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Skirting the Studio System

It seems everyone wants to make a studio-financed film, but for most of us that isn't working out very well. However, if you can manage to make your own movie that stimulates a lot of interest, you actually could end up with studio financing in the future. Everything is changing so fast, it's hard to keep up. I don't know how long the theatrical distribution system has to live, but the writing is on the wall. People are getting tired of paying a king's ransom to see a movie — with surcharges for 3D. We all love the social experience of enjoying a film in a crowd with awesome sound and overpriced popcorn. But it's getting to be a chore.

I love going to the theater. But I do it less and less often because of the cost, and because I'm lazy. My wife and I have to dress up, drive either into town (20 minutes) or drive down the valley (35 minutes) and pay $25 to $30 for our seats and then take out a mortgage to get some popcorn and a drink. Our large 1080p home theater is just so damn convenient and the sound system is so awesome and, best of all, I can watch in my underwear. Netflix streaming, PPV, and downloaded video are enough for us. My DVD player isn't even hooked up and I never did go to Blu-ray. Things are just changing too fast, so I stick with adaptable media. New chanels of entertainment are opening up almost weekly.

With so many talented young artists looking for places to apply their talents, and so few places to do it, new media seems to offer exciting opportunities. The pay may not be great, but it never is in the beginning. We're already starting to see high-quality films being produced more by enthusiasm than hard dollars. I'm hoping some of the entertainment revenue stream will be diverted in that direction. It will give artists more say in what gets produced. So far the studio bean-counters haven't been doing a very good job of creating great entertainment. This movement puts the creative decisions back in the hands of the artists. They'll need business acumen in the people mix, but the smart ones know that and are thinking ahead.

An Encouraging Trend
I see a hot new trend building momentum where young film artists are joining forces with veteran film makers, crowdsourcing and making their own films. As you know, I championed a bad one, Space Command. All the real talent, IMHO, jumped ship when the director went on an ego trip with all the money. Anyway, I've apologized for touting that one. But I'm still impressed with the idea. I'm not touting any more, but I am excited about what's happening.

Peter Hyogochi is an American kid with a dream. Using crowdsourcing, he has managed to pull together financial and talent resources from around the world to create a manga-style VFX series called The New Kind. This beautifully produced and filmed series of short films feels a little like a video illustrated novel. It combines live action with sophisticated visual effects to create a kind of ethereal SF environment where a fascinating story is unfolding. But I'll let Peter tell you all about it himself. Here's a clip where Peter gives you just a taste of how he did it with the help of a global team of enthusiastic artists, some with time on their hands, some not so much.

The first episode is short and sweet, leaving you wanting to know more.

Kickstarter movie projects are actually becoming quite common, with Veronica Mars bringing in a record performance, blowing right past the $2 million goal in just under 10 hours and finishing up at a whopping $3.3 million. The project is based on a YA novel and the ensuing episodic TV show from UPN and CW Television, produced by WB originally. Creator Rob Thomas wrote a feature script after the show was canceled, but WB declined to fund it so Rob and series star Kirsten Bell launched the successful Kickstarter project. Production is due to start this summer.

Another great idea is Quentin Vien's animation project. He's a wonderfully talented young art director, animator whose “DeadMan's Reach” Kickstarter went over its goal and finished two days ago as I type. I found out about him through legendary animation director Peter Lord, who supports Quentin's effort. The animation style is absolutely beautiful.

How to Do It
The key seems to be to first come up with an appealing film concept and get an accomplished (even better a well-known) writer to flesh it out. Get one or more concept artists to bring your idea to life so you can show investors. Then, put together a group of already established film people, preferably some "names." Bring on some workaholic young people who need the experience and have the passion and talent. Get everybody to volunteer just to be a part of it. Then film a 30-second promo piece demonstrating the theme and the quality that can be expected. Next use these assets to raise a budget for production costs. Pay for individuals seems at the moment to be minimal, coming mostly in credits. But that will change.

One absolute key is that you remember this is usually a collaborative effort. It may be like herding turkeys, but you have to remain true to the group goals. Get them clear before you start raising money. Space Command got off track when the director changed the project vision from the group's to his own. Don't do that.

I think the time is ripe, with so very many VFX and animation people sitting around with time on their hands. Big names in the industry may still be out there. Why not gather a group and do it? You are, after all, a filmmaker…right? Maybe it's time to get off your ass, get out there and make history. Change the entertainment world. Create new venues. Do it. And credit me as an inspiration, of course.

6 Comments

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  • Starving Artist

    Promoting the idea that people work for free sounds like a big studio gimmick. VFX artists around the world have been on the brink of working for free for years, and then someone like you comes along saying “do the work for the credits” or “because you don’t have anything going on” makes me angry. People have to eat, maybe feed their kids, put a roof over their heads, and you want them to contribute to making films for free. 3.3 million dollars doesn’t go a long way, but it should be going to the people making the movie, not the creator/visionary/director only.

    • Peter Plantec

      I hear you Artist, but you must have read too quickly. I hate to see anyone work for free and that’s what’s been happening. People have worked for without getting paid for months creating box office winners. I say screw that. If you can’t find a job at a descent house and you don’t want to change careers, damn it, start your own movie…raise the funds, pay yourself what you can, provide internships for up-and-comers. One of my Daughters is an intern on a non-studio production, working crazy hours for for the experience and learning new tools. She’s getting proficient at Houdini and Nuke! She gets paid bupkis…but has passion and is learning and networking like crazy. If you’re an out of work pro, gather some credible friends and
      Raise the funds, pay yourself a fair wage and produce. Veronica Mars already had a fan base, so maybe you can honcho a fan film. Studios are working with indie producers on rights issues. Go for it and quit whining.

    • Roninfilm

      Starving artist – We all came together and made a collaborative project. With almost no money to produce it, I’m starving too. Just cause I’m the writer, director and VFX Supervisor doesn’t mean I’m holding out bags of money from my co-creators. We’re trying to make something happen for Us.

      • Peter Plantec

        In a way, in this economy, I think we’re all starving artists, Ronin. But like you we keep forging ahead towards a better world. The current version of the world needs a lot of work…we’re doing it.

  • Barton Bodell

    the goal of TNK is to obtain financing so we may be in a position to pay people for their services as we make more episodes and expand the brand in a number of different directions. Unfortunately, we are not there yet and are pretty starving ourselves- but we will be and we can’t wait to work WITH the VFX community to help shape our vision. This project is being driven by the VFX community- as that is the core of Roninfilm, LLC. Thanks, Barton Bodell COO Roninfilm, LLC barton.bodell@roninfilm.com

  • Dan Supko

    I like the idea of the creative people being totally in control of their work, and being able to reap all of the rewards. It’s like the way Coppolla and Lucas did things. They invested in themselves, and risked a lot of their own money, but they got a bigger reward than if they would have just been for-hire directors/writers. Owning your content is huge, that is if it’s good content.

    The big difference today is that there are a hundred avenues to attempt to monetize your work, and few of them seem to pay huge dividends. When Star Wars came out, there was only ONE place that film was going to be able to be seen, and that was in theaters.

    Good luck to everyone out there trying to make their dreams happen. Maybe if there are a few breakout successes that come from un-employed groups of artists out there, then the studio system will realize that they have been taking their talents for granted and start paying them better, and supporting post houses better.