The question came for Robert Rodriguez.
“Do you think it’s still possible for an upcoming filmmaker to go the route you guys went and still be successful?” An aspiring filmmaker asked. It was Comic Con 2006 and “you guys” meant the panel of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo Del Toro, and Sam Raimi to name a few—all of whom were once broke, undistinguished, Indie filmmakers.
“That’s a good question,” Robert answered, obviously at a loss for delivering some sort of hopeful advice. “Times have changed.”
But then, Tarantino, who was sitting right next to him, butted in and said, “Uh, make Reservoir Dogs!” Quentin laughed at his own comment and so did Robert. “Actually,” Tarantino added, “I’m not even being a smart ass… you make a goddamn kickass movie, and you can take it all over the fuckin planet earth and everyone’ll know it!”
The audience cheered and applauded.
Robert then defended his stance, stating that things are harder today because there’s just more competition. “Everybody’s got a camera, and everybody can edit, it’s just tough.”
“Yeah, but you know,” Tarantino cut in again. “There’s a lot more competition, but those crappy movies aren’t competition.”
I never forgot that interview. And through the years I’ve heard mixed reactions about what was said at the panel. Some say Tarantino is full of it, that he’s arrogant and vain and he’s really not a good filmmaker. Some even went as far as to say that, the only way to make it in Hollywood is to “suck up to some rich Jews who control the system” etc, etc. I consider such comments weak and insecure, and those who advocate them deserves to be scheduled for a session of chemical castration. I mean these goofballs would have you believe that Tarantino just got lucky, and that luck replaced the daily blood-drip of hard work and dedication. Never mind the fact that the guy once spent three years shooting an independent feature over the weekends by funding it through working in a video store; never mind the fact that he had consistently written and networked and shot with nothing working out for him for ten straight years, and still kept at it; and never mind the fact that he has earned both wealth and acclaim by starting out with no money, no guarantees and no complaints. Furthermore, as for throwing the word “arrogant” around, keep in mind that “arrogance” comes from superficial self-importance and ignorance. If you’re familiar with the indie film scene, you know that this industry is plagued with people who start projects and never follow through. I think we can all agree that Quentin can walk his talk. He knows how to drive that sword to the hilt. Besides, “modesty” might go a long way but let’s not forget that it is also a pretext for insecurity, for fear of backing up what you say you’ll do, and for diffidence in standing by your principles without the support of a crowd, group or organization. But such is the ideology of the hopeful nonparticipant, which goes like this: “As long as the system is corrupt and the people that are in it are also corrupt, then I am not a total failure.” Because at the end of the day, only those who show up and finish what they started get to feast; the rest can hate, complain and fight over the leftovers.
Now I’m far from a Tarantino fanboy (though I regard him as a legitimate, modern great), but his statement assures me. It assures me that the system works and we, as indie creators, still have a chance. Despite all the marketing and the committees and the compromises, I still like to think that the craft, in its most basic state, is still pure. Because to me, a good piece of work is like a knockout.
A knockout is independent of the referee’s arbitration, score-cards or panel judges. There’s no trial, objections or debate. Irrespective of previous dispositions, biases or whatever, everybody who saw it cannot dispute what just happened. In the same vein, a good film doesn’t need big-budget special effects, a star-studded cast, or film awards; it just needs to be undisputed. It just needs to be good.
As a hungry neophyte coming up, I believe that breaking the difference and passing through the trials from amateur to pro must be the young filmmaker’s priority. Should one attain this in their technique and work ethic, the rest should be promotion.
Don’t hope. Make sure.