14 Sep Making Movies and Making Beer – Joshua Hull Of Scarlet Lane Brewing Explains How Each is a Complex Brew
Not too long ago we examined the similarities and difference between muralists and brewers (see link here). It was fun generated funds for local art education, and had a lot feedback. That response, and my deep and abiding love for classic cinema, made me start thinking about the similarities between making a movie and making a beer. I liked the ideas I was coming up with, so I wrote them down.
After I wrote it all down, I decided that someone who makes movies should really have some input, just to see if my observations were completely off base. I asked lead brewer Joshua Hull at Scarlet Lane Brewing to take a look at my musings. He brews and he makes movies – so it’s not like I was going to find anyone better to ask about it. First you get my uneducated scribblings – look down further for the more apt observations of Joshua.
Subjectivity. If we start with the end products first, we see our first similarity. Every craft beer and every movie will be unique, and will people approach each from their own unique perspective. The response to every beer and every movie is going to be overwhelmingly subjective unless you’re a judge and are wearing your judge’s hat at that moment. It’s the same with movies, only critics and film professors have enough knowledge of the subject to see more than just their own opinion in a movie.
And that’s sort of the point, each product is subjective, but has elements that can be looked at either more objectively or completely subjectively. We know, just from common sense and experience that some beers are made better than others, just as some films aren’t worth spending time on.
One of my favorite TV shows of a couple decades ago was MST3000 – they knew the movies were bad, and recognizing it made them able to enjoy them. I’d say the same is true for some of the beers that have become internet famous for audacity or questionable outcome – a mustard beer, a Tabasco barrel aged beer that couldn’t be served in plastic it was so hot, anything made by AB-InBev. Unique has a way of making it’s way forward in both beer and movies.
Ingredients/Technical Aspects. A beer can be broken down into its ingredients, just as a movie can be broken down into the elements that came together to make that film, the individual technical/artistic parts of a film. When done well, the ingredients of a beer come together to produce a synergistic masterpiece, more than the sum of its parts. It’s the same with cinema; direction, sets, costumes, writing, etc….. they all work as one in the final product.
In both cases, you can have the best precursors in one aspect, but if even one element is a failure, the whole project will likely fail. The best malts in the world can’t cover up a contaminated fermentation, just as the best acting can’t overcome poorly written dialogue. When malt, yeast, water, and hops are all of high quality, then a great beer is a more likely outcome. When lighting, portrayals, script, continuity, etc. all work well, then it’s possible to end up with an Oscar winner……but both can still go horribly wrong. That’s where much of the human element enters the picture.
Brewing/Directing/Producing. The maltster produces great grain ingredients for beer. The microbiologist corrals and maintains yeasts. Often, the software writer gives an idea of the correct water profile and the laboratory makes it happen. Finally, hop producers grow, breed, and harvest hops with attention to every detail so that beers can be successful. But who puts them all together to become a beer – the brewer.
Likewise, a scriptwriter produces a great screenplay like a brewery writes a recipe. An actor gives life to a role in that script, like a maltster coaxes out the best in a grain. Sets have to be thoughtfully conceived to help tell a story just like hops are used to drive a beer in different directions. Finally, lighting, music, sound, and cinematography are a chemical reaction that determines much of the film’s success, just like yeast is the unsung hero that adds the most flavor and character to a beer. But with all those elements of a movie in place, it can still fail without the proper director and producer.
In small breweries, the brewers act much like both directors and producers. The gather the talent (ingredients), determine the times and temperatures (like directing a scene), and put the entire thing together (much like how a director helps with editing). But brewers also price out ingredients, they develop a timetable and production schedule, they make sure the price point of the beer is realistic, and they sell everyone on the idea. This is very similar to what a movie producer does.
Yep, every film needs a vision and producer/director to do the grunt work of putting it all together, just like a theoretical beer needs a brewer to turn the ingredients into liquid love. Given the same ingredients, two brewers will produce very different beers based on their processes, just like given the same script and players, two directors will make very different films. Who can tell which one might be a hit – that’s where subjectivity takes over.
Joshua Hull, film maker and brewer. So those were my ideas on the commonalities of making beer and making movies. I showed this to Joshua Hull and asked him to tear it apart or riff on the observations I made. Joshua is a thinker, a wordsmith, and a creator, so it’s no surprise that he had pertinent things to say on these subjects – of course, completely different from mine. I;m just thankful he thought my observations didn’t completely suck. The following were his words; since I don’t write nearly as well as he and I would feel kinda of stupid editing him:
Everyone thinks they know what it’s like to make beer…and movies. It’s all fun and games. It’s easy. All you do is drink all day. I get it.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there on both. But here’s the thing: it’s not always fun and games, it’s NOT easy, and well, maybe we do drink all day BUT there’s a lot more to both. And as someone who makes beer, and movies, I’m going to walk you through the similarities of both brewing and filmmaking. And I’m definitely going to drink while doing it.
Style. Every brewer/brewery has that one style of beer they like to focus on more than others. For Scarlet Lane, it was stouts…specifically, Dorian Coconut Stout. Six years later, we offer a WIDE variety of styles, but we can fall back on stouts anytime we want.
The same goes for filmmaking. I’m a horror guy…but my filmography is rooted in genre comedies. Those gave me an identity…and it’s a style of film I genuinely enjoy making. I’ve wanted to branch out to straight horror and thriller, but it never seems to work out. Thankfully, genre comedy will always be there for me.
Find the style that you can build a safe, sturdy foundation from but also allows you to eventually grow.
Money. A wild idea is that people brew or make movies to get rich. That’s hilarious…and so, so wrong. Nobody is getting rich making beer or making indie movies. Especially the folks I know in both industries. There are people I know who haven’t drawn a paycheck from brewing in YEARS. Most indie filmmakers put whatever money their film makes into the next film…or hold onto product for festivals and appearances. I do that, hold on to my product…mostly because, well, nobody buys it. (Side Note) Unsold Blu-rays make awesome drink coasters. Every time you set your beer down on one, you’re reminded why you started drinking in the first place!
Taste/Preference. We all know what we like in life. We all have our tastes and preferences. We know what we’re looking for when we go to a brewery, brewpub, movie theater, or scroll on-demand services.
Seltzer drinkers aren’t ordering malt heavy, 12% ales. You stick to your preferred style…just like with film. Fans of Amélie are certainly not begging me to make movies for them (well, I mean, no one is actually begging me to make movies for them…) and I am certainly not trying to make movies for fans of Amélie. Taste is crucial with both beer and film…but having an open mind is a key aspect to growing that pallet.
Marketing. It’s crucial in BOTH industries to have an eye-catching product. What makes your can/bottle/movie art more appealing than the items next to it? Label/can art is essential to your beer and that beer’s story. Lean HARD into that aspect and give them something unique. Bring on incredible artists to translate that specific flavor and style.
It’s the exact same on the film front. Generic movie posters are not exciting or enticing. Hit them with the best poster you can afford/commission. I’ve had incredible worldwide known artists like Doaly do posters for my films. That way folks can say “Welp, at least the cover was good.”
Everyone has an idea of what YOU should be doing…Errr…Everyone has an idea. Everyone thinks they know what’s best for you. You know what you should brew? A milkshake IPA. They work well for *insert brewery name* here. They’d work well for you. Everyone thinks they know what you should do, but the simple fact is…we’re all just figuring it out as we go. Palettes change…so the market is constantly changing to fit the consumer—i.e., see the current Seltzer craze.
A changing market is MUCH easier for brewers…it’s not so easy for filmmakers. If a ghost movie hits at the box office, there are five more sped into production. It takes time to make a movie so once you finish and release your new ghost movie, the market has been on a new trend for months.
Don’t even touch haunted seltzers.
Consumers. The biggest comparison between beer and film is the consumer…and how they mostly don’t care about the process. Mostly. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’re consumers because they want the final product. They don’t need to know or care about everything that came before that beer or film. Quench my thirst. Entertain me. Don’t make me regret this $6 pint or $6 on demand rental. If you do…I’m letting everyone know it taste like detergent or I’d rather have a colonoscopy than watch it again.
And that’s not a jab at them. They are THE consumer. We brew beer and make movies for people to enjoy. If we fail at that, they should absolutely let us know.
Time/Results. The biggest difference between brewing and filmmaking is 100% timing and results.
Depending on the yeast strain and fermentation process, a beer can go from brew to finished product in two to five weeks. That means the consumer is hopefully enjoying that product within a month. Those results, and the feedback, impact the next brew. If the hop profile needs to be adjusted, the new version will be out in a few weeks. It’s not an instant fix…but it’s a relatively quick adjustment to meet consumer feedback.
Filmmaking is an entirely different beast when it comes to timelines, results, and feedback. Some films take YEARS to see the finish line, others take just months. Every film is different…and each one has their own unique journey to the screen. By the time the consumer sees it, that product has been tested, played at festivals, and reviewed before the general public even gets to offer their own feedback like “shouldn’t comedies be funny?” …
The biggest difference for me between the two? I wish movies had the Untapped grading scale. Chopping Block’s 5.0 rating would look surprisingly good on there.