Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goodbye Promise

A tale of two lives. That is the struggle of being an independent filmmaker. On the surface everything looks Lobster, with closer observation you will find Tuna Fish.

It is an insane world to live day in and day out as one who makes films outside of the studio system. It is also a terrifying and lonely place. I know my plight is no different than the thousands of actors, writers, musicians who flood the vast corners of Los Angeles and beyond. But this isn't the blog of those thousands of folks, it is my blog. And here I will share my realities, hopes, hardships and triumphs.

I can't help but think of the Film Courage interview with In Search of a Midnight Kiss Director Alex Holdridge where he says "In LA there is so much pressure put on this perception of your success that people do not open up about how scared they are about money." (Here is a quick video/audio clip of this quote http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQpdssJOD5Q)

Another moment that captures this perfectly is when I shared the Red Carpet recently with an Actor from a prominent independent film. He said the whole experience was surreal because he has never been so broke. Yet here he was being interviewed, having his picture taken. It is all so glamorous.

I have spoken to dozens upon dozens of filmmakers over the past year and I have learned that yes they have made a film but they haven't necessarily made a living off of that film. Forget the living, they haven't even made anywhere near one year's salary.

The common perception is that anyone who makes a film has to be making money. In a few cases they are, but in most they are not. In my case, I have not made one dollar for Night Before the Wedding. Though, I should point out that the film is in the very early stages of making it's money back. I will not see any money until the film is paid in full. That of course is a great motivator for me to keep pushing and promoting it. Though it will very likely be quite some time before any money is put directly into my pocket or bank account. In the meantime it is an uncertain journey ahead. These present circumstances have me questioning what I am doing with my life.

All this leads me to my next film project. What am I to do? I have a finished feature film, but it is not paid for and I have made no money from it. On top of it, we all hear the screams and shouts that indie film is dead. Distribution models are collapsing, the economy still hasn't recovered, and getting money to make a film is as tough as it's ever been. Just in case you are on the fence about what the pundits say, allow me to clearly state that INDIE FILM WILL NEVER DIE! I could go on a side rant about this alone which would cover a full blog but I want to stay focused here.

I have chosen to not allow the circumstances around me to prevent me from growing as a storyteller. I have decided to embrace my current situation and go and make a film anyway. I will just embrace all of the current challenges and infuse them into my story.

Like I said, my path ahead is uncertain. I do not know if I can cross the threshold to become one who earns a living through my filmmaking. This through-line leads me to the idea for my next film. The lead character will be at a crossroads with his life's dreams.

I do not have time to write a full screenplay right now, so it will be an improv-based project that will rely on the talents of actors along with my story instincts and of course some creative editing.

The thing that makes this go is that I have my own camera. Though it is not an expensive one. I will once again use what I have...which is key. I own an HV30 so that is what I will shoot on. If I didn't have a camera, and I was determined, then I would borrow one.

I do not have money to pay a crew or for production equipment. So that means I will shoot it myself as a one man crew and I will embrace natural lighting.

I do not expect to 'wow' folks with this film. It will serve as an experimental, exploratory film that is certain to teach me a lot. I would rather keep working on films within my means than sit around waiting, talking about my next project.

With that, here is a test poster for the project that features Actor Gregor Collins. It is certainly not the final poster. Would love your feedback. What do you like about it? What do you dislike? What story do you see? What images come to mind? Is there anything you would do to improve it? Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A New Way To Connect With and Build Your Audience

Building an Audience/Connecting with an Audience has been a hot topic for not just me but the entire movie industry. Guess what, I have something fun to share with you.

As you may be aware, Night Before the Wedding just screened in Columbus, Ohio. It was a screening that I knew I would not be able to attend. When brainstorming on the phone with our Social Media Manager, Angie Palmer of Skye Public Relations months before our screening, one idea I had was to do a 'Live' Q&A through my computer. We weren't sure if we could pull it off, get the proper permissions, etc. but it was something I really wanted to do.

Thank goodness that Angie is so resourceful and amazing at what she does. And thanks to some gracious folks at the Arena Grand Movie Theater in Columbus, the Mid-Ohio Filmmakers Association and again to Angie's dedication, we were able to test and eventually execute a 'Live' Skype Q&A from Los Angeles to Columbus following the screening.

I am not sure how often this has been done. I imagine plenty of times. For whatever reason I just haven't seen it implemented after a movie screening. Thanks to Actor Kevin Deen flying out to Columbus and documenting his whole experience, I now have the power to share with you what it was like for us to Connect with our Columbus Audience.

Immediately following our screening, I was projected onto the theater screen along with Filmmakers Gregor Collins, A.J. Rickert-Epstein, and Actor Michael Shaun Sandy. Although we were staring at a black computer screen, it was just a fun and fantastic experience to know that we were being seen and heard inside a movie theater a thousand miles away. Okay, I admit it was a little odd from our side of the equation. We had no idea how many stayed for the Q&A, or whether it was having any impact.

It wasn't until I was able to watch the footage that Kevin Deen shot that I realized just how powerful our Q&A had been. For you filmmakers wondering how you can connect, build, and grow your audience. The evidence can be seen clearly in this video. I believe this will be a big part of the present and future for ALL independent filmmakers. It is a no-brainer. It's something that smaller films which are screening in one theater at a time can accommodate with enough planning and effort. It gives smaller films a huge advantage over our blockbuster counterparts. Karen and I just went to see A Serious Man, but the reality of the Coen Brothers popping up on the screen right after the credits role and having a chance to ask them questions about their film just isn't going to happen.

I found out later that our Columbus crowd absolutely loved the interaction we had with them. None of them had ever experienced this before. It endeared them to us and to our film. We are now hoping to duplicate this with our next screening December 3rd in Washington D.C and beyond.

Please share your thoughts, ideas and reactions.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Piracy, Is it a good thing??? (Jamin Winans INK illegally downloaded 100,000 times in 48 hours)

I was absolutely stunned this morning to find out that Jamin Winans and Kiowa Winans INK was illegally downloaded via bit torrent sites like Pirate Bay (INK was the #1 downloaded film ahead of major Hollywood releases) over 100,000 times.

We just had Jamin and Kiowa on our Film Courage radio show this past week. Their interview has shattered all records for our show from most listens, most downloads, and most page views. All of this in it's first week online. I believe it is a MUST listen. It is an in-depth case study on the money it took to make INK, their decision to retain the rights to their film and self-distribute and even highlights their deals with Blockbuster and Netflix.

Here is the interview: Jamin Winans and Kiowa Winans on Film Courage

So now, just two days away from wide-release on NOVEMBER 10th, 2009, on iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Blockbuster (they even have Region 0 DVD's where it can be seen anywhere in the world) the pirates come thieving.

INK packs the house at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on June 10th, 2009

This news has been sinking in all day. On one side it absolutely infuriates me and on the other I am completely overjoyed. I was on the phone with Jamin about 2 or 3 weeks ago and we talked about piracy and bit torrents. We know there is nothing we can do about it. To combat piracy, Jamin and Kiowa have done all they can to make INK available through all major outlets as fast as they humanly could. There is no major studio behind this release. As a matter of fact, if you listen to our interview with Jamin and Kiowa, you will hear them say that up until November 10th all DVD orders are being handled by them right from their house. This is their dedication to get their film out to their fans as soon as they can. I can tell you this, Jamin never imagined that his film would be so popular as to be the #1 illegally downloaded movie anywhere. He was obviously concerned about it being pirated but this is absolutely insane.

I am not a part of any bit torrent sites, so I am not familiar. How common is it for an Independently financed, independently made, and independently distributed film like INK to be in such demand through piracy??? Can you share with me any other specific examples? Is INK in unique territory? Is it just the INK phenomenon?

In our phone conversation, I was telling Jamin that I believe INK is going to be huge when it hits DVD. I never suspected this and I know that Jamin and Kiowa have to both be floored, both positively and negatively.

100,000 legal downloads is enough to instantly take Jamin and Kiowa out of debt. They would be able to pay back their investors which is something they are adamant about. This would immediately send them into the black. For those of you who are not aware, Jamin and Kiowa spent at least a year in pre-production, 80 days in production, almost two years in post-production, and almost a year semi-theatrically distributing the film across the country.

They have now received the ultimate validation on their work. Screw all the distributors and gatekeepers who said no to 'INK.' As a matter of fact Kiowa just wrote a great blog about this very thing on their DoubleEdgeFilms.blogspot site. It is one of the best film blogs out there. If you go back to the first blog and read through, you can be right in the passenger seat with them from the beginning of their the distribution journey.

I just want to urge all of you to see INK, but do it right way. I want to see Jamin and Kiowa Winans continue to make films. Let's support them in a way that enables them to do just that. Buy the film from their site http://www.doubleedgefilms.com/ where they offer an amazing package of an autographed DVD/Blu Ray, T-shirt and Poster for $34.99, or you can get INK from Amazon, Blockbuster, Netflix, or iTunes.

There has been tremendous discussion on piracy happening at the INK Facebook Fan Page
(The least some of you who illegally downloaded the film can do is 'Become a Fan')

So what do you think, is Piracy a good thing? Is it going to help Jamin and Kiowa more that they have received all of this 'free advertising?' Is this the best thing that could have happened to them? How does it make you feel?

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Film Courage Blog featured on 'Film Independent' website

The biggest thing to ever happen to my blog happened several weeks ago after the FIND Filmmaker Forum that Karen and I attended. On a whim, I stayed up late that night to write my thoughts about the weekend seminar.

To my surprise, I ended up being contacted by the folks of www.FilmIndependent.org who sought permission to republish my blog. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Not only did they republish this blog in their Blog section, I found out later that they also had my name on the homepage of their site. This is certainly a big thrill for me. It's a huge leap for me as I continue to fight my way out of obscurity.

Here is the link to my recent blog on the Filmmaker Forum on the Film Independent Website

Paranormal Activity - The 100 Million Dollar Movie

(Note - I began writing this blog a few weeks ago and meanwhile Paranormal Activity has taken the box office by storm. Going to see if I can iron out some of my thoughts on this modern day phenomenon and finally post it albeit weeks too late.)

Paranormal Activity popped up on my radar in early to mid-September. Initially I was aware of it, but I just kind of observed it from a far. Thrillers and horror films are not usually in my palate. I respect the genre, it's just not one that draws me in.

What's funny was that around the time that Paranormal Activity was floating in my subconscious, I had a great ghost story exchange with a few friends. Every so often, I seem to get into these conversations where everyone starts telling 'real-life' ghost stories. On this occasion my mind was slowly churning on a naturally based ghost movie. Not horror, but thriller. Actually similar to what Paranormal turned out to be. Who knows, maybe a scary thriller I will one day tackle.

Well, just as these ideas were lightly floating in my head, I finally decided to investigate Paranormal Activity further. As I began to investigate Paranormal, I could already see that it to had some tremendous word of mouth already in place. I told Karen that day that I wanted to bring the filmmakers on our Film Courage radio show as soon as possible. I said if we can get them on, we will conform to their schedule. I had a sense from what I was seeing that this movie could do very well. I thought it would perform better than indie sensation Humpday which made $400,000 in limited release. Keep in mind, I came across this movie before it began it's theatrical run. Everyone I was telling about the film had never heard of it.

And now look what it has done. The right movie at the right time with the right marketing strategy. It is amazing that it sat on the shelf for 2 or 3 years before being resurrected this fall.

When I first saw the trailer I thought it was clever. It's not the first time I have seen audience reactions, lines of people, commentaries, etc.

As I sat back and reflected on the trailer and it's impact on me, I wasn't thinking about the film's content. For whatever reason, I was thinking of a roller coaster.

How often have you seen that? A movie experience that is more like boarding and riding a roller coaster than seeing a movie. I will explain. Most often, movies are made as a passive experience for the movie-goer. They are allowed to peer in the window glass of the movie screen, to observe, to be shown other worlds and other ways of life. It is rare that a movie not only allows you to look in through this magical window, but puts you into the world of the story and allows you to participate. I believe this is a function that is underutilized in the grand world of cinema. This interactive ingredient of Paranormal Activity to me is the backbone of it's success. This gives it a word-o-mouth edge that most films do not have no matter what the budget. It is the secret that makes Paranormal Activity not just a movie to see, but to experience. The same way we do not someone to tell us what it was like to ride on some colossal roller coaster. We want to experience it first hand ourselves.

It certainly helps that a horror film can have the anxiety and adrenaline build-up we often face before boarding a roller-coaster. We anticipate a unique thrilling experience.

I believe we are going to see quite a few 'copycat' ideas and films attempting to capitalize on what they believe to be the Paranormal Activity formula. If they are wise, they will be cognizant of the 'roller coaster' appeal that was marketed and delivered by PA.

On another note, because my instincts were correct and because we acted so fast, we were able to book the Executive Producer (the director is unavailable as he is shooting his next film) of Paranormal Activity on an upcoming show of Film Courage (November 22nd). Can't wait for this one! Going to be an early Thanksgiving gift to all of us.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the Executive Producer of Paranormal Activity, please leave a comment with this blog, or email us at FilmCourage@Gmail.com, or interact with us 'live' on November 22nd via Twitter (@filmcourage).