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On Collective Energy

Written by: Mariah Eppes

Collaboration is a great strength—and sometimes a great challenge—in filmmaking. When I studied video production in college, the logistics of getting all the people you needed in the same. place at the same time was a constant stressor. And that was before we even started making the film. I quickly learned that a scheduled 2-hour shoot would probably be more like 4 (at least!).

I lacked the technical precision and patience that made my filmmaker friends so brilliant. Since it was writing all along that had drawn me to film, I turned my attention to words. This choice of a prose form didn't give me as many opportunities to “collaborate.”

But “collective” evokes something different than collaboration. While collaborators combine their skills and experience toward the creation of a single project, a collective has a looser or more ambiguous commitment—but a commitment nonetheless. Participants in a collective might be exploring a similar set of ideals, or simply a feeling of connectedness that goes beyond the limits of a discrete project. No matter what you’re doing, when you work among a collective, it feels like your efforts take on a more inherent value.

Collectivity might help answer the existential doom and gloom questions that come when you're trying to make something. The doom-question in my head most often is What is this for? I’m usually not satisfied with the purpose of my art being the enlightenment of myself. What’s the point of learning all this stuff if I can’t share it with anyone?

The desire to be accepted by an industry makes perfect sense with this in mind. Artists generally do want their work to be seen. The original purpose of the industry was distribution; that’s still what it promises. Sharing is the last component of the creative process, but it’s also the part that seems to be locked behind a door with no key.

Art industries in every form have created a seemingly impenetrable apparatus of qualifications, validations, and rewards. Competition and scarcity is the natural result of this machinery. My win is your loss. We are all fighting for the same small piece of an already insufficient pie. The dominant form of connection with peers is within forums for criticism (“workshop” style for fiction writers, which can be a limited kind of engagement). The frustrations and disappointments of being excluded are felt in a deeply personal way. We retreat from these experiences, tend our wounds, and then jump back into the fray again.

A collective could turn this cycle on its head. Our wins can be wins across the board. There is no slice of the pie to earn, and in fact, no pie really exists. Collaboration (rather than competition) is one result of collective energy. That energy is why people want to work together, even when it’s logistically difficult. We know that we need each other, and needing each other feels good.

Film is a perfect medium for this, since so many skillsets are required to make a movie. It’s interesting that the medium with the most collaborative potential also has the most vicious gatekeepers. There’s probably a lesson in that.

But even for those whose work doesn’t lend itself to tangible collaborations, the sense of many—of working together on a psychic level—provides stability and encouragement. You no longer need permission to exist.

Working alongside the industries can also be made tolerable with a more nourishing foundation to ground us. And we’re going to need this nourishment. Art industries are becoming increasingly inaccessible through the consolidation of media companies, the ballooning price tags of getting-a-foot-in-the-door, and other decisions made by people who aren’t invested in the art part. Pockets of collective energy are, and will be, vital.

I think all artists can find more than just purpose in a collective vision. They can also find peace. When I think about participating in art with real people (even if my actual project is done alone), the weight of barriers almost instantly disintegrates. The feeling of inadequacy, of needing some legitimizing stamp of approval, is simply gone.

The immediacy of that free feeling is a good reminder: A loose band of creative people having conversations with each other is much stronger than an institution that pretends it can grant access to making things. The pressure of validation from an industry is actually in service of a more unrealistic dream than the vision of collective purpose; so often dismissed as idealistic.

In short: we already have everything we need.

Submitted & Written By: Mariah Eppes
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