I’m moving my blog over to wordpress.  The iweb software sucks, especially the blog part of it.  I had to cut and paste all the entries from the other blog over to here, which was a pain in the ass, but it’s done now.  

I’m going to try to update my entire site this week, but right now, I’ll just link it to here.


Enough with the shaky cam

I’ve been sick of the shaky cam for years now, but it just doesn’t seem to get played out.  It’s everywhere.  I hate it.  I hate it in the Bourne movies.  I hate it on TV.  I hate it in indie movies.  It’s all over the place.   It’s so boring.  It means nothing.  It’s not even a style at this point.  It’s supposed to mean that something is real, but it never does.  It just sucks.  

It had it’s place.  The handheld scenes in Dr Strangelove are some of the best scenes in film.  Husbands and Wives, one of the films that started this craze, is one of my favorite films.  But enough already.  Think of something else!  Handheld cameras suck.  Does it really cost that much more to rent a tripod or a dolly?  

Addicted to TV

I’ve been watching a lot of TV shows lately, catching up after years of not watching any at all.  It seems that TV has definitely improved in some ways, although it’s difficult to see how, with the nature of TV production being what it is, there will ever be anything but the most basic cinematic language on television.  But even a little sophistication brings it up to the level of most Hollywood films, so it’s not a total bust.   I just don’t expect visuals to be driving the story anytime soon.

Watching shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and True Blood reminds me of the addictive nature of TV, especially the way that story seems to be doled out in small doses, just enough to make a person crave more.   There’s no time limit in these shows where the story goes into the next episode and beyond.  They can go on and on.  So while we know Peggy gives birth at the end of the first season of Mad Men and are left with the cliffhanger: what will she do?   This subject is hardly brought up in the first episode and, by the time we find out what happened, we’re on to other things.   In TV, it’s always about the first act and the second act.   They never really resolve anything.  It’s all set up.   You’re always wanting more. 

It’s nice that characters are expected to remain the same from season to season, which is more akin to real life than a Hollywood film, where a character is generally expected to follow an “arc” and change somehow at the end.   Occasionally, we get the back story of a character, but this is always a tease.  

I get the impression watching most of these shows, especially back-to-back, is that nobody had a real idea where these shows were going.  So there not a lot of direction forward.  Sure, we knew Peggy was probably pregnant in Season One, but there’s not a lot of that – and that makes something like that special.   TV seems to live in the present tense in a way that films don’t.  Films try to squeeze in past, present and future into their short run and create a memorable experience.  TV exists as you watch it, in the scene, and as soon as you see it, you don’t really want to see it again – you just want more.

Where’s the money going to come from?

When movies are available for free online, as easily pirated as CDs are now, where is the money going to come from to pay for movies?  I haven’t heard or read anyone who has an idea about this, and I read an awful lot about all of this.  There’s only one source that I see that has any real possibility of maintaining a revenue stream: pay TV.  At some point, people might stop paying for cable, but it’s looking like it will last longer than most of the other options.  Right now, all the pay TV companies are trying to build up the material that they put out because it’s the only way to separate themselves from everything else.  Sure, their stuff will eventually be downloaded, but people want to see things right away and this cable TV habit is a hard one to break.   Ad supported TV is on it’s way out, or down.  Movies, as I’ve discussed before, have no room for anything but the most unoriginal crap and they cost too much.  These cable companies need material, and they can pay for it.  They’re not so hot on films right now, but that might change as the low budget filmmakers become happier with the idea of making low budget films that go straight to cable.  It’s just another stigma that filmmakers have to get over.    

I like the idea of DVD’s paying for the films, but with piracy and the marketing costs, it’s difficult.  A film shown on pay TV will generally get about a million viewers.  If you could get that on DVD, or even in a theater, you’d be doing very well.

Pay TV is the future, as far as I can see.  

Dark Films for Dark Times

I started writing in the 80’s and, being the kind of dark kid I was, most of the stuff I wrote was dark, even depressingly dark.  The 80’s was a horrible time for the arts.  At the time, things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse.  Who knew that they were just planting the seeds of the blandness to come.  

I was also a depressed economic time.  Unemployment was high and there was a general feeling that, despite Reagan’s optimism, most people were struggling.  At the time, the advice I would always get from seasoned professionals was: NOBODY WANTS DARK STUFF IN DARK TIMES.  They want escapism.  They want to be distracted from their depressing lives, not reminded of them.  They want comedies and happy endings.  If you look at the majority of the films that came out of the 80’s, that’s what they got.   When the economy turns around, they would say, then you can write your dark stuff.

The economy eventually changed, but by that time, the consolidation of the film business combined with their complete dominance of distribution which combined with a generation of studio heads that had grown up on this theory about dark films.  So by the time the economy improved and unemployment was down, the general feeling among seasoned professionals was, people still didn’t want dark films.  Happy endings made big bucks.  They changed the end of Fatal Attraction, made it happy, and it made tons of money.  Who could argue that this didn’t mean that it also made it a better film?   And this way of thinking became completely dominant in filmmaking, not only in America, but also in places where they tried to emulate Hollywood success, like England.

Now the economy is crashing again.  It looks like we’re going to have many years of high unemployment and everyone is going to be struggling.  It’s safe to assume that no one is going to want dark films again.  

I still like dark films.  I still write dark films.  Even the comedy I write is dark.  I like to watch dark films.  I can’t change my tastes.  But I don’t think I’m alone.  There’s plenty of people who want to watch dark films.  People who say that they just want escapism at the movies, that they just want mindless entertainment, they’re Palin-lovers.  That thinking makes me sick.  They’ve been unwittingly programmed to think that way because of years of being fed only those kinds of films, and being marketed only those kinds of films.  It’s like the kids menus in restaurants.  If your kid only eats chicken fingers, that’s all he’s going to like.  

I love films, and mindless entertainment is such a small fraction of what films can be.  People who make dark films these days seem to have forgotten how, as if actors brooding emotively and trying to win an Oscar makes a good film.  It’s like black and white film.  The art has been used so rarely that the craft has been nearly forgotten.   Dark films don’t have to be depressing.  You don’t leave WAGES OF FEAR feeling sorry for yourself.  Dark films make bucks, too, even if they aren’t big bucks.  They would make more, if the audience was a little more acclimatized to them.  My point is that according to most people, there’s never a good time to make a dark film, so now that the economy is going to shit, don’t listen to people who tell you that in dark times people don’t want dark films.  It’s a bullshit argument.  

Name changes

The last post seems to have disappeared.  It didn’t say anything worth repeating.  

CHANNEL SURFER is now called LIPSTICK AND SABOTAGE, which is a better name, but maybe still not the best name.   

I’m going to put some concept art up in the MAID’S ROOM section, but that might take a day or two to get it sorted.  MAID’S ROOM is almost completely storyboarded, although that would be just a first draft of storyboards.  I like to do a few passes.  I’m not going to put up the storyboards, just some visual ideas.  

I don’t have much to rant about today.  The last film I saw was Dark Knight, which I didn’t like that much.  It was OK, but Spiderman and Hellboy were both better.  The politics of Dark Knight made no sense.  It seemed to me like they were saying that Dick Cheney and David Addington are real-life superheroes because they broke the law when they “needed to”, which is pretty bogus to me.  I’m sick of superhero movies and I’m even sicker of superhero movies that everyone thinks are awesome.   Damn, I ranted.

A Dim Light in Multiplex Darkness?

I was looking for a movie to go and see last week and something strange happened.  There were 8 films playing at the 16 screen theater, but there was also another one which I hadn’t heard of.  It was called DEATH NOTE, and it was only playing one show, at 7:30.  I looked it up on the IMDB and saw it was a Japanese movie, based on an anime, but live action, and most people seemed to like it.   So I went to see it.


It wasn’t playing the next day.  It had only had two shows, Weds. and Thurs, at 7:30, both sold out.  

I went to see IRON MAN, which I had sworn I wasn’t going to see.  It’s incredible that they can keep putting out these bland superhero movies and then marketing them like they have something new in them.  I didn’t want to see Iron Man for the same reasons I won’t see Indiana Jones.  First of all, they suck.  Second of all, I’m tired of being told that I have to see these movies because everyone is going to see them, as if it’s inevitable.  I guess it was inevitable, because I saw IRON MAN.  Anyway, I’m digressing.  This is the Multiplex darkness.

I want to talk about the light.  This Japanese film, with subtitles, that snuck into the theater without any advertising that I could see, and somehow still sold out it’s shows.  How did this thing even get into this theater?   I looked it up a little when I got home.  Here’s what I discovered…

NCM Fathom presents “Death Note” in select theatres nationwide on May 20 and 21. This two-night event features exclusive footage and a behind-the-scenes look at how the characters come to life.

So who is NCM Fathom?

Basically, they seem to be a company that can beam your movie by satellite to mainstream theaters.  They have been doing stuff like live at the Metropolitan Opera, but they are clearly looking to expand what they offer.  

In the future, we are told, that all the studios will be doing this with their films, beaming them to the multiplex to save print costs.   There is a possibility, when the studios do this, of a little more diversity in the multiplex, because if they can keep their P+A costs down, then it’s a little more feasible for them to get smaller movies out there.  I wouldn’t count on it, though, because there’s no way can support their current model without drowning out all the competition.

But right now, there is a tiny little space in the multiplex.  I have no idea how profitable it is.  NCM suggest on their that DVD premieres would be a good choice for this.  I agree.  

Budgets and Costs

So, just to follow up quickly from that last post – I can’t believe it’s been a month, no wonder no one reads this shit – today, there are eight movies playing at the Cinema 16.  Iron Man and Prince Caspian seem to be taking up at least half of those screens, maybe more.  Speed Racer, which no one is seeing, is on two and possibly three screens.  Two of the movies have only one showtime, so these “blockbusters” may be taking even more screens.  I’m just guessing.  

Lately, I’ve been thinking about budgets for films.  The price of making a film is very expensive, and, while I’m sure it doesn’t have to be like that, every time I do a little math, the numbers go up quickly.  So, I’m going to think out loud here for a minute.  I’m not trying to make a film for free, but I don’t see any reason why a decent feature shouldn’t cost around 100,000 dollars.  It’s still a lot of money, but it’s not a million, which is simply unattainable without investors.

Starting with the basics, you could make a film with just your video camera and some friends.  This would probably cost you nothing but a few pizzas.  My little still camera takes better video than my hi-8 camera did (which was about 800 bucks when I bought it six years ago!)   

For this option, you need a script, a director, a DP, a sound person, some actors and a location.  The  script and director are probably the same person, and the DP could be too, but I don’t recommend that.  I’m sure some would argue about needing a sound person, but we’re aiming for something above the quality of home video here.  And then the actors.   And then someone to edit it (maybe the director again), and there are some costs involved there, which I’ll figure on later. 

I would add to this, a small art department.  And then you need some materials for them to work with.  So that’s a little more money, and the location will have a few costs, even if you don’t pay for it.    I would want a gaffer and a grip, with a swing, but now I’m pushing it, especially as renting lights and equipment is going to cost something too.  I’d rather spend it on the art department.

So how much would these people get paid?  They get paid what we can afford, but here’s the deal: we want them for a while.  A three million dollar movie will be lucky to shoot for twenty-two days.  I’m going to try a different structure and aim for a sixty day shoot, or three months, plus two months for prep.  Five months.   Now film people make a lot of money, so the first thing I need to realize is, I’m not going to get the Seven guy to shoot my movie.  I’m not even going to get the guy who shot the three million dollar movie, because they cost too much.  But at 200 dollars a day, that would be about 12,000 for the shoot.  Maybe 15 with a month of prep.  At that rate, if a DP worked every day, he would make about 48,000 a year.  It’s not a lot, but it’s certainly enough for a young DP, starting out, to live on.  

The Production Designer probably gets a little less, but I’m going to just pay everyone about the same, for the sake of speeding this up.  Basically, if everyone is getting about 15,000 for working on the film, including the director, you could probably get away with about 75,000 for salaries.  That’s reasonable, and it ensures everybody is paid and can focus on the work.  

That also leaves about 25,000 to do other things.  Feeding everyone would cost at least 10,000 and maybe more.  Equipment and supplies for the PD would add up, editing and music aren’t even in here, but I think, with this basis, this film could cost between 150,000 and 200,000.  This for a sixty day shoot.  Because, one of the things that costs a lot of money on a film is time, when you spend less money, you can get more time, because, in essence, people are working more for less.

I’m going to think about this a little because maybe I’m missing something, but these numbers look pretty good to me.  Nature documentaries go out with a camera and sound guy, with a director, for months on end, with specialty equipment, and those films do not cost that much.  But they do have a cost.

This is where I think the hole in the myth is.  I guess this is my point: There’s this idea that you need a million dollars to make a film, or you can do it for nothing.  Neither one is true.  But there is a very good spot, somewhere in between 0 and 1,000,000, which needs to be found.  As I’ve said before, the only way people are going to make any money on films is if they bring the price of them down.   

Tons of movies, and none to see

If I want to see a movie today, there’s about six theaters within a reasonable distance, each with a bunch of screens.  The Cinema De Lux, the closest, is a big theater with 16 screens.  There are 15 movies playing there today, which surprises me, because, usually, there are a lot less.  Today, only Horton Hears a Who is playing on two screens.  15 films may seem like a decent selection, but if you look closely, you find entire audiences are just ignored.  Four of the films are kid’s films.  There’s a Tyler Perry movie, which is for African Americans.  Two horror films, The Ruins and Prom Night.  Prom Night is rated PG-13.  I boycott horror films that are PG-13.  If a movie is scary at all, it gets an R.  The others are a sort of hodge podge of poorly reviewed movies that have been dumped into theaters because this is the season to dump your bad movies.   Maybe I’ll go see The Ruins, which, despite being put out late to avoid getting reviewed, has some decent buzz on the internet.  I’m a little skeptical, because it’s about trees that come to life.  

If I go to any of the other six theaters near me, it doesn’t matter.  They all have the same movies.  In fact, across the entire country, outside of a few cities, this is the choice we have.  The quality season has long since gone and all the Oscar movies are on DVD.  There will, essentially, be no more “quality” movies until November, except for the odd film that gets put out as “counter-programming”.  

Fifteen films.  If you’re a kid, there’s always something to see because Hollywood only makes films for kids.  I have more than fifteen films on DVDs still in their plastic.   Another nail in the coffin of Hollywood.