Is filmmaking an art form? Or is it a business?

Niall McCann


Niall McCann

Is filmmaking an art form? Or is it a business?

I have a small confession to make, I was going to review the new Miles Davis film from Don Cheadle, who stars and directs the biopic about the genius trumpeter of Jazz but at this moment in time I am trying to finish a film of my own and as I spend more and more time in the edit for this film, the more difficult it becomes to watch others.

When you are engrossed in something and gazing at it endlessly up close, focusing on tiny details rather than the bigger picture, it can be somewhat hard to see the films for the movie.

If ever any of you readers feel that you are watching too many films, that you take films too seriously or even perhaps believe that the film world or industry (to use the most awful word our enforced tongue has in its armoury) is as glamorous, exciting and fabulous as the "stars" might lead you to dream. My advice is to involve yourself in a films production. In particular a film's edit.

Nothing and I mean absolutely nothing will knock the childlike enthusiasm out of a person than being stuck in an edit for a film, which you have helmed, developed, fought for and now nearly completed. It's a painful process, you want and need your film to be as good or as great as you know it can be but you are inevitably plagued by constant self doubt and anxiety. When you are sitting in the dark all day every day you can forget what light looks like.

Is filmmaking an art form? Or is it a business. I suppose the correct answer is somewhere in the middle, film is an artistic endeavour which lies at the crossroads of the art world and the business one. Though one could argue that this is now true of all art in the early 21st century, late capitalism dead end we find ourselves emerged into, our nostrils vainly poking out from the deluge of deceit and frauds, a centimetre from oblivion.

My new film, Lost in France, which I am currently nearing the end of, and have been nearing the end of now for some months (!), has been a truly wonderful experience for me and one I am very thankful of. I have been lucky enough to work with film producers in both Ireland and Scotland who are amongst the most trustworthy and capable I have met, and I have met many who one wouldn't let produce a cheese sandwich for, you never mind a film. I have also been fortunate enough to make a film about some of the most inspiring people one could ever hope to meet and in many ways the film is an attempt to set right things in my life which I needed to set right. (Which is ultimately the reason I make films, like a more cynical Sam from Quantum Leap, never to return home but always dreaming of it.)

As Jackson Pollock once remarked, “The pictures I contemplate painting would constitute a halfway state and attempt to point out the direction of the future — without arriving there completely”

This halfway state is were I currently reside, and will reside until the film is finished. It is not a state I enjoy but it is one which must be endured in order to reach the goal on hand. A finished, watchable and (ideally) successful film.

Jean Luc Godard, my favourite filmmaker, once said about his close friend Henri Langlois, who ran the cinematheque in Paris during France's golden age of cinema: "I told Henri to give away all his films and go off somewhere otherwise he would die".

I own a few thousand films. When once these films would inspire and drive me on, now all this clutter seems like a weight I need to shift.

I've been here before with other films and (hopefully) I will be here again. The editing process is not one I enjoy but it is one many filmmakers far more successful and talented than I do. If anything the best thing out of this whole experience has been the reminder that film is not really that important; your family, the people you love, your health and football are of course the things that matter.

In a week or so time I will emerge from the darkness of the edit and re-enter the world, someday too I may even watch a film again. Until then those of you awaiting my review of Miles Ahead will have to make do with my rating of 3/5 and trust me it's worth seeing.

You don't make the film. The film makes you.