CASE STUDY: Top 13 Stories, Trends and Legal Decisions in Film/TV for 2013

on loan from Short of the Week - see their 2013 list of shorts
2013 winds its way to a close and we are wiser, wealthier or both. 
Wealth is never a guarantee for the veteran filmmaker let alone the first-timer. And, as a result, the wisdom gained can be bittersweet.  Nevertheless, as a weird mix of artist and entrepreneur, the wealth and wisdom we attain can be measured and classified in a variety of blessed ways.  Wealth and wisdom in practical knowledge, local connections and production experience are valuable indeed.

We live and work in interesting times and the tech we use and watch, the society we live and practice in and the tactics and strategies we employ are ever changing taking our beloved art form to strange places. And until the end of time or until film as an art form is supplanted, each year brings something new that mattered in film and TV; whether its a modification of something old for new times or something simply brand new and unexpected. In the end, for those of us in it for the long haul, it's our job to spot and absorb the trends and stories we can somehow benefit from. To get wealthier and wiser now and in the future. For 2013 I highlight 13 stories and trends that impacted the entertainment industry and will ripple or resonate throughout 2014 and beyond.

What stories and trends do you find most impactful? Answer in the comments below.

  1. Newsflash: China and Hollywood keep checking each other out at the party, now drinking together.  Pretty soon they will be carrying on an affair.  At the moment, Hollywood is supporting Chinese-made blockbusters but it comes with compromises as Hollywood has to decide how to make films with characters China likes and that bureaucrats like. And how worth it is it for Hollywood when hackers want your secrets and China might just be angling to make its own "Hollywood" that surpasses the original Hollywood?
  2. The SEC and crowdfunding.  As James Franco, Zach Braff and Spike Lee make ever bigger splashes by crowdfunding their movies, the SEC made some splashes of its own by wading into the equity crowdfunding waters.  Actually they started in 2012, receiving comments from the public and writing their drafts until they weighed in with 585 pages of crowdfunding rules.  In the end all everyone wants to know is how the JOBS Act and crowdfunding will impact indie film.
  3. Films starring or directed by minorities appealing to larger and larger white US audiences as more than just a "minority" film.  And although Andre Seewood might argue that white audiences still don't embrace so-called "black" films enough, he notes that studios should not treat all black films as one singular genre that appeals to one singular audience.
  4. Indie films stand to be the blockbusters of the future and indies are already financing more middle budget movies as the major studios focus on tentpoles. Maybe the studios will even learn their lesson and try to make movies like indies.
  5. The Marvel methodThe Marvel Method used to be the process Marvel comics used to make comicbooks but now it represents their process of filmmaking.  They created and implemented a risky strategy and developed a system for choosing directors and watched it pay off in a big way with huge profits and critical acclaim.  They are also redefining the superhero genre. And studios are trying to decode their strategy of success.  Warner Bros. studios which owns another big powerhouse in comic books, DC Comics, is taking notes and hoping they can catch up.  Ah, imitation, the highest form of flattery.
  6. Vine videos.  Are they a new acceptable format length for storytelling or a new form of marketing and advertising?
  7. The success of original Netflix series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black is a seminal moment in TV history.  That can't be denied but the question everyone is asking, is this kind of success sustainable?
  8. Another thing Netflix has done is create (or enable) a culture of bingewatching. Huffington Post posts asks the pertinent question: Has binge watching changed the way we live our lives? Netflix and cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken recently found that 61 percent of streaming television users binge on their shows and 73 percent feel positive about this kind of viewing.  Since 2012 people have wondered how bingewatching is changing the landscape and the questions still remain.  How will this impact the production of television series moving forward? How will a writer/producer shoot episodes when she doesn't need a cliffhanger every commercial break since presumably most people will be bingewatching instead of watching it when it airs? How will advertising on TV adapt?  Will this mean less money for TV productions?  And with audiences accustomed to watching hours of TV in one sitting will this mean movies that go way beyond the 90 minute to 2 hour mark be popular outside of arthouses?  Or does this only work in an environment where you can easily get out of your chair, go to the bathroom or eat something and return where you left off later? 
  9. In California, according to a recent case, Entertainment Lawyers can be held subject to the Talent Agencies ActIn September 2013, the Labor Commissioner ruled in Solis v. Blancarte that Los Angeles attorney James Blancarte had violated the Talent Agencies Act by “procuring employment” for his client without a talent agent license.  However, the story is not over.  "Mr. Blancarte has timely filed his appeal with the Superior Court and we will hear more on the plight of the California entertainment lawyer as unlicensed talent agent." 
  10. Youtube has once again prevailed against Viacom and other broadcasters who accuse Youtube of hosting tens of thousands of copyrighted videos.
  11. Interns beat FOX in a huge labor class action lawsuit making many corporations revisit their internship programs and intern work policies.
  12. Aereo (a technology company based in New York City that allows subscribers to view live as well as time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on Internet-connected devices) defeats TV broadcasters attempts to shut it down for the moment while many in Hollywood feel that Aereo puts their financial health at stake.
  13. Record High Income Inequality Threatens US Growth. Because it also affects the indie filmmakers struggling to make films or find investors as much as the movie watchers who can't afford to go or choose to spend what little they have on other leisures.  These are things that many in the 1% are not stressing because for them times are good. As Paul Krugman points out, the American elite has almost never been in such a dominant position. Who needs a stronger job market when profits are high and workers cowed?  But more specifically for filmmakers, high income inequality means only certain types of people will be able to afford to make films thus limiting the kinds of stories that get told and watched and starving the culture even more.
Ok, those are my choices for the top 13 major stories, trends and decisions in 2013 that are or will be impacting our filmmaking strategies for the foreseeable future.  
Let's see what 2014 brings.

Keep thinking, reflecting, writing, making and creating films and Have a Happy New Year!


PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 12.23.13 (HBD Transistor Edition)

Amplifier circuit, common-emitter configuration with a voltage-divider bias circuit.

HBD to the transistor, the fundamental building block of modern electronic devices, found in everything from TVs, mobile phones, radios, calculators and computers.  That you can read this post is a function of the transistor's capabilities, so thank you John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley for developing it at Bell Labs in 1947.  Thanks to the transistor we can watch movies on screens as large as walls and as small as belt buckles.

WRITING: What are the elements of a good scene?

LEGAL: How much does an entertainment lawyer cost?

PRODUCING: Do women prefer films made by female filmmakers?

FINANCING: How do you finance a movie using VOD sales projections?

DIRECTING: How do you turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller? (h/t to Jeffrey Michael Bays and makes a great last-minute gift)

SHOOTING: How do you add diffusion to your image by 'netting' the lens?

LIGHTING: Want to learn a great 3 light set up using special effects lighting?

SOUND: How do you record surround sound?

STUNTS & FX: What does performance-capture acting master, Andy Serkis, have to say about his craft?

EDITING: How do you make your character fly using After Effects?

DISTRIBUTION: What are 10 film distribution essentials?

MARKETING: What can you learn from taking your film idea through The Film Marketability Reality Check?

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 12.18.13

December 18 marks the births of legendary directors Jules Dassin (1911) and Steven Spielberg (1946) and the deaths of classic director Robert Bresson (1999) and influential animator Joseph Barbera (2006).  These 4 figures offer so much to choose from for inspiration and knowledge; they are an expert craftsman of filmnoir, a master storyteller of fantasy and wonder, a French auteur of transcendentalist and ascetic filmmaking and an influential animator who captured the zeitgeist of the 60s, 70s and 80s with his wild and funny cartoons.

Jules Dassin
Notable works: The Naked City, Night and the City, Rififi

Steven Spielberg
Notable works: E.T., Indiana Jones, Jaws, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and so much more.

Robert Bresson
Notable works: Pickpocket, A Man Escaped, Au Hasard Balthazar, Diary of a Country Priest

Constructive Editing in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket from David Bordwell on Vimeo.

Joseph Barbera
Notable works: Tom and Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, The Smurfs and so much more, it almost doesn't end.

So, Who will inspire you today?

Whose work will you revisit today?
And, whose work will you watch for the first time?

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Happy Birthday, John Cassavetes - 12.9.13

Today John Cassavetes would have been 84.  Aside from watching all of his films in an all-day or week-long marathon, there is no better way to pay homage to the godfather of American indie films then by learning from his words and his methods.  Below are excerpts and documentaries on the making of many of his films like Husbands, A Woman Under the Influence, Shadows and more.

John Nicholas Cassavetes (in Greek: Ιωάννης Νικόλαος Κασσαβέτης; December 9, 1929 – February 3, 1989) was an American actor, film director and screenwriter. He acted in many Hollywood films, notably Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Cassevetes was also a pioneer of American independent film by writing and directing over a dozen movies, some of which he partially self-financed, and which pioneered the use of improvisation and a realistic cinéma vérité style.  He studied acting with Don Richardson, using an acting technique based on muscle memory. ~~ Wikipedia


Here are excerpts from Ray Carney's investigations and analysis of Cassavetes history, artistry and filmmaking methods. Whether one seeks practical lessons or motivational inspiration, there is much to learn from Cassavetes:

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SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now | Nicolas Roeg | 1973 | UK, Italy | Format: 35mm | 110 min 

Released in the US 40 years ago today on December 9, 1973.
When British director Nicolas Roeg’s perverse thriller Don’t Look Now hit American theaters, not everyone was happy. In the New York Times review, Vincent Canby claimed that when this “fragile soap bubble of a horror film” ends, “you may feel, as I did, that you've been had.” Adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier short story, Don’t Look Now previewed many of the director’s upcoming themes—chaotic, realistic sex; disjunctive narrative montages; storylines that collapse the psychological and the supernatural. Here a young couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), traumatized by the recent drowning of their young daughter, comes to Venice for a working holiday and possible relief from their grief. What they find instead is a mystery lost in the maze of Venice’s back streets and canals and shrouded in the city’s famous fog. And while some find the film’s enigmatic style off-putting, more have found it unforgettable. The sex scene, which was thrown in at the last moment, has become so infamous that for years people have questioned whether it was real or simulated. The film’s fractured shooting style remains a model for how to transform a city into a cinematic character. And the infamous chase of a girl in a red raincoat has been referenced by films as diverse as the torture porn hit Hostel to the comedy In Bruges to James Bond’s Casino Royale to many music videos. ~~ FOCUS FEATURES




Polish poster version of "Don't Look Now"
Don't Look Now was produced by Peter Katz through London based Casey Productions and Rome based Eldorado Films. The script based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier was offered to Nicolas Roeg by scriptwriter Allan Scott, who had co-written the screenplay with Chris Bryant, while Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland were cast in the principal roles. Filming began in England in December 1972, breaking off for Christmas, and resuming in January 1973 for seven more weeks in Italy.


Don't Look Now was to be Nicolas Roeg's third directorial feature following Performance and Walkabout. Although real-life couple Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were suggested for the parts of Laura and John Baxter, Roeg was eager to cast Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland from the very start. Initially engaged by other projects both actors unexpectedly became available. Christie liked the script and was keen to work with Roeg who had served as cinematographer on Fahrenheit 451, Far from the Madding Crowd and Petulia in which she had starred. Sutherland also wanted to make the film but had some reservations in regards to the depiction of clairvoyance in the script. He felt it was handled too negatively and believed that Don't Look Now should be a more "educative film", and that the "characters should in some way benefit from ESP and not be destroyed by it". Roeg was resistant to any changes and issued Sutherland with an ultimatum.

Roeg wanted Julie Christie to attend a séance prior to filming. Leslie Flint, a direct voice medium based in Notting Hill, invited them to attend a session which he was holding for some American parapsychologists, who were coming over to observe him. Roeg and Christie went along and sat in a circle in the pitch dark and joined hands. Flint instructed his guests to "uncross" their legs, which Roeg subsequently incorporated into the film.
Adelina Poerio was cast as the fleeting red-coated figure after Roeg saw her photo at a casting session in Rome. Standing at only 4'2" tall, she had a career as a singer. Renato Scarpa was cast as Inspector Longhi, despite not being able to speak English and had no idea what he was saying in the film.


The drowning scene and house exteriors were filmed in Hertfordshire at the home of actor David Tree, who also plays the headmaster at the son's boarding school.  Shooting the sequence was particularly problematic: Sharon Williams, who played Christine, became hysterical when submersed in the pond, despite the rehearsals at the swimming pool going well. A farmer on the neighbouring land volunteered his daughter who was an accomplished swimmer, but who refused to be submersed when it came to filming. In the end, the scene was filmed in a water tank using three girls.  Nicolas Roeg and editor Graeme Clifford showed the opening sequence to some friends before filming resumed on the Venice segment, and Clifford recalls it making a considerable impression.  

The Venice locations included the Hotel Gabrielli Sandwirth—the lobby and exteriors standing in for the film's fictional Europa Hotel, although the Baxters' suite was located at the Bauer Grunwald (which better accommodated the cameras)—and the San Nicolò dei Mendicoli (the Church of St. Nicholas), located on the outskirts of Venice. Finding an appropriate church proved difficult: after visiting most of the churches in Venice, the Italian location manager suggested constructing one in a warehouse. The discovery of St. Nicholas's was particularly fortuitous since it was currently being renovated and the scaffolding was already in place, the circumstances lending themselves well to the plot of the film. Roeg decided not to use traditional tourist locations to purposefully avoid a "travel documentary" look. Venice turned out to be a difficult place to film in, mainly due to the tides which caused problems with the continuity and transporting equipment.

Filming the scene in which John almost falls to his death while restoring the mosaic in St Nicholas's church was also beset by problems, and resulted in Donald Sutherland's life being put in danger. The scene entailed some of the scaffolding collapsing leaving John dangling by a rope, but the stuntman refused to perform the stunt because the insurance was not in order. Sutherland ended up doing it instead, and was attached to a kirby wire as a precaution in case he should fall. Some time after the film had come out, renowned stunt co-ordinator Vic Armstrong commented to Sutherland that the wire was not designed for that purpose, and the twirling around caused by holding on to the rope would have damaged the wire to the extent it would have snapped if Sutherland had let go.


While many of the changes were down to the logistics of filming in Venice, some were for creative reasons, the most prominent being the inclusion of the famous love scene. The scene was in fact an unscripted last minute improvisation by Roeg, who felt that without it there would be too many scenes of the couple arguing.  The scene set in the church where Laura lights a candle for Christine was mostly improvised too. Originally intended to show the gulf between John's and Laura's mental states—John's denial and Laura's inability to let go—the script included two pages of dialogue to illustrate John's unease at Laura's marked display of grief. After a break in filming to allow the crew to set up the equipment, Donald Sutherland returned to the set and commented that he did not like the church, to which Julie Christie retorted that he was being "silly", and the church was "beautiful". Roeg felt that the exchange was more true to life in terms of what the characters would actually say to each other, and that the scripted version was "overwritten", so opted to ditch the scripted dialogue and included the real-life exchange instead. 

The funeral scene at the end of the film was also played differently to what was originally intended. Julie Christie was supposed to wear a veil to hide away her face, but prior to filming Roeg suggested to Christie that she should play it without the veil and smile throughout the scene. Christie was initially sceptical, but Roeg felt it would not make sense for the character to be heartbroken if she believed her husband and daughter were together in the afterlife.


The score was composed by Pino Donaggio, a native Venetian who was a popular singer at the time (he had a hit with "lo Che Non Vivo" which was covered by Dusty Springfield in 1966 as "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"); prior to Don't Look Now, Donaggio had never scored a film. Ugo Mariotti, a producer on the film, spotted Donaggio on a Vaporetto on the Grand Canal in Venice, and believing it to be a "sign" contacted him to see if he would be interested in working on the film. Donaggio was reluctant at first because he did not understand why they would be interested in someone who had no experience of scoring films.

Donaggio had no interest in making soundtracks for films at the time, but was introduced to Nicolas Roeg who decided to try him out and asked him to write something for the beginning of the film. Roeg was enthusiastic about the result but the London based producers were resistant to hiring someone who had no background in films. The film's financiers were pleased with Donaggio's work and overruled the producers. As well as composing the score, Donaggio performed a substantial portion of it himself. The piano pieces were performed by Donaggio, despite the fact that he was not very accomplished at playing the piano. The piano pieces are usually associated with Christine in the film, and Roeg wanted them to have an innocent sound reminiscent of a little girl learning to play the piano. Donaggio claims that since he was not very good at playing the piano, the pieces had an unsure style to them, perfect for the effect they were trying to capture.
The only disagreement over the musical direction of the film was for the score accompanying the love scene. Donaggio composed a grand orchestral piece, but Roeg thought the effect was overkill, and wanted it toned down. In the end the scene just used a combination of the piano, the flute, an acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass guitar. The piano was played by Donaggio again, who also played the flute; in contrast to his skill as a pianist, Donaggio was a renowned flautist, famous for it at the conservatory.  Donaggio conceded that the more low-key theme worked better in the sequence and ditched the high strings orchestral piece, reworking it for the funeral scene at the end of the film.
Donaggio won a 'best soundtrack of the year' award for his work on the film, which gave him the confidence to quit his successful singing career and embark on a career scoring films. Donaggio became a regular composer for Brian De Palma films and credits Nicolas Roeg with giving him his first lesson in writing film scores, and expressed a desire to work with him again.


Sex scene controversy

Don't Look Now has become famous for a sex scene involving Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, which caused considerable controversy prior to its release in 1973. British tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail, observed at the time "one of the frankest love scenes ever to be filmed is likely to plunge lovely Julie Christie into the biggest censorship row since Last Tango in Paris". The scene was unusually graphic for the period, including a rare depiction of cunnilingus in a mainstream film.

Christie commented that "People didn't do scenes like that in those days", and that she found the scenes difficult to film: "There were no available examples, no role models ... I just went blank and Nic [Roeg] shouted instructions." The scene caused problems with censors on both sides of the Atlantic. The American censor advised Nicolas Roeg explicitly that "We cannot see humping. We cannot see the rise and fall between thighs." The scene's much celebrated fragmented style, in which scenes of the couple having sexual intercourse are intercut with scenes of the couple post-coitally getting dressed to go out to dinner, partly came about through Roeg's attempt to accommodate the concerns of the censors: "They scrutinised it and found absolutely nothing they could object to. If someone goes up, you cut and the next time you see them they're in a different position, you obviously fill in the gaps for yourself. But, technically speaking, there was no 'humping' in that scene." In the end, Roeg only cut nine frames from the sequence, and the film was awarded an R rating in the United States. In Britain, the British Board of Film Classification judged the uncut version to be "tasteful and integral to the plot", and a scene in which Donald Sutherland's character can be clearly seen performing oral sex on Christie's character was permitted, but it was still given an X rating—an adults only certificate.
The sex scene remained controversial for some years after the film's release. The BBC cut it altogether when Don't Look Now premiered on UK television, causing a flood of complaints from viewers. The intimacy of the scene led to rumours that Christie and Sutherland had unsimulated sex which have persisted for years, and that outtakes from the scene were doing the rounds in screening rooms.  Michael Deeley, who oversaw the film's UK distribution, claimed on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs that Warren Beatty had flown to London and demanded that the sex scene—featuring then girlfriend Julie Christie—be cut from the film.  The rumours were seemingly confirmed in 2011 by former Variety editor Peter Bart, who was a Paramount executive at the time. In his book, Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex), Bart says he was on set on the day the scene was filmed and could clearly see Sutherland's penis "moving in and out of" Christie. Bart also reiterated Warren Beatty's discontent, noting that Beatty had contacted him to complain about what he perceived to be Roeg's exploitation of Christie, and insisting that he be allowed to help edit the film. Sutherland subsequently issued a statement through his publicist stating that the claims were not true, and that Bart did not witness the scene being filmed. Peter Katz, the film's producer, corroborated Sutherland's account that the sex was not authentic.

Theatrical releases

Don't Look Now—marketed as a 'psychic thriller'—received its world premiere in Britain on 16 October 1973, as the main feature of a double bill.  The Wicker Man was its accompanying 'B' feature and—like Don't Look Now—went on to achieve great acclaim. The two films have thematic similarities, and both end with their protagonists being led to preordained fates by a 'child' they believe to be helping. Michael Deeley, who was managing director of British Lion Films at the time of the film's release, claimed that the film's US reception was hurt by Paramount Pictures rushing the film into cinemas too early, due to the unexpected failure of Jonathan Livingston Seagull; despite its mismanaged distribution, Peter Bart—from his time at Paramount—recalls it performing "fairly well" at the box office. The film had recouped most of its expenses before it was even released, with its $1.1 million budget offset by the fee Paramount paid for the US distribution rights.  Don't Look Now was chosen by the British Film Institute in 2000 as one of eight classic films from those that had begun to deteriorate to undergo restoration. On completion of the restoration in 2001, the film was given another theatrical release. ~~ Wikipedia

PRODUCTION TIPS: 7 Artistic Decisions for the Director to Make

Master director / master decision-maker: Stanley Kubrick
Decisions on acting, cinematography and editing are the main provinces of the director. And rightly so, because those decisions, good or bad, many or few, are what distinguishes the kind of film we see from one director to the next. Still, as important as those decisions are, the director has no decision to make without a script.  
Of course, no one needs to be convinced of the importance of the script since that is where it all begins.  The screenwriter writes, rewrites, polishes and submits the script to the producer and director or produces and directs it herself.  As soon as the actual production of it is imminent, practical considerations like budgets, schedules, rehearsals, set and prop designs, etc. come to the fore which affect the kind of film the script will become. But more important than even those, I think, are the considerations of aesthetics and visualizations that the director undertakes before and while the other practical considerations are taking place.  Although without the script you have nothing, at the end of the day it's just a work of literature. It's the director's job to translate and transform that written piece into a visual piece.  Doing so means making all kinds of crucial and mundane decisions that might even change the script. Nevertheless, there are 7 important artistic decisions practically every director is faced with when it comes to translating a script from the written medium to the visual medium.
  1. Will you actually begin at the beginning of the script or begin in the middle during a climactic moment and then bring it back to explain the earlier happenings?  
  2. How much detail should you show the audience via shots, sounds and dialogue concerning the characters, props and actions described in the script?  Since most scripts are usually bare in descriptions, the director has a range of choices from using minimal, austere and low budget shooting methods to bombastic, larger-than-life and big budget shooting methods (and anything else in between).  Ideally, you will choose one that serves the story best and incorporates your unique style and sensibilities too.
  3. How much description of setting shot- and dialogue-wise is necessary and where should you stop or slow the narrative to insert it?  For ex. the script might have a one sentence description of a setting; "A small town that captures the essence of 50s Americana." The decisions are bountiful; one director can choose to use a long shot to show us the town, another might choose to do a slow montage of the people, storefronts, vehicles, etc. to give us the essence of the setting and another might just begin in an interior and let us infer the rest.
  4. Do you really need all that exposition of motives, backstory and setting or can you trust the audience's intelligence to "get it?"  
  5. If you do need the exposition, when and where will you use it?
  6. Can you do without the subplots or artful/suspenseful/sexual/comedic digressions?
  7. Should you hold back or push forward even more details than what the script calls for to generate more suspense, fear, climax, tears, tension or laughs?

Although the director's job is a difficult one, not every director will go through this kind of exhaustive decision-making process. A few directors will be lucky to have or write a strong script that lays everything out perfectly. Or some directors are just there to collect a paycheck in the most effortless way possible.  But for those directors who truly want to engage with their script and extract the most visual possibilities out of it, many, if not all, of these decisions must be made.

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PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 12.4.13

Created by script reader and Reddit user profound_whatever

WRITING: What are 38 reasons why your screenplay isn't getting recommended by the script reader?

PRODUCING: Ok, Mr./Ms. Producer, here's a challenge: What creative work would you make with this?

FINANCING: Even if you're a no-budget filmmaker right now, one day you will have to know the ABCs of International Pre-Sales.  Why not start learning today?

DIRECTING: What can lessons on editing, directing actors and choosing shots from Bruno Dumont teach you about filmmaking?

SHOOTING: When should you use RAW and when should you avoid it?

LIGHTING: What are 5 tips to improve your green screen shooting skills?

SOUND: What are some things to learn from a quick primer on music licensing?

STUNTS & VFX: Ever consider that maybe the best set for your movie is your living room? (h/t to )

EDITING: What should you know about advanced storage for your files?

MARKETING:  Why is engaging in the "public conversation" (of the film or the culture at large) a way for a director to retain and even increase viewership?

DISTRIBUTION: What are the 25 highest grossing indies of 2013 so far?  And the 15 highest grossing foreign-language films of 2013 so far?  And the 15 highest grossing documentaries of 2013 so far?

LEGAL: What should you know about protecting your creative work from foreign infringement?

CASE STUDY: Marketing A Film Based on Its Content NOT the Race of Its Characters
It seems like common sense that the best way to market a film with minority characters is to emphasize the presence of those minority characters and draw in minority audiences in large numbers.  End of Watch is a good example of this; 
"The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two cops assigned to South Central L.A. Pena's character is of Mexican descent and from East L.A.... When End of Watch debuted over the Sept. 21-23 weekend, 32 percent of the audience was Hispanic, both Spanish- and English-speaking (separate breakouts by language aren't available). The film, distributed by Open Road Films on behalf of Exclusive Media, won the frame, grossing $13.2 million (a solid number for an indie)..."
But studios and distributors walk a fine line between promoting the film's minority appeal to get minority audiences and downplaying it's strong minority presence to avoid alienating white audiences.  As a 2011 study confirmed, white moviegoers believe that films with minority stars are not made for them.  "Andrew Weaver of the Indiana University Department of Telecommunications explored how the racial makeup of the cast impacts the preferences of white filmgoers. Writing in the Journal of Communication, he described an experiment in which 68 white college undergraduates read 12 fictional synopses of new romantic comedies. 
“Web pages were created for each movie, and the race of the characters was manipulated to create six versions: an all-white cast; a 70 percent white cast with two white leads; a 70 percent white cast with a white and a black lead; a 70 percent black cast with a white and a black lead; a 70 percent black cast with two black leads; and an all-black cast,” he noted.
After looking over the pages, which featured small photos of the principal cast members, participants were asked a series of questions about their moviegoing habits, racial attitudes and desire to see each movie, either in a theater or at home.
“The higher the percentage of black actors in the movie, the less interested white participants were in seeing the movie,” Weaver reports. “Importantly, this effect occurred regardless of participants’ racial attitudes or actors’ relative celebrity.”
Seems a little messed up that white audiences won't watch a movie with minority casts in the same numbers that minorities will come out for a movie with white casts.  And studios, believing this is simply a social truth, are reluctant to change that by making more movies with more minority casts in it even though the international box office has more non-white audiences than it does white audiences (although, trying to reach this international box office might actually be part of the problem).

As usual it seems like the risk-averse studios will wait before trying something different.   But indie filmmakers are showing that casting minority leads doesn't mean you HAVE to market your movie as a minority movie.  Recent movies like "12 Years a Slave" and "The Best Man Holiday" that would traditionally be considered only "black" movies are attracting crossover white audiences.  Pamela McClintlock and Rebecca Ford report in THR on this recent phenomena; 
"While traditional fare such as Best Man Holiday is prospering, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler and 12 Years a Slave have exceeded expectations by appealing to both black and white audiences. They defy the Hollywood convention (or stereotype) that black moviegoers are interested only in aspirational comedies such as Best Man Holiday or that white audiences won't watch a film about the black experience. "A quarter of a century ago, these movies wouldn't have crossed over to a white audience," says Erik Lomis, distribution chief at The Weinstein Co., which released Fruitvale and The Butler."
However, what Alyssa Rosenberg finds striking is "how surprised many of McClintock and Ford’s sources seem by the trend, and how deep the assumption runs that white movie audiences aren’t interested in African-American leads, no matter the subject matter or genre of a project."  Noting that events like electing a black president have possibly opened white audiences to black leads, Rosenberg now asks,
"where does the assumption that white audiences aren’t interested in non-white characters come from? Why would a World War II movie with dogfighting pilots be interesting to white audiences if the pilots in question are white, a la Pearl Harbor*, but not if the men behind the controls are African-American, as they are in Red Tails? What makes an ensemble romantic comedy with a schticky premise where only one of the characters is black, as Chiwetel Ejiofor is in Love Actually, so wildly different from one where only one of the characters is white, as was the case in Think Like A Man? Why would we assume that only African-American audiences feel a need to reckon with the realities and legacies of slavery at a movie like 12 Years A Slave, a premise that suggests no white audiences anywhere feel shame or rage about our ancestors’ collaboration from a fundamental flaw in America’s origins, and the ways we continue to benefit from that flaw today? And why would anyone think that only African-Americans are affected when a young man is shot on a BART platform? That black men are targeted by law enforcement more frequently than white men or women doesn’t mean that the effects of such deaths are rigidly confined to African-American people, as if no white people anywhere have African-American family, friends, lovers, co-workers or co-parishoners. "
She acknowledges that emphasizing the commonalities shouldn't detract from what makes the films unique; 
"It’s true that part of the point of telling stories about non-white characters is to improve the variety of our storytelling, whether we’re putting new parts of familiar histories on the big screen, tossing new sorts of obstacles in lovers’ paths, or finding variations on family squabbles... audiences are obviously capable of–and interested–in engaging with all sorts of characters whose lives are different from our own. We happily consume stories about characters who are super-rich, or even whose real estate seems out of whack what they ought to be able to afford. We embrace criminal families and gobble up the exploits of super-people."
In fact, part of what could be appealing to white audiences is how they relate more closely to their actual lives, "plenty of movies that are labeled “black films” portray characters and events that have more in common with the lived experiences of most white filmgoers than the events of movies that are blithely assumed to be accessible to white audiences."

So the challenge for filmmakers and studios confronted with this paradigm developing right before their eyes is to continue to break down this "social truth" that white audiences (and by extension, international audiences) won't watch movies with minority leads and "try harder to sell movies to the audiences who ought to like them based on their content, rather than the race of the actors in question."  

Now as a filmmaker and distributer, you can still take a staggered and multi-pronged approach to target different audiences and appeal to them on a racial level because audiences conditioned by the society they grew up in will still respond to those dog whistles.  But the times they are a'changin' and audiences are becoming more and more receptive to accepting a movie as simply a good movie or a bad movie (or an action movie or a comedy or a romance) over it simply being a black movie or a Latino movie or an Asian movie. 


Today, I'd like to try something a little different... and that's use video to answer every question today.  So thank you YouTube! 
I still wish I had created you, but alas... thank you for being you. 

Today's theme will be NO- to MICRO- to LOW-BUDGET FILMMAKING. 

P.S. Don't forget to visit the Filmmaker's Toolkit for all the forms, templates and information you need to make your films at every phase of production from Development to Distribution.

WRITING: Why do most people fail at screenwriting?

PRODUCING: How do you pre-plan a no-budget movie?

FINANCING: Why do you need money to make money when it comes to making a film?

DIRECTING: What are the top 5 tips for new directors or how you can become a better director?

SHOOTING: How do you make a dolly track?

LIGHTING: Building a lighting kit, what are the professional film lights you should stock your kit with (at a minimum)?

SOUND: How do you record high quality audio on a budget?

STUNTS & VFX: Is it possible to use effective VFX with a micro-budget?

EDITING: What's the difference between color correction and color grading (in 30 seconds)?

MARKETING: What are the things you should do, at a minimum, to promote your film?

DISTRIBUTION: How do you get distribution for your indie film?

LEGAL:  What can you lean about film distribution and film markets from entertainment lawyer, Mark Litwak?

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist A 40-point checklist from development to post-production   by Danny Jiminian