sábado, 28 de marzo de 2009

Crazy Plots to Save the World

Many forward thinkers have agreed that the challenges of the next half-century will be great ones, and they will likely center on a couple of critical areas. Of course, food is always an issue for the greater fraction of people on the planet, but clean unpolluted water is about to become a very problematic – and expensive – issue as well. A third area about which I have heard little from the scientific community is ‘staying warm’ – and since one of the basic necessities of life is ‘staying warm and dry,’ I am concerned that not enough brain-power is being put into keeping people warm without further warming the planet.

Long ago, I wanted to get people interested in bringing troubling societal issues to the members of Mensa, the high-IQ society. I thought – and still think – that those eggheads could help us find elegant solutions to some of our toughest problems. I mean, they have all that knowledge, right? Problem was, the men and women of Mensa didn’t seem to want to tackle hard problems like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or saving the planet. Like tired and lonely people everywhere, they were more interested in connecting with other smart people socially, as in dating or in special interest groups (which they called SIGs).

So I wandered away from Mensa, leaving them to their puzzlers and parties. But I still think about trying to save the planet, save our culture, save our way of life, save the lives of those unfortunate enough to need our help. To do any of those things, we need some innovative thinking – we need to approach the same old problem in a brand-new way. And a collection of brilliant minds is a crucial prerequisite to removing the obstacles to the creative development of innovative thinking. And, of course, I can’t do it all alone. So I turn to you, the filmmakers on the cutting edge, to be part of that collection of minds – since filmmakers always have been (and continue to be) innovators, inventors, and visionaries.

And maybe just focusing a camera on a problem is a good start at getting people to think about that problem. We can't fix what we haven’t identified, and we can’t identify what we don’t know about. So for some of us, at least, there is just the work of pointing the issues out to others, so that they can learn about those situations that can harm us or those like us. Also, people want to know that there is hope, and documentaries serve that function, among many others.

Docs can inform, educate, and persuade. They can mean the difference between a deep understanding and the indifference of ignorance. Perhaps most important, documentaries can inspire. So here are some thoughts for documentaries, in case any of you filmmaking geniuses have run out of challenging and engaging ideas:

1. Innovative thinking about Energy Conservation: Why do we have every one of those city lights on all night long? Civic lighting expends more than half of the energy used in the US, and we could get buy with a lot fewer lights. I’m not talking about making the streets dark and unsafe, but we could install switches on about half the lights in any string, and alternate them all night long – or at least in the wee hours of the morning when most people are in bed.

2. Innovative thinking about Intended-waste Products: Why do we have bright white paper napkins, cups, bowls, and plates? The bleaching of paper accounts for a huge percentage of toxic waste going into rivers and our oceans, and we really don’t need bright white items that we are going to use once and then throw away. What are the biases against grey or tan disposable napery and plates? And those awful disposable diapers (though the rumor is that disposables are actually more planet-friendly than washing cloth diapers) – why are they white? For that matter, why is toilet paper white?

3. Innovative thinking about the Ramifications of Oil Drilling: How about getting groups of university students in different disciplines to deal with the deleterious effects of oil drilling – both to the land and to the very fragile ecosystems of the oceans. Big Oil drills for oil in the middle of farmland, if that’s where the oil is – and oil drilling is a dirty business. They (and we) hardly consider the effect of the runoff into the water table and into the soil in which farmers grow our food. How is all that oil affecting our health? And how can it be stopped? And while we’re talking oil fields, how can we stop those flares of flame that burn continually in the fields? It’s called the burn-off

4. Innovative thinking about Staying Warm and Dry: It seems that everyone is talking about global warming, but a much greater problem is how to keep people warm – heating is probably the major issue confronting us in the 21st Century. This is perhaps the most profound need of the entire human race, no matter where they live (even hot climates get cold sometimes). The whole of history has included the continual attempt to mitigate weather, creating warm and dry conditions in which to thrive. For atmospheric reasons, several long-time answers must now be discarded: wood fires, coal, and oil. Natural gas is much cleaner, but it will last only so long. Going underground, though costly and unattractive to most folks, that may be the answer – issues to be addressed include heating, leakage of surface water, disposal of waste, recycling air and gas byproducts, lack of windows and light, mass-transit elevators and logistics of moving people to the surface and back.

5. More innovative thinking about Staying Warm: Deep-strata mines may provide a solution, since the earth’s crust gets hotter by one degree for every thousand feet that you descend – by opening up large enough vents, we may be able to use the earth’s heat to replace much of the surface burning that we are doing.

6. Innovative thinking about Water and Water Rights: Water shortages and pollution will be major themes in the coming decades. Who is working on the potential of using seawater for most uses? And are there projects for reclaiming seawater (desalinization)? What new products are on the horizon to shift consumer water usage? And who owns the water anyway? That’s a question to which most of us won’t like the answer.

So there you have it – some ideas about coming up with ideas. A list of things that need addressing, and perhaps we can point a camera at them and thus put them in front of an audience or two. If you can do something with these ideas (and have the wit and strength to chase them with camera), you have my blessings.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Using Knowledge & Compelling Images to Create the Narrative

One of the problems with human perception is that it is tied to our already-existing store of knowledge. So if a person says, for instance, ‘big man,’ one might picture a man of one’s own race or ethnicity – when in fact the truth might be just the opposite. And this characteristic of perception becomes more pronounced in dealing with qualitative descriptors rather than quantitative ones – intangibles, concepts and ideas. What is ‘good,’ or ‘competent,’ or ‘intelligent’?

This is what makes film (and especially the documentary or historical re-creation forms so compelling and valuable) – you can show an image, establishing quite quickly (and definitely) the physical qualities of the person or situation at hand. Of course, in documentary, persons can dissemble (or just get it wrong), making the task more difficult, but the filmmaker still has more impact on the audience’s view of things than one does when writing a book. (And this aspect of filmmaking is what keeps writers writing – most would rather have the ability to use and exploit their readers’ imaginations than to delineate clearly who is doing what.)

So in more ways than one, a picture is worth a thousand words – and often many more than that. One example of this situation might be taken from the study of history. When the average person hears about ‘the Crusades,’ for example, he or she might think of a single picture – Richard Lionheart leading a host into battle against ‘the infidel.’ But that is an image that’s been built on many misconceptions, not the least is that the Crusades were holy wars waged by clean and honorable men against a backward and uncivilised race of heathens.

In truth, both sides saw the other as ‘infidels,’ and both sides saw themselves as the righteous upholders of ‘God’s Way’ (sound familiar?). To understand the breadth and depth of this misunderstanding, one must know about what was going on in the world at that time. The sciences as we know them had not yet been invented: medicine was in a sorry state, and hygiene was worse. People did not much understand the relationship between cleanliness and good health, and lives were on average much shorter and lived with much less robust health. ‘Muslim’ scientists were faring a bit better than Europeans, having come up with mapmaking, algebra, astrology, medical treatments, and other important fields – but many of these sciences were still in their infancies – and without the tradition of rich communication between scholars, advances were understandably slow in coming.

In addition, politics as we know it did not exist – money was relatively new to most people, and the internal politics of Europe had shrunk to what most people call ‘the feudal system’ without much understanding of what that might entail. Governments and towns had shrunk to vast landed estates in the hands of the ‘wealthy’ – lands which were the only places that people could survive. There was no industry as we think of it, since the economics of the times – barons and dukes used what riches there were (often not in the form of ‘money’ but in much more valuable commodities) to wage wars or to protect their estates, keeping the common people tied to what were in effect ‘plantations’ where almost all the necessities of life were grown or made by local labor. Trade was rare, and was used mostly for things that could not be made or grown locally.

The lords of this system were not the clean, well-scrubbed pictures of health that we see in most films. The warriors of that time had more in common with the Vikings than with the cavaliers of later times – in fact, many of them were only a step or two removed from Vikings themselves. Picture a system of government (actually a series of tenuous truces and wartime alliances-of-convenience, paid for by tribute taken at sword-point) run by uncouth and dangerous bikers – for that is the closest we can come to drawing a fair image of who the barons and dukes were. While earlier kings were ‘men of the strong arm’ – men who could best others in battle, who were accustomed to taking what they wanted and washing away the pain with wine or other euphorics – the barons and dukes ran things under the eye of kings who were often men less able in battle. None of these were the leaders that Washington and Jefferson later sought to become – the warriors of old were men who killed without much feeling and took the women left behind without much grace. They were the Hell’s Angels of their day, except that they led armies and adopted the pretense of being descended from (or granted immunity by) God.

Europe was filled with these petty barons and dukes – a nasty lot almost every single one of them, each fighting for a share of the spoils and each defending his own ground against neighbors who would take it from him by force (and ‘by force’ generally meant the most indelicate of violence). Of course, there were some among them who aspired to higher morals and ethics; but many, as well as being paid killers in wartime, were murderers in peacetime – if a noble wanted something, he might simply kill the owner in order to get it. And often, what was wanted by the ruling class was in the hands of the church.

The first Crusade (1095 CE) became a way that the weaker kings and the Church (long a victim of the warring nobles) could rid Europe of these gangs of marauders. The bishops sent word around that any person who went to kill infidels in the Holy Land (to take back the sacred ground upon which the Savior had walked) would be granted a place in heaven, no matter what crimes had been committed before. And a madness swept through Europe that is difficult to imagine but easy to understand: the serfs had little happiness on earth (so the everlasting reward of heaven looked pretty good), and the barons and dukes were greedy for spoils, as well as having a fair interest in expiating their numerous beastly sins.

And off these eager ‘penitents’ went, to kill an enemy they did not know and could not understand, because education had been closely guarded for centuries – kept within a relatively small group of ‘chosen elite’ (chronicles of travelers of the time were rare and expensive, and most learning came by word of mouth, relating mostly to the daily needs of life: farming, tanning, food preservation, carpentry, metal-working, weaving, and the knowledge of other skills based on what was needed to survive). Most of them had never seen a ‘Saracen’ or a ‘Turk,’ a ‘Paynim’or a ‘Persian.’ A ‘heathen’ is defined as one who does not believe in God, but the Muslims had a strong belief in God – and, in fact, in the same God that demanded sacrifice of Abraham: the Jewish line came from Abraham’s son Isaac and the Muslim line came from Isaac’s brother Ishmael. So ‘heathens’ these people were clearly not.

Most had no idea what lay ahead of them during the first Crusade, but they tramped through Italy and Hungary to get to the Holy Land. In Hungary they fared worst, their huge hordes (hundreds of thousands of starving and ragged souls) were cut down by local residents weary of their depredations. Tens of thousands were killed or died along the way, before even getting out of Europe. Many more were lost at sea, and the ones who did arrive in the Holy Land saw many of their number cut down by prime fighting forces of Kerbogha of Mosul and other skilled warrior-chieftains. All in all, a violent and unpleasant business, as wars always are.

So that’s the layout of our story, thus far – and how can the narrative deal with the deviation from actual fact, a deviation that ‘history’ has persuaded us to accept as truth? First, consider that ‘narrative’ is either causal or cumulative – that is, it is either an argument laid out in a series of incidents or events that each create or cause the next, or it is a collection of (possibly) unrelated facts or events that is presented that add up to a conclusion. So, by carefully studying the time period and the manners and culture operating at that time, the filmmaker is presumed to be able to bring an immediate and pervasive sense of factuality to the proceedings, taking care to consider language and social protocols when deciding what to show and what not to show. And by explaining (either through exposition or carefully-wrought action) the background explicitly, the filmmaker can build an almost-instinctual knowledge into the audience, so that when one sees a specific action or object, one knows (more or less) precisely what it means.

This is the job of the filmmaker, to vivify a story – to enliven ‘mere words’ with pictures and to bring a deeper truth to the audience. And by educating oneself completely in the ways and manners of the persons who will people the story and drive the action (whether fictional narrative or documentary review of facts), the filmmaker can hope to have an audience that possesses enough of the idea of things to understand the new data that the filmmaker hopes to elucidate.

As filmmakers, we are not the warrior barons and dukes, forcing ourselves and our ideas on an unwilling enemy (though to hear the use of music in some films, one would definitely think otherwise), nor are we at our best when following the ways of others in unfamiliar territory. And we are not the single-minded ideologues who would have the whole world believe as we do, nor are we ignorant of the world around us.

No, we strive to learn more about that world, in order to better tell our stories, and – at our best – we are persons of vision, persons who have a definite idea how to make the world a better place, persons who have the strength of conviction and a taste for repeated stumbled, but who will always get up and go for another shot. And we are able to convince – by our vision, but also by our powers of persuasion (storytelling) – a crowd of very talented people to come along with us in the making of something special, something unique, something perhaps historic.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

More Tears for the Onion

We still hope that the normally intelligent Onion staff will see the error of their collective ways in letting such a rich and varied talent as Mr Roland slip from their grasp (see previous Onion blog). To advance that possibility, here is the second story that the estimable Onion missed out on.

Pakistani Bandits Complain Over Newsman's Slight

Several groups of Pakistani bandits are considering a class-action lawsuit for slander against an NPR reporter and the international radio corporation itself. The bandits, part of the loose alliance of Northern Province drug and crime rings that sprawl across the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, are upset that they have been mischaracterised on international radio as ‘plain’ and ‘old.’

“We have reputations. This very serious charge. Thanks god that we are informed of this damaging lie against us,” said Werda Faqqawi, leader of one of the bands. “We are not old, and we are not plain. We are handsome men, most of us, and the rest have good personalities. If I ever see this lying dog, I myself will pull out his eyes, then leave him to the women of my village for the real punishment.”

The ‘lying dog’ – Aaron Schachter, a reporter for Public Radio International’s ‘The World’ – covers the local scene in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He made his social gaffe when speaking about the worsening situation in Pakistan last week: “Peshawar hasn’t always been as dangerous as it has become in the last few months. It’s right at the edge of the tribal areas, it’s a very very rough part of this country. Lots of groups fighting it out in this region, not just the Taliban, there are al Qaeda foreign fighters, and there are just plain old bandits that work in the region with drugs, with weapons...”

“We aren’t plain and we aren’t old,” continued Faqqawi. “Who is Aaron Schacter anyway? Is he fashion maven? Our clothes are not old – they came to us with the Thuggees more than three hundred years ago, perhaps the newest part of our culture. Your spawn of Satan George Bush never made best-dressed list either, remember.”

“And we aren’t plain,” said local village khan Tared al Sohangree. “My son Rhandivapan is a very handsome man, at height of his youthful prowess – he is 45 years in this world, he has strong teeth, and he is sought by many many young women.” According to local village sources, the fact that none of the family knows what the women look like – they all wear burqas – is creating some hesitation in Rhandivapan’s mind; the khan’s rugged son, who has most of his teeth, will make a choice of a wife sometime in the near future.

Rhandivapan, called ‘Randy’ by his friends, said, “My father is 75 years and strong man, very tough. He can still – as you degenerate Americans like to say – ‘kick some donkey.’ I don’t know whose donkey, but some donkey. He beat me up pretty bad just last week.”

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Uncomfortable Documentaries & Narrative

“But in these plethoric times – when there is too much coarse ‘stuff’ for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor's eye, when there is no urgent demand either for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty – we find ourselves by accident.
“Always before these times, the bulk of the people did not overeat themselves because they couldn't, whether they wanted to or not, and all but a very few were kept ‘fit’ by unavoidable exercise and personal danger.
“Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep himself free from pride, almost anyone can achieve a sort of excess. You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elemental necessities the sweat of your deathbed.” – H G Wells

~ ~ ~
One of the uncomfortable things about documentaries (and perhaps one major reason that certain docs are not popular) is that they present us with challenges – moral and ethical challenges, challenges to what we have ‘learned’ and to our thinking.

It is easy for the uninformed to come to an opinion – all one must do is to look at a situation and decide that it is right or wrong, entirely based on one’s preconceived notions.

But a thoughtful and well-researched documentary on a tough subject removes our ability to evade and fudge. Seeing the evidence of our thoughtless collective actions (global warming, over-consumption, wasteful uses of natural resources) puts the viewer in an uncomfortable spot, and it is a discomfort that the doc usually can’t hope to alleviate.

This is one excellent reason to include such challenging examinations into our narratives. The inclusion can be very subtle, such as one used in The Brave One, directed by Neil Jordan. The film’s protagonist (played by Jody Foster) was originally a police-beat reporter. But Foster, a self-admitted ‘NPR fanatic,’ thought that making the protagonist an NPR personality who studied New York City through its sounds.

This change served, as it turns out, a number of purposes. First, it made the protagonist much more internal and isolated from connection with people, while at the same time giving her a unique view of the world around her. Second, it solved a script problem that possibly had not come up until the change – any crime-beat reporter would have had much more knowledge of police procedure than Foster’s character had, so her naiveté would make much more sense if she had another, less-informed career. And third, NPR got some minor billing, which means that perhaps some of the audience dialed in for the first time and found something that cannot be found on standard radio.

The Brave One, while not a masterpiece, is still a solid piece of filmmaking, as might be expected from Mr Jordan. And while that single alteration in the story and script did not change the theme of the film, it did create profound changes in the film’s plot, sound design, production design, sets, and characterization.

In the case of those tough documentary subjects mentioned at the top of this piece, the narrative may come to a slightly different turn, but one no less personal in its application. Any of the tough subjects can be placed a bit in the background (what we call in journalism ‘burying the lead’) by starting the story with the person or persons most affected by the event or situation –say, the Hindi farmer facing starvation because of major climate shifts, or the havoc wreaked for local residents by land abuses such as strip-mining or deforestation. Alternately, the narrative of a documentary about over-consumption could start with the ‘birth’ of a consumer product that then goes through its ‘life’ until it is finally ‘laid to rest’ in a landfill. These techniques can potentially humanize the themes of a project, making it more accessible to more segments of the audience.

So while we are focused on the narrative during this time of our Caligari Narrative Contest, it would be good to review such alterations in narrative that can enliven or otherwise enhance a story. ‘Narrative,’ derived from the Latin verb narrare (‘to recount’), is related to the adjective gnarus (‘knowing’ or ‘skilled’), becoming by connotation ‘a skilled recounting’ of events. And because stories are a profoundly important aspect of culture, making up the basis of a society’s literature and philosophy, it is only through ‘skillful recounting’ that a work of art becomes possible.

So if we aim for art in our work, we should always be concerned with the narrative, even in the stories told in single-frame pieces such as photographs and paintings. And, of course, in our films – including documentaries and even 30-second commercials or PSAs – the narrative becomes the dividing line between mediocrity and art.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Onion Brings Tears to Writer’s Eyes

One of our writers, David Roland, has been trying to get work at The Onion, that meta-paper that entertains us all so much with fictive news. Roland has been unsuccessful – so far – because of an incomprehensible policy held by the normally sagacious editorial staff over at that paper: they only use staff writers, and they do not contract any work, whatsoever.

When we heard Mr Roland's complaint, we came up with a way to help the guy out. We’re publishing the pieces that The Onion ignored, and (we hope) they'll see the error of their collective ways in letting such a rich and varied talent as Mr Roland slip from their grasp. Perhaps those wily New York editors, who are so much smarter than we are, will see the humor pervading everything young Roland writes, and – with a bit of encouragement from our readers – they will consider hiring him to do the odd piece of faux reportage, getting Mr Roland out of our hair (and into theirs).

Below is the first story that the estimable Onion missed out on.

Harding Kin Sues Obama over Right to Use ‘First Black President’

“One of my great-grandfather’s grandparents was black, which means that he was the first black president – a full 43 years before Obama was even born,” said a determined Gamiel ‘Cubby’ Harding. Cubby Harding, a plumber in Akron Ohio, begins to sound more black as he continues. “Man, all my dad’s life, he was ashamed of his grandfather – he had no idea how popular Obama would become. I think it’s just unfair for that Democrat to make such claims, when a good Republican was there first.”

The twenty-ninth US President, Warren Gamaliel Harding (born 1865) served from 1921 until 1923, when he died from a heart attack at age 57. Harding won by the largest presidential popular vote landslide in American history – 60% to 34%.

Harding called for the abolition of lynching – not surprising, since this would protect his kinfolk in Ohio and elsewhere – but he never pursued the policy with any strength, probably out of fear of them finding a tall enough tree on the White House grounds. He was the first president to have questions from reporters pooled before press conferences, ostensibly for purposes of efficiency, but actually in order control questions about his grandparents, at least one of whom was a black slave from the West Indies. In spite of a massive campaign by William Randolph Hearst to hide this fact, the rumors became an open secret is Washington.

Now, ironically, the intervening 90 years – along with the success of the Civil Rights Movement and a feeling in the country that lynchings are déclassé – Harding’s great-great-great-grandson is proud enough of his meager 1/32 (or possibly 1/16) black blood to mount a lawsuit against America’s Great Black Hope (even though Obama is part white). “We [sic] suing that imposter,” says Cubby Harding, “and Ima to use the cake we get from the lawsuit to start me a campaign, so I can run as a black candidate too.”

An influential newspaper publisher and Republican, the elder Harding also served in the Ohio Senate (no doubt the first Black there), as Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor (no doubt the first Black there), and as a US Senator (and no doubt the first Black there as well) before becoming president. A political conservative, Warren G Harding became the compromise choice at the 1920 Republican National Convention. One of his campaign promises was to return the country to ‘normalcy’ after World War I, which no doubt helped him defeat Democrat James M Cox in the 1920 election. As Cubby opines, “A Black Republican – can you beat that?”

David Roland is a humorist who likes to make people wince as they are laughing - a rare trick. He is Hakim's close friend, and people who see them together should think carefully about the negative ramifications of calling them 'the two Daves.'

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Roland and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Of Doctors, Grips & Poets – Making Films to Change the World

I am getting sick of doctors and their incompetence and narrow-minded views of the world. The problem with more medicos, as I see it, is that they lack imagination. The medical profession should be filled with jazz enthusiasts and artists, with men and women who are not afraid – no, even better, who are enthralled by the ability – to take chances. Society – and each of us – profoundly needs in doctors (and in politicians, lawyers, judges, etc etc) the kind of people who are creative and imaginative problem solvers, and most of the people in the profession are definitely not that.

After my last little excursion to the emergency room, during which I was kept waiting for over six hours with a fish bone lodged in my throat (only to be released without receiving any care whatever), I decided that the right thing to do would be to get a pile of money and start a social experiment.

What would that experiment entail? Well, before I get into that, let me discuss for a few moments the power of the medium we know as ‘film,’ as well as a bit of background from a long time ago.

The power of film is starting to be tapped in some interesting ways, as we find that audiences are more attuned to documentaries than at any time in the history of film – except perhaps at its very beginning, when in fact most early films were ‘documentaries’ of one kind or another.

Panoramas of famous places and strapping cameras to the fronts of Alpine trains (‘phantom rides’) cannot be categorised in any other way but as docs (or more precisely, as ‘actualities’), and it wasn’t until a while later that fictional narrative got off the ground. Other films were ‘vignettes,’ meaning imagined scenes of real or imagined happenings – The Bad Boy and the Gardener (1896), Awakening of Rip (1896), The Arrest of a Bookmaker (1896), Santa Claus (1899) – though at 25 seconds to one minute, they can hardly be considered ‘narratives.’

The first fiction films, like the early actualities and panoramas, were only a minute or so long, and it took time for the audience and the makers to move toward longer films.

So… today we are seeing a renaissance of the non-narrative nonfiction film (and, indeed, of the narrative nonfiction film), and there is a vast power for collective good in that rebirth. But there is also a power in taking an ideal – or theme, or situation, or the potential subject of a doc – and building a story around it. Many true stories, taken from the slowly-turning wheel of human history, reach a mass audience not through documentaries, but through docudramas or even through fictional ‘exploitation’ of their central idea. Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are two films that followed the stories of real women, while Traffic and Blood Diamond are two films that used fictional stories to relate adverse social events and the negative situations surrounding them.

A standard technique of storytelling is to lay out the issues between central characters against the backdrop of profound social changes or historic events. Some call this playing ‘the little story against the larger backdrop’: Homer’s Illiad and Don Quixote, on down to Casablanca – and even Phantom of the Opera opens with a reference to the first sound recordings of the Paris opera being sealed in a vault below the old opera house. One such story of particular interest to filmmakers is Dreamers, in which the central action is set against the protests of the closing of the Cinémathèque Française in February of 1968.

So what does all this have to do with a recalcitrant fishbone? Well, while I was gnawing on my lip in order to keep from turning into a berserker in a wretchedly backwoods hospital (which sported hopelessly outdated equipment and a languidly incompetent staff – a Tijuana dentist has more state-of-the-art equipment than that joint), I conceived of a plan to literally change the face of the medical practice in America today. I figured, Hell, more of us than ever before are needing doctors, so why not start re-indoctrinating them?

So who would the New Doctors be? Well, poets would be a good start, since they have imagination coupled with an intellect that prizes rules and uniformity. And I know that any grip crew worth its salt could create true art out of whatever they could find, if a director up in the hills, away from all resources, wanted to build a certain kind of background for a commercial. Grips have a knowledge of working systems and a can-do attitude that gets things done. There are no doubt others who would be equally able to create change (and equally astonishing to include in the list, but let’s not get too far afield for the first visualisation of the project).

The deal would be this: take a group of six poets and a group of six grips, and send them all to medical school to see what kind of doctors they would make. My take on it is that they would make excellent doctors (unless medical schools could train out of them all their spark, in which case we’d have a crowd of lousy poets and stumbling grips (tragic, but highly unlikely).

Sure, the experiment would be expensive, but it would be worth the cost to prove to the AMA and others that they’re currently testing for the wrong kind of intelligence, and that they should start skewing their classes (not the instructional periods, but the groups of students – ‘class of 2008) toward more imagination, more creativity, and more risk. Look, medicine is of necessity an area of adverse events, so why be risk averse as well?

OK, so I thought up this grand plan – one which would cost a couple million bucks (not counting the time spent finding grips willing to become doctors) and take years of hard effort to mount. Then I got the idea that this could be written into a script (see where I’m going with this now?) and turned into a movie – not even a hit movie, since with NetFlix you can build an audience through word of mouth. And just as movies today often mirror headlines, many real-life situations are mirroring movies. Who knows – we might be able to start a trend, and in ten years we’d see the first IA doctors practicing in ERs… using their specific knowledge to ‘defeat the wind.’

Just sayin’….

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

domingo, 22 de marzo de 2009

Self-Promotion – The Winning Strategy

Times have been tough, and they’re getting tougher. Local film has been taking a beating since about 1999 – and that decade-long slump is threatening to continue, thanks to the machinations of Wall Street. Many people in our local film community are wondering where it’s going to end. But industry is still spending money, even if our friends and neighbors aren’t, and that’s where our paychecks come from: industry.

Recently, a small newspaper publisher mentioned to me that he wasn’t getting press releases from our advertisers, so I suggested that he take a whack at some sound advice for all you folks hard-hit by the local economic downturn.

I know it’s tough out there – I’m experiencing it myself. But the truth is that if we wanted security, we’d have gone to work for some big corporation, like Enron or WorldCom.

Ok, that’s a joke, but I’ll give you some serious advice – advice that could bring your bottom line up a bit in the coming months. One thing before we start, though. As my Granddaddy always told me, “Son, to make any money, you got to spend a little money.” So if you’re willing to take some advice and spend a bit of money, you should be able to change the story by using good promotional techniques.

I know, I know, everyone’s wyngeing about the lack of business. I’ve been in business for more years than I care to admit, and here’s what I learned long ago: when everyone else tightens their ad budgets, that’s the time to spend a bit more. Advertising, marketing and public relations are all numbers games. A certain amount of money will bring in a certain number of customers. When things get tough, companies X and Y will cut back – meaning that your ads won’t have to fight for attention in the market. So at that moment, if you push a little harder, you’re bound to catch the customers that your competitors have let slip by cutting their budgets.

I also learned that it’s all about the story. The difference between a good campaign and a lousy campaign is that the good campaign tells a great story – and it usually tells it very well. And that is what brings success: telling the story well. You can do the same, if you follow my advice.

You have something special, something that no one else is offering. Even if there are three other houses in town providing the exact same merchandise or service as yours, you can still offer something unique. Perhaps you’re willing to travel out to the set to make sure that everything runs smoothly, or perhaps you can offer certain discounts that the other houses don’t.

So figure out where you excel and what you offer that’s unique – not just different, but actually unique – then tell that story. And you tell that story by publicizing it… by email, direct mail, word-of-mouth, and by press releases.

Press Releases Get You Published
Have something to say – it’s got to be news. If you don’t have news about your company, then create some: offer a free workshop or seminar, or call for donations for a local charity to be dropped of at your business (and offer to match the donations dollar for dollar).

Keep your press release to one page. Some people send out releases that are three to five pages long – these releases probably never get read (unless they come from the Oscars or from some public official). If the story can’t be told to an editor on one page, it’s too complicated.

Always date your releases. Editors want to know that the story you give them is timely, so put a date on it.

Always include correct contact information. Include the name and phone number of a contact person, making sure it is clearly visible at the top of the release. And choose someone who can speak to the editor and who knows the story – not everyone can speak easily about it to the press.

Send to business publications. If you have an interesting story and an off-beat angle, send your release to local or national business publications. You never know when an editor will pick your story up and assign a writer to cover you. Good ideas: your local Business Times

I recommend having a pro write your releases for you – the difference will be in the acceptance rate. Amateurs tend to be ignored, while pros get published again and again. Find one to help you, and you’ll be glad you did.

Direct Mail Reaches Your Target Audience
Use your resources. You have the Reel Directory – use it! Doug and Lynetta offer very inexpensive lists of their clients, so you can pick up a list of pre-made labels, put them on an announcement postcard, and for a couple of hundred bucks you’ll reach a good-sized segment of the local market.

To reach outside the colleagues you know, you can do a little digging – using the Book of Lists. In the BOL you will find lists of contacts for companies that might need your services. BOL is available from your local Business Times. Some other ways to use Direct Mail are discussed below.

Word-of-Mouth Keeps Your Name Alive
Promote with your steady customers. You can always offer a little something to your regulars – they will like feeling appreciated, and you can get them talking to others about you. Useful office items (that stay visible on desks) are a great way to say ‘thanks.’ There are a number of promotional-product houses here and in Los Angeles, and you can find all kinds of useful and attractive items that will keep your name in play: business-card holders or wallets, letter openers, calendars.

Use unexpected resources. Got a great service? Why not tell some folks who can do you some good? Have you contacted the concierges in town? Let them know that you appreciate their interest – by offering a small commission on any work they send your way. Call them and have a frank discussion, then prepare some special cards and deliver them by hand. You’ll get to meet your newest advertising agent, shake his or her hand, and drop off the cards that could bring you business from the next production that comes to town.

Meet new contacts. There are a number of regular groups that have monthly meetings around the Bay Area. You can find them by asking a publicity professional, and then prepare a short talk to catch the attention of potential new clients. If your service is primarily for the film community, then you will want to meet people in film groups. If your service or product is more for the regular business community, then you have ways to reach out into those groups. Get some advice on how to move out into the target audience you need, and then create a strategy to show them your best side. You might write a short article (only one or two pages) on how best to use the kind of service you offer; or, you might want to give a short speech to the membership on that same topic (or blend this strategy with the one below).

Email Builds Momentum
Give good advice. People like to do business with folks they trust, with people who they know care about them and their business – especially their problems. So why not start a regular email newsletter that offers good advice or tips in your field? You could develop a set of ‘Tip Sheets’ on various tough problems, each giving a great solution that a local filmmaker needs to know. I have a file of useful data that I’ve gleaned through the years, and any or all of it can be made into tip sheets: how to ship raw stock safely, how to ship exposed film safely, how to protect gear in wet or cold weather, and how to work safely with animals, firearms, heavy machinery, speeding cars, boats, planes. Do not plagiarize, however – it doesn’t take much effort to write your own material (or to hire a good writer to do it for you).

DON’T SPAM. This is key: anyone included in your list must give you permission to email them, or you’ll create bad feelings. But professionals are always looking for better advice and new knowledge, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding ‘subscribers’ to your newsletter. You can use your existing email database, building on it with additions from online references, from a drawing of customer business cards (winner: 15% off next order), or through any of several local professional associations.

Diversify your program. Your email campaign can be easily tied in with any – or all – of the techniques above. For instance, you might build Word-of-Mouth by offering a stack of Tip Sheets on your counter for customers to take back to their offices, or as ‘takeaway’ material at meetings or events around town. You can have each of your Tip Sheets printed on a single sheet, front and back, with your company name and phone number on it. Making them 8.5 x 11 (and formatted to that they can be punched for a binder) will make them more likely to be saved and used. Including an after-hours emergency number (or a box where you can write it in for particular customers) is a great way to develop that special ‘client relationship’ that will keep them coming back. Tip sheets can also be used as Direct Mail pieces, as a ‘takeaway’ when you you prospect at meetings, or as an additional item in the envelope when you make an offer of a new service or a special discount.

Or, you might use the Tip Sheet as the basis for an article like this one, offering it in the context of a Press Release to local trade papers or other related publications. Editors are always looking for material that will be of value and interesting to their readers, and having a publication’s audience note that you’re offering free advice will do much to keep your name recognition high.

So, there you have it – some quick and easy fixes for that woeful lack of publicity and public relations that’s been dragging down your bottom line. None of this advice is going to increase your revenues 20-30 % – very little can do that. But no one ever lost business by a concerted effort to put the company name out into the community so that people see it in the best possible light. You can find a writer to craft Tips Sheets or other newsletter items for you for a few hundred dollars, and an intern from a local school could manage your lists and delivery. Added to your budgeted advertising efforts, a small PR campaign could do your business a world of good.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Going All the Way: Plan Early to Promote & Market Your Project

Meeting with a prospective client about promotion of a feature film, I was shocked to learn that there was no key art – and that the film wrapped the previous summer without a single publicity photo being taken. In a great articlea couple of years ago, Ken Karn listed the deliverables necessary to sell a film to a distributor – without those materials, you might wind up owing the distributor money.

What is the lesson of these two anecdotes? For successful film or video promotion, you must start early. The minute you have principals attached, start building your promotional materials. To avoid problems later, develop your list of materials before you start shooting, so you’ll have time and money available to complete them.

How do you know what to put on that list? You could start by searching online for press materials, media kits, and other promotional material from your favorite films. Every studio movie has its own website these days, so you can glean clues there. You can also call a friend who has done it before – or someone who teaches at a local school. You can pick up materials from other filmmakers at the next festival you attend. By putting in a bit of sweat equity, you’ll get great rewards later.

Your materials should stay consistent during the life of your project, so choose paper and ink colors early and avoid changing them. Hire a graphic artist (or art student) to help you match the ‘look’ of your materials to your film’s genre and theme. Use red/white/black, for instance, for a shocker or horror film (creepy monster: toxic green). For a military story, khaki/tan/green suggest the army or marines, and blue/grey suggest the navy (air force: sea-green/blue).

Your Media Kit
Every successful project uses a Media Kit. Your needs will change, and the following elements are the building blocks and template for all kits: investor’s or distributor’s kits, press kits, EPKs (electronic press kits). Fit each item to a single page, with logo and contact information. Add longer Feature material later.

Some elements will change, depending on use, but the basics are: Title, Tagline, Logo, Company Background, Story Synopsis (one page), Photos, Bios (Writer, Director, Producers, Actors, DP, Production Designer), Crewlist, and Features (including Production Notes, Historical Data, and other items of interest).

The Title
Determine your film’s title early; use it consistently – make it short and catchy, giving clues about the film. Adding your tagline creates a full picture for the audience. Consider how some titles relate to action and theme:
Saving Private Ryan
The End of the Affair
To Have and To Have Not
The Jagged Edge
My Beautiful Launderette
Million Dollar Baby
Farewell, My Lovely
House of Sand & Fog

Some titles are catchy and seductive; others are simple and straightforward. Simpler titles generally rely on the tagline or visuals for impact. Consider how the press will use your tagline – for instance, ‘A Sinking Boat’ could become this review headline: ‘A Sinking Movie’ (don’t provide a weapon to ridicule your film).

The Tagline
A short phrase communicating an essential story quality, the tagline is similar to the title, but distinct. The tagline should be a phrase or sentence, though sometimes the title serves as a tagline.

Unfortunately taglines are often overlooked in marketing. Your tagline should contain just a few words to strike the target audience on an emotional level. Determine your tagline early, then use it consistently on everything dedicated to a particular market or segment – perhaps on all printed pieces.

Some examples* are:
“A story as explosive as his blazing automatics!”
“Where Evil Lives.”
“Nobody ever grows up quite like they imagined.”
“He's having the worst day of his life... over, and over...”
“Five Criminals. One Line Up. No Coincidence.”
“He has the power to make anyone's dream come true... except his own.”
“He Rode the Fast Lane on the Road to Nowhere!”

The Logo
Not every film has a logo, but if you choose one make it simple, recognizable and related to the film. It can be incorporated into poster design, or use it as a sticker (add your website’s url to create buzz about your film).

Company Background
Keep this to a paragraph or two, giving company history simply: where and when you started, where your principals worked previously, and what motivated you to make this film, form the partnership, or start your company. List all principals involved, but avoid duplicating bio material – keep things short and sweet.

Remember: you’ll be using this element a long time (perhaps to raise funds for your next project), so make references– your hometown, your ‘adopted city,’ your college or university – that may be useful as ‘hooks’ for later stories, such as ‘Hometown Girl Makes Good.’

Bios should be short and to-the-point, giving interesting data without revealing private information. Mention hometowns but not schools (nobody cares about the school’s name anyway – they’re more interested that your star was a cheerleader or fullback). Be careful: bios live forever, and if your principals become famous you don’t want stalkers camped outside their parents’ homes.

Always end the bio with a credit list. Principals have no credits? Use school projects. Remember, brevity is important, so replace hard data with life motivation or interest in making your film. Try to print all bios two or three to a single page.

On the Crewlist, double check: all names spelled flawlessly and all credits listed accurately.

Early on, you won’t need photos in your kit. Collect photos when you’ve signed one or more actors or a well-known director – ‘well-known’ in your city, if not Hollywood or New York. You’ll eventually need key art (pictures of the film’s characters in action – NO equipment in the frame) and production shots (‘backstage,’ composed clearly: director and star, stuntman prepping a fall, etc).

Start with 5x7’s instead of the standard 8x10’s you’ll need later; ‘gang’ two 5x7’s on a single 8x10 to save money. Your pictures should be crisp, ‘contrasty,’ and in focus. Tell your photographer clearly that you want newspaper-quality (60-80 line screens – you don’t want shots requiring 150-180 lines).

Every picture should be properly lit and composed – by a professional. Amateur shots taken with a consumer camera will be useless later. The final pictures must be captioned, preferably with a concise description of action, and all persons in the picture should be identified from left to right. Remember: all names spelled correctly.

The Internet
No filmmaker can ignore the usefulness of a website. Many films succeed only because of the internet, so use it to gain credibility and reach in the marketplace. Have your graphic artist or designer work on the website – whatever you pay is worth it.

Your Media Kit elements, especially if already developed into an EPK, can translate directly to your website – each on a separate page if you want.

~ ~ ~

Principles of Success
Marketing films is essentially no different from other marketing. You’ve determined your film’s specific audience – now it’s your job to reach them, out of millions of movie-goers. Plan your campaign in advance: capture them by keeping your message clear to your audience.

Of course, summer escapist action-adventures are handled differently from intimate character-driven stories – each must be marketed to its respective audience. But in the general marketing campaign, three principles apply for small pictures and huge studio blockbusters.

Many studies reveal the success associated with these vital principles; before starting your project, it’s crucial to understand and agree with them. Successful campaigns require commitment, investment and consistency. Without these, your efforts will be short-lived and you’ll risk failure.

Without a solid commitment, there’s no reason to begin. To succeed, commit to the overall plan and campaign – specific tasks for a set period. Advertising, promotion, and publicity almost never show measurable immediate results. Be willing to stick with the plan whether or not you see definitive results. Without a firm commitment, you might ‘leave the party too early.’

View as investment any money and energy spent on marketing – investment in the future of your film and your career. Investments in the stock market or property don’t accrue large profits – even on paper – quickly. The campaign can be altered to respond to new events, but once you’ve accepted it, stick with the plan. Like growing a business, advancing your career requires realistic and decisive planning, and proper execution. This costs money, so ‘stay in for the long haul.’

Any marketing plan must be consistent with the vision of the director and producer, with prevailing market conditions, with current offerings in the marketplace, and with your ability to deliver a quality product. For a comedy about young marrieds with a new baby, your audience might be new parents – so pick the magazines, TV or radio stations that serves this target audience. Your return on investment won’t justify promoting on a shock-jock show or in the AARP newsletter. Still, there are many innovative ways to reach your audience that are lucrative, if managed correctly.

By determining your level of commitment, investment and consistency, you can devise a more realistic plan than others who ‘jump in and take their chances.’ Your advantages: planning and foresight.

It’s never too late for a great plan in marketing, advertising, PR or promotion. Hire a pro to help you (www.reeldirectory.com). Take a long careful look at your film, your company, your career arc – then decide what you want to say about it. Test several Taglines and Titles with friends and colleagues. Decide how to best make your statement. And remember, your success means finding the appropriate audience, discovering their needs and wants, then showing them the value and entertainment that only your film can provide.

# # #

* Taglines from The Maltese Falcon, The House, The Kid, Groundhog Day, The Usual Suspects, The Last Tycoon, Five Easy Pieces.

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

sábado, 21 de marzo de 2009

The Pied Piper of the Cinémathèque

In a case of the arts as precursor to life, the demonstration against the French government’s sacking of Henri Langlois in February of 1968 led to a small riot that would be the first of many riots in that year famous for civil unrest. The protest and general strike of May 1968 (leading to the election of a new parliament to replace the DeGaulle government in June) were outgrowths of that first protest over the Cinémathèque Française in February.

Not the first cinémathèque in the world, nor the largest, still Langlois’ creation was singular in its depth and breadth – Langlois collected everything (especially early fragile silent films), and saved thousands of films from the Nazis by numerous wily schemes. He has never really been accorded the honor that such a feat deserves, though the protests in the gardens of the Palais de Chaillot were a good start.

The protests over Langlois weren’t limited to the streets – the French press, as well as many famous and influential people, supported Langlois in scathing letters and telegrams to the civil government (Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin, among many others). But the fact that the first people to take to the streets were cineastes is, I feel, significant, for in those days, filmmakers were truly perceived as artists, and indeed many were artists and poets as well as writers and intellectuals.

The intersection of politics and cinema – what conservative types have been afraid of for years – had a brief bright moment in 1968, and then failed to ignite, as the entertainment value of film took over the collective consciousness.

No matter what anyone says about political or social uses of film today – Michael Moore and Al Gore notwithstanding – that early hope for political motion has not been fulfilled as many hoped it would be. The intellectual power of film has faded into the background, minimized by an attitude that film ‘artists’ – along with ‘intellectuals’ – are ‘quaint.

But an interesting thing happened… in an odd way, films continued to morph into TV, which took on a role remarkable in its simplicity.

In the seminal work The Art of the Moving Picture, Vachel Lindsay drew a clear comparison between movie houses and saloons, noting that the tone and tenor of public thought is drawn by the gathering-places of people. In Lindsay’s view, the moral tone of a saloon was suspect, while films that showed ‘social ideals’ could have a salutary effect on the body politic:

The shame of the American drinking place is the bar-tender who dominates its thinking. His cynical and hardened soul wipes out a portion of the influence of the public school, the library, the self-respecting newspaper. A stream rises no higher than its source, and through his dead-fish eye and dead-fish brain the group of tired men look upon all the statesmen and wise ones of the land. Though he says worse than nothing, his furry tongue, by endless reiteration, is the American slum oracle. At the present the bar-tender handles the neighborhood group, the ultimate unit in city politics….
So, good citizen, welcome the coming of the moving picture man as a local social force. Whatever his private character, the mere formula of his activities makes him a better type. He may not at first sway his group in a directly political way, but he will make himself the centre of more social ideals than the bar-tender ever entertained. And he is beginning to have as intimate a relation to his public as the bar-tender. In many cases he stands under his arch in the sheltered lobby and is on conversing terms with his habitual customers, the length of the afternoon and evening.

While very few influential producers or directors stand ‘in the sheltered lobby’ greeting audience members, they still hold a certain influence over the thoughts and motivations of those who follow their films. And Lindsay goes farther in his comparison, by alluding to the drain of one on the other: “Often when a moving picture house is set up, the saloon on the right hand or the left declares bankruptcy…”

Today’s bars tend to be places dominated by TV sets – often a dozen or more, even in the chain restaurants that line our suburbs. And while sports seems to be the main topic of interest related to these TV screens, still the screens will focus on certain issues that capture the attention of the voracious media. The democratization of TV has come in the form not of programming but of topicality: what the people are talking about is what stays on the screen… until the fickle public chooses another topic to chase. Still, a case of euthanasia in Florida or an uxorcide in our own backyard will capture the national imagination and spawn a host of imitative shows, from magazine-style exposés to movies-of-the-week.

Recommended works on Langlois & the Cinémathèque:

Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinémathèque by Serge Toubiana, Georges Goldfayn, Françoise Foucault, and Pascal Rogard (DVD - Aug 15, 2006)

A Passion for Films: Henri Langlois & the Cinémathèque Française by Richard Roud and François Truffaut (Paperback - Jun 17, 1999)

The Dreamers (NC-17 Edition) by Bernardo Bertolucci (DVD - Jul 13, 2004)

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Welcome to CineScene.

I had intended this blog to be published in the magazine that I previously worked for, but it seems that (to put this in the kindest words I can find) I have been made a victim of the economic downturn. That’s transition # 1.

So I am shifting my writing to this blog, in hopes of attracting enough of an audience to make it worthwhile to continue. (Transition # 2.)

As I go along, I will include previous blogs, as they may be of interest to film professionals and movie fans.

And now for Transition # 3, the actual subject of this blog – changes in the film industry, exhibition side. Let’s start with a bit of history.

From 1981 to 2005, studio income from Theatrical Exhibition shrank from 58% to 21% of Hollywood’s total income landscape, while Video Sell-through grew from 7 % to 49%.

That’s a huge change, and it continues to haunt the landscape today – the stalled Screen Actors Guild negotiations are hinged to these figures in both directions: the actors want a bigger share of the pie, and the studios want to keep the bottom line down (read: pay as little as possible).

Meanwhile, from 1981 to 2005, Video Rentals (as a percentage of the whole) stayed the same, while Broadcast Network income dropped from 10% to 1%, and Basic Cable grew from nothing to 3% of the studios’ income.

Studio revenues account for 80% of almost $12BB in consumer spending on sell-through sales, while the studios gained only 47% of the $8.5BB box office, 26% of $8.25BB in rentals, and 21% of $8.4BB from Premium TV, excluding Video on Demand (VOD) and Pay Per View (PPV) – the remaining percentages went to distribution partners.

And in the nascent VOD and PPV areas, the studios took in 60% of $125MM in VOD receipts, and 48% of $200MM in PPV income.

Though they get good percentages on VOD and PPV (studio share, 60% and 48%, respectively), the income is not large enough to warrant major interest (a third of a billion dollars, or less than 1% of total income from all sources).

Clearly, the future of Hollywood is in DVD sell-through (studio share, 80%) – or whatever the next generation of consumer-owned titles will be.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that 47% of 21% (Theatrical Exhibition) is a whole lot less than 80% of 49% (Sell-through).

Ok, that’s the money, but let’s look at consumer motivation.

Previously, no one thought that people would want to own films the way they own books – a library at home of favorite titles.

But DVD ownership is a logical extension of the desire to own knowledge or at least to hold onto information, and someone other than a few Kassandras should have seen this trend in advance – people buy and keep books, even though they may read them only once or twice in the time of their ownership.

In 1998, the first year that DVDs were offered on the market, DVDs represented about 8% of total ‘home video’ sales (total sales of $6.5BB).

But by 2005, DVDs had virtually wiped out VHS sales, having reduced them to just $500MM of the total $16.5BB – in 2006 there were virtually no VHS retail sales, and the market was static at $16.5BB. Translation: DVDs added ten billion dollars to the total income of retail sales, at the same time that they caused a decline of $5.48BB in VHS sales – VHS declined to just 3% of the retail ‘video’ market.

Early projections that HD-DVD would outstrip standard DVD seem to be coming true, as Blu-Ray’s market share has grown.

In fact, ‘a la carte’ PPV, VOD, and Internet video promise to be the fastest-growing segment of the studios income stream in the coming years. The 2005 aggregate gross of those three segments was $ 37.8BB retail sales, with studio revenue estimated at $17.26 per transaction.

The numbers will look different now, but the preceding figures came from Adams Media Research, a topline marketing research firm.

So what does it all mean? It means that portable movies are the way of the future, whether on disks or thumb-drives, or stored in iPods or your cell phone. And when we say ‘portable movies,’ we actually mean any kind of narrative moving-picture experience – feature and short films, TV shows, cartoons. But that alone is only half the story.

Another segment of this tale of the future is in how the studios will handle exhibition – and that has a couple of noteworthy components. The first is acquisition.

Previously, each major studio need a new film for the pipeline every two weeks. Why? To hold places in the exhibitors’ (theater owners’) calendars, so that a film from a rival studio would not take that screen.

Studios pretty much figured on 24 films per year, and they initially made almost all of them in-house. The studios made a range of films, with different budgets and bound for different markets or audiences – many were small films that could be sacrificed to make room in the exhibitors’ calendar.

But as budgets soared and the value of money declined, the studios started negative buys. To fill in their slates, the studio acquisition reps bought films at festivals or at film markets – especially foreign films or those that would fit into ‘indie’ slots. In 2008, there was a feeding frenzy at Sundance, with bidding wars going on for acquisition of new indies.

Why? Because the studios had cut their production slates so drastically – they were making (a very rough) half of the number they had made a few years previous.

And at the most recent Sundance festival, reps were buying films they had not even seen. This interesting fact was printed on the same page that claimed that Box Office receipts were up for January, in spite of the predicted collapse of the American economy.

Ah, the American economy. Yes, the playing field is changing under our feet. And people are always looking to the last war – or, in this case, the last depression. I keep hearing that movies are ‘recession-proof’ and that people went to movies to escape their woes during the 30s. But theater tickets did not top ten bucks then, and the studios did cut budgets, like it or not.

There’s a big difference in two bits for an A movie and a B movie, plus cartoons and newsreels. And you could stay in the theater all day if you chose – which many people did, to say out of the cold in the winter and out of the heat in the summer.

But let’s get back to the second component of how Hollywood will handle exhibition in an uncertain future: marketing.

We hear much of the long tail these days, and not enough people know what that means. In the case of exhibition, the long tail means finding niche markets or select groups to whom to promote a film.

Gone are the days of full-page ads – hell, there may not even be newspapers around when you are reading this – and marketing to a wide audience. Using focused marketing, the studios can reach only soccer fans or only horror fans or only tightly-framed demographics.

As costs go up and marketing techniques become more sophisticated (and your personal preferences become commodities traded behind the computer screen), we will see the entire scale of marketing change.

And that’s the topic for a future CineScene blog!

(Well, along with why you won’t really have to worry about watching films on your phone.)

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2009 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.