Archive for the ‘Principles’ Category

July 4

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

The Fourth of July is not only America’s birthday, but also the anniversary of one of the boldest experiments in American letters.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin near Walden Pond in Massachusetts and began writing “Walden,” the autobiographical book that would define his legacy.

Thoreau was many things – naturalist, political dissident, professional crank – but he was also one of our earliest and most memorable media critics….

Read more here.

 

 

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.

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.

UFVA Panel – “Self-Reliant Filmmaking”

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I am in New Orleans at the University Film & Video Association conference. Today I moderated a panel on Self-Reliant Filmmaking. There was a good crowd and, as often happens with these things, the discussion just scraped the tip of the iceberg.

The panelists were:

Paul Harrill, Virginia Tech. Moderator.
Sasha Waters, University of Iowa.
Jennifer Proctor, Grand Valley State University.
Bob Hurst, University of Kansas.

As promised, I am posting links to many of the articles and resources discussed by the panelists and myself. If this is your first time visiting Self-Reliant Film, I encourage you to sift through the posts, especially the first post, which lays out some of the points made in my discussion today, and the resources page.

Paul Harrill: Panel Opening Remarks

Yes, The Sky is Really Falling” by Mark Gill
Welcome to the New World of Distribution by Peter Broderick

Workbook Project – website led by Lance Weiler that “bridges the gap between tech and entertainment”

CinemaTech – Scott Kirsner’s blog about “digital cinema, democratization, and other trends remaking the movies”

Self-Distribution Case Studies:
Power to the Pixel conference presentation: Brave New Films
Power to the Pixel conference presentation:Four Eyed Monsters

Panelist Sasha Waters:

Be Fake, Remake – group blog featuring work from Sasha Waters’ Remake Seminar

Panelist Jennifer Proctor:

Jennifer Proctor: home page (see “Teaching Materials“)

Center for Social Media – Best Practices for Fair Use in Online Video

Vimeo — a video hosting community

Student work shown:
Anna Gustafson, “Woman
Evan Rattenbury, “Land O’ Dreams
Josh Carlson, “Donkeys vs. Elephants

Self-Reliant Film v3.0

Monday, July 6th, 2009

As a way to mark some changes at Self-Reliant Film, I’ve done a site redesign.

I recently mentioned that Ashley would be making some posts on SRF to discuss her documentary, For Memories’ Sake. This marks something of a shift in Self-Reliant Film. Though I’ll still be the main voice of the site, I will no longer be the sole blogger here.

In addition to Ashley’s posts, my hope is to invite a couple more filmmakers into the mix in the coming months. The aim in doing this is to cover more of the things happening in cinema today while providing a voice to some interesting filmmakers — especially regional filmmakers — working today.

Anyway, it seemed appropriate to clean up the website design to mark the changes.

While it’s on my mind, here are some notes on the new look:

Though its aim was to tie-in to the imagery of the letterpress chipboard posters that I use for my films, I was never fully satisfied with the “chipboard” version of the site. So I’ve decided to go with a new, cleaner look that will (I hope) allow users to find information more easily.

The top SRF menu consists of static pages, and their “child” pages.

The lower menu features categories of “mega”-tags. Hovering over each one will bring up a category of tags used on the blog. And clicking on one of those will give you all the posts in that area. In some cases (like Films & Filmmakers -> Genres) there is a third layer of categories (in this case, “Experimental” and “Documentary”).

The main idea is to make the content you want more easily findable. Let me know if you like it, or if you don’t.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, this site uses a WordPress template called “Thematic Power Blog” by Ian Stewart.