Coming to Terms (Post-mortem)
About four years ago, on the nose, Coming to Terms was wrapping up – the shooting, and, since it was done as we went along, most of the editing. Most that actors had departed, and it was pretty much in the bag. The next few months involved mostly tiny little changes and fixes. It has no music, so that wasn’t something to be done. Some festivals were sent DVDs or files, and I waited to see if anything worth the while would give a nod. None in the USA did, nor in Europe. From Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, New York and others came the sort of anticipated “no.” No stars, no money, no pushing producers or other self-interested sorts; just the film and what minimal remnants of my once modest reputation.
My cynical view is that only a few of these festivals might accrue something tangible – a distribution deal, TV sales, or something that will convert into some modest money, directly or indirectly. Of these I’d say only Cannes and perhaps Sundance might have this effect. More or less all other festivals do more or less nothing, though some provide a ticket and hotel somewhere if you are in the traveling mood or have some other reasons to go there. And so having gotten the big nix to anything useful I sent to others:
Jeonju (S Korea) 2013, St Louis, USA; Rotterdam 2014, Rencontres Internationales, Paris/Berlin, BAFICI Buenos Aires, Las Palmas, (Canary Islands), First Look (Museum of Moving Image, NYC) 2015.
On the road in the USA, doing a tour to the remaining places interested in showing work such as mine, I went to 10 cities (Salt Lake City, Phoenix AZ, Santa Fe, Austin TX, Lincoln NE, Iowa City, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Columbus Ohio, and NYC) , and did 12 screenings. The cumulative audience was just under 100 people. I suppose after deducting the travel costs (van, sleeping in it often) I broke even or made a tiny bit.
And so it has been for four years: a handful of festival screenings, and maybe 15 or 20 in-person presentations, mostly in the USA. Money made? Oh, maybe all told, let’s guess $1000 or so. It cost a bit more than that to make (if not much more) and of course there was the little matter of labor and time and such things as that, not to mention the travel (in van) costs. And perhaps some talent and skill honed over 50 years or so.
Maybe, being very generous, some 2000 people might have seen the film. At the in-person screenings the responses were invariably positive, even with audiences who had not seen films anything like this one. I’ve received some lavish comments here and there, sent to me (and posted here). So, all things said and done, was it worth it? It is a question I continue to ponder, not just about this one film, but maybe all the ones I’ve made, and the life I have spent making them. I’ve had, in some views, “success”: received some so-called prestigious grants (NEA, Guggenheim, DAAD); won some supposedly hot-shot awards; had retrospectives at MoMA and a mess of Cinematheques around the world. I managed to do more or less what I wanted to do a whole life, and never let myself have to do any shitty 9-5’ers to do so. I managed to convert all this into a full professorship late in my career, which gave me an easy job for decent if not great pay for four years before I quit. Flip side is I’ve barely eked out a living, though these days I suppose I am better off in that way than many of my friends, thanks to a frugal nature or habit, and being willing and able to live really poor when necessary.
And still, in a belated sort of mid-life (more like end-life) “crisis” I find myself wondering if it (or perhaps anything) was “worth it.”
Like many others here at the tail end of things, I find what I do more or less has no value in the world. Like a blue-collar factory worker displaced by cheaper labor or robots; or like a middle-class management level person who finds computers deleted their job. Stranded in a changed world.
For me it is ironic that late in the game I am doing some of my best work – certainly Coming to Terms falls in this category for me – in a world in which this is more or less meaningless. Thirty or 40 years ago, had I made such work – as I did – in some modest way it would have been prized: given screenings at festivals, awarded perhaps, and most tellingly, have found a sales to some European TV and make a very modest bit of income. But, no more.
Since making Coming to Terms, I’ve made a handful of others – which have received similar or worse treatment in the bigger world:
And in editing process on several others. And somewhere back of my brain I feel another percolating away, trying to let me know what it wishes to be.
Why? Damned if I know. At this point I have to assume it is just a bad habit or an addiction. There doesn’t appear to be any practical or logical reason to proceed, and given the cacophony of our world, it really seems pointless to add another noise or image to the tsunami of media which overwhelms our senses. Perhaps the right thing to do would be to enter into silence.