Tag Archives: Film Industry

Master of Suspense Masterclass

Well, technically, it’s a 96-minute press conference moderated by film historian, author, and critic Richard Schickel. However, it really is a bit of a masterclass as Alfred Hitchcock, quite confident in what he does and doesn’t do, gives pronouncements about how he goes about things.

Note that you may want to watch Family Plot, his last film, before watching this as that’s the reason for the press conference. You may also find that he’s rather old school and private in his answers, compared to what you might expect from a modern talk show. That should in no way distract some great nuggets of wisdom as to how he approaches filmmaking as a craft. I especially appreciated his observation on keeping the audience engaged and, above all, not confused.

Also, a pro-tip from the comments. If you play the video at 1.5 times speed (under the settings menu in YouTube), you’ll finish faster and Hitchcock will, frankly, not sound like the spokesman for the Slow Talkers of America (which he clearly isn’t, what with being British and all).

Arguing for the Golden Goose, Comics Edition

One trend I continue to follow is the decline of “mid-tier” creative works, whether they be “mid-budget” movies or “middle tier” novels.

I touched on this just over two years ago when I was looking at the film Warcraft in particular and film budgets in general. At the time, I also noted how the erosion of the mid-budget movie and how a similar trend seemed to occur with “mid-list” authors.

Now, superhero movies in general are not likely to be modestly budgeted these days: they’re too tempting to be used as tentpoles by the studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in over $7 billion. Disney’s not about to abandon using them as tentpoles.

But what about the the medium where these superhero stories first appeared: comics?

Now, going into the whole state of the comics industry, what the direct market is, and so on, is more than I can cover briefly or authoritatively. Suffice to say, fears regarding a dire fate of the comic industry have been around for a couple years, the direct market business model seems to be poised to change, and, well, stats back up the thought that the market is struggling (even with bright spots).

So all that made the article I read about Marvel comics editors advocating for different tactics recently at SXSW all the more interesting.

Parts of their argument is that comics –even if they aren’t as all-fired profitable as their big screen offspring– serve an important function as idea incubators. In a sense, they’re narrative R&D projects. Certainly, good periodic comic books and graphic novels aren’t the cheapest things to produce — many an indie creator colleague has made me aware of that. But they are a darn sight cheaper than bankrolling a $120 million tentpole movie. And in fact, just about all the tentpole movies owe some of their “genetic material” from the comic form.

Another way they could be thought of is as the “narrative farm teams” for some of the bigger budgeted stories. And, of course, I’m thinking of that mainly for the business folks to better reconcile the numbers. The creativity and storytelling on display in so many comics is not “minor league,” but bean counters usually don’t care if a comic book was emotionally impactful, just how many units it sold. So whatever keeps the presses rolling.

Where Have All the Film Rights Gone?

Continuing on the topic of producing films from Monday’s post on film budgets, what do you do when you –miracle of miracles– finish the film?

Well, you want to get it distributed, of course!

And, just as I want more than theoretical notions and generalizations for distribution, I want to know who likes to acquire what — and as much of their terms and conditions can be shared.

So over at the site Dear Producer, Liz Manashil and Rebecca Green surveyed a host of distributors and compiled their responses.

The resulting list breaks down not only the types of films dozens of distribution companies acquire, but what festivals they typically attend, what their standard term lengths are, and so on.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the sage advice of knowing your distribution plan before you make your film dozens of time. Well, it’s great to be reminded of that, but then there’s the whole problem of knowing –even within a given market– who the best buyers might be.

Yes, I’ll absolutely research the heck out of the individual companies before approach them, but I find this list is a great way to get some companies to keep in mind (or exclude) from the get-go. I hope that’s the case for many of you as well.

By the way, if you’re already in the mode of learning more about distribution for your indie project, Avril Speaks has a great article about lessons she learned about what to look out for when making your distribution deal.

Reminder: If you’re a fellow filmmaker that wants to chat about this or other fun, wonky producer stuff, I’ll be at the VIP Film and TV Summit in April. I’d love to compare notes.

Film Budgets… Through a Film Lifecycle

One wonky thing I’m endlessly fascinated by is film budgets. When you realize that an hour of modern “prestige” TV can top $10 million, yet the average Hollywood blockbuster is over $100 million, you know certain choices are being made and risks accepted.

And yes, I know traditional theatrical distribution and traditional network and cable distribution have business models that can inform and support these widely disparate budgets. However, I lap up little tidbits from behind-the-scenes features and other clues dropped in media interviews for how crafty producers and production staff save money here and there.

Here’s yet another instance where I have to thank my dad for taking us to see no end of foreign and classic movies growing up (TCM before TCM existed, as I like to say). Among all the other lessons I absorbed was the implicit reinforcement that you can have a damn fine movie for less than a blockbuster budget. Don’t get me wrong, things cost money… and there’s always something that costs more than you’d like. But great locations, sumptuous costumes, and even some visual effects work are absolutely within reach of modest or even “low” budgets.

It still might not be enough money.

But I’m not satisfied with the theoretical. I want to know specific tricks to save time and money. I want to know the ratios to use when estimating this versus that. I want to know the types of risks associated with all the different departments making a film.

And while it doesn’t nail down all of that, Stephen Follows’ article about feature film budgets is a veritable treasure trove of exactly that kind of historical data.

Seriously, if you’ve kept reading up until this point, odds are much higher that you have been obsessing about these things too and Follow’s article goes straight to the kind of planning-based-on-historical-data producers (aka project managers) in any industry live for.

Read deep into the article and you will be able to plan risks and contingency budgets based by department. How cool is that?

This is energizing me for attending the VIP Film and TV summit next month.

Field of Troubled Dreams

If you checked out my earlier post, you know that I’m readying the 2018 edition of my favorite films.

I always add a new crop of films to the sort every time, but I also find time to re-watch some of the old films… and Thanksgiving weekend proved to be a great time to do so.

One of the films was the delightful modern fantasy, Field of Dreams. Sharp-eyed readers will recall that it ranked #29 in 2016 and #22 in both 2014 and 2012. Given my reaction to the recent viewing, I won’t be surprised that it remains in my Favorite 50.

I knew that someone maintained the baseball field at that location out in Iowa, so I was curious what the status of it was.

I sadly found that the field was actually related to two different farms and there was a bit of a controversy (as per this USA Today story from 2014).

It’s apparently in the throes of being re-vitalized as part of an overall baseball destination by a group called Go the Distance Baseball, LLC. They also have a general website that speaks a bit about it.

I’m not sure if I’ll get there anytime soon, but for those of you looking to make the trek, but it’s still on the list of film locations to visit.

Being a “Useful Writer’

Perhaps it’s the human predilection for pattern recognition, but because of the recent passing of William Goldman, I’ve been thinking a good deal about writing as it relates to getting one’s writing produced in Hollywood… and how random the process can sometimes be.

In Mark Evanier’s latest intallment of his “Rejection” series (which is worth checking out if you haven’t already, he notes that elusive, yet absolutely real writer quality of being “useful.”

You absolutely want to be a useful writer.

So Say We All… Well, Except for Those Chuckleheads

I touched on notions of fandom with my Crisis of Infinite Star Treks series and certainly toxic fandom has been more on people’s minds in the past year or so in any case (see, for example, these pieces on CNET and in Wired).

So it was interesting to read Ryan Britt’s piece in Den of Geek talking with the writers of So Say We All, a new book about the Battlestar Galactica remake… including the fact that it was not just a remake, but a “re-imagining.”

There’s obviously more in the book than just the subject of fandom, but that’s the focus of the article. Certainly, BSG –as it’s often abbreviated– provided ample opportunity for toxic fan uproar from its short yet expansive stint on TV. I’m sure had it been made nowadays, the uproar and venting would have been omnipresent. Much of what they pulled off was nothing less than exceptional, but let’s just say I don’t want to be in a room of BSG fans discussing how the series ended. That’s just going to get unpleasant.

They Like Me, They Really Like Me… But not as Best Picture

Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the people behind the Oscars) announced they were adding a “Best Popular Movie” category.

(I mean, it’ll probably be called “most bestest outstanding achievement in popular film” or something like that, but you know what I mean).

On the one hand, it’s their awards and award process, so change away. On the other hand, why shouldn’t they tweak and adjust and change their award categories and methodology as they have just about every decade?

(By the way, I absolutely think one of the tweaks should be adding “Best Stunt Choreography” category — and no, you don’t need to eliminate any of the other awards to add that).

But on the third hand –and it’s really better you don’t ask where the third hand comes from– there’s something of a whiff of desperation simultaneously coupled with a complete lack of understanding of why the general public does or doesn’t find the Oscars relevant that really should have been resolved during The Dark Knight “lack o’ Best Picture nom kerfuffle.”

(An article in Variety appears to validate that there is some desperation involved).

It sounds like a bad idea to me… and it also sounds like a bad idea to Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff who has many thoughts on the subject. I agree with many of them, including the notion that maybe it’ll not turn out to a bad idea.

Their track record at nominating worthy “genre films” for Best Picture does not reinforce that notion however.

UPDATE: The crew at Vox came up with 6 categories to introduce rather than “Best Popular Film” and I’m happy to say it includes one for stunt choreography. I generally am down with all the categories. I think the “Best First Film” would really bring some excitement into the proceedings the same as I see similar awards in other places. The one caveat I’d suggest from chatting about the categories on social media is that the “Best Motion Capture Peformance” should be awarded to the performer and the lead artists/animators. I think that’d be a cool way to remind people of the team creative effort it is.

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.