Wednesday, May 10, 2006

All things filmic

Ok so I have had a lot of fun the past few weeks entertaining you with sorted tales of sex, drugs and all things filmic. I’d like to break form a little bit and respond to the only piece of feedback I have received (I mean c’mon people I know you got some shit to say). This piece was from Mr. Anonymous (who apparently has a lot of time on his hands since I see his posts everywhere…but whatever). For those of you that are a bit confused, he commented on my first post (out of all those entries that was your pick…c’mon man) about how people whom he had known who had played Sundance with a short still had much difficulty raising funding for their next project and he offered some advice.

I’d like to respond to this individual and foster a larger discussion of what this process is really comprised of. First of all thank you for responding, discourse is what I really seek out of this blog so those of you wishing to hop into the discussion I encourage you (just have some shit to say...or I will clown you).

Number one: I knew what to expect from the festival circuit with my film. I say this because it is a well known fact that the festival circuit prefers shorts that are less than 14 min’s (10 actually). Now this is driven by a number of factors but mainly (in my opinion) because they wish to show as many films as possible. And while this is a noble and egalitarian approach to the dilemma of millions of applicants for hundreds of spots, it overlooks a myriad of things. For starters it’s a 30 min. category for most festivals, should you really be penalized for using all of the thirty minutes? That’s nonsensical not to mention utterly and completely guilty of false advertising. If the purpose of a short film is to practice the art of filmmaking; and that art is mostly dominated by longer narratives (features) then why encourage just the shorter and of the field? If you are really going to dazzle them in your feature you will have had to have mastered running multiple plots, visual style and cohesion, and writing with a subtle style. Most of which can appear in shorts as they are presently programmed…but more often than not, much of what we see that works in an 8 minute film…will not (in and of itself) have the same effect in a feature. But before I receive a litany of hate mail let me spell it out for you. We are attempting to raise $2.5MM for the feature. Whether or not you feel that this sum is necessary to shoot a nice feature is irrelevant for this argument; this is the budget that offers the greatest opportunity of capturing our vision.

I am going to speak in generalizations because I am better than you (can you smell that…it’s humor). The plan with this short was to show the money-people that we understand the dilemma. The dilemma to which I am referring is the inability of filmmakers (no matter how talented) to quickly and easily make the jump to a large, professional productions. But you scream that you don’t want to work in the industry…that you are a diehard independent. Does that mean that you will never use a SAG actor? Or a union crew? Do you think that when you are given enough money to shoot your opus, that the exec. Producer will be patient as you realize that you cannot just say what people want to hear and the a director is ultimately responsible….even if the equipment didn’t show up on time.

Hear me as I say this….there is a fair amount of basic talent in filmmaking; but with everyone so focused on shooting as cheap as possible and making excuses for a lack of visual style….it opened a window. It was very clear to us that the group of filmmakers that demonstrated the ability to shoot and produce with a larger than average crew and some technical quality, and was responsible enough not to waste $50K….would be more attractive to those who greenlight. What I am talking about is pressure…the pressure to not waste time…because it’s expensive to shoot film, the pressure to stay on schedule because your schedule is already ambitious…the pressure to do things by the book, because equipment will get broken, and people will get into car accidents….it’s probability….what I am trying to tell you is the situation needs not be complicated by filmmakers who are not prepared for contingencies.

Yeah… I know you disagree…and you think that all you need to be worried about is being artistic….but that is sadly not the case. If you do not demonstrate that you know to lead a film, and rally the troops, and keep your eye on the ball…then you will not get financed. The people that we collectively pursue are really not in the risk business….now I will be the first to admit that filmmaking is an inherently risky investment…but that does not mean that those who do a majority of the lending are unconcerned with technical and practical detail simply because they like the premise of the film. Give them a reason to want to invest in the project (like having an approach that is stylistically and methodologically superior).

And while I have the utmost admiration of the no-budget hell or high-water filmmakers…what you are essentially talkin’ about with a restricted budget is not being insured, or limiting your locations, or not working with a professional crew (which is a major disadvantage when you are shooting film), or not paying your crew or not feeding your crew. That is not the type of filmmaking we wish to undergo any longer.

The decision to shoot a 34 pg script on super 16mm was to create a brand for our production company and an identity for us as filmmakers. Utilizing a 40-man crew over 8 days taught us many things, like how to delegate and that everyone must use the chain of command no matter who they are. It is quite evident to us here at Big Hit Productions that Hollywood is in the grooming business. That is what this whole process is about for the powers that be…finding talented filmmakers and allowing them to cut their teeth on small to mid priced films while you market them as a brand…and hopefully if everything goes well the filmmakers will be known entity as Hollywood allows them to direct and shoot a major feature. And before you ask, no…we never intend to shoot huge epics with massive crews…but our comfort level with larger productions and producing the level of quality that is a prerequisite for theatrical releases…indicates that we understand what is at stake…so in comparison to our peers…we constitute less financial and less business risk (economic reasoning is courtesy of Duquesne University). Thus we do not view the festival circuit as our peers do, for us it is an ability to show how much more well honed we are than our peers (though an award is always nice – but sex is even better)

Number Two: Creative control was the real aim. Sure we wanted to shoot something shiny and different that jumped off the screen, yes we wanted to dazzle…that’s how all the shit began. But was my real concern was to have a reason to want creative control. All we have to do now is point at the Prequel and see if they like the look and the feel. If they do, they here is a reason to negotiate. It’s pretty tough to demand creative control…when you haven’t demonstrated that you understand what the quality concerns are (and those concerns have increased due to digital) and how those concerns are best alleviated. A $50K can do that for you (unless you fuck it up…and then they will just call you irresponsible). You have to have a vision before you can fight to defend it.

Number Three: We don’t have much competition. Now I know that sounds like a really arrogant statement (I’m not arrogant…I’m just better than you) but let me explain. My DP and I have been together for 6 years. I know Detective Budd really well because we love to play Ghost Recon. What I am getting at is that there is a friendship behind all of this. Furthermore we are sitting on a lot of intellectual property. Additionally we’ve worked with the same line producer and editor since 2000. We are a production company and not just filmmakers…that is the essential difference.

Number Four: We have a plan. Now I do not mean to insinuate that only we here at Big Hit Productions have given any serious thought to our trajectory as filmmakers; but I am often amazed at the number of seconds that elapse when I ask a filmmaker what it is they are trying to do. In my humble opinion we must do more than aspire to shoot a film or a series of films. What is success and what do we want from a career in filmmaking? These topics rarely seemed to be discussed with any depth after “a want a phat-ass house dog” or some shit like that. What I am driving at is that if we do not give serious thought to what it means to be a filmmaker and how we judge ourselves to be successful…then how can we expect to even survive in this industry. Again I know you want to respond to that statement…but what are you plans….after the coke and the hookers…and the Bluetooth shit and houses in other countries?

Number Five: We are making the most of our short. Now this seems to be common sense but it’s been nine months since we completed principal photography…and we have some shit to show for it. For starters we screen often outside of the festival circuit. Now that may seem like a given for filmmakers but if that is the case why do so many films up and disappear after the festival circuit? I am the first one to tell you that film is a somewhat bullshit industry that is nonsensical in many respects…but that doesn’t mean that you have to take what you are given. We screen this short an average of once a month at our present pace. Maybe it’s not all that amazing to you, but we do know how many postcards we need to print, and what the lead time is, and what is the best way to get people to the screening, how to screen the film (it much more complicated than getting people in a room and showing the thing)…what I am driving at is that we have been doing a lot of practicing. Our google pages are getting longer and the film title is getting out there….and remember that there is a feature to follow.

So in closing I love your feedback…but please keep in mind that this blog is supposed to be fun and informative. We accept all challenges from all comers…because as we see it…most of us are waiting for someone to make us filmmakers and to make us “famous”…are you one of those…or are you lying…cheating and stealing to distinguish yourself from the pack….which do you think will attract production funding in the shortest amount of time… stop hatin’.

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