I’ve been both an independent filmmaker and a professional lighting technician in film/television since 2007. My life has revolved around the industry. There have been good times, bad times, and scary times. It’s an industry of unpredictability, and adventure.
As a lighting technician, I’ve seen it all. Cinematographers (Director of Photography) and Gaffers (Chief Lighting Technicians) can be endlessly inventive with how they light a scene. I’ve seen films and tv shows lit in countless different ways. Some of those ways were visually pleasing, and others… DOPs and Gaffers love to try out the newest lighting gear on the market. They will move mountains to put a light where a light was never meant to be. I was once sent up in a basket, at night, on a crane, placed on a barge, that sat on the ocean. The basket was rigged with four lighting fixtures, and barely enough space for me to sit. My point is, when it comes to technology and craft, film is ripe with innovation.
Can the same be said about the business side of film? Endless remakes, sequels, and adaptations might say different. Re-imaginings of old properties aren’t always a bad thing. We never would have been treated to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had that been the case. It just shouldn’t be the backbone of our industry.
Producers, executives, distributors, and agents are afraid to take the same kinds of risks that cinematographers and production designers relish in. This is the current case. Even in independent film, people want to play it safe. That safety doesn’t always pay off. If the audience is bored of the same old, a lower budget version of that same-old will likely be even less appealing to them.
One of the reasons for this conservatism, in the feature film world, comes from the reality that original films are hard to sell. Proven properties already have a fan base. It’s a short cut to success. What about people who hunger for something new? Not just creators, but audience members? Just because an audience member is cautious of unfamiliar content doesn’t mean they don’t want to see something new. It’s our job to prove to them that their time won’t be wasted if they give this new movie a try.
Too many amazing screenplays and projects are turned down on a daily basis. Sure, their are more terrible projects out there than good ones, but there are still a lot of good ones. Great projects never get made, while bad films die at the box office. These promising properties are usually looked over due to an uncertainty as to how audiences will react, or if the film will sell tickets. It’s a fair fear, but what can be done to remedy this?
New approaches to marketing and selling feature films. Like in any other industry, a feature film is a product; much like a vacuum cleaner, a box of cereal, or a new car. In other industries, marketers and advertisers have to work their asses off trying to determine what special qualities a product has, or how it can best fill a customer’s needs. A good product won’t always sell itself, sometimes customers need to be lured in, or educated on the product’s benefits.
Discovering what qualities/elements in a screenplay, or film, best draw in potential audiences seems like a given. Is it the protagonist, the main theme, the genre, an unusual story structure, the music, a shooting location, a concept, an ensemble cast? Sometimes, that “something” in a film that really gets people going isn’t what the filmmakers envisioned. Occasionally, that something isn’t even included in the advertising or the trailer. I can’t tell you how many times I watched a trailer, hated it, but ended up randomly seeing the movie regardless. While watching the movie(s), I thought to myself “I’m glad there was nothing better to see, because this movie is awesome. I almost didn’t go and see this. I wish they would have put some of this good shit in the trailer.”
Why am I ranting on about this? Because I’m an audience member who watches too many films in the cinema, and because I’m a filmmaker myself. These questions have echoed through my mind for years, like a persistent madness taking over. Why do good films get looked over, and bad films get made? Why did one of my favourite dark comedies “Death to Smoochie” have such a god awful trailer that attracted kids to see a film clearly geared to adults? WHY?
This is why I created a new business model for “Angry Bear Film Productions”. A four phase business model that integrates the development of the intellectual property with the film’s marketing and its early stages of distribution, its theatrical release. I came up with a way to dissect and test a screenplay, and create a “through-line” for the project, in order to discover and exploit what about the film appeals to audiences the most. A way to familiarize the audience with the story and characters, as the project moves forward. I’m not going to give away all of the details here, but I just wanted to make the point that it’s something I’ve been working on. It’s connected to “Angry Bear Film Productions” feature film project in development “Ice Cream Man”.
Now seems like a logical time to get to work and find solutions. To get people excited about going to the movies again. To make the movie-going experience an anticipated event, and a night out to remember. Less “the special effects were kinda cool” and more “that mother-fucker made me cry all the way through the damn credits.”
Film has a power to reach people with new ideas, it has since its inception. Let’s not let that slip away.
You can learn more about the feature film project “Ice Cream Man“.
You can give ICM’s new theme song a listen at “The Ice Cream Man – Regret Never Tasted so Sweet“.
You can learn more about Chris Griffin, founder of Angry Bear Film Productions at “About Me“.