Tag Archives: tech

Money, Money, Money Dec 15, 2011

Money, Money, Money Dec 15, 2011

Maria Datch

With the festival just over three months away – and the 2012 submission deadline coming up in a mere 3 weeks – the DCIFF staff has been busy reviewing films in an effort to produce a lineup worthy of the festival. As DCIFF is a juried film festival, a portion of our time is spent vetting the submitted projects to make sure that they meet DCIFF’s screening criteria (is this film making its DC debut, is it original, is it independent, etc.).

In the course of doing this research, we’ve stumbled across something that seems to be endemic in independent film production – the need for filmmakers to rely on nontraditional funding sources to get their films produced. After all, with a recession wreaking havoc on people’s basic needs it’s hard to convince donors that your film project is more important than hungry children or homeless families.

Because of this, initiatives which rely on donations to survive (including many independent films) are using social media-based e-financing (AKA crowdsourced funding). We’ve all admired (and many of us have participated in) the efforts of social media-propelled fundraisers such as Chase Community Giving, which apportions funds according to users’ “votes” for the most worthy recipients, and Give to the Max DC, which organizes a campaign around a dedicated day of giving. Give to the Max, whose latest push raised over $2 million for local charities in just 24 hours, also has a mission of helping other organizations get the tools and information they need in order to more effectively raise funds on their own, providing a series of free online tutorials (which I have taken advantage of and have found to be very helpful).

Indie films which are not nonprofits often make use of sources such as Kickstarter (one of Give to the Max’s partner organizations), Rockethub, IndieGoGo, IndieVest, and Pledgie. These sites allow people who want to support filmmakers’ efforts – but who may only be able to spare five or ten dollars – the opportunity to help out and remain connected to these artistic endeavors. And despite the Internet’s global reach, these online tools are often used by artists to search for local funding, which allows these small donors to make a direct investment in the artistic life of their own communities.

This strategy can definitely bear fruit. A neighbor of mine recently sent our neighborhood mailing list a plea for donations to a film that she is producing. This direct appeal to her neighbors (with the help of Kickstarter’s banner on her website) was enough to meet her modest budgetary goal ($30,000) within an hour. Of course, we’ll never know if it was fond memories of the annual marshmallow roasts and summer film screenings on her front lawn or if it was the tick-tock of Kickstarter’s virtual clock that lit a fire under all of us donors. But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter–she made her budget and is now able to produce her film.

Crowd sourcing and social media will not replace foundation grants and underwriting, distribution deals, and (an old standby despite everything we were taught in film school) maxed-out credit cards as ways to fund independent films. But it can be a virtual “Salvation Army Santa” for the indie film producer, working one dollar at a time.

DCIFF Alumni Spotlight – Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson Dec 15, 2011

used with permission

DCIFF Alumni Spotlight – Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson Dec 15, 2011

Maria Datch

Filmmaker and DCIFF alum Chris Metzler is currently on a multi-city tour with the rockumentary lauded by critics and loved by audiences, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. This festival darling won the 2011 DCIFF Grand Jury award for Best Documentary. Everyday Sunshine chronicles the journey of the LA funk-punk rock band Fishbone in and out of the music world and the roots they return to in the city they live in over a quarter century. Thanks to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the filmmakers returned to DC November 11 for a free screening of Everyday Sunshine at U Street’s historic Lincoln Theater, followed by a Q&A session with the directors and a concert by Fishbone. Between back to back screenings on the festival circuit, Everyday Sunshine has had a limited release in theaters in New York and Los Angeles and been broadcast on PBS, and recently became available on DVD as well. For more information about Everyday Sunshine, its theatrical tour, or the filmmakers, be sure to go to their website at www.fishbonedocumentary.com.

editor’s note: Fishbone’s lyrics were at the root of a recent controversy and some public apologies at the Jimmy Falon Show.

They paved Paradiso and put up a parking Dec 15, 2011

They paved Paradiso and put up a parking  Dec 15, 2011

Marie Datch

In the old days (or what many people like to call “the 80s”), if you referred to someone as a “filmmaker” then that meant that he or she made features on well, film – in other words, moving pictures on celluloid reels that were the physical location of a moving image, and were at once tactile, transitory, temperamental…(and very flammable!) At that time, the indie filmmaker hoping for their feature to get a decent distribution deal really had only one format available to them – 35mm.

Today, the choices for the indie filmmaker seem endless. Regardless of what you use to capture your masterpiece, or how you hope to exhibit it, they are indeed real options, not merely compromises, to suit many budgets and voices. At DCIFF, we hope to support and exhibit artistic programming in whatever mediums our filmmakers choose to work in – which means that the weeks leading up to the festival will be spent securing the equipment necessary to best support those choices, no matter how obscure. The diversity of artistic expression that the rich array of formats affords makes this a labor of love.

graph showing fall in nos. of traditional projection cameras vs. rising digital ones

Ratio of traditional projection to digital projection - 50% at 2011

These efforts will come at a pivotal time in film technology. 2011 opened with the release of Happy Slapping, the first feature-length film shot entirely on a smartphone. Last month, the three major global camera manufacturers (AARI, Panavision, and Aeton) announced they would stop producing 35mm movie cameras, focusing instead solely on digital equipment. Additionally, just a few weeks ago, a report by the IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence service projected that, by DCIFF 2012’s opening night, a majority of movie screens globally will have converted to digital projection. What’s more, by 2015 it is predicted that only 17% of screens will support 35mm film, essentially making film-based projection a niche market rather than the industry standard.

Granted, this does not mean that in another year’s time everything will be produced digitally. Indie film auteurs often require the warm tones that only 35mm can provide, so many will use that format regardless of the constraints. Camera manufacturers still plan to sell, repair and rent their equipment for the foreseeable future. Such leading lights as Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino have gone so far as to insist that they will retire from filmmaking altogether the day theaters stop playing films on 35mm. And Michael Bay, a director whose special effects continue to lead the field, still prefers to use 35mm to capture his images, even if that means digitizing the 2D 35mm film into 3D in post production. However, this means that there will limit the venues where their films could be shown, and the audience that can experience their art.

Then why stop making something so beloved by such an important segment of users? We all know the answer – supply and demand (and cheaper production costs in other countries). Just as the bottom fell out of the typewriter market when word processors became the norm, and Kodak no longer manufactures film still cameras for the everyday consumer, the 35mm camera may be slated to go the way of the dinosaurs. This cannot solely be laid at the feet of the manufacturers – their production choices live and die by the bottom line.

The technological advances that have made 3D more accessible to more filmmakers, as well as the strides that were made in virtual CG and animation have done their part. Moreover, the audience has come to expect content which is best produced (sometimes can *only* be produced) digitally and released to support the need for instant gratification. A generation that has grown up with reality TV and YouTube will not blink at a film like Paranormal Activity – shot (by a video game programmer who had never directed before) on a digital camera is also likely to embrace the feature made with nothing more than an iPhone.

No one can argue that, by lowering the cost of production, these technological strides are a great friend to the indie filmmaker and his often limited budget. Robert Rodriguez estimates that 90% of El Mariachi‘s original production costs were film-related. David Lynch (who has been directing since P.T. Anderson and Tarantino were still in diapers) prefers digital precisely because it gives the indie filmmaker more freedom – not only financially, but also in terms of distribution and marketing options, and as an artist and storyteller. It can fulfill his vision without requiring the vast resources of a meddlesome studio, whose motives may relate more to finances and a successful weekend release than the auteur’s autonomy.

Filmmakers are at a crossroads, not a dead end, and as they give in to the lure of new technologies they will yearn for the things they no longer “need”. For the next few years at least, the industry will still have a place for such “nostalgia,” and the heights to which technology will take us will further anchor that niche in place. Whether its hand-cranked ice cream or 35mm film, the very obsolescence of these things is what endears them to us and preserves their value.

299,792 kilometers per second … Real or FX? DCIFF Short by Russ Imrie

movement to old-school sci-fi creativity in a kickstarter * project 
a DCIFF Short by Russ Imrie Dec 6, 2011

 Computer Graphics (CGI), green screens, rendered 3-D models, particle generators and wire frame models are part of the modern film toolkit. They enable time and reality to be molded and mashed up at will by the filmmaker.

But in an article at TechZwin, Sci-Fi filmmakers Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier tell how they will work with  models, not computer generated  vehicles and scenery on their film “299792 kilometers per second.”  (The title refers to the speed of light as it is accepted to be today.)

The film is about occupying technology and diverting it from war, the moral and personal struggles at stake,  in a dramatic theme that  is  facilitated by a softer, more artful feel.

used with permission

Freed from the need to accommodate lighting parameters of green screen or  staging or to match imperfect rendered objects, they can focus more on emotional intensity, story, and  character development. It can mean savings too. And it “looks better.”

*(for more discussion on grass-roots Indie Film funding strategies, see our article “Money, Money, Money)