Tag Archives: social media

What’s my Motivation?

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I have wanted to tell stories for as long as I can remember, and while I dabbled in drawing, sculpting, or short-story writing, nothing ever made as much sense to me as filmmaking. It is the complete storytelling art from, the ultimate audio-visual communication instrument.

The unparalleled control and magnitude of expression that filmmaking affords a storyteller does not come without a hefty (and quite literal) price; it is a collaborative art and requires a serious investment in time, energy, and industry.

Even if you are one of the lucky ones that got his/her foot into the big leagues and make films that actually turn a profit, there is nevertheless a cost to pay spiritually and physically for every film you create.

For these reasons alone a filmmaker (and any artist, really) should always take the time to not only fully consider their true motivations behind their work, but also continually reassess them to make sure that you stay true, if not honest with your art. That is not to say that all your work must flow directly from your soul and serve the unique purpose of expressing your art, but when engaged in any material that is yours, try to ask yourself, “Why am I making this? Who am I making it for?”.

This questioning is important for many reasons, but mainly it is a surefire way to adapt to the changes that you go through as an artist as you become older, more seasoned, and your outlook on life, art, and society shift with the phases of time.

You may discover that becoming a Hollywood success is no longer your goal as a filmmaker, or maybe it never was. Maybe you realize that your tastes have changed and want to pursue other genres and styles that are completely incongruent with your past work. Maybe you want to experiment or even deconstruct the themes you have stuck to so far and look underneath the surface of that work to get to the tenderest meat.

Whatever the case, the point is to never stop searching your feelings and asking yourself these types of questions. It may not lead to financial or industry success, but you’ll do work that you will be fond of many years from now, if for no other reason that it will be representative of your art in that given time and context.

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The Empty Can

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In some ways the internet has made instant scholars and industry “insiders” of us all. Rare is the public conversation nowadays where the smartphones don’t come out for fact-checking or the eventual “have you seen this youtube video/meme”. It has had a staggering impact on show business coverage with a mess of editorials, blogs, vlogs, tweets, etc., popping up on a seemingly daily basis to cover every inch and every angle of the industry. Film studios have in no way ignored the marketing potential of this living connection with their demographics and continue to run successful viral campaigns and social media schemes that build tremendous anticipation for upcoming projects, but as anyone in the business would testify, this exposure has a darker side for film production, even a potentially damaging one.

It used to be that rumors would surface here-and-there of a book being optioned or popular classic being adapted to the silver screen with such-and-such famous actor slated to star. The trailer would arrive some time after that, maybe a few months before the release of the motion picture and then another couple of months before we could watch it at home. Rumors and announcements were still largely the domain of speciality magazines and studio websites that would work in tandem with the artist to progressively wet viewer appetites. There existed a brief period of “silence” where the imagination and anticipation of the public could organically grow into excitment.

Today film industry news has become a rampaging monster, and insatiable beast, part-investigative journalism, part-obscenely-speculative TMZ fodder. The rumor mill has become a 24/7 media guargantuan with CNN muscles, beating every shred of film news into a messy pulp before any of the actual involved parties can even draw breath. The recent debacles at Marvel are a great example of the feeding frenzy that can issue from a single internal business decision. What used to be natural fluctuations in the studio system, be it staff changes, casting changes, release date re-scheduling, or logistical alterations, have now become critical updates and “breaking” stories that are reported with the emergency of a 3rd World catastrophe.

The tabloid/paparazzi fever that is usually reserved for drunk-driving starlets and philandering rock stars has turned its Sauron-like eye on the film production industry with a zeal that borders on the ludicrous. Audience participation has further amplified these stories by another factor of ten leading into completely innocuous debates over who was wronged in Hollywood contract disputes (that no one has any actual direct link to), or generated entire news cycles of highly speculative hearsay that lack even the most basic foothold in factual data.

Blurry leaked production pics are investigated like UFO sightings, bloggers write entire opinion columns denouncing studios, slagging off actors/directors, or defending them against injustices without having the slightest clue. Meanwhile filmmakers who want to stay connected to the audience and incorporate social media realities into their craft are forced into ridiculous Twitter standoffs with the various purveyors of these rumors or they might get cornered trying to justify some random artistic decision that has been inflated into full-blown online controversy (see Ben Affleck casting as Batman). This noise cannot be positive for the filmmakers.

Maybe all this senseless reporting is a good thing, creating a kind of biosphere for cinema that somehow renders it more democratic and opens avenues for the audience to make its voice heard regarding what is produced and how it is produced. It gets people thinking and breathing cinema and that should be a plus, right? One can’t help but wonder however if the patients are taking over the proverbial ward.

Filmmaking is a delicate and time-consuming endeavor that is hard enough to carry out without the deafening drone of the media breathing down your neck the entire time. There must be a way of preserving some shred of calm to let the artists build their projects before we dissect them at an atomic level. This new obsession of spoiling scripts and exposing sets/costumes ten months before the fact is deflating films before they can even come into existence and will not contribute to better films. Studios should also strongly reconsider over-exposing their projects with never-ending trailers and tv spots.

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Can Laughter Cure Bad Cinema?

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It is tempting today to let oneself slip into a state of apathy with regards to the dire condition of big-budget filmmaking. All the evidence seems to suggest that we live times of shallow artistic bankruptcy where the box office is concerned. The big studios and their sponsors have it all down to a science; release three-four blockbusters in the summer, start dropping Oscar-bait in the fall, and sprinkle the dead months with every piece of pandering soulless garbage you have left (basically Wayans/Sandler films).

Are things worse then ever? Perhaps, but there is one tremendous silver lining to the never-ending stream of mindless drek that flows into theaters year-after-year; there has never been a better time for comedy. From memes, to animated gifs, to parody videos, to animated spoofs, to youtube supercuts, it seems like no shred of content is now safe from satire. Live events in particular have become a real joy to behold with any oddity or sidestep (usually shelved under the common perils of live broadcasting) instantly being converted into something incredibly funny. Film parodies are legion now, with entire youtube channels existing for the sole purpose of editorializing, reviewing, and demolishing bad films in the most creative ways possible.

It’s exciting to see is just how sophisticated some of these online jesters are, now no longer content with simply throwing their thumbs up or down. The extent to which some films are deconstructed can also be astounding. Seventy-minute reviews of Phantom Menace, fully-produced alternate endings for films accused of botching their third acts (a rich universe in itself), the complexity of this satire has reached territories bordering on the scientific and philosophical.

Mediocrity, it seems, can sometimes be the father of incredible wit.

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Youtube & Cinema

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Youtube is changing the world. It exists now as a kind of internet-within-the-internet, a zone of pure creativity, expression, communication. It’s a 24/7 global channel that is everything to everyone everywhere, a platform that thrives literally on anything that you feed it. Youtube has kept music videos alive, breathed a new life into comedy, and most relevant to today’s topic, given new life to independent filmmaking and videography.

While Youtube has launched its share of amateurs and underground artists it has had an even more interesting effect on trained filmmakers and semi-professionals; this video platform also functions as a perpetual project-pitching stage where low-budget wonders and indie video artists can shine in front of millions without any industry or major studio backing.

This is perhaps Youtube’s most intriguing and game-changing aspect because it challenges the traditional cinema business model that Hollywood has, in a sense, forced upon the viewing masses for generations. Big studios still hold dominion over the box office due to the grandiose industrial nature of that platform, but it would be hard to dispute what phenomenons like Youtube have done to upset this once-implacable regime. The Youtube generation is starting to call the shots in terms of what banks and what does not, and the nexus of their power can be distilled to one very basic element: pure, unfiltered choice.

Youtube has gone from a grungy web-version of the 80’s local public-access channel (where everyday people could produce super-low-budget community-based variety shows) to a self-sufficient pocket universe that hosts everything from prank videos to massive international trailer premieres. For filmmakers this has shifted the landscape in a dramatic way, perhaps to the point of creating confusion and sometimes overwhelming them with possibilities.

The first and biggest point of confusion for someone issuing from a more classical filmmaking/tv tradition is understanding Youtube’s “views” system. After over five decades of studio-controlled/vetted programming that audiences simply had to sit through (in addition to mind-numbing advertising), award ceremonies that still to this day do not reflect what the audience actually wants, (let alone reward), Youtube’s über-democratic content-rating system can come as a shock to a newcomer.

Kanye West music videos averaging the same amount of views as teenagers vloging about their makeup tips, badly pasted together fake trailers of comic book films that don’t exist standing shoulder-to-shoulder in popularity with hugely anticipated video game announcements; Youtube trends can simply not be understood in traditional terms. Even clever marketers who have begun to dissect and try to understand the Youtube-sphere cannot predict with any real accuracy what will go viral next.

This can be a frustrating but revelatory situation for a filmmaker. First you have to realize that what you traditionally consider “good” or “bad” in film/content does not really apply anymore. Not only are you facing a monstrously-discriminating, film educated, and often fickle audience of millions, but even the most meticulously assembled and directed film may now fall completely on deaf ears and blind eyes if it does not properly circulate the Youtube nebula. Meanwhile, watch views climb into the tens-of-millions when a cute girl in a low-cut top decides to record weekly videos on her phone on how to make Justin Beiber’s cupcakes (queue forehead slap).

Production values have also become a non-factor in the success of content on Youtube. Sweeping vistas, tastefully composed shots and masterful cinematography will win you the love of Vimeo users, but prepare to see your video fall into obscurity against a super-cut of actor Sean Bean’s characters being murdered throughout his filmography, or a montage of Russian dashcam mishaps.

Another key factor, perhaps the most telling of Youtube’s departure from the mainstream, is its emphasis on length. With its videos being consumed largely at work, at parties, and in transit, the length of your video will likely make or break its success. Attentions spans have suffered greatly in the past two decades, and if nothing else, the sheer overflow of media in everyday life has rendered the average viewer justifiably incapable of absorbing traditional quantities and runtimes. Perhaps there is a bright side to this: content has to be more focussed and meaningful if you want to make an impact.

To be continued..

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Idiots

A tale by Big Lazy Robot VFX
Music and sound design by Full Basstards

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How to Make a Fan Film (and not get shut down)

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Fan films are quickly becoming a phenomenon on the internet with a host of amateurs and professionals producing some of the most interesting independent cinema out there right now. Whereas fans films were once the sole domain of diehard fans, today they have also become a kind of a training ground for young filmmakers and a fun place to experiment for the more experienced ones. With every year it seems that fan films are getting bigger and better and some are even launching the careers of newcomers, propelling them into the big leagues. Clearly the fans want to see more fan films judging by the massive views and attention from giant media outlets like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and there seems to be no shortage of enthusiastic artists to produce them.

There has been one nagging problem in the making of these films that has yet to be properly addressed; the very controversial broad topic of violation of intellectually property rights. It would be fair to estimate that for every successful fan film out there, perhaps 3 or 4 per year brutally collide with the legal realities of borrowing licenses/trademarks/copyrights from giant entertainment conglomerates.

While companies like Lucasarts have shown a surprising (and business-wise brilliant) tolerance to fan films, even going so far as to publicly embracing them online, others like DC and Marvel have had the odd nasty reaction to certain fan-made projects. Some would say that to make a fan film (with any kind of solid production quality) is to reach into the lion’s cage and to tempt fate, but is it really that simple? Are these companies arbitrarily shutting down these fan productions as they come across them or is there a recipe for these disasters?

I believe there is.

Here are some of the items I have identified as “project killers” in my fan film-making experience :

1. Thou shall not under any circumstances make money: This is perhaps the ultimate commandment of making a fan film that will see the light of day. Even with the benefits and loopholes of fair use laws, selling or profiting from your fan film is just the most basic way to scuttle your ship and even run the risk of heavier litigation later on. Crossing this line can be done with all the best intentions. Maybe you figured you could get a little compensation for yourself and your hardworking crew for all those long hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe you wanted to cover the cost of the dvds/posters you printed for your fans. It’s a bad idea from any angle for the simple reason that you are generating revenue directly or indirectly with of a license that you do not own.

Accept right now that making a fan film will mean a personal or private investment, time and money, and remember that even fully sanctioned films don’t make their money back in the big leagues. As far as raising funds for a fan film through crowd-funding, that’s a bit of a trickier subject that I will cover some other time, but I will say that this is also a pretty bad idea unless it is done with utmost care and respect for the property holders.

2. Thou shall not make it look “too close” to the real thing: Mike Pecci can probably relate the most to this issue as it was the main focus of the cease & desist letter that his team was served by Marvel just days away from releasing their high-profile Punisher fan film, The Dead Can’t Be Distracted. There is such a thing as having your fan film look too much like the real thing, and holders of the copyrights have an understandable concern that their properties might be confused with the artistry of a heavy-hitter like Pecci. This case was a particularly unfortunate one as, if you read Pecci’s insightful journal about the rise and fall of the project, the filmmakers even managed to receive the blessings of the original writers and artists on whose works the film was based. Pecci recounts the numerous endorsements and approvals he’s secured from the authors, but ultimately hitting a solid concrete wall of Disney’s legal department.

The lesson: Make sure your fan film does not cross the line in terms of look/aesthetic by looking too much like the real thing. It may sound like a strange rule to respect but it’s called a “fan” film for a reason. This doesn’t mean necessarily that your work has to be sub-par or purposefully brought down in quality, only that it should try to avoid that red zone. Typical fan film micro-budgets and limited resources can be your friend in this regard.

3. Thou shall not attempt turn a successful fan film into a series: Look at it from the license owner’s point-of-view; even if you were lenient toward a first fan film by a young enthusiastic group of filmmakers and did not take legal action, now these same people are planning on putting these out a regular interval, every time risking to damage your intellectual property. Can you really blame a company for erring on the side of caution and shutting you down? This is not the same thing as making more than one fan film in a row, but rather committing publicly to borrowing a license and using it for your purposes indefinitely. Not the best approach.

4. Thou shall not make any claims about continuing or expanding on officially licensed content: A group of fan film producers recently ran into this problem with their project. While it is likely that the true nature of WB’s shutdown of this endeavour was focussed on the 100k the group was trying to raise to create a series (point 1 and 3), the studio also very likely became concerned by the fan film’s claim to “continuing and expanding” upon the already officially established Nolan Batman Trilogy. While this would have been a fun project to see, there were just too many aspects to Legacy for Warner Bros to take issue with legally.

The lesson: A fan film must remain squarely in the realm of fan fiction and should avoid overly-direct links with officially produced works by the license holders. With video game-adaptations there is a little more wiggle-room seeing as how you are riffing on a set story/game world, but caution is still advised. You have to walk that fine line between homage and originality and always keep in mind that you are playing with someone else’s property.

There are probably other things to consider when making fan films in order to protect them from the chopping-block, but avoid these major areas and you should be in the clear. I’d love to hear any other ideas and suggestions as well on this subject, particularly from anyone that has dabbled in fan films or is thinking about taking the plunge.

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The Innovation of Loneliness

What is the connection between Social Networks and Being Lonely?
Inspired and Based on the wonderful book by Sherry Turkle – Alone Together.
Also Based on Dr. Yair Amichai-Hamburgers hebrew article -The Invention of Being Lonely.

Script, Design & Animation: Shimi Cohen
Final Project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.

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Food for Thought

Paul Miller has spent 323 days offline. He sits down with Douglas Rushkoff to discuss his new book. “Present Shock” and how it rings familiar with Paul’s own adventures.

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A Brave New World?

Exciting, astonishing, terrifying: The Google Glasses Project.

A few weeks ago we posted the brilliant Israeli short film Sight that peered into the very-plausible future of integrated augmented-reality. This is the actual tech that inspired it.

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