Author life isn’t necessarily easy. Although our stresses are hardly big league – we’re not performing brain surgery or living in a war zone – we sometimes feel embattled and alone. If you’re having one of those moments, let this restore your courage.
First, watch this film by Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World (enjoy the colossal glaciers, the eerie beauty of the sea under the ice and adorable nihilistic penguins). Then – the important bit – read this fan letter to Herzog by critic Roger Ebert (if you have the film DVD, there’s a panel discussion of it in the extras).
Ebert’s fan letter is actually about all of us – the creators with a powerful inner compass. It’s a fan letter for our values. Most of us could take ‘easier’ options, whether artistically, commercially or in life as a whole, but we must do otherwise. Yes, says Ebert, there are people who appreciate this spirit. Who applaud it.
Here’s why, in 7ish highlights.
‘This is … a letter to a man whose … vision … challenges us to ask … questions not only about films but about lives … their lives…’
Our personal vision. We notice, we feel, we create.
‘I believe you have never made a film depending on … formulas…’
‘…and you want every film to be absolutely original.’
We might not even follow our own, er, formulas.
‘Without ever … having a dependable source of financing, without the attention of the … oligarchies that decide what may be filmed and shown, you have directed at least 55 films or television productions … because you have depended on your imagination instead of budgets, stars or publicity campaigns.’
Although we’re not financially naïve, we’ll do what we do regardless of whether it is commercial.
‘You have had the visions and made the films and trusted people to find them, and they have. It is safe to say you are as admired and venerated as any filmmaker alive…’
Independence leads to artistic identity, a distinctive style, and respect for our integrity.
…‘among those who have heard of you, of course…’
I admit that Herzog’s obscurity problem is not on the scale of, say, the obscurity problems that most of us have. But if we’re talking about scale, it seems Ebert regards Herzog as a tad obscure.
‘Those who do not know your work, and the work of your comrades in the independent film world, are missing experiences that might shake and inspire them.’
Making us feel a bit better about that obscurity thing.
‘You often say … the media pound the same paltry ideas into our heads … and that we need to see around the edges or over the top. When you open Encounters at the End of the World by following a marine biologist under the ice floes of the South Pole, and listening to the alien sounds of the creatures who thrive there, you show me a place on my planet I did not know about, and I am richer. You are the most curious of men. You are like the storytellers of old, returning from far lands with spellbinding tales… the world as we dream it… the deeper truth.’
That’s why we make what we make, and we take such care.
1 Be curious.
3 Don’t be afraid to develop.
4 Be independent in the most important way, with your questing, communicative spirit.
5 Find your audience gradually and genuinely, with the distinctive character of what you do.
And back to Ebert… finale
‘You and your work are unique and invaluable…. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. You have proven it.’
Go forth and be audacious.
PS Watch the film and look for the little penguin.
PPS If you’re curious to know what this little penguin is doing with all her creative time, here’s my latest newsletter