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48 Hour Film Project
48 EcoFilm Challenge
Sharmill Films

One man band by the quick lunch stand

A friend who used to organise screenings for the film industry once told me that if she gave away free tickets the cinema would usually be only a quarter full. However, if she charged two dollars per ticket then a full house could virtually be guaranteed. Did the punters really value their two dollar outlay that much? Or was it more the different level of commitment from someone who had decided to buy a ticket rather than simply accept a freebie? I’ve often wondered about this tendency to undervalue things we haven’t had to pay for.

In one of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs she sings about someone not unlike herself, who, while stopped on the sidewalk, waiting for the lights to change, is transported by the sound of a busker playing his clarinet. She, who plays for fortunes and velvet curtain calls, has ‘a black limousine and two gentlemen’ to escort her to the halls, while this “one man band by the quick lunch stand” plays real good for free. Sadly, nobody stopped to hear him ‘though he played so sweet and high’. He’d never been on their T.V. so they passed his music by. The singer thinks of going over to him, ‘maybe put on a harmony’, but the signals change and she goes on her way, leaving the busker, seemingly unconcerned, playing real good for free.

A few years ago I was asked by a producer to help him develop a screen story. He didn’t have any backers but was a nice guy and didn’t want to exploit me so he offered me a thousand dollars to work with him for a limited period. The plan was to meet a couple of times per week, kick around some ideas for two or three hours and it would be up to me to tell him when the thousand dollar limit had been reached.

It was a very enjoyable experience. We would meet, have tea, fritter away some time discussing the movies we’d seen recently, and then do a little work on an idea which I felt had enormous potential. Eventually, the producer said that he felt sure it was time for him to write me the cheque and call a temporary halt to our work together. In my naïveté, I said I knew he didn’t have a lot of money, so told him not to worry about the cheque. I was enjoying the work and felt sure we were creating something quite special. It was a very friendly collaboration and I was happy to work ‘on spec’. I mean surely this wonderful idea would find a buyer and at that point we would both be rewarded for our efforts?

Many years later, I realise what a mistake I made. The money I passed up then would have been very handy and the producer had been more than happy to make the payment. Since then, nothing has happened with the project, which I still believe has great potential. The realisation I’ve come to is that by refusing his money, I wasn’t doing the producer any favours either. Had I allowed him to invest his thousand dollars in the project, he would have felt more of a commitment to it and I feel sure would have worked a lot harder to get it produced.

I often think of this lost project with great affection and feel that back in those days I was a little like the clarinet player in Joni Mitchell’s lovely song, For Free. I was quite happy just working and creating stories, but had I valued my own contribution a little more then perhaps a rather special tale might have made it to the screen for all to enjoy, rather than continuing to languish in a metaphorical bottom drawer alongside all of the other stories that might have been.

by Mike Fahrenheit