A letter from
writer/director, nick sanford
Movies are important.
Jumanji was one of my first. In a theatre, at least. We almost left because the first fifteen or so minutes really freaked me out. I didn’t wake up that morning expecting to see a kid to get sucked into a chimney. Very few people do. But really, if you don’t remember, go back and watch the opening sequence – pay particular attention to the kid getting sucked into a chimney – and then imagine watching that AS A SIX YEAR OLD. That was weird for my brain and we almost left, but I decided to stick it out, and I’m glad I did.
That’s the power of film – a string of images actually convinced a small child another person got supernaturally sucked into a chimney and away to some wacky fifth-dimensional jungle realm. And that was only the beginning. Later there’d be a stampede of elephants and rhinos in a town square, a flood inside a house, monkeys with shotguns, cops surfing on doors - all culminating in Robin Williams learning to “be a man” which winds up bringing him closer to his father. He finds a sort of catharsis even I, as a six year old goober, could recognize on a primal, emotional level.
In the subsequent months, even years, my friends and I would “reenact” the film Jumanji on the school playground. My parents helped me put together a homemade version of the board game, and we’d play it together. I’d watch it with my cousins at my grandparents’ house. It bonded us. Brought us closer together.
That’s why movies are important.
One of the greatest joys I can imagine is sitting in a theatre with friends or family, surrounded by about 400 strangers, and then a story unfolds on screen. The movie, itself, isn’t the most important part of the experience.
I mean, sure, films do things like "reflect our dreams" and "take us to new places,” but it’s the stumbling out of the theatre and talking about it at IHOP until 4:00 in the morning or the arguing in the freezing parking lot about what happened until your fingers go numb that really matters.
“Dude, I can’t believe we both cried when Han Solo came back on screen for the first time in thirty years, but I also can totally believe it.”
“So did the top stop spinning? Let’s discuss it ad nauseam for the next several months.”
“Are we really going to argue about if Leonardo DiCaprio could’ve fit on that piece of wood? Are either one of us physics majors? The important thing is Rose decided to be strong and live an extraordinary life! Get off the stupid door, hater.”
You know, stuff like that.
That’s the important thing. It gives us things to talk about other than the terrors happening all over the world, or our own personal lives, even if it’s for just five minutes at a time. We experience emotions together, and then talk about how those emotions affected us. That’s personally enriching to even the most general of moviegoers, whether they consciously realize it or not. It’s not even about escapism at that point. It’s about reflection. My dad has fallen asleep in the middle of every movie I’ve ever taken him to, and then I get to excitedly describe to him what happened during those twenty minutes when the work week finally caught up with him. It gives us points to talk about.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know I’m beginning work on a new film called The Harvesters. It’s about a person right about my age who’s terrified of the future. A lot of people my age are terrified of their futures. I doubt that fear ever truly goes away, even when you’re eighty – I’ll let you know when I get there.
For now, the main character, Jane, really wants to do this thing she’s passionate about – journalism. Objective journalism. She wants to give it back the power it once had, when decent men like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were able to wield their power for something good; something missing in modern journalism. We’re hit over the head with political bias and “think pieces.” Jane simply wants to get back to good, old-fashioned reporting that can make a difference.
However, as the movie goes along, and the antagonists begin wreaking their havoc, she starts realizing she may never get out of her hometown after all. She’s getting older, and her window for doing what she’s always wanted to do is closing. And it’s her own fault – in her own words, she laments “being stupid when I was younger and not doing what I should’ve been doing.” I often feel that way myself. That’s why it’s so personal. It’s something I want to share with others, because I think many people can relate to fearing you’re never doing as much as you could, or you’re not properly seizing opportunities. I worry about that an average of 217 times a day.
I want to tell that story, and I want to tell it in a way that entertains the hell out of people. I want this incredibly painful and personal story dropped right smack dab in the middle of a crazy scary murder mystery, complete with a ticking clock, chases, and clues. We’re using giant images and a specific sound design to sell the scale of this small town which is not unlike where I - or even you - grew up. There are traces of Jaws, Alien, and Halloween in the DNA of The Harvesters. Not to say it’s a derivative riff on all my favorite movies. But we are using what works best about the great scary movies of the past as a springboard to push us in a new direction as we venture into the future of cinema.
I don’t want it to merely be a good horror movie – it’s supposed to be a good MOVIE. I want it to transcend being a mere “story” – I want it to be an EXPERIENCE. An experience the way they used to make ‘em, like Forrest Gump, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Casablanca, The Exorcist, Titanic, or Psycho. Love them or hate them, they're films that made you FEEL something, and got you talking. I want people to walk out of The Harvesters giggling about the scary things they saw, reflecting on how it made them feel, talking about it at IHOP until 4:00 in the morning. I want this movie to be a catalyst, bringing people together; the way all great films should. That’s the ambition.
But the industry is changing. It’s getting harder and harder to make these small movies. Smaller-scale filmmakers are struggling immensely. A lot of my fellow filmmaker friends can barely keep their head above water. Which is why Team Harvesters is launching a Kickstarter campaign. We need help. We need a small amount of money to help us make this thing a reality - a reality we want to share with the rest of the world. I’m not saying just help out The Harvesters – support AS MANY MOVIES AS YOU CAN. Let me repeat that for further emphasis: SUPPORT AS MANY MOVIES AS YOU CAN.
Big movies, like Star Wars. Small movies, like Tangerine. Watch them at the theatre. Snuggle up at home. Whatever you can. (I’d avoid watching a movie on a computer or iGadget at any cost. Movies are best experienced when played big and loud, but do what you gotta do.) And don’t support only movies, either. Support ALL art. Take your best friend to a musical show. Go to an art museum. Read books. Treat your lady to a night of improv. Take your man to a local community theatre production. You’ll both dig it, I promise. You’ll probably get kissed on the face afterwards. Just go out and find art, experience culture - then talk to the people you love about it. Doesn’t matter if you personally enjoyed it or not. The point is to have a discussion about it with the people you care about. That’s what all of this, all of this around us, is for.
We’re not here to live in pain and fear. We’re here to give and receive joy to and from one another, to grow, to become more enlightened and enriched, and art is one of the best ways to do that. It’s what brings us together. It’s the reason I wake up every morning. Experiencing it and creating it. That awesome, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding, creative circle. Art’s a blast, and movies are my poison.
I’ve had friendships blossom from a single film going experience; romantic relationships kindled (barf). I watched E.T. and Twister on repeat at my grandma’s house when I was a kid (she hated that Bill Paxton cursed so much, but she put up with it because she knew I loved it).
And, in the early winter of 1996, two parents born-and-raised in a small town in Oklahoma took their six year old son to see a movie called Jumanji. It would bond them to their son and would instill in him a lifelong passion and pursuit of entertaining people with a camera.
That’s why movies are important.