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Craveable - The Culture Craver Blog

Friday 20th of January 2012

Culture Craver’s co-founder, Julia Levy, is starting a blog to (hopefully) gain and share insight on two topics:

 1.     What cultural events are people craving?

 2.     More broadly, how is desire shaped in the cultural sphere? In other words, what lures people to cultural events? How are tactics and strategies from other industries employed (or not employed) in arts and entertainment?

Rather than trying to paraphrase or draw conclusions, Julia has decided that the best format for the blog — at least for now — is simple Q&A. This way, people with interesting perspectives on the two core subjects of this investigation can talk directly and in their own words to readers.

For the debut, Julia chatted with Madeleine Sackler at a coffee shop on the Upper West Side. Madeleine is not only an active Culture Craver beta tester; she is also an up-and-coming filmmaker who created The Lottery in 2010. She is the co-director and co-producer of the upcoming film “Duke ’91 & ’92.” Another of Madeleine’s upcoming films, “Unstable Elements,” about the Belarus Free Theater Group, also promises to be amazing.

Julia: Assume that you were not swamped in work, what would you want to see right now?

Madeleine: I think that this summer I had a little bit of a break for five minutes, and I think the first thing that I did was just go see everything that was playing at Lincoln Plaza. I had been wanting to see “Tree of Life” ever since I first heard about it, so luckily it was playing then...I wish there were more theaters showing things like that.

Julia: Did it live up to expectations?

Madeleine: Yeah, definitely.

Julia: Do you have a pithy comment on it?

Madeleine: You’re not going to see anything else like it, and that’s a good thing. I think it’s rare in the movie business to be able to make something that’s not like anything else…There are a few film makers who are known for doing that, and you can almost know that you’ll see something different if you go to see one of their movies: David Lynch and Cronenberg, and there’s really just a handful I think of people making films like that. If I’m going to spend money to go see something in the theater, I want

to see that or, total — candy’s not the right word, but just have a total break from reality. So a big budget action film, I love seeing those in theaters because you get the whole experience.

Madeleine: I saw the “Terminator” movies when they were coming out. “Avatar” and “Batman” are good examples — just films where they’re meant to be seen on large format.

Julia: Do you rush to see 3D?

Madeleine: I really want to see “Hugo.” Scorsese is another director I put on that list. He might be my favorite filmmaker.

Julia: So, when you’re going about making a movie yourself, are you thinking about creating things that other people will want to see, and how do you approach that?

Madeleine: That’s actually a hard question to answer. I’d say everybody walks their own line in the business between making things that are really near and dear to their heart, and making things where you can make a living. I feel like I’ve been really lucky because the projects I’ve been on overlap between those two things. But at the same time, I’m not that tied to issue-based filmmaking. I’m making this basketball film now, and absolutely adore it. I love this project, and I guess that was a good lesson for me. You don’t have to be trying to save the world all the time. It’s good to have a mix. So that’s kind of where I’m landing, although I’m sure it will change over time.

Madeleine: Most people who are making films want people to see them, so that’s part of the creative challenge for me. How do you take an issue or a small story and turn it into a big story or a big issue that’s exciting and fun, or heart warming. And it kind of doesn’t matter where on that spectrum between fun and funny or exciting and then heartwarming and touching and exhausting — it doesn’t matter to me, really, where it falls, as long as there’s a really good story. And I think it depends on the story what techniques you use to try to draw out those things that really attract people to it.Julia: Basketball is something that a lot of people obviously care very deeply about. I don’t, but other people do. Something about the subject matter attracted you, but then within the actual project, are there strategies you use to end up with an end product where people say, “That’s the movie I want to see this month or this year”?

Julia: Is this an age-old thing, or do you think there are new strategies now that weren’t available in the beginning?

Madeleine: Funny is funny, you know? There are obviously styles that change…The biggest change, I think is just the ease of film making. Anybody can pick up an iPhone and it looks quite good.

Julia: The new one, especially!

Madeleine: You can blow it up; it really looks good. In some ways, lowering the bar in terms of obstacles in making films makes it hard because there are so many people doing it. But people know when something touches them. That’s a real thing, I think. At the end of the day, that seems to be what matters…To me, the most important things and the biggest creative challenge for documentaries, is making characters and having a real narrative: having a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Julia: Like middle school English?

Madeleine: Yeah, kind of, but that’s hard in documentaries a lot of the time. It’s the same challenge as with a narrative film in that sense. Another challenge is just creating characters that people relate to and care about. That’s probably the thing we spend the most time talking about.

Julia: Are there any “bad actors” in this space? Anybody who is manipulating people into going to their bad movies?

Madeleine: So, bad-acting filmmakers and not bad actors?

Julia: Yes!

Madeleine: Because I’m sure everybody has opinions about bad actors.

Julia: Right. I have plenty of opinions.

Madeleine: Something I’ve been talking about a lot recently is journalistic rigor in documentary filmmaking. I think there’s no requirement for fact checking. It seems to me that the big risk in not telling the truth in a film is that the press will catch wind of it — that seems to be the disincentive, which is too bad, because people watch these films, and assume the film maker has done due diligence. I would say I’ve seen some films where I really wonder if it’s just like an agenda and if they haven’t really crunched the numbers…It’s hard for the average viewer — or maybe any viewer — to distinguish between them. I think that’s the worst thing you can do, because it’s kind of a lot of power that you have. You’re shaping a story and a narrative in a certain direction that will lead people to make conclusions, real conclusions in their brain, and not just narrative conclusions about the way the world works and what’s real and what’s not real. For me, that’s a really important thing.

Julia: So if somebody watches it, it’s an hour, or an hour and a half, and that’s a lot longer than you’d spend reading a newspaper article.

Madeleine: Exactly.