From Internet Content to Studio Deals

Today I’ve been thinking about filmmakers. Filmmakers using the internet to launch themselves into the tent-pole cinema game, internet filmmakers trying to leverage that same mechanism into studio deals for themselves. Obviously, I’m not talking from personal experience. Just observation.

We’ll start with the teaser for The Leviathan. Everyone went crazy for this thing four months ago. Director Ruairí Robinson, who’s helmed several animated short films, one of which was Academy-award nominated, made this proof-of-concept trailer:

A couple days after he put that on Vimeo, Neill Blomkamp (Writer/director, District 9) and Simon Kinberg (Writer/producer, the latest X-Men movies) signed on as producers and Fox Studios snapped up the feature rights. The story told within the short is nothing at all, but there’s no denying the impressive look of it. It looks like tent pole filmmaking. Plus, Jim Uhls (Fight Club screenplay) name is on the trailer, so that must mean there’s some kind of story.

Still, the big headline is HOLLYWOOD STUDIO BUYS INTERNET VIDEO SHORT FILM. This kind of thing happens every once in awhile and every filmmaker on the internet tries to do the same thing. Since many studios only seem interested in stories they’ve seen be successful before (that Leviathan trailer is a sci-fi Jaws, right?) everyone starts trying to churn out shorts or trailers that look like what studios are buying, AKA rehashing stuff.

And it can work, apparently. This article from Film School Rejects titled “Terrible Trailer for a Movie that Doesn’t Exist Getting Turned into a Movie” discusses this same phenomenon citing a mock-trailer for a movie called The Garden directed by E.B. Rhee. The article states that as a flashy, VFX-heavy, internet video that’s drummed up some attention Warner Bros. subsidiary Polymorphic Pictures grabbed the rights because…

“…why not? The CGI is shitty, but the studio will hire a different company for that anyway. The acting is all wooden (admittedly because there’s no story/foundation present), but all of these actors will be replaced. The story isn’t interesting or new, but Polymorphic will hire a dozen writers to shape and reshape the script until it’s unrecognizable. Make no mistake, the most likely outcome is that Rhee gets paid for the rights, he’s replaced by a known director, his actors are replaced by known actors, and his script (co-written by Aaron Strongoni) is workshopped by more established screenwriters until the whole thing is shelved anyway.”

You can check out the rest of that very worthwhile article at Film School Rejectshttp://filmschoolrejects.com/features/short-film-the-garden-movie-trailer-bought-by-warners.php#ixzz3iitbZ0ia

In an update awhile back, I talked about how the studio system used to grab up the new filmmakers of each generation who were showing the industry what the new generation wanted to see. It was how the industry evolved. Now, the internet is spoon-feeding the industry what it’s already seen over and over again in the hopes of gaining admittance to the studio system. Because of the remake and reboot culture. We talk about the nostalgia of this time, and part of it is absolutely that. Just look at Kung Fury:

It looks like VHS (just with great VFX), because of our nostalgia for watching fantastic movies in the format. That’s both giving the internet what it wants and proving that you can make something impressive looking. But the studio systems climate of nostalgia is mostly just based on grabbing something that has already been proven fiscally viable at one point. There’s no speculation there. You can chart the property’s previous box office, adjust for inflation, balance it with the box office estimations on big name acting talent attached, and if it tanks like the Poltergeist reboot or The Fantastic Four reboot, you can tell your boss, “Hey, I charted this whole thing. It all worked on paper,” and your ass is quasi covered.

It’s also all about the millions studios have to spend on marketing, making talent that already has social media followings in place a bigger draw, because they can send a tweet about an opening weekend to an entire generation of people that have stopped watching TV commercials. They talked about that at a South by Southwest panel with casting directors this year where they essentially said producers are more interested in finding successful people on YouTube and Vine than in acting class showcases or comedy clubs. That comes at the end of this article at The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/mar/14/sxsw-film-casting-directors-say-acting-talent-counts-for-7-in-their-decisions?

I guess this is all just more on how the internet and the film industry have to realize what each of those markets wants. It’s not the same thing. At all.

More on that next week.

Thanks for reading.

–Jake

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