Tag Archives: Indie Film

Promoting Your Film on Social Media

Indie producers always need to wear lots of hats — and one of them is often that of marketer. And since we don’t have the funds for a conventional ad buy…

Welcome to social media marketing.

No Film School has a post about promoting your film on social media — and while it has some nice tips and tricks throughout, I especially like the thought given to voice and what the different channels (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are good for.

For the producers among us who are also writers, the talk of “voice” can be a character, and the channel or platform can be a genre. And that’s something we can energetically explore.

Another 48 Hours

This weekend, I will be doing my 19th or 20th short film competition. I’m not sure on the number.

I’d like to say “everyone loses count after a dozen or so,” but it might also be because I’ve passed the big two-five (I say this purely to make 30-somethings uncomfortable). If you’re not aware of the 48 Hour Film Project or its sister competition, the Four Points Film Challenge (formerly the National Film Challenge), check out their website.

The films include some of my favorite times directing as well as one of my all-time favorite “day player” appearances (if you see it, yes: I did that makeup). I’ve done just about all the different jobs one could do in cast and crew.

This year, I’ll be working with one of my “home teams” again, Tohubohu Productions. This will be their second 48 this year — they’re kind of addicted.

One of the nicest things about these weekend film competitions is that –good, bad, or ugly– you have a film at the end of 48 hours. So if you need a kick in the pants to get going and make a film: see when it’s coming to your part of the world (it happens on six continents).

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Naked Greed Time

This is the 29th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Frankly, I though we’d all be done with all things Axanar by now, but since certain Star Trek “fans” continue to try and fleece other fans, I needed to weigh in again.

I’ll cut the chase: Axanar Productions (Alec Peters, et al), the folks who crowdfunded about $1.4 million to make a feature film and spent it all while not making said film are back trying to raise more money via Indiegogo.

Again: they raised a ton of cash promising to do something. They spent the cash, not doing at all what they promised — and are back to ask for more money. In this case, they’re saying it’s not for Axanar per se, but for a non-profit studio, even as they are losing their studio space (more on that below).

Before you –or anyone you know– sends them any money, know that there are two outcomes of any of their crowdfunding efforts based on their previous words and deeds:

  1. They are grossly incompetent, will waste any crowdfunds, and will not deliver on what they promised.
  2. They are insidiously greedy, will not deliver, and will spend crowdfunds on something other than what they promised.

I’m thinking they’re going with the slime-covered door # 2 in this scenario.

It’s not that starting a studio with a focus to help aspiring filmmakers tell their stories isn’t a bad idea. It’s quite cool, in fact. But it’s a tremendous undertaking that takes a particular passion. And I haven’t seen that particular passion of helping other people make films come from the Axanar crew.

What I have seen from Alec Peters and the Axanar crew has been not delivering on their own project — and the reasons why they haven’t delivered require one to maintain a level of cognitive dissonance that exceeds warp 10. And we all know how bad that gets.

Arguably transformative, but don’t go there.

I’ve mentioned this in both the 27th and 28th entries,  but it bears repeating: if you are to take Alec Peters at his word, working on Axanar has been:

1) A full-time job which is just a hobby, for which he
2) required a completely reasonable salary which is not a salary because he paid it back
3) to produce a professional feature film that is simultaneously a fan film
4) to be shot in a studio which is a commercial studio except when it’s not and is just a warehouse
5) and they were all ready to begin shooting in the beginning of 2016 yet the studio/warehouse still isn’t ready for shooting (and which they’re vacating by the end of April 2017).
6) and they have been working meticulously to get every detail adhere exactly to Star Trek canon because they’re doing this for the true Star Trek fans,
7) but this is in no way a Star Trek film
8) which the Axanar team knew could not be made the moment the lawsuit was filed in December 2015
9) which is one of the reasons the Axanar team continually argued they wouldn’t settle the lawsuit unless they could make that film the Star Trek fans really wanted
10) and so Alec Peters and Axanar spent the $1.4 million as promised
11) to make the Star Trek fan film that’s a professional film that’s not a Star Trek film
12) except they didn’t make the film.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that, upon much reflections, the Axanar team has decided they will channel their energies into creating a non-profit studio. Well, they’ve just said that, at the end of this month, they don’t have a studio!

Screenshot from the announcement. Clear as mud, no?

Have they updated their Indiegogo campaign meant to raise funds for this studio? From their own announcement, it’s quite vague about who owns what, except that Axanar Productions is now no longer intertwined with Industry Studios… though it sounds like Axanar Productions might still get the crowdfunding for this Industry Studios campaign, which would be odd. For example, who fulfills the studio rental perks?

What does Danny think of this?

And then the Axanar sets will need to be moved… somewhere. In fact, anywhere in the United States seems to be an option per the announcement. Are funds from this current campaign going to moving and storing the sets? Is using crowdfunding for Axanar activities even kosher under the settlement with CBS/Paramount?

Yeah, some clarification on the campaign page might be in order.

And if the Axanar sets move outside of California, is it even logical to try and have Axanar Productions located in California? As mentioned in a previous entry, they’ve been saying for over a year that they’re pursuing non-profit status and while the process is detailed, it really doesn’t take that long and California spells out the steps. If they really are at “step # 7” as the announcement indicates, we should know about their board of directors, their bylaws, and they could also mention the most important step: getting tax-exempt status from the Feds. (Hint: if you want to know what that could look like, look at what the Star Trek Continues crew did and posted on their website for all to see).

Sigh.

Those of you who have read my previous posts in this series know I have long since exhausted my patience with Axanar.

But you don’t need to be exhausted nor be a “hater” to choose Door # 1 in this scenario: they’re incompetent.

Axanar Productions crowdfunded $1.4 million and failed to deliver what they promised. They’ve just announced they won’t have a studio — the central tenet of this campaign. And frankly, I have to believe other studio spaces in the Los Angeles area have sprung up in the past few decades to meet indie filmmakers’ needs (and some may even be soundproofed!). Axanar doesn’t have a track record and they now don’t have the facility. They don’t deserve your money.

However, I’m going to still go with Door # 2: greed. They advertised this latest campaign as the natural progression of  their work, as if the 8,500 supporters of their Kickstarter campaign or 7,600 supporters of their previous Indiegogo campaign were wanting a studio instead of the Star Trek film advertised.

In space, no one can smell what they’re shoveling

And now the studio itself is out of their hands.

We already know the $1.4 million did not result in completed sets or a properly soundproofed studio. We also know from court documents that Alec Peters used crowdfunds on personal expenses. He also seems to like having a web of shell corporations, which really does not inspire trust.

Whether you think it’s incompetence or greed, Star Trek fans don’t let fellow fans donate to Axanar (and yes, that means Industry Studios, Quark Enterprises, or whatever other names they come up with). Spread the word.

And hey, feel free to let Indiegogo know about this dubious campaign as well.

UPDATE, April 8th, 10:30 ET
Evidently, realizing that their Indiegogo campaign being for a studio space they no longer control looks a tad sketchy (presumably even into Indiegogo), Axanar is trying to update the campaign.

If I wanted things this sketchy, I’d watch Monty Python.

UPDATE #2: April 9th, 2:30pm ET
Besides the various conversations happening on Reddit and the various Facebook groups (e.g. the original CPvA group, CPvA Alumni Pie Club, Axamonitor) Carlos Pedraza has written an update on the Axanar/Industry studio shenanigans on Axamonitor proper. Between that article and many of the screenshots on the Facebook group, you get the impression that the vitriol directed at people questioning Alec and Axanar’s motives is not at all uncommon — and just as ridiculous and silly. Of course, I’m probably only saying that because I’m clearly doubleplusungood.

Oh, and I’m thinking of introducing myself as “Bjorn Munson, Anonymous Blogger” in the future.

2016’s Summer Blockbuster Wasteland

Now that Labor Day has past, we’re officially out of Summer, those who are wont to assess how the film industry did during its summer blockbuster season don’t need to wait to write what many were already musing about in early August: this year has been terrible.

Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff details this in the site’s Winners/Losers style in a method that’s very focused on the facts of what did well and what didn’t (many articles analyzing Hollywood’s fortunes at the box office tend to have some prescriptive scolding sneak in). I take solace in the fact that lower budgeted features have proven to have some great returns-on-investment. For filmmakers making films designed to be acquired (versus commissioned by the studios), this is hopeful news.

On the other hand is Peter Suderman’s assessment of Hollywoods’s woes, also in Vox. Suderman is a bit more scolding as he feels Hollywood is being lazy and formulaic (a common gripe). However, he does go further with the premise that, with the ballooning of “blockbuster” budgets from $100 million into the $200-$300 million realm, studios are, by necessity, so risk averse that their cinematic concoctions lack the idiosyncratic vitality that made their legendary predecessors shine. The idea is that by trying to please everyone on the planet, these decidedly average films –despite star power and impressive production values– lack some must-see quality that prevents them from being anything other than blockbusters-in-waiting.

Of course, he hedges on his premise noting that several of these films such as the latest installments of Captain America and Star Trek did a good job critically. That makes the abysmal box office all the more maddening. Equally maddening, at least to me, is the continued hollowing out of the mid-range film (as I talked about back in July).

The one bright spot seems to be –and this is not an original observation– is that the creative energy and financial backing that used to be going into the mid-range films is now going into TV shows. That may well be true — and in the Suderman article above, he mentions that TV shows seems to be haven for idiosyncratic –and successful– innovation these days. Stranger Things is cited as an example of summer success.

I still think there’d be a place to have a subsidiary studio or “imprint” that tried to make films in the $10 – 30 million range. You’re trying to have all those films earn $80 to $200 million at the box office. It’s not the same as the $500 to $700 million (to fanciful notions of over $1 billion) that they want the $180 – $250 million blockbusters, but the goal would be to have an overall better ROI.

In addition to the ROI, the “mid-range” budgeted movie provides something else to the studio ecosystem: a project that is neither as expensive and high-stakes as their current beloved blockbuster model, nor as protracted time-wise as a season of TV.

Maybe this is immaterial and studios feel that TV series offer more return on investment or more of a chance at franchises and longevity (what they now obsess with given the blockbuster model). This “mid-range” films also don’t currently appear to have a place in the ever-lengthening “summer blockbuster season.” However, underlying the love of franchises and IP that can be mined for Internet centuries is an overall aversion to risk. Why else would we be seeing movie versions of Battleship (and presumably, one day, Risk)?

There’s a saying that making a movie is a marathon, but making a TV show is running until you drop dead. Lower budgeted movies give you a chance to test writers, directors, cast, and crew in something where the stakes aren’t do-or-die like a blockbuster and isn’t at a pace like a TV show. My premise is that this is a valuable place in a studio’s ecosystem: a place where one might cultivate the cast and crew graduating from the indie darlings and on to the blockbusters and TV shows of the future. They also might provide counter-programming to all the blockbusters.

I will be interested to see how the rest of the year shakes out box office wise. In terms of production slates, I imagine the release schedule for Summer 2017 is already written by and large, but I wouldn’t be surprise if even now, some adjustments are in the works.

Update, 2016-09-09: Todd VanDerWerff follows up in Vox about some of the films that have done well this summer — mainly some of the smaller ones.

The article delves into how there are multiple audiences for films, and posits that studios may well succeed by targeting other audiences than just the purported blockbuster audience.

I tend to agree — and it seems like there’s always some counter-programming during the ever lengthening summer blockbuster season, but unfortunately it seems that it’s not a concerted effort much of the time. Perhaps they think of calculated counter-programming like Cinderella Man, a perfectly enjoyable period drama by Ron Howard & co. that underperformed at the box office. I wonder if this wouldn’t be where the $10 – 30 million budget studio films might do well (Cinderella Man came in at a weight of $88 million). The other part of counter-programming would be making even otherwise normal films part of an event, as Fathom has done (them and how movie theaters might re-invent themselves as 21st century movie palaces would be something for another post).

 

More on Peak TV and how TV Production is Changing

So, one of the things I obsess about, when my synapses are not otherwise engaged is what the future of TV looks like and how TV programs are being made.

So I was very interested in a pair of articles I read this past January about the idea of “Peak TV” as well as one earlier this month about the potential production pipeline problem HBO may have with new shows.

And of course, I enjoyed the nuts and bolts article about making The Americans.

So it was great to read this cover story in Vulture by Josef Adalian and Maria Elena Fernandez about how “Peak TV” is putting a strain on the whole tv/film industry apparatus and causing all sorts of shifts in how TV gets made.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the article (many of which I’ve read in some form elsewhere albeit separately):

  • “Peak TV” isn’t a fanciful phrase. Scripted shows doubled from 2009 to 2015 from about 200 per year to 409 per year.
  • Leading actors for shows are commanding great per episode rates, but this has led perennial guest star/character actors making peanuts compared to what they used to. (Sort of income inequality in microcosm)
  • More writers have more chances to tell their stories
  • Showrunners and shows themselves don’t earn as much on the back end as they used to
  • All the upsurge in production means experienced crews are worth their weight in platinum

All very interesting. It probably makes you wonder what the future holds. Will major disruptions to the current trends in TV production mean a loss of quality? Will reality TV make a counterattack? Will multi-camera sitcoms? The Left Shark?

For indie filmmakers, a big question is when, where, and how these trends or changes in the trends might amount to more opportunities. As the article notes, the 90s/early naughts were great for indie features, but now, free capital is flowing to TV series on the multitude of new channels and platforms.

Indie filmmakers, including those here in the DC area have appeared to take note. In that past decade, indie filmmakers have realized “web series” could be the road to more traditional series and many have worked to try and find out a path to make that possible. In the end, the bottom line is how the filmmaking, the storytelling can be a career.

For those of you outside the DC-Baltimore area, you may not know we have scores of professional theaters, thousands of actors, and plenty of film and video production. That said, and despite shows like House of Cards, Veep, and Turn being shot in the area, we’re not mentioned in the same sentence as Atlanta or Vancouver or Toronto.

For all the rising costs, those cities and their requisite local industries appear to offer value to producers trying to make the latest engaging TV shows. Can DC offer that value filmmaking in the decade ahead? I know many fellow filmmakers would like that to be the case.

Recommended Reading: Roger Corman’s Next Act

Roger Corman, the indefatigable indie film icon, has apparently fallen afoul of financial shenanigans because of others’ mismanagement as detailed in this piece by Eriq Gardner in The Hollywood Reporter.

I, for one, am looking forward to Death Race 2050.