A Challenge to the Studio System

Back in the day when studios meant something to the average movie-goer (I’m not going to hazard a guess when that was), this kind of photo was all the rage. The annual studio photo would be the closest most would see to the inner sanctum of those houses that produce the most lucrative works of art in the world. Paramount have decided to revisit the old portraits of the Hollywood empire (or dictatorship?) for their 100th Anniversary, and one thing you can be sure about- this pantheon of Paramount would pull one hefty payout if the studio roof collapsed on them. 

This is a pretty special picture. Find it in full size and imagine what lining this lot up would be like at http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/07/paramount-pictures-100th-anniversary-photo

This is a pretty special picture. Find it in full size and imagine what lining this lot up would be like at http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/07/paramount-pictures-100th-anniversary-photo

I don’t know what the criteria was for appearing in this photo was, as Justin Bieber and Rosie Huntington-Whitley are there (1 film credit apiece, Bieber’s in his own film about his own tour). 

Where they got the idea from: the MGM players photo, 1943. Louis B. Mayer, a kingpin of early studio cinema, is in the centre front.

Where they got the idea from: the MGM players photo, 1943. Louis B. Mayer, a kingpin of early studio cinema, is in the centre front.

What does seem obvious is that Paramount have assembled some of the most influential names in show-business, one of the biggest industries in the world. Its a strange one, at that. I opened with that jaded remark about movie studios because who really remembers who made what these days?  Once upon a time stars were contracted to certain studios, and producers would offer directors a catalogue of talent with which they could garner a certain performance for a certain kind of audience. These days, we don’t expect a certain style or star from one studio, and a separate look, genre, “feel” from another.

There have been no significant alterations to the business model of filmmaking since the fifties- suits in New York invest in suits in Los Angeles who invest in the “creatives”: who invest ideas and reputations in order to make art and make money. One is more valuable than the other, but its debatable which one is driving the industry these days.

Its a very long, very vague business model and no sane entrepreneur would even think of bothering. the article below, from the New York times, offers a very interesting critical eye on the modern Hollywood film process:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/magazine/how-does-the-film-industry-aclly-make-money.html?_r=1

The highest echelons of filmmaking are moving further and further beyond the realms of what any person can actually imagine. To quote the New York Times article, Eighteen of the all-time 100 top-grossing movies (adjusted for inflation) were sequels, and more than half of those were released since 2000. 

This is something that the article misses. Like all modern business, the film industry is growing exponentially and it is moving beyond what anyone can really control. Its too big for its own good.

This is an exponential function, for those who aren't mathematically minded. This is the way the economy is heading- harder and faster than anyone can control.

This is an exponential function, for those who aren’t mathematically minded. This is the way the economy is heading- harder and faster than anyone can control.

Or is it?

At the other end of the scale is Independent Cinema. Indie film is the bohemian foil to the blockbuster. Advances in technology are opening opportunities to more and more aspiring filmmakers.

I’ve been working at the extreme end of this recently- what’s known as “micro-budget” cinema. Feather Light & Paper Thin will get it’s own post on here in the near future- but I’ll use it here to paint a picture of an amazing production created for next to no money at all.

FL&PT is a 6-part webseries, in 25-minute episodes. We made it for approximately £400. We were a crew of three, and a cast of 8. We shot using a mix of guerilla, Dogma 95 and zero-budget techniques- not out of artistic pretension, but because that’s all we could afford. We had to shoot sneakily in public places without proper (or any) permissions. We had to shoot using single lights and minimal takes at times, because that’s all we could afford to do. We used what we’ve learnt from other micro-budget productions; Chris Nolan’s Following springs to mind- to push boundaries, to extract from most from our limited resources; and most importantly, not to give up when the going got tough.

We are Lazarus. But we have turned our back on the table of the rich.FLPT1

We’ve made a feature length piece with almost no money at all. It’s ambitious, well shot (mostly!) and carefully edited. We have high hopes for it- if we can get the funding through our crowdfunding project, we hope to give it a professional gloss and take it to festivals around the world. We’ll need help for that. We’re aiming high- hoping to raise £9000 to achieve everything we could dream of.

Speaking of which – check out our indiegogo campaign, and whether you share, donate, whatever- your interest and your support in all its forms is a huge reward to us.

But if we don’t raise 9 grand? That’s OK.

We had a little blog going, more for ourselves than anyone else, with a set of rules for ourselves. This was our scripture, our ten commandments, and the most important one of all? “No matter what happens, we get the film made”. And so we did.

We are a small team who love film. We love it so much that we sacrificed almost six months of weekends and random evenings to shoot it. We balanced full-time jobs with our underground project. We sacrificed a lot to get it done. It’s unlikely any of us will be renumerated for it.

We don’t conform to the model of the big studios. We make what we want to make- what we’d want to see in the cinema. We are reliant on good will and personal sacrifice. We are mindful with our money, and we’re responsible with what we use. We take risks.

I’m at a stage in my life where crossroads become a regular feature on the landscape. Do I go here or there? Do I work or travel? Do I commit to a career or a unpredictable joyride? 2015 is full of opportunity.

Writing this has reminded me of a few things.

We might not become big, successful filmmakers. It’d be nice if we did. But we’re not holding our breath. We’re not waiting for anyone to come along with a magic money wand. We’re using what we’ve got to make our dreams happen.And that’s what matters.

It's me! At work on set for Feather Light & Paper Thin

It’s me! At work on set for Feather Light & Paper Thin

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