Something on Fear

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Imagine a world where not a single person has access to indie film, independently published books, music or any other indie-created art. Imagine a world dominated entirely by the majors and only the majors. Imagine going to see a Maya Deren film or the latest in South Korean Cinema at the Anthology Film Archives, only to find that the organization is now run by one of the top five studios and they’re running a Spielberg marathon for the next two weeks. All this because of fear – fear instilled into artists and storytellers who have made the decision to pull their work from accessible platforms in an effort to prevent it from being “stolen” or because they fear they’ll never get paid for their efforts. Imagine a world that has no independently created art and stories because no one wants to create out of fear. People who would have otherwise changed the world with their work have stopped cold because they’ve been hammered with the sense that if you can’t make income off of it, don’t bother.

 

A buddy of mine from the left coast has been active in promoting the piracy issue these days. He’s a filmmaker and has traveled the country to promote stricter policies concerning “content” piracy. I’ve not had much of a chance to talk to him about it but I think he gauges that I see it as an over-reaction and we don’t exactly see eye to eye on the matter. He says strict laws are a necessary evil where I am of the mind that there are not any real “necessary” evils. Necessary evil is the belief that evil is necessary, but it’s never necessary. Necessary evil is an excuse for people who refuse to accept less dramatic measures or are reading too much into a situation. NE is irrational thinking in a world where rational thinking is trumped by greed. To boot, we’re living in an age where movie, music and book fans cannot lend their copies of their “media” if they’ve purchased the products digitally – unlike physical copies which can be lent and or donated to libraries – digital copy licenses are only good for the life of the “buyer” and once he or she passes, the file has to be “deleted”. With these strict laws concerning digital distribution of media, the chances of someone discovering new films and music are less likely. Perhaps my buddy and Taylor Swift should hook up, they’d get along quite well.

 

For as long as I’ve been doing this I’ve run into artists that act like the public owes them a living and it’s completely absurd. No one should go into the arts with such an attitude because then they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. As filmmakers, we have the opportunity to speak to audiences, in a darkened room for two hours at a time, yet so many filmmakers are only willing to wield that power provided the price is right. It’s not sensible and completely irresponsible.

“I’m just looking out for the working man” says one supporter of these absurd policies, standing hero-like as if he’s unique for standing up for working artists. Any person with a severe need for attention and place in society can become a hero. Just advocate for the working man and you’re on your way. But this is completely misguided and not thought out. America has become a listless place that functions on desperation and culture riddled with pointless entertainment that degenerates the mind into mush and inspiration into exhaustion. We need the independents and the independents need us but at what cost? I’ve certainly had my history with bootlegged content, some of which I’ve gone on to purchase legitimately and continue to support those artists to this day. Strict policies concerning the creation and distribution of art will eventually defeat people, both fans and artists. As artists move to protect their work and identity, I urge all of you to use caution in which laws and policies you support. Blindly supporting all measures is a recipe for disaster.

Film Festival Programming

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For Renegade Cinema

Film Festivals, on a rolling basis, will often disseminate media through members of the press that they’re in some way or another affiliated with, to give filmmakers some indication that their programming processes are fair and balanced. Sundance, Toronto, and a handful of others come out of the woodwork from time to time to remind filmmakers of what they’re looking for in submissions, but the information is often too broad and the few details they give are too subjective to be remotely useful. It’s clear to any educated reader that these articles, which often appear in the form of programmer interviews, are complete BS.

In the fall of 2001, while America was reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I got wind that “some film magazine was looking for interns” and that I should apply. Fresh out of film school, I ended up applying and being accepted for an internship at MovieMaker magazine, which at that time had been operating out of a dinky apartment in the old port district of Portland, Maine. My tasks were relegated to data entry and updating information on their website. I commuted two or three times a week from an island just off the coast, forty-five minutes each way.

I had made a handful of experimental films up to that point, a couple that I thought were worth screening at a film festival but none ever got accepted into the handful of festivals I had submitted them to. There were also a number of projects I had been involved in at film school the year before, but I never really saw them as “real” films that had an ounce of value and it never occurred to me to submit any of that material. During this time the magazine was in the process of planning a film festival they were going to hold in town. The woman, whose name slips my memory, was pretty much the only person working in the office and second to her magazine duties, she had to watch film entries for the film festival. She didn’t seem qualified and often only gave good marks for films when she recognized one of the actors. I remember her commenting to a pal of hers that she had recognized William Baldwin and suddenly, “well, I guess we’re taking this one”. It was a pretty straight forward process, she’d put the tape into the VCR and go back to her computer. The film would mostly play to no audience, no programming official – no one. Sometimes without sound as this was a working office and the sound of a movie playing in the background was deemed distracting. Occasionally she’d glance over at the tube to see if anything peaked her interest. Most of the time, at least from what I witnessed, few films ever did. This was my first indication that the festival programming process was something to be questioned and researched and that filmmakers should avoid blindly paying festival submission fees without an education as to who is going to watch your film, how many times and what the decision-making process entails.

I didn’t last long – paying for the commuter ticket back and forth to my home on the rock got too expensive for me to continue providing free labor to the rag. I ended up getting a paid job at a coffee shop, which also didn’t last long. All of the coffee shops in downtown Portland tend to avoid hiring islanders (unless you were from Peaks Island) because they don’t want your shifts restricted to the incredibly limiting ferry schedule. With that, I stuck to the island, saving up my money to move to New York. A year before I moved, My friend Branden and I ended up hosting our own film screening, showing a number of locally made shorts to the community. This was in the summer of 2002 and it’s that screening I’ll always remember because it was one of the best times I’ve had while living in Maine. Whenever I volunteered at or screened with a film festival in New York or elsewhere, I always look to have that same experience. It’s much more difficult than it should be, with the current culture of the film industry and the high level of snooty personalities that this field attracts, but I think if we can all look for that amazing, community togetherness, it’s a good step to a much more honest event and a positive change in an industry that desperately needs a dose of good energy.

-Eric

Note: MovieMaker Magazine is in fact a great magazine and this article is not meant to degrade its current editorial practices or people. I am a big fan of their top festivals lists and often use those lists as a means of figuring out where to reach out first whenever I complete a new project. -E

Originally published on Renegade Cinema

Something About Writing

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Creatively, I haven’t had a lot going on this past year. Not since my feature film production went on hiatus in early May of 2013. With a stalled film production and some burned bridges, debt I hadn’t anticipated and lost friendships that it turns out were probably not real to begin with, I had taken to writing articles for various web publications that revolve around film, mainly as a means of distraction, to avoid dwelling on some of these things – my favorite articles are about classic films and the future of film as an art, business and creative outlet. As a result of these contributions, I’ve found that more and more I’m getting back into writing, in that, it excites me again. Not screenplay writing (which I do all the time and don’t really consider it “writing”), but narrative, poetry and experimental work. The kind of writing that requires the writer to command the language, at least at some elevated level above basic grammar and formatting. I have noticed that my approach has changed and I refuse to write about anything that doesn’t interest me. I had started out with news, boring factual regurgitations that offer no original thought to the cesspool of media we’re all swimming in. I might’ve thrown about an opinion here or there in a half-ass attempt to make it mine but none of that news was truly mine because I didn’t really care about any of it. A journalist absolutely, whole-heartily needs to care about the stories they’re covering, otherwise they have no right to. As the months of the past year carried on, I found myself refusing assignments that didn’t offer a creative outlet or at the very least, some mechanism to express my own ideas or concerns. Instead, I took up offers to write OP-ED’s and articles about films that I think have some level of value in our society. This has lead to some of my favorite pieces and those works have lead me to write works for me and only me. Works that aren’t assigned or requested, but created because I felt I needed to express myself or tell a story or experience, to vent and not let certain things rest. Let sleeping dogs lie? Hell no! Through this I feel I am finding my voice, little by little, not just how I write is improving, but what I write about is much more relevant to me than it ever had been before. This is exciting!

I had a completed YA novel a couple years ago that I shelved because I wasn’t satisfied with the prose and the lack of detail in some of the chapters. Some of the characters felt empty and I feared I’d be accused of undermining the intelligence of the young reader the book is geared towards. This has changed and I’m now in the process of editing the book, adding in all the elements it was missing and improving upon the prose with the secure knowledge that my reader is pretty fucking smart. The editing process is nowhere near completed, but the work has improved a great deal and I can finally sleep now that it’s moving forward. Additionally, I have the bones worked up for another novel – a little more personal and grown up themed. I took the script for Objects, a film I tried to fund over the summer, and have been re-working it as an “experimental narrative” – but really it’s a novel with a touch of “I don’t give a shit if you like it, I need to write it!” Looking at it in its current form, I think it works better as a literary narrative. It would have been fine as a film, but the novel form gives it some sort of incalculable value and allows me to be free with my settings and scenarios without the restriction of a crowd funded budget. Lastly, I have taken to requiring that I write at least one poem and one short narrative per week. The narrative is usually a short story or a memoir of some kind. Whether fiction or not, it’s got a beginning, middle and end. I usually turn these out on Tuesdays, and this morning I blew through both projects in under an hour, in addition to adding a chapter to the new novel. As I work through this unnatural debt and fight off the banshees and negativity of those who consider me their slave, writing keeps me alive, keeps me free and allows for the possibility of a future where I’m not dependent on film as a creative outlet. I love film, but I despise the industrialization of it. The culture of it. It’s all incredibly off-putting. Writing, is of course, mine and mine alone. What comes of it is my responsibility, my doing and it’s either good or bad because of me, not others. Most importantly, I do it for the right reasons. The execution of the work isn’t commensurate to the capacity of a paycheck ‘nor dependent on those whos dedications are. All I require when I’m doing it, like any other creative outlet, is that it makes me happy.

-Eric

Open Letter to Regal Cinemas

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This is my open letter to Regal Cinemas, who have a strong foothold in the NYC movie exhibition market with several multiplexes they operate in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Originally published on Renegade Cinema.

To: Regal Entertainment Group

7132 Regal Lane
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918

In light of all too many experiences at several of your Cinemas in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area:  I am offering these words so that you may be informed – and can better manage your movie theaters and thus improve the movie going experience for New Yorkers. As you know NYC is a hotbed of filmmaking activity so it should go without saying that many of your patrons are filmmakers either studying film or associated with those behind many of the films you screen in your multiplexes. I am not sure how it is in regular America or other American cities, but here in  the Big Apple, many of us have become disenchanted by the problems that come with going out to the movies.

I have found it increasingly difficult to go to the movies and support my peers when film’s they’ve worked on are released to your theaters, specifically. From disruptive audiences to the admittance of crying babies into R rated films, it’s baffling that this is allowed to go on. Although the staff checks the auditoriums regularly, and have a sheet they sign to prove they’ve done so, not once have I witnessed anyone ever confronting an audience member who was breaking any of the rules concerning disruptive behavior in the theater. Incidents of cell phone use during these presentations are prevalent in the following locations: Union Square, Times Square, New Dorp, Battery Park & Court Street  Brooklyn. And why should your staffers confront these perpetrators when you’re not providing them training and a wage commensurate to deal with escalation? At some point I confronted the manager of the New Dorp branch, a blond woman who looked to be in her thirties and conveyed a “I’ve had it with life” sort of demeanor. She was passive, offering the “number to corporate”, as if it didn’t concern her that her staff is allowing babies into inappropriate movies. Not that I’m a stickler for ratings, but some of these cats were five years or younger. She told me it is against the law to deny anyone access to the movies, and that when it comes to crying and what not, she can’t keep them from going back in, after her staff does eventually get around to bringing them out into the main lobby. She offered me a free pass to a later show, which I declined. I had left this complaint on the back burner because tickets at that theater are a wonderful $6.00, which for NYC is a steal. A free ferry ride and a free transfer to the Staten Island railway – you can be in New Dorp within an hour from lower Manhattan for the cheapest movie tickets in New York City. At these other locations, however, it’s completely unacceptable as tickets are at peak prices – which are hardly reasonable.

Last week, I attempted to attend the new release of TUSK at the Regal in Union Square. I was taken aback by the loss prevention tactics employed by the staff there, which includes bag searches and pat downs of patrons with cargo pants, of which I was able to avoid thanks to an influx of teenagers who had distracted the woman engaged in the searches. When I approached the ticket taker, he refused to grant me admittance (this was 20 mins before the show). He told me I had to wait ten minutes. I informed him that I needed to use the rest room and then wanted to wait in line at the concession stand, which would take the allotted amount of time he wanted me to wait. This did not concern him and his attitude towards me was patronizing and somewhat “bureaucratic”. I immediately headed down to the ticket window to get a refund on my ticket and the ticket seller demanded to know why. I’ve never been required to give an explanation to refund a movie ticket before, not ever. After informing her that I was uncomfortable with the environment and the attitude of the ticket taker, she got an attitude and told me that I had to wait for a manger. I got the impression that she didn’t really care why I wanted a refund, but that she just wanted to get a rise out of me. I waited a good fifteen minutes before I was issued a refund and to add insult, they refused to give me a receipt. I guess I’ll have to monitor my account to check on the status of the credit, which she told me would take a good four to five business days.

With my complaints, dear Regal people, I come bearing solutions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em but your actions depend on whether or not you can keep you footing in the NYC market. As far as phone usage, a simple answer to this problem would be to convert every single auditorium into a Faraday cage, which would prohibit signals from entering and exiting the theater. All movie theaters should be like this. Society has done well with no cell phones in movie theaters since the beginning of film exhibition, and we all did rather well for ourselves didn’t we? As a life long movie goer with many friends who are like me, I take my movie viewing experience seriously. For me, I require a certain amount of time before the show to acclimate myself to the theater environment in order to better immerse myself into the story. This is common for many of us who see movies as much more than disposable entertainment and I urge Regal to take people like us into consideration when establishing a required timeline of when it is okay to arrive for a show. Lastly, the most off-putting and disconcerting part of all of this is the United Nations level security procedures you have implemented in your Manhattan locations. Pat downs and bag check at the movies: is overkill.

Heading out to the movies on a Friday night should not consist of taxing policies and procedures, patronizing employees ‘nor disruptive audiences who lack eti-what? Etiquette! …especially at fifteen dollars a head. It’s ridiculous. It’s offensive. Had been my film, I would have pulled it from your chain altogether. All you’re doing with this lackadaisical micro-managing bureaucratic approach is discouraging dedicated movie goers from attending your shows.

Eric Norcross

http://www.EricNorcross.com

 

Note: in light of this publication I have stumbled across multiple open letters to Regal Cinemas, some better than others, but all with valid complaints. Here are links:

Brooklyn/NYC Moms: “while I should have left the theater uplifted by a very special movie, I left it annoyed by a system that is designed to suck every last penny out of its customers, virtually assuring that those who can watch movies in some other way will.  If profits don’t climb this year the way you want them to, if ticket sales are the same or less than last year, don’t blame the economy, don’t blame DVDs and downloads, and don’t blame the quality of the movies.  Blame your own greedy selves.”

Matt Cashion: “You know that movies end late, you know that the mall closes early, and you know that people will need to use the bathroom after drinking your gargantuan soft drinks.  Keep your bathrooms open, people.”

Snobbing: “In closing, I ask not only Regal and IMAX, but any theater chain or exhibitor to get your act together. If digital is the way to go, then be prepared for things to go wrong. Work together in the off-chance that your equipment goes belly up. I don’t know if the Regal Exchange or the IMAX theater lost any patrons permanently, but I know that I’m not likely to go back to that specific theater. There are others out there that are more passionate about their craft to let an issue like this get out of hand.”

OPED: Future of Film Exhibition

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For: Renegade Cinema

It fucking baffles me everytime I encounter a filmmaker who expects any facet of the American film industry to give them any sort of due attention. Whether it’s a film festival, distributor or studio, by this point you’re nuts if you expect any one of them to give two shits about what you have to offer. You could be the greatest filmmaker to come along this century, but with the current state of the industry and considering the nature of those in power, none of what you have to offer matters unless you have the vision, energy and drive to make it matter on your own accord. This goes beyond having the ability to make a movie – but having the intellectual capacity to making a movie work as a sustainable business model is essential to the survival of film as a viable medium. What’s incredibly unsettling is the ease at which filmmakers are quick to change their careers when they stumble across these common obstructions and find that their careers aren’t panning out along the same lines as the storied filmmakers of the nineties. It goes without saying that filmmakers and cinephiles are pissed off at the current state of affairs but that’s no reason to walk off and get some lame backup degree. Committing yourself to a career you hate because it’s easier is for pussies. The future of film is going to rely almost entirely on the filmmaker being an inventive and innovative business person at every level and it’s important that you understand that it doesn’t stop with the completion of the film.

If you didn’t rest well this weekend, then you were probably unaware of the significance of the news that Quentin Tarantino has officially taken control of The New Beverly Cinema, an historic movie house located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles. Tarantino, who purchased the building in 2007, had previously relegated his duties to nothing more than that of an LA landlord and it would seem that, based on his most recent comments, this arrangement with the original owner of the business, the Torgan family, will remain in effect. Tarantino will, of course, make programming suggestions as his ownership of the house is clearly an extension of his power to keep film a relevant medium.

“As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.” -Quentin Tarantino

Filmmakers familiar with the story seem to have a sense of relief with the results and I’m no exception – except that I seem to be among the few who feel that this development is the way it was always supposed to go. Filmmakers with some level of wealth need to start buying up movie houses – it’s become the only way to keep things balanced in our favor. Acquiring an appropriate theatrical run is no longer guaranteed and the only way to ensure audiences have a chance to see a film the way the filmmaker intends for it to be experienced is by taking upon the duties of film exhibition themselves. This is important, especially with those of us who wish to continue seeing our work screened in the appropriate theatrical environment, rather than becoming “content” for online service providers. Filmmakers deserve the absolute best treatment for their work.

Filmmakers taking charge of the exhibition of their own work is the way it’s going to be and in an idealistic world, it’s how things should have always been. Cutting out the middle men from the equation allows the medium to thrive, whereas under the control of penny pinching bean counting corporate douchebags, we’re almost certainly bowing to the whims of exuberant and unrealistic financial expectations. The model of film creation and distribution in Hollywood allows only a very few to thrive, leaving the majority of creators to fend for themselves or abandon the industry altogether.

Tarantino’s interest in dabbling with film exhibition isn’t the only example of a filmmaker taking control of this end of the industry. After Hollywood began turning their backs on Kevin Smith, the director of the critically acclaimed film Chasing Amy and one of my all time favorites: Dogma, Smith took his work on the road, four-walling his feature film Red State and after a successful industry screening at a festival that shall remain nameless, took it upon himself to handle the distribution.

In New York, filmmaker Mark Blackman, the award winning director of the musical comedy Welcome to Harlem, is going balls to the wall with the creation of the Harlem Independent Theater (HIT), soon to open in uptown Manhattan. Blackman, disenchanted by the current state of the movie business and the lack of acceptable distribution opportunities, created the HIT in an effort to secure the future of film in the city that he loves.

Blackman’s idea for the future of film exhibition is that of a screening environment that is more social and filmmaker controlled. “It’s important that with our screen, we’re creating an opportunity for indie filmmakers to present their work to the community where they live and create” Blackman says of the project. The business model is simple in how it benefits the filmmaking community: with the ability to screen in theaters in the neighborhoods where filmmakers live and create, they are more likely to thrive and build their core fanbase. By rewriting the industry model and localising success, making a living out of filmmaking is within reach more now than it ever has been before. It’s just a matter of breaking away from the fairy tale expectations.

“Ten years ago you could make a movie” Blackman says, “get a deal, get a theatrical run, home video release and maybe find success as a filmmaker. Now we’re in a place where gear is so accessible and the internet is ten times pronounced that there is a flood of what the industry is now labeling “content” and it seems no one wants to be the one to deal with how to handle this.” And content in and of itself is a dirty word to many filmmakers. It’s not just being able to handle the enormous output of work, but finding an audience for the work that respects it enough to see it in a theatrical environment. The task begins at home, where the artist is creating and outlets to showcase these works are few and far between.

It’s hard to say where film exhibition will be ten years from now, but I’m in agreement with Blackman that film exhibition will be more localised and theaters willing to showcase this original work will be independently run. I don’t see AMC, Regal or any of the top five studios getting together to fix this cluster fuck of a problem they created with their tentpole business model and I don’t see fanboy audiences closing their wallets in protest of the films that are making it to theaters. Eventually we’re going to need to bring back quality stories from storytellers with original and important ideas.

“I think with the increase of everything being online, we’re going to see an increase of people looking for social gathering” says HIP’s Director of Community Outreach, Eleanor Luken, “it’s hard to view watching movies on the internet as the future.” Blackman and Luken see HIT as serving a big need for the community and are working hard to ensure that access to the venue for both filmmakers and film buffs are affordable and that the business model is innovative and allows for a diverse program.

The reality is that the finance stooges that run Hollywood failed miserably to usher the film industry into the 21st century and if we’re going to continue to exhibit our work where and how we intend, we’re going to have to take the reigns ourselves. I know it sucks, but putting something good into the world and ensuring its presented appropriately isn’t always the most enjoyable thing as any seasoned indie filmmaker can attest to. Welcome to independent cinema, where we have to do everything ourselves. We’re indie filmmakers, we should be used to taking on the whole load: write the script, find the funding, take care of all management and human resources issues – our crews hate us, our cast puts up with us up until they can get those lousy Law & Order callbacks and yes: we even have to take care of distribution and exhibition… all by our lonely selves. Take a queue from some of these cats: fuck the industry and release your work to the public on your terms and get the work seen the way you originally intended to have it seen.

When the New Beverly Cinema re-opens in October and when the HIT eventually opens in uptown Manhattan and when the next four-wall tour comes rolling into your town, rest assured you’ll be witnessing the execution of the securing of the future of the new American Film Industry and yes, old Hollywood will be left behind and just maybe, we’ll see a lot more filmmakers succeeding. You are the film industry.

This OPED was written for Renegade Cinema on September 7, 2014.

Screening Schedule for Phnom Pehn International Film Festival

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PPIFF has announced the screening schedule for this years film festival and I’m ecstatic to announce that Caroline of Virginia will be receiving two screenings – that’s right TWO screenings at the event this year! The screening will take place at the Flicks on Sunday the 14th in the 4PM slot and again on Thursday the 18th in the 6:30 slot.

These are two excellent time slots and I’m excited to be a part of this film festival. If you’re in Phnom Pehn this month, please stop by the Flicks and check it out.

-E

PPIFF Schedule

It Happened One Night at A World of Film

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A new article I wrote for A World of Film, this time I tackle the Frank Capra classic “It Happened One Night” – among the earliest of “road trip” movies.

[reblogged from A World of Film]

… The atmosphere on set was tense as Gable and Colbert disapproved of the material, citing the script aslow quality. It is purported that when Gable first arrived to set, he told Capra, “Let’s get this over with”, making it clear how unhappy he was to have been loaned out for this “inferior” project. Gable and Colbert took a liking to one another through their common dissatisfaction with the script and only lightened after Capra suggested that Gable play occasional pranks on her.

Although she got along well with Gable, Colbert continued to demonstrate her displeasure while on set. She is said to have had many tantrums, largely motivated by her deep seeded hatred towards Capra. She balked at the idea of hiking up her skirt to entice passing drivers to give her a ride, citing that it was “beneath her”. Capra responded by introducing Colbert to her double, a chorus girl. Upon seeing her legs, a disgruntled Colbert changed her mind and agreed to do the scene without a double. Knowing that Colbert was perfect for the part, Capra took it all in stride, believing that the headache would pay off in the long run…. (read more at A World of Film)

[reblogged from A World of Film]