J.C. Chandor’s first feature film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Was it an opportunity of a lifetime or an opportunity borne from years of hard work and struggling?
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Is there such a thing as an opportunity of a lifetime? During the first two days of IFP’s Independent Film Week, it became clear that the answer is yes and no. Yes, a conversation, a short film, a meeting, a festival acceptance, can be the opportunity that changes everything, but a career isn’t just a year or one film – it’s a lifetime of dedication to craft. In his impressively extemporaneous speech, J.C. Chandor (above) recalled not the glories of having his first feature, Margin Call, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, but the 15 years he spent trying to become a feature filmmaker: “I am 38 years old, and I’ve been trying to be a filmmaker as my profession probably for right about on the nose of twenty years.”
Chandor spoke in impressive detail about the years of financial insecurity and doubt he faced trying to get his first feature off the ground, including the nightmare of having a film basically ready to shoot only to have an investor pull out at the last minute. Chandor emphasized that this wasn’t the fault of some boogie man known as “the industry” keeping him down, but it was because he “had a long history of mediocre output. I never had from a creative standpoint anything that could be classified as good, let alone great.” Chandor put it simply, “I couldn’t find the story that would have have gotten me off of my ass to go make it. At the time, I never would have said that because I had five or six stories that I wanted to tell, but no one of them ever got me to put myself out there in a way that is needed.” Despite years of considering himself a failure, Chandor stuck with it, eventually coming up with the idea for the low budget Margin Call, which he called “the greatest writing experience of my life.” It was the right story at the right time, and as Chandor put it, “You’re going to make your first feature when you come to the right story.”
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