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.