She Wants to Make Thought-Provoking Movies

Are the days of thought-provoking movies over? Or is now the time for the kind of movies that make you think?

Come along for the debate as author Neal A. Yeager reads from the novel non-Hollywood a section of chapters devoted to a young independent filmmaker who is grappling with this issue.

She wants to make thought-provoking movies, but will she be allowed to?

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Social Commentary in Documentary Film

Chapter 38: Social Commentary in Documentary Film

A lecture hall was about the last place that Icon wanted to be right at the moment. The course was called Social Commentary in Documentary Film, which for a film fan and aspiring director such as herself should have been a really interesting and exciting class. The only problem was that the professor who taught the class was easily one of the most boring people Icon had ever heard speak. During most of his lectures she found that she had to resist the powerful urge to put on her headphones and listen to The Dolphin Mantra. That would have been rude. But damn this guy was boring.

Of course even if the professor had been less dull and would have been able to make the class as exciting as it should have been, on this particular day Icon probably would have been too distracted to focus anyway. She had made the deal to buy the 16mm film package from the Hollywood cinematographer. This afternoon she would go withdraw the money from the bank and the cinematographer and his assistant would bring all of the film gear to her apartment. She was soon to be the proud owner of a whole lot of professional film equipment.

Icon popped an antacid then put two fingers up to her neck and felt her pulse. It was racing. She placed her hand to her forehead. It was burning up. She knew from past experience that she had to think of something else or she would be facing a full-on panic attack within the next 10 minutes.

She turned her attention to the droning professor. Her hope was that his monotone litany would act as some sort of calming agent. After all, he did manage to put several students to sleep each class. But in this instance it didn’t help her. Instead, her thoughts merely turned toward the frustration of knowing that she had paid for this — paid to be bored out of her skull.

So that hadn’t worked.

As her attention started to drift to this afternoon’s upcoming deal she forced herself to instead think of the project which she intended to shoot with this equipment.

She had written a script which she described as ‘an exploration of the different levels of belief.’ Though she was not herself a religious person, she had always been fascinated by those who were. It seemed to her that when looking at belief — whether religious belief or any other — there were basically three different levels.

At the top were the zealots, those for whom their beliefs were everything. Their actions were completely dictated by those beliefs. Zealots refused the possibility that they were wrong and they were willing to do whatever they felt was necessary for that belief.

The second level contained your Churchgoers, those people who believed and felt that their beliefs were an important part of their lives and an important part of who they were, but who also realized that the beliefs were simply a part of their lives and not the be-all-end-all.

The third level would be the Non-practicing, those who when asked would profess a belief but aside from that the belief played very little role in their lives.

And the interesting thing about this theory of three levels was that it applied to pretty much anything that anyone would believe in — even non-belief. For instance, among those who were not religious there were the so-called rabid atheists for whom debunking religion seemed to be their main goal in life; then there were the humanist sorts, who felt that recognizing their lack of belief was important and an important moral guiding force, but it was not the only focus of their lives; then you had the non-believers, for whom thoughts of religion one way or another, really had little to do with their lives.

The script that Icon had written contained six characters, each representing one of the three levels of religious belief or disbelief. The conflict of the story was that one of the characters was teetering on indecision as to which side and at which level he belonged.

Hmmm… Now that she thought about it, maybe it wasn’t the most exciting idea for a film plot.

She looked up at the professor who had disappointed her. Actually the main reason that she was taking Social Commentary in Documentary Film was that it was a prerequisite to the course Social Commentary in Narrative Film. That was the class which she had hoped would help her shape the script she had been working on. But after seeing how dull this professor was and knowing that he also taught the class on narrative film, Icon had gone ahead and finished the script without the class.

She was on her own on this one. And as she thought of that and of this huge monetary commitment that she was about to make, she began to hyperventilate.

So, in the middle of the lecture — her heart racing, her breathing quick, her forehead burning — Icon stood up and dashed out of the room.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 47 ]

Socially conscious movies and why to make them

Film can be a powerful medium. And some would argue that when that powerful medium is focused on something socially conscious, then maybe, just maybe some change can happen.

And our independent filmmaker, Icon, is a young woman who wants to make that sort of change through those sorts of socially conscious films. That's why she has enrolled in the college course Social Commentary in Documentary Film. It is not so much her desire to get into documentary filmmaking as it is her desire to delve into intelligent creative works. So that she may make her own.

And it is her hope that this course studying thought-provoking documentary films will help her in her struggle to create a thought-provoking narrative film (a good theory, if only the professor hadn't turned out to be such a boring public speaker).

After all, it is in documentaries where the smarter concepts are often found. It is in documentaries where filmmakers will pick often pick a heady topic and then dig as deeply into it as they can possibly dig. Narrative films are often more about entertainment. But every now and then a narrative film is allowed to dive into those really deep questions.

And that is the sort of film that she wants to make: narrative, socially-conscious, thought-provoking, and if at all possible intellectual films. It's quite a challenge. And a goal that runs through her head as she sits through the course in the college lecture hall.

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Screenplay Too Smart

Chapter 47: Screenplay Too Smart

So Icon had spent half of her college fund on the equipment to make a movie. Soon she would spend the other half on the film stock it would take to make it happen. She really was going to be a filmmaker.

A filmmaker.


Icon sat and stared at all of the equipment which filled up a large chunk of their small living room. There were big, rugged, expensive-looking cases for the cameras and lenses and such. There was a set of a dozen different lights on sturdy, professional stands. There were several C-stands and on and on — a virtual treasure-trove of filming equipment. And it was all hers.

All she had to do now was to tell her dad about it and hope that he wouldn’t murder her.

She had been obsessed with photography since she was 12 and had received the French 16mm film camera for her 16th birthday two years ago. She felt that she had a pretty good handle on how she wanted to shoot her film and what she wanted it to end up looking like. And she had a script, a script which she had put together, writing on and off over the last six months. So she had the creative part of it covered.

But the actual “making a movie” part of making a movie… Well that she wasn’t so sure about. She usually worked by herself or with Jasmine and occasionally Seth, both of whom she had known for a long time. But actually doing a real film? Working with a crew? Directing a full cast of actors? Sorting out all of the details? She wasn’t quite sure about all of that. The process wasn’t exactly intuitive. Not like baby mammals just instinctively know how to nurse or geeks just instinctively know how to find plot holes in Star Trek episodes.

Yet she knew that this was something that she had to do. She felt it inside, this strange grinding pressure inside that told her that she had to do this. She had to or her insides would just explode. There was that much pressure from herself on herself. She was the kind of person who had a continuous acid feeling in her stomach — she had been chain-chewing antacids for as long as she could remember— and she knew that she had to keep moving or she would explode.

Icon slipped her headphones on and started playing the chill music of The Dolphin Mantra. She then closed her eyes… yet her hands curled into fists. Tense, tightly clenched fists. And she sat there, eyes closed tightly, fists clenched tightly. She sat there and tried to get her mind to slow enough to think of the first step she should take now that she had all of this equipment.

Jasmine bounded into the room and said, “Wow! Just look at all this stuff. It looks ridiculously professional in here.”

Jasmine had just returned from the gym and was, in fact, still wearing her workout apparel. She was always wound up after returning from the gym. It would take at least an hour for her to come down.

Icon opened her eyes. Jasmine had broken her concentration, which in this instance was probably a good thing as it would prevent Icon from grinding her teeth and furrowing her brow to the point of headache. Icon said, “Hey Jazz. Good workout?”

“Pretty good. Wish I’d done more cardio so I could have some ice cream right about now.”

Icon was about to say, “just have some ice cream,” but she knew better. One of the costs of life as an actor is that you are continually watching what you eat. Competition in the acting world was fierce and two pounds of body fat could maybe make the difference between getting the role that would make you a giant star and spending the next 40 years waiting tables.

“How much cardio did you do?” Icon asked.

“I did 45 on the ellipse and 30 on the bike. I should have done the stairs too but I wanted to get back so I could get some sleep before this audition tomorrow… What are you up to?” Jasmine asked.

“Oh, I’m just trying to think through how to go about making this movie.”

“The Bible movie?”

Icon sighed, “It’s not a Bible movie…”


“…It’s an exploration of the different levels of belief.”

“Sorry,” said Jasmine again. Then they sat in silence for a moment. Jasmine picked up the remote and was about to turn on the television, but first she asked, “So this short film we’ve been working on, is it done?”

“Almost,” said Icon, “Then we can move on to this next one. A feature.”

“Cool,” said Jasmine as she turned on the TV.

Icon fidgeted nervously and said, “You never did tell me what you thought of the script.”

Icon paused, trying to read Jasmine’s face. Icon continued, “Which I assume means that you didn’t like it.”

“It’s not that,” said Jasmine, “It’s… It’s good at what you’re trying to do. The ‘exploration of Faith’ thing, I think you’ve got that. It’s very, you know, ‘smart’ and all that. So I think that’s good.”


Jasmine seemed to gather her thoughts for a moment. “People don’t want smart,” she said, “Well, actually that’s not true. They want smart, they just don’t want too smart. Yours is, well, it’s kind of esoteric, you know?”

Icon blinked. Had Jasmine really just used the word ‘esoteric?’

Jasmine continued, “If it was me, I think I’d wait a bit. Do another pass at the script. See where I could put some more commercial stuff into it.”


“That’s not what I mean. I mean more things that people would want to watch.”

Icon cringed. “Oh, that,” she said.

“Oh Jeez, I didn’t mean that either. I mean, I understand that it’s an indie film and that it can be arty and stuff — and it should be arty and stuff — but between all the intellectual talking and all that, you need things that will pull people in.”

“You mean like sex in the motel room scene?” asked Icon.

“Well… yeah. Or somebody beating the crap out of somebody or somebody getting shot or jumping off a cliff or… just something other than talking.”

Icon shrugged and said, “Yeah, but that’s not the kind of film I’m making.”

Jasmine nodded and said, “Okay. Then I won’t say anything else. I’ll just be supportive. That’s me: Miss Supportive USA.”

Icon looked at her and asked, “And you’ll still be in it, right?”

“Of course! Of course I will! Plus, my acting coach says ‘never say ‘no’ to anything except porn.’”

Icon replied, “I don’t know about that. Actually I hear that porn pays a lot better than indie films.”

Jasmine sighed. “I’d love to be in your film, Icon.”

“Even if it’s esoteric?”

“Even if it’s esoteric.”

Jasmine turned the TV back off again, “So you’ve got me and you’ve got Seth. The rest of the parts you’ll need to cast, right?”

Icon nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“All righty. Then I guess you should get on writing some casting notices.”

“Guess I should. I’m not exactly sure how to go about that, but, yeah, I do need to do that.”

Jasmine smiled and said, “I’ll help. I’ve read enough of the damned things to know how they should be written.”

“Great. Thanks Jazz.”

“You’re welcome. And now that we’ve got the business stuff taken care of you’re gonna tell me what’s up with you and this musician who keeps coming over.”

“What do you mean?”

Jasmine teasingly mimicked her, “What do you mean? You know what I mean.”

“He’s… he’s nice.”

“He’s got a cute butt,” said Jasmine.

“Stop it.”

“But I would’ve pictured you with some nerdy, smart guy. This guy doesn’t strike me as either of those.”

“He’s nice.”

“Okay,” said Jasmine, “He’s nice. Anything else?”

Icon said nothing. But she did begin to blush.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 51 ]

Thought-provoking movies face resistance

Is it possible to make a movie that is too smart?


Which is unfortunate for Icon as she struggles with putting together the script for her first film. Already a bit uncertain at breaking this new ground all on her own she now faces criticism from her best friend. Is her friend's criticism valid? Is it possible for a thought-provoking movie to go too far?

These are the types of questions Icon will need to work out for herself as she works her way through more drafts of her first screenplay. She has studied lots of films, from big-budget blockbusters to small, intimate smart films. And she's come to the conclusion that it is the smart films that she wants to create.

But at the same time, film is meant as entertainment. And even the heaviest of intelligent movies are expected to have some entertainment value. So where is the line? Is simply tossing a little sex into the mix (as suggested by her roommate) a good solution, or at least a good enough solution. Or is something more required to make a smart movie work?

Hopefully, we'll find out soon enough.

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Filming the Desert Scene

Chapter 51: Filming the Desert Scene

The sun had yet to set, so it was still hot out in the desert as Icon stepped out of Jasmine’s car. She was at a camp site at Joshua Tree National Park where the budding cinematographer planned to shoot some film footage. The camp site was surrounded by giant boulders which radiated the heat which the stone had been absorbing all day in the sun.

Jasmine turned off the music — Icon had found that a group called Casual Rebels had done a rock cover of the Dolphin Mantra song My Ocean, My Sea and so Icon and Jasmine had been jamming to Casual Rebels for most of the trip — then Jasmine killed the ignition of the car and opened the door.

Jasmine said, “Wow! Is it hot here! We’re only a few hours from L.A., why is it so hot?”

Icon shrugged, “No ocean? Maybe?”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep if it’s this hot.”

“Well, Jazz, it is the desert, so it’s hot in the day but it really cools off at night.”

“I hope so,” said Jasmine as she stretched out from the long drive, “Or I just might collapse. You’re gonna have to call my mom and tell her I melted to this rock. They’ll have to scrape me off for the funeral.”

“I think you’ll be fine,“said Icon as she handed Jasmine a little slip of paper, “Here’s the tag thing.”

Jasmine asked, “What did they say we’re supposed to do with this?”

“We put it on that little post over there so that people know that this is our spot.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Don’t want people trying to take our spot. Unless it’s a couple of sexy rock climbers and then maybe we can share. Maybe.”

Icon smiled and opened the door to the back seat. The back seat contained not only their tent and cooler but also a fair amount of her film and video equipment. She had brought along her new Arriflex film camera and was extremely eager to try it out. But she had also brought along her digital equipment. She’d never done a shoot like this — a time lapse of the night sky — so she was eager to shoot in both analog and digital formats so as to see what she could come up with for each.

The landscape at Joshua Tree was perfect for this type of shoot, as many photographers, cinematographers and videographers before her had already discovered. Their drive from the park entrance to the camp site had offered fantastic views of a sweeping desert, punctuated by the unique sprouting forms of the joshua trees after which the park was named, along with the occasional boulder so gigantic it looked as though it must have been dropped there by the gods. In short, it was a cinematically beautiful location and Icon looked forward to shooting here.

And it was great to feel such positive feelings. She hadn’t felt many positive feelings since telling her father about the purchase of the film equipment. As expected, her father’s wife had checked up on Icon’s account and as expected, once he had been told about the gigantic withdrawal and once Icon had explained to him what said withdrawal was used to purchase, he had, as Icon’s mother had put it: “freaked out.”

Among other things, her father had threatened to remove the rest of the money from her college fund account. She had quietly reminded him that he couldn’t do that as his name was not on the account. She was actually surprised at herself that she had mustered the courage to say something like that to him. After she had said that, her father had hung up on her and had not spoken to her since.

She was relatively sure that the two of them would eventually work this out, but for the moment things were tense. So the beauty and serenity of the desert was most welcome indeed. It was comforting to look around at the desert scenery. It was exhilarating to think of how she would shoot these beautiful surroundings at night.

Icon grabbed the large case containing the Arriflex camera. She was not a particularly strong young woman so it was a struggle for her to wrestle the big case out of the back seat and onto the picnic table. As Icon reached for the latch of the case, she heard Jasmine suddenly screaming.


Icon turned to see Jasmine sprinting toward her. Icon asked, “Jazz, what’s….”


“Jasmine, what the hell?”

Jasmine bounded past Icon, leapt into the front seat of the car and slammed the door closed behind her. All the while screaming hysterically, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

Icon looked back to the rocks from which Jasmine had run. Out of the corner of her eye Icon noticed movement among the tan rocks.

“Jazz. Is that a…”


Icon craned her neck to see if she could see anything near the rocks. She couldn’t be sure but it did seem to her that there was something moving away through the rocks and sand. She took a few steps in the direction of the rocks. She had lived her whole life in the city and had never seen a rattlesnake before. She was cautious but curious.

Jasmine, on the other hand, was still panicked and searching through her purse for her keys. She yelled out, “We’re leaving! Not staying here! We are leaving!

Icon spun back around as Jasmine started up the car and revved the engine. “Jazz,” she said, “It’s just a snake. It’ll be fine.”

JUST a snake?!” screeched Jasmine, “There’s no such thing as JUST a snake! And unless you want to walk home, you should get in this car. I mean it!”

Icon knew Jasmine well enough. She put the Arriflex back into the back seat and the two drove away from the camp site.


*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Icon.

[ or just skip ahead to Chapter 55 ]

Making intellectual movies

Snakes always interfere with the making of a great movie.

As Icon continues to ponder how she might get on with making her thought-provoking feature film, she continues the work on her short student film with a trip out to the desert and a film shoot with all of her new production equipment.

But she hadn't counted on the snake. And the snake makes all the difference.

When your leading lady (and more importantly, your ride to the location) insists on leaving due to snakes, then your goals of creating socially conscious movies just kind of fly out the window.

Blame it on the snakes.

Thought-provoking movies and films