Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Steve Villeneuve’s “Under the Scares”: Blood, Boobs, and the Digital Revolution
Under the Scares (2010) (Documentary)
Directed by Steve Villeneuve
Written by Steve Villeneuve and William Dio
I'm starting this post with a rant: Arm chair film critics who've never written a script, made a shot list, or secured a shoot location, take note: Making a film is VERY challenging. It's easy to sit back and pick apart someone's hard work without ever having taken the risk of making one yourself. One might argue that when an artist takes it upon him or herself to share work with the rest of the world, criticism, unfounded or not, is just part of the territory. An artist is expected to develop tough skin, learn from any useful criticism, and move on to the next project armed with more experience and determination. That's as it should be to an extent - for we want to ensure that constructive criticism helps improve things in the long run. However, if one has never taken any sort of creative risk whatsoever - whether it be shooting a film, playing music, writing a poem - what makes that person think they're in a position to be taken seriously as a critic? Moreover, what makes that person think he or she can do any better? Pick up a camera and PROVE IT!
Now that that's off my chest, let's get on with the review...
Lots of people think he or she can make a movie. With advances in technology, more people now have the option quite literally at their fingertips. We live in an age where technology allows one to conceivably shoot high resolution video right from his or her phone – just the latest movement in the "digital revolution". It's safe to assume that nearly anyone has the means of making a movie as long as they have access to these devices, and the constitution to follow through. However, just because someone CAN shoot a movie doesn't necessarily mean they SHOULD. The digital "revolution" is a tricky development in the evolution of moviemaking - one that puts affordable equipment in the hands of people from all walks of life. One can't argue that the empowerment is a great thing - an antidote to the often soulless, bloated multiplex offerings. The problem arises when folks who lack competence, passion, or imagination saturate an already overcrowded market with even more sub-par crap.
Steve Villeneuve's award-winning, eye-opening documentary, Under the Scares, gives us a glimpse into the real world of independent horror filmmaking. He approaches his subject in a fairly even-handed manner - careful to let his interviewees do the talking on a variety of topics related to production and distribution of genre films. He interviews a wide array of directors, actors, and folks operating in the distribution game. The faces appearing in the film - some legendary, and others currently moving up the ladder - were chosen by Villeneuve to cover a lot of ground. Some of his subjects revel in the freedom of affordable methods of film production. Others feel the industry is being watered down by its acceptance of questionable quality as films are churned out in massive numbers. The question is whether or not independent filmmakers thrive in this new digital age, or take a hard hit as quality material is overlooked in lieu of "easy sells". Distributors obtain titles cheaply or free with disregard for quality, preying upon filmmakers so desperate for a shot, they’re giving out work hand-over-foot. According to most of Villeneuve's interviewees, making the film might be the easy part. It's getting the film out in front of audiences that brings on the real nightmares. Is that any different from how it’s always been? This is just one of many questions brought up by the documentary.
Now that the floodgates are open, it leads to a whole slew of questions regarding production and distribution of independent films. Villeneuve talks to a mixture of veterans and new faces working in the genre to gain some perspective. Experience, optimism, and skepticism co-mingle in what is a thought-provoking look at what happens after a film is "in the can". The illusion is that a filmmaker could coast on making a good film, receive accolades in film festivals, and secure a deal with a distributor to make more films. Under the Scares dispels this notion by showcasing a few films and artists who've been on both sides of the situation. Some have found success, while others only frustration. Even films that somehow managed to get a distribution deal, often end up shelved and forgotten forever. This is the heart of Under the Scares, one that bridges the chasm between hope and hopelessness. The intention is not to discourage anyone from making a film, but to inform them of the obstacles standing in their way once their work is complete. It’s a useful tool, and one that might serve well distributed in film schools all over. As most of the subjects affirm that, above all, you better love making movies or you’re likely in for a depressing time.
Villeneuve chooses his subjects wisely. He showcases key people - some the touchstones of their eras - and covers multiple generations in the history of horror filmmaking. Recognizable figures like H.G. Lewis, Debbie Rochon, Lloyd Kaufman, Suzi Lorraine, George Romero, and Frank Henenlotter - folks who've made names for themselves working the low-budget, exploitation circles - offer sound advice and keen observations into the history of independent film, as well as what they believe the future holds. Up-and-comers like Amy Lynn Best, Maurice Devereaux, and Trent Haaga also offer insight into their own experiences trying to break into a severely broken model. Despite their varying takes, it’s clear that all of them believe there is some problem with the current system.
Under the Scares is a must-watch for fans and purveyors of independent filmmaking. I'd also recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a serious critic of film, or are at least committed to that path. At its core, Under the Scares is trying to dispel notions that independent film is a bad thing. Removing that stigma will require the right tools, attitudes, and passion - starting right here with this exceptional film.
Under the Scares Trailer