks again for your time.
Hope all is well with you.
Dear Prof. Carney,
Wow! I'm honored that you
responded yourself to my email, as I hold your work in very high esteem
- thank you. I am a junior biologist at Cornell University that was turned
on to Cassavetes films last year, by a film student who was temp'ing with
us. He said to watch 'Faces' first - during the first hour I thought it
was the worst film I had ever seen - by the end I thought it was genius.
I felt like I understood art and why people create it for the first time
in my life. I got as many of his films as I could find (even found 'Love
Streams'!), and then tried to find books about them - and you're it! I
found your work very illuminating, with many points I had missed completely,
but many others where I was "Yes -Yes - I saw that too!" The layers and
complexities that are there in his films are finally being appreciated
by a wider audience, thanks in large part to you. I'm going to have to
take a film course here to find someone else in this frozen wasteland
of upstate NY who is a devotee - watching the Independent Film Channel
is not enough (why don't they show his films I might ask?). I could discuss
his movies all day - having no outlet for my interest is a drag. I have
so many questions about the films - I must have your new book, but I'll
hang onto my moolala for the time being. Thank you again Professor for
Dear Prof. Carney,
It was great to receive your
e-mail. It's funny, there's this subconscious belief that a published
writer wouldn't have time to write back, but it's nice to know that that's
To answer your questions, I
am an actor and writer, and I have a degree in filmmaking. I haven't made
any films since school, but plan on it in the near future, in whatever
form it happens to take. I know that I want to get projects made that
I've written (or that I believe in), and if that means producing or directing,
then that's just fine. I just know I don't want to sit around and wait
for a studio to decide to make my film. I was living in L.A. for a few
years doing a number of things. One was getting strong training in acting;
another was starting a theater company towards the end of my stay there.
For two years I also worked as director of development for a small production
company called Milk & Honey, where I read TONS of scripts, few of
which, as you can imagine, were very good. I did learn a lot from that
though. Oh yeah, I also worked just before I left at a place called Filmmakers
Alliance, a group of independent filmmakers working on each others' projects.
That's where I first read your stuff. The president of the company, Jacques,
printed out your articles from Moviemaker Magazine for everyone
to read. They even had meetings to discuss the articles. I didn't make
it to any of those, but I know that your articles affected me deeply.
My boyfriend Bruce was affected in a similar way by them. What you have
to say about film and writing and characters and acting reaffirms my beliefs
about what art is, and reminds me to keep away from sentimentality and
untruthfulness in my own work.
We moved to NYC 6 months ago
because it seemed like the place to come to grow. And it has been that!
I've been writing monologues and performing them on stage a couple of
times a week, and have met many types of performers that come together
in the Lower East Side area (at open mikes Surf Reality and Collective
Unconscious). I've worked on several projects and seeing all this art
and this community of artists only feeds my work (as well as being in
contact on a daily basis with all of the many kinds of people who live
in this city). In any case, this year I plan to finish my screenplay and
get it made.....
Emilie Blythe McDonald
It's a pleasure to be posting
you. I've admired your critical reviews ever since becoming aware of them
in Rick Schmidt's filmmaking book.
I have an important question...
How does someone go about getting their movie seen by you, or any film
critic for that matter? 3 years ago I shot a feature, "The Simple Midwest".
(I've since almost given up on trying to sell it and am currently spending
my money on a documentary) Initially after finishing the long (over 1
year) editing process I submitted my movie to over 20 film festivals.
Not only did I get rejected from each one, but when I tallied up the submittal
costs, I realized I'd spent over $1,000 for rejection letters! I used
to really like my movie. I felt it was different and was honest about
they type of people I was depicting. Know, even I don't know what to think.
Last week my film buff aunt
(who I hadn't seen in a year and is very smart indeed) watched The
Simple Midwest. I couldn't watch it with her, I was too nervous, so
I sat in an adjacent room and listened. From what I heard, the show was
playing better than it ever had. I felt wonderful. It was a great work!
The ending came and I went out to talk it over with my aunt. She gave
me such an awful review that I was in shock. What's more, she was mad.
The movie had offended her. She felt I had depicted women in a very unsavory
light. The argument grew to such an extent that I almost started shouting
at her. It made me feel awful most of the week.
I shot my movie in the late
winter-early spring of 1998. I was 18 years old and nobody said I could
make a movie. When I did do it, everyone thought I had made a cheap slasher
type picture. The few people who have seen it seem surprised, then let
down that it isn't a gore fest! The things I've gotten used to hearing
people say about my picture are: "Boring, too long, why is it in black
and white?, Why did you kill so and so?, Why didn't you kill so and so,
depressing, Do you hate women?, etc., etc.
I'm desperate, Mr. Carney.
I've sent letters not only to film festivals, but to producers, agents,
film buyers, critics, everyone. I have yet to get a single reply from
any of them. Perhaps I'm blind and the feature I made simply isn't any
good. But maybe it is good and nobody who has seen it has been smart enough
to "get it". I'm writing this after having stumbled upon your web page.
I read what you wrote about all the troubles Cassavetes went through trying
to get "A Woman Under The Influence" seen. It was 2 years before anyone
saw his film. It's just like what I've been going through. Is there anything
you, or some kind of showcase\festival that you know of can do to help
an independent director? An address where I can ship a VHS copy of my
film for a possible review? I don't expect an answer from you (if I do
get one I'll be ecstatic) and I do know that you make a living by watching
and teaching film and probably wouldn't have the time, nor even want to
watch an unknown independent film by some kid in Missouri. And I can understand
that. But, Mr. Carney, I'd be a damn fool if I didn't continue to try.
Is there anything you can do?
The Very Best,
I stumbled on to your site
by the recommendation of a friend who happens to be a young film maker.
I am a frustrated actress. Frustrated not because of a lack of recognition
or difficulty finding work or the "business". I have been frustrated by
the work itself. If you look at acting as an art form, the commercial
films today offer nothing in which an actor can express his art. I am
encouraged by your beliefs and the fact that you speak them so freely.
Your attitude is inspirational. It seems to me you are coming from a place
of love and compassion even though the lessons you have to give may seem
mean. So what I wanted to say was thank you. I love to feel. Emotions
are our connection to our heart; to universal love.
I'm not sure what I want to
say here, so Ill just introduce myself. My name is Sherman Alexie. I'm
a novelist/poet/screenwriter who was partly responsible for the film SMOKE
SIGNALS, released by Miramax a couple years back. Due to the success of
SMOKE SIGNALS (a movie I have many misgivings about, liking only those
moments that nobody else seemed to like!) I was able to work for Hollywood
studios a bit, doing some grunt screenplay work for obscene amounts of
money. I've since quit all that (having only one last draft of a Warner
Bros. piece of crud to go), having seen my screenplay based on my novel
RESERVATION BLUES go into turnaround at Miramax (thank God!), and am now
fumbling around searching for alternative ways of making Reservation
Blues or Indian Killer (a screenplay also based on one of my
novels) into a film. Digital is the way to go, I figure, since nobody
(especially not the so-called Indie world) wants to make movies about
Indians. But I'm trying to SEE films in a new way. I'm trying to fit the
concept of indigenous time and vision into a cinematic concept of time
Most simply stated, Spokane
Indian time and vision is circular (the past, present, future, and dream
world are all concurrent), as opposed to the western idea of time as more
linear (then this happened, then this happened, this happened). In films,
that western idea of time turns itself into that godawful prison of the
three-act structure and I'm tired of working on that chain gang, so to
So, anyways, your cinematic
theories excite me, piss me off, delight me, disgust me, leave me fuming
with ambition and paralyzed with fear. I agree with a lot, disagree with
much, but am always made to think by it all. Above all else, I think you
one of the few critics who has taken Schindler's List to task for being
such a manipulative piece of shit, only exceeded in its glibness by Saving
Private Ryan, and I thank you for that particular bit of honesty. So,
I want to make the first feature film where Indians are complicated human
beings, and not the cardboard cutouts we've always seen (including in
SMOKE SIGNALS), so where to begin?
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