Filmmaking as a Contact Sport

When I think of contact sports, I think of activities like football, boxing… and sumo wrestling.  But how do I equate contact sports with filmmaking?  They are synonymous on various levels.  Throughout my life I’ve analyzed and intellectualized why one movie reaches me but another does not.  How does a film “reach out and touch someone?”  On three levels: the mind; the heart; and the wallet.  This applies to both the audience and the filmmaker, but for this discussion I’ll focus on the latter.

The mind:

Someone once said that filmmaking is the only blue-collar art form.  When we think of art, one may think of passionate flashes of inspiration out of the nothingness and struggle of life.  That may be true for the initial idea of a story materialized into a film, but the work that goes into its production takes persistent thought coupled with manual labor.  It is multi-faceted, laborious and dynamic.  To make the film work, a filmmaker has to think on specific, yet complex concepts simultaneously.  Because of its complexity, a film takes many hands to keep the machine moving.  Yet each requires timely thinking and attention detail.  What’s interesting is that even the smallest, seemingly lazy thought manifests itself, even by association, in the film.  Something to chew on: if the craft service sucks (i.e. stale bagels and cream cheese that are not complementary… like blueberry and chive spread), then actors and crew are not properly fed, resulting in lethargy and/or grumpiness, which then affects performance and proper tracking of details – like follow focus.  It takes a great deal of present thought to make a film.

The heart:

Filmmaking requires long hours of contribution.  Sometimes those hours are not equally spaced in a healthy way.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Sometimes the crews you have to work with are difficult.  Whatever the challenge, a heart for the art and a belief in the project are what carries filmmakers through to completion.

The wallet:

Filmmaking is an expensive hobby and/or marginally profitable career, at best.  It’s expensive.  Plain and simple.  (See above for motivation)

But never mind what it takes to contribute.  The outcropping from successful completion reaps rewards regardless of what profit it generates.  I turn my attention back to contact sporting.  Training for any sport is hard an often painful.  The muscles stretch, the mind fatigues and the heart tests.  What keeps an athlete going? A number of factors: satisfaction of completion; the winning catch; or knocking the thoughts out of someone’s brains.  Whatever the reason, there is a reason.  And whether the athlete wins or not, they still come out on top.  Why? Because their mind and heart have been expanded.  I submit that the same occurs in filmmaking.  You are challenged and tested beyond the ability you had at the outset.  You overcome fears and doubt.  You test your resolve.  You learn about yourself, others and about humanity by examining the human condition.  We are not on this earth merely to exist or to be acted upon – but to act; to grow; and to multiply what portion we have received.  Filmmaking touches a person.  For better or for worse, it touches them – leaving its mark.  To me, that’s worth every penny spent.

So I venture to say the responsibility lies with the filmmaker in choosing what film to make, because it will inevitably affect the person they are and become.  You may not agree nor see value in this argument, but I have an intimate relationship with how affective the moving image can be on a person.  For a few years I was a combat photographer and videographer.  I spent six months documenting infantry life and operations in Iraq.  It was hard work living, breathing and acting as if I was one of them.  But I did what I had to do to get my shot.  I did what was necessary to tell the story.  As a result, shooting that footage made a profound impact on me – for good and for bad.  I am forever changed because of that experience.  And for that I am grateful, because my abilities, heart and resolve wouldn’t have uniquely grown without it.

Making pictures move is definitely a contact sport.


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