The track record for movies about movies is not particularly fantastic, to be frank. The appeal is pretty obvious – if great art comes from passion, it makes sense that a cinematic artist would be inspired when making a movie about movies, right? – But all too often films about films tend to fall into one of two ludicrous extremes, either painting filmmaking as a soul crushing toil in the salt mines, or as a jolly frolic where there’s no pressure and no pain, and inspiration flows from a tap. (Cue laughter from anyone who’s ever tried to make a movie, ever.) No wonder the best movies about film making tend to be documentaries – it’s harder to BS an audience about the process of making films when you’re showing actual footage from a working film set.
All of which is a long winded way of saying that when a film comes out that really captures something about the dynamics of filmmaking, it’s a special thing indeed. Here’s eight films – some documentaries, some fiction, some romanticized, some anything but – that anybody looking to work in the art form should see:
8. The Snowball Effect
OK, to be fair, citing a DVD making of documentary on this list is probably cheating – but honestly, if you’re looking for inspiration as a young filmmaker, what better source? In the past, knowledge about “how movies are made” only came from classic Hollywood films, which by and large offered a ludicrously sanitized fictionalization of the filmmaking process; now anyone with a DVD remote has direct access (sometimes perhaps a little too direct?) to the process by which films are made.
Few filmmakers are more honest and forthright on this score than Kevin Smith. Open and honest about his own failings as a director (“Throw a rock, you’ll hit a better director than me,” he once told a crowd of fans), Smith has also been quite open about the making of his films, with DVD and Blu-ray platters that sometimes seem awfully opulent for movies about a bunch of dudes standing around talking. The Snowball Effect, a documentary about the making of his debut film, Clerks, is probably the finest of these supplements, and honestly might be one of those rare beasts – a documentary about the making of a film that is better than the film itself.
Obviously there’s plenty of wit (vulgar, but still) in The Snowball Effect, plenty of ribbing and joshing and juicy behind the scenes tales; but for any filmmaker, The Snowball Effect is the most valuable form of filmmaking heroin imaginable. If you’ve ever needed the inspiration to get off your ass and just make a movie, then it’s required you see The Snowball Effect, which charts – in granular but fascinating detail – how Smith, a college drop out, pulled together a bunch of his friends, some untried community theater actors and a few buddies from his brief time in film school to make a movie. The film is refreshingly blunt, with most of the participants admitting that they had little or no idea what they were doing, and that the fact that the film turned out watchable was probably a miracle; it’s also inspiring, in that Smith and his rag tag operation seem to prove Quentin Tarantino’s assertion that if you love movies enough, regardless of time or budgetary constraints, you will probably make a good one.
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