Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Insta-DVDs redux

Thought this was an interesting little tidbit on IMDb's news page today, given my recent modest proposal on being able to buy a DVD of the movie you just saw in the theater lobby. Emphasis added.

Disney CEO Robert Iger has continued to downplay the importance of a film's box-office receipts and to urge that studios shorten the length of time it takes for a film to move into the home video market, where the largest profits lie. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Iger said that he has proposed that theaters begin selling DVDs of the movies they are screening at their concession stands. "They think we are out of our minds," he conceded.

Heh. I'm sure!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

But do you have to be an OT-VIII to buy it?

This is, quite simply, hilarious. The Japanese know how to do a DVD special edition, I can tell you! Feast your eyes on the War of the Worlds Emergency Box. In addition to the two-disc version of the Spielberg/Cruise movie, you get a special kit to help you survive when the Martians invade: a keychain with a whistle on it, a pair of work gloves, and — wait for it — an AM/FM radio with hand-powered LED light! And all for only ¥23,100 (that's about $185). It just makes me want to jump up and down on a couch!

I can't wait to see what kind of special edition they whip up for Showgirls!

Massachusetts smarter than Texas, again

It isn't just things like civil rights and gay marriage that separate a state like Massachusetts from one like Texas. This, from IMDb today: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Wednesday signed a new law providing tax incentives intended to lure Hollywood filmmakers to the state. After signing the legislation, the governor remarked, "Grab your popcorn and soda, because Massachusetts is ready for its close-up." The bill calls for income and corporate excise tax credits to producers based on the number of local workers they employ and how much the filmmakers spend in the state during production. Today's (Thursday) Boston Herald quoted Don Stirling, who heads the state's Sports & Entertainment Commission, as saying, "With this film incentive legislation, we have the economic resources to attract more and more movies to Massachusetts."

I certainly like the bit about being "based on the number of local workers they employ". Nice one. Will anyone in our own state legislature step up to the plate? Maybe. When monkeys fly out of my butt.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Apparently there's a big holiday tomorrow

For those of you who celebrate it, have a safe and enjoyable day. I myself will be enjoying staying home, curled up with my animals and a good book or two, or maybe the brand new King Kong DVD, which is ossom! No traffic or airport lines for me! Suckers!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The “Ben’s Letter” shoot: in which your courageous cineblogger masters many animal fears

So how did you spend your Sunday? I spent much of mine perched on a chair in a room in the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin, with nothing between me and twelve stories of empty atmosphere but a single pane of glass. Granted, it felt like good, sturdy safety glass. But I could still, you know, see through it.

I'd never art directed before (if that's what you'd call this), so I was looking forward to creating a fake "broken window" effect for this video for my pals in the band 54 Seconds. I love their music, which I generally find tuneful and upbeat, but I'm not sure about their predilection for really depressing videos. Their last video, for the song "Better?", ended blissfully with a girl shooting herself in the head but failing to kill herself, winding up instead institutionalized with brain damage. Now we have vocalist Spencer Gibb hurling himself angstfully from a high hotel window (they restrained themselves by not actually making Spencer do that bit), where his spectre then haunts the Omni lobby, eternally singing his plaintive song to confused passers-by. Goodness!

Anyway, the first step in my FX exercise was to put down a layer of tint, and cut it into the rough shape of broken shards. The idea was that the untinted glass would give a dazzling performance as the broken-out part.

As you can see, putting this into practice involved the lunatic act of standing on a chair directly in front of a twelve-story yawning chasm. I discovered many things this day. One of which was the axiom "Don't look down!", which is something we all think of as just a stupid thing people say in movies, actually does work when it has to. As long as I kept my eyes fixed on my work, there was just no time to dwell on how frickin' high up I was. As the work pressed towards evening and the lobby got a little dimmer, it got easier still. Essentially I just got wrapped up enough in the work that I gave myself no time to scare the hell out of myself. I felt like Kane in Kung Fu. You have mastered mind over matter, Grasshopper!

Okay, I didn't really feel like Kane in Kung Fu, but I enjoyed saying I did.

After laying down the film, I used acrylics, the most loathsome paints known to man (but quick-drying and easy to peel!), to create the jagged edges. Just keep looking straight ahead, Martin....

Almost done...just a few more edges to go....total work time approaching four hours even.

The finished window...and I'm outta here, folks. Enough of this cruel world for me! And don't forget to tip your waitresses.

Since the shoot was scheduled as an all-nighter — a schedule with which my circadian rhythms were, for a change, not in tune — I went home, walked the dog, grabbed some shut eye, and then went back to the hotel around 4:45 a.m. to strike the set. Peeling everything off, which required nearly half a bottle of Goo Gone, was infinitely more of a hassle than putting it up. But I was told by director/DP Jen White it all looked spectacular on video! Which was the goal. I also got to see some terrific examples of filmmakers' homemade resourcefulness in action, including an amazing rig cobbled together by Jen and Bill Orendorff that suspended the camera face down from, I kid you not, about eight or ten helium balloons (and anchored with fishing poles) which floated up at least ten stories! This was used for Spencer's dead-on-the-ground shot, and ought to look amazing. To rent a crane that could've achieved the same effect would have cost thousands.

So by 7:30 a.m. on Monday, it was a picture wrap. Down and dirty overnight indie filmmaking, Austin style! Thanks to Bill for the photos, and everyone else on the crew for a good time. Some of you are racking up some impressive IOU's, which, rest assured, I will call in someday with all the ruthlessness at my disposal. And to you folks at home, I'll let you know when the video is ready for viewing.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's Martin Scorsese's birthday!

He's America's greatest living filmmaker, and he's named Martin! It gets no better than that!


Okay, here's an idea.

A new movie hits theaters. You go to see it. You like it, you really, really like it. You think, when this comes out on DVD, I'll buy it.

Then you go into the lobby, and there's a machine. You slip a ten dollar bill into it, plus maybe your ticket stub as sort of a proof-of-purchase thing...

And the machine burns you a copy-protected DVD of the movie you just saw. With bonus content. Plus it prints out artwork you can slip into a keepcase when you get home.

Cool? Yes? No? Piracy killer? Or enabler? Theater saver? Or wrecker?


Considering the audience

Interesting article (the internets are full of them) from IndieWire, one passage of which deals with the concept of different versions of a film being cut for different audiences. A clip:

Prior to the release of Joe Wright's "Pride & Prejudice" in the U.K. two months ago, the film's producers, Working Title, decided to shorten the original romantic ending of the movie, apparently feeling it was a bit too sappy for British audiences. Focus Features on the other hand, which opened the movie over the weekend in the U.S., kept Wright's original ending, releasing a different, slightly longer version of the film in this country. In a statement to indieWIRE Wednesday, a Focus spokesperson explained that in the U.K., "audiences prefer a less overtly romantic wrap-up, so the filmmakers had prepared the movie accordingly." Standing by their decision to release the film with the more romantic coda Stateside, the Focus spokesperson added, "What's most gratifying is that, wherever in the world 'Pride & Prejudice' is being shown, critics and moviegoers are enjoying this classic love story." Such decisions, reiterating how audience reactions are anticipated and accommodated ahead of major film releases, are increasingly commonplace in Indiewood, as a panel of insiders discussed Monday night at a New York Women in Film and Television seminar.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, it's a foolish filmmaker who ignores the audience and chains himself to his auteur pretensions. That way lies madness, and movies like this. For my own currently-in-prepro HD short, whenever someone reading the script came upon a bit they found confusing, I'd ask them straight-up, "What do I need to do to make that less confusing?" And that process continued until those criticisms stopped. Filmmaking is like any other art form: you have to communicate ideas meaningfully.

But there's something about the way Hollywood will focus-group a movie to death that smacks of treating them like kitchen appliances. Here's the red one for people who like red, and here's the one without the built-in can opener for folks who don't like all that clutter. When you tailor a movie to perceived audience tastes, are you make the best decision for the quality of the movie? Or are you just trying to pander to boost whatever meager profits you stand to make anyway?

And — most importantly from my point of view — are the filmmakers being consulted about these changes, or are they all marketing and studio driven, without respect for whatever the director's and screenwriter's vision for the story might have been? It wouldn't be anything new to see directors having their films taken out of their hands and chopped to pieces due to some whim of a studio exec or marketing survey. It's a shameful Hollywood tradition going all the way back to Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. If changes are inevitable, the best thing producers and studios can do is trust their creative talent. In the case of Pride & Prejudice, it sounds like the director was okay with all of this, so that's fine. But if he hadn't been, I can easily see the studio thumbing their nose at him and saying, "Well, we're doing it anyway." And perhaps they would have been right, perhaps not. The danger any artist runs into is that you get so close to the work, you can't often take the detached perspective needed to see what would be best for its ultimate success. But on the other hand, sometimes you're completely confident in what you want, and you have to fight idiots who want to vandalize what you've worked so hard to create.

There's not a smart director alive who doesn't want his film to be embraced by a large audience, even the ones who cop the auteur attitude. A good director appreciates a producer and marketer who wants to work with him on maximizing his film's potential. Because in the end, everyone wants the same thing: a popular movie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Studio executives prove good math skills irrelevant to job market

Instead of fretting over DVD release windows, just stop making insanely expensive crap!

There's an interesting piece over at the New York Times about the ever-shrinking window of opportunity films have in which to succeed or fail. As the Times has one of those websites where they want you to register before you can read anything, I'll sum up.

Studio films, being increasingly expensive to make, are under greater pressure to return their investment faster and faster, due to competition from pirates and even the legitimate DVD market. A movie's theatrical success can now, in most instances, be predicted not by the end of the opening weekend, but by mid-afternoon on opening day. But the shortening of the window between theatrical and DVD release has actually damaged theatrical business; most moviegoers are perfectly happy to hang loose and wait for a new movie on DVD. So it's DVD sales that are now keeping Hollywood afloat. But, strong box office is usually the thing that determines strong DVD sales (especially as most DVD's in America are bought at the Great Satan, Wal-Mart, which I can probably guarantee you isn't carrying titles from labels like Anchor Bay or Blue Underground).

So it's a dilemma, kind of like the old "you can't get hired without experience, and you can't get experience if no one hires you" thing.

The expense of filmmaking (I can understand how a movie like The Return of the King costs $100 million, but how did we get to a situation where the average Hollywood production is costing nearly that?) and the difficulty most of these studios are even having staying in business is what's accounting for the nonstop reliance on franchises and remakes. If you haven't got strong examples of either, you're in a serious state of assfuckery. Just ask Paramount, whose recent attempts at franchise-building (Tomb Raider) have gone over about as well as a best man at a wedding reception who decides to make his entire speech/toast a series of homo and fart jokes. This is one studio desperate for Spielberg and Lucas to get the lead out and produce the fourth Indiana Jones, I can tell you!

I don't think it's possible for Hollywood to go back and widen the DVD window to give movies a little more room to breathe in theaters. Mainly, because the toothpaste is already out of the tube. And also, if a film flops in theaters, it becomes even more important to rush that DVD onto the racks before the corpse of the film starts stinking up the place completely.

As for eliminating the window entirely, which some producers are contemplating, there are certainly risks involved with that. Steven Soderbergh's next film, Bubble, is going to take the unusual route of being simultaneously released theatrically, on TV and on DVD. Already, some theater chains are rebelling, but this little experiment could provide low-budget indie filmmakers with a helpful roadmap to let them know how best to release a specialized-audience picture. What has been left out of 2929 Entertainment's grand plan is internet distribution, but I suspect that will come along soon, what with the success iTunes has been having selling television shows for the iPod. I'm very interested to see how 2929's grand plan works out for them. It won't eliminate theaters, of course, but letting moviegoers know they have multiple options available to them right then might just encourage their interest.

I think there's an easier way for Hollywood to stop worrying about falling revenues and the threat ironically posed by their own thriving aftermarket. It's two steps, basically. 1. Cut costs. 2. Stop making movies that suck. One of the most successful films in release right now is Saw II, of all things. Yes, it's a franchise, and it's horror, which guarantees it a built-in audience to a certain degree. But Lion's Gate's approach to film production in general — no huge budgets, treat each film with care and attention instead of tossing them out indifferently as instant tax losses a la Miramax — is smarter than Hollywood's overall. Saw II cost $4 million to make and has to date taken in $75 million. By contrast, Flop-of-the-Year Stealth cost $135 million and only took in $31 million ($75 million worldwide). Maybe before studios hire executives, they should pay closer attention to prospective candidates' SAT math scores.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

With a little help from my friends

As long as there aren't any big, "make you a living" jobs for film crews in Austin, there are still friends who pull together their own projects to keep the juices flowing and, most importantly, stay connected.

I'll be working this coming Sunday on a music video for my chum Spencer Gibb's fantastic band 54 Seconds, for their heartbreaking single "Ben's Letter". You should promptly buy everything they've recorded, either at their site or off iTunes. The album mystifyingly titled ep is a good starter.

I've never art directed before, so this should be interesting. I basically get to vandalize a room at the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin. Never fear; I'll fix it when we wrap. I'm sure to have plenty of photos and fun stories to post after it's all done. And the beat goes on.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

From the "It Was Gonna Happen Sooner or Later" file

Someone not named Quentin Tarantino makes film simply titled Fuck.

In the never-ending quest for edgy documentary material, filmmaker Steven Anderson (doubtless inspired by the recent hit The Aristocrats) seems to have been dealt a royal flush. He's been getting a lot of buzz for his movie examining the etymology of everyone's favorite profanity. The problem as I see it is that there will now be no possible way to further jade the festival crowd ever again. Unless ol' Quentin makes a G-rated movie about bunnies, or something.

I personally can't wait to see it. Any movie that interviews both Ron Jeremy and Pat Boone has got to be worth sitting through at least once.

I'm guessing it will probably be rated R.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

World stunned by shocking newsflash: people like watching sex

Been noticing the hilarious amount of press this week over a new study by something called the Kaiser Family Foundation, to the effect that the amount of sex on television these days is so prevalent that it's only a matter of time before the #1 rated network will be something like The Fisting Channel and, over on PBS, Bert and Ernie decide to come out. Kind of makes me think I might want to watch a few TV shows myself for a change. But then I know what would happen. I'd channel-surf for about two hours, think, Well, that was a waste of time, and go back to what I was doing beforehand.

Reading the study, you come across passages that make snarky phrases like "Way too much time on your hands, isn't there?" run laps across your mind.

The study found that 70% of all shows include some sexual content, and that these shows average 5.0 sexual scenes per hour, compared to 56% and 3.2 scenes per hour respectively in 1998, and 64% and 4.4 scenes per hour in 2002.

It occurs to me that sitting around meticulously timing sex scenes and working out mathematical percentages and stuff is not exactly what you're meant to be doing when you're watching them. I think the intended effect is meant to be, you know, a bit more visceral. I mean, how dweeby do you have to be to stopwatch this stuff? Good grief.

Anyway, I'm sure to the chagrin of the previously mentioned Parents Television Council (why do all the "ooo, sex is bad" groups have names with words in them like "Parents" and "Family"? — how do they think you're supposed to make a family!?), all this forniculatory copulational stuff cannot exactly be blamed for any increase in actual naughty behaviors. As the Washington Post reports:

In the slightly more than 1,000 shows scrutinized in the study, nearly 4,000 scenes had sexual content, compared with fewer than 2,000 in 1998, when the foundation started studying TV sex. And yet the rate of teen pregnancy in this country has plunged by about one-third during approximately the same time.

So, I guess the "For God's sake, won't someone think of the children?" argument has been intercepted before it could even get off the line of scrimmage. Fact, folks: Television shows don't take normal, sensible, well-adjusted people of any age and reprogram them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. Your kids are not hard disc drives into which TV shows can install viruses that corrupt their system software and make them stop operating properly. If your kid is going out having wanton irresponsible sex, you should forget about what may or may not be on TV, and take a good hard look at your own parenting skills.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hooray! Death Star close to exploding!

From IMDb's news page today:

Blockbuster May Be on the Verge of Bankruptcy

Blockbuster released its most dismal quarterly report ever on Tuesday, so dismal that it even included a warning that it may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection. The company reported a loss of $491 million during the quarter, most of it due to a write-down related to its spin-off from former parent Viacom. In-store business, it said, continued to be down due to the elimination of late fees, and online business remained flat as the company was unable to attract more than a fraction of Netflix's subscriber base. The company said that it plans to reduce marketing costs and sell or shutter its smaller rental chains, Movie Trading, Video King and Mr. Movies.

I quit renting from Blockbuster way the heck back in 1989, before many of you may well have been born, for several reasons. Not the least of these was its self-serving hypocrisy. Here was this video chain that loved to masquerade as "your family video store," boasting about its refusal to carry "controversial" movies like Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, when all along its motives for doing so were all about pandering to the fears and prejudices of what they saw as being the most important customer base/revenue stream, moreso than any honest concern for "morality" or "decency." And anyway, their "family store" self-image never gave them any cause not to carry the most gory, violent, exploitive and misogynist no-budget horror films or Skinemax tease-sleaze "thrillers".

The same dishonesty carried over into their rejection of NC-17 titles. The MPAA, not any filmmaker's best friend by any stretch of the imagination, genuinely tried to create a respectable adult rating for movies with the NC-17. But Blockbuster quickly realized a precept also adopted years later by the likes of Karl Rove and the extreme right: you can't lose money by exploiting ignorance and fear. So immediately, out went the press releases decrying the NC-17 as an evil conspiracy by liberal (read: Jewish) Hollywood moguls to sneak filthy porn into the lilywhite homes of upstanding American Christians. And you won't find any of that filth at your family video store, moms and dads! Pow — the NC-17 was killed before it ever had a chance. Before long, Blockbuster was all but dictating to Hollywood how to make its films. When they were the top dogs in home video, no light ever turned green without a careful consideration of how well the rentals at Blockbuster would do, and how to make the kinds of movies they'd carry, and how to package those movies to please them. A video chain was setting the rules of how filmmakers got to make films!

It's offensive enough to me, as a consumer (much less a filmmaker), for a business to cast itself in the role of My Mommy. It's doubly offensive when their reasons for doing so aren't that they give a damn about films, or even about me, but simply the contents of my wallet.

The very last time I was in a Blockbuster, I was agog that on the in-store monitors, they weren't showing a movie, nor even trailers for movies. They were showing ads for Blockbuster! They already had me in the store, and yet they still felt like they had to bombard me nonstop with their own advertising. Looking for a movie to rent tonight? No, no! You want two or three... Shameless.

Die, Blockbuster, die. I look forward to dancing on your grave.


Meme this: Music Appreciation Night

Back in the 90's, before the DVD revolution, collectors of movies on home video were an elite bunch of proud cinema snobs who collected enormous and cumbersome artifacts called laserdiscs. I was one such, and made it my business to throw "cinema nights" for friends. The goal of this was not to float a keg and laugh ourselves silly over grade-Z crap and limp comedies (which really takes no imagination), but to expose people I liked to movies that were genuinely cool and good. So I showed a lot of Criterion stuff, and when I had a horror night it usually concentrated on giallo classics and obscurities like Bava's Black Sunday. Nowadays anyone and his dog can do this, so the gilt is off the lily, kind of.

But some friends of mine and I came up with an idea a couple of years ago that allowed this whole notion of exposing oneself to new and different works of art to thrive. We took to calling it by the stuffy academic title of Music Appreciation Night, or music night, since the only other name we could come up with (that I liked) led to all sorts of non-PC humor. One of the masterminds of this party meme was my friend Thad Engeling, who owns something like 5,000 CDs and is essentially a one-man music education (though I have never yet managed to inculcate in him an appreciation of jazz).

It goes like this. We get a small group together; I've found the optimum attendance is 4-5 people. Every time we've done it with more than five, it hasn't worked. People do what they do at regular parties: clump off into pairs and socialize, with the music no longer being the focus of the evening and instead serving the function music serves at any other party, that of background noise. We pull our chairs into a row in front of the stereo, dim the lights, and everyone plays a song from the stack of CDs they've brought in turn. Thad keeps a running playlist of the entire evening's tracks, and each attendee also burns a compilation CD of their own playlist for the other attendees. We go home with expanded horizons.

I can honestly say I've been exposed to more variety and more brilliant music this way than by any other means in my life. The sumptuous melodies of Vas (who pick up where Dead Can Dance left off but with even greater authenticity), the rhythms of Midival Punditz, the ambient soundscapes of Ishq, the gentle acoustic/electronic pop of Hungry Lucy; all would have gone unheard for life by me had we not had these little soirées. It goes without saying commercial radio will never do this for you.

I'd love to see if this little party meme makes its way through the blogosphere. Schedule your own music night and discuss the results. Maybe even post your playlists (not the songs itself, that'd be, like, illegal and stuff, Mr. RIAA Man). Then we could all expand our individual horizons even further.

And as soon as I get my living room in shape, I may start throwing cinema nights again, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The kind of thing bachelors worry about

The dust on my living room ceiling fan, which I cleaned off tonight using an amazing innovation called a vacuum cleaner hose attachment, had gotten so thick it looked like it was growing hair. Should I be alarmed at this?

Austin: nothing going on, still

Hi folks. No posts in a while, I know, but here's a subject near and not so dear to my heart, apropos to the whole state of filmmaking in Austin, Texas. Such as the fact that there isn't any.

If Austin weren't a wonderful place to live in so many ways, I wouldn't have spent so many years living here. And Austin likes to pat itself on the back for many things. There's our rumored music scene, which has led to the town's adopting the unofficial nickname of "Live Music Capital of the World." I remember seeing a lot of live music, oh, ten years ago, and I look in our local weekly "alternative" paper the Chronicle and see numerous live gigs listed. Do I get excited about much of it these days? Not really. But maybe I'm just getting old.

In recent years, though, Austin has started seeing itself as some sort of filmmaking Mecca. This isn't altogether new, of course. Filmmaking has been something of a vibrant underground activity around here for years, and as much as 20 years ago I recall coming up here for seminars and things, before there was a South by Southwest festival officially sponsoring them.

There is also a wealth of talent here. Simply loads of eager and enthusiastic film professionals in every category who love nothing more than to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in for 14 hours a day on a shoot in 104° heat and make movies. But for all the city's preening and posturing about the film scene here, there's just one thing lacking: an industry to support any of it. Hey, we've got great theaters, we have our adopted trophy celebrities, we have Quentin Tarantino popping up like a jack-in-the-box every now and again, and we even have a fake awards show. But what we don't have is a film industry. Which is why you see so many of Austin's underemployed film talent shooting mini-DV movies no one will ever see in their apartments with crews they can't pay.

You can have all the talent in the world at your disposal if you want to be a real filmmakers' town, and it will mean neither jack nor shit if there is no one investing money in productions. And by money, I don't mean the rinkidink $50,000 (or less) feature film budgets that most hapless indie filmmakers have to grit their teeth and live with. I mean, some serious venture capitalists putting $1 million and $2 million and even, fuck it, $8 million budgets together to help filmmakers make movies they can actually sell to a distributor. But I can tell you, from personal experience, that if you tell people in Austin that you want to produce an independent feature film, and they say, "Awesome, what kind of budget are you talking about?" and you answer, "I think $1 million ought to do it," their eyes go as big as dinner plates and they goggle at you as if you've just undone your fly and taken out your dick and there was a fish on the end of it. Shock! Horror! Disbelief! One muh-muh...did you say million dollars? To make a movie with? Are you mad? Who do you think you are, anyway? James Cameron? Why can't you do it for something reasonable...say, seven thousand? After all, Robert Rodriguez did.

Ah, and there's the rub. The Rodriguez curse. Now, let me clarify one thing right away. I like Robert and am damn proud of him. He and I were fellow cartoonists at The Daily Texan at the end of the 80's; I did Hepcats, which went on to spend the 90's as a money-losing but personally fulfilling alternative comic book, and he did Los Hooligans. He was always a great, easy going guy, even for many years after he hit it big. Though now I understand construction on the ivory tower is complete and the little people can no longer talk to him. But for a while, he was a down-to-earth guy and he did a lot to raise the profile of Austin in Hollywood's eyes. Kudos all around.

But the problem is the effect his D.I.Y. success has had on perceptions in Austin. Austin is still, and probably forever will be, intoxicated by Robert Rodriguez and the Myth of the $7,000 Movie. Again, clarification is called for: yes, Robert did shoot El Mariachi for a mere seven g's. However, the version of that movie anybody has actually seen — the one that Columbia released in 1993, and that's on DVD right now — cost in the neighborhood of $150,000, which is what Columbia had to spend to get that precocious little production into releasable shape.

Do you know how it goes, when someone wins the lottery, and the following week, hundreds of dimwits flock to the specific convenience store where that winner bought his ticket, thinking that perhaps since one winning ticket was bought there, that must be where all the winning tickets are hiding? This sort of foolish, magical thinking seems to permeate the minds of many people in what could loosely be termed Austin's filmmaking community. Hey, this guy Rodriguez just spent a little bit of money, and look where he is today! All I have to do is exactly what he did, and since I'm obviously as smart and talented as he is, I'm bound to have the same success! Easy!

The foolishness of this is partly what has led to the current bleak situation in Austin filmmaking. It's almost Troma-like, when the best our city can boast about are shot-on-video zombie movies. But there are other factors to blame, of course. As far as real productions are concerned, as you can see, not much is happening. Texas as a whole has been hemorrhaging major studio productions into Louisiana, which has offered Hollywood tax incentives from the gods. And of the few studio productions that do still come here, they are usually entirely crewed up by the time they arrive. The fine folks at the Austin Film Society and Texas Film Commission — what help are they to local crews? None at all. They're simply all too happy to pull on the kneepads and service these big productions any way they wish. Do they put forth any effort to liaise between local crews and studio productions? Do they actually have a representative who sits down with these production managers and says to their faces, "Hey, Hollywood, don't sweat it, we have gaffers, and production designers, and storyboard artists, and construction crews, and DP's, and AD's, and PA's, and pretty much anybody and everybody you could want to pull your shoot together!" No. They don't.

Austin has all sorts of potential as a real filmmaking hub. Naturally, I cannot find fault with the actual filmmakers themselves, who pull a shot-on-video zombie movie together simply because, hell, making something is better than making nothing. But until the real movers and shakers in this town start treating Austin film seriously as an industry rather than an exciting sideshow, and backing that up with credible financial commitments, filmmaking in Austin will have the same reputation as that of its "Live Music Capital of the World" boast. All talk. No walk.