When cats and stop-motion animation mix.

For the past few months I’ve been collecting websites that I keep meaning to include in some kind of “shout-out” blog entry. Between working on a couple of budgets and taking time out for turkey day, I haven’t come up with an entire blog’s-worth of new ideas, so I thought I’d talk about other people’s stuff instead.

Film Specific, launched by Stacey Parks (who I don’t think sleeps, ever). Distribution is usually the last thing on filmmakers’ minds, to their (and their investors’, family’s, friends’, and pets’) detriment. You should at least have some kind of plan on paper for how you’re going to bring in the shekels for your masterpiece. Enter Film Specific. You will find a cornucopia of articles, seminars, video how-to’s, resources, merch, and more that will help guide your film from idea to screen.

Tribeca Film Festival. The articles, reviews and blog entries make this site worth visiting – they don’t just cover the festival, but the filmmaking scene in general. Full disclosure: I did some work on the site, and some of the films I’ve line produced have premiered here.

Daily Variety Tackles Social Networking. This well-written article from September ’09 talks about the rise of social networking as a vehicle for producers to reach audiences, financiers, and distributors.

Indie Gogo is a crowdfunding site specializing in film. Of the various crowdfunding sites I’ve looked at over the last few months, this one is the best suited for indie film folks.

MarilynHorowitz.com is a great resource for screenwriters. She offers classes, webinars, books, consulting services, and a set of online resources (including a regular blog) to get you motivated and rewriting. Full disclosure: we were partners at ArtMar Productions for ten years (until 2006).

Indie Slate magazine occupies the space that Filmmaker used to – it caters to the DIY crowd who shoot on super-tight budgets. Featuring a generous mix of gear reviews, interviews, film fest summaries, and how-tos, it offers a lot of bang for the buck.

DV Magazine, which sadly gets thinner in print every month, is still a good source of reviews and articles. However, they’ve been moving more of their content online. I suspect that at some point they will become an online-only magazine.

Pro Video Coalition, which boasts a number of useful forums, blogs, articles, and reviews. The topics range from gear to business to big Hollywood films to indie production to everything in between.

TED. TED is a non-profit (Technology, Entertainment, Design) that hosts real-world and virtual conferences/discussions/workshops about “ideas worth spreading.” That includes lectures by scientists on climate change, black holes, or chaos math; anthropologists and writers talking about history; or musicians performing new music… What’s great about the site is that it’s very organized, and rewards repeat visits. The main feature is TED Talks, a series of videotaped short lectures (15-20 minutes on average) that come out of their 4-day TED Conferences. The video quality is decent, the sound tends to be very good, and the talks are riveting and different from each other.

Bonobo.tv. bills itself as “alternative television”, and I think the description is apt. The site mostly features short subjects – docs, experimental projects, narratives, how-tos, music videos, etc. I’m pleased with the quality of the pieces, the way the site is organized, and the ease with which you can upload new materials. Disclaimer: One of my shorts is posted on the site.

The End Of The Year

I don’t know about you but I always enter a period of inward and outward-looking reflection at the end of the year. I’ll spare you the inward-looking reflections (just the usual career anxiety), and give you a few opinions about 2009.

The Year Facebook, Twitter, et al Stole my Life: I like social networking, but I hate the intense time suckage that it’s become. I have several websites, a blog, an e-blast, accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, two primary email accounts, and logins on about a number of sites (YouTube, IMDBPro, IndieGogo, Massify, Vimeo, bonobo.tv, etc.) that all need to be maintained. For Found In Time, I’ll also have a new blog, site and Facebook group, as well as an IndieGogo page. When am I supposed to get any actual work done? Or actually socially network with people in the real world?

Bad Films Can Be Good For You: Sometimes a bad film really is just bad. Sometimes, however, it contains nuggets of goodness that are worth sitting through the bad stuff for. Other times, a bad film – or not great film – is the perfect teaching tool. You can see why it went wrong; what worked and what didn’t. It’s easier to analyze than a really great film. Some films that fall into this category from ’09: Surrogates (not bad, but not enough exploration of the central idea), Terminator 4 (some very good stuff surrounded by some very lazy filmmaking), The Brothers Bloom (very clever, but somewhat hollow) and The Box ( very good elements, but didn’t congeal into a whole).

The Word Independent Has Become Meaningless: This is not a new phenomenon. It’s like waking up and realizing Starbucks isn’t a cozy little coffee shop. But every year I feel like we get further away from what indie films were about when I first started working on them. All kudos to Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker – it’s a great film. But what is she doing on the cover of Filmmaker magazine? Working on a budget of $11-14 million, twenty-odd films under her belt as a producer and director, a thick book full of Hollywood contacts and favors, and some money in the bank, she’s a FAR FAR cry away from most of the indie producers and directors I know. One credit card away from eating cat food, editing their films in their spare time between their slave jobs… you get the idea. The real kick in the nuts was an article in the following issue that basically says “don’t give up your day job”.

The Red is Not a Gift from God: Two years into the Red One camera revolution, and I’m still somewhat skeptical of its use on super-low-budget projects. It takes pretty pictures. It’s a great choice if you’ve got some money – where you have to choose between it and super16mm (say around $1M for a feature). But I’m not convinced that it’s such a good fit for the smaller filmmakers out there, the ones who are trying to pony up $100K to make their first features. The Red isn’t a super-sized video camera. It really needs a DP who knows how to handle a 35mm rig, a real 1st AC, a DIT, and a buttload of storage. I’m all for shooting on the best format possible – but frankly, your script is worth more time and attention. This leads me into my next cranky observation:

Please Learn How To Rewrite: I read a lot of scripts every year – for friends, for folks looking to hire me to line produce, or for budgeting gigs. With some very notable exceptions, this year seemed to be that of the “three-quarters done” script. I’ve been there folks, I’m guilty too, but it really helps no one out – especially you, if you’re looking for money – if you don’t really finish your rewrite BEFORE you come to me to budget it or offer a critique. More on that in a future blog entry.

The Prelude To a Breakout Year: Without doubt this has been the most difficult year for me in my professional life in a while, despite some major milestones. But I’ve been here before. I’ve lived through several recessions at this point, each one worse than the last, and I’ve seen the country and the film industry lurch from crisis to crisis. But this year is different in ways that I can’t quite define. The ascent of internet distribution, the number of successful films made without stars (District 9, Drag Me To Hell, The Hurt Locker, to name a few), the bombs made WITH stars, re-emergence of arthouse cinema (in bars, theaters, restaurants and online), and the increasing interest in different kinds of stories and cinema, point the way to some really good things. Now if we can all hang in there, and get paid decently, maybe the next decade will be the one where indie film gets its groove back.