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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Step in the Right Direction

Now here’s an example of someone in film who has an idea and is taking active steps to implement it.

There’s a piece in the New York Times on Ava DuVernay, filmmaker and publicist, who wants to see black-theme films thrive (the story is behind the wall, but you can register for free if you don’t already have a NYT account).

Her idea? Target those cities which already have existing audiences for black-theme films. Take advantage of the independent film program announced by AMC theaters, which has chains everywhere, to get those films in there for two-week runs. Support those films with grass-roots efforts from the cities’ ethnic-themed film festivals, using social marketing tools. Aim for 50 cities, but start with five to show it’s a workable model.

These are the kind of innovative ideas we need more of from the independent film community in general. We need to be thinking outside the model that says the only way to achieve “success” with your film is to make that elusive high-6 to-7 figure distrib deal at Sundance or Toronto.

I love the idea of targeting a specific niche and finding ways to market to that niche. I don’t necessarily agree with her that the only market for black-theme films is African Americans … that to me is just the reverse of asserting that African Americans can’t or won’t see indie films, which, while it may be true in terms of actual ticket sales at the moment, is not necessarily a truth that’s etched in stone. Get black audiences seeing some smart, indie black-theme films, and maybe you can expand their interest into other niches as well. Encourage white audiences, or Latino audiences, or Asian audiences, to explore black cinema, and you open minds to new ideas. Draw on the commonalities that unite us, not just the differences that divide.

I know, I know. Kum-ba-ya and all that, but I’m a touchy-feely liberal who believes, truly, that there are commonalities across cultures: love, death, happiness, fear, grief, celebration … things that tie us together. And for me, a big part of the role of independent cinema of all stripes is to make the world a smaller place, to bridge those cultural divides.

Still, I applaud this effort as a model. For me, the money quote from the article was this bit:

“Chris McGurk, who was then vice chairman of MGM, even tried to position the studio as a gathering point for black filmmakers.

But the strategy faltered, Mr. McGurk said, as costs rose, and black-theme films, which generally underperform in foreign markets, outgrew their niche. “The economics of that business really only work if you’re able to produce them for $10 million or less,” he explained.”

Well, yes. That’s true across indie film, folks. And really, you can produce a hell of a movie for under $10 million. That’s a LOT of money in the indie film world, and I can think of many, many superior films made on much smaller budgets than that. Really, the economics of the business, whether you’re making black-theme films or any kind of indie film is this: How much can you raise to make your film without going substantially into debt? How much can you get financial or in-kind support to help finance it? And, most importantly, what is your realistic plan for selling your film enough that you can make that money back, plus enough extra to live on and make the next film?

But still, this is an interesting idea, and it’s a start. We need more smart people thinking outside the box like this about how to promote indie film.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin