Just when Greg Allen was getting used to thinking of himself as a documentary filmmaker, the recovering business consultant found himself saddled with a different job title: blogger. Between the board room and the editing room, he had created a couple of websites to document his new passions and endeavors, filmmaking and fatherhood. And one of them, greg.org–declared one of New York City’s Best by New York Magazine–had become better known than Allen’s films.
“The last thing I want to be is a guy who blogs about movies rather than actually making them, or who blogs about fatherhood while the kid is screaming in the background,” he says. There are other considerations, as well. “Even today, saying you’re a blogger is somewhat akin to inviting people over to your parents’ house to play Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, it’s still one of those loser categories.”
But Allen doesn’t always refute the charge. “Sometimes, to the casual reader, greg.org may seem to be more about movies, art, New York, and culture generally,” he writes on the site. “That’s fine, though, because deep down, I know the truth: it’s really all about me. Everything is.”
More than a way to play around with his favorite subjects, blogging has become something of a business for Allen. Daddy Types (daddytypes.com), Allen’s site for new fathers, is already generating revenue. “As of February 2004, I’m a new dad to a little girl who seems rather unimpressed with my tales of filmmaking, startups, IPOs, global travel, and art world party-hopping,” he writes on the site’s mission statement. “Fortunately, I’m used to it; my wife isn’t that impressed by these things, either.” A stay-at-home dad, Allen has built Daddy Types for the neglected needs of new dads–and as a way to sell some swank Daddy Type T-shirts, too.
To enter the thankless world of low-budget documentary filmmaking, Allen left behind a lucrative career in IPO consulting, trotting across the globe to preside over startup projects for Disney, Luminant, Razorfish, and a host of others. It wasn’t an easy decision. “I just kept telling myself that once I made my first million, I’d go after my dream and make a movie,” he explains. “Then the Internet boom came along, and I got caught up in that, and thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to get my first billion before I quit.’ There was always more work, more opportunities.”
At first, he tried to do filmmaking on the side. He bought a slew of expensive editing equipment and a camera, but the gear sat in the closet for over a year. Then, one day, he realized he had to make the change. It was now-or-never time. His supportive wife–fortunately, a successful professional in her own right–concurred.
Allen had done okay for himself in consulting, but he’d left “just slightly shy of that one billion dollar mark.” There’s still hope, he says: “With the miracle of compound interest, I should have that one billion on hand in about a thousand years.”
But as a 37-year-old father and husband, he wasn’t in any position to be living out a second adolescence. “The reality is that having a kid means I can’t be dilettantish about this,” Allen says. “Alone, I could live on peanut-butter sandwiches and scrape by, but I’ve got a kid I want to send to college someday. The time to be self-absorbed for me is past.” Convinced he could court success by treating filmmaking like one of his Internet startups, the businessman set about becoming a filmmaker.
“The only problem was I didn’t know anything about making movies,” he says. “It was like, ‘Great, I’m a filmmaker now. What the hell do I do?’ I was an avid filmgoer, but had no idea how to analyze technical aspects of film or translate a story to film.” Allen vacillated for a bit on the question of whether or not to enroll in film school, but finally decided to learn as he went. The first month he shot 20 hours of what he describes as “completely unwatchable,” but “very useful” footage.
This somewhat chaotic beginning became the impetus for greg.org. Allen had owned the URL since 1996, but had never used it. The site began as a “document dump” where Allen could keep all the information he was learning about his new trade and projects in some kind of order, with the side benefit of keeping all his former business associates abreast of what he was up to.
“I’m an optimist, too, so when I first got the site up, I thought, ‘Great, now I have the making of . . . stuff for the DVD,’” Greg says, laughing but not kidding. It didn’t take long for the site to grow beyond his own projects, and soon he was posting thoughts, reviews, and interviews with luminaries such as Sofia Coppola. It’s interesting enough for 30,000 visitors to stop by every week.
Allen’s first two documentary shorts, Souvenir: January and Souvenir: November, demonstrate a wide range of sensibility in keeping with someone who cites Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue and South Park both as influences. January poignantly follows a young man’s return to the small town dry cleaning business his grandfather used to own, and his mixed feeling about it having been taken over by a new wave of immigrants. November is a roundabout reaction to the September 11 attacks, depicting Allen’s search for the biggest monument to the worst battle of World War I in Somme, France, while contemplating the diversity of memory in the wake of tragedy. The plan is to shoot twelve of these stand-alone shorts and then attempt to get the funding together to roll them into one feature. His next short will be on scrapbook fanatics.
The films are sort of what Allen is like in person: charming and succinct, with some peripheral arty frills, but not in any way pretentious. Allen makes it clear he’s not interested in being the typical snooty documentary filmmaker. “For so long the genre has been a liberal bastion of hopelessness and misery,” he says. “Some of those films are so aggressively un-commercial that they’re like communism. I don’t see any reason why documentaries shouldn’t be popular. I never felt they were the sole province of a miserable minority.”
Another factor that separates Greg from his profession is his dedication to Mormonism, a faith he wears lightly but takes seriously. He even toiled as a missionary for two years in Japan. “In my faith there is a strong sense that church is more than somewhere you go on Sunday,” Allen said. “It’s something that informs everything you do, whether it’s apparent to those around you or not.” Does that make him a Mormon filmmaker? “Well, yes, in that my films are filtered through my life which includes my faith,” he says. “Beyond that, I don’t think the label would be much use.”
Still, Greg keeps his portfolio diversified. In addition to the Souvenir series, he is developing several screenplays for feature films, and he recently pitched a futuristic animated musical about aging hackers in a nursing home to Quentin Tarantino. Already he’s brainstorming ideas for a spinoff Saturday morning cartoon and video games, should the idea take off. He’s also writes, and has been published in the New York Times and elsewhere.
“If I had any advice to give, it would be to not feel bad about adding a commercial component to whatever it is you’re doing,” Allen says. “It might be the only way you get the lower-profile projects you love done.”
What is it that inspires his own work? “If I ever get to the point where people are seriously studying my work, I’ll make it up and say Marcel Proust or something,” he says. “But my inspiration is honestly much more mundane. I really just want to kind of throw the net out and capture as much real life experience as I can, and then get in there and find the story. That’s film, writing, whatever. I think that’s how you get something both unique and honest.”
Shawn Macomber is a staff writer at The American Spectator and runs the website www.returnoftheprimitive.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire