Guest: Robert Greene - "It Should Be Difficult" / by Samuel B. Prime

Editor's Note: Robert Greene is not merely a filmmaker nor a documentarian, but rather a nonfiction filmmaker - and one of the highest order. Nonfiction occupies a curious genre distinction parallel to or the descendant of Chris Marker's un photo roman - the video essay. Typically, these nonfiction narratives are naturally complex, richly impressionistic, and are in touch with deep reserves of human emotion. To my mind, they are the riskiest - and therein, the most provocative - sorts of films one can make. He is also an editor. He needs your help.  

Samuel B. Prime, Founder

I was recently asked if I was frustrated that, despite a great festival run, good reviews, and getting distribution through The Cinema Guild for my new film ACTRESS, we still need to raise money via a crowdfunding campaign on Seed & Spark to pay for music rights and additional finishing costs. The answer is no, I’m not frustrated. I continue to feel fortunate to be in this position at all. This is a nerve-racking process but the fact is this: making movies and sticking to your vision should be tough. I deserve to have to work for it and I’m proud to say so.

I’ve had a completely amazing 2014. I edited Alex Ross Perry’s LISTEN UP PHILIP, which premiered at Sundance and is now riding a wave of great reviews into theaters all over the country. Meanwhile, I've variously edited or been involved with a number of other features, all of which have had, or will soon have, a viable life. On other fronts, I’ve had my writing on nonfiction find a bigger audience and I’m even writing a book. I was also hired to help start the new Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri and assigned the cool (although kind of ridiculous) title “Filmmaker-in-Chief.” And in just a few weeks I’ll be pitching my new film in Copenhagen at the CPH:FORUM. This amount of luck would be enough for five years and it’s all hit at once.

But nothing compares to the utterly improbable run that we’ve had with ACTRESS. This is a film that was made by me picking up my out-of-date camera and walking just a few feet to my neighbor’s house, just to see what might happen. We didn’t start with any upfront money, relying instead on my stalwart producers Douglas Tirola and Susan Bedusa at 4th Row Films (with whom I’ve collaborated on many projects over the years) to lend support, loan equipment, etc. through the eighteen months of production. It was as no budget as they come.

When we hit the post-production stage, 4th Row Films paid for the editing out-of-pocket so I could find time to work on the film and funneled resources to pay for a lot of the initial music costs (music is crucial to the film) along with a few other expenditures. They’re careful, responsible producers and since we didn’t - and don't - have a large chunk of money to work from, it was important that they remain conservative throughout the production process. Still, they never questioned my vision of the film and they did everything they could to make it all work. It helped, of course, that the sound mix and initial color correct were donated by friends.

The film premiered at True/False in early March and took off from there, garnering amazing reviews on a remarkable festival run. Early on, we began negotiating with the rights holders to some of the more expensive songs in the movie, always aware we’d possibly need to find replacements, but always hopeful that we could keep the best version of the movie intact. We brought on a music supervisor who was able to help get the song costs down to a fraction of what we were originally quoted. But that wasn't enough, so we made the difficult decision to keep fighting for this little film and so we launched our Seed & Spark fundraising campaign.

As of this writing (the early hours of Thursday, October 23rd), we have just a few days to go and a lot of ground to cover. But I’m nowhere near “frustrated.” This film has thus far been a series of miraculous occurrences, each turn of generosity, fortune, and belief in my vision more surprising than the last. It has not been an “easy” film to make by any stretch, but that this last stage requires no small amount of hustle and scrappiness proves what a gift the film’s run has been so far. ACTRESS will be released on Nov. 7th at Lincoln Center in New York before it expands nationwide, come hell, high water, or straight-up begging. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Making movies should be difficult. We are privileged to be able to even entertain the thought. That my fourth feature film could be made, in any circumstance, is insane and I’ll never take this rare thing for granted. Raising money through crowdfunding is a tough game, but so what? And as I’m writing this (literally moments ago), the film was just nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Documentary next to some seriously heavy hitters.

The improbable run continues. Thanks to everyone who has made (and continues to make) it possible.

Robert Greene (