WHY NOTHING IN FILM HAS CHANGED IN 1,000 YEARS & WHY ANYONE WHO SAYS DIFFERENT IS TRYING TO SELL YOU SOMETHING
"Tenny, you idiot! The technology of film is only 100 years old!"
Ha! Simmer down, sparky. SOME of the technology behind film is only 100 years old. Yes, I wrote this headline pretty much exclusively to get your attention - but what I said is true, and I'm sticking to my guns on this one.
Bear with me, because making an explosive point about the business of film is only part of what I promised to deliver unto the excellent folks at Film Courage. In addition, I've promised to make that point with anecdotes both specific and personal.
With that in mind, I should mention first that my origin story as a writer, director, and producer grew out of the theater. In high school, it was the theater people who appreciated and rewarded my creative mind, my relentless energy, and my work ethic. My first job in the entertainment business was running spotlight for a production of Merrily We Roll Along, and that community has been my home ever since. From my passion for actors and the craft of acting to finding a focus for my love of genre, I can bring every aspect of the work I'm doing today all the way back to that production, and to the people I met there.
Listen to Tennyson E. Stead tell his 'Arriving in L.A. story here.'
"Them's pretty words coming from a fancy shmancy stage bum who doesn't care about making money, but some of us have to live in the real world!"
Fine. Let's talk about the real world.
When I first came out to Los Angeles, I had no money, no home, and no job. My one friend (community) in the city talked to his girlfriend about getting me a job cold-calling investors for a shady production company she worked at in Beverly Hills, and my first day of work had me walking on clouds. I felt ecstatic about being able to contribute to even the most modestly successful feature film, and I hit the phones with a smile on my face.
I closed a $60,000 deal. The company "terminated my contract" to avoid my commission fees, and I spent my first Christmas in Los Angeles eating one meal every two days. At that point, I swore the business side of entertainment was no place for me... but Hollywood had other plans. Since that day, I've seen just about everything Hollywood can throw at a young, upwardly mobile man in the business. More than once, I've stood side-by-side with a director at the premiere of a film I financed. I've seen good producers work themselves literally into health problems, and I've seen some really sleazy guys get exactly what they wanted. While I do not partake myself, I do know what a mountain of cocaine actually, truly looks like.
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Finally, I worked as a production executive to found a film company called Unified Pictures. That company's continued success is an achievement I will always take pride in, and my experience there has served as a basic template for my own efforts in independent film.
"So how come you're not rich?"
Sparky, this article only has room for one dickface. That dickface is me!
Actually, you know what? I'll tell you. Community is the answer. During those years at Unified Pictures, I poured myself into the work. When I wasn't at the office, I was writing up a storm. That was the time I made the leap from being a good screenwriter to a great one, and I learned a truckload about producing films in the meantime. Those years, in many ways, were fundamental. I did good things.
What I did not do was cultivate my community. I let myself be a cog in the works, and I told myself that paying my dues was my way into the business.
Nope. In fact, the best relationships I've taken from that experience are the ones I earned working on set, helping someone out for free. My DP was someone I met on a short film at Unified. Gerard Marzilli, one of my favorite actors, was on the same production.
That little short film was another Merrily We Roll Along.
When films do not succeed, it is because the filmmakers and the audience did not come together to celebrate the film. Sometimes, that's a result of filmmakers not putting enough work into reaching out to the audience, or not caring about them in the first place. Sometimes it's because the film is really too lacking in craft to support, but not as often as you think.
Why do you think I'm writing this article? I want to entertain you. I want to help. I want you to love what I do, and I want to get you involved in what's next. Karen and David have very graciously invited me to share their corner of Hollywood here on Film Courage, and I want this document to serve them well for their generosity. I'd run their spotlight too, if they asked.
I'm writing this, in short, because I love you guys. I love the people who have repeatedly taken me in when I had no place else to go, and I love the people who sit in dark rooms and watch what we do.
What I'm working on now is a science-fiction heist movie called Quantum Theory, about how a defense contractor steals next-gen reality-bending quantum technology - and how the two sassy geniuses who invented it will stop at nothing to get it back!
Just please keep showing up, and we'll keep doing shows. That's how it's worked for 1,000 years.
Tennyson E. Stead
Tennyson E. Stead is a writer, director, and producer of film and transmedia. In his childhood, he spent all his time building cardboard spaceships and rescuing his sister in them. These days he does basically the same thing.
For any production to realize its full creative and financial potential, every creative element must reflect the overall goals of the project. Every great collaborative work was produced by a team of talented people, united by a common intent.
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