Independent Film

The Problem & The Solution by Chris Weigl

The problem, at least as we see it, with entertainment today isn’t that there is too much commercialization or not enough artistry, but that no one likes the current relationship that TV, film and entertainment have with businesses and mainly advertisers.  At it’s most basic level, the problem in entertainment is that the people who write the script, direct the film and produce the movie are at odds with distributors and businesses that want to partner with creative enterprises to help build their brand.  Let there be no doubt films are brands.

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Stop Writing for Hollywood and Start Writing a Better Story by Chris Weigl

I wrote my first screenplay when I was a Sophomore in high school.  I remember three things from that year in school.  The first thing I remember is the election.  The year was 2000 and one of the most ferocious elections ever fought was being waged that year.  I remember guys who had just turned eighteen voting for George W. Bush because "his daughters are hot."  I remember that election well because back then I was a Republican.  I was one of those "fiscally conservative" people.  I didn't care much for social issues.  None of them really affected me.  Why I was a Republican then is as much a mystery now as it was then.  I know I had my reasons though.  I remember showing up on Election Day and seeing the school packed with voters.  Most of the voters were old - something I took to be a bad sign for my choice - George W. Bush.

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How To Sell Out by Chris Weigl

When I’m watching a movie, television show, or any other type of media content I’m always surprised about the little things that are often not given full and proper consideration. Take the film Taken for example (get it: take Taken?) In Taken, Liam Neeson’s goal is simple: to hunt down and kill the evil sex traffickers that are leading France into moral depravity and save his daughter in the process. It is a decent film, one that I enjoy watching for the rash of injuries caused by Neeson as well as for his character’s “I could care less” demeanor towards the people he interacts with. Everyone except his daughter he views with at least a little disdain. The only people who are kind to Neeson in this film are his family. His friends often have other agendas and his enemies apparently had no idea what they were dealing with even when characters in the film lose track of the body count.

Now, I’m not taking the filmmakers to task for racking up lots of casualties; I’m all for that actually, what I did find alarming was the fact that they didn’t profit or even attempt to profit off of their product, something I call the double-Ds of entertainment: death and destruction. Call me a cold hearted bastard for thinking one should profit off these things but the truth is that if you don’t profit off of them then someone else will find a way to do so and you’ll be standing on the sideline because you stuck to your principles. Nobody listens to the principled. Better to be a cold hearted bastard raking in loads of cash than a penniless man who can say that he never sold out. Everyone sells out for something it’s just a question of what it is. Most people sell out for money and I don’t blame them. I sell out for ideas because they are what I believe in.

I try to be as detail-oriented as I can when it comes to ideas. I want to understand my ideas in ways that other people could never even dream of coming to grips with. What that his meant for me lately is that I have had to get very good at advertising and seeing the opportunity to sell out in every circumstance. If I have a character who is writing something down then I want to reach out to different pen makers and give them an opportunity to sell their product. If pen makers aren’t interested, how about pencils? Do you have any idea how much time I can spend making fun of the pencil manufactured by Eagle? It’s the saddest instrument I’ve ever had the misfortune of holding in my hand. Not only does it fail almost entirely at the only task it needs to perform: writing the thing is so slippery it slips right out of your hand. The so-called lead used in this product isn’t even lead it’s some sort of carbon-based cost-saver. Sorry, Eagle but I don’t like being lied to and your product has nothing but lies written on it. The next thing you’re going to tell me is that your pencils aren’t made from eagles.

I don’t have to use pencils. Who’s to say the character isn’t going to want to jot down his thoughts on a dry erase board? Maybe he likes to advertise ideas. If Expo turns me down then I’m sure I could have Ben Franklin writing his lesson plan on the basketball court using sidewalk chalk (because there’s no way Crayola is turning this down and even if they did Rose Art wouldn’t pass up this opportunity they need all the help they can get.) I could sit here all day and craft jokes about writing utensils and I would enjoy it. Folks on the other end of this however do not seem to share my enthusiasm and that really is too bad.

The response that I’ve gotten from folks in advertising has been rather interesting. The one that I get the most is that: “no one has time to do that.” Well, I have time to do it. I’m not saying you should hire me to maximize your profit potential but there are better ways to do things that often get written off because people look for reasons not to do something instead of reasons to do something that could be rewarding. The reason we most often cite for not doing something constructive, creative or different is that it would be too time consuming. That may be true for the first time you do something, but over time most things tend to at the very least break even, which means that you will at the very least have tried something different and looked at a situation from another point of view. You will see benefits from doing this even if you wind up scrapping the approach. My grandpa always told me that there was no such thing as too much learning. The way you learn new things is by trying different things. Thus you can always find a way to optimize performance even if it comes at a small, short-term loss.

Some people don’t like change. In fact, a lot of people don’t like change and that’s fine. Don’t complain about other people and instances because you turned down change however. That’s called being a hypocrite and there are more of those out there than I have time to mention here. Many times we simply go along with things simply because that’s the way things have always been. That’s fine if you have absolutely zero problems with the status quo. Here’s my question: who among us has no problems in their lives? I’ve yet to find anyone who has no problems, no worries, and no fears. We can always do better and we should want to do better because growth is how we measure success.

During the 2012 Republican Presidential Debate Newt Gingrich suggested that we build a lunar colony. He was widely criticized for putting forth this plan while calling for a cut in government spending. I disagree with Newt Gingrich on everything including the weather, but the response that his opponent gave was simply ridiculous. Mitt Romney, front-runner for the nomination said in the debate that if someone came to him with that idea he would Donald Trump that person and tell them that they’re fired. You may be opposed to government spending, you may be opposed to space exploration, you may even be opposed to learning but you’ve got to admit it would be kind of cool to have “the moon” as a travel destination. This is the absurdity behind the kind of streamlining that many companies are doing nowadays. They don’t see the creative as a vehicle for positive change in the future they only see it for the near term liability that any type of change will pose.

The change that I am calling for in television is radical. I am saying flat out that television in its’ current state is useless as far as creative entertainment goes. Commerical-based TV shows are not a good way for companies to maximize their earnings potential nor are they good ways for TV shows to retain an audience. Think about it this way: would you like to have the trailers for upcoming movies aired in between scenes in a movie that you’re seeing in the theater? My guess is that you would probably lose track of the story, the joke, or the drama would lessen because of the interruption. The exact same thing happens in TV. It’s like studios are picking up talented writers, tying their hands behind their backs, tossing them into a river and complaining because they can’t swim. As a society Americans have a very short attention span. We shouldn’t be trying to give people a reason to change the channel by completely interrupting their favorite show we should be integrating the advertising into the show so that they don’t have to consciously take their mind off of what is going on in front of them. This can be just as lucrative for companies currently advertising on television if not moreso than the current model. If we can integrate that pen or pencil into the scene, if we can advertise the fact that Jack Bauer is shooting whatever terrorists he’s hunting with a Glock, if we can advertise that it’s Orville Redenbacher popcorn that they’re eating on the Big Bang Theory then we can make up the loss in commercials while still keeping advertising as a main fixture in American television.

Recently, Parenthood tried out a kinda/sorta product integration with their show.  That's great.  I'm all for creative alternatives, but what we really need to do is eliminate commercials entirely.  This is my dream for American television: no commercials in original content. If you want to have ads during sporting events that’s fine. There’s a reason for ads in sports it’s because they take breaks, but in original programming it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to break the continuity of the show if you can get your advertising done without turning to commercial breaks. My dream is simple: no ad-based programming outside of sports and reality television because honestly if you’re watching reality TV you kind of deserve to be subjected to advertisements and don’t pretend like The Real Housewives are providing you with entertainment they’re providing you with a distraction. Real content deserves the opportunity to grow with a viewer and the viewer deserves the opportunity to watch an hour of television without being interrupted. If you want to bother them with ads you can do it afterwards but you can get it done during the show with no loss in revenue, so let’s have better TV it’s in the interests of the networks, the advertisers and the viewers so join the revolution for ad-free TV today.

Mobility in Independent Filmmaking by Chris Weigl

The one thing that we stress more than any other aspect of our production strategy is the importance of mobility in filmmaking.  This is an incredibly important facet of what we do especially for our upcoming project: This is Flyball.  This is Flyball is a documentary.  We have to fit cameras in some pretty tight spaces and we need the flexibility to move quickly and adapt to what is going on not only in front of us but next to us and behind us as well.  Mobility it turns out is the most important component when it comes to our camera strategy and production design.

Our next shoot is at a small, warehouse-like building where most of the flyball ring is off-limits to us.  Therefore we have accommodated our camera strategy accordingly.  We’ll be using 100mm, 250mm, and even 400 mm lenses.  The longer lenses allow us to shoot from greater distances.  They also require greater stability than wider lenses.  This isn’t your typical documentary shoot.  There’s no room for a steadicam.  In fact, space is so tight at this event that we don’t even have room for a tripod.  We’ll be shooting with monopods so that we can adapt to changing conditions on the ground during the flyball tournament.  Basically, we want to give ourselves as much flexibility to adapt to changing conditions as possible. 

Greater flexibility helps us in adapting to lighting and sound as well conditions on the ground.  The lighting at these events cannot be altered because it would distract the dogs.  The challenge of shooting these events is to get as good of a shot as possible and as clear audio as we can get without interfering with the event itself.  This proves to be challenging in many respects.  For one thing the dogs are all extremely loud.  The majority of the dogs waiting around the flyball ring are eager to get their turn and barking profusely.  We thus have to find a place near the flyball team that has the lowest decibel sound level possible, which is difficult because we don’t want to interfere with the event itself.  Lighting is something that we have no control over so we have to adapt our cameras to make the most effective use of the existing lighting as we can.

The most important attribute required for documentary shoots is awareness.  We need to be situationally aware, but also aware of the tendencies or aspects of certain dogs and their owners.  Joey, for example, is known for intimidating dogs on the other team.  This is something that not only is amusing to observe, but can alter the outcome of a race as well.  It is important therefore to be aware of all of the different things going on around us.  Individual performance plays a big part in the sport of flyball, but that individual performance only matter insofar as their performance impacts the team.  It’s very important to be both situationally aware and aware of the dog, the owner and their tendencies.  We also need to be aware of the general climate around us.  If there is another major race coming up afterwards involving two other teams then we may need to move our cameras just so that the next two teams can fit in the room – it’s that tight.

We are in a good position to deal with the challenges we face in shooting This is Flyball because we have embraced greater mobility in our camera strategy and with our production staff.  It is becoming more and more important to be as flexible as possible in how we shoot independent films.  Not only does flexibility and mobility allow us to shoot different concepts and ideas, but it puts us in the best possible position to capture our subjects and this is what should be the most important aspect to independent filmmakers.