At HD Expo (now rebranded as createasphere), considered the issues of financing, producing and distributing the indie film. The panel, moderated by journalist Carolyn Giardina, included Chris Taylor, director/producer/cinematographer of documentary Food Fight; writer/producer Dirk Blackman who made Outlander for the Weinstein Company, which he cowrote with his writing partner who directed the film Howard McCain; Patrick Lussier, director/editor of My Bloody Valentine 3D, which has grossed $51.5 million at the box office, and Trina Wyatt from Intrepid Films.
This documentary is about a culinary revolution that started in California and became very political. Taylor said a friend brought him a book about the topic, which was the germination of the project.
The financing of the film was unusual.” I self-financed the film, by selling about 800 bottles of wine I’d collected for 15 years,” reports Taylor. “Way better than any stock, the wine went up. Bottles I bought for under $100 sold for over $1,000. It’s a good way to start a documentary.”
In terms of choosing cameras, Taylor says he knew he would cut with Final Cut Pro and did research on the cameras that would best fit within that pipeline. The answer was a purchase of a Panasonic HVX-200 P2 camera, after the camera had just debuted. “It gave me great pictures, and I love not having tape,” says Taylor who reports they also brought on a Varicam to the mix.”Because the subject of food is a very visual subject matter, I knew the Varicam’s color space was wider and deeper than it would be with other cameras.” During the shoot, they also upgraded to the HDX-900
He showed a clip that used footage from all three cameras, challenging attendees to tell the footage apart. “When I look at it, in terms of story, I can’t see any difference,” he says. “So the HDX is an amazing tool. You can show the footage anywhere and be proud of it.”
With regard to distribution, Taylor notes that “in the world of documentaries, in the low budget film range, there is no working model for theatrical distribution unless your name is Michael Moore or you’ve lost a really close presidential election. Otherwise your movie will tank.” He’s adopted a DIY model, taking one print of the film from city to city, Johnny Appleseed style. “What the Bleep did this and they were very successful and did nice box office,” he says. “We have commitments from two theatrical chains that have theaters in every market. We can go as long as the film has box office. The hard part is to raise money to market the film.”
He also gave a piece of advice that he strongly emphasized: “Likely you won’t make any money until you sell your own DVDs,” he says. “You have to be prepared for your TV sale not to make your money back. The TV sales should drive the DVD sales. DVD rights are the single most important rights to hold onto.”
“This is a science fiction adventure monster Viking movie–and played seriously,” says Blackman, who noted that IMDB reported the movie’s budget was $50 million, but that $38 million is the correct figure. “It’s an extremely expensive independent film at $38 million,” he says. He tells the tortured path to getting the film made: he and his partner wrote the script 13 years ago and decided that McCain would direct and he would produce. They paid for a model of the monster in the film and used that as a selling tool. The first production company involved fell apart. Then they got–and rejected–an offer to sell the script. In the end, the money came from all over: foreign pre-sales, Canadian tax-backs, VIP funds. “There are people in jail right now because of the way those funds were put together,” Blackman says. “A broker was paid $125,000 to get $10 million from Dubai that never came through…four weeks before shooting began.” Then the Weinstein Company put in money. “And then there were the loan sharks, and I kid you not,” he says. “At 30 percent, 40 percent…that ate up a lot of our funds.”
Getting financing is making deals with the devil, says Blackman “Every deal we made to get a piece of the money came with an extraordinarily high price,” he says. He reports that the one that proved to be most difficult was with the Weinstein Company, which bought domestic rights for a small sum. “When it came to finally releasing it, they had no incentive to do so because they put so little money into it,” he says. “They were always going to make money in DVD. It was a risk to release it in theaters. So they buried it.”
The other difficult deal was that, to get a bond, they needed to have a certain amount of money in the bank, which they got by making a partnership with a visual effects company. They put up cash, which was a godsend, and they did good work. “What they didn’t have was the internal structure to actually do the work,”he says. “They were 6 to 9 months late with the effects. I cannot even tell you how that ripples down.” At a screening with Weinstein Company execs, the film was screened with no effects, hence no monster. “Actors were running and screaming and nothing was there,” he says. “Nobody gets a movie without special effects, no one. So they saw it as a Viking drama.”
My Bloody Valentine 3D
Patrick Lussier said the goal was to make a movie “as subtle as a train wreck.” The film cost $16 million, of which $3 to $4 million went to the 3D aspect of filming. They used the RED and Silicon Imaging cameras; Paradise Effects built them the rigs they needed, and Max Penner was their stereographer. Lussier notes that the film’s subject matter and locations were ideal for 3D. “3D loves claustrophobic depth, he said. “We really went underground with a low ceiling, the water was dripping down from the ceiling for real and the actors really did have to duck. All the textures and details are picked up by 3D and makes it all more real.”
The problem with 3D, he adds, is you lose 3 stops of light. “Although you’re shooting with digital technology, you cannot exploit shooting in lower levels of light,” he says. “We were dragging massive lights underground.” The film shot only 4 days on stage; the rest of the 39-day shooting schedule was on location. “The first gaffer quit after 3 weeks–and he’d done huge movies,” says Lussier. “He said it was the hardest f—ing movie he’d ever done.None of it was easy, but you could see the results.”
Lussier observes that on a 3D film, you’re pulling focus and stereo at the same time. “But not by the same person,” he says. “Some people say the cinematographer can do it all, but that’s not true. You DO need a stereographer. Max Penner’s experience was invaluable.” Though the temptation is to throw 3D effects (i.e., the old spear to the eye) into the theater, Lussier notes that you can’t do that. “Your brain starts to panic,” he says. “We went through every single frame and vertically aligned everything to make sure that nothing was pulled too far out or too far back, and that everything would be audience friendly.”
The lack of enough 3D screens continues to be an issue, however. Though My Bloody Valentine 3D was released on 1,033 screens, its release date was carefully scheduled to avoid the 3D releases of Coraline and the Jonas Bros. movie.
It’s all about screens,” he says. “If you can release three movies simultaneously, 3D will live. If it’s like it is now, it’ll be dead. Hopefully theater owners will embrace the fact that it brings people into movie theaters.” My Bloody Valentine 3D will be released in a 3D version in BluRay.
Topics: Blog 3D steresocopic filmmaking Cameras Cinematography digital workflow DVD Food Fight General HD indie filmmaking My Bloody Valentine 3D Outlander Panasonic HDX-900 Panasonic HVX-200 Post-production Production Red Silicon Imaging stereographer Useful Tools
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