Monday, May 11, 2015

Nothing Lasts Forever: Observations in the age of franchise tentpole productions

So a brief review in what larger patterns have guided the film industry to date:
- The creatively produced fully studio-owned productions
- The star system
- The blockbuster
- The auteur
- The spec script
- The franchise film

I am not a historian. It isn't my goal to pretend to be one.  The reason why I summarize this observation is because the franchise film soaks up hundreds of millions of dollars, pays off in the billions and has replaced the emphasis and importance on actors, writers, and directors.  Semi-competent visionaries surrounded by 30-40 year veteran technicians and craftsmen and aimed at well known faces can come together and do spectacular things that seem a lot like magic to us and why? Because the franchise they are currently working with has already done so much. 

Every pattern focus prior to this has had its peak and its wane, even while providing similar benefit (the stars were the franchise, the high production value genre films became franchises, the master filmmakers with the original visions had the franchise and then the spec script became a brief focus to pull the money away from everywhere else that had gotten too expensive - that was until the spec script was replaced by the spec adaptation and that boiled down to licensing pre-existing popularity and then figuring out what to do with it once the studios owned it).

So my questions are a) when does the franchise tap out and b) what's going to replace it so I know where to stand?

... and c) what about the franchise aspect that is shared with everything that's come before can be harnessed to a smaller degree while eliminating the faults of corporate conservative interests (what we'll say is responsible for the bets on entertainment over craft and white male leads over diversity)?

The criticisms provided above in the linked articles amount to an observation on race and a craft weakness in the shared universe methodology. If a pre-existing universe is explored it will only hold up as well as the writing holds up under scrutiny. If that writing was born in a generation where women were anecdotal and non-white protagonists were nearly absent then how can modern adaptations really hold fault?

If I want to sell something bold, cinematically-worthy, with commercial potential if not commercial allusions and save myself the emotional sacrifices of an auteur or the time it takes to write a spec script while suffering in doubt . . . well all that seems impossible actually. Suffering and sacrifice are a part of the job but a small compensation would be to know I'm pointed in the right direction.

What evolves from the death of the franchise film? Every period on the list was born in the age of its predecessor usually in attempt to divest power from the source so the studio could recoup more in profit. Early on in the period acquisition is everything and talent makes a lot of money.  But where else can you go from the franchise when the other creative areas have been exhausted?

In an odd way the film industry has evolved in a spiral. The earliest blockbusters (perhaps not wide releases) like Gone with Wind were successful adaptations of books with a large consumer base.  The stars they elevated became the commodity once the classics started to run thin.  We know the auteurs came during a time when a younger voice was needed because cinema had seen a decline and the old formulas stopped working (it's likely war was responsible for the lapse in adaptability).  New directors, new stories, new actors meant less studio control but more breakout success.  The newness, if not tied to an obsolete star system means it's all about the script and the director who can pull it off except that gives the director too much power.  You want a name so the financiers and the foreign sales can get attached and so the star system comes back but with their agents fighting for so much money the film might as well cost over $100 million to make which should require just as much in advertising to force it down the people's throat.  Original blockbusters or those based on old concepts like 'THE LONE RANGER' take a lot of work to sell to a rapidly evolving audience.  The comics become the new source of classics but we're finding diversity in talent is an issue and the comic universes are so twisted due to varied literary licensing issues that a prolonged franchise is likely to fall over itself and be maintained by sheer conviction alone (money spent, big stars, big explosions, big muscles). But once critique grows future movie-goers will become more discerning about the shared universe experiment and then . . . are there inevitabilities?

Marvel and DC will boot up more characters that are less known or reboot the first wave all over again to diminishing returns.  They will find new actors to pay them less, new directors to pay them less and more money will be put into expensive CG or effects based movies, but as the TVs and projectors get bigger at home the need for IMAX will decline.  My hope is that then moderation will take over and all aspects will be balanced as more opportunity is created but greed doesn't work like that.

Perhaps there is no new focus.  We've explored it all.  It's for the structure to change...

The blockbuster will turn moreso into an event-based niche product leaning heavily on foreign distribution. This is good money. These sure-wins will only go to the connected. The real movie business, where problems are still being solved in service of art, will exist in the independent market and its nimble distribution.  There are no rules here, no standards. It's full out competition here. Every film will have to exist on an island in terms of expectation, challenge and outcome. Any system that claims prediction will be false because success or failure will simply be a matter of whether or not the filmmaker and his co-creators can tempt an audience to become theirs.  With such low levels of entry to production, there are content creators everywhere.  The new skill to learn is leadership and community building.  I really do believe that the age of serendipity, of the lottery, of walking on the right set or bumping into the right exec, is over.  For serious creators it's about the craft, the audience and the belonging.  Its a terrifying prospect for many.  You can't be a passive creator.  You have to project a vision and you have to believe you are worthy especially if you're not born into it.  That's tough. But in a way it's good to perceive it. Passion isn't just a thing that's a privilege to have when money ruled  the decision making.  Now it's gotta be what gets you by and there has to be enough of it to intoxicate everyone around you.

Here are a couple more articles that add food for thought:
In the first article there's an important discussion about the fear inherent in presenting one's work in a public medium. In the second there's an inside look as to how new producers with the means to execute and compete are finding their way and how new talent might peek their interest. The last article is a case-study on how the IndieWire platform is used to build a campaign behind an issue-based project.

The tools are out there and the time to capitalize on all the heads shifting away from the smut in the theaters is now.  There's not much for indie-filmmakers to do except tell honest stories.  Leave the spectacle to hollywood. Our path has never been closer to us then the here and now where we can get our hands dirty. HOWEVER, this doesn't mean to be reckless.  After all this blog has a lot to do with the pursuit toward sustainability.  I just don't foresee a new boom of chance opportunity.  I think a lot of the ignorance that allowed for that has been worked out.

- C

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Could Networking Be A Battlefront of Ideologies?

For Fun
Fast Company Daily is just a cool site. I feel like it's just a bunch of ideas that don't really lead anywhere but if you're the type of person that likes thinking and discussing for the subtle effects insight have on practice then their writers do a good job of bringing together a string of topics worth investigating even if 80% of their articles begin with "HOW TO."  

That part's actually annoying. I mean the titles do the job but you can tell they came out of a copy-writer's manual for people with no imagination and fear written into their contract. Whatever, it's not important.

What is important is to gather up the conceptual nugget provided by the first two articles. Primarily these are you have to consciously project yourself and then project yourself into an advantageous position. It really is a time of conscious manifestation. No more leaving it up to god, luck, karma. Build the karma, create the luck and divinely insert your better judgement into your actions.  

Why I like these articles is because they both require we do the thing that is the most uncomfortable thing for people that need this kind of advice - break out of our comfort zone. Anyone of us will admit these points make sense and that other should do it. At the moment of reading the article, they all seem like familiar actions streamlined for efficiency. But I also think a lot of people are like me and can't remember the last time we went out of our way to network strategically. My excuse is I hate not being able to afford my own drink. I have no money and I'm looking for a job so there. But when I've had money I do recall hesitating to involve myself at social occasions and it's because many of the things I accept logically I have yet to pursue instinctively due to certain inherent biases and fears. So I look at articles like these with more interest now because if the strategies are so simple then why exactly is it that they don't come naturally? What gets in the way and why should we push through these obstructions? That brings me to the 3rd article.

We exist in a world where you win if you're like Francis Underwood. You take initiative, push buttons, and anticipate the reactions to your benefit. Everyone dances to your tune because no one else knows how to play the music. SPOILER ALERT: the only time Francis seems to have been undone is by the nature of the object of his desire - ultimate power as presented by the office of president is only granted in return for ultimate service. Francis operates phenomenally when he and all his rivals are looking up. But at the top everyone is looking at him and he actually has to do the Lord's work, his duty or whatever you want to call it.

If good people don't understand social science and don't learn to forgive themselves enough to put their energy out into the world, it will remain in the hands of bullies, A.K.A. psychopaths.  I'm not just talking about artistically, but in business and education too. This sounds like a familiar quote about what happens if good people do nothing and it's true. Why does it always seem that the progressive side is fought by the underdogs when the conservatives largely appear to be uneducated bigots? Is it that folks are so educated they've become cynical and have put themselves above lending that education to those who they are meant to support with it? How distracted we've all become, even from each other...

Much of what we experience in our lives is created by choices made by people willing to follow them through. That will is developed by a certain criteria that favors the individual above all else.  For those of us who abhor that personality, we relish the quiet and relative peace of mind that powerlessness affords. But then it's only our fault when the eventual consequences affect us and those we love.

Star Wars continues to affect me as an adult because of how it teases out this equation over and over again for generation and across multiple platforms. The Jedi are doomed to their struggle because their nature is selflessness. The Sith are doomed to only brief spurts of power because the corruption necessary to achieve power is the same corruption that breaks it. Neither side can truly create imbalance because either nature at its zenith is the downfall.  

To learn from this we have to abandon notions of polarity. We have to embrace our ultimate desires and their place in a larger world. The future is equality, sustainability and end to war and stupidity. It must be inevitable as long as people die and new people are allowed enough opportunity to see the truth of human culture.

The people who neglect their children or teach their children hate alone should be decapitated. It's draconic but I still believe folks should be required a license to procreate or have their newborns forfeited to the government - and I'm not saying you can trust the government any better but at least that's a system that will be influenced by some kind of principal, philosophy and infrastructure in theory. To unprepared, uninterested or uneducated parents, a child is just as likely another Hitler as he is a nobody. And yes many orphans have risen to become respectable, sometimes affluent and often worthy people in our society. But I'd bet millions more are starving, criminals, or perpetuating the mistakes of their parents. The sum totality of this consequence embitters the world and creates an unsafe place that encourages us to keep silent, remain unseen and satisfied with whatever positions we've been allowed.

I digress. Networking and branding yourself means you have to believe the ugly truth that you are important. Get over it. Find your style, your voice and your kin. Bring them together and bind them in a purpose and allow them to bind you in one as well. This generation must find it's own way. The economy is a hindrance and only the bullies make it because regardless of the motives, they act as if they're worth it more than we are.  Complaining in our homes and to our friends doesn't count.  

There was a moment in the networking article where the author explains we're not their to ask for anything even though we all know we want something. I instinctively took offense because the idea of hundreds of people trying to listen to each other for selfish reasons seemed like a complete circle-jerk. In fact a circle-jerk would be more honest.

But then I realized that the process is less important than the merit when the alternative is letting less discerning people who don't dispute the nature of these events succeed. The bullies, the haters, the greedy - they all hold to their own creed and win because good people let them and are afraid and unaware of how to engage the paths of success - myself included.

Let us become more actively self-aware and less afraid. Let's use the simple tools and become memorable. We have so much more to offer. Plus there's a lot of douche-bags waiting for you to convince yourself you're not worth it. They don't need any favors.

- Carlos

Break Update

I needed time to feel things out.

I don't have the energy to go into how things fell apart at school. I tried and while I accomplished certain tasks I didn't realize the impact I'd intended. There were issues I should have handled better.  I should have been more proactive.  I should have foreseen the drama, the escalating bullshit, the lure of money and the fickle nature of followers on a team owned by an ambiguous third party without clear incentives and penalties. It was a gamble and it fell apart exactly as it should have. Ultimate conclusions don't take rocket science to foresee. The conditions of success don't either.  I'm focusing now on bringing the plan forward into its next phase. 

I've long talked about building a non-profit. I've long talked about a variety of content initiatives that I've wanted to pursue and I've long talked about being my own boss.

Now I've graduated and so now is the time. But it's not like I'm going to pop out of a cake ready to go.

I've setup a personal website and begun the steady work of populating it. I've been considering how to moderate my social media initiatives alongside personal projects which include writing and film. I've signed on to help promote and fund-raise a friend's thesis film (a job for which I'm really excited about and intensively nervous about as well) and I've started streaming video games on Twitch because of it's a fun way to vent steam and develop long term revenue.

But none of these are jobs and that itch still needs scratching . . . badly.

I'm going to get back into posting here as well as on the blog for The Brooklyn Apprentice Union for Storytellers and my personal blog Chasing Volition. It's crazy to manage three let alone personal writing goals and any that support the new film I'm working on and in the future I believe I'll develop some insight on why diversifying my blogs was probably a big mistake. Right now though I just have far too much to say and too many goals to achieve. I was born to run a company and while the gap between working alone today and leading others tomorrow seems like a giant chasm, I just can't and won't shake it off.

I believe I'm meant to do something big that people will benefit from and remember. It'll be in the arts and it will give people a way back to each other.

- Carlos