Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Hooray for Nollywood!

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Intrepid reader Ben Hartman alerted me to a fine, if all too short, article in Wired about the third largest film industry in the world. Where is that, you ask? Nigeria.

The article is really a tease — and an effective one at that — for two recent US-produced documentaries, Welcome to Nollywood and This is Nollywood.

Until I can get my hands on those documentaries, and some actual Nollywood movies, here are some articles that I enjoyed reading today as I educated myself about the Nigerian film industry.

Cinema of Nigeria page on Wikipedia.

Welcome to Nollywood. An extensive article from The Guardian.

Nollywood drought at Fespaco. BBC article discusses allegations of snoobery at Africa’s most prestigious film festival towards Nollywood pix.

Step Aside, L.A. and Bombay, for Nollywood. NYT article from 2002(!).

The Nollywood Phenomenom. Article found on the World Intellectual Property Association website (WIPO’s website tells me that it is a “specialized agency of the United Nations”).

New Doc Qualifying Rules: Arguments, Notes, Questions

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Over at All These Wonderful Things, AJ Schnack writes in depth on a subject that has long been a source of contention and debate in the documentary community: The Academy’s rules for qualifying for the Oscars.

Probably the biggest change is “Rule IV.2“:

In addition to the Seven-Day Qualifying Exhibition, feature documentaries must complete a Multi-State Theatrical Rollout consisting of fourteen other exhibitions, as defined in Paragraph III.2, of at least three consecutive days each, at least twice daily, in any standard commercial format. These exhibitions must be distributed among ten or more states in the U.S. and must be completed by Thursday, November 15, 2007.

I was surprised when I first read about this rule (in John Sinno’s Open Letter to the Academy). Mainly, I wondered how many docs could actually qualify for such a thing; it seemed unrealistic. AJ, though, is in support of the new rule and he makes a very convincing argument in support of the new policy. Pragmatically, he notes that several films qualified this year and, philosophically, he argues that

if you weren’t hoping, weren’t planning, weren’t thinking all along that you’d have a real theatrical [run], then you shouldn’t be thinking Oscar.

I found myself surprised to agree with him. My only lingering question on the issue is whether these rules are actually more restrictive than those applied to narrative features. To the best of my understanding — and I could certainly be wrong on this — a film like Letters from Iwo Jima really only needs a one-week qualifying run in New York or L.A. to be considered for the Oscars. If this is the case, why hold docs to a different standard? It seems like the best way to maintain integrity in the process is to have narratives and docs follow the same rules.

Aside from this minor point, I only found myself disagreeing with AJ one one other issue — his support for the 35mm print requirement, which remains for docs short-listed for the Oscar. AJ writes:

Some filmmakers have complained that if your film is shortlisted, you must produce a 35mm film print, a costly process that is starting to seem unnecessary in the midst of the digital revolution. I find this complaint a bit hard to swallow, considering that just 6 years ago you couldn’t play a film festival without a print, but Apted says that it’s something the Documentary Branch is looking at, and that it’s conceivable that in the near future you wouldn’t have to have a print if you made the semifinals.

Actually, I think the 35mm print rule is a legitimate complaint.

While it’s true that six years ago you couldn’t play a festival without a print, it’s also true that six years ago the theatrical experience was defined by 35mm film prints. Today, projection on 35mm is still the standard, but it no longer defines the theatrical experience. Digital projection in commercial cinemas has become increasingly commonplace. We are in an era where some viewers can go see a digitally shot, digitally projected “theatrical film” like Zodiac, as I did.

Furthermore, most documentaries these days — including all five nominated last year — were shot on some form of video. A 35mm blow up may be an “up-rez”, but it is, in all likelihood, a decrease in visual quality of the camera original footage. In all likelihood, the best looking version is the film’s videotape color-corrected edit master tape, which is probably on HDCAM SR. Heck, it might be on DVCam.

My point is this: If a film can qualify for the Oscar without ever making a print (by the new rules, it can), and if a 35mm print is a downgrade in quality (as any 35mm blow up is) then why create some flaming hoop for cash-strapped filmmakers and/or distributors to jump through? This would be a minor point, of course, if such prints didn’t cost $20,000 or more. That’s chump change for a studio; for the smaller outfits that distribute documentaries I would imagine that’s a hefty price for what sounds like a few screenings for the Documentary Committee to decide whether or not you’ll be nominated.

The supreme irony of all of this angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debating is that if a movie ends up being nominated, most people will judge the film on DVD screeners at home. This is true of both fiction and documentary features but, either way, what’s “theatrical” about that?

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Healthy (and ultimately minor) disagrements aside AJ’s whole article is great food for thought, at least if you’re a documentarian (or advocate of them) or if you follow the Oscars in that Inside Baseball sort of way.

Ten Commandments from HDforIndies

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

Mike Curtis posted an amusing and, more importantly, instructive rant over at HDforIndies. The post, entitled “OK Indies, listen up – 10 THINGS NOT TO DO“, is a litany of Bad Things that Mike probably encounters once a day in his work as a post-production guru.

Eight of the DON’Ts are technology related. Five, in fact, deal in some way with the Panasonic DVX-100. That camera has earned its spot in the Pantheon of Great Indy Film Tools, no doubt, but its framerate settings (60i, 30p, 24p, 24pAdvanced) can cause a lot of problems if you don’t fully understand them. The fact that most of these problems happen in post-production only adds to the misery — if you’ve shot in multiple formats without understanding their differences and potential incompatibilities, you may have really hurt your project.

If you don’t understand this stuff, check out the CallBox DVD or read carefully in the DVXUser forums.

The two non-technology issues have Mike addressing the fact that so many poor independent filmmakers want him to do their tech consulting for free. Though his blog (like many others, including this one) provides information freely, Mike’s really in business to sell his expertise and information. Since the “product” Mike sells has no physical properties (i.e., it’s not a car or a widget) people seem to think that it should be given freely since it can be asked for freely.

I can relate. Since I teach, it’s my obligation — and it’s my pleasure — to give my information freely to my students. I also try to serve the community (both the film community and my local community) in different ways. But you have to draw the line somewhere in order to do your own work and to pay the bills.

Mike’s answer to people needing answers to specific post-production questions is that you can “pray to Google” or hire him. I’m someone who’s done both. Here’s a post from the past of my own experience in hiring Mike as a consultant.

An Open Letter to the Academy

Monday, March 5th, 2007

John Sinno’s open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is worth a read, so I’m posting it below. Sinno was one of the producers of James Longley‘s Iraq in Fragments, a documentary full of poetry and ambiguity — uncommon virtues for such a political film. Like the movie, the letter speaks for itself.

John Sinno
Typecast Films
3131 Western Ave Suite 514
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 2, 2007

An open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers’ craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very “real” quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films “incredibly depressing!”

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld’s remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries “incredibly depressing,” he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they’re nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld’s introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers’ work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we’e living in.

John Sinno
Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments
Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

DVGuru’s Demise: On AOL and the owning of blogs

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

DVGuru, the valuable group blog about most things video and film, is no more as of Wednesday. I read it daily, which I can’t say of many websites. I’m disappointed, as are a lot of other readers.

What made it an especially useful site was the fact that it served as a kind of aggregator for more specialized and esoteric film/video content-related websites around the web. But beyond aggregation, the writers had a talent for quickly summing up an issue and then leading you to the original source. As a reader — and as someone whose own writing was at times cited by DVGuru’s editors — I really appreciated that. Alas, I’ll now have to find some of my news from other sources.

The announcement caught a few people off guard. What’s the story?

I’ve heard and read that DVGuru, along with some other blogs, were given the axe by AOL, the company that owns Weblogs, Inc. There was nothing controversial about these sites that led to their shutdown — in these cases it’s always about money. Ads weren’t selling or getting clicked through or, in all likelihood, it was just too much trouble for AOL to do the research to figure out who should be advertising.

I understand why AOL wanted to acquire Weblogs, Inc. It’s a way to own content, and doing so would be a throwback to AOL’s dial-up heyday, those halcyon days when it housed a good percentage of the polished content on the internet. The difference is that, in the mid-late 90s, AOL’s content was general information, the “frontpage” kind of face that Yahoo and others provide these days. Blogs are different though; almost all of them focus on niche markets. Some companies get this; others mail out millions of CD-roms pleading with you to use dial-up.

(As a point of comparison, consider Google’s approach to weblogs. Google didn’t try to acquire various popular blogs. It acquired Blogger. The same thinking, no doubt, went into their acquisition of YouTube. Google doesn’t want the content. It wants the delivery system for the content.)

Anyway, I’m not going to wring my hands about this — there are, after all, another billion or so websites out there to read, and there is no such thing as death on the internet. Still, it only re-confirms my skepticism about the long-term viability of corporate-owned weblogs.

So long, DVGuru. It was good to know ya.