Monthly Archives: March 2013

What I Liked This Week: 3/30/13

Hello, Furyans — not to be confused with Furrians, which is very different thing. Hello also to any Furyan Furrians — The Furious Romantic Returns is an all-inclusive place.

Apologies for not slapping you with a longer post earlier this week. The Furious Romantic was furiously sick. That sort of Please God Make It Stop kind of sick. You catch my imagery? Put that imagery down! What’s wrong with you?! OMG wash your hands.

A word before we move on to WILTW.

There may be some changes around here, in terms of how these type of posts are populated. In short, I am limiting my time spent: reading the news, scouring the internet for signs of life and death (including Twitter and Facebook), emailing. I am making a concerted effort to free my mind from anxieties that are originating from someplace else. Partially this is because THERE IS ALREADY ENOUGH ANXIETY IN MY MIND. Also, I have a lot of work to do. And a lot of thinking to do, if Sophia The Great is going to live up to her name. Wish me luck. I will report in on my progress down the line, if people are interested. As an aside, I’m also cutting my coffee intake down from 5-6 cups a day to 1 cup on weekdays and 2 cups on weekends. This step alone has left me MUCH less anxious and much more productive.

What all this means for WILTW is that I may be bringing fewer links and more testimony to our weekly discussions and judgements. I think this may end up better for everyone. I will get to report in on Likes and/or Dislikes that are of a slightly more active nature, which seems to me a healthier and more useful thing.

And so, on to it. A few of these items are holdovers from The Days When We Still Read The News*.

  • The Trader Joe’s Lesson: How to Pay a Living Wage and Still Make Money in Retail, from Sophie Quinton at The Atlantic. I think we all know why I liked this.
  • Dick Van Dyke on WTF with Marc Maron. Just a delightful interview.
  • Slacker. Richard Linklater’s classic indie from 1991. Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers, and Slacker is one of the titles I wrote down on my re-watch list as I begin thinking about how to shoot Sophia The Great. I think I liked it better when I watched it this week than I did several years ago when I watched for the first time. As many have pointed out over the years, sitting through Slacker, ironically, takes some work at points. But, overall, it’s such an original and challenging and engaging piece of art. As I hinted in a tweet after I watched, I came out of this recent viewing disappointed in current indies. That’s not a grumpy old man statement. It’s an honest assessment. There are many fine films being made these days. Fine films. Films that are fine. Good. Nice. Beautiful. But no one’s really arguing about them. I feel like if I gathered five or so friends in my living room and watched Slacker again — there would be a few arguments. A few legitimate discussions, at the very least. This used to be why we made independent films. Groundbreaking/thought-provoking films still pop up now and then, but I don’t know that they pop up often enough. I don’t know that the right ones are yet sparking the right dialogue. About our generation — all of it.
  • Strange moments of sudden inspiration. I was writhing (writhing, not writing) on the couch earlier this week, clutching my stomach and trying to keep my mind right despite the pain and some serious dehydration and some unpleasant flashbacks — when I was struck with an idea. The specific experience I was going through, strangely, sparked a sudden, clear thought, which led to an image, which became a sequence, which became a scene. The scene itself is only tangentially related to what I was going through at that moment, but it was built of genuine emotion from the moment, and I had to write it down. So I did. The scene wasn’t even for Sophia. It was for something that’s been living in the back of my brain for a while, that I’d like to take a shot at sometime in the near future, so I had to run with it. I liked this experience. I took a perverse joy in it. It made me feel powerful, for a few moments, at a time when I was feeling extremely powerless.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is why we do it. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! Too much news and coffee, probably.

Right?

Hah. Have a good week.

Ravaged Heads for Everyone, or, The Alchemy of Expectations

The live-reading of Sophia The Great went extremely well. Much like our experience producing Multiverse, the end-result exceeded expectations. I could get used to this.

Before I move on to sharing some notes about the experience, a word (or a thousand) about this same topic: expectation.

Historically, I have had an unhealthy relationship with expectation. Even still now, I periodically need a metaphorical slap in the face (self-inflicted, or inflicted by Rebecca) when it comes to tempering my expectations for…a certain project, a certain phase of a certain project, a certain step towards a certain phase of a certain project. I go into so much detail because…I believe the relationship between action and expectation has a particular sort of significance for an artist — though the lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) about maintaining a healthy balance, in these terms, probably translate to matters of day-to-day life as well.

To be clearer: I think my work has started to sometimes exceed my expectations because…I’ve lowered my expectations. To a degree.

To anyone waiting to pounce on such an idea (pounce away, ideas don’t feel pain, idiot) this may seem a sign of weakness. To such a person, lowered expectations might mean compromise. A lessening of The Vision. What I’m describing…it may sound like acquiescence.

And it is. I have begun to more regularly acquiesce to that voice I’ve made reference to before, that says: “You can’t do it.” Because that voice is right. None of us will ever be able to “do it” in quite the way we imagined. A lot of people are okay with this (as they should be). Too many people, probably, are too okay with this (they could try a little harder to form better expectations for themselves). But all of us, to a degree, struggle to reconcile our part in such daily transactions — between what we expect for ourselves and what we are able to realistically do. It may even be a particularly American problem, or an acutely generational one, in the terms I’m so far using. When we expect the reality of The Screen, and instead get reality itself (which, worse than failing to be clean and/or glamorous, is plagued by manmade unfairness and these days seems often arrested in a state of depressed, perpetual stasis)…the loser, in the end, is us.

Obviously, I’ve walked this road. Seemingly, I’ve decided to abandon it. So. Why and how?

Again, it’s a delicate dance. Especially for an artist. As a filmmaker in particular, I need my lofty expectations. They drive two of the most basic tools a filmmaker/artist needs in order to succeed. They provide you with enough Crazy to think that it makes sense to struggle for years for the right to enlist others to help create and/or spread your vision — that this is a reasonable idea (most times, it’s not). Additionally, high expectations can push you at times when nothing or no one else can. In independent film, especially at the level I’m at, this is almost all the time. But the idea becomes more tactile as you progress through a production, for instance — all the way to the end of the finished product, which in my case is a film. I expect this essentially false, moving snapshot I’ve created with the help of all these people — to momentarily replace reality in the minds of the audience. It’s a contradictory notion, in terms of expectation. Because for this to happen, everything needs to be perfect.

And that’s the trouble spot, when it comes to expectations. That’s where we come back around to the necessity of responsibly dealing with the inevitable letdown that comes from riding them as far as they’ll take us before we inevitably get bucked. Expectations always represent a losing hand. It’s part of the deal. Expectations aren’t human, they never tire, they rarely stop. We are human, we do tire, and we must stop — occasionally. All we can do, in the face of these truths, is learn to know our limits (after we’ve found them) and keep showing patience, as we work “tirelessly,” “endlessly,” in pursuit of a finish line we can always see, always feel, but never reach.

So, there it is. That’s where I’m at lately. To succeed in any way, we have to first admit defeat. It will never go as perfectly as you imagined.

And as long as this realization isn’t repurposed as an excuse (don’t do that), the knowledge can become liberating. I don’t know that it’s something that can really be taught, so much as understood, perhaps after a series of “failures,” but I thought this was worth mentioning. Because it’s important to me that readers understand what I also have to continually force myself to accept — that when I say my expectations were exceeded because they were lower, what I really mean to say is that my expectation that everything would go perfectly, right away, was lowered to a more healthy (but still appropriately crazy) expectation that everything go extremely well, and land in a satisfactorily elevated place, as I chase perfection during any one step, of any one phase, of any one production. Eventually. When and where it ultimately counts.

One more important point to all this is the importance of asking for and getting help. From family, friends, co-conspirators, collaborators — whoever.

The formula for an expectation, when broken down in its simplest form, is comprised of some admixture of elements from within yourself, combined chemically by you only in the abstract. To be made energetic, it must necessarily be broken back down into the stuff that makes up your expectation, so that these elements may be distributed through the world around you that are seeking to affect (whatever size that world may be). This requires you to take measure of that world, so that you know exactly how much energy to exert and how to appropriately handle it and when.

To do this, you need help. In externalizing our expectations, if we ever do, we are opened up. The aforementioned process necessitates this vulnerability, just as the unbearable complexity and exhaustiveness of it necessitates assistance.

The alchemy of creating an external event that elicits an emotional response (I’m still speaking mostly in artistic terms, so let’s say we’re talking about a shot, a scene, a film) is too monumental a task for an individual. Distributing its parts, after the idea has been formed within you, so that they may be turned tactile and enter the world, assembling those parts once this is accomplished — all of this represents an overwhelmingly heavy and complex set of tasks. It’s too much for one person, or a handful of people, to accomplish on their own. Not to mention the fact that an expectation is built from ideas, which have a habit of acting less like puzzle pieces and more like viruses once they’re passed around — if they’re strong ideas. Strong ideas breed more (sometimes loftier) expectations. This is how it should be.

Finally, to “complete” the process, you must recombine the ideas that formed the expectation that spawned more ideas that together became The Task. I’ve tried handling this step (mostly) alone before. It doesn’t work. I tried it, and it unhinged me. For years. The work also suffered. Which made the failure all the more devastating.

Bringing the discussion back onto the ground level, I’d like to thank Rebecca, for co-producing the reading of Sophia The Great in her spare time, at the same time that she was taking Sophia as a character very seriously in preparation for the event itself (and Sophia The Character is not a wee little bunny). I’d like to thank all the actors and audience members who donated their time to help us pursue perfection with this script and project. Perhaps you had no idea that the aforementioned process had already ravaged my head. That we were taking it so very seriously. Or perhaps a similar process was ravaging your head. I hope so. This is why we do it. The goal is more ravaged heads. Ravaged heads for everyone.

So, finally, the important question. What did we learn?

  • I learned that I am better at receiving notes and taking feedback than I have ever been in my entire life. I pat myself on the back for this. Not only was I able to listen to critiques of certain aspects/elements of the script, I was able to parse such feedback in such a way as to separate notes into three piles: 1) THANK YOU, BUT THAT IS GOING TO STAY THE SAME, 2) YOU’RE RIGHT, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION, 3) YOU’RE NOT RIGHT, BUT YOU’RE NOT WRONG, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION. From what I can tell from the testimony of other professional writers: this is crucial. Glad to have finally gotten to this point. “It was not easy,” says my ego. Then my ego goes back to his whiskey corner. Or he doesn’t get any supper.
  • I learned that my fears about how the content of the script might be received, were exaggerated by my head and at least partially unfounded. Of course, we only had a small crowd. Counting the actors (who always give useful feedback, in the questions they ask while attempting to get into character, and then frequently after the fact as audience members as well) and the number of invited audience members who showed up, I think we had about 20 people in attendance. I was pretty focused on the actors for most of the reading, but there were more than a few moments when I felt like everyone was paying Very Close Attention. We also got quite a few laughs, which was encouraging. It’s not that I don’t think parts of the script are funny, it’s just that they come from the side of funny that lives on the border of Sad Town. Not only did all this feel great, because many parts of the script seemed to be working, but it was great seeing the actors make the words their own. Something I didn’t anticipate happening (because I was too busy in the leading weeks to think about it) was that, unlike on a shoot (where I am responsible for everything, for every second of every day), at the reading, once it all started — I was able to sit back and be a part of the audience. Valuable stuff.
  • I need help. We (Rebecca and I) need help. As indicated by the paragraphs above, we have learned this lesson already. Still, in the indie game, especially after you’ve been doing it awhile, and more so because of the urgency tasks take on when you’re juggling them between day jobs and regular life — it gets easy to forget. That we all need help. That it’s okay, and often necessary, to ask for help. Suffice to say, it was a little exhausting getting the reading set up. It was exhausting because we’re still working on Multiverse. It was exhausting because we’re also in the early stages of figuring out how to get Sophia The Production kicked off at the same time. It was exhausting because it took writing this post to remind me that everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above…that these lessons need to be constantly considered and learned from…not just recognized on one happy occasion and put away in a drawer. So this becomes our next and newest task, on a couple of fronts. I will be going it alone for a bit longer, with some help from Rebecca, while we prep the next draft of the script. Then we call for help. Oh, but if you have some help laying around, let us know.
  • I learned that I am on the right track. Artistically. More work needs to be done, much more work. But, as I mentioned, there were a few moments during the reading where our actors took over The Words and gave them life and then…the room went still. Quiet. We were arrested — me along with everyone else. There’s no greater feeling in the world. I’ve only ever felt it a few times before, for a few beautiful moments, when Sex and Justice was playing on the big screen and The Drama was coming and people were still and attentive and they cared. Again…this is why we do it.
  • I learned, with stunning clarity and finality, what I have long suspected but could never quite fully believe until now — that I can’t do anything but this. Months upon years of expectation, hard work, collaboration, alchemy. For the privilege of a just a few transcendent moments. That is what we’re chasing. This, as crazy as that sounds, is how it has to be.

This is why we do it.

What I Liked This Week: 3/16/13

I am in the unusual position of having to really dig for the fury this morning, friends — at least initially. The combination of the first real full day off with the missus in quite a while yesterday, the ten-day break from The Day Job (and The Night Job as well, depending on how well I’m able to succeed at that), and visions of imminent beach time — it’s all got me feeling a little mellow.

On a similar note, I didn’t take a whole lot of time to like and dislike things this week. I was busy, and at the same time I was pretty relaxed (this rarely happens outside of when I’m on set, so I went with it).

The biggest thing I liked was our reading of Sophia The Great, which went very well. I’m working on the follow-up post I promised I’d write after the reading. Didn’t finish it yet because something I didn’t like this week intervened, which ended up spawning a lengthy post of its own on Thursday night, which you should check out if you’re interested. That post is my personal response to the “debate” over the significance of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, mostly in terms of what it may or may not mean for “the industry.”

So, onwards.

The first official item I liked this week, about something I didn’t like, gets its own series of paragraphs. Buckle up. I dosed on The News, and now the fury rises.

I liked this article, from The Atlantic, about the government budget proposed by former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. I don’t like the budget proposed by former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Not only does it provide a reminder that this oblivious, heartless man could have been one Caviar Choking Death Accident away from The Presidency — it shows why such an outcome would have been so devastating, for a national economy that is just barely chugging along still, in the face of rampant obstructionist meddling, on the political side, and persistent inaction on the front of corporate investment and hiring. It’s no surprise that Ryan and the majority of the rest of our Congressional Republicans want to fix the budget deficit by sacrificing the poor and the barely-getting-by at the altar of the rich, but it’s “nice” to get these recurring reminders about just how little our representatives care about the majority of us.

I’ve said plenty, and plenty more has been said, about the sheer injustice of the political situation we’ve been in since the House fell under the control of this particular version of the Republican party. So, instead of banging my bruised and bleeding head against the wall yet again, look at it this way…

The majority of the “savings” from Ryan’s budget come from gutting the Affordable Care Act. I call it the Affordable Care Act, rather than Obamacare, because it’s called the Affordable Care Act. The word Obamacare was created by the right wing of the political establishment to serve as some sort of derogatory term for legislation they disagreed with but that was fought for and enacted (despite fierce opposition from them), in order to help us (us being the majority of Americans struggling with access to quality health care and ever-rising health care costs). It continues to boggle my mind every time an allegedly legitimate journalist co-opts the term or gives-in to its usage out of either laziness or acquiescence.

I digress. The point is that the battle over this legislation has been fought, and the Republicans lost. Ryan’s ticket also lost the election, for many reasons but mostly because The People have (finally) started sniffing the bullshit. So does Ryan — does the Republican right — lick their wounds, do some soul-searching, and get to work admitting defeat and learning from it and bettering themselves and their policies as a result? Do they act like real men? No. They act like spoiled children, by repeatedly refusing to listen to Our Voice. They act like puppets, repeatedly catering to what the super-rich want rather than what the rest of us have shown we need. They act inhuman. “No,” they say. It doesn’t matter how many times they are proven wrong or told they aren’t going to get what they want. “No. No. No. No.” Your tax dollars at work, citizens. Your votes, if you voted Republican, being used to repeatedly say “no” — to everything. Damn respect, decency, maturity. Especially damn the consequences — for everyone except the super-rich and the people who live in their pockets.

On to less-infuriating things…

  • I like this HitFlix interview with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, which fills in some of the details missing from the discussion about his Kickstarter campaign for the film version of his cult TV show. As my post on this subject opines, some of these details probably should have been more readily available within the architecture of the campaign — or more clearly stated — to temper some of the concerns of some of the rest of us “in the industry” (as well as some consumers). However, for the most part, this interview made me feel with more certainty that It’s All Going To Be Okay. Which I knew, but…reading this, for me, helped reinforce the idea that this is a better thing for movies and entertainment than it is a bad thing. Thomas is a talent with a distinct vision. He’s had trouble finding a greater audience, and/or getting opportunities to put his vision forward. Now he gets to go back to the well.
  • On that note, I also liked Scott Beggs’s article on the Film School Rejects site (about the same subject). Readers of my (lengthier) post might remember I quoted Scott while spouting my own opinion(s). There’s a link to his work there, but here it is again. It’s more succinct than mine, but feeds off the same idea that “everyone needs to chill.”
  • Finally, I liked this week’s confirmation that a particle thought to be the Higgs boson…has been confirmed to be the Higgs boson. Or a Higgs boson. My scientist hat is made out of old newspaper, but I seem to remember that this is big news. I also remember reading about some of the amazing practical applications this discovery may someday spawn, but this particular article from NBC News focuses on the primary significance that the existence of the boson holds for Life As We Know It. Basically, it’s evidence that, in billions of years, all this could implode upon us, before our cyborg robot progeny of our progeny to the Nth…has a chance to say: “Zweeborg kaploot!” Which for some reason filled me with anxiety and dread. We’re all going to die in billions of years! Fuck.

The beach sounds like a good idea, about now. Have a good week, mad lovers.

Why Filmmakers Need To Stop Freaking Out About The Veronica Mars Movie

On all sides of life, people often make the decision — however consciously — to ignore certain parts of reality, in order to better serve their anger and provide themselves with fuel for rationalizing their fears. This statement can be applied broadly to huge swaths of our population at the moment, unfortunately, but for today I want to focus a particular discussion, that starts from this place, on myself and my fellow band of merry misfits. All of this comes with the caveat that I’ve Been There.

So.

Dear Other Filmmakers:

Please do not freak out (or stop freaking out) about the existence/success of The Veronica Mars Movie on Kickstarter. You’re making yourselves, and our profession, look bad. I will explain.

– The Furious Romantic

First, before I say anything else about the subject, I want to make it clear that I understand your frustration and your reservations. It’s hard, seeing people you perceive as “already successful” leveraging an innovative new platform to accomplish something that, on the surface of things, they “should have done” within the parameters that are already established for all other “already successful” people who want to make movies, especially those that include studio involvement. Add to this, the uncomfortable fact that can’t be argued with at the end of the day — that, in this case, a film is being funded By The People despite the fact that it will continue to be owned by The Man (a major studio), in perpetuity, and that all profits (except perhaps for some backend points and typical union contract revenue-sharing that will go to the filmmakers and talent) will also go to said studio  — and you have more than a few good reasons for being upset. The Furious Romantic will never tell you not to be upset by a perceived injustice. Feel your feelings, angry people, but them come back to the ground and…stop freaking out.

I will leave the task of providing a measured, reasonable perspective on this topic to Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects, who succinctly stated almost all of the same “defenses” of the project that I poured into a Facebook conversation yesterday. Here are his main talking points, copied verbatim, for the sake of argument:

  1.  Veronica Mars is an ultra rare phenomenon. It’s a cult television show whose passionate fans persisted despite low ratings. They’ve called out for its return for years, and its creator has had countless phone calls and meetings trying to make something happen again. With Arrested Development taken care of by Netflix, you can count on one hand the properties that match Mars on these fronts, and even though studios are taking notice this morning, it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be a massive flood of studio projects hitting Kickstarter tomorrow.
  2. Even if there are, even if we reach a point where studios are collectively putting up dozens of big movies on Kickstarter, the market will absolutely take care of itself. There will be a bigger backlash against the practice if it gets out of hand, and if there isn’t, who is any single person to tell fans what they should give their money to? If someone has waited a decade for a new Firefly series, isn’t $35 for a t-shirt and digital download a steal at twice the price?
  3. It’s also pretty ridiculous to think that Veronica Mars‘ success is taking away anything demonstrable from any of the indie projects on the site. No one was on the cusp of donating $10 to a promising video artist’s stop-motion project when their Twitter feed lit up with the news.
  4. And, if anything, there’s a higher probability that the high profile and larger buzz brought more attention to what Kickstarter is doing, which is a win for everyone.
  5. Speaking of which, it’s a good time to remember that Kickstarter is a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s not like the service has been fundamentally altered simply because a giant company discovered a use for it. They’re not making it exclusive to studio use or anything.
  6. Oh, and if you’re still concerned about how the fabric of indie filmmaking has been altered here, you certainly don’t have to donate anything.

Item 1 summarizes the main point of all this (which many other reasonable people have noted as well). If you asked 100 Veronica Mars fans if they wanted this movie, 120 would say yes. Because this is 2013, and in the time you took to answer the question 20 of those fans turned their friends/partners/spouses/etc. onto Veronica Mars on Netflix streaming. Because it’s a good television show that “died” young. That HAS to be the very first takeaway from this debate. A film will now exist that people wanted but that otherwise would not be getting if not for this Kickstarter campaign.

Item 2 looks at The Worse Case Scenario and confirms the likely truth: It won’t be that bad.

One of the biggest recent takeaways I’ve gotten in listening to the Scriptnotes podcast by John August and Craig Mazin, is that there’s a disconnect within the film industry that has perhaps “always been there” but is right now worse than ever before. In John’s expert opinion (paraphrasing) studios are not investing enough in Research and Development these days. Which is to say, they aren’t taking enough smart, calculated risks, by developing fresh material or identifying material that people want, choosing instead to play it safe, and/or play to the mean rather than risk too much of a loss on their investment. The result has been too many movies that are too mediocre, amidst a smattering of successful tent pole blockbusters from known commodities (big name writers and/or directors), and too few dollars and hours spent vetting and developing projects that people might want to see but studios are afraid to make. Craig, similarly (I hope I’m remembering this right, or he might get mad), has reflected on the increasing difficulty of getting projects made in the Hollywood low-budget range that I am going to inexpertly determine (or inaccurately remember) lands between $15 million and $35 million. Again, studios aren’t rolling the dice on slates of projects at this budget level. They’d rather just be certain that known commodities (adaptations and other properties with built-in brand recognition) can be made to deliver a substantial ROI if enough money is spent making those commodities into something big and broad and loud and then marketing them like crazy. On top of all this, the small independent labels that knew how to make and market films at the budget level of The Veronica Mars Movie…are mostly all gone, having been swallowed up by DVD shrinking revenues, the recession, deliberate contraction, etc.

So, my further question, reflecting on the second item on Scott’s list, is: Why should we be mad that a studio is not saying no to allowing a $2 million movie with a rabid, yearning fan base to get made? When they weren’t going to do it before — because it’s not big enough of an establish commodity?

Well, there are a few reasons, which need to be discussed before we move on to the rest of the reasons why overall, I think this development is good for all of us. They revolve around the budget. John August confirmed on Twitter last night that he and Mazin will be discussing this situation on Scriptnotes next week. I figured as much. I have some ideas about what I think/hope they’re going to talk about (aforementioned issues of R&D, smaller budget studio productions, etc.). One of the things I’m wondering is how they’re going to react…not to the existence of the Kickstarter campaign itself, or even the studio’s involvement in the whole affair, but the budget. The question of budget, in the case of this project, brings up a couple of concerns that I think need to be vetted before filmmakers decide if We Should Be Angry.

I’ve already established that I believe it’s a legitimate concern, upon first glance, to worry about what a studio-backed film, financed by an audience that assumes “all the risk” might mean for the industry. However, again, most of these fears aren’t (entirely) founded. Apart from the fact that all of the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign depends on that audience’s existence in the first place (Rob Thomas and Kristen bell aren’t crowd-raising $2 million for a movie without their track record and their prior-work already behind them), it seems a lot of people “in the industry” are failing to take a step back and look at this from the top level.

Here’s how I see it, as a filmmaker. Excuse the reductiveness of what’s about to follow. But…okay. I want to make a film. I have a script, and I know I have the expertise and the ability and the work ethic to pull it off (these are important points, remember them for later). To make the film, though, I need money. I need money because a film is a product, that takes time and money to craft, and, related to that, I need money to pay people because making film is also a job. So there’s (basically) two ways to go. Some entity (a studio) can give me money in exchange for the right to recoup that investment and a return (otherwise they are not going to give me money) by distributing the film to as large an audience as possible, or I figure out how to get the money myself and then hope to sell the right to distribute my film to a widespread audience to another entity (let’s say a studio, again, to keep it simple). In each way, ideally, everyone gets what they want. I make my film, my audience gets to see a film they like, the studio gets money. Everyone’s happy.

Obviously, things don’t always work out this way. All sorts of factors screw with the balance and/or the successful implementation of this simple formula. A film’s a product, but it’s also a piece of art, and a piece of art that’s uniquely dependent on hoards of people working in imperfect unison towards the impossible goal of achieving a perfect vision that, at the end of the day, exists in some guy or gal’s head (even if others work to stuff toilet paper into that head along the way). Also, the film industry as a whole is in flux. Not only are we navigating the studio-level issues outlined by above, and not only have mid-range “independent” films disappeared, but the true, low-budget independent sphere “tasked” with leading the way in terms of innovative funding strategies in a depressed market…we’re just starting to figure out how things like crowd-funding and audience building work and what these things mean for the future of production and distribution.

At first glance, it’s easy for the independent filmmaker to get pissed off about the success of the Veronica Mars campaign. Here comes a bunch of successful people, and a studio that could come up with $2 million dollars by passing a hat during an executive lunch meeting, and now they’re creeping in on Our Salvation Platform and raising the full coupla mill in one day and THEY’RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING. From the point of view of established working artists, though, this is a different question. I have to prognosticate a little, because I am not established, but…back to the budget issue.

Two million dollars is not a lot of money to make a feature film, especially not of the scope that this film would have to be, at minimum. Thomas has to spend around what he used to spend for two episodes of the show, let’s say, adjusted for inflation. They also no longer have a production office, and would have to set up and staff that. They also have to go at least “a little big” because the movie is always bigger and sleeker than the TV show. Also, fans have been waiting. Expectations are going to be high. No matter where the money comes from, or how quickly it comes together, by my rough estimates, this budget it seems a fairly legitimate minimum amount. This seems like a true independent production. Just because these people used to have a TV show (which was backed by a studio, which isn’t helping with production this time), and just because they’re more successful than most of the rest of us who turn to Kickstarter and other sites, just because they have to go through the studio in some way (because of a prior and valid legal agreement) if they want to make the film at all…doesn’t make this untrue.

I know it’s a lot of money, taken at face value. I know it’s a lot of money to most filmmakers who have turned to crowd-funding. I’m developing my first feature right now, and would love to have a quarter of what the Veronica Mars team raised (I’d take an eighth). But I haven’t earned that amount (not yet), and most likely, unless you’re a slumming showrunner or established industry vet reading this, neither have you.

The last flick I shot (and am still editing) is about 8 mins long, and it cost about $8,000 to make. Except that almost everyone worked for free or for vastly reduced rates (as is often the case), plus we were lucky enough to get some key locations for free, plus now, in post, people continue to work for free. All things told, that film’s end cost should be (I’m spit-balling) about $20,000 to $30,000. Still, we never would have been able to make it without that $8,000 (much of it obtained through crowd-funding), because some costs (food, travel, insurance) can’t be ignored. The feature I’m developing now? Ideally, we’ll be able to get at least a few hundred grand, to make it right. If we have to, we’ll find a way to make it for a fraction of that cost. My point is that I could look at that $2 million dollar amount and get angry. I could get angry that people I perceive as successful and monied (in particular, the studio) have taken money from The People that they should have got from their money trees instead. And I could get angry that they took the platform that was there for me to get money and…oh. They just used it the way it’s meant to be used.

Scott Beggs is right about Item 3 on his list. The success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign isn’t taking money or anything else away from independents. As he notes in Items 4 and 5, if anything, it’s giving money to us. It’s further legitimizing a growing means of funding films outside of the studio system. Aside from the source of the production money, there’s no difference between The Veronica Mars Movie, and any other independently financed $2 million movie with name talent and pre-arranged distribution. Yes, the difference is that the studio can see a return on an investment we made for them, but this is a special, different situation.

First, it’s different because — to finish off Scott’s list — we could have chosen not to donate. I didn’t, because as much of a fan I am of the show, I’d rather let everyone else pay for it and then catch Veronica once she hits Netflix or iTunes (thanks, suckas). But people donated. In droves. Because they wanted this movie and because they could. And this movie was only going to exist, because the studio was not going to hand the rights back to Thomas, if he and Bell decided to go small with it (including taking pay cuts, probably down to scale) and could prove interest (which they have emphatically done). Lost in all this though, is the symbolism of that sacrifice. What does it mean, in the larger context of the industry?

This is where I am curious to hear how the conversation plays out in next week’s Scriptnotes. August and Mazin always provide a thoughtful perspective to the business side of the industry. A lot of times, because they’re smart and experienced and open, their insights expand beyond the scope of the writer’s sole perspective. I’d like to hear what they think about the studio’s involvement in this affair, and what the success of the Veronica Mars campaign may or may not mean for the studio system and the industry as a whole. Beyond that, I’d like to hear their perspective on the budget, and whether or not this development is another bad sign in terms of shrinking budgets and tougher environments for getting things made (and in terms of artists getting their fair share of wages and/or revenue). Specifically, is it worrisome that a studio is going to potentially profit from a project where the budget is being artificially depressed by “necessity” in the first place (because of their refusal to invest their own millions and/or hand over the rights), and then replaced by the donations of Regular Citizens, who won’t see any return other than the joy of seeing the film they wanted made? Or does it not matter, because of the unique case of this particular project, and because, in donating, we (you) accepted the terms of the arrangement? Are we being played, on the consumer side? Are we playing ourselves, on the filmmaker side?

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth:

  1. I think the issue of the studio benefiting from the return on The People’s Investment, in this case, is okay. First, I think it’s okay because they are going to allow the film to happen, whereas they weren’t before. Call me an idealist, but that looks more like a shaft of light to me than a warning shot. I think The People’s ROI, in this case, is the life of the film. Further, while I would have handled it a bit differently (tilting the exchange more favorably towards the consumer), most people who donated to the Veronica Mars campaign had the option of choosing to receive a copy of the movie. That’s product for your money, which you would have handed over anyway if the studio had financed it. Supposing, on the basis of Thomas’s track record, that there won’t be a huge quality loss in moving from the TV series to the film, when all is said and done, the barter exchange that usually occurs when a film is made and distributed remains intact in this case, even if parts of the process were reshuffled. On the side of the producers, I would have included a way to view the film at any/all price points. On the consumer side, since they didn’t — I would have only donated at a level where I could make that happen.
  2. I think this can be looked at in another way. I think this shows studios, in some small way, that The People Mean Business. Regardless of what you think about the rest of the situation, a film that was clamored for was finally offered, and we showed we wanted it and had the power to get it. That can be thrilling and a good sign, if you allow yourself to look at it that way (at least initially).
  3. Most important, out of everything, this provides a mass-incentive to push for equity crowd-funding. Basically, what this means is, if you’re upset about the studio-ROI issue with this project, aim that ire where it belongs: in the face of legislators who aren’t prioritizing equity crowd-funding laws that would allow The People to invest in a movie, and see ROI from that investment  through an equity stake if there are returns. I’m not completely read-up on this yet, but I learned what I learned from Michael Barnard’s excellent (and exhaustive) post on this and other funding topics.
  4. Studios will not begin pushing investment risk on consumers in any major or significant way because of this project. First, again, $2 million dollars is lunch-time pass-the-hat change to them. While we in the independent sphere or in the outer circles of the industry obsess over What It All Means, they’re shrugging and saying, “Hmmph. I guess we’ll keep an eye on that,” while stroking their evil cat and drinking caviar martinis. Which, to me, is a good thing. A better thing than no thing. Because they weren’t keeping an eye on that before. Assuming we stay vigilant in terms of our concerns, and/or continue to support innovation and legislation that’s fairer for artists and consumers, perhaps something like this could help hasten a return, if not to that $15-35 million “small budget” range of films…something that’s close enough for now (and better than nothing). Further, those same lessons being learned, and those same protections being assumed, maybe it’s a new way for studios (if they notice the shaft of light and are willing to invest in at least the cost of a hammer to make the hole a bit bigger) to return to a place where they do more Research and Development. Finally, studios depend on their large, high-risk investments. It’s the source of much of their leverage in the industry. Apart from the fact that Kickstarter campaigns won’t work for many other studio-owned properties, because the budgets for those properties would be too large to crowd-fund without equity investments added to the equation. It’s just not going to happen.
  5. From the indie perspective, I think Scott Beggs is right. The Mars project not only brings more eyeballs to Kickstarter (which helps us), it brings added legitimacy to the site and to crowd-funding as well. At the end of the day, all of these campaigns come down to the same thing: audience size and content. But bringing a studio into the equation makes things more interesting. They can learn from us, and we can sure learn from them. Again, I don’t expect studios to rush to the crowd-funding table, but neither should we pretend there isn’t something to be gained from cooperating with studios, especially in terms of distribution. It has to be done carefully, to protect the films, but doesn’t something like this give us more credibility in that area? Doesn’t it open up the possibility that, down the line, we might gain some of the leverage we lost, from situations like this? Wouldn’t things seem more balanced if The Veronica Mars Movie succeeds, Thomas and Bell come up with another idea in a few years, and they return to Kickstarter for another $1 million and the full rights to distribute the film, to leverage as they please? What possibilities does that open up? What happens after that project? Does an impressed studio begin warming up again, to the idea of giving someone like Thomas $15 million, for a chance to “do it the old fashioned way”?
  6. The Veronica Mars campaign erred in a few significant, but (obviously) not damning ways. First, they could/should have paid more attention to the issue of the studio’s involvement. I don’t pretend to know the details of why they came to which decisions and how, in terms of engineering the campaign, but two “errors” stand out for me. I would have made it more of a straight shot in terms of “donate and you get the movie.” This treats the transaction more like the pre-sale that it is, and it’s what Rebecca and I did/are doing for our crowd-funded short (every donation, from $5 and up, gets you preview access to the flick before anyone else). In the defense of the producers, they’re not distributors, and aren’t used to being distributors, and…further…the scale of the endeavor complicates things quite a bit. Still, I think a standalone DVD reward at the price point of a DVD, and a standalone digital download reward at the price point of a digital download — would have been a better idea. I guess they can still do this. Additionally, I think more transparency about their budget, and/or more information on the story of their budget, would have helped. Not that the vocal minority of detractors on Twitter or Facebook is anything to worry about in this case, but people would have less to complain or worry about if more information were available (even via a link buried somewhere on the campaign page) on why some of the talent (Kristen Bell) isn’t executive producing (I’m not judging) and just how much of that budget represents minimums that professionals are taking for a chance to make something they believe in and that The People want.

Lastly — and then, I swear, I’m done — I think a lot of the criticism and anger is coming from the usual place: outright jealousy and bitterness. This happened. It might happen again. Get over it. Focus on the good. Take note of the bad, and do something about it if it’s so important to you and such a threat to the industry and your present or future place within it. Stop complaining. Get to work making movies. If you’re an indie, or simply on the outside looking in, make a $5,000 film and make it look like a $10,000 film, by pursuing the task with ingenuity, hard work, and patience. Crowd-fund if you need or want to, but work at it, and do not waste time comparing yourself to a team of people who worked successfully together for years building a product that spawned a passionate fan base. If you have a film with a bigger budget that you want to make, try to make it if that’s what you feel you need to do. But if you can’t, make a smaller one first. Do it again and again, if you’re serious. If you aren’t serious, stop trying to bring down people who are trying to make things happen. Stop poisoning the discourse.

Take it from a former Angry Person, and a fan of Veronica Mars. Again, as many others have said — it’s good that this movie exists now. This wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. Whatever you think about the situation, start from there. Change is rising. It’s a good thing.

What I Liked This Week: 3/9/13

Kids. I’m so tired. Sophia is already tapping us out. I’m pretty late with this post, and I neglected to slap you with a post earlier this week, but there was quite a bit that I liked this week (or didn’t like, as usual) so I still wanted to make sure not to leave all ten of you in the lurch. With no further doo-doo:

  • Filed under “Things I Liked That I Actually Loathed,” is this video, (which has gone viral) and which succinctly outlines, in easy-to-digest graphical forms, just how out-of-control wealth inequality is in America. Look upon it, and get angry.
  • For different reasons, I liked this video, wherein President Obama answers a biased non-question from a “reporter,” by asking his own question about what she thinks he should do, in the face of yet another example of Republican obstructionism. HINT: She doesn’t have a reply. Because you can’t negotiate with a wall. And the current Republican majority in the House is just that, a wall of opposition. To progress, to change, to fairness. To anything that does anything to combat or ameliorate the inequality illustrated in the previous video. Because they are not on your side. Because you’re not an old rich white dude. Are you?
  • Primer, by Shane Carruth. Many people have already seen this brilliant low-budget sci-fi film (from 2004). I had been meaning to watch it for years, and finally did after a friend (and trusted connoisseur of fine films) spoke about it recently. Also, Carruth reappeared this year at Sundance (after “disappearing” for ten years) with Upstream Color, his latest. Upstream looks very interesting, and some smart interesting people who have seen it seem to have enjoyed it. The short of it: Primer, for me, was everything it was cracked up to be and more. I loved it. Smart, clever, thoughtful, and brilliantly crafted in defiance of its budget. Watching the film made me feel like I have to work harder (and I work pretty hard). Free to watch on Netflix instant.
  • This video, in which Sam Seder reports on how a conversation about income inequality became “taboo” at this year’s TED conference. The point (as far as I see it): the unwillingness of certain (too many) “liberals” or “intellectuals” to confront this issue squarely and honestly, and/or to take their share of responsibility for admitting and confronting the problem, is almost as ultimately damning as efforts on the far right of the political spectrum to subvert and/or manipulate the truth in the interest of maintaining rampant inequality as “the norm.” You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes you have to spit out the cake. And then spank the baker. Spank the banker. Glad you’re all with me.
  • This article about a surprise strike by Guest Workers at a Pennsylvania McDonald’s. This is not the first time I’ve read about employers abusing this “cultural exchange program,” and it probably won’t be the last. The short of it: this program — and the lack of an effective way to police it — “allows” employers to treat foreign exchange workers quite literally like indentured servants, under the auspices of providing them with relevant work experience and cultural exposure. And, in a way, unfortunately, ironically, that’s almost what’s going here. Maybe this sort of abuse doesn’t happen all the time, maybe there are examples of employers using the program correctly — but this shouldn’t happen. We were supposed to have learned this lesson before. When we treat our own citizens this way (which we practically often do, if/when you break things down in terms of how employment works for most people today), it’s shameful and wrong. When we treat visitors from other countries this way, pretending all the while that such an experience is “good for them,” we send them home with valid reasons to resent or hate us. That’s not an anti-American statement. It’s the truth about one particular way in which we, in terms of how our companies treat workers, just may be responsible for creating anti-Americans.

On that note, I need to get some rest, so I can start fresh with tomorrow’s battle. Let’s all try to do a better job at trying to make things better this week.

Till we meet again, fellow furious ones.

What I Liked This Week: 3/2/13

Greetings, dear readers. And thanks to those of you who made The Furious Romantic feel a little less furious this week, not only through the birthday wishes but the “good lucks” with Sophia.

  • The first thing I liked this week was this article about a team of physicists who created the first multiverse in a lab. It’s cute, that they think they were first. IT WAS ALREADY CREATED IN THE LAB OF MY MIND. If you haven’t “Liked” our short film #Multiverse on Facebook already, click that link and get on it (please). For anyone who doesn’t know or is wondering, #Multiverse is currently in the late stages of post-production.
  • This progressive deficit reduction plan, by Senator Bernie Sanders. Because it focuses on reducing the deficit by introducing more equality-based legislative measures into the politics that currently keep our economy weighted in favor of the wealthy. Few, if any, of these measures will see the light of day — at least not for a long time — but I like them anyway. I like that someone is trying.
  • This ScriptMag column by Clive Frayne, titled: “You Are Not Tarantino or Kevin Smith,” which is itself a response to this blog post by Bitter Script Reader, titled “You Are Not Tarantino.” Because they make me feel even more certain a shift is on the horizon, and that my impulse to craft my version of an anti-film…has me on the right track.
  • The fundraiser I went to this week for OnTheRoad Rep. It’s never not fun, drinking and carousing with actors. OnTheRoad has been doing great work, with more to come. Keep an eye out for future shows, NYCers. Disclaimer: I’m in love with one of their awesomely talented members.

Have a good week, my furiously romantic friends.