Category Archives: Producing

You Can’t Do it All – Enterprise Edition

We haven’t had a wonky Wednesday in a while, have we?

All right, so let’s tackle something that affects businesses big and small. In fact, it affects families, too. How many times have there been “too many things” to do or deal with in a week?

As it happens, I deal with project selection at work — and it makes me long for the family-based stuff. Why? The number of players involved in “what to do?” for a business is, more often than not, exponentially larger for a start. And if you think trying to get a five-year-old to accept you’re not buying everything in the toy store, just wait ’til you have to let an executive know they can’t get all of their 27 initiatives funded.

As probably comes as no surprise, the folks over at Harvard Business Review have thought about this a lot — and have come up with a list of seven ways in which your organization might be holding onto too many projects.

By definition, this really should be more useful to those of you dealing with project selection (and, frankly, killing off zombie projects) at work. But if you apply bits and pieces of this to the fam, I won’t tell.

Where I’ll Be: Swimming with the Sharks this Saturday

I will leave it to you to determine whether I am one of the sharks or am merely swimming with sharks, but I will be at a “Shark Tank for Filmmakers” event this Saturday out in the wilds of Northern Virginia, where the passenger jets roam.

The event is organized by fellow filmmaker Ron Newcomb, who has been tirelessly working on building the narrative film community in the DC region pretty much since I’ve known him. While I have my own personal goals for the weekend, I’m hoping some projects get launched out of the event that benefit the local film community in general.

If I’m not mistaken, there’s still spots left for people who want to attend (and here are the panelists).

If you’re pitching, here’s some tips Ron provided. He also does an example of comps.

If you see me on Saturday, please say hello.

Film Festivals, Rejection, and Letting Films Escape

Ah, film festivals. Getting into one is always gives a good sense of validation to a filmmaker — and the best are a delight to attend as both filmmaker and audience member.

But what if your film doesn’t make it in?

I’ve known Jon Gann for most of this century and I know all the work he’s done in creating, improving, and advising film festivals. So when I saw he wrote a pair of articles about why films don’t get selected for film festivals (part one is here and part two is here), I thought they’d be solid.

Spoiler alert: they are. If you’re a filmmaker wondering about a spate of rejections from festivals, you’d do well to give both a read.

As with so many things in life, some of the factors are completely outside of a filmmaker’s control… and sometimes it’s good to remind oneself about that, so you can focus on the things you can control: like the picture and sound quality. Or, you know, the writing and the casting.

In some cases, I know it’s difficult to impossible to address some of the issues after a certain amount of effort is put into a film… and that films sometimes aren’t released so much as they ‘escape.’ But then I’d suggest every filmmaker set a deadline for themselves of when to let that escaped film go and turn their attention to their next film. I mean, you’re not a studio that can spend oodles of time trying to see if they can get this or that feature to be profitable.

As a film festival judge, I can tell you I’ve seen many submitted films that don’t lack skill, but are essentially “drafts.” Often, the films clearly don’t live up to their filmmakers’ ambitions. There’s no way those films will take the festival slot from a more polished piece. And as a filmmaker, it’s often better to go out and shoot new material than keep on polishing. As Jon explains above, even your best work can be rejected, so might as well keep on working and getting better. You make more films that way (especially if you’re practicing with shorts). And before you know it, you have a body of work. And yeah, that does mean more chances for more of your films to be rejected. But it also means more films that can be accepted.

And that feels good.

Increasingly, Netflix Prefers Its Shows Homemade

Netflix is spending billions of dollars each year on content, so –love ’em or hate ’em– it’s usually good to know what they’re up to.

Adam Levy, over at the Motley Fool, has a piece that goes over Netflix’s drive to spend billions in creating original content is actually trying to save money in the long run (even if Fools don’t think Netflix is going to be truly “50% originals” as sometimes reported).

For indie filmmakers, definitely check out the last paragraph relating to I.P.

Indie Film Financiers

One filmmaker friend I know is fond of saying that “How do I find the money to make my film?” isn’t just a indie filmmaker’s question, it’s the question.

So granted, the odds of you being in a room –or even an elevator– with them are probably not the greatest, but just in case, here’s Hollywood Reporter‘s list of 25 financiers who could actually greenlight and bankroll your feature.

(My one friend, meanwhile, is not one to sit around and wait. Never wait. He’s decided to organize a “shark tank for filmmakers” set in August later this year.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of crowdfunding your next indie opus, another filmmaker friend has your back with a course on Lynda.com.

Hollywood Pilot Season & Casting

Every Spring, I get social media posts –usually very vague ones– from friends closely involved with “Pilot Season,” that period every year where writers, actors, and others hope to get staffed on potential TV shows that will go from potential to actual (i.e., they get “picked up” and move into production for additional episodes).

The Hollywood Reporter polled a bunch of casting executives about their thoughts on this season. I guess I missed it because, up until last week, it really didn’t feel like Spring. Nevertheless, I still found it interesting and perhaps you will too.

 

Peak TV, Sci-Fi Edition

Somewhat riffing off my post from Wednesday, I’m once again considering our current golden age of television (aka Golden TV Age II: Serial Storytelling Boogaloo).

There’s so much great television to check out, there are whole series that have come and gone that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Alison Herman over at The Ringer delves into what this means for science fiction –and “genre fiction” in general– as they hold greater sway over pop culture on both the big and small screen (and yes, the screen definitions are becoming more moot in some ways). It raises many big and small questions. For example, will people who’ve read the Silmarillion more than once feel vindicated by Amazon’s 4,000 Tolkien series? Will Adam Savage make another appearance on The Expanse? Will I ever get around to watching more than the first episode of Lost?

As always, stay tuned.

You Can Get There From Here… After a Long Journey

Working on a long, long term project due to launch later this year has me thinking about various film projects stuck in development hell that have finally seen the light of day -er- distribution.

The new hotness that is Altered Carbon (on Netflix as of February 2nd) was adapted from a 2002 book. Several friends have already mentioned about the differences from the book (some bigger than others), but I only recently learned more about how long it’s been in development. Basically, it was optioned the same year it was published and, as with so many projects, found an outlet via Netflix’s mad rush to create content. If you’re not averse to Game of Thrones level sex and violence, it will definitely scratch your cyberpunk itch (and did I mention Max Headroom himself (Matt Frewer) makes an appearance?).

Also on Netflix as of last Fall, is Scott Frank’s western mini-series Godless. This project appears to have started in a similar form to Altered Carbon, albeit as an original feature film vs. an adaptation. In both cases, the creators found the feature film format wouldn’t hold the story and so they expanded things to fit a larger canvas. Scott Frank goes into the long process of bringing this project to some form of screen on a great episode of Scriptnotes from last year. If you enjoy westerns that comment on westerns, like Unforgiven, you’ll probably like this (if you want it to live up to its marketing as a woman-centric western, you’ll likely be disappointed).

Finally, on a note closer to home, the indie period horror/mystery Dinner with the Alchemist has VOD distribution as of yesterday. I know a bunch of the people both in front of and behind the camera. And even though indie filmmaking is invariably an entrepreneurial activity, there are plenty of ups and downs — and persistence plays a huge part. In this case, the screenwriter, inspired by historical documents, has been working to bring this story to the screen for over six years. The project was thundering into production, got halted, and started again. And you’ll notice from the IMDb page that it’s in one sense from 2016 — and yet they needed to keep working until now for online distribution.

So here’s to light at the end of the long journey — or I guess in the case of all three of these examples, dark tales.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

You Don’t Know How Good Every Painting Is Until They’re Gone

They say all good things come to an end. In the case of podcasts and online video series, I suppose you don’t know how good a thing is until it’s gone.

So it was with some sadness that I took the time to read the postmortem by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explaining how their YouTube series, Every Frame a Painting had come to an end. A friend and fellow fan of the series sent the essay to me and I had to pause before going through it in depth.

Yes, this is still a “Motivation Monday” post. Stay with me.

If you haven’t stumbled across this series before, it’s a lovingly obsessive look at the craft and technique that goes into making movie magic done by some lovingly obsessive creative folk.

I first got to know about the series with their piece on Akira Kurosawa:

 

Another favorite is about the “Spielberg Oner.”

Even though I’ve been a cinematographer for only a few projects, I know how much work can go into making moves like these look so organic and effortless. That makes me love them all the more.

And it also motivates me to go out and make something extraordinary. If you’re a filmmaker, go on and watch a few yourself. See if it doesn’t inspire you to approach your next project with more verve.

But don’t forget to read through the postmortem. It shows what level of love and dedication it took to make what these “nutrient-rich” videos packed full of insight. And it explains why they decided to move on.

But the motivation remains. Kudos to Taylor and Tony — and I know I speak for many when I say I hope we see you online again sooner rather than later.

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!