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An Interview with Ralph Arlyck
How do you approach the beginning of a project?
I'm usually pulled by the opposing poles of preparation (research) and spontaneity. Since I tend to spend a long time on projects, they would be unbearable without a high proportion of discovery and change. On the other hand, there is always that voice insinuating that it's laziness giving short shrift to the research. Fortunately there are always grant proposals and their extremely annoying demands for substance.
What is the one question you have never been asked regarding your creative process?
Nobody asks me such questions. Who would do that? Writers for style magazines? I've always loved the Samuel Goldwyn (I think) remark, "Who's this Art everybody keeps talking about?" And yet I really do feel that the best documentaries are stylistic explorations. But you rarely get asked about that. They all want to talk about the content.
What was the most discouraging feedback you ever got?
I don't mind critical responses to the work - especially when it's still in process. When they're negative they're either silly, axe-grinding or perceptive and therefore useful. An English professor in college once said to me, "Basically Arlyck, I think you're an unruly person." There's no response to such a judgment. Years later, in the presence of a Hollywood director, I made the mistake of characterizing what I do as "personal essay films." When he responded "You mean like Thoreau or something?" I realized I needed a different job description.
What was the most encouraging feedback you ever got?
Sometimes people have cried. This in itself may not necessarily be significant because I know that I can get moist in the eyes when hearing any number of country & western song lyrics. But when the tears are accompanied by something deeply felt it can be incredibly gratifying.
Is having a community of artists a beneficial component to your work?
Absolutely. I can't imagine trying to make films without organizations like AIVF, New Day, FAF, IDA, IFP etc. When you go to festivals and conferences and you're sick of the parties, the panels, the networking, there comes that inevitable "What am I doing here?" moment. This is when it's time to put down your drink and go watch some wonderful film and talk to the filmmaker and remind yourself of what it's about.