Thursday, March 8, 2012

Could 1 + 1 = $$$?

Watching Vimeo this week, I came across a video titled "Film Finance: an overview" published by Own-it London.

While the video is billed as discussing how to navigate the complexities of the British "lottery" for government film funding, it also notes an interesting new trend arising from cheap digital film making. Some filmmakers no longer use a script to develop their films!

Alan Moss of Harbottle & Lewis says, “The edges of development are being blurred into production. There is a new breed of filmmaker coming along that is beginning to develop ideas on film and on camera rather than going out in a traditional sense and writing a script.”

This convergence of low price film making and creative, real time development both simplifies and complicates the funding process from an investor's point of view. A script, combined with the track record of the filmmaker, is traditionally how one predicts if a project is likely to be high quality and commercial or just someone's pet art project. On the other hand, seeing inexpensive, short versions of a film can be a more powerful and moving experience for the film investor or financier than a black and white 90 to 120 page document that leaves real detail to the imagination.

Last week's episode of the TV show Smash (season 1, episode 4, The Cost of Art) features a conversation between a boy investor and the once wealthy Producer of a Broadway play based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. They haggle over terms, but the deal ultimately comes down to the investor seeing cast members at the party quickly throwing together an unfinished musical number from the show to convince him the show is going to be good.

I know filmmakers who say a script is not enough, and recommend Pixar-style animatics for projects with budgets above $2 to $5 million. (Simple story boarding is more cost effective for lower cost productions.) They argue that this costs money short term but allows a production company to save time and money in the production process, while also gauging in advance audience reactions while changes can still be made without going over budget. Animatics, they say, are what allow Pixar to know a film will be a success even before a single frame has been completed.

You might say a script is a blueprint for a house and a movie is the full house, but there are many structural steps in between. Animatics meet half way in the translation from words on a page to moving images, supporting sound, and actor to actor and screen to audience chemistry.

The right answer for filmmakers and investors is probably to see a bit of both. Combining a traditional script with an experimental trailer (or alternately animatic) showing the look and style suggested by the filmmaker is far more useful to an investor or studio than either element individually. I've seen experimental trailers that really got my attention due to quality and production value, even though the theme of the film (abuse) was not interesting to me at all commercially. I've also read scripts that were well written, but did not translate well to screen. Author Stephen R. Covey teaches a concept of synergy, whereby 1 + 1 can equal 3. For aspiring filmmakers who combine both script and experimentation with low cost digital media as part of the development and fundraising process, could 1 + 1 = $$$?

Even reality TV shows are at least somewhat scripted, the situations if not the actual words used by participants. The dates on The Bachelor and the challenges in Survivor are not thought up at the spur of the moment. Then there are the scenes of a film that cannot be properly scripted, such as physical humor and truly visual transitions.

The cheer leading film Bring It On has a battle of two teenagers brushing their teeth without words that really makes me laugh.

The 1967 film Wait Until Dark is one of the few films that actually makes me jump, not because of something an actor says, but because of an artful use of silence and suspense that transcends typical scripting. The audience knows that a woman who can't see is not alone in an apartment. Juxtaposing identification with her lost sense of sight (and enhanced other senses) with our screen omniscience as an audience, Director Terence Young builds suspense until suddenly...the screen cuts to a detective being noisily rammed against a chain link fence by a truck, over and over again!

Not all of what connects with an audience should or can come from a script, and the low cost of digital film making should encourage a deepening experimentation with the non-scripted elements of film production, even before a film is made.

One other statement by Alan Moss will be useful advice to all film Producers who seek funding:

"As a Producer, if you can identify your audience early enough, potentially you can get funding from your audience."

Alan notes three reasons they might invest:

1. The audience/investor thinks it is a viable investment.
2. The audience/investor supports the message of the film.
3. The investor wants a role or credit in the film.

Thanks for reading Entertain and Inspire. I'll write again soon!

Profitably yours, Jed.

1 comment:

  1. Jed,

    I find your blog to be very interesting and it completely makes sense. Now a days people like to watch reality tv and improvisation shows, why dot do it without a script and be more cost effective. In college I had a friend that was majoring in film and still today works in film but still working on getting the opportunity to make her own film. I told her abut your blog and this is something that she could actually save money in her budget and easier to reach her goal. Investors will love this idea and with no doubt would lend a hand.

    Best Regards