Thursday, April 26, 2007

FILM Some Thoughts on Film Festivals

I've never been to the Tribeca Film Festival, but that may happen one day. It's new and ambitious and has a lot of star power and money behind it. Especially money. According to the Hollywood Reporter, this year's budget should top off at around $13 million. And that includes an estimated budget deficit of $1 million. Of course, they need to spend that much if they want to catapult themselves into the realm of important international film festivals. And it may just be working, too.

My latest article for talks a little about this, but even more about the battle for premieres that is raging in the festival world. It's called Too Many Festivals and you should take a look at it.

Oh, and last week I wrote a preview of the Cannes Film Festival which you can get to if you follow that link.

I think I would blog more if I didn't end up thinking too hard about each post. I gotta try and find a way to do that. This post seems like a good start, no?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

FILM Being a SIFF Programmer

Another one of my articles for went live today. It's sort of a behind-the-scenes look at being a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival. You can link to is here.

FILM The Grindhouse Split!

This is old news by now, but I had to weigh in anyway. Harvey Weinstein is raising a big stink saying that he’s thinking about splitting Grindhouse into two movies and releasing them both, but without the “missing reels” gag. Mr. Weinstein is blaming audiences for not understanding the concept of the double feature. Allegedly some people left after Rodriguez’s feature, and Mr. Weinstein believes they didn’t know about the second feature, though I think walking out may have been a more conscious decision and the “intermission” was the least disruptive place to go.

Well, The Weinstein Company was planning on releasing the two movies as separate entities in Europe, so they probably already have the prints ready. The real question is, Do they want to spend the money on a new ad campaign to re-release the movies, appealing to the same audience with the promise of new footage and the need to buy two tickets instead of one. It’s a choice that is doomed to failure. It’s doubtful that they’d attract many new viewers to the mini-franchise, and it’s doubtful they’d make the new ad budget back in ticket sales.


Because the two features are more drive-in movies than sleazy grindhouse fare, I’m left wondering what indie film legend Roger Corman would do. How would he have protected the investment and sold the movie and the split better? The simple answer is: He wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place!

This is pure speculation, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Roger Corman would have looked at the projected returns of the movie(s) and adjusted the budget accordingly. With opening weekend grosses predicted to be $22 million or so (it came in at half that), Corman would have kept the budget for both films to be between $20-$25 million (probably much, much less). He would have been able to keep the double feature running time to the initial estimate of 2 ½ hours, despite diva directors, and even if he had to jump into the editing room himself.

Finally, in regards to the split, the drive-in circuit had a long tradition of renaming movies to trick people into either seeing them again, or to bring in new audiences. In the old days they would add shots of helicopters exploding to trailers of films that weren't working (footage which they would then feel obligated to cut into the movies).

In this regard, splitting the movie into two and re-releasing them under separate titles is right up the Roger Corman alley. But this is a different time where nobody would be surprised or tricked. Because of the Internet hype machine, everybody would know what they're in for. Consequently, it won’t work.

The Weinstein Company would be better off releasing the two movies on video instead of theatrically, which it sounds like they’re going to do anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2007

FILM Article the Second

I should have posted the link to my second article at You can find it here.

The article grew out of a couple of reports on the indie film scene. It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes piece, as you will read if you click on the article link.

I think my next one will be about being a programmer at SIFF. I’m back to work on that one right now.

WRITING Film vs. Video Games

Last Wednesday, Brian McDonald and I hosted another Screenwriters Salon for the Seattle International Film Festival. This one was called Writing the Video Game.

Here in Seattle we are right across Lake Washington from Microsoft (home of the Xbox) and Nintendo’s HQ. Consequently, we tend to hear about their successes, failures and needs. The mantra for video games right now is that they are in desperate need of good writers. There are too many games that go out where the dialog stinks and the information that is doled out between battles is incomprehensible. Or so they say.

It’s funny. They say the same thing about Hollywood movies. “We need better writers,” they say, usually followed by something like, “quality will win out,” which is their blanket way of saying they have no idea where quality writing come from so everybody should give it a shot. (They know how we all believe we write quality scripts; it’s other people who write crap!)

So video game producers have begun to hire screenwriters to work on their games. That’s how our panelist Matthew Obst got involved. He was teaching a screenwriting class at the Northwest Film Forum when a video game company contacted him. He applied for and got the job. Of course, it helped that he has been playing video games all his life and keeps up with current trends.

Just so you know, our other panelist was Mark Terrano, Founder and Design Director of Hidden Path Entertainment , who had also worked for Xbox and on the game Age of Empires. He gave a fun and informational history of video games and video game genres.

The biggest difference between writing for film and writing for games is the fact that in a screenplay you are responsible for plot twists and describing scenes, while when you write for a game you are responsible for dialog and every piece of text that appears on-screen, like billboards and building names. It’s better to think of a writer on video games as a Script Doctor, a person hired to improve the dialog and punch up any text.

The other big question was: How’s the market for video game writing? As it turns out, not good. Or rather, it tough. Just like Hollywood, even though they say they need more and better writers it’s incredibly hard to break into writing for video games. You need to be well-versed in game trends, you may need to work for free (as an intern) to meet the right people, or you need to know somebody.

Then again, because screenwriters are used to facing impossible odds like these, it sounds like a match made in heaven.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

FILM New Gig

So I just got a gig writing for the Seattle-based website Back in the mid-'90s when the site first launched it would host different writers giving multiple points of view for the same movie. I was the film editor for The Stranger and I helped them out by giving them some of our reviews (The Stranger didn't have an online presence back then). RealNetworks bought the site and it ran for a while before shutting down. But RealNetworks still owned the name, which is a valuable bit of Internet real estate, no?

Last year the site relaunched, this time in more of a "blog" format. More recently, they opened up an "indie" tab, and they just tapped me to write about indie film. My first entry can be found here.

What the heck. Check it out. I'm planning on posting there a couple times a week or so.