Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Interview Part 2

Excerpt from an Interview with Monica Sellars, a University of Oregon Journalism Student.

This is part of a larger project that will be posted in it’s entirety on her website soon. To find out more check out her website, www.backwardsgrace.net.

Here is part two of my interview.

5. Have recent state and federal legislation centering around tax incentives been of use to you as an independent filmmaker?

No! Those tax incentives are intended for larger films, mostly from places like Hollywood and New York. I fly too far under the radar for any government agency to notice. Traditionally, Film Offices in various states that help get legislation like this passed are more interested in bringing in big Hollywood films, then they are in growing their own small film industry. Their reasoning is usually that big movies from LA or NY pump lots of money in to the local economy, which they do. But if they took the time and the effort to build a homegrown filmmaking community that would probably pay out smaller dividends, but over a much longer period of time. No one is interested in that. They want the cache of working with the big movies. It’s more impressive and better press.

I could probably travel to Kansas City, Mo or Philadelphia, PA and get more government attention then I would ever get in Oregon. Unless one of my movies becomes a hit, then the state and the city and the government officials will want to take credit for my success.

If you look at a filmmaker like Jim Jarmusch, (Ghost Dog, Broken Flowers, Stranger Than Paradise), he is one of our great independent filmmakers. From what I understand, he gets all of his financing from Europe and Japan. He will get distribution in this country, but he has to raise his money elsewhere.
I was talking to friends in Scotland about doing a movie over there. They are saying we could get government funding for it if I shoot in Scotland with a Scottish crew. It is something I am very seriously looking at. Plus I love Scotland.

6. After a film has finished production, on average how long does it take to make money? In what kind of ways do you promote your films to help expedite this?

There is no formula, there is no average time, especially for an independent movie. If you have a distributor, and it doesn’t matter how big or how small, your movie has to have a great opening weekend. If it doesn’t, it will be pulled off of movie screens within a week. It’ll be deemed a failure because it didn’t have a big opening weekend.

Independent films by their very nature take time to find their audience. They shouldn’t be expected to behave like big Hollywood films. Unfortunately with changes in the business in the last few years, all movies have to play by the same rules. That’s why so many good movies never make it on to the screen. It is not enough to know that a movie is good and will take awhile to find it’s audience, why bother even distributing it unless it can go head to head with Pirates of The Caribbean. That is becoming more and more the attitude. It is unfortunate.

I look at my movies over the long term. It can take years to make back the money that was spent. Too many filmmakers are giving away their movies to small distributors in the hopes of making quick money on a cable sale, or DVD, or on the internet. \If they don’t get an advance up front, they will never see any money.
I retain all of the rights to my movies. I promote them on the internet, thru My Space, You Tube, and any other venues I can find. I also aggressively tour the US and parts of the UK showing my work and selling it at various colleges and universities, media art centers, and art house theaters. I play lots of small cities and towns where I can get publicity and reviews and where people have an interest in not only seeing movies, but also meeting the Filmmaker. I spend lots of time in markets that most filmmakers think are beneath them, and I do quite well.
It is about getting an audience for your movie. I go back to many of the same venues year after year and each year my audience gets bigger. I don’t have an advertising budget, I have knowledge of the system and I know ways to get free publicity for my movies. I also work 50-60 hours a week. This is a business.

7. Is there anything I haven't asked that you would like to tell me?
I can go on about REAL independent filmmaking for hours.

One of the things that I see is that too many people make their movies and unless they get them in to the Sundance Film Festival (a near impossibility unless you are famous or have someone famous in your movie), and make a big deal with a distributor then they think their movie is a failure and they never do anything with it. Their movies sit on their shelves and they rot. I think that shows an amazing amount of disrespect to their cast and crew and all of those people who helped them make their movie. They need to get their movie out somehow so that people can see the actors work, and the crews work. These people worked really hard on the movie and for audiences not to see it is a show of disrespect towards them.

People think that unless they make lots of money and become famous then they have failed. These are people who shouldn’t be making movies in the first place.

REAL Independent Filmmakers know that making their movies is only half the battle. Getting them seen is the toughest part. That’s why there aren’t that many REAL Independent Filmmakers anymore. It is hard work!

You have to define success on your own terms. I may never have lots of money, and will probably never be a house hold name, but every day I get to make the movies I want to make. I get to travel and meet other filmmakers and have my work screened all over the US and the UK. I am a success on my terms, because I am doing what I love. That’s what’s important!

I am also tired of the word “independent” being thrown. Very few independent films are released in to the theaters. Even when they are called independent they are usually tested in front of audiences and in most cases an executive has been assigned to the movie and will visit the set and look at the dailies. They are protecting their investment. These are business people, not artists. These films are not independent in any way, shape, or form. I have worked on some of them, and I have been around the independent film world for a long time. To these people it is just a marketing term.

The follow ups…

1. You talked about how you wanted to work on independent films instead of major films; what do you think major studio films' most prominent problem is?

In my opinion, the problem with most studios, major or minor, is that they are not looking for good movies, they’re looking for hits. They want every movie they release to “hit a home run”. They’ll deny this, but the truth of the matter is that all the distributors and studios are being run by business people who have to report profits to their shareholders. In the old days when the studios were run by the so called “moguls”, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers, Samuel Goldwyn of MGM, and the others, their passion was movies. They made commercial films to make money so they could fund what they considered important films. The studios were privately held so there was not this need to make huge profits with every movie. These old studio heads knew their business, they knew some of their films wouldn’t make money, but they needed to be made. That’s not the way it is anymore.

If you look at the studios now, important films get made, mostly out side of the system. A distributor will most likely pick up a so called important film if they think they can make money on it, not because of the subject matter. It’s very disheartening. Some Directors are able to make “personal, important” movies because their other films have been huge hits. Would Universal have let Spielberg make Schindler’s List if he hadn’t made Jaws, Close Encounters, ET, and the Indiana Jones movies. Doubtful. Plus every one knew that Spielberg was desperate to win an Oscar and be taken seriously by the Academy. I still don’t take him seriously. He is a mediocre filmmaker at best, he just knows how to manipulate an audience. And the way he does it is pretty transparent.

2. You also talked about how distribution was the real issue behind the "failure" of real independent films; how do you think this could be helped?

It is a mind set with the studios and distributors. They can’t think in terms of real independent films. Films to them have to have stars of some sort, something they can market. They always say, (and my films get criticized sometimes) the acting seems amateurish. Does that mean that Lindsey Lohan and Beyounce, and Adam Sandler are all brilliant actors because we know who they are? And some distributors and critics will turn around and praise a movie by some well known Director (like Steven Soderburg or Gus Van \Sant), and talk about their brilliance because they’ve made a movie using non-actors? So why is it, if you use a professional actor who is not well known and can be a great actor, they are not taken seriously because they are unknowns. Most actors in the business started out as unknowns… I think I am off subject here a bit.

Filmmakers have to ignore distributors and get their films out themselves. It’s not very glamorous, in fact it is hard damn work. If a filmmaker is not willing to do what it takes to get their movies seen, then maybe they shouldn’t be making movies. Distributors aren’t going to help us, and most filmmakers who have made it don’t help the others behind them. I don’t know why, that is just what I have seen from my experience. Over all, I think maybe DVD’s, home distribution, and the internet are good things. They can help real independent filmmakers by pass distributors. But the filmmakers have to be willing to do the work themselves, and audiences have to help support independent filmmaking by going out to see them, and telling their friends.


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