James Cameron was once quoted giving advice to people who seek a career in the movies. "I think the most important thing if you're an aspiring filmmaker is to get rid of the 'aspiring,'" he said. "You shoot it, you put your name on it, you're a filmmaker. Everything after that, you're just negotiating your budget."
That's easier said than done, especially if "Titanic" and "Avatar" aren't on your resume. Every year, I listen to acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards with the same bemusement I feel hearing tales of million-dollar lottery winners. How many filmmakers, aspiring or not, spend their evenings hunched over a computer in a threadbare apartment, editing their last homemade production and wondering how their meandering path will ever lead to DreamWorks?
Freak tales of beginner's luck aside, trying to break into the movie business can be a frustrating grind. Chris Armstrong knows that. The Huntington Beach resident, who's been unemployed since October, has seen numerous people give up during his seven years on the outskirts of the industry. But Armstrong recently produced, co-wrote and acted in a short film that's being released as part of an national project, and he's hoping — not for the first time — that his career will get the jumpstart it needs.
Armstrong and his friend, director and co-writer Marc Jonathan de Jesus, submitted a winning entry to the Story Beyond the Still, a competition put on by the video-sharing website Vimeo. The contest began when Vimeo — backed by a panel of Hollywood heavy hitters, including "Star Wars" producer Rick McCallum — displayed a still photo on its website and invited filmmakers to send in a two- to four-minute film that began with that image and ended with another still shot.
After the judges selected five finalists, Vimeo posted the films on its website and invited the public to vote on the best one. The winner officially became "Chapter 1" of the film, and the contestants for Chapter 2 had to begin their film with the still shot that closed the previous episode. By the time Armstrong and de Jesus heard about the project, it was almost time to submit entries for Chapter 6 – and after a quick post on Craigslist to find actors, they filmed and edited their piece in a matter of days.
So what's the story through Chapter 6? I'll refrain from summarizing, because, after going through six different sets of writers, actors and directors, it's a shaggy dog tale if there ever was one. (Just go to vimeo.com/groups/beyondthestill and enjoy.) The important thing is, Armstrong and de Jesus won for their installment, and when the entire film is complete, their work will get an audience of some kind — whether it's at film festivals, online, in an Academy screening room or wherever else fate dictates.
In garnering votes for their chapter, the duo got support from an unlikely source: the team behind the website of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, for which de Jesus has contributed articles. Over the weekend, the filmmakers hosted a press junket in hopes of getting financial backing for future projects. It's a grind, but Armstrong, who recently turned 40, is philosophical about it.
"What I've learned in this industry is that if you hang in there long enough, your day will come," he said.
City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.