I was recently watching the epic, summer blockbuster Independence Day Resurgence. Of course, as with many huge budget Hollywood outings these days, I immediately noticed the appearance of famous Chinese actors and a number of lines spoken in Chinese language. I couldn't help but laugh, though, when I saw them video chat using QQ.
This QQ software happens to be the very chat software I use on a daily basis here in China. It's one of the most popular messengers around. The company behind it, called Tencent, is also a coproducer on the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sequel. We are seeing greater and greater involvement of the Chinese government and huge Chinese mega corporations in the creation and distribution of Hollywood movies. There are two reasons for this. One is to get past Chinese censors, which limit the number of foreign films allowed in the local market. By entering into a coproduction deal, the film counts as a Chinese product.
The second reason is that these films can potentially make more money in the Chinese box office than is possible in the US box office, and this has happened on a handful of recent films. When you spend $150 million or more on a movie, you have me double or triple that back to be profitable!
Does this mean China will eventually take over Hollywood? Well, lets not forget that in the 80's the Japanese economy was rapidly expanding and they were buying up US land, hotels and movie studios. Then in the early 90's their economy tanked and pretty much never recovered. There's nothing saying the same will happen in China. Maybe things will go the way Joss Whedon predicted in his Firefly TV series.
Here is why you have to build momentum well in advance of the release of your project. Louis CK apparently surprised fans with the release of his new web series Horace and Pete. With no build up, getting a hungry audience waiting for the release, he found himself in serous debt as a result.
According to the A.V. Club, "CK says he became so enamored with the idea of surprising fans, he kind of forgot he had to sell the thing as well:"
"I didn’t tell anybody about it cause here’s the thing: I got so excited by the idea of having a show appear from nothing. So I made the first four and I didn’t tell nobody, and it made a nice little amount of money, but when I got to episode four I was like “Hey gang, I don’t have any money!” So I had to take out a line of credit… I’m millions of dollars in debt right now."
Rather than use established services like Vimeo on Demand or Amazon, Louis CK chose to sell the show for approximately $3 per episode from his own website. You may remember he made big news years ago, and I certainly wrote a lot about it, when he released his own comedy special for $5 from his website and made over $1 million is a couple of weeks selling it. We can only hope as press continues about his latest endeavour, that fans will jump in and buy the show, allowing him to profit enough to pay actors like Steve Buscemi and Alan Alda their cut.
Aspiring Filmmakers, Ava DuVernay Thinks You Should Lose the Desperation and Just Make Something!
"I rarely meet people who tell me what they're doing. I often meet people who ask, "Can you help me?" or "How do I do this?" or "Do you want to have coffee?" "Can I take you to coffee?" "Can we grab a coffee?" "I'd love to take you to coffee and pick your brain a little bit." "Can I send you a script?" "Can you read my script?" "I have a script that I'd love for you to just check out if you can." "Can you be my mentor?" "I need a mentor." "I would love if you could mentor me." "Is it possible for us to talk?" All of that energy, all of that focus to extract from other people is distracting you from what you're doing. All of that is desperation.
When I figured that out, things started to change for me. When I'm meeting people and they're in that moment, I want to say something to them. "Knock it off, because it's never going to work for you." That feeling of "I need help. I need all of these things to proceed." And when I got that, a revolution happened for me."
This is definitely worth a watch.
Two years ago, today, Marvel got the rights back to some of their popular characters. In this case, Blade, Punisher and Ghost Rider. They were in no particular hurry to make new movies with these characters, however, largely because of the lackluster success of the previous outings involving them. Why were these previous films so lackluster? Everything Marvel puts their hand to is gold, most proven by their $1.5 billion grossing Avengers. The problem is that they didn’t put their hand to those previous films,
Before Marvel Studios existed, beginning with the creation of their first truly independent film Iron Man, they license their popular characters out to the major Hollywood studios in the hopes to bring them to the big screen. Aside from the three characters mentioned above, this also includes The X-Men and Spider-Man. Those studios didn’t always do things the way Marvel would like. The fans weren’t always happy either. Now that Marvel has a single unified world for all their film properties to exist in, the absence of their character for which they have not recovered the rights is very noticeable.
As you create your own indie properties, and success begins to find you as they take off, there is a temptation that will come to you. Larger outfits, possibly even a major Hollywood studio, will come calling wanting to make use of your characters or stories in their films. There is almost no version of this where you win, keeping control of the product and getting the financial return you deserve should they become a huge success. In fact, more often than not, you lose completely, and they take your stuff. This story has happened over and over to creator after creator.
As your own indie creations grow, fight off the temptations. Do what Marvel is doing now. Do it all yourself!
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. and DC are having a bit of trouble creating a unified universe for their superheroes like Marvel has done. While Marvel has producer Keven Feige to oversee all projects and make sure everything fits together, including their TV series outings, the DC cinematic universe seems to be largely leaderless. Not only do they not have anyone to take the reigns of the entire operation, the policies for how individual projects are handled are, to some, questionable.
It’s been said that the minds behind the Wonder Woman feature film are trying an interesting strategy to get a script. They hired multiple writers, not to work together, but to compete to create the script that will end up in the final film. The writers themselves are apparently running into the problems because, without a concrete universe, the rules apparently change right out form under them as they write, and their work can easily become useless. One industry insider said that this is, "throwing shit against the wall to see what stuck”. This is not the way to get projects moving forward.
THE FOREVER MOVIE
Now Warner Bros. and Channing Tatum are in the mix to get the project made. Tatum’s studio, however, is lined with Sony, and they are in the mix as eel, hoping to snag this project. This battle may very well keep the film from happening yet again. According to Deadline, as of yesterday, Warner Bros. outbid Sony and should be in business with a new franchise. Franchise is what this is all about as they see the possibility of multiple movies, merchandize and the whole nine.
THE INDIE WAY
The indie creator doesn’t need 25 years, millions of dollars or major studio backing to get their project done. Sun Creature Studios, the creators of the popular short film The Reward are proving that over and over again. After having raised well over $100,000 USD for the Tales of Alethrion project, which expanded the world of their short film into a complete universe, they are returning to Kickstarter a second time to raise fund for a full animated series, and their fans are responding.
While Warner Bros. and big Hollywood studios get tangled up for years on projects that cost over $200 million USD, these indie creators are going a simple route. They are letting backers on their Kickstarter project vote on the direction things go by what level of backing they provide. Imagine that. The fans having a say in what they want to see! The indie doesn’t need the red tape and bloated production budgets that stifle creativity at the majors. Innovation can get the indie a lot further a lot faster.
WHat does it really cost to make a good animated film these days? Light Chaser Animation in Beijing, China is answering that question with their upcoming CGI animated feature Door Guardians. While in the past, it could be said that Chinese animation, though very cheap to produce, was lagging far behind western standards of visual quality, Light Chaser Animation is seeking to change all of that. In the trailer for their new project, we see cloth simulation, realistic water effects, skin shaders and other technological advancements we would expect from high quality western CGI. The gap has closed.
I have been living in China for five years now. One of the reasons I was first invited here is because of my western animation experience, which was valuable to both schools and studios playing their part in improving the domestic animation scene. The government, at the time, was putting a lot of money into creating an animation industry that would rival the world’s best. Over the years I witnessed the slow growth of an industry as studios acquired new technologies and skills. It seemed, for a while, that it might be ages of playing catch up.
This raises some serous questions. In an age where Dreamwork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg had his salary cut by more than half, and the studio laid off 500 employees, studios in China are aggressively hiring, even foreign talent. Chinese studios have been pumping out hours of animation content for a fraction of what it costs to create in the west, or even other Asian markets. The only saving grace of the west was that the quality of Chinese animation work was not up to par. Now that seems to be changing, but the price isn’t. What is their left to justify the cost of these $100 million animated films?
This raises another scary issue for those who work in the industry. If the same quality can be produced in China at nearly 10% of the price, won’t all the work go there? Regardless of what artists think, there are still bean counters sitting atop the Hollywood heap who are only going to look at the numbers. If those numbers say they can get the same quality that equals the box office returns they are used to, while producing in China on a micro-budget, the writing is already on the wall.
As an independent creator, you need to get your head squarely and completely out of those clouds. We are not a part of that game. Trying to get into or become a part of that game is nearly an exercise in futility. You need to create your own game.
A perfect example of this is the indie creator Signe Baumane and her recent micro-budget feature film Rocks in my Pockets. This film was apparently on the short list for the Oscars, but was not nominated in the end. Being a realistic tale about depression and suicide, based on true events, maybe it was too indie for them. While many Hollywood animated features are little different than live action blockbusters, she travels the paths that only animation can travel. She spoke about this not long ago in an interview with Vice.
“Telling that amount of history in a live action film is nearly impossible. Showing how a person feels from inside, how depression works from inside, is also nearly impossible in live action.
Do you remember that film A Beautiful Mind about the mathematician who went crazy? To depict his state of mind, they used blurry spinning images. This is all the language you have in live action. In animation it's different; you can just walk into a person's mind and you can show everything going on in there. In animation you're free to do anything you want.”
Is this really true? Of course we know it is, but you might not think so looking at the big films in the industry. They are just as formulaic and, in some ways, lacking in artistry as any Hollywood Blockbuster. For the indie, any attempt to mimic that would be a recipe for disaster. This is a notion of which I am often reminded by independent animation veteran Paul Fierlinger, who has long been advising me to put more realism and more of myself into my work. He is adamant that the indie trying to directly compete with Hollywood, or anime, or anything else mainstream will find themselves without an audience. Signe Baumane certainly has her style and definitely speaks from her heart in her films. This makes them decidedly different than the mainstream.
“...what really bums me out is that animation is misunderstood as a medium for children; this makes me really upset. Animation has been around for ages, it was the first moving images. Then sometime around the 1920s, it was hijacked by children.”
I APPLAUD THIS SENTIMENT! Now, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of rumors going around, even such that he chose to resign simply to avoid being fired. It has also been suggested that he commanded a $2 million per year salary, which led to the corporate bean counters wanting to axe him. I have even read comments to the effect that the company had been doing everything in their power to make life miserable for the "old guard" or veteran employees, in the hopes that they would leave. I am, of course, no stranger to this idea.
I read that Keane spoke of his future plans in a video, saying about the famous Disney traditional look, “It’s a style that looks that way because of a technical limitation.” He goes on to say, “I thought if I ever get a chance, I want to animate something where my original drawing stays on the screen.” My own sincere hope is that he goes off and does something Bill Plympton style, rough lines and all, that is ENTIRELY HIS OWN CREATION. Can you imagine what GREATNESS, what ARTFULNESS, what CREATIVITY... I truly want to see that.
There is really something to that line of his about animation being that ultimate art form with endless territories. I fully intend to explore these territories myself. Those video updates I mentioned will be forthcoming, and projects like the one above will be explained. More importantly, though, something about this Glen Keane story has really inspired me to EXPLORE those territories rather than just talk about it.
I have seen comments on the internet that suggest some fans desire him to follow Chris Sanders, the director known for Lilo & Stitch who left Disney and found himself at Dreamworks Animation doing How to Train Your Dragon. As much as I love that movie, the last thing I want to see is Glen Keane going into that company and doing 3D. I want to, like he said, see his original drawings on the screen!
After seeing the Japanese live action production of Space Battleship Yamato, based on the 1974 anime TV series marketed in the west under the title Star Blazers, I hope to never again see a Hollywood remake of any anime show. I know there are a few either in the works or rumored. The previous efforts by Hollywood to turn anime into big screen western entertainment, such as Dragonball Evolution were dismal failures on so many levels. Recent Japanese efforts, though, have more than proven that they have the technology to do their own projects as live action, and do them very well.
I just watched the Space Battleship Yamato film earlier today. This film is of great importance to me because I was really sucked into the original 1974 series, though I saw the heavily edited english dubbed version Star Blazers. It wasn't until many years later, around university time that I saw the second animated film. You can imagine what it was like to see the sequence of the Yamato launching from the water, while that original theme song played, after not having seen the show in over a decade. Now, still many years later, I see this live action version, and again hear that amazing theme song and watch a realistic, live action Yamato launch from the scorched earth and fire the wave motion gun. It felt like I was a kid again!
If you consider the domestic box office of a very successful movie, and also take into account the price of a movie ticket these days, even the movies which gross hundreds of millions of dollars are, in fact, viewed by less than 10% of the population. Some of those tickets sold are likely to people who view popular movies multiple times also. I can also imagine that when it comes to the huge, FX driven films now common in Hollywood, it is very likely the same 10% that is watching these films. What, then, are the other 90% of people watching?
Let's take a look at the HBO series Game of Thrones. This fantasy is definitely not Harry Potter or Dungeons&Dragons. The show contains a lot of gore, plenty of nudity, graphic sex and is very slow paced. In the entire first season there are only two or three monster appearances and only one CG creature. This show is heavy on the drama and characters. It is also hugely successful, having picked up for a second season after just one showing of the first episode. I am willing to bet that, while there is some audience crossover, this caters to a very different crowd than the typical Hollywood summer movie.
In the world of games, Nintendo began to find entirely new audiences with products like Nintendogs and that cooking game. Suddenly, housewives and the elderly were playing video games. Facebook has a number of very popular games among people who don't consider themselves gamers, and they are nothing like what is generally considered popular in the mainstream market. The mobile market, especially the IOS market has opened up entirely new avenues to reach entirely new players.
There is no reason to believe that you have to make what they are making in order to be a success. You don't have to follow Hollywood formulas or feel that you need to make a Disney or Pixar clone for your animated movie, just because everyone else is doing so. Deviating from this doesn't mean you are attempting to make an ice cream parlor in the cold north. We have the internet at our disposal. It may take you bit longer to build up, but the people who would most love to watch what you want to make will eventually find you.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within grossed just over $30 million at the domestic box office. That is a lot of money when you think about it. Most people would be overjoyed to see that kind of gross on their film project. The problem, however, is that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within cost over $130 million to produce, and probably an equivalent amount to market. This makes for an incredible loss of money for those involved. As a note of contrast, The original A Nightmare on Elm Street films of the 1980s, starring Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, also grossed around $30 million at the domestic box office. These films, however, cost from $2 million to $4million to produce, making them amazing successes. That same box office take, in this case, means people love this kind of movie and it spawns 5 or 6 sequels.
This brings us to the question, then, if 2 films can gross the same $30 million at the box office, and this box office take means that people love one of them and that there is a big enough market for it, how can the other be a failure? We already know, of course, it is because the other film cost entirely too much to produce. The matter then turns to whether or not the the film considered a failure could be produced for the same cost as the one considered a success. This can certainly be done, though with a few caveats.
Such a production will likely never happen in the U.S. through Hollywood. It is also not likely to come out of the bloated studio system of any country. In the world of independents, though, it becomes a real possibility. This, however, will even require said independents to think differently and abandon prejudices often imposed by the mainstream industry. Just to give an example, from a recent thread on CGTalk, there still seems to be a heavy prejudice against certain software applications, such as Poser, Daz Studio, Vue, Bryce and a few others. While it may be true that there is a vast amount of low quality images associated with these particular tools, it is by no means the fault of the tools. Also these prejudices are years old, and often those who tout them are unaware of the major strides these tools have made since their opinions formed.
For the sake of simplicity, I'll call this pattern The Twilight Bandwagon. I will grant that the Twilight films were far from the originator of this pattern, but they may be the best known example of it, so I think it a fitting name. Since Twilight was a huge success, it can't really be said to be part of the problem, but more of a great reveal of the lack of creativity currently in Hollywood.
The absolute best example of the industry jumping this bandwagon would be the film Red Riding Hood. This film had Twilight written all over it. It hit all the plot points, filled every cute, young character spot, and even had a huge werewolf. What more could the audience ask for? Well, apparently, the audience wanted something different because the movie failed at the box office.
I would have thought the movie version of I Am Number Four would have been a shoe in for success on the Twilight Bandwagon. I loved the book. It had all the elements, including the characters actually being in high school, which seems to be a necessary part of the equation. Shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Smallville and Teen Wolf show that TV is not exempt either.
Still, I am Number Four failed at the box office.
So now we have a new Spider-Man being put back into high school. I don't expect this one to fail, certainly not on the level of other attempts to cash in on this trend, and I suspect that unlike the first Spider-Man film series, he will never get out of high school this time. The question was asked, in that forum, why couldn't this same story be done with the original cast? Well, the original cast are now too old for the Twilight audience. Movies have been skewing younger for ages now. I read somewhere that even The Expendables sequel will be adding fresh young faces to the team, which seems to go against what that movie was about. I guess they'll be adding tough, ass kicking women to the group now too.
The more I write this post, the more I start to wonder why I even waste my time looking at what Hollywood does. It's always about lowest common denominator. The reason is simple. When you spend that much money on a film, you have no choice but to try and draw the largest possible audience. This is why you won't see a Bogey style mystery in the cinema anytime soon, or an Alfred Hitchcock type film either. I suppose I should focus on the world of animation, but do I even want to get started on where the anime industry has gone?