Saturday, 30 January 2010

Experimental Conversations at LFF 2009

A piece that I wrote last year on the Experimenta strand of the London Film Festival has been published in the new issue of the online journal Experimental Conversations. The direct link for the piece is

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Quote for the Week

it is pointless searching in the depths of the opaque for an escape from the opaque
- Italo Calvino, From the Opaque

Monday, 18 January 2010

In Praise of Slow

In the latest issue of Sight & Sound (Volume 20, Issue 2), Jonathan Romney 'examines the appeal' of so-called 'Slow Cinema'. In his piece In Search of Lost Time, Romney posits that the 'founding texts of current Slow Cinema' are seen by some as being Béla Tarr's seminal Sátántangó (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, and my film of the last decade). Although I am never one to dispute any praise of Tarr (who is, in my opinion, the greatest living filmmaker), I believe that it's possible to see if not a 'founding' text then at least a forerunner of the current wave of Slow Cinema as early as the 1960s. I am, of course, talking about Carl Th. Dreyer's Gertrud. So many of the tenets that Romney describes for Slow Cinema began with, and were at the time heavily criticised in, Gertrud. For instance, when Romney writes 'poetic, contemplative – cinema that downplays event in favour of mood...[in which] you become acutely aware of every minute, every second spent watching', he could very well be talking about Gertrud, and when he states that these films 'make cinema akin to statuary', it is as if he is using language purposely designed for Gertrud.

I suppose my point in saying all this is not that Gertrud was the spark that lit the flame of Slow Cinema, but merely that Dreyer can once again be seen as being years ahead of his time (perhaps unsurprising for the finest artist the cinema has ever produced).

While I'm on the subject of Dreyer and Slow Cinema, I must admit to still being surprised by the amount of praise repeatedly being heaped on
Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, a film which I struggle to see as more than, at best, a mediocre art film, and at worst, an insult to Dreyer. Whereas Ordet spends almost two hours devoted to creating the atmosphere and tone necessary to make its miracle truly miraculous in every way, Reygadas simply transposes that film's ending with seemingly little understanding, and certainly without any power or effect. With Gerry, Gus Van Sant showed that it was possible to channel a master filmmaker (in that case Tarr) and still come up with an original, inspiring piece of work. But not so with Silent Light. It's not even the fact that Reygadas borrowed the ending of Ordet wholesale that I find so offensive: it's the fact that he made the ending so out of place and drained it of its power.

I was once told on good authority that, after Silent Light's premiere at Cannes, Reygadas denied even knowing what Ordet was (though I do have to admit I haven't verified this, trusting as I do the authority who told it to me). However, by the time I saw the film at the London Film Festival, Reygadas had changed his story to something along the lines of 'I had a story that I didn't know how to end and I've always liked the ending of Ordet'. Whether this is in fact the case of a filmmaker downplaying his own process and refusing to admit self-awareness for his creative decisions is hard to say, but it's also very hard to swallow. Whatever the real reason for Reygadas' lifting of Ordet's ending (and even his admirers have to admit it is a straight-out lift and not a reference), the fact remains that without the steady hand of Dreyer driving the feature-length build up to the shattering conclusion, it simply doesn't work. When I saw Silent Light at London, I so desperately wanted to like it, to love it, yet I found nothing except an empty shell.

Thankfully, I had my DVD of Ordet waiting at home to restore my faith in the power of cinema.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Quote for the Week

To my father's mind, words must serve as confirmation of things, as signs of possession; to mine they were foretastes of things barely glimpsed, not possessed, presumed.
- Italo Calvino, The Road to San Giovanni

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Playing to the Crowd

Towards the end of last year I was commissioned by South East Media Network, in association with Directors Notes, to write a piece surveying the current landscape of production, distribution and promotion for indie filmmakers. The piece was recently published on Directors Notes and should be up on the SEMN website soon, but I've also republished the entire article below. Enjoy.

Playing to the Crowd

There’s no denying that in recent years the consumption of media has changed. With the rise of new spectatorship models it seems that the old models of production and distribution are becoming less and less viable, especially for low budget projects. In the place of the old models therefore, there are a number of new ones rising up, some of which are discussed below. It’s impossible to write exhaustively about these new models, as there are no longer any clear rules or templates for filmmakers to follow. However, it should be borne in mind that many of these ‘new’ techniques are now no longer new – they are based on existing technologies and there are now many precedents for filmmakers to learn from.


Of the new production funding models, the most popular appears to be crowd-funding (also known as crowd-sourcing, crowd-sourced financing and DIWO, aka Do-It-With-Others), which essentially consists of using a ‘crowd’ of people to fund a project through a large number of small investments or donations. Individual contributions often start for as little as $5, with people being lured into donating through the promise of gifts or perks, such as a DVD copy of the finished film or having their name in the credits.

While some projects, such as the
Jules Verne adaptation Clovis Dardentor (see for details), use a PayPal button embedded onto their own website to manage the incoming donations, there are also a number of platform sites which will host the content for you. Although these sites have the advantage of a built-in user base which can help your project be discovered more easily, many of them will take a percentage of the donations in return for their services – so be sure to always read the small print. Some examples of crowd-funding platform sites are as follows:

A site which ‘provides tools for fundraising, promotion, and discovery‘, IndieGoGo works as a social networking site, allowing filmmakers to create a profile for themselves and their projects. Filmmakers are able to ask for financial donations in exchange for offering people a list of ‘VIP perks’ (i.e. the aforementioned DVD copies and credits). Funds are sent to the filmmaker as soon as the donation is received by IndieGoGo, and fundraising continues on the project until the total required amount is achieved. At present IndieGoGo charges ‘a 9% marketplace fee on funds raised‘. Those considering using IndieGoGo (or any other crowd-funding platform) should be sure to check out their invaluable Guide to DIWO Filmmaking, which offers details of how to make the most out of the system.

A wider platform that can be used to raise funds for anything (as opposed to just films), Fundable allows users to create a page with information and details pertaining to their projects. In addition to setting the amount they wish to raise, users must also set a timeframe in which they hope to raise the money (up to a maximum of 26 days). If the full amount asked for is not raised during this time then the user will not receive any of the money, and no one is charged (if the full amount is raised then Fundable take a 10% fee). Although it might be frustrating for filmmakers not to receive any money if the full amount isn’t reached, it also prevents them from having to fulfill promises which they might not be able to afford to keep having failed to raise the full amount.

A site which aims to fund film through investments rather than donations, IndieMaverick allows filmmakers to place their projects onto the site in order for investors to view the details. At present, IndieMaverick is aimed solely at low-budget features and therefore only accepts projects over 60 minutes in length with a budget of under $1.5 million. Filmmakers only receive the money if the entire amount is raised, and IndieMaverick releases the money to them over three stages (preproduction, production and postproduction). Completed films will be offered for download on the website, though not before theatrical and home video runs have been completed as they ‘don’t want to get in the way of you selling it for big bucks’. All sales and profits from the film are split 30% to the producers and 70% to the investors, who are to be paid through the site on an annual basis.

Another service which can be used for any purposes, Chipin asks users to enter information about what they’re collecting for, how much they want to raise, and when they need it by. Users are then provided with a Chipin widget that they can place on whatever site(s) they want, and are also given the opportunity to create their own Chipin page directly on the Chipin site. When the set time expires, users are given the amount raised regardless of what percentage of their target has been reached. At present, Chipin does not charge for their service (though PayPal fees will apply).

Brand Sponsorship and Advertising
Another potential source of revenue for filmmakers comes from advertising. Although the figures for internet consumption are currently ahead of those for internet advertising, there are numerous companies and brands directly producing and sponsoring content. Obvious examples include sites like
MySpace and Bebo, who are producing a number of original online web shows (such as the reality TV series Married on MySpace and the drama Kate Modern).

Less obvious examples include the likes of
Vauxhall, Honda, Red Bull and even Burger King. Pure Grass Films and Endemol UK, meanwhile, were given funding by MSN UK, with additional sponsorship from X-Box, to create the web drama Kirill for the MSN website. There are also many offline examples of filmmakers successfully using revenue from brands and products to help get their films made. For instance, the filmmaker Hunter Weeks was able to secure a soft drink placement deal for his first film which led to direct cash sponsorship from companies for his second film. However, there are those that believe that brands will soon wish to move beyond traditional ‘product placement’ into the realm of ‘product integration’ (essentially making the product a featured part of your story, such as the key to solving a particular mystery). More information about ‘product integration’ can be found on, the website for a company who ‘exist to marry brands with programming, providing a one-stop shop for all producers‘ and rights holders’ ‘sponsorship financing needs’.


Online Screening Sites
There are now a large number of sites distributing and streaming content online. Although traditional release windows have conventionally meant that the Internet should be the last stop call for your film, initiatives such as day-and-date release strategies mean that this is not necessarily any longer the case. Indeed, films like
wmd. have turned conventional wisdom on their head – in this case by appearing online on DailyMotion while still on the festival circuit, then having a DVD release through a traditional distributor, and finally ending up with a theatrical run. Some examples of online distributors are as follows:

The Autuers
The ‘fastest growing online destination‘ for film lovers, The Autuers is both a social networking site and an online cinema. The social aspect of the site allows users to connect with others and view their recommendations, while the cinema aspect allows viewers to watch a preselected range of the best independent, foreign and classic films.

Out to acquire the IFOD (Internet Free on Demand) rights to films, Babelgum is a forward-thinking distributor interested in focusing on day-and-date releases. Offering advanced minimum guarantees to filmmakers, Babelgum is intent on getting films to an audience and was recently involved with the multiplatform release strategy for
Sally Potter’s Rage.

A website ‘committed to finding the world’s most compelling documentaries…and making them available to the wide audience these titles deserve‘. Always on the lookout for new material, SnagFilms has an easy and open
submission policy.

Perhaps still the best known of the online video sites, YouTube has been making moves to become an outlet for completed films, as opposed to a site used only to host promotional content for projects receiving distribution elsewhere. One result of this drive has been the creation of and Screening Room submission details.

Although still in the process of getting off the ground, OpenIndie could be a site to watch. Set up by filmmaker and ‘new media mogul’
Arin Crumley, OpenIndie ‘is a user generated film screening site with the aim of democratizing distribution. Users can discover and bookmark films they’re interested in, request a screening in their area and put on a screening of any film on the site‘. Funding for the project is being raised in phases through the new crowd-funding site (currently only available for use by people based in the US who have received an invitation). At the time of writing Phase 2 is still active, and details can be found here.

Brand Sponsorship and Advertising
In addition to the production support discussed above, it is also possible for filmmakers to potentially generate revenue through brand sponsorship and advertising during the distribution phase. Co-created by Arin Crumley and
Susan Buice, Four Eyes Monsters was one of the earliest pioneers of online distribution and struck a banner deal with YouTube which involved them streaming the entire film for free in return for the majority of the advertising revenue from an advertising banner on their page. Sites such as Revver and have democratised this process by offering all filmmakers the chance to upload their content and receive a 50% share of the revenue from advertising attached to their content.

An exciting new development in online distribution,
VODO (short for Voluntary Donation) works by offering audiences the chances to watch and share films for free through P2P services, and then pay a voluntary donation directly to the filmmakers themselves. Outside of the VODO collective, other filmmakers are also working along similar lines. Earlier this year filmmaker Nina Paley released her film Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons Share Alike License, encouraging people to download, watch and share her work for free. Palely believes that ‘audiences are generous and want to support artists‘, and has therefore offered viewers a number of ways to contribute financially to her in return for their enjoyment of her work, including buying DVDs and donating directly to her.

Hybrid Distribution
Also known as Split Rights Distribution, DIY Distribution or Self- Distribution, Hybrid Distribution essentially allows filmmakers to get their work in front of an audience while keeping the rights to, and control of, their work. Companies such as
IndieFlix have been established precisely to help facilitate this method, offering filmmakers a 70% share of all net profit made from their DVD sales and rental downloads. Perhaps most importantly of all, IndieFlix only requires a Non-Exclusive licence, meaning that filmmakers are free to explore any other distribution options that they wish. Working in a similar fashion is Amazon’s CreateSpace, which allows content creators to sell DVDs and downloads through and receive up to 50% of the retail price.

Mobile Devices
Although most filmmakers are ultimately still aiming their work for the big screen, the opportunities being offered by the very small screen should not be overlooked. In 2006 the filmmaker
Johannes Roberts created the made-for-mobile series When Evil Calls, which was subsequently edited together with additional footage to create a feature film for release on DVD. Meanwhile, distribution sites such as MoFilm and Zzizzi are currently offering filmmakers a 50/50 split of profits on made-for-mobile content.


Evolved Storytelling
In a world of transmedia storytelling, where single projects are now spanning multiple platforms (films, internet, books, games, television, comics, etc.) in a bid to extend their story-world beyond a two hour runtime, it is important to define right from the outset what is considered ‘promotion’ and what is considered ‘content’ in its own right. At the recent
Power to the Pixel conference held as part of the London Film Festival 2009, there was a constant emphasis on encouraging filmmakers to think about how transmedia content can be used to genuinely engage the viewer and expand the story of the film, as opposed to simply informing people that the film exists. By engaging people beyond a single platform, it becomes possible to increase awareness of a certain property and potentially maximise revenue. A brief rundown of examples of this type of ‘content’ promotion can be found in Christy Dena’s Filmmakers That Think Outside the Film article. Another strong emphasis at the conference was on involving the audience and turning them into active participants; including interactive elements has been proven to increase audience engagement and interest, whether it’s online games, widgets or content creation (such as fan fiction).

Social Media as Word of Mouth
One of the strongest tools in the low-budget film promotion arsenal has always been word of mouth – and with the rise of social networking, this has become even more apparent (see for instance, Sharon Waxman’s
Social Networking Making Friday The Only Day That Counts piece). It has now been proven that low-budget filmmakers who actively engage with social networking have more success with their films. Through sites like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and Twitter filmmakers can have direct contact with their audience. Furthermore, the sites can be used to create a sense of community amongst potential fans and help build a buzz around films before they’re even finished. Those wishing to utilise the sites to maximum effect should also look into applications such as TweetDeck, which serve to simplify and structure the using experience, and look for articles such as Grace Leong’s Top 5 Twitter Filmmaker Marketing Tips which provide hints on how best to utilise the service. In addition to the better known sites above, filmmakers are also now starting to utilise sites like Dopplr and foursquare to help them promote their work, while placing material on sites like Flickr and YouTube can also help create awareness of particular projects. and
In addition to social networking platforms, the advantages of hosting your own content on one centralised site should not be overlooked, even if that site simply serves to link people back out to content placed elsewhere. Producer
Ted Hope has spoken about the need for filmmakers to provide greater access and insight into their creative processes, and blogging services like tumblr, Blogger and WordPess allow for push-button publishing of just such information.

By enlightening the audience to the practical and creative struggles inherent in the filmmaking process you are predisposing them to liking your material; not only can they potentially get to know you ‘as a person’, but they will also be aware of the struggle you have been through to get the film made. Of course, blogs need not be limited to the filmmaking process, and can also be used to engage readers with wider ideas and aims of your project. Finally, filmmakers can help other people spread the word about their projects through the use of buttons such as ‘the easiest, most popular sharing tool in the world‘,

Further Reading (and Watching)

How to Fund your Film, the Film Finance Handbook – Chapter Four: A chapter from the book published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License, this .pdf expands upon some of the points made above and includes case studies proving that techniques like crowd-funding really can work.

Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age – Preview Edition: Another PDF book excerpt, this time from one which deals ‘with one of the central challenges that creative folks face in these digital times: how do you cultivate an audience and a business model that will support your work?’. The website for distribution guru Peter Broderick, who ‘helps filmmakers and media companies develop strategies to maximize distribution, audience, and revenues‘. Be sure to also subscribe to his mailing list.

How To Be “Better Than Free”: A video of Brian Newman’s invaluable talk at the recent Power to the Pixel conference, in which he gives proof that free online streaming can lead to revenue for filmmakers, offers incentives that audiences are willing to pay for, and explains why the old models of distribution often lead to ‘free’ anyway. Invaluable.

Power to the Pixel Recommend Reading List: A list of articles related to the topics discussed at Power to the Pixel.

Bookmark and Share

SEMN Directors Notes

Commissioned by South East Media Network
in association with
Directors Notes

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Best Films of 2009, and of the 00s

So, I'm aware that by now most people's 'best of the year' lists have come and gone, passing by like the ships in the night they always end up being. However, I always like to wait until the year is well and truly gone before looking back, just in case the last few hours of the year bring along some kind of cinematic revelation. As it happens, this year, for me, they bought along Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris, which, although I enjoyed a lot, hasn't found a place in my list below of the best films from previous years that I saw for the first time in 2009 – but it could have, which is why I've waited until the start of 2010 to post these lists.

Unlike the 'round-up' approach that I took
last year, I've decided to go for the list format... a decision I think I'm already starting to regret. Lists are, almost by definition, impossible beasts. The lists below have been through many revisions with films coming and going and moving up and down the lists. I therefore stand by these lists only for as long as it takes me to post them online, and I hereby reserve the right to change my mind. Lest that makes me sound flaky, let's be honest: our opinions of films are always changing as we see more and as we revisit – true classics get better with each and every viewing, while other films fall by the wayside as products of 'emperor's new clothes' syndrome. With this in mind, I'd like to point out that I've seen many great films this year and that many of them may well creep up my list of 'the best of 00s' as I become more familiar with them. Finally, I would also like to say that although I'm cautious about being too rigid about my lists, I do feel good about them and I love each and every one of the films I've mentioned.

There were also, of course, many disappointments this year, and films that I didn't love, though I won't dwell on them here...

Without further ado, then, here are my lists. Where relevant, titles link to pieces I've written on the films, while all director names link to their IMDB profiles.

The Best Films of 2009

01) In the City of Sylvia (dir. José Luis Guerín)
Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
The Father of My Children (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
Lourdes (dir. Jessica Hausner)
05) The Portuguese Nun (dir.
Eugène Green)
06) Me and Orson Welles (dir.
Richard Linklater)
Kin (dir. Brian Welsh)
Humpday (dir. Lynn Shelton)
09) Enter The Void (dir.
Gaspar Noé)
The Exploding Girl (dir. Bradley Rust Gray)
11) Encounters at the End of the World (dir.
Werner Herzog)
Beeswax (dir. Andrew Bujalski)

Bubbling under:
Three Days with the Family, All That She Wants, The Time That Remains, The Road, Bluebeard, Lake Tahoe, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Informant!, The White Ribbon, A Light in the Fog.

The Best Films from Previous Years that I Saw for the First Time in 2009
01) Der Letzte Mann (1924, dir.
F.W. Murnau)
02) Dreams (1955, dir.
Ingmar Bergman)
03) Laila (1929, dir.
George Schnéevoigt)
04) All These Women (1964, dir.
Ingmar Bergman)
05) The Third Part of Night (1971, dir.
Andrzej Zulawski)
06) Colossal Youth (2006, dir.
Pedro Costa)
07) Ossos (1997, dir.
Pedro Costa)
Night of the Demon (1957, dir. Jacques Tourneur)
09) Underworld (1927, dir.
Josef von Sternberg)
10) Paranoid Park (2007, dir.
Gus Van Sant)

Bubbling under: The Wind, Marie Antoinette, Hunger, Man Push Cart.

The Best Films of the 00s
01) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, dir.
Béla Tarr)
Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese)
03) Saraband (2003, dir.
Ingmar Bergman)
04) Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004, dir.
Theo Angelopoulos)
05) Solaris (2002, dir.
Steven Soderbergh)
06) Waking Life (2001, dir.
Richard Linklater)
07) A Cock and Bull Story (2005, dir.
Michael Winterbottom)
08) Before Sunset (2004, dir.
Richard Linklater)
09) Duck Season (2004, dir.
Fernando Eimbcke)
10) The Devil's Backbone (2001, dir.
Guillermo del Toro)
In the City of Sylvia (2007, dir. José Luis Guerín)
The Man from London (2007, dir. Béla Tarr)
Summer Hours (2008, dir. Olivier Assayas)
14) Pan's Labyrinth (2006, dir.
Guillermo del Toro)
15) Ocean's Twelve (2004, dir.
Steven Soderbergh)
16) Caché (2005, dir.
Michael Haneke)
17) In The Mood for Love (2000, dir.
Wong Kar Wai)
18) Birth (2004, dir.
Jonathan Glazer)
19) The Proposition (2005, dir.
John Hillcoat)
20) Brokeback Mountain (2005, dir.
Ang Lee)

Bubbling under: Turtles Can Fly, X-Men 2,
Che, Full Frontal, Stranger than Fiction, Garden State, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring, Heaven, Good Night, And Good Luck, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and too many more to mention...

Bookmark and Share