Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dr. Horrible debate...revolutionary dissemination or up yours to indie filmmakers?

Whether you loved it or hated it (I loved it), Dr. Horrible opens up a whole can of worms that must be discussed.

From Joss:

"Proving we can turn Dr Horrible into a viable economic proposition as well as an awesome goof will only inspire more people to lay themselves out in the same way. It’s time for the dissemination of the artistic process. Create more for less."

Bold statements coming from Mr. Whedon's lips. I imagine he wants us to discuss and analyze and implement. So let's!

Does Dr. Horrible prove the thesis that it financially pays for an indy producer to release a movie for free on the internet? Joss is claiming to have invented a revolutionary model.

With all the comic connections, blurbs, screenwriting awards, charm, Eisner & Spirit Award connection, kick-ass ten page sample, marketing chops, video game/webseries/toy-ready sexy material, and a professional comic artist attached, I still had no interest from anyone last year at Con in my PISTOLERAS graphic novel because it wasn't a movie yet. The publishers all said they'd come on board the second it was a feature hit.

Well, duh.

ALL the fields are hedging their bets waiting until you make it in another first. That's how dire the recession is, and why I'm trying to figure out if Joss's claims are true and should be emulated.

I maintain...Dr. Horrible's success could not be duplicated by a non-name.

Say the playing fields were even and I had his scritp and directing skills. At the least, my budget would have been five times his because name actors and experienced crew wouldn't have done free for a non-name. (Dr. H may have been accomplished by Joss for 125k, but we all know that was a 500k project. A 30 minute 500k project. This budget does not qualify as indy anywhere outside of the studio system.).

AND releasing it on the web wouldn't have generated a press mediastorm, Variety reviews, and instant hits from legion of foaming-mouth fans.

Thus it is not a revolutionary HD Indy blueprint yet.

I fail to see who in the indy world it's paving the way for.

"It’s time for the dissemination of the artistic process. Create more for less."

Frankly, Dr. H has just made everything harder for us.

Because now audiences are going to expect that level of technological accomplishment from all of us. 500k for 125k. Oh yeah. And give it to them FOR FREE.

There's another reason to add "damn you" to the front of his name.

I see Dr. H as a great accomplishment for anyone in Hollywood with a name, some money, and some pet projects they can't get funded. Awesome plan for them. They can rule the world and create their own Lucasvilles.

And it's a huge "up yours" to everyone without the above who has been struggling for years to get their work out making actual 125k* indy films. It's comparing shiny pesticide-sprayed apples to organic, bruised oranges. And everyone in Hollywood loves a pretty facelift.

* Why the importance of 125k?

Because that's the accepted, democratic, "anyone who cares should be able to raise that amount" indy budget. Most people can put it together once to make their dream. Few can put it together twice. Almost no one unknown can raise 500k.

And no, I don't believe that was Joss's intention. To screw indy filmmakers. Never the less...the road to hell...


Anonymous said...

Agreed that Dr. H just made things harder for us for a VERY DIFFERENT reason, IMHO.

This is INaccessible to a big percentage of movie audiences, which consists of these people: ESL -English as Second Language students; people who cannot process auditory information; hearing impaired people; and senior citizens who are gradually losing their hearing.

True that some people object to subtitles in movies, which is why Rear Window Captions in the movie theaters are widely more available than English subtitles in the movie theaters.

Ironically, has a wide collection of movies with subtitles but there was no way to enjoy Dr. H because of the lack of subtitles.

If it would be possible to add subtitles to Dr. H, then that would be wonderful. Actually, it is easier to do that than one thinks is possible. There is a way to turn on and off the subtitles. A perfect example is the Obama for President video and they have a feature where you can click on to turn on the subtitles. It is on the Internet.

There was a law passed years ago requiring subtitles on new 13" or larger TVs made after 1993. Now I see some companies get around that law by showing TV shows on the Cell phone, which makes it impossible for people to read subtitles on cell phones. A big percentage of the audience with hearing loss DO NOT watch tv shows on their cell phones for that reason.

Another example is the silent movies. People with hearing loss had equal access to films as everyone did. Once the talkies were introduces, this group no longer had equal access to films. On the other hand, people (no hearing loss) preferred talkies to silent films.

Sorry this was so long. Really bothers me a great deal when new inventions like this leaves certain groups like ESL people and those with hearing loss in the dust.

Eric Escobar said...

Great post KidSis. Everyone's been emailing me the Variety article about Dr. H. (which I haven't seen, I'm on vacation dammit).

Josh Whedon is an Independent Filmmaker. He just happens to also be a famous, rich and talented writer/director/show runner for film and television, who has managed to create a strong financially viable brand called "Josh Whedon".

Dr. H. is an independent project, self-funded and aided by a pool of his very talented friends and people that owe him big favors (Zoic, for example). Since when has American independent filmmaking been anything other than the playground of rich, white men?

There are a few other folks that slip through the cracks now and then, but backing an independent film in the market place has always been a risky investment. You only do it if you can afford to lose the money.

I don't think JW has made anything harder or easier for artists and filmmakers outside Hollywood to get their work seen. And I don't think self distributed short form content on the web needs anyone else to "discover" it.

125K is, objectively, a lot of money. I would caution anyone lacking the skills or connections against trying to make it look like a million. And I would caution against blowing all that money on a single feature-length film project if that's all they had. The odds you'll see a return on that money are so astronomically low that if you only do one thing with it, that's all you'll get to do.

Rather, spend the 125K on a bunch of short films, and a couple of really low budget (under 15K) features. Build your own brand, develop your own style and get practice making movies.

OK. Back to my vacation.

Anonymous said...

Is that all? It does not cost more than 125k to produce an indy film? I asked because some of us heard it costs more than that.

To quote:
"Almost no one unknown can raise 500k"

That is good to know. We heard a strange story. Someone wants to raise 1 BILLION dollars to produce a film. This person is an unknown. When someone asked "why one billion?", the producers said they need money for marketing. It cannot cost that much for marketing, right?

Freckles said...

A friend produced a small film one summer. It was all voluntary and it was a great little film. It was called Blue Apple.

This is another way to make a film if everyone is willing to do this for no pay, which is rare. All volunteers were college students.

Eric, thanks for your feedback on the cost of making films. I agree about the caution against blowing all that money on one film.

Raquel said...

Well, as one who has loved nearly everything Joss had made, I have a hard time slamming him. Plus, I already had certain expectations as far a production value once I knew who was in it and who was behind it; I would not have equated Dr. H with independent film anyway -- apples and oranges indeed, regardless of bruising/organicness, etc.

Kid Sis said...

Gosh, this isn't intended as a personal attack on Joss. I'm sorry if you saw it that way. I was praiseworthy of the actual content, and promoted it four times now on my site.

But I'm also a businesswoman posing serious questions to fellow filmmakers about Joss's business model. I have a responsibilty as an indie filmmaker to my investors to investigate every possible way of recouping their money. As such, I discuss...

Kid Sis said...

Oh, and he is the one promoting the cost and the independent nature of it in the press as a PR point. Again, I'm just responding to and following his lead.

Raquel said...

No, no, I know you love Joss, too, no worries. I meant more that, his name attached to anything comes with certain expectations, cerain resources, and I think, as wonderful as he is, he mispoke; you can't equate what he was able to do with truly "independent" filmmaking. My usual crystalline clarity suffers from the sleep deprivation. . . that's my excuse. . .

Kid Sis said...

I'm so glad sweetie, cuz I didn't mean it that way.

It's a tough world to discuss ideas in when any criticism is taken as not "supporting the troops"...

I often think Lincoln and his ilk must be doing crouching tiger hidden dragon spins in their crypts...

Freckles said...

Never got the impression this was personal. It was clear that you were open to discussing these ideas.

Cunningham said...

Tackling the ideas one at a time:

1. The economics of it say yes, releasing for free IN THE RIGHT MANNER does pay off. He has created an event that will pay him back when he releases the DVD.

This was a serial that will be made into a DVD. A three course 45 minute meal.

2. Pistoleras Graphic novel - sometimes you just have to do it and PROVE to everyone they were wrong. Create the graphic novel, release it either thru a publisher or online yourself, then make the movie if you get an offer.

Remember that 30 DAYS OF NIGHT was a script that kicked around for years until it was a comic. Then it sold overnight.

3. ASKANINJA is a hit. WORMTOOTH NATION is a hit (or is at least discussed frequently on the web and building a fan base) STRANGER THINGS went from web series to cable tv across the US. It IS being done by no names. These are folks that don't have the years of experience that Whedon has either, but they are succeeding.

Is everyone who does it a success? Hell, no. But seriously, there are so many folks in traditional media that don't succeed either. You never here about them because their films don't get distribution even though they may be a festival darling.

The people who are releasing their material online are honing their skills, developing a name, developing a network of contacts, building a business and merchandising their creations. How is that not better than the guys who put their films in a festival and then disappear?

4. There were a lot of actors at the STRIKE TV conference kicking off the idea of writers and actors doing it themselves for the web. These were people that wanted to play with the other kids and possibly get paid. They wanted to do something different.

They are out there - they may be few and far between but you can find someone who responds to the material. They may not be who you initially wanted or expected but "thems the breaks."

5. The term "indie" means the financing was raised outside the studio system in a non-traditional way. $125K is indie. I have done $100K movies and they were definitely "indie."

I think that yes, people are going to expect more from indies and that's not necessarily the bad thing you make it out to be in your post. Certainly access to the technology is there, some of it for free. We've already seen tremendous leaps in quality in indie film production and yet the budgets haven risen. The savvy folks out there are embracing the technology/ new tools and not looking back.

Never before have there been so many online tools to finance, create, distribute, market and promote your film and its other revenue streams. Use them.

Running into brick walls makes you realize how bad you want something.
It is not a bad thing.

Kid Sis said...

Thanks Man. Appreciate your time and expertise.

Cunningham said...

These things do need to be discussed, parsed out, dissected, whatever...

It isn't a whole new business model, but a refinement of the classic indie producer who had to use his own money and go from town to town drumming up an audience, and not only showing his movie but selling the beer and popcorn.

Only now we get to do it from our kitchen tables.

I know the 2nd AD on Dr. Horrible and he confirmed it was "indie." Many of the crew and cast did it for no or low pay - well below their rates. I have done movies way below my rate because there was something there to entice me to do it - a credit raise, working with so and so, a friend asked for a favor, etc...

Can "Joss Whedon" marshal more forces at his command than I can? Yes.

Does that mean I can't succeed too?
Oh hell no.

Good discussion. See you on Thursday.