The Death of Merely Good Films

The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.

“The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.”

As a maker of films that fall into ‘niche’ categories, I appreciate new technologies that enable us to reach smaller audiences in new and creative ways. When I began my career, the options were few and if you had a film that wasn’t a mainstream film, it was almost impossible to get it to audiences. You could show it on one of the Big Three television networks, in theaters, or…

…I guess there were VHS tape and home video stores. But the reality was that everything was pretty locked-up, especially for smaller filmmakers who had films that would appeal to a smaller segment of the audience. Even if you could identify them accurately, it was really difficult and/or expensive to reach them.

The development of broadband internet and social media and all of the other constantly changing technologies now make it possible for us to target and actually touch audiences with niche media. This is the promise of the new media world and we are all clinging hopefully to that promise!

Interestingly though, another side-effect of the new media world is what I would describe as a widening gap – kind of like what happens in developing economies. Instead of a great, flat, democratic media landscape where everything has equal footing and ability to impact audiences, we are seeing an interesting trend in the world of the ‘blockbuster.’ While there has been tremendous growth in the production and distribution of small films to small audiences, there seems to be a greater emphasis at the opposite end of the spectrum. What is being lost is in the middle – those films that aren’t quite blockbusters but are bigger than the niche film. Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

This interesting article (originally from The Economist) describes the phenomenon very well. “Independent filmmaker earning a living in world where blockbusters dominate”

How does this impact folks like us? It’s not really my dream to make ultra-low-budget films ($0-50,000) for the rest of my career. But I am called to stories that fit smaller niches. It would be nice to be able to gradually make larger films, fill the gap between the blockbuster $150 million films, or even the average $50 million studio feature. Isn’t there a huge market now for low-budget films that are of high quality, made for $3-5 million? I know people who are aiming there. This article suggests that they are in for a battle for an audience.

What do you think?

Films In Sarajevo: Where Is Redemption?

“Fatalism, Pride, Pain, Mockery, Shame, Apathy… These are the recurring themes in the films that I have been attending at this year’s film festival here in Sarajevo.”

I recently read this blog article from a woman in the Balkans and her thoughts about the place of art in culture. What messages are spoken in our music, films, painting, and dance? They certainly reflect our various stories and can tell of hope and despair, sometimes in the same moment.

“Fatalism, Pride, Pain, Mockery, Shame, Apathy… These are the recurring themes in the films that I have been attending at this year’s film festival here in Sarajevo. After three days of faithfully showing up to my ticketed seat, the heavier I feel inside when I walk out, as if my spirit is hiding from the uncertainty and oppression I am taking in with my eye and ear gates.

First of all, I love where I live, and I truly love these people. I understand them, even though they would say that I have no idea, that I’m just another American trying to come here and help. But behind that, I hear the voice of rejection, abandonment and fear. So attending this film festival has reconfirmed to me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

Read more here: films-in-sarajevo-where-is-redemption

Five Stages of Innovation

Five Stages of Innovation:

1. People deny that the innovation is required.

2. People deny that the innovation is effective.

3. People deny that the innovation is important.

4. People deny that the innovation will justify the effort required to adopt it.

5. People accept and adopt the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to people other than the innovator, and deny the existence of stages 1 to 4.

(Thanks to Clyde Taber via Josh Craft via Phil Cooke for the summary.)

Filmmakers Making A Difference In Africa

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I’m always on the lookout for great stories about how filmmakers are making a difference in communities, especially in the developing world. I found this article today from East Africa:

As part of the continuing series on African Filmmaking, we look at a film that’s made acclaim in both filmmaking and development in Nairobi’s Kibera Slum.

ukwelii.wordpress.com, ukwelii, Oct 2009

What kinds of ideas does an article like this stir up in your mind? What if part of our lives is focused on helping others tell their stories and empowering others through our gifts and experiences? Can we make that a priority?

Genius or Shuffle?

I believe I am not alone in the occasional quest for just the right music to suit my mood or change my mood. The iPod and other devices like it promise us the world and devise all sorts of ways to help us in this quest for control.

As I was working around the kitchen this morning I found myself in a dilemma. I was searching for the soundtrack for my morning on my iPhone. I believe I am not alone in the occasional quest for just the right music to suit my mood or change my mood. The iPod and other devices like it promise us the world and devise all sorts of ways to help us in this quest for control.

I tried Pandora first, looking through my varied radio ‘stations’ to find one I thought was perfect. For those unfamiliar with the way Pandora and Apples iTunes Genius work, the easiest way to describe it is that they look at the DNA of the music – artist, genre, tempos, tone, etc. to match songs for you. For instance, I have a ‘station’ on Pandora for Benedictine Monks. When you type that in, you pretty much know what you’re going to hear – everything that plays on that virtual ‘station’ sounds pretty similar. The promise of Pandora and the others is that you have control over what you hear, like you own the radio station and don’t have to put up with lousy songs that make you want to change the station.

This morning I began listening to a station based on The Fray, listened a while, and decided it wasn’t working for me. So I went further back in time to see what a Gin Blossoms radio would sound like. I had some vague sense that it would be a little less angst-ridden and melancholy than the Fray and whatever music-mates Pandora would deliver. I’d have to say Gin Blossoms radio was a little more upbeat, but still a little to down for me today. I guessed wrong on what would be the key musical DNA to change my mood.

Was I in the mood for Genius – letting me set my mood and seeing if the miracle of technology would find the right tone? Or was I better off with Shuffle – a musical world that is far more broad, eclectic, and not at all driven by some pre-determined mood I was trying to reach? I love to play random shuffle on my iPod – my tastes in music are very broad and I often laugh or am surprised by the songs that play back-to-back. It could be Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” followed by Chris Tomlin singing “Famous One”. I love to consider those juxtapositions – not as if they are controlled somehow by God to tell me something (though they could be if He wanted) – but I tend to be a person who loves the discovery of things, serendipity.

I confess that, in the end, I’m more of a shuffle guy – seeking to discover the story of seemingly random things – than a genius guy – knowing exactly what I want and enjoying that measure of control.

Yanomamo Spiritual Stories at Starz Tonight

Provocative – to those who believe that indigenous people in the rainforest live in a sort of paradise where peace and harmony reign.

Unsettling – to Christians who discount the existence of the spiritual world (either willfully or by their practices).

Encouraging – to those who know struggles for inner peace and answers to their questions of ‘who is in control’ in the universe.

This is what we want to be to our audiences at the screenings tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Starz FilmCenter in Denver. I know some in the audience will be Christians who bring their own points of view to the screening – generally favorable to the message of Bautista’s story we tell in The Enemy God. I know many in the audience will not be Christian, and may even be antagonistic to the claims of Jesus. But our experience is that even those people find something to think more deeply about in our film.

There will be conversations tonight. That’s a good purpose for art.

Holy Spirit, go ahead of us and be present among us.