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.