Monday, August 15, 2005

D2DVD Film School Pt. 1

All right, we've spoken before about how you can take your D2DVD script to the next level. You can see those words elsewhere on this blog. Let's assume that you have a great concept, a great title and a great script to back it up.
So, what happens when you con(vince) your Great Aunt Florence to part with her Boca Raton money and finance your first film - your D2DVD masterpiece? How can you lessen the risk to your aunt's savings and create a visual masterpiece that will be sellable?
There's a bit of folklore amongst filmmakers rising out of Roger Corman University (Ron Howard, Johnathan Demme and James Cameron are alumni) that every first-time director gets a ten minute lecture on practical filmmaking from Roger before they shoot a frame of film. Now I'm not Roger, but I have done just about everything in the D2DVD business, and I've seen a lot of similarities in the films that are considered "classics" and similarities in those you've never heard of.

I will drop in from time to time with simple ways you can make your film look better (sellable, professional) before you shoot it. That's important - your film has to look like you do this for a living. That's the point isn't it? You want to do this for a career.

But Bill, how come so many D2DVD movies look like crap?

Well, there's a multitude of reasons, which I'll go through in this series. Hopefully guiding you away from being on the bottom of the "Crap" pile. But remember this, those movies that you saw on the shelf? The ones you think are crap?

Those were the movies that made the cut.

Imagine the ton of films that were rejected! All those filmmaker's dreams up in smoke along with that second mortgage or college fund. There goes Auntie's Boca condo.

When I worked at both Omega Entertainment and York Entertainment I would have to screen a lot of films that were seeking the holy grail of distribution. Sometimes I would get 10 - 20 tapes a day! Out of a week of screening these films (on fast forward or at least the first ten minutes) I'd narrow it down to about five films worth pursuing for the month. That's a lot of wasted tape.

(and we weren't the big boys. I don't even want to think what the studios have to put up with!)

So why do so many films startout with the best of intentions and end up being flushed down the system? A lot of low-budget productions fall into the bear trap of not planning everything out beforehand. The producers and directors think that because there is no money, they have to do everything on the fly. Well, I'm here to tell you that the exact opposite is true.

So here's the first thing on your checklist for shooting a D2DVD movie, and it's so simple that I can't believe nobody's brought it up:

Just shoot your movie in widescreen.

You want to give your movie "scope" and a big look - a professional look - right?

Just shoot your movie in widescreen.

It's that simple.


anangbhai said...

Amen. I added widescreen bars to my films because I prefer shooting in 4:3 and the they look just as good as widescreen.

anangbhai said...
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RogerRmjet said...

Good suggestion, Bill. Keep 'em coming.

RogerRmjet said...

Bill, I'm curious -- of the "do-it-yourself" films that are out there seeking distribution, how many do you think are "pulpiverse" projects that easily fit into a genre (such as horror), vs. the artsy-fartsy, introspective, character-study type stuff?

Bill Cunningham said...


Another part of your answer is not necessarily related to the "Do-it-yourselfers" but related to the worldwide market - in other words what are the independent companies offering buyers at the film markets? (which is a good indicator of what the indie producers are making)

From Feb 2004's AFM comes this information about the number of new films being offered by companies in a specific genre:

Action-adventure = 126 films
Adult/erotic = 15
Animation = 19
Child/ Teen = 21
Comedy = 182
Docu = 75
Drama = 327
Family = 38
Horror = 117
Music = 12
Romance = 56
Science Fiction = 33
Thriller = 148

So if we were to add up the offerings of the "Pulpy" genre vs. Drama we would get:

424 vs. 327 or about a third more pulpy offerings than drama.

There's always going to be dramas as there will always be horror, BUT the genre stuff is an easier sell. If you miss with a drama or you don't have a star - nothing. If you don't have a star with a horror movie it's okay - the creature/horror is the star.

For some reason a lot of the Grad school students do their thesis project as a drama thinking everyone wants to see their characters moan and cry and spout off at the mouth.


They are a bad move financially, and often these tearjerkers sit in the back of the closet and wither. Deservedly so. They suck!

Aric Blue said...

I gotta tell ya, I think you're wrong wrong wrong on this one.


'Cause a lot of times when you're shooting you may not get the exact composition you want. Maybe too much headroom, or you caught a little boom mic in the picture.

If you shoot full screen and letterbox in post you can physically shift the picture BEFORE you widescreen so that you get the best composition for AFTER the letterboxing.

So if you had too much headroom in a shot, shift the picture up. You'll have white screen at the bottom from pushing the picture up, but your letterbox will cover that up.

But I totally agree that you should end in widescreen.

What we do now is shoot with a monitor, and we've taped over the top and bottom of the monitor to show where the letterboxing is going to be.

That way if someone moves too far out of frame, we can still fix it in post and keep the shot.

Bill Cunningham said...

As long as you end up with a widescreen picture that indicates scope and depth - I don't give a rat's ass how you get there.

I'm just telling you, the audience, to step up and make your stuff look better. It will pay off.