The Future Of Theatrical Indies

25 12 2007 has an interesting article by Andrew O’Hehir on what is happening with indie cinema in today’s mini-major world.

O’Hehir makes some very interesting points. He starts with the obvious”

But over the three years I’ve been conducting a year-end survey of the indie biz, one grand theme has emerged. You could almost call it a gigantic free-floating anxiety, rather than a theme: Nobody has a clue how audiences will be watching adventurous, modestly scaled, sub-Hollywood films in five or eight or 12 years, but everybody’s pretty sure they won’t be watching them the way they are right now.

But, in an interview with Milos Stehlik, director of Facets Multi-Media (a video distributor which occasionally distributes films), he makes perhaps the most cogent point of all:

“When you see exciting and terrific films that come with all this festival imprimatur, with rave reviews from all the critics, and they become barely a blink on the box-office scene, it’s depressing,” says Stehlik. “It’s probably a harbinger of very bad things to come.” (He’s specifically talking about “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” one of the best-reviewed films of 2006, which made less than $80,000 in U.S. release.) But Stehlik’s answer to Lenin’s perennial question for would-be revolutionaries (“What Is to Be Done?”) is pretty much the same as everyone else’s in the business: Like it or not, sooner or later we’ve got to leave the damn movie theaters behind.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. At last year’s Sundance, the people who were the most depressed were the indie producers who felt that they needed theatrical distribution. For them, their game was precisely the same as a major producer’s — find a great script and attach a big name actor or two to it. Directors fit in there somehow, but had very little to do with distribution and marketing, unless they themselves were names (hence the presence of Michel Gondry, Michael Keaton, Alan Ball, Stanley tucci, Isabella Rosselini, and Kirsten Dunst on this year’s Sundance program). The same game, but with less money and shooting time.

The producers who were happiest were those who realized that they didn’t need big names for foreign and domestic sales, because they didn’t care if they got theatrical sales. They were looking for other venues.

Seems to me that Stehlik is making the same point.

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Oh… And By The Way…

25 12 2007

Happy Holidays -- Billy IdolHappy Holidays. To Everyone.

All Around the World.

For your own personalized holiday greeting, just click on this YouTube link.

(And, no, I have no idea who these people are over on the left.)

Captain Abu Raed

25 12 2007

Two and half years ago, before my first trip to teach in Jordan, I met two young Jordanian filmmakers in Los Angeles who attempted to give the several of us a sense of what to expect when we worked in Amman.  They were Laith Majali and Amin Matalqa.  When I returned for my third trip, in the summer of 2006, Amin (who was finishing up his film studies at AFI) gave me a copy of a script to the feature that he was hoping to shoot the next year.  It was a poignant story about an airport janitor who, after the death of his wife, finds his lonely life changed after he finds a captain’s hat which causes the neighborhood children to look on him in a new, expansive, way.  That script, CAPTAIN ABU RAED, has now been completed and debuted at the Dubai Film Festival (it will play at Sundance next month).  Amin directed, Laith was one of the producers.

The film, which is the first Jordanian film in dozens of years, was (when I saw an early cut during the summer) a powerful story of a man who learns to grow.  It’s star, Nadim Sawalha, is a strong force on screen, and the film touched my heart.  You can see its trailer (in Arabic, no English subtitles yet — Amin, are you listening??) on You Tube.  The film’s web site is fast developing and is a great example of the warmth that everyone brought to the production, a feeling which shows on screen.

I hope that the film can get distribution, since it is a truly universal film.

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Using An iPhone as a TImecode Slate

25 12 2007

iPhone as timecode slateScott Simmons, over at The Editblog, has a cool post about how to use the iPhone as a timecode slate, for the really really really cheap among you producers out there (but who hire editors who can afford the iPhone).

Along the way, he dispenses a few nuggets of information about how to edit music videos which may be shot in low budget mode.

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MTV Editing

24 12 2007

Personally, I think that without MTV we wouldn’t have films like MEMENTO, AMORES PERROS and a slew of Godard-inspired time-tripping films. But MTV is still an easy (and funny) target. Here is a recent strip from “What The Duck” about the artfulness of MTV videos.

Thanks to Tim Gruber’s blog “Waitin’ On A Moment” for finding this for me.

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Listverse Talks About Editing

23 12 2007

The List Universe has a list of what they consider the Top 10 Best Film Editing Sequences.  The films they are culled from are, in the order they present them:

  1. The Conversation
  2. The Insider
  3. Saving Private Ryan
  4. Raging Bull
  5. The Battleship Potemkin
  6. 12 Angry Men
  7. Silence of the Lambs
  8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  9. Platoon
  10. City of God

I can’t say that there’s anything wrong with this list, other than it’s very Hollywood centric bent.  Still, I think there are probably a lot of other scenes we’d put on a list.  What are your favorite edited scenes (you are allowed to say the cut from the bone to the spaceship in 2001, even though that’s only one edit).

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Editing Discussion With Jay Cassidy and John Gilroy

23 12 2007

Gerard Kennedy’s Tech Support blog on inContention, has a piece which combines two conversations about the editing of INTO THE WILD and MICHAEL CLAYTON, with each of their editors. There’s not a hell of a lot that will be revealing to people who spend any time in the editing room, but Gilroy talks about the opening of MICHAEL CLAYTON and the path that he and director Tony Gilroy (his brother) took.

“We had this wonderful, free-associating dialogue by Tom Wilkinson but it was tricky trying to marry images to what he was saying,” Gilroy says. “We quickly knew we couldn’t do credits at the beginning and also soon realized we couldn’t show people because you’d associate the voiceover with the characters.” Eventually landing on showing the law firm at night, as a desolate, sleeping organism, was a decision that took a great deal of time to reach but one with which Gilroy is obviously very pleased.

The blog, even with its offensive description of the editing craft as Tech Support, still spotlights some interesting people and is worth a read.

There is also an analysis of the Best Editing possibilities. He discusses the following films”

  • Sweeney Todd
  • Hairspray
  • I’m Not There
  • American Gangster
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Charlie Wilson’s War
  • Atonement
  • Into The Wild
  • Kite Runner
  • Michael Clayton
  • There Will Be Blood
  • 3:10 To Yuma
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and
  • The Golden Compass

Hey, I could probably list a number of films that this list of the top films omitted (JUNO not only combined comedy and character analysis, but did so with a sure-footed style) but who’s quibbling?  ANy blog post that actually mentions editors’ names is okay by me.

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Dede Allen to be honored

22 12 2007

HOLLYWOOD – On January 5th, 2008, The Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG) will present its 2008 Fellowship and Service Award to veteran film editor Dede Allen, A.C.E. The ceremony will take place at MPEG’s ( annual Board of Directors Installation Dinner at Loews in Santa Monica. Actor Warren Beatty will present the award to Allen. Beatty and Allen both worked on the films Bonnie and Clyde and Reds.

The Fellowship and Service Award acknowledges a member who exhibits not only exemplary skill in the craft of editing, but also a set of values which include professionalism, collaboration, mentorship, generosity of spirit and commitment to the labor. The award was first presented in 2007 to veteran editor Donn Cambern, A.C.E.

Allen began her film career in 1943 as a messenger at Columbia Pictures. She quickly found her passion in the cutting room, working with director Robert Wise on Odds Against Tomorrow. Her career went on to include credits in Reds, Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, The Hustler, Alice’s Restaurant, Slaughterhouse Five, The Milagro Beanfield War, Dog Day Afternoon, Wonder Boys, and Serpico. She is currently editing Fireflies in the Garden, slated for 2008 release.

“The combination of her passionate contribution to the making of a movie, her loving generosity in helping and training others to make movies, and her dedication to perfection puts Dede Allen in a class by herself,” says Beatty.

from Post Magazine

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“Preparation Is Essential”

21 12 2007

I’ve never worked with the P2 cameras but I am about to embark on a big documentary project, called RIVERS, which will be shot across four continents with the Panasonic HVX-200. I’ll then be editing in in Avid’s Media Composer. As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about P2 workflow.

There’s a great article on Ken Stone’s website by Dan Brockett about his work shooting a television pilot using the same camera which details many of the problems inherent in working with a tapeless workflow (that is, the image doesn’t go onto film or videotape — it goes directly to a computer format on some kind of storage medium, either a hard drive or special cards that insert in the camera for storage).

My interest is, of course, how it worked in post production and Dan was quite good in mentioning some of those issues as well. Paperwork tended to be crucial, because organizing the equivalent of 400 8-GB cards worth of footage would have been nightmarish without it.

The most important element here was that Dan was working with producers who, though they wouldn’t listen to his pleading not to use this camera for this particular shoot, seemed more than willing to let him test everything involved in the workflow. That is crucial even in workflows that are well defined. When I worked in film, I always met with the script supervisors, assistant camera, vendors and more to make sure that everyone was on “the same page” (though no one ever used that expression back then — it’s amazing how fast that one became trite).

Now, with new HD workflows cropping up every time you start a new job, it’s even more crucial. But many producers/companies just can’t afford to test anything. Then, they can’t afford to fix it when the inevitable problems crop up. As Brockett notes, he shot the pilot and never once lost a file and was able to deliver the pilot on time and with the degree of professionalism the studio wanted. And what was one of the lessons that he learned: Preparation Is Essential.

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Times A-wastin’

21 12 2007

Actor Tom Kiesche, in his entry on the Backstage Unscripted blog, talks about the value of perspective in shooting. He is talking about an actor who has ten minute discussions before each set-up and how that actually took a day out of the shooting schedule for the 15 day shoot on a movie he is acting in. An example:

Let’s play math… Say someone requires 10 minutes of discussion at least three times a day, three times more than other actors playing that same role would require… In 15 days that one person has “wasted” nearly 8 hours of shooting time… And when that individual’s discussions often require new set ups or lighting adjustments, those 10 minutes, typically turn into 20, 30 or 40 minutes… So, one 10 minute, one 20 minute, and one 40 minute each day… For 15 days… Well, that’s over 15 hours of shooting time! One ass, I mean actor, just turned a 15 day shoot into a 14 day shoot. And where we really do need to take care of ourselves as artists, and sometimes it really does serve a project to stop and ask a logical question… Sometimes you just have to trust those behind the monitors and just stand where they want you to stand, wear what they want you to wear, and use your creativity to make it work for your character. And that’s important, YOUR CHARACTER.

This is one of the truisms of filmmaking. Everyone I know in film says the same thing — it’s all about collaboration. But some of us have more trouble giving up our points of view than others. Kiesche is absolutely correct — it’s best to have perspective. Not every fight is worth fighting. Not every point of view I have has the same weight. Sure, if I were working on something completely by myself (a photograph, a short story…) then I could spend as much time as I wanted to get it to the place that I thought was right. But the amazing thing about collaboration is how often it shows us that our ideas aren’t always the best ones. In fact, good collaboration shows us that the best ideas can’t come unless they are bounced off other people and grow.

I was told that the Greeks described the process this way: thesis –> antithesis –> synthesis. In other words, a combination of good ideas makes the resultant idea better than either of the individual ones.

And that, my friends, is one reason I like filmmaking. We have to work collaboratively. It doesn’t really work any other way. Not all of us are Stan Brakhage doing DOG STAR MAN (and there are many people who are happy about that). We create films better with people who have better expertise in specific areas that we don’t excel in. And simply having another creative person there to bounce our ideas off of, makes our ideas better.

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