30 August 2010

Your stuff here

Part of making a film is, obviously, wardrobe. And while I have a lot of really cool shirt, I don't have that many. But it occurred to me that we have a film where a few choice articles of clothing will be in virtually every scene (and some less so), so it's a perfect opportunity for some ambitious maker of t-shirts to promote their wares. We like helping people promote stuff.

So, if you fit that description, email me: lmcnelly[at]gmail.com (put "T-Shirt" in the subject line). We'll make decisions on how they best fit the characters and the story. Other than that, all we need is for the shirts we pick to send us 2 of them (so we have a back-up) in time for our start date. So...let's say they need to be here the 7th, just to be safe.

You get to have your stuff in a kick-ass movie, and we get a kick-ass shirt in our movie without having to worry about rights issues. Everyone wins.

26 August 2010

The PMD conundrum

Let's get this right out in the open: a PMD, on some level is essential to your indie film. Is he more essential than your cast and crew? No, but essential all the same.

It's a wonderful idea and a wonderful job description and I support it 100%.

But as a filmmaker working on a budget, here's my issues:

1. It's a little close to marketing. And with marketing comes sharks. And with sharks comes scams. We've all tried to look for jobs in the marketing venue and and quickly learned that almost all of it was bullshit. Or involved selling knives. It's just a breeding ground for opportunist assholes looking to make a quick buck. The scum of the earth.

2. That's not to say they're all scum. There's a litany of good people in the field, people like Sheri Candler and Tyler Weaver. There will be more as the idea gains ground.

3. But, since the role is so new, there's almost no way to know who is who yet. Look at it this way, when I hire a DP or an actor or a musician, I have reels and headshots and resumes to sort through. I can see almost everything they've ever done. I can talk to people they've worked with. I can do my research. And I don't have to find a wedding photographer who's pretty sure his skills can translate. I can find someone who has worked on a film somewhat similar to mine.

But PMDs are so new, that nothing like this exists. Everyone is new.

4. So there's no track record, yet the PMDs I've talked to so far seem to all require payment and seem unwilling to work for credit.

You can count on one the people in indie film who get paid without a track record. Why am I paying someone who's never successfully done this more than my experienced cast and crew? It's like if I had a football team and everyone got the league minimum then we brought in a kicker who's never played football before, but he's a world-class soccer player. Thing is, he wants $6M/year. I'd be an idiot to do that.

So I guess my message is this: fledgling PMDs, you're going to have to work for free and build up a resume, just like the rest of us. If that's a problem, maybe you should sell knives. I hear there's good money in that.

20 August 2010

Festivals are dead. Long live festivals.

Festivals are dead.

This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to you. A lot of them are struggling to stay in business and filmmaker discord is growing by the day, and for good reason.

Here's the model. See if this makes sense to you.

Step 1: A person spends several thousand dollars and months, if not years, making a product.

Step 2: That product is then sent to some other body which, for a fee in the range of $30-$100, will consider it for inclusion. They get a lot of them, though, so there's a good chance they won't give it a full consideration. They might not even look at it. Either way, they keep the money. They will show something like 5% of them to their audience.

Step 3: Repeat the process 50-100 times.

Step 4: Congratulations! You've made the cut! What do you get? Money? No. Fame? Probably not. A chance to sell your product at the event? Maybe. Access to valuable lists of audience members? Not really.

How fucking stupid is that? Would any business in the world do that? No, of course not. But for the longest time, filmmakers really had no choice. It was a gatekeeper system and that was the only way in.

Now? Not so much.

Kickstarter has changed the way in which we fund our films and, honestly, it's been something of a godsend to a lot of people. We're interacting with audiences directly, which was really where the big value add-on was for festivals. We needed them to find an audience.

We don't need them for that anymore.

Sure, they can help us find a bigger audience, but that's not guaranteed. It certainly isn't worth $50. For the cost of a submission fee, I could find someone in that city, ship them a box of screeners, and have them give them away in front of the festival venue. That would probably be as helpful. Plus, it'd be kind of bad-ass.

Again, we don't need festivals.

But festivals need us. Man, do they need us. They can barely stay in business as it is. Take away our submission fees and they're fucked. If we were to all suddenly get a Marxian itch and stop paying submission fees, the festival circuit would stop. Just like that.

They can't survive without us.

I'm not calling for the end of festivals. I have friends who run festivals. They lose money and work a ridiculous number of hours and do some really nice things. But you know what? So do filmmakers. We're losing money on these films and we're subsidizing their losses. That's just bad business.

But festivals, if you want to stay in business, you need to re-think your business model. Yours is broken. It's always been broken, but now it's starting to become obsolete. Thing is, I like you. I like meeting festival directors and people at festivals and wearing your t-shirts while I work on my next film. They're a lot of fun. But your submission process just isn't worth my time and money.

If you want to consider my film, I'll gladly mail you a screener. If you want to program my film, awesome. I'll roll into town with a box of DVDs and do all the press you want me to do and shake hands and everything. Hell, I'll even buy you a beer. I will do everything in my power to help you make your festival successful. But don't expect me to keep paying $50 for the honor of maybe being considered. I'm over it. I have other options.

And I know what you're going to say, that you need my submission fees to stay in business. Too bad. Raise your own money. I did.

You can always start a Kickstarter campaign.

16 August 2010

A TILT Contest

Those geniuses over at TILT, who previously brought us pretty much the coolest crowdfunding campaign ever, have launched a campaign to have other indie films included in TILT.

Naturally, Blanc de Blanc is in the running. There's 8 films. 2 will end up in TILT, so our odds are pretty good.

So...go. Vote. Spread the word.

11 August 2010

10 August 2010

Indies I Recommend: Whale

Earlier this year, when I was naive enough to think I could somehow change the world (well, not the world as much as a city), I got in my head this idea that I could start a screening series called Indies for Indies. We had a willing venue, so armed with a bunch of ideas stolen from Ted Hope, I set up a series of indie films. And, man, we showed some great films in a stunningly beautiful. The thing is, no one showed up. And not just for the series. No one was showing up for stuff like Sergio Leone films, for Annie Hall, The 400 Blows. We put the series on hiatus and soon after that, the theatre closed. It was a shame, because we could have done great things for indie film in Pittsburgh.

What can you do, right?

Anyway, the very first film we screened as part of the series was Amir Motlagh's Whale, a beautiful film about heartbreak, a lo-fi, found art film made by a supremely talented filmmaker. It's messy--intentionally so--but has more raw, honest truth than any film I've seen this year. Amir very quickly jumped to the top of my list of filmmakers to watch.

And now Whale is available for your home viewing pleasure. You can buy DVDs all over the place, and you can even rent it for a mere $0.99 on YouTube. Don't tell me you can't afford that. Do it. Rent it. Buy a DVD. You won't regret it.

whale_feature film trailer_director Amir Motlagh from Amir Motlagh on Vimeo.


TILT (28 July 2010)

Help: DP needed

So some of you may have heard that we're scrambling a bit on Up Country. Our very talented DP has had to drop out for one simple reason: he's not allowed in the country, and not in the way that Roman Polanski isn't allowed in the country. He's having visa issues. Simple, but hard to get around, even for indie filmmakers like ourselves who refuse to take "no" for an answer.

And now we need a DP. Think of this as a crew call to arms. The details:

+ We have a budget via Kickstarter of just over $4k. That's not a lot of money, but we can cover travel costs. Plus, there's back-end money involved, but unlike most micro budget films, if we can stay under budget, we break even. We don't need to pay that money back. So...things would have to go really terribly awful for there not not be at least some back-end money.

+ It's a micro-budget film, but a micro-budget film with a pretty impressive list of backers. This isn't one of those projects where your work will never see the light of day. On the contrary, it might be one of the more high profile sub-$5k films you could hope to work on.

+ We have a 7-day shoot in September. We have 2 windows of dates: Sept 1-10 & Sept 13-23.

+ We're filming in the northern reaches of Maine, up by Canada, in the middle of nowhere. We will have almost no electricity. There may be some camping involved.

+ I'm 99% sure there's lobster involved.

+ We're shooting on the 7D.

+ My last film, Blanc de Blanc was shot in 4.5 days for $970. Critics loved it. Audiences loved it. It ran for a week in a multiplex where it out-grossed 60% of the Hollywood films running that week. One night we out-grossed the #1 film in the country.

+ I can send you the script as needed. We're working off a script/outline hybrid, but the basic story is this: 3 people hire a Maine guide to take them on a fishing trip. The guide leads them out to the middle of nowhere and steals all their gear, leaving them lost and alone. Things get worse from there. Less Deliverance and more Hitchcock meets Malick.

Interested? Want more info? Email me: lmcnelly[at]gmail.com.

At minimum, we'll post the reels of everyone who contacts us, which will get you a little extra exposure. And we may even narrow it down to 2 people and have a good old fashioned fan vote.

04 August 2010

Your first film doesn't have to suck

Back a couple of years ago, when I was trying to put together my first feature film, I spent a long time--several years--working on an adaptation of a book of poetry called coffee stains. It was a book written in one day by my college roommate that was sort of, kind of about the joys of all-night diners, the zen of staying up all night, of letting inaction dictate your life.

It's a serene little book and I really liked the idea of turning it into a film. So I pulled it apart, each draft burrowing deeper and deeper into the poems until they were almost impossible to recognize. In the end it was really a script based on a script based on a script, based on a book of poetry.

And it's not a bad script. It's probably better than, say, 70% of the indie films out there. A couple of very smart people said that, yes, I should start on pre-production. But one person said I shouldn't. It was a difficult thing to hear, but he was right. I shelved the script, and it was one of the smarter things I've done in my career.

The gist of his argument was this: The script probably needs another draft, but even with that, you can't do this as a first feature. It's, best-case scenario, a third feature.

And he's absolutely right. I see why now.

You see, the story was essentially about this cinephile who's in a long-term relationship with this girl, but he refuses to move past a certain point in the relationship because he has this obsession with Bergman films and this idea that all relationships are ultimately doomed. So, his inaction ends up dooming the relationship, his friends move on, and he's left alone, insulated in his little world of cinema.

But his point was: too many first-time filmmakers make films that are either about themselves or movies or something like that and the film suffers for it. Even if it doesn't, people's eyes start to gloss over because there's just so damned many of them. People are sick of them.

And of course they are. Once you realize that, you start to see it everywhere. Debut feature about a writer/film student/filmmaker/artist who has boy/girl problems and blah blah blah, no one cares.

But it's an easy trap to fall into.

I don't claim to know everything, but here's some things I've learned the hard way:

1. No artists

None. I don't want to see the following thing in your film: a filmmaker, painter, photographer, writer, dancer, installation artist, poet, or any other kind of artist you can think of. They aren't nearly as interesting as you think they are, and outside a circle of artists, they're pretty boring and self-indulgent.

2. Don't write what you know

I don't give a shit about your life story. Honest. No one else does either.

Writing teachers always say write what you know, and I'm not entirely sure why, but I think, on some level, it's lazy teaching. At very least it's lazy writing. Try this instead: write what someone else knows. Come up with a character that you find interesting, that's not you, that's nothing like you, and figure them out. Do your research. Find out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what their struggles are. Interview people. Read textbooks and case studies and boring as hell medical data. You're a writer, aren't you? There's more to it than just sitting at Starbucks and scribbling in a notebook.

I wrote a film about a pregnant woman. Guess how much I knew about pregnant women when I started. Zero. But I did the leg work and I started to see myself in the character, and so, in a way, I started writing about myself. But, it was so buried by everything else that you could barely tell.

3. "Based on a true story"


Don't even think about it.

4. Get a DP

I don't care if you are a DP. Get someone else. You have enough to worry about. Trust your DP to add a dimension, a voice, to your film. And for the love of God, get a tripod.

5. You are not an actor

Just like the DP, even if you are an actor, take a film off.

6. Your images are important

I was watching a film the other day by a first-time filmmaker. There was no credited DP (uh oh), but 3 credited camera operators. Here's the text messages I was sending:

Me: Some really interesting images, but I don't think it's on purpose. Weird.

Me: Like the meaning in the use of shadow, framing, doesn't match the content.

Friend: Ouch

I don't care if you're making a mumblecore epic. Your images are important. They have just as much meaning as everything else. Pay attention. When an actor's eyes are in a shadow, that's important. Really important. Even if you're just running around with a Flip Camera.

7. Your words aren't important

You know that really clever turn of a phrase in your script that you're so proud of? It's going to derail your entire film.

Here's what's going to happen: You've fallen in love with it. And why not? It's like the love child of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. It's destined for t-shirts and coffee cups and cubicle walls the world over. But at some point, that line isn't going to mesh so well with the scene around it. And so you'll tweak and tweak and tweak and destroy an entire scene just to save that line. And then the house of cards will come toppling down.

There's a saying: Your film isn't done until you've cut your favorite scene.

It's true.

You aren't David Mamet. Your words aren't that clever. Toss them. Toss all of them if you have to. You might find that your actors get a lot better if they aren't trying to repeat something verbatim.

There's a Clint Eastwood story where he was working on a film and the writer noticed that he had crossed out almost all of his character's dialogue. The writer, understandably, was a little concerned and asked if anything was wrong. Clint said, no, the dialogue was great. But now he knew what his character was thinking, so he didn't need to say it.

8. Earn the right to disregard the above

There will be a point in your career where you'll realize the value in some of these rules. For me, it was probably earlier this year. Once you've gotten there, feel free to disregard them. But chances are, you won't. And if you do, the end result will be vastly different than if you had ignored them from the beginning.

That point won't come until after you've proven you can make a good film without falling into any of those traps. But it'll come. And your work will be better for it.

03 August 2010

5 of the Greatest People in the World, Part 20

There's a thing on Twitter called Follow Friday. Basically, you present a list of people that you recommend other people follow. It's a pretty popular idea and it makes everyone feel good. So with that in mind, I figure the least we can do for our wonderful Kickstarter backers is to give them a variant of the Follow Friday plug. So here they are, in order (well, some of them):

96. Josh Meservey: And the winner for most surprising backer is...Josh Meservey. You see, I've known Josh my whole life. We grew up in the same church, went to the same schools, and even played on the same Little League team (I think). His sister Marion was a year ahead of me and Josh was in my brother's class, but in a town as small as Waldoboro, none of that really matters so much. In high school he came off the bench the year our school won our first state title in basketball, and he was the starting point guard for a team that only lost 1 game in two years his junior and senior years (and another 2 titles). And I know what you're thinking: that sounds like an obvious backer. But wait, there's more. Josh currently lives in Nairobi. Yes, Nairobi. He was in the Peace Corps for a bit and now works with an organization that interviews African refugees who've applied for resettlement in the U.S. So, as you can see, he's a bit removed from stuff like this, so to see him show up is a surprise. But, he came through on the final day, a clutch performance reminiscent of a 2004 David Ortiz. There's a blog, but it hasn't been updated in almost a year.

97. Mark Edward Turner (@marketurner): You know how you always hear about these magical people who go around funding lots of different Kickstarter campaigns? Meet one of them. Mark has backed 39 projects on Kickstarter, All sorts of stuff: movies, art installations, pet products, you name it. He lives in London where he does something with insurance, but the link seems to be dead, so I'm not sure what. But, really, he looks like one of those super cool guys who just loves music and films and art and does what he can to help. In our book, people like that are worth their weight in gold.

98. Arthur Wyckoff: Arthur (a.k.a. A.J.) is a teacher who's Facebook photo, I'm told, is of him and Taylor Swift. Then again, I have only a vague idea of who she is, so it could be someone else. Anyway, A.J. is a poker-playing film lover (Have you noticed? There's a poker theme. A chunk of the "fan base" comes from my film writings at the poker forum twoplustwo.com), who is one of the truly wise people who counts Before Sunrise & Before Sunset as one of the great cinematic works of our time. According to his Facebook, he started on Mad Men Season 1 yesterday. By my calculations, he should already be obsessed with it. It's right in his wheelhouse. He's a smart guy who "gets" cinema on an instinctive level. He's going to love that show.

99. Elizabeth Scanlon: Assuming I've got the right person, Elizabeth Scanlon edits The American Poetry Review, which has been around since 1972 and published the work of 9 Nobel Prize winners and 33 Pulitzer Prize winners. She comes to us via Adam Woods, which means that Adam seems to have the coolest circle of friends of anyone I know. Naturally, Elizabeth is a poet herself, with works including This New City, which appeared in the Blackbird, and Miss Moore's Parlor Perfect to This Day, which I found on Verse Daily. Her work is all over the place.

100. Jordan Paley: Jordan looks a bit like Kevin Youkilis, which I mention mostly because Jordan is a Yankees fan and I know it annoys him that he looks like someone who's clearly better than that A-Rod asshole. I mean, maybe he'd like to look like the shitty Derek Jeter, but that could get ugly in the end (NSFW). Anyway...Jordan and his Yoooouuuuuk resemblance are schedule to be in Up Country, and help out with the filming. You see, Jordan is a filmmaker who also runs the Junior Chamber of Commerce Players who, basically, do Rocky Horror stuff. Jordan ran the Hollywood Theatre for awhile, before it closed. He's also a wee bit crazy.

Stay tuned for the rest of our backers! And, as always, you can still become a backer and get the same rewards as our other backers. Just click on the "Donate" button below and PayPal will take care of the rest.

01 August 2010

UP COUNTRY Novella: Chapter 10

I've decided that in the process of raising $$ and working on Up Country (or whatever we end up calling it), to release the story in serialized novella form. Every $500 we raise, I'll put out another chapter. I'll be writing it (and revising it) as we go, so if we raise money faster than I can write, so be it. We've hit our goal, but we haven't finished the story yet. Enjoy!

[Carlton Cuse voice]
previously, on UP COUNTRY

Chapter 10

It had been months--nay, years--since either John or Paul had run that fast or that far. It was one thing to run at the gym or in a rec league basketball game or to catch the train or any other sort of urban activity that rarely lasted more than a block or two and virtually never had these sort of stakes. And so, when they finally stopped running and crouched down to hide behind a rather large log, it was partly to hide and partly because they desperately needed the rest.

They were too old for this shit.

After a few minutes, when had caught their breath and could be reasonably sure they weren't being chased, John cautiously peered over the log and, seeing nothing, stood up. He looked around and, having done a full turn, could barely even tell which way they'd come. Every direction, to him, looked exactly the same.


Paul was taking a little longer to stand up and was still breathing hard, his back resting against the log.

"You ok?"

John pointed at Paul's knee. There was blood seeping through his jeans, partly dried and mixed with dirt and leaves. It looked like an infection waiting to happen.

Paul hadn't even noticed the knee, but was suddenly acutely aware of the pain radiating from his knee. He reached down to touch it and immediately cringed.

"I'm going to need to clean this. Is there any water?"

"No, but I can look around."

"Thanks. Don't go too far."

"Don't worry."

Priority number one in John's search for water was to not get any more lost than he already was, and that meant not losing track of where he was in relation to Paul. His sense of direction being what it was, he couldn't afford to go very far, and he had no way of leaving a trail to follow back to the log, so finding water was going to be virtually impossible.

He made an effort, albeit a half-hearted one, then took the opportunity to relieve himself on a tree trunk. He was annoyed. Even if he could find water, there was no way to carry it back to Paul, so what could be gained by this reconnoissance mission? Nothing. There was no water around, and if there was, Paul would have to travel to it, so this was pointless.

It was fucking stupid.

But the more John thought about it, the more he realized it didn't necessarily have to be stupid, it didn't have to be counterproductive. Maybe, just maybe, it could prove helpful later in the trip. It could be a useful bit of leverage, properly exploited.

And he was going to need some leverage.

After all, wasn't that why he invited Paul in the first place?

John looked at his watch. He had been looking for water long enough to avoid any questions. He checked his phone again. Still no signal.

He turned to head back. It was easier than he'd expected. The woods all still looked the same, but he could recognize a few trees here and there. In the distance was the log. Behind it, Paul. Somewhere beyond that, an axe murdering serial killer. And, maybe, Mark.

As he approached the log, Paul came into view. He was still sitting down, but had turned so his back was to John. He was busy doing something.


Paul's head whipped around. There was terror in his eyes, which softened when he recognized John. He finished doing whatever it was he was doing and stuck his finger in his mouth.

"You ok?"

"Yeah. Sure."

"How's the knee?"

"Oh, just a little banged up. Any water?"

John shook his head. Something about Paul's answers didn't ring true. He had the panicked mannerisms of a 12 year-old boy caught in the act. What had he been doing?

"You sure you're ok?"


John didn't believe that for a second.

...to be continued...

These chapters will be free until a cliffhanger near the end when they'll only be for our backers. You can still become a backer and get the same rewards as our other backers. Just click on the "Donate" button below and PayPal will take care of the rest.