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11.26.2013

CASE STUDY: Marketing A Film Based on Its Content NOT the Race of Its Characters

www.hollywoodreporter.com
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. 


11.25.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 11.25.13 (YOUTUBE TUTORIAL EDITION)


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?

11.20.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 11.20.13 (CLOUZOT and ALTMAN EDITION)

Today in November 20...
1907 – Henri-Georges Clouzot, the legendary French film director of films like Les Diaboliques, Wages of Fear, La Vérité and The Mystery of Picasso was born today. A stylish filmmaker known for making movies about betrayal deception and violent deaths whose negative persona and outlook on life was refelected in his work.  Nonetheless his skill made the master of suspense, Hitchcock nervous, as Senses of Cinema reveals and "although not as prolific, Clouzot’s is undoubtedly a comparable talent, and Wages Of Fear (1953) and Les Diaboliques (1955) regularly make it into lists of the greatest thrillers ever made." To get a glimpse of how Clouzot made films watch the documentary, Inferno.



2006 Robert Altman, the legendary American film director of films like MASH, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Gosford Park  passed away today. A maverick filmmaker who thrived during the 1970s and preferred large casts in his movies had a resurgence in the early 90s with The Player and Short Cut.  According to Senses of Cinema, his "career has consistently been marked by high critical acclaim and hostile popular reception. His refusal to tell straightforward stories, his apparent improvisation of script, his casting unusual actors and stars against type, his restless and obliquely motivated zoom shots, his multiply layered soundtracks – such qualities have regularly been seen as significant innovations in Hollywood story and style or as quirky irritations."
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And now on to the questions for the day...  

WRITING: So watching Henri-Georges Clouzot movies makes you want to write a suspense thriller now, well here's 9 bits of advice you can use for your script.

PRODUCING: What are some lessons you can learn from a badly produced movie?  Basically, what not to do. Read 'em and weep at the disaster that was Super Mario Brothers.

FINANCING:Why should you avoid non-compliant financial projections before you submit a PPM to an investor?

DIRECTING: What are 6 tips on directing to learn from Robert Altman (at a minimum)?
 

SHOOTING: Why shouldn't you shoot video with a DSLR? And 6 reasons to avoid DSLR video workshops.  And a little pushback: the real difference between normal DSLR video and 5D Mark III raw video.

LIGHTING:What can we learn about the power of key light from Henri-Georges Clouzot?

SOUND: Who knew film music could be a religious experience?  A probing review of Scoring Transcendence: Contemporary Film Music as Religious Experience that connects film criticism and theology by dissecting film music's tremendous emotional power.

STUNTS & FX: So you want to be a stuntman / stuntwoman (maybe as a way to make money and connections and then become a director like Hal Needham who just died recently)?  Here and here are somethings you should know.

EDITING: What is constructive editing and what can you learn from its use in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket?
MARKETING: Why you should use the concepts of disruption (instead of influentials) to hype up your project? 

DISTRIBUTION: What festivals are on Moviemaker's coolest 25 film festivals in 2013 as voted by readers? Including the top 5 fests in the following 10 categories: Documentary and Horror/Sci-Fi Festivals, Short Film and Comedy Festivals, Environmental/Social Cause and Women’s Film Festivals, LGBT and Ethnic/National Film Festivals, and Experimental/Underground and Out of the Box.

LEGAL: Why do you need an entertainment lawyer to negotiate your tv acting deals?


11.18.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 11.18.13 (MICKEY MOUSE & SYLVESTER STALLONE EDITION)

Last week was an off-week for The Film Strategist so my apologies but had to focus on some important work. Now I'm back so stay tuned for some interesting upcoming posts including your Monday and Midweek mixers.

On November 18, 1928 – The animated short Steamboat Willie was released.  This was the first fully synchronized sound cartoon, directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks and featured the third appearances of cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. This is also considered by the Disney corporation to be Mickey's birthday.  The short was such a success that it propelled Disney to international stardom.

Now, what I want to know is when will Steamboat Willie and other works of that era finally fall in the public domain?  Because it should've happened a while ago already. But as Timothy B. Lee makes clear, "15 years ago [on October 25], President Clinton signed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which retroactively extended copyright protection. As a result, the great creative output of the 20th century, from Superman to "Gone With the Wind" to Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue," were locked down for an extra 20 years.
[...]
The copyright extension Clinton signed will expire in five years. Copyright holders like the Disney Corp. and the Gershwin estate have a strong incentive to try to extend copyright extension yet further into the future. But with the emergence of the Internet as a political organizing tool, opponents of copyright extension will be much better prepared. The question for the coming legislative battle on copyright is who will prevail: those who would profit from continuing to lock up the great works of the 20th century, or those who believe Bugs Bunny should be as freely available for reuse as Little Red Riding Hood."

I'm with the folks who want the works in the public domain.  The original creators are long dead so there is no "incentive" to create for them.  It limits the possibility of artists to create something new and interesting with the works (unless it's paid for and approved by the current copyright holders.  Also, it removes any incentives for the current copyright holders to create since they are just relying on what their forebears made.  Finally, it's a shame that there are less famous and even "lost" orphaned works wound up in the web of copyright extension that can't be discovered by a new audience because they are not in the public domain and the actual copyright holders are untraceable. 

Here's to a new day for the public domain on January 1, 2019.
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WRITING: What can you learn about screenwriting breaking down the script for the Sylvester Stallone / Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie, Escape Plan?

PRODUCING: What are the top market trends gleaned from AFM that you should know about?

FINANCING: Why are more and more independents, instead of studios, financing middle-budget movies like Ted, The Wolf on Wall St. and American Hustle?

DIRECTING: What can you learn about having a long filmmaking career from Sylvester Stallone? No, seriously, he's done something right, considering that his first move in film was acting in a softcore porno yet he's almost 70 and still working.

SHOOTING: What's the difference between avchd and h.264?

LIGHTING: What was DP Colton Davie's experience shooting and lighting the short, The Whistler, on ALEXA?

SOUND: How do you digitally treat a voice?

STUNTS & FX: What are some DIY art direction tips to heed?

EDITING: What are some of the tools you can use to fake slow-motion in post production?

MARKETING:  When the art of the movie poster goes to shit, artists appear to rectify the situation.  Dare to market your film with a bold poster.

DISTRIBUTION: Can a grassroots cooperative for distributing films really work?

LEGAL: Gordon Firemark answers the following question, can you use another film's title or scenes in your screenplay?

11.06.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek MIDDAY Mixer - 11.6.13

Oh boy... started the day later than I expected so the Midweek MORNING Mixer became the Midweek MIDDAY Mixer.  You probably didn't notice but still felt like I had to explain.  Now... on to our program... 

November 6 marks the birth of 2 important directors and film visionaries who should be better known by mainstream audiences - Thomas Ince and Mike Nichols.

Thomas Ince - November 6, 1886

Born into a stage family in Newport, Rhode Island, Thomas Harper Ince would grow up to be known as the “Father of the Western.” At the age of 15, Ince made his Broadway debut. But despite his theatrical blood, and performing in a number of plays and vaudeville shows, Ince could never make his acting career pay off. Instead, he turned to the new medium of film. By 1910, he was directing one-reelers. And by 1911, he’d convinced the New York Motion Picture Co. to send him to California. In Los Angeles, Ince’s ambition blossomed. He leased land close to Santa Monica, and hired a wild west traveling show to set up a makeshift studio making westerns and historical epics. In the next few years, he consolidated this venture into Inceville, a prototype for later Hollywood studios. In the process, he also redefined his role from director to creative producer, dictating what projects would be made and with what director and talent. As the studio grew, Ince instituted assembly line principles to the film production, breaking up the making of a film into various departments (writing, costuming, shooting, editing, etc). By 1915, Ince had sold Inceville and formed Triangle Pictures, a vertically integrated company that would handle production, distribution and exhibition, a move that again foreshadowed the future of motion pictures. Constantly changing, Ince personified the potential of this new industry. A contract player, Florence Vidor, later remembered, “One could not meet Thomas H. Ince in his studio without seeing that here was a great dynamic personality, having the brightest blue eyes, ready smile and charming manner; always interested in everything––perhaps the secret of his youthfulness.” In the end, however, Ince is perhaps as well known––if not better––for dying at the age of 42 under mysterious circumstance on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. ~~Focus Features

Mike Nichols - November 6, 1931

Mike Nichols, who was born on this day in 1931, has been among the cream of the crop of Hollywood directors since he announced himself as a major talent in the mid-1960s with the prodigious one-two punch of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. But it’s easy to forget the wealth of life experiences he had before this breakthrough. Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, but fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1939, settling in the United States. (According to a recent interview, when Nichols arrived here, he knew only two English sentences: "I do not speak English" and "Please, do not kiss me.") Made a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944, Nichols attended the University of Chicago in the 50s, and there discovered his creative impulses: with Elaine May, Ed Asner et al, he formed the Compass Players, a comedy ensemble which later evolved into the seminal Second City troupe, and also started a folk music show on the radio. Nichols and May paired up and became a hugely successful comedy duo on stage, the small screen and on record (they were Grammy nominated). Though they parted ways in 1961, they would work together multiple times again, not least when they performed at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration celebration. When Nichols began directing for the stage, it immediately clicked that directing was what he was meant to do: he won back to back Tony Awards in 1964 and 1965 before being lured to Hollywood, but returned many times afterwards to Broadway, winning a further five Tony awards 1968 and 2005. ~~Focus Features



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So what can we learn today to make the best film we can...

WRITING: What are 10 things you can do to beat writer's block and finish that script?

PRODUCING: What are 12 ways to make movies like Stanley Kubrick?

FINANCING: What can you expect from Hollywood's latest quarterly earnings?  And what's wrong with Hollywood according to James Toback?

DIRECTING: What are 5 things they don't tell you when you make your first big budget film?

SHOOTING: What are 11 essential film shots and techniques?

LIGHTING:What can masters of portraiture teach you about film lighting?

SOUND: Want to hear the stories of the work Hollywood composer, Hans Zimmer, has done on classic films? Of course you do.

STUNTS & FX: How do you film realistic, bloody gun shots on a low budget?

EDITING:  What are Roger Crittenden's 10 commandments that editors should follow?

MARKETING: Successful marketing for your film involves understanding the real trajectory it has. Here's why.

DISTRIBUTION: Think outside of the box and you'll see why online distribution allows films to break out of the 120 minute running time.  Plus here's what you should know if you want to four-wall your film.

LEGAL: What should you know about the crowdfunding rules being proposed by the SEC?

11.04.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 11.4.13

November 4
Barack Obama became the first African-American president today in 2008. For many that was a new day of hope and, for others, the first step into hell. Well, whatever, I for one was happy.  But that's life, a heady mix of the good and the bad depending on your perspective.  And in the film & TV industry, today was both a happy one and a sad one too.   Happy for those born today, like...
1879 Will Rogers, American actor (d. 1935)
1913 – Gig Young, American actor (d. 1978)
1918 – Art Carney, American actor (d. 2003)
1959 – Ken Kirzinger, Canadian actor and stuntman
1961 – Ralph Macchio, American actor
1961 – Jeff Probst, American television host and producer
1969 – Sean Combs, American rapper, producer, and actor
1969 – Matthew McConaughey, American actor

And sad for those who died today like...
1982 – Jacques Tati, French actor and director (b. 1907)
2011 – Andy Rooney, American radio and television host (b. 1919)
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And now, on to our filmmaking questions of the day...

WRITING: How did one of the greatest SNL skits of all time get written?

PRODUCING: By comparing the two, Polone argues why studios should make movies like indies.

FINANCING: How can you fund a documentary?

DIRECTING: How did writer-director Gavin Hood navigate the stages of production for Ender's Game?

SHOOTING: So when and how should you use camera movement?

LIGHTING: How can you improve the background of your shoots by lighting with home-made cookies?


SOUND: What are 7 things to know for superior ADR (additional dialogue replacement)?

STUNTS & FX: How do you shoot a fight scene?

EDITING: How do you create a pleasing effect on your image by applying a contrast curve to the lightness channel on Premiere or After Effects?

MARKETING: A problem with marketing a film occurs when there is no clear way to accurately describe a film so it fails to reach the right audience.  This isn't just a matter of money hungry distributors just focusing on the money makers since even the critics sometimes fail to understand what they're watching.  Case in point: Critics who don't understand documentaries.

DISTRIBUTION: What are some interesting topics being explored in the self-distribution world?

LEGAL: Why is California's Talent Agencies Act such a challenge for lawyers and managers alike?

And here's a video with highlights from the classic Tati film, Trafic, to see why Jacques Tati was considered a filmmaking genius.