Kim Production Diary 2

Kim Production DiaryAn ongoing series chronicling the production (pre, shoot, and post) of our new movie Kim.

I met with Elle, our Production Designer yesterday, and we had a good talk about the look of the film. We discussed what genre Kim belongs to and agreed that though on the surface it’s a science fiction film, Kim might be better thought of as a surreal dream or nightmare, at least that’s a productive way for us to think about it as we develop the visuals. I like the way Elle thinks. This meeting gives me confidence we are on the right track.

We talked about visual references for the film, Bosch, Escher, Guy Maddin, Under the Skin, but I also suggested she look at Tibetan Buddhist art. It has a deep spiritual character I would like to capture, and a strange balance of stillness and movement, especially in the sculptures. I suggested she visit The Rubin Museum, a treasure trove of Himalayan art and one of my favorite places in the city (free Friday nights to boot!)

I commissioned Elle to do some pre-production art, so we should see some of her work up on the website soon.

Kim Production Diary 1

Kim Production DiaryAn ongoing series chronicling the production (pre, shoot, and post) of our new movie Kim.

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing diary of the production of our new movie, Kim, from pre-production, through the shoot and post-production.

We’re very much at the beginning of the pre-production stage right now, so it’s a perfect time to start a production journal. We’ve got our script, an 80-page feature. We’ve assembled a great team: myself (Bob) as Writer/Director, Producer Leeah Odom, Composer Lenny Gonzalez, Cinematographer Matthew Boyd, and Production Designer Elle Kunnos de Voss.

We have a website for the film that we will continue to develop as the production evolves.

Producer Leeah Odom and I are having weekly meetings either by phone or in person to discuss the film, review the previous week’s accomplishments, and set goals for the next week,

At this point, we’ve identified four key areas that we need to focus on.

1. Finalizing our budget and business plan, so we can start up our fundraising push.

2. Finding a location for the shoot.

3. Beginning to search for and audition the cast.

4. Create awareness and buzz about the project.

More on each of these as the weeks go by. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these insights and behind the scenes peek at the nuts and bolts of film production.

A Nonprofit Model for Independent Films?

Nick Toti has an interesting article over at Indiewire.com suggesting that independent filmmakers should start using a nonprofit model to raise money for their projects. When I first transitioned from experimental dance-theater to filmmaking, I was struck how films had developed a different funding model from the other arts. Whereas most arts groups fund themselves as Nonprofit Organizations (501(c)(3) status under the IRS code), films have historically been funded as for-profit ventures.

This has a lot to do with the expense of making films, of course. It takes millions of dollars to fund and market even a low budget production, whereas a few thousand dollars may go a long way toward funding a performance of a small dance company. So films have developed a system where studios fund their massive budgets from investors looking for a return on their investments and where the massive hit film can help fund the market misses.

Also, of course, the immense payback potential for a hit movie has made films an attractive prospect for many investors. And the historical predominance of films as America’s premier popular entertainment medium has also contributed to relegating most films to commercial, for-profit ventures, thought of as commerce first, and art second.

But as film production costs and marketing costs have soared, the big studios have become less and less interested in funding small, risky films that don’t have the chance of a big payoff. They’re more interested in tent pole pictures and franchises that have a bigger likelihood of being a financial success.

And having a for-profit model for filmmaking has meant that individual filmmkakers generally can’t sustain a career if they don’t consistently make a profit in the market place with their films, a burden that nonprofit arts groups don’t necessarily face. Very few Performance Arts groups could survive if they had to rely on ticket sales for income (including such mainstream civic bulwarks as world-class symphonies, ballet, and opera companies in major cities). Tax-exempt donations have been crucial to the survival of arts in the U.S.

What will it take to allow filmmakers to successfully move to non-profit model? Even with the inexpensiveness of digital production, it can still take a couple of hundred thousand dollars to produce even a micro-budget feature film, still a daunting amount of money to raise.

I’ve long been an advocate of re-thinking our aesthetics to move away from the mainstream Hollywood aesthetics of films, to produce movies that are both less expensive to make and more personal. For those growing up now with an iPhone in their pocket, this is happening quite naturally. This is a very exciting time to be a filmmaker, but we must rise to the challenge of seeing art and the world in new ways, and not simply repeating tired (and expensive) styles, genres and working models.

If we can do that, the time might be right for some filmmakers, like most other artists in our culture, to turn to Nonprofit Organizations for funding. This could mean an individual forming a Nonprofit for his or her own work, but more likely a production company setting itself up as a Nonprofit. Alternatively, films productions could raise money through another Nonprofit that acts as an umbrella agency, (called Fiscal Sponsorship). Currently, Fractured Atlas offers that service for filmmakers.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the need for hard work, dedication, and perseverance. That will always be necessary.

Why Nonprofits are the Future of Indie Film

Film As Cheap As a Pencil and Paper

How One of the Best Films at Sundance was Shot Using and iPhone 5s

The Feature Film That Blew Everyone Away at Sundance Was Shot on an iPhone 5s

Fractured Atlas

Kim

I’ve begun pre-production on my next film project, a feature called Kim.

I’m very excited about getting this movie underway, and you can find out more about and keep track of our progress here.

I’m looking forward to having more to share with you soon.

Weaving A Different Magic

I saw Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood over the weekend. In case you don’t know about this film, it tells the story of a fictional boy’s life from the time he is six years old to eighteen. The unusual thing about the film is that it was shot with the same actors over 12 years, so in the course of the 2 hour and 45 minute film, we watch the actor playing Mason age from a young child to a young adult. We also watch all the other actors age around him.

It’s a remarkable work of art, for so many reasons, but I want to talk about it in relationship to the so-called “rules” of good screenwriting.

In a previous post, I talked about how good drama involves working toward a goal against obstacles, but also how, other than that, the standard rules of a good screenplay are artistically limiting. (By the ”standard rules,” I mean, put simply, that in a good screenplay, the protagonist must have both an overarching goal and some growth that needs to be achieved. The obstacles the protagonist faces are such that the he or she must achieve that growth in order to successfully reach the goal).

Most every how-to-write- a-screenplay book buys into this notion, and even people like John August and Craig Mazin, who in their Scriptnotes podcast are usually pretty insightful about screenwriting, subscribe to it.

But, as I stressed in that previous post, this is only one type of story among many that you can tell in film, and I encourage every one to use their imagination, honesty, and life experience to free themselves to the possibilities of other stories.

This is what Linklater does in Boyhood. There is no over-arching goal providing the main thrust of this movie. In individual sequences and scenes through the course of young Mason’s life, there are goals to be achieved, but what provides the forward thrust of the film isn’t any overarching goal, but the cinematic magic of seeing Mason grow up before our eyes. That provides a sense of wonder and melancholy and even spiritual wisdom that is far removed from the usual goals of traditional, mainstream screenplays.

If that same script had been filmed with different actors playing Mason at different ages, that magic would have been lost, and the script would seem mediocre, but this doesn’t mean the script is lacking anything that would have made it better. As with Russian Ark (a 90 minute film shot in one continuous take), the means of creation becomes as vital to the power of the film as anything. And creating some kind of overarching goal for Mason would have diminished the impact and truthfulness of the film, which remains honest to the rhythms of a young boy’s life.

That is real magic, and it reminds us that film can accomplish many different things and tell many type of stories. Don’t let you imagination be limited by the rules others set for us!

“Industrial Films Are Not Art” – Jodorowsky Interview

Alejandro Jodorwsky’s new movie, The Dance of Reality, opens this weekend, his first new movie in over 20 years. The avante-garde director of The Holy Mountain and self-described “atheist mystic” talks about film in an article on Flavorwire. As always, he has provocative things to say about film and art:

“I say to the young artist, don’t make movies as a profession. Don’t make movies in order to live, in order to want money. Make your pictures when you can, but work is another thing. Don’t work in pictures for money. You will never be a real artist … Hollywood pictures, industrial pictures are the end of movies. They will kill cinema … Industrial pictures are not art.”

 

Read “Industrial Pictures Are Not Art”: Legendary Cult Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky on New Film ‘The Dance of Reality’ and How Hollywood Is Killing Cinema on Flavorwire.

New Networking Sites for Filmmakers

There are two new networking sites for filmmakers, both geared toward matching up filmmakers looking for crew with talent looking for work.

Cast and Crew Call is a simple site where freelancers create profiles describing their skills (actor, cinematographer, editor, etc). Freelancers can post videos portfolios and specify whether they’re willing to work unpaid gigs or only paying ones. People looking for talent in their area contact them through the site.

Creative District is a more ambitious site, geared toward creating a community of filmmakers. Filmmakers create profiles and list projects they are working on and what positions they are trying to fill. Other members can apply for the jobs. You can also “follow” specific filmmakers. The site is new and has room for improvement (for example there is as of this writing no clear way to contact a member other than applying for a job they’re offering), but the site is updating with improvements fairly regularly. They are also currently offering monthly $5000 grants to worthwhile film projects.

They’re both new sites, and it remains to be seen whether they take off or whither away, but let’s hope they succeed as much-needed alternatives to Craigslist.

Cast and Crew Call

Creative District

Movies vs. TV

There’s a lot of talk these days about whether contemporary television is better than film, meaning that mainstream TV nowadays is generally more interesting and innovative than mainstream films. Most of the talk has to do with how the economics of each medium has forced filmmakers to play it safe and take less risks than their television counterparts.

I’d like to take a step back and talk more about more fundamental differences in the art forms.

One of my writing teaches, Ela Thier (theindependentfilmschool.com/) once said in class that the difference between TV and movies is that TV presents episodes in a person’s life, whereas a film presents the most important event in a person’s life.

A bit of a generalization, but I think there is a lot of truth to this.

(And when I talk about “film” in this post, I’m talking about narrative feature films. Short films, documentaries, and experimental films are different animals, with different aims, different pleasures and different rules.)

This distinction illuminates a lot, for example why movie sequels so often fail. How many “most important events” can a person have in his or her life? You might be able to find material enough for a second film (Tim Burton’s Batman: Batman finds the person who murdered his parents, Burton’s Batman Returns: Batman falls in love), but there are only so many times you can return to the well before it runs dry and becomes just another episode in the protagonist’s life, especially when facing the pressure to give audiences “more of the same.”

Thus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (as in the comic), Spider-Man’s defining moment comes when he discovers that the two-bit criminal he didn’t bother to stop went on to kill his beloved Uncle Ben. But by the time of Raimi’s third movie in the franchise, when it’s revealed that Uncle Ben’s killer was really another criminal, it all just seems both too much and too the same.

When I wrote for Marvel Comics, we were told that a good story involves the hero facing a moral choice that defines him or changes him. But can you really write this same story issue after issue, month after month?

Many episodic series solve this problem by sometimes having stories where the hero is not the true protagonist, but just plays a part in someone else’s story. Will Eisner’s weekly Spirit comic used this device often, where The Spirit would only be a tangential figure in the story of a small time hood or some other Everyman.

Another way that episodic stories can deal with this challenge is to have an ensemble cast. Not every Buffy The Vampire Slayer story is about Buffy. Individual stories could focus on Willow, or Xander or Giles, or any one of the large and rotating supporting cast.

Of course, sometimes films and TV can skirt these fluid boundaries, like the movie trilogies that plan from the start to tell one story, or the TV miniseries that do the same thing. And in pure, escapist action movies, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you can have an exciting story that doesn’t necessarily tell anyone’s most important event.

My point isn’t to say that one form is superior to the other, but to point out how, even beyond the economics of production and distribution, there are inherent rules to any art forms (of course, rules are made to be stretched, broken, twisted and re-formulated), and whether you choose to write episodic TV or full-length films depends on which type of story you want to make.

Functions of a Scene

When working on a script – or more specifically when in the re-write phase – I find it really useful to think about the functions of a scene.

Any scene can:

  • Reveal Exposition or Back Story
  • Reveal Character or Relationships
  • Develop Character or Relationships
  • Advance the Plot
  • Create a Mood
  • Develop the Theme of the Movie
  • Entertain or Amuse

This list isn’t meant to be exclusive; it just represents one way I like to look at things.

I find it crucial to make sure any scene in my script accomplishes more than one of these functions, preferably at least three. For example, if I need to include a scene that provides back-story to the audience, I make sure it serves another function too. At the very least it should be amusing or entertaining, but even better the scene should accomplish something else: show something new about a character or relationships, create a mood (tension, eeriness, romance, levity, etc), advance the plot.

Or if I just had a sequence with a lot of tension, I might want to follow it with a humorous or romantic scene to lighten the mood, but I still want to make sure that scene serves other functions too.

The more functions any scene has the better, without overloading, of course. This leads to a nuanced, layered script, rich in detail and emotion. It helps keep the audience engaged by creating a world full of depth and breadth and helps create a film that rewards return visits because the film is always working on many levels at once.

Have I left out any scene functions that you find useful?

Resources for Indie Filmmakers

Since my last post was originally written a couple of years ago, I thought I’d update it with a couple of more great resources for Independent Filmmakers.

Both of these focus on distribution for independent films and are rich with ideas, information, and tips.

Jon Reiss, author of Thinking Outside the Box Office has a great blog and website:

http://jonreiss.com/

As does Stacey Parks:

http://independentfilmblog.com/

If you know of any others, let me know!

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