Older MTV fans may remember the Make My Video contest, in which viewers were asked to shoot original footage to accompany the Madonna song "True Blue." Out of more than 1000 entries, judges picked a grainy, black-and-white piece featuring a lovelorn young woman who has to choose between a cheating stud and a nice-guy nerd.
The video was made by Cliff Guest and Angel Gracia, who, in the mid-'80s, were members of "the South Florida Film Mafia." The close-knit community of Miami-area film junkies, recalls Guest, "was a group of cats who would do anything for film." The aspiring filmmakers worked on each other's short films and helped out with a few locally produced independent movies. Guest, who was then a recent graduate of Florida International University, took whatever job was thrown his way, from designing sets and special effects to shooting film and eventually directing. All of his experiences came into play when he made the winning Madonna video in 1987.
MTV exposure landed Guest a job at Geffen Records in Los Angeles, where he made videos for two years. He then returned to South Florida, where he directed two unmemorable horror flicks. He did, however, run into a producer of TV commercials, and Guest, a Lighthouse Point resident, now makes his living by directing commercials that push products such as Gatorade and Pringles. "This is what I do for a living," he says. "And I don't consider commercials a concession." By pulling in $5000 to $20,000 a day, in fact, he sees making commercials as a great way to bide his time while he plans his next feature film.
Guest also wants to help aspiring South Florida filmmakers get into the business, so he's put together the Independent Filmmaker Lecture Series, during which he'll teach technique, among other subjects. He'll also critique the film industry.
"People make mistakes and call it a style," he says. "You film something, and after you get [the film] to the lab, you realize you can't see the actor's face clearly and call it 'mysterious.' That's just an excuse for being poor at the craft."
Some filmmakers are also bad editors, he says. They film disparate scenes, slap them together, and call the effort an example of the jump cut style. But when good directors are being innovative in the editing room, says Guest, "you can tell that it was a creative decision, not a cut for a lack of good footage.
"The basics of good editing, good photography, good acting, good lighting -- all of that matters," he continues. "The better you understand the basic language of film, the better you can alter that for a reason and create a style. That's when you become good."