Saturday, December 31, 2005

Martinus Lupus

I'm cool with this, even if the person who put it together can't spell to save his frickin' life.
What Is Your Animal Personality?

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Yet another state outsmarts Texas

This time it's Washington, which has come up with a rather direct plan to entice productions to actually shoot there instead of neighboring Vancouver. Just offer money! From IMDb today:

After seeing several films set in Seattle actually being shot in Vancouver, B.C., about 120 miles to the north, the Washington state legislature is considering a measure that would set up a $5-million fund to be used to attract more filmmakers to the state. Filmmakers would be able to receive up to $1 million for virtually any production shot in the state providing that amount does not exceed 20 percent of the actual money spent in the state. "This has the possibility of bringing tens of millions of dollars into the state economy," Don Jensen, president of Alpha Cine Labs, a post-production company in Seattle, told Bloomberg News.

Meanwhile, on Texas' slate of current shoots, lots of not much.

Here's hoping for a better 2006.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some grim facts about shorts

Read a sobering article in Hollywood Reporter about how shorts, particularly those streamable on the web, are no longer the calling card aspiring filmmakers have hoped. And they probably never were.

The gist of the article is this: The proliferation of short film websites has robbed indie shorts of much of their mystique. Now, I have, in many of my previous posts, touted the internet as a fantastic distribution avenue for small films in a world where theatrical and other large-scale distribution is simply closed to them. The downside, it appears, is not only a glut of product, but the fact that most of that product is fanboyish and not the sort of thing studio execs or high-powered producers would flock to in a search for new talent. I learned some good things from this article, I can tell you, that will certainly influence my own filmmaking plans in 2006.

1. Make something original, not a lame fanfilm or spoof. One point the article drives home is that too many of these shorts are fan spoofs of popular movies or TV shows. There must be a zillion Star Wars fanfilms, running the gamut from cheesy spoof to serious attempts at making something respectful to the source material. But in the end, fanfilms are all they are, and they're not likely to land you your Big Break, even if well-made.

2. Make absolutely the best short you can make, don't just gather a bunch of your friends together and shoot them doing inane things with your $299 Best Buy camcorder. If your sincere goal is to make actual theatrical motion pictures for a career, what a producer is going to want to see is real craft. If they can look at your film and immediately conclude that they're looking at the work of a filmmaker with real talent who deserves a development deal, that will literally separate you from 99.9% of the rabble. So write a strong story. Get a DP to actually light the damn shoot. And forget the Lars von Trier aesthetic; use sticks (aka a tripod) instead of doing the whole thing handheld. Do everything you can so that your short looks like the work of a filmmaker, not a fanboy (or -girl). And if spending money is what's worrying you, then think of it in terms of what you're prepared to invest in your future. Is it your burning desire to see a movie you directed playing at the megaplex down the block? Then what's that worth to you?

3. For chrissakes, have your next project ready! This, to me, was the galvanizing lesson of this article, as it's a trap even a skilled aspiring filmmaker can fall into. Many of the filmmakers interviewed for the article sheepishly confess to not having anything ready when a producer popped the question, "So, what else ya got?" They had concentrated so hard on their shorts that they literally hadn't thought ahead to the feature they wanted to make, which, irony of ironies, was entirely the goal that the short was supposed to bring them closer to realizing! A greater Homer Simpson "D'OH!" moment I don't think you could have. So the smart filmmaker's plan ought to be to make your short, then before you shop it around, have at least one and preferably two feature film screenplays finished and in your attache case for the moment that question is popped. What this says about you to a producer: "This person's prepared!"

4. Finally, persevere, persevere, persevere. Say you make your first short. And it's good. But it's not enough to open the desired doors. No big. Not the end of the world. Make a second short. Then a third if you have to. A fourth. A fifth. Persevere. And think of the advantage of having a DVD making the rounds in Hollywood with not one but five of your shorts on it. You now are an aspiring filmmaker with a body of work. Five directing credits instead of one. You're serious. It's obvious. And even if all this isn't enough to sway a studio yet, it may very well impress the hell out of an independent production company eager to finance the first feature of a hot new talent.

So while this article may seem depressing to those of us still clawing our way up, I think the sensible thing to do is roll with the changing times. Know what's feasible for you at this point and what isn't, and work within what is. And at all costs, keep making movies.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

So long, Richard Pryor

Well, this is a shame. I remember Silver Streak and Bustin' Loose fondly, and I'm always impressed when someone gets the "rubber brick throwin' muthafucka" reference. Thanks for the laughs, Rich. And we should all do our bit to support MS research.

O the irony!

After whining and kvetching a month ago about how little-to-nonexistent work is in Austin for local crews, I got — and lost — three job offers in as many days. One was a reality show who called and asked for a résumé; they never called back, and I assume it was because I wasn't available for all of the days of the fairly long shoot they had scheduled. Then some lady from ABC called for one of their reality shows, needing a driver, only to tell me the following day they were going to go with the "one guy [they] already had" (which made me curious as to the tone of desperate relief she had when she first called — "Oh, thank God I found you!" is something women say rarely enough to me it tends to build up expectations when they do.)

Then — then, I lost a job literally by a matter of five minutes. A coordinator I know fairly well (cool person) left me a voicemail looking for a PA for a one-day commercial shoot today, the 10th. I called back five minutes later to hear she was under serious pressure from the producer and had already hired someone else. "I'd much rather work with you, but I can't just call this person back and tell them I don't need them." No, you can't, of course, which is why you're a cool coordinator and the lady from ABC ought to take a page out of your book. Ah, well. That's life. Still, had I taken that call, I'd be working instead of blogging today.

Anyway, the silver lining is that I just got an e-mail from someone in San Francisco looking for PA's for a week-long thing in January. I probably won't get it either, but I fired off my résumé to them immediately so we'll see what comes of it. In any event, I appreciate that I got this notice, like, a month in advance, instead of its being the usual night-before, last-minute "We need a guy — wait, no we don't!" thing.

And there's the little matter of this being more job offers arriving in the last week than in the several preceding months combined. Let's hope this bodes well for 2006. With two projects of my own in development as well, I hope to be much busier than usual in the first few months of the new year!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


From the New York Times (registry required to read whole thing):

Mel Gibson, whose "Passion of the Christ" was criticized by some as anti-Semitic — and whose father has said that the Holocaust did not happen — is developing a nonfiction mini-series about the Holocaust.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Scorsese’s never won one either, so quit whining

Had my attention called to a campaign underway by a group of feminist filmmakers under the banner of Guerilla Girls who are putting up billboards in Hollywood for Oscar season, complaining that women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in The Biz, and get neither the opportunities nor Oscar acclaim that white males do. Were they to pop up out of their gopher hole for long enough they'd notice this inequality is rife the world over. But what do you hope to accomplish with a billboard? I'm a white guy, and no one's offered me my big time studio development deal yet, let alone given me an Oscar nod. The world is unfair, and all you can do is work your ass off to achieve your goals and dreams. And if the movers and shakers don't give you the recognition you feel you deserve, maybe you've got the wrong priorities. Don't make films to win awards. Make films to make films. If awards come your way, be gracious and grateful. But if you're putting your hunger for acclaim over your passion for your work as a be-all and end-all, then you're just in it for your ego and that will show to everyone you meet and work with.

In any event, it would seem the post-Oscar career trajectories of such ladies as Halle Berry, Mira Sorvino, Marisa Tomei (I had to look her up to remember her name), and (after Aeon Flux) quite possibly Charlize Theron should be depressing enough to steer many smart women away from an Oscar victory as a desirable goal. And besides, Oscars aren't necessarily about who's the best of their year, as anyone who's squirmed through Forrest Gump can attest. It's about who's got the most aggressive and effective campaign to buy all the Oscars they want, a fact proved time and again by Los Bros Weinstein. Remember how ol' Harvey stole Steven Spielberg's Best Picture Oscar right out from under his nose in 1998, to the reverberating whap! of jaws hitting floors nationwide in disbelief? But to this day, people still speak in reverential tones about the brilliant Saving Private Ryan. Does anybody talk about Shakespeare in Love anymore, let alone remember it?

As a good liberal, I'm all for folks banding together to fight the power when it comes to disparity and inequality. But I think the most sensible attitude for any filmmaker to have towards the Oscars would be that of the European director (whose name, ironically, escapes me, though I think it was Godard) who once famously said, "Hollywood? Oh, yes. That's where they give Charlton Heston awards for acting."

Not that I'd reject one if they gave one to me someday. But you's about priorities.

Stop pissing away money on billboards, Guerilla Girls, and spend it on your films instead!

Monday, December 05, 2005

The future for indies: Buh-bye, Sundance, hello web!

The Sundance Film Festival has, for about 15 years now, been the place for indie filmmakers to get their wares seen, and so many prominent careers have been launched from within its snow-covered auditoriums it's staggering. But are those days over? Looks like it. More and more, Sundance has become the place for major studios to show off their "prestige" releases while at the same time allowing them to claim the sort of art-before-commerce cred usually reserved for the indie crowd. In other words, don't look for too many more precocious Hispanic kids with $7,000 home movies to even get in, let alone secure major development deals.

Robert Redford's brainchild recently announced its 2006 premiere lineup, and what do we have? A bunch of good stuff, I'm sure, but, in the words of IndieWire (emphasis added)...

...Sundance organizers made the announcement today, also unveiling the roster of high-profile, often star-driven, titles that will screen in the event's Premieres section...

Get that? Sundance has, it appears, been assimilated. If you have to have a "high-profile, star-driven" movie to be considered an "indie" film by the festivalistas these days, where does that leave, you know, the real indie filmmakers?

I'll tell you. The internets!

Have you heard about this little Finnish flick called Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning? Go have a look. This is a feature-length Star Trek parody, as you might have guessed by the title, shot by a bunch of Finnish Trekkers (I swear, you couldn't make this shit up!) over a period of seven years, with CGI effects work done on their Macs and PCs. Downloadable for free over their website, it has now become the most viewed Finnish film in history, with an audience of over 3 million so far!

Now one has to make allowances for a few mitigating factors. For one thing, this is the latest in a long lineup of Star Wreck movies, so it comes from a fairly established fandom subculture. (If the filmmakers needed a particularly obscure prop they couldn't afford to buy, it was usually a matter of days before someone mailed it to them.) But there are several other factors to consider, too. While the movie itself is a free stream, a great many folks who watched it were perfectly willing to support these guys with a DVD purchase. Also, there's the sheer size of the viewership. Translated into $8 movie tickets, this viewership would have accounted for $24 million in US box office had the movie been released that way (a full $11 million more than this season's joke Aeon Flux did in its opening weekend). But — here's the kicker — had it been released theatrically, it's a safe bet 3 million people wouldn't have gone to see it! And, by allowing viewers to simply download it, they've eradicated the piracy factor — you can't pirate what anyone can get for free! — while tapping into a fan base of whom a large portion will be happy to fork over the price of a DVD as an altruistic support-the-artists gesture, and because they like the movie. (The IMDb page for Star Wreck shows an average viewer rating of 7.7 out of 10.)

By comparison, I decided to look in on the current status of three of the 2005 Sundance Festival's highest-profile alumni — Hustle & Flow, The Squid and the Whale, and The Dying Gaul — to see how their performance, both financially and critically, compares to that of this web-distributed fanfilm. First, a quick hands up from those of you who have heard of none of these movies. Okay.

Of the three, the $8 million-budgeted hip-hop drama Hustle & Flow is faring the best. Critics like it, and so do audiences (7.3/10 IMDb rating), and since it's been in limited release, it's taken in $22 million. Also, star Terence Howard is being pushed as an awards contender.

The Squid and the Whale is a huge critics' darling, and audiences who've seen it like it too (7.8/10 on IMDb). But that audience has, so far, been very small; it's only made about $3.2 million in its first month. Off a $1.5 million budget, that's fine, as they're already profitable. But in terms of asses-in-seats, it's still far fewer than a million people, and this is a movie with stars, including an Oscar nominee (Lauren Linney) and winner (love of my life Anna Paquin).

Finally, The Dying Gaul is faring least well. Starring Patricia Clarkson — who's been in virtually every low-to-mid budget movie made in this country since she did Being John Malkovich — the movie's only got a 6.1/10 IMDb rating, and, conservatively released on only 20 screens, hasn't even made 200 grand in three weeks. Critics have been far less enthusiastic, too.

Conclusion? If a little labor-of-love web feature can reach a bigger and more supportive audience than many of the movies that not only get selected by Sundance (a jaw-dropping average of 26,000 movies are vetted and rejected by the festival every year), but then go on to secure the brass ring of a theatrical distribution deal while there, then the question for indie filmmakers to ponder is: Wherefore Sundance? Should you even bother? Certainly, you should acknowledge the festival's stature in the industry and make your movie as if you were fully confident of its securing a berth on its sanctified lineup. But is it the end of the world if you can't even come close to getting in? I think not. Because sitting on your desk right in front of you is the world's largest multiplex. If you, as a filmmaker, are confident of your film's quality, and you take the time to learn how to use internet publicity to your advantage, then there's no reason your movie can't reach a vast audience by bypassing the traditional festivals-to-theaters distribution paradigm entirely and going right into people's homes, over their cable modems.