Saturday, January 18, 2014

4K: The New HD

If you aren't shooting in 4K (aka Ultra HD or UHD), you're two years late. In two years from now any film you shot in HD will be as obsolete as the stuff you shot in SD. But don't take my word for it, and expect that within a few weeks or sooner, there will be new advances announced. Keep tabs on 4K news here. 4K is just slightly smaller than digital cinema resolution (6% smaller at 3,840 × 2,160 pixels, 256 pixels less wide) to accommodate the TV 16:9 standard as opposed to cinema's 17:9. Purists will be annoyed (although 1080 HD is also 16:9).

Could 4K become the new near-first run releasing window (instead of VOD), just as theatrical once was before Day and Date, Ultra-VOD, VOD, and digital platforms became the rage? With 4K Blu-ray, disks become very attractive, versus buffering HD streaming or cable.

 YouTube is already streaming in 4K. Yes, you have to have the hardware and software to see it. So you might want to think about this before your next TV screen, hard drive, or computer purchase. But it's not that expensive and you can bet it will come down by 50% to 80% in the next two years. Right now most 4K screens are over 50 inches and start around $3K. A player, currently required is around $600. But with the advent of 4K Blu-ray within a year or so, hard drive players will not be required and 4K Blu-ray players under $200 might be the norm.

Most NLE (non-linear editing) software vendors offer 4K and 6K editing capability. A high end iMac computer editing system with 32GB of RAM is around $3K. You can get a Sony Handicam for $5K, or the RED One (from $7K) and for 6K there's the RED Epic, and these are standard equipment for many indie DPs. You can have a well furnished 4K production camera and editing outfit for well under $25K, including a 50 inch plus 4K TV. It wasn't too long ago that the 4K TVs alone were well over that. Be advised that you should research well any 4K purchase. There are some dubious or bogus deals out there like a $700 4K TV. Some cameras have a 4K sensor. But that doesn't necessarily translate to a 4K sized image. Look for "Ultra-HD" and check resolution, battery life, and storage capacity specs.

 4K is not viable as a consumer option right now (in January 2014). But by December this will be obsolete news. The Blu-ray specs are being updated to provide for 4K Blu-ray. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has confirmed it will have spces sometime in 2014.

4K laptop screens are available and phones will soon be too. Though it makes little sense to me to look at a 4K screen so small. You'd need a magnifying glass to see the detail present. That's also probably the reason why most 4K TVs are over 50 inches.

Manufactures are touting 85 inch screens to take advantage of the detail. That's a wall of screen. It is truly a home theater resolution (less 6%). Streaming 4K over the internet or cable will not likely be viable for most consumers for a while. That means there may be a long window of 4K Blu-ray as the only affordable consumer alternative for 4K. That would leave cable, streaming, and digital downloads in the dust. It could mean a return to theaters and a return to Blu-ray players and disks. It also reduces the threat of piracy if people are interested in 4K quality. 4K at around 100GB of Blu-ray disk space is a lot harder to copy than a 4GB DVD or 2GB SD download. With people wanting to see the new 4K stuff, lower res copies will be even less in demand. If filmmakers require contract terms to distribute only in 4K they might more easily corner 4K Blu-ray markets for their films. This may help to eliminate the problem of the thousands of indie films competing for exposure on digital platforms like iTunes or Vudu. People looking for the quality of 4K will have less places to look and less films to choose from. The 4K films might indicate a commitment to quality from the filmmakers.

Read more here on the details of broadcasting 4K. Consideration is being given to different compression protocols such as H-264 or H-265. Regardless, it will happen one way or another. This gives time for filmmakers to get 4K productions underway and indicates the lag window offering 4K Blu-ray is very likely:
....It could be possible to fit two UHD channels in a 45Mbps mux or transponder stream - and that’s using H.264 compression; H.265 is anticipated to do better still - the paper’s author, Pierre Larbier, CTO of French video compression technology firm Ateme, suggested 13Mbps may be sufficient for a 4K broadcast. A live test transmission set up specially for CES by US broadcaster Sinclair used 27Mbps over DVB-T2 to deliver 4K images to the Samsung stand, using the H.265 codec.
And this from Richard Wingard on Nexfilx, CEO, Hastings predictions for 4K streaming:
In order to achieve the compression necessary to stream 4K, either the picture quality will be degraded or a new compression standard will be needed. HEVC is still new, and the results are not fully settled yet on how it will perform on general video. It is claimed that HEVC is twice as efficient as H.264 (the best currently-fielded video codec), but 4K video frames are four times as large as 1080p frames. Even granting the claimed HEVC performance (no sure thing), this makes Hastings’ claim that 4K videos will be able to be streamed at 15 Mbps (a bitrate where H.264 struggles with some current 1080p videos) dubious at best. Additionally, a new encoding standard means new decoders on the back-end.
Net neutrality may become less of a threat, at least to indie film distributors and it might even help if people are forced to find 4K titles on 4K Blu-ray instead of easily downloading them digitally.

YouTube's VP9 may make their platform as viable as 4k Blu-ray. But will ISP (internet service providers) companies handle the bandwidth? Even now when I watch an HD title on Vudu there are occasional interruptions for buffering. It feels like an 8 track player from the 60s. I don't have a lot of confidence in 4K working that well on your internet or cable based platforms for a while. But a 4K Blu-ray disk in your home player sounds like a pretty likely option that will be affordable within a year or two. To me, as a filmmaker, that means my next film had better be shot in 4K resolution.

One filmmaker says he needs 30TB of drive space to edit in 4K. That's about $3K of hard drives. Would going back to 35mm make more sense? I don't think so. There have also been online discussions about needing proxy files to edit 4K in lesser size formats. But are these valid (and for how long) or are they products of industries looking to thwart 4K filmmaking? 4K is a threat to online digital platforms and cable companies. Investments will have to be made to keep up. But technology has an unstoppable momentum, especially considering the players from China and Japan that are moving up the timeline as noted in Filmmaker Magazine.
A few years back a study projected that two million 4K units would be shipping worldwide in 2017. But a recent study projected seven million units in 2016. The result of this change? Changes in the projection of sales to China, which is becoming a big player in the 4K market. China is projected to buy more 4K TVs than North America in the coming years.
TechRadar describes 4K like this:
4K Ultra High Definition is actually a derivation of the 4K digital cinema standard. However while your local multiplex shows images in native 4096 x 2160 resolution, this new consumer format is 3840 X 2160.
This is one reason why some brands prefer not to use the 4K label at all, sticking with Ultra HD instead. However, the numerical shorthand looks likely to stick. As a broad brush label it's so much snappier!
Digital studios are gearing up 4K releasing with Hollywood:
Alongside Samsung's CES press conference, Amazon teams up with the Korean computer maker plus Warner, Lionsgate, and others for 4K video. It's not alone: M-Go and Comcast partner with Samsung too.
What is 4K TV Ultra HD? 10 reasons why you should care: John Archer says this about 4K in his comprehensive detailed review of the technology:
1. 4K Ultra HD TVs are getting cheaper very quickly's a rapid reduction in a short amount of time and means 4K sets are now a similar price to the normal Full HD TVs

2. 4K Ultra HD is not just a fad

....there are more than 20,000 4K projectors globally, with 40% of all US commercial screens now using 4K Ultra HD digital projectors.

3. 4K film and TV is already common and it's growing

What’s missing is a mean means of distributing those 4K Ultra HD sources... More and more TV shows are now shot in 4K. well as making it possible for 4K-produced TV shows to deliver slightly better picture quality than 2K productions even on 2K TVs, shooting in 4K now future proofs TV shows for the next generation of TV technology. Shooting and post-producing in 4K lets TV show makers to ask for more money during syndication negotiations. ....Sony Pictures now insists that any new TV series shot on its Culver City lot uses the 4K format....

4. 4K can recreate the look of 35mm film digitally

With the number of 4K-capable cinemas already high and growing fast, more and more new films are either being converted into 4K Ultra HD digital masters from 35mm celluloid, or filmed directly in the 4K digital format using a new generation of 4K-capable digital cameras.So, when people say there are no 4K Ultra HD sources, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are loads of them. What’s missing is a means of distributing those 4K Ultra HD sources.... It’s not just films that are getting the 4K-treatment, either. More and more TV shows are now shot in 4K. This might seem strange given the current, though soon to change, dearth of 4K-resolution TVs and projectors, but as well as making it possible for 4K-produced TV shows to deliver slightly better picture quality than 2K productions even on 2K TVs, shooting in 4K now future proofs TV shows for the next generation of TV technology. Shooting and post-producing in 4K lets TV show makers to ask for more money during syndication negotiations. At the time of writing 14 TV series shoot in 4K. ....Sony Pictures now insists that any new TV series shot on its Culver City lot uses the 4K format.

5. 4K Ultra HD is far closer to 'the cinema at home' than 2K follows that the only way to see at home a film that looks pretty much exactly as the people who made it wanted it to look when they made it for a cinema, is to own a 4K display able to render 4K digital film files in their native resolution....

6. 4K Ultra HD delivers detail 2K and Full HD cannot reach

....Having so many pixels of detail also greatly boosts the potential draw distance of pictures, giving them a much more profound sense of depth than you get with 2K. So much so that many viewers feel like 4K Ultra HD images are 3D, even when they’re not....

7. 4K is the perfect resolution for full immersion

....4K Ultra HD’s ideal viewing distance seems like a good thing to me. Why? Because sitting at a distance of 1.5 x your screen height means that the screen completely fills your field of vision, making you far more immersed in what you’re watching. In other words, it’s yet another way that 4K Ultra HD helps you achieve at home the sort of experience you usually have to go and seek out at the cinema....

8. Native 4K Ultra HD delivery to the home is closer than you think

Actually, some native 4K content is already here. Most exciting, Sony is shipping a hard disc drive system containing 10 full 4K movie transfers and some 4K shorts with its upcoming new X series of 4K TVs, though at the moment this feature looks set to be exclusive to the US. Most digital photos these days, meanwhile, are taken in a native resolution of at least 4K. Your photo slide shows should look a hell of a lot better on a 4K screen. Sony’s also planning a new PS3 App that contains a huge range of 4K photographs, covering everything from nature and wildlife through to classic paintings – the latter even including close-ups of sections of the artworks. YouTube, meanwhile, already supports the uploading and playback of 4K video files – provided your PC has a 4K-capable graphics card. ....a number of broadcasters are already experimenting with 4K broadcast streams, and are increasingly starting to shoot shows in 4K. I'm told 4K broadcasting will be well and truly underway in 3-5 years, and I’m leaning much more towards the three-year end of this scale.

The BBC has already dipped its toe in the water
with a trial of 4K at this year's Wimbledon....
Sony put micro adverts on the fingernails of
tennis player Anne Keothavong
to show off the detail levels offered by 4K
[this image is only 725px wide]
9. 4K Ultra HD can solve controversies and get closer to nature 

So you know all those sporting controversies like ‘did the ball cross the line’, ‘did the defending rugby player stop the opponent from grounding the ball for a try’ and ‘did Suarez really bite another footballer as viciously as we think he did?’Well, 4K Ultra HD can solve them all. The way the ultra high-definition format delivers four times as much resolution as a normal 2K signal/screen lets referees and the media to zoom in much closer to the action, without losing so much clarity that it’s impossible to make a key call.... [with sports involved, it's no wonder 4K is on the fast track- Jon].

10. 4K does wonders for 3D and is essential for ‘glasses-free’

Watch passive 3D on a 4K TV, however, and the horizontal resolution compromise of the passive format is completely removed, leaving you with a stunningly detailed picture unaffected by the crosstalk, loss of brightness and potential flickering issues associated with the active 3D format....

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You're Killing Me

Ted Hope posted about the poor state of indie film distribution, his frustration with deals that pay out so little that screw indie producers, and how he's decided to stop producing. This marks a turning point. I had to respond with this comment:
The main reason indie films have distribution problems has to do with compulsive behavior to take whatever deal you can get. [Distributor-Sales Agent] Lists are good, if they are vetted. There are a lot of unscrupulous players out there. And even with good distributors and sales agents, you have to hold out for the terms you want.
If indie filmmakers keep signing all rights deals, then that becomes the norm. If we give distributors 20% off the gross, or add P&A expenses first, then that becomes the norm. These things kill independent film.
I'm pretty sure that in any other industry, the manufacturer is paid a wholesale price for product. If it's not all sold there may be some return. But you don't see retail outlets deducting advertising costs from sales or taking 20% off the remainder sales gross before the manufacturer sees a dime. No manufacturer would agree to those terms. Why do we?
I'm pissed that the guy who produced 21 Grams doesn't want to produce more films, and because I
think it's the fault of most indie filmmakers who take bad deals. 

Every time a producer signs an all rights deal without a six month performance agreement, or with a back-end 20/80 split after unaccountable P&A (publicity and adverting). they are hurting all of our chances to make a sustainable living with film. Maybe filmmakers need more education.

It's just my opinion (see others here), but filmmakers should always retain rights. For example, sign limited rights for a limited period of time, such as six months for foreign territories (performance agreement), while retaining the right to separate domestic distribution, and direct website and digital. If a distributor can't get you a deal in six months you need to move on to someone else or do it yourself. Films age fast. Some are even more timely than others.

You need foresight when you write a screenplay or start a production. I started filming health care reform protests in 2009. I didn't know anything about health care reform. All I knew was that a lot of people were gathering in the streets to complain about it. And it was completely ignored by the news media.  If there's one thing I hate it's the news media ignoring people.  I will not be ignored.

Out there I learned through interviews what it was all about. My questions were as much for me as for my audience. I was amazed to find doctors and nurses out in the streets in these protests. They were (and are) besides themselves helplessly watching people suffer and die, for lack of health care, at the hands of insurance companies who make insurance unaffordable, or even deny claims when people do have insurance. The statistics are outrageous. 48,000 Americans die every year for lack of health care. This happens in no other industrialized country where health care is considered a human necessity, like food, water, police, fire protection, or the golden military. America ranks 37th in healthcare performance and 51st in healthcare fairness among other countries of the world. Cuba has a more fair system than America does. So this got me passionate enough to see through the making of a feature documentary over the next four years.

But the film was not marketable (as Maureen Cruise, my exec producer, notes here). You could assume that distributors did not want to promote a film counter to the healthcare industries (insurance, pharmaceuticals, cancer, hospitals, medical devices) that comprise one-sixth of the American economy (with a 30% overhead), despite the fact that 16 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11 are effectively killed by these industry lobbies every year. So when I was offered an all rights deal at a 40/60 back end split, if I would change the title of my film, my answer was no deal. They offered better terms. But I didn't like the company, nor three others as well. Never heard of them. No deal is better than a bad deal. Post that to your wall. So I decided I would stick to self distribution on my website and Amazon. Maybe I'll go up on Vimeo.

The point I'm making is that you can't take the first deal that comes along, nor the second, third, fourth, nor any, if they aren't good deals. However, most first time filmmakers jump at bad deals. It is almost unheard of to pay an indie filmmaker upfront for their hard work (especially without stars). In the indie world there are rare cases of the MG (minimum guarantee), which means a distributor will agree to pay a minimum amount of maybe $20K for example (usually a paltry sum like that), for the acquisition of your film. There are also rare cases of pre-sales, which means the distributor finds foreign territories that agree to pay a certain amount (usually totaling between 20% and the more unlikely 70% of your budget) for the acquisition of your film. I wouldn't mind some pre-sales and MGs if I could get them. Add 30% pre-sales to 30% in tax credits and you have funded 60% of your budget before the start of production. With that, you can likely easily find investors to back the rest of your budget. But you'll have to finance that 60%, because you don't get it all back until well after the film is finished. If your budget is under two to five million, you likely have to have private investors do that financing for you. A bank or bond company will not be interested otherwise. Regardless, you have to add around 10%-20% of the financed amount to your budget for interest, plus maybe 2% for a bond. That's the way to get a film financed. Also with pre-sales and a signed on distributor, assuming they are credible, you have built in distribution to your project before you even start. Then after production you move on to the next project instead of spending a year or two to find distribution deals or to self distribute. Nice work if you can get it.

If you can't get pre-sales or MGs, then you are left with the tax incentives (up to 30%) and the rest has to be from private investors. On a low budget film, that's doable. But without the MGs or pre-sales, you don't have skin in the game from any distributor. So I think it becomes more likely you'll see bad deal offers, which you should refuse, or revise the terms of. Of course, your investors may pressure you to take them, because of the false perception that having any distributor is lucrative. There are all kinds of distributors and all kinds of deals. Odds are you'll see nothing at all from them. It's likely you can do better to self distribute, especially with the advancement of internet digital distribution.

Self distribution can include self-theatrical (as with Tugg), and digital platforms like Fandor and Vimeo. There are others that you really need to have an aggregator for, like YouTube, Distrfy, Hulu, Roku, iTunes (which I think includes Vudu), and others. An aggregator is a digital distributor that does not deal with theatrical or other things that traditional distributors do, such as P&A.  Indie Rights is an aggregator (and production company) that will give you some great information even if you don't sign with them. They'll tell you where you can easily distribute on your own as opposed to where you need an aggregator. Distributors have to market your film, which is why they want a take, right off the top, to recoup their expenses. So you have to decide if their services are really worth you and your investors making nothing for you effort. But a lot of indie filmmakers and their investors are star-struck and will sign any deal they can get. Without MGs, pre-sales, or contracts that stipulate VOD, cable, TV or theatrical, distributors can take you for a ride. They can go to the aggregators and keep 20% plus the 20% they pay the aggregator as an expense, plus their possibly non-existent unaccountable P&A, leaving you with nothing. If you go direct to an aggregator, they take a straight 20%. But I would want to have some transparency in their accounting as well.

All these numbers vary by film and with time. Things change. A film with names may be more marketable and draw more interest. Splits and interest charges change. You have to talk to a working sales agent or aggregator that has the pulse of the industry to find out what your film can do, and you should do that before shooting one frame, and before booking one actor.  [More on this process information on Stacey Parks's FilmSpecific and Adam Cultraro's Million Dollar Blueprint]

When most filmmakers take bad deals from distributors they make it bad for all of us. It is now the norm to get an initial offer from a distributor for a 40/60 split after P&A or even nothing. In other words, it is now standard practice in the industry to take indie films from filmmakers for nothing in return.  The reason this happens is because indie filmmakers agree to these deals. We give away our films for free. Our $3 billion indie film industry makes a 2% profit because of our bad star-struck habits. Two years after you make that deal, you're frustrated with the business, bitching about festivals and how you can't get a deal, or if you get a deal, how you can't make any money, and so you quit and become an accountant or you make reality shows or you make wine. You're killing yourselves. You're killing the industry. You're killing me.

You may say, well that's the way the business is. If I don't take that bad deal, I won't get any deal. Good. No deal is better than a bad deal (Peter Broderick).  If no one takes bad deals, bad deals will cease to exist. If you keep taking bad deals then don't whine and moan about how bad the industry is, or how it's a boys club, or how the studios screw you over. They screw you because you agree to let them. Think before you sign. Research. Vett. Get an attorney. Where will you be in two years? Will you pay back your investors. Will you be able to say you made a profitable film? Will you be able to find funding for the next one? Will you spend two years at film markets selling instead of making movies?

Capitalism works by supply and demand. Wait for a good deal. Starve the supply. Create demand. The market can't sell films without films to sell. We see the markets manipulated. But as a filmmaker, you are part of it. You can agree or not agree to deals. The market is what we collectively make it. Every time a filmmaker makes a bad deal it hurts us all. It is better to make your film on the cheap with no intention of distribution or sales. If you need investors tell them, this will not be distributed. No money will result. At least then you are free to make your movie and it will add to your experience and repertoire. It will gain you some respect, colleagues, and contacts. It will be the making of a movie and not the selling of stuff at the market. What am I missing?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why and How to get a Distribution Deal?

Film Production and Distribution
in one Indie Company
You're an indie filmmaker. You can get by with relatively inexpensive equipment, cast and crew and make movies. I made a short a few years ago for $3K, just for camera, sound, and editing software. Then I used the same stuff to do another one for the cost of feeding the cast and crew, about $500. A few years later I made a feature doc for $3K with some new HD stuff. But you don't need a cast or crew for docs. All you need is a camera, editing software, and great events to attend. However, if you do want a cast and crew, and you don't happen to know film school buddies willing to work for free, you really have to pay them, and you may need locations, props, and so on. So we see budgets more likely starting at $50K to $500K for first time feature director narratives.

If you want your film to be attractive to sales agents and distributors you will likely need some name talent. That will cost you anywhere from $5K to $50K at a minimum for a week of their time, depending on how hard up they are for work. But lately the trend is away from names and towards just really compelling stories. The script has become all important as it should be. With a great script you probably can attract some names anyway, which would add marketing value. Actors will want a killer script before they're willing to work cheaply or for a back end.

This is known as the chicken and egg dance thing that filmmakers do with talent and distributors. If you have a script good enough to attract talent, they (their agents actually) may be interested, but they will likely want to first know that your project is funded. If you had the talent signed on first, you could more easily find investors, or even pre-sales to fund the project, just based on the talent. So you have to be creative. Tell the talent that yes you're funded, which you will be if they are interested after reading the script (but don't tell them all that), assuming your distributor and investors concur. And yet it's not that quite easy.

There are requirements and priorities you have to have in place before talking to talent or distributors.
  • The script has to be compelling. 
  • You have to have a vetted project. You need a professionally done budget and shooting schedule by an experienced UPM (around $2K to $5K). 
  • You need to have a crew lined up (to be paid upon funding). And that crew or production company should have a track record. 
  • You also need to register a company (from $400 and up annually), 
  • and hire an attorney (around $5K) to review contracts and give your project credibility 
  • You need some completed work, short films, or maybe a proof of concept short film or trailer
Whoever looks at your project will want to know that you can actually pull it off (Why should they invest thousands of dollars?). With those things in place you can go to a state film commission to get approved for tax credits, up to 30% or so of your budget. State approval says your project is real to investors and distributors, and you can claim that as a funded part of the budget. Maybe you can get grants or government subsidies, especially outside the US. But the question may remain, is it marketable?

Part of the dance thing is to check with sales agents what talent you have in mind and how marketable they are for your project. If you don't have names, you should have a skilled cast. And this is where things fall apart for me. Because I think that named talent are in demand because of their talent. It's unlikely a cast without names can pull it off as well. But not impossible. Maybe you can find some good actors. You probably need at least a good CD (casting director) to help you do that. And a good CD costs at least $5K, maybe $20K. No, that hot girl you met in college is not that good of an actor.

Here is some in dept information from first hand accounts of this process:
I should credit most of my information to Stacey Parks and Adam Cultraro. Although it's general knowledge as well. Stacey is a former sales agent with a website, Adam is a successful indie producer-director who used the same concepts mentioned above which Stacey discusses and teaches on her website. It's like a grad school in film distribution, considering the huge amount of information she offers. Adam has a series of podcasts on that site (like this one), which are referred to as the Million Dollar Blueprint, where he discusses his own direct experiences doing these things. He was able to sign Tom Sizemore for $5K, I think, since Tom was just out of jail looking for new work (not anymore). Anyway, that is my original source of information and has proven to be solid for others as well. This information also changes from year to year. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of traditional distribution. Digital or self distribution is another thing.  Although, if you go through the traditional route, you'll likely end up with a traditional distribution deal that puts your film out on digital platforms, and if you're lucky and marketable, maybe VOD or cable as well. 

Distributors take around 20% off the gross, and that's after their expenses, which are not necessarily accountable. So you should be sure to include terms in your distribution deals that limit P&A expenses or even better, exclude them completely and let the distributor absorb them.

If the best you can do with traditional distribution is to land digital and DVD sales, it is not worth the trouble. You can do that level of distribution on your own and keep 100% of the gross.  You'd have to do your own marketing. But what kind of marketing will a distributor do for you? It should be way better than what you can do on your own. And I would want a deal to include cable and VOD. You should make sure these things are all in your contract and run it by a trusted attorney. You should assume that you will have to sue to get your share of the gross. In fact, it's common knowledge to assume that any first time filmmaker can expect nothing in terms of money from a distribution deal.

That means the only reason to do it is for exposure and to gain a track record. But will that actually happen? With thousands of digital titles on the market, how will your film be found and noticed. If all you want is to gain experience and recognition, you can do that without traditional distribution and even come out with some profit. The glamor and fame are not likely to happen anyway.

If you have to answer to investors or talent with contract stipulations, you may not have that option. But you should explain to them upfront that direct sales could turn out to be more lucrative than a distribution deal.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Moneyball Concept Applied to Film

There is a great thought provoking article on Slated by Colin Brown. And this is my response to it. 

There's a fatal flaw here.

In terms of financing, what are we looking for in a first time director? We want to make a film for as low a budget as possible with as high a return as possible. That is the financial appeal. But first time directors are unknown. They aren't sitting on the bench with a track record of hits.

You say, pair up with a producer. So where's the analogy with Moneyball? How does that producer evaluate you? Why would they bother? You're unknown with no track record, no stats.

You say it's like dating. Yeah, I get it. I married the girl no one noticed who went to Saturday dances with her grandfather. She didn't date much. A wallflower. I stumbled on her. I didn't seek her out. She was perfect. So much for that analogy.

The find a producer/dating thing is good advice. It's also the traditional model. I'd love to. Fat chance. Something like 40,000 filmmakers are looking for producers annually. There's a stat for you.

Hooking up with a producer is the traditional model. It is not working. Macaulay says do the speed dating thing at festivals. Festivals curate. Oh really? Guess what. Festivals are corrupt. Paid publicity agents get you in them. Some sucky films get in. Some good films don't. Do I need a publicity agent to help me find a producer?

The major fallacy in your analogy with Moneyball is that baseball, like most sports, is a numbers game. You win by racking up points. Statistically though, it's about numeric scores. Not money. It's not about the popularity of the player. And that popularity would be a more accurate analogy with the traditional film business model.

I love the Moneyball premise. But that premise actually is not statistics. The premise is finding the overlooked talent. In film, when you sit on the bench, you are ignored - you don't exist. It's not like you fill out the roster.

The overlooked filmmakers are the guys who made Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch, before they made them. If you came across Oren Peli with his script before he ever made Paranormal Activity, or even after it was completed (with Peli as writer, director, producer, DP, CD, and editor) would you fund his project? Hell no. Film is collaborative. You need talented people in each department - so says the conventional moneyball wisdom. Obviously this is bullshit as proved by Peli.

Blair Witch is a bit different with Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez as writer-director-editors and nothing else. And yet their producers and cast were also unknowns. Names meant nothing. Producer connections - pretty much non-existent.

Thinking in teams? Yeah, they had teams, mostly me, myself, and I, plus a few more unknown but talented enough people they could round up. I pay a DP $300 a day, actors $100, an editor $3K. I have a team. I don't need a team. I need money to buy one.

You may say those films sucked anyway. You wouldn't want to produce them. But they had the one element that is truly important and is missed in all these insightful articles, and that element is a huge captivated audience. They were also dirt cheap with huge returns. Lucrative.

It's not about finding a producer. It's about finding an audience. As Ted Hope says, that is the hardest part. And the value in a producer is recognizing this fact and helping you make it happen. Because without a compelled audience, your film will fail and your producer's track record will be hurt. The connected producer can then affirm that, yes, your film will attract an audience. And the connected producer will want to see that audience element in your project.

Conventional moneyball wisdom says these unknown successes are outliers. These are rare cases. And that is exactly my point. We need to find the rare cases. We need to make the path open for them, or more likely, they need to make themselves known. The problem is that statistics can't be used here. The unknown filmmakers are unknown. They are on no one's list. They are in the vast void beyond even the 11,840 or so who applied to Sundance and didn't get in. And they are ignored or non-existent in producer email in-boxes or at festival speed dating events.

The real task at hand for the filmmaker is to be distinguished as having an audience, or the ability to have one. Crowdfunding could do that. But that is also a special skilled endeavor.

This is not a problem with an obvious solution.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Film Emulation of Music

I have long though that music has so much more going for it than film, in terms of the quality and effect it can have on people. You can sit and get lost in music for hours, like a meditation. While film requires your focused attention, it has a potential to go even further.

Music is a sound and time dimension, but with incredible ranges and dynamics within it. Film includes music as only one of it's dimensions. Additionally film has image, motion, visual time, dialog, visual human emotion and visual and sound effects. There is a vast untapped potential in film if we think in terms of using it to please or effect so many senses at once in the same way that music can with only sound and time.

In this regard, it seems storytelling and three act structure are only one possibility, or one possible element. I think David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Chris Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Terry Gilliam and other filmmakers who venture beyond conventional film structure are exploring these ideas. And this seems to be with writer-directors, indicating a very tight understanding and translation of the written intention to the actual execution. Films that seem like a dream structure (or even a nightmare) are one possible structure.  Mulholland Drive is like this. Inception is more literal and structured but seems to explore the dream concept, almost as an instructional seminar on how to write dream like movies. Films that play with time like 2001, Brazil, 21 Grams, Pulp Fiction or Memento are perhaps other areas of exploration, and closely related to dream structure.

When we think about the past or remember things, we don't play them back in our mind chronologically. We remember one thing and then that triggers another memory, perhaps that occurred before the first one, and that may trigger a thought we have about an expected future, and so on. yet most films are chronological going from A to B to C.  It makes more sense in terms of how we remember things if we wrote stories in B to A to C to B structure as Pulp Fiction seems, or maybe even backwards like Memento, going D to C to B to A. But these are just one area we've explored. There are probably any number of possible ways to go limited only by imagination.

Ted Hope wrote a blog asking for a film metaphor, and I had to respond with my ideas as follows:
I was thinking, a symphony orchestra, but you'd have to include the composer writing the pieces, and the concert hall putting on the show. I think there is much parallel in music, and music has hundreds of years of a head start over film. But have we yet to find our great classical musicians and pieces that will last for centuries, like Beethoven or Mozart (Scorsese and Coppola said films were at only 6% of what they could be, in the interview you shared)? I love some filmmakers we have.  But music is so universal, timeless, and soul touching, especially the classics.

Also the dynamics of music, just looking at the harmony among so many different instruments or even within one piece played on a piano, with the bass track countered by the melody and so on (perhaps similar to a film crew, cast, and post team). I don't think we are near that kind of wonderfully solid organization in films yet that you find in music, even with just the directions on a page of music to inform the players of beats, feelings, dynamics and so on.  And I think this is mostly a task of the writers, just as it was and is with composers.

Possibly screenwriters need to plot out what each position needs to be, similar to how a composer writes a separate sheet of music for each instrument.  At this point I think each film department works out their own approach to what they do, under the director's vision.  But if you look at this in terms of music, it would intricately planed in detail by the writer or director, in script format, maybe shotlist format.  That would seem to leave little creative control for the department artists. Yet in music each musician still interprets the music as written, but with individual skill, talent, and emotion.

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