An independent filmmaker with many successes to his credit said it best: “Forget the show. Remember the business.” The most common mistake that new filmmakers make is to ignore the business side of the show business equation. And yet the financial aspects of show business are typically the most challenging. Last week in New York’s Gramercy Park neighborhood, the equipment sales and rental house Adorama hosted a panel of veteran filmmakers to discuss current approaches to motion picture finance and give practical advice about how producers can earn a return on their investment. More than fifty people crowded into the small meeting room for the discussion, which was moderated by Digital Cinema Society president James Mathers, himself a successful indie film cinematographer. The panelists brought a wide range of experiences to the conversation.
The Big Picture
The dynamic between science and spirituality has been the focus of some of the most hotly contested debates in our culture. The debate continues today and that conflict is at the heart of writer/director Mike Cahill’s second film, I Origins a sci-fi love story that follows a promising young scientist as he begins to doubt his lifelong certainty that facts alone can explain everything around us.
One of the big challenges created by digital cinema technology can be summed up in a single word: Frozen. Disney’s wildly successful 3D animated film captured two Academy Awards – Best Animated Film and Best Song – and was an international box office success. And therein lies the problem. For hit movies like Frozen all those various markets demand literally thousands of different and unique versions and producing them under demanding deadline pressure is a huge undertaking. “It seems unbelievable, but for one title that is a scope show (2.39) aspect ratio, we usually have to create a 1.78 panscan and a 1.33 panscan,” said Annie Chang vice president, post-production technologies, The Walt Disney Studios. “When you start to factor in 42 different languages for each aspect ratio and then add in multiple resolutions/playback standards (1080p, 720p, NTSC, PAL) and then add in the different edits/versions and the various delivery formats that downstream distributors (airlines, television, cable, satellite, electronic sell through, etc) ask for, you exponentially end up with tens of thousands of files. Just for one title.”
Later this week at Loews Lincoln Square on New York City’s Upper West Side National CineMedia will host its annual upfront event to make the case to advertising executives that movie theatres merit a larger share of the billions of dollars they spend each year on ads on television, online and mobile devises. And it seems fair to say that the recently announced NCM-Screenvision merger will overshadow the event. Reaction to the merger news was mixed but everyone agrees on this: if the deal gets government approval, National CineMedia, even more so than before, will be the undisputed leader of U.S. exhibition. The question is, what does this mean for the rest of the industry? Put another way is National CineMedia too big?
Conversations at the 2014 edition of the National Association of Broadcasters show, held earlier this month in Las Vegas, focused in part on the remarkable number of company mergers that were announced – Quantel and Snell & Wilcox was a standout – but most talk centered on the fact that there were 4K products in seemingly every booth and, everywhere you looked, a surprising number of new cameras, in different shapes and sizes. That several came from unexpected companies only added to the chatter. More complete articles about all of these products can be found elsewhere in the Report but here, briefly and in alphabetical order, are Digital Cinema Report’s Top Ten Products of NAB 2014.
Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney and Academy Award-nominated director Wim Wenders are partnering with director Michael Meredith for a new documentary Return to Timbuktu to chronicle the quest of Festival au Désert director Manny Ansar to bring his music festival back to Mali. After the country’s descent into instability in 2012, the Festival au Désert was exiled from Northern Mali. But 2015 will hopefully mark the return of the Festival to Mali, with Ansar leading a Caravan of Peace to restore his homeland. The filmmakers are currently on location in Mali and via email I recently spoke with Meredith and director of photography Troy Word about the many challenges this production poses.
Next month when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens in theatres around the world it may well turn out to be a watershed event in the industry. That is because it will be the latest movie to be widely released in both the Barco Auro 11.1 and Dolby Atmos sound formats. As the budgets for large-scale movies continue to grow, the pressure to open on as many screens as possible increases and Sony Pictures Entertainment clearly wanted this film on every screen it could get.
Great stories, in reality, aren’t the only ingredient needed to make a successful documentary. Filmmakers also need patience, perseverance, creativity, luck and, of course, funding. To say that co-directors Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs have a great story to tell is an understatement. Largely unknown and unappreciated, Alice Guy-Blaché was, without question, one of the most important figures in motion picture history. Now, Green and van Sluijs are using digital cinema technology to gather, assemble and organize a wide range of information to get Guy-Blaché’s story ready for the big screen. And what a story it is.
I recently attended the seventh annual Art House Convergence, a four-day gathering of more than 400 people from all over the world who are devoted to making, distributing and showing quality films. The event, held under the auspices of Sundance, is devoted to the idea that cinema should be promoted and cherished as one of the world’s most important art forms. What’s interesting, though, is that where some people see real value in a particular film, others see vapid entertainment. Which may explain why filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier felt the need to apologize for the fact that his movie, Blue Ruin, which was screened there is a genre film. And that’s the art house paradox.
For more than four decades the Downtown Community Center in Lower Manhattan has been a vital resource for training and nurturing independent filmmakers, in particular documentary filmmakers. For most of that time DCTV has called a landmarked 1896 firehouse home. The center reached a significant milestone recently, as the funding is finally in place for a new theatre there that one DCTV executive called “the last piece of the puzzle.”