Monday, December 21, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Austin's funniest villain? Find out Dec. 14!




I had a blast doing my comedy debut at Cap City Comedy Club back in November. Now, I'm ready to go back for seconds. Come join me and several dozen of my closest friends on Monday, December 14, at 8 p.m., for a great lineup of some 20 rookies, and a veteran headline act. It's a fun night out. Besides, after all the fiscal doom and gloom this year, who couldn't use a good laugh?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Comcast-NBC deal on the brink

Cable provider Comcast is eyeing NBC-Universal for a price of about $30 billion, according to Bloomberg. In a previous post, I predicted this would happen, since it makes since for cable companies to find ways to add value to customer, beyond just being a series of tubes.

What about you?
What does this mean for filmmakers, actors, writers, and directors? As with vertical integration in any industry, it should stabilize the demand for content, and those artists and skilled tradespeople who provide it... for a while. Let's face it: if you want to create art that takes $40 million of stars and special effects, you need a big studio behind you. Hollywood will continue to consolidate not only structurally, but in terms of content, too: big, comic-book, tent-pole movies will become Hollywood's main (perhaps ONLY) competitive advantage. There will be fewer shows made, probably, and they will likely continue to skew young. So if you're 18 and hungry, you should still plan on moving L.A. to jump start your movie-making career.

Regardless of NBC's short-term fate, the industry still faces larger issues, including a business model that doesn't depend on traditional commercial advertising and DVD sales. The music business highlights the importance of finding new ways to monetize digital content. NBC-Universal is a player; Universal Music Group, which bought BMG, is the largest of the "big 4" major labels.

So if you don't fit the major studio demo, or want to make movies outside that niche, try looking to the indie music industry, which is finding ways to redefine what business they are actually in.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Epic development

Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM have launched a new TV network called EpixHD. It will feature movies that are still in the "pay TV window"; that is, after their theatrical run has finished, but before the DVD release.

What sets the new network apart, though, is that it will bundle an on-demand Internet streaming service, similar to Netflix Streaming or Hulu, allowing users to watch 720p high-def movies from the Epix catalog on demand, rather than be subject to run-of-schedule, like HBO subscribers, who are forced to endure the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm 56 times in a week.

Originally, the company wanted to have cable providers like Time-Warner and Cox bundle the service with existing cable packages, shifting the burden of payment from subscribers to cable providers. Verizon, for one, said no thanks. They will offer EpixHD on their FiOS TV network, but at a $9.99 premium charge. Other cable providers and ISPs are likely to follow suit.

To combat that move, EpixHD is offering a free 30-day pass on their site. No doubt they will use information they get from you to lobby the ISPs and cable providers to bundle the channel, and to spam you with offers. But hey, it'll save you $10 or so!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

iPhone Bluetooth Keyboards?

They're here! Sort of.

Some innovative companies have announced portable Bluetooth keyboards for the iPhone! (Way to be cutting edge, Apple. Palm had this kind of stuff 10 years ago for their PDAs and smart phones. Yeeesh.)

Oh, but wait- they don't actually work yet. Apple has not released drivers for the iPhone, so consumers can't enjoy this very useful technology unless we hack our phone. I wrote about the need for iPhone keyboards, and the available hacks a while back on my Easy Tech Zealot blog.

I suspect the reason is that Apple doesn't want to cannibalize possible "MacTablet" customers. Truth is, most die-hard Macheads that I know would buy both. I think Apple is missing an opportunity to cement the iPhone as the platform of choice for many users, especially with Android phones hot on their heels.

Google's Android is free, with many different suppliers, phone vendors, and price points. It's hard to compete with free, and even harder to compete with Google. Remember Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook, Internet Explorer, and MS-Office? Google has supplanted or is rivaling all of those once-leading products. It will take time, but many phone users will choose "cheap and good enough" over "expensive and elegant." Many already have. So, lighten up, Apple. Give us the BT keyboard, already!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Curtis Wayne Demo Reel

Drawing inspiration from my fellow Texas Film Scene member Tommy Kendrick's excellent short-form demo reel, I decided to re-edit mine. I took a little different approach, since I don't have the pedigree that Tommy brings. Instead of a dozen short scenes, I used just a few scenes (still short, about 90 seconds for the whole reel), but long enough to show different looks and some acting "chops," I hope. Please let me know what you think. I would love some feedback!

NOTE: HD version is available on YouTube.

UPDATE: I have heard and obeyed! Newly-updated reel now includes clip titles, as you guys suggested. To keep it short and focused, I left out other clips from comedy roles and such. Thanks for all the great feedback, folks!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tweeting during auditions



I'm not sure if this is bad form or not.

Daryl Eisenberg of DE Casting in New York, NY, has been using the popular insta-blog service Twitter during her casting sessions, though not during the actual auditions, she claims. As an actor, I feel empathy for the people who feel slighted by her actions, and am maybe a bit icnredulous that she was not doing it during actual auditions, though I give her the benefit of the doubt, since I wasn't there.

However, it's instructive to read what she was actually tweeting. The feedback is honest and blunt, which is what most actors need. I don't think reading the tea leaves of a casting director's musings will make us better actors per se, but it can certainly help identify and eliminate behaviors these CDs feel is "unprofessional" or even just plain old annoying.

Different CDs have different likes and disklikes, and being able to listen in on their thoughts, especially during a live casting session, seems to me like invaluable acting intelligence.

What do you think?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Comcast Century Fox?

Rumors are floating that Comcast is trying to buy a film/TV production studio (perhaps the troubled NBC?). To this, I can only say, "Aha! I knew it!"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Indie Film Fissure Starts its Texas Screening Tour

A shameless plug for my fellow Texas filmmaker Russ Pond.

The Award-Winning, Indie Film Fissure Starts its Texas Screening Tour

Indigenous Film Works and Top Pup Media invite you and your guests to a free preview screening of FISSURE in Dallas on July 21st, Houston on July 22nd and Austin on July 23rd. Showtime is 7:30 PM. Doors open at 6:30pm. The screening is free, so seating is first come, first serve.

Fissure star James Macdonald and producer/director Russ Pond will be attending all three screenings. Please join us for a night of mystery and indie filmmaking.

Details about the screenings can be found here: http://fissure.tv/screenings

You can register for the Facebook events at the following links:

Dallas Screening - Tuesday, July 21: http://bit.ly/fissure-dallas
Houston Screening - Wednesday, July 22: http://bit.ly/fissure-houston
Austin Screening - Thursday, July 23: http://bit.ly/fissure-austin

Synopsis: Detective Paul Grunning is trying to piece together his fractured life. When a routine disturbance at the Ulster House turns into an unexplainable death, all he has worked for will be tested. James McDonald is Grunning, an ailing, addicted cop, haunted by his own bad choices. He investigates the mysterious house, only to find shifting testimonies and perplexing new clues in every room. Sifting through the erratic claims of Emma, the victim’s wife, Rachel, the seductive grad student, and Andrew, a bitterly resentful son, Grunning uncovers motives, but no real answers. Ultimately, Grunning must navigate a fractured reality and his own insecurities to find what's real.

Fissure Trailer: http://www.fissure.tv/fissure-trailer

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

$4.5 million gross profit on indie feature

Yeah, that got my attention, too.

My friend Joe McReynolds hipped me to Lance Weiler's feature film site. I had heard of Lance's Workbook Project, but hadn't put his face to the films. Weiler claims to have made $4.5 million from self-distribution of his first feature, The Last Broadcast. His Workbook Project is wildly popular, and has returned him more money than a book advance he turned down to start it.

DIY DAYS LA - When the Audience Takes Control - panel


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Choose your rut


There is a sign on an muddy dirt road: "Choose your rut carefully. You'll be in it for the next 26 miles."

Mary and I chose Austin, Texas. As ruts go, it's pretty awesome. As major movie projects go, well, we're kind of in a rut.

Other actor friends of mine chose L.A. As big studio movie projects go, it has been, and still is, the place to be. As a place of business, L.A. looks like it's becoming a pretty big rut, according to this op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Casting director and actor Mark Sikes, along with millions of other people, think L.A. is the bee's knees. Mary and I thought it was pretty cool, too, though with all the usual caveats- too expensive, traffic sucks (REALLY sucks, not like Austin traffic sucks), and smog, though it's gotten better. As a young single person, I think it would be great. As an old married couple with kids looking for a house and good schools, not so much. Especially not as a struggling actor. But Sikes is quick to note "[Y]ou'll be here ten years minimum. If that sounds like a prison sentence then you might want to get out now. "

Hey, every place has it's good and bad.

The Texas legislature recently passed historic incentives to lure productions back to Texas. I was in Shreveport for an audition last week, and a fellow actor mentioned that the Louisiana just passed higher incentives to keep productions there. More rut for us? *Sigh...*

One attraction of states like Texas or Louisiana is the absence of city and state income taxes, like the ones that Newcombe's WSJ article rails against. You also get a lot of quality life for your money. Summer is hotter, but we don't have earthquakes. Shreveport is nice, but basically a gambling town. My agent once offered my wife and I the chance to run her New Orleans office years ago, but I'm opposed to drowning in hurricanes. A well-known movie and television star once confided to me: "Hell, yes, I'd prefer to live in Austin. What actor wouldn't? But L.A. is where the work is."

With so much capability in the hands of independent filmmakers, and the old studio model changing under our feet, it is important to look at TQL- the Total Quality of Life package for whichever rut you choose.

For us, Texas, and Austin in particular, is pretty hard to beat. Forbes Magazine agrees, with Texas claiming the top five spots for Best Big Cities for Jobs in 2009. Austin is usually near the top of most such lists, whether it's CNN, Kiplinger, U.S. News and World Report, or acting colleagues. Most actors are unemployed most of the time, so we need other jobs to make ends meet. Those jobs are getting harder to find in L.A., even waitstaff jobs, the actor's bread-and-butter gig!

So when you're considering where to hang out your filmmaker shingle, choose your rut carefully. You'll be in it a long time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Medium budget films too risky for Hollywood economy

In a recent episode of KCRW's The Business, host and Daily Beast writer Kim Masters and two of her journalistic comrades, Jonathan Horn, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, and Stephen Galloway executive editor of the Hollywood Reporter magazine, concurred with my prognosis that mid-level Hollywood films are dying, possibly already dead.

"Movies are more about concept than stars," said Horn. Which explains Transformers, Spider Man, The X-Men, Hangover, and, uh, Transformers 2. High-concept movies are nothing new, but they used to be a tasty desert on the Hollywood studios' menu; now they are the main course.

It looks like they will soon be the only dish that Hollywood serves.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How not to use the internet to find investors for your film or theatre project


Shara Nickell brought my attention (via Angela Lee's Film Austin Yahoo Group) to this excellent article from L.A. entertainment attorney Gordon Firemark, and he graciously allowed me to republish it here. Good stuff. I've been working with L.A.-based producers for over 10 years raising money for films, only modestly successfully. It's complicated and expensive. Before you stake your hopes on "InstantProducer.tv" or similar sites, read this article.

-------------------------------------------------------

How not to use the internet to find investors for your film or theatre project.

By Gordon Firemark | May 13, 2009

In recent weeks, I’ve begun to see more and more independent filmmakers and theatre producers using forums, chat rooms, and other internet-services to seek out investors for their projects. In most cases, these inquiries are couched in plain language: “Seeking investors for independent film” or similar.

Unfortunately for these producers, their use of the internet as a tool in identifying and securing the financing for their projects may actually serve as an impediment to their efforts, making the sometimes improbable chances of raising funds virtually impossible.

Projects financed through the use of funds contributed by investors must comply with myriad laws and regulations governing the manner in which the investment opportunity is communicated and the transaction completed. First among these laws is the 1934 Securities Act, which established the Securities Exchange Commission, and gave that agency authority to regulate the offer and sale of securities.

What is a “security”?

Generally speaking, any sale of an investment in a venture where the investor’s role is “passive”, in that he or she does not share meaningfully in the right to control the day-to-day operations of the venture, and/or does not share the risk of loss with those in control, is likely to be considered a security, subject to the rules and regulations of the SEC.


The Registration Requirement

The general rule is that every offering or sale of securities must be registered with the SEC unless there is an available exemption on which the issuer relies. Registration of securities is a time-consuming and often cost-prohibitive option for low-budget filmmakers and producers of theatrical plays and musicals.

Exemptions from Registration: Advertising not permitted.

Although there are several exemptions from registration available, those that are most commonly available to producers of entertainment arise under SEC Regulation D. Unfortunately, these exemptions are intended for private, limited offerings, rather than offers made to the general public. As such, the regulations prohibit the use of advertising in the offer and sale of the securities.

Internet postings seeking investors ARE advertisements.

Lawyers are in agreement that any communication put on the internet for the purpose of raising money via sales of securities WILL be considered an advertisement, and thus, renders the Regulation D exemptions inapplicable. Therefore, by posting in an internet forum, chat room or social networking site, producers often make things much harder for themselves.

Solutions

So, how can a producer effectively use the internet in her efforts to finance her project?

One possible solution is to work outside the securities realm. By this I don’t mean to skirt the law, but rather to ensure that the offering being made does not involve securities, but instead, an opportunity to become an “active” investor and participant in the production. Typically, this is done by posting or offering prospects the chance to review the business plan for the project, and the chance to join as a partner, co-venturer or founder of an initial incorporation for the purpose of producing the project.

This drastically limits the universe of likely financing partners, since by being “active”, the partner shares in the downside (liability) as well as the possible upside from the profitable project.

Another viable approach (if executed carefully), is to use the internet as a tool for developing and building relationships with people whom you may later approach on a personal, private basis with the investment opportunity. Care should be taken, however, that this relationship building is in fact more than merely window-dressing. The common interests of those involved must go beyond the project being financed. The internet in such situation isn’t involved in making the offer, but merely in networking with like-minded individuals.

Finally, there ARE some internet based organizations that focus on attracting “accredited” investors and building a pool or network of people interested in investing in entertainment projects. By engaging the services of such an organization, (which has a pre-existing relationship with pre-qualified investors), some producers have succeeded in securing financing.

Ultimately, however, the internet should be thought of as simply another medium for communication. It cannot be used in ways that older, more traditional communication methods would be prohibited. Before starting any campaign to raise funding for a film or theatre project, producers should consult with a qualified and experienced entertainment lawyer (like the author), as the pitfalls for noncompliance with securities regulations are onerous.

NOTE: This article addresses U.S. Law only. Securities laws vary from one country to the next, and from state-to-state within the U.S. This article is not a substitute for legal advice obtained from an experienced entertainment attorney you’ve hired to counsel and represent you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Trent Haaga's new DVD out in UK


Moviemaker pal Trent Haaga has just released his very successful Dead Girl on DVD in the UK (PAL players only, sorry). But look for it soon here in the U.S.

Kick ass, Trent!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

24 Hour Film Race Results

Congratulations to the 24HFR Austin winner Bryan Hunt! His film Breathe took first place; our film Sexual Hunger came in second, and also walked away with:
  • Audience Award
  • Best Acting Ensemble
  • Best Original Music Score
  • Best Set Design
  • Best Writing
So, it was a terrific learning experience for our whole, wonderful team. Check out all the entries on the 24HFR page.

We had a lot of fun, and made a great, entertaining little film. Much thanks to Texas Film Scene member Cheryal Loosmore for organizing the Austin leg of the contest.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Texas native is semi-finalist in Netflix contest



Houston native Robbie Pickering is a semi-finalist in the Netflix Find Your Voice competition, which offers a prize package worth $350,000. Robbie asked that fellow Texas filmmakers vote for his trailer Natural Selection.
NOTE: The above movie is NOT Robbie's film. Click the "Visit and Vote" button to get to the semi-finalist page, and look for Natural Selection. Then tell Netflix that their "Share Video" feature randomly sucks.
It would be a great thing for a Texas filmmaker to win. Cruise over to the Netflix site and help a brother out. Check out the other fine trailers, too, from several talented filmmakers around the world.

Good luck, Robbie!

Post-mortem of the AFTRA Contract



John Cygan, a self-described "middle class actor" and SAG member, offers some thoughts on the aftermath of the AFTRA deal.

I personally take all union-versus-producers talk (from both sides) with a grain of salt, but it is an interesting take. At the very least, it confirms that those filmmakers who are making Webisodes probably have the right idea for the future.

Thanks to Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood for the link.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Time to stop reaching for the stars?


We've known that big stars are no longer enough to ensure box office success. Now, apparently, they're no longer enough to even greenlight a movie.

Lisa Wilson, president of international distribution at GK Films remarked recently to Variety: "I've heard of stories about films in the middle of production that have bank notes that still haven't cleared yet." Will Smith can still get a film greenlit sight-unseen, according to Brian O'Shea, executive VP of worldwide distribution at Odd Lot Intl.

So, if stars can't get big films made, what can? Positioning.

Producers, including indie filmmakers like those at the Texas Film Scene, need to start with the idea of what will bring people to the film. That could be an actor, but it could be a great writer, or a unique location (particularly if you are marketing the film locally or regionally), or a fantastic logline. Hollywood types love these so-called "high concept" movies, because they can be more easily marketed.

And books. Hollywood loves, loves, loves movies based on best-sellers, like Twilight, Harry Potter, or James Bond. Why? Because it reduces risk. Or, at least, it appears to reduce risk. If the book sells well, that (hopefully) proves that there is a built-in audience, just waiting for the movie to be released. And Hollywood is all about reducing risk, particularly on mid-range, $30-100 million dollar films.

As discussed here in previous posts, comic book movies and big-budget extravaganzas are almost the sole purview of Tinsel Town. Nobody does a $250 million dollar, effects-laden blockbuster like Hollywood. Come to think of it, nobody else does them at all, period.

But what about micro-budget indies? For them, the costs of production are so low that even C-list stars can generate enough interest and critical praise to achieve profitability. But if you are trying to raise capital for your film, it may be better to invest in a unique story, or other marketable hook, than in a "name" actor, unless that actor can demonstrate a documented following and fan base.

Think hard about what marketing position you will take for your film long before you ever call "action."

Thanks to Joseph Kenny for the heads-up on this article.


Friday, May 15, 2009

"This is a revolution." --McG

Good feature interview with superstar director McG in the May 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine. Listeners of our Texas Film Scene podcast will recall that Dallas filmmakers Blake Calhoun and Mike Maden are now partnering with McG's production company.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
Our dinosaur studio system does not make sense. This is a revolution.
--McG, director of Terminator: Salvation
Words to live by. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orwellian filmmaking

In 1946, George Orwell aptly described the process of feature filmmaking, from writing to producing to directing to acting to shooting to editing and finally, to marketing:
"[It] is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's personality [...] Good prose is like a window pane."
-Why I Write, by George Orwell
Except that Orwell was talking about writing a novel, of course.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No more fat pipes


If you live on either coast (not counting the Third Coast), then you may have noticed Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner "capping" the amount of data traffic you can have on your connection, even if you paid for an unlimited account. This is an attempt to wring the last penny out of a failing business model.

Time Warner's latest attempt to avoid becoming just a "fat pipe" from which users download valued content is to buy NBC Universal from General Electric (GE)- maybe. Time Warner, which owns HBO, TNT, CNN, and TBS, plus film studio Warner Bros., would benefit by having additional content-producing channels like USA, Bravo, Sci-Fi, and CNBC, though it would probably shutter Universal Pictures, currently owned by NBC.

GE has tried for years to drop the multi-billion dollar entertainment anchor from it's roster, but with no luck. Despite some hit shows and movies over the past decade, the company does not fit into GE's corporate focus, and diminishing ad revenues plus movie piracy and dwindling DVD sales have made NBC more risk than reward.

This actually makes some sense to me, just as it made sense for Apple to threaten to become it's own recording label if the the Big 4 did not coporate with it's one-size fits all pricing policy (though recently Apple relaxed it's stance a bit).

Cable, satellite, and phone companies transmit bits, but add very little value, other than bill consolidation, if you have your phone, TV, and Internet service with a single company. They are merely "fat pipes" to the Wild West Web, where consumers can pick and choose content exactly to their liking, and watch or listen to it exactly when and where they want.

Some providers have exclusive agreements with certain sports teams or other channels, but for the most part, they struggle to justify their high prices. But if cable companies buy up studios, which are struggling even more, then not only do they control distribution, but they also directly control content (except for piracy, of course).

That could stave off the creditors for a while, until they can think up a real business model.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MPAA says show biz creates jobs

No surprise, the lobby industry for Hollywood published an "impact report" that says show business is good for the economy.

In fact, it says the average salary for "core production staff" (whatever that means) is almost $75,000, over 20% higher than the national average for other jobs. It also points out all the tax money the industry brings to the coffers of state governments.

I certainly don't think the movie industry is bad for any state's economy, and it definitely helps put food on the table of people who work in that industry. But the numbers in this report appear skewed:

Most people (including most actors) involved in the making of any movie, even $20 million-plus films, make nowhere near $75,000. They are paid a decent, but not exorbitant daily rate. For example, most extras on a film set (who arguably have the worst job on set), are paid around $75 for a 12-14 hour day. In non-union states (like Texas), that might be as low as $50 per day.

The "average" salary is highly inflated, both by the grossly large salaries of a few key stars, and a few key studio executives, while those on the front lines do OK during the three months of a shoot, but then are left wondering when and where their next job will come.

Some argue that this is the reason why we need greater union participation. Others argue that stronger unions will only serve to drive up production costs, and make filmmaking a more risky and less profitable business.

My take is that the MPAA is talking out of both sides of its mouth. When it serves the industry, the MPAA will talk about how much money it loses to piracy, star actor profit participation, union demands, and state taxes. But on the other hand, this report touts how much money the industry makes and generates for it's workers and host states.

Any veteran of the music industry will instantly recognize this sort of rhetoric- the same type of stuff the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) spouts. It serves to remind us that Hollywood is big business, no different than Enron or AIG. And we all know how great those companies were for the economy.

Look, movies are business, period. If you make movies to make money, learn the game. As with most industries stiffled by large oligopolies, it helps to look at what innovators like Blake Calhoun and Mike Maden, Robert Rodriguez, Trent Haaga, and others are doing. Just make your own damn movie.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On taking better photos


Great post on taking better photos from Stu Maschowitz over at Prolost. Read it from the home page RSS feed at Texas Film Scene.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tough times for big stars

Tough times for A-listers.  Scarlett Johansson was recently tapped to replace Emily Blunt as the leading lady in Iron Man 2.  Marvel Studios' initial offer to the young superstar?  A measley $250,000, reports Kim Masters of KCRW's The Business, in her Daily Beast column.

Now, a quater million dollars for an acting gig would cause most of us, even most "working" actors, to wet their pants with glee.  But to an A-lister like Johansson, the offer must have hurt;  at least her pride, not to mention her pocketbook.  After all, Malibu mansions don't come cheap these days!

What does that mean to indie filmmakers?  It means even in elite Hollywood circles, budgets are key.  The more you can do with less, the better off you'll be.  Sounds like a perfect reason to make your own damn movie!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New TFS Podcast - Mike Maden of Pink the Series

Photo courtesy of Pink the Series

My guest today is Dallas-area film writer Mike Maden. Mike is the co-creator of the pheonomenonally successful Web show PINK THE SERIES, which has almost 6 million hits on YouTube, and can also be seen on many other Web sites, including the WB.com. Mike is a Texas writer who has lived and worked in LA, but it was his work with fellow Texan Blake Calhoun on Pink that earned him a deal with L.A.-based production studio Generate, and production deals with Warner Bros. and Hollywood wunderkind McG.

Mike and Blake's company site: www.altfueltv.com. For more information, additional shownotes and links discssed in our podcast, visit the Texas Film Scene site.

NOTE: I wanted to have Mike on during Blake Calhoun's interview, but I wasn't smart enough to make Skype conferencing work with non-Skype numbers.

I really want to pimp what these guys have done, because it's the model of the future for filmmakers: (1) Make the best quality content you can, (2) Post it for free on the Web, (3) Repeat.

Doing just this (which is simple, but not easy), these guys secured a deal with a strong L.A. production company, and production deals with Warner Bros. and one of the hottest talents in the world (McG). Listen, learn, emulate.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nothing new under the sun

Good artists borrow; great artists steal.
-Pablo Picasso (maybe)

This great article called The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagarism in Harper's Magazine explores the question of plagarism in art- any art- and whether it really is such a black and white issue.

Fascinating stuff. Plagarism, thinly cloaked as "research," occurs all the time in both academic and pop-literature. In academia, we call it "standing on the shoulders of giants;" in popular publishing, we call it "stealing." Did black blues musicians rip off negro spirituals and Irish folk music? Did Elvis rip-off black blues musicians? Did the Beatles rip off Elvis? I'm sure you can think of about 1,000 movie equivalents here.

Does any of this matter? You be the judge.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Making money making movies


"Without money, there is no art."

Actually, it depends on how you look at it. There is lots of art that was made for free, or for very little money actually derived from, or earmarked for, the art itself. This is where our infamous day job comes in. But actually making art full-time? Yeah, that takes money. It takes making money from your art. It requires monetizing your art.

Or at least that's been the traditional thinking. Certainly, if you ask big record labels or movie studios who are in the business of selling little plastic discs, they'll tell you it does.

But Chris Anderson speculated, and I believe he's correct, that anything that is digital will be free. In that case, how does an artist survive? He (or she) survives by monetizing something, but not necessarily their art.

This same debate has been raging in the publishing world for a couple of years, and particularly in the newspaper industry. Now, the numbers are finally in, and they do not point to paid content as the way to right Big Newspapers' sinking ship.

Somewhere in here, there are lessons for filmmakers, since, as we know, our content can and will be free, in some cases, by design.

Friday, March 27, 2009

NEW! Texas Film Scene site now open!

I have thrown open the doors, ready or not, to the Texas Film Scene social network.  In 24 hours, almost 30 members have joined, formed two sub-groups within the network, and are adding content and traffic like crazy.

It's free to join, and there are tons of good tools for networking and publicizing your own events and work.  Plus, it will be a great place to meet other filmmakers without all the "noise" of Facebook or MySpace.

Pop over and see what you think!

Monday, March 23, 2009

New TFS podcast with "Pink" filmmaker Blake Calhoun

Dallas-area filmmaker Blake Calhoun is one-half the team behind the incredibly popular Web show Pink:The Series, which has received over 6 million hits in the last 18 months, and two Streamy Awards.  Pink's success helped lead Blake and writer Mike Maden to a contract with Hollywood's United Talent Agency, and production and distribution deals with L.A.-based production company Generate, headed by former WB chief Joran Levin.  

Blake talks about his start in the business, shooting film vs. video, his partnership with Mike Maden, working with Texas talent, DOF adapters for prosumer video cams, making the leap to L.A. work while being rooted in Dallas, and advice for up-and-coming filmmakers.

The pair recently formed a new company called Alternative Fuel, and their newest project is Exposed, a Web series, and possibly a TV show, for WB Network.

SHOW NOTES:
Blake's personal site:

Blake's companies (including Blake and Mike Madden's company Alternative Fuel TV):

Blake's work:

Blake and Mike's new runnin' buddy, McG:

Blake and Mike's reps in L.A.:

Generate, an investment and production company:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Take me to your NEW podcast, Earthling!

Latest Texas Film Scene podcast is up. Interview with Clay Liford, writer/director/producer of the new indie sci-fi film Earthling. Bonus interview with Austin actress Amelia Turner, and Clay's dogs. Lots of fun, this one.

Clay's got two entries in SXSW, so check out the podcast, then check out his films.



Mother of all music mashups



Every once in a while (or in my case, every few minutes) an artist does something that makes me feel both insanely jealous and hopelessly inadequate.

When I were a wee lad, there were these devices called "samplers." They recorded short (usually 1-2 seconds) recordings of sound, which could then be assembled into songs. Beck uses them to death, and Primitive Radio Gods (actually just one guy) made his living, and his one-hit wonder album, from samples.

Samplers came about because rap artists began manually "sampling" bits of songs in their acts, by spinning turntables to replay a short groove over and over, or to add a horn blast, or other riff, at just the right time during their song. Other artists decided this would be cool, too, but they weren't as skilled at turntable manipulation. Besides, that was limiting, and digitally recording the sample allowed more possibilities. You could sample the song, then play it back via a keyboard! Sampling keyboards like the venerable Korg M1 were staples in most of the recording studios I haunted, back in the day.

But now, Kutiman has taken this art to a who-nutter-lellel. Damn.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Boxee


quick intro to boxee from boxee on Vimeo

I have long been searching for an all-in-one media center for my Mac-based home setup. Windows users have some pretty good pre-packaged options with the Windows Media Center Server, but not for Macs.  AppleTV is sorta-kinda a media center, but still not in the way I would like. You are limited to content already on your computer, and stuff available from iTunes or YouTube.   Sorry, but I want it all.

Enter Boxee.  I have not yet installed it, but Boxee appears to allow surfing from your computer OR television to any content available on the Web, and/or on your computer.

The demo above looks impressive.  I'll let you know if it lives up to the hype.




Sunday, March 8, 2009

Best... acceptance... speech... ever.


I just don't know quite what to say about this. Enjoy.


Breaking news



TV news report about The Vern.

;-)



Saturday, March 7, 2009

TFS Listener Q&A - 1


One of our Texas Film Scene podcast listeners wrote in some questions, so I thought I would post the answers here on the blog, in case the answers might help others.

Steve Powers writes:
When discussing sales on Amazon I heard you mention "onsies" and "twosies" (if that spelling is even remotely correct) What is that?
During my discussion with writer/actor/producer Ben Taylor in TFS episode 2, I referenced the success of Amazon's "long tail" sales model. The term long tail is a reference to Chris Anderson's book.

Amazon sells a lot of stuff, but not all of it is best-sellers. In fact, about 20% of Amazon's sales comes from selling very small quantities- one or two items. Retailers like Wal-mart or Target can't do this, because retail space is EXPENSIVE, and the shelf space an item takes up is part of that retail space. So Blockbuster, for example, has to make enough margin, and sell enough quantities of each item for it to pay for it's shelf space, and make a profit for the retailer. It cannot afford to sell one-sies and two-sies. It needs best-sellers.

Amazon does not have to worry about shelf-space. It has invested in it's infrastructure, which is like a filmmaker buying his own camera: what your CPA calls a capital expenditure. Sure, it's expensive, but once purchased, you can spread that cost out (amortize) over several movie projects, for years to come. Amazon then uses that infrastructure to serve as a middleman between makers of stuff and buyers of stuff. They partner with FedEx, UPS, the US Postal Service, and manufacturers to take the order, deliver the order to the manufacturer, and let the manufacture ship direct to the consumer. How do I know this? Because I am an Amazon supplier, too! I have had my music CDs on Amazon (and CDBaby, and iTunes) for years.

What does that mean for you filmmakers, actors, and writers? Good question! Check these blog posts for further discussion.

Steve also writes:
Also I heard Ben mention you wrtiting "Chubic notes" (again, I hove no idea how to spell that) and I've never heard of that before either. Is it a study method or something like that?
Yes, it is a study method (sorta) originated by Ivanna Chubbock, by way of Roy London, by way of Uta Hagen, by way of Stanislavsky, with a detour through cognitive psychology. I studied it with Bentley Mitchum, one of Ivanna's prize pupils, who taught the class in L.A., before moving to Texas.

Students of these methods tend to do a lot script breakdown work in isolation, prior to a scene. The technique emphasizes individual motivations over a group choreography, which is the tradition of the stage, and of several film actors. In other words, actors using this technique don't much care what the other actor plans to do; they have their own motivation, and will adjust their behavior according to their scene partner(s) responses. It's a good technique for film, since the camera is usually trained on just one or two actors at a time, not a whole stage/set with an ensemble of actors.

I have not taken the class, but I understand that Austin actress Katherine Willis and actor Peter Blackwell teach a Roy London-style class here in Austin (Peter studied with Roy). Chubbock's book details her technique.

Steve, thanks very much for the questions, and I hope the answers helped. Please stop by iTunes and leave some feedback on the podcast, if you don't mind.

If anyone else has questions, comments, or suggestions, shoot me an email, and I'll respond. Thanks for listening to the Texas Film Scene podcast! Let me know who you would like interviewed, and leave me feedback or constructive critiques at iTunes.


Angel of Death



Um, can I just say... holy sh*t!

This video (best viewed on Crackle), is off the chain. Following (very damn closely) in the footsteps of Dallas' own Pink the Series, the latest venture by Fort Worth-born Paul Etheredge. Both are a nod to Luc Besson's classic La Femme Nikita. And don't even get me started about Kill Bill.

Low-budget indie Webisode makers, pay attention: the bar has just been raised. Like, to the moon.

Thanks to Blake Calhoun for this item.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Missing podcast

I recorded a great Texas Film Scene interview last night with accomplished Houston actor Davi Jay, but we had to shelve it for now, because the Department of Homeland Security deemed it a threat to our national sovereignty.*  

But rest assured, this excellent interview will be posted at a future date, hopefully as Davi's star is rocketing even higher.  He's a wonderful actor, and had tremendous stories and insight for actors everywhere, particularly those living outside of the Hollywood system.  Look for him soon on a major project.

I'll have another TFS episode recorded and posted next week for your pleasure.  Stay tuned...


*Um, no.  Not really.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The audience is plotting...

This is a great article by A-list screeenwriter Terry Rossio about what it takes to keep viewers engaged.  Rossio should know.  He's penned hits like Pirates of the Carribean, Shrek, Men in Black, National Treasure, and many more.

Rossio contends that the audiences are so sophisticated today that they will see your plot twists and turns coming from a mile away, even at night, without headlights on.  Makes sense.  Audiences today grew up inundated with feature film-watching: on TV, cable, video store rental, on-demand shows, Netflix subscriptions, pirated bit torrents, and of course, movie theaters. Previous generations were limited to the occassional cinema showing, and (in my generation), a few HBO movies, which we got to watch 57 times a week.  And these kids with their vid-ee-yuh games, well, that's just a whole new level of interactive storytelling.

In the past 10-15 years, screenwriters struggled to sell their character-driven stories.  Hollywood execs looking for huge opening weekend numbers, poster-friendly tag lines, and lunch box tie-ins just were not interested in "character studies."  Like, The Graduate.  Or Streetcar Named Desire.  Or Casablanca.  Well, that one had Nazis, so maybe they'd give it a pass.  

What the execs were looking for was so-called "high concept" movies, whose main plot elements could be summarized in a pithy sentence fragment:  

WRITER
 It's Gone with the Wind meets Godzilla.

STUDIO EXEC
Hmm.  I like it.  But could it be Rodan instead of Godzilla?

Actually, high concept does not necessarily mean crap, as Rossio points out.   But what you need these days, he says, is a second major concept in your screenplay that could almost stand on it's own as a script.  If you can put those two ideas in the same script, and make them work believably, you're in business.

The bar has been raised for movie-makers.  No matter how good your acting, direction, editing, or cinematography, if you're audience is two steps ahead of your plot, then you're toast. Boredom kills entertainment.  

So, as  you write your indie opus, just remember:  Your audience is plotting against you. 





Tuesday, March 3, 2009

And the winner is...


Big ups to our buddy Jason Smith, who won First Place (behind the Grand Prize winner)  the Action Hero creation contest at Z-Brush Central.

Here's a note from his girlfriend Tracy

There was only a 2 vote difference between Jason and the Grand prize winner.  Considering this was Jason's first contest submission, and his competitors were some of the best professional 3D CG artists in the world (including artists in the film industry), this is an amazing accomplishment by any standard.  He is one extremely talented dude!

Congrats, Jason!



Saturday, February 28, 2009

Agent Liz Atherton Interview on TFS podcast


The latest episode of my Internet radio show, the Texas Film Scene podcast, is now up on iTunes.

Liz Atherton was a financial analyst and Project Manager for large companies before purchasing a fledgling talent agency in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, 16 years ago. Since then, Liz has built the former Ciao Talents into one of the premier Texas talent agencies. Under the new moniker The Atherton Group, or TAG Talent, the company recently opened offices in Los Angeles, Louisiana, and New Mexico. It appears 10th on a list of IMDB's "power" talent agencies, ranking ahead of much more established players. She is an early member and sponsor of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, which is working to attract feature film and television production to Texas. She is a wife, and proud mother of four wonderful children. 

She's also my agent.  

Download the episode free from iTunes, or check the show notes, and download directly from here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not far behind


The music industry was the first to deal with all the issues around digital disribution, including piracy, file formats, hardware, DRM, and revenues.

Look for more lawsuits like this one to follow in the movie industry.

Thanks to Nacho at teveo.tv for the heads-up.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

Director Jon Keeyes interview on iTunes

My recent interview is now up. You can download it directly, or subscribe in iTunes. Both are free to you. 

From the show notes:
Jon Keeyes left Hollywood so that he could become a filmmaker. His "American Nightmare" is a fixture in the cult horror scene, and in "Living and Dying" (released by HBO), he directed top actors like Edward Furlong, Michael Madsen, Jordana Spiro, Arnold Vosloo, Trent Haaga, and yours truly. Now a staple of independent Texas productions, ranging from $50,000 to $1.2 million, and most recently a new media venture for Warner Brothers, Jon's is a true Cinderella story. 
Enjoy!