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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood Reporter’

In a follow up to Monday’s Blog, seems the battle between the factions within SAG have dimmed the chances of a Strike.  Yeah!  According to Richard Verrier, writing for the Los Angeles Times Business section, Monday’s SAG board meeting to discuss the divisions over the Strike referendum became a “tug-of-war” over Doug Allen’s future with SAG.  Allen was hired by the union as chief negotiator for the new contract.  His role was to bring a new toughness to the negotiations, but it has only caused a growing rift between the membership.  After close to a 30-hour meeting on Monday into Tuesday, a majority of the board failed to oust Allen, but they did succeed in neutralizing him and his principal supporter, SAG President Alan Rosenberg.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, the meeting included allegations of voter fraud and an eight-hour debate on extending the meeting for three hours.  Yikes!  As I stated in my previous Blog, SAG must reconcile their own huge divisions before they authorize a strike.  That’s what they did at the WGA and that is why that Strike had the support, including SAG, of many of us in other positions in the film and television business.  As our concern grows with the deteriorating economic situation of the Country, it comes as a relief to know that there won’t be a work stoppage in our business as well.

On the other hand, in the same section of today’s LA Times, Verrier writes that feature film production in Los Angeles County is at its lowest level since tracking began in 1993.  Now part of the 2008 falloff was due to the Writer’s Strike and concern on the walkout by the actors, but with a 46% drop in the fourth quarter of 2008, we must begin questioning California’s competitiveness in the marketplace.   The film permit company, FilmLA President Paul Audley is quoted as stating, “we should stop talking about runaway production.  It’s ran-away production.”  We’re feeling the effect at Unconventional Media, with more production in prep in New Orleans and in Nashville, then here at the Los Angeles office.  We’ve got to figure a way to bring back the big dollar film productions and high end commercials that generate thousands of jobs and revenue instead of losing them to the incentives offered in Michigan, New York and Louisiana.  According to the article, only Reality TV, with an 8% increase has risen in Los Angeles production this last year.  That’s a bit of reality I’d rather not hear.

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The amazing musical artist, once again known as, Prince has recently been quoted as saying, “the Gatekeepers must change.”  This was in reference to his frustration with the major labels and the creation of his own record label and his three upcoming, yes three, releases.  The man is prolific.  He’s got a new interactive website, www.lotusflow3r.com, that has some of his new music and soon will carry videos and idea blogs.  It really isn’t that different then what any musician can create on a MySpace site.  He and many musicians have found the Internet to be the best home for their personal creative visions.

There was an article a few days ago in the LA Times by Randy Lewis about music Industry A&R guys.  Don Gierson, a music label veteran that teaches A&R classes at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, believes that it is critical now to understand and learn how to anticipate trends and harness new technologies to better serve the artists.  Jeff Blue, another seasoned pro and teacher there is quoted as saying the music industry is “evolving – and devolving-and more and more artists have to be their own record label.”  The article goes on to state that the harsh reality today is that few record companies have the time, money or interest to nurture acts anymore.  As I posted in a recent blog, we all have to be our own distributors.

We’re hearing the same thing in the film and television industry.  A new webisode series, FilmFellas, showcases influential and emerging new filmmakers discussing the challenges of the new independent film scene.  The full screen HD tells the story, it looks fantastic (I’m guessing the RED), a viewing pleasure.  We’re not going to be looking at compressed video much longer on YouTube.

The FilmFella guys and the A&R guys at the Musicians Institute are mentoring us all in how the Internet is changing entertainment.  I try to do this with this blog and the courses I teach at the Maine Media Workshops and with Jeff Seckendorf at One on One Film Training.  As the studios and record labels get bought up by congloms like Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, Viacom and Sony, we’re all discovering that we don’t need them anymore.

Well, okay we still need them financially, but hopefully not for long.  It still seems like the only way to make any money for your Internet projects is through sponsorships and advertising banners.  In these economic times, that money is not readily available.  Look at www.Hulu.com.  It’s television on the Web, with advertising.  It’s a great source for finding a television show or episode we may have missed, but at this point, no one is making any money from the convenience.  Which brings me to the potential SAG strike.  Because of all my actor friends, I promised myself I would stay out of that mess, but as I see traditional production slow down with the talk of another strike, I feel I must speak out.

I’m pro-union, a proud DGA member and certainly believe there are issues that need better resolution in the current contracts.  One of the biggest is how money is to be disseminated to the creative parties when projects are produced for the Internet.  The problem is, at this point in time, the Internet is a creative playground, but few are making any money including the big studios.  I think the WGA and DGA and even AFTRA were wise to table Internet discussions until the next contract meetings.  SAG should do the same.

Now is not the time to strike.  Too many other non-actors in this business will be affected, including Unconventional Media.  Few have recovered economically from the Writer’s strike.  SAG needs to work out their divisions within their own union first.  It’s getting ugly, according to the January 12th, Hollywood Reporter, SAG board member Frances Fisher (Mother in “Titanic“) distributed an email suggesting that SAG members use their upcoming SAG Award ballots to punish nominated actors — including Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell and Sally Field — who have advocated abandoning the strike-authorization vote.  Making it political, not about acting performance – for the SAG Awards.  Come on!  That’s just one example, it’s really become civil war.  Unify first please, before you put everyone out of work.

SAG needs to work with all of the other union members to get through these tough economic times instead of making them tougher.  Don’t sink the ship, Mama!  Go to www.nosagstrike.com for more information or go to the SAG website for SAG’s MembershipFirst side on authorizing the strike.

I agree that the Gatekeepers must change, let’s just be responsible and know what those changes really are going to be first.  As Tina Fey warned on The Golden Globe Awards last night, “there’s this thing called the Internet…”  It’s still in development.  I don’t believe you should set the rules before you know if the actual experiment worked.

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It’s close to Thanksgiving, but I’m not thankful, I’m distracted.  I’m “reworking” the budget for my script “Press>Play” from 3.5 million down to 1 million.  “Press>Play,” is an erotic journey of obsession, a drama about manipulation. Paul Beck is a video vulture, exaggerates news stories, edits images and facts to generate entertainment. Vivian DeBeche is an aspiring actress with little talent, playing out roles from old movies. A modern day couple that communicates, emotional and sexually, using a camera and Internet voyeurism as their tools.  I wrote the first draft in 1990.  At that time it was more science fiction, then slice of life.  Check out the website, PressPlayMovie.com.

When talking about new media and unconventional films, I think this project fits the bill.  So does the producer at Blue Horseshoe Productions, just not at 3.5 million, not in today’s economy, not if you’re making a non-genre independent film.  I’m sure you’ve heard the stories, they’re grim.  Seems every day there is another article in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety about the economy taking it’s toll on making independent films.  In the Sunday, November 23rd issue of the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz writes how as funding gets scarce, filmmakers must become more creative.  Last week at the American Film Market (AFM) everyone looked dazed and disappointed.  Few people were buying.  I guess this talk of how difficult it has become to sell an indie film started with CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax) Mark Gill’s now famous “the sky is falling” speech at the Los Angeles Film FestivalIndiewire still has it posted up on their website.  Basically, Gill lists Paramount folding Paramount Vantage, Warner Brothers closing Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, many other smaller companies laying off employees or closing their doors as just a small sampling of the dying breath of indie film.  The glut of films and high costs of advertising are also destroying the business.  In a world with too many choices, companies can’t risk the marketing money on most movies.  Now, the credit crunch has further squeezed the independent filmmaker.  Many banks have just stopped giving money to films.

So what is someone that has a project like my feature, “Press>Play” to do.  Well, one of the things Gill believes has hurt independent movies is all the other forms of alternative entertainment that exist today, iPods to Xboxes to Tivos to YouTube videos and excellent cable television shows.  Well, isn’t that the Unconventional Media mantra.  If we can’t beat them, let’s join them.  That’s what makes a film like “Press>Play” so perfect for this day and age.  It’s a film that uses these alternatives as part of its story.  We will also use this new media to promote and distribute.  It just won’t be made in Los Angeles because there are no financial incentives like there are in most of the other States.  As I chip away at the budget, I’ve got to make a bunch of compromises, location being one of the first.  It’s depressing, but I want to see the film get made.

In the October 30 issue of indiewire, Anthony Kaufman writes about the cash crunch and the difficulty of raising funds, but some producers are still getting movies made, and new financiers have appeared.  He believes the real problem is in distribution.  There just aren’t as many places to go anymore and the distributors that do still exist are being very careful.  That’s what I was seeing at AFM.  No risk taking.  And why should they, not when it takes a huge publicity and advertising budget, sometimes more then it cost to make the movie, to get seats filled in a theater.  Certainly, the distribution strategy can’t be that your film is going to win at Sundance and then get picked up, because even some of the winners are not playing theatrically anymore.  Independent distributors are even promoting the idea that getting your feature film on the Internet is better for your film then a theatrical run.  Yikes, how can our investors make their money back?

Mark Gill believes “if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.”  Thankfully, Stacy Parks offers some more positive solutions through her terrific organization, Film Specific.  It is her belief that any budget over 5 million needs a name attached and studio backing, so keep the budget low and hire up and coming actors, terrific, future names.  In fact if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be a name by the time your film is completed.  I found it interesting that she warns against shooting DV tape because of the difficulty to sell the film overseas.  An Independent film has such a slim chance of success without global sales, so this is important information.  As indicated in previous posts, I’ve become a huge proponent of the RED camera which I think may change up these odds and still keep the budget low.

Parks also warns against inflated numbers, keep the sales projections realistic.  It is very unlikely that your independent film will make millions, so don’t lie to your investors.  You just want to show that the film will make a profit.  This can be done by finding niche markets on-line and elsewhere.  If you want to do the work, you can also self distribute, which has a much better chance of higher return.  I’ve been experimenting with this idea recently with my short film, Travelin’ Trains.  Searching out the other train websites, fansites, etc and leaving a link to the website for my film.  It seems to be working.  I think Arin Crumley and Susan Buice did this brilliantly with their Slamdance feature film winner, “Four Eyed Monsters.”  They showed the film at festivals, created websites, even edited the film into webisodes for YouTube.  Their experience is really a how-to on self distribution, too bad they didn’t make much money.

So I’m now back to reworking the budget.  It’s a lot of work.  I guess Mark Gill is right, “it’s not enough to have access to the moviemaking process. Talent matters more.”  I’ve had great reactions to the screenplay, many envision a good film.  Now, if I could only get the damn thing made and seen, it will be worth the 18 years I’ve spent developing the project.

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I’m seeing more and more “webisode” television and it reminds me of my days in Los Angeles theater.  It’s up there, not as a staged experience or to even just entertain, but as a showcase.  The creator is actually hoping someone will discover their series and put it on Network television.  It’s content for the wrong medium.

In 2002, when I co-produced the documentary series “Senior Year” with David Zeiger for PBS, I also produced a series at KCET, based on the television show for the web.  At the time, our biggest challenge was how to make the series accessible and easy to view on home computers.  I faced those same problems when I presented my political narrative webseries “Unconventional.”  These days we’re past access and viewing issues, but I still haven’t made a dime from any of my webisodes.

I continue to develop webisodes and related content.  I’ve come to believe these two things:

1) that there is too much good free entertainment on the internet to expect anyone to pay for your webseries unless you’re Joss Whedon.

Sorry, but someone sends me a link, I usually take a few moments to see what they’ve created, but not if I have to pay on my credit card or Paypal.  I even hesitate if I have to enter my email and become a “member.”

2) Unless you don’t care about the costs (and this could be because you’re putting up the webisodes hoping to eventually sell the series to television, you know as a “showcase” of your incredible talent) you’ve got to find an advertising sponsor ( see reason #1).

Now, that’s not always easy, but take some time to figure out the marketing of your work.  In a recent issue of Hollywood Reporter, IAC/InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller talks about the Web as being in just the early stages of its potential as an advertising medium.  He doesn’t see banner advertising having any real success and believes Video ads will be targeted and interrupt programming, as well as playing before and after the content.  I’m seeing this happen more and more.  I don’t know about you, but as a filmmaker I hate a show being interrupted when I watch it on television and I certainly will hate it on the web, especially if it is my show.  However, if that is what it takes to get the money to produce the programming, then I’ll bite my lip and shut up.

So what’s a solution.  Well, after producing the live action elements to the upcoming EA video game “Need for Speed:Undercover,” I’m convinced that it is a waste of money to make webisodes look and feel like short three-four minutes of regular television.  Instead, it needs to be a whole different form of entertainment, a mixture of interactive gaming, virtual worlds, comedy, music, etc.  The viewer needs to say, “wow, I couldn’t have seen that being done any other way.”  You’ve got to want to stay at the web site and explore.  Then the banner ad does work on the site because it is not ignored but becomes part of the experience.  You can even have a commercial, not in the content of the video, but in the interactive content.  This stuff requires a lot of thought and planning, but I’m seeing some great cross-over.  I think it’s evident on the Need for Speed and Which Road to Take sites.

We’re developing some of these ideas (still very much in development) on the PressPlayMovie site, with ChanneledObsession.com as the marketing portion.  On all these sites, things keep changing so the site becomes more interactive and worth a return visit.  You build on that.  It can’t be just a new episode of television, it’s got to be a bigger experience.

I’m very interested in any other thoughts on these ideas.

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