Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Rape Culture?

Is your behavior and public image more important than your work? Much of the draw to a film can be attributed to the persons who made them or the stories behind how they were made, like the DVD extras or the crowdfunding videos. It's important to think about because, for example, if you apply to Sundance I have no doubt they are looking at how well you come off in all those public interviews they do with filmmakers. It's not fair that this should have anything to do with your work. But it does.

Stephanie Palmer has some great advice on giving a five minute pitch. One thing she says that is most important is that you must be able to answer lots of questions about your project. Of course she's talking about pitching to producers or distributors, not the general public. But when you do a film about sex issues, and you get questions about what was it like to do the sex scenes, I can understand how Nymph()manic actor Shia LaBeouf and director Lars Von Trier tend to shy away or even walk out of press conferences. The public can get pretty base.

Distributors look for filmmakers willing to go out and promote their films. So from development to distribution you may need to embrace that. That can mean making public appearances at festivals, and talking to people and reporters. That stuff is not as fun as working. But it seems to be part of what it takes to sell movies. Although there are some who get creative with it and find a way to not actually do all that much promotion while doing it. A great way to do that is to be controversial, like Shia LaBeouf's bagged head,  Joaquin Phoenix's "retirement, "or David Lynch's cow. Not that those are all necessarily publicity stunts.

Getting into personal lives, while sometimes even more of a draw, is a sticky situation. One Tweeter stated that making a comment on Woody Allen these days is like walking into an airplane propeller. It gets out of hand to the point where commenters become a lynch mob. With Allen, for many people, it becomes almost impossible to remain detached. Blue Jasmine is a wonderful script with a wonderful cast. I can't ignore that because of some lynch mob mentality regardless of how justified it might be (as if a lynch mob could be justified).

In response to the latest media circus there is an interesting Daily Beast article by Robert B. Weide,  The Woody Allen Allegations: Not so Fast, the Farrow article on Vanity Fair, Mama Mia , and then there's Aaron Bady in The New Inquiry, Woody Allen's Good Name, that states that perhaps we live in a "rape culture."  Then there's The Wrap with Woody Allen May Not Be Talking, But His PR Offensive Is Heating Up.
Some of the most interesting stuff is in the comments sections of these articles. Many people are taking this media circus very seriously. In Weide's piece alone, there is so much material here, you might consider writing a screenplay based on it.

Weide is an Emmy winning and Oscar nominated director who produced and directed a PBS special, Woody Allen: A Documentary, and also supervised and consulted on the brief clip montage for the recent Golden Globes telecast, when Allen received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement (and while Mia Farrow was happily watching the latest episode of Girls although she also gave permission for Weide to use clips of her in Allen's movie for that award ceremony) (and while Woody, according to Weide, was watching football playoffs or whatever sports thing he's into). He  makes some excellent points, starting with these ten facts, that would seem to negate the entire issue, and write it off as a vengeful ploy by the Farrows to hurt Allen's career. Though Allen appears to be somewhat oblivious and could care less about awards anyway.
  1. Soon-Yi was Woody’s daughter. False.
  2. Soon-Yi was Woody’s step-daughter. False.
  3. Soon-Yi was Woody and Mia’s adopted daughter. False. Soon-Yi was the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and André Previn. Her full name was Soon-Yi Farrow Previn.
  4. Woody and Mia were married. False.
  5. Woody and Mia lived together. False. Woody lived in his apartment on Fifth Ave. Mia and her kids lived on Central Park West. In fact, Woody never once stayed over night at Mia’s apartment in 12 years.
  6. Woody and Mia had a common-law marriage. False. New York State does not recognize common law marriage. Even in states that do, a couple has to cohabitate for a certain number of years.
  7. Soon-Yi viewed Woody as a father figure. False. Soon-Yi saw Woody as her mother’s boyfriend. Her father figure was her adoptive father, André Previn.
  8. Soon-Yi was underage when she and Woody started having relations. False. She was either 19 or 21. (Her year of birth in Korea was undocumented, but believed to be either 1970 or ’72.)
  9. Soon-Yi was borderline retarded. Ha! She’s smart as a whip, has a degree from Columbia University and speaks more languages than you.
  10. Woody was grooming Soon-Yi from an early age to be his child bride. Oh, come on! According to court documents and Mia’s own memoir, until 1990 (when Soon-Yi was 18 or 20), Woody “had little to do with any of the Previn children, (but) had the least to do with Soon-Yi” so Mia encouraged him to spend more time with her. Woody started taking her to basketball games, and the rest is tabloid history. So he hardly “had his eye on her” from the time she was a child.

Aaron Bady is a post-doctoral fellow
at the University of Texas,
teaching African literature.
He writes the blog zunguzungu.
Mr. Bady writes in part:
  ....The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assuming she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story. .... more

There is a wonderful analysis of the whole thing in the more than 200 comments to that post. Here are a few:

Sarah Horrocks says:
....Maybe we should stop having courts of public opinion and stop acting like we’re all lawyers and judges, and start listening to people’s pain rather than spending all of our time mobbing up on matters where we may not have all of the important information.
It is entirely possible to give Dylan Farrow the space to speak, and to listen to what she has to say with empathy, without also forming a lynch mob. We’re not judges, jurors, or executioners. Let’s try just being people, yeah?
Michael Delaney says:
I love the logic: he probably did it though who can be sure etc. What’s next? The Witch Trials. Throw him in the water and if Woody floats he did it and if he drowns .
David says:
I can both believe that what she is saying may (may) not be true and that she is not lying nor being malicious. We’re talking about a childhood memory, and not one that is recent or fresh in the alleged victim’s mind. I absolutely believe that she believes what she wrote happened. And I have no idea if it did.
I really wanted to read this, but I’m sorry to say that I could not finish.
You didn’t provide any context for me to dive into and develop a foundation for your article. Your assumption is that I’ll know what Woody Allen “did,” and that misplaced assumption is bad writing technique/disinterest in developing readership. Obviously I can read between the lines and deduce, but that’s not good enough.

Fatima says:
“The second reason it’s okay if I’m wrong is that I’m probably not wrong.”
Oh. Okay?

Sheesh. This entire column is literally claiming that facts don’t matter, because rape culture. It also ignores the very plausible idea that everyone in this believes what they are saying, and that no one actively lying. What I read is that Dylan’s story (amid a messy divorce) kept changing was one of the reasons this was not brought to trial. Testimony of children as evidence is notoriously unreliable and has lead to wrongful convictions — but, wait, do you even care? From what you write, no.

It’s one thing to be a creep and date a 19 year old, but another to suddenly be a pedophile (you don’t seem to know what the word means or its pathology — look it up). I prefer to live in a society where such a leap at least gets to be questioned (and yes, defended!), without some hectoring column piece telling me that saying “we don’t know” is “silencing” the victim or calling her a liar (it’s worth noting that her open letter has been printed in every major publication).
You are so certain in your entire world-view that looking at evidence is secondary. Nothing is case-by-case since all subscribe to a black-and-white rape culture view of the world, so I guess I can understand why you look down at the entire legal system or evidence in general. Unfortunately it makes for terribly unconvincing columns, undercuts your credibility and is obnoxiously self-serving.
Matt says:
....I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my very tiny leaning toward presuming innocence is not at all due to rape culture or assuming her lying. I have no idea what to think. I know, because I’ve studied the topic, that memories created through suggestion (especially in childhood) are a big problem in these cases, both sexual abuse and in more general cases of trauma. But at the same time, you can’t assume that’s what is happening or happened, because it strips the individual of their agency. Many people have been abused. Many secretly. Many in ways that have no corroborating evidence.
This case was investigated at the time and the investigative team either found that he didn’t do it or that there was no evidence (I can’t tell which based on reports, they’re conflicting). If there was going to be a way to show his guilt, that would have been the time. But they didn't.

Which doesn’t prove he’s innocent. And it doesn’t prove she’s mistaken or that she is lying. It just leaves a massive question mark that I have no idea what to do with. Everyone wants to pick a side but I feel like there is no way to pick one without making judgments about the other side that we can’t reasonably make.

And there is something to be said for the continued victimization of an individual who was assaulted, and then must watch their attacker go without punishment, or even be celebrated. But at the same time, the horror of having one’s legacy destroyed by an untrue accusation, potentially ruining one’s career and the way people look at you as a human being can’t be discounted.
Potentially worsening the pain of an innocent victim, taken advantage of by a figure of authority and celebrated by the world, versus potentially ripping down the life of ANYONE over a nasty dispute created in a bitter divorce, putting the scarlet letter of “child rapist” on their chest, is not a decision any one should every have to make.

But make no mistake, the court of public opinion may not have the power to take away a persons freedom, but it does have the power to destroy the life a person has spent their entire life working for. There IS a responsibility there, because our willingness to damn him matters a great deal for an individual who spends their life on the public stag.

I don’t know what happened back then, and I don’t think most people ever will. Passing judgment on either side is a game of assumptions, and a game I’m personally unwilling to play, given the stakes. But if I say that he deserves no awards, should be marked in any way other than “accused,” that is a judgment. She may struggle with his face in the news receiving praise, but at the very least that does not necessitate judgment of her. It is a judgment of the deficiencies in our ability to punish the wicked and protect the innocent.
That is my view and thought process, though I know many have one that is less nuanced and more influenced by rape culture. I just want to make it known that that’s not the only way to arrive at this conclusion.

Bob Westal says:
Actually, it’s not THAT okay to assume Woody Allen is a child molester (far from proven) as well as something of a gigantic creep when it comes to his personal life. (Pretty much proven.) if the writer is wrong because there is also a third possibility which this writer fails to entertain.

It’s entirely possible — indeed, it’s probably the most likely scenario — that every single person involved in this case (Woody, Mia, Dylan, etc.) is telling the exact truth as they know it to be. This writer lacks either the knowledge or the imagination to realize just how slippery a thing reality really can be.

If this all seems too weird, just try reading about the McMartin Pre-school, watching “Rashomon” or reading “A Passage to India.” It is not rape culture to suggest that memories of sexual crimes can’t be induced, it’s just reality that we all need to live with.
Also, since we’re talking about rape culture, what are we to make of Mia’s continued defense of Roman Polanski, who very definitely did drug and molest a 14 year old girl?
Andy says:
 So because this (violence against women) happens, he’s probably guilty, because, like statistics, and stuff – the establishment of mens rea, actus reas, and attendant circumstances be damned, according to this writer. Yes, men are more likely to commit these crimes, but statistical likelihood doesn’t provide us the evidence that HE did THIS crime. Statistical likelihood is NOT evidence, no matter how you spin it.
I say, perhaps we live in an anarchy of media profit driven consent. We no longer need any government. Occupy had it right. Aaron Bady concurs. Our troops die in vain for nothing. If there ever was a rape culture it is the US military. Our country reveres the military for what they do and who they are. If you have a problem with a rape culture, you have a problem with the US. To try someone in the media is anarchy in the worst possible sense of witch hunts, gang violence, or lynch mobs.

Rape culture? I can’t imagine a more biased phrase. Have you read Manufacturing Consent, Mr. Bady? Your terminology manufactures consent that Allen is guilty, regardless of any facts, history, or anything. Just right here in your post you convict him with two words. Genius. You could have had a great career with Hitler or G.W. Bush. Or did you Mr. Texan? Oh gee did I make an unfair assumption there?

There is a huge fallacy in your logic. You allow no gray areas. For you it’s either black or white, even though you admit you can’t possibly know for sure, nor can anyone.

What does it matter? Why must we decide what happened, who is guilty, or who is innocent? We are not a court of law. The justice system is obviously flawed. But it is all we have. Without it we are a lynch mob. Do you have a white pointy hat?

If Farrow has a case she can write a book, make a film, get rich, show Woody as she wants show him to the world. Ruin his career. Oh wait. She already has. Incarceration is barbarous and not necessarily the worst punishment.

Does she have an agent? Are the film rights available?

Exclusive: Mia Farrow and Eight of Her Children Speak Out on Their Lives, Frank Sinatra, and the Scandals They’ve Endured

Exclusive: Mia Farrow and Eight of Her Children
Speak Out on Their Lives, Frank Sinatra,
and the Scandals They’ve Endured

By convicting Woody Allen in the court of public lynch mob opinion, we say our troops fight and die in vain for a way of life not worth fighting for. This is the epitome of being un-American. Not that it’s a bad thing. But do you who hunt witches admit to that? Because that’s what and who you are. You’re anarchists. You believe in handling things outside of government, and unlike Occupy, with no law and no rule to refer to. You are above the law. In your world due process is ignored and media profit driven emotion rules our lives. If your ideals prevail, we are no longer civilized. Not that we are civilized anyway, considering the pandering media circus every other month.

I don’t say he is innocent, she is innocent, he is guilty or she is guilty. I don’t know. I don’t care. Not that I don’t care about rape. I do. But I don’t care about things I can never know. It is an exercise in futility. Would I care if it were my daughter. Yes. So what? My daughter is not part of this. This is someone else’s daughter. It’s up to her and her family and friends to take care of her. Not me, and especially not many times removed through the consent manufactured media.

Mr. Bady's problem is not with Woody Allen. It’s not with any Farrow. It’s not even with the media or people who side one way or another. Though maybe it's the fact that he can't comprehend there may be infinite sides. There are as many sides to this story as there are people's ways to tell it.

You never met them have you? You never sat down with either one and looked into their eyes to see if you felt they were lying or not.And just as it is not in our place to go into people homes and lives and cross examine what goes on there. neither is it our place to pass judgement on Allen, Farrow or anyone involved here, except possibly our government.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

There is no Roger Corman

Money: The Root of the Problem

We tend to think of making art as picking up a tool and just doing it, which is an ideal. That can work in painting or writing. But film is a whole different thing. or is it? You can pick up a camera and start shooting. The problem there is that the complexity of film will bring you to a point where you find out you aren't prepared. Perhaps you get into editing and find the lighting isn't working or an actor doesn't fit. So the next time you take more care with casting and getting a good DP and a good grip. That's basically the process of leaning to make films.

David Lynch
However, even highly experienced and seasoned directors and producers complain about the distribution end of things. They can't earn enough money with their films to move on to the next one. Directors like Lynch, Spielberg, Soderberg or Coppola have made statements to this effect. If they can't do it, what are your chances? We're missing an element from the start that we can never get right, and that is knowing what is required to make the film sell.

Roger Corman
It's too bad we just can't all collaborate with professional courtesy on each others films instead of paying each others rates. That's what we did in film school. Some of us carry that over into the business world. In the heyday of Coppola coming out of UCLA joined by Lucas and film school colleagues at USC, those guys had it down. Although Roger Corman was around to give them salaries. Since then a lot of film school grads try to emulate that model. But like a bad marriage, you find out your former classmates aren't right for you. And then there's the fact that we can't really get by in this world without money. To fund a film before you pick up that paint brush, you need a lot of money.

Even huge studios with business and marketing expertise cannot be assured of seeing a film production break even. But we all know all this. We know that no one knows anything. And so we make wine on the side or cut an ear off or die penniless.

The Solution

What we need to do is get the money worked out before we pick up the paint brush. That means we have to make art that will sell. The key to this is the word "art" not the word "sell." The art has to have a mass appeal. We will sell it for only a $2 to $8 rental or maybe a $5 to $25 purchase. We have to sell a huge volume to make out. We can't just make a movie that appeals to ourselves or even a circle of 10,000 like minded people. We need to appeal to half a million or more.

Alternatively we could sell at higher prices. Assuming an audience of 10,000 people will buy our film, we need to sell copies at $100 each to cover a $1 million budget. $50 for a $500K budget and so on. At $5 each we can cover a $50K budget. But only if 10,000 spend $5 each to see our film. And at that budget we get paid nothing. What does it cost a cast and crew to live? Maybe $20K each at the poverty level. You get it.

Obviously we need that half a million people to want to buy our movie. Though government subsidies or grants could work too, except there are 500,000 filmmakers in the world. We'd have to end war to do that.

The number one reason why you can't make a living at this in this world is because you don't make movies that attract a half million people. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because attracting them is a whole science in itself, which is why we need distributors to market films.

Distribution and Marketing

Sex sells: Marketing image of Sharon Stone in
Joe Eszterhas' Basic Instinct
You may not need to know how to attract a half million people if you can figure out how to attract the right distributors and investors. But they will think they know how to attract the half million and they will look for elements in your film that do that. There are a lot of distributors and investors with varying ideas on what will sell. There are a lot who will sign a deal and you'll never see a penny. You need a film that will make them agree to your terms that give you enough money to cover your costs, and in advance of going into production.

You can go with conventional wisdom with the right marketable script, probably about a contract killer, or a serial rapist, and with a name cast. Or maybe you could prove that people want to see your film by signing them up with your own marketing campaign, like crowdfunding or social networks. If you have an email list of half a million people who are engaged in your project, and if you can prove that to a distributor, you can probably sign the right deal to get your film funded. 

The sellout

Does that mean you have to compromise your art? Maybe. But isn't it more of an artistic challenge to attract an audience? Wouldn't that prove to people and yourself that you are talented on many levels? Isn't that the key to sustaining a career as a film artist?

All those other technical details about how to go about producing, funding, distribution deals, budgeting, collaboration and so on, are important. But the audience is the top priority. Even without distributors you can sell directly if you have an audience. You need to be in a place where distributors need your film more than you need them. If you're not there you have to keep making films to learn how to get there. Try and try again. It's not the seventies. You aren't Coppola. There is no Roger Corman.

Indie movies that sell have these elements. Scorsese,  Coppola. Lynch and the Coens make indie films that sell along with some that don't. They are in a place where I'd want to be as an indie filmmaker.  

But there's always yet another Sundance movie made for a fortune that no one will buy and no one wants to see except the guys that made it and their small following. Those indie films make money for festivals, equipment manufacturers, and even the cast and crew. $3 billion is spent annually on by filmmakers who rarely ever make a sustainable career of it.  The trick is to make movies that make the filmmaker a living, not everyone else.

A Tastes Funny Original Trailer
Written by: Molly Fite, Susan Mandel, John Ott, Autumn Proemm & Chris Punsalan
Directed by: Chris Punsalan
Photographed by: Chris Punsalan & Stephen Mader
Starring: Molly Fite, Dan Banas, Todd McClintock, Samantha McLoughlin & Lucy McLoughlin.

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