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Why We Make Movies by George Alexander

Why We Make Movies

Best Seller
Why We Make Movies by George Alexander
Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307419590

Available from:

  • Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307419590

    Available from:

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Author Q&A

The Story Behind
Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk about the Magic of Cinema
by George Alexander

Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk about the Magic of Cinema celebrates the artistic achievements of some of the most captivating minds in show business and the world. In the book, I have been honored with the enormous yet exciting responsibility of bringing the words, thoughts, lessons, journeys, triumphs, defeats, regrets, lamentations and advice of some of 33 of the most brilliant minds in the world of cinema and beyond. These masters like pioneers Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles and Spike Lee to documentarians like St. Clair Bourne and 2002 MacArthur Fellow Stanley Nelson to young Hollywood faces like John Singleton, Malcolm D. Lee and Gina Prince-Bythewood have provided us with a guide to the inner workings of the film business, the making of a movie, the willingness to standup for your beliefs and the presentation of the viable and critical stories and histories of African Americans and Blacks of the African diaspora.

Movies have always been a big part of my life. As a child growing up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1970’s, I went to the movies quite often and saw many of the great Disney masterpieces like “Lady and the Tramp,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “Herbie the Love Bug.” Movies for me were purely entertainment; the world of the business of movie-making was galaxies away from my pleasant small town reality. I never dreamt of working on movies, and little did I know that the most exciting experience of my professional life would be a collection of interviews with Black filmmakers. I don’t think I even knew Black filmmakers existed.

I just didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved animals and had beaucoup pets: hamsters, dogs, a parakeet, a rabbit, fish, turtles, you name it, I had it. And I loved movies featuring creatures like “King Kong,” “Jaws,” “Benji,” “Lassie,” and B movie fare with mammals and amphibians cast like “The Frogs” or “Food of the Gods.” My folks thought that veterinary medicine might be my thing but I hated biology and would never have gotten through that.

Off to college I landed in the business department at Morehouse College, loved it, majored in accounting and later earned my MBA at Columbia with dreams of a sexy and lucrative career in finance. But the world of finance was just not my thing. I was bored! Deep down I had creative urgings, which I knew, if I did not act upon would cause me to ultimately implode or jump off a building. My jumping was never a real option, however, pushing my boss off a ledge to ease my woes started to seem like a real, albeit sick alternative until I walked in a screenwriting class at the New School in Manhattan. It was as if I had found a lost friend who too had been looking for me across the globe. From the moment I sat in that class and soaked in a lecture on moving images, drama and conflict, on character and plot, I was hooked. That was it. I knew in an instant that my corporate life was headed to the morgue as quick as Fredo in “The Godfather”; it would be just a matter of time. And of course money. One learns quickly that one must still eat even if one is a starving artist.

So I remained a banker for a few more years, even got promoted to vice president, but all along I thought, “Movies, movies, movies. I have to make movies.” In my filmmaking quest, I took continuing education film classes in film production at School of Visual Arts in New York and at New York University, eventually directing a couple of short films. I later continued my screenwriting studies at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in New York.

And I wrote and wrote and wrote on a feature-length screenplay and I saved and saved and saved with the hopes of breaking the daunting and mountainous challenges of the Hollywood speculative script sales market.

I finally got the courage to take the leap of faith and quit banking to pursue my Hollywood dreams. Eventually, I would get a place in Los Angeles and hit the ground running. But as anyone who has ever tried to sell speculative scripts in Tinseltown can tell you, it’s one of the most incredibly difficult things one will encounter in one’s working life.

At the advice of a Hollywood studio executive who had passed on one of my scripts, I sought other ways to express myself and to earn a living as I continued to navigate the shark infested yet tantalizingly attractive waters of the film business. I would pursue work as a journalist.

One of my first gigs as a freelance journalist was an assignment for in which I had an opportunity to interview director and actor Forest Whitaker. I was mesmerized by Whitaker’s creative journey, his passion for the craft of storytelling, his command of cinematic language and the intensity with which he spoke of his art. I later interviewed director Kasi Lemmons who also demonstrated an absolute love of filmmaking, writing, character and bringing magic to the big screen.

As I heard Whitaker and Lemmons poetically and energetically give testimonies of their filmmaking dreams and realities, I knew right away there existed a book, a collection of interviews with Black filmmakers, that I was to write. Just listening to Whitaker and Lemmons was like sitting in my own little classroom with the erudite head master and I knew others would enjoy the same experience. So I thought, “Why just write articles, if I can write a book? That just seemed like a logical step for me. Set your goal high, reach for it. I said to myself, “Well, if no one’s biting on my screenplays then doggone it, I’ll write myself a book.”

As I met with the filmmakers featured in Why We Make Movies over the course of a year and half, I learned that several of them love the directors Kurosawa, Fellini and Charles Burnett, that many of them studied at film schools while many did not, that some like Gina Prince-Bythewood, started writing stories as a child, four hold Ivy League degrees, a couple wanted to become doctors at one point, a few pursued other disciplines like engineering, government and law before deciding to cast their net in the film business, some have Oscar nominations and some have won Emmys, that most view movies as being far more than just entertainment to be enjoyed with a box of popcorn, that they are a courageous group with an intensity about their work to rival that of any brain surgeon, that they are smart and funny and polite and more committed to their craft than to celebrity or fame. Understanding that film is a business first and not just an art form, is an explanation for the success of most the filmmakers in the book. Some like Melvin Van Peebles will serve you warm apple pie when you visit, some live in mansions in the hills of Bel Air, some in modest apartments, some enjoy cocktails at trendy spots on Sunset, some prefer to meet for lunch at the Four Seasons, while others will settle for Starbucks in Westwood, some like the aroma of burning incense in their office, some don’t mind being called at home or on their cell phone, while others require the link of a publicist or assistant before each and every interaction. But when it’s all said and done, there is one thing that connects each of these extraordinary individuals: they all have a deep passion for and belief in movies and have sacrificed greatly to make their cinematic dreams come true.

But while Why We Make Movies is a book about bringing stories, human stories to the screen, the creative influences of the filmmakers and how they source their muse, I suggest that the book’s relevance extends far beyond the boundaries of the movie theater. These inspirational stories of the subjects serve as a chronicle of Black achievement and success in America against the odds; it’s about our history, our stick-to-it-ness, our willingness to say that our culture does matter even in the face of harsh opposition. It’s about believing in our contributions to civilization, to humanity, it’s about self-determination and preservation, it’s about leaving a legacy behind of a most glorious people using the most powerful medium in the universe.

Not a journal of bitterness or anger—though it would be hard to assemble 33 filmmakers of any ethnic group and not find bitterness and anger in the ranks—I contend that the filmmakers in Why We Make Movies possess the rarest form empowerment necessary to overcome obstacles of any sort. They are indeed self-confident thoroughbreds.

After reading Why We Make Movies, it is my hope that readers come away with not only a greater understanding of the power and influence of cinema and the featured film-makers, but also a broader, more open-minded, universal view of the world in which we live.

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