Category Archives: Internet 2.0

Online Shopping Makes Indie Film Easier

Maybe I’m just a shop-a-holic and haven’t quite come to accept and admit it. But I think that – besides the advances in camera gear and the potential for internet distribution and marketing – e-commerce and e-shopping are disruptive elements in microbudget indie filmmaking.

Some of the stuff is maybe obvious – you can pre-order your camera online and it will be shipped to you. We shopped for our lights, shoulder rigs and follow-focus units in China and India, bought them with paypal and then had them shipped to our door – cheaper than you would have paid to “buy locally” ten years ago. Of course this isn’t just a technical question. It has also been made possible in large measure by sweatshop conditions in developing countries. And these conditions themselves made possible by repressive political conditions that make unionization difficult and often illegal. Is there anything that have a certain amount of blood spilled on it – including indie film?

But the possibilities are truly expansive and quite niche. We needed an iPad with a broken screen for our lead character, Santiago. Sure enough, we found an iPad with a broken screen that still functioned normally otherwise on ebay. It arrived at our door today from California, less than one week after we ordered it. It also arrived at the same time as a 5′ x 25′ roll of Neutral Density gel (which will allow us to darken the windows so that they don’t look blown out in the shots – the D7000 camera doesn’t have great dynamic range so we really need this stuff). We bought that from a surplus stock that someone in Calgary had and paid about half-price what you would at a store in Toronto. Before the internet, craigslist/kijiji and ebay that stuff may well have just ended up in the trash.

Nor do we need a clapper/slate to mark scenes – those classic devices of film myth. We all know them – the 2nd Assistant Camera holds them in front of the camera and calls out the scene number, shot number and take number. Well, there’s now an app for the iPad and Mac computer that automates the video file labelling process using a QR code (not surprisingly the app is called QRSlate). We downloaded it to an iPad (another one that we borrowed from Reece, one of our awesome camera operators) and purchased it in the App Store on one of our Macbook Pros. It arrived instantly, costing less than it would to rent a clapper from a rental house.

For health and sanity reasons I don’t recommend it. But you can practically crew up, gear up and do your pre-production paperwork without ever leaving your house – and for a fraction of the price you once could. This relative ease of filmmaking ought to come with a responsibility, however, to make films that don’t simply try to mimic the Hollywood model. Not to say that every film should be a call to revolution. Just that we don’t need any longer to be slaves to the levelling effect of mass produced commodity culture demanded by high cost productions.

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Filed under About BNY, Gear, Indie Film Platforms, Internet 2.0, Micro budget, Pre-production, Production Diary, Uncategorized

Indie Film Needs To Be A Guerilla Struggle (Pt. 2)

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

(CONT from Thursday)

Several years ago I went to the Canadian Film Centre (an awesome and very productive experience about which I’ll blog at some future date) and we received passes to a talk by Robert Lantos, one of Canada’s biggest film producers. He started his talk by saying that “if you can do anything else at all, don’t do film” because for most of the time it is heartbreak and misery. And this is from a guy who’s been more successful than most. Writing for the market is no guarantee of happiness, success, fame or any other measure of achievement. Film is hard.

So, the next time someone tells you to write for the market, write only genre, or write with big stars in mind, ignore them. Write what you want to write – that’s the first lesson in being a writer and filmmaker. More than that: write your heart and soul. Write stories that frighten you – not horrors (unless that’s what interests you) but questions that you find difficult to face, that we all find difficult to face. By that I don’t mean they have to be heavy drama. Charlie Chaplin made Modern Times, a great comedy, about the dehumanization and misery of being an industrial worker at a time of great anxiety about industrialism. Mumblecore films engage with the much more mundane fears of a generation that can’t find purpose and looks for it in relationships. The French New Wave threw out most of the rules of what a film should look like or how a film story should be told.

There’s no recipe here. Don’t write avante garde scripts because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t break all the rules of storytelling because that’s edgy. Don’t write romcoms because that’s what sells. The only rule is write what you want and challenge yourself. Of course there are rules to good storytelling. There must be a conflict between the desires of your protagonist(s) and their reality. They must struggle to overcome that conflict and achieve their desires, even if they fail. It also doesn’t mean you should ignore financial realities. You are probably smartest to write with financial limitations in mind. But that can be understood flexibly. Look at Von Trier’s Dogville. That movie was shot using tape on a floor to designate the walls of buildings in a town. There are ways around budgetary constraints and naturalism is less of a necessity when you’re not trying to sell your product to a market of millions of viewers to recoup your $100 million production budget. Be creative. If you want an army of thousands – can you simulate it with little plastic figures (Todd Solondz made a movie about Karen Carpenter using only Barbie & Ken dolls – it made his career)? Realism is over-rated. What you need to do is tell a story that hasn’t been told in the way that you’re telling it.

But it won’t get distribution, you say? Well, if your plan is to write a great commercial script and get someone in LA or elsewhere to produce or direct it, chances are you won’t get your film made at all, never mind distribution. First things first, as Lloyd Kaufman says: make your own damn movie. That’s the only way to ensure your movie gets made. Next, give it away for free, publicize it in any way possible – on social media, by fly posting, by leafleting, etc. There’s a world of possibility that exists now as a result of the internet and advances in camera/filmmaking technology. Hollywood is attempting to end-run that democratization by producing spectacle films of such enormous budget that merely high quality films can’t compete – or producing product that is so recognizable they are as irresistible as a Twinkie to a sweet tooth. Indie filmmaking needs to be less saccharine, more like a prolonged guerilla struggle, whittling away at the edges of Hollywood’s domination with small, effective skirmishes. First we take horror, then the small, personal films, next we engage in lightning quick strikes on the plains of sci-fi-dom, soon we’ll stage an offensive on the historical epic. Forget trying to please Emperor Hollywood. There’s a whole new world to win.

DISCLAIMER:

I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t try to write scripts that sell. If you can, write several scripts a year, including one or two spec scripts that you want to sell. Getting up to that kind of speed could take time. Your first script will probably take you several years. Your second script may take you a year. Later you’ll be able to write more quickly. Once you get your writing speed up – if you ever do; some people are slow writers, which isn’t a criticism, just a recognition that people have different processes – then you can write one or two commercial scripts to try and sell. But the majority of your scripts should be passion scripts. If you write scripts to sell, know this: you aren’t writing for “the market”. You’re writing for a bunch of middlemen & middlewomen who are trying to game the market. The real “market” are the audience. And the audience are ordinary people who want to see themselves and their experience reflected on the screen. The challenge is to reach them and then win their hearts and minds.

In case you missed PART 1 go here.

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Financing Our Microbudget Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Dream

The price of camera equipment has come down big time in the last decade, with the absolutely disruptive impact of HDSLR video capabilities making professional quality filmmaking possible for next to nothing. Add to that the impact of cheap gear from China and your looking at an exponential collapse in costs. But it still ain’t nothing. Labour is now the biggest cost of filmmaking and even if you decide to pay no one, you still have to feed them if you don’t want a revolt on your hands. Then there’s production vehicles and parking, insurance (you know, in case you burn down one of your locations), etc etc. Trying to shoot a feature for under $1000 is possible but the trade-off is exhaustion and stress – and your costs can quickly rise as you go more legit till you reach tens of thousands of dollars (as an example, our “true” budget is probably about $80,000 but, with deferred fees from the crew and other cost-saving measures, we’ve got it down to around $20,000. That’s not as low as Ghosts With Shit Jobs but we’re using professional actors and that means paying them. We also have set costs (like the lab). So, where do you get the money for all this? Unless you’re loaded (we’re not) $20K is a lot of cash. For us the money came primarily from the producers’ pockets, plus we have one investor who is putting in a few thousand dollars (the rest of the “investment” is, of course, the crew and cast labour, which is being counted as investment and will paid out as such in the event a profit is made. ACTRA builds this into their contract with the producers as a 3.6% royalty of gross earnings after a one year grace period). During the post-production period we will also be going to crowdfunding to raise more cash for marketing and distribution. So, where did the producers get the money? Ahem:

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Filed under About BNY, Culture Industry, Internet 2.0, Micro budget, Pre-production, Uncategorized

Dov Simens’ Movie Cloud: Walmart Or Saviour For Indies?

Dov Simens is a real showman – obvious from the video for his Movie Cloud IndieGoGo campaign – and runs a very popular workshop known as the 2 Day Film School that, apparently, Quentin Tarantino went to. Many years ago I read his book and while I don’t remember a lot of the details now, I do remember that he filled it with the kind of chutzpah about filmmaking that you see here – a sort of populist hammering about how you don’t need film school or Hollywood to make a movie – or even a lot of money. So, the Movie Cloud for which he is trying to raise money through an IndieGoGo campaign is very much vintage Dov Simens.

It remains to be seen whether Movie Cloud can rise above all the other attempts to create indie film platforms for production, financing, social networking and distribution out there. It’s a bit of a Wild West as a lot of people recognize the combined potential that has been created for indie filmmaking by the equipment revolution (HDSLRs, the RED, cheap gear from China & India) on the one hand and by the marketing and distribution possibilities inherent in the internet and video streaming. Already, in financing there is IndieGoGo and Kickstarter dominating the crowdfunding space and Slated, which is trying for a more “prestigious” and “professional” model of financing using professional networking. Stage 32 provides a space to social network with other film artists if you need to crew up or cast. Junto Box acts as a crowdsourced film studio that provides production and financing options. And platforms like distrify and Distribber – not to mention Hulu, YouTube & Vimeo – offer alternative models for distributing your film.

So, it’s not as though there aren’t people trying to fill the vacuum created by the gap between the number of indie films shot each year (Simens claims 50K) and the number of films released by Hollywood (around 200). But Movie Cloud – meant to be a movie bank, a virtual production studio, social network and Netflix-like distribution platform – is the first that I’ve heard of that tries to bring it all under one virtual roof. Is that kind of vertical integration a bad thing? (Walmart, cough, cough) Probably in the long run. I wouldn’t want to see the monopolization of indie filmmaking/distribution as a “solution” to the present dire situation. But right now the main problem for indie filmmakers is trying to find any place to get financing and/or distribution so the more the merrier. And with Simens mercurial touch, Movie Cloud is sure to blow wide open indie filmmaking in the internet 2.0 world. That makes their IndieGoGo campaign one worth supporting, even with a cautious eye to the future.

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Filed under About BNY, Indie Film Platforms, Internet 2.0