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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wrap up, Thoughts on AFM

Well, we've been back now a few days from Santa Monica.  Resettling, unpacking, reassessing, etc. Like I mentioned in my last blog, the American Film Market has made quite clear the divide between artistry and commerciality. This remains at the foreground of my thoughts on filmmaking.  It's a hard divide to try to connect for beginning filmmakers who want to make good work, but also would like to make a living doing that work.  It's been particularly difficult with my first film which we took to AFM. It has a name star in it, but tries to splice two genres together: art house meets horror. It's too artsy for commercial buyers and festivals don't generally choose horror films. The horror genre seems to scare programmers of big festivals away. There is a long way to go before horror gets the proper respect it deserves as a valid and potentially artful genre. But nonetheless, this film still serves as a calling card and has begun dialogues with several industry folks out there.  That is what is crucial in this strange biz.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.

But I digress.  My point is, despite the emphasis I heard over and over again at AFM about creating the "package" (stars, good script written in a recognizable genre, credible producer and director), this concept of the right package hinders most of us out there.  I know so many colleagues that wait and wait and try to get certain actors interested in their script.  Ten years go by and they are still working on that "big film," trying to get actors attached in order to bring in money. I don't need to remind you life is short.  Making a film every ten years just won't work.  So, are films just nice shelves where actors are on display? Or can they just be works that we create because we love the story and the locations and if big name actors are attached, great, but if not, we make the damn film anyway?

Filmmakers have to just make films, and lower their expectations about what sort of return they can expect.  I would tell all filmmakers to just get out there, grab a camera, use your friends and family and make a damn movie, but the chances of that thing ever allowing you to make money back to make another film is pretty slim. Expect to make lots and lots of micro-to-no budget films before you can really start to think a bit bigger.  And once you think you can go bigger, realize you might just have to go back to thinking smaller.  By no means rack up credit card debt, sell organs, become a surrogate mother, to just make your film.  That's just plain stupidity.  Invest some of your money, not all of it, into your work.  Again, it's about being realistic in this extremely expensive high stake world. And don't look at dollar signs as a measurement of your success. 

And go to film markets!  Go. Listen. Learn.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reporting Day Two at the American Film Market

Our trip getting here was very interesting.  Due to a bird getting stuck in some mechanism of the plane, our flight from Austin was delayed enough for us to miss our Denver connection.  I love birds but I cursed this bird.  We caught another flight three hours later and landed in Phoenix to find lines and lines of airline staff standing with white roses near our departure gate.  We found out later they were honoring a fellow staff member that had recently died in an accident.  Well, as we were getting our baggage, we found out his body had been sent off on the plane we were in and getting his body off the plane meant that we did not get our baggage for an hour after getting off the plane.  Death had delayed us, and we were grumpy and tired, mad at death for slowing us down on our journey to Santa Monica.

Well, we are here now.  The crowds are about what I expect. Suits and high heels. Jeans with jackets.  The food is also what I expect.  Twelve dollar hotdogs and five dollar bagels. Even the cooler weather (it’s 57 right now) I planned for. The amount of people sitting around with their dogs was not something I expected. Dogs at the American Film Market. Since mostly older men had them, and one flaunty blonde was all about leaning over to pet a particular bulldog, I guess they are used as chick magnets.  Opportunities for these men to glance down curvy busts as the women lean over to pet the poochies.

As I write this, some woman’s ass is like two feel from my face. Ha ha.  It’s that crowded.

We picked up a bunch of the trades (Hollywood Reporter, Variety etc.) and I spent some time looking through the various advertisements for films being screened at the AFM. Most looked pretty bad due to the ad design. It made me wonder about where the art of film poster design has gone.  If I were twelve years old, I might find some of these poster designs appealing, but honestly, it looked like they had hired a high school kid with horrible Photoshop skills to create these things. Putting some paint on my cat’s paws and letting her walk around on a piece of paper would have created a more appealing visual work than these pieces of crap.

The most prevalent aspect of the AFM, as reported by these trade magazines, is the definition of a successful movie. Clearly, it is about how little money can be spent in relation to how much money a film can rake in at the box office. There is no discussion about performances, a great story, etc. I am not pretending this is any surprise after all, this is the American Film MARKET. So commerce is key here.  I guess my childlike idealistic side still refuses to believe that superior craftsmanship of a film with a great unique story is not enough to make it interesting to the “paying and viewing audience,” whoever THAT is supposed to be. It is about formula within genre and being interesting within the first twenty minutes.  Quick pacing, faces people recognize. Attaching a star to your film so suddenly it matters. 

I am not blaming anyone for this.  Hearing these people talk, and even getting the chance to meet some of these buyers and sellers, I completely understand their logic.  It just makes me wonder as always about the relationship of creativity to commerce.

So can art even exist in cinema?  Sure, for the rare few filmmakers that seem to have been able to navigate this torrential storm where your film becomes a package of attractive elements: producer with track-record, well known director and name cast.  Just like a frozen dinner. Salisbury steak with creamed corn and chocolate brownie square.  But I am not sure how these filmmakers with more creative control managed to get where they are, but it seems like a combination of luck, timing, and a bit of determination. It almost seems that if a beginning filmmaker is interested in making unique artful work but wants to also make a living at it, they may want to redirect those creative impulses into something else, and make commercial work.  Either that or just make artful work and keep the day job. 

I think what is even a more difficult question is, can a film be artful and still be a commercial success?  Of course the answer is yes, but the issue of commerciality or creativity seem to be contrasting aspects of a film.

I think this will have to be a topic for another AFM day, written while killing some time in this Loew’s Lobby.