In Praise of Tragedy

Film is often viewed as escapism. We go to the movies to avoid thinking of the life we have, or to imagine the life we want. Many times fantasies, super hero films, sci-fi, rom-coms or period pieces all fuel that desire for escapism. They do so by wrapping up plot points in neat bows where the hero wins, the good guys relationships are mended, and any tragedy is offset by happiness, even if it is a solemn happiness. 

While I recognize the need for such films and the role they play I often feel like they fail to really connect to us on a deeper level. When was the last time a film like those genuinely moved you. It’s rare. In part that’s because they simply aren’t relatable for us. 

Unless your life is literally all sunshine, rainbows and butterflies, chances are many of the most happy times in your life are bracketed by equally sad times.

Sometimes the happy times only come because of the sad times. Imagine the happiness of seeing your daughter married paired with the sadness of knowing she’ll be moving across the country and you’ll only ever see her again once or twice a year. It’s churlish to say our child’s wedding is a tragedy, but the truth is you are experiencing her happiness at the expense of your own. 

In “The Door Creaks” (a screenplay that’s both the official selection of the Cannes Screenplay Contest and the South Carolina Underground Film Festival), a young girl is repeatedly raped by her step father, and it isn’t until he threatens her brother that she gains the courage to take action. Her actions are clever, swift, and demonstrate a determination that are characteristics of the most heroic of heroes, and as such, when her moment of triumph comes, there is a temptation to end with a celebration. She’s free from abuse, she’s saved her brother, all is right with the world.

But is it really? Does having the perpetrator brought to violent justice really undo what she’s been through? What her brother’s been through? What her mother will have to come to grips with? What the community will have to unravel?

Of course not! And acting like it does minimizes the grief that she, as a real person, would be living with for the rest of her life. It minimizes the guilt her mother would feel from failing to protect her daughter. It minimizes the healing the entire community needs to go through to come to grips with the fact that they allowed this poor girl to be abused and did nothing to stop it for 120 pages of script. 

In that screenplay there is literally no one who can be allowed to continue life in a happy manner, and neither should the audience. When viewing a film where characters experience such great hardship or great loss, smiling faces and a swift up turn in mood may lessen the experience and leave the audience on an artificial high note, but it also undercuts the entire point of the film. 

To avoid this I decided that the perpetrator should get the last word, that I should end it on his account of events, that I should, if possible take the entire story and pile another cloud of darkness over it to let the tragedy really sink in for the audience. This forces them to pull themselves out of the mire, forces them to face the issues they’ve spent the past two hours considering, and decide how they want to handle it. Without the artificial “out” of an abused child smiling in the arms of a loving parent, the audience is left to resolve the story beyond the run time, and determine for themselves how our heroine can finally get her happy ending. 

So why torture my audience in this way? Well in the case of “The Door Creaks” the entire story serves to point the finger of culpability at the audience. To say, in effect, “you may not have done the things to this girl that the step father did, but consider your role. Were you the mother who was oblivious to the abuse happening in your house? Were you the community, who denied it was happening even when faced with the evidence? Were you the pastor who needed her to take action to save herself before you could come along and help?” In effect the story looks at the audience and says “you’re guilty.”

This is particularly relevant where I live in South Carolina, as the upstate is one of the largest hubs of sex trafficking in the South by virtue of it’s position between two major metropolitan areas and the simple fact that it’s a practice that too few people are interested in or capable of delivering an effectual blow against. As a community we tend to take a role similar to one of the major characters in the story, and as such are guilty of allowing this practice to continue in our backyards. 

By forcing the audience to take a look at themselves, to come up with their own resolution, and then examine the film in the context of their own lives, the hope is that more people will be inspired to take action.

In the case of “The Door Creaks” the hope is that people will be able to identify victims of sexual abuse, will be able to intervein on their behalf, and will be encouraged to take a stand against perpetrators. 

More films could do this. By eschewing the smiling faces and happy ending, many films can strike a stronger, more heart felt blow for their particular cause, and inspire action from their audience. While a happy ending may make the film more appealing to those going to the cinema for escapism and let them leave with good feelings, tragedy is what really compels change. If we all embraced a little more tragedy in our entertainment, then perhaps the world would be a happier place. 

A New Direction

A New Direction

Life gets stagnant, unenjoyable, depressing. For freelance artists, entrepreneurs or contractors that usually means you’re doing something wrong. After all those of us who choose to wander a path of self-sufficiency do so because we value freedom over security, we value self-expression over conformity, and because we want to walk to the beat of our own drum. 

Well for me, that drum has been beating out of time since about the day I started Other Vision Studios. 

I’ve always been a bit of a multi-purpose artist, and even as far back as high school I knew I wanted to use my various artistic abilities to become a teller of stories. I went to college to study film because I fully believe that  in film, all the arts that have every existed have some level of representation, and this superhero artistic team-up seems to me the best means to tell a story that humanity has ever come up with. 

Throughout college and into grad school I believed that my life would be spent telling stories, and I was on the path to do exactly that… until I started my company. Then all of a sudden other things became a priority. Bills, networking, meetings, proposals, taxes…. all of this stuff that took away from the core mission of telling stories. It wore me down, it changed my focus, and eventually I began to believe a lie.

It’s a lie we’ve all heard. In fact most of the time people lead with it. You probably know which one I’m talking about too… in fact you may have used it yourself.

You run into a guy who does marketing, advertising, web design, or video production or any other related film and the first thing he’s going to tell you is “I’m here to help you tell your story.” And that is the biggest lie this generation of creatives has ever served up. 

Let’s just be clear, marketing is not storytelling. I know because I’ve spent the past 7 years desperately trying to convince myself that it is. But when you compare the story of a home grown, family owned business founded on grit and determination that serves the community against, for instance, the complete works of Shakespeare it’s pretty clear we’re talking about two vastly different things. You wouldn’t say Romeo and Juliet isn’t a story so you’d probably have to conclude your Instagram strategy is the thing that’s been miscategorized.  

And there in lies the problem for me. It’s not that marketing and advertising are bad things or somehow ignoble professions. Quite the contrary, they are great and effective allies in the never ending fight to get your name or business “out there,” or “top of mind.” However, when I stated as a kid that I wanted to be a story teller, it’s almost the exact opposite of what I had in mind. 

However, the past few weeks, maybe even months have changed something in me. I found myself in a position where taking on clients to pay bills was less important than taking on clients with interesting projects. Part of that allowed me to take on the daunting task of writing a feature length screenplay. (Yes, daunting is the right word, I’ve done it three times, and it’s a massive mountain to climb each time). 

This shift has brought me face to face with what I truly mean when I say “I want to be a story teller.” It’s not that I don’t want to help you get your brand out to the masses, but I’d rather show over the course of 90-120 minutes how you came up with the idea for your business, the obstacles you faced, the failures, the triumphs, and how that changed you as a person. In other words, I’d rather be telling your actual story than your marketing “story.”

So now I have to make a decision. I have the past of my company — a business that engages in creating video content for other businesses (and does it quite well I might add) — and I have the future of my company — a business that engages in the creation of narrative films that move, inspire, entertain, and challenge. How do I shift from one to the other? 

Well, as natural and as enjoyable as the narrative filmmaking process is for me (it honestly fits me like a glove), it’s not profitable for me yet. Furthermore, I have some really great clients who I have no intention of abandoning. I also have a skillset that can be incredibly useful for businesses, and should you choose to call me, I’m happy to continue to serve you. However, going forward my priority is first and foremost feature films. 

I know that’s going to be a disappointment to some of you, but as great a video producer as I may have been, at best I’ve been a fish out of water there, and I owe it to both you and to myself to see where I really do fit in. 

All of this said, I would encourage you if you want video, especially my style of video, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to consider your project, and even if I can’t take it on, I’m still connected with many talented people who can, and I’d be happy to find you a great match for your project. It may be that I miss marketing from time to time, and if you catch me in one of those times you’ll be getting not only my marketing expertise cultivated over the past 7 years, but also the benefits of a creative mind consistently occupied with crafting stories.