Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wassamatta U?

Ted Hope has a great post today by guest blogger/filmmaker Jamie Stuart. I am going to pick at the post's carcass a bit, but there's plenty here to chew on throughout the weekend so go read the entire thing:

Now, however, the paradigm has shifted to a situation where filmmakers are making small, dirt-cheap movies for niches and their friends; the debut film isn't as important so much as slowly building a track record. In this model, indie film has essentially become regional folk art. I think we need to return to the prior model, but there are some things holding that up. Like:

Yes, it has shifted away from the bottleneck of just a few festival darlings making their way past the gatekeepers and out into the Elysian fields of the distribution marketplace. In the regional folk art metaphor you propose, you neglect to mention that now more people can participate from wherever they are at, instead of having to be in Los Angeles or New York or other large urban center. The bottleneck has widened (for good and for bad).

I think we need to re-think how movies are made. Micro-features and DIY productions use crews in a much different manner than movies made for 7-8 figures, and I think producers need to study what people like myself are doing...

Not that I expect larger budgeted productions to use the exact method I did (they wouldn't have to if they had money), but there's got to be something that can be learned and adapted from what I and others have done.
Absolutely! And how does one most effectively share these ideas, paradigms and innovations? Why through the internet of course!

Now, if you combine all of the above, you get another problem. It used to be that aspiring filmmakers started with a small budget, either on a short or a small feature, and that was used as a calling card to get a larger budget. The issue here is that due to the drop in budgets based on prosumer cameras and editing, producers don't seem to take those projects as seriously. What they mistake, however, is that you're getting an equivalent production value as before, only it costs a fraction of the amount. But producers aren't saying: "Wow! Look at what so-and-so did for so little. Imagine what they could do with a larger budget? I want to work with him!" Instead, they seem to be looking at the budget, and on that basis alone, writing it off: "Let me know when you've moved on to bigger things, but for now, you're a small fry."

I would agree that this is ture in the United States, but there is a growing movement of production and distribution professionals in the UK that are embracing these micro-budget productions and filmmakers with financing and expertise. We cannot count that out.

The internet is great for sales and marketing, but it's a lousy delivery method. The quality is terrible. I've never looked at the internet as anything other than a means to get exposure and establish myself -- so I can get OFF the internet and make real features.

People understand the quality loss. They measure it against the convenience and are just fine with it. Excuse me but exactly what is "a real feature?"

I think a lot of the indie community still believes in the film festival model: If you're a serious filmmaker, you need to submit to festivals. They seem almost fundamentalist in this regard. And it's holding up progress.
Yes, it is. The indie filmmakers have become the establishment they rebelled against in the 80's and early 90's.

All of that said, I'm still of the belief that the biggest problem in indie film right now is simply the product. When indie film was booming in the '80s/'90s, young people like myself were drawn to it because it seemed to be the most creative arena in filmmaking. Not now. Young people look to big FX blockbusters as the most creative arena. People now equate indie film with poor production values, cheap-looking handheld photography, amateurish acting, etc. They look at it as a joke. I approached the prospect of DIY filmmaking from the view that ambitious films could now be made inexpensively -- I've always used tripods, dollies, cranes, special FX. But DIY filmmaking on the whole went in the opposite direction -- small, handheld slices of life. And while that aesthetic certainly has its place, it's never going to find a larger audience, in my opinion. Until we shift out of this phase and DIY filmmakers start creating ambitious pictures at dirt prices, the movement will remain derided. And until the bigger people start lifting up the small, there's going to remain a major class divide.

(emphasis mine)

Absolutely. I double that for web series that rely on the backbone of being parodies of existing material. If I see another 20-something wannabe comedy web series set in an office, apartment complex or similar locale - I am going to get violent. Ditto for the trope of directly addressing the camera or the simply allowing the "action" to unfold without camera movement or editorial. It's lame.

Dr. Horrible (which I loved) has been a hit on the web NOT because it was entirely original, but because everything else up to that point was lame. The web audience deserves better. They want better and yes, they will pay for it.

I am writing a movie now, that while not entirely original (what film is?) is geared to push the boundaries in terms of production value, energy and fun. A creative new look at some old tropes in genre film. That's what we - the pulp filmmaking community - needs.

As well as effective ways of getting that new pulp out there so people can embrace their convenience.


TheGamut said...

"What is a real feature?"

That is where you two differ. It is obvious that he sees the phenomenon as a starter-wife, and you seem to feel a production should be considered a full-throttle commitment.

I have to agree with you on that. I have seen what half-hearted higher-budget productions... well... produce. Throw-away attempts produce throw-away results. I believe the inverse is true about lower-budget blood-sweat-tears productions proverbially producing diamonds out of coal (which does not work that way in reality, but hopefully, the point gets across).

Trevor B. Cunningham said...

What TheGamut said. Another term and attitude I'd like to pour gasoline on and throw my burning cigar the term 'Calling Card'. Make your show or project like it's the last thing you'll ever do because if you don't, it just might be. Trust me. I know. I've made the 'Calling Card' mistake.

Unknown said...

"If I see another 20-something wannabe comedy web series set in an office, apartment complex or similar locale - I am going to get violent."



Then again, what I'm working on isn't an attempt to do Friends-for-the-web, and it's certainly not inspired by The Office, because I thought The Office was awful (British version, never even bothered with the American).

The idea is to have a rolling cast of characters, so we're not demanding too much of anyone, to do a number of short stories about relationships. There's a tiny crew- often just me, sometimes someone to hold the microphone- occasional guerilla filming and a lot of multi-tasking.

The aim isn't to make a long form piece (yet) but to do the best we can with what we've got. Because just doing something inspires others to join in and help us improve.

So please don't hit me Mister Cunningham.

And I couldn't say all that without adding, check out what we did last year- I've been out talking to actors and writing collaborators and I know that when we come back it will be better again.

Cunningham said...

Ian - I am all for relationships:

-Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THIEF.
-James Stewart and Grace Kelly in REAR WINDOW.
-Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zymbalist in REMINGTON STEELE.
- Sela Ward Ward and Billy Campbell in ONCE AND AGAIN.


All of them had significant relationships...but they also had more.

Good dramas about relationships are demanding, exhilarating, debilitating, exhausting, sweaty, passionate, tense, explosive and yes, sometimes silent as a church mouse...

but they can never be boring.

And yet, all of the relationship dramas and comedies that I've seen on the web are as exciting as watching paint dry. (To be fair I haven't seen yours). Most of them don't have a hook that goes beyond "it's a relationship comedy/drama set in an office/ apartment complex/college campus"

It has to go beyond that. We've seen that all before. BFD.

I wish you well. I understand the production model you have to work under...

But seriously, couldn't it be a relationship comedy set in an office after the boss's body turns up stabbed, and the cops have to dig through who's been shtupping who and who amongst them is the murderer?

Because that, to me , would be the relationship comedy on the web worth watching.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Personally, the 'Calling Card' concept annoys me because it sees a film as a stepping stone, rather than a legitimate work in itself.

My approach is to do what I can with the money I have (or have raised). I don't think about impressing anyone with it. I think about making the best film with the best script I have.

I agree that most web drama is lame. In a sense, they feel like products of inconvenience. Almost anti-cinema.

It's great that the technical necessities (for shooting and cutting) are now now within a reasonable budget range (I reckon about $15-20K conservatively), there there are elements with costs that do not adjust proportionately such as SAG rates and the cost of a great sound lay and mix.

You still have major delivery expenses, too, even if you're only going to DVD.

International sales agents still insist on deliverables they will never use.

For low budget features, I've explored DVD and streaming sales direct from a dedicated site.

No middlemen costs. No delivery complications.

The trick is to create an awareness of your new product on the market.