Wednesday, December 31, 2008

21st Century Distribution

Always looking to see if there's a better way to distribute ones film I came across CreateSpace. Here you send them a DVD of your film, and upload your cover art, and DVD disk art and they take care of the rest. Now this sounds promising and they have an agreement with Amazon too, so that's an incentive right there, but read the fine print before you sign.

CreateSpace has a fixed fee of $4.95 per unit. Then they take 15% of your listed fee. So let's say you're selling a DVD for $14.99. They take $7.19, and you get $7.80. Not bad I guess considering their printing out your movie and doing the shipping. But now if someone buys your movie from the Amazon link Amazon Inc. takes 45% of the list price of your DVD, and there is still the $4.95 fixed price. After the fees you get $3.30 per disk.

Talk about the big guy socking it to the little guy. Can someone tell me what's wrong with this picture. I know Amazon is a BIG company, and I know they do lots of business, but do they actually think this is fair? I mean you yourself still have to bang the drum YOURSELF for your product. You have to get it out there and seen & reviewed. YOU have to drive sales to the product. Amazon doesn't do this. They provide links to your product from various sources including IMDB. Not bad, but still the old build it and they will come doesn't fly. So why the high percentage? In this case it's the name, and they may be correct in charging you that rate, but I wonder how they base that on. After all newspapers and TV stations base their advertising rates on ratings. What does Amazon base this on? I'm sure they can show me graphs and charts on how well a product does when it's listed on Amazon, but does anyone consider what the product manufacturer had to spend in order to drive traffic to the link. After all is said and done is it worth it? For some I suspect it is, but for us or for me it certainly isn't.

I'm not complaining about CreateSpace. They seem to do a pretty good job. I've in fact ordered a film I was interested in seeing that they carry, so it's a win win for the content providers out there.

But because it's Amazon does 45% sound fair? I talked it over with my business partner (my wife) and we both agreed that at this time we'll stick to our good old guys at FilmBaby. They seem to be working on other avenues such as video on demand, and wholesale selling to stores. It's not that we've made a ton of sales from them, but it's the comfortableness of the deal.

I mean I'm always amazed. I mean stores and even on-line retailers are selling films for less then $14.99, and most have Hollywood talent that help promote their films. How does the small guy even compete I can't say, but I still think there are markets out there to exploit. Right now those markets such as i-tunes are closed to us micro cinema auteur's, but the day will come when those companies realize that shutting people like myself out isn't in their best financial interest. A dollar is a dollar, and it doesn't matter if it comes from Universal, or some micro cinema creator. Eventually the walls will fall, but till then look for the deals, and keep on tooting your own horn. The best deal you can get is cutting out the middle man, and dealing with the artist directly. Those days are coming, and for some they are here, but it's taking a bit longer for the rest of us.

To everyone who reads this I thank you for taking the ride this past year with me. I hope to make it more interesting in the coming year, and hopefully I'd like to write more. The future is wide open, and filled with uncertainty, but it is a new frontier, and that's exciting.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mamma Mia (2008)

First let me get out of the way that I happen to be an ABBA fan. Okay I said it. I know not many people say that out loud, but for this review I have to say it and be done with it. For those not in the know ABBA was a Swedish band that had many hits during the 70's and early 80's. ABBA gained immense international popularity employing catchy song hooks, simple lyrics, and a Wall of Sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way I have to say that the film Mamma Mia is a film that uses ABBA's songs to tell the story of a young girl who invites three men to her wedding in the hopes in finding out which one is her father. Throughout the film there is singing and dancing as mother (Meryl Streep), and daughter (Amanda Seyfried) confront each others history. Some of the songs of ABBA have been rewritten to fit the story. Originally a Broadway play and a successful one at that the film follows close to form the play. But the film does lack the plays energy. I have talked with many people who have seen the play and all loved it. The play Mamma Mia is a play that was/is interactive. In other words the audience gets to interact with the actors and the songs in the play. In the film that interactivity is gone, and that's what hurts the film. I do believe the distribution company (Universal) re-opened the film a few months later with lyrics on the screen for the audience to sing-a-long. On the DVD you can watch it with lyrics or without, which is a nice feature.

Meryl Streep does a good job here, and it looks as though she is having some fun in the part of Donna, and the rest of the cast do a great job. Who would think that Pierce Brosnan is such a gifted singer also. The film is a jubilant celebration of the mother/daughter relationship and the love between good friends. No matter how corny and cheesy some may find Abba, it is hard to resist the films many charms. Even at the end of the film their are performances by the key actors as they sing two ABBA songs, and they look like their having a ball, and why not. That's what Mamma Mia is all about "having a good time".

Is it a film worth seeing? If you like musicals I would think this film is for you. For mom's and their daughters I'm sure it strikes a cord, and for us ABBA fans there is a sense of nostalgia when listening to the songs. The film also has a message of sorts and it's not a bad one to espouse to that knowing yourself doesn't come from knowing your past, but who and how you lived your life is more important.

Either your a fan or not. That's how it breaks down in the end. Either you'll love it or you'll see it as a useless feel good film that Hollywood manages to pump out once in awhile. As for me the songs do it for me, and I do like the performers in it, so I liked it. But be warned after viewing the film you'll be humming the lyrics to the songs, and depending on your viewpoint that's either a good thing or a really evil thing. You decide.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 and onward!

I sometimes don't know what to write here. Another review, talk about an interesting article I came about on film making, or just try and toot my own horn. They say it's about subscribers, and I believe that, but I didn't start this blog to try and out do other film sites. I just wanted to be part of the discussion about film making, and more importantly indie film making.

A lot has changed over the years in film making and in distribution. The Internet is a big factor now, and it can make ordinary folk like myself get heard. So that's a cool thing to do.

So what have I been up to? We;; this time of year it's about the holidays for me. I try and re-connect with old friends, and try to share the spirit of the holiday. Of course my mind is never far from film making. I've been writing sometimes, but the projects get bigger, and then the frustration kicks in because for me it's hard to come up with money to finance the addiction. In these lean times money goes elsewhere, and when you have a family you want to do right by them. I'm not saying the dream is dead, but I need to be smarter, and sometimes a bit more ruthless. Ruthless you say. That doesn't sound good, but when I mean ruthless I mean ruthless in stretching a dollar.

I always hated people doing movies and not paying their crew or actors. I mean aren't peoples time worth something? it's gotten rougher out there and I'm all sure we can agree on that. Money is tight, and it's harder to fiance that film you want to do. I always thought a collective is a cool thing to do. Have a bunch of artist work together on each others films, but that isn't so realistic nowadays. People have to work and get some money to pay the bills that are coming due every month. After all the bill collector doesn't say forget this months payment. Nope you miss a payment and you got penalties.

So what's a filmmaker to do? I've been tempted to just dissolve my company, but there's something I need to do before that happens. One more film. This time a bit more personal, and made a bit smarter. Maybe it'll happen maybe it won't but I need to try. So I've given myself deadlines, and a goal.

A favorite filmmaker of mine is Roger Corman, and I love how he produced films. Quick and fast. Every dime went on the screen. I'm not saying that his films were groundbreaking, but he was himself a revolutionary in film making. Is it quantity or quality now. Corman amassed a few hundred films under his production company. In toady's market there is already quantity. Quality is what matters now in today's market place. Getting the film seen is the important thing. So I'm going to try and see what I can do. Something quick and something people would be interested in seeing. Maybe serialize a film, and release it that way, and the DVD would be an after thought.

There is a lot to think about and a lot to do in 2009. Let's make 2009 an interesting year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Copyright

NPR had yesterday an interview with Lawrence Lessing. In his new book Remix, law professor Lawrence Lessig explores the changing landscape of intellectual property in the digital age. In the interview Lessing discusses the new forms of copyright such as the creative commons. I then came across the video "Good Copy, Bad Copy". The video discusses the new digital age and how current copyright law is being challenged. Though the film discusses the music business it does have a section on film copyright and it has an interview with the chairman & CEO of the MPAA Dan Glickman. In the film they discuss Nigeria's booming film industry all without the help of copyright.

It's an interesting look at how and where the future of copyright is heading. My only problem is I'd rather have the individual protected as a copyright holder rather then the corporations who seem to want audiences to have a limited access to their catalogues, or to charge them for it. I'm not saying that someone shouldn't make a profit on their labor, but instead we should figure out a way to compensate the artist a bit better so he or she can make MORE of his or her work.

It's how new genres are developed and born. Take a look at the video, and if you can please make a donation to help them differ costs for producing the videos.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Bucket List (2007)


I caught "The Bucket List" on HBO the other night, and sort of enjoyed it. It was a bit schmaltzy though, and predictable, but worth seeing on cable. Both Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play men who are given not long to live. Nicholson's character convinces Freeman's character to do the things that they haven't done before their time is up. Throughout the picture the two characters become closer and we are privy to certain secrets or regrets that they have had. i enjoyed the performances of Freeman and Nicholson, but the script seemed forced, and overly dramatic. Rob Reiner directs the film, and he does a good job at making us feel empathy for the characters, but again the schmaltz factor is hard to overcome.

I like what the movie had to say, and its message, but feel that the film could have done this in a less heavy handed way. I can see where this movie could have gone into absurdity, but Reiner doesn't let the movie go in that direction. of course it would have been interesting if the characters were a bit like ordinary guys. Sure Freeman's character is a auto mechanic, but Nicholson's character is wealthy and the two begin jetting all around the world to complete their "list". I had thought it would have been a lot interesting to see what ordinary men would have done under the circumstance. But I guess that's another movie, and maybe I'm just being picky.

I did like the performances, but then again Nicholson & Freeman are two excellent actors. I also enjoyed the message of the film, and liked the idea of two strangers actually becoming good friends in a short amount of time. Some of the cinematography is beautiful, but I did think I saw some process shots that were filmed in a studio instead of the real location. Hey even Hollywood has to adhere to budget constraints. I mean do you know how much it costs to fly a movie crew around the world?

So do I recommend this or tell you to skip it? I enjoyed the film ultimately, and found it entertaining, and yes I did get a little misty eyed, so I did feel the movie was cathartic. I see why the film didn't do so well. On one hand it's not a ha-ha laugh riot film, and on the other it's a film about dying. Maybe a bit too real for its audience. If you can catch it on cable one night it makes for good viewing, and makes you think. HBO is currently running it, and I'm sure it's on their on-demand menu. Hey you could do worse.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Revisting Spike's "She's Gott'a Have It"

Spike Lee is a filmmaker who is a strong filmmaker. I've always thought his films are inventive, a bit experimental, and of course provocative. He's done so many films since "She's Gott'a Have it. In each film you can see how far Lee has come, and how good a filmmaker he's become. When I feel uninspired I go back to films that impress me, and have inspired me. She's Gott'a have it was Spike's first film, and when it premiered it made waves. A small little film about a women (Noela) and her relationship with three men. Lee even plays one of the men in the film.

The film was shot on a shoe-string, and the budget is said to be about $250,000 dollars. For a first feature it has some interesting performances in it, but you can see that the film is a bit crude due to it's lack of resources, but what resources Lee has he uses and he uses them effectively. Lee says in interviews that it was only during "Do the right thing" that he became comfortable with dealing with actors. In "She's Gott'a have it" Lee doesn't seem to be lacking in that area. Maybe it's the quality of the actors, but for such a small film he makes good use of the actors performances. A lot of times the actors talk right to the camera breaking that "fourth wall" and letting the audience in. In some films this would slow down a film, but here it doesn't. Instead it makes us more and more interested in the characters. Some would say that this was a cost cutting technique, but here in this film it works. After all filming interviews isn't too difficult, but it is the way Lee, or should I say Ernest Dickerson, the films director of photography, who makes those shots stand out.

The film was shot over the course of 12 days, and it was Dickerson's 3rd film as a DP, and Dickerson contributes a lot to the film. Lee knew Dickerson's talent, and was very confident of his DP, and it shows. Lee & Dickerson point to the film "Raging Bull" as big influence on how they shot "She's Gott'a have It". From the speed changes and sound design "Raging Bull" influenced a lot of Lee's need for experimentation. In the book "Spike Lee: that's my story and I'm sticking to it" Lee is quoted as saying that Scorsese was always playing with the medium of film and using it to heighten the experience the film was giving the audience. It was Dickerson's suggestion to shoot the film in black & white. Both were fans of such films as "Stranger than Paradise", "Breathless", and "Rashomon".

Like any good filmmaker Lee knew who to contact when he had trouble such as fast-action sex scene. It is there that he turned to Barry Brown for help. Brown also assisted in the sound design.

After watching "She's Gott'a have it" and reading Spikes books about the making of the film, and his latest on his career and his films you have to come to one conclusion, and that is Lee surrounds himself with good people who can contribute to the film. From the actors to the crew I sincerely believe Lee learns how to make a good film, and that's what a good director is suppose to do. All through the making of his first film Lee's production was on the verge of shutting down, but he managed the momentum, and in the end made a really good film.

I still think the film works, and it is pretty unique. Of course having come out when it did the film seemed to be just waiting to explode in the national scene. But as Lee continues to make films he gets better always pushing the medium further and further. Back when "She's Gott'a Have It" was playing Lee even knew how to market himself and the film by selling merchandise to the crowds waiting on line to see his film.

Spike Lee remains and will always be one of America's most prolific film directors, and you can see all this in his first feature "She's Gott'a Have it". It's all there, and Lee has only gotten better as the years go by.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Delgo" Has Worst Wide Release Opening Ever


According to the numbers the movie "Delgo" has the worst wide release opening ever. According to box office the movie earned a measly $511,920 this weekend on 2,160 screens, not even breaking the top ten.

"Delgo" is not the only major wide release bomb of the year. Three of the ten worst openings for films in over 2000 locations came out this year. The raunchy teen sex comedy "College" and the thriller "Deception," starring Hugh Jackson and Ewan MacGregor, both tanked, garnering the sixth and ninth worst openings ever respectively.

What can we take from all this? That no matter how big you open a film and it isn't from a major studio that's backing it up in its marketing your doomed to failure. Making a movie is half the battle the other half is getting it noticed and out to screens.

The story is interesting on how and who was responsible for the film. Apparently Marc Adler decided he wanted to direct and produce a $40 million computer animated kids' flick completely independent of Tinseltown behemoths like Disney and Dream works. When no body was interested he went to a distributor for hire and released it himself. The reviews were awful and that kept theater goers from coming.

Now not for nothing, but Adler had some stones to release it his way. I'll give him that. But it's hard to release something without major studio marketing. Adler even started this project back in 2001, and toiled away on a very low budget. Adler even got names to voice the characters, but in the end it was the story. I'm sure this film will do well on DVD because the children's market is a lucrative one.

This is one more example that the distribution of films have changed, and is changing as we speak. Not only for animated fare but as well as art films, thrillers, and action/adventure films.

Check out the Yahoo article here: Yahoo.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008)


So I was in a mood to see a good sci-fi film, and I decided to see "The Day the Earth Stood Still" starring Keanu Reeves, and Jennifer Connelly. I am a fan of the 1951 film. Unfortunately after seeing the film I can't say that I'm a big fan of this one. Don't get me wrong I like the performances, and I even like what the writers did by updating it to to days subject matters. But with all the build up the film let's you down in the end. I actually thought there should be more. Sure the world has stopped, but why. The film explains a lot of the motivations of Reeves character, but in the end I don't buy it.

After being rebuked by the U.S. government Reeves character goes on a journey. In this journey he finds out that the human race is worth saving. There's an appearance of the character actor James Hong who I think is NEVER used well enough. In it Hong plays Mr. Wu another alien agent who had come to the earth over 70 years ago. I was actually more interested in his character then any other, and he is only in one scene in the film. Had the filmmakers decided to concentrate on his character I think this film would have benn a lot more interesting. But that's a personal opinion, but if you decide to see the film look for the scene.

Some critics have complained about Jaden Smith's performance. Smith is the son of Jaden and Will Smith, so maybe that's why the critics want to paint a bulls eye on him, but I didn't think he was that bad. He had heart, and I did well up with tears when he brought Reeves character to the cemetery where his father is buried. Maybe I'm just a big softy, but come on guys Smith's acting was fine. It's the writing that doesn't work.

Take for instance how Reeves' character (Klaatu) suddenly is convinced that the human race is worth saving. After visiting a Nobel prize awarded scientist (Professor Barnhardt)played by of all people John Cleese and listening to a recording of Bach Klaatu realizes that there is more to us humans then our destructive capabilities. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it. I think a good idea would have been going on a journey with the child (Jaden Smith) and viewing some of man's other traits, and then seeing man isn't the monster he usually is represented as. I mean wouldn't a super intelligent alien being need more then a recording of Bach to decide that the earth was worth saving. In the beginning of the movie Klaatu says that his species is much different then our own, and that we (mankind) would be scared of our difference. In other words the writers just took the easy way out. Maybe I'm asking for way too much, but please don't talk down to your audience. Have some respect. After all this is a science fiction movie, and we are capable of imagining other worlds and other species.

But this is is a mainstream movie with a BIG budget, so no experimenting please. Cut and dry and leave it at that. Maybe by doing so you create a Bigger film, and a longer one at that, and remember films need to be a certain length to fit in to a theaters schedule. Maybe I'm again nitpicking, but I thought "the Day The Earth Stood Still" could have been a much better film. I even liked Keanu Reeves acting as Klaatu. He plays the character with little emotion, but there is intelligence behind those eyes, and a longing to connect with his human hosts. Jennifer Connelly is cast well, and works here too.

In the end as I walked out of the theater I said"that's it?". Maybe leaving them wanting more is something, but here it's not a good thing. After all the build up of this film I was disappointed. There is some good material here, but not enough to be excited by it.

Also a note about the effects. I believe that even the helicopter effects were done via computer, and I noticed. Not a very good sign. I thought they looked a bit strange, and then thought that it may be a computer image. In fact a lot of this film is done via computer effects. A lot of the times I didn't have a problem with it, but on occasion I began to play the game guess the computer image. I guess it's normal in today's films to have it, but I lament the days of real effects work.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Death of Indie Film as a Business Model

There is a really interesting rant, or I should say opinion over at Mike Curtis's Blog HD for Indie. In it he discusses the demise of independent film making as a business model. Actually when was ever "indie" film making a viable business model. Of course you can point to the success in the field and say look at so and sos company and how it evolved, but that was then and this is now. Curtis says that with every success there are several failures, and it's this point that I've been hammering away. You could put even me in that category, but I'd like to think of myself as a success just because I got a movie made.

Finding an audience is a problem. Not that there isn't an audience, but that the competition for that audience is intense. How can the little guy compete with films budgeted at $50 million and marketed for $35 million. Also there is a lot of FREE content out there now, so why pay. At what threshold can you make a product and still make a profit on it. That's the key question that has plagued entrepreneurs of every sort. It doesn't matter if your making films or making napkin holders. It's simple economics, and it's hit the independent film community hard.

Go on over and read Curtis's article. He has some good points, and yes maybe it's a bit pessimistic, but he raises some GOOD points. I do like some of the comments he is getting too. Some people also see a silver lining in all this. After all just because you can make a film doesn't mean you should. But I'd like to be on the opinion that from every change there comes innovation. With innovation comes new ideas that may propel "indie" film making to new heights. That is my hope, and my dream. So the storm is here, but with every storm there is a clearing. I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Film school

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Being involved in education, and having a love of film I get asked about film schools a lot. Which one to go to, which is the best, how to I apply, and so on. First let me say that I strongly urge young men & women to seek out educational opportunities, and if they have a chance they should pursue what interests them. That being said is it smart to go to a school and major in film production or mass communications when the economy is in a free fall. I mean who has the money to go into a career where competition is tenacious, and employment is questionable?

If I had known what I know now would I have gone to the school I went? For the record I went to Brooklyn College which is a city university in New York. My major was film production, and I had a minor in TV production. The answer to that question would be a resounding "yes". I would have done some things different, but I still would have gone. After all my love for film permeated my youth, and it was an extension of my love of photography that drove me to the cinema.

But since I've gone to school there has been an explosion of programs at various different schools all catering to film making and the study of cinema. So let's dive in, and see which one may be for you. I'll start with my own school Brooklyn College. Brooklyn College offers a degree in film production and/or cinema studies. Since I've been there the school does offer some new programs such as a BA in screenwriting, and a BA in film marketing. These programs are degree programs and you are required to take elective courses for that degree. Brooklyn College also has a certificate program for people who just want to learn filmmaking, screenwriting or just film studies. This was not available when I went to school so I have a degree in film production. I took electives, and at the time grudgingly endured the other discipline's.

I look back at my college days with a certain amount of nostalgia, yet I know full well that my education helped me in the years after school. I was technically proficient in making films, and I had a well rounded college experience. My writing improved, my analytic skills improved, and I was a more well rounded individual. Of course between my schooling, and my work experience the computer became a more and more dominate force in my field. Who would have thought that all you need is a camera and a computer and you can make films just like the pros do. It is this simple yet defining technological breakthrough that has changed filmmaking and media in general.

Which brings me to film schools, and if they serve a purpose or not. Such schools as the New York film academy or the Brooks Institute are good schools to learn the craft of filmmaking. Such schools schools as UCLA, USC, NYU, Columbia, and School of Visual Arts are great schools also, but they are degree programs. If you go to any one of these expect to shell out money, and get a well rounded education in the arts. Sure they have equipment, but these schools are universities, and they produce individuals with a well rounded view of the world. They are NOT trade schools. If you want them go to schools like NYFA, or the Brooks Institute. I'm not saying that these schools are inferior on the contra they immerse the individual with technical data and you learn by doing. When you graduate from one of these schools you will know how to put together a film, and work on any film or TV crew. If this is what your goal is go for it, and make no mistake you will love every minute of it, but beware it is intense.

Such schools as NYU or UCLA teach their students more then just film, and this is great because in such a volatile economy one could use all the knowledge one can accumulate. To be flexible, and know other things isn't a bad thing.

So is film school worth it? In my case it was, and will always be, but with all these new programs out there, and these new schools out there worth anything? The certificate programs are shorter but more intense. I don't know about their placement program, but I have heard of successful stories where students go on to successful careers in the field. But like everything you should look into the schools internship programs. It is here where you will see if the school has any good "in-roads" to the industry. Because it's not sometimes what you know, but who. Maybe it's a bit cynical, but in order to get a job you need to know people in the industry, and you need experience. So choose a school that is at the forefront of the industry. One that has connections to companies and individuals in the arts, and movie making industry. That's how you'll get a bigger bang for your buck.

I don't regret my schooling, but I do regret not taking full advantage of some of their internship programs. For me it was monetary, and I needed to work to pay for film stock, developing, and text books. If this is you then try and get a paying internships.

I do believe that film schools produce a better filmmaker due to the exposure of films he or she sees. In today's climate DVD's and the Internet can provide that for you, but then you would be denied learning and working with your peers. The most fun and the best times I had was working with my classmates on projects together. Some of those people have drifted away, but there are bonds forged in that classroom that sometimes precede careers. That's what I carry away from my filmmaking days. With today's youth they are even more proficient in media, and all that is standing in their way is having that one good break to launch their careers.

In the end you have to know what YOU want, and what you can afford. Is there a way to make a career without film school? I'd have to say yes, but the odds increase in your favor when you attend one of these schools. The connections you make and the friendships that you forge are very important in your career. Get out there network, and show your work to others. Learn all you can, and always read about new innovations. I wish you all the best of luck, and a full filling education and career.

Friday, December 05, 2008

R.I.P. Forrest J. Ackerman


I just heard that Forrest J. Ackerman had passed away yesterday. Ackerman was a man who touched a lot of lives, and if you happen to be a fan of horror and sci-fi movies you know he was the publisher of "Famous Monsters". I remember hiding several issues from my dad since he thought they were garbage, but a lot of adults didn't get it. To a boy of 8 or 9 those magazines were a peek into the world of the fantastic. Ackerman was 91, and even at his advanced age he commanded a lot of respect and was still active. He will be missed.