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  • Writer's pictureStephan Bookas

What's a whatnot?

An old Victorian whatnot with a collection of random items and trinkets

I've never had a blog before. And I don't normally share a lot of myself. But I've recently been reading Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon, and it sort of galvanized me a bit.

Another thing I've started doing recently, well, back in November, is: I started to show my work. Which is maybe why Austin's words ring so very true and hit home. If it isn't online, it doesn't exist.

I was just turning 40 and had made quite a number of short films, all on a shoestring budget, over the years.

You see, when you're starting out in filmmaking, or at least when I was starting out, graduating from film school in 2009, the advice I was getting from all sides was: we didn't have what you had! Look at all these cheap cameras out there! Just grab a camera and make something! Make! Make! Make!

And for a few years, I didn't really make anything of my own. I was cinematographer on a few really lovely shorts and features. I worked at my day job, I wrote a few scripts here and there. But, I don't know, there was always a sort of barrier I needed to overcome to do all the things you need to do to just go out and make something.

But I found collaborators with whom it became easier. Fellow filmmakers, friends, colleagues, as well as a film collective that's been instrumental in my journey to grow and, well, to make something. I'll get into all that another time.

But between let's say 2015 and now I've made (when I say "I", it's always with the caveat that in filmmaking, nothing is ever made by an individual and everything is always a team effort, a collective journey) around 25 or so short form things: short fiction, short docs, music videos, a few corporate videos. And I've sent those to festivals and yes, some of them did quite well or were at least seen by a number of festival attendees around the world.

But I always hesitated when it came to sharing these films openly online. What would my family think? What would my friends think? What would the colleagues at my day job think? A lot of the ideas and themes I explore in my work are personal to some extent. And sharing your inner thoughts and inner life can be daunting.

But as I said, I was turning 40 and I'd just started not giving a damn about what other people were thinking. If anything, I'd been hypocritical: my feature length film "Porno Uncle Jim" (which is another story worthy of discussion at another time) that I've now been working on for well over a decade, drives this singular point home: Live your life to the fullest, and don't worry about what other people think of you.

And yet, I wasn't doing that. I'm still not doing that. It's okay to be aware of your image, I guess. Aware of what other people think of you. But that constant fear can also lead to stagnation, apprehension, paralysis.

So I set myself this challenge: post one of your shorts or short form things every 15th of the month for the next two or so years. Stay rigorous, share it on your YouTube Channel, your Instagram, maybe LinkedIn (because why not?) maybe Facebook. And I've been keeping that up and it's been kind of refreshing.

Those films are out there now, and there'll be more. But nobody attacked me, nobody called me crazy or called me out. In fact, nobody really cares. And that's fine. In a way, these films are like blog posts in a different medium. Just stories that came about at a certain time and in a certain place and found their way onto the screen.

And if a few people can enjoy them for what they are, then I'm happy with that. That's all they were ever meant to be.

Another thing I did when I posted the first short, I See My World Shaking, on the 15th of November, was that I wrote a text I wanted to post, as a separate thing, to explain why I was now sharing all this old stuff. You see, one thing you always ask yourself when you're writing a new story, a new script is: Why now? Why is this happening to my protagonist now, on this day? Why not tomorrow or in ten years?

And that post has been sitting in my draft notes since then. Once again I was guilty of wondering what people would think. So I didn't post it on my Instagram and all the other pages.

But I have to keep reminding myself that what other people think isn't all that important. The people my work matters to will eventually find their way to it. And the people it doesn't matter to have the freedom to ignore it.

So instead, I want to post this draft note here on this new blog, which I'm hoping will become a collection of my thoughts on things I make, things I want to make and things I have made in the past.

Which brings me to the title of this post. What's a whatnot? In his book, Austin Kleon mentions that back in the 16th century, cabinets and even rooms where you would showcase your entire collection of oddities and strange things you've collected over the years, were very popular. These had many names, in 19th century England they were called what-nots.

The name of my production company is Whatnot Films, in a nod to that. My films are really a collection of oddities, often without a common theme or through-line. Although I suspect if you analyzed them you'd stumble over some common thread.

So I figured that my life is essentially like a Victorian what-not. And the things I've collected on its shelves are the things I've made and will hopefully keep making. Some are pretty, some less so (the Wikipedia entry mentions that a what-not "was rarely valued for its aesthetic"), but all are worth something and worth keeping. And worth sharing.

Because once again, those who my work resonates with may end up taking something from it. And those who don't are welcome to move on to something that to them is more interesting/engaging/etc.

When you welcomed a visitor into your 19th century Victorian house, you would show them your what-not and the things accumulated there. You'd show it off. You'd be proud of it.

And so with that, here's what I wrote in November, but never posted:

A grid of short film covers with the caption: "A New Short Release Every 15th Of The Month"

Starting with this, I'm planning on releasing or re-releasing a short film or music video from the last few years around the middle of the month over the course of the next couple of years. I've got so many short form things by now, most all of which were made on a shoestring budget, with the help and passion of so many friends and talented people from all around the world.

Some of these have been to festivals and have won awards (although of course only after a plethora of rejections), some are already online but deserve revisiting, others have never seen the light of day and run the risk of ending up on a hard drive somewhere for all eternity.

This allows me to honor the hard work that everyone who helped making these films put into them. I’ve certainly had an amazing time making all these. And I’ve learned so much.

Truth is I've been holding off doing this for too long. I'm not sure why. Perhaps fear of sharing something that I felt wasn’t ready. Or something that wasn’t as impressive as I wanted it to be. Fear of rejection. Insecurity. Whatever the reason, getting older and taking stock has something to do with moving past that. And maybe it can encourage others to do the same. Sharing stuff makes us human. And life doesn't always go the way we want it to, dreams deferred and all that. But sometimes it's worth just looking at what we actually have and what we can be proud of.

But enough pontificating, if you're interested in a little free treat around the 15th of the month every month for the foreseeable future, do subscribe to my YouTube channel (which has been dormant for a while) or my Vimeo and with any luck you'll get a notification about something new in your inbox on a regular basis.

And who knows, maybe at the end of all this there'll be something longer than a short. That'd be nice.


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