Tag Archives: Filmmaking

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The New Paradigm of Film Distributors Really Not Caring About Their Films

If you read last Wednesday’s post about standardization of suck that is the McDonald’s ice cream machine, you hopefully felt a little irritation — assuming you believe in truth, justice, and lovely intangibles.

Well, alas, I have more fuel for the ire fire, which I have a special interest due to my connection to filmmaking and knowing many a fellow indie producer who is either in this position or about to be.

Now, if you’re like me, you find this more than a little annoying. I mean, any indie filmmaker understands they need to wear multiple hats, often at once, to get their film completed and out into the world. But it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people whose livelihood is based on your movie making money for them to care about, not the movie, but how to make sure that money maximizes money for them.

It reminds me of Patton Oswalt talking about having passion for the industry you’re in whether it’s running a comedy club booking stand-up comics or, say, distributing films. Enjoy the industry you’re in on one or more levels. There are so many other jobs you could do if you don’t care about this one. And I like that the discussion that especially when it comes to artistic and creative pursuits, it’s about being a fan and a ‘connoisseur’ of whatever the pursuit is… and you can be a fan at any budget level (some of that discussion begins at the 16:28 mark, but the whole interview is great).

While Deverett would possibly empathize, it’s clear he’s accepted this is the way things are, even if it’s more than a little irksome. In fact, if you watch his whole 4-hour interview or even some of the other segments, he points out all sorts of irksome aspects of the industry when it comes to film distribution. Film distributors in many cases are ripping filmmakers off. Brazenly. He even documents how he went after some “whoops” missing money from some of the territories a film of his was being distributed in. And he documents why is was so hard to do and holding people accountable is hard, expensive, and therefore unsustainable — this assessment from a lawyer and former film distribution professional!

So I won’t say, “Go forth and storm the barricades!” But I do want to give voice to that ire in the hopes that someone somewhere will figure out a way to beneficially disrupt a part of the film industry that seems to be doing its level best to standardize the suck.

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Warner Bros. Decides to Upend Theatrical Releases

Just shy of two weeks ago, Warner Brothers decided to drop a bombshell by saying that all their 2021 films would simultaneously go onto their streaming service, HBO Max, along with theaters, as reported in industry publications, Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

Some of the 2021 film slate (photos courtesy of Macall Polay/Warner Bros.)

This announcement broke a certain segment of the Internet the Thursday it dropped because –shockingly– Warner Bros. evidently didn’t let any of their producing partners know.

And that’s a big deal, not simply from being courteous to your business partners, but there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake since a big way production companies and above-the-line people get money is through profit participation in the theatrical ticket sales.

Now, Warners evidently wants to mitigate this by generously estimating what the ticket sales might have been and paying the profit participants thusly as they’ve done for the director and star of Wonder Woman 1984.

Of course, this may mean money is left on the table as far as directors, stars, and producing partners are concerned –to say nothing of potential problems with existing contracts. Director and lover of the big, big screen, Christopher Nolan is reportedly furious. And the director of the new version of Frank Herbert’s epic saga is absolutely incensed — in part, fearing that this move might tank the possibility of this kicking off a proper Dune franchise (a lot of books have been written in this series).

If you know The Business, a weekly news show about the entertainment industry led by veteran report Kim Masters, you might expect they have something to say about it and they do.

The week of the announcement, they devote much of the opening segment to it (where it really drives home how much Warner Bros. did not tell anyone this was coming). And the episode this past weekend is all about it.

We knew there would be more and more of shift to streaming in the next few years, but what falls out from this attempted unilateral shift by the Bros remains to be seen.

More on Getting Back to Set

Earlier this week, Cirque Du Soleil announced it was filing for bankruptcy and Broadway said it was going to be shuttered until January 2021. It’s grim for folks in the entertainment industry.

Still people are trying to figure out how to get some productions back in gear, especially film and TV. Last week, I shared some guidance the film industry has been working on.

This week, catching up on Scriptnotes, I heard their late May roundtable about getting back on set which I figured would be useful too.

Short version? It’s not a bad time to be in animation.

Video

Happy Centennial, Ray Harryhausen

Somewhere in the Heavens, and in glorious Dynamation, Ray Harryhausen is celebrating his 100th birthday.

There’s nothing I can say that can surpass what many, many, many people in the film industry can say about Ray Harryhausen, so I’ll simply link to two videos. The first, a tribute made on his death:

The second, a review of all his creatures, set to music you know you want to do stop action animation dancing to:

Guidance for Filmmaking in a COVID World

Starting last Friday, Hollywood began starting to tentatively resume work since basically all major productions shut down.

Read all the guidance and take it slow, people.

This does mean a fair number of changes, from face masks for audience members to ending buffet meals on set. The industry has created a pretty detailed white paper (note the link is a PDF) that covers recommended actions from personal hygiene to food on set to particular production concerns.

For those of us that aren’t major studio productions, this is still good information to bear in mind.

Have you made your movie yet?

Online creativity is abounding, and it’s not just clever memes and personable actors giving us a positive news boosts. People are making movies.

In the past month, the 48 Hour Film project, a competition I’ve frequently done, has had a series of stay-at-home competitions.

So now indie filmmaker extraordinaire Roger Corman, who’s still sharp as a tack in his 90s, wants to see your short film. Seriously. He said so.

But better do it quick. You have less than two weeks.

Hangin’ with the Velocipastor

This week, I joined the Streaming Nonsense crew in their mission to review lesser known films available online. This time, we looked at The Velocipastor. Is it everything you want from a disillusioned-priest-becomes-dinosaur-and-fights-ninjas movie? Give a listen.

McQuarrie on Making Things and Playing the Lottery

Moving on from trying to make hobbies conspicuously unproductive, there’s the notion on not waiting on one’s creative aspirations and making things.

I wrote a longer post a couple years ago about this need to do and complete creative works, in part referencing the column above. Time is finite for us mere mortals, so you need to figure out where to feed your creative side while life happens. Maybe it’s on the job, maybe it’s outside it. For many of us indie filmmakers who –surprise, surprise– don’t do filmmaking full-time (see life happening above), that’s quite a task.

One of the notions you’ll see in the links above is the idea to just go ahead and do it. Carpe that diem, even if it annoys Latin scholars that you just mangled that phrase. Mister Keating has your back. Alea iacta est and maybe this time it’s a natural 20.

So, on the one hand, it’s nice to see an industry professional mirror some of those sentiments, which is what Christopher McQuarrie did on Twitter back in October. Not being a Twitter power user, I only picked up on it when someone posted No Film School’s recap recently in a writer group.

Christopher McQuarrie

The main thrust of his tweet thread is that those asking him for where to find an agent, read their script, etc., are asking the wrong questions, because on one level, it’s about submitting to the status quo of “the lottery,” the often random way one finds success and builds a career in Hollywood.

That he notes he realized that he was asking the wrong question and after winning an academy award no less (surely winning the lottery), made me sit up and take notice. In fact, hearing some of the same notions from someone who is absolutely “in the system” and has “won the lottery” that I hear from indie folks encouraging each other was striking.

The whole thread is worth reading, but I wanted to highlight some parts. One is the overall implication that he has played –and won– the lottery, but all that gets you is the ability to play the lottery again. This squares entirely with repeated anecdotes I get from people that Hollywood is a very binary environment, where you can be a one or zero at any time as far as various people believe.

And another implication is that if you’re not making something, you never get to be a ‘one’ in anyone’s eyes. And sometimes that something is not seen hardly at all, or it is seen and judged lacking, yet you focus on the “execution and not the result.”

That’s what I liked about him going beyond the oft-repeated idea of “doing what you love” You have to execute and keep on executing until you there’s more people that find you to be a “one”

On the Wordplay site (where the “Never Wait” column comes from), they mention writing a script is like writing your own lottery ticket. But McQuarrie makes the point several times how making a film, making more than just a screenplay, is actually giving you more chances.

“And it’s infinitely harder to sell a screenplay than it is to sell one’s proven abilities.”

~Christopher McQuarrie

I love that he closes with the notion that the business isn’t something to be broken into so much as you are the business to be acquired, that the creative folks we might look up to like-as-not made their own luck, and many –if not all– of them failed spectacularly along the way.

So make the movie. Do the thing. Don’t wait.

Snowball Fight!

Earlier this week, an under two-minute short film hit YouTube that takes the humble snowball fight and amps it up to 11.

It should not surprise anyone that this is directed by an action film veteran, David Leitch, whose name may be familiar to those who’ve seen John Wick (he was the uncredited co-director). He’s gone on to direct additional action movies and he brings substantial experience as a stunt performer and coordinator to those film… and to this one. Just check out the behind-the-scenes spot they did as well:

As you might expect. Discussion of this short has spiked among many of us indie filmmakers — and after the initial amazement, some do grumble that the film an anything-but-low-budget product from a full film crew, including an experienced stunt team, that’s training these child actors. Oh, and it’s all a big commercial for this iPhone too. (Spoiler alert: all those fancy camera rigs you saw them slip the iPhone into cost extra!)

I get it. This wasn’t an indie effort. And those corporate resources are definitely something to consider if one is trying to shoot a similar looking project. But what are some of the coolest things about the short film? For me, it’s the story, that simple concept of taking a snowball fight and making it an epic battle — because don’t many of us remember the snowball fights of our youth as such? And think of how much drama is imbued with every clearly thought out shot!

So, yes, I get that this is a commercial ploy to want us to go get this latest iPhone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t motivational. Because a lot of filmmaking ingenuity is in the planning. True, execution is hard and can be made easier by big budgets and crews, but none of that is insurmountable. And for stunt coordinators? I might know some people.