Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blog Salad: Mass Uploading, Subterannea, Externals and Bikinis

It's Tuesday again, and for some reason this seems to be the day of the week for another episode of Blog Salad. Time to mix, mash and combine, all for your consuming pleasure. Always remember to use the outermost fork when eating the Blog Salad.

Upload Your Stuff across the Web Instantly
Mashable recently detailed a service called Hey!Spread which provides a very convenient solution for content creators and multiple video sharing sites. Instead of having to go to multiple sites to upload your work, Hey!Spread will take your one upload and "spread" it out for you! Even if you've previously uploaded clips, they will share them with the other sites in their network. Very efficient for getting maximum exposure in the least amount of time. Other sites that perform a similar service are also mentioned (VidMetrix, TubeMogul).

Harlacher's Urchin Shot for $12,000
Blogzarro has an interesting interview with filmmaker John Harlacher concerning his fantasy feature about a small boy living in underground New York. Made on the above meager budget, Harlacher shot in New York City with no permits whatsoever. He did the ol' run-and-gun, shooting where he could and running when the cops showed up. Just another example of what can be done when determination is used in place of money. Check out the official movie website for more information.

My Big, Cheap, External Drive Case
The folks over at Street Tech are putting the word out about something every filmmaker needs: somewhere to put your video. They have a nice writeup about an Ultra external drive case from Tiger Direct that will enclose a standard size 3.5" hard drive for $20. This may not seem so fantastic until you notice that it not only has a fan, but firewire ports along with the standard USB ports. This means anyone can use it, and for the price is a pretty good bargain. Tiger Direct even sports a nice little installation video.

Distribution and the Bikini Concept
Got your attention yet? Thought so! This wonderful little tidbit comes to us from Attversumption in reference to another product, but easily applies to distributing your movie for free (which I've talked about before):

I found out the age-old concept of the bikini to apply. That by giving away 90% of the concept, and keeping 10%, the attraction factor was just as strong, if not twice as strong (there are reasons for me saying ‘twice as strong). And yes, what the bikini didn’t reveal, was the part the audience most wanted (naturally), and was the part they were willing to pay for.

Brilliant.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Using Alternate Reality Games to Market Your Movie

Last week I listened to the "This Conference is Being Recorded" podcast from filmmaker Lance Weiler. The subject was a creator of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG), or internet sites that pretend to be something real, but are actual games with various clues (in various formats) to decipher. It's a very interesting form and can be very immersive as you sink deeper and deeper into artificial worlds.

This can be a wonderful movie marketing tool. With a world already created in a screenplay, a natural extension is the video game. Since most filmmakers don't have the money to fund a console game (which would exceed the budget of their movie), ARGs offer a simpler experience, but one with no less power if done right. The big budget Transformers has a Sector 7 (the mysterious government agency featured in the film) site, filled with "evidence" about the existence of giant robots. Of course you need a password, but that's what Google is for. See how you're "playing" already?

That site is strictly consumption (all you do is watch stuff), but there are others that demand user interplay. World Without Oil presented a weekly scenario, then had users create content that fleshed it out. People would submit videos, blog posts, pictures, and audio which related "personal experiences" during the mock oil shock. It reminded me a lot of the game where you sat in a circle with your friends and each improvised a (usually funny) story, telling one paragraph each. World Without Oil is the same game on a much larger scale. Very interesting.

One thing I really like about these games is that they act real, and don't blatantly advertise a product if they are hocking one. Sites look authentic, and if a phone number is seen--call it! It will work, and have some meaning in the context of the game. Details like that make for interesting crossover into the "real" world. Sector 7 has lots of video clips of supposed robot activity, but never once do you get a popup of "Transformers! Opening July 2nd!" The content of the site does all the talking. I like that.

This is something I'd really like to try when I start marketing my upcoming indie sci-fi flick. Create an ARG covering several manufactured websites across the web. Create a trail for the user to follow, ending with the site for the movie. Or follow the WWO model and get people to fill the holes in your world with original content created by them. Shoot scenes not featured in the script (like backstory) and work it into the game somehow. Spread it all over the place and make sure it all leads back to your movie. There are all kinds of things you could try.

I like these ideas as they can be very fun as well as beneficial toward getting the word out about your film. For more information on ARGs, check out ARGnet, Unfiction, and the Wikipedia entry on this topic. They will get you started on current games and recall the more famous ones of the past.

How else can we use ARGs to propel buzz about our movies? Leave a comment!

Friday, July 27, 2007

How Much is a Microbudget?

I think the term "low budget movie" has become irrelevant. In Hollywood, this used to mean a $2-5 million filmed theatrical release with a couple of name actors working for scale. In the direct-to-video market this would be $150,000-$1.5 million film production with some B-list actors and no theatrical run. If shot on video, the total cost could plummet to $50,000 (or less) with distribution in brick-and-mortar stores and rental outlets.

A "microbudget" (the budget for the rest of us) would logically fall beneath any of these, but would rise above "no-budget" which would eschew everything resembling a production value because there are literally zero resources available. Let me just say that I am proud to fall into this category. You can do a lot with a little bit of money if you embrace the limits imposed on you, and use your creativity to find a way to solve problems. But how much are we talking here?

The term "micro" literally means "extremely or very small", but you have to have some money to make a movie. Even if you don't pay your people, you should at the very least feed them (if you don't they won't hang around long), and provide them with a DVD when finished. This is why you see "copy and meals provided" in casting notices. While the thrill of working on a movie may be the best incentive, this is a reassurance that you're not completely taking advantage of those involved.

So how much do we need? There is obviously no set amount, but because I like round numbers, I'm going to say that a microbudget feature will run you between $1,000-10,000. Here are some examples:

The Last Broadcast (1998) $900
Filmmakers Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos predated The Blair Witch Project with their creepy camcorder mockumentary about a killer in the woods of New Jersey. The movie was the first to be streamed digitally into theaters and just recently had a re-release on DVD. Both Weiler and Avalos have gone on to bigger (low) budgets with their films Head Trauma and The Ghosts of Edendale, respectively.

El Mariachi (1992) $7,000
This is probably the most famous example of the most bang-for-your-buck, but I almost don't like to use it. It's true that Robert Rodriguez did shoot his action movie on 16mm for this paltry sum, but after it was acquired by Columbia for theatrical release, another million was poured in to revamp the soundtrack. Still, Rodriguez cut his teeth on video which led to his miserly techniques that everyone can learn from. His book "Rebel Without a Crew" is required reading (I've even read it) for the microbudgeter.

Sex Machine (1995) $8,000
Christopher Sharpe's "artsploitation" action/horror movie shot on DV is another good example of what can be done with under ten grand. With most of the budget going to makeup effects (and food, I'm sure), he also built sets, shot in moving cars, and had dolly shots up the wazoo. I haven't seen it yet (how about a screener, Chris?), but it garnered enough press to get Bill Cunningham's attention, followed by a DVD distribution deal with Anthem Pictures.

To pull this off, you're going to have to have some resources already in place. I spent $800 on my short Middle of Nowhere (equipment rental for a night shoot in the woods), but can't employ the same mentality when I do a feature. Instead of renting a dolly every time I need one, I'll have to borrow or make one. Working at a TV station hooks me up with all kinds of folks with all kinds of gear. Most will trust me, dropping equipment costs to almost nothing.

I really like the idea of the $1000 budget, propelled by the guys over at the movie blog $1000 Film. This is the ultimate in conservation and is a budget that anyone could save for, eliminating investor interference and total creative control. Even if you do have to borrow, asking ten people for $100 isn't that hard. Some will argue that $10,000 is too high to be called "micro", but if you consider that mainstream Hollywood stuff can cost $200 million, 10k is "extremely or very small" in comparison.

What do you think? What does "microbudget" mean to you?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Serialized Comedy Chronicles 'The Rejects'



Have a super power no one appreciates? Or needs? If so, you'll be greatly interested in a new comedy series being made solely for an internet audience. Created by fellow microbudget movie blogger Josh Johnson, The Rejects will follow a bunch of kids with not-so-super powers (remember the sidekicks from Sky High?). Set to debut in September of this year, this is another example of filmmakers creating serialized content specifically for the web. Who needs money when you have passion?

Like a good marketer, Josh has already set up a series of websites. There is the official site, which only has one clip up, but it is funny and features a sexy "car whisperer". It also links to the official Rejects blog, which has more behind the scenes video, additional clips and some poster art. The filmmakers proudly show the layout for their swanky audition facility, but no auditions! Come on, I want to see that stuff! Finally, there is an official MySpace page which serves as a social network for the show.

There doesn't seem to be any monetizing model in place yet, with the sole exception of a "donate" button that will send you to PayPal where you can contribute. With nothing to sell as of now, maybe this will come later. How about "Are You a Reject?" t-shirts?

I wish the best of luck to Josh & company. Doing any of this sort of thing is never easy, and takes lots of work (and luck) to pull off. Especially when your shooting a series over what could be a lot of time. I've seen enough of Josh's stuff to be interested in The Rejects, as he obviously has ability. To get a better look at Josh's body of work, be sure to watch the collection of his short films found on the web.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Serialized Sci-Fi in the 'Trenches'



As I try to just craft a script for my serial/movie that I want to produce, I'm finding more and more filmmakers using the same model. So far on Film Flap I've mentioned The West Side, Venus Rises, Prom Queen, and Sanctuary. Now comes Trenches, a sci-fi action movie that is to be released in 15 episodes coming this fall.

The producer/director of the project is Shane Felux, the guy who gained some fame for his Star Wars fan film, Revelations. On that movie he farmed out all his effects work to artists and fans all over the world, who would create a sequence (or parts of one) then send it to him over the net. This is a great idea, as you could have lots of people interested in your movie become a part of it without ever leaving their home. Felux would go on to tribute George Lucas directly with his effects comedy, Pitching Lucas (which featured an actor from one of my shorts, Tye Nelson).

Trenches has an impressive looking trailer, but the story looks terribly derivative. It appears to concern fighting soldiers on another planet who must band together to defeat an unknown menace! Yep, it's yet another Aliens/Starship Troopers clone. I have no problem with movies inspired by other movies, but this looks like a duplicate of James Cameron's classic, right down to the costume design and ship modeling. Aren't there any original ideas out there? Venus Rises obviously has a much lower budget, but that sci-fi series looks vastly more compelling on the story level.

I'm sure I'll watch Trenches anyway (I have been proven wrong many times). The serial model is of such interest to me, that I have to follow anyone who tries it. Trenches doesn't seem to have a financial plan yet, as the website just mentions being "picked up" as a series or feature as their goal, with no way to buy anything associated with the film--yet.

For more information on this flick, check out the detailed website and the director's blog. More information is forthcoming and a video blog is promised as well. Let's Rock!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blog Salad: So Much Stuff Your Head Will Explode

Typically, I put together a "Blog Salad" (if you're curious, this is derived from the psych term "word salad") when I can't come up with something original myself. It's the various topics from blogs and sites that don't seem to have any connective thread, other than they could be useful to filmmakers. Today, I was debating over an entry in the Monster Squad Blog-a-thon (which I may still do), and posting the ton of stuff that just materialized across the web. I went with the latter, since there is so much useful information I need to get it out to you now before I experience information overload.

Josh Oakhurst and Stop Motion
Blogger Oakhurst produced some animated commericals Using a digital Nikon and a whole lot of patience. His most recent post details how he did it, along with all the nitty-gritty. If you've ever wanted to try this kind of thing, check it out. He also includes some clips of the actual spots along with a Q&A format that makes for easy and educational reading. Harryhausen would be proud.

'The Future' now at a Lower Price
CinemaTech's Scott Kirsner has just lowered the price of his acclaimed book 'The Future of Web Video'. The digital version is now $12.95 and the paperback version is $15.75. A free excerpt from the book detailing sites that pay for web content can be found here.

Motivational Speaker Jerry Seinfeld
"What's the deal with all you filmmakers?" Sorry, couldn't resist. Lifehacker has a great post about a technique learned from the famous comic concerning achieving anything. It's basically the "do something every day that leads to your goal" thing, but with a visual twist that could help anyone--including us folks who want to make movies. Of course it won't work unless you try it!

Bill Cunningham Crosses the Streams
Our buddy Bill over at DISContent goes nuts with this post that itemizes forty-seven previous posts from his blog concerning writing a movie. He covers everything (and I mean everything) that you could possibly imagine from concept, to pre-production, to writing--all with Bill's pulpy skew. Not only can you learn a ton about crafting your film, but it's also a great example of effective blogging. Content is king, and there will always be a use for well-written material. It's Bill's Blog Salad (only he calls it Link Fu)!

Be that Web Diety You Always Imagined
If Bill's post wasn't crazy enough, how about this little ditty from Mashable: links to over 400 tools for photographers, videobloggers, podcasters and musicians. There is so much stuff here that I can't (nay, I won't!) begin to describe it. Just go there and be ready to spend hours and hours digesting all of the stuff available to us for little or no cost. It's the microbudgeter's candyland!

Whew! Okay, back with something less regurgitated tomorrow. Maybe something about monsters for the blog-a-thon, maybe not. Bill would probably approve of the monster article...

Monday, July 23, 2007

How Much of Your Movie Should Go Online?

A new technique for creating buzz for a new movie has been to put deleted scenes on the web. This generates interest without compromising anything from the final cut. It seems to be happening more and more, beginning with Borat through the recently released, Knocked Up. Some studios even put actual scenes from the film up for viewing. CinemaTech posted about a documentary posting clips before the actual film is finished. Is this a good idea for the self-distributor? How much is too much?

I'm a big believer in the power of the internet in promoting your movie, and think you should give away stuff to the potential fan (i.e. buyer) to interest them in what you are making. Anything you can do to involve the surfer will only compel them to return for updates and hopefully a sale when the project is complete. Create a void in them then fill it with the end result.

Giving away your work with the intent to sell is a powerful idea, but you have to be smart about it. At first I thought you should just post your whole feature somewhere, and tell everyone on the net to go watch it. This, coupled with a commercial at the front of your movie (and your website featured in the letterbox), would drive people to your site and potential sales. If people like your film, you give them a way to get their own copy.

Since then, my thoughts have changed a bit. While I still think you should give them a free version on the web, you should tailor the release to be internet-friendly and last over time. This is why I like the serialized release model. Break the film into 10-15 short chapters and release one per week on a video sharing site like YouTube. This will stretch awareness of your movie over weeks instead of just one day. Have your movie for sale before the first chapter hits, and those who are really drawn into your story will buy it so they won't have to wait.

I can't say I like the idea of posting film clips from an unfinished film (especially in a narrative), but there is lots of "behind the scenes" stuff that you could post that is exclusive to the net, and not on the DVD. This could be raw footage from your documentarian (you do have one, right?) that you could offer in lieu of a polished "making of" feature on your disc. How about links to your research used to write your script? Or audition video? Or story boards? You could do all kinds of things to draw people to your site and keep them there for awhile. Just be careful that your not spoiling your own movie by giving away too much.

One reason I started this blog was to create an audience for a film I hope to start making next year, and self-distribute in 2009. Maybe if you like what you read here, you'll follow me as I put together my first feature film. If you're interested, maybe you'll watch the episodes as they unravel and be so taken that you'll just have to buy the affordable DVD. If not, I hope you enjoy the journey anyway.

Friday, July 20, 2007

'Your Video Store Shelf' Podcast Delves into the Cult of the Bad



I'm always on the lookout for information about low budget movies. Since I still plan to start shooting my microbudget monstrosity next summer, I can only learn from those who have done it before, even if their 'low' budgets are far more than I will ever hope to spend. Learning from others could not only teach me, but save me a few bucks along the way.

That's when I found out Bill Cunningham was getting interviewed by one Gregory Conley from the direct-to-video blog, Your Video Store Shelf. Greg does regular podcasts with filmmakers in this arena, interviewing them about current films and past experiences. It's a great podcast, full of anecdotes and information about an industry that makes money, despite the typical ridicule it receives.

These are the movies with no theatrical release that smother your local Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. They are the knock-offs, the rip-offs, and the cash-ins. They look similar to recent films out in the theater, complete with familiar sounding names and cloned box art. For every Transformers there is a Transmorphers. Even if the films are dissimilar, you wouldn't know it by looking at the box.

Many of these are sold to foreign markets, looking for copies of American fare. Some feature big name actors, but most are B-listers looking for a paycheck. Sometimes they sport decent budgets, but more often than not, you are looking at a million dollars or less. When shot on digital video, they move into microbudget land--our land.

The bottom line is that most of these "movies" are just terrible. From what I gather from Greg's interviews, they are cranked out on insane deadlines under less-than-perfect conditions, with many being tailored (often at the script stage) to a specific buyer's wants. One director was (thankfully) bothered by the fact that one purchaser for Blockbuster wanted to see kids getting killed, so that's what the distributor provided. Yikes.

Besides the little tricks of the trade that are mentioned (like blood filled condoms fired from a shotgun instead of using squibs), the obvious fact is that even bad content makes money. The video store shelves are lined with lots and lots of crap. Why can't we make equally bad material and make a living? Why can't we make good material and make a living? Why can't the web be our 'video store shelf'?

For an eye-opening listen, check out some of Greg's podcasts. His most recent one is with director Leigh Scott (Transmorphers), and is a good interview. Scott is one guy who wants to eventually get out of the dreck market and be a real filmmaker. I wish the best of luck to him. And to us.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Bitter Man Reams the Festival Circuit



This has circulated among several sites lately (Film Threat, Indiewire, and Microcinema Scene to name a few), but it is so freaking hilarious that I just couldn't pass it up. Anyone who has ever submitted anything to a film festival can relate to this, and it just reinforces my feeling that your money is better spent on your movie--not someone else's festival.

An instant classic.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

'Sanctuary': Serialized Horror/Sci-fi on a Grand Scale



Last week, every Film Flap post covered chapter-based shows that were specifically targeting an internet audience. This week, I came across yet another one, Sanctuary, with expensive production values, longer episodes, a pay-per-download model, and even an option to see High Definition versions of the show. It's just more evidence that this type of "programming" is a viable option for content producers.

The show seems to be of the X-files variety, as the show follows "the exploits of Dr. Helen Magnus as she seeks out all manner of terrifying and monstrous creatures." It sounds interesting, the trailer (seen above) looks great, and Sanctuary seems to fill another genre hole in the Serialized Webisode Sweepstakes, which is gaining in popularity. The cast is culled from other sci-fi shows, there are high quality effects (if a little video game-ish), and the website is well done.

The catch is that none of the 16-18 minute episodes are free, and cost at least two bucks a shot (the HD versions are $2.50). I'm tempted to buy one, but if I get hooked, then I'm going to have to watch them all (which is the idea), running me a total of $16. Five episodes are currently out, with three more to come. You can also purchase "bundles" at $6.99 for episodes 1-4, and I assume the next four will be available for the same. Logic would also state that the complete "first season" will be available at some time for even more savings. Another intriguing element to the downloads is that there are some unnamed "extras" that accompany them, but there is nothing indicating what they are.

I don't really like the PPV model, but it may work for these guys, based on the money they are obviously putting into this. If viewers think there is something of very high quality on the other end of the download, they may fork over two bones to try it. I know I'm tempted. Since snagging a new release on iTunes is about the same price ($10-15), this is a pretty fair deal considering you'll be getting a 2 1/2 show when all is said and done.

More information about Sanctuary can be found at the creator's blog, as well as a fan site. I wish there was some way to track how much they are making, but we'll just have to see if the show sticks around to find out if it is worth all the apparent money they are pouring into it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blog Salad: Characters, Loglines, and Free Stuff

Nothing to write about? Scrape together several unrelated links, I always say! Okay, so they're not unrelated, they are all about filmmaking. Best of all, they all concern free goodies, which is always music to the microbudgeter's ears. Check out the links from the salad this week, and benefit from the wisdom and generosity of others.

Building Character
Screenwriter Julie Gray forks out some great advice in "Give Your Characters Some Credit" over at her blog, The Rouge Wave. Among other things, she talks about the importance of every character (no matter how small), and how they need to be written as real people, not stereotypes. This may sound like common sense, but Julie recommends grabbing your script, reading aloud, and asking yourself: would a real person say that?

Logline Jam
After a month-long absence, the guys at the $1000 Film blog are back! Recently there was a great post about writing the logline for your script. This is the synopsis of your story crystallized into one sentence. Not only is this a great way to tell people what your story is about, but it will help you stay focused as you march along the rewrite trail. It's a long post, but it's full of good ideas and examples (as usual). I also think that the logline is the best source of your tagline (your film's slogan), which always looks great on a movie poster.

No Cost Software to Make Movies With
"Free" is always the best price. Especially when you're trying to make a flick with next to no cash. Self Reliant Filmmaking turned me onto a great post over at Free Geekery, listing 15 freeware titles that every filmmaker needs. This is a pretty good group and covers all kinds of tools to write, storyboard, edit, composite, budget, and more. Do your production a favor, and save your money for the hardware by utiliziing at least some of these very helpful programs.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dastoli Brothers Create 'Omega 35' for $750



While poking around Google today, I stumbled upon a 20 minute short film created by a pair of obviously talented identical twin brothers, James and Robert Dastoli. Their movie is the sci-fi flick Omega 35, which was made for their senior thesis at the University of Central Florida.

The story centers around a jailbreak in deep space, and the relationship that quickly develops between the rouge Vegas (Ray Eddy) and his would-be rescuer, Evi (Joanna Eliza Stevens). It's a fun little movie that has tons of production value, some decent acting, and a whole lot of atmosphere. Inspired by 80's science fiction, it mostly succeeds, and is over before it wears out its welcome.

I learned some interesting stuff while watching this movie. Despite all of the CG work (which is pretty decent), the best part is the chemistry between the two actors. If you can nail this down, you've got your audience, and I liked what was going on. The technical side was also good, and I liked everything from the computer displays to the convincing set work. While I'm not a fan of bluescreen effects (which I find distracting), at least it was limited here. The brothers are also very good directors, and know how to point a camera effectively.

Omega 35 has a very good behind the scenes reel, which is informative and entertaining. The Dastolis even include footage of their profanity-laced bickering during a tough day of shooting, which is admirable (I'm not sure I would do the same) and funny, so my hat's off to them.

Their website is well worth perusing , as it is chock full of stuff. Be sure to check their large list of other shorts, most of which are for sale on feature-laden, modestly priced DVDs. While they don't have any features under their belt, two are in development, and are scheduled for completion in 2008. I'm very curious to see how they fare in a full-length venue.

Despite the fact I've never heard of the Dastoli brothers before, my guess is I'll be hearing a lot about them in the future.

Friday, July 13, 2007

'Prom Queen' is the King Daddy of the Online Serial



Since the past few days seem to be 'serialized web shows' week, I thought I'd conclude with the biggest of these shows, which ironically, I just discovered. From the folks who brought you the indie Sam has 7 Friends, comes the Michael Eisner backed Prom Queen, an online mystery for the teen set. Utilizing a young cast and a heavy MySpace presence, Prom Queen seems destined to blaze a trail for brief online content mimicking a daily TV show. It's not microbudget, but as with feature films, we can all learn from the big boys.

Let me just say first off that these guys have the marketing angle zeroed. Not only did they have a deal with MySpace to post each episode there first, but each character (not actor) has their own page with additional content. You can add them as a friend and watch stuff not in the show, like video diaries. This adds an extra dimension to the whole proceeding that draws you into these "people" and blurs the line between what is staged and what appears not to be. MySpace lists over 8 million plays (!) and 5700 subscribers.

I don't know how much coin Prom Queen is bringing in, but they have some pretty sweet deals. They have ads for the upcoming film Hairspray at the beginning of each segment. You can watch the whole series via an Amazon Unbox download. The show is even available on cell phones via Verizon's V Cast. Someone really did their job well, proving that this stuff can work and be profitable.

I like the daily postings (and weekly recaps), proving they finished everything first. They don't offer a DVD, and the Unbox download was only available after the run was done. Maybe they were afraid people would buy the show, then post spoilers everywhere, but I wonder. I think people hooked on the show would gladly shell out some dough for the entire show, so they wouldn't have to wait for the next episode. Plus, only selling on Unbox seems limiting to those who want to watch on an electronic device. What about the millions who still prefer stuff on good ol' TV?

The original run of 80 chapters is over (ending with a cliffhanger, of course!), but will return in August for another "season". I haven't watched the whole show, but it is good and I will be catching up before August. If a soap/mystery serial can work on the web, why not any other genre?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

'Venus Rises': Serialized Sci-Fi is Coming

Science fiction is definitely one of the costlier genres to make a movie in, especially if you go off-earth. You'll need to build sets, make costumes, create effects, and spend lots and lots of time in post production. While I like this kind of sci-fi, it does thwart the micro budget ideology. Some go forward anyway, and work toward bringing their vision to life.

Such is Venus Rises, a series of episodes set to be released on the web as 'vidcasts'. Created by writer-director J.G. Birdsall, the show concerns the future of man on colonized Mars and the mines of Venus. While nothing has been released yet, the first episode is currently in post.

There is a lot to look at on the website, including behind-the-scenes footage which give an idea about what to expect. The low budget sets look pretty impressive, and should be an asset to the project. Some of the acting looks a bit suspect (note the scene in the shuttlecraft), but without seeing anything "official", we may just be seeing early takes (or outtakes). There is also a nice gallery of stills, and a message board where you can interact with the filmmakers.

Technology and the Arts recently interviewed Birdsall about Venus Rises, and that podcast is available for a listen or a download on their site. I liked the research he apparently did, not only on the story, but also on the set design and how he incorporated old NASA junk he picked up on eBay.

As far as making money, Venus Rises does have an ad model. Anyone can buy time within an episode, and it appears commercials can run at the beginning and in the middle of each chapter. I'm not sure how well this will work (or how much money they've made), but it is something. There must be some cash coming in, as you can only buy time in Episode 3. The first two must be booked solid! They also accept sponsors.

I'm excited to see how well this tale comes together. It is more evidence that filmmakers want to use the web to its fullest potential, and I wish them success. Any good results achieved by these guys will only benefit the rest of us in the future when we try it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

'The West Side': A Serialized Western on the Web

Well, it had to happen. I knew that I was probably not the only one who had the idea for releasing chapters of a movie over time on the internet (and it's been done before). It's an idea that's as old as movies themselves, only the medium has changed. Filmmakers Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman have created an alternative-reality western in The West Side, a twelve chapter film to be released as segments are completed. The first episode is out now, and is a promising start.

I liked several things about what they are doing here. Just the idea is great. Money spent releasing a film this way can cover way more ground than at a handful of film festivals. Save the application fees and spend it on your movie, I always say. The only way to see the flick is to go to the website, which may cause you to to read all the supplemental stuff, including a blog. It's a bit sparse now, but should grow as more and more pieces are produced.

There are also some things that don't serve the filmmakers that well. By only being able to watch the movie on its dedicated site, they are cutting off lots of potential YouTube traffic. Lots of looks could potentially be had from surfers looking for something new, and embedded video is a powerful marketing tool. And where's the business model? There are no ads and no way to buy anything associated with the film. I still think the way to go is to finish the whole project, offering it on DVD before the first episode even comes out. That way, every regularly scheduled release makes for revenue potential. But that's just me.

Also check out Josh Oakhurst's blog entry about The West Side. It's pretty great, and compares this way of releasing to how Four Eyed Monsters went about it. Don't miss the comments section, as FEM's Arin Crumley responds to some of the criticism and makes very good points about how this is all experimental as of now, and we are all learning.

This is good news for all filmmakers, and I think we should all try it. The best news is that the word is getting out. I came across The West Side due to other filmmaking blogs such as FreshDV and Microcinema Scene. I look forward to the day when someone's chapter comes out and the whole web instantly knows about it. Now that's distribution.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Keeps the Fire Burning--Barely

The J.K Rowling machine continues to fill the earth. The seventh (and last) book in the crazy-popular Harry Potter series is now out, as is the film version of the fifth novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Again using a different director (David Yates) but the same cast, we are invited along to follow wizard-in-training Harry and his likable band. Like all of the films, Order of the Phoenix is a decent entry, and while I did like it, it falls a bit short of Goblet of Fire, and stalls in comparison to my favorite in the series, Prisoner of Azkaban.

After surviving an attack from the life-sucking Dementors outside of school, Harry Potter’s life just keeps getting tougher. No one believes that the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned, calling Harry a liar in the process. Even headmaster and friend Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems distant. Perhaps it’s the Ministry of Magic’s new watchdog Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) that is causing all the unease. Voldemort is still alive, however, and is filling Harry’s mind with all sorts of disturbing visions. Could there be a link between the two?

What always amazes me about these movies is the details incorporated into this universe. There are always amazing creatures (the emaciated Pegasus-type things), cool mystical gadgets (a real ear on a string for eavesdropping), and magical architecture (buildings that expand, rooms with shelves up to the infinite) to inspire wonder and awe. This is all peripheral to the story, but it is so creative, you can’t help but be impressed.

The actors all do a good job, but it’s Daniel Radcliffe as Harry who has to deliver or the movie is sunk. He is suitably intense, and I’m impressed at his increasing range as he grows up with this character. Hermione (Emily Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) again support Harry, and are so settled into these roles that we see the characters every time. All the regular British character actors are back (including Alan Rickman as Snape, who has the best scene with Harry and a magical mind probe), and Staunton as Umbridge is the perfect June Cleaver from hell. I also liked newcomer Evanna Lynnch as the delightfully weird student Luna Lovegood.

The story is solid, but seems to take too long getting to the inevitable conclusion: a showdown with Lord Voldemort. He is such a great villain, that I wanted to see more of him in the movie (especially after the end of the last film). The pattern of these stories has always been that everyone talks about how terrible Mr. V is, but he never really shows up until the very end. Fiennes plays him so well, that you love to hate him and watch him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is good feature, but I wanted it to be better. It was engaging, but felt long. If the superb villain was given more to do, I think I’d like these movies more. As it stands--not bad.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Movie Ads Use Pictures, Too

The always informative Bill Cunningham posted a great comment about yesterday's post concerning movie titles. He makes the great point that the title should lead people to the tagline, and...

Did I mention you should have already hooked them with the artwork?

So what makes a good movie poster?

Turning to the internet, I came across Internet Movie Poster Awards, a wonderful site that features the best and worst of studio movie posters. Each past year is available (back to 1999) separated into several categories (best, worst, funniest, creepiest) backed up by explanations supporting their conclusions! Very informative. Tagline awards are also given so you writers won't feel left out.

It's probably a good idea to hire an artist for this one, but this website is a great repository of images that you could draw from for your own work and mood you want to create. Check it out!

P.S. I'll be out of town until Wednesday of next week, unsure of whether or not I'll have internet access. So if you don't see a post until then--don't fret! Film Flap will return Wednesday morning.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Titling your Film with Viral Marketing in Mind

As I have been formulating ideas for my feature flick, I've tried to think ahead to my ultimate marketing plan. In a past post, I mentioned that a catchy, direct-to-the-point, exploitation-esque movie title would be beneficial when it was time to distribute your movie. I still think that, but now believe that it is not enough. Not only must I have name that grabs people, but it must take advantage of the internet, propelling people to the film's eventual website.

This can be accomplished in several ways. First, come up with an original word that optimizes Google in your favor. Jaws is a great name for a film, but if you do a search for it, you'll get over thirteen million hits. 'Jaws Movie' will pare that down to two million, but such a common word carries lots of its own baggage. On the other hand, 'laserfork' garners a whopping one hit. When your site goes up and has even a little traffic, you'll always be at the top of the list. When you go to register your domain name, chances are you'll get it ('laserfork.com' is still available!).

Second, be careful that your title is not too original. Since we're dealing with the need for perfect spelling, don't go over the head of the common man. I recommend using some kind of compound word (Laserfork) instead of something completely weird and unfamiliar. Zathura sounds cool, but if someone has no idea what that is or means, you will lose them on the web when they search or try to go directly to your site. Don't forget the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) rule.

Finally, keep your title short. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is not only full of common words, but is very long. A short name will be easier to remember, and easier for folks to just type into their browser's address bar. Not only that, but when people talk about it, they'll use the actual name, which lends to better identification and brand recognition. Long names will be shortened anyway (The Rocky Horror Picture Show is often truncated to just Rocky Horror), so why not do it yourself?

Of course none of these are hard and fast rules, just ideas. A title should still serve your movie, but it has potential to do much more than that. It seems like a simple concept, but I keep seeing terrible names that do nothing for promotional purposes, and it's a missed opportunity. Big studios can get away with this lax practice (Evening, Next), since the stars will sell the film, but we in microbudget land need every advantage we can get. This seems like a good one.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Blog Salad: Tips from Rocky, Sound Advice, and 6 Horrifying Shorts

It's the Fourth of July, and for some reason I'm at work. Everyone who has a normal job is off today, but I'm pushing buttons for an early news broadcast. I don't know why management insists on making everybody work at the same time they whine about budget constraints, but that's another post for another blog. Here at Film Flap we talk about low budget movie production with occasional big budget reviews. I'm struggling with a topic today, so how about a confabulation of topics! It's another blog salad!

"He looks like a big flag..."
The sweet Julie Gray over at The Rouge Wave recently posted a great piece about rejection and writing. She uses Rocky as an example of tenacity and how you should persist and stop complaining about being rejected by a competition you may have entered (oh, I can relate there). Her post centers around screenwriting, but it's very easy to substitute 'filmmaker' for 'writer' and learn a thing or to. Also read her 'Anti-whining recipe' in the same article. Yo!

Do You Hear What I Hear?
HD for Indies have a great link today amidst several in their Blogwad! smattering of links. One in particular is a great diatribe from audio professionals about what directors can do to make recording sound a more efficient experience. Found at filmsound.org, the post is way too long to wrap up here, go just go there and learn, learn learn! For a great audio primer, I recommend this link, which is an evergreen from Ken Stone.

The Horror, The Horror...
Six On the Lot contestants debuted horror shorts last night, but I missed it. Thanks to the internet, I saw all six shorts online and was pretty disappointed. All were cliche ridden, with no real original ideas. One standout was Sam Friedlander's Anklebiters, which was effectively nasty and gory. The best was probably Mateen Kemet's Profile, which had some reality to ground the horror, making it that much more scary. Unfortunately, even Mateen wimped out, giving us the "it's only a dream" ending, diluting it's power. Oh well, there's always KarmaCritic!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

'On the Lot' Scandal Leads Refugees to KarmaCritic

I didn't think I'd ever be posting anything more about the flop of a reality show On the Lot, which I am glad I didn't get on. After taking a bath in the ratings, the show has changed formats, the premise, the host, and was shortened from two episodes per week (a regular show and a results show, like American Idol) to only one. As a friend put it, "the show is just dumb."

After perusing Microcinema Scene, I learned about this letter published by Ain't It Cool News. In it, a chronicle of manipulation is carefully detailed. Fox apparently did some nefarious things like picking contestants way before the submission deadlines, and dropping people from their website for complaining about it. When a group of the booted set up their own site, and it was mentioned in the OTL Wikipedia entry, the info was deleted by a Fox stooge! It seems to have been returned in the External Links section, however.

The site is KarmaCritic, and after reading Marco's letter about the whole bamboozle, I signed up. I fully support this new enterprise, which seems like a great idea: filmmakers getting together to support each other, and develop projects together. It will be nice to follow the site and see what becomes of it. I wouldn't mind getting some more feedback on my film, either...

Monday, July 2, 2007

More Canon HV20 Goodness

After my last post about this little HD wondercam, I came across a bunch of other stuff that would be quite beneficial to anyone (like me) considering one. I am still planning on getting it myself (and writing about it here), but my transmission is slipping, and some of the money saved for the camera is going to have to fix my car (drat!). The good news is that this camera is very affordable at $1000, so saving up for it again shouldn't take very long.

The guys at FreshDV recently interviewed filmmaker Bruce Allen on their podcast. Bruce has had some good experience with the HV20, likes it, and has lots of interesting things to say about getting the best image possible from it (among other things). He also talks about using 35mm lens/depth of field adapters for the HV20, a topic that is very, very interesting. These include Redrock Micro's M2, the SGPro, and Cinevate's Brevis35 (check out the HV20 sample footage!). If you want to build one, try this link.

Speaking of Redrock, they were also showing off a nifty prototype rig at the Cinegear Expo just recently. The rig uses an HV20, the M2, a Canon eyepiece, a follow focus and a cool cage reminiscent of the RED camera. It will probably cost more than the camera itself (no price or availability as of yet), but while (as Bruce points out) cameras will come and go, but this rig could be useful for years.

For some more random sources of information on the HV20, check out the DVXuser forum here. Also see this video tutorial for some great tips on getting the best image. If you didn't read it last time, go look at Barry Green's article on setting exposure.

More and more filmmakers are hopping on the HV20. I realize it may be obsolete in a year or so, but if you need a good camera right now, and don't have a lot to spend, this seems to be the best choice. Enjoy all the link love!

Transformers


Less Than Meets the Eye

Michael Bay is back! You’d think after bankrupting DreamWorks (now owned by Paramount) with The Island (2005), no one in their right mind would allow him to helm another movie, especially Steven Spielberg. Cooler minds didn’t prevail, however, and now he is giving us Transformers, the live action version of the toy-based cartoon from the eighties. True to form, Bay gives us exactly what he’s good at: a big, loud, bore.

Sam Witwicki (Shia LaBeouf) is just your average high school kid who wants to get a car so he can impress the hottest girl in school, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). He does get his car, an old beat up Camaro that also happens to be Bumblebee, a shape-shifting giant robot. He’s in league with the Autobots (good Transformers), who are looking for the Allspark, a giant cube that has limitless power and can restore their world. The problem is the Allspark is also sought by the Decepticons (bad Transformers) who will stop at nothing to obtain it and use it for thier own evil purposes.

This film is a real mess, and paced horribly. While you expect quick cutting during the action, Bay utilizes this “technique” for the whole film, creating a jarring, abrupt experience. In fact, I’d be willing to bet this movie was cut way down from a longer version. Characters appear then disappear for long stretches, transitions between scenes are choppy, and people do things that must have been motivated by earlier scenes that are now missing. And can someone please take away Bay’s camera crane and dolly? He uses them for what feels like every shot, and it’s distracting to the extreme.

The acting is uniformly terrible. The normally likable LaBeouf (Disturbia) is fine at first, but once the plot kicks in, he plays manic for the rest of the film, which really grates. The sexy Fox (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) is obviously cast for her looks (and they really tramp her up) and little else. Vets like Jon Voight (Glory Road) are inexplicably wooden, while weasly John Turturro (The Good Shepherd) is chewing so hard on the scenery I literally wanted him to choke.

To its credit, the fighting robots are cool. This is some very good effects work, and when the bots change form, it’s seemless and realistic-looking. Their designs are also impressive, from the stalwart leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime (who turns into a semi) to the sneaky Soundwave who looks like a boombox one minute, then turns into a Gremlin from hell.

Michael Bay movies make great trailers, but he sucks as a storyteller. Transformers is all bang and no heart, shoving action sequences in your face and forgetting that you have to have characters that you care about to create any kind of suspense or tension. As a result, we get a loud, flashy movie with lots of eye candy and no soul. The movie itself is a big, lumbering robot that changes forms, but can’t hide the fact that it’s still an empty tin can with shiny paint.

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