Spotlight Articles & indieBlog

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of November 17)

SAGindie — Friday, November 21st, 2014

Snow and sleet are blowing through much of the country, and the Santa Ana winds have rendered Los Angeles borderline uncomfortable, with temps dipping way down into the sixties [all hate mail can be sent to blogadmin@sagindie.org]. So if you’re planning on staying inside for much of the weekend, under a blanket or next to a fireplace, we’ve compiled some of the best film industry-related articles from this past week. Stay warm, and read on.

Good Reads for the week of November 17, 2014

Hollywood’s “female stuff” problem (via Genevieve Koski for The Dissolve)
There’s been a push to include more females in front of and behind the camera. Is it true progress or a new form of tokenism?

Not For Mature Audiences (via Colin Biggs for Badass Digest)
How the small-scale films find an audience amongst the superheroes and action tent-poles.

Chasing the Dogs: Charting American Independent Film Post-Tarantino (via Brody Rossiter for HeyUGuys)
While indie film might not feel like the “movement” it was in the 1990′s, it’s still a hotbed for creativity and badassery.

Are Arthouse Westerns on the Rise? (via James Clarke for Little White Lies)
The Hollywood studios effectively killed the genre through overexposure. Is independent film the way to bring it back?

Black List Celebrates 10 Years as Haven for Screenwriters (via Valentina I. Valentini for Variety)
Franklin Leonard has spent a decade helping screenwriters gain exposure, feedback, and kinship.

Ana Lily Amirpour Is the Raddest Filmmaker Working Right Now (via Eric Eidelstein for Indiewire)
Now there’s a headline.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

Filmmaker Interview: Shawn Christensen, writer/director/star of Before I Disappear (via SAGindie)
How the Oscar-winning director expanded his short film Curfew to a new feature-length adaptation.

 

A video worth watching

RIP Mike Nichols.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Mike Nichols: Way More Talented Than Most of Us

SAGindie — Thursday, November 20th, 2014

mike nichols

Let’s be honest, Mike Nichols was about as accomplished as a filmmaker can get. The director/writer/producer/comedian, who died yesterday at age 83, was one of the few, the proud, the EGOT winners: That’s right, he won Emmys (for Wit and Angels in America), a Grammy (for his comedy album An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May), an Oscar (for The Graduate), and a whole bunch of Tonys (for Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Annie, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and Death of a Salesman, among others). But there are a bunch of other reasons why Mike Nichols was a maverick filmmaker and a huge influence on modern movies. Here are just a few…

 

One hell of a debut

Talk about coming out swinging. Nichols’ first film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) brought two of Hollywood’s biggest stars (and real-life tabloid fodder/married couple) Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to the screen in one of the most memorable films about marriage ever made. If you don’t want to wait for Thanksgiving to see drunk family members trying to kill each other, watch this movie ASAP.

 

An early, groundbreaking indie

The studio system was starting to crack by the 1960′s, and Nichols’ 1967 hit The Graduate is usually credited with Bonnie and Clyde for ushering in “new Hollywood” – an era that produced auteur filmmakers and out-of-the-box ideas. Often overlooked is the fact that The Graduate (which, adjusted for inflation, is the 21st highest-grossing movie of all time in the U.S.) was produced and distributed by indie company Embassy Pictures. So give Richard Linklater or Larry Clark the credit, but Mike Nichols did the indie-film-about-disaffected-youth before it was cool.

 

Big stars doing dirty things

Nichols’ 1971 relationship dramedy Carnal Knowledge followed the sex lives of a group of twentysomethings (Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, and Candice Bergen), and didn’t shy away from the embarrassing or disturbing details. The film was so scandalous upon release that the Georgia Supreme Court labeled it obscene and actually prosecuted a theater manager for screening the film. Nichols would return to the world of sexual politics (and got America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts to say very naughty words) in 2004′s Closer.

 

Perfecting the biopic

With 1983′s Silkwood, Nichols brought the true-life story of nuclear power plant whistleblower Karen Silkwood to the screen, combining biographical elements into a thriller narrative. It gave Meryl Streep one of her best roles, and helped set the template for social justice biopics like Erin Brockovich and Fruitvale Station.

 

Women? In Movies?!

While the film world still seems shocked when a movie starring a lady is successful, back in 1988 Nichols had one of the biggest hits of the year with Working Girl, a movie that had not one but TWO female lead roles (for Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver), plus a supporting turn by Joan Cusack. (Some dude named Harrison Ford was also around as the eye candy – though of course he gets top-billing in the trailer. Never underestimate the patriarchy of a movie studio’s marketing department.)

 

Directing a good remake

Who knew that was possible, right? They are few and far between, but Nichols adapted the French-Italian film La Cage aux Folles into 1996′s The Birdcage, which has gone on to become just as well known (if not more) than its predecessor.

 
RIP Mike Nichols. Which is your favorite Nichols film?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Filmmaker Interview: SHAWN CHRISTENSEN, writer/director/star of BEFORE I DISAPPEAR

SAGindie — Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

shawn christensen

SHAWN CHRISTENSEN knows how to multitask. He started writing screenplays while simultaneously fronting the successful indie rock band stellarstarr*. That move into screenwriting landed Shawn a number of studio writing jobs and eventually a place on The Black List for his thriller Abduction (later rewritten into the Taylor Lautner action flick. More on that experience below). Left a bit scarred by his studio screenwriting experience, Christensen turned to directing in an effort to gain more creative control of his work. His short film Curfew racked up awards at film festivals in Stockholm, Cleveland, Nashville and beyond, ultimately winning the 2013 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

Now Christensen has adapted Curfew into the feature-length BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, which follows suicidal New Yorker Richie (Christensen) unexpectedly tasked with babysitting his 11-year-old niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek, also reprising her role from the short). After winning this year’s SXSW Audience Award, Before I Disappear was picked up by IFC Films and will release in select theaters and on VOD on November 28. The film co-stars Emmy Rossum, Ron Perlman, and Paul Wesley.

Shawn was nice enough to tell us a little about the difference between short and feature filmmaking, why he contemplated quitting the movie business, and the weirdness of being referred to as “Academy Award-winner Shawn Christensen.”

——

COLIN McCORMACK: Sometimes screenwriters get burnt out on a story after multiple drafts or incarnations. What kept you interested and invested in Curfew that made you want to expand it from short to feature? Was there ever a moment where you wanted to take a break from those characters or that story?

SHAWN CHRISTENSEN: Oh yeah, I definitely have needed a break at times. A lot of second-guessing occurred during the writing process. But what kept me interested were a couple of things; 1) The chemistry and relationship between Richie and Sophia made the possibilities endless, and 2) The opportunity to explore more surreal aspects throughout the film. The setup inherently provided me with some cinematic leniency to try things out that wouldn’t occur in a more straight-laced tale.

CM: What prompted the title change from Curfew to Before I Disappear?

SC: Simply put, I wanted each film to have its own life, with no confusion. Feature films get more exposure than short films, and if I kept the same title, it would have buried the short film. For example, if I asked you how you liked Short Term 12, you would assume I was referring to the feature film – but it was also a short film that was quite good and was even shortlisted for the Academy Awards.

CM: What was the storyline or subplot you were most looking forward to adding in the feature version that you had to cut from the short for either timing, budget, or scheduling reasons?

SC: When Richie goes to the music store to awkwardly confront Sophia’s father. It ultimately wasn’t needed in the short, but in the feature, it’s basically the first proactive measure that Richie takes, which was important to his arc.

CM: Curfew had about the most ideal path a short film can take – film festival accolades and an Academy Award – what do you think of the short film world as a whole? Do you think you could have made the jump to feature directing if you hadn’t gotten experience making shorts?

SC: There are more avenues for short films to be seen than ever before, and more filmmakers are having their voices heard in the expanding landscape. There’s just something pure and true about the short film format – you take a single, simple idea, and run with it – no filler. I definitely needed to cut my teeth on short films. There’s really nothing better in terms of learning about narrative, running a set, working with actors, and gauging audience reactions. I needed that confidence. The encouragement from people who watched those films helped me quantify taking the next logical step.

CM: Just to get it out in the open, you won an Oscar. Is it hard to wrap your head around the fact that from here on out, you get the phrase “Academy Award-winner” tagged to your name?

SC: A little bit, yes. It’s especially uncomfortable when it comes to advertising. I understand it from a marketing perspective, but it’s always surreal to see your name next to the word Oscar on a poster.

CM: Regarding the difference between feature filmmaking and short filmmaking, were there any elements of the feature world that were actually easier than making a short?

SC: No. There was absolutely nothing easier about making the feature. I shot 6 pages a day on the feature, and it wasn’t a lot of money, and it wasn’t my money. On the short film, I shot 2 pages a day with my own money and no restrictions.

CM: Tell us a little about directing yourself as an actor. What were the most difficult or awkward parts of wearing both hats?

SC: The acting is kind of the cathartic ‘relaxing time’ for me during the shoot. I spend about 2% of time in front of the camera, and 98% of time rolling with the punches as the Director. Sometimes I’ll only do one take because there isn’t enough time. The awkward thing is when I’m in the editing room and referring to myself in third person – like “He’s not very good in that take, do we have anything else?” Many times the answer is “No.”

CM: W.C. Fields warned filmmakers against working with children. On a low-budget film with a tight schedule, how difficult was it to navigate the waters of having a minor on-set (especially since she is the co-lead of the movie)?

SC: In this case, I stumbled upon an incredible talent in Fatima Ptacek. As a result, I believe that the entire crew kept their game up because of her professionalism. There weren’t too many issues with the limited hours, honestly – the Line Producer did a good job of sparsing her days out. Also, it should be mentioned that she has great parents and they’re very easy to work with and accommodating. I think one of the bigger concerns with working with children stems from dealing with their parents, not so much the kids. We didn’t have those issues [with] Curfew or Before I Disappear.

CM: You were working on expanding Curfew into Before I Disappear before the Oscar nominations came out, correct? Once you were nominated and won, did that raise the stakes with your financiers? Like, “Oh we’re working with an Oscar-winner now, let’s throw in a few more bucks!” Did you personally feel any more pressure to deliver the goods?

SC: I guess there was some pressure. But I couldn’t come at it like I’m trying to compete or ‘top’ the short film. My only mandate was to direct the film and do it to the best of my ability.

CM: Was there a noticeable shift in how you were viewed or treated in the industry following the win? Or does the excitement wear off once the Vanity Fair After-Party is over?

SC: Yes. If only because I felt my career was over after my spec [scripts] were shelved or made into bad movies. In fact, if people didn’t respond to Curfew, I would’ve probably left the film industry altogether – it was really kind of my last ‘hurrah.’ But today, I get meetings now that I never would’ve gotten before.

CM: Do you see yourself as a “New York filmmaker” – would you like it to be part of your filmmaker identity, like Spike Lee or Woody Allen?

SC: I’m not quite sure. I am definitely a proud New Yorker, and I have a romantic notion of my hometown, but I sense that my backdrops will not always be in NYC.

CM: How involved were you in the negotiation process in acquiring a distributor (IFC Films)? Any pointers filmmakers should keep in mind when signing a distribution deal?

SC: I discussed our options, at length, with the other Producers. We were interested in IFC and decided it was the way to go. I can’t really give pointers to other filmmakers, at this stage. It’s definitely new territory for me, and I have limited experience with it, at this time.

CM: The film hits theaters, iTunes, and VOD on the same day. Have you learned anything about VOD or the day-and-date release strategy that you found enlightening or unexpected?

SC: The day-and-date approach is new to me and I don’t know yet what to expect. Some people have told me that the theater audience and the VOD audience are somewhat separate, and that the theater expansion doesn’t conflict with people who will watch the film at home. I know other films have gone this route very successfully and I hope we’ll be one of them.

CM: So you’ve been a graphic designer, a musician, a screenwriter, an actor, and a director. Any other extremely difficult creative endeavors you’ve been looking to try? Pastry chef, maybe?

SC: Perhaps I’m a Jack of all Trades, but Master of Nothing. In that context, I would wager that a pastry chef is most certainly something I could fail at like a champ.

CM: Was traveling on the film festival circuit at all similar to touring with your band?

SC: Interesting question. Yes, I suppose it is a bit similar. I get the same nervousness when my film is about to be screened, as I did when I was about to go out on stage. The main difference is, when they start the film, I can go out and get a whiskey while it’s playing. Whereas in the band, I most certainly would have to be up on that stage for the full 90 minutes.

CM: You’ve written some studio films and have been pretty open about the lengths the execs went to cut you out of the process [during Abduction]. It reminded me of a recent Twitter rant screenwriter Craig Mazin went on against the “wrong” type of development executives, who focus mainly on controlling the writer instead of trusting them. While your experience on Abduction wasn’t great, have you since worked with any “good” studio execs?

SC: There are definitely smart execs out there that I have developed relationships with and would like to work with down the road. The issue for me was, when I was only a screenwriter, the treatment was appalling. When you’re a Director, the attitude changes. I felt that I better start controlling my writing a bit more, or I’ll never have pride in my work.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
The Last Starfighter

What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
Jameson on the rocks

Recommend a movie you love that most people haven’t heard of.
And Justice For All

What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
I used to be in a band with an asterisk at the end of our name. I wasn’t quite on board with that decision, but we went with it, and many a day I’d get asked “Why is there an asterisk at the end of your name?” I never had a proper answer.

Finally, where and when can people see Before I Disappear?
It will be at the IFC Center in NYC starting November 28th, and then in LA on December 5th at NoHo7. I think it expands to New Orleans and Miami after that, and a few other cities. Otherwise, it may just be on your cable provider on November 28th!

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For more information on BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, visit the film’s official website or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of November 10)

SAGindie — Friday, November 14th, 2014

A busy week here at SAGindie. Not only were we on-hand at AFI Fest to co-host a filmmaker party and sponsor the first-look screening of Selma, but we also hit the road for the Napa Valley and Cucalorus Film Fests. Add to that an appearance at the AFM Producers Forum, a film festival panel with the SAG Foundation, and one of our Low-Budget Contract workshops, and it’s safe to say we’ve touched hearts and minds all over the country this week. Now that the weekend’s here, these are the articles we’ll be making time to read.

Good Reads for the week of November 10, 2014

Tips For Demystifying the Deliverable Process (via Maria Fish for Film Independent)
Don’t send in a VHS tape.

As the colossus collapses, the indie film will rise (via Naomi McDougall Jones for Vérité)
An inspiring call to arms for indie filmmakers to keep doing their thing.

These Brothers Were Rejected by Sundance 18 Times, But Made a Feature You Need to See (via Andrew Fiouzi for Indiewire)
The very persistent tale of The Hawkins Brothers.

What These 10 Filmmakers Love About Movies (via Sean Hutchinson for Mental Floss)
And now, deep thoughts with Alexander Payne, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, and more.

Kristen Stewart, Jake Gyllenhaal and 6 Other Oscar Hopefuls on Making Indies (via Scott Feinberg for The Hollywood Reporter)
A 75-minute discussion where big stars talk about starring in small films.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

Industry Interview: Ted Hope, author of Hope For Film (via SAGindie)
The Fandor CEO (who helped launch the careers of Ang Lee, Nicole Holofcener, and Todd Haynes) talked to us about his new book.

 

A video worth watching

The directorial debut of Chris Lowell (who talked to us a few months back) hits theaters this week. Here’s the trailer:

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

Panel (Full Video): WORK IT! THE FESTIVAL SCOOP FROM PROS IN THE KNOW

SAGindie — Thursday, November 13th, 2014

In case you’re not in Los Angeles or couldn’t attend last night’s film fest panel at the SAG Foundation Actors Center, you can watch a video of the full panel live-stream above. Let’s hear it for technology!

Moderator:

  • Abby Dylan, SAG-AFTRA National Board member/SAGindie Committee Chair

Panelists:

  • Sheldon Candis (producer, writer, director)
  • Megan Griffiths (producer, director)
  • Meg Morman (casting director)
  • Rene Ridinger (VP of Entertainment, MPRM)
  • Peter Trinh (agent, ICM)

Description:

SAGindie, SAG-AFTRA, and the Screen Actors Guild Foundation are excited to present the educational panel Work It! The Festival Scoop from Pros in the Know. Join producers, directors, casting directors and other industry experts as they discuss how to best make use of the tools and tips you learn through attending film festivals. Anyone can get you into a party, let this team of pros guide you on festival attendance for career advancement. Discover how to take advantage of a captive audience for your film and how to best make every festival you attend a learning experience.

 
To be notified about future SAGindie events, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Industry Interview: TED HOPE, author of HOPE FOR FILM

SAGindie — Monday, November 10th, 2014

ted hope

As CEO of film-streaming platform Fandor, TED HOPE offers film-lovers a catalog of movies to watch (from classics to documentaries to new indie releases) while also offering independent filmmakers the opportunity to submit their own projects to the site for licensing consideration. But despite his foray into the new and evolving world of online content, Hope has been a fixture of the film industry since the indie film boom of the early 1990s, first with his production/sales company Good Machine, and later with production company This is that.

With more than 70 films under his belt, Hope’s credits read like a list of Indie Film’s Greatest Hits (Safe, The Ice Storm, Happiness, In the Bedroom, 21 Grams, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Martha Marcy May Marlene), including three Sundance Gand Jury Prize Winners (What Happened Was…, The Brothers McMullen, American Splendor) – the most of any producer in the festival’s history.

Though he’s stepped away from hands-on producing, Hope continues to engage with the filmmaking community by sharing insight through his blog and as a contributor for publications including The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and Filmmaker Magazine. Now he has collected his best movie-making war stories for a new memoir, HOPE FOR FILM: FROM THE FRONTLINES OF THE INDEPENDENT CINEMA REVOLUTIONS.

Mr. Hope took time out of his busy book tour to talk to us about his role as a mentor to new filmmakers, how predictability can actually lead to more risk-taking, and his thoughts on the future of the film industry.

——

COLIN McCORMACK: How has your book tour been going?

TED HOPE: It’s really exciting. A little exhausting, but it’s great to be able to connect with local film communities.

CM: Has it been different from going on the festival circuit or a promo tour for a film?

TH: Yeah, it doesn’t feel like selling. [Laughs] I wrote the book because I had found that relaying the stories and the learnings I have through different steps and stages definitely helps others. At least, others said that it helped them. I felt it would be a utility getting it all down. And in speaking to folks, the best part is always the Q&A where you see alignments along the way.

I really believe for me, the real breakthrough came when we did Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet and nobody wanted that film initially. We couldn’t give it away when we were trying to get it made. It was execution-dependent. But even when we first made it, when it was seen out of context, sales agents passed on it and we were forced – [Good Machine co-founder] James Schamus and I – to sell it ourselves, which was the greatest gift. Because not only did we take a $700,000 movie and sell it for what amounted to $3 million in its first license period, but I was able to observe that if you had what was the expectation – not even the commitment – but the expectation of release in the U.S., you were able to license a quality work internationally for a profitable margin on its cost. And that drove James and I to start a sales business, lure David Linde away from Miramax to launch our international sales operation, and we made 45 films without having any financing, half of which we ended up owning.

It was really just being in the right place at the right time to observe that the art, the audience, the artists, [and] the technology had all moved faster than the marketplace had. And I think that the conditions are much more different now. We’re in a similar place where things are shifting, but our industry still has legacy practices that we fall into the rut of following. And we haven’t found a new model that is sustainable for the creative class. It’s wonderful that the barriers to entry have dropped, so more movies are getting made than ever before, but all of us – directors, writers, producers, actors – don’t just make our work just to do it. We make it to connect with audiences. And you want not just your movie to get made well, you want it to be seen widely, and more importantly you want to make sure that the people who create it are compensated fairly. And that’s what we don’t currently have across the industry, despite this great burst of production. Because you can’t sell your films yet for an equitable amount, nor can people invest in them with risk-appropriate rewards. So how do we start to shift that? And what’s exciting about a book tour is it’s a one-to-one relationship with the audience [where] you’re talking about this situation. Though I still very much try to make sure the talks I give still follow suit with the title, that there’s hope for film. What you confront head-on is people once saying, “I want to have a career in film,” now they’re wondering, “How can I have a sustainable creative life?”

CM: Was that part of your idea with Fandor in allowing filmmakers to submit their film for consideration? A lot of producers of your caliber would not open the floodgates to allow new filmmakers to submit to them. But you’re reaching a new crew of up-and-comers.

TH: Well the model here [at Fandor] is that fifty percent of the subscription revenue is shared with the films. So you take a film to a place like Netflix, they’ll pay what they think is the appropriate price for it based on their expectation of success. And if the film does far better than that, you don’t actually see any more money. That risk is on your shoulders. With Fandor, the films that are watched the most receive the most amount of money.

CM: It seems like a lot of the other VOD or streaming services are a little hush-hush on their exact practices. It’s hard to actually get [specific payment] numbers from them.

TH: If you’re in the business of licensing fees, it’s not in your interest to reveal data… The way that we made those 45 films at Good Machine was that it was a time of predictable revenue. You were pretty secure in what your estimates were. We made conservative estimates we knew we could hit– and across [that slate of films] we delivered– at one point it was 123 percent on the investment. So people got their money back, plus a little bit more. One in eight did really well, just like a studio. But the rest were consistent base hits.

The challenge of today is we don’t have predictable revenue returns, and as a result money is hesitant to invest for business purposes. They’ll invest for cultural reasons. We’re getting all these great social issue documentaries because people are seeing it as “filmanthropy,” essentially. But if you want to have a solid business– and I do believe it’s that good business that gave birth to what we enjoy, which is probably the most diverse and ambitious film industry across the world: more subjects, a wider variety of tales. And we’ve been rewarded for that. But if you want to maintain that, you do need to have sound business practices. You do need to have predictable returns. And you do need your investors to be able to have reasonable expectations. As a result, when we license – whether it’s to a distributor or from a filmmaker – they have full access to the results of their film [on Fandor]. We’re not yet in [a place of delivering] total real-time analytics for that – we need an upgrade to be able to do that – but on a weekly basis people can see how well their film is doing.

CM: So do you think that climate of predictable returns during the Good Machine days helped contribute to why you could take risks and chances on new filmmakers? [Hope produced 18 directorial debuts.]

TH: 100 percent. Absolutely. That’s the irony in some ways: by having a level of predictability – i.e. diminished risk – we actually could take greater risks when it came to talent, both directors and also actors. We were able to break a wide number of actors who then went on to strong careers, they just [hadn't yet had] the right opportunity. And when you’re playing it safe financially you can take risks on your talent and say, “Maybe this actor is not yet known and bankable, but this model for this film works and we can go with it.” And it wasn’t just us. You see it too with HBO. I’d like to take full credit for a movie like American Splendor, but really without a company like [American Splendor producer/distributor] HBO – who wasn’t based on an economic return model, but was based on a subscription model – they could agree that Paul Giamatti was the best actor for that role. And it really in a lot of ways launched his career. I mean, he had done [the Frankie Muniz/Amanda Bynes comedy] Big Fat Liar beforehand, but that was a slightly different genre.

CM: Oh yeah! [Laughs] So you were talking about having to sell The Wedding Banquet yourself. It certainly worked out, but was there a moment when you felt like you might be biting off more than you could chew? Or did you just have to jump in with both feet?

TH: We had done a little bit of sales ourselves – James even more than I had – and we were really fortunate. We didn’t know we’d sell out in all the territories. And when we got [to the Berlin Film Festival] we met a woman named Christa Saredi, who was a Zurich-based film sales agent; she really deserves credit for helping to break Aki Kaurismäki, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch, Ang, Hal Hartley. [She] really helped on international [distribution] for all those filmmakers. So she helped us navigate those waters and do the delivery. They say a good partnership can survive failure more easily than it can survive success, and as good as James and I were at working together, we definitely needed other help once we had a hit of that caliber. [The Wedding Banquet went on to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1994 Academy Awards.]

CM: With the book, were there any stories you were hesitant to include? Or were you willing to name names, fragile Hollywood egos be damned?

TH: I left a few stories out, some at the request of my lawyers. But I felt like in some of them, the behavior was what it was, so it needed to be addressed. Everyone has their own reasons for acting out. You know, you wish it wouldn’t happen. But they can write their own book and explain their own side of the story. [Laughs]

hope for film

CM: You’ve always been pretty vocal about how the industry is changing in various ways, including your campaign against the MPAA [In 2003, Hope and a group of filmmakers sued the MPAA for banning DVD screeners during awards season. The suit argued that DVDs would allow awards voters to see smaller independent films that couldn't afford large promotional campaigns and private screenings. A federal judge sided with Hope and the plaintiffs.] Have you felt that the Hollywood establishment is still dragging their feet when it comes to new technology?

TH: It’s understandable that people who have always made money are still continuing to make money. It was really hard for me to make the decision to [no longer] pursue producing as my profession. I’d love to be making great movies. I’d love to be working with filmmakers. I really enjoyed that. But the downward spiral and the drive to drive budgets down is consistent, and you can see it. And the work suffers in the process, and I think as a result audiences and the artists both suffer. You can look and see what are the missing cogs in the machine, and you wonder why there isn’t a greater concentrated effort to solve that. Most namely, needing to have aggregated communities of like-minded folks who share interests and values.

When you look at the shift that we’ve had from scarcity of content to abundance of content, you start to recognize that a mass market approach – one reliant on advertising dollars to cut through the noise for a level of awareness – doesn’t make any sense anymore. Sure, you understand why we’ve had to go more and more to the tentpole picture, but if we have these communities that we could reach in more efficient ways, we could give them what they want as opposed to trying to find those movies that everyone might be interested in. And it is in that model, I think, that you see the success. Whether it’s HBO or Netflix, you can look at that and see those as still fairly general-interest communities, but communities that put up money each month to have a consistent supply of content that they enjoy. And I think you can slice and dice that down even more specifically, and with that you have a more efficient model. It’s what allows each of those companies to take risks with quality content. And I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve had kind of a phenomenal change the week before last – about six companies over the course of a two-week period all saying they wanted to move into the subscription business. It’s been a huge learning curve for me. It is different than content creation, certainly. And I’m thrilled that I’ve been given the opportunity to do it. You wonder why others haven’t jumped in sooner. People now say, “Oh it was inevitable,” but I was hesitant. I needed the right opportunity, and I was still here ahead of a whole lot of others.

CM: In terms of cultivating a creative community, you’ve taken on a mentorship role between your book and your blog and how available you are on Twitter. Why do you find it important to share your experience and advice with people outside the business or trying to break in?

TH: I think in a lot of ways, if people at key points hadn’t done that [for me] both in the little ways and big ways, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity. I also think that it’s precisely the outside voices that frequently move the culture ahead. The nature of our business is – because it’s so capital-intensive – we try to find ways to diminish risk, and that frequently leads us to replicate past successes. And as a result, I think we start to lose audiences. A thirteen percent audience drop on television over the course of the summer? That catastrophic! The worse box-office since 2009? We need to bring in new voices, we need to revitalize it. Look at everyone who was nominated for Best Picture or Best Director Oscars last year and they’re all folks who came out of the indie ranks. Matured and seasoned through a decade within the studio system, but they still were developed by the indie ranks. So whether it was a simple phone call that James Schamus and I got early on from some folks like [former Columbia Pictures president] David Picker or Francis Coppola, or more serious mentorship I got from director Jill Godmilow or executive producer Scott Meek [or] executive producer Jim Stark– those things all helped us find a way, develop a business strategy, and [give us the] confidence that we should do it. Do I wish that somebody had reached out more and gave me more of an opportunity? Hell yeah. I think that producing – one of the reasons I always sought partners – it’s a very solitary practice, and if you don’t know the others who are doing it, if you’re not able to connect and find those ways [to collaborate], it can be hard to go on. I do think that producers can generate more great voices [and] more great stories than those that are the “pure author” of it, like a writer or director. So I’d love to help spawn more, but in such a fashion that it gives them the strength to persevere.

CM: When working with first-time directors, was there a common issue or hurdle that would take them by surprise while helming their first feature? That after a while you knew to point out ahead of time, Hey look out for this or, Remember to keep this in mind?

TH: I think some of it is trying to help people understand what is practical to get done and how they fit into that process. You have this huge team, so it’s easy to think that they’re there to get it done, but they’re always looking to be led. And the more a director says, “This is possible,” and is prepared to demonstrate how it can be done – which includes demonstrating their own preparation – the more that you can lead. James Gunn’s film Super – which is one of the last films [where] I did hands-on producing – James was the most prepared guy on set, the most energized guy on set, the most enthusiastic guy on set. We got over sixty setups a day on average. We moved too fast for the actors, to be frank. But he cared about them too, really deeply. You could see what a great leader he was. And creating something like Guardians of the Galaxy requires that, and I think it pays off. He saw that there was a way– with the right supportive team he could get exactly what he’d want, which is what Super was. And it demonstrated how his personality could be applicable to a bigger context, like the Marvel Universe.

I often say that there is the role of the producer and there is the role of the director that are remarkably similar. The producer comes in and has to extract the big vision, the dream of everything that you want to accomplish, and then cut the legs out from under it and say, “That’s where we’re going. But with these funds, with this story, with this cast, we’re only going to be able to capture forty percent.” And then through work and through structure, hopefully [you can] achieve a place where you get another twenty or twenty-five percent. And then through good engineering, having built a structure where serendipity can occur, where the miraculous might be achieved, you get something more. And then to be able to sit and help the director recognize that you still may not have hit that full vision that you had before you ever shot, but you have something very unique and distinct that you were able to capture.

And from the director’s side, it’s really starting with the ability to articulate the vision, the common sense to recognize what is practical, the mindfulness to see what you’re actually getting; but [also] the willingness to adapt to that situation and that presence, the capacity to acknowledge what was actually accomplished in post, and then still the showbiz attitude to sell what is inherent in that movie that might bring people into it. Both of these requires a constant shift and negotiation. It’s very different from how we set up the business of film, but it’s still predicated on selling the invisible. Of [selling] the pitch. I know that each movie is going to include 10,000 compromises and 1,000 decisions a day, and leading a team of 250 people, and though I’m pitching this idea to you now and expecting you to [get] behind it to fund it, there’s no way in hell that the [budgeted] math is going to lead to what I’m telling you I’m going to do today. But that’s still the system that we have and that we enjoy.

To me it points out why we really do need to change. And how there can be many benefits from embracing something much closer to [economic] reality. Documentary films rarely get sold on the dream. Instead, they have many different stages of their financing, where basically you deliver a proof of principle, your trailer reel; that gets you to your next stage, which is your financing reel; [that] gets you to your next stage, which is your rough cut. You go through these different stages. And what’s the biggest difference between the documentary creative class and the fiction creative class? That in the documentary world you have gender-proportionate representation of the directors. Fifty-four percent of the directors in documentary are women. And six percent in the narrative world. Why is that? Well, one gender has been trained since birth to speak knowingly and arrogantly about something they can’t have any control over. And we’ve created a system to reward it. [Gender parity is] not the only change that would come from [a stage financing model]. When you look at stage financing, it’s deployed across many industries. It delivers better predictive results. It delivers a secondary market for financing. Right now who finances movies? Only the people and corporations that can afford to tie their capital up for three years. If we had a secondary market, some people might take chances that their investment today would be something they could extract in six months for a profit. Folks who needed greater liquidity could play in [the film market]. And stage financing essentially is a tool to build that.

CM: Do you think marketing has a bigger role today? I’ve heard that the Marketing Departments at the studios more or less greenlight the projects [based on], Can we sell this? Did you encounter that when you were producing films? How involved were the Marketing Departments of the various distributors you worked with?

TH: Well, because I was independent often my films were made without having a U.S. distributor in place, [though] that became less so in the later stages. To sell your film, I found as I went on, it became more and more required that I had a marketing plan. I didn’t have to have a good one, because nobody expected me to excel in that position, but I had to say: Here is the audience, this is how we address them, these are the different hooks within the piece. But both American Splendor and Adventureland only came into being because of the preparation that was done in the marketing. And neither one did particularly well [at the box office], but each inspired the teams that financed them – being HBO for American Splendor and Miramax for Adventureland – that there were sufficient ways to identify reach and sell that audience. With American Splendor, when I submitted the project I also submitted about two-and-a-half inches of material on the audience for American Splendor, which was everything from labor organizations to comic book fans to jazz fans to literary sites, and so on. My goal was just to get two-and-a-half inches of material; what I wanted was something that when it hit the desk it made a nice, deep sound. At HBO in those days when they greenlit your projects, if you were not in L.A. you had to do a video conference call, and I remember on that one you saw this big table of HBO department heads – like thirty or forty people – and they all had in front of them that marketing plan that I had done, with a new HBO cover on it. It was enough to give people confidence on what was an oddball project. When [former Miramax president] Daniel Battsek initially said he wanted to do Adventureland– which you have to remember at that point Jesse Eisenberg hadn’t done The Social Network, Kristen Stewart hadn’t done Twilight; Ryan Reynolds was our main star; Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader were up-and-comers; nobody was who they are today. But Daniel loved the project, loved Greg [Mottola, Adventureland writer/director], but was not quite sure how to market it. And when we were done with our conversation, he was confident that there were many different ways to go about it because [producer] Anne Carey, myself, [and] Greg, we had drawn out every single hook we thought there was in order to pitch it.

CM: With your filmography, is there a specific film that people want to talk to you about the most?

TH: No, I think it depends on where folks fall. You definitely have the Todd Solondz fans and the Ang Lee fans; the Hal Hartley fans and the Nicole Holofcener fans; the folks that want to talk about 21 Grams or In the Bedroom or The Savages. You see these different pockets and tiers. I think that there’s a little bit of nostalgia that comes through, where people feel like there once was a time that you could make a movie about any subject in any genre with any talent, and I think that they’re missing the point there. We were able– this is where you start to see that it’s all integrated– I think James and I had good taste, we could identify good talent along the way, we believed in them. So even if they were not yet in a place where they were their own best advocates, we could see that they would deliver. And once you had two or three of those, people started fearing that maybe your next movie might be even better, and wanted to get into business with you. And that allowed us to have this predictable revenue structure, which allowed us to consistently produce work. And by always trying to reach higher, by [being] willing to ask questions, we delivered consistent work. And it wasn’t just that these were wild bets or wild risks or that we dared to go into different subjects; we had the infrastructure of support.

It’s why when you get right down to it, for an independent filmmaker, you kind of always want to be where you [are] most dependent. Because television and films were made in New York and L.A., you had this great pool of talent – actors and craftspeople, writers and directors – and because of that I could say, “Yeah, look at all those great actors who we gave great starts to.” But again, there are great actors who never get those great starts, but you’re going to have a lot more success picking the right ones in a town that’s full of them than in a town where there’s few. So we were very fortunate to be in New York at a time [when] it was affordable; that folks who were starting out in any of those fields could take that gamble. I worry about it now. The other advantage of New York was that because it wasn’t a car culture, people had to find gathering spots, and it was easier to find [in New York] because L.A. is more dispersed. But New York is no longer affordable.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in theaters?
Oliver!

What’s your go-to drink order at a bar?
I think I’m very diverse. It will depend on if it’s the start of the night or the end of the night. Start of the night– it’s beer or wine. And the end of the night will conclude with a very peaty whisky.

Recommend a movie you love that most people haven’t heard of.
Right now that would be Nathan Silver’s Uncertain Terms, a film that we just gave the Grand Prize and the Screenwriting Prize to at IndieMemphis Festival last weekend. Really a masterful work. Incredibly intimate, about big themes with real originality to it.

What’s an interview question you never want to hear again?
You nailed it! [Laughs] I enjoy interviews. I always learn from them, and I can’t say that there’s anything that bugs me.

Where to find Hope for Film: From the Frontlines of the Independent Cinema Revolutions?
Available on Amazon.com
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For more information on Ted Hope and HOPE FOR FILM, visit Ted’s blog or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of November 3)

SAGindie — Friday, November 7th, 2014

This week’s batch of the most interesting film-related writings is chock-full of Negative Nancys writing about the various obstacles and drawbacks of today’s independent film climate. Let us fret together, shall we?

Good Reads for the week of November 3, 2014

The cheapening of independent film (via Scott Tobias for The Dissolve)
It’s not a good sign when Harvey Weinstein is giving movies away for free.

AFM’s Future in Doubt as Schlock-Merchants Get Squeezed Out (via Scott Roxborough & Alex Block for Hollywood Reporter)
It’s getting harder out there at the American Film Market for a pimp low-budget filmmaker.

AFM: Can TV Save the Indie Film Business? (via Gregg Goldstein for Variety)
On the other hand, maybe those AFM folks should be aiming for the small screen instead.

One Star, 2 Films and Conflict: Jessica Chastain in a Publicity Tug of War (via Michael Cieply for The New York Times)
It’s great when an A-list actress takes a role in an indie film… it would be greater if she was allowed to promote it.

Attention, Filmmakers: Don’t Submit to Film Festivals Yet (via Michael Chaney for Indiewire)
Think your film is perfect and ready to blow everybody away at Sundance and Cannes and Tribeca? Slow your roll, kiddo.

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

SAGindie’s November Movie Picks (via SAGindie)
A new month, a new slate of movies for our staff to drool over.

SAG Foundation New York Short Film Showcase Seeking Submissions (via SAGindie)
Get crackin’, east coast filmmakers.

 

A video worth watching

SAGindie favs The Duplass Brothers bring their talents to HBO.

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

SAG FOUNDATION NY SHORT FILM SHOWCASE February 2015 – SEEKING SUBMISSIONS

SAGindie — Thursday, November 6th, 2014

THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD FOUNDATION is now accepting short films and web series from filmmakers in states east of the Mississippi for their February 2015 New York Short Film Showcase.

DEADLINE: Thursday, December 11, 2014

  • 20-minute limit, including credits
  • Films MUST be produced under a SAG-AFTRA contract (Short Film, Student Agreement, or New Media)
  • No fee to submit or attend. Previously submitted films are eligible for re-submission
  • Filmmaker must be present at screening

To submit electronically, email an online link and password (if needed) – valid for at least 30 days – to shortsny@sagfoundation.org. Include the project title and SAG-AFTRA production number in the subject line.

Or mail a regular DVD (no Blu-Rays), labeled with the SAG-AFTRA Production Number, the director’s name, and an email address to:

SAG FOUNDATION
c/o NY Short Film Showcase
1900 Broadway, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10023

*You will only be notified if your film has been selected for the screening – sometime in mid-January 2015. DVDs will not be returned.

Contact: shortsny@sagfoundation.org

SAGindie’s November Movie Picks

SAGindie — Monday, November 3rd, 2014

imitation game

This November’s movie calendar brings us a handful of small-scale indies hitting VOD, two movies that will probably take in all the world’s money (a Disney superhero cartoon and the Katniss Chronicles Part 3 of 4 or more?), and quite possibly the last of the year’s awards contenders (including a Stephen Hawking biopic – as Filmdrunk’s Vince Mancini says, “it’s not awards season until someone pretends to be disabled”). In other words, there seem to be fewer movie options available as the year winds down. It’s almost as if the studios think people will be hanging out with their families or something in November and December? Whatever, take a look at the movies the SAGindie staff will be using to avoid our loved ones this month.

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Darrien’s Picks:

November movies – so do I go for the likely Oscar contenders or the counter programming of Dumb and Dumber To? Well, I’ve seen The Imitation Game and it is great! So I guess I’m leaning towards a prestige pick. I’m interested in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, but I’ll wait for the crowds of screaming teens to pass. Beyond the Lights is intriguing. Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s film has an allure and I love any girl who is named Gugu. But despite the buzz of Oscar movies, I have to confess, I laughed at the Horrible Bosses 2 trailer. That might have to be my pick. Don’t judge me!

 

Eliza’s Picks:

The Babadook – kids scare me, so I don’t mind watching films with children (and the people who choose to have them) being terrorized.
Happy Valley – Ooh, what’s this? Happy Valley? Sounds pleasant!
Dumb and Dumber To – glutton for punishment?
National GalleryFrederick Wiseman? Big fan.
Foxcatcher – Obviously.

 

Colin’s Picks:

Foxcatcher has a lot of buzz, so I’ll probably go to see Steve Carell get his drama on. There’s nothing I like more than a documentary that leaves me apoplectic, allowing me to annoy my friends with rants about the pertinent social issues of the film (speaking of, why haven’t you watched Blackfish/Let the Fire Burn/The Invisible War/Hot Coffee/Crime After Crime yet?!), so I think Happy Valley will get my righteous blood boiling in the best way.

And while it seems to be coming out about a month late (we could have used a good scary movie this October), sign me up for The Babadook because A) I like saying the name, and B) people are comparing it to The Exorcist and The Shining, which means we are either in for a new horror classic, or we’re going to be profoundly disappointed.

 

Amanda’s Picks:

There are so many movies I want to see this month, I don’t know how I’ll fit them all in! I’ve loved outer space for just about as long as I can remember, so obviously I will be lining up for Interstellar this coming weekend; even if I may not buy Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut, he was so great in Contact, credit where credit is due, the man can feel some sci-fi. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game are also on my list; based off the lives of Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing respectively. Ya’ll know I’ve got a thing for space physics, but I’m also fascinated with spies and codebreaking. What can I say, I’m the cool type of nerd.

I really want Big Hero 6 to be good, and Baymax is too cute in those trailers (“Hairy baby” gets me every time), but take a look at the comic version of him and you’ll see something like a grown-up Gremlin, it’s a little terrifying; I’m happy Disney made the change. And I’ll probably be volunteering my money as tribute for the third Hunger Games installment too. Though I’m not a huge fan of the series, I’ve just gotta know how much cooler J-Law could possibly get.

P.S. — Nightcrawler is out now, and it’s definitely one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a while, but worth seeing for Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance alone.

 
WHAT MOVIES ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS NOVEMBER?

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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.

This Week’s Good Reads (Week of October 27)

SAGindie — Friday, October 31st, 2014

It’s Good Reads: Halloween Edition! Or rather, Good Reads: Halloween Edition. John Carpenter‘s 1978 slasher flick was at one time the most successful low-budget indie of all time (with a $325,000 budget, it launched a $300 million franchise) and it certainly hasn’t faded from memory. This week, more than a few pop culture writers re-visited the iconic film.

Good Reads: Halloween Edition

Why Halloween Is The Only Scary Movie You Need (via Kevin P. Sullivan for MTV)

Halloween: Revisiting an Iconic Slasher Franchise (via Stephen Deusner for Paste Magazine)

Criticwire Classic of the Week: John Carpenter’s Halloween (via Max O’Connell for Criticwire)

Every Time Michael Myers Sneaks Up Behind Someone In The Halloween Movies (via Nick Schager for Esquire)

Why Won’t You Die: Halloween 101 (via Sean Witzke for Grantland)

Halloween gets its best scares from the creepiness of being followed (via Mike D’Angelo for The A.V. Club)

Updated:
John Carpenter Q&A (via Jen Yamato for Deadline)

 

In case you were ignoring us (aka blatant self-promotion)

SAGindie presents Indie Horror 101 (via SAGindie)
From vampires to zombies to man-eating plants, we’ve got you covered when it comes to the indie horror classics.

Film Independent Forum 2014 Highlights (via SAGindie)
Watch the inspiring keynote speeches from Jill Soloway and Tim League.

 

A video worth watching

 
How ’bout you? Read anything good this week?

 
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If you’re an independent filmmaker or know of an independent film-related topic we should write about, email blogadmin@sagindie.org for consideration.