Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Friday, December 28, 2007


Andrew O'Hehir of has written an article titled,BEYOND THE MULTIPLEX:THE YEAR IN INDIE FILM 2007 which once again asks the question of whether or not theatrical release will be or should be the distribution target for independent filmmakers. This is truly a confusing time for all media producers. The future is unclear as to what is to be made out of all the possible channels of distribution available and how they are to be integrated into or replace the current model.

Not much has changed since the earliest days of the film industry in terms of distribution. Films are still shot predominently on negative film, from which prints are struck and shipped all over the world to generate mass revenue. As new technologies emerged, they were simply integrated into the system through the creation of "windows" where each piece in the pipeline(DVD, pay-per-view, cable, Network TV) gets a certain window of exclusivity.

Experiments in collapsing the windows will be seen more and more in the coming year. But indie filmmakers should've seen the value of this long ago. With the lack of big stars, a huge promotional budget and wide scale release, most indie films vanish into thin air. Even after I read about an interesting film, it becomes an adventure to find the damn thing playing anywhere. It's only on DVD that it really becomes a viable product.

But DVD shouldn't be the only destination format considered. Once you've shot and edited your film, it has no market value unless it can find a market. Why would anyone want to see your movie when they have so many choices to watch now? What sets your film apart? Of course, the film festival route is a great idea to get your movie seen and talked about. And that's what you need, you need to build interest in the film so that you can market it.

There's no reason not to let people know as much about your movie as you can. There's no reason to avoid the possibility of allowing them to watch it in as many formats and venues as possible. With the right kind of film, breaking it down into smaller pieces to play online as a web serial or series may be one way to get people interested. Of course, your trailer should already be online on your clearly designed website as well as on YOUTUBE, REVVER, IFILM, METACAFE , SQUIDOO, MYSPACE and every other SPACE or FACE you can put it online. That said, the trailer is very Web 1.0-you need to give people more of what they will hopefully be interested in paying for-so, some scenes from the film, some interviews with the actors etc.

Remember, you do not have the ability to just let the film sell itself. Even the studios think that's suicide. The argument shouldn't be whether I self-promote/self-distribute or sell it to a distributor-you should do everything at the same time. Get into those festivals, play the movie online, make a version for Ipod download, arrange for screenings wherever you can, get the movie reviewed by sites that relate to your subject matter, try to exploit every market possible from niches like horror and microcinema itself. Those making their own microcinema epics will be curious as to what you did and how you did it, so sell to them as well. While you do all this, try and sell the film to a distributor for an advance, if not, go for a split. If you can see the advantages, burn those discs yourself and sell it on Amazon etc. through Createspace etc. Keep making films and promoting them and yourself. Making more films is always a good idea since a body of work is more valuable than a single film since an audience can be built through it and the rest will become easier.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Hey, just to clarify the sneaky ad campaign Paramount is running for Tim Burton's new flick:Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a MUSICAL. As in it's got singing in it, lots of singing. It's a faithful adaptation of a great piece of musical theater by none other than Stephen Sondheim who mostly writes musicals. The thing is, Paramount backed this picture knowing full well that Johnny Depp would be crooning as much as he was cutting throats and instead of say, letting the public know what their product was about, they're playing some dirty pool and just conveniently omitting any mention of the singing aspect from their ads. The argument is that the public may want to see a singing and dancing Johnny Depp or they may want to see a fun Grand Guignol thriller with Johnny Depp camping it up as a homicidal barber but they probably don't want to see both at the same time. The Broadway production directed by Harold Prince also faced a similar problem of how to sell a very unique show that marries the penny dreadful with satire and tragedy but it was always understood that it was a musical. If some found it too bloody next to Oklahoma, well, this WAS the original poster-

Maybe Paramount has the right idea, though. If you've heard of Sweeney, you probably already know it's a famous musical. So, maybe you'll come with the "right" expectations. If you never heard of it before, then Paramount can hopefully con you into coming out opening weekend to see the spooky pic they're selling and by the time you toss your popcorn after hearing three or four fully sung songs it's too late they've got your money. The thing is, I always think these marketing gyus underestimate the audience. Who says there isn't a sizable audience that would be interested in seeing Johnny Depp sing onscreen. They came three times to see him play a pirate and a pirate is only half as cool as a mad singing barber out for revenge with a straight razor.

Friday, December 07, 2007


It must be an amazing thing to be able to think in terms of millions of dollars and even more amazing to not blink when tossing that kind of money around on a whim. Glenn F. Bunting's article in the LA TIMES today breaks down the budget of the huge commerical flop SAHARA starring Matthew McConaughey. Due to budget overruns, even though the film was number 1 at the box office on it's opening weekend and grossed $150 million on it's release it was still able to lose $105 million overall! Hollywood holds these budgets tight to their vest, but a legal dispute between Sahara author Clive Cussler and the producers has brought this one out in the open. McConaughey was the highest paid at 8 million dollars with $833,923 in "perks" whatever that means. (I remember reading once in Julia Phillips' book about how Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a budget marked for Richard Dreyfus and the staff's cocaine "perks" though I have no idea what these Sahara perks were for. ) Penelope Cruz got $1.6 million with $835,561 in perks while third billed Steve Zaughn took home more regular than "perk" money with a $2.2 million salary and $264,153 in perks.(It's funny but women seem to be "underpaid" in Hollywood as well.) Oh, McConaughey's production company was also paid $250,000 for his role as "Executive Producer".

-An elaborate plane crash was apparently filmed and cut out of the final movie at the cost of $2.2 million!
-Part of the budget were also marked for "local bribes" in the Kingdom of Morocco where much of the film was shot.
-Ten screenwriters(including The Sting Academy Award winner David S. Ward for $500,00) were paid more than 3 million dollars to cook up the script. And promotional "partners" began to control the screenwriting process as well. From the article:

... with "Sahara," some creative decisions apparently took promotional considerations into account. For example, producer Karen Baldwin demanded script changes to accommodate DaimlerChrysler because the German-American carmaker negotiated to have its Jeep trucks featured in the film. "You can't have the truck get almost stuck," Baldwin wrote in a March 2004 e-mail to "Sahara" executives. "I would bet that Jeep will have a heart attack when they see that. They want to show how well the Jeep handles and responds — not that it will get stuck in a tough situation."

Four months earlier, when director Breck Eisner expressed concern during development of the film about problems with another sequence involving a four-wheel-drive truck, Baldwin wrote in a memo, "Can't cut it. Jeep to pay 3 million."

Ha! "Jeep to pay 3 million". But honestly, I guess if Jeep gave ME 3 million I'd also find a way to get a friggin' Jeep into my story and make it look cool. Not that Jeep would give me 3 dollars.

One disturbing item shows how a film which leaks money like a sieve, still has the forethought to screw local workers: a Moroccan "assistant propman" was paid the sum of $233.00 per week on a production with millions flying in all directions. I wonder if he got $2.31 in perks?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


At Eugenia's Rants & Thoughts I read a post recently called "The Trick to Smooth Pans". Even with a fluid head tripod it can be difficult to get a smooth pan and certainly difficult to achieve the kind of smooth start and stop that is seen regularly in Hollywood productions. Well, here you have a solution you can dig out of your kitchen drawer. It seems that an ordinary 2 inch rubber band wrapped around the fluid head handle may be the perfect solution. The tension allows for the pan to begin slow to catch up with your pull and naturally come to a soft and smooth stop as it slows to release the tension. You can see test shots on Eugenia's site.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Sundance Film Festival Doesn't Care About You

Isn't about time to just ignore the lameness that is the modern day Sundance Film Festival. Honestly, it's been years since anyone broke into the biz with a film that premiered there. As Sundance honcho Geoff Gilmore says, there are way too many submissions-8,500 or so trying to find a place with only 200 slots. And many of these are already taken up by films that have done well at the Toronto Film Festival or had powerful lobbyists from the mini-major studios and reps like John Sloss putting their heavy weight behind them. The concept of an INDEPENDENT FILM has shifted over the years to mean films in the 5-6 million dollar range with well-known stars trying to do a little acting. There is a chasm, a vast abyss of a difference between Little Miss Sunshine and Clerks or The Blair Witch Project. What used to be an INDEPENDENT FILM is now called MICROCINEMA and contrary to their claims, Sundance does not support that kind of backyard, DIY film anymore. Dust Sundance from your thoughts like that machine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and put your energies into self promotion, online distribution and festivals that do support your efforts like South by Southwest or Cinevegas. Go to Filmmaker Lance Weiler's great WORKBOOK PROJECT.COM and learn more about what it takes to be an independent filmmaker 2.0

In the meantime, someone on the MYSPACE film forums posted their Sundance "Dear John" letter which must go out to about 8,300 folks right before Christmas. I'm sincerely sorry that he was rejected and hope he won't be too discouraged. Since I've never actually seen one of these, I really appreciate his candor in posting it. Perhaps it was cathartic for him. Here's the letter with a few comments from me that I think will help translate this from the language of B.S.

Dear John,

On behalf of our programming staff(Since I did not actually watch your film), I would like to thank you for submitting your film to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Unfortunately, we are not able to include it in our program this year(Nor were we ever really considering it-thank you for your $35 submission fee-we enjoyed the lunch). We received nearly one thousand more submissions this year (over 8,500 in total) than we did for the 2007 Festival(Which was really great for us, thank you, since that's another $35,000 in our pockets), so many tough decisions had to be made in order to narrow the field down to under 200 films. Please rest assured that your work was carefully considered by our programming team(And be comforted that we have not wasted your submission since Stan is now using your DVD as a coaster), and the decision was incredibly difficult to say the least(Well, that's the least we could say).

My sincere hope is that this decision does not discourage you in any way(But please, really, do the world a favor and stop making films NOW). I would like to wish you the best of luck with your film(Good Luck with that), and we look forward to having the opportunity to view your work in the future(We hope you will send us another $35 next year).

Geoffrey Gilmore
Director, Sundance Film Festival

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New MINI 35mm Adapter from Letus

Well, look at this. The makers of the Letus Extreme, a 35mm adapter with a built-in prism flip for larger sized cameras, have announced the release of their new product, the LETUS MINI. The MINI allows cameras with lens filter sizes under 43mm to take full advantage of the greater depth of field that can be achieved with 35mm lenses. Letus states that this adapter has “absolutely no vignetting” and excellent edge to edge sharpness. Ranging from $500 - $1500 and more, most of the small format 35mm adapters suffer one or more of the following problems: light loss, edge to edge sharpness, an upside down image, unattractive bokeh, and chromatic abrasion. If you trust the reviews online, it seems that the Letus Mini has solved most of these problems. Mount options include the Canon FD, Nikon AI, Canon EF (EOS), Pentax K mount, Minolta MD or the optional PL mount and OCT19 mounts. The price is listed at $1,099.00. Still a bit pricey for me, but if you are a kind and caring soul, you can send me an early Christmas present! Ho!Ho!Ho!

Go to LETUS35.comfor more info.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Almost every show today is some kind of serial story. Lost, Heroes, and even the new Bionic Woman(Read my review for HERE)are all long form stories with endless subplots and intrigue. These shows are impossible to describe without going into incredible detail..."See, there's this corporation on this Island which may or may not be conducting an experiment on human beings...".

When I was growing up, TV was a lot simpler. Most shows just involved their characters in a new adventure each week without any plot strands left dangling episode to episode. It was in the 80s with shows like Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and even Cheers that long form plot arcs took hold so that the serial format could be wrapped around the standard episodic structure. It was a way to addict fans of the show to longer story arcs like the Sam and Diane love story while also allowing for new viewers unfamiliar with the backstory to still watch a standalone situation.

The change is even noticeable in the credits sequences from the 70s. Above is one of my favorites, The Six Million Dollar Man. Basically, everything you need to know about the show is told to you in 1 minute 25 seconds. After watching this, anyone could sit down and enjoy Steve Austin's adventures as the Bionic man without having ever watched the show before.

By the way, did you know that the very familiar Six Million Dollar music theme wasn't the first one used for the series? Universal-TV produced two one-off TV movies starring Lee Majors as astronaut Steve Austin using this as the title theme complete with LYRICS sung by none other than Dusty Springfield! "HE'S THE MAN!"