Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Non-Profit aims to rep & support Indie Films

Nine films, including Sundance 2010 feature “One Too Many Mornings,” have allied with The Film Collaborative, a new non-profit group that aims to provide a range of services, including distribution and social networking services. Founded by former Wolfe Releasing exec Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Fabian Winter,  programmer/co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival’s “New Frontier” section, The Film Collaborative aims to provide a range of what it describes as “affordable” distribution, educational and marketing services to independent filmmakers, but it will not take film rights. Other notable insiders aligned with the organization include Rose Kuo, who recently left AFI Fest.

Additionally, the organization plans to present itself as an aggregator, allowing members of The Film Collaborative access to various digital and VOD distributors, including iTunes, Brainstorm Media, The Cinema Guild, Babelgum and others. According to the group’s website, deals are also pending with Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand.

Projects involved with The Film Collaborative in various capacities, so far, include: SXSW Film Festival winner “Made in China” by Judith Krant, Joshua Grannell’s “All About Evil,” Ari Gold’s “Adventures of Power,” Michael Mohan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” Haim Tabakman’s “Eyes Wide Open,” George O’Donnell’s “College Boys Live,” Meredith Scott Lynn and Bradford Tatum’s “Standing on Fishes,” Matt Dunnerstick’s “The Custom Mary” and Jonathan Leyser’s “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within.”

Membership in the organization ranges from $50 to $250 through its formal launch in March and prices will increase afterward. Fees and percentages are also attached to its various services.
In addition to digital distribution and social networking services, TFC plans to provide marketplace consultation, handle non-theatrical, festival and educational bookings and outreach, provide strategies for domestic and international sales, assist on DIY theatrical sales. Former AFI Fest artistic director Kuo is also coming on board to spearhead the group’s exhibition components, including what it calls national film showcases, including a traveling film festival and an online film event.

“I started out in distribution 10 or 12 years ago,” TFC co-founder Orly Ravid told indieWIRE by phone. “I never felt comfortable with layers of middle men. At some point I thought, ‘let’s make this a non-profit and I want it to be service based.’”

Ravid went on to say that they are not against distributors, but said that since not every filmmaker will find a deal, they want to become a destination for their projects. “It’s great to be able to tell filmmakers that if you don’t get a deal, you can get your film out there.” - Brian Brooks

Friday, January 29, 2010

Matthew Jeppsen tells us 7 Ways the Apple iPad will affect Filmmakers and Creatives

The Apple iPad offers a number of exciting new possibilities for filmmakers and story architects thanks to its screen size, connectivity, and interactivity. At first glance it may seem like just a big iPhone, but it’s priced to move and — whether you plan on buying one or not — in 60 days it will be in the hands of millions. For filmmakers and independent creatives, there’s a lot of brain candy contained in that thin body; here are seven ways I think the iPad will change filmmaking and interactive storytelling.

1. Interactive interfaces
The above image (apologies for the blurriness; taken from the iPad’s live announcement, courtesy Gizmodo) demonstrates a couple of simple possibilities for interface overlays on top of video. For live sports broadcasts, these interfaces may be merely informational, but for narrative content, touch-based widgets offer a whole new world of interactivity. From “choose your own adventure”-style video content to multi-angle controls, by giving audiences real-time interfaces on screen, filmmakers can turn viewers into a participants. TV and set-top manufacturers are increasingly integrating internet connectivity and on-screen widgets as well, but none of them have the immediate tactile control of a iPad. While widgets are an easy-to-visualize example, the touch screen itself offers all sorts of interactive affordances; you don’t need something displayed on top of the video to allow viewers to interact with your content.

2. It’s a book, it’s a movie, it’s… an app

Anthony Zuiker (CSI) released a “digi-novel” last year, wherein a printed book contained a URL every 20 pages; readers could enter the URL into a browser and watch a related online video. In a lot of ways transmedia storytelling to date has been mostly about promotion (The Dark Knight, for example, used an Alternate Reality Game to promote its theatrical release), but the iPad offers a different set of possibilities: instead of these experiences existing as separate, promotional entrypoints, they can all be brought together on one platform. This is not to say that a project can’t have a live component that exists separately, but the iPad will play a pivotal role in bringing together different forms of storytelling: words, still images, moving images, audio, and interactive experiences can all live together on one handheld, connected device. The iPad will profoundly blur the line between book, movie, and game, and it will do so by offering these new-media experiences for sale through iTunes as… an application. When you’re developing a cross-platform story, what happens if you can’t define your project along clear lines? Should I say it? “There’s an app for that.”

3. Serialization (of payment)

In the old world, you’d develop a feature — a two-hour piece of content — and spend years making and distributing it. Then, on your next project you’d start the whole process all over again — possibly with a different studio — who then spends a lot of money on P&A to (re)mobilize an audience for another round of one-time payments. In the new world, as a filmmaker it is your responsibility to own your audience and mobilize them, not only from project to project but also from episode to episode. There’s a reason almost every movie in the local multiplex is a sequel, and it’s not just because Hollywood is risk-adverse; it’s also because audiences come back to stories and characters they like. So where does the iPad fit in with all this? Well, not only can you sell a hybrid book/movie/game as an app, but you can also charge the viewer a la carte for entries within the series. Apple calls this in-app subscriptions, which means the iTunes season pass — where a customer must decide on the spot to buy an entire TV season — isn’t the only option. Instead, your interactive application allows you to bundle installments however you like. For example, you can bundle “acts” of a show, where each act consists of several episodes, or if your storyline branches, charge separately for different paths. While it may be hard to convince someone to part with $20 all at once (the iTunes price for a high-def new release), if you’ve got a good story you may be able to convince them to part with that same $20 through a series of micropayments.

4. Charging money for digital content
Every newspaper and magazine in the country was hoping for something more than the iBook functionality that Steve Jobs demonstrated on stage, and while subscription print models are probably in the works — it’s not clear yet — one thing’s for sure: people are used to buying content through iTunes. There are currently 75 million iPhone users who have collectively downloaded 12 billion apps, songs, and movies; those numbers will only grow once the iPad is released. In an era where everyone’s struggling to monetize content with free, ad-based models, the iPad (by virtue of its large, high-quality screen) offers an even better platform for filmmakers than the iPhone. The iPad’s tech specs show that it plays back h.264 video at 720p (identical specs to the Apple TV), and its IPS screen will be bright, accurate, and viewable from a wide angle (meaning more than one person will be able to watch). The challenge for independent creatives comes in figuring out how to get indie content into iTunes (previously it was nigh impossible, and these days there are conflicting reports; chime in with a comment if you know better). The revenue split between creators and Apple is generally 70-30 in your favor, and iTunes does a good job of convincing customers to pay for 1s and 0s (this is the whole reason the iBook application gives you a nice-looking bookshelf: you feel like you’re buying something tangible). The iPad means more potential customers for filmmakers because:

5. Everyone’s connected to the internet

FreshDV’s Matt Jeppsen tweeted the following during the iPad’s announcement: “Know who desperately needs the iPad? Grandma. That +3G access is all she needs. No interface in the way, no routers to worry about.” He’s absolutely right: don’t underestimate the value of the built-in 3G. If you’re reading this, obviously you have decent internet access. But there are a lot of people who don’t have broadband — 40% of the US last I checked — and for content creators, they’re all potential customers. Previously, these people were unreachable through the series of tubes, and while I doubt an old-fashioned household without broadband access was going to buy an iPhone or $1,000 Macbook, they just might spring for an iPad. This is why Apple wanted to get the entry price point so low: to bring iTunes to a huge, previously untapped market, who will now use the iPad as their portal to a world of paid content (which Apple takes a cut of). With the addition of the iPad, iTunes TV and movie sales should jump significantly; now more than ever, your digital distribution strategy is key (see: Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss).

6. Flash is suddenly valuable again

If you’ve released a video online, you’ve likely been reliant on Adobe’s rich-media platform Flash (it powers the players at YouTube, Vimeo, and basically every other online video portal; we distributed The West Side using a custom Flash player). But Apple has famously kept Flash off the iPhone, and it looks like the iPad will be no different. With the iPhone bypassing Flash and serving up separate h.264 videos and with HTML5 looking to push Flash further towards irrelevancy, how is the iPad a good thing for Flash? Because of Adobe’s announcement that Flash CS5 will support iPhone app development — and now iPad development as well. Suddenly there are millions of Flash developers who can develop rich-media applications for Apple’s mobile platforms. While Flash won’t be an ideal development platform for applications that rely on hardware interactions (camera apps, for example), for filmmakers interested in extending their experience beyond “traditional” movies, this is a big deal. Why? Because with Flash, you can develop your rich-media experience once, and then output to web, iPhone, iPad, set-top boxes, and Blu-Ray platforms all at once. It remains to be seen how effective Flash will be implemented on some of these devices, but for productions with smaller budgets, being able to output to several different platforms without incurring huge costs will be… well, huge. And the iPad, I suspect, will be the crown jewel in Flash’s cross-platform strategy.

7. Communal watching

A world where everyone walks around staring at little screens doesn’t sound like very much fun. Many of us (still) enjoy watching movies at the theater, where every laugh, groan, and gasp in the audience becomes part of the experience. However, movies are increasingly viewed less and less in the theater and more and more at home (or on the go). Here’s where the iPad offers filmmakers an opportunity: a connected viewing device like the iPad can afford the viewer a new community-based watching experience. With an always-on internet connection, it’s possible to implement real-time comments, twitters, audio chats, and on-screen pointers… the possibilities are endless. No one’s saying it’s a good idea to overlay your cinematic masterpiece with a chat window, but watching a live TV broadcast while Skype-ing someone almost feels like you’re there in person; with the iPad, this type of “virtually there” experience could be even more integrated. It’s not a replacement for the “real” thing, but we have to embrace the fact that our content is going to be viewed in all sorts of conditions, and giving viewers the ability to watch something together is only a good thing. It’s our duty as filmmakers to offer our audience the best viewing experience we can, and the iPad places more of that power in our hands than ever before.

Fans invest in films: Rotterdam invites "producers" to shell out coin

Wednesday's opening night of the Rotterdam Film Festival was a giant pitching session, with fest topper Rutger Wolfson facing an audience of 1,200 potential "co-producers" keen to invest as little as $7 in one of three films.

The fest is trying to persuade visitors to invest in the films, grouped together as Cinema Reloaded. "We have you, a very loyal and dedicated audience," he told a packed house, "and Cinema Reloaded starts from the idea that, just like the festival, our audience is eager to support the development of special films."

People can buy "coins" worth e5 ($7) online, and track their chosen project as it develops. Each project needs $42,000 to get the green light. On day one of the fest, Alexis Dos Santos' "Another World: Rocky and Lulu," about lovers who meet online, had accumulated the most coin, with $3,223.

Dos Santos has name recognition among festgoers thanks to last year's out-of-competition darling, "Unmade Beds." Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist had accumulated $2,032 for "Liebling," while Malaysian helmer Ho Yuhang had $1,815 for his untitled project.

Donations have come from around 400 people, with single-coin investments most common. Larger investments are typically for 10 or 15 coins, with the top mark going to a 50-coin investor in "Rocky and Lulu." Initiative is being watched closely by other fest folk at Rotterdam, who like the way it extends the fest's role.

Regular visitors like the idea of connecting with a production and helmers like the link with the audience, although some raise questions about artistic independence. Whether it is the future of film finance is another matter. "I don't believe in that really, not yet," said Wallie Polle of Cineart, which handles Dos Santos' films locally. "For me it's more about awareness, for audiences to get more into cinema." - Ian Mundell

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ted Hope's Sundance Observation

To me, the filmmaking community (the artists, the business folk, the curators & promoters, the appreciators & fans) have to embrace that we are in a seismic shift to an artist-centric collaboration with the audience and away from the corporate controlled supply & attention. This requires a redefinition of cinema by its creators to embrace the discovery, engagement, presentation, promotion, & appreciation processes as much as we do development & production. We have to erase the lines between between art & commerce and content & marketing. We have to stop thinking of films as singular objects and refocus on how they are bridges for the ongoing conversation we have with audiences. Specifics like VOD numbers are important, but we miss the point if we don't look first at the big picture. - Ted Hope

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Analyst calls Sundance's YouTube streaming inititative a FLOP

Last week Devindra told us about a new initiative to democratise the Sundance experience just a little.  In a pioneering move to undercut the elite access of Utah-bound schmoozers and carousers, 2009 and 2010 selections The Cove, One Too Many Mornings, Homewrecker, Children of Invention, and Bass Ackwards were each made available on YouTube for rental.

Of course, getting a YouTube stream to play on your TV is pretty hard, even impossible for many consumers, so it would be foolish to expect similar rental numbers to those generated by iTunes or X-Box 360 rentals when viewing would be mainly monitor-bound. All the same, were the scores even in the same ballpark? Sadly not.

Some hard (and I mean hard) numbers and the despairing words of one analyst coming up after the break. Here’s the damage. The best performing film was The Cove with a shocking count of just 303 rentals. Check out the full chart for a catalogue of hurt:
  • The Cove - 303 rentals
  • Children of Invention - 301 rentals
  • Bass Ackwards - 299 rentals
  • Homewrecker - 279 rentals
  • One Too Many Mornings - 241 rentals
That means more people read reviews of these films online this weekend - positive reviews too, in most cases - than actually clicked over to YouTube and watched the films themselves.

Here is The Motley Fool’s Rick Munarriz:
Ouch! We’re talking about 1,422 total views, or $5,673.78 for all of the rentals at $3.99 apiece. If Google is giving the filmmakers roughly two-thirds of the take - and I’m going by other digital-media standards, since the site isn’t publicly spelling out the royalty payouts - each of the five productions will walk away with just hundreds of dollars for their role as video-sharing pioneers over the weekend.
Part of the problem may have been how difficult it was to carry out the purchase, which was, to be honest, not too difficult at all; or more likely it was down to incredibly bad promotion of the scheme.
I’m confident that had these films been made available via iTunes the figures would have been unrecognizably different.

Perhaps Google will see the lesson in this and address their YouTube rental system to make it more streamlined, not to mention more well publicised and easy to find and navigate. They’ll need to try something fairly drastic to even stay on the chart of legal movie streaming options, I think, because tomorrow, Apple will unveil their “latest creation” and, I expect, give the iTunes movie rental store yet another nitro boost.

I hope that the Sundance folk aren’t put off by these stats and continue helping to facilitate easier access or smaller, more alternative or less accessible films by the countless viewers worldwide who would enjoy them. - Brendon Connelly

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Launching the Crowdsourcing Colleges Initiative

Crowdsourcing (verb); a neologistic compound of Crowd and a short for Outsourcing, for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an "open call" to a large group of people (a crowd) asking for contributions.

Small Giant Media is proud to launch the Crowdsourcing College Initiative; a projected designed to bring emerging artists together through internships and collaborations on Professional Feature Films, Short Films and Internet Content.

Students will be encouraged to explore the full extent of their creativity and call upon their technical skills to begin building a portfolio by contributing to Professional Film Projects and collaborating with experienced film professionals while learning the practical applications of their skills and talents.

At the end of each term, Students will be paired into Production Teams of crews to complete their own short film project for submission into Film Festivals

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sydney brings us news of Sundance Acquisitions

The Match Factory picked up worldwide rights to Howl Sundance's opning film in the narrative section.

Shoreline acquired worldwide rights to its second Latino film Contracorriente (Undertow). It had acquired Zona Sur (Southern District) which is also showing in Sundance at Ventana Sur in November and last year acquired La Nana (The Maid) at Sundance.

Paramount Vantage acquired Davis Guggenheim's new documentary about the crisis in public education in the U.S. Waiting for Superman which was developed, financed and executive produced by Participant Media who backed Guggenheim's previous doc An Inconvenient Truth.

Visit acquired worlwide rights to The Taqwarcores before its Sundance premiere.

Wild Bunch licensed U.S. rights to Gaspar Noe’s Sundance 2010 feature Enter the Void to IFC in the firs pre-Sundance deal.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Could Apple's "iSlate" be a Digital Comics Game-Changer?

While the news, rumors, and speculation of a possible Apple's tablet device are making waves in the digital world, the industry that may be most drastically changed by the device is the world of comic books.

"It will definitely change the dynamic of digital comics," said Andy Ihnatko , technical writer and contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, MacWorld and the CBS Early Show"
On January 27 2010, Apple is hosting one of their famed media events, the entire tech and media world is anticipating it will be to announce a tablet device expected to be called the "iSlate." The comic book industry has been talking about the possibility of the iSlate for months, because the device could be a game-changer for the industry.

Why does Apple's tablet mean so much to the future of the comic book industry?

1) Color Touch Screen

While news and book publishing are already in the throes of a digital revolution, comic books haven't been as affected. The color, vertical format of comics doesn't translate well to a horizontal computer screen, and Amazon's Kindle can only handle black and white.

But that all might change with the Apple tablet, which is expected to have a 10-inch touch screen that would finally offer a viable option for reading digital comics.

"It's going to be the first device that is a true color tablet computer, so we're going to have those features that we desperately need on a comic book reader," said Ihnatko, who is a comic book reader as well. "We need good color. We need crisp displays. We need high resolution because of the digital coloring that's going on these days.

"It also seems as though a touch display is going to be the ideal way of working with these comics. You want to have the entire page in front of you and workable as one page, but you also want to be able to sort of sneak a closer look at what you're reading," he said. "And for turning pages, or manipulating the library, I think a touch screen is going to be the way to go."

2) Existing Audience

Comic book fans tend to be the early samplers of new technology, so there may be a ready audience of tablet users soon after its release. For example, Twitter was embraced very early by the comic book fans, and they were also among the earliest Internet users.

"I suspect the tablet is going to have small market penetration for awhile, although that depends on the price, which I expect to be high at first," said ComiXology’s David Steinberger, whose Comics application through Apple is already one of the most popular reader apps for digital comics. "But I'm sure a lot of comic book people will pick the tablet up, because we seem to have some sort of crossover with tech people."

3) New Audience

While the comics publishing industry is an adult-targeted, multi-million-dollar entertainment business, most book readers don't even have access to paper comics. Not all markets have comic book stores, and there's an audience of only a few hundred thousand loyal readers who buy most comics, visiting their local shops to pick up the latest monthly issue of their favorite serial.

But those same stories have a proven mainstream appeal because Hollywood is constantly harvesting comic books for film ideas. Besides the many superhero films that have dominated movie theaters in recent years, films like Surrogates, Whiteout, Hellboy and Wanted all started as comics.

"The exciting thing about the tablet is that, unlike the current situation with the direct market, we're going to have millions of people to distribute to," Stephen Christy Director of Development of publisher Archaia Comics said. "But we've had comics on the iPhone for a long time, and there hasn't really been an amazing mainstream breakout comic on the iPhone yet. I think the tablet's going to change that because it's a different reading experience. It's a completely different thing. It's much more similar to reading traditional comics."

The distribution method is also a lot cheaper than printing comics on paper, which opens the door for smaller publishers who have limited resources for distribution.

"A lot of us, particularly the guys at my level who have a limited number of releases, are rooting for it because it's a huge production cost save. Huge," said Jeff Katz, who publishes comics through his new company, American Original. "And it just makes sense. The comic book industry has got to expand audiences. Newspapers are the canary in the coalmine, to a large level. And we need to keep people in a place where they think these are worth paying for. I think the price point has to adjust accordingly. But I don't think we have much of a choice but to root for these things to work because it's the lifeblood of the business in the future, because everything is going digital."

4) App Store

Experts believe the Apple tablet will utilize the same "app" technology that is currently used for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which offers an existing, accessible way for comic book companies to release their publications to an audience that is already interested in reading digital books.

While Ihnatko once thought Apple might get into the book distribution business, much like it distributes music on iTunes, he now believes the company will simply provide a marketplace on its App Store like it did for the Amazon Kindle app.

"I think Apple will simply say here are the tools you need. They are free. We just want a cut of every sale you make. And this would be a good deal for those publishers," he said. "There are a lot of reports that Apple is making it very clear to publishers that, we don't want to own your business; we just want to make money. When you make money, we make money."

The future of digital book readers has more potential now than ever before, as Amazon recently announced it had sold more digital books during the holidays than paper books, and Kindle digital readers were the Internet retailer's top gift item.

This past year also saw a substantial growth in the strength of the App Store market, which launched just 18 months ago with 500 apps, but has now passed 3 billion downloads and 115,000 apps. And that existing marketplace is one that offers a competitive outlet for comic book publishers.

"Even if they stick to the same App Store cut, which is 30 percent of all sales, that's going to be much, much better than the deal that publishers normally get through Amazon," Ihnatko said. "And Apple's not going to ask for exclusives. It should be a very attractive deal for publishers."

5) Security

One of the fears comic book publishers have had about releasing their products digitally has been piracy. But the App Store technology expected on the tablet would effectively negate that concern, Ihnatko said.

"There is a way that someone can spend time and effort to break into the app and access that comic. But it's not going to be a trivial process. And frankly, anybody who's going to try to get that comic is just going to go to the store and spend $2.99 for a copy and produce scans themselves. And there's no way you'll ever prevent that.

"With the App Store, piracy's not really a big worry. i don't think it's a realistic problem for publishers to even think about," he said.

Of course, the future of comics on the Apple slate all depends on publishers' willingness to commit to the digital format. "The real sticking point has never been the technology of the reader; it's always been the store. It's always been the availability of the comics I want, when I want to get them," Ihnatko said.

So far, most comics’ publishers don't have a significant digital presence for their new monthly comics. But with a giant like Apple entering the field and offering a technology that most publishers have already tried out on the iPhone, reading new comics on a digital reader seems more possible now than ever.

"I think just the presence of the Apple tablet in the marketplace is going to make 2010 the year that all these publishers and all these distributors start to commit to electronic publishing," Ihnatko said, "not just because of this one device from Apple, but because of the presence of several tablet devices from companies that have been spurred on by the release of the Apple tablet. "

Along with the delights of reaching a wider audience and eliminating publishing costs come several challenges that the comic book industry is facing. One of the biggest is the established method of distribution supports hundreds of existing retail businesses through the "direct market" of comic shops. A digital revolution would, presumably, be detrimental to that direct market of stores.

"It's going to be a very interesting push pull, because we all want to support the direct market," Katz said. "We love the direct market. But at the same time, we've got to expand audiences. The same debates we're having about this in comics is the same debates that we've been having for 10 years in film, and that were going on in music prior to that. We're all getting caught up in this.

"But everything's going to be digital at some point. The audience demands having what they want, when they want it, how they want it. That's just becoming the nature of the game here," he said.

Christy also pointed out that advertising in a new tablet-driven marketplace will also be a challenge, particularly if the ease of distribution means more comic apps, making it tougher to differentiate one comic over another.

"It's new technology. It's definitely going to help revolutionize the way we read and the way we distribute our product," Christy said. "But along with that comes another interesting set of challenges that are similar to the challenges we already have with the direct market and the book market, but are new and different in scale, that we'll have to figure out."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summing up...

I’ve always thought that films should represent life, and that if you live in a world of film, your films become increasingly out of touch.  Nobody in Hollywood wants films about Hollywood, but, in a sense, that’s all they get.  They hunger for writers who come in from outside: a New York cop, maybe, or an ex-con artist with a story from Florida.  But they usually fit it into their vision of the world.  I was at a meeting with a manager in LA and I told him about a story about this guy who wins the lottery.  Because of the circumstances, he can’t cash the ticket so he has someone he knows cash it for him.  The manager asked, why doesn’t this guy steal the ticket?  I didn’t have a good answer because it hadn’t occured to me.  The character doesn’t steal the ticket because that’s the way the character is.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was his own jilted Hollywood idea about life.  Most people I know wouldn’t steal the ticket for the simple reason that it’s a scummy thing to do.  In Hollywood, if you don’t steal the ticket, there’s something wrong with you.
 - Michael Walker

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kickstarting 2010: "...all the way to the end" - A Personal Note

This will be the first personal entry for me on this Blog; a break from the tradition of news and analysis. I have spent a great deal of time in the past few years (8) working for other people and not enough time working with other people, or for myself. 2010 has reared its head and has already shown me that it represents a paradigm shift for me on a great level. Despite all the travel over the more recent years, I have felt trapped. Overall, 2007 was horrible, it took me away from my Home under the illusion that it was on my terms, but the reality was anything but and it left me isolated and alone. 2008 wasn't much better, but I laid the foundation for something great. 2009 was an improvement, but not until the final quarter, when all the pieces I've been playing started falling into place. The first two weeks of 2010 have shown me that my greatest attribute is not a talent or a honed skill or even my strange ability tell you how long you've been cooking something on the stove for, rather, it is my patience and my ability to put my faith in the right people.

At the end of 2009 I spent some time at an amazing writer's lab where I began work on a second screenplay and put the finishing touches on another (Our Last Days As Children). And even though my partners and I have been working hard to continue to raise funds for Our Last Days As Children and it has seen many drafts, I have never ended a draft with a sense of finality, until now. I believe I have the writer's lab to thank for that as well as invaluable input and support from others. Its there now. Its ready. So confident am I in that, that I have written it down for the record. And we're ready. We have the plan, we have the knowledge, we have the right people and the right places, all that's left to tie up is just this one loose end; the rest of the financing, which we are confident about.

So why the paradigm shift? What is so different? Well, its simple really: The cycle has been broken. The cycle of hope and disappointment, more hope and more disappointment, of goals and constant defeats; it is ending. The short that I wrote that got me into the writer's lab (Pork Chop Night) is no longer just a script. I have decided to shoot it. I'm using Kickstarter, a resource which allows people from anywhere in the world to contribute to a project, whether its a game, a website, a service, a studio recording or a film. And although the project is new to the site, it has already garnered enough to support to happen. For lack of a better term, I'm fucking humbled by the support of the people I have connected with over the years. When I finally decided to do something for myself, they supported it in a very real, very tangible and fundamental way. Again, I'm fucking humbled. Previously, whenever I had even the slightest thought or the mumbled even the faintest whisper about doing something for myself, the Universe made it very clear to me that it was not going to happen through the various ways the Universe does that. This is the first time it has happened in more years than I care to mention.

And even more is the fact that because they contributed, it is OUR project, not just mine, and it feels so much better knowing that. Where I once felt tired, I now feel committed, and convinced that I've been doing the right thing all along and will continue to do the right thing all the way to the end.

Monday, January 4, 2010

John Hillcoat Won’t Be Going to The Promised Land; Film Scrapped Due to Financing Woes

Well, this is a lousy way to start the year. Over the last few months we’ve been watching as The Road director John Hillcoat attempted to kickstart a film adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World, which evidently was to be called The Promised Land on screen. Hillcoat had a script by Nick Cave and a solid cast attached, including Ryan Gosling and Shia LaBeouf.

Now, in a piece printed in the UK, Hillcoat says the film is dead as he expresses a dismal view of the film business in general.

Hillcoat published a diary kept while making The Road in UK paper The Telegraph. (via The Playlist) There, as an epilogue to the experience of getting his latest film into theaters, he writes:
My own new project – with a much-loved script by Nick Cave and a dream all-star cast – has fallen apart. The finance company that we began The Road with has also fallen apart, having to radically downsize to one remaining staff member. The great divide has begun, with only very low-budget films being made or huge 3-D franchise films – the birth of brand films such as Barbie, Monopoly: The Movie – who knows what’s next, Coca-Cola: The Movie? I end the year appropriately – gazing into the apocalypse of my own industry.
This stings, as headlines today will also carry news of Avatar crossing the one billion dollar line. Nothing against Avatar, but if Hillcoat’s view of the business is right (”the perfect storm has arrived in Hollywood: a global economic downturn combined with piracy and the increase of downloading on the internet…The reactionary first phase has kicked in – few films in development, many films put on hold or shut down.”) then we’ll see a lot fewer films like The Promised Land in the near future.

The bright side, if you can call it that, is that Hillcoat does have other projects in the works, including an adaptation of Nick Cave’s latest novel The Death of Bunny Munro. Let’s hope one of those is deemed vaguely commercial enough to get a green light. Or maybe — just maybe — some other outfit with a few bucks to spend will swoop in and make The Promised Land happen. - Russ Fischer

Saturday, January 2, 2010

District 9's Neill Blomkamp Explains Why He Won't Make Big Budget Movies

When District 9 director Neill Blomkamp makes his next film, he won't have a $100 million budget. Instead, he'll keep making films on the (relative) cheap, because it's the only way to make science fiction movies with creative freedom.

In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Blomkamp made it quite clear that he wants nothing to do with $100 million budgets and major studio releases. The reason for this, he explains, is that he wants to be able to tell his own stories in his own way, and that just isn't possible when such massive amounts of money are involved. He cites this overwhelming need for studios to protect their investment as the main reason why almost all science fiction films are either adaptations, sequels, or reboots.

Blomkamp's observations weren't limited to the purely financial. He also delved into how these considerations affect the creative side of science fiction movies:
I think about this a lot – a hell of a lot actually – and how it plays out within the genre of scifi and horror. This concept of "Where does that fiction [in its source material form] come from?" If you look at the most meaningful science fiction, it didn't come from watching other films. We seem to be in a place now where filmmakers make films based on other films because that's where the stimuli and influence comes from. But go back and look at something like [Joe Haldeman's 1974 novel] "The Forever War" – that is very much rooted in his experience in Vietnam, that's where the stimulation comes from. And that's my goal, really, is not to draw from other films in terms of the overall inspiration and stimuli. You can in terms of design and tone and stuff, certainly, but not in terms of the idea and the genesis of that idea.
In terms of his own future making movies, Blomkamp reflected on his process promoting District 9 as a template for what he hopes to achieve next time. Since District 9 cost relatively little to make, it didn't need to attract a particularly wide audience for it to be a financial success; the fact that it did become something of a minor mainstream hit was just a nice bonus. Blomkamp felt fairly comfortable that the film would do all right financially after it enjoyed such a positive reception at Comic Con. As long as his movies can keep finding an audience with genre fans, he feels confident he can keep making movies for the foreseeable future.

Blomkamp concluded the first part of the interview with his thoughts on what he was trying to say in District 9 and whether he feels audiences understood his messages:
For the most part, "District 9" is absolute popcorn. It's absolute fluff compared to how serious those real-life topics are. The topics in the film are on my mind all the time and they're very interesting to me. The bottom line is "District 9" touches on 1% of those topics in terms of how severe they could be portrayed, and I knew that when I made it. But people got the messages. Xenophobia, racism allegories – they got all of it. I don't think the film was misunderstood. Not everybody loved it. Nigerians weren't happy. They were pissed. And I suppose that's fair enough because I directly named them and they don't come off well in the film. But that was part of the whole satirical nature of the film. And that conflict, well, that's a South African thing.
The rest of the interview will be published on the L.A. Times blog in the near future.