Archive for March 2010

Two Blogs for Monday

March 29, 2010

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to learn about Hollywood is the veil of mystery that seems to shroud it. While you can learn plenty by reading books, magazines and websites devoted to the craft of filmmaking, this usually does little to illuminate the experience of what it’s really like to work in the trenches. What do working writers experience every day? What is it like to work for a studio and evaluate scripts for a living? Or to be a producer?

Personal blogs kept by working Hollywood employees — the writers, the executives, the assistants — are chock full of useful information and good dirt that you often won’t find in other sources. They can offer you a second-hand glimpse into the workings of the entertainment industry without its usual veil of mystery; they’re unpolished, sometimes anonymous, and, because they’re not being written with any particular agenda, usually quite upfront and honest.

One such blog is I Liked The Trailer Better, kept by two producers who also have great senses of humor. Their written dialogues about movies and the process of making them is entertaining in and of itself.

Another is StephTVFilmWriter, which is tough to beat for straightforward dish about what it’s really like to try to forge a career as a working writer. Steph’s smart, savvy, resourceful and tells it like it is. She also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to discussing the mistakes she’s seen other writers make, but somehow does it without coming across as discouraging or negative. Definitely a recommended read.


Facts on Pacts — Which Producers Still Have Deals at Studios?

March 22, 2010

It used to be very common for a production company to strike a first-look, overhead or distribution deal with a studio. This symbiotic relationship helped both entities — the studio got first crack at any material the production company was developing, while the producers became privy to various benefits such as having their overhead costs covered, space on a studio lot tout of which to run their offices, a better shot at selling their product, etc. In the best of times, some studios had dozens upon dozens of producer deals.

But when the tides of the economy shifted, all that changed. Producer deals are costly, and they stopped making sense — why pay for contracts with fifteen different producer teams when you’re only releasing ten or twenty pictures each year? Thus the Facts on Pacts chart, released annually by Daily Variety to break down what producers have deals with what studios, is much more modest now than it used to be.

Even so, it’s a good resource and worth checking out to see which producers, in the minds of studio execs, are still worth taking a gamble on. Some have a solid history of producing profitable films (like Jon Turtletaub for Disney); others they have a good relationship with the studio (like BenderSpink for New Line); still others are former studio execs who have been shunted into producer deals to maintain good faith (Unique Features for Warner Bros.).

A New Model: The Micro-Budget Studio Picture

March 15, 2010

Paramount is doing something revolutionary, and it couldn’t be better news for aspiring filmmakers.

Last week, the studio announced the creation of its new arm, Insurge. Working with a mere million-dollar budget, the studio will produce ten films over the coming year, each with a budget of no more than $100,000. As this leaves virtually no money for print and advertising costs, the studio plans to promote the films via social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and most importantly through word-of-mouth.

In the last few years, specialty film distributors — New Line, Miramax, Picturehouse — have been rendered all but nonexistent as studios turned towards the potential blockbuster as a more effective way of making a quick and hefty profit. If it isn’t capable of grossing $200 million over the length of its run, if it doesn’t star a cadre of A-listers or boast incredible special effects, it’s generally not of interest to a studio. Just last year, Paramount shuttered its own specialty arm, Paramount Vantage, even though in the past it has released critically acclaimed films like “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” and “There Will Be Blood.” So why the sudden change of plans for Paramount?

Two words: “Paranormal Activity.” The little thriller that could, shot on a mere $10k budget, took in $22 million its opening weekend and to date has grossed over $100 million dollars. It has spawned a series of copycats and Brian de Palma’s even rumored to be directing the sequel. Suddenly the question on everyone’s lips became, “How do we replicate this success?”

Paramount’s answer to that question is Insurge, and while they may have their eye on the bottom line, implications for unproven filmmakers — working on borrowed time and favors — can’t be overstated. Paramount has publicly stated that it will be scouting new teams of filmmakers to produce new, original films, mostly in the relatively low-budget genres of horror, comedy and animation. Some may be released theatrically, others remade with bigger budgets, still others useful primarily as a calling card for the filmmakers as they attempt to attach themselves to projects elsewhere. The LA Times goes more into depth about Paramount’s plans here.

Insurge isn’t in the business of acquiring already produced films, by the way, as is the norm with specialty film distributors looking for product on the cheap. They aren’t looking to pick up low-budget movies at film festivals or through word-of-mouth for distribution, as “Paranormal Activity” was. This is original content, developed and produced for Insurge at absolute minimal cost, and distributed by Paramount. It truly is a unique business model.

The real test will come when it comes time to see how said model works. Will social networking and conversations in classrooms and over coffee cups be enough to fuel interest in a movie that has no way of marketing itself through traditional means like television spots and giant billboards? Was “Paranormal Activity” lightning in a bottle, or the first sign of a sea change? Studio executives — and the rest of us — wait with interest to find out.

(This article has been cross-posted at PhotoCine News.)

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Spec Tracking, week of March 12, 2010

March 12, 2010

Every so often, I’ll post the titles and loglines of scripts that are currently being shopped to producers. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with what scripts are getting attention based on their loglines alone. You’ll notice running trends with these specs — most importantly, there are a few genres which are perpetually popular. Action thriller, comedy, romantic comedy, crime drama — you’ll see a lot of these. Sci-fi, romantic drama, biopics and other genres tend to be harder sells, for various reasons (men won’t see romantic dramas, sci-fi costs money, etc.) but you can always count on a cheaply-produced buddy comedy to take in some money at the box office or, at the very least, on DVD.

This week, we have a two-hander buddy comedy (cheap to produce), a graphic novel-inspired crime thriller, and a by-the-numbers horror/thriller.

By Dax S. & Robert S.
Two dudes who were the most popular guys in school 20 years ago are hired by hired by a former classmate in a misguided attempt to teach his 18 year old son how to become popular.

By Allen W.
A cross between THE DARK KNIGHT and TAXI DRIVER, it’s the story of an unbalanced pawn shop owner in East LA who decides to fashion a costume and clean up his neighborhood after the woman he secretly loves is hurt. Told with a surreal visual style as most of the story is shown through the main character’s eyes.

By Jordan G. and Alex P.
Suburban teenage misfits out for a wild night in Hollywood throw a bottle at a car and provoke the wrath of a faceless psycho who
hunts them down through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.

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Guest Gig — The Wrap

March 9, 2010

I’ll be blogging semi-regularly in The Wrap’s Hollyblogs section, usually on the topic of women and film.

My latest article muses on James Cameron’s public comment that “Avatar” is a chick flick. Seems like an odd comment for the world’s most successful film director to make, no?

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Before You Burn out on “Hurt Locker” talk, Read this Article

March 9, 2010

Film Closings is a great blog, and its most recent article is a truly interesting insider look at how “The Hurt Locker” found financing, against all odds. To give you a taste:

Nicolas loves the “Hurt Locker” script, phones back and against all experience and precedent, tells CAA – the agency repping the film – that not only will he take on this Iraqi war movie to acquire the foreign pre-sales, but he wants to help in producing it. The subject matter, he tells them, speaks to him.

There is one small problem, Nicolas believes that, even at $20 million, the budget is too high — it must be lowered substantially, slashed by some 35% to $13 million, in order for him to be able to sell it and stand any chance of making a profitable film. CAA agrees. The budget will be lowered, line by painful line, in hopes they can still maintain the quality production values worthy of a theatrical release.

I always tell writers to be aware of what genre they’ve chosen to write in (you’d be surprised how many don’t know), and even more importantly, to be aware of the challenges of selling a project in that particular genre. War movies are perpetually difficult to sell — even well written ones with solid attachments like “The Hurt Locker.” Financiers want guarantees — and in Hollywood, there are no guarantees to be had. The result is a paradoxical situation, a mire into which many a hopeful script falls and very few completed films ever emerge.

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Sign Up For the Newsletter

March 4, 2010

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