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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 Professor Carney,
I am not alone when I thank
you for coming out to Australia to accompany and spread the brilliance
of Cassavetes and his films. Your passion is unbound and refreshing, and
triggered a fire within us all. To view the Cassavetes collection, was
to breath new life, amongst the Hollywood pollution and a community that
seems obsessed with profit. To see the interaction of real living people,
with and without their faults, forever changing and confronting, was to
resuscitate our souls and answer the sadness many have but cant work
out. Cassavetes is gorgeous, and I thank him for the lessons he has left
us, and the opportunity to witness such a love for humanity.
I have since read your books
on Cassavetes, which are passionate and brilliant, strengthening my passion
and commitment as a film maker. I am 27 years old, and have been directing
for a few years. I have recently finished a full length documentary that
screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival, that explored the
lives of 2 city parking inspectors. We traveled deep into their personal
lives using two cameras (observational style)... this human study took
2 years and was a valuable experience in life and in the film making process.
I am now embarking on a drama.....
Dear Prof. Carney,
First off I'd like to say thanks
for putting a link to your email address, I just bought the book even
though I have your stuff printed from your web sight. You are a great
man. I'm an eighteen year old filmmaker (artist) and I'm just about to
shoot my first DV feature. I'm from Alabama and have just moved out to
LA strictly to make contacts. I'm shooting back home and using my Alabama
friends in it. It's going to portray some unseen views of the south and
unbiased views on Christianity. I'm afraid to show family members, because
it's very R rated, but it is done to show a realistic view of a band.
It's nothing like a conventional movie, so I know they'll all think I
have no talent because I don't make typical Hollywood movies. It really
discourages me, but I read all of your articles anytime I need inspiration.
I too hate everything that "Hollywood" has to offer, and I absolutely
hate the filmmaking vibe out here. But I have managed to get hooked up
with free equipment and access to an Avid, so I start shooting over Christmas
Thank you so much Mr. Carney,
and keep on,
Hi Mr. Carney
My name is Dean Gouveia. Firstly
let me say that my command of written English is not the greatest but
visually and creatively I am second to none . I am a 36 year old Marketing
Executive father of 5 living in the United Kingdom ( London ) who is finally
going to pursue my goal of becoming a film director even though everybody
is telling me not to do it (except my wife who believes in me). The reason
why was simply that I believe that I can make a change and bring some
reality to the movies and balance it with the creative vision of the Speilbergs
and Lucas's. I have read your article on the State of independent and
I am now about to read "The Path Of The Artist." Your words
are truly inspiring especially what you have to say about John Cassavetes,
I will be in time investing in your books and videos of his movies you
have suggested. Your view on how awful most of Hollywood movies are is
something that I have been stating for years, the fact that there is never
no reality in movies is an understatement. Most are dreadful and quite
annoying. I would like to meet you to discuss what are the best ways to
portray my Ideas on screen so that I can create real true to life characters.
One thing I will say that I disagree with you on is that I do believe
that most people do go to the movies for escapism I am probably one of
the few who dont, my wife definitely does, she doesnt like to think
to much, if there is a plot she will try and work it out and thats as
far as it goes, she finds it offensive when a movie gets to deep about
life she finds that I am to critical, what amazes me is mostly everybody
I know thinks just like her. You made a brilliant point about doing the
scenes without the use of words, write the script after. I think that
is the best way to get the most from your actors and actresses. I am absolutely
new to this business so your guidance is on my main agenda list.
Your address was given to me
by my good friend Chris Chase (who happens to be living in Jonas Mekas'
homeland at present). This may prove to be a rather awkward message of
thanks and praise. I say awkward because I do not wish to come off as
the obsessive pupil (an aspect of my character I probably shouldn't try
to deny), but simply wanted you to know how much I truly appreciate the
work you do. You perform a tremendous task for Art Film. Without having
stumbled across your interview in the no. 13 & 14 (1995) issues of
MovieMaker magazine I might have continued to see a bleak landscape
in American Cinema. I found fertile ground in your writings as well. Thanks
to your suggestions I've been able to explore the works of Shirley Clarke,
Lionel Rogosin, Paul Morrissey (who I'd dismissed earlier), Mark Rappaport,
Charles Burnett, Rob Nilsson, John O'Brien, Caveh Zahedi (who I had the
pleasure of meeting last year), and, of course, John Cassavetes. The fire
is still burning... I anxiously await the next screening of Elaine May's
Micky and Nicky, Barbara Loden's Wanda, and anything by
Claudia Weill, John Korty, and Robert Kramer (I've seen a video copy of
Starting Point, and want to see more).
In introducing the first MovieMaker
interview, the interviewer said, "He is currently completing a critical
history of American independent filmmaking from 1953 to the present."
As illuminating as your books on Cassavetes, Capra, and Dreyer have been,
and continue to be, I couldn't wait to get hold of this work. Chris informed
me not too soon after his return from Boston that (and I know this is
a sensitive area, but I must bring it up) no publisher in the U.S. would
take it. Reading your article on "The State of Independent Film" (MovieMaker
no. 26) only reinforces my desire to see your material on a history
that continues to be buried. It's a history I've devoted much of my time
towards, in writing and discussion, in the cinema department at San Francisco
State University. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I want to
see about getting some, if not all, of the writing you have compiled as
a book on the subject. It's difficult to ask such a thing of you but I
feel the material needs to be disseminated. I do not have the means to
publish the material nor do I intend to make money off your work, but
feel I could do a small service by getting parts of it out to other students
in the department. Is there any way that I could purchase what you have
and were going to publish as a book on Independent film from 1953 to present.
If you are only willing to do such a thing by chapters or sections of
the book I'd be will to take whatever you can manage to give, or at a
price you feel is necessary. I'm searching for a past I feel I've been
denied in cinema studies at State. I dig like an Archeologist in the library
to find what ever I can on many of the films, and their makers, that you
mention. Many of my searches have been prosperous and I can only hope
for more discoveries.
I wish you the best of luck
in your pursuits! I look forward to your book on Mike Leigh.
B. Alen LeTourneau
I like your "Fake Independence
and Reel Truth" a lot. I especially liked the passage, "Barbara Walters
will never interview Caveh Zahedi or Su Friedrich and ask them where they
have been traveling emotionally. It's so easy to deal with factual discoveries,
and so hard to deal with emotional ones that it's not surprising that
the more important kind of exploration is almost completely ignored. We
know so much about facts and events, and so precious little about ourselves..."
It seems to me that the focus
in your writing on emotional travels is what sets you (gladly beyond)
99% of ALL criticism today, which is silent when it comes to matters of
the heart mind and soul. I know that whenever I broach the subject in
company I get looks that say, "Please don't go there," or "What has emotion
to do with it. It's so subjective." Last night before retiring I read
"The Figure In The Carpet" entire. Has David Bordwell or any of your other
detractors ever bothered to read this story? They all seem to have missed
the 'general intention.'
Well, I just wanted to pass
on these words. How was Turin/Kramer?
Hi Professor Carney,
How are you? Long time no talk.
I must admit I think about you from time to time, because your independent
film class provided me with a solaceone which allowed me to appreciate
film as art, and not a commodity. It opened my eyes to the fact that I
am a screenwriter and an aspiring filmmaker and I will be able to represent
my vision. I may have to invest every ounce of energy that I have to doing
that...but that was already my intention.
Anyway, enough of my rambling.
I am aware of your conversation with a good friend who shares my ideals
regarding her film "twenty-two." I encouraged her to send you her film
because it was rooted in meaning. The depth to it was far from the surface.
Basically, it was everything you taught us to strive forindividual vision,
creative control, and the revelation of soul (and not mood music).
To make a long story short,
after being initially disappointed by her film professor, who apparently
did understand the film, your comments to her meant the world. I have
kept all the articles from independent film as well as my responses. I
read a lot of them to her, whenever we felt that we were fighting a losing
battle, and immediately we were re-invigorated.
come to the conclusion that Hollywood is about dreaming, where Independent
film is about living your story. I choose to live my story, as does she.
I am currently writing a screenplay for an independent companyunfortunately
its ties to Hollywood are far from independent, but it's a learning process.
Who knows what the end result will be on screen, but at least I know my
writing was not done in vane.
She told me about how you said
something on the order that if you deny yourself the passion to create
and express that which resides in your heart, it's ultimately a betrayal
to God. I agree, God blesses each of us with talent, it's up to us to
not capitalize off of them but instead, bless others with them.
I'm writing ... to let you
know that you really are an inspiration to people who preserve film as
an art form, and who know what it's like to not only dream, but go after
them. You exposed me to a number of films that I would have never ever
watched if it hadn't been for your class. One of my favorite movies is
Caveh Zahedi's A Little Stiff. I love that movie because it's so
real. It's hysterical to me, the gestures, expressions, the pacing etc...
it's life. A Woman Under The Influence, When It Rains it Pours,
etc...those are all movies that I think about often. The talent is there
and the passion is overwhelming, the concepts are not extraordinary, but
the revelation of truth on screen is. I view myself as lucky to have been
in your class, because a lot of people in film schools around the country
are studying crap like Titanic and other clichés which require
not thought what so ever. They look at people like Steven Spielberg and
view him as a geniusin business maybe, in art no where close. I mean
basically he takes historically emotional events and exploits them for
monetary gain and superficial hype. His target is obviously idiots who
believes that his actually recounting history. Recounting history? Please,
it's his interpretation and manipulation which holds claim to history.
But anyway not to waste any time on that....
It's been a while since I dropped
a line but I'm trying to keep myself busy and avoid as much of this Star
Wars mania as I possibly can. Matt pointed out your small piece in
the Christian Science Monitor. Three years ago I would have thought
you to be a clueless, unimaginative, snob, but times change and so did
Three years ago I was still
deeply of the belief that filmmaking was about showing the extraordinary
and expressing your imagination. It was meant to give us a window into
our dreams. Most of my dreams seemed to revolve around boyhood fantasies
of mythological proportions. To sun things up, I was a Star Wars nut.
If Matt had never introduced me to you and had I never discovered filmmakers
like Cassavetes, I might be that fan camping out just to be the first
in line to see the newest installments in Lucas' on going "opus"!
While many thanks are due to
you and to Matt and to others who have peeled back my eye lids to a completely
different side of filmmaking, I can't help but feel stuck at some weird
cross-road. There are many friends of mine whom I still hold dear and
whom I love and they write me ever so often, still in shock with the fact
that I am no longer a Star Wars devotee, like them, but still unable
to control their excitement over the high anticipated new Star Wars
film. I try to be care and I pretend like I still care, but ultimately
I just see these new films as two hour long commercials for action figures
and anything else that can have the words "Star Wars" printed upon its
I feel like a religious nut!
As if, a small cult of filmmakers grabbed be, duct tapped me and threw
me in a van, whisking me off to some secret camp where they brainwashed
me and reprogrammed me with an entirely new mindset. However, I also feel
like it was I and my friends who were brainwashed years ago when we feel
under Lucas' spiel. Now, I stand slackjawed and amazed that they cannot
see through this new film. It is starting to feel like either I'm in the
crazy ward ranting that the people on the outside are the crazies.
You told me to embrace the
ordinary and I like to think I do. However, it seems like currently the
ordinary thing to do is to embrace this new film. It makes it especially
hard when you were the biggest fan amongst your friends and now they feel
like you abandoned them. I have even been accused of falling to "the dark
side". Yet, in my mind it is Lucas who has fallen to the dark side, peddling
his business deals as myth. The golden fleece has been removed from my
eyes and I have seen the light...is anyone else seeing the light?
I have recently taken up a
correspondence with Caveh Zahedi. With him and Matt I can discuss films
that I love (thanks to many recommendations on your part) and I don't
feel so alone in the world. However, when you are but three in a world
of billions, it can at times seem overwhelming. Often, I try to introduce
my friends to films like Faces, Hard Labour, Mikey and
Nicky or Stalker. Without an ad campaign to support these films,
it seems like I can barely get one of my friends to sit down and watch
one of these films. Theyd rather watch previews on cable for films that
aren't in theaters yet or rewatch and old favorite film of theirs, an
Now, I realize you can only
save those who want to be saved and you can only convert those who want
to be converted, but does it ever seem like we are very few? The masses
line up to see computer generated ones and zeroes, they go gaga over galactic
mayhem and then they give me the odd look when I suggest we watch a film
about humans. Sometimes I wonder if it is even worth the energy.
I know my life is better thanks
to people like Cassavetes and Leigh. I actually don't feel at odds with
the world. I see people in those films; people like me, not who I want
to be, but who I am often afraid to admit I am. Yet, most moviegoers that
I meet, they don't want that, they want to be someone else and forget
who they are. I see this people and I feel like the freak. I mean, don't
they ever get as freaked out by the world as I do or don't they ever feel
like they don't fit in or that there is something wrong with themselves?
I feel like that all the time and it comforts me, the films I watch, they
have characters like that.
I have just been recently labeled
"the film snob" by friends of mine and by many other students I used to
go to school with. Due to my taste for Cassavetes, Leigh, Tarkovsky, and
especially Jost I have become an outcast. I feel like a rebel fighting
against some huge Empire. However, they don't see it like this. I have
tried to introduce them to films that I enjoy, but to no avail. Can we
convince the masses to stop watching what they want and start looking
for what they need? Secondly, do they need these types of films?
It seems to me that most of
these people are quite happy with life. They do a far better job hiding
their frustrations, if they have, than I do. Often, I think they only
thing that could shake them up is if Lucas didn't get to complete this
next trilogy. Even then I know that Lucas is just a substitute until the
next Tarantino pops up. Ultimately, it seems to me that the majority of
people don't want or need art.
I look to my parents and see
no desire what so ever to embrace the arts. They are concerned more with
bills and television sitcoms then art. I don't feel holier than them.
I don't stop loving them because of this. I just feel odd. Like I've been
cursed. My curse is art. I'm the one grappling with issues and the meaning
of life and trying to find a way to express things that seem unexpressible.
My younger brother likes Steve Miller, Playboy, and Chris Farley
films, he studies science and gets straight A's and is full of school
spirit. He is the "normal" son. He doesn't seem to have a care in the
world as long as he's got food and clothing from the Gap. It all seems
"too normal" at my house. All except for me, the artistic son who wrestles
with issues and refuses to do things on principle alone. I fell like I'm
always going against the system or the norm and not ever understanding
If people want digital eye-candy
shouldn't I just give it to them? My parents want me to make money. They
want me to be able to provide for myself and for the ones I love. They
also want me to be happy. I certainly have no problems with money. I could
really use some, but I feel that the films I want to make are not going
to generate the kind of money people expect filmmakers to earn. The other
things is, not only will my films not make this type of money or bring
a certain amount of fame, but they do not really have the type of crowd
appeal that is expected of a "good" film. Most of my friends whom I grew
up with and the majority of people I know are not going to rush out to
see my film, besides for the fact that it maybe "my" film. The subject
matter is certainly not going to pack them in. So, I am stuck. Do I please
those around me or do I do the selfish thing and make the types of film
that I think I need to make in order to make myself happy?
Right now, I am sticking to
MY guns and hoping to make films for myself. I think art is something
the artist must do for themselves, not for a theatre full of strangers.
This is a tough decision because I do want others to get something from
my films but I do not want to simply push and peddle ideas upon them,
for them to easily eat up and digest. What makes all this even harder
is the fact that films are not seen as art. Everyone seems more concerned
about the money.
So, is that what artists have
to do? Do they have to be self serving? It seems so to me. With a majority
of the population hesitant to embrace art it seems like the only point
of creating art is for self expression and self exploration. To me, that
seems kind of lonely and sad, doesn't it?
As much as I sometimes cursing
having ever been delivered from my starstruck worship of films like Star
Wars, I can't help but sit here today, when a new batch of films is about
to be released upon the world, and give thanks to you and the few others
who saved me from walking blindly into a false, digital utopia.
Hi! Back from La-la land. It
ended up being a very bitter sweet experience in Park City. I only got
to meet a couple interesting people. I felt like I saw a lot of mediocre
films. A couple gems (shorts) stood out. At Slamdance: Moonshine
by Kelly Reily, and at Sundance King of the Jews by Jay Rosenblatt
(my favorite short filmmaker ever I thinkthanks for introducing me to
his stuff). How are things with you?
Caveh's film was wonderful.
I don't think it is as personal a work as A little Stiff, but compared
to all the other terrible features I saw. It was a breath of fresh air.
Greg Watkins gave one of the greatest Q and A sessions I have ever heard.
What a fantastic guy!
Slamdance is a very male festival.
They need some more female programmers. Their logo this year is a pre-historic
figure lighting a fart on fire. I'm serious!!! Sometimes I felt like I
was part of something that I didn't want to be part of. Let's see if they
have the balls to program Modern Lovers next year. I'm sick of
spoofs, being clever, stupid scripts, pretty cinematography etc. What
about films about life? Everybody was laughing except me. Help!!! I'm
not pretentious, I don't ask much, but....come on. Slamdance wants to
be alternative, but in some ways they are worse than Sundance, their disease
is deeper and unspoken. Anyway, I hope all is well. I'm deep into Wordsworth's
Prelude. Is it the best poem ever written? I'm starting to think
Dear Prof. Carney,
I saw the web site last night.
It was wonderful, and I spent a long time on it. I really loved the section
on Joan of Arc. We spent so much time talking in class last year
about how difficult indie film can be, but the site serves as a testament
as to how much has been accomplished, and it's inspiring. I've been thinking
a lot lately about indy film and things that you told us. At the time
I graduated, I was really worried, but after seeing Lucas' and Ara's successes,
and how many people out there really seem to want good films, and how
the digital technology is developing, I'm becoming really hopeful....
I have been trying to work
on some ideas about building a strong base for those students, and though
a floor for a weekend isn't much, well, Rome wasn't built in a day either.
My hope is that we can become a small but tight force, and help out Caveh,
or Gordon Erikson, or Mark Rappaport, or any other directors you know
of, giving our free time to help these directors do what they want, and
also work on each other's films. If you're skeptical, that's okay, but
I'd like to try it anyway.
The manuscript you sent me
of the Cass book looks great. I thought it was only going to be a collection
of interviews, but now I see it's much more. I've read some of Faber's
other directors on directors books, but this looks so different, much
more personal, not only in terms of JC, but in terms of you too. I can't
The ongoing MovieMaker articles
have been great too. Between looking for jobs, they keep my spirits high.
Thanks. I still fight with so much of the things we talked about in class,
and with the films themselves, but it's a great struggle.
I saw Milestones and
Ice at MoMA last week, and though there are some things that bother
me about Ice, I really liked the films a lot. Some people walked
out on both, but that's their loss. Milestones really got to me,
especially when the woman was giving birth, and the scenes with Grace
Paley. And though I didn't like some of the acting in Ice, the
leader of the group really interested me, as did the scenes where the
group was arguing. Hope I can see them again soon.
There was an interview with
Mike Leigh on PBS last night, and even though the interviewers were horrible
(not an overstatement), Leigh said some great things, and as much as it
seemed to be a chore for him, his passion still came through.
If there's anything I can do
let me know. I can't wait for the books to come out. I hope your classes
are going well. I miss being there, and I hope to come to Boston some
time and sit in.
Thank you for the very kind
words and encouraging note. I needed it. I had a pretty hard day yesterday
- I attended one of those networking parties (I feel I need to do this
for some reason) where one can gauge the measure of one's value by the
slowness with which those with a degree of power and standing in the indie
film world acknowledge one visually and/or verbally or not at all. And
to put it mildly, there was no alacrity to greet me. My social standing
in the indie film world seems to plummet each year, and the constantly
increasing humiliation of having people I used to have lunch with regularly
and socialize with barely acknowledge my presence after not having seen
me for over a year gets to one after a while. It hurts. And yesterday
was one of those days.
This semester I'm teaching
a lecture class on "Third World Cinema," a couple of "Intro to Cinema"
classes (in which I'm analyzing Citizen Kane shot by shot, a film
I kind of hate), a Scorsese class, and a couple of Super-8 production
classes. It's a lot, but otherwise I can't pay the bills, and as it is,
I can barely pay the bills.
I hate asking for these (and,
with rare exceptions, I usually hate writing them for other people), but
I've decided to apply for a full-time teaching job at xxx University (right
now I'm only part-time, although I'm also teaching part-time at xxx, so
my course load [5 and 1/2 classes] is actually more than it would be if
I were teaching full-time, not to mention that I'd make a lot more money)
and I need to give them three names and addresses of references. Would
it be okay if I gave them your name and address? I realize you've got
a zillion other things to do, but as you can imagine, it would help me
out quite a bit.
(A major American independent
Dear Professor Carney,
I am not sure if you remember
me; I took your International Masterworks course last spring semester.
I usually sat towards the front. I wanted to get in touch with you for
a few reasons. First, I never got to thank you for your fantastic course.
You absolutely changed the way that I experience movies. I still find
myself learning more from the profundity of the lessons I got in your
class. So thanks. Second, I have been working since September as a personal
assistant to xxx. I am in New York, and his next film starts shooting
in late February. It looks like the bulk of my job on the set will be
to shoot a "making of" documentary to go on the Criterion release of the
DVD. I am very excited about the opportunity, but have also been feeling
confused about how to make something special with the documentary, instead
of the usual boring "making of" features you see on many DVDs. I watched
the making of the Shining by Vivid Kubrick, and that had some interesting
ideas of cutting in clips from the actual film with Kubrick directing
on the set, so you really got to compare the process with the final outcome.
I wanted to ask your advice on this project, both in terms of documentaries
I should watch in preparation for making mine and in terms of any structural
ideas you might have to make it engaging. My fear is that it will fell
stagnant, and I want to find a way to give it a narrative momentum, a
way to make it feel poetic outside of whatever poetic voice carries the
actual movie. I hope everything is going well for you this semester, and
I hope to hear from you soon.
All the best,
I sent you a letter, via the
postal service, about a month ago: Just wondering how everything's going,
and hoping that you got my postcard from Palermo. Since I've been back
my mind's been consumed with thoughts of what to do next. I want to continue
writing, I need to write, but I'm also interested in theater. I know theater
isn't your department at BU, but I was wondering if there was any advice
or recommendations you could give me about the different programs at the
university. I've checked it out on the net, but I couldn't find the information
I was looking for in regards to playwriting, screenwriting, theater production,
Also, soon I'll be visiting
the east coast, places like Boston, New York, all the must-sees. I'm hoping
to move to the east coast eventually (still not settled with work or a
place to stay, but all in due time), but when I do visit, it would be
an honor if I could stop by your office and say hello, and maybe sit in
on a few of your lectures. Your work has been of vital importance to me.
I wish I could emphasize just how much through words, but they would do
my feelings little justice. Your influence, and the influence of the art
you've shown and taught me, exists in my writing. I've seen my work change.
I've seen it grow, and it is still growing. You've helped blow away a
lot of the smoke that has blinded so many of us, all the useless inherited
sentimentality, all the fantasy, all the conditioned garbage telling us
what we should be and hiding us from what we are. Thank you for being
such an honest voice in the world.
What you write touches me.
Tarkovsky who and Bresson who and Hawks who and meaning who and life who!
It is strange how everything that is solid is quickly melting into thin
air, variation on the title of a good book. Sometimes I think that people
like Bush because he is the product of mass culture. I am not a sociologist
and I don't give a damn about it or politics, but it seems to me that
mass culture changes peoples' political attitudes. They look at TV, film,
books and everything is stupid, but they don't question it and if they
do think it is innocent and does not really matter.
And then they get a president who sounds stupid and it all suddenly fits
in within the parameters
of mass culture, which they live in. This lighten up business is driving
the world mad.
But what is more troubling
is this. I was invited to (a major film school) after the screening of
my film and the professors seemed to embrace independent film and invited
me to show their support which I was grateful for. But then when I spoke
about Tarr, Sokurov, and the great Bokanowski they did not show any expression
or reaction except of course indifference. It seems that etiquette is
etiquette. When I was a student at NYU I got so depressed because I felt
that most of the professors dealt with film and academia as a professional
thing, which means that they have to follow the trends of the day. There
was little honesty in what they did.
Yes, it is the English language
critics, but also it seems to be the case all over the world now, with
varying degrees. And it is not all innocent.
Dear Ray Carney,
You've inspired me. Since my
teacher read your article to my film class at my high school last year,
Ive been working on my first independent film. Almost a year ago today
I began writing "clothes". I've since shot it and I'm currently half way
through the edit. It should be 90 minutes or so.
It's about my experiences through
high school. My insecurities, my confusion. After watching all my friends
and nearly every teenager in the United States flock to these stupid Hollywood
teenybopper piles of shit called cinema, like "10 things I hate about
you" etc., Ive made it my mission to make a movie about how teenager
really are, at least from what I've seen and experienced. I just want
to be real, tell the truth, that's all. I don't want say anything clever.
I don't care if the audience liked it or anything, I just want to make
a move about what I know.
From the beginning I've been
pretty content for what I've done. However, just recently I reached a
dilemma. I had finished a scene that included a musical montage at the
end. I liked it, it looked good. Nearly everyone else who's seen it, liked
it as well, except for xxxx, he thinks it's corny. That's when I asked
myself, do I like it because I've seen it before. Is this just me being
a hack, recreating what Spielberg or whoever else has done? Probably.
So after much thought, I got
a vision. I saw my film, complete and original. No music, a messy edit.
It was literally a vision. I saw my art work, my own piece of art, finally
I saw "clothes". So I began recutting. I watched it again with no music,
this time I wasn't to enthusiastic about it. It wasn't what I had envisioned.
It lacked something.
Anyway, that was yesterday
and since then I've been just thinking and thinking trying to get inspired
or something so I can finish this film. I just want to tell the truth,
I just want to be true to the art, that's all.
Perhaps if I made the music
myself I'd be OK with it, but I didn't so should it have no music, no
outside work? Then again, with the music I felt something...or did I?
Was it just a cliché that I made which is why it looked so "right"
to me and whoever else who saw it? I know it's my first film, but I want
to start in the right direction. I want to be an artist not a hack.
The film is complete, I can
see it sometimes. But, for some reason, when I start working on it, I
get confused and frustrated. I'm taking a break until I come to some sort
of decision. Please write back if you have the time.
Thank you for everything,
I guess I should say thanks,
but honestly, I'm not feeling so thankful.... I'm 25 and I want to have
some sort of stability in my life. Sadly, the world of filmmaking, especially
independent film is not stable. That makes it harder to try and settle,
down and do the whole "family" thing which is still as much a dream of
mine as film ever was.
You said that, "Ideas are wonderful.
Yours are. But realities are different." The reality is that I feel I
can't make ends meet. That I may never be able especially if I "Work with
artists. Independent spirits." as you suggest. Sadly, they may have talent
but they rarely have the means to provide for themselves let alone others.
Money may not be everything, but it is an ugly necessity.
I'd go help these "good directors
and write these good scripts", but first I need to help myself. And that's
something I'm not sure how to do. I've thought about writing about film
and just submitting it, but even there you say, "But if they are really
good, you won't make any money at it and you won't even get them published.
If they are really, really good." Which to me says...don't try!
I don't know what other career
options I have. Film seemed to be the one thing I was good at and the
one thing I enjoy. But I will consider your suggestions and I hope that
maybe when you get some free time you can give me some more in-depth suggestions,
ones that would not only provide me with artistic happiness, but at least
some financial security...just a little.
It's about twelve thirty in
the morning. I just got back from a lecture given by Abbas Kiarostami
at the Meyer Auditorium here in D.C. Listening to him discuss his films,
photography work, and poems, got me thinking about Cassavetes. There is
an aim for objectivity in Cassavetes' work, and this attempt at clearing
away judgment (if I could be so nonchalant about it) allows the "truths"
or reasons that each character embodies to be presented equally, no matter
how diffident they may be. And with brilliant subtlety, Cassavetes' films
also convey the succinctness of truth and feeling. Kiarostami used a simile
to hit these points. He said the truths that exist in his films are like
footprints in snow, they're around for a while, and perhaps carry a unique
meaning, but ultimately, as the seasons change, the snow melts away and
the footprint is gone. He also used a simile in describing the process
in which he makes his films. He said he's like a polo player, he hits
the ball towards the goal, and yes, it was he who had hit the ball, but
to get to the goal he must follow where the ball takes him. Again I was
reminded of Cassavetes. As you know, he used many techniques in capturing
the spontaneity of living, the capricious rhythms of continuous life,
but it was during the editing process where he allowed the thousands of
yards of uncut film to inspire him to create through an exploration of
recorded ideas. I wanted to ask Kiarostami during the question and answer
portion of the evening if he is familiar with Cassavetes' work, but time
constraints left me hanging. To get back a bit, it seems to me the artist
must allow his work, in a sense, to exist on its own. As a writer, I begin
with a vague idea of what I want to write about. It is during the process
of getting my ideas down on the page that I feel the motion in which the
story is flowing, and I let it take me, and surprise me. Especially when
I edit I begin to learn what my story is about - by that I mean, what
I gather from it. What do these characters mean? What are their intentions?
How do they exist as they are? How do they fit? Anyhow, I wanted you to
know I'm still working, and I don't just mean my writing, I mean working
in the perpetual pursuit of self-discovery, which fortunately for me is
nicely tied into my art. I've been in D.C. for a week or so, but in a
few more days I'm heading up north to check out New York and Boston. I
was hoping it would be all right if I stopped by your office or during
one of your classes. I feel your appreciation for life, and how eloquently
it is reflected in you work, benefits not only the art of film, but, as
Bill Hicks would say, it squeegees the third eye of all us inspired artists
and makes everyday life more beautiful and fascinating.
To a friend of film:
I have spent the last three
years of my life shooting, editing, and working on the release of a documentary
I created called The Burning Sensation. The film is about the radical
arts organization and annual celebration called Burning Man. After years
of working hand-in-hand with the organizationunder their supervision
and guidanceBurning Man is now attempting to censor my film.
If you're a friend of mine,
a fan of the film, or a true believer in radical self-expression and/or
artistic freedom, please do me a huge favor and let me know it. Ten words
is fine, ten sentences even better. Burning Man has received some negative
feedback on my film, and I would greatly appreciate any positive comments
that I can pass back to them. You can send your comments to me or to xxxx.
Their reasons are not 100%
clear to me. The reasons they've stated have ranged from the appreciable
("There's an imbalance of female to male nudity in the film" though
my offers to re-edit have fallen upon deaf ears) to the sublime ("Larry's
unhappy he wasn't wearing his hat in your interviews.") They've forwarded
me selected criticism, and this sort of backward pressure is helping to
justify their actions.
As a citizen of Black Rock,
a Burning Man participant, and a obsessive moralist, I was diligent in
my presentation of the phenomenon and phantasm that is Burning Man. I
did not sneak into Burning Man and shoot this film on the sly (ironically,
the film would be easier to release if I had).
Last October I attended a meeting
with Marian Goodell, my main contact at Burning Man, and whose role in
the organization is Mistress of Communications. At that meeting, she said
to me "I'm going to give you everything you need to move forward. Happy?"
Yes, I was. Not only had the film already been through two separate Burning
Man approval processes, but top-notch indie distributor Shooting Gallery
wanted the film.
(For those unfamiliar with
Shooting Gallery, they've been a long-time producer of quality independent
and art-house fair, beginning with "Laws of Gravity." "Sling Blade" is
their biggest financial and critical success as producers, and they also
produced this year's Oscar-nominated You Can Count on Me. About
a year and a half ago they entered the world of distribution with Eamonn
Bowles at the helm, who once again re-invented indie film distribution
with the Shooting Gallery Film Series and hit an immediate home-run with
The realities of independent
filmmaking are stark: About one out of every hundred indie films made
in the U.S. ends up with any sort of theatrical distribution, and my film
had several strikes against it: it was a documentary, it has an awkward
length (under 80 minutes), was shot on video, and it didn't premiere at
a "big" film festival (i.e. Sundance, Slamdance, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto).
Not to forget all the other Burning Man documentaries vying for attention.
It did have a number of things going for it: great reviews (especially
from Variety), cool artists as subjects, a kind of energy rare
in documentaries... for whatever reason, it seemed to touch a nerve with
audiences, and it seemed to come close to capturing within a two-dimensional
and linear medium the non-linear and limitless world of Burning Man.
Two months after we received
the final Burning Man OK, they sent their contract. It was so restrictive
that, if I signed it, would have killed any chances of distribution. After
some fruitless back and forth the process concluded last week with Marian's
admission that Burning Man feels the film is dangerous to the Burning
Man event and they don't want to support it anymore. Shooting Gallery,
who had the film booked for a June 1 release in NY & LA, has tabled
the film's release.
Burning Man seems to think
my film grossly misrepresents Burning Man and that people who see my film
will get the wrong idea about the festival. They think that my film will
attract the wrong element to Burning Man. I find this absurd. Burning
Man was featured prominently this year in Time, the New York Times,
and Rolling Stone. There are segments about Burning Man on
E! and the Travel Channel. The event was referenced this year on The
Simpsons , Jeopardy, and Survivor. Additionally, Burning Man
has already given the go-ahead to four other documentaries that they're
selling on their website.
In their defense, Burning Man
only wants to do what it thinks is right for their event. Which is admirable.
And Burning Man has censored before. They kicked out Capitalist Pig from
Burning Man '99, a group that was trying to push the boundaries of free
speech to the ultimate extreme; in doing so, someone engaged in the verbal
sexual assault of a minor. Burning Man also shut down MTV when they wanted
to air a Burning Man Special, for reasons that seem sound to me. MTV asked
permission to shoot and were denied in advance because they'd become merely
a lifestyle channel for suburban teen consumers. However, Burning Man
bullying a three-year participant who has worked hand-in-hand with them
every step of the way, who re-edited several times to their specifications,
who has successfully gone through two approval processes, and has been
told again and again "to move forward " is just not cool. It's
the worst example of Burning Man becoming a huge corporation that now
wants to renege on its agreements and capriciously quash anyone who fail
to meet its immediate self-interests.
I think it's bullshit (obviously),
but in the other America (i.e. not Burning Man), I'm a card-carrying ACLU
member and value my 1st Amendment rights over any other (though I like
the others a whole bunch as well!). At IFP/West my job for the last five
years was to stick up for the starving artists of the film world, and
to present points-of-view outside those of the Hollywood mainstream.
I'm calling on you to speak
up. I hope this letter serves as a wake-up call that the ever present
urge to censor artists has crept into America's premiere community for
radical self-expression. Your voice matters. Pledge your support as a
viewer, protest Burning Man hypocrisy, champion the rights of artists,
or just fight for what's right.
Dear Prof. Carney,
......Anyway, took a break
to open up the new Moviemaker and I read your letter in response
to Terence Malick's lackey.... I actually can't believe that VP of Production
asked you that. Thanks for the good laugh.....
Still, the paragraph about
losing everything..... It's funny because at this point I feel like if
I sold off all my assets and destroyed my financial safety net I'd only
really be able to raise 5 thousand dollars. I'm still a little reticent
to buy into parts four and five of your lost secrets. Film's still a business.
I'm budgeting my Super 16mm film at 150,000. While some people can't believe
how little that is to make a film, I certainly don't have that much money.
I guess that's the difference between me an Malick. He's an antiquated
filmmaker with no trust in his audience and a lot of money and I'm a angry
artist with a lot of faith in his audience and no money.....
I have to believe that there
are investors out there who believe in me, the project, and my methods,
and are willing to invest in that.... I'm still young and immature but
I still have faith that art financiers, producers, and benefactors are
great people, and should not be overlooked as an integral part of the
creative process. Maybe I just miss my damn producer doing all the legal
and business stuff for me so I can focus on the creative stuff....
Anyway, thanks for reading
my 6:15 am ramblings. Keep on trucking. If you can have a letter that
entertaining in every Moviemaker from now on I'll die a happy boy.
I got the packet with your
collected articles today. Thank you very much. I remember when I came
across your 'Reel Truth' piece for the first time in a book store. And
such a wave of relief came over me, that someone was actually saying these
things with conviction and getting it printed for a large public audience.
As a filmmaker I can say there is never enough true encouragement. It
would be so easy to give in. Thanks again.
Dear Professor Carney,
I'm in the middle of a second
reading of The Films of Mike Leigh right now. I'll certainly be
picking up copies of your two new works. Your work has profoundly changed
and enriched my understanding of the power and potential of film. I can
be counted on to thrust a copy of your 'Path of the Artist' series into
the hands of any friend expressing more than the merest interest in film.
Your ideas are so simple in one way, yet they seem also to sublimate so
easily. They're a kind of water in the desert of the culture we find ourselves
in. I find myself needing to go to the well again and again. That's okay
though, because the well is an interesting place. Reading your work has
given in me a kind of filter that I use constantly to bypass a lot of
nonsense and better identify the rare, worthwhile experience.
I'm really looking forward
to Cassavetes on Cassavetes. His ideas and work are deeply humbling
and have affected my views on personal, political and aesthetic levels....
Anyway, I just want you to know that your message, and John's message,
have been heard and understood. We're young and crazy and we'll fight
for you both. Blast them one more time. ;)
Steven W. Schuldt
I bought my copy of Cassavetes
on Cassavetes in London when it came out there in March or April of
this year. I split my time between here in New York, Europe, the Middle-East
(Kuwait and Bahrain) and India. So when I was passing through London I
got a chance to get the book then. I started the book on the plane and
finished it a few days later and it is a book that I will continue to
go back to.
It is a unique book in the
"x" on "x" Faber series because you sort of capture the collaborative/social
aspect that went into the making of Cassavetes' films by drawing on all
of the sources that you did draw on.
Speaking of sources, about
a month ago I was at the Avignon/New York film festival here in NY and
I ended up sitting next to Seymour Cassel at one of the screenings (he
had a new film there with Jacqueline Bisset) and we had a good chat afterwards
about all sorts of things, especially Cassavetes.
It is indeed a struggle to
get something that tries to illuminate a truth accepted/produced/published
I think because to a large degree people are afraid of it. When they
see/read/listen to something they don't want to be confronted with themselves.
In the same way the behavior of other people that we get most upset about
is something that we see them doing and recognize as something we ourselves
As you yourself has said Cassavetes
is not a fashionable filmmaker. Though he has experienced a good deal
of exposure lately here on IFC and in London and Paris with big retrospectives,
due to the publication of your bookhe remains too difficult for many
to watch and those many are the people who don't want to confront themselves
or what it means to be themselves (i.e. a human being) in this world.
At present I am working on
two scripts for two different directors, one set in Nepal and the other
in Portugal, where the directors are from, respectively. I am also working
to get together the cast for my own film A Few Days in Early October
so that I can begin individual work with each of the actors to try and
re-shape what I have written and find where the actors' life experience
overlaps with the what I have written, i.e. how do they behave in this
and that situation and go about reworking the script based around who
is in it. It is a script that I am very proud of, and actors have responded
well to (also to the method of working)My Profs. at NYU hated the script
and most of my filmmaker friends are doubtful of it but I am going ahead
with making the film.
It is indeed true that art
Thank you for your email which
both surprised and delighted me. I have read both "Cassavetes on Cassavetes"
and "The Films of John Cassavetes" and also a good amount of your essays
that you have on your website. Your writing has been very instrumental
for me and I often go back to "Path of the Artist".
I myself am really just getting
started as a filmmaker, that is to say I was recently liberated from my
4 year incarceration at NYU Tisch School screenwriting program which was
a bit of a disaster and they wanted me out of there as fast as I wanted
to get out of there.
That said my conception of
cinema really changed a lot when I saw "Coming Apart" a couple of years
ago at Cinema Village here when it was re-released for it 30 year anniversary.
When the film started there were 8 people in the cinema and when it ended
I was the only one left and walked home dazed and resolved that this was
cinema and most of the other stuff wasn't. Since then films like "Flesh"
and "Trash" and films by people like Ozu, Cassavetes, Rohmer, Noonan,
Rosellini have been the films that I have gone back to and cannot get
away from. Another filmmaker who's work I admire is Jon Jost whom I have
gotten to know a bit via email.
In terms of filmmaking I don't
think one has anything other than one's personal experience in the world
and then one finds some way of communicating that experience. Once our
backs are to the walls and we are stripped of all of our ideas that we
have about ourselves and others all we have is what has happened to us.
It is from this that I start when I write or film. That is, I try to scratch
at the shifting surface that is human interaction/experience to reveal
some kind of a truth underneath it. I think all these filmmakers do that
and I can only hope that in my work I can do the same.
Thank you for your email and
thank you also for your writings.
Happy New Year! I trust you
had a safe and enjoyable holiday. I have been working, sleeping, and eating
at the edit suite. But I am proud to say that the fine cut is done!!!
I have shown it to a few people and they like what they see. But, I still
want to make sure it's really good before I show it to yourself and Charles
Burnett. You two are the people I value the most on input to cinema.
Also, it looks as if (and don't
ask me how), like the film might be shown at Cannes. My producer is going
with Larry Clark ("Passing Through") to the African American Retrospective.
There is a slim chance that METAL might be shown there. To be honest,
I'm not wild about it getting shown at Cannes. I have never respected
the place. It's now the Sundance of Europe! Besides, I feel that the retrospective
will involve non-filmmakers like Lee, John Singleton, F. Gary Grey et
al. However, if Clark is going then I assume Charles will have something
showing there as well. It would be nice to celebrate the real Black New
Wave of Burnett, Clark, Gerima, Dash, Bill Gunn, Alie Shirken Larkin,
Cheryl Dunnue. Marlon Riggs and the like, but God knows what is going
Well, I better run. I wanted
to have your present to you early, but for obvious reasons, I had to wait.
You'll see it soon enough and I hope it pleases you. All the best Ray
and hope to hear from you soon!
Dear Prof. Carney:
I just found and bought your
Faber book on John today. Congratulations. It is magical. Seeing it at
the bookshop filled me with emotion, and it is exciting to think of how
many lives John's words will touch in the future.
Our film has played in a few
festivals and will be going to Moscow in June. The few reviews we've had
so far have been almost overwhelmingly negative. It was hard watching
so many people walk out of our film at Sundance. Still, there were some
who said some incredible things, and they are always the most thoughtful
viewers than the naysayers. One of the most touching comments came from
an auto mechanic who saw the film in Salt Lake City. Incidentally, a very
nice fellow named Paul Malcolm from the LA Weekly wrote about the
film and interviewed me last month. I haven't seen the piece yet, but
it's supposed to run in the forthcoming Filmmaker magazine. I mentioned
you quite a bit when talking to him, and I thought I'd tell you to keep
an eye out for it in the next week or two.
I left my position teaching
English last June to focus all my time and energy on raising money and
finding film work, but it has been a long, difficult, and mostly empty
I will be seeing Caveh in a
couple of weeks at the LA festival. I'm very much looking forward to his
"In the Bathtub of the World." I hope all is well with you, and congratulations
again on such a beautiful accomplishment.
You ruined all my plans that
I had for today. And I thank you.
I woke up early, set up my
desk and began my writing. I have a deadline of next Tuesday to deliver
my manuscript to my publisher and as I am sure you can appreciate, am
working to a deadline with too much to do in to little a time.
The book, The Director in
the Classroom, is based on the workshops and presentation that I have
given to educators around North America and its goal is to promote the
use of filmmaking as tool for teaching and learning. There has been great
pre-interest in the book, which is great, but which requires that it actually
And then somehow, I found myself
on the volksmovie site, and Cassavetes name jumped out at me.
As I said to Zale, I read it
and almost started crying as I slapped my hand on my desk shouting "yes,
yes, bravo. This is how I feel as well."
I have long appreciated Cassavetes
questioning and searching and the form that it took through his filmmaking.
Quotes by him are tacked up on my wall and my wife, a screen writer, also
finds that his words about pain, truth and investigation stimulate her
own exploration as well.
I am a filmmaker who has no
studio deals, lives outside of major a city, and is naïve in financing
and distribution circles. But, as you say, something inside drives one
to pick up a camera and explore and before you know it, your house does
have another mortgage on it, your bank account is suddenly empty and your
acquaintances in the film industry question your sanity in trying to make
"those kind" of films.
A few years ago, I pursued
funding to shoot a 16mm documentary on the rapid erosion of culture occurring
in Crete (Greece). Traditional funding channels failed, and I decided
to postpone the project. A few weeks later, I had a phone call from Crete
that my music teacher (and one of the subjects of the documentary) was
in ill health, having been discovered in his bedroom, starved from lack
of food and too much pride to ask for assistance.
I thought, this is bullshit,
here I am sitting waiting for funding, when what I should be doing is
getting on a plane with a digital video camera and a good sound recordist
and just going there. And so I did. Armed with a visa card and a micro
crew, I performed my interviews, asked questions, discovered things about
myself I never imagined, and grew as a filmmaker, an artist and as a citizen
of this planet.
After I returned, a few months
passed, the phone rang again, and with it, news that one of the musicians
that I interviewed passed away. The next month, another phone call, and
another musicians voice had been silenced. I thought to myself, I could
still be waiting for financing, but instead, I went there, I met these
people, and somehow, in some little way, have preserved their stories,
music and their voices for future ears to consider.
Action versus inaction, ultimately
is our choice as filmmakers, and I applaud, support and empathize with
other who can not sit still, waiting, till things are just right.
So after reading your words
I was unable to focus on my writing. Instead, I had to walk around my
garden, look up in the sky at the clouds, play with my daughters, walk
in wide circles around my land, and try to figure out what it was about
your response that was driving me crazy, keeping me from my plans, and
penetrating my skin.
I picked up your book, The
Films Of John Cassavetes, from my shelf and leafed through it once
again, pondering what it means to be a filmmaker, why it requires danger
and daring, and why formulaic solutions are so distasteful.
I think it comes down to, as
you said, "Do you believe in what you are doing?"
Because if you do not, where's
the passion that will make the filmmaking journey bearable, the explorations
honest and the ridicule from the outside ignored.
Ironically, this book I am
writing is all about encouraging students to have convictions for their
beliefs and to take chances with their filmmaking and in their explorations.
So somehow, in the crazy circle of unrelated things, they are so interrelated.
Now, as my wife and I are about
to embark on filming a dramatic feature production, we approach the logistics
of production with the same naïve bravado as the documentary, because
in the end, what's the use of a story and of questions if they are never
I will pass on information
about your upcoming book on my various web sites as well as in my book.
In fact, I have quotes by many filmmakers peppered throughout and will
certainly be adding some of Cassavetes and point people to your book for
all the details.
I ended up spending my day
thinking about what it is to be a filmmaker, how we can get started on
our feature, and what questions I can start asking. Tomorrow, I'll get
back to writing the book, today was an unexpected gift, a refreshing slap
in the face, and reassuring voices that nudged me into action once more.
So I thank you for that beautiful
And, strictly for laughs,
one final letter that came in from God knows where:
Dear Mr. Carney,
Thanks for all you have done
for film. In one hundred years your ideas will be commonplace. My favorite
so far on your web site is "Two Forms of Modernism." But I've got a lot
more reading to do. Keep up the Good Work!
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