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in Filmmaking
on Jan 13, 2008

Here are some posts that have caught my eye this week.

Jon Taplin, probably the only professor at the Annenberg School for Communication who can also lay claim to producing one of the seminal films of the ’70s (Mean Streets), has a great blog that mixes his commentary on politics, economics and the film business. (Hat tip: Ted Hope.) The former Dylan tour manager and Merrill Lynch v.p. has written a two-parter entitled “Memo to Hollywood: Stop Making Movies.” He compares Hollywood’s battle for market share to players locked in the classic example of game theory, The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

From the piece:

It would be in the financial and security self interest of both India and Pakistan to not spend billions on nuclear weapons, but because they don’t trust each-other, they continue to do so, instead of feeding their poor. Hollywood moguls, caught up in the useless notion of “Market share”, don’t trust each-other to not make more movies to grab greater share. The notion of market share of the box office never entered Hollywood’s lexicon until the Coca Cola company bought Columbia Pictures in 1982, bringing their supermarket shelf space POV to the movie business. Market share with a commodity product like sugar water is a fine notion. Market share with a one-off variable cost product like a movie is financial suicide.

At his DIY Filmmaker blog, Sujewa Ekanayake interviews director Pete Middleton, whose Driftwood was reportedly made for $200. As Middleton says that his film took three years to finish, in addition to figuring out low-cost production techniques he has also apparently created a new foodstuff that will end the problem of world hunger.

Tom Quinn, whose New Year’s Parade is premiering in competition at Slamdance and was a participant in this year’s IFP Rough Cuts Lab, is blogging about his road to Park City at The Workbook Project. In the current post he talks about a last minute picture change:

In the final hours before picture lock I managed to work in some footage I’ve been wrestling with a long time: the implosion of Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia. The implosion took place while we were still in the casting process, but I had managed to gain some high quality footage from a local videographer. Because of what it meant to the city and where it fell in the year, it always seemed like the perfect end of Act I, but I could never find the right lead in. This week it finally all clicked into place through a mix of the existing footage and a DVD of implosion coverage from South Philadelphia String Band member Harry Dougherty, who had family that lived next door to the stadium. He had shot amazing home video from their roof and I once had dreams of acquiring hours of camcorder footage of the event to build a South Philly Greek Chorus like the invasion of Prague in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But that was a whole other film in itself. However, I’m thrilled with how it turned out! It’s a great punctuation point to the family breakdown.

In addition to the CES event in Las Vegas this past week, one of the largest group of independent film producers — the adult film industry — had their annual gathering as well. In the past, the porn industry has been a bellwether for the movie business at large, having in the ’80s been a prime mover in the nascent home video industry. This time, reports CNBC, the porn producers are just as confused as the rest of us.

In the site’s “Panic in Pornville,” the CNBC reporter discusses how the industry has been caught on the wrong side of the “HD vs. Blu-Ray” debate (porn producers committed to HD discs because of their cheaper production costs and lower license fees) as well within an uncertain business model in which volume of production, piracy, the internet and replicating costs are taking their toll.

Hustler could always turn to an Asian Blu-ray replicator, most of which charge less than their US counterparts, Rosenfeld says. But to do so could mean putting movie master copies straight into the hands of pirates who would illegally copy and distribute the movies themselves.

[Hustler Creative Director Drew] Rosenfeld says—tentatively—that he sees Blu-ray winning out over HD DVD in the end, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good business move to abandon the HD DVD format just yet.

“HD DVD is still a viable product, because there are a million players out there,” says Rosenfeld. “Why would all those people throw those new machines away?”

Jeff Snyder of KBeech Content, which produces about 16 movies a month, says market saturation has made it hard to make money with standard-definition discs, much less high-def. Basically anybody can make a movie and distribute it online with very little up-front money.

“It’s hard to know where the market will go,” Snyder says. “The question now is: Do you want to go HD at all? It’s hard to get your money back these days. It’s hard to move 1,000 (discs). It’s not like it used to be. We used to move 5,000 pieces no problem.”

Most adult filmmakers aren’t abandoning hard copies just yet, though. Some online distributors are even expanding toward discs.

I’m a fan of Mike Kitchell’s Esotika Erotica Psychotica blog, which extensively covers that fertile meeting place between international art cinema and exploitation film. It’s a site where you will find Jacques Rivette rubbing shoulders with Jean Rollin. Today Kitchell has launched a larger home site that collects his reviews and essays, has a great links page, and offers a new discussion forum for talk about all manner of genre, Eurotrash, and avant-garde filmmaking. The framing on the site makes it difficult to link to individual articles, so I simply urge you to check it out.

Finally, I’m not sure what to make of B=X, a blog by David Geertz that chronicles his attempts to create a new film financing model. I’m reminded of that long New Yorker article from a couple of years back that discussed a company that “crunched the numbers” relating to genre, storyline and character, attempting to predict what films would be successful in the marketplace.

Geertz talks here about the title of his blog:

As for the title of the blog: B=X…well B stands for Biracy which is a new community of user financed content that I am developing at the soon to be www.biracy.com website, and X stands for the dividend that each user stands to make for supporting projects through this effort.

In the current post, he puts out a call for script readers:

B=X is looking for Script Coverage Writers to help conduct an experiment in motion picture funding. To help us with the Beta of our latest film funding model we need writers who have had experience in covering feature film scripts.

We are conducting an experiment to determine if aggregating script coverage that is given a numerical value can be used in cooperation with other empirical data to predict a films chance for success. Other groups have tried this in the past, some with writers involved without other data and some basing it merely on the writers comments. We feel that as film is a collaborative process there needs to be a combination of all values that go into the equation. Our problem is: What is the weight of each variable?

In a previous post, Geertz talks about the nature of his current work:

After continuing my own research on the ability to predetermine whether a film has an increased probability of ROI after it has been crunched from a series of data sets pertaining to the films content, producers, locations and about 47 other variables…I now know that very soon I should be able to deliver the first method of motion picture development that starts and ends with crunching data. Not to say that there are intuitive bits that are then converted into data to create a balanced approach to the overall equation, but the majority of the results thus far are beginning to look like they stem from empirical data sets.

Hmmm… I’ll look forward to checking in on B=X from time to time to read about the company’s discoveries.

One final note: I wrote a lot this week about the Axium bankruptcy, which I think is a huge and underreported story. If you or your production were affected by the Axium closure and would like to comment for an upcoming piece, please email me at filmmakermageditor at gmail.com.

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