Saturday, March 14, 2015

Calling for The Executive Mind in the Lo-to-No Arena

Lots to catch up on and I'm sorry I just won't do all this context justice.  I am definitely saying that if you are new to the craft, embrace the business as soon as you can.  Lean into the challenge of job creation.  Accept the fact that careers are meant to support quality of life and the craft of filmmaking is a disservice to itself when it is engaged in pure acts of martyrdom.  The economy is still struggling and sustainable jobs are especially challenging to find and maintain for people devoted to the arts.  Filmmaking takes all you've got and is not a hobby.  

Here are some great articles:
These articles offer recent information, examples and insight in service to independent film and, for my purposes, start-ups in the lo-to-no budget space.  

There is an impressive message echoing for content creators.  But filtering what that message actually means to each of us is complicated when accessibility and saturation in the market are mingled.

From thought leaders like Ted Hope and Emily Best, and with resounding support from Ethan Hawke, it's clear that the goal for independent filmmakers is to retain the right to passion over adherence to the bottom line.  Freedom to create freely is the ideal beckoning through an age of technological innovation and greater connectivity.  Honoring and serving this goal takes a conscious effort.

A new era of empirically-established best-practices is locking down the standards for what succeeds and what doesn't.  That progress uses all the fundamentals like "show, don't tell" and relies heavily on outreach consistency to establish impact for what you're selling.  Additionally there are varying ways to implement crossover strategies when looking at different online platforms for promotion.  Narrowing this down has a lot to do with how well you know your audience - a science we're all trying to learn.

As for competition, it's my observation (with respect to all the diligent and talented creators contributing today) the content out there largely remains your average mix of mildly surprising to semi-satisfactory work.  Part of this is due to saturation but what stands above others does so for a reason and that smaller group shares traits you should take time to analyze (as an example, reliance on established elements such as a popular video game franchise or named actors from a cancelled but cherished sci-fi show maintains that derivative creations remain highly plausible where as original content can do with a properly prepared campaign to create that credibility).  

There is room for risk, for braver stories and edgier adventures but our community is testing the waters and building its skill-set along the way.  On the other hand, not being 'good enough' is not really an excuse if confidence is your challenge.  Neither is not being prepared when there's literally too much information out there to collect to support your project.  Marketing and distribution must become intrinsic to lo-to-no budget productions.  Create, but not in a bubble.  Make a film but uphold the sensibilities that allow you to make more.

What has yet to be established is sustainability.  I estimate a fully equipped team of independent filmmakers needs to generate millions of dollars worth of contributions and favors to earn median income and support their content.  Prior to that you and the team are surviving off craft services and dodging your land lords.  If you don't contract for subsequent productions then you lose cohesion and that much needed shorthand which can compensate the quality gap when operating with few resources.  The entrepreneurs of the group should prioritize quality through sustainability and scalability.  Protect and support the jobs you create.

What begins with a group of 5, each wearing many hats, must become a battalion for productions to be effectively developed, produced, marketed and distributed at the rate needed to compensate for their cost in labor, equipment, fringes and overhead.  Working for free for a $10,000 short doesn't support a career unless that content is heading toward serialization at $100,00 per episode or more.  If you must take this risk, do so as if the fairy-god investor is never going to come and it's up to you to keep the ship sailing. 

What else can be sold to off-set the team's dependence on narrative if not the obligatory and debilitating employment we're all trying to escape?  There must be more immediate ways to keep the machine going.

To my educated peers, hesitant to test the waters and unable or unwilling to fund more traditional education, now is a time for optimism. The farther ahead you look the less impressive the short term challenges are (like wrapping your head around a solid pitch video for Seed & Spark).  Work harder to stay informed and use the information you find.  Teach each other.  Save your concern for the far more unyielding summit of financial independence.  We have to accept and innovate upon the revelations already becoming common sense rather than go on ignorantly re-inventing the wheel on our own.  I've just seen too many friends and acquaintances "launch" without preparation.  We can all do better for ourselves and one another.

The independent industry is calling upon us to engage in the great experiment toward sustainability in order to better officiate a paradigm shift in how creators survive and content is consumed.  But it can't happen without organization.  It's not that filmmakers should just consider leading audiences into new models of entertainment - I believe it's become our duty.  It's all in flux and our relationship with the people is the only thing that will create stability.  If we don't put the pieces together and test ourselves and our content against it, the entire potential may become subject to higher powers invested in once again narrowing the streams of revenue.  

With so many thought leaders in place, what the movement really needs is organizers and executives turning the information into action plans and fully manifesting a no-budget machine that can grow.

For your next lo-to-no project, recruit a PMD and a progressive Creative Producer and/or entrepreneurial Director, do your research and share your results.

  1. The market is accessible so embrace it
  2. You most likely can't do it alone so build a team for the long haul
  3. None of this is relevant without a story so put your ideas in ink
  4. You must develop a symbiotic relationship with your audience
  5. Thinking further and grander will support your inclusion of systems and best practices to-date
  6. Balance learning, reflection, action and flexibility always

Let's get what we came for,

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Evaluating "obsession" when there are no shortcuts [screenwriting]

Read: Twitter Rant: Jeff Willis on the Reality of Spec Script Sales

I often debate that discipline doesn't exist.  What we're observing when we think we're evaluating discipline is really obsession.  Discipline seems to suggest we can tame our instincts, our emotions, and can achieve focus by force of will.

However, these are all symptoms of a greater truth: the subject has found a greater obsession than all those which have come before and so habits have fallen in line with the new more demanding cause.

Ambition, conquest, or even delusions of grandeur are some of the vehicles for obsession.  But discipline without cause is unprecedented.  Singular cause is what distinguishes character and promotes a standard of achievement.  When that person speaks about dedication and endurance, they aren't always explaining how many other elements of their life they've had to neglect.  Discipline is a euphemism for obsession.  The article above subtly hints at this when the word "volume" is used.

Simply put you can't throw a lot of shit to the wall and expect a better turnout then from the one turd you started out with.  Achieving a prolific status only matters if you're stuff is escalating in quality.  One may assume growth is implied but a writer is also dealing with fear and doubt - thus their nullifier: Obsession.  It is the key.  What other state of being hurdles the worries of the common artist?  Not even greed can thrive without obsession because, after all, money is an intermediary device.  So is writing for that matter.

Replace "can" with "must" and you
understand the sub-directive.
"Can" eases what "must" demands,
a system of definitions opens the
way toward a greater goal
Writing is intermediary.  Money is intermediary.  But obsession breeds a singularity between agent and cause and creates what some perceive as confidence - which we all prize.  Batman is obsessed, for example.  So he becomes the animal, the bat, and an icon of justice by preying upon those who dwell in the dark of Gotham City.  Active protagonists struggle with an internal motivation that isn't always clear at the beginning, but once found becomes justification for momentum throughout the adventure.  The pace may change, but only obsession is interesting.  The common person is passive and seeing the active hero is our therapy and our escape.

I want to to tell stories but for many reasons, including those posed in the article which seem to suggest that a platform for obsession is needed if one is to attempt to compete (food in the fridge, rent paid, etc.) a system is more important.  How can one invest the amount of time needed to achieve a volume of quality work without a ways to be sustained in the mean time.  My conscious mind needs to build a system to support obsession while my subconscious is patiently awaiting the moment it can release itself from economic and societal constraint.  How long must we wait to be who we want to be?  We can certainly brave the attempt at our earliest instinctual prompt but life and the other people we live with seem to teach us that nothing is for free, including freedom.

Life is absurd.  We need to get so good at things that serve others in order to be afforded that opportunity which serves ourselves.  That was never politically established.  We aren't placed in work centers after college for example.  But it has been philosophically recognized; duty.  It takes a great deal of effort to arise as a contributor to society only to be embraced into a position that was only meant to be our effort in trade.  But the economy today presses down on sideline expansions.  Where my obsession cannot be self-sustained, the obstruction to this cycle becomes the new obsession.  Maybe it's a mistake to focus on the challenges that would divert my obsession but when there are mountains in the way, we must learn to climb them.  WE must learn.  They are mountains after all.

To a more structured and accessible independent film industry...

- C

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Underestimation of Appetite


Edward Norton is Fed Up With People Who Think Movies Aren't What They Used to Be
Why Netflix Shelled Out for Cary Fukunaga's 'Beasts of No Nation'
‘Sharknado 3′ Hit By Strike

I've got less than 6 minutes to make a point.  There's a class I've been trying to reach on my film departments schedule to conscript a representative for the film society at Brooklyn College (we're appointing class reps now : o)

It's not often you hear about crews walking off set in what's apparently a successful franchise.

It's not often you hear a star reverse the commentary that films today are shit when it's arguable there's a ton of good stuff out there being made by more than a few good men and women.

And if I could gloss over these points and say that filmmakers have more opportunities and less need to put up with exploitative efforts, adding to it the challenge of legacy distribution models as the internet is further empowered by moves made from Netflix, and content creators to day see a virtual construction of the stage for this incoming generation.

We need to take note that this would only be possible if some people challenged the notion that there was a limit to appetite.  I don't think there is.  I think a new boom is coming.  Those of us that want to break in need to start salivating and pushing forward.  We have to join the rising tide.