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More ammo for the film/video war

October 11, 2007

Been sitting on this since August – it’s part of the (ongoing) debate about whether one should shoot their feature on film or video… 

Subject: Re: Story and Picture
From: “Royce Allen Dudley”

Major distributers don’t look at indie films that aren’t shot in / finished in 35mm unless they come with tremendous buzz ( festival sweeps ). The exception is DVD distributers that buy direct to video genre pieces that cost less than an import car ( and get sold for a break – even ). But then those aren’t festival pieces.

I make this gross generalization based on recent experiences with numerous films I shot, most of the digital ilk and one shot and printed 35mm. 35mm immediately gets you past ropes and people from studios drive to see you.
They may pass, but they come out. DVD screeners end up going from the mail room to the assistant assistant to the trash can. The ability to screen a print has huge value to a filmmaker’s work.

DV or HDv limit your options; true HD formats less so, super 16 is still an option but an odd one, 35mm gives you the most options and the most attractive positioning with potential buyers.

All I know about festivals per se is they tend to be rigged, so if you are connnected, it doesn’t much matter what your film is shot on or about.

There are far more variables and intangibles not mentioned.

And every year that passes I believe William Goldman’s quote more and more. No one in Hollywood knows anything.

These are my opinions based on the lives of 2 dozen + features I’ve shot for other people, half of them 16 or 35 and the other half assorted digital formats, each an indie under a million bucks, half a dozen of them having gotten some manner of distribution…and the really good ones, for the most part, sitting on a closet shelf forever more.

If I were producing an indie with my own money, I’d shoot it in 35mm. It’s part of the insurance package, so to speak.

Royce Allen Dudley
Cinematographer
Studio City, CA, USA

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Subject: Re:Story and Picture
From: brendon phillips

“Major distributers don’t look at indie films that aren’t shot in / finished in 35mm unless they come with tremendous buzz ( festival sweeps ). The exception is DVD distributers that buy direct to video genre pieces that cost less than an import car ( and get sold for a break – even ). But then those aren’t festival pieces. ” 

I couldn’t agree with this reply more.  I have had the same experience.  The few 10’s of thousands that the producers save in production will never make up for the money they are spending on the film never getting picked up and only going to video, if that.  The fact is that unless it has a name attached in some way or another the distributors aren’t interested in pitching up the few hundred thousand to finish on film finish sound color correct and then put together a marketing campaign that is 10 times  more than the original budget costs. 

So many producers follow that myth of Napoleon Dynamite or Open Water and fail to consider the 20 thousand other indi movies that get passed on each year.  They should do their homework before dumping 5k into a movie that will sit in a closet or be a reel piece.

  Brendon McCurtis Phillips
  LA based DP

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Subject: RE: Story and Picture
From: “Stephen van Vuuren” <
>

I have to pretty much disagree with the 35mm vs miniDV. There is only one thing that really matters and the story/film you have to make – that’s the number one factor that determines the fate of a film. Content is king – is a great story? Are we finding the right audience? Plus you need timing, luck and good connections. I’ve seen the same percentage of 35mm not get any distribution as DV projects. The painful truth is most indie films never see the light of day and if they do, it’s barely a glimmer. I don’t care if you shoot on IMAX, that does automatically give you much if any advantage.

Sure, if you try to create a 2.35:1 landscape film shot with a $200 camera, you might have issue. But a Canon HV20 might just do it. And most importantly, if you take the money you would spend on shooting 35mm and use that to hire a named talent –  that’s usually a far smarter business/distribution move than shooting on 35mm and getting no names.
Distributors will pay to see Tom Cruise on Fisher security camera but could not care less about my next door neighbor on IMAX.

While every project is different and I agree their are no hard and fast rules, but if you need one, here’s what I think is important: Story, Cast/Talent, Music, Shooting Format – in that order.

stephen v2

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Subject: Story and Picture
From: Mike Most

On 8/10/07 2:20 PM, “Stephen van Vuuren”  wrote:

> I have to pretty much disagree with the 35mm vs miniDV. There is only one
> thing that really matters and the story/film you have to make…

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it interesting that in general – not always, but in general – those who feel that 35mm and high production values are something of a prerequisite for sale of an independent production (or at least a great advantage) generally live and usually work in Los Angeles.  Those that feel otherwise generally don’t.

Having lived in L.A. for virtually all of my adult life, or at least until a year and a half ago, I think that’s interesting because I find that my own perspective has been altered on a number of industry related topics since I left. Things like the penetration (or lack of it) of digital projection are seen through very different eyes when you don’t live in a city that has 30
digital projection venues. Miami, in fact, has about 3 – and you have to look very hard to find them because in general, nobody here seems to care.  Since it is a simple fact that the vast, vast, vast majority of independent
productions – no matter where or how they’re shot – fail to find either commercial or financial success, I guess you could, to some degree, call the L.A. based crowd realists. Or you could say that outside of L.A., “the dream is alive,” albeit a bit unrealistic (guess that’s why it’s called a dream).

In any case, it’s just an observation, but it seems to be true.

Mike Most
Chief Technologist
Cineworks Digital Studios
Miami, Fl.

I wonder if it’s worth it to put your dream on hold just to make sure the format of your film is palatable to a distributor?  And how much luck has to do with landing distribution?

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