In Praise of ‘Failure’
Failure in this case, is a short film by a guy named Chris Suchorsky. The premise and plot are simple: he tries to make a no budget independent feature film, and fails.
The film he ended up making is a simple documentary of everything that went wrong and everything he did wrong, narrated with no small amount of sarcastic disillusionment. Nonetheless, it did well on the festival circuit and it was eventually picked up and broadcast by IFC. This is not a simple review of the film. When I watched it I found it very instructional. Therefore, this article is a summary of some specific lessons I took from the film.
The first lesson is one of simple preparation. Suchorsky is very open about his lack of planning before and during his shoot. From the way he narrates it, he whipped up a script, rented the equipment, and gathered a bunch of his friends together. To many would-be directors, flush with copies of Rebel Without a Crew, this seems like the only list of ingredients needed to get a movie off the ground. Suchorsky’s film is thirty minutes of documentary footage showing just how many ways life can destroy such simplistic planning. You can’t just throw ingredients into a pot and expect to create a feast. You have to know what you’re cooking with. Suchorsky rented equipment he was completely unfamiliar with. For actors, he didn’t just hire friends, he hired whoever he could find. When they weren’t in the scene, he had these same people serve on the crew. He plunked down his own money for equipment and only gave himself six days to shoot 90 pages of script.
All of these things had been done by other filmmakers, which to me is the second big lesson of the film: what has worked for others may not work for you. What takes Movie A from start to finish may have no place in Movie B’s production process. Every shoot is different, every shoot needs different things. And like most self help materials, books on producing a film have an annoying habit of omitting important details. So just because one filmmaker jumped off a bridge, does not mean that you should too. You have to test theory against real world application.
Something Suchorsky, and probably many would-be filmmakers, did not consider is that a feature length project is the filmmaking equivalent of a marathon. It takes a lot of skill and persistence. It’s not just about endurance. You need to also manage, manipulate, and stretch your endurance. You’re spinning a hundred plates while running on a treadmill.
If you’re going to take on something as big as a feature film, you must be able to inspire confidence, and belief, and even faith. This is lesson number three from the film. Suchorsky’s friends and family all knew he wanted to make a movie. It soon becomes clear that no one really thought he was actually making a movie. Actors co-opt scenes and laugh away the day’s shoot. People disappear with bags full of equipment and don’t come back until the next day. Others drop out at the last minute because they need to study for a test. You can spend a lot of time naming Suchorsky’s specific mistakes, but his biggest failing is that no one respected his efforts. No one took him seriously, so they did not take the production shoot seriously. So the production started going poorly, so he looked more and more dubious, and on and on.
So how do you get people to take you seriously? Well, part of it comes back to preparation. But more of it comes down to action. People instinctively size people up all the time. And they remember what you do much more than what you say. If I had to guess why Suchorsky’s movie went so badly, it is probably because his actions betrayed him as doubtful, or meek, or not fully committed. All filmmakers feel this way at some point, but his mistake was probably letting the world see it.
Perhaps the best lesson is where the film, in my opinion, borders on genius. It is the last line of the film, and it is this: “you can make anything work”. Having abandoned his film, Suchorsky gathers up his footage and cuts together something entirely different. This project then goes on to garner him success and praise, and probably has something to do with his being hired to produce documentaries for the History Channel. So while his directorial vision crashed and burned, he still goes on to win film festivals and earn himself a production job. It is, ironically, one of the most affirming messages I’ve seen about filmmaking. May we all fail as well as Chris Suchorsky.
Failure can be purchased by clicking the link.