Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Design Currency: Great Economic Divide - Part 2

So, did you answer the questions in part 1?
Good. Now you are ready to begin contemplating an even larger question.
I just read an article today in the NY Times talking about the film, "Breaking Upwards". You can read the article HERE. And it got me thinking . . .
Creating an independent film like this one is exciting and extremely alarming. With the success of Paranormal Activity, studios are beginning to realize the potential of DIY (do-it-yourself) filmmaking. Both films have a price tag of $15K, which is super cheap considering $5M is still a low budget film. Understand that most of the crew and talent were practically unpaid.
What does that mean for you?
Let's say you enjoy working with a camera crew, or an electrical grip, or as a boom operator. There are unions for these jobs. But what if these unionized jobs begin disappearing? The union jobs are for projects with a certain budget associated with studios or production companies. What if those productions kept disappearing and all that was left were these DIY shoots?
There was a point in the film industry where the business model was that you worked bad hours at bad pay in order to get experience. Once you have enough contacts and made your share of favors, then you are ready to begin working for a living. That model is slowly disappearing. And we, as filmmakers and students, are letting it happen. Less and less we are seeing real funding for moderatley budgeted films ($10 - 30 M) because it is cheaper for distribution companies to cut a deal at Sundance or any other festival and make a killing in profits.
If you noticed, there is a trend in feature filmmaking. Expensive VFX, brand driven films are being produced over well written, character driven dramas. (I could go into the whole Avatar vs Hurt Locker rant, but we'll leave that for another post.) Who wants to pay a unionized, experienced crew when a bunch a 20 somethings are willing to work for free? So, that shoot that you quit your job over so you could help your friend of a friend for two weeks. That film is opening up in theaters next month and you still do not have a job.
Now, I'm not trying to be a downer. I think both of these case studies are terrific demonstrations of what a dedicated artist and business man can do with a limited amount of funds. Frankly, I believe some of the best filmmaking is done on a strict budget. Budget limitations require creative problem solving which often leads to better storytelling. Just look at what happened to the Matrix trilogy: the first one was done with a strict budget, fantastic film. When the Warchowski brothers received unlimited funding, they lost the focus of the story they were trying to tell.
My point is that you should be extremely considerate with what you do for free and don't forget the people who worked on your shoot. There is a similar dilema right now in the Visual Effects industy. Go to VFXFairness.com and check out the on-line town hall meetings. They are suffering from something similar. The youngest generation of artists are will to work for pratically nothing as long as they can say they worked on a feature film. This leads to a difficult cycle where the older the artist gets the less job opportunities are available. When you, as a person, begin to develop the responsibilities of being a parent, spouse, caretaker, etc, then you will need a steady income. This issue should be on your list of concerns now. It's only the rest of your career . . .

What are your thoughts? I am curious. The blog has just been updated to allow everyone to post, with google accounts or not. Please, share!
Cheers, Director Eve.

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