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Category Archives: Film
A few years ago, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, we had an event honoring the longtime collaboration of Producer Michael Hausman and Director Milos Forman. Forman was the first Chair of the Columbia MFA Program, and Hausman has been teaching at the school since the very beginning. In a way, their collaboration is emblematic of the way films are made at Columbia, where producers and directors are creative partners. In keeping with that spirit, a group of students led by Director/Producer Mike De Caro and Co-Producer Jennifer Gerber, decided to capture the event and edit it into a short film.
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The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.
I would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.
Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.
My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)
Just finished my kickoff speech at the 2014 Edition of the Art House Convergence. I’ve been asked to share the text, so here it is:
Is everybody ready to converge? Alright!
Last night I was asked by a number of you if today’s presentation would be a continuation of what I did last year, and the answer is no. One trip down memory lane is enough, and I feel like I got that out of my system.
But I am going to start out with a look backwards.
When I first started out in the Film Business, I learned a couple of very quick lessons that were in no way related to film, but were in every way related to business.
First, I learned that Business is dominated by people who are driven, sometimes myopic, and willing to do almost anything to succeed.
The second thing I learned is that the Film Business, specifically, is driven more by ego than by profit. After all, it has never been a predictable, scalable business in the traditional sense that allows for believable projections and charts with any sort of certainty. So who is drawn to such a business when far more money, far more predictably can be made elsewhere? The answer would be those people who somehow convince themselves that they know better than everyone else, or that they’ve come up with some kind of system to beat the odds. (more…)
The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.
The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. (more…)
For those of you who have commented that film schools need more training in marketing and distribution, take a look at this video about a program that I helped to create with Ben Gibson of the London Film School. “Making Waves” took place at the Berlin Film Festival this past February. Several Columbia students participated along with students from The London Film School, La Fémis (Paris), the dffb (Berlin), ESCAC (Barcelona) and the UNATC (Romania). The students worked in international teams and were assigned a film from the Berlin Market and a territory. It was enormously successful and we hope the program continues in future years. Check it out below…
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In my speech at the Art House Convergence, I talked a great deal about Don Rugoff, who was a crazy, arrogant, difficult genius, and was my first boss in the movie business. Given the impact the man had on the business, it astounds me that he is almost a forgotten figure at this point. Reid Rosefelt wrote about him back in 2011, and ignited my urge to share more of what I knew about the man. So for those of you who would like to know more about the history of independent film marketing, here is a bunch of material to chew on.
This first piece is an audio recording of a seminar that Don did in 1976. It was moderated by Julian Schlossberg, who at the time was a VP at Paramount and had a radio program called “Movie Talk.” You’ll notice that during the Q&A, some of the questions from the audience were not intelligible, so whoever put this tape together dubbed them in. This is a fascinating glimpse into Don’s way of looking at the distribution business, the exhibition business, and mostly about his unique take on marketing specialized films. This was the school I went to, where I learned just about everything I’ve used throughout my career. (more…)
Last week, a lot of eyebrows were raised when Steven Spielberg, of all people, predicted the ‘implosion’ of the film industry. Russ Collins, who is the head of the Art House Convergence among the many hats he wears, wrote the following as an email to the art houses across the country. With his permission, I am reprinting it in it entirety as a guest blog. It’s a must read for anyone contemplating the state of the film industry.
By Russ Collins,
CEO, Michigan Theater – Ann Arbor
Director, Art House Convergence
Artistic Director, Cinetopia Festival
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE IMPLOSION KIND
I am not a doom and gloom guy. However, it is tempting for older cinema artists (like Steven Spielberg and soon to retire artists like Steven Soderbergh or maybe it’s just filmmakers named Steven!) to see gloom in clouds of change. Change is hard. It frequently makes us feel discouraged or unfairly challenged. The shifting sands of change can cause us to see threats everywhere and feel the world as we know it will end. However, maybe we feel this way because it’s true. The world as we know it will indeed come to an end because change is the only constant, and creativity in art, business and all things is frequently born from what might appear to be destructive forces brewed from dynamic change. It is a defining story of living; a baseline truth, an ever repeating cycle of human existence that the Hindu religion represents so effectively in the story Shiva, whose joyous dance of destruction celebrates the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. (more…)
Last night’s presentation of the annual Chaplin Award to Barbra Streisand for her film work was a fascinating reminder of what a polarizing and beloved figure she was and remains. As the years fly by, her fans have lost none of their adoration, while many people I spoke to at the event were either too young to remember that Barbra had anything to with film, or too arty to have any appreciation for her body of work. For those in latter two categories, it is worth pointing out some of the reasons that Barbra remains such a huge cultural icon in spite of not having produced much work at all in the last few decades.
First of all, there is the VOICE. At the tribute, Streisand went out of her way to say that her primary goal as a kid was to be an actress. Her singing was just a means to an end. It was her way in. This piece of information should not be surprising to anyone who followed her early career, and became even clearer when watching the clips from her early films. More than that amazing voice, her talent was in the emotion she brought to a song, making her arguably one of the greatest interpretive singers of all time.
But there was something more. (more…)
I just came back to my office from spending a couple of hours scouring the film vaults at DuArt Film & Video in New York. If you hadn’t heard, DuArt stopped processing film around 18 months ago and is trying to responsibly dispose of all the film materials they have been storing over the decades. With the help of Sandra Schulberg — who is spearheading the “IndieCollect” campaign — they are attempting to locate the owners as well as find archival homes for the films. Representatives from Academy Film Archive, UCLA, MoMA, George Eastman House, Library of Congress and Anthology Film Archives are going through the vaults and have agreed to provide proper climate-controlled longterm storage for many of the titles at risk. In my brief visit, I enountered original 35mm and 16mm negatives for films that I worked on at Cinema 5 and Cinecom, films that I recognized that were made by friends and by Columbia alums. So, if you have any materials that were stored at DuArt and are looking for a permanent home for your materials, let me know and I’ll hook you up. If you want to make a direct inquiry, please don’t call DuArt. Instead please email Steve Blakely and Sandra Schulberg. Comments after the break…
This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Filmmaker Magazine.
Over the last decade, as the tools of filmmaking became less expensive and more generally accessible, there was much excitement about what came to be known as the “democratization” of filmmaking. Suddenly, one didn’t have to be rich or the relative of a studio executive to get a movie made. In addition, web sites such as YouTube and others opened up distribution to the masses, creating a new paradigm that was dubbed “user-generated content.”
All of this sounded great on the surface, but like other seemingly positive advances—remember the “thousand channel universe” or the “long tail theory?”—there are always unintended consequences. While it was true that more people were making “movies” than ever, I would characterize the change not as democratization, but rather as “amateurization.” These market forces—an oversupply of product and seemingly endless channels of accessible distribution—caused the bottom to drop out of the professional marketplace. Content in all its forms was being commoditized. Why should distribution channels pay for content when it could be provided for free? If audiences could be attracted by offering them quantity, why worry about quality? In other words, the so-called democratization of filmmaking was ensuring that no one could make a living at it. (more…)