Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ambition of the Better

Ted Hope gives some insight on how to make "better films":

"AMBITION; In terms of the filmmakers who create them, some films are challenges; some are proofs. In the Challenges, the filmmaker is hoping to discover things, hoping to learn things in the process. In a Proof Film, the filmmaker is showing the audience what she or he knows. With a Challenge, the audience is aligned with the movie, trying to discern whether the filmmaker will meet the challenge; whereas with a Proof, the audience is dictated to, watching something unfold according to a recognizable formula. A Challenge is involving, whereas a Proof is a passive experience for the audience. Ambition is to go to places you have never gone before with the hope that you will discover something positive in the process—a challenge and not a proof.

There are so many films that have already been made, and made again, and then made yet again. Many films of the past had the opportunity to get there first—to be the first to portray a particular type of character, explore a genre or a style, to tell a story in a particular way. The ambitious filmmaker will never be content to walk in others ‘first steps. It is not enough to simply provide an update. Repeats are just an attempt to provide more products for current tastes, driven by profit, not ambition.

There is always more that can be done—more nuance provided, a different perspective offered. With ambition, one asks how a situation can be read differently, more fully. Ambition embraces the edict to “make strange”, to unlock the oddness in normality. Ambition exposes the wonder in the every day, forbids us to take our situation for granted.

Ambitious film goes beyond the engineering that a Proof is. Emotions and tensions are easily manipulated by an engineered film. It is a challenge to create work that is both surprising and inevitable. With an ambitious film, one that is successful, we are pulled through the unknown only to recognize—to know again—what we inherently know. An ambitious work will make us both know and recognize. An engineered film just reconfirms an unquestioned position.

Ambitious film will do more than just give the audience what it wants. To simply provide is all but to pander. Ambitious film takes us into new ground where we question ourselves and our place.

A great film should be more than proof of what the filmmaker knows. Did the filmmaker reach higher than themselves and then place themselves where no planning could guarantee success? This challenge could have been a logistical one or one based on editing or scale of the idea or anything that makes them work without a net—but a challenge, not a proof, a challenge to go where the solution and the result is not yet known."— Ted Hope

Friday, January 23, 2009

Absolutely Ignorant

In case you've missed it, the mainstream media has insulted the indie film community as a whole. I've posted the article from Media Matters below, but it would be best to first watch the clip in reference, located at the link below

"Oscar insults from MSNBC's Courtney Hazlett - MSNBC's Courtney Hazlett, discussing Oscar nominations:

First: Frozen River was nominated for two awards, Best Actress and Original Screenplay. It is doubtful that viewers will avoid the Oscars because a movie they've never heard of was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

More significantly: Hazlett's contention that only "elite, effete" viewers watch "obscure" films like Frozen River is a slur against both those who have seen Frozen River and those who will never hear of it.

Enjoying a movie that Courtney Hazlett has never heard of does not make one "effete" - it simply suggests that perhaps MSNBC should find an entertainment reporter who actually takes the time to watch - or at least read a review of -- Oscar-caliber films.

It's simply astonishing that an MSNBC reporter would feel comfortable describing people as effete - "Marked by self-indulgence, triviality, or decadence"; "effeminate" - merely because they liked a movie she hasn't heard of.

Imagine if she said something similarly insulting about moviegoers who preferred, say, Kung Fu Panda.

Actually, she did - though she almost certainly doesn't realize it. Hazlett referred to Frozen River's audience as "elite." But watching, or even enjoying, a film like Frozen River doesn't mean a person is "elite" - "The best or most skilled members of a group." Hazlett's formulation suggests Frozen River viewers are better than Kung Fu Panda fans. This is complete nonsense. And, though Hazlett probably meant it as an insult to Frozen River viewers, it is actually an insult to every one else.

Hazlett's commentary is quite similar to the way many reporters talk about politics and the so-called "culture wars." They portrayed John Kerry, for example, as "elite" and "effete" for drinking green tea and wind-surfing. They tried to do the same when Barack Obama displayed somewhat limited bowling abilities - and even when he wore sunglasses.

This is stupid and insulting. But it is not only insulting to Frozen River viewers and green tea drinkers. It is stupid and insulting to everyone else, as well. Saying that the "elite" watch art-house films and drink green tea suggests that those who watch Ironman and drink Budweiser are inferior.

Most people, I think, got over that worldview shortly after middle school. Most people realize that watching Frozen River doesn't make you better than anyone else - and it doesn't make you worse, either.

Sadly, that's a lesson Courtney Hazlett and many other journalists still haven't learned.

More narrowly, it seems time for somebody at MSNBC to have a little talk with Hazlett about her insults. Today it was "effete"; last year she called director Spike Lee "uppity."

UPDATE: Hazlett makes fun of Frozen River's obscurity by claiming you have to go to some web site to view it and, later in the day, pointing out that if you are in New York City and want to see it, you have to travel all the way to Ithaca to find a theater at which the film is showing. Presumably, that's because the film was playing in New York City in August. Hazlett is aware that films that appeared in theaters before December are Oscar-eligible, isn't she? And that movies don't tend to stay in theaters for six months?"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shorts for iTunes

I have to hand it to iTunes, they've finally done something wonderful and given short films the mainstream treatment by showcasing some of the short films at Sundance this year. These shorts are available for free. As we know, short films have a great market everyone else but the US, but by a mainstream outlet taking the initiative and putting them out there, free or not, there's a far far greater chance for more people to start taking note of them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Meet The Smalls

Nobi Nakanishi writes: The Smalls is an online short film showcase - our goal is to connect talented filmmakers with companies looking for content, partners and collaborators, or just a solid base of admirers. Over the past two years, we have gained popularity with everyone from broadcasters, creative agencies, freelancers, artists and anyone remotely interested in short films.

The Smalls is an excellent opportunity for filmmakers at all levels to get their work seen (our previous competitions such as THE COMEDY SMALLS have garnered our participants excellent recognition and even television deals).

We are excited to announce to your members that we are now open to accept entries for our 2008 SMALLS AWARDS, celebrating all the talented filmmakers out there as well as the best short films. This year, we've thrown out themes and rules except for two: be five minutes long, and be shamefully good.

RED: Unstoppable

Those of you who have been following the RED phenomenon may be interested in this news from engadget about a just-announced new camera system. Looks to be fairly cheap and configurable, just as previous RED One cameras have been. There's a thread on this at Slashdot as well. Update: Oh, and they announced a 3D-camera system too.

"After a morning of drip-fed images, RED just went official with its DSMC (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) System. The system starts with your choice of the professional Scarlet or "master professional" EPIC brains which can then be bunged into about 2,251,799,813,685,248 possible camera configurations, RED only half-jokingly chides. The brains are built upon Mysterium-X and Mysterium Monstro sensors which start at 2/3-inch and end at a whopping 6x17-cm -- when a new sensor comes out you just upgrade the brain. Scarlet will launch in 4 choices ranging from $2,500 (and possibly less) to $12,000 with a variety of lens mounts (yes, Canon and Nikon) capable of shooting 3K @120fps on up to 6K @30fps. Epic will offer similar mounts with capabilities spanning 5K @100fps ($28k) to 9K @50fps ($45k) -- a 28K system hitting 25fps is expected in 2010 for $55k. Still image resolutions will range from 4.9 megapixels to a freakish 261 megapixels. The first Scarlet systems could come as early as Spring of 2009 while EPIC should arrive by summer. Of course, the brain is just the beginning of the costs. RED also introduced a 3D camera configuration today in true, "one more thing" fashion."

For those of you interested in using THE RED, please take a look at a critical look of THE RED here:

Not Picked Up in Park City? Filmmakers Look Forward to DIY Release

Anthony Kaufman over at Indiewire has a great speculative article about the potential future of Indie Distribution and some of the larger festivals. Pasted below.

Not Picked Up in Park City? Filmmakers Look Forward to DIY Release Options

The scene at the Sundance Film Festival. Photo by Peter Knegt.
The year is 2014. Joe the Filmmaker just found out he’s going to Sundance with his debut film. His trailer is online the next day. He’s got posters at the printer, and a marketing consultant on the phone. In the days leading up to the festival, he hits up bloggers for press, notifies all his Facebook friends and buys ads both online and in print. After winning a special jury prize for innovation during the final day of the festival, he plugs his movie into the IDN (Indie Distribution Network), selling it directly to indie-minded audiences around the country for viewing on their Internet TVs and iPhones, while a percentage of the proceeds feed directly into his bank account. Done.

While we haven’t exactly arrived at the above sci-fi scenario, there are established filmmakers who are already planning to bypass conventional distribution. Both Lance Hammer (“Ballast”) and Randall Miller (“Bottle Rocket”) say if they were to go to Sundance again, they wouldn’t wait for a company to acquire their film, but use the festival as a launchpad for a do-it-yourself release.

Most filmmakers, however, still say they’re going to Sundance with the hopes of a distribution deal. But now more than ever, they also have a backup plan if the acquisition dream doesn’t become a reality.

“The bottom line is that the old model—let’s go to Sundance and cross our fingers that someone is going to buy it—is ridiculous,” says veteran publicist Cynthia Schwartz, whose firm 42West is repping 15 films at this year’s festival and also consults on several DIY releases during the year. “Filmmakers have to take control. If they get a distributor, terrific. But if they don’t, they have to have a Plan B. And for the first time at Sundance, I feel like people are getting that.”

“Make your own plan. Create your own destiny,” continues Schwartz. “That’s really how things are going. Use the Sundance prestige to get your opening, not necessarily in February,” she adds, “but maybe in April.”

But distribution consultant Steven Raphael, who worked closely on Lance Hammer’s release of “Ballast,” says using Sundance as a platform is a good idea, in theory, but practically, it’s far more challenging.

“Some people want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we haven’t completely transitioned yet,” he says. “You still have to use the old-school methods.” If Joe found out about his Sundance acceptance in November, he’d have just a month to get everything in order, says Raphael. “Are your theaters booked? Are your posters ready? Is your media set? Consultants don’t work on projects for four months just to get paid,” he adds. “You need four months.”

Veteran director Joe Berlinger, who famously self-distributed both his 1992 Sundance Audience Award winner “Brother’s Keeper” and his 1996 Emmy-winner “Paradise Lost,” says he’s prepared to launch a DIY release of his latest Sundance entry, “Crude,” a verite look at the infamous “Amazon Chernobyl” environmental lawsuit in Ecuador. “A film like this requires tender loving care and a specialty plan, but if a distributor doesn’t think they can do that,” says Berlinger, “I’d feel comfortable doing that myself.”

Berlinger, who is repping the film himself, says that if he isn’t close to a deal by the end of March, he’ll start making plans for a summer or fall release. While he acknowledges the difficulties of the theatrical market for “a tough film,” he says he has modest financial goals. “I’d be very satisfied to get in 10 to 15 cities, and we have some core constituencies that we can appeal to: There is a greatly underserved Spanish-speaking audience; there is a big and growing environmental audience.”

Berlinger also wants to appeal directly to the college market. “A distributor may consider that an educational and not a legitimate theatrical market, but if I self-distribute, I’m going to put myself on a college circuit, where this film gets widely seen,” he says. “And if that’s the communal viewing experience that most people have seeing this movie, I’ll be very satisfied.”

Similarly, Kansas-based filmmaker Kevin Willmott, who directed 2004’s “C.S.A: The Confederate States of America,” which was a surprise hit for IFC Films, sees value in the college market in respect to his new Sundance entry “The Only Good Indian,” a revisionist Western starring veteran Native actor Wes Studi. As a college professor at the University of Kansas, Willmott travels with his movies to colleges around the country. “All of that can be nurtured and developed and it can generate revenue,” he says.

While Willmott is confident that “The Only Good Indian” will sell to a distributor, he also acknowledges the reality: “If you can’t sell your film, you have to distribute yourself.” To that end, Willmott says they’ve already started targeting those communities that would gravitate to the film’s provocative subject matter, through radio and online interviews.

“If you run into difficulties selling your film or not, you have to connect with those people who will be interested in the film,” he says. “Then it’s just a matter of getting it to them.”

Visit Films’ Ryan Kampe, who is repping Ry Russo-Young’s gritty NYC-set character portrait “You Won’t Miss Me,” says he’s in no hurry for the film to reach its core U.S. ticket-buyers post-Sundance, instead planning to build word-of-mouth on the regional festival circuit. “This film has some legs,” he says. “It’s not just relevant at Sundance, but relevant for the entire year following Sundance.”

Kampe admits that there may be a point when they discuss alternative options for releasing the film in U.S. art-houses. However, he adds, “I can’t tell you whether it’s three weeks after Sundance or six months after.”

C Plus Pictures’ Mike Landry and Carlos Velazquez will have waited more than a year to launch a DIY theatrical release of their Slamdance 2008 entry, “Frost,” which they plan to 4-wall at Landmark’s Sunshine Theatre in New York this spring. By then, they’re hoping to apply what they learn from the experience to their latest Slamdance 2009 effort, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead” if it also goes unsold.

With sales agency Traction Media on board, the filmmakers say they’ll consider partnering with the company on a limited theatrical release if they don’t have a significant deal six months after their Park City premiere. “With digital rights becoming such a hot commodity and you don’t know what’s going to be next,” says Velazquez, “you want to have as much control as possible. There’s something empowering about that model.”

And it doesn’t work, adds Landry, “The only way we can learn is through trial and error.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Daily Influence

PR and Marketing has a new branch which might be useful to indie filmmakers.

Ogilvy PR has launched The Daily Influence, a social media/RSS dashboard tailored to PR and marketing professionals.

Produced in tandem with RSS/widget platform Netvibes, The Daily Influence comes pre-loaded with aggregated social media, word of mouth, PR and marketing news feeds. Marketers can customize views based on the preferences of their clients — which can use the tool to keep track of brand buzz across consumer generated-media sites.

"We wanted to give ourselves and our clients a smart utility that made it easier to […] get fresh ideas and be engaged with social media," explained Managing Director John Bell of Ogilvy PR's 360 Digital Influence arm.

The Daily Influence was first unrolled to Ogilvy PR staff members. It will ultimately be available to clients and other marketing and PR professionals. Sites curated on the glorified feed reader include TechCrunch, AdAge, Mashable, Reuters and PR Week. A marketing trends report by Anderson found most marketing execs are "sick" of hearing about Web 2.0 and its related social media iterations. But they temper this sense of repugnance by admitting they haven't yet learned enough about such technologies. Hoping to capitalize on this insecurity, the Advertising Research Foundation will host a one-day social media conference for industry execs in late January.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

(Insert Film Title): The Companion Material

In a world where content is divided up into 2 categories (Self-Indulgent and Insightful) it can be hard to learn from example of what to include as bonus content with your film. Does one simply make a 20 minute Behind The Scenes featurette? How important is commentary?

The best way to answer this question is think ask yourself another question; What is needed to enhance the viewing experience? In order to continually engage the audience we must keep asking questions. We must constantly keep them interested. As filmmakers, we love bonus content, we love to learn what the director was thinking or the writer, or the actor, very rarely do we get a chance to see anything beyond that outside of commentary of a BTS featurette.

In effort to make "Our Last Days As Children" as engaging and appealing as possible, both to our peers and our audience, myself and the rest of the production team (Toni Ann Baker & Diane St. Laurent of Two Sisters' Productions, Inc., as well as DP Seth Melnick and Composer Mauro Colangelo) have started to take inventory of all the bonus content from all the films we love. What we found is that there are not many projects that have more exploratory content. Recent studio films like WALL-E and The Dark Knight have done a great job of adding bonus DVD content, explaining the technology they used, or how stunts were orchestrated, and there is a great deal of those topics to explore in such films, but for those of us with an eye and ear towards the grand Mise en scène, its not always enough.

In order to best describe what we intend to do with the bonus content for "Our Last Days As Children" we'll point out a few features of other projects that we enjoyed and plan to follow.

"Heights" - The DVD has wonderful commentary provided by Director Chris Terrio and actress Glenn Close, but also includes a Locations Journal. Chris gives wonderful insight into not only the story of how they acquired these locations, but also why he chose them. One mistake that amateur filmmakers stumble across is that of locations and production design. "JOE LIVES IN A HOUSE" so the location manager finds a house for Joe and the production designer will make it look tidy. However, in this case, very rarely do filmmakers look beyond Joe. "Is Joe messy? Does he like Art? Is he utilitarian? is he a packrat? Does he fit the space?" Naturally, if Joe is a real person, his environment would be an extension of his personality. I've been seeing more and more films where the characters and their environment don't match, most recently a film in which a character was a deadbeat drug addict with no money, yet her home was very well furnished, very clean, very modern and technologically on par with the average American middle class family. Nothing about the character reflected that, and after a conversation with the director, it was also apparent that the director didn't think about that either. With Heights, Terrio does a wonderful job examining a few of the key locations and how they not only reflect the character, but also how they help scope the character. The apartment that Isabelle and Jonathan (Elizabeth Banks and James Marsden) live in is small, confined, and cluttered. Terrio took time to make sure that his characters lived within that space, even setting up shots in the smaller rooms to reflect their world closing in on them.

"Children of Men" One of my favorite special features; a featurette featuring futurists and various humanities professionals discussing the plausibility and functionality of the not-so-distant and familiar future they story takes place in; in many ways, a video-essay.

"Serenity" The Companion Books; "Finding Serenity" & "Serenity Found"

-In "Finding Serenity" this eclectic anthology of essays, former cast member Jewel Staite, "Kaylee," philosopher Lyle Zynda, sex therapist Joy Davidson, and noted science fiction and fantasy authors Mercedes Lackey, David Gerrold, and Lawrence Watt-Evans contribute to a clever and insightful analysis of the short-lived cult hit "Firefly". From What went wrong with the pilot? to What's right about Reavers? and how the correspondence between the show's creator Joss Whedon and the network executives might have actually played out, the writers interrogate the show's complexity and speculate about what might have been if the show "Firefly" had not been cancelled.

-"Serenity Found" the follow-up to Finding Serenity, takes the examination of Joss Whedon's canceled cult favorite even further, addressing the events of the film Serenity as well as offering even more thought-provoking, fascinating, and far-thinking essays on the Firefly universe. Contributors include actor Nathan Fillion, who played Captain Mal Reynolds, as well as noted science fiction writer Orson Scott Card. Behind-the-scenes details are explored, including why Firefly makes such a good platform for the upcoming Multiverse online game (with an essay written by Multiverse executive producer Corey Bridges), while other essays examine recurring issues from both the series and the movie, such as the Alliance's hatred of science, the role of smart-mouthed women, and the real reason the Firefly universe has no aliens.

These are wonderful, wonderful books for the true fan, but more importantly, they give insight into the universe the story takes place in. They spark conversation among fans as well as ask questions that don't always give answers.

Battlestar Galactica: Bear McCreary's Battlestar Blog - On Bill McCreary's Blog, the Composer offers up amazing insight onto how and why he composes the music for each and every scene and what its intended purpose is. His music and blog have such a following that recent DVD release of the first half of season 4 includes an entire film on his process.

An excerpt from his blog on it: Battlestar Season 4.0 is finally released on DVD this week. "I’m thrilled to announce officially what many of you have suspected since early reviews of the DVD leaked out: This DVD set includes my original documentary “Inside The Secrets Of The Behind The Making Of The Music Of Battlestar Galactica: Revealed.” This is a film I produced with Matthew Gilna and Kristina Maniatis that premiered last April at our Los Angeles Battlestar concerts. If you missed our shows last spring, here’s your chance to catch up. And since you’re reading my blog, I’m assuming you’re already a fan and will be checking out the DVDs at some point anyway. :) Many people came together to help make this film a reality, but there are several without whom it would never have existed: Matthew Gilna and Kristina Maniatis… You both went above and beyond the call of duty here, and poured yourselves into this project. And congratulations on your recent engagement! For all this, I owe you guys a wedding march or something. (Taiko drums and bagpipes??)"

These are just a few examples that filmmakers can utilize with their own projects and add value to their films. We certainly are.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sundance Jury Announced

Dramatic Jury

Virginia Madsen – (Actress: Sideway, Number 23, The Rainmaker, David Lynch's Dune)
Scott McGehee – (Producer/Director/Writer: Uncertainty, The Deep End, Suture)
Maud Nadler – (Producer/HBO Films: Relative Values)
Mike White – (Writer/Director/Producer: Year of the Dog)
Boaz Yakin – (Director/Writer/Producer: Fresh, Remember the Titans, Hostel)

Documentary Jury

Patrick Creadon – (Cinematographer/Director/Writer: Wordplay, I.O.U.S.A., Flow: For the Love of Water)
Carl Deal – (Director/Producer: Trouble the Water)
Andrea Meditch – (Executive Producer/Producer: Man on Wire, In the Shadow of the Moon)
Sam Pollard – (Editor: When the Levees Broke, Jungle Fever, Mo' Better Blues)
Marina Zenovich – (Director/Producer/Writer: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired)

World Dramatic Jury

Colin Brown (New York) – (Editor: Screen International)
Christine Jeffs (New Zealand) – (Director/Writer: Rain, Stroke; Director: Sunshine Cleaning)
Vibeke Windelov (Denmark) – (Producer: Dogville, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark)

World Documentary Jury

Gillian Armstrong (Australia) – (Director: Death Defying Acts, Oscar & Lucinda, Little Women)
Thom Powers (New York) – (Documentary Programmer, Toronto International Film Festival)
Hubert Sauper (France) – (Director/Producer: Darwin's Nightmare)

Shorts Jury

Gerardo Naranjo – (Director/Writer/Producer: Voy a explotar, Malachance, Perro Negro)
Lou Taylor Pucci – (Actor: Thumbsucker)
Sharon Swart – (Reporter: Variety)

Alfred P. Sloan Jury

Fran Bagenal – (Professor of Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences, University of Colorado)
Rodney Brooks – (Panasonic Professor of Robotics, MIT Computer Science & AI Lab)
Ray Gesteland – (Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah)
Jeffrey Nachmanoff – (Writer: The Day After Tomorrow; Writer/Director: Traitor)
Alex Rivera – (Director/Writer/Editor: Sleep Dealer)

FMB's Facebook Blog Network

Scott Macaulay over at Filmmaker Magazine has started to broadcast his blog over at

You can join the network by following this link (

Monday, January 5, 2009

On my shelf - Sigur Ros: Heima (Long overdue and well, well worth it.)

"As Sigur Ros bassist Georg speaks in the tour diary included in the second disk of the Heima DVD, up until the release of this film, Sigur Ros fans had not really been given a visual document of the bands work and spirit aside from the album artwork, which is beautiful, but does not really give fans the kind of living experience that they have always wanted. Heima is a film about Iceland, and the islands most popular band, Sigur Ros, on a short unannounced tour throughout the country. Heima means "at home," which means that the band is in their most comfortable environment, their own home country with all of it's beautiful, homely charms.

The majority of the film is presented in the form of concert footage and footage of Iceland's beautiful natural landscapes. It is divided into passages concentrated on different towns, villages, and cities, and personal concert experiences from each. The idea that this could turn into a dull, Discovery Channel documentary is immediately disproved, as the band remind us that they are among the most innovative and consistently interesting performers in a long time. In fact, Sigur Ros turn what we know about documentaries upside down. Within the first fifteen minutes, we are shown live footage of the band performing one of the better songs off of Takk while completely silhouetted by an earthen cloth that takes up the entire expanse of a stage. The entire song is performed under shadow, reminding us that the music of Sigur Ros is as much about what is not there as what is there. This may seem pretentious, but we must remember that this is a band that released an album with blank pages in the sleeve meant for fans to produce lyrics of their own, a counterpoint for the fact that Sigur Ros vocalist Jonsi almost exclusively sings in a babel that does not belong to any language.

Almost every song is performed in a unique way or in a unique place, and although some of the performances do not add anything new to their studio recordings, they all resonate with warmth. This may be partially due to the inclusion of the band's supporting strings section, the all girls band Amiina, that has served Sigur Ros very well within the past ten years and act as family both professionally and personally.

Another switch-up is employed very early on in the naturalistic segments. Footage of running water from streams and waterfalls is reversed. I could tell you that this represents Sigur Ros moving backwards in it's own footsteps in the snow, back home, to where things started, but then I would sound like I'm looking for reasons to praise the bands every move. This kind of over-analysis from fans is what has given the band their pretentious reputation. What we need to remember is, water running backwards in gorgeous high quality just looks impressive. And the ideas of Sigur Ros are not always as complex as we may think. The band keeps their music close to the human condition, and closer to the human ear.

What Sigur Ros have done are bring us into their world, into their home, and showed us what their music is about. Heima is as much a testament to Iceland as it is to Sigur Ros and their live repertoire. Throughout the span of the film, the band play songs in desolate regions such as in the middle of a forest as well in a slew of other places that I will not mention so to leave the majority of the movie a surprise. These performances are either pretentious or completely genuine, and we struggle with this question until after the performance of the final song, when Jonsi describes an interesting family tidbit which I also cannot reproduce here, in risk of it losing it's effect. We are also shown footage of the people of the different Icelandic villages living their everyday lives, as well as indulging in the concerts, which they seem only half as impressed about as we do. A local marching band accompanying Sigur Ros onstage seems to them to be completely natural, as unique as it is. Moments like these are not few, and I struggle to not reveal more of them because of how interesting they all are. But shots of the natural beauty of Iceland are just as important and moving as the happenings the people that inhabit it. This seems to be part musical documentary, and part natural documentary, both areas approached in lighthearted and honest ways.

Intricacies aside, Heima is a solid live concert experience. The songs are performed very well, although they do not differ much aurally from the original album cuts. The DVD is put together very nicely, but at times the interactive menus can get a bit confusing and tiring, despite their creativity of their presentation of an elderly map of Iceland, which are probably much more navigable to Icelandic people. The extras are quite interesting and are enough to keep fans' appetites quelled until the band's next release, whenever that may be. There are a couple different versions of Heima that you can buy, namely the standard two disk DVD as well as a deluxe edition with an art book, but both releases have the same two disks and are only cosmetically different. My complaints of the film are only in my desire to have seen some of my personal favorite songs performed, specifically Gong, Saeglopur, and Svefn-g-englar, but you can't please all of the people all of the time, and none of the song selections here are wasted efforts. I was especially impressed with the performance of Meo Blodnasir, a magical little interlude on Takk that would not normally be seen as anything more than filler. Even for casual Sigur Ros fans, Heima is essential, and it is surely the apex of Sigur Ros' career thus far. Easily the best music documentary I have seen, and a highlight of the decade in both music and film."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Best of 2008

The following is my life of 2008's highlights in film with a tie for first.

1. The Wrestler
1. The Visitor
2. Ballast
3. Burn After Reading
4. Paranoid Park
5. The Dark Knight
6. Slumdog Millionaire
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
9. Blindness
10. Frownland

As an artist...

After a discussion about Dave Matthews, Steve Martin, Al Pacino and Stephen Spielberg earlier this evening, a question was posed: "As an artist, how do you still manufacture the hunger and pump out product without any real incentive to do so?" I've thought about the answer, and understand all the varying circumstances for every situation, they're all unique, but I think there is an honest answer at the core...

I believe a complacent mind is unable to truly push the envelope or create the stuff of wonder, because it’s just that; complacent. The hunger wanes, the spark dims, the notes have all been played, it has nothing to struggle thru and no need to achieve. Some artists only wish to be established and maintain steady work, whatever it is, so long as its in the same field. Every now and then, few and far between, one of these lack-luster artists produces something "on par" with what they were once hailed for. Perhaps they never really left their once-great work, but just can't do anything else, they only know how to do the thing they do one or two ways, and we simply see it as something unremarkable because we've grown accustomed to it, because we've become complacent with their work. The most important thing to remember is that people are the ones who place value art. The artist may still believe that what they're doing is genuinely "good".

Most artists start out because it is their passion, not because they're trying to get rich, usually the first group of works we get from them are the ones they've been perfecting for years, with no time constraints or commercial pressures etc. It's their most authentic work, maybe it's a bit raw and unrefined, and when they get recognized and signed they acquire the resources to polish it, usually shortly after that, they peak. Anyone who is creative knows that the hardest thing in the world to do is produce on demand; it's uninspired.

You have to be dynamic and continually seek new experiences, you have to be true to yourself, as cliche as it sounds (and its hard once you've "gone commercial") and you have to evolve.

*Seek new experiences - only by doing this can you hope to have something relevant to say. Only by living life, experiencing a myriad of emotions, and seeking out new facets of the human experience can your art have meaning. Those who stagnate have stagnant art.

*Stay true to yourself - know your influences, know who you are. Know what you're good at and what you aren't. Know what got you into your position and what can take you out of it. Know the people who are trying to convert you into a dollar sign, and know who are the people who enrich your artistic soul.

*Evolve - If you do the first 2, this one will take care of itself. You must always push the boundaries of what is being done. You must have an awareness of those who have blazed a trail before you, and have a sense of how far you need to go. Never regress, never accept mediocrity, and most importantly, never let Glen fucking Ballard near you or your loved ones.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Film Funding Routes: Private Investors

Raising funds for a film is never easy, no matter what level you're at. One can go the studio route, and simply sign over the project to the studio for a sum of money in order to see it made, not really caring what happens to it. Another method is pre-sales, where as a distributor would purchase the film from you with some stipulations as the creative process; i.e. actors they want in the project, directors, crew, story modifications, even locations. The most common method is the collaboration, where a handful of individuals have a project they very much care about and are fortunate enough to enter into a collaboration with a production company to bring the project to fruition. This avenue is the most versatile in terms of results; the company may fund the project, but have similar stipulations to a pre-sale, but on the other end of the spectrum they could also like the project so much as it is they'll fund it and step away until post-production and the rollout plan is ready to put into play. Also to keep in mind that this avenue could also end up anywhere in the middle, they may have actors they want to bring the project to, or simply a director they want to see take the helm but leave everything else intact; there's just no such thing as "the same formula" when it comes to film projects.

And then there is the rarest and most wonderful (if done properly) form of film funding; Private Investors. Currently, I am involved in 4 projects which have all been funded by private investors; individuals of person wealth or a group of them, that operate outside of the film world and are of the High Risk/High Reward persuasion. The 4 projects I am working with range from 500k to 2 Million, all private investors. However, private investments in film can be tricky, as Scott Macaulay has recently stated in his Film Maker Magazine blog:

"Private money is sometimes snarkily called “dumb money” because, presumably, non-industry investors are thought to be unmindful of the business’s economic underpinnings. I’d call such investment “idealistic money.” From my experience, investors know perfectly well the vicissitudes of film investing. They are people with high risk tolerances, but they are also people who expect that fairness and honest rules of business be present when they do invest. When a distribution promise is broken and a film is dumped to video, or when a minimum advance doesn’t even get paid, these people more often than not don’t get mad, and they usually don’t sue. It’s not worth their time and money. They just never invest in a film again." – Scott Macaulay

Scott's comment is 100 percent accurate in every way. I couldn't say it better myself. So moving on from that, if private funding is attained, then it is up to the Producers to be as responsible as possible. I'm often asked what a Producer "does" and until recently my answers have always been varied (as projects are never the same) and muddled. Now when asked, I reply that a Producer is most like a Chemist; A chemist is responsible for concocting the best formula for the desired outcome, and bring together all the elements that make that outcome possible. Knowing which elements are estimated to be desirable, yet also holding the artistic desires in the other hand.

Most commonly this occurs with actors; you may have a million dollars for your film, but that doesn't mean you need million dollar actors. Kelly Reichardt's "Wendy and Lucy" was a low budget film of small scope and scale and would not have the same impact it has if Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman had played Wendy. A good producer would know this, and if they didn't, a good director would inform them of it.

The project that I wrote, "Our Last Days As Children" ( is a character driven story with a very outspoken story. Our aim is not a blockbuster like The Dark Knight or American Gangster, its just not that kind of film. Its scope and scale is more on par with Heights, The Savages, Half Nelson and Once, and we hope that it will be as well received. While some of these films had very talented and very well known actors, the films themselves had modest goals and the production teams knew what kind of films they had (which is always the toughest to gauge).

For "Our Last Days As Children", which is an ensemble film, we have chosen to work with mostly new faces. However, we are smart enough to know that to attain the right distribution and seem attractive to more festivals, we do need a few recognizable actors, so we have attached 3 recognizable actors for supporting roles, and are targeting two more wider known actors for two of the main characters. With that in mind, we have to then make sure that these actors fit the characters; can they play these characters? do the actors have the proper demeanor to provoke the right emotions? are they modest enough to work with a younger production team? do they believe in the project itself? These questions are amazingly difficult to answer, and finding the right actors that fit these criteria can be difficult, but not impossible.

Once you've made your choices, the task then becomes making sure your investors are comfortable with them, unless you had these elements before you came to these investors. There is no all around strategy for this as every project has different circumstances, but presenting your investors with as much information on the actors as possible as well as their resume is a pretty good place to start, and sometimes it may be as far as you need to go.