Caroline of Virginia at Phnom Penh 2014

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Caroline of Virginia has been officially announced as an official selection of the 2014 Phnom Penh International Film Festival. This is a landmark event for me as a filmmaker as it is the first time my work will be seen outside of North America. I’m happy it was this particular film to make such an important achievement as it was the first film I made to get into a film festival to begin with and to be recognized with an award. It makes sense that it would continue to further my accolades.

Although I know the festival will be in September, I have not yet received the screening schedule so I do not know the exact date that COV will screen. I’m to understand the staffers there are working really hard on getting the scheduled locked and live, so stay tuned!

Please check out the film’s listing on the festival website at: http://www.ppiff.com/2014/caroline-of-virginia/ and connect with them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PhnomPenhIFF

COV-Still-BUS-STOP COV-Still-FINAL-SHOTWatch the production trailer on the festival’s YouTube Channel:

 

Seed & Spark | Following Up

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[Reblogged from Renegade Cinema]

It’s been 30 days since I launched my Seed & Spark campaign to raise fundingfor the post-production phase of my feature indie film The Spaceshipand as promised, here is my follow up review of the service.

The funding campaign didn’t make the required 80% minimum it needed to receive a green light and I’ll talk about this in a moment. First, I just want to give the people over at Seed & Spark props for the service and their killer efforts to make this campaign a success. They really went above and beyond the call of duty to help me get the word out.  They were actively tweeting, re-tweeting, favoring tweets and FB likes – and a few staffers even pledged (try getting a Kickstarter staffer to pledge – it won’t happen).  In the campaign’s second week, they elected my campaign to be featured as a “Staff Pick” which was incredibly generous and helped us gain some traction… Read the entire article at Renegade Cinema…

[Reblogged from Renegade Cinema]

Gift – Singapore Drama Short Film

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I have come across a wonderfully inspiring short film about giving and wealth. My personal ideal that money isn’t meant to be hoarded is something I’ve struggled to get across some of the wealthier folks in my social circles but unfortunately few agree. I was floored when I saw this film. It hits home the message and solidifies my ideals and it’s all around good filmmaking. This gem comes to us from some incredibly talented filmmakers from Singapore.

URL: http://youtu.be/1DUYlHZsZfc

Seed & Spark | My First Observations

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I have a Seed & Spark campaign going on right now, which is lacking. Would love and appreciate anyone who can help me get the URL out to as many people as possible. As you all know, crowd sourcing art is a numbers game. Here is the URL: Visit & distribute the Seed & Spark URL: http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/spaceship

Below is an article I wrote for Renegade Cinema on why I chose Seed & Spark over other platforms.

-Eric

FACEBOOK     |     TWITTER

[Reblogged from Renegade Cinema]

I found out about the new website Seed & Spark from Sundance award winning filmmaker Matt Harrison, who suggested I check it out after I informed him that my work in progress sci-fi movie The Spaceship was currently on hiatus. I was skeptical at first, because I had previously tried all of the other crowd funding platforms and it has never worked out. Kickstarter? Forget it, unless you have a celebrity attached or serious PR people involved, this under connected filmmaker isn’t flying. When I met the founders of the now defunct website Passerby, they went as far as to feature an interview with me on their blog to help promote the funding campaign I launched with them. No dice. Good people but it wasn’t happening. It’s been well over a year and a half since then and they’ve gone under. IndieGoGo helped us out a bit, bringing us just under four thousand dollars to help pay off some of the bills from principal photography. But still, we never even came close to a quarter of what we needed to see the production home.

When I signed up and began plowing through the content on Seed & Spark, I was immediately floored by just how dedicated to the cause these folks are, they truly love indie film. Even their promotional video, which is featured on their main page, choked me up. For the first time, I feel like I found an organization whose mission is the same as mine: to strengthen the independent film community and ensure a future for the few of us that are willing to dedicate our lives to making films. I reached out to them and began working on my campaign, to see if maybe we could try something a little different – if the platform and the audience is influential in the final results. They’ve been incredibly helpful and hands on in the process of building up the campaign before it went live. Their staffers even went as far as to ask me to redo my pitch video – which I LOVED. It’s clear that they know what will work, what won’t and that they truly have my back in this. It is safe to assume that they’ve been this detail oriented with everyone who has submitted a project for funding and I do hope that this aspect of their service doesn’t go away. Treating the filmmaker as your client, in concept, is so unique and important to making these kinds of things work and I’m surprised no other platform has gone as far as these guys have in this regard.

… read more here.

Visit & distribute the Seed & Spark URL: http://www.seedandspark.com/studio/spaceship

[Reblogged from Renegade Cinema]

Call Northside 777 at A World of Film

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Call Northside 777 - One SheetToday, A World of Film has published my article on the 1948 Henry Hathaway film CALL NORTHSIDE 777, which stars Jimmy Stewart and Richard Conte.

“Directed by Henry Hathaway and expertly shot by cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, the aesthetics of this very timely film is a mix of standard narrative structure crossed with documentary style elements. By merging the two formats, the filmmakers have created a hybrid docudrama, or more appropriately, a doc-noir, drawing a lot of the visuals from the noir movement of the period. Shadowplay is just as prominent of a component as newsreel inserts.

Unlike many of the films produced in the 1940’s, the script has less of the typical Hollywood meandering and focuses more on information dissemination when and where you need it. We get the goods almost as if it were coming from a credible news source. This approach in the telling of the story is the single most identifiable and unique element of the film and an example of Hathaway’s genius at the creative level.”

Continuing reading the article here.

Best Places to Live & Work as a MovieMaker

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MovieMaker Magazine has finished publishing their list of the Best Places to Live & Work as a MovieMaker in the year 2014, for the category BIG CITIES. MovieMaker will continue to post a new city everyday this month, the next category is SMALL CITIES and TOWNS. Once each list is complete, we will re-blog the list here for your convenience. The list is posted below, with their 2013 list immediately after. Have you lived and worked in any of the cities listed?

Do you agree with their placement on the list? As artists, our working environment and our community is incredibly important. Please comment and let us know if MovieMaker got the list right and if not, what cities do you think should be included?

BIG CITIES

10. San Francisco, California

09. Memphis, Tennessee

08. Portland, Oregon

07. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

06. Boston, Massachusetts

05. Seattle, Washington

04. Los Angeles, California

03. Austin, Texas

02. New York, New York

01. Chicago, Illinois

The reasoning for the selections are many, including availability of resources and talent, to friendliness of locals toward the arts and film-making community.

The list differs quite a bit from the 2013 list, located here.

10. Atlanta, Georgia

09. New Orleans, Louisiana

08. Albuquerque, New Mexico

07. Boston, Massachusetts

06. Detroit, Michigan

05. Portland, Oregon

04. Los Angeles, California

03. Seattle, Washington

02. New York, New York

01. Austin, Texas

Indie Film Expose: Should You Sign With SAG-AFTRA?

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French stage and early film actress Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, ca. early 1880sOften times when I’m talking with first or second time indie film directors, a question I often get is whether or not they should go SAG on their next project.  To become a union signatory as an independent filmmaker is a tough choice, mainly because there are so many questions that, it seems, so many other filmmakers have different answers for.  To top it all off there are also an enormous amount of “what ifs” that come along with becoming a union signatory, especially of the actor’s union: SAG-AFTRA.  After decades and decades of horror stories, it’s no wonder the decision to hire union actors continues to weigh heavily on each new generation of independent filmmakers.  In an effort to quell the noise that comes with asking such a question, I think it’s important that filmmakers have access to all the various experiences that their peers have had over the years – but especially more recently, since the merging of SAG and AFTRA; because its the question of becoming a signatory of this new organization, SAG-AFTRA, that now matters.  But it isn’t just all experiences, there is a specific type of experience: that of the truly independent filmmaker – the person like you and me who doesn’t necessarily have the clerical resources that the big studios have, or the union itself for that matter.  It’s OUR experiences that matters the most because it’s how they dealt with us that can best give a filmmaker insight into how they themselves might be dealt with.

My First Encounter

In 2008 when I founded my production company Norcross Media in New York, the goal was to specialize in YouTube videos for clients in addition to producing short and experimental films for my own entertainment.  My LLC became a signatory of the union so that I could shoot one the first short films to be produced under the NM name.  The actor I had in mind had recently joined the union and at the time was a good friend so I made an effort to do it “by the books”. Unfortunately my dealings with them were utterly scary and it had occurred to me that I really wasn’t ready to be dealing with a bunch of lawyers (which is essentially what they all are in that office) when I myself didn’t have lawyer.  So I elected to cancel my signatory status.  They punished me, of course, by forcing me into a three month hiatus from engaging in any production work under the NM name.  I obliged (officially :oP) and moved on to create many short films as a non-signatory.  I even continued working with the same actor (unofficially :oP).  Some of the projects did well, as far as online hits go, all of the works you’ve probably never heard of and through it all I started to acquire client projects and things were off to a pretty good start and remained so for quite a few years.  Eventually Norcross Media, with no thanks to the union, began producing commercials and PSA’s that found their way to broadcast on local and national television as well as theatrical.  My work was everywhere (and still is).  Last year one of my PSA’s ran on those little TV screens inside the NYC taxi cabs – that was a pretty cool project, if not unique.

My Second Encounter

Cut to last fall, when I began putting together the cast for one of my latest film projects.  I had been talking with a certain actor of note for some time about taking on a supporting role in the film.  We will call him Actor 1,  and I will go as far to say that I had considered him a trustworthy friend and I thought that his genre-cred was something this film desperately needed.  He had the fan base to help generate the first wave of what we hoped would be a kick-ass following.  Actor 1 was updated every week with the production status and sent new revisions of the script every month or as it pertained to his character.  He constantly sent me positive feedback and urged me to continue moving forward.  As January rolled around I sent him the semi-final shooting script and asked him to re-read it in full and to give me a commitment ASAP.  It was understood by the both of us that a commitment was needed, mainly because he is a union actor and we would have to produce the film under the SAG-AFTRA umbrella if he were to be involved. He read the script and told me to move forward with the union paperwork.  I talked with one of my producers on the project, who insisted that I Immediately begin the paperwork for signing our little movie to SAG’s Ultra-Low Budget contract.  My fellow producer helped me to understand it and it all seemed well and good – in fact the ULB contract seemed much more concise than the new media/internet video contract I had with them back in 2008.  The only restriction with this agreement was that it didn’t include home video, rental or internet – it is strictly for theatrical.  But that is okay, I thought, because we could always upgrade the contract later when we sign a distribution agreement for home video/rental.

The Betrayal

Flash forward to a week before production – paperwork has been submitted to SAG-AFTRA, I’ve personally e-signed all the forms and now have all of my attention on the creative part of the production. I get an e-mail from Actor 1 informing me that he’s backing out.  He’s no longer interested.  I was peeved (the understatement of the year) – in fact, I’ll just leave it at that:  I was PEEVED.  I called our SAG-AFTRA contact to ask them if it was too late to back out and the woman who had been assigned to our production was on vacation.  We were six days from the first day of principle photography and our union rep is away on vacation.  My fellow producer suggested we move ahead anyway and in her own usual way, seemed cool about it – made me feel like it was okay.  “We’ll deal with it when it’s time to deal with it”.  She also reminded me that we had to beat the spring before the big bloom came (to maintain the gloomy look of the film).  Whatever, we’ll deal with the paperwork shit later, after all, we had our signatory ID number and they gave us our contracts for the talents to sign – we must be on the right track! In an emergency re-casting we picked up Actor 2 – not notable at all but right for the role in that he was fucking crazy as a circus seal.  We signed him the same day that he auditioned.  We had him fill out the ULB contract and now I wish I had kept an eye on what he was writing because my lack of attention will come to bite me in the ass a little later.

Production Peak

Flash forward to the end of April – we’re four days from the end of principle photography and it has been a hellish shoot – on my day off I’m at the bank processing payroll when our SAG-AFTRA rep calls to inform me that they’ve received word that some of our actors have called in to report that they’ve been reporting to our set.  Ah, yeah, we’re shooting! She leaves the following message in a voice mail: “yeah, we haven’t actually received some paperwork from your production so unless I hear from you by the end of the day today, we’re calling all of your actors and ordering them to not show up. You’ll still be required to pay them for each lost day until this matter is settled.”  I went ballistic – I called her back, got her voice mail.  I left a message.  It wasn’t pretty.  It was so bad in fact that my producer had to deal with it because I couldn’t handle myself dealing with these heartless, bureaucratic slime balls.  She had all the paperwork into the union by the end of the day and we were fine… until one of our actors, Actor 3, complained that their check was late. Actor 3 was a day player who had shot his one scene on the first day of principle photography.  This was a guy I thought was on our side, he seemed so pro-indie, understood what we were going through as indie film producers and was, up until this point, a true sport.  This simple action of reporting us to his union gave me the feeling of betrayal… it hurt. Badly.  He actually had the audacity to text me and ask me how things are going with the production.  I hadn’t realized at that point that he was the one who had called into SAG so I confided in him.  Little did I know that he was laughing at me from the other end of the line.

We responded by informing our union rep that we didn’t have administrative support to keep up on a day to day basis and were cutting checks on the next off-day (which was quite literally happening that day).  The rep was very suspicious… sure, why shouldn’t she be?  “YES, We’re getting that money out right NOW.”  Well, it didn’t matter, the actor received his check within a week from his complaint and all went fine… until he started calling around to the other actors and eventually some of the crew to push them to file complaints against us.  “Is your check late? Report them to the union, don’t let these evil producers get away with…” blah blah blah – basically our best isn’t good enough mentality: money talks, fuck you pay me, no excuses, fuck you pay me, more excuses? Fuck you pay me…  If they’d bothered to actually listen to me, while also having a heart, they would actually understand what was happening.  It still baffles me to this day that this one day player had made a valiant effort to shut our production down because his lousy hundred bucks was a few days “late”.  Out of a cast of 40 people he only got one bite – Actor 2, the crazy as fuck beans replacement who took the roll originally earmarked for Actor 1 during our emergency recasting had called into SAG to complain that he should be paid for certain days that he did not work because he had been “guaranteed” those days. We tried to argue it but SAG wouldn’t hear it – with all the cock-ups we’ve made, why should they believe us over someone who understands the system a lot better?  Why should they believe a couple of ignorant producers over an actor who has figured out how to weasel out every cent from these ridiculous contracts?  Yeah, we paid the fucker for days he didn’t even work and eventually paid him for overtime he didn’t earn because his union decided he was more important than the very people who were employing him. Oh and because we didn’t supervise him when he was filling out the ULB contract and the bastard wrote in a number in the “guaranteed days” section, without asking me whether or not I was willing to pay him for a gauranteed number of days. Why ask when the answers will obviously be “NO!”?

In Retrospect

So what is my suggestion?  Let me put it this way:  I decided to never go union again – at least, not if I’m legally responsible for the financials of the picture.  The union and the people they “protect” aren’t worth the headache.  Unless you’re producing a studio picture with other people’s money (meaning corporate money, not friend or family money), avoid SAG-AFTRA at ALL COSTS.  They do not exist for the truly independent filmmaker – they want money productions and essentially punish producers for not having enough of it. They’re not good people and here’s the worst part (which they didn’t disclose to me until it was too late) – all the union actors have to sign a new agreement to modify the contract should we get distribution beyond theatrical.  With all the bad blood between us and Actors 2 and 3, I doubt they’ll play ball which means we may have the best indie sci-fi film that will never be seen.  Not a fun scenario, esp. considered the amount of money paid out to all these people and the organization itself.

It’s more likely though we’ll run the festival circuit and if we’re lucky get theatrical, leak the film to fans to generate a demand and then hire an entertainment lawyer to deal with the bullshit. I figure we’re looking at a good ten years before the film is actually available, especially since I’m now on my own with it.  At this point SAG-AFTRA has yet to list this particular film as a union film in their database, regardless of the massive amounts of money we’ve sent them and their actors. All the paperwork is complete, all the pay has been issued, all the deposits have been made and the pension contribution too.  You figure these guys could at least make the effort to gives us the stamp of fucking approval!

KEEP IN MIND

If you decide not to heed my warning and go union anyway, beware of a certain group of actors who have made their careers off taking advantage of new indie producers who are ignorant of the SAG-AFTRA contracts, or union laws in general.  Do NOT let them fill out their own paperwork unsupervised and watch them like hawks when they sign in and out on set each day.  It was our trusting of some of these actors that forced us into a position where we had to pay money we didn’t actually have the budget for.

Other things to keep in mind: aside from paying your actors, you’ll also need to report to the union… constantly. You’ll need to pay in a deposit, which is several hundred to several thousands of dollars in addition to contributing a substantial amount to the union’s pension fund.  You’re looking at a few thousand dollars of money you’ll never see again. The union rep we were dealing with did not disclose this to us until we were signed on and I’m telling you: a lot more money is involved that they don’t openly tell you about until you’ve signed your film… it’s all fine print bullshit and it is a huge part of the reason as to why this particular film has stalled in the post-production stage. SAG-AFTRA’s dishonesty and lack of appreciation for what we do (or at least, are trying to do) is the reason we’ve been scrambling for more money that we didn’t think we’d need.  Because they’re crooks and not designed to work with truly independent filmmakers.

Conclusion

Shooting union doesn’t necessarily make you a professional, in fact, it made me the most unprofessional I’ve ever been on a film shoot – mainly because of their manipulative craziness. In final, all I can suggest is this: if you don’t have the budget to hire a union crew, then it’s likely you don’t have the resources to hire union actors.  In the grand scheme of indie filmmaking, you really don’t need either.

-Eric Norcross 11/20/13

Essential: #10 – El Mariachi (1992)

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El MariachiRobert Rodriguez‘s debut feature film EL MARIACHI made the first installment of our top ten essentials list because it’s a wonderful example for any indie or student filmmaker on how to maximize your resources and use what you have.  In an age where every other indie filmmaker is saving pennies to purchase (or rent) the latest jib, steadying arm or dolly/slider gear, Rodriguez gave us all the results and more… and didn’t have any of that fluff.  In fact, he made it on 16mm film for a mere $7,000 which is so low budget that had he not had to pay for the film and processing costs, he insists the film could have cost as low as $600 to make. He recorded all of the film’s dialog on a consumer grade cassette recorder. On top of that, the DVD release of El Mariachi includes a valuable special feature called 10 MINUTE FILM SCHOOL in which Rodriguez breaks down how he was able to pull off making this movie with so little money.

The movie is also exemplary as an example of filmmaker dedication and being able to think outside of the box. Rodriguez literally sold himself to government experimentation to raise money to make this feature, subjecting himself to the whims of laboratory as a human test subject.  He assembled the movie using basic home video dubbing technology and later on re-cut the film and the negative when he had been able to raise more money.  Most filmmakers don’t and would never operate this way. This demonstrates dedication at the highest level and burn to succeed that so few seem to have. It’s also a great example of how thinking small can actually pan out for the better. Rodriguez originally produced the film with the intent of going straight to video in the Latin America video market and ended up premiering at Sundance along with Reservoir Dogs, thus launching one hell of a career and a kick-ass professional relationship that has spawned films such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms and the Grindhouse Anthology.

El Mariachi is a must study and be sure to check out all the special features that come with the Special Edition DVD.

Una Noche

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una-noche_592x299The other day I found myself walking by the IFC Theater in New York City where I saw some men and women putting up advertisements for a film screening of Una Noche.  One of the women handed me a post-card promoting the film.  As I walked toward the marquee to get a look at some of the other upcoming features, I noticed a young couple observing the Una Noche poster and commenting on the festival laurels.  “Winner of the Tribeca Film Festival?” the young man said as his girlfriend snarled, “fuck that” he said, “what makes them think I want to see the movie now?” the young man continued to bitch as he and his girlfriend walked away, laughing mockingly.

I spent many hours since then thinking about whether or not to write about this.  It wasn’t by any measure an odd or different experience.  I’ve seen many people boycott a film for some of the stupidest reasons one could think of.  What is of interest to me is that the “winner” laurels, which the filmmakers clearly see as an achievement, actually pushed someone away, rather than attract them to the film.  Has the film festival awards culture become such an institution that award winning filmmakers lose value with the locals here?  If this is so, it’s a fascinating, if not a phenomenal development in how film culture is changing.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  I want to be angry about it, but at the same time have found solace and relief.  There’s something about this action that has me realizing that maybe powerful organizations like this don’t have the upper hand all the time.  But what does that say about the achievements filmmakers have won in the past?  How much do they actually matter, aside from reminding the individual artist that their work is of value to someone…. somewhere?  Uh… maybe I shouldn’t let it weigh on me too much.

Here is a little bit more about the film, for those of you who actually wish to judge the work on its own merits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2184331/combined

-E

Caroline of Virginia – DVD Release

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COV DVD CoverI am happy to announce that my award winning short film CAROLINE OF VIRGINIA has been released on a limited edition DVD and is available to order through Amazon.com. The DVD includes cut scenes, an audio commentary with myself and a separate audio commentary with actress Lauren Meley and various video featurettes that allude to my intent in making the film and my reasoning for its existence.

Caroline of Virginia was and still is a landmark project film for me, personally.  It has been in the festival circuit since 2011 and been available for free viewing online for the past six months.  To see it go to DVD is a wonderful way to close out an era.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Thanks everyone for your support and I look forward to releasing more good news!

-Eric