Tuesday, March 31, 2009

N.Y. state eyes $350 mil for productions

from THR

New York would free up an additional $350 million for an existing film and TV production tax credit program under a budget agreement reached in Albany over the weekend. Industry folks said, though, that the funding is a small Band-Aid for the short-term rather than a long-term solution. Their main concern: The new funding won't attract and bind TV shows to the state, and it likely will run out within less than a year.

New York state lawmakers are set to vote on the budget bill by Wednesday, with political observers saying its passage is far from certain given a secretive budgeting process, small majorities in the legislature and a big budget deficit. Industry observers said the limited tax credit financing for productions in the Empire State could be a blow to New York's hopes to attract new TV shows and maybe even efforts to retain existing shows like "30 Rock."

"We are going to get work but not long-term commitments," said John Johnston, executive director of the New York Production Alliance. "There is no long-term guarantee for TV shows that want to come to the state."

He did say, however, that NYPA is "very grateful that the state recognized the importance of the industry."

Industry reps have been pushing hard to renew funding for the state's popular 30% tax credit on below-the-line production costs that runs through 2013 and had attracted films and TV shows to the Empire State. They have been fighting for unlimited funding, pointing to the financial benefit the program has brought to the state. They have also argued that productions, especially in TV, need planning security when putting together their budgets and deciding on a location.

The new funding provision, however, is capped, and industry observers expect the money to run out quickly. Last year alone, the state allocated $460 million in tax incentives. The state's previous $690 million tax incentives program ran out of money earlier this year because of its popularity, and Gov. David Paterson's budget draft this year included no new funding. Industry folks have lobbied the State Assembly and Senate to add more funding, pointing to an Ernst & Young study that showed the positive effect of the tax credits on the state's tax revenue and employment.

New York hasn't attracted new TV projects since the incentives program ran out of funding. Also, pilots have moved to neighboring or nearby states such as New Jersey and Rhode Island. ABC moved its pilot for "Empire State" to the latter, for example. Stuart Suna, president of Silvercup Studios, said he doesn't expect New York to attract any new TV shows this season given the funding cap.

"New York state really lost out on a big opportunity because (film and TV) is one of America's biggest exports, and productions keep people employed and bring in tax revenue," he said.

Johnston and Suna said the industry will continue to push for legislation outside the budget bill that would provide unlimited funding for the production incentives.

"We certainly don't want to wait until next year's budget to talk about this," Johnston said. "This is a short-term fix, not a long-term solution."

Industry folks point out that the incentives get paid out long after the state gets additional tax revenue from productions, which also employ more people. This means the tax credits are a boon for the state at a time of declining tax revenue and gaping budget holes due to the recession. The Ernst & Young report found that for 2007, New York's incentives program created and retained 7,031 industry jobs in New York, or 19,512 when including other sectors. The study also found that production credits amounting to $184 million for the year led to added state taxes of $209 million. For 2004-10, the study predicted $2 billion in added revenue from incentive-related economic activity in the state.

"This is an economic engine, but it needs fuel," Johnston said.

New Directors/New Films ‘09: Going Against The Grain

Most of those displaying their wares in this year’s New Directors/New Films are outsiders by nature, aesthetic marginals, trendsetters. The characters these terrifically out-of-synch artists develop are, naturally, misfits too. We know that watching a film is akin to looking into a mirror, but writing and directing are also acts of reflection. The dramatic tension arises from the clash between the alluring odd (wo)men out onscreen and the social structure that hems them in or threatens to. The majority of the selections are not easily digestible. They are—and this is a compliment—hard to swallow.

Autumn (Ozcan Alper) In this masterpiece set in the 1990s, more than a decade after a repressive coup took place in Turkey, the protagonist is at war on several fronts: with the ruling regime—he has just been released from prison where he served time for unexplained political activism; with the restrictive traditions of village life after moving back in with his mother, having nowhere else to go; and with his own corporeality. He got out of jail on account of bad health, which is spiraling out of control, and his body hardly responds to the gorgeous Georgian prostitute he bonds with. We are allowed entrance to this barely verbal fellow’s mindset by a silent commentary emanating from his subtle gestures as well as from the majesty of the towering peaks and hovering clouds that surround him.

The Shaft (Zhang Chi) A superb debut, achingly gorgeous, this is a case of caged insiders yearning for the fresh air of free-range outsiders. Literally. Three members of a motherless family, whose stories are told chronologically (first the “eligible: sister’s, then the rock-star-wannabe brother’s, and finally the retired father’s), are, from birth, necessarily attached to the coal mine that disrupts an otherwise splendid western Chinese mountain setting. Graceful camera movements and striking compositions offset the dungeon that controls their life. Each time the elevator shaft descends, another layer of their dreams disappears.

Parque Via (Enrique Rivero) Another addition to the resurgence of quality Latin American film, this revelation from Mexico is minimalism at its most effective, an assured work that shocks the blase viewer when it steps into thriller territory. An old man stays almost entirely inside the luxurious vacant home of a wealthy woman for whom he is a live-in guard, but whom he has served as a servant for decades with mutual—but solidly class-defined—affection. His world crashes when she decides to sell the place. Rivero creatively tests the limits of how far a person will go to maintain a comfort zone.

BirdWatchers (Marco Bechis) In this highly original Italian/Brazilian production, Guarani Indians in Brazil, perhaps tired of their schizoid existence between two cultures, reclaim their legacy: enchanting forests now part of the ranch of a wealthy white landowner. He is leveling their sacred ancestral sites for purposes of cultivation (commerce rules). The director astutely observes not only the tension between the original inhabitants and the latecomers, but also the fissures within the tribe, borne of centuries of subjugation and displacement. A cute Guarani teen has a fling with the rancher’s spoiled daughter, but it is more a lesson in the near-impossibility of reconciliation than a promising love affair—an intimate anticipation of the movie’s increasingly tragic trajectory.

The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa) Peasant maid Fausta is afraid of her own shadow: Her mother had instilled the fear of God in her through her breast milk. (This is Peruvian magic realism.) So that her daughter would not be violated as many women had been during that country’s social strife, Mom placed a potato in her vagina. (Did I mention Peruvian magic realism?) Llosa (MadeinUSA) finely draws the rituals of provincial life, especially those surrounding a hilarious wedding shamelessly based on economic advantage. Fausta’s exploitation by her wealthy white female boss is heavyhanded, but overall this is a solid, quietly rhythmic film, which utilizes empty spaces to great effect.

We Live in Public (Ondi Timoner) Why this American docmaker (Dig!) meticulously tracks the real-life narrative of an extraordinary man whose field was computers with rapid-fire editing and blasting music is beyond me. If he were coming from, say, MTV, maybe it would be logical, but form and content are at odds here. Subject Josh Harris reinvented himself more than Madonna. He anticipated the mediation—gadgets, the internet—that would replace personal interaction. Successful entrepreneur as fascist, he became a self-styled patron of the arts, tossing out millions on large-scale arts projects more Manchurian Candidate than McDowell Colony.

Ordinary Boys (Daniel Hernandez) If only this Spanish director hadn’t ladeled on cliches and obvious camera set-ups (e.g., low, under the overstated car of a local crime boss) to capture the small details of a small Moroccan town in a near-documentary style. Set in the slum that produced several Madrid bombers, the movie focuses on three friends with little opportunity to escape their geographic and economic destiny. The two guys are illiterate: one is an idealist who succumbs to the scamming offers of the gang leader; his troubled ex-con pal pays the ultimate price for stealing from the crook. The most promising of the trio, an educated; free-spirited young lady, starts a co-op sewing business with other females, but religion and the secondary status of women threaten her ambition.

Home (Ursula Meier) The remote residence of a self-contained family in Swiss director Meier’s film marks them less as misanthropes than as unpretentious outsiders, though they haven’t a clue about how eccentric they really are. The opening of a stretch of highway in front of their house recasts them as animals in a trap, and allows veteran thesps Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet some fine moments. The film is okay, well-made, with nice special effects of the coursing traffic, but at the end of the day, it is a one-noter.

Mid-August Lunch (Gianni di Gregorio) This “cute” trifle about a group of lovably needy elderly ladies who end up crashing in the flat of a befuddled middle-aged man over a stifling summer weekend has Italian television written on every frame. It does not go against the grain: It IS the grain. - Howard Feinstein

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Finding Your Festival: A guide for seeking out the best festivals for your film.

Jericho Parms over at The Independent wrote a wonderful article about finding the right film festival for your film. i believe this to be VITAL information, so I've pasted the article below:

With thousands of film festivals worldwide, and new ones added every year, it has become increasingly challenging for new and emerging filmmakers to tackle the options. For many independent filmmakers who, more often than not, find themselves scraping every last penny just to make it through post-production, the unfortunate reality is that gaining an actual audience comes with it’s own additional cost. With most festivals requiring entry fees, it pays to do your research and find the right fit for your film.

David Lowery, an award-winning filmmaker based in Texas whose work has been screened in festivals around the world, like any veteran in the field has learned a thing or two among the year. Lowery, is no stranger to the landscape of the film festival circuit. His latest—and first feature-length film—St. Nick (view the trailer here), about two siblings who run away from home, premieres this month at SXSW.

Below are a few tips for navigating the intricate circuit and finding your festival.

Know your film. Research the possibilities.

A great film deserves a great festival. “I believe the curatorial aspects of a festival is an art in and of itself,” says Lowery of his outlook on the festival circuit. “Nothing is blindly accepted.” So, get to know what is out there. Film festivals take as much pride in what they are showing their audience as the filmmakers themselves.

There is a vast range of film festivals, from the famous spectacles of Sundance, Toronto, and Berlin, to the small regional events hosted by a city or town, to the showcases run by filmmakers themselves. Some abide by a particular mission or theme. It’s worth noting whether a festival is an industry-packed affair or a regional event. Many of the top-tier festivals will likely combine several aspects in one. While the status of some of the larger festivals may make it easier for a few emerging filmmakers to land distribution, other worthy films risk being lost amidst the sea of contenders. In recent years, regional film festivals have stepped up to fill in the gap and offer a grassroots platform for driving audience support and getting new work seen. Alternatively, more and more topic-specific festivals have cropped up among the years and may offer the perfect niche for a film.

“It’s sometimes better to be the toast of a smaller festival than be overlooked at a larger festival,” writes Chris Gore, editor of Film Threat Magazine, in his Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide—a book full of practical tidbits of advice covering most aspects of submitting to and attending film festivals.

Fortunately, the Internet has become a reliable resource and most festivals now offer detailed information, archives, and full schedule line-ups. So, before submitting an application, review festival programs from years past to get an idea of the kinds of films they accepted. Every festival has a program model. Consider how your film may, or may not be a good fit.
Whether you target a top-tier or a smaller festival, the more you are familiar with an event—everything from the sense and sensibility of the program director to a general profile of it’s target audience—the greater your chances of being recognized in return. You know your film, get to know your festival.

Seek out the perfect premiere.

Think strategically about the festival where you would most like to premiere. In his latest film St. Nick, Lowery began the process with a few clear goals to premiere at Sundance or SXSW. “Everyone applies to Sundance, so I gave it a shot,” he says. “But didn’t get in.” Lowery also briefly considered taking St. Nick to Slamdance. “Ultimately I didn’t think it would premiere well at Slamdance—it’s such an exciting experience—but I realized that it may not be right for St. Nick. Having that realization was liberating.” It also allowed him to more clearly pursue his attraction to SXSW as “a really open-minded festival” and recognized that his film (and he himself as a local filmmaker) offered regional significance to the Austin-based event.

“As a filmmaker, emerging or otherwise, you want to see a festival that can fill a theater,” says Lowery. After all, “you are celebrating your movie.” You are also stepping into a potential network of support and future relationships. “The best festivals foster a sense of community, facilitate filmmakers meeting each other.”

Some festivals have clear policies on premieres, and programmers often favor films that will be premieres for their festivals as, in many cases, a significant premiere equates to a notch on their belt. Read the fine print on festival applications to determine any pre-requisites for consideration, as some will require premiering on a national, regional or state level. Also consider your timing. Seasoned filmmakers, like Lowery, warn against rushing in the editing room in order to meet a particular festival’s deadline. Look instead, for a festival that may correspond to a realistic completion of your film. Your film only premieres once, so make it count.

Manage Your Expectations.

As an independent filmmaker it is above all important to remain positive about your work, yet securing a distribution deal is extremely difficult task and the best approach calls for a dose of reasonable expectation. The film festival can be an immensely rewarding platform for a new film. Still, according to Lowery, “There’s no formula for it. It’s a crap shoot no matter how you approach it.” Entering the process with a heart set on Cannes and a clear-as-day vision of landing the perfect distribution deal, the odds may seem stacked. However, there is a vast array of festival options out there that may award a similar shot at distribution and, most certainly, exposure. And it gets easier. “Once you can get a film in once—even a short film—you are through the first hurdle. People will be more open to you in the future,” says Lowery. Furthermore, with new alternative means of distribution and outlets ready to provide exposure for independent films—be it a television, theatrical deal, Internet or DVD release—there is always another path to pursue the success of your film.

Regardless of the outcome of your objectives (distribution, or otherwise) festivals provide great opportunities to travel, meet other filmmakers, forge relationships, expand your tap on the industry, and enjoy the unique experience of having your film screened. “Going to a small festival means giving people a chance to see a film that they might never see again,” says Lowery. “I’ve found, curiously, that excitement transfers over to the filmmakers themselves.”

Follow your film.

“Ultimately, it comes down to making a great film,” says Lowery cautioning that it’s easy to get carried away making a film in order to get into a festival, hooked on the romantic notion and red-carpet attention of the “film festival high.” At the core of the film festival model is the art of independent film, and, beyond the festivities and networking opportunities, they are programmed with this in mind. Consequently: make a film for the right reasons and it will be a great film. Then, follow up. When feasible, attending your festival screenings is an invaluable leg of the journey. “The work can speak for itself, but if you can be there to help it along, it’s a valuable thing,” say Lowery adding his parting advice, borrowed from a successful veteran. “Steven Soderbergh said ‘talent plus perseverance equals luck…’ I think festival success is the same way.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“Modern Love,” “Anywhere” Win at Boston Underground Festival

The Boston Underground Film Festival announced the winners of its 11th annual festival on Sunday night at Tommy Doyle’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Modern Love is Automatic,” by Brooklyn-based filmmaker Zach Clark, won the Jury Award for Best Feature, while Chusy Haney-Jardine’s “Anywhere USA” won the Director’s Choice Award for Best Feature.

“We are grateful to have had so many filmmakers this year who embody the true spirit of independent film and audience members who ask such thought-provoking questions,” said fest executive director Anna Feder at the awards ceremony. “BUFF not only fosters the careers of first-time filmmakers, but also follows the trajectory of their careers by inviting filmmakers back to showcase their most recent work.”

Noted as “a beautiful, meditative, and completely meandering madcap journey through redneck sub-culture in the Anywhere town of Asheville, North Carolina” by the fest, “Anywhere USA” won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 where Quentin Tarantino called it “one of the most moving experiences at the festival. ” “Modern Love Is Automatic,” described by the fest as “about an apathetic nurse who moonlights as a dominatrix, her aspiring model roommate, and the sad, strange world they inhabit,” premiered nearly simultaneously at SXSW.

Additional awards went to William Hoffman’s “Thumbnail,” which won the Director’s Choice Award for Best Short, while Noah Blumenson-Cook received the most promising New England filmmaker award for “O, Scorpio,” a music video for the band Jaggery. Winners of the festival’s awards for best features receive Bacchus, the festival’s signature vibrating bunny statuette.

The festival’s five directors select the Director’s Choice awards. The Jury Awards are selected by a panel of judges, including DreadCentral.com co-founder and editor Johnny Butane, Brattle Theater Creative Director Ned Hinkle, Boston Phoenix writer Shaula Clark, Emerson College Assistant Film Professor Miranda Banks, and Montreal-based director Karim Hussain (winner of last year’s best director for “La Belle Bete”).

The complete list of award winners:

Best of Fest (Feature): MODERN LOVE IS AUTOMATIC, directed by Zach Clark (USA)
Honorable Mention: MORRIS COUNTY, directed by Matthew Garret (USA)

Best of Fest (Short): TREEVENGE, directed by Jason Eisner (Canada)
Honorable Mention: THE SCAVENGERS, directed by Corey Bowles (Canada)

Most Effectively Offensive: MAVELA (My Love Lives in the Sewers), directed by Manuel Arija de la Cuerda (Spain)
Honorable Mention : THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE, directed by Claudio Centimeri (Italy)

Special Jury Prize: EXCISION, directed by Richard Bates, Jr. (USA)
Honorable Mention: FAR OUT, directed by Phil Mucci (USA)

Best Feature: ANYWHERE USA, directed by Chusy Haney-Jardine (USA)
Honorable Mention: THE ROCK-AFIRE EXPLOSION, directed by Brett Whitcomb (USA)

Best Short: THUMBNAIL., directed by William Hoffman (USA)
Honorable Mention:ELECTRIC FENCE, directed by Matt O’Mahoney (Canada)

Most Promising New England Filmmake : O SCORPIO, directed by Noah Blumenson Cook (USA)

by Peter Knegt

Young Americans See Colbert, Stewart Replacing Traditional News Outlets: Poll

This is a bit of a divergence from what we normally like to cover here, but its quite relevant to what's going on in the world and shows us what to possibly expect in the thinking processes of future generations.A new poll released Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports found that about one-third of Americans under the age of 40 believe that shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are replacing "traditional" news outlets.

Thirty-two percent (32%) of adults ages 30-39 believe this to be true, while 42% disagree, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Thirty percent (30%) of those ages 18-29 say programs like the two Comedy Central shows that feature news reports with a comic twist are replacing traditional news outlets, but 35% disagree and another 35% are not sure.

According to the poll, nearly 39 percent of adults say shows like Stewart's and Colbert's are helping Americans stay informed about current events, and around 21 percent say the shows are "at least somewhat influential in shaping their political opinions."

Many traditional media outlets, like daily print newspapers, are already suffering from a lack of regular readership and severe budget shortfalls. Papers are cutting back from daily publication, and some, like the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, are shuttering production completely, and switching to online-only news. Papers all over the country are shedding jobs, cutting pay and closing bureaus.

Other news outlets are only doing better. Viewership is up at Fox News, and more people than ever are tuning in to NPR.

I'll be honest, while my political views will remain a mystery for the time being, Stewart and Colbert really haven't had the need to write jokes in a while, because let's face it, the shit that goes on today and the things that people in power try to pull and get away with is not only already funny, its downright ridiculous and absurd.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Americans want to watch the World End

Put the peace pipe down and throw your neighbor’s hand to the side. If there’s anything to be learned from this week’s box office numbers, it’s that Americans love to watch the world burn.

“Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?”

- Nina Gordon

As film lovers, we have resigned ourselves to the fact that good films don’t equal big box office returns and vice versa. Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage, proves the notion as it brought in over $24 million this weekend, beating out the stronger cast and script of I Love You, Man. Could it be that Nicolas Cage’s puppy dog look won us over? Doubtful. Cage has shown he is a good actor when he wants to be, but the strong showing at theaters has more to do with our thirst to see our species destroyed.

If the apocalyptic paint by the numbers film were the first of its kind to rise to the top, we could dismiss it. But we all know that isn’t the case. The Happening, M. Night Shyamalan’s inexplicably poor effort, made $31 million on the opening weekend. We love Zooey Deschanel as much as the next person but there is no way that film should have made as much as it did. The promise of our destruction carried us into the seats, just like the “Happening” carried that sewing needle into that girl’s neck. Some might argue that a few people went to the the theater with hopes of saving M. Night’s career from being destroyed, but let’s take the topics one at a time.

Films that chronicle the world’s tragic demise are nothing new. La Fin Du Monde (1931) examined how a world disaster has the potential to unify and strengthen human relationships. Fast forward sixty-four years later and we saw Zack Snyder’s Watchmen exploring the same idea to the tune of $55 million on the opening weekend. It seems that not even a sagging economy can stop moviegoers from burning the cash in their wallets to watch the world end. Is life imitating art?

A look at the opening weekend numbers of some of the highest grossing disaster films of the past fifteen years helps us understand that we don’t necessarily have to have an award worthy disaster film to be intrigued. The Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes, which determines an overall rating based on critics’ reviews of a film, help prove our point that a good film and getting the green don’t go hand in hand. (Tomatometer rating is next to the film title, followed by the film’s opening weekend at the box office.)

Independence Day - 62% - $50,000,000
War of the Worlds - 73% - $64,000,000
Armageddon - 40% - $36,000,000
Deep Impact - 46% - $41,000,000
The Day After Tomorrow - 45% - $68,000,000
I Am Legend - 69% - $77,000,000
Maybe it makes sense that these films, which are heavy on the special effects, would be lacking in story. We can push our connection with the people to the side so long as we get shiny objects and images that entertain us. Apply that same statement to the current state of America concerning interpersonal relationships and it would hold true. You don’t need Tom Cruise running from aliens to see the connection.

Could it be that we have grown tired of the rhetoric existing with the countless wars the American government is waging? We have the war on terror, the war on drugs and I wouldn’t doubt it if we have the war on women carrying small dogs in handbags, perhaps the only war of the three we can actually win in a concrete manner. Maybe the reason we desire to fight a war outside of our understanding or actual means is to counteract our inability to succeed in the battles at hand outside of the theater.

Is it unrealistic to think that disaster films allow us to live out our desires to loosen the suffocating grip that technology, consumerism and industrialization has over our lives? On the other side, could disaster films passively act out our underlying notion of patriotism so that we don’t have to do it in real life? Why join the army when Will Smith will do it for us? Or could it be as simple as understanding that people just want to go the movie theater to see shit get blown up. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, although it’s my belief that the answer is probably all of the above.

Maybe it’s time that we accept the fact that world peace, as wonderful as it sounds, doesn’t sound like a great theme for a film. We would be much happier if we get to see Bruce Willis, some sort of national monument destroyed and an ending that puts the U back in the U.S. of A. Don’t we know it’s the end of the world? Judging by the box office numbers, it seems like we do and we love it. - Adam Sweeney (adam@filmschoolrejects.com)

2009 Boston Film Festival Selections

Narrative and Documentary selections screening at the 2009 Independent Film Festival of Boston

Narrative Features
“500 Days of Summer,” directed by Marc Webb
“The Answer Man,” directed by John Hindman
“Beeswax,” directed by Andrew Bujalski
“Big Fan,” directed by Robert Seigel
“Birdwatchers,” directed by Marco Bechis
“Bronson,” directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
“The Brothers Bloom,” directed by Rian Johnson
“The Burning Plain,” directed by Guillermo Arriaga
“Children of Invention,” directed by Tze Chun
“The Escapist,” directed by Rupert Wyatt
“From Inside,” directed by John Bergin
“Grace,” directed by Paul Solet
“Helen,” directed by Joe Lawlor & Christine Malloy
“The Higher Force,” directed by Olaf De Fleur
“In the Loop,” directed by Armando Iannucci
“Make-Out with Violence,” directed by The Deagol Brothers
“The Missing Person,” directed by Noah Buschel
“La Mission,” directed by Peter Bratt
“Pontypool,” directed by Bruce McDonald
“Still Walking,” directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
“Stingray Sam,” directed by Cory McAbee
“Summer Hours,” directed by Olivier Assayas
“That Evening Sun,” directed by Scott Teems
“The Vicious Kind,” directed by Lee Toland Kreiger
“The World’s Greatest Dad,” directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

Documentary Features
“Art & Copy,” directed by Doug Pray
“Automorphosis,” directed by Harrod Blank
“Best Worst Movie,” directed by Michael Stephenson
“Blood, Sweat & Cheers,” directed by Al Ward
“Chip on My Shoulder,” directed by Ian McFarland
“Crude,” directed by Joe Berlinger
“Food Inc.,” directed by Robert Kenner
“For the Love of Movies,” directed by Gerald Peary
“Herb and Dorothy,” directed by Megumi Sasaki
“I Need that Record! directed by Brendan Toller
“Invisible Girlfriend,” directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
“Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” directed by Bestor Cram
“Kimjongilia,” directed by NC Heikin
“The Lost Son of Havana,” directed by Jonathan Hock
“Luckey,” directed by Laura Longsworth
“Mine,” directed by Geralyn Pezanoski
“Monsters from the ID,” directed by David Gargani
“Nollywood Babylon,” directed by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal
“Of All the Things,” directed by Jody Lambert
“Prom Night in Mississippi,” directed by Paul Saltzman
“Shooting Beauty,” directed by George Kachadorian
“Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech,” directed by Liz Garbus
“Speaking in Code,” directed by Amy Grill
“The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice,” directed by Joanne Fish and Vincent Kralyevich
“Trimpin: The Sound of Invention,” directed by Peter Esmonde
“Trinidad,” directed by PJ Raval
“Trust Us, This is All Made Up,” directed by Alex Karpovksy
“Unmistaken Child,” directed by Nati Baratz
“Upstream Battle,” directed by Ben Kampas
“The Way We Get By,” directed by Aron Gaudet
“We Live in Public,” directed by Ondi Timoner
“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” directed by Sarah and Emily Kunstler
“Winnebago Man,” directed by Ben Steinbauer

Monday, March 23, 2009

New York Film Writers Clash Over “Neo-Neo Realism”

Two of New York’s most respected film critics had a bit of an online altercation over the weekend, with The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody lashing out on The New York Times’ A.O. Scott and his extensive Sunday New York Times Magazine article, “Neo-Neo Realism.”

Scott’s piece was posted online Friday, essentially asking, “What kind of movies do we need now?” Emphasizing Ramin Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo,” Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson,” Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy,” So Yong Kim’s “Treeless Mountain,’ and others, Scott discusses a new trend in American independent filmmaking made on location, about working-class characters, and often using non-professional actors.

Scott introduces his argument:

”...as a new set of worries and fears has crystallized in recent months — lost jobs and homes, corroded values and vanished credit — the dominant cultural oracles have come to pretty much the same conclusions. Remember the ’30s, when we danced through the Depression with Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley and giggled amid the gloom with Lubitsch and the Marx Brothers? (Not many of us do, of course, which makes this kind of selective memory easier to promote.) Then as now, what we wanted most was to forget our troubles. In recession, as in war — and also, conveniently, in times of peace or prosperity — the movies we evidently need are the ones that offer us the possibility, however fanciful or temporary, of escape.

Maybe so. But what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.”

The day before it was even printed in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (though it had been online), The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody argued that Scott “makes a little too much” of the films. “His ambitious article ranges widely over the history of cinema,” Brody wrote. “I think it rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions.”

Brody goes on to offer eight arguments against Scott’s work, from erroneous classifications (“Scott mistakenly cites Kent Mackenzie’s ‘The Exiles’ and Charles Burnett’s ‘Killer of Sheep’ as examples of American neorealism) to better examples (“One of the best movies last year, the truly harsh and disturbing ‘Frownland’... offers the kind of audaciously expressive images, coming through but not staying with realism, that is absent from Scott’s favorites”).

“The contrast between, on the one hand, so-called neo-neorealism and neorealism, and, on the other, movies that depict, with diverse styles and forms, political and social reality even on big budgets with the devices of movie studios, drops away with attentive viewing,” Brody begins to conclude. “It’s only at the most obvious and uninteresting level that, say, ‘The Bicycle Thief’ seems more realistic than ‘Voyage to Italy’ or ‘Europa 51,’ or that ‘Wendy and Lucy’ seems more realistic than James Gray’s brooding, majestic ‘Two Lovers’ or, for that matter, David Fincher’s ‘Benjamin Button’ or ‘Zodiac.’”

Commenters were all over it, including fellow critic Glenn Kenny, who wrote: “I look forward to reading Scott’s piece even as I register your objections to it. I suspect that a lot of what’s problematic about such pieces in the Times stems from an obligatory editorial give-and-take, wherein the writer may have a germ of an idea, whereupon an editor seizes on that germ and compels the writer to shoehorn a lot of non-appropriate examples into the construct. That said, I believe you may be a bit to parochial in rejecting MacKenzie and Burnett’s films as “neo-realist;” I think the term has enough flexibility that the works in question can profitably put under that umbrella. “

This morning on NYT blog The Carpetbagger, Scott himself responded to Brody: “His numbered list of eight objections, running to more than 1,000 words, was meant to demonstrate that my essay “rests on questionable premises and reaches dubious conclusions. This is Mr. Brody’s way of saying that he and I like different movies, and that he wishes I had not paid so much attention to “Wendy and Lucy,” “Ballast” and the films of Ramin Bahrani, director of “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo.” (For some reason, he also twice makes mention of “Frozen River,” which is not discussed in my article).... My sense is that I’ve inflamed a bee that has been buzzing around in Mr. Brody’s bonnet for quite some time. Whatever neorealism is, he’s against it. In a postscript to an earlier blog post, before my article appeared, he anticipated some of my thoughts (and his own objections to them).”

Brody has yet to counter-argue.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What is the Future of Film Criticism?

Now that everyone can have a facebook page, any joe nobody can create his own blog, and anyone can write a review. And critics are scared — and they should be. The downfall of print newspapers has resulted in the layoff of many working film critics. The smart critics have created blogs or sites of their own, and are beginning to learn that they need to hustle to make it in the new media world. It’s no longer about just turning in your completed review, it is now about engaging and interacting with readers to promote your content. Writers now have to become salesmen.

The old world was static; you read what was fed to you by your local news publisher. But the new world is on demand. It’s a scary world for movie critics becuase readers now have a choice between thousands of possible “professional” and “non professional” critics. And at the end of the day, the person with the most film knowledge or best written review isn’t usually the winner. In this web 2.5 world, readers are looking to connect with writers who more closely mirror their tastes and opinions, while being able to provide context to stuff within the film that they normally might have missed or didn’t understand.

People are reading reviews after movies more now than they are before seeing a film. The future of film recommendation is not movie reviews. Facebook apps will be able to closely tell you what movie you should see on Friday based on data gathered from your most in sync friends and strangers, tastewise. As the algorithms evolve and become more complex, they will become more accurate and personalized.

And many might point out that the medium of reviews is also in free fall. Blogs have created a world where opinion and information merge together. I know more people who claim they don’t read movie reviews than will admit that they do. But those same people read three or four websites where opinionated bloggers (we'll call them bloggers for the sake of using one term, but the term also applies to websites like SLASHFilm, CHUD or AICN) give their thoughts on every little casting announcement, trailer, photo…etc. And while these readers claim that they do not read reviews, they do come to these sites for a relatable, informed, contextualized opinion.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

American Cinema: Unliberated

SLASHFilm asked an interesting question about an upcoming film: Is the New Jim Carrey Comedy “Too Gay” For American Audiences?

Britain’s Times Online is claiming that I Love You, Phillip Morris (not to be confused with I Love You, Man, which is in theaters today) might be going direct-to-dvd in the United States. The Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor comedy premiered at Sundance in January to fairly good reviews. Distributors were turned off by “the graphic homosexual sex depicted in the film,” and the film has yet to score domestic theatrical distribution.

According to the report, the movie is currently being re-edited in “a last ditch attempt to find an American distributor. If it fails to do so, it will go straight to DVD.” I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m shocked that a film like Brokeback Mountain or Milk can get theatrical distribution but a comedy starring Jim Carrey is thought about as unmarketable.

The movie is adapted from Steve McVicker’s 2003 novel, and based on a truestory. Carrey plays Russell, a criminal who falls in love with his cell mate, Phillip Morris (McGregor). After Morris’ release from prison, Russell attempts a variety of bizarre prison escapes in hopes of reuniting with the love of his life. The movie was apparently pitched as “Catch Me if You Can meetsBrokeback Mountain“. The screenplay was written by the team who did Bad Santa. Film School Rejects said the film feels like “a mixture between the silliness and absurdness of a Farrelly brothers movie, but with the intelligence of a Coen brothers flick.”

I understand there is a graphic gay sex scene in the first 10 minutes, but I think audiences in more liberal cities don’t really care. This film doesn’t need a huge wide release. It was filmed independently for only $13 million, and has already sold theatrical distribution in UK markets. It seems strange to me that an American distributor wouldn’t at least take a chance putting the film out and a few hundred theaters. I would think that Jim Carrey’s star value alone would be enough to make the money back. As Devin from Chud said, “you can make 30 to 40 million on this movie if you’re smart”.

How in the hell are not yet liberated in our art, when our mainstream does nothing but sell sex at every turn? Damn me and my frustrations.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MIKEL WISLER gives some insight to Weatherlight

MIKEL WISLER gives some insight to Weatherlight

"Fresh off the successful participation in the 2009 Dam Short Film Festival, the Mikel J. Wisler short film, “Cold October,” is now gaining broader exposure. First of all, the short film will soon be available for sale on DVD through the Dam Short Film Festival website (http://damshortfilm.org). Those interested in buying the film will be able to select “Cold October” and up to 5 other short films to be put onto a DVD and mailed to them. The cost for individuals is $14, and for educational facilities it is $48. “Cold October” is now available on the Dam Short Film Festival website. To buy a copy, go to: http://damshortfilm.org/dvd/dvdnew.htm

“Cold October” producers, Mikel J. Wisler and Andrew Gilbert, have also secured a contract for international sales representation through Ouat Media (which also represents their previous short film, “Cellar Door”). In the next weeks, all the paperwork should signed and handed over to Ouat Media, which will then seek to sell the short film to television and cable stations around the globe that buy short films to incorporate into their broadcasting line-up. They will also seek out other opportunities for sales to distributors that might make “Cold October” available for VOD (video on demand), download, or other DVD distribution.

In conjunction with this, the filmmakers behind "Cold October" are also holding a special web test screening of their newest short film, "Always Reaching." A new trailer for “Cold October” celebrating it’s recent exposures and the Dam Short Film DVD deal will be shown before the "Always Reaching" web-screening. Gilbert and Wisler have a group on Facebook (name of group: Always Reaching short film) for "Always Reahing." Members of the group are invited to send Wisler an e-mail asking to be part of the special test screening. They are added to the list of people allowed to see the film. Starting on March 20th (through April 20th), these people will be sent a secure link for viewing the film, and then will be asked to visit the "Always Reaching" IMDb title page (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1374823/) and rate the film and comment on it as a means of providing the filmmakers with feedback and reactions to the short film.

For more information about the screening and to see trailers for both films, please visit the Runaway Pen Productions website: http://runawaypen.webs.com."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Taking away from the experience to make money... UGH!

Fox To Remove Special Features From Rental DVDs
Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 7:26 am by: David Chen
File this in your the “Yet another way Fox has found to inspire geek hate” folder: According to a report by VideoBusiness (Via CNet), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is going to start stripping rental DVDs SKUs of special features like commentaries and featurettes, in a horrendously misguided attempt to spur retail DVD sales. Retail copies available for purchase will retain all the special features. This policy will begin on March 31st, when DVD releases like Marley & Me, and Slumdog Millionaire will be subject to the features removal. Other Fox films such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Wrestler, and Notorious, will soon face the same fate.

It seems nobody is happy about this situation, including video store workers. According to one video store buyer in the VB article: "Can you imagine explaining this to all of your customers? People will think when they rent, it should have everything on it. And why shouldn’t it? This is just silly, and consumers aren’t going to be happy."

The move raises a number of issues. For example, how will the used DVD market be affected? More significantly, how will the policy affect Netflix, which typically allows you to rent special features discs (or discs with special features already on them)? Will Fox prevent Netflix from receiving the retail copies?

Since the First Sale Doctrine allows any copies purchased allows any retailer to rent a legally purchased copy of a movie, we may still see retail copies on video rental store shelves. Video Buyer’s Group president Ted Engen remarked: "There’s no question that some rentailers will go and buy from Wal-Mart and rent out the copies, and you can’t stop that. But it’s not going to be that big of an issue as people think. The main thing is that studios have to add value to get customers to buy, and they aren’t buying. Numbers have been falling through the floor."

I can understand Fox’s desire to stop the bleeding , but you don’t do that by taking value away from already-existing products and annoying your customers. Maybe instead, they should focus on creating discs with special features that will make them worth owning. In fact, I heard a rival studio is already doing some cool stuff with special features and tie-ins involving a small Zack Snyder film that was released last week…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jamie Stuart's E-Mail to Ted Hope

Posted on Ted Hope's Blog: Truly Free Film (BOOKMARK IT)


Ted, I just read your piece on the tax incentives and current state of NY indie film, and I thought I'd pass along a few general thoughts. I've observed for a little while now that there's a generational shift going on in the community, and within that, there's a host of issues.

1) The spark that fueled indie film in the '80s and '90s was the marketing concept of the "breakout" -- first time filmmakers establishing themselves with trademark styles and no money. These filmmakers were the poster children for the movement. Now, however, the paradigm has shifted to a situation where filmmakers are making small, dirt-cheap movies for niches and their friends; the debut film isn't as important so much as slowly building a track record. In this model, indie film has essentially become regional folk art. I think we need to return to the prior model, but there are some things holding that up. Like:

2) A lot of the pillars of the scene have fought their battles and moved up in the world. The "dependent" phase from the mid-'90s through the early '00s gave a lot of people a raise in options. Instead of struggling to make a movie for 6-figures or for maybe $1-2M, budgets swelled to $6M as a low, all the way up to $15-25M (some even higher). In this context, I think a lot of these pillars are self-admittedly not as in touch with new talent anymore, and they're glad they don't have to do guerrilla scrambling anymore. I recall a panel with you and Christine at Tribeca a few years back, where you both admitted that you were no longer in a position to find and nurture new filmmakers anymore.

3) I think we need to re-think how movies are made. Micro-features and DIY productions use crews in a much different manner than movies made for 7-8 figures, and I think producers need to study what people like myself are doing. For example, the NYFF46 series I created last fall was a 4-part non-linear sci-fi/action mind-bender -- it was made for an entire budget of $75, and at least 70% of the time, since I was shooting it while starring in it, nobody was even behind the camera. Now, I happen to think that under the circumstances, the project had pretty good production values. Not that I expect larger budgeted productions to use the exact method I did (they wouldn't have to if they had money), but there's got to be something that can be learned and adapted from what I and others have done.

4) Now, if you combine all of the above, you get another problem. It used to be that aspiring filmmakers started with a small budget, either on a short or a small feature, and that was used as a calling card to get a larger budget. The issue here is that due to the drop in budgets based on prosumer cameras and editing, producers don't seem to take those projects as seriously. What they mistake, however, is that you're getting an equivalent production value as before, only it costs a fraction of the amount. But producers aren't saying: "Wow! Look at what so-and-so did for so little. Imagine what they could do with a larger budget? I want to work with him!" Instead, they seem to be looking at the budget, and on that basis alone, writing it off: "Let me know when you've moved on to bigger things, but for now, you're a small fry."

5) The internet is not the savior. The internet is great for sales and marketing, but it's a lousy delivery method. The quality is terrible. I've never looked at the internet as anything other than a means to get exposure and establish myself -- so I can get OFF the internet and make real features. However:

6) Internet filmmaking still isn't taken seriously. It doesn't matter how good my work is or how good it looks, there are people who simply, either by virtue of the size of the player, or through general snobbishness, don't consider it serious filmmaking. I think a lot of the indie community still believes in the film festival model: If you're a serious filmmaker, you need to submit to festivals. They seem almost fundamentalist in this regard. And it's holding up progress.

All of that said, I'm still of the belief that the biggest problem in indie film right now is simply the product. When indie film was booming in the '80s/'90s, young people like myself were drawn to it because it seemed to be the most creative arena in filmmaking. Not now. Young people look to big FX blockbusters as the most creative arena. People now equate indie film with poor production values, cheap-looking handheld photography, amateurish acting, etc. They look at it as a joke. I approached the prospect of DIY filmmaking from the view that ambitious films could now be made inexpensively -- I've always used tripods, dollies, cranes, special FX. But DIY filmmaking on the whole went in the opposite direction -- small, handheld slices of life. And while that aesthetic certainly has its place, it's never going to find a larger audience, in my opinion. Until we shift out of this phase and DIY filmmakers start creating ambitious pictures at dirt prices, the movement will remain derided. And until the bigger people start lifting up the small, there's going to remain a major class divide.


The Cinematic Civil War: Part 4 - What Victory Might Look Like

Just last night I watched a segment on the NBC Nightly News highlighting the only major industry that seems to be thriving in this bad economic time. And what is it? The Film Industry. Already, audiences have spent 1.7 Billion dollars in 2009, making it a record breaking January. Many of the films however, have been big box office popcorn films, with a lot of special effects and "star power". These movies are prominently around during the holiday season and the summer.

So what does that mean for Indie Film? Fear figures to play a prominent role again this year given the surplus of films in the market, the present recession, the credit crunch and competition for audiences who are viewing many of last year’s independent films on their televisions and computers through broadcast, VOD, downloads and streaming.

Given this uncertain and challenging marketplace, how can the independent moviemaker navigate the choppy waters to a safe distribution harbor? This article offers some practical advice.

1. Action cures anxiety: As soon as possible, if you have not already done so, organize a marketing and distribution game plan. Create marketing materials that embrace the unique aspects of your film and your anticipated target audience. This exercise helps focus your team (sales consultants, publicists, etc.) on your film’s key selling points and facilitates getting everyone on the same page. Additionally, busy distribution executives appreciate user-friendly materials that minimize their time expended and money spent.

2. Create your own DIY distribution platform: Develop your own your Plan “B” distribution strategy. This will be vital in the event you do not hit a grand slam and secure a significant distribution deal from a mini-major. The exercise will also help you to better understand the current distribution landscape and will provide leverage and confidence as you assess your distribution options at the bargaining table. Seek advice from other moviemakers, producers and leading industry professionals about their experiences. Recruit experts to guide you down this specialized road, but do not take your hands off the steering wheel. The savvy independent moviemaker understands that he or she must also retain direct involvement in the marketing and distribution of his or her film.

3. Manage expectations (yours and others’): The road to investment recoupment can be long and bumpy. Be realistic and examine all distribution options. For the most part, a substantial distribution deal with a mini-major is unlikely in today’s marketplace. You may find yourself carefully assembling your distribution choices like pieces of a puzzle. Pay particular attention to the digital horizon where the greatest number of people will eventually view your film. Understand the immense value of your digital rights; they may be your primary route to future revenues. Finally, avoid so-called “digital rights experts” seeking disproportionate commissions from your gross revenues to secure deals that may already be within your grasp.

4. Be prepared with distribution-ready elements: If you have not already done so, prepare your film’s elements, including E&O insurance and all music licenses (sync and master use), so that you are capable of prompt and seamless delivery. Your ability to deliver your film may influence a distributor’s decision to work with you. At a minimum, it will accelerate the payment of any minimum guarantee. Needless to say, having a delivery-ready project will also come in handy, should you decide to release the film yourself.

5. Be optimistic: There is a silver lining in every cloud. In fact, these are favorable times to create and distribute breakthrough independent films. In the new marketplace, you can have more involvement and control with your distribution matters and greater opportunity to share your film before larger audiences. While it is useful to understand how fear has transformed the traditional marketplace for distributing independent films, it is even more important to focus on the emerging opportunities to manage your film’s distribution in the new marketplace.