One Filmmaker's Deliberate Pursuit of the Good Life

One Filmmaker's Deliberate Pursuit of the Good Life

This is a guest essay from Juan Pennisi, a filmmaker living in Argentina who's made a conscious decision to pursue filmmaking on his own terms instead of anyone else's.

In case you're new to this site, finding ways to define filmmaking success for yourself and live well are big themes here, so Juan's story is a great example of that philosophy in action. He's not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Hope you enjoy his story.


I used to worry about making a bad film and being considered a fraud. Now, I worry about making no film at all.

My interest has always been making feature films exclusively. When I began my learning process I didn't even know short films existed, and when I found out, it seemed like a great way to improve the craft, but never more than that.

After one year of film school in Barcelona, I sent out more than one hundred emails to film companies that appeared in a catalogue I got my hands on after helping a teacher in a short film and living the film festival experience.

One of those e-mails turned into an interview for a position as a Personal Assistant to a very popular European Commercial Director, and I landed the job, astonishingly picked out among 35 applicants.

I left film school and continued my learning process in the field. The connection between business and art seduced me, because it felt like films had to be useful in order to succeed. I've never been attracted to art for the sake of art itself. To me, art is not material but conceptual. It's not about what is done, but how it's done.

Rather than a painting on the wall I prefer a window to a beautiful pristine landscape. The window frame though, now that can be as amazing as anyone can imagine. That is practical. And helps get rid of boring windows.

But nowadays I feel like the business aspect has drowned my every attempt to make a film.

I won’t sit around waiting for anyone’s approval to make my films.

In Spain and Argentina (and probably most of the world too), Hollywood's major distributors managed to choke film theaters by demanding 75% of screen time. This means that local films have a very restricted possibility of being viewed by the public.

This turned the industry into a government funded branch of the Ministry of Culture. The only way to fund films is by begging for a slice of a small monetary pizza, dooming them from their start because they don't need the public's approval to be considered a success by their producers.

By the time a movie goes into production they've already made all the money they were going to, since it's unlikely any revenue will be created through screenings, competing with all local films for a portion of the 25% screening time left.

Doesn't seem like a good plan to me. Never has.

The problem is, none of my professional filmmaking acquaintances consider any possibility of by-passing this system, so I'm forced to try to get the INCAA's approval (Argentina's National Film Board) in order to scramble a professional team together.

Well, ok, so I'm trying, and we managed to get some motion for one of the three projects I'm working on right now.

But that's not enough. I won't sit around waiting for anyone's approval to make my films. So I picked up a story I started writing seven years ago, set in this region of the world, with the intention of producing it entirely by myself. Either it happens now, or it never will.

I have no idea how I’ll do it, but I know I will. And the most important thing of all? I want to enjoy it. Nothing is worth anything otherwise.

It's been eleven years since I began film school with the only goal of making feature films. And honestly, today, I would much rather make a bad film than no film at all.

Because it is all about objectives, and the single most important question that exists: why.

Why do I crave to make films?

Because I absolutely love the rush. The time spent trying for perfection. The connection between passionate souls digging through the trenches. The conquest of desperation, when after trying so hard, over and over again, stubbornly beyond the conviction that surrender is the only way out, suddenly it happens, and it's magic.

Why do I crave to make films? Because I absolutely love the rush. The time spent trying for perfection. The connection between passionate souls digging through the trenches.

And nothing could make me feel more alive. And then the result, and the sense that I could die a happy person.

So I don't care about Hollywood, or New York, or Madrid, or even Buenos Aires. It's about me. My path through life. Can't wait for money to decide when I can start walking.

I live in an incredibly beautiful area with around 50 thousand people known to be a tough crowd, a nice auditorium with around one hundred seats, and a 2K projector. I have two small Canon bodies, a set of medium quality lenses ranging from 16mm to 320mm, a shitty tripod which definitely needs replacement, my screenwriting and film editing software... what more do I need?

If I can't fill my local auditorium, why would I want to be projected anywhere else in the world?

So that's me. I have no idea how I'll do it, but I know I will. And the most important thing of all? I want to enjoy it. Nothing is worth anything otherwise.



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