Filmmaking may appear to be just a glamorous business where anybody can find fame and fortune, but there’s a lot of hard work and challenges when it comes to creating any type of motion picture. The documentary, Create or Die, emphasizes the difficulties of making independent movies while also recognizing the joy it brings out of the actors and filmmakers involved. This doc is also the perfect example of “a film within a film within a film” plot. It establishes connections between reality and the movies because, whether a movie is fictional or based on a true story, films are created by real individuals with high passions and intentions.

Create or Die focuses on David Axe, a filmmaker from South Carolina who has made a handful of independent movies which he admittedly calls bad. His movies are exploitative and generally involve various genres such as horror, western, sci-fi, and/or fantasy. Not only does Axe aim to direct one film each year, but his goal is to create a good movie and to improve his craft as a filmmaker. Axe discusses his latest film, Acorn, which is about a young female director who’s dying of cancer and is given six months to live, but intends to direct one last feature (a western called Die Standing Up). Acorn and Die Standing Up were meant to be two movies, but Axe contemplates whether to release them separately or as one collective feature since they share similar storylines.

This documentary is funny, intimate, and insightful in its depiction of the filmmaking process, especially when Axe and his cast and crew members share details on the making of Acorn and other features they’ve made over the years. Axe himself has a great sense of humor and a valuable understanding as a director trying to elevate his work. He recognizes that his indie films are not considered good, probably won’t be viewed by many spectators, and won’t make a lot of money. However, Axe and his team enjoy making movies because it’s a fun, creative process, despite the stress and long hours of work, including Axe editing his films on two computers with his cats hovering over him. Prime examples of their creativity are on the set of Acorn where one actor, Raj, pushes fellow castmate Cleve through a glass window made of beet sugar for one scene, or special effects people making creature costumes like a man-eating tree, along with placing fake blood on actors.

The interviews, as well as archival footage, photos, and cartoon illustrations, provide viewers with a closer look at the raw experiences of these indie filmmakers. There’s a description of a disturbing moment on a western style setting for Acorn in which someone accidentally gets shot (reminiscent of the Rust incident) but thankfully survives thanks to the set designer being a decorated army medic. Bae Wolf, another one of Axe’s films, went through a very troubled production delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with one person testing positive for the virus and another needing medical assistance for a spider bite. Axe had to rewrite the script for Bae Wolf with pencil and paper and made the difficult decision to continue filming that project, signifying Axe’s resilience as a director.

Two of the most touching perspectives in Create or Die involves actresses Caylin Brooke Sams and Morgan Shaley Renew. Sams explains the struggle of playing multiple characters at once, and how it takes her a while to get used to embodying a role (particularly her role in Acorn as the main gunslinger of the western Die Standing Up). Renew plays the dying filmmaker of Die Standing Up in Acorn and was personally affected by her role in real life since her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Renew’s mom saw the movie and drew connections between her cancer struggle and her daughter’s character, making Renew feel proud of her own work in the film.

Overall, director Sarah Massey’s Create or Die is a documentary that stresses the fun, challenging, and significant work that goes behind independent cinema, and the importance of creating art. Not just for money or fame, but to leave behind a legacy that others can look back on.




Filmmaking may appear to be just a glamorous business where anybody can find fame and fortune, but there’s a lot of hard work and challenges

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