By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — We’ve all heard how movie making is highly competitive and often tortuous. Sometime it’s glamorous.
Most of the time, it’s a series of challenges that can drive you around the bend, according to actor, director and writer Wolfgang Bodison, who came to town last week to be Honorary Co-Chairman of Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.
Bodison is most known for his role as Lance Cpl. Dawson in the 1992 Tom Cruise movie A Few Good Men. His other acting credits include Pretty Rosebud, Freeway, Joe Somebody, The Expert, Little Big League and Not Another Not Another Movie. He has written and directed five short films and is currently collaborating on a feature, while teaching acting at Playhouse West in Los Angeles.
When Bodison helped introduce the Idyllwild awards ceremony on Jan. 10, he gave a painfully honest summary of the bumps and hurdles along movie makers’ roads. Some people in the audience at the Rustic Theatre agreed later that Bodison’s honesty was helpful and refreshing.
During an after-party, he sat down for an interview about why people stay in the game despite the challenges.
“You have to love telling stories,” he said, “because you get told, ‘No,’ so often.”
“Writing the script is the easy part,” he said. “Getting the movie made is still fairly easy. Getting it seen, that’s the hardest part. The distribution deals are hard. The options … ” (sigh). “They may want rewrites. They may want to change the script. Everyone wants to put their stamp on it.”
As for fund raising, Bodison said, “It drives you crazy!”
“Most people start with shorts, because the feature is such a big animal. A short is 5 to 20 minutes. It’s harder to tell the story that way though. You have to be succinct. But you can cut your teeth on shorts. It’s best to make your mistakes there.”
As for finding money, that’s a different skill needed than that of the creative person, he said.
“You can spend no money at all or up to about $20,000 on a short,” he said.
“Money is out there. Crowd funding is popular. There are people who want to invest, just to say they helped make a movie,” he said. “Some like to be part of the creative process. You can also write a grant application to a non-profit organization that’s involved in the kind of subject you’re working on, for example.”
Movie Making in Transition
Bodison talked about big shifts in movie making brought about by technology.
“The cost of film and cameras used to be prohibitive,” Bodison said. “But now the digital platform is so much less expensive. People are making movies on their iPhone. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. We’re losing the art of cinematography. We used to have people who were painterly in the way they filmed. Directors of photography are getting out of the business now. Even sound, you can make anyone sound good with software now.”
“Everyone wants to post everything on the Internet,” he said. “With YouTube videos, we’re losing the art of storytelling. We’re losing the craft of telling the beginning of the story, doing the set up and then creating the end. People are watching shorter pieces now, like someone on his skateboard. There’s no story.
“Social media affects how filmmakers are treated when they submit to festivals now,” Bodison said.
“They’re looking for how many followers you have on Facebook or Instagram,” he said. “They want to get people into the theaters.”
Passion and drive
So, if the passion for storytelling is what keeps people in the business, despite all the obstacles, what’s the drive that creates and sustains that passion?
“Other people can connect with what we write or paint and maybe they can heal in a small way,” Bodison said.
“All my projects deal with forgiveness or redemption. I’m trying to work something out. I think we all (actors and writers) do it for our own personal healing.
“With any labor of love, you have to commit yourself to it. That’s hard on the people around you. There’s a lot of stress. Your partner doesn’t always understand the business.”
Bodison said his wife produces commercials, so she “gets it.”
“But generally spouses don’t want to hear our complaints. You have to find your own family,” he said.
Watching all the hugs and laughter at the festival parties, it seemed that, in spite of the competition, there’s a camaraderie among movie makers. Do fellow film makers become the “family” of which Bodison speaks?
“Yes,” he said.
“We share the same struggle.”
However, he said that couples who make films together often deal with issues of competition and control.
In general, giving up control is hard, he said.
“I’m currently working with a friend on a feature, so I know from experience. The movie is about changing a town’s culture.”
Part of the overall moviemaking struggle is reduced by the digital revolution and self-distribution, Bodison said.
“There’s a huge shift in how movies are being made, viewed and promoted,” he said.
“Everyone’s having to adapt.”
While some aspects may be easier, some have yet to be figured out, he said.
“For example, how do we pay residuals for Internet usage?”
During the Idyllwild awards ceremony, one actress acknowledged the effort that all movie makers at the festival had made, whether they won awards or not.
In cafes around town the following day, Idyllwild residents reflected on the festival experience, as movie makers prepared to leave. Among them was local theatrical actor Doug Austin, who contributes the endowment for the festival’s Mary Austin Awards for Excellence by Women in Film Making. The awards are named after his late wife.
Austin summed up the “take away” from the festival, for people of artistic inclinations.
“The festival gave hope that people can be successful in their work.”