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"Audiences: Made, not Born", and it discusses how the "audience" is not a spontaneous expression of public desire but rather the product of a market. "The market creates the audience, the audience drives the market by following its lead," Pikser writes, describing the process as part of a feedback loop that also includes, particularly in the case of art and specialty cinema, historical, cultural and political developments.Screenwriter Jeremy Pikser's (Bulworth, War, Inc.) post over at Ted Hope's Truly Free Film blog got me thinking about independent film and movie stars. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you check it out. It's titled
As Pikser writes, movie stars are important elements in the creation of audiences: "The audience wants stars (which basically means a very small pool of lead actors) because [as] the studios figured out a long time ago, repeating casting that had successful audience results, and exploiting those repetitions to the hilt through publicity anointing the actors as 'stars' was the most profitable way to sell films."
Sometimes independent films wind up creating stars for the Hollywood system. But sometimes independent films work precisely because they don't use stars - because the actors in these films seem like real people enmeshed in real life, not Hollywood fiction.
Many independent filmmakers believe that stars will help their films get made, marketed and seen. Often that's true. But here's another thing that's true too: stars often don't act like stars in independent films. They don't give the iconic, larger-than-life, zeitgeist-zinging performances they'd give in a Hollywood film. Instead, they bury themselves in the fabric of the film in a way that's perhaps good acting but not satisfying to an audience wanting to see their star power at work. (These days, actually, stars often don't act like stars even in Hollywood films, as this piece by filmmaker Noah Buschel points out. I experienced this feeling the other day when I started recasting in my head the mainstream movie I was watching. I thought about how much better the movie would have been if the very hot young star had been as good as, say, a young Al Pacino - but that's another blog post.)
Pikser's piece and the recent re-release of Godard's Breathless got me thinking about another kind of movie star -- the self-anointed one. Jean-Paul Belmondo wasn't a huge star when Breathless premiered, but the film made him one. More importantly, in the film he acted like one, making the distance between his small-time criminal character and the "real" movie stars of Hollywood part of the film's subject matter. A few years later Andy Warhol would make a series of films using his own homemade "superstars," and in the 1970s Rainer Werner Fassbinder turned his group of repertory theater players into art film icons. In the 1980s, the No Wave film scene borrowed from this playbook, transforming the artists and musicians who populated the city's downtown club scene into charismatic figures who brought star power to their micro-budgeted films. You might even say that Hal Hartley in the '80s did something similar with his discovery of a new generation of actors.
Significantly, none of the films of these filmmakers were "realistic." They were all smartly aware of the popular culture, subverting it through a playful use of irony and the presence of these actors, whose performances commented on the artifice employed by the Hollywood star system while, at the same time, giving audiences charismatic on-screen performers who were a lot of fun to watch.
So, filmmakers, stop thinking about casting those unattainable movie stars in your next movie. Go out there and make your own.
See you next week.
Editor THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE: 2-DAY WORKSHOP WITH JON REISS ON JUNE 5-6 Within the current distribution landscape it appears that for any truly independent film to have a sustained life – and a chance at monetization – filmmakers themselves to need be planning and deeply involved in the process from an early stage. Among those in the forefront as critical thinkers and strategists in this sphere is Jon Reiss. The critically-acclaimed director of BOMB IT! and distribution expert and author will present a step-by-step guide into the Dynamic New World of Hybrid Distribution and Marketing. Day One goes over how to create a distribution strategy and marketing plan unique to your film, the various available markets for your film's release, how and why to engage your audience as early as possible, digital rights, and more. Day Two discusses advertising campaigns, and transmedia platforms, as well as live workshopping of a few films. Special guest speakers will include Lance Weiler (The Workbook Project) and Caitlin Boyle (Film Sprout). All attendees will have access to a networking happy hour with industry reps and will receive a DVD-Rom toolkit as a takeaway. Additional workshop details and ticketing info here . Our Forums page is new and improved! Check out the new categories: how to make films, discuss the current trends in the business, job opportunities and look out for guest filmmaker moderators. Click here to get started.
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Barbara Brancaccio & Joshua Zeman, Cropsey
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CROPSEY An early form of viral storytelling, urban legends function both as cautionary tales (i.e., be careful who you let into your car at night) as well as ghoulish entertainment. But what if one of those legends turned out to be true? Filmmakers Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman went back to the Staten Island of their youth to investigate the 1980s disappearances of five youths from their old neighborhood. There they discovered that the subject in their disappearance, Andre Rand, was himself a real-life bogeyman. Their search and questions takes them into a dark path, exposing their childhood fears that evil resides in their safe suburban neighborhood. Interviewing the filmmakers for this week's Director Interviews, Brandon Harris calls Cropsey "an absorbing and terrifying piece of filmmaking." Read out interview with Brancaccio and Zeman below. ONDINE Neil Jordan's (Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins) latest combines fantasy and drama, telling an unconventional love story between an Irish fisherman named Syracuse (Colin Farrell) and Ondine (Alicja Bachleda), a mysterious woman who may possibly be a mermaid. She warms herself up to the local village and his young daughter, but is impenetrable at the same time, holding a secretive past. A fairy tale that takes dark turns into reality, Ondine is at both captivating and fantastical, shot in muted cinematography by Christopher Doyle. CONVENTION Coming off of his documentary Kurt Cobain: About a Son, filmmaker AJ Schnack gathered a small group of documentarians (Steven Bognar, Daniel Junge, Laura Poitras, Julia Reichert, Paul Taylor, Nathan Truesdell and David Wilson) to cover the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, capturing a groundbreaking moment in history that would lead to Barack Obama becoming president. This week on the blog, we remember Dennis Hopper (pictured left); M.I.A. and Romain Gavras make an allegory about genocide with their video "Born Free"; and Florent, the legendary (and now defunct) NYC meat-packing restaurant, is paid tribute to in a new documentary by David Sigal.
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BARBARA BRANCACCIO AND JOSH ZEMAN, CROPSEY By Brandon Harris
Part personal history remembrance, part time capsule of a place, part true crime thriller, Cropsey is an absorbing and terrifying piece of filmmaking. A rough hewn, nine years in the making feature directorial debut for narrative film producer turned documentarian Joshua Zeman and NYC Human Resources Administration's Deputy Commissioner Barbara Brancaccio, it delves into the disappearances of several handicapped children in their native borough of Staten Island during the '70s and '80s. read more
Boston Film Festival
Official Deadline: June 11
Festival Date: Sept. 17-23
Rhode Island International Film Festival
Final Deadline: June 15
Festival Dates: Aug 10-15
Austin Film Festival
Next Deadline: June 15
Final Deadline: July 15
Festival Dates: Oct. 21-28