Archive for the ‘DIY Filmmaking’ Category

Film Festivals, Energy Drinks and Playing the Odds

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Attending a film festival is exhausting. You race around town to screenings and stand in lines throughout the day. Then at night you run around town to parties, sometimes several of them.

I’m not about to complain. Leading a life in film is an immense privilege and I try to remind myself of it all the time. But there’s no question that festival-going can take its toll on your body. On more than one occasion at SXSW, I thought that there should be festival volunteers on 6th Street handing off Gatorade to badge holders. Kinda like a marathon, only minus the running.

Instead, in reality, the sponsors of film festivals are always trying to ply you with massive amounts of incredibly unhealthy stuff. Among the free “refreshments” offered at SXSW this year were cigarettes, fried fish, inordinate amounts of beer, whiskey and tequila, and an “energy” drink with so much caffeine that its container cautions to “limit intake to maximum one bottle per 4 hours.”

I’m not saying I didn’t partake of some of this stuff. I’m just… well, I’m the son of a nutritionist. I think about these things.

I also think about the health of film festivals and the filmmakers that they host. Seeing the long lines and sitting in (or being shut out of) the many sell-out screenings in Austin certainly confirmed that SXSW has a healthy prognosis.

For filmmakers, though, I’m less certain.

As the barriers to making a film continue to be lowered, I fully expect submissions to SXSW to double within three or four years. Assuming the number of films being programmed remains the same, the acceptance rate will drop to something like .5% or even lower. That’s not a typo. That’s half of one percent. SXSW is not alone in this; other, similarly prestigious festivals will have roughly the same odds of acceptance.

I grant you, the odds of getting your film into SXSW (1% this year) are better than, say, the odds of winning the Powerball Jackpot (1 in 195,249,054). But, then again, the cost to play is higher for festivals. I’m not just talking about festival entry fees. First you’ve got to make your film.

Similarly, the payout ratio for the Powerball ($1 for a chance at +/- $350,000,000) is far better than that of making a movie. Most filmmakers and their investors would love to just double their money. As we all know, many films don’t make their money back at all.

This isn’t an argument for quitting film and instead playing Powerball. Most people making films at this level aren’t solely in it for the money — they’re in it because they have stories to tell. At least, that’s why I’m in it.

But considering financial sustainability has to be part of the equation too. If it’s not, well… it’s not sustainable.

And part of that means that filmmakers these days need to ask tough questions both of themselves and of film festivals:

    When you consider the costs of festival entry fees, festival travel and lodging (if not provided), food, and promotion (posters, etc), how much are you paying, per head, for each audience member that saw your film?

    How much are you paying for each review or blog post that fest screenings generate about your film?

    If your film sells out a screening, where does that money go? Will you see a penny of it?

    Are you comfortable paying for people to pay others to see your film?

    In the final cost-benefit analysis, are festivals worth it?

    What do you get out of the deal?

I mean, of course, in addition to the free cigarettes, beer, and energy drinks.

We’ve known this for a while, of course, but it bears repeating: For the independent filmmaker, festivals used to be the answer. Now they’re the question.

Cinematography for Improvisation: Post-Panel Links

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The Cinematography for Improvisation panel that I moderated was a blast — and, while I felt like it was a success, the one hour we had to dig in flew by. I personally could have listened to Andrew Reed, Allison Bohl, and Justin Molotnikov talk shop for another couple of hours. There were easily 100 people in the crowd on a Monday afternoon and the feedback after the panel was very positive.

Here are the links, as promised:

Justin Molotnikov

 

Crying With Laughter — Justin showed clips from this film, which had its North American Premiere at SXSW.

Synchronicity Films is Claire Mundell and Justin Molotnikov’s production company. For those of you that attended the panel, Claire sat near the front of the room and shared some thoughts from the audience.

Finally, the improv film webisodes from the Wickerman Music festival that Justin briefly mentioned can be found at www.wickerman.tv.

Allison Bohl

“Blessed Be, Honey Bee” — This is the music video that we saw behind-the-scenes stills for, but which we didn’t have a chance to screen during the panel. Allison directed and shot this video.

Allison’s reel is also on Vimeo. The reel features, among other things, selected shots/scenes from “People of Earth” the feature that Allison showed a clip from on the panel.

I Always Do My Collars First – website for Allison’s first documentary

Andrew Reed

Quiet City — Andrew showed a clip from this film, which had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2007.

Cold Weather is the new film by Aaron Katz, shot by Andrew Reed. The trailer can be found here.

Paul Harrill (moderator)

Obviously, if you are here, you have found my blog. Information about my own work as a filmmaker can be found here.

Cinematography for Improvisation – SXSW 2010 Panel

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010


If you’ve not heard already, I’m happy to announce that the panel that I proposed for South by Southwest 2010, Cinematography for Improvisation — Lighting the Unknown, was selected. Thanks to everyone who voted in support of the idea via SXSW’s PanelPicker!

Though this will be my third SXSW as a panelist/moderator, this was the first time that I’ve ever proposed a panel. Selecting the panelists was a collaboration between me and the SXSW organizers, especially Jarod Neece. I’m very excited about the people we’ve got on board to tackle the subject. If you’re at SXSW, check out the panel on Monday, March 15 @ 2pm.

Panelists/bios:

Allison Bohl
Allison Bohl makes movies with a natural look and creative touch. With experience in documentaries, experimental films, and features, she has become known for capturing beautiful images with minimal equipment. She is based in South Louisiana, but has worked internationally.

Andrew Reed
Andrew Reed is the cinematographer of the feature films Cold Water (SXSW ’10) and Quiet City (SXSW ’07), both written and directed by Aaron Katz.

Justin Molotnikov
Justin Molotnikov is the writer/director of the feature film Crying With Laughter (SXSW ’10).

Here are some clips of their work:

Tape is dead! Long live tape!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

It struck me today that For Memories’ Sake will probably be the last movie I’m involved with that uses videotape. Ashley began shooting the documentary with the venerable DVX-100 in 2006 and, for consistency’s sake, we stuck with that camera through production. All the new projects that I have on the horizon will be shot with a tapeless cinema camera, whether it’s made by Panasonic, Sony, or Red. So tape is dead to me.

Or is it?

One of the issues, of course, about shooting tapeless formats is what you do with the data. While editing with tapeless footage, of course, I keep lots of backups on drives in different locations. But after the project is completed, using hard drives to archive the footage is not a reliable solution. Of course, I’ll confess that this is what I’ve done in the past. But as my hard drives age, and as I amass more footage that I’ll want to hang onto, I know I need to find another solution. Most pros will tell you that solution is (wait for it)…. tape. Specifically, LTO or “Linear Tape Open.”

Luckily, for us Mac users out there, Helmut Kobler recently did us all a service by summarizing how to get started with LTO4 tape archiving on a Mac. Kobler estimates the low-end price tag for a Mac-compatible LTO system as $3300.

That figure may seem like a lot to independent filmmakers. (I wonder how many fewer Panasonic HVX200s or Sony EX-1s would have been sold if this cost was factored into the purchase price?)

In the end, whether to spend this kind of money amounts to questions about risk and value: How much do you value your data? And how much risk are you willing to take that your data might be lost forever?

For me, that $3300 is starting to look like a decent value. Long live tape!

Take the Survey: 50 States, 50 Filmmakers

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The United States of America


I’ve been looking over Ted Hope’s blog lately and one thing he keeps returning to is the idea that in order for cinema to be truly free (i.e., liberated), we have to do our part to help film culture. I agree.

That’s part of what this blog has always been about. One of the reasons I began this blog was to champion filmmakers working regionally.

But now I’d like to undertake a concrete project specifically dedicated to spotlighting filmmakers that live around the country. To do that I need your help. Not a lot of help, mind you — just a few minutes.

I’m calling this undertaking 50 States, 50 Filmmakers.

It will probably end up being a series of discussions with filmmakers working around the country. I hope to talk with others about why they live and work where they do, the challenges and opportunities they face, the resources available to them, and how they support their work. Ideally, these discussions will include links that allow you to watch or purchase their work. And I’d like to do one for each state, in case the title didn’t tip you off.

So, to restate, to do this project completely, I need your help.

I want you to tell me who you think is living and making interesting films outside of New York or Los Angeles. The films can be feature films, documentaries, or short experimental works. I don’t care. “Interesting” and “not-New-York-or-Los-Angeles” is all I care about.

If you want to nominate a filmmaking team or filmmaking collective, that’s cool. I’m open to doing a few historical surveys, too, so if you prefer to nominate someone deceased (say, Eagle Pennell of Texas or Colorado’s Stan Brakhage), go for it. I just want some interesting ideas.

So, without further ado, CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY.

Don’t know 50 filmmakers in 50 states? That’s okay. I don’t either. That’s why I’m doing the survey — to fill in some blanks and to get some good ideas for this thing. Just take the survey and give suggestions where you can. You don’t have to provide nominations for all 50 states.

And please pass this along to your friends. I’d like as many people throwing out ideas as possible. I’m going to leave this post up for a couple of weeks, after which I’ll start compiling replies.

Again, here’s the link to the survey.