Tag Archives: Filmmaking

The Music of DOOM! er, the Doomsday Machine

One of my favorite episodes of the original Star Trek and, I would argue, one of their best overall episodes, was the action-packed season two entry, “The Doomsday Machine.”

A significant factor on why I believe it should be ranked so highly is because of the episode-specific music composed by Sol Kaplan. Viewers may recall the original series re-used a lot of music cues as a cost-cutting technique. The fact that they don’t do so here underscores (pun intended) how a composer can really bring a story alive.

Composer Shem von Schroeck has an hour-long video that goes into the music and the episode in depth. The first 10 minutes are discussing and demonstrating some of the themes Kaplan uses. The next 50 are a special annotated version of the episode itself, highlighting which music is used when. It really gives you an appreciation for how much art and craft goes into composing for the screen.

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.

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.

The Mind of Méliès

If you didn’t check out the incredibly cool 360-degree video Google Doodle earlier this month, get a smartphone or tablet and check it out.

It’s a wonderful tribute to a storyteller who I think would very much embrace virtual reality, augmented reality, and the various emerging techniques storytellers are trying.

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.

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).