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NYU TischAsia
A producer friend in France said to me once, “Producing a film is like taking a train. You have to be at the right station at the right platform at the right time.” It sounds like a facile aphorism, but it cuts quickly to a key element of producing: timing. We’ve all read those stories about producers spending years to get a movie made, but that length of time obscures the fact that, most often, a lot of time is spent during which nothing much happens and then a lot happens very quickly. In other words, there is a time when a film finds its moment. When that happens, time itself accelerates and a year or so later the film is out in the world.

Like timing the stock market, though, timing the film business is difficult. That’s why a lot of producers carry a full portfolio of projects – scripts, books, life rights, some with attached directors and some not – at any given time. It only takes one serendipitous moment for a dormant project to be capitalized by a chance connection at a dinner party or for an inscrutable script to suddenly seem zeitgeist-affirming due to current events. In other words, scripts that might not seem so marketable suddenly do – even if only to the people who want to finance them.

If film producing has always been all about timing, today it’s even more so. To continue the economic metaphor, the fundamentals of the theatrical business are in flux. These days the train station metaphor needs to be expanded in a way familiar to any traveler who has arrived abroad only to find no ticket sellers -- only automated machines that reject his credit card. Today, the question of that ticket –- not only how it will be paid for but what kind of ticket it will be – must be considered. That’s because most independent film producers are programmed with “theatrical” as their default setting, and the old strategies that made a film seem timely and relevant in the theatrical marketplace – strong reviews, conventional marketing – are no longer enough.

Many people (critics, bloggers, producers, etc. – including us at Filmmaker) are spending a lot of time thinking about these things. In our heads we scramble the components of our system –- audiences, distributors, theater owners, gatekeepers – in new ways, searching for that one strategy that will make the system work again. Often, though, content is a missing factor in these conversations. We are talking more about platforms and models than whether these platforms and models are the most exciting homes for our stories. Simply, what types of stories are relevant today and in what formats and venues? A clue might be found in Jim Hoberman’s fascinating Village Voice story this week, "“Why Hard Times Won’t Mean Good Times at the Movies Again.” In the piece he looks at the way moviemaking changed during and immediately following the Great Depression (and, as he also notes, the development of sound). Basing the article around the Film Forum’s "Breadlines & Champagne” repertory series, Hoberman finds then “a new hyper-verbal cinema, racy and insolent” and “movies that trafficked in lurid topicality while expressing a measure of passionately confused social protest.”

Of course, reinventing the movies in the slow-motion depression of 2009 is quite a different venture than reinventing it in the ‘30s. And, indeed, Hoberman closes on the kind of downbeat conclusion I’m prone to ending on as well. He writes:

“A reorganized and self-regulated Hollywood bounced back in 1935, but times were different then. Movies were America's universal culture. Now, they're not even close. Like then, the technology is changing—but in a far different way. Movies are expendable. Folks will give up $12 tickets, cancel Netflix, and cut cable to save their high-speed Internet connection. With the president's fireside chats posted online, the new Hoovervilles will certainly have broadband. Is there a downsized future for Katzenberg's product? As one bankrupt mogul said to another, "YouTube?!"

Maybe free online movies are strictly for the indies. But if times get worse and the studios want to get real, they'll have to find the audience where it lives: Hulu for Hollywood.”

But I won’t end on this note this time. Now that you’ve read the end of Hoberman’s piece, click on the link, read the beginning and imagine what kind of changes in style and storytelling would give our audiences the same kind of needed jolt that the “Breadlines & Champagne” directors gave their audiences in the 1930s. And if you have some ideas, you are always welcome to send them in for posting on the blog.

See you next week.


Scott Macaulay
Known for his odd comedies, German filmmaker Veit Helmer creates a lighthearted battle of the sexes with his latest film, Absurdistan. In it, the women of a remote village refuse to have sex with their husbands until the pipe providing water to the village is repaired. This doesn't bode well for young couple Aya (Kristyna Malérová) and Temelko (Max Mauff) whose hopes for marriage is now in question due to the village rift. And like his feature debut, Tuvalu, Helmer opts for visual storytelling over dialogue, employing both old-fashioned visual styling and silent comic routines. Helmer discussed this style when talking to Nick Dawson for this week's Director Interview. "For me, sound has the same importance but I don't like to use sound just as dialogue and a little ambient sound and music in the background," he says. "Once you don't use dialogue, it means that you have an important task to fill that void with something which does not feel empty."


This week on the blog, Jason Guerrasio announces the 2nd annual Babelgum Online Film Festival; fills us in on the details of Lionsgate's acquisition of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film Push; Peter and Vandy director Jay DiPietro sends us his photo diary of his Sundance experience (pictured left); and Scott Macaulay asks whether bootlegging helped Taken take the top spot at the box-office last week.

To read more posts from our blog, click here.
IFP designed its Independent Filmmaker Labs to assist filmmakers in tackling the creative and technical challenges of completing their projects before they are submitted to festivals. The five-day Lab programs support low-budget, independently produced films by first-time feature directors in the rough assembly stage that can benefit from the mentorship of experienced film professionals. Recent Lab project alumni have included Tom Quinn’s Slamdance 2008 Grand Prize winner The New Year Parade, Matt Wolf’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, released through Plexifilm, and two recent 2009 Park City debuts – Ngawang Choephel’s Tibet in Song which received the World Cinema Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and Lee Storey’s Smile ‘Til It Hurts: The Up with People Story which premiered at Slamdance. Deadlines, criteria and additional information on both the Narrative and Documentary Labs available here.


All this month head over to for daily pieces on the nominated films that have appeared in the magazine or on the Website in the last year. Click here to read the stories we've already posted.


Dances With Films
Submission Deadline: Feb. 6, April 17 (Final)
Festival Dates: June 5-11

Strasbourg International Film Festival
Submission Deadline: Feb. 8, June 8 (Final)
Festival Dates: Sept. 11-20

Asian American International Film Festival
Submission Deadline: Feb. 11, Feb. 25 (Final)
Festival Dates: July 24-26

Find more festival deadlines, click here. And get the latest news and notes on the fest circuit at Festival Ambassador.



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