Friday, June 11, 2010

This summer and that summer


Not all summers are created equal especially at the box office. One of my favorite summers of all time was the summer of 1996 when Independence Day came out and I spent the rest of my summer as a ten year old fighting aliens on my cousins farm in Georgia. Looking back, I don't really remember much else from that summer. The first "Nutty Professor" movie came out as did "Twister" and "The Rock" but overall, according to Hollywood analysts that too was a bad summer. That said, the thing that separates the then and now is that it is very doubtful another "Independence Day" will come out of this lot of films being released in 2010. I'm talking, a movie that will go on and gross all the way till fall and keep making money for many years after it.

I've been pretty wrong on most of my predictions so far, I think as far as this summer goes, everyone has. More are failing than I thought was possible. What's up with that? Economic problems in Europe probably arn't helping and like the studios big fight with the summer olympics in 1996 to get audiences, the world cup might be affecting audiences world wide--leaving international numbers pretty slim. Maybe that was in the cards all along, they've learned that they can't compete with a once every four year TV event, so they'll just release filler because they have to and make what they make. No sense trying to fight it.

That's probably what's going on. Notice throughout the rest of June and into early July there aren't many huge films coming. And July 4 weekend is like an empty coffin with the exception of "Last Airbender." That's one of the best weekends of the summer to release anything so the lack of something on that weekend signals to me, something is up. "Knight and Day," "Salt," "Inception" and "Predator" are about the only things left worth mentioning--on and the Mark Wahlburg/Will Ferrell thing in August. So yeah, it's a summer slump, but on the bright side, maybe next summer we won't have to deal with another summer barrage of nothing but franchises and bad adaptations, again, that's Iron Man 2, Shrek 4, Toy Story 3, Predator, Robin Hood, and so so much more.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Del Toro Departs MIddle Earth: Give it up MGM


It's official, Hellboy & Pans Labyrinth's amazing visionary director Guillermo Del Toro is off "The Hobbit" films. These projects were highly anticipated films especially with the disappointment that followed when it was announced that the Lord of the Rings director and screen adapter Peter Jackson would not be allowed to helm the projects. Del Toro was a worthy replacement. Aside from the battle with Jackson to helm the film, the MGM property was mired in a tense battles with everyone that ever had a claim to it after the amazing success of the "Lord of the Rings" films at New Line--a battle that took several years to settle. MGM won it but it seems the studio has lost the war. The project is on hold indefinitely as the studio is led out to auction: that or it is being led out to be shot back behind the barn--which is what should happen.

The question now is not who will replace Del Toro but what will happen to MGM? As not only this project is wrapped up in its fate, many others will follow as well, not to mention a library of hits that serve now only as bitter reminders of a studio that once knew what it was doing. Even at the best scenario, where the studio is bought, management is restructured, and projects are ordered back online, and even with "The Hobbit" leading the charge, it will still take years to work out the deals and line up investors and talent and then finally film the thing.

Del Toro's move is wise and it should become clear to anyone wanting to buy the studio now, what their priority's are: restructure MGM, give it a new image, and let it start with "The Hobbit" and end with a year medium budget, high value and highly targeted niche films to take the place of smaller studios and distributers that have gone bankrupt and are no longer. MGM won't be able to compete again with Paramount, FOX, and WB until they become more financially viable again, so it should stick to what it knows best: good simple film.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Awful Aughts


It's hard to dis the decade that transformed you and turned you into what you are but who better qualified to do it than someone who lived it? I was a freshman in high school in the year 2000 and out of college for a year and a half by 2009. When the decade started we thought the worst thing that had ever happened to America in our lifetimes was the Bill Clinton scandal, or, at least that's how the news seemed to act. Sure, there was the Oklahoma City bombing in the 90s, as well as the first World Trade attempt, and there was violence in Kosovo, Iraq, Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe but not here. Then 9/11 turned everything on its head staining American history forever after with the watermark of decline.

For film to be the medium that really reflects society American studios were null to really react to all this until the end of the decade. Television was far more prepared for portraying the loss and confusion of society than studios to this decade have ever been. Shows like Lost, 24, Battlestar Gallactica, Heros, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and much more began diving down into whatever scar had been left by what the US government was doing to deal with the attacks and these shows really exposed a crippling distrust in authority figures and an unravelling of psyches and a feeling of being lost now that the Statue of Liberty wasn't so shiny.

The main problem of this decade wasn't Hollywood's reticence to pretend like nothing happened but how they chose to deal with what they perceived had happened. I don't think at any other time in Hollywood's history except for the 1960s has there been such a disconnect between Tinsel Town and main street America. The main movement in the 00's was in big blockbuster releases of super hero films. 9/11 had happened, we were at war, we need a hero! A Dark Knight that has to be the bad guy in order to protect us. Not surprisingly, "the Dark Knight" struck a sort of cultural heart string that no one had been able to tap into before on such a mass level. The Dark Knight said, yes there's evil out there, pure evil, but the only way we're going to fight it is if we're willing to lose a part of ourselves in the process.

Then of course there was a lot to do with elves, magic, rings, and fairy tales. These escapist films, the "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter" were geared more for a younger audience who understood a good vs. evil plot a little easier than the murky gray of something like "The Dark Knight." Don't get me wrong, "The Lord of the Rings" was a great trilogy and "The Two Towers" is perhaps one of my favorite films of all time, but the movies have not had the sort of long lasting affect I thought they would. It's unfortunate for such a great trilogy to have been released during the peak years of 9/11 and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will always be viewed in the context of, "Gee, wish we could just take Osama Bin Laden's ring and cast it into that volcano in Sweden." Escapism is a nice escape though, especially in dark times like the aughts.

The problem with this is that instead of looking forward to new stories and ideas studios have adopted a strategy of revamping old ones. Instead of looking for new talent and developing new stars, it seems they're more content with rebirthing "blasts from the past." Remakes were on the tips of everyone's tongue in the 00's, with Superman, Star Trek, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, and many many more. It's hard to escape when you sit in a theater thinking, "where have I seen this before?" While not are remakes are held equal (Star Trek) I find the vast majority of them unfulfilling and disappointing.

Equally disappointing with the way studios run the film business is their reliance on reboots and franchises. In many ways these go hand in hand as one leg of the franchise might close with Terminator 3, only to reopen with the reboot of it in "Terminator: Salvation." Reboots seem to work like a turn signal after you've just slammed into a wall. They usually involve some sort of "pre" or "side" something in order to get started on where their going. It's all about brand and while Studios would love to make every original script they find, they know that there's a market out there for the predator/alien movies that can gaurantee them X amount of dollars and as long as they know that money is out there in the pockets of a potential audience members, they'll keep tailoring to that audience and ignore new/interesting stuff all day long.

All this boils down to the main problem in film and the reason why, despite so many successes, it's the worst decade of film making, is that it's the decade that killed independent film making and branded it into a marketing tool with certain asthetic styles, high caliber actors, and budgets that make real "indie" film making look like nothing more than glorified student films. It's this lack of competition between "indie" and "mainstream" that once made film going exciting, now makes it feel one-side.

For instance, of the 60 films that were shown at Sundance last year only 12 of them got distribution deal, 12! This lack of exposure to new film makers is only going to hurt the medium in the long run. Mainstream studio films benefit from the experience and fresh take of successful indie film makers and indie film makers benefit from the void of story telling that's left empty by the studios. When indie film makers now fill that void with their stories they will have no avenues to distribute them and get them out.

The smaller niche distributors are dead or dying. Where once Miramax would buy a movie in the 90's and turn it into "the next big thing" with the distributor's recent belly-up the likely hood of that happening or of another smaller niche distributor doing the same is very small. There has been a lot of debate as to newer mediums to distribute movies on and combinations of blitzkreig style marketing and distribution techniques, all these are requiring the indie film-maker to become more concerned about recouping their losses and in essence turning them into the corporate entities they are trying to overcome.

So what killed indie? As much as the studios are to blame Indie film has very much become a victim of its own success. It used to be that so much money was spent on equipment, processing, and editing that the only actors directors could afford were up-and coming ones. The only scripts indie producers could produce were "excellent" scripts and the likely hood of regaining at least something of what was spent was an acceptable risk because there was at least knowledge of an "art house" circuit of independent cinemas that would show their work. This doesn't exist anymore.

In today's world, none of that is true. Producing something is so cheap, editing is so easy and inexpensive, that producers spend more time trying to find A-list talent to help "sell" the film than whether or not the script is developed enough. SO, A-list talent signs on to lack-luster films that mainly just go on everyone's resumes and never really go anywhere else. Nothing is recouped, and investors are left only with the promise of their movie going to a film festival where even if it was a buyers festival like Sundance or Toronto, it would only have a 20% chance of getting bought. Other potential investors hear about this charade and next time an indie producer asks them or their friends for money the answer will be no. This is where we are now.

There is a lot of everything being made, some good, some bad and some just lost in the cacophony of too much product. In a phrase that's what the 00's were, "a cacophony of product," where it was getting so cheap and so easy to produce movies because of the digital revolution there were literally too many films out there--and still are-- for distributers to even know what to do with. Studio libraries back in LA are full of movies that will never get released because they've missed their "window." Ah, another crucial topic: the shrinking window. All tales are timely but the person deciding the time often cares very little for the tale and will shelve it indefinitely if they feel the public climate is not "right" for the film's release. Thrown in with the new Hollywood-indie style films being made by Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and once indie king Quentin Terontino, some of them still having problems getting their films released even with their connections, it leaves the rest of the pack in dire straights.

On top of all of this, an asshole director who has never director a critically acclaimed film in his entire life, Michael Bay, is on top of everyone's list of most wanted directors. Bay's success is really a magnifying glass on just how awful the 00's were. When movies like Pearl Harbor, Transformers, The Island, all critically destained movies, can get someone as much traction as they've gotten Bay it's no wonder literate directors everywhere are unnecessary. Bay is a great studio director because he knows the audience better than the studios and that audience is not a fan of art or story, they're fans of big explosions, they're the type of people who think Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas really is a replica of the one in ancient Rome, and they're the fast and the furious audience who take a girl to a movie just to have an excuse to go bang her in the parking lot afterwards. That's what, according to Bay and the studios, most of America is these days and they are that way because instead of raising the bar they've lowered it and that has more to do with film making than any other medium that's out there.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer Movies: the formula



I love that feeling when a movie is announced, and it's like there's just something under my skin that's just itching, compulsively, and won't stop until it forces me to see it. I love that feeling. I saw Star Trek on my own last year because I couldn't wait to schedule going to see it around my friends schedule. I did the same when Two Towers came out, and regrettably, I went straight from finals to go see the sequel to The Matrix when it came out. I don't know what I feel about the films coming out this year, suffice to say, deja vous? Have we been here before?

There's nothing too distracting about the movies coming out this summer and that has allowed me to peer behind the curtain and find something extremely telling: the formula. Here's how it goes: non-trilogy, franchise sequels & prequels are generally released earlier in the summer, along with long anticipated remakes/reboots they're the ones that will get the most hype and most anticipation, for instance, Ironman 2 and Shrek 4, and Robin Hood (AKA Gladiator: the sequel) coming out in May. This is followed by a slew of date films and bro comedies at the same time children's films from June -- August. Throw in some more big budget action/adventure stories, this time, ones that are probably more original, and then let the money roll in...

Studios posture endlessly to schedule release dates for their upcoming blockbusters because they want to have the most strategic release as possible so the most money can be made from it. The three biggest weekends to release summer movies are the first weekend of spring/summer--usually around May 1, July 4th, and Memorial Day. Cleverly enough, these weekends span the summer movie season roughly marking the beginning middle and end. You can pretty much guarantee a big, big, release on every single one of these three weekends.

Since we've already talked about May which has been dominated so far by Iron Man 2, lets move to June which is packed with huge releases geared towards the out-of-school age14-22 demographic.

June 4:
Get Him to the Greek
Killers
Splice
Ondine

June 11:
The A-Team
The Karate Kid

June 18:
Toy Story 3
Jonah Hex

June 25:
Knight and Day
Grown Ups

And the big ball-busting can't believe it's going to make so much money:

June 30:
Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So in total, every weekend is something big, but it's geared more towards young adults because they're the ones killing time, spending parents' money.

Looking further ahead, at mid summer where the July 4th weekend is going to be dominated by "The Last Air Bender" the hopeful new blockbuster by a not so blockbusting director M. Night Shyamalan, there is a more diverse mix of films. This is because July is the one true month of summer where if someone were going to have a summer vacation or be off for whatever length of time, worldwide, this would be the month. So take a look:

July 2:
Last Airbender
I hate Love Stories

July 9:
Predators
Despicable Me
The Kids are Alright
Change of Plans

July 16:
Inception
Sorcerers Apprentice

July 23:
Salt
Dinner for Shmucks

July 30:
Charlie St. Cloud

Keep in mind, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Twilight, and Knight and Day will all still probably be playing during this time and grossing big money. I'm excited that "The Kids are Alright" -- the indie/Hollywood film about lesbian parents whose children want to know who their sperm donor father is, got a release that falls in the mix of all these films. It's definitely on the "Little Miss Sunshine" marketing bus of "little indie film becomes summer's sleeper hit," sorry "Letters to Juliet," if it hasn't happened for you by this point it's over baby.

Moving on to August the summer movie season wraps up, but since that's so far away at the moment we'll keep the pre-game out of it as we've yet to really see how exactly June and July shape up. I hope this has been informative but I hope it doesn't discourage you from seeing what you want to see. Go support film!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Movies: Update


Ironman 2 = hit. Everyone saw this coming and even though it's overall ratings are not as good, the fact remains that strategically speaking as far as releases go, this was the most well placed one of the year. The first summer blockbuster will always be a hit no matter how much it blows. Last year "Wolverine" took up this same slot and was a huge disappointment for many X-Men fans. Despite this, they still generated enough money to make another X-Men prequel. This time, featuring the story of Xavier which I hope will be much cooler. X-Men is my favorite comic book franchise and "Wolverine" had too many characters and was hard follow. It's not a complaint that is heard often in the genre but it seems the same can be said for Ironman 2 except it's fairly easy to follow.

Robin Hood = miss. The re-assessment of the Robin Hood role in a totally different way for the character more commonly known to us in English literature was a slap in the face. Hollywood has always been in the "lets correct history mode" but how can you correct a piece of literature? They could have made the same story but called it, "The Archer" and it would be a huge hit like "The Gladiator" and no one would notice the lack in creativity of the title because, "How creative is Ridley Scott anyways?" But they didn't and the studio, Ridley, and Russell Crowe are getting blasted for it.

All in all, the movie is a very good allegory about a poor man fighting a rich man's war who comes home wanting to take a little more than your average revenge out. I have no problem with the movie except that it should have been called, "The Archer" and not "Robin Hood" because it has nothing to with the real Robin Hood except for the fact they were both archers. This is such a basic law of big budget film making: If you're going to adapt something from a well known piece of literature, history, comic books, or any other form of media--stick to the essentials. They're essential for a reason. With that said, I'll take Errol Flynn as the man in tights any day. I'll even take Kevin Costner in a Mullet--at least Snape was the bad guy in that one.

***On that note, I propose to remake Robin Hood in the future where he's a sniper and using his expert skills to knock off big business CEO's that have gone corrupt. He then falsifies some documents so that their money lands in his bank account which he then uses to purchase bibles and blankets for children in Honduras. He's being hunted by every government in the world and for that--he's awesome. Oh, and he makes 007 look like a pussy. Oh yeah, and Lady Marriane is played by Lady Ga-Ga.

As for my other predictions, I'm obviously pretty horrible about predicting what chicks like and don't like cause apparently "Letters for Juliet" is not getting very stellar reviews. That said, the majority of reviewers tend to be male and therefore geared towards a male audience. Who would have predicting after it's first opening week that "The Blind Side" would go on to be as big of a hit as it was. Still, like watching horses leave the gate, I'm waiting on "Letters for Juliet" to pick up some speed.

Lastly, Get Him to the Greek is picking up some advertising momentum with a huge blitz and is like I said, looking to be this year's "The Hangover." I stand by my prediction that it's going to fall short of "The Hangover" buzz but will still probably make a lot of money. So is it a hit? Yes and no, even the bro-tastic audience knows how to call bullshit from time to time.

Stay tuned for more summer movie updates.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Summer Movies Part 1


Summer is just about here and the entertainment outlets are putting out there summer movies guides but the overall feeling is: yawn... sequels, remakes, and reboots. It's hard to compare this summer to last summer because this summer hasn't happened yet but for the most part, it's not shaping up to expectations... or is it? Despite what many say about, sequels, remakes, and reboots, Hollywood is getting pretty darn good at getting you into a theater seat to go see it. Last year's reboot of "Star Trek" was one of the best movies made both in it's grossing and critic's reviews despite lots of detractors saying it would be a bust. Also, Michael Bay's "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" was successful enough to bring on yet another sequel even though it had very little critical success. So who knows? Well, here's my guess's for eleven of this summer's most anticipated movies.

Ironman 2 -- Hit -- This is obvious. Personally, I'm on the fence about this. I worked on a film set that had several people who worked on this behemoth and heard some pretty interesting gossip. Won't kiss and tell though, the name sells itself and plus people want to see Mickey Rourke in a big action film. The part I'm on the fence about it all the stuff director Jon Favreau is bringing in from the Marvel universe. "Wolverine" did this same thing, bringing in lots of auxillary superheroes who ended up hurting the film more than helping. Seems the ironman franchise is the new "Spiderman" as far as superhero films go and so it will be successful... for now at least.

Robin Hood -- Miss -- Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have been a very profitable pairing in the past but from the way this Robin Hood remake is shaping up, it's not looking very good. Being released in the same month as "Ironman 2" isn't going to help it either. It's going to get hammered critically in how it isn't the story of Robin Hood at all--avoids the crusades entirely, turns Robin Hood away from the likeable ex-nobleman and into a thug. It's sounding more like how "First Knight" retold the story of King Arthur but without Sean Connery and Richard Gere. If you see it at all it's because you're expecting gladiator but what you're really getting is Ridley Scott's over extended line of credit with audiences.

Letters to Juliet--Hit-- This looks to be this summer's "Julie and Julia" in how it sounds like a mother-daughter film that is sure to have success that carries it on for a while. Set in Europe and following the story of a woman's search to return a long lost love letter it may sound cheesy but I assure you it's not written by Nicholas Sparks. My girlfriend will probably want to see it and of all the romantic comedies/dramas churning out, this is one I could probably sit through. Of course, I've been wrong before.

Get Him to the Greek -- Miss -- This bro-comedy looks to hang on the success of a Judd-Apatow-esque sex and drug comedy but despite how much it wants to be this year's "the Hangover" it won't.

Killers -- Miss -- I want Lionsgate to succeed really sincerely, they've started doing most of their production work out of Atlanta now and that's a market I wouldn't mind working in but I don't think "Killers" will be able to beat Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day." The only similarity between the two is how a woman is accidentally brought into the work of a serial killer/assassin. Cruise trumps Kutcher and Diaz trumps Heigl: "Knight and Day" has been marketing way longer than "Killers" so when people see the "Killers" trailer they think, "Oh, that looks like that Tom Cruise movie with Cameron Diaz."

Knight and Day -- Hit -- Cruise's bad publicity days are winding down. Hollywood wants it's Tom Cruise back. He's learned to keep his head down and mouth shut about the scientology stuff and besides, the media has a short memory, especially when it comes to the antics of Maverick from "Top Gun." Like it or not, Tom Cruise is a force to deal with. The trailer for this movie is stellar and has audiences already wondering what it's all about--something "Killer's" doesn't. There's a mystery in the "Knight and Day" trailer that is more compelling, "How did Diaz live and what does Cruise want with her?" I thought I wouldn't say this, but I almost want to find out. Looks like an exciting date night movie.

The A Team -- Miss -- Why they are making a movie out of this old TV show is beyond me except to say that Family Guy's references to the A - Team and the family guy episode where Peter and the gang turn into "The A Team" are the only reason I can think for the movie's coming about. Plus Mr. T's random commercial appearances. It's going to flop, but no surprise.

Karate Kid -- Hit -- I know, I know, how could they? Right? Well, yeah, they could. As much as I loved the original Karate Kid, it's pretty damn dated back to the 80's. I can barely look at the kid in it and help myself from laughing at how ridiculously 80's he looks and acts. I know the 80's cheesiness is much of the charm of this movie but in reality, the reason we like it transcends the decades. I like that they made the kid African American and the master played by Jackie Chan (in a serious role) that is enough to make me go see it and I'm sure many others will too. Great movie for dad to take the kids to.

Predators -- Miss -- From what it sounds like the Predators franchise has wandered all over the place and that this film hopes to get back to the original awesomeness that was Arnold Swartzenager in the glory days, of course minus the Arnold. It seems like this film was made around the same idea that made "Terminator Salvation" and that it perhaps was meant to rival it and now that it's coming out a year later it won't seem so obvious. The problem I think audiences will have with it will be that we don't get it. The concept sounds interesting and there's definitely an audience there it's just not as big as the makers of this hopeful blockbuster want it to be. Like the inconsistency problems that are killing the "Terminator" franchise, Predators will likely kill itself off as well.

Inception -- Miss -- Summer Sci fi thrillers that don't involve light sabers and the Starship Enterprises generally don't do well no matter who is directing it. Chris Nolan is a great director and story teller but I don't know how well he can pull this one off. I'm looking forward to seeing it though and and will probably like it but I don't think it will be a "success" with the mass audiences, even with Leonardo Dicaprio, it seems unlikely.

The Other Guys -- Hit -- The pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlburg as cops is for some reason hilarious. Everyone can picture Wahlburg's cop character from the Departed and we can imagine how it would clash with someone like Ferrell. On top of that, it looks to be of a higher caliber than Ferrell's latest "Will Ferrell-eque" type comedies so it should be interesting.

So, those are some of my bets. It's not necessarily what I personally would like to see, not all of it at least, especially with "Inception." Some obvious successes are Toy Story 3, Twilight Eclipse, and the Steve Carrell animated film, Despicable Me, and Salt--because anything with Angelina in it is successful and this one has been marketing for a while. Ironman 2 comes out next week! So let the viewing begin!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Summer Movies Part 2: the formula


I love that feeling when a movie is announced, and it's like there's just something under my skin that's just itching, compulsively, and won't stop until it forces me to see it. I love that feeling. I saw Star Trek on my own last year because I couldn't wait to schedule going to see it around my friends schedule. I did the same when Two Towers came out, and regrettably, I went straight from finals to go see the sequel to The Matrix when it came out. I don't know what I feel about the films coming out this year, suffice to say, deja vous? Have we been here before?

There's nothing too distracting about the movies coming out this summer and that has allowed me to peer behind the curtain and find something extremely telling: the formula. Here's how it goes: non-trilogy, franchise sequels & prequels are generally released earlier in the summer, along with long anticipated remakes/reboots they're the ones that will get the most hype and most anticipation, for instance, Ironman 2 and Shrek 4, and Robin Hood (AKA Gladiator: the sequel) coming out in May. This is followed by a slew of date films and bro comedies at the same time children's films from June -- August. Throw in some more big budget action/adventure stories, this time, ones that are probably more original, and then let the money roll in...

Studios posture endlessly to schedule release dates for their upcoming blockbusters because they want to have the most strategic release as possible so the most money can be made from it. The three biggest weekends to release summer movies are the first weekend of spring/summer--usually around May 1, July 4th, and Memorial Day. Cleverly enough, these weekends span the summer movie season roughly marking the beginning middle and end. You can pretty much guarantee a big, big, release on every single one of these three weekends.

Since we've already talked about May which has been dominated so far by Iron Man 2, lets move to June which is packed with huge releases geared towards the out-of-school age14-22 demographic.

June 4:
Get Him to the Greek
Killers
Splice
Ondine

June 11:
The A-Team
The Karate Kid

June 18:
Toy Story 3
Jonah Hex

June 25:
Knight and Day
Grown Ups

And the big ball-busting can't believe it's going to make so much money:

June 30:
Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So in total, every weekend is something big, but it's geared more towards young adults because they're the ones killing time, spending parents' money.

Looking further ahead, at mid summer where the July 4th weekend is going to be dominated by "The Last Air Bender" the hopeful new blockbuster by a not so blockbusting director M. Night Shyamalan, there is a more diverse mix of films. This is because July is the one true month of summer where if someone were going to have a summer vacation or be off for whatever length of time, worldwide, this would be the month. So take a look:

July 2:
Last Airbender
I hate Love Stories

July 9:
Predators
Despicable Me
The Kids are Alright
Change of Plans

July 16:
Inception
Sorcerers Apprentice

July 23:
Salt
Dinner for Shmucks

July 30:
Charlie St. Cloud

Keep in mind, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Twilight, and Knight and Day will all still probably be playing during this time and grossing big money. I'm excited that "The Kids are Alright" -- the indie/Hollywood film about lesbian parents whose children want to know who their sperm donor father is, got a release that falls in the mix of all these films. It's definitely on the "Little Miss Sunshine" marketing bus of "little indie film becomes summer's sleeper hit," sorry "Letters to Juliet," if it hasn't happened for you by this point it's over baby.

Moving on to August the summer movie season wraps up, but since that's so far away at the moment we'll keep the pre-game out of it as we've yet to really see how exactly June and July shape up. I hope this has been informative but I hope it doesn't discourage you from seeing what you want to see. Go support film!


Dega Job

Sometimes shoots don't work out. I was hired by a company last week to PA a shoot for the Talladega NASCAR race. Unfortunately, bad weather canceled our shoot and the race that was going to happen on Saturday. Sunday's went off fine, but we weren't covering Sunday's. Anyways, all I ended up doing was running errands. It was pretty easy work. Reminded me a lot of interning except I didn't learn anything and didn't make any good connections. It was just a job. Fortunately, even though they canceled the shoot I still got paid.

There was a funny story I was going to tell about the very particular needs of one of the persons involved but it doesn't seem necessary. I just wonder when I'm a big producer or director if I will be as demanding as some of the people I've worked for. Is this what happens when we start at the bottom and work our way up? It seems many learn by example and become pickier and pickier as we assimilate more power.

I don't ever want to be picky. When the apocalypse comes, who's going to care about your non-fat Haagen-dazs strawberry sherbert with the blue top? Whose going to care about your skinny, sugar-free vanilla, one pump, extra shot vente latte? How will these people learn to survive without their Diet-Peach Snapples or 6" Turkey subs minus lettuce, minus bread, just mustard and meat? Seriously? I know it's my job and everything but I'm beginning to think people do this pettiness on purpose and there's really nothing I can do about it.

"Greenberg" -- Worst film in years


I've seen a lot of movies in my life; some good, some bad, some with so much possibilities but Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg" was none of these. Baumbach has finally made a truly despicable film with nothing redeeming about it what-so-ever. No important lessons, not even marginally important lessons, or even mistakes or anything can be taken from this movie. It's hard being the brother of a rich person, living in LA, and having friends that don't get you, that's about all I got. The fact that no one punched Ben Stiller in the face except once in this whole movie was a shame.

Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" was a great film about the disconnection between parents and kids during divorce. His script writing of "The Life Aquatic" and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" are great contributions to film libraries everywhere. People going to see "Greenberg" because of these facts are being duped and it should serve as an insult to all his previous work.

Words cannot begin to express how self indulgent and psychologically inconsistent the characters and the plot of this flick is. Rotten Tomato's tomato meter is definitely broken for not rating this movie lower. It is marketed based on Ben Stiller's acting performance and Baumbach's previous work but the fact that it has been released so early in the year means that there's clearly no merit to it, otherwise, it would be released closer to the fall Oscar rush. Greenberg is an utterly unlikeable character, his girlfriend played by Greta Gerwig is an LA hipster with serious sexual issues, and the dog has AIDS. If any of that sounds interesting for ninety minutes of your life, go see it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dega baby woo-hoo!


If you ain't first you're last. I just got a job working the talladega races and I'm super pumped! Sports events are some of best PA jobs out there. Once the race starts, it's go go time and you work hard but it's such a rush. My first PA job ever was a dega race. It should be fun. I expect it to be different than last time. Last time we were shooting promo stuff for a 35mm crew and this time it's for a company doing the broadcast. I haven't worked live television much so this will be a good experience.

Job starts early tomorrow and goes through Saturday. Hope I have as many fun stories I did from the last time I worked there. The highlight of that experience was getting flashed by a 50 year old drunk woman so that she could try to get a ride in the golf cart I was driving around that had all the equipment in it. Anyways, it should be good. Here's to optimism.

Monday, April 19, 2010

War Movies vs. War Video Games




War movies were once super popular with the general male populace. Not anymore. With the prevalence of video games and medal-of-honor-worthy acts of digital heroism the need to watch others do it on screen is less exciting. "The Hurt Locker" will probably be the last war film to win an oscar for at least the next decade. The reason: cinematic war is over. Bring on the virtual ones.

War movies rocked male audiences in the fifties and sixties. As you can imagine they became less popular in the 70s due to "Vietnam Syndrome," but would pick back up in the mid 80s. "Apoclaypse Now" and "the Deer Hunter" came out to in the 70s to critical success but they weren't lauded much financially. It wouldn't be until Oliver Stone's "Platoon" that the war film genre would reach its second coming. "Rambo" which is an action film whose hero was born out of the Vietnam war, helps pave the way for how Americans should think about war and audiences showed up in droves. Reagan helped too. The success of Stone's "Platoon" launched several other Platoon-esque films to come out and catch onto the lucrative post Vietnam movie audiences, "Full Metal Jacket," "Hamburger Hill," "Flight of the Intruder," and many others. Looking back though, I think one of the main reasons guys in my dad's generation liked war movies starring big masculine actors like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood was because we liked to imagine ourselves in their shoes: calm, cool, and badass under pressure--much how you feel when you play a war video game.

Well, enter modern war films: frantic, overly depressing, morbid, and dare say, formulaic. Now, this isn't to say that "Apocalypse Now" isn't all of these and more, it's just, it was really the first to hit all those chords. "Platoon" did too, but it's something we can't seem to get out of: "The anti-war, war movie."

Here's how you make a modern war movie.

1. Take an "every-man character" and insert him in the military. Like you and me, there's some resistance and defiance to the military's way of doing things and we relate to the characters through his subtle acts of rebellion.

2. Through "trial by fire" he learns that the military seems to be alright at preparing him for doing the things he must do, so now he's got to just focus on surviving. He looks at life with new resolve.

3. With new resolve in hand, he and his fellow soldiers use team work and brotherly love to get them through near impossible feats of survival.

4. In that focus on surviving our main character sees the other supporting characters get blown away and slowly learns an important lesson: war sucks.

5. The audience leaves the film feeling less enthusiastic about life as opposed to when they entered.

It's an important lesson. War is a crap thing human beings have wrought upon the earth and upon each other. Movies, need to figure out how to tell a war story without it being the same rehashing of old wounds.

Here's where video games flourish. Video games let us get in the shoes of the main character and fight the war ourselves and with the help of some clever programming, we get to the hero and save the day. Like war movies, war video games don't need much plot to get you to the end of it, you just have to save the day or in some cases, just survive long enough.

Lately I've spent a lot of time watching "The Pacific" on HBO. I loved the series "Band of Brothers" and am so far still on the jury when it comes to "The Pacific." For the most part, it's a harder mini series to get involved with. "Band of Brothers" had character development that has never been seen before in the war movie genre. "The Pacific" has had some development, but it's more like a collective ensemble of average grunts being portrayed through small vignettes of valor. One thing is definitely different though, "The Pacific" is much more realistic than I ever imagined the Pacific War to be because until now the best example I have in my head is John Wayne crawling over rocks in a movie about Iwo Jima. The film is a fairly accurate of the hardships American troops had to go through and is a fair depiction of it that gives a little more of a sense about it than if you were to watch a documentary about it on TV.

I think tomorrow I'll wake up and play some "Call of Duty." It's all the same action minus the guilt. Some say you should feel worthless for playing video games. I don't. I feel worthless for watching some half contrived war movie that makes me feel like I'm doing nothing with my life unless I'm out killing japs and coming down with a severe case of post traumatic stress disorder. When faced with that, I'll take video games any day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Film Slaves vs. film makers

There are film makers and there are film slaves. Film makers say they "make films" whereas film slaves are the ones who "make films happen." I'm getting tired of "film makers." These are people you meet at film festivals or in film schools who are the next 'wanna-be Martin Scorcese,' and that they're going to make the next big revolution in the film industry happen. Why? Better yet, how? And even better yet, why should we listen?

This business is based on money, not art. Many of us would like for all of the content of film and television to based on art and the collective needs of our culture to have some form of art that reflects itself but it isn't.

Americans hate art. Most of them anyways. Including myself for the most part. I took some art classes in college and couldn't help but feel their aim was more or less off. They preached art as being "a great equalizer" as something that gets messages across and makes arguments that are original and individual and that if you make something that resembles someone else's you are simply "cliche" or not being individual enough and need to figure out who you are. So, art students go on this quest to prove who they are. They shop at thrift stores, eat ramen noodles, intern at photography studios, and read fashion magazines and for what? Why? So some failed college art professor can feel like they have a sense of power? No.

So it comes down to this. In this industry you either work above the line or below it. You make your own job or you get hired for someone else's. That's how it is. It's not art, it's not culture, it's business. In a capitalist system this is how we determine what deserves to get made or not. It's the project that gets the most money or the most support and its not often the project that is the most deserving. It's the project that is clever, that's seductive, that's edgy, that's whatever the people with the funds want it to be.

For all you aspiring film makers out there get your stupid little heads out of the clouds of revolution and take the coffee order because that's all you're going to be able to do. Indie film is dying. Auteur film-makers are becoming extinct. That's not to say they'll become non-existent, but they're not really needed. Anyone can become an auteur if they're facebook or twitter page is clever enough. That's the reality of this digital age of film-making we're living in.



Frivolous Friday April 16th

videoHere's my audition for a Reality TV show. Hope you enjoy. This is what I have had to deal with lately.

Data Wrangling

So this past week I worked as a "Data Wrangler." It was terrible, I hated it. If there's one thing I'm not, it's an assistant editor/data wrangler. Now, I did learn a ton of new stuff, which is excellent, and I would love to have this opportunity over again so that I could do it all right. I hate not doing stuff right and getting it wrong and messing up the production, I absolutely hate it. That's part of being a PA, I guess.

What I'll do right next time:

1. Think! -- I think this crucial ability was impaired by the fact that I was so nervous about this new assignment I only got but about 3 hours of sleep the night before, so I guess more importantly, the trick is to get a good night's sleep.

2. Never assume -- now, this is a very basic thing I've learned in this production industry of ours that I somehow forgot this past week. I wanted to impress the people I worked with so much I forgot some very basic shit I should not have forgotten. Mainly, asking the producers for clearer instructions when stuff was unclear.

3. Admit what I don't know--There was clearly confusion on what the company wanted me to do. What I agreed to do when hired was to work as a runner/data wranger. What I ended up doing was that plus more, stuff like assistant editor work. Next time, I might be a little more forthcoming about my limitations, I barely know Final Cut, at least to the point that they wanted me to know it. Next time, I'll make it clear that I don't know something.

4. Not beat myself up -- It's an easy thing to say, not an easy thing to prevent. We all want to be perfect. When we're good, on top of things, we're confident that we'll work again and get that next job. When we're not, we got into this spiraling of self blame.

5. Keep it light -- I think this was supposed to be a frivolous post.


ANYWAYS, it's all said and done. Live and learn. One thing this other production could've benefited from was paying me a half wage and hiring another PA. Sometimes it's better to have more warm bodies than cold, worked to death, dead bodies.

That's it. I'm out. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Refuse to:_____________

This is a new section I'm starting about things I will no longer put up with. One of them: stupid accounting departments. I can't do anything about it now. But when I'm head of a production company or head of a studio, that's going to be the first target in my cross hairs.

I've had two weeks of fixing a problem with my passport that has caused quite a bit of irritation for a production company I worked for doing casting calls for that reality show. It seems to them, the only two valid forms of ID needed to complete an I-9 work form are a DL and a passport. I had the DL but did not bring the passport and thus they told me I would not get paid until I did. The reason for my delay is that I've been hesitant on giving out this information so I consulted a lawyer. Paranoid? Maybe, but maybe it's time for a wake-up call.

PRODUCERS! WHY DO WE HAVE TO SUBMIT EVERY FORM OF ID AND CONTACT INFO KNOWN TO THE UNIVERSE JUST SO WE CAN WORK FOR YOUR SHOW? HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

I think I found the line. Refusing pay, based on refusal to show additional forms of ID after two forms of it were already given is not only a pain in the ass but illegal.

I did not understand is why this company needed my passport when there are many other types of ID stated on the I-9 that are also included as "acceptable" forms of identification. What types you ask? It clearly states Social Security card, non drivers license, commercial license, air plane license, military ID and any other form of government ID greater than a library card. Since the production was not shooting out of the country I see no need to submit my passport information because I view that information as private and something I should only have to share if needing to show it to a government official.

Second only to my right to privacy, is the fact that a company should not force its workers to submit pass port identification if the work being done for the production is being done on a "local" basis. In other words, if the company is not willing to ship me off to France or the Bahamas to work for them, then FUCK their need to see my passport.

Lastly, in the United States, citizens are not required to get a passport, it's optional. A company that requires its workers to have a passport and will refuse pay if they don't is illegal. It's discrimination without basis and had I gone to law school and had nothing better to do I would file charges against them. It would be one thing if this company hires people out to work over seas for them but it's another if the work being done is domestic. You cannot make one of your credentials for employment based on whether or not someone has the ability to travel overseas if the work being done is NOT being done overseas. It's retarded. The smoking gun here is the threat that they will not pay until their version of a proper ID has been presented to them for approval.

The people who worked for the company told me how they have to show their passports every year and that for whatever reason, that's just the way it is. Well, I'm here to say it's not the way. A company cannot make up it's own rules on how it wants to interpret a federal tax form. That's just the way it is.

Hope this is at all helpful to anyone other than just me. I'm probably getting madder than I should over the smallest thing but I feel that more and more these days production companies are trampling on our rights as employees and there's nothing we can do about it.

Next time on "I Refuse to: _________": Voodoo Accounting Practices

Friday, April 2, 2010

Frivolous Friday April 2nd

I had a lot of time to think while on this past production job sitting in casting auditions all day. My mind wandered and my phone died all too quickly because I was on the internet constantly. When I got off the internet I couldn't help but think about why it is people audition for reality shows. Why would anyone consciously want to be put under a microscope like that? To be subjected to social experimentation without recourse or protection by a validated research agency seems insignificant but after the shit hits the fan then what? Instead, you are under contract with a money grubbing, power hungry, ratings starved production company who needs you to be as entertaining as possible so that they can get more viewers and make more money from their network and cable channel masters. Then, when they're done with you, you're for the most part thrown away. How many people have had success after American Idol? For a show with monster ratings and huge appeal to mass audiences what all this tells us is that people care more about "the process" of getting to "America's Next Top... whatever" than what actually happens to them once they get there.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Anonymous Casting Call

As per usual with every job I do, there's this big confidentiality agreement thing that prevents me from saying anything really interesting. So, I'll just say that I worked on a reality show casting call audition for the past few days. It was incredibly boring. I'd probably make a terrible casting director. Out of the hundred or so people they saw, there were maybe ten that were really stellar and of that ten, probably only 3 or 4 will be cast. What's crazy is that this was the last round of auditions, so they'd narrowed the pool down to 100 from what had to be more like 500 if not more.

I thought about writing a really long post about the casting process or something with some sort of insight as to how it all works but I'm opting for the slacker route instead. I'm making a reality show audition video that will hopefully be up in a few days. Then, everyone will know the pain and agony casting directors go through. Hopefully, my video will be taken super seriously, because lets just face it: I would love to be America's Next Top Production Assistant.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Frivolous Fridays


This is going to be a new section about all the things I think about when I'm doing the mind numbing work of being a production assistant. Today, I'd like to talk about all the things I wanted to be when I grew up, before, for whatever ridiculous reason, I decided to go into the production world and write blog posts that contain an inordinate amount of comma splices.

1. A Medieval Knight
2. Rambo
3. broadway star
4. playwright
5. lawyer
6. doctor
7. history teacher
8. documentary film maker
9. screen writer
10. studio executive

Yup, it's been a wild ride. Done everything from sword training to anatomical training using dead bodies. I write some, I lie some, I tell the truth some, and I tell others a bit of everything sometimes about something completely and utterly unimportant. Did you know that atoms are 99.99999% vacuum? That means that your body is pretty much made up of stuff that has the molecular composition of nothing. What does that mean for you and me? No one knows.

What it does mean, is that I have often entirely too much time on my hands when I'm sitting outside a house that's being used as a set and I find myself acting as "doorman" minus the fancy outfit. I hope you enjoyed this very first addition of "Frivolous Fridays"and I am excited to report that in the future you can look forward to more video content and who knows... celebrities? We'll see.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hire a PA.


Dear producers,

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to fix a problem on your show is to hire additional production assistants. So, why not hire me? Need an ego boost? Someone to look down on? Someone to send out in traffic? Someone to screw up your coffee orders? Someone to make you feel good for going to an ivy league school instead of a state school? I'm your guy. In fact, I'm your man. It's not rocket science, it's not even science science. You need me to help you with your show and for what better purpose than to just feel good knowing you hired some kid who was out of work, in need of money, that you helped get a job and a leg up in the world. Give yourself a hug and hire me today! You won't regret it. At least not too much.

Sincerely yours,
The Film Slave

P.S. I will probably blog about it and ridicule you to the full length of my confidentiality agreement.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No ATL Job

Sadly, after spending nearly six and a half hours in the car Friday, my quest to Atlanta to apply for the PA position was in vain. The AD said she'd keep me in mind as a day player, but I think that was just consolation talk. She said they gave the positions to people with more experience. Go figure.

I'm hearing this a lot these days and reading it on a lot of job descriptions: "Must have 2-5 years experience." Yet, how is it we get experience? Could it possibly because someone hires us? Furthermore, what experience does someone really need to be a decent production assistant? It's the same shit, different show. Every time.

I'm feeling really invalidated and worthless these days. It seemed not so long ago I felt that I was good at all this and that things were really starting to look up. Guess it just goes to show how unbelievably unpredictable this business is.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

ATL - Job interview

So I drove to Atlanta Friday for a job interview with a television show pilot that is getting ready to shoot next week. It was quite a thing having to drive from Birmingham to Atlanta just for an interview so I hope it went well. I got no indication from the ADs I talked to that they liked me or anything. It was short, weird, and I was very mind numbed from having driven two and half hours to make it to the interview by 3:30. On top of that, I was 15 minutes late which was made worse when I got there. A man came out of a building and told me I parked in a place I wasn't supposed to park in so I had to move my car.

It's only a two week job but it's one I desperately need. I haven't worked around Altanta film people much so this would be a great opportunity to do so and perhaps get more jobs.

On the second thought if this whole thing doesn't work out, it seems to just play into the court of opinion saying that maybe this career is not the best one to have decided to go into. I should find out something Monday. Fingers are crossed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NBC - Where art thou?

I used to love NBC. It was my favorite network, so to write a post complaining about its crap programming and failure to do anything different anymore is really a sad thing. When I found out that they were reignited Donald Trump's, "Apprentice" series and tailoring it to the new economy to try and capitalize on the success of "Undercover Boss" my jaw hit the floor. It won't work. The Trump is Trumped. It's like asking Marie Antoinnette to dole out advice to her starving peasants. NBC wants to jump on the bandwagon spoon feeding Americans doses of confidence about the executives who run the world but for what, good PR? That's all "Undercover Boss," is, just with a good dose of crying, sappy music, and loads of fancy promises. Now what would be fun is to get a homeless guy to have a show about "tips for living on the street when your boss's plans to reboot the company fail."

Reality, as everyone knows, is the seventh layer of hell of the entertainment world. "The Biggest Loser" is NBC's cornerstone reality show now and probably will be for a while longer. Meanwhile, Law & Order is still holding it down, somehow... It's always amazed me how that show just keeps going and going and going.

Now, lets be fair, NBC does do a decent job at comedy and always has. Current shows like "The Office," "Scrubs," "30 Rock" and the more recent "community" are pretty funny but does the network have anything else? Saturday Night Live is touch-and-go, and if I ever watch it, it's never Saturday night and it's only for individual skits that I can just watch on my computer. What happened to the network that had everything? Oh, don't get me wrong, they have a lot, but it's mostly mediocre. They were the network with Seinfeld, ER, Leno, Letterman, Cosby, Star Trek, Frasier and 3rd rock from the sun but what now?

Thank god they have "Wheel of Fortune" but how long is that going to last before it too is in danger? It seemed like the late shows would never go out of fashion but now... With Conan giving NBC "the finger" things are not looking good. The Leno fiascos resemble nothing but a company that doesn't know what it's doing, which is made further obvious with their choices in a lack of innovative programming in anything but comedy? "Trauma" was an obvious throwback to the "ER" days and that failed pretty bad this season.

So my point is this NBC, if you read, which you won't, but imagining you were: stop playing grab-ass with CBS and do what you used to be good at. Your parent company GE is good at innovating, you used to be to, so start innovating. Hire me as a writer, I've got a boat load of show ideas on this here computer and would love to share them with you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Endless Free-Lance Spiral

I think this has happened to every one of my friends who starts out in this business and I can safely report it's happening to me too. I've entered into a sort of free fall with my finances based on the fact that all my income is theoretical until it appears to me in physical form via check in the mail. The mail is a hard thing to predict, even harder to predict: the whim of an accounting office. Now usually I can tell when I work for a major production company who is using one of the big pay roll firms like Entertainment Partners, I know I'll get paid within a week to two weeks. No big deal there. A bigger deal though is some of these smaller more local based companies who want me to send them an invoice--which they can then lose--at which point I have no idea when to predict when that magical check will arrive in the mail.

So, that's the gist of the spiral. You do a few days of work for (x) amount of dollars that you then get paid for (y) weeks later. This would be fine but land lords, utility companies, cell phone companies and insurance companies all want their money paid on time. Welcome to free fall. As soon as one check arrives in the mail it immediately goes towards paying for something that has backed up while waiting on other checks in the mail. Meantime--you gotta eat--so thus more stuff backs up and then by the time you to a point where you know you can pay it all off, you still can't because you're waiting on checks in the mail and all the while more bills keep coming.

I'm not sure I ever anticipated this part of free-lancing. I've definitely screwed up how I spend my money some how, not sure where, but it's really starting to hurt. I feel like I need to take out a loan or something, pay everything off and reset at 0. That would be nice in an ideal world but is it really possible? For me, it all depends on how much I work, and when I don't work, that more than anything is probably the cause of the spiral, not the mail or accounting offices.


P.S.---This led me thinking about another completely different point. Are companies really being rational when they look at your credit score while hiring you? If someone has been unemployed and thus, in a real need for a job, wouldn't their credit score be a bit lower because they are trying to make ends meet? Based on this isn't it unfair for companies to take a look at these scores as a basis for whether or not to hire people? Can't get a good paying job because you're in debt and can't get out of debt because you can't get a good paying job. It's another spiral.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

another day job

Resumés went out and it seems that the production gods aren't done with me yet.

Unrelated to any of that though, I got a call from a friend wanting me to cover for her on a shoot tomorrow. Things are starting to look better I believe. Everyone I've talked to has had problems like this starting out, where the work is too slow to be worth it and it would probably be better just quitting. It's a really odd set of job skills that we have in this business. When I was applying for other part time jobs, I think part of the reason people didn't hire me is because it seems that I have a pretty good thing going working in this business and they couldn't understand why I was trying to do something else. Whether that's true or not, it's hard to explain to someone why we do what we do and the way and how and reasons why we do it. It's certainly not money. It's certainly not because I particularly like having to get up at 5:30 in the morning or earlier and working for 15 hours or more at a time. Maybe it's a combination of the excitement and stress and extreme pressure, I dunno. Maybe those of us who choose this life are gluttons for punishment? Who knows.

In other news the Oscars are this weekend. Golden Age of Hollywood or not, I'll probably not watch them. Reading the results in the morning will be about the same. Some people really get into placing bets and trying to guess who is going to win what. It's fun and I've done it before but it's not really for me. All told, last year was a great year for the movie business and hopefully this year will be even better--depending on who you are. For those of us production assistants at the bottom, it will pretty much be the same-ole same. We'll see, as the saying goes: "It is, what it is."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Sending out of the resumés

Yeah, so that break I talked about a while back really has just turned into a continuous period of unemployment. I thought I'd be able to lock down a part time job, work some, write some, work some, but I have failed. Free-lancing in production seems to be the only thing I'm capable of doing right now and it's probably for the best. I know I wouldn't be very happy at Barnes and Noble stocking books on shelves or serving food to the rude patrons at the restaurant I used to work at. So here we are, sending out resumés and waiting for the fish to bite. Oh, to only work again...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Reality of Reality TV: Part 1

If anyone who knows me personally, you'd know that I'm not a fan. In retrospect, who really is?

Working in the production world is hard because starting out, most of the jobs you can get fairly easily are in this field. I've declared to some friends and I'm declaring here on the internet this one point I want to get across: I'm done with Reality TV. There's something totally unethical about it and I want to get it off my chest. I don't mean any disrespect to any of the people I've worked with, mainly, they're just trying to make a living. This anger is not towards them in anyway, the anger I feel is geared more towards the executives and the production offices that are often too far removed from the process to have any sort of sense of the "reality" that goes into making their "reality tv" shows.

This entry is separated into two parts. The first part I want to spend talking about the success of reality television, like it or not, it's very successful and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Part two will talk about why its often abused and seen as highly unethical. So, without further intrusion, here's 5 reasons why Reality TV is what it is and why.

1. It's cheap to produce.
2. It's fast to produce.
3. It's disposable and doesn't need a long term multi-platform distribution plan.
4. It's sensational for the viewer.
5. Relies on the key axiom: everyone wants to be on TV.

Cheap and fast go hand in hand as far as this goes because reality tv doesn't need to look high quality. If it were high quality, chances are it wouldn't be cheap, or if by some miracle they were able to keep it cheap, it sure as hell wouldn't be fast to make. So, when thinking penny-wise, you can't have all three, but you can get a good mix of at least two.

What makes a production look high quality are the crafts people used to make the lights perfect, the wardrobe and make-up spotless, and the portrayal of the characters as something seeming "professional." Reality TV needs none of these things and because these things take a good bit of skill most of these people belong to unions and union contracts are very expensive for productions to take on. Also, unions are very strict on how many hours their members can work before the producer is required to pay overtime and meal penalties (penalties for not eating every 6 hours on the dot), and all that can add up very very fast. If I calculated the amount of overtime I could've made on some of the shows I've worked I would have very easily made double or triple what I originally got.

Perhaps the biggest boost to the whole reality tv thing is the writer's strike that happened in 2007 - 2008. Of all things, this more than any other has probably hurt the scripted tv industry and tipped it in favor of reality based programming. the WGA union decided to walk-off the job over royalties involving dvd sales for tv shows that had never been clearly laid out in their members' contracts. At the end of the day an entire tv season went by without any scripted programming which opened the flood gates for the "reality" world. Since all that happened, we have yet to reach a point where we were "pre-strike" in terms of writers who are employed and scripted shows that are being produced. In plain speak, the WGA took a double barreled shot gun and shot themselves in the foot. Now, the cost of producing a scripted show has risen even higher, so high, most networks are doing less and less of them.

Here's some hard data, the average cost of one scripted television show is in the area of a million dollars per episode, often times more. If you look at the premium channels and top rated network shows, it could be as much more, as much making a block buster. Reality tv costs far less than that and because no one has to write it, it gets done very quickly. Best of all, no one has to worry about making money after it premiers on TV and we can all live happily ever after.

Reality TV shows are disposable, they're here today, gone tomorrow, and if they get a next season, you'll probably forget about who was in the first. It's disposable because it doesn't need to be on your dvd shelf and you don't need to go out and buy t-shirts, participate in fan clubs, or even do much except watch it. Sure, there's always a fan club for everything and I'm sure reality tv has some bored and confused fan club out there just waiting on the next big thing like, "the biggest, biggest loser 7" or "crazy suburban mom season 3." Who wouldn't want to wait for those right?

Now, usually a reality tv show will get a marathon run somewhere towards the end of it's season or if it gets slated for a second season, it will get re-run episodes in order to remind people that there's another season coming out. This form of recycling is not new to television and still generates money (or else they wouldn't do it) but, for most shows, the end of the line stops here.

Best of all, the only ingredient required to make a reality tv show is something sensational. You know, like some former has-been-celebrity to come out of the woodwork and announce that he or she is looking for a new baby's mama/baby's daddy. Or, a rich family in a Beverly Hills like neighborhood has a hard time connected with one another and being "normal" because they're so filthy rich. Who wouldn't want to watch that? I know I for one am a huge fan of shows about parents who have way too many kids... mainly because I just like laughing at them and their countless little "accidents." Best of all, whenever our main characters get emotional for the umpteenth time, there's always some music lightly blaring underneath in order to enhance all this "reality." You really can make a reality show about anything. Take the right music and mix it with people who are crazy enough to do anything for their 15 seconds of fame (oh yeah, it's no longer your 15 minutes of fame, in the reality world you only get seconds) and you've got a hit show.

Or so we think...

All this boils down to the fact that everyone wants to be on tv. Or at least, executives who produce reality shows seem to think that way. You could even extend that axiom and say everyone wants to work in tv and then you'll be about where I am. See, I do want to work in TV, but I don't want to work on a solid fixed rate that is based on a certain amount of work, then work double what I'm getting compensated for and told "too bad, you should've thought about it before you signed your deal memo." Far too often deal memos are vague and written by someone who doesn't understand production.

I don't know about Joe Public but as far as for being in front of the cameras, I for one can skip out on the whole reality tv thing. It only shows certain parts of you, generally the parts you don't like, you always look fat, and 99% of the time you're not getting paid for whatever it's worth.

Taking all this into consideration it's definitely a good foot in the door that can lead to many different types of things when it comes to production. It's a good starting point. You learn from a lot of things that go wrong and most of what you should learn is "how not to run things."

Next: why I feel reality tv is unethical.