Friday, March 30, 2007

Financing a film!

I've been reading some blogs and articles about financing that feature film and/or short film, and so far I haven't heard a really convincing argument who has done well in this arena. People are so secretive on their numbers. While others brag about how really low their film came in on. I mean how does someone get financing for their film? The DIY attitude is very wide spread and its true that many filmmakers are making their films a reality. Much more now then in recent years. Whats changed is the way distribution is handled, and how these films are finally seen. The Internet has a lot to do with this, yet getting a deal for domestic distribution involving cable, DVD, and pay-per view is still tough. I am no expert, but I've worked on a number of films, and have done a number of them to know what seems to work, and what doesn't. Mind you I was only a crew member on some of these films while on my own film I actually had to scrape together enough cash to start & finish my film.

First off back in the 80's and early 90's I remember a lot of times either freezing my ass off babysitting equipment, and or sweating in a studio with no air-conditioning. Back then and this is mostly in the mid to late 80's the word was "pre-sales". I remember that the producers of these films had already pre-sold their film to certain territories, and even had sold the video rights to them. The VCR revolutionized film making, and created a glut of films that are best not remembered. On most of the films I was paid. It was very little, but it was something I accepted because I was starting out. You want cheap labor go to your local film school and ask the department heads if any of their students would like to work on a film. Some even did it for internships and I was just as guilty, so there's a clue. Go to local colleges and ask around. Pay people something, and you'll get highly motivated workers who haven't been jaded by the politics of film making.

Politics of film making? Whats that you ask? Well its no secret that when you start up your company you don't have much in the pot, so you sweeten it by giving people who have little experience a chance to do what they love, and at the same time you get experienced people who want to move up, but find it hard. Like the camera assistant or the gaffer who wants to be a DP. That's how you work it. In essence a hungry crew. Now some producers were bastards and gave little to the low men on the Totem pole. They knew they had you, and they exploited that fact. The benevolent producers however, and yes there are those who are nice. These people hired you for a so-so wage, but made sure that you were feed, and taken care of. They spent money where it counted and that was for the comfort of the cast & crew. If you find these types of producers please say thank-you, and say a little prayer for them. They are great to work with and know what film making is all about.

Okay so far I haven't said anything relevant about toady's situation. Pre-sales are a dead issue. They don't work anymore. There is too much of a glut in films in the marketplace and studios have their choices in picking what they want. It's even hard to get into a festival if you don't know anyone on the festival committee. Kind of sucks doesn't it? But all is not lost. There are still ways you can get your film produced, and yes you'll have to jump through some hoops to that, but it's not impossible. I've heard of people donating money, and services and that's all well and fine, but does nothing if or when your picture is finished and a distributor wants it. No matter what a producer needs contracts. Get familiar with them or have one explained to you by an attorney.

Ooops! Now I did it I said the "attorney" word. This stuff was never explained to me in film school, and getting to know it caused me agita like you wouldn't believe. I found people to help, but some offers were just too expensive. Also once you form a company and have a film ready for production you're not allowed to go will nilly and send out your prospective to anyone. There's a limit, and so you better know full well that person or persons who are going to invest in your film.

So do you see why many go the self financed route? If you're new, and have no track record why should anyone invest their hard earned cash into your movie? One person said in their blog that it can't be that hard to get a couple of people to put in $3K each, and I'm telling you it is.

There's money out there, but those money people want to see a reasonable expectation of getting their money back and a bit more. How do you do this? Have a hook. Whether that's actors, or the story is up to the filmmaker. The best example I can think of is Sam Raimi and his film "Evil Dead". They made a short in super-8 and convinced some dentists to invest. They already had the connections, and they had something to show. It still wasn't easy, and they struggled, and a lot of them worked for nothing, but they did it, and fortunately Stephen King saw it and gave it its wings. The rest is history. That was way back in the early 80's and since then the landscape has changed. A picture like Evil Dead wouldn't even get a theater release now.

I hold no real answers to the debate of financing a movie. Maybe one can raise money on a grass roots level, and distribute it regionally. Lance Weiler seems to be the man who is successfully distributing his films and doing it successfully. My hats off to the man, but I don't know if his model would work for a film such as Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation". In that example Bujalski's film had word of mouth through the festival arena, and from there it created interest. Bujalski even distributed a self made DVD of his film in the earlier stages which I thought was cool. It was a no frills one, but an interesting way to spread the films interest to a wider audience.

The answer I always give is what Spike Lee said: "by any means necessary". Of course he took this from Malcolm X who meant something entirely different, but I think we get the message. You do what you have to do. You skimp, and save your own money, and try to rally people to your film through sheer determination. If the film is worth doing it will get made. If it isn't it will fall apart, and never be seen. Simple.

It's a new world, and new ways are always presenting themselves. The theaters are going more and more towards the digital arena. No more striking a print from the lab. Now you only need a HD tape, or digi-beta to show, and you're in business. Remember the less you spend on production the more you can spend on promotion of the film. It's just as important and hyper critical in this day of quick hits and fast turn-arounds. I can go on, but you get the idea. Go out there and beat the bushes, and start scrimping and saving. Think like a producer and think what I can get for free. Then roll the dice, and see what happens.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Conspiracy By the Numbers

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This weekend I headed to the movies, and saw “Shooter” starring Mark Wahlberg. In it Wahlberg is an ex-sniper who is recruited by the government to stop an assassination attempt, but what happens is he gets framed for the assassination by the very guys he’s working with. Seems like an exciting premise, and who doesn’t love a good conspiracy story? Only thing this isn’t that story.

“The Shooter” is a paint by numbers type of movie. Nothing surprising EVER happens. You can see the ending a mile away, and yet I was hoping it would surprise me. It didn’t. All the characters are one dimensional characters that do not ever surprise us. I swear one scene where the girl in the movie is captured just seemed like an excuse to get her semi-naked holding a shotgun. I just felt like this movie was phoned in, which is disappointing. I like Wahlberg, and I thought it might be a good action flick to go see. You know mindless stuff, but something that has its share of action. Even those scenes are predictable.

I say skip this film and catch it on the DVD. The one thing I did notice in this film is that they used CGI for some of their explosions When the helicopter comes crashing down you just know. Some of it was interesting, but noticeable if you look, and I was bored so I looked.

Another reason I wanted to see the movie was that it was partially filmed here in Philly, and wanted to see what they filmed. To the movies credit Philly looks good. Some nice shots, and some interesting local flavor, but nice pictures don’t make a movie. The shooter really misses. (sorry I couldn't resist)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome to the Underground?

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I try to explore the ever evolving shape of cinema these days, yet it seems to change constantly. One of the web sites I've come to is that of alteregocinema. The film that came to my attention was AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER. I haven't heard of this film, and the title alone makes it seem almost questionable, but after reading an unfavorable review at I just had to check it out. Shane Ryan does some interesting editing, and I like the way he makes the footage look degraded, and even a bit inferior. Someone said it probably was to cover up the bad production values in the film in the first place. After all how many of you have heard or said "we'll fix it in post". What attracted me to the guys work is the stark reality of the films. In an era of reality TV, and YouTube I do think the work has some merit, but at what expense. Certainly these films aren't real snuff films. Would some others think that the films can be actually real? In a society that loves to blur the line between reality and fantasy can this be what it's come down to for entertainment?

I think not.

I admire filmmakers who work with what they have. Hell! We all do it at the sub-basement budget level. We all work with what were forced to work with, but isn't a film suppose to have a point? Isn't that what a film is suppose to do? Someone I know once said that sometimes making a film that conveys a special atmosphere is enough for him, but what about the story. I too like atmosphere in my films, but sometimes it isn't enough. Okay two killers on the run. Killings happen every several minutes, and each one gets more and more visceral. So what? Why should I care? Is there a point, or why should I even watch this. To me it's like watching a torture session, and I'm not comfortable with that. Yes I know it's fake, and yes I know it's actors doing the screaming and the killing, but I just don't like it. Not my cup of tea. Films like Hostel, and Saw just seem to be cruel torture sessions for its audience. That's my take on those films, but maybe I've just gotten too old & my tastes have changed. But I do enjoy films like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Halloween". Make no mistake about that. The difference between these films and those I've mentioned earlier is that films like "Saw" and "Hostel" are just one note films. You're not invested in any of the characters. All you care is to see if you can get through the "gross out" scenes, and if anyone gets out alive. It becomes a spectacle like a sport.

That's what director Ryan's films seem to me. More spectacle and less a film. I'm not sure I'm willing to shell out the ten bucks to see the movie which Mr. Ryan is doing currently and only for a limited time. Maybe this leads somewhere better & to better filmmaking. In a world where you need a hook to grab attention to ones self, maybe it might just work for Mr. Ryan. Although I'd think that making better, more profesional films would be a better route. If you're all interested check his films out at

Monday, March 19, 2007


So as I try and figure out what to do next I’ve been looking back at some of my old film projects from film school and even beyond. I’ve been digitizing them and taking a bit of the rough elements out of them. I guess I’m archiving for posterity. Maybe my boys will get a kick out of seeing what the old man was doing in his youth.

But wait you’re not that old? I’m in my early 40’s and there’s still some fire down below. Isn’t there? I’ll confess age is only a number, but someone who says that is ignoring the cold hard fact that you’re no longer in your youth. You’re idealism is a bit tainted, and you see things in a different light. So it gets a little harder. Not only with you’re time management, but also with your priorities. Someone who says children don’t change things is totally in denial and does not know what he or she is talking about.

No I’m not one of those people who talk about children being first, and God bless the children. Heck! God bless everybody is my mantra. From the addict in the ally to the suburban housewife taking care of 5 children to the old couple growing old together in a society that only values youth. We’re all blessed and cursed, but when one watches one’s own children grow up before their very eyes one understands that time is fleeting, and all you have is now.

The above post is of my final film from film school. It’s over twenty years old, believe it or not. I even cut the negative for it, and vowed NEVER to do that again. I play the guard in it, and my buddy Jim Law plays the fugitive. It’s well shot, and not badly done, but I was devastated when I read that George Lucas had done the same kind of thing, and he called it “Freiheit” which is German for Freedom. When I read this I showed it to my professor, and she convinced me to finish it nonetheless. She said “that no idea is that original”, and that advice is so true to even this day. I finally got to see Lucas’ version on the THX1138 DVD many years later, and I must say I like mine better (~smirk).

There’s a lot I learned on making the film. I shot it on Double-X negative film, and I loved some of the images it gave me. It was shot in a nearby park in Queens, New York. A fellow Brooklyn College film student who was from Japan commented that it looked like some of Kurosawa’s films. Being a great admirer of Kurosawa I enjoyed the compliment, but never did I see it for myself. My partner in crime a young woman by the name of Diane made sure to keep me honest. She would dirty the cloths, or level the camera if I forgot to do so, or even line up shots for me. Right there was a lesson in having a good crew. They’ll always make you look good if you treat them well, and allow them to help you.

The sound track was the same guy I used for “Deadly Obsessions”. Peter came in and scored the film in about two to three hours while I played it on the six plate editing flatbed at school. When I saw it projected I really felt a wave of satisfaction come over me. I so wanted to do that with a feature and sixteen years later I did when I saw “Deadly Obsessions” screen at Colorlab.

The landscape has so much changed since then. Digital video and high definition is littering the landscape. Smaller camera’s, non-linear editing is the norm, and the DIY theme runs rampant in our society. We have high school students working on features now, and Francis Ford Coppola’s statement that a “farm girl from Iowa will be the next great artist” isn’t too far from the truth. Maybe by looking back I’ll get inspired enough to do something now. Just one more way that maybe I can get my ass in gear, and stop the apathy and start the renaissance, or at least an inspiring idea.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sisyphus & the rock

Meaning? Isn’t that what we all strive for? After the day is done don’t we try to see the meaning of our actions and why we did what we did? Always questions and sometimes there are no real answers. The gentleman who was my AD on my film once wrote that I reminded him of Sisyphus. You know Sisyphus don’t you? He’s the dude who was cursed to roll the rock up a hill only to have it fall back down the hill when he got to the top. Some describe pointless or interminable activities as Sisyphean. So it’s a good analogy on my relationship with film and my filmmaking endeavors. “Pointless” you say. Then why do I continue to try? If you know that all that you do is irrelevant then why do it?

I guess that’s the million-dollar question. Why? I’ve described filmmaking as a drug and me as an addict chasing that initial high, but that’s not entirely true. Then I read a quote that kind of sums it up for me:

Leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks . . . The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. -- Albert Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

So maybe it’s the struggle that I enjoy and have such a love/hate relationship. If you go on to read Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” at the end of his essay he says he imagines Sisyphus happy. Maybe that’s all what I’m seeking to be happy doing what I love, and always striving to do better. Hopefully I’ll get it right, and it will mean something to maybe not me, but someone else. I don’t profess to be a leader of men. I do what I do to try and tell a story. Maybe I’m too steeped into what Hollywood produces, and try and emulate what they produce so well which I can’t. I’ve read and studied other peoples work who some would call avant-garde, and have come to admire them, but realize that that path is just not me. Filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, & Kenneth Anger are artists I admire, but I know that I’m just way too simple for that. So what am I left with? How do I tell stories and try and create something that will mean something. “Deadly Obsessions” was me telling myself that I can do a feature, and apply things to what I learned about filmmaking. My second film has to be about something more. It has to be about something I hold dear to me. Something that will propell me to finish it, and try and get it seen by others. I can go on and on about how to technically do it, but none of that matters. An artists works with what he or she has. It is the artist who makes it worth seeing, and worthwhile.

Maybe Camus has it right and that it’s in the doing that make us happy, but sometimes it does feel like that all that I’m doing is making myself miserable, and that there are MORE important things to concentrate on. A delima I guess, but what isn’t.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Something's Brewing

I’ve been restless & antsy for some time now. It happens when I don’t get to do what I really enjoy doing, and that’s make films. Between work, family and other things it can be easy to just say “fuck it”. I mean what’s one less filmmaker in the world right? But then the voice sets in and it doesn’t stop until I do something. What draws me to filmmaking? What is it that makes me crave filmmaking like a junkie going after his next fix? Is it to be famous or known? I’ll confess here I’d like to be known as a competent filmmaker. No more and no less. I’m way past the wide eyed innocent I was when I first started making films. I fully know it’s a business and in order to achieve some success you have to sell your story otherwise it’s an expensive hobby, but again I see no one willing to invest large sums of money in a film. My sphere of influence does not include people with money who can piss away their hard earned dollars. I’ve always said that in order to succeed in the business of filmmaking you have to believe in yourself, and you have to invest in yourself. No guts, no glory so to say.

I’m also amazed to find more and more fellow brethren out there who also have the same passions and desires as I do. They are out there and the web is what connects us. For instance I just found out this website called “100 films”. It’s creator Lucas McNelly has written some interesting things about no-budget filmmaking and he seems to be an inspired person trying to do his own thing. His one idea is to review 100 of these so-called no-budget films. That in itself is a Herculean task, but one I admire. I’ve reviewed a couple of films here on this blog, and the only reason I’ve done so was because I enjoy these types of films. I’ve tried to be constructive in my criticism and so I try to be honest. I’m sure this is what Mr. McNelly is going to attempt, so I’ll be sending him a copy of my film, and see what he thinks. I think this is a great idea, and one that may or may not be good. I’ve already received some criticism of my film, but how am I to learn if I don’t send it out and get talked about. I already know my films flaws, but every filmmakers sees his or her mistakes because they’ve been working on it for so long. They glare at you these mistakes, and yet you push on.

That’s where I’m right now. I want to create something, yet resources are low. What is no-budget filmmaking but a challenge? We work with what we have. We make no excuses and push on. We have stories to tell, and that’s all we want to do. That and to be heard of course. I’ve finished a feature screenplay, but have doubts. Maybe doing a shorter piece would be better. Something a bit less taxing on the resources.

Something’s brewing, and it ain’t the coffee!