Archive for the Rants Category

More than the Least You Can Do

Posted in Making Movies, Rants on May 4, 2012 by Tom McIntire

What Light scriptie extraordinaire Robyn Scaringi wrote a great blog post about the do’s and don’ts for no/lo budget indie film producers called The Least You Can Do. Having been on both sides of this situation, Robyn’s tough love for aspiring film producers hit more than a few notes for me. I hope I’ve been guilty of only a couple of the bonehead moves she mentions. Apologies to Robyn for jumping on her bandwagon but I wanted to add a few things.

For budding producers/filmmakers:

  1. DON’T post raw footage or rough cuts online in any public location. If you want to get feedback from selected peers, set a password on the online footage.
  2. DON”T post a low res version online. Why the hell would you shoot something in HD and then show a crappy low res version?
  3. DON’T apologize for the quality of a project – finish the film  and make it the best it can be before you show it – edit it well, adjust the sound, color correct it. If you need help with any of these, ask around – there’s probably someone already involved who can help or refer someone.
  4. Part of a producer’s job is to raise enough money to ensure a safe, productive shoot. Use kickstarter.com, indiegogo.com, get your friend’s band to play at a fundraiser, have a movie night, bake cookies, recycle aluminum cans, but please don’t play the poor starving artist card and expect everything for free. If  your idea is good, you should be able to articulate why it is good, and finding support will be much easier. A good pitch might help you attract a producer who is skilled at raising money if you are not.
  5. Create realistic shooting schedules. There are 24 hours in a day, people need to eat, sleep, get into costume and makeup, lights need to be set, unexpected problems come up.  Give yourself and your cast and crew some breathing room. They will probably need a day off if you are shooting more than 5 days in a row. I have messed this up myself a few times.
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Breaking News: Mr Coffee Math Responsible for Financial Meltdown

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2009 by Tom McIntire

My inhouse barista had an early appointment this morning so I was on my own for caffeination. My options included braving the La Pavoni espresso machine, spending a few dollars at the local coffee house or digging out the Mr Coffee and brewing up a few cups of morning sunshine. The Pavoni is more involved than I am able to cope with before caffeine (a bitter irony). Being unemployed, I’m avoiding trips to the coffee shop for $3 joe. So it was me and Joe DiMaggio on a ride through the Caffeination Theme Park.

The formula I use for Mr Coffee is two measures of coffee for each cup. Remembering that in Mr Coffee Math 4 cups = 2 cups, I added water to the 4 cup line and put in 8 measures of coffee. That looked like a lot but I like it strong so what the heck.

The thick, burly concoction that came out was heavenly, like unsweetened Turkish coffee. We even had some half and half in the house. I sat listening to disk jockey John Richards on KEXP as the dogs jockeyed for position on the couch beside me. As I neared the end of that first cup, I headed back to my devoted appliance, keeping the java at just the right temperature. Topping off the cup, I was saddened to see that’s all there is. Less than two smallish cups (not humongomugs) when 4 cups were promised.

The Mr Coffee Math

Invest 4 cups of water, 8 measures of coffee – this is your 401(k) contributions and your employer’s match

Switch to brew – this is a matter of trust. Will Mr Coffee yield something wonderful or just a pot of brown water? Will your diligent contributions to your 401(k) pay off with a comfortable retirement?

Yield: 1 3/4 cups – disappointment but at least you got a couple of jolts of caffeine. Now about that 401(k)…

Lily Bart, Susan Boyle and Grey Gardens

Posted in Making Movies, Movie reviews, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2009 by Tom McIntire

We watched the excellent HBO film Grey Gardens, with great performances by Drew Barrymore and the extraordinary Jessica Lange. For someone who grew up in a working class part of Long Island, the Hamptons and the people who lived there were an abstraction from Life and Look magazines. When the pictures and story broke of Jackie O’s family members living in squalor, it cracked open a fetid world of class and privilege. It wasn’t until many years later that I got around to seeing the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. Something that the Barrymore/Lange movie glosses over is the generational contempt and almost giddy delight that contemporary audiences took in dwelling on the pathetic, co-dependent mother/daughter relationship. This was not in any way a loving portrait nor was it taken as such. What warmth came out of it was from the strength of the sick bond between this mother and daughter. And the implication that Edie was anything but a cruel joke onstage after her mother passed away is nonsense. The audience was laughing *at* her. The documentary and Edie’s stage career were as much about generational contempt as a comeuppance for the privileged classes.

The same day, I happened to watch the last hour or so of the flawed but gorgeous 2000 Gillian Anderson vehicle, The House of Mirth, written and directed by Terrence Davies from Edith Wharton’s novel. Contrary to what you might think from the title, this is the dark, sad story of Lily Bart, a beautiful society woman who falls from grace through careless handling of finances and romantic attachments similar to the circumstances that ruined young Edie Beale. Lily describes herself in frustration as a “useless woman” because she has never learned any skills to help her take care of herself. The same can be said for both Beale women. Lily became invisible whereas Edie and her mother became the focus of a vicious ridicule that played off their shared desire to be noticed. This feels very much like the negative energy that fuels shows like Britain’s Got Talent and American Idol.

Which brings me to the surprising and wonderful singer, Susan Boyle. I’ve watched that clip many times now, both to see the surprise and delight of the cynical judges and audience and to just watch Susan work. Susan resembles my Great Aunt Doris, who came to visit us on Long Island from Coventry in the early 1970s. I remember my sister trying to do something with Doris’ hair, only to have Doris reach for a tube of Crest toothpaste (thinking it was hair creme) to smoothe it out. She wore similar cotton dresses and was invisible in the same ways that Susan may be in public. Except Susan has that voice, which melts the pent up resentment that the public has toward anyone who wants to move up, to achieve something, to create beauty. And unlike Edie Beale’s performances, noone is laughing at Susan Boyle’s talent and dedication.

The Trivialization of IMDB.com

Posted in Making Movies, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2009 by Tom McIntire

Amazon owns IMDB.com and recently purchased withoutabox.com, a great site for managing and submitting your scripts and films to film festivals. Amazon also owns createspace.com, an easy-to-use self-publishing site for books, CDs and DVDs. Like many filmmakers starting out, I cussed and complained about how difficult it was to get my short film projects onto the go-to source for all things film, IMDB.com. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) had very selective criteria for adding a title. The eligibility rules are still the same but a few new loopholes have been added to help synchronize the corporate synergies and to help you get your film out there.

As I was working on my festival submissions for Greenspoke on withoutabox.com, I noticed some new options popping up after the Amazon purchase of the site. You could set up a createspace DVD print-on demand account that was tied to your withoutabox account. Cool. If you’re not into burning a DVD yourself for every festival submission, you can pay a bit and have them do it for you. This also makes your title available on Amazon.com. Because of the fees that createspace and Amazon take from your DVD sales, it is extremely difficult to set a realistic price point for a short film DVD. Your 10 minute short is going to run close to $10 and you won’t see a dime of that. Jack up the price and you are pricing your product higher than what people expect to pay. It is still nice to have your film on Amazon as a promotional aid. You also meet one of the eligibility criteria for inclusion in IMDB by making your title available on Amazon.com. Your film could be 10 minutes of your cat sleeping, never show in any theatre or on television, not include any known actors or actresses, and it would be eligible for inclusion in what is supposed the definitive internet movie reference.

But wait – there really is more. Withoutabox recently added a group of partner festivals that make your film eligible for inclusion on IMDB. Sounds great except all you have to do is submit your film and pay the fee. You don’t have to be accepted to the festival or meet any other criteria. As long as you take the time out to fill in the confusing submission form on IMDB and enter the code you get from withoutbox, you’re good to go. Again, your 10 minutes of kitty zz’s is listed alongside Citizen Kane, Sunrise and Watchmen. I received at least 5 e-mails from withoutabox about getting Greenspoke on IMDB, most after I already had a page, because I had submitted to one of their partner festivals. While I hope to be accepted at all of them, that doesn’t seem to matter to IMDB.

Why am I complaining about this when it is working to my advantage? Because it is a short-term advantage. IMDB will lose its cachet as an authoritative reference if it gets clogged with titles that never were or never will be seen or sold. The internet is already a jungle of unreliable and misleading information for the intrepid entertainment traveler. Audiences drive our creative activities regardless of whether we create arthouse or megaplex fare.  Tools like IMDB help us reach our audience. I’d like to keep it as an authoritative reference for them and for us.

Unsolicited Monster Calling – Are You In?

Posted in Rants with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by Tom McIntire

A gentleman named Brian called me on my cell after seeing my resume on Monster.com.  Unsolicited Monster calls are generally pretty useless – agencies that want to take your money for jobs that you could easily locate yourself online. It sounded like a cool opportunity – screenwriter for a charitable foundation’s feature. He wasn’t clear about what the mission of the foundation was other than it goes around the world and helps people. He wasn’t clear on the phone whether they wanted to do a documentary or a narrative piece – he said they wanted to create a “new genre”. They also said they had a full-time video editor position. Two of my favorite things to do and they would pay me.

For those of you who don’t know this already, Monster.com is probably the last place a serious film producer would go looking for a screenwriter. I knew that and hoped that maybe this was an exception.

Brian told me to come in the next day at 7 a.m. In the morning. Really. On the other side of the lake. I did some very preliminary research about the company and foundation and didn’t find much. It seemed worth a shot so I got my lazy butt out of bed and was there 15 minutes early.

The office was nice – right on Lake Washington, dogs in the office, nice people at the door. Oddly, someone was playing Christmas music at their desk at 6:45 in the morning. 6:45 is too early for Christmas music on Christmas Day, much less October 14.

Brian looked exactly like he sounded on the phone – military-style haircut, shirt and tie. He brought me back to a conference room with photos of unfortunately still-President Bush in grip and grin poses with what looked like a company executive. This didn’t phase me too much – the company that sponsors the foundation makes portable shelters that are used by the military, oil industry and in disaster areas. Brian asked me the same questions he had asked over the phone while we waited for the other interviewers – he obviously had a script to follow as all good interviewers do.

An older gentleman and a young woman came in, questions started, other people came and went and came back. The older gentleman shook my hand but barely touched it. Three of the interviewers asked me questions about what charities I supported and what I would be willing to do to support a charity. I tend to be a ‘write a check often’ kind of guy rather than a volunteer, and told them so. They asked questions about how long it would take to write a script and how long different scripts of mine had taken. We talked about finding the story in their footage (they have already shot 1000 hours of footage with no script and apparently no plan). I talked about making it something that people could relate to – finding compelling characters and situations that illustrated their point. Tried again in vain to find out what that point was.

The person they all looked at when I said I wanted to know more about the foundation repeated almost word-for-word what Brian had said on the phone – they go around the world and help people. This was in response to a direct question as to the mission of the foundation. She went on to criticize UNICEF and other NGOs because they are just taking money and not helping anyone. This was a little surprising – this tiny foundation that doesn’t even have a Web site is the only one out there helping people? Brian went back to Doctors Without Borders as one that they think doesn’t do anything. Huh. When it came time for me to leave, they asked me on a 1-10 if I was interested in the job, with 10 being ‘hire me now’. I told them an 8 (I do love the video) because I wanted to know more about the foundation and to research what they were saying about Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. Trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, I thanked them and left.

After I got home, I did a little more digging on Google, and figured out that the foundation name was the initials of the company CEO who created the foundation. Still with me? More research revealed that he was a heavy donor to the Republican party and the foundation (or one with the same name) had been reported to be a donor to Focus on the Family. Sigh. I sent an e-mail to Brian and let him know I was no longer interested and why. This prompted an e-mail from Erik (who may have been at my interview – people come and go so quickly there) denying the connection to Focus on the Family.

I would pursue this further except that I have never gotten a straight answer about what their foundation does, or what the ‘blockbuster’ movie they want to make is about. I’m taking my public resume off Monster. And when I finally get a job, I’ll be making donations to UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders.

Just Call Me Mr Bubble

Posted in Rants with tags , , , on October 11, 2008 by Tom McIntire

I’m a news hound. Mostly online stuff but I also watch The News Hour on PBS. The other night I was watching and they went from one bad story to another about the world financial situation. And I changed the channel. I couldn’t take any more. After thinking about it, it occurred to me that I must be feeling guilty. Because it is all my fault.

Thirteen years ago, I left my underpaid state job, took a pay cut and went to work in an entry level job for a software company (no, not that one). Within a few years, I was leading a team and had tripled my meager salary. We even were able to buy a house (well, the bank let us buy it). The company started having financial problems, and several layoffs in I was out on the street with thousands of other tech industry workers who lost their jobs when the tech bubble burst.

From the tech world I moved to the more stable financial services world. They matched my salary but it was still a pay cut because I was not eligible for the same bonus amounts. I was fine with that. I built a team, defined a direction, got re-orged around several times and survived several layoffs. Then the company started having serious financial problems and I was out on the street with thousands of other financial industry workers who lost their jobs when the financial services bubble burst.

So why do I feel guilty? Because this must be my fault. I was in my tech job a little over six years and the bubble burst, then in my financial services job a little over six years and the bubble burst, imploded and threw up on my shoes. There’s a pattern, right? The management in both industries repeatedly said they failed because of market conditions – it wasn’t their fault. They couldn’t possibly be responsible for driving their companies and the economy into the ground, right? It must be market conditions like they say. What if I’m a market condition? It all adds up. This is all my fault.

So to my next employer – mark your calendar to lay me off before 6 years have past – or it will be your fault next time.