I saw Catfish last weekend, and I was thoroughly entertained. It has a compelling story; I was never bored. I cared about the characters -- even though they were real and not played by a celebrity. I had a great time for 90 minutes.
The whole time I was watching it, I couldn't help comparing it to American Bear. Of course, our film is still 90 hours long -- we're working with a team of editors to funnel it down, a few days of footage at a time. But I know what's in that footage -- it's full of rich and beautiful landscapes, people, and ideas. Most of the shots in Catfish seem unintentional, poorly framed, happenstance -- and it works! Imagine what our no-name documentary could do!
Sarah and I are both in a class focusing on distribution strategies. We are reminded again and again that films need to define their audience, and in most cases, connections make a huge difference. We're not connected; the executive producer on Catfish is Brett Ratner (director of the Rush Hour movies). As for defining our audience, we have often thought that our film should appeal to all audiences -- we have all kinds of people in our film, any demographic of age, race, gender, we've got it covered, and with the scope and nature of our film, we really strive to speak about America, if not humanity, as a whole. But no film is marketed to every audience -- as our professor said tonight, "Hope is not a strategy" -- we can't just hope that everyone will want to see it. And how we put together the film depends on our ideal audience: do we focus on the benevolent Christians, or the profane young people we stayed with? Can we have them both in it? Aren't we supposed to present a full exploration of the country?
Our professor told us about a film that played at Sundance last year and has yet to get picked up by a distribution company. It has great moments, and fairly famous stars -- but it's tone is redemptive and spiritual while also full of curse words, making it unappealing to both possible audiences. Of course, many films are misrepresented in their marketing, and Catfish is getting some negative word-of-mouth because its trailer is very misleading: it looks like a horror film, but in actuality, the trailer is the scariest thing associated with it. Fortunately, their movie is still good enough that people get over their initial disillusionment and enjoy.
My main criticism of Catfish is its scope: it's about three guys, their direct story, and the movie they're making. It's compelling, but it never uses its rich themes and hot-button topics -- Facebook relationships, the value of meeting people face-to-face, trust and curiosity. As is, the film doesn't stick with me. It didn't get me thinking about my own experiences, it doesn't expand my understanding of the topics. It was just a nice way to spend an hour and a half.
Wherever we take American Bear as it becomes more and more focused into a concise film, we know it will have a larger scope. Our film is just as much about our personal journey as it is about trust and fear in the country -- and it's often just as much about our journey as it is about the people we meet. We made a list of themes for our editors -- and it's in double digits. Likewise, our "mission statement" is a full paragraph. When we start seeing pieces fitting together, different scenes/people/days put into conversation with one another, we'll focus our aim. But it will always be an adventure through American culture -- and if we befriend Brett Ratner, we might just be the next (but bigger, better, and bearer) Catfish.