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Reality TV & Filmmaking Lessons, Pt. 1

I'm very selective about what sort of reality TV I watch, as I tend to find many so called "reality" shows to be painful examples of the least noble attributes in humanity. However, every once in a while, I will see a show that has enough redeeming values for me to want to keep watching it.

One of those shows is Spike's Ultimate Fighter.  For those of you unfamiliar to the show, the premise is simple: a number of men in two weight ranges want to win contracts to become Mixed Martial Arts fighters for the UFC.  One contract for each weight class will be awarded and, in the end, "may the best fighters win."  As you can see, it's a pretty simple concept.  However, sometimes simplicity can yield valuable insights into the human condition...and, through it, to filmmaking.

In a recent episode, the odds-on favorite for winning the Light Heavyweight division had managed to knock himself completely out of the competition.  However, unlike most people, he didn't knock himself out by losing...he knocked himself out by winning.

Sounds strange?  Well, a few days prior to the fight, Matt (the aforementioned odds-on favorite) had pulled his elbow in training.  Because the elbow had not fully healed by the time of the big fight, he decided to do something catastrophically stupid: he decided he would change the way he fights.

Matt is a world-class Olympic wrestler with a number of Olympic medals to his name. He is defined and empowered by the art of wrestling.  However, because of his fear that his hurt elbow would prevent him from winning in the manner he had trained for his whole life, he decided that he would stand up and box with the other fighter.  His opponent was a trained striker (meaning he boxes a lot and doesn't do well when he's pinned on the ground by a wrestler), so Matt was knowingly fighting in a manner in which he was weakest and his opponent was strongest--all because he was afraid that his injury would prevent him from wrestling.

Incredibly, despite the fact that Matt switched up his styles at the last minute, he somehow emerged victorious after shattering his opponent's nose.

Great.  Except that Matt had taken so much damage fighting in a manner that he was unaccustomed to that he ended up getting knocked out of the tournament due to injuries.

What's this teach us as microfilmmakers?  Simple. Each one of us has things we see as strengths and things we see as weaknesses.  Sometimes we think that a minor weakness we have will negate our strengths in certain areas.  So because of that, we'll try to make films that resemble films made by people with different strengths...thinking we have to do that to compete.  Or a new type of film blows up big in Hollywood, and we try to go out and replicate that type of film...thinking it'll get us noticed.

Maybe we can try to be like someone else...and maybe we'll have temporary success, the way Matt did in the Ultimate Fighter.  However, in the end, trying to be someone else to try to cover up your 'weaknesses' will only get you eliminated from the art of filmmaking in the long run.

The most influential films of our culture have often been made by people who, rather than trying to cover up their weaknesses, explored them.  Kevin Smith's Clerks wasn't a story with a lot of action, but it explored the 'weakness' of his nowhere job at a convenience store.  Sex, Lies & Video Tape explored Stephen Soderbergh's confusion about love, marriage, and sex.  Pieces of April explored Peter Hedges' own familiarity with dysfunctional family relationships.  Thirteen explored the confusion that director Catherine Hardwicke recalled going through when she was the same age as her newly adolescent heroine.  These are only four films, but all have had an impact and all are rooted in the exploration of 'weakness' from the director.

It may be that something you think of as a weakness could result in a brilliant film, if you will only be willing to explore your own heart as a filmmaker and explore that weakenesses that you think make you 'less' special.

In the microfilmmaking community, our hearts are on the line even more than in any other realm of filmmaking because we have no financial safety net and we have only our weaknesses and our passions to draw upon.  If we sell out any part of that, then we miss what it is to be a microfilmmaker.

Just a thought.

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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