Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Guess what's cooler than a lightning bolt?

A lightning bolt striking through a volcanic eruption!!! 

Credit: Martin Rietze, Published on DVICE.com

This is my heart and mind right now.  
Over the past few months, just about too much has happened to recap effectively.  I effectively abandoned the blog, shot two films, hosted a series of events, landed an internship with a marketing company, and made some headway in turning my communities interest toward a brighter future.  In a day or two we'll be commencing with a development group that utilizes our school's resources (available equipment, manpower, audience and screening space) to galvanize a following that becomes the foundation of something resembling a business infrastructure surrounding student film.
Pie-in-the-sky.  I know.  Everyone's got dreams everywhere.  But realizing that just makes the desire to distinguish what we're doing more intense for my part.
Take a gander at these two posts for reference:
The first post is important because, although it's a plug for the WGA, it also references the trending topic in indie film to date: that evident truth that DIY filmmaking and self-distribution has arrived and models toward sustainability are preeminent.  That means real, immediate and intense content wars for audience attention.  Before it was just free art and I think a lot of folks got lucky with their just-happy-to-be-here production mindset.  Now more and more case-studies are proving dollar-one can be returned while avoiding gatekeepers and the studio system altogether and that means the nature of the no-budget business is going to get pretty intense.
When I first read the title of that post, I thought "guilds" was just a euphemism for gang or mafia.  If we go back far enough we know that the Hollywood system and the business with the nickelodeons before that was all leg-breaking business.  Forming a partnership, a team, a community, an army, just isn't a question anymore.  You're not only trying to captivate an audience, you're trying to captivate foot soldiers.  Democratization is going to require factions if anyone is going to achieve any real success.  In NYC there are supposedly 8 million people hopefully so greedy for content we won't feel the pinch for several years.  But it's just as likely that there will be an upper tier of content providers who'll systematically setup shop and earn their link with the mini-majors and boutique films will return to the industry in a way we hadn't anticipated.  It might threaten the self-made hype at that point and become as dangerous a gambit to attempt to rise in as the nightclub business is in Miami. 
Case in point: If you're a leader and you're people are slacking, find new people.  The time is now.
As for the 2nd article: I hate to say it but if you just look at the curriculum for each course, buy Christine's book Shooting to Kill and put 2 & 2 together, you can manufacture the education for yourself (as in all things) without the cost.  I don't mean to bust Stonybrook on this, I just feel that there's a level of maturity and experience required to excel through film programs and compete in the open market. If you have money, you're paying for solutions rather than utilizing your constraints.  If you are working through constraints you're probably too broke to afford a master's program.  Maybe you say "to hell with it" and go anyway, but that's another 1 to 2 years spending on a  production that competes with your day job while not actually getting closer to breaking into the industry (because you're in school).  Making friends is awesome but as far as ROI goes, shit.  The fact is statistics on the job ratio of master's graduates in production is out and how much further is it worth to go into the academic rabbit hole when half the industry is still swearing that film school is a red haring.
Honestly if Christine made this a private competition where we compete for her interest in pulling up a project into her company's slate at Killer films, and we didn't have to pay all that tuition for it but something nominal for her guidance since we're footing the bill on development and preproduction, i'd give it a shot.  But it being an institutional thing confuses the focus.  It won't be about the audience, it won't be right for the filmmaker.  It'll be rushed to accommodate the course and for any sort of ambitious person, likely more expensive than anticipated without the time to court the right outside partnerships needed to deliver something that doesn't potentially break the bank, mind, soul of the creator and still end up worth the effort.  Production, outside of an established community, let alone a production company, is the craziest kind of gamble.
Now this is based on my share of short production experiences and study that shows there's a lag between educational institutions and market demands on business training for entrepreneur filmmakers who don't understand that's what they are.  I'll openly admit that I'm also jealous of the opportunity and wish it were something more indie producers were doing but also at the undergrad level.  I'll admit that there are a ton of positive testimonials and claims that several of the program graduates are working with Killer films now and with affiliates.  However, I would argue that regardless of Stonybrook's claims that it's a financially competitive program, being able to afford that leg up in one's career shouldn't be based on one's wallet.  I'm very interested to see what scholarships programs like these put in place that allow the focus to be shifted onto the filmmaker first (as in grants made available for half the qualifying classroom based on financial need, guaranteed).  
Instead I first feel obligated to have the money in place before applying, and frankly if it's going to be like that, i'd rather apply that mindset and those funds toward my own film-business plan, R&D, short film or pitch.  Read Getting the Money by Jeremy Jusso and The Insider's Guide to Independent Film Distribution by Stacey Parks and you'll understand the picture I'm putting together doesn't leave a lot of room for spending what you don't have to compete against folks who were born with more to make projects that are intended, as a priority, to satisfy an academic institution that has no incentive or expectation to actually tie-in to film industry revenue.  In order for film schools to do right, they have to respect, from the undergrad level, that declaring a production major is a high-stakes financial risk often sought blindly, and then act accordingly to reduce that risk as early as possible.  I won't believe that's happening until it trends in the media that pay structures for tuition are now compensating for average student production costs against median income adjusted for the recession after literal structural reinvention. 

And if I were a serious producer, I imagine that mitigating risk and cultivating talent score higher for me than training desperate folks attracted to good copy-writing only to end up filmmakers with lottery-brain ... unless "add new revenue" were on my laundry list.