If you’re looking for a way into the film industry, and you don’t live near any of its power centers (LA, NYC, etc.) you might be interested in my new column for Script Magazine, called ALTERNATE ROUTES. Every month, I talk with folks who are making their entertainment dreams come true – from places like Rhode Island, Austin, or northern Connecticut! Give the column a read. Think you might enjoy it.
I was asked by my friends at Seed&Spark to write some thoughts about distribution, and if it’s possible to develop a successful collectivist distribution model for independent film. I think it is, and I put a plan together in this post for them. Check it out:
I’m sure you’re asking “what on earth are The Rumperbutts?” Well, it’s a great indie film that shot in the New Haven, Conn. area last year. The stars of the film are the band Mates of State, and Josh Brener (SILICON VALLEY) is in it, too.
AND SO AM I! I’ve got a small role in the film, where I act with the leads in two scenes. I’m very excited about it, because on May 22, it’s going to be in theaters, on VOD and online!! How cool is that? Here’s the poster:
If you’re interested in checking it out, great news – you can pre-order it on Vimeo On Demand! Here’s the trailer for it (and if you listen, you can hear my voice in there):
For friends of mine in Connecticut, there’s a chance it may be playing in state somewhere next month, too. I’ll let you know if anything’s confirmed.
It amazes me how many podcasts and sites exist for independent film now. They’re great ways for filmmakers to get their projects out in the world. It’s also a great way to impart some knowledge to the world, about what you’ve done, and how people can make better films, or work more efficiently. I’ve been interviewed for 2 podcasts, a Web series, and wrote a blog post for an indie film site, this past month. Thought you might like to check them out.
First, I was interviewed for the Dave Bullis Podcast, featuring (you guessed it) Dave Bullis. You can listen to that here:
Then, I was invited to speak on the Film Reverie podcast, with Michael Bekemeyer and Bradley Kingston. This one was cool; we talked for over an hour about crowdfunding, and how filmmakers can work with their local communities to build audiences. (And I talked about my first theatrical experience, acting in my first short play!) You can listen to that here:
My old student Cory Maffucci, who has his own production company (!) called CineSlinger, invited me to be interviewed for his indie film Web series, THE HOT SET. Cory was my cinematographer on my short film PROTESTERS (which you can see in my Directing section), and we talked about the inspiration for that film, and how we went through the process of making it. Here’s that video:
And finally, I was asked by the wonderful RB Botto at Stage32.com to write a blog for their community. I was able to write something for their community about working in film production outside of Los Angeles. If you’re looking to break into the business, maybe this blog can help! Check it out:
Hope you enjoy them! And if you have an indie film podcast or blog that needs a guest, let me know! 🙂
Last summer, my friend was working on a Kickstarter campaign for a really interesting film called OUT OF MY HAND. They had filmed the first part of it in the African country of Liberia, and they wanted to shoot the rest of it in New York City. I met with the film’s Kickstarter team, and gave them some advice. The campaign succeeded – to the tune of over $40,000. I met with the director and producer after the campaign to see if they needed crew help – and they did. I ended up coming onto the film as an Associate Producer, and we filmed the rest of it this past July.
The shoot wasn’t easy – the summer heat beat down on us all the way through, and some days required we shoot in multiple locations. But the stuff we were getting was REALLY, REALLY GOOD. And the script was dynamite. I figured the hard work would be worth it.
Man, I had no idea. There was an incredible announcement about OUT OF MY HAND today – it’s going to world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival next month! This is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world; it’s incredibly hard to get in. They announced the film’s inclusion on the festival’s Web site.
Here’s what the IMDB page for the movie says about the film:
“Out of My Hand is about a struggling Liberian rubber plantation worker risks everything to discover a new life as a cab driver in New York City. The film is a modern twist on a classic immigrant story, shot in Liberia and in New York, making use of rarely-seen locations in tandem with both non-actors and professional talent, espoused a naturalistic approach to better capture the lives of common plantation workers in Liberia, while simultaneously making use of a distinctively contemporary visual style. Out of My Hand is only the second foreign production narrative feature film ever shot in Liberia and the first to be made in association with Liberia Movie Union, an affiliate of Liberian government.”
I’m so excited to be a part of this movie, and that it’s going to be playing at such a prestigious festival. The filmmakers are so talented, the story is truly universal, and the scope of it is so wonderfully large for a microbudget indie film. Here’s one more photo from the film. I can’t wait for it to play here in the US. 🙂
Since 2008, the state of Connecticut has waited with bated breath for Connecticut Studios, a film studio project that promised to bring the lights of Hollywood to the farms of New England. The town it would be based in, South Windsor, Connecticut, was in negotiations with the developers, Pacifica Ventures (they built Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico) for years, before they dropped out of the project. All that time, film professionals, and hopeful film professionals, have been waiting for the opportunity to ply their trade at home, instead of hoofing it to New York City to work.
Now, it looks like there may be life in the project still. The mayor of South Windsor said that the project is now a two-phase development, with a smaller studio being built with a fuel cell in phase one. There’s a new partner in the project who would handle the development and running of the studio, now that Pacifica has dropped out. There was a presentation given at a South Windsor town meeting on January 5; you can download it here. (The pages will look blank, but you’ll be able to download it by clicking the save button in the lower right hand corner.)
I’ve worked with the state, and lobbied the state, since 2005, trying to help a studio project get built there, but sad as this is to say, it’s never really been in the cards for Connecticut. I hope this does happen, for all the film industry people who still live there, but I don’t think it’s going to. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for seven years …
My friends at the crowdfunding Web site Seed&Spark put this blog post up on their site, about what independent filmmakers can learn from the Sony hacking debacle. Check out their site – if you’re an indie filmmaker looking to crowdfund and build your audience, these guys are the best people to do it with.
WHAT INDIES CAN LEARN FROM SONY
Following the saga of Sony Pictures’ The Interview has been a real-time education on studio filmmaking, free speech and internet security. But the one thing that’s stuck out to me has been the vacuum Sony found itself in, and Hollywood’s culture of fear and victimhood. As an indie filmmaker, this has clarified for me just how entrenched the CYA (Cover Your Ass) approach is in the studio world – and it’s showed me how important it is for indies not to follow in their footsteps.
Right from the beginning, after being hacked and threatened with violence if theaters played the film, Sony tried to pass the buck. They told exhibitors they were planning on moving forward with the release, but that if they wanted to back out, the studio would support their decision. “Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it,” Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton said. “Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.”
Of course they had a choice. Sony had signed contracts from every exhibitor that said no to putting the film out. They easily could have gone forward with the release if they wanted to. Instead, they made someone else make the decision (the theater chains), so they could cry victim.
And if this weren’t bad enough, the rest of Hollywood ended up with egg on its face, too. Actor George Clooney and his agent, Bryan Lourd, sent out a petition of support for Sony – one that nobody would sign. They sent it to the heads of film, TV and music companies, looking for additional voices backing up Sony, to stand up against terroristic threats. But no one would take a stand with them. Everyone was content to leave Sony in the wilderness, to deal with it themselves. Director Judd Apatow wasn’t surprised by the town’s keeping quiet. He said on Twitter, “It is not shocking that nobody signed Clooney’s petition. Almost nobody here will acknowledge that Bill Cosby has been accused of rape x30”.
The pity party continued when Lynton addressed digital distribution for The Interview. “There has not been one major VOD distributor or e-commerce site that said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said. But guess what? They didn’t need one! They own an online streaming service called Crackle, which they could easily use to distribute the film. And don’t forget, Sony makes the Playstation. If I remember right, you can watch content on that, too. Sony was doing its best to make people think they were forced into this position, but they were scared to put the movie out.
The reaction to this was quick and fierce. Apatow said that pulling the film was done in panic, and indie movie theater owners, like Tim League of Alamo Drafthouse, wrote up their own petition, pledging support to help Sony with their originally-planned Christmas Day release. Even President Obama got in on the action, saying he thought Sony made a mistake. So then what happens? Lynton does an interview, saying “We would still like the public to see this movie. Absolutely.”
First they were scared of putting the movie out, then they were scared to look bad.
Lynton eventually announced that Sony would team up with U.S. independent theater owners and chains, and release The Interview theatrically with them, starting on Christmas Day. But wait! Rather than giving the premiere to those who helped them in their hour of need, Sony released the film online – on Christmas Eve! Youtube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Sony itself (through a site called Kernel) premiered the film online a day ahead, depriving theaters of thousands of potential customers, who watched the film at home instead. This is how Sony treats its friends.
This isolation and addiction to CYA, fortunately, is something I don’t see as much of in the independent film world. And I think this process can teach us something about supporting each other. I believe this YOYO (you’re on your own) attitude by Big Media will lead to a further softening of content, to the point where their bets will keep getting safer and safer. (Transformers 5, anyone?) But that won’t work for us. Indie film is a home for edgy content, stories that may piss people off, or tackle sensitive subjects. We need each other’s support to continue to fund, produce and distribute those kinds of stories – or any other kind of story we may want to make. That won’t work if we have a YOYO attitude.
There’s something to learn about brand management here. I look at Hollywood studios as less than brave (to be kind) as a result of this. That’s the last thing I’d want people to think when they think of me as a filmmaker. I want to be known as someone who makes thought-provoking work, and who supports my peers. So that’s what I try to do. If a fellow indie filmmaker made something that provoked this kind of reaction, I’d be standing with them. I stand with Rogen, co-writer/director Evan Goldberg and The Interview, too – I bought a ticket and watched the movie in a theater. No creator should face censorship because of their studio’s cowardice. Charlie Chaplin started shooting his Hitler satire The Great Dictator a week after World War II started! Hollywood’s courage, it can safely be said, isn’t what it used to be. That hurts their brand. But if you support your filmmaking brethren, your brand will be fine.
There are also nuts-and-bolts filmmaking errors the indie world can learn from in The Interview’s release. When Kernel offered the film online on Christmas Eve, anyone who rented it could download an unprotected copy locally, through a pretty serious loophole. In part because of this, over 1.5 million pirated copies of the film are now floating around online, representing millions of dollars of lost revenue. So when you distribute your film online, make sure you have your DRM issues taken care of. Sony is also being sued by Korean singer Yoon Mi-Rae for illegal use of her song “Pay Day” in the film, saying that Sony never came to an agreement with her label before using the song anyway. The lesson here? Make sure you have the rights to everything you put in your films.
So let’s learn from Sony’s, and Hollywood’s, mistakes. Let’s help each other tell stories. Stories about all genders, all races, all socioeconomic statuses, in places from all over the world, about topics you don’t see in studio films. Let’s support them by standing with their filmmakers if they face censorship. And let’s support them financially, whether by crowdfunding or buying tickets. (Preferably, both.)
Let’s never forget that a rising tide lifts all boats. Hollywood just cares about their particular boat. Let’s all care about putting more water in the ocean.
Marty Lang is the writer/director of Rising Star, a feature comedy/drama being distributed worldwide by Content Film, which can be streamed on Amazon.com. He has taught filmmaking at Stage32.com and Quinnipiac University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Filmmaker Magazine and Script Magazine.