How do you be equal parts super-hardworking, super-creative, super-insightful, super media-savvy, super-calm, and super-nice? You be Ben Brandt. I knew Ben from college but have had the pleasure of reconnecting with him thanks to his brand-new, really-rad blog and online film discussion series. Ben seamlessly stitches together his love of web tech, movies, and community thinking to create a new type of online place for movie-lover and thinkers, for friends and online strangers alike — and it’s a real good place to be.
If someone had told me that six months after college I would not only have a job offer relevant to my major, but an offer to work at one of the biggest movie studios in the world, it would have sounded too good to be true.
Rewind a bit – I was finishing up my senior year as a film student and my dream job was working at an animation studio. They’re known for their collaborative environments, fun corporate cultures, and (most importantly for a graduate with marriage on the horizon) steady paychecks and benefits. So when one of them offered me a job seemingly out of nowhere, I could hardly believe it. In the matter of one week I had interviewed, accepted the position, moved a couple hundred miles, and started my first real job in “the business.”
I’ve been at the studio for over a year now and can honestly say it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m consistently learning new things every day, more than I ever learned in a classroom at film school, and I get to help make movies! So many people dream of this opportunity, and I don’t want to take it for granted.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize what a funny thing it is to work in the entertainment industry. I am a part of an assembly line that makes products for people’s entertainment. The product’s sole intent isn’t to change the world, to save lives, or even to make others’ jobs easier (although an argument could perhaps be made for each of these points). The primary goal of our films is to bring people to a theater, or around a TV in their home, and laugh. To be inspired, to learn, sure, but most importantly to laugh.
Some days I realize this and wonder if my efforts could be going towards something a little “nobler.” Shouldn’t I be spending my twenties saving the world? But other days I think about it and realize what a cool job this is; I get to help produce something that brings smiles to faces around the world. People gather, watch a film that has my name at the end of it, and leave with smiles on their faces, perhaps even seeing the world a little brighter than before. When I view it like that, it all seems worth it.
But why the internal inclination that what I do isn’t “noble” enough? What is it with the word entertainment that seems frivolous? I think it’s because that’s how most of us view it, and perhaps with just cause. Some would argue that entertainment is used as an escape from reality; movies merely distract us, and while fun, aren’t something to be taken seriously. But we’re deeply mistaken in doing so.
I realize I’m generalizing here. Many movies are striving to provide more than just an escape for people. The entertainment industry is filled with movies and filmmakers aiming to make art, not just money. I’m not arguing that one method is better than the other; the movie business is equal parts art and commerce, and you’ll never be able to fully separate the two sides.
But movies are perhaps the most effective medium to convey ideas and world views. They combine images, words, and music in a way that can’t be ignored, seeping into our culture and consciousness. Films are extremely powerful, forceful agents of change that are too quickly dismissed as mere “entertainment.” The fight to be won is with how people respond to the films they watch, not with the filmmakers. I firmly believe that too many people, no matter what movie they see, walk out of the theater without giving the images they just watched another thought. In this case, it doesn’t matter what films are made if people don’t dig deeper.
Maybe eventually I can get high enough in the studio system to have real power over the movies being made. But I’m not content to wait that long, so a little over a year ago I started some film discussions. At first, I just invited people over to my apartment. We’d watch a movie and then discuss it. The goal was to journey in the middle of this seeming divide, and it was amazing what even a little discussion could do. People watched films differently when they knew they would have to talk about them intelligently afterwards. These discussions showed us truths and insights, even from films in which people would probably find few redeeming qualities.
Then I started compiling a curriculum of sorts, breaking down the different aspects of filmmaking and providing people who didn’t go through film school the tools they need to watch movies with a more discerning eye.
When I moved across California for my new job, our little group disbanded. But I missed our discussions, so I started brainstorming ways to get it started again. And thankfully technology has provided a way to bring people separated by hundreds of miles together to talk about films. Using Google+ Hangouts, we’ve already discussed two films and learned so much, and I look forward to seeing it grow and continue. If I can help even just a few people learn to let movies effect them in deeper ways, then the attempt is successful.
You’re more than welcome to join us as we embark on this quest to learn from the movies we watch. RSVP for the next discussion and let me know what you think. At the very least, the next time you pay your hard-earned cash at the multiplex, look in between the art and commerce and see what you can find.
The entertainment industry is too big to ignore. We can lambast it all we want, or say it doesn’t effect us, but unless we take an active role ourselves, it will continue to shape our lives whether we notice it or not. I’d rather be aware and take an active role in how it shapes me, and I hope you join me in doing so. If nothing else, it reminds me that my job is important. Even if the next film I’m on doesn’t change the world or inspire people to greatness, isn’t a smile on a child’s face enough?
If we transcend the lines between art and entertainment, and if we get a little closer to Truth, then who is to say that movies can’t cause the world to change!