The story of getting a film made ........again!

Consuming Moving Images

Full CinemaAccording to an article in the Los Angeles Times recently, cinema attendance is significantly down. I believe the same is true for our domestic market. I live in Kilkenny, Ireland which is a town (a city by Royal Charter going way back let it be said) of about 25,000 people. Those who know me are aware of my constant gripe about how badly served we are, cinema wise which is a four screen cineplex. Cinema owners are business people first and will therefore show the latest 3D FX driven star vehicle ahead of lesser ticket selling, though perhaps more thought provoking low budget fare. But there’s a problem, that which used to pull the punters, no longer is. At least not in the numbers from only a year previous.

Up until recently, we had two DVD rental stores in town then one of them closed, even after having diversified into gaming, mobile phones and internet access. That store was an indie, what’s left is a store from a nationwide chain – Xtravision, which apparently has its own debt problems. I decided to rent The Black Swan on its DVD release, but when I got to the store, they had all been rented. A whole night had been planned around watching this film and there I was left empty handed. I took myself off to HMV and bought the Blu-ray version because I got a copy for my iPod as a bonus. But the point is, I was quite prepared to buy rather than be inconvenienced by yet another night of unavailability. The Social Network was unavailable to rent for an entire week. Now I can also download from iTunes and that’s great but here’s the thing, I don’t want to wait in future and more than likely will buy or download before I even check if it’s available for rent. The rental store is a model that’s dying, like the VHS tape, it’s had it’s day.

While my demographic is finding the cineplex a wasteland for good films, networks like HBO are stepping into the breach with some excellent dramas. But even there I will much sooner wait to see reviews and catch the buzz on these things before spending God knows how many hours following before concluding that it’s not for me. If I subsequently hear that something is worth watching, I’ll buy the box set. I guess that means that time is more precious to me than money, but isn’t it for all of us?

How we watch, what we watch and when we watch it is in flux right now and will probably remain so for a number of years to come. That’s not such a bad thing when you think about it. When producers fight for your viewership, be it on cinema screens, TV, PC, iPod or whatever, quality will most probably win the battle. Or is that just a little naive?

But this is where it gets interesting, as predicted by Chris Anderson in a Fora.tv video in 2006. Long Tail economics are now kicking in at an accelerated pace. This has to mean enormous potential and opportunity now for low budget independent films, because it is now possible to chart a business model that will sustain that activity, without endless reliance on either state funding or for that matter crowd funding. Like everything else in the market place, if what you produce is good, it can now sell.

Miles To Go

Snowy WoodsI’m at that stage of development where you swing from – this is crap to this is brilliant. But I’ve learnt to live with that. I think that perpetual oscillation is not only healthy but unavoidable because at the stage of writing the first draft, it’s probably true. This new project is called “Miles to Go” although I am already leaning towards the second half of that line from the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” which is “Before I Sleep”. That wonderful poem is open to interpretation and mine (like many) believe it’s about a contemplation on suicide. Which is why I chose it because this story is about a man who has decided to end his life.

This and other aspects of the story are the rats running around in my head right now from dusk till dawn, although my best ideas come while I sleep, if only I could remember them all. Now that I think about it, that’s exactly how “Winter’s End” came to me – in a dream and it was the scene where Jack searches for his car in Henry’s field.

“Miles to Go” is the story of a man who believes there is only one route to restoring his family’s well being and happiness and that is by restoring their financial fortunes. His muddied thinking is exacerbated when he separates from his family and drifts toward disconnection and isolation and is finally taken to the limit when he begins to see that his own death may actually give him (and his family) all that he hopes to achieve. An unexpected intervention in the form of Lena acts as a catalyst for change as she aids him in fire-fighting family problems throughout a single day. But will he finally see that this and nothing more is all his family want from him before it’s too late.

This project has received a first draft loan from the Irish Film Board and I plan to complete said first draft in June 2011.

“Faithless” aka “In God’s Garden” is now a finished script having lately gone through several reviews and notes with Script Pipeline. To quote their last review “we believe (Faithless) has reached it’s highest level of competency, both in general writing ability and concept.” The project’s producer is actively exploring co-production opportunities at home and abroad.

Monster lessons!

Monsters PosterI am always captivated by the success of micro budget films, particularly when they’re feature débuts and the latest in that pantheon is Gareth Edward‘s Monsters. It comes in at an unbelievable $15,000, however when you watch the Blu-Ray extras, you realise that Edwards wrote, directed, DOP’d and created all 250 FX shots (with no green screen or tracking points). In a bid to launch a career, I’m pretty sure these jobs represented a zero value on the films budget.

Monsters has done what it was designed to do, make money for the producers and launch a VFX specialist as a sought after director, while at the same time entertaining it’s audience. The film is not really an original concept, nor is it a memorable story, but perhaps its greatest achievement is throwing into stark relief the bloated hollywood FX/Star driven vacuous extravaganzas that have come to dominate our cineplexs. Yet another assault on a dying dogma that believes, if you throw enough money at a films production and marketing, at least one will make enough dosh to cover the loses of the many. However, recent box office figures suggest the audience has had enough and are turning up in depleted numbers. But isn’t Monsters just one such film made for a pittance? Well not really, but even if it were, its price tag somehow makes that OK.

What’s truly remarkable about Monsters is that it came together at all. Shooting began with nothing more than an outline. The crew was made up of Edwards, a sound recordist, line producer and editor. The cast consisted of two actors and small parts were recruited locally, many of which couldn’t speak English. But what makes this film really work are the two lead actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. Two talented actors who were familiar with each other before Monsters and considering so much improv and ad lib was called for, this was a major plus.

Ireland is a country where we can afford to make nothing but low budget movies and in reality, those budgets are wildly extravagant compared to Edward’s debut feature. So at the end of the day, it really does come down to talent. Being able to recognise it, resource it and applaud it.

I was recently awarded a First draft loan by the Irish Film Board for a feature project called Miles To Go. I will be blogging soon about the progress of that project.