about seeing from the outside and whether it has value

Recently I was told I have a choice, I can continue to make films the way I have, idiosyncratic films that are hard to describe in a sentence, or I can try to make films that have a chance of being more accessible to more people, like maybe a genre film that I put my stamp on. And if I continue the way I have, I have to accept that I may never be a popular filmmaker, according to my adviser. I don’t know if that’s true. All I know is, I do what is in me to do, and I avoid making films that I feel could also have been directed by someone else. In that case I would rather stay home and write fiction or just be with my kids. I don’t try to be obscure–I always hope I am making a film for masses of people–but I want to tell the truth as I see it. Maybe I am overly stubborn. I don’t know. Every time I read a comment from you all, I have to say it reminds me that there really are people out there who understand the films, that they mean something to you, and that’s very encouraging.

So much of whether a film is commercial has to do with the money behind it. “Precious”, which I think is a fantastic, brave film, could have sunk without a trace if it didn’t have the millions the distributor is spending on its behalf. Good films can get lost if they don’t have the support, and with our distribution business in such disarray–so many of the distributors that put out alternative film have gone bust in the past couple of years–the chances of audiences actually getting to see alternative film, let alone large numbers of people being made aware of them through advertising or award campaigns which themselves cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, really millions if you are going to actually get anywhere, are slim to say the least. However, I count myself extremely lucky that I have been allowed to make four  films with artistic control. That in itself is a miracle. I have to confess though I wish I had a little more muscle behind the films. I think often it’s muscle–power and money– that makes the difference. “Personal Velocity” was put out by United Artists, a studio (now gone bust). It made money, because it had a little muscle behind it. A studio would never buy Personal Velocity no,  because of this climate of fear and caution that pervades the industry. Anyway, it’s a tough world. When I made “Angela” I was totally naive. I knew nothing. Each time I make a film I learn more about the business, more scales fall from my eyes, and I have to say, I liked my ignorance better.

26 Responses to “about seeing from the outside and whether it has value”

  • Ellie:

    Ignore it, keep doing what you’re doing – making films that you believe in and can be proud of. Otherwise what’s the point? There are plenty of bland filmmakers out there that will fade into the background. At least you will stand out as a Director who had something to say, someone who didn’t cave to formula and the studios. More people might go and see films like ‘Along came Polly’, but they won’t remember them.

  • Julia:

    Cheer up!
    Your movies are REALLY good! And be sure that they affect much more people than you can imagine. You are such a sensible director, please don’t ever change!

    I agree with Ellie, don’t “sell your soul”, what’s the use of doing movies in which you do not believe in? Be the best you can be, be yourself.

    Your movies are something to be proud of! They are art and art lasts forever!

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • Vikram Udeshi:

    Thanks to the blog-world I can comment to you my 2-cents as below:

    The current status you are in (4 films done your way) is a luxury but now it may the time to pause and gear to the masses. We do live in real world and in real world we all need $$ (or Euro’s, etc.) to live. With reputation behind you and backing you up as a filmmaker who does have her own style and voice and_ can_deliver, you should have clout of maybe a 2-3 hig risk films where you can experiment to feed the larger audience. There is nothing wrong in being a popular filmmaker. Bergman did not get his WILD STRAWBERRIES and THRU A GLASS DARKLY series scripts out till well into the decade of his career, and Kurosawa did the same.

    Audience such as myself who loves the kind of movies you make, I would rather you succeed in a long run as a pragmatic filmmaker who made multiple films but had some popular-films (after her 4th film) that did bad (maybe…maybe not), then someone who had only a handful of films all made her own style. Kurosawa had said that a good film is always entertaining and maybe, maybe…you will find that the artist in you will emboss the PIPPA LEE’s better in mainstream storylines. I feel that Mira Nair (SALAAM BOMBAY, MONSOON WEDDING) and you have a lot in common and she says that there are only two kinds of films: Good Cinema and soulless cinema. So I feel as an audience we can be safe in expecting good films from you, and you as a filmmake needs to ensure the input $$ channel is smooth :)

  • Erika Kramer:

    Thanks for another interesting post… I just wanted to make note that the climate is most certainly changing, but there’s also opportunity in that change. For example, screenwriter John August just posted about a Sundance film that has been distributed by its makers via the web (http://johnaugust.com/archives/2010/watching-otmm). While it’s an early indication of what’s to come, as are other films utilizing online-only-distribution (for example, Ed Burns’ last movie, “Purple Violets” which was released solely on iTunes), I think there’s hope in independent, online distribution. While you’re certainly correct in saying the independent distribution model has been crushed, maybe it’s a chance for independent filmmakers to get creative and self-distribute. I know, as a viewer, I’m willing to utilize the medium, especially if it means viewing something I’d otherwise not be able to see.

  • Dear Rebecca…I saw ‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’ recently, and after reading this post I felt I must comment. Your characters are so alive and your trust in your work was dazzling. Films like that don’t come along very often, which is one of the many reasons films like yours need to keep being made. You create work that tunes into a frequency that most people don’t hear, or can’t. It’s empathetic and intuitive and fantastically human (a rare thing, to be sure.)

    The majority of films that get wide release are fast food, for quick and mindless consumption. I want people to see work like yours like I want there to be a copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in every school in America. And while you’re absolutely right about distribution, creating work with chutzpah and real artistry, like you do, does more to usher in change than kowtowing to the commercialism of film today. Of course you want to get through to as many people as possible, because what does one make art for but to share it with others? But what the world does with the creations its given is largely up to them. Besides, nothing worth saying was ever described in a single sentence, anyway.
    Best, Lisa

  • Patricia:

    Dear Rebecca,

    I just had to say Thank You from the bottom of my heart for Pippa Lee. I was in love and awe from the first page – and thrilled to hear about each confirmed casting. I had a tough time seeing the movie – in fact, living in North West UK, I couldn’t find a screening, but pre-ordered the DVD. I was so relieved to find that you had accomplished such a beautiful adaptation. I find your work thrilling! As a writer, I share many of your interests and fascinations, so to read and view such subtle yet absolutely earth-shattering authenticity is just a pleasure.

    This isn’t so much a post, but a love note! Please keep doing what you do so well. Despite distribution issues etc – We need you to be the artist you are.

    Admiration Always,


  • Mary:

    Dear Rebecca,

    I read recently “Pippa Lee” and the book is really good. It’s a modern Cinderella. A mixture between Hell and Angel. A very sensitive story and an interesting life / experiences. I can’t wait to see your movie, too. I read a lot about it; a lot of good stuff. Keep doing what you do.
    Your creation thrills our souls and like Julia said “art last forever”.


  • Natalie Kottke:

    I admire you for your optimism, and your desire to be true to yourself and your work–despite what other’s may advise. I read your work (particularly, PERSONAL VELOCITY) when I want inspiration for my own writing. Thank you. My friend said something to me the other day that really helped me in a situation where I could have compromised my ideals, “being fully yourself is MORE than enough.” This simple sentence reminded me of why being true to ourselves is, well, simply beautiful. Thank you for creating inspiring female pieces… your audience awaits.
    In joy,

  • Hello Rebecca! I am just finished the book of you and I am delighted with it. I mean “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”. It’s great book and there are a lot of thoughts in my mind after the reading it. I am going to write about your book on my private blog right now. Thanks for the good book. Greetings from Poland. Maria.

  • Vikram Udeshi:

    Hello Rebecca:

    I saw PIPPA LEE on DVD last night and I think it is equal to the sum of all your three previous movies in terms of a good cinematic film (as opposed to just an Artsy film). Excellent cast, super direction and Robin Penn did a fabulous job of absorbing the character. I feel you could have tightened the film by a few minutes but also explored PIPPA’s liberation milestone more vividly/symbolically.

    Also, I was looking forward to some Behind-the-scenes footage and your interview about the movie in the DVD but was disappointed by just brief interviews by other players. ANyway, I look forward to your commentary on second run of the movie.

    Keep up the good work and subject matters you try to explore.


  • Gem Star:

    I just saw your movie “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” and I was truly moved. What insight, depth and passion that movie had. The raw lines approach you use adds so much more thrust then most movies.

    This wonderful film would have been seen by many more people if you had the publicity and power that comes once the “right people” see what we all see…that you are a great director who makes fantastic films. That day will come sooner rather than later, because I you are a gifted and refreshing director.

    Thank you for being you…

  • Liz:

    You should record “don’t put no headstone on my grave”. I just watched Consenting Adults. WOW! That was wonderful! There are people making posts on the web looking for your recording of the song! It would sell. That was great.

  • Lindalmd:

    I’ve just found this blog and wanted to add my comment in the “Keep on with what you’re doing” group. I loved the Private Lives of Pippa Lee, both the book and film. I love Pippa Lee for all her quirkiness and think Robin Penn did a brilliant job on screen with her. The downside, of course, is that so few people see your films and that’s hard. It’s tough to see a great film or read a great book and no one else has heard of it. So, I’ll do my part, and show Pippa Lee tomorrow night for my film group. Stay strong.

  • Dearest Rebecca,

    I watched “The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee” last night. I’m living in Northern India and my husband and I came across a copy of it in the “Audio and Video Gallery” near our house. It was a pirated copy that was smuggled in from Malaysia to get around Indian censorship laws (I know, I know, you’re probably cringing). I hadn’t heard of the film (been a bit out of the independent film loop over here) but the cast was stellar so for less than a dollar we brought it home.

    Once I had settled into the film and realized that I was watching a work of art, I reached for the case to see who had written and directed it. Of course, there was no cast and crew info on the photocopied cover. (However, the pirates did take the liberty to put some blaring trance music over the DVD menu.) I hoped the credits would be in tact.

    When the film ended and your name came on the screen, my first reaction was “OF COURSE!” It was such a beautiful film about a complex woman and so well directed, it made sense that it came from you. My second reaction surprised me though, as I was overcome with emotion and started to cry. Seeing your name was like suddenly seeing a friend that you haven’t seen in a while and have missed dearly but hadn’t realized it.

    I hope that you keep making great films the way you want to make them. As long as you don’t care about money, you don’t have to worry about pleasing the masses. Many people love your films. They are important. You inspire me as a writer and a filmmaker and a woman. I will be embarking on my film career in the US shortly and I hope hope hope that someday our paths cross.

    Sincerely, and with Love,

    Alexis Forni

    P.S. I vow to buy a copy of Pippa as soon as I get back to the states to atone for renting a pirated one.

  • Rex Kelly:

    Your films are brilliant. Just brilliant. It’s too bad that studios would rather spend money on stupid buddy-cop cookie-cutter features marketed to fourteen year olds. I’m grateful there’s an artist like you making authentic films.

  • I thought the film- The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, was extraordinary. I did not realize you also did Personal Velocity. I loved it as well. To boldly go amidst the haste of film making and create a film that feels like a slow dance, one that you’ll always remember- is truly a beautiful thing.
    I feel there are many more independent film watchers out there than the big suits are willing to admit. We are a silent majority, perhaps too silent. Netflix is a wonderful portal for the kinds of films that the industry may not tout, but the reviews there are often geared towards elevating a film that needs to be seen, to be felt, to be recognized as a hidden gem (that Pippa Lee certainly is).
    From the dialog, the actors, the story, the music- your film evokes a message of beauty, and I for one was gladly encompassed by it.
    Thank you for following your heart, for creating that which the world needs- a story that sways the spirit through the shine and shadow of life.
    (AND the Lucinda Williams end credit song- I Think I Lost It- Brilliant!)
    Take care-

  • I am very happy to find this blog, where I can thank you for the best film I have ever seen. “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” struck my heart, and I mean it. It´s beautiful and important, and I truly love the story. You are a great storyteller, the kind I want to meet some day and have a conversation with. To me, people like yourself are the ones that count and the reason why I love cinema. Just saw “Pippa Lee” and I loved every minute of it. Thank you!

    Best Regards
    David Skauen

  • Last night I discovered something wonderful.

    The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a magnificent film and the kind that tears me in two.

    On one hand, I am mad that I didn’t get to see it in a cinema with hundreds of others (who would tell hundreds of others, until millions had enjoyed what I had). And, on the other, I am happy that treasures like this go unnoticed by too many, but lay waiting for those who dig a little deeper, or look a little longer through the piles of sequels, poorly made remakes and fourteen-year-old-boy fodder, on the video rental shelf.


    Thanks for the magic and heartwarming beauty.

    Love and admiration from down under,

  • Francesca:

    I honestly don’t think you should change the style of your movies if it is to do something you do not believing. At the end of the day don’t we want to feel that we spend time, energy, passion and enthusiasm on something and in your case an art and profession in something we truly believe in? Why would we, and if we can afford it, do something which at the end of the day leaves a gap, a longing for something else. Rebecca, your films and your writing is not only beautiful, but also thoughtful, ripened through many years of reflexion and mulling. Carefully put together in the best manner. If it doesn’t have a “commercial” appeal I am not sure whether that is the most important. Although, yes it does help from a commercial and business perspective, but then your films are a message in some sort of way that have something to say and in a certain way. I would suggest – my very very humble opinion – is doing what ever you do, in the manner in which you do so long as you have tried to do it to your best. Also making something with the “commercial” appeal in one’s mind is not always best. i think that works of art that end up having that commercial success or even some form of recognition tend to gain those by chance and is rarely expected. I think artists who do succeed that way are actually those who have worked by first believing in their inner self and the fact that what they have done is amazing and that “wide appeal” commercial success and the whole circus around is simply an added bonus :)

    I guess, what I am trying to say in this long convoluted message is that I think you should carry on doing what you are doing as you are doing the way in which you truly believe and that big whoo haa around, unless of course if that is what you wish deep down inside.

    Love and true admiration of your work and the dedication in what you do is simply amazing – I say keep doing what you are doing :)

  • Dear Rebecca,

    After seeing “Pippa Lee” last night, and then immediately watching it again with your commentary, I still felt I needed more of you, so sought out your web site. Your writing and direction were brilliant. So subtle and also earth-shatteringly authentic (to paraphrase another commenter). I thank you. Before marrying a Belgian farmer and unschooling my kids I was a theater director and I still write. Your voice in this film has inspired me more than anything I’ve seen in years. I can’t wait to watch your other films.

    Thank you.

  • mckor:

    Dear Rebecca,
    I too, watched PL of Pippa Lee just last night – and truly loved it. I’m in awe of your vision and creativity. I am a professional writer and screenwriter, and really want to thank you for having the courage to follow what’s in your heart, and develop projects that are brave and, perhaps a tad, outside the system. You are an inspiration to every working writer, and artist, who must do daily battle with the “corporate forces of evil” that would compell us to squelch the creative and passionate little voices inside our heads that urge us to tell the kind of intimate, “personal” stories, that need to be told. I look forward to your next project.
    Best Wishes,

  • Hello Rebecca. I’m posting this from a town in southern Spain. I just got through watching Private Lives of Pippa Lee with my wife and we both enjoyed it tremendously. Great, subtle, endearing, poignant, I’m running out of adjectives. Very inspiring and I encourage you to follow your path. If you find a genre vehicle that allows you to pursue your true interests thereafter, go ahead. I’m sure it will be something worth watching. Pippa Lee was a pleasurable learning experience. Can’t wait to see your next project. What a wonderful discovery. It dignifies the medium. Keep at it.

  • I don’t necessarily agree with the above post, and would like to highlight a few of the OP’s points. Most people will agree and though I am one of them, I do respect your right to have your view. Nice blog anyway.

  • Nelson:

    Writing this from Japan (safely away from radioactive plumes):
    I just watched Angela for the second time. After the first time, I had this continuous thought in my head, “What the hell did I just watch?”. I waited one day and watched it the second time while listening to your commentary. That helped a little. You must be genius to be able to elicit such performances from children. I think you have that gift, similar to PK Dick, of being able to articulate mental problems – schizophrenia, etc., in a different way that is more useful and informative.
    Now I want to see all of your films just as soon as I can.

  • sharon blythe:

    Rebecca, keep making beautiful films..you have touched our lives.
    sharon (charlottes mom)

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