THOUGHTS ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF FILMMAKING, WITH TOO MANY DIGRESSIONS AND AVATAR REFERENCES
an essay by andrew bujalski
A few years ago I was at a film festival in Canada and attended a dinner where I ended up sitting next to a filmmaker friend whom I don't see very often. That's standard operating procedure at these things-we jet off to foreign cities, wander around lonely for a few hours until, mercifully, we're invited to attend some sort of meal where we run into all the filmmakers we remember from the last time we were lonely in foreign cities. Sitting near us was a very interesting director who the two of us vaguely knew, we talked with him as well, and as dinner was wrapping up, my friend, who's of a spiritual bent, said, "Hey, let's go back to my hotel and smoke some pot and talk about philosophy." I was not much in the mood for the pot but I was very curious to see what kind of discussion he might lead us into. My adolescence had been full of chatter about the natures of existence and of perception, but these kind of talks had been few and far between in adulthood-I wondered if I still had it in me. At any rate it sounded as fun as anything else I was going to get up to in Vancouver that night, so off we went, and before I knew it... we had just spent a couple hours talking over the state of the film business. The same damn conversation we'd been having at dinner, which is indeed the same conversation one repeats over and over again at film festivals.
I can't hold myself blameless for the course of the night, certainly I might have helped things along by accepting the marijuana I was offered. But it struck me that most of the filmmakers I know, much as we enjoy being thought of as poets, deep down are pragmatists and problem-solvers. Contemplation of the philosophical almost invariably morphs back into contemplation of the practical. Let's say you have a beautiful image in your head, or an emotion you want to capture, or an idea about how people are living their lives in the 21st century and what terrible and/or wonderful things await our culture. All very well and good, but pretty soon you're thinking about what actor you'll need to cast in it, where and how you want to shoot, maybe which lens you'll need for a particular shot, or what strange processes you'll want to subject the negative to at the lab to create the necessary look... not to mention, of course, who's going to pay for all of this, and whether or not you personally intend to go into greater debt along the way. In a funny reversal of the usual adult orientation, our vocation requires us to wear our fantasizing on the outside, and try to keep our calculations and bean-counting hidden from view (lest we be mistaken for producers).
My wife is a novelist, and though in many ways I envy her work terribly, I know I couldn't do it because the process is too pure. When she sits down to work, she is only up against the limits of her imagination and her attention span. That is far too daunting a battle for me to take on. Rather than words, which are so evidently no better or worse than what you make of them, I choose to take as my material people, places, things, pictures, sounds, and above all, problems-and these are absurd materials to work with because they are so obviously and inexorably out of my direct control. I can only speak for myself, but I do believe that even the precisest of filmmakers-Michael Haneke, say, or David Fincher, to go by their reputations-even those guys I think know that when they come to work in the morning their job is not to tame chaos but to harness it. We get to play God on our sets, but God is there too playing God, and we want him-or-her-or-it on our side, collaborating.
"Every film is a documentary of its making." That's an aphorism that rings in my head frequently. Google tells me that Jacques Rivette said it. Every production begins with organizing principles, a set of rules and regulations that the makers intend to follow, either by choice or by necessity. Those principles might be strict, as in sheafs of storyboards that must be executed with scientific accuracy, or they may be loose, such as, "Hey, we're just gonna show up, and see how we feel, and maybe shoot something if we wanna." You can bring a Ouija board along and ask the spirits where to put the camera, but any way you do it, your methodology ends up being part of the texture of the movie. And not always in the way you intended.
I make very low-budget movies, and budget is probably the most obvious example of a circumstance that has a clear artistic impact on the product. I don't know that I've ever heard someone say, "You know, I really like to support all the cool low-budget novels out there, but sometime I'm in the mood to kick back, shut off my mind and enjoy a big, dumb, big-budget novel." Only when discussing movies is budget used as an adjective to describe an aesthetic. People casually make this sort of comment as if they've had the opportunity to look over spreadsheets from the accounting department of each production and, from that, make a judgment as to its qualities, and indeed, anyone who pays a little bit of attention to these things can usually look at a movie's trailer and guess pretty accurately both what it cost and to what effect, good or bad, that money has been put. And if you can see all that in 2 minutes of clips, you can for sure see it in the feature. (I'm always fascinated by Hollywood movies that purport to instill the lesson that there are more important things than money, because there is inevitably a delirious tension at their core between text and subtext. Certainly part of the brilliance of Fight Club was how expertly it played its anti-consumerist message against the extremely consumerist conditions of its existence.)
-Now, I do realize that some of the people in the room tonight are serious academics, and I feel I should beg your apology if I'm already starting to veer off into some very lightweight theory. I began this talk with my Canadian film festival story in part of course as a disclaimer, to try to excuse filmmakers, as a class of people, from any obligation to speak intelligently or complete the thought processes that we begin. Without our form, it should be clear, we are nothing...But I'll resist the temptation to offer further excuses-instead let me backtrack and try to explain why they let me up here in the first place to expound in front of this microphone...
I was always a movie crazy kid, bugging my parents every week to bring me to whatever blockbuster was coming out. They were extremely lax about bringing me to R rated stuff even when I was in elementary school (which never seemed odd to me until recently when I became a parent myself). And certainly to this day many of my assumptions about adult life are ones that I gleaned from the movies at that age, including several that seem to stick despite their proving untrue time and again. But I've always looked to movies for an emotional and intuitive education, and I can't honestly say in retrospect whether I was a kid who had a need that the medium could fill, or whether the medium created an addiction which created that need. At any rate, when I'm asked now to articulate why I've spent so much of my life in those dark rooms, I think of the opening montage of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, in which one of the angels intones a poem written by the film's co-writer, Peter Handke. "When the child was a child, it was a time for these questions: Why am I me, and not you? Why am I here, and not there?" The poem goes on from there, and it's lovely, but it's those opening lines that really knocked me out when I first saw it, because to me those are the crucial existential questions of life and of cinema both. I will admit that, wanting to get the words right, I Googled that quote as well-and as I'd only remembered the questions, I was surprised to be reminded of the introductory clause, "When the child was a child, it was a time for these questions." It may well be childish, but I've never stopped wanting to know why I'm me and not you, and so I use the movies to help me imagine what the world looks like from your perspective.
When a movie's really really good, sometimes I walk out of it thinking that I'm not me, that I am in fact you. After I saw Taxi Driver it took me 24 or so hours to stop shuffling and mumbling to myself like a lunatic. When I walk out of any Marx Brothers movie, I'm briefly convinced that I too am bursting with wit-luckily, this lasts less than 24 hours, as it doesn't take much limp imitation of the Marxes' delivery coupled with my poor improvised original material to disabuse me of this fantasy. But a good movie opens up and lets me in, lets me take on another view and meld my own awareness to it. Every time I see a kid walk out of an action movie pretending to shoot his parents with his fingers, I know I'm not the only one.
(Incidentally, and I hesitate to bring up Avatar in this room, I don't know if everyone is sick of Avatar analysis, but I do believe that a big ingredient of that movie's success was its seamless blending of escapist form and escapist content. The big blue alien in that movie is an avatar for Corporal Sully as Corporal Sully is an avatar for us, the viewers. He's encouraged to treat his avatar-life like a video game, jumping off of CGI cliffs and riding CGI dinosaurs in the sky with little threat of consequence, and we're encouraged to treat the movie the same way. It's fun, and I have no doubt that James Cameron cribbed a lot of lessons from The Matrix which even more unambiguously promoted the concept of life-as-video-game.)
There were movies in my youth that laid ground work for the video game cinema to come, but I think I persisted in seeing the human themes in them even if that was not their primary thrust. And as I got older I discovered that other movies existed that did away with the presumption that a fantastical high concept was prerequisite to exploring characters and situations, and indeed a movie that took place in a recognizable environment was often much more surprising than one that took place in outer space. Most of Europe, for example, seemed to have much weirder stuff going on than the Mos Eisley cantina ever did.
When I got to college I started in earnest to make my own narrative films, and they were not very good. I had fantasies of what I wanted to see on the screen, but they were fuzzy fantasies and I had no clue how to realize them. Though the program I was in had a strong documentary backbone and imparted hugely valuable lessons about using reality as a material, I think I frankly didn't know enough about reality to know how to work with it. As for casting, I went the conventional route, putting up notices to lure in semi-professional actors bearing headshots, and culling from there to my best options to play the leads. In these actors' defense, the ones I worked with were all committed collaborators and affable people, and in the hands of a director who'd known better how to deploy them, they might have been great. But I was slowly discovering that I was getting more interesting, if often inelegant, results from the supporting cast, which mostly consisted of non-actor friends of mine that I'd talked into helping me out. They lacked for technique-as did I-but there was a vibrancy to what they were doing that I didn't know how to get in the "real" actors' performances. Anyone watching those films would have had no trouble telling the two camps of performers apart, and I think in large part the advantage that my friends had was that they did not particularly care about pleasing the director, and this gave them an innate freedom that communicated very effectively on screen. A more sensible young filmmaker might have taken the lesson that it was time to go brush up on craft and learn how to talk to professional actors, but-and mind you, none of this was ever a conscious plan-in the back of my head I was thinking about how to improve my directing skills with the non-pros. If I could get their work to be more consistent then I'd have a tool to build a kind of world that I wasn't accustomed to seeing on screen. It seemed that part of an actor's training was to be constantly pushing the story forward with clear objectives, clear actions, clear reactions; but I wanted to short circuit that clarity and get palpable uncertainty up there. I wanted to see people struggling to understand their lives in real time. I wanted to use film to do things I couldn't get at in any other medium-certainly not on paper.
Nonetheless, it was paper that consumed me my first couple years out of college, as between crummy day jobs I spent much of my free time working on screenplays. I knew I wanted to make one but I also had a vague understanding of what a massive commitment that would be, and my first few attempts didn't seem worthy. Finally I hit upon the idea of writing a movie with the notion that my roommate at the time, Kate Dollenmayer, would play the lead. Kate was and is an enormously charismatic person, and I had some inkling, just from watching her tell an anecdote, or how she'd conduct herself at a party full of strangers, of what her instincts as a performer might be. Because we had both happened to move to Austin where we didn't have any other friends, we were spending a lot of time together, and I could at least trick myself into believing I had internalized her rhythms enough that I could write for her voice. I wanted to dislodge myself from the trap of writing characters who only seemed mouthpieces for me, and writing with Kate in mind helped tremendously. It also meant that I had, rather gung ho, tied the fate of my movie, which was more or less inseparable from my fate, to the participation of one person with no proven acting ability or ambition in that regard. I was asking a huge amount of her-and I would not have attempted to make the movie without her, I would have rather gone off and tried writing something else. The fact that she gave it as much of her time and energy as she did, I can only attribute to good luck. The fact that she happened to be a magnificently skilled actor I attribute to really, really good luck.
We shot on 16mm because I loved it and because I believed that we needed its painterly qualities to get this story across. Our style was observational to a fault, but I didn't want it be clinical, I needed warmth. To that end all of our energy was focused on performance. The camera only moved when it might have been more distracting for it not to move. Lights were set up to get an exposure on the negative, but beyond that I wanted nothing to do with them, our poor beleaguered cinematographer, the excellent Matthias Grunsky, was constantly having to suffer my demands that he take lights down if he couldn't justify why he was putting them up. I wanted a minimum of equipment, a minimum of crew, and a minimum of noise.
And this is probably a good moment to put a few minutes of that film up on the screen here... [Cue Funny Ha Ha DVD at 26:40, play through to 33:23. Marnie kisses Wyatt at the party, leaves the party, kisses Dave in the car.]
I am currently teaching a directing workshop at the University of Texas with an emphasis on working with actors, and my teaching assistant and I are constantly encouraging the students to get "strong" choices from their performers, because we often see a lack of commitment that leads to gummy scenes. But strong choices with too little thought behind them can become a kind of steroid, jacking up a scene into nonsense. I am not suggesting that big emotions have run their course in the history of drama-on the contrary, every year a dozen movies are going to come out that show us love and death and hilarity and misery and sex and violence in ways that make us feel like we've never seen them before, and it's truly a marvel every time someone pulls it off. But I've wagered ten years of my own work on a hunch that it does not violate the tenets of good drama to tell stories that take place on lower frequencies, because to me the most beguiling aspects of human behavior-the things that really beg the question, Why am I me and not you? and perhaps more to the point, How the hell did you end up being you anyway?-emerge not when the stakes are at their highest, when an atomic bomb is in the room needing to be defused, but when the stakes are unclear. Most of our lives are lived in this zone, where it's not entirely clear what will be gained or lost when we decide to help each other, or love each other, or betray each other-but we do it anyway, and there is a wealth of untold stories in those little choices.
My t.a. suggested to me at the beginning of the semester that we try having the students run an improv exercise called "The Bouncer." I don't have much background in the theater world, from whence these exercises come, and I didn't know it, so he explained to me that it consists of one performer playing a nightclub bouncer, who is not allowed in the exercise to say any word except "NO," and the other performer doing everything he or she can to convince the bouncer that they absolutely need access to this club. This sounded to me like it would be fun, and, sensing I was intrigued, the t.a. went on to tell me that it gets really good when you up the stakes for the actors-tell them, for example, that they have a friend who's inside the club who they know is about to get murdered unless they can get in there and save them...And then suddenly the exercise sounded no fun at all to me, because I realized that I didn't care that much about watching someone in such a situation-I have sympathy for someone who needs to save a friend from being murdered, naturally, but I don't find them to be an inherently compelling character. I was much more interested when I thought we were just talking about someone who is abjectly desperate to get into a nightclub for no reason other than their certainty that they belong inside that room. The less they could articulate their own desire, the more I wanted to see a movie about them.
On the Funny Ha Ha set, everything had been designed so that the actors would have my full attention, but I found myself very frequently frustrating them because I didn't want them to have too clear a sense of their own motivations. In the sequence we just watched, Marshall Lewy, who plays Wyatt, the first guy she kisses, very much wanted to know why he was turning away her advances. And though a concrete motivation would have been simple to provide-say, you have a girlfriend, or you're gay, or her breath stinks-in the moment he asked, I wouldn't give it to him. Marshall's a very smart guy and a strong actor and I only wanted to see what would happen if I left him to his own devices on that one. He may well have himself just picked out one of those reasonable motivations I mentioned, but I didn't want to give him license to make it pat, and the performance he came up with was very satisfying to me-I believed it.
No doubt, the finished movie certainly has its clumsily crafted moments, and its larger limitations, but I felt like we were putting something sturdy enough up there that it could bear the weight of an audience's eyes. Not everyone was gonna like it, but I didn't think they would see right through it; we had something worth showing. Now, what exactly we had made, I don't know. The director is the last person you should ever ask about what a movie means because movies in many ways are incomplete until a viewer has received them, and we can't participate in that, it's like asking someone to look at the back of their own skull. We can't get there. I've tried to tell you a little bit about my personal intentions in making the film, but when a film is done, the original intentions have been chipped away and are of no more value than a sculptor's original block of marble. If I may be allowed another discursion on a sci-fi megahit: This is why George Lucas has come to seem such a tragic figure in recent decades. His obsessive tinkering with Star Wars, lucrative though it clearly is, has met with steady derision from his fans, most of whom believe that they are better qualified to steward the legacy of those films than the man who dreamt the whole thing up. And though I will always take the artist's side in any fight-I have to-in this case the fans are onto something. Lucas acts as if he believes that Star Wars still belongs in his head, while the rest of us know that that's the last place it belongs anymore, it was supposed to have been evicted from those premises in 1977.
Speaking of a filmmaker hanging around his own work too much, I should note that we are going to screen my most recent film Beeswax in this auditorium tonight. I was quite honored at the invitation to speak here, and also delighted that they were going to show the film, but it does mark an unusual occasion for me as I always avoid talking about my work before an audience has watched it. When asked to introduce a screening, I typically say "Thanks for coming, I hope you enjoy it," and get the hell out of there, because telling the audience how they ought to interpret what they're about to see runs counter to what I was trying to accomplish in the first place, which was to create a work that connects with people when I personally am not present in the room-indeed, I think most artists hold dear the dream that their stuff might continue to connect after they've died, so the movie had better learn to get along without me. I don't want to pull a Lucas and try to yank your experience away from you...What I'm trying to say is, for anyone planning on watching the movie tonight, I'm going to stall talking about it for a little while longer up here, but I'm not offended if you want to get out of here or cover your ears at any point.
Another film festival memory springs to mind, from the charming city of Lisbon, where I was eating breakfast when a stranger approached me and whispered to me conspiratorially, "Look, I'm not supposed to be talking to you, I'm on the festival jury, I've just seen your film Mutual Appreciation and I need to know if, in the scene where the guitarist plays a concert, is he supposed to be a good musician or a bad musician? I don't know anything about pop music so I wasn't sure." Sitting there staring at my eggs and coffee, I'm sure I stammered for a while, wanting to help this polite gentleman, but ultimately perhaps I cost myself some kind of prize by telling him that I couldn't be of any use. The scene hadn't been crafted with any notion that the audience must be forced to perceive either victory or defeat for the character. Though I'll admit to enjoying the musical performance myself, I would not disagree with the audience member who thought it was a flop, nor do I think that that interpretation would throw the narrative arc wildly off course; the movie is built so that you can get something out of it whether you think the character's a good musician or not...Of course, given the opportunity, I suppose I should have told the juror was that the entire film was meant to be received as a brilliant triumph, and if he'd missed that on the first viewing he'd best go back and look at it again-but instead I left him adrift, and presumably annoyed with me.
Since I've brought that film up, let's put up a scene from Mutual Appreciation. As the previous clip I showed you involved drunk people doing things they'll regret at parties, for the purposes of scientific comparison, we'll do a congruent chunk from this film... [Cue Mutual Appreciation DVD at 59:10, play through to 1:06:55. Alan is compelled by the wig party girls to try on a wig, and then a dress.]
I do enjoy showing these scenes out of context. Though they function better in context, and I know for sure they function better on a 35mm print, I do have a hippie-dippie belief that any piece of a movie, indeed every frame of a movie must somehow carry a piece of that movie's soul. That's why we can look at a poster with a single image on it and have a pretty good guess as to whether or not we think that movie is worth seeing.
I have just cavalierly made reference to movies having "souls." If we were all now in that hotel room in Vancouver, passing that joint around, this I think would be a good question to take up: Do movies have souls? It depends on your definition of the word, clearly, but if we're talking about an animating spirit that cannot quite be located in any tangible technical aspect, then yes, I'd say absolutely they do.
In 1998, Gus Van Sant got Universal Pictures to bankroll the insane experiment of remaking Psycho shot for shot, and I think this was a great gift to cinema, because watching it side by side with the original teaches us so much about how movies do and do not work. I happen to be a fan of Van Sant's Psycho, but a list of its virtues would have nothing in common with a list of the Hitchcock film's virtues. They have the same screenplay, 98% identical camera set ups and edit points, the same musical score, and in a few cases even visuals or sounds interpolated directly from the original movie. And they just don't feel anything like each other. You may argue that the difference is in the actors' performances, or you may argue that the difference is in context, or just in novelty, that the remake had relinquished the element of surprise. And these differences are profound, but I think the divide goes even deeper. I think that these two movies have very different souls. The scares and the laughter and tears in any given movie-or vomit if you're seeing Jackass-are all things you leave in the theater, but there's something else, some greater sense of it that you take with you, and creating that is the most daunting task set before us directors.
When I mention Psycho, you all know the movie I'm referring to, it conjures a specific feeling in the room. I say the word Persona and that creates a different vibration, or Brazil creates another. Airplane. We may get into disagreements about whether or not these movies are any good, we may get into even more vehement disagreements about what they represent or mean, but in some strange way I think we tend to have an agreement about what their essential natures are.
Last week my wife and I fed our infant son solid food for the first time, and we decided the occasion needed to be documented with a Flip Cam. After a 5 minute shoot, the kid had had enough rice cereal and we had all the footage we needed, so I stopped recording and started looking through some other videos stored on the camera, there were a few that I hadn't yet seen. Pretty soon my wife and I were both watching the little playback screen and cooing at it, much to the confusion of the little boy sitting directly in front of us, wondering what could possibly be tearing our attention away from him. Getting to know the real beautiful boy is going to be a lifelong project for us-my wife and I often remark to each other how he looks different every day and from every angle. We can't quite trust our perception because he gives us more than we can take in. But the specific perspective that the video gave us on him was instantly identifiable and, for a moment, distracting in its intensity.
I can only assume that this experience of recognition was even more intense for Auguste Lumière, who included a movie of his baby daughter eating in the first public exhibition of movies ever. There seems to be enthusiasm and wonderment still alive in those frames, as there is in all of the early Lumière Brothers films. Watching them today, it's almost as if these workers leaving the factory were their babies too, and this train entering a station their baby also. Anywhere they pointed their camera, they were exploring a fresh view on the world. As I've mentioned, I am not a film scholar, so I never studied deeply on the historical or technical background of these films, but I know that the first time I saw them projected in 35mm on a big screen, I found the experience surprisingly memorable and surprisingly moving. Maybe I was projecting too, putting on the screen my own gratitude for the Lumières pioneering a medium I so adore-but I believe there was something inherent in the films themselves. I knew these simple little films had souls.
Of course not all movies feel so vital. The story of the Lumières and the other progenitors of movies has been diligently reported, but no one ever talks about the invention of bad movies. It's a rare occasion, but every few years I see a movie so bad that I find myself looking away from the screen-I'd prefer to watch the light flicker on the walls, or maybe my own tapping toes-and I wonder who was the first person to figure out the formula for that, and how, and when? My guess is that didn't take long. I think someone realized that if you could make money by making the world seem to come alive inside of a little square projection, then you could probably make more money by draining the life out of that square, conquering time and space and presenting it like a trophy.
These days, our technological ability to conquer time and space is close to absolute, but it's always struck me as funny that when people talk about the power of CGI, the holy grail, the ultimate effect they always mention is the creation of convincing synthetic actors. I have little doubt that within my lifetime they will achieve this and, say, bring back Humphrey Bogart to costar alongside Angelina Jolie or whomever. And I'll probably go pay to see that, and I'm sure it will be quite stunning while also a little depressing, but what amuses me about it is that you never hear anyone say, "We're going to use CGI to make an actor who's better than Bogart." More convenient, more malleable, more modular, but no one will try to make him better, because no one can dream that big. And in some small way, I find that encouraging. I do appreciate the sentiment behind a scheme to revive the dead, even if they'll most likely just convert Bogart into a big blue alien.
If there are few movies that really seem awful to me, there are plenty that confuse me. My wife makes fun of me because if we walk out of something together underwhelmed, she knows that I'm going to say, "I didn't get it." I think she thinks that it's a euphemism, that I just don't want to violate some filmmaker code by calling someone else's work shitty, but truly my reaction is more off perplexed than pissed off. The Hollywood studio stuff is designed to communicate as effectively as possible to as many people as possible-but they do this, perversely, by breaking down all action into a series of codes and signals based on other movies and advertisements, so that if you foolishly watch it with the goal of immersing yourself in the world that's up there, you'll get very confused indeed, because the thing is completely abstract, far more obtuse than anything Stan Brakhage ever did.
I don't think of my own films as obtuse, but I know that many others do. All three of them were movies that I imagined would play best for the person who stumbled onto them accidentally, who wandered into the theater by mistake, as many of my most treasured movie experiences have been with films I had zero knowledge or expectation of going in. And... okay, I've put off talking about Beeswax for as long as I could, but now I'm going to do the thing that I never do and share with you a little of my perspective on it.
Let me propose to you that this film that we're going to screen tonight does have a few things in common with Avatar (not, alas, its revenues). For starters, they are the only two films I can name that feature lead characters in wheelchairs that aren't concerned with tearjerking or dwelling on the tragedy of it all. But more deeply, they are both built around the quest to understand an alien mind. Corporal Sully has a much easier time of it than Jeannie does in Beeswax. For one thing, he has full control over his big blue avatar, which gains him pretty immediate access to all of the aliens' innermost secrets (and the aliens turn out to be totally cool dudes and it turns out the humans are jerks-I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone). In my film, earthbound Jeannie has a kind of avatar in her twin sister Lauren, who would also probably be happy to go bounding off cliffsides for her, but despite the intensity of their bond, these girls' relationship is in great part defined by their refusal to play doppleganger for each other. Twins are often asked to be interchangeable, but they are not-they are stuck being themselves. Jeannie meanwhile struggles to understand the motivations of her more troubling double in the film, her estranged business partner Amanda. Jeannie and Amanda are two people who have never seen the world from the same point of view, but as the film opens, what was once respect for each other's differing talents has devolved into acrimony and a complete lack of empathy. I know that I am right, therefore you must be wrong. Once lines like that have been drawn, bridging them starts to seem impossible. And unlike Sully, when Jeannie experiences self-doubt-which she does throughout the film, I think she is driven a little mad by it-she does not have the option of abandoning her own body and switching teams. She cannot become Amanda. She cannot even begin to understand Amanda.
Why-am-I-me-and-not-you has been a core concern of everything I've done and probably everything I will do, but it is right dead center stage in this film. And so for better or worse I am taking the grand existential question that movies help us to address, and instead of exploring answers, I am just reflecting back the question. At the risk of sounding rather grandiose, in doing this...I fear I may have violated one of the laws of cinema.
There are certain things that movies do incredibly well. Say, for example, exploding cars. I have not done any hard research on this topic but I'd be willing to wager that, in the history of the automobile, more of them have blown up on movie sets than off. Without any doubt there are more exploding cars in the medium of cinema (and we'd have to lump in television as well, let's say "moving pictures") than in all other media combined. So one of the ways we define cinema must be: It is the medium we use to explore the experience of automotive explosion. I'm sure it goes without saying that Beeswax doesn't have any of these, nor does it have a lot of the other stuff that the movies are known to excel at. As you'll see, it's a little bit like a legal thriller-but we removed the thrills and turned it inside out, building a movie out of the spaces between dramatic events and major decisions.
It felt when we were making it like I was trying to push the medium into some places that it didn't really want to go. That's a somewhat perverse endeavor, and not one that I can claim to have been entirely successful in, but again ultimately I was motivated by wanting to see a particular thing on screen that wasn't exactly like anything I'd ever seen before, and not particularly like my first two films either for that matter. I had a dream of what this film would be and then I did the best I could to translate it into practical action. I could keep going talking up here and try to describe what that dream was, but as I said before, when the movie has been made, the dream doesn't matter anymore. The movie is better than the dream because the movie is alive, we brought it to life with love and enthusiasm, and I hope that you feel some of that from the screen tonight. Thank you very much.
Andrew Bujalski is the director of Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax.