Watched the 1990 Men of Gray Movie today

September 9, 2009

I hadn’t seen the movie in probably eight or 10 years. To my surprise, I enjoyed the viewing immensely!

Don’t get me wrong…

My surprise enjoyment is not a disparagement against the movie. mog-1-Russo-n-menIt’s just that I generally find it hard to watch stuff I’ve directed or edited (or both, in this case) because I can’t easily settle into the role of a viewer of any movie I heavily participated in.

And directing or editing a feature length movie is always a substantial investment of body and soul. Consequently, watching them takes me back to the production of it.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Definitely, since I have many good memories with each production, after all. Still, viewing them again is mostly a hard thing emotionally.

Why? Because, in watching them, my mind flashes back with shocking clarity to the challenges and sacrifices of making each scene – the inevitable resignation of settling between what I envisioned for the scene and what was ultimately possible under the circumstances. To a degree, I suspect that…

All movie directors feel this

…because of the nature of the beast. Directing a narrative feature takes vast imagination and vision in the planning. But creating is always more costly than envisioning.

So, once the director has that glorious mog-1-kickup-avision firmly fixed in his mind, he must then begin carefully chiseling away at that fantastic masterpiece (fully formed in the fantasy of the mind), reducing it to a state that matches the budget, the cast, and any technical or time constraints.

The final movie – what’s left after all the difficult and sacrificial choices leading up to, and through, production and post production – may be viewed by audiences and critics as a great movie. Even so, the movie will inevitably be but a dim reflection of what the director envisioned.

For me at least, mog-1-Russo-threatensthe sought-after movies I had envisioned are still as strong in my mind as is the movies we were actually able to shoot. So, when watching any of these past movies, I’m reliving the sacrifices, even as I’m viewing the victories and remembering great cast and crewmembers.

Also, making a movie is like running a marathon or having a baby (although I’m not speaking  from personal experience on either analogous example) in that they all can be incomprehensibly grueling to go through: seemingly impossible tasks. When you have finished running a marathon or birthing a baby or making a movie, there is not only great satisfaction but great relief that it’s over!

Which is why it’s hard for me to watch … usually.

So you can imagine my surprise, finding today’s viewing so enjoyable.

And it certainly isn’t because the resulting movie mog-1-Joe-stalksclosely resembled my sought-after vision.  I assure you, there were countless necessary subtractions between the vision and the reality of this first Men of Gray movie – it had a budget of less than $10,000, for goodness sake!  🙂

So I should have felt the same discomfort in viewing this movie as with any other that I’ve directed. But, watching it after all these years…

I was having just way too much fun!

I mean, sure — there’s only so much mog-1-showdownyou can do with less than $10,000 when making a full-length feature movie, right? But that actually becomes its charm, in this case. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing what we were able to pull off under the  circumstances.

For instance, most ultra-ultra-low-budget movies are carefully crafted to control costs (like having a small cast, very few locations, mostly daylight shots, minimal action, etc., for example).

But, no, not this movie…

It was a freakin’ epic!

I don’t have the exact numbers, Image-0012but there were probably more than 80 people in the cast, some two or three dozen locations, countless night shots, and maybe a dozen high-action scenes.

Oh, and we made it in a country that has no movie industry — no infrastructure to support film production.  So, my hat is off to producers G. Anthony and Ria Joseph for what they were able to accomplish in putting this whole thing together.  Truly remarkable.

In fact, I could do a half dozen posts about the amazing challenges and crazy adventures in the making of this 1990 movie – and may in fact do so at some point. But suffice it to say, there’s a lot of bang in the bucks we had to work with.

And so I had a ball watching it again

Plus, it was my  first feature film and my first time in Trinidad & Tobago. Image-0009Seeing all those locations and reliving all those memories made me laugh and smile. The guerrilla filmmaking tactics we employed could be strung together and would make a hilarious documentary movie. Remembering those adventures as the movie unfolded scene by scene, how could I not enjoy myself?


A great trip. 🙂  And, because I know the movie is very hard to find, I’ve added these screen captures from it to give you a sense of the flavor of that movie.

And, as I suspect, watching the first Men of Grey gave me a few ideas on where to go with the current story, Men of Gray III.


Risk and Reward

July 27, 2009

To do anything is to risk failure. To do nothing is to guarantee it.  And so we risk. We’ve hardly begun this initiative, and yet we’ve already made many decisions that have set us upon a course that will at the least affect the next few years of our lives. That much would be true of any feature film production. But, if this movie is just half of what we envision it to be, it will surely make a permanent imprint upon our personal and professional lives. Why? The story.

It’s a very different story we’re telling this time, and it’s one worth telling. Now that producer-actor G. and I have been on this earth for (let’s just say) more than four decades each, and have made several movies, there is not much pride in simply being able to say that we made a movie, or even in saying that we made a movie that made a profit.

By this, please understand that I’m not saying that we have come to underestimate the challenge of moviemaking, nor am I saying that we have lost interest in profitability. I’m saying that the kinds of movies we make and the kind of influences we hope to have on viewers have become primary influences, affecting what movies we choose to make and, I hope, even how we make them, such that they more closely reflect our principles and beliefs. I suspect too that, if we create a movie worth watching with a story that is both compelling and thought-provoking, satisfied investors will be a natural byproduct.

As anyone who has been heavily involved in independent feature-length movie production can tell you, it is inevitably a difficult undertaking, even if exhilarating. Although most of us involved foundationally in this production have had a good deal of independent feature film experience, I suspect we will find this production not only uniquely and thoroughly challenging, but considerably more rewarding than any past endeavor because of the story we are telling, the scope of the production, and the likely reactions we can expect from viewers.

In many ways, the risks and challenges of the process of independent productions are unique. Certainly big-budget studio films have their own challenges, but consider the words of Edward Dmytryk who, in describing the business of feature film directing said, “It’s a hell of a life but not a bad living.” Of course, nearly all of his experience was within the realm of major studio productions.  The first part of his quote — “It’s a hell of a life…” surely applies to independent feature production. But the latter part — “...but it’s not a bad living” — is often not true for the independent filmmaker, as it can also be a difficult way to make a living. 🙂 Because of this, I think one cannot hope to achieve much success in independent feature production unless that person gets their kicks from the process as much as the product.

In making movies, as with all things, I contend that success has less to do with luck than with unbridled determination. To my experience, the great white stallion of success rarely makes its gallant entry until after the mule train of hardship and desperation has been driven hard, and usually uphill. With Liberty in the Fires, will be driving a very different mule train, knowing that we are telling a story that we are excited to tell, which should make the process of creating it all the more satisfying, no matter the difficulties.  

So, yes, to do anything is to risk failure. But, since doing nothing is to guarantee it, we risk. We undertake this great task, motivated by both the exciting challenge of creating a feature-length movie and more so by the story it will tell. Both are worth the risk.