Los Angeles based actor, Jeff Dylan Graham has graciously accepted the role of 'Boy' in the Moderngrumble trailer! Veteran of numerous films and director of the upcoming Psychosomatika, Jeff got his acting start in the Jennifer Lopezfilm Selena and never looked back. Having worked with a who's who of underground horror actors and directors since, Jeff brings to Moderngrumble a great deal of experience and enthusiasm for the script as well as a willingness to undergo the physical transformation necessary to realize the character of Boy.
This is a major decision for Moderngrumble as deciding on just what Boy should look like was a long journey that is detailed previously here. Our next step in preparing Jeff for the role will be getting Marcus Koch to do a cast of his head and shoulders so that we can begin prepping for the bird hatching scene and then getting Jeff to an Optometrist to have his eyes measured so we can purchase some quality contacts. The rest will be in the hands of our star!
Please help me in welcoming Jeff to the production. 2012 is the year of Moderngrumble!
Well, we've had a couple of days to review our crowdfunding campaign and consider a good many factors as to why we raised what we did and why we did not manage to secure the full 10k. But first here are the final numbers from our Indiegogo page, Website, and Facebook Fan page:
Taking a look at the overall peaks and valleys of the campaign it appears that our highest traffic volume through all sites was at about the halfway mark of the campaign, a steady build across the first two weeks that then fell off almost completely in the next two weeks. Donations however remained steady and evenly spread out across the campaign and were the result of direct referrals to the site and not a one from a web surfing good soul just happening upon the campaign which brings me to one conclusion: our facebook ads campaign, and the ipad promotional giveaway or "perks for sharing" were total washouts.
Ultimately I think this failure had to do with not having a large enough budget to make the Facebook Ads campaign a success - my understanding at this point of that particular tool is that it's a money game, as you are paying for clicks or impressions, you basically bid against other campaigns for Facebooks assistance, the highest bid (or amount you're willing to pay for clicks) is awarded the best of their advertising efforts- that is just an opinion from my use of the tool and not a definitive fact.
As for the "perks for sharing" idea I can only assume it appeared to many users too much like one of those scams that plague us all in one way or another. Unfortunate for our campaign that it didn't help bring us a larger audience but very fortunate for those who shared our links as the pool of potential winners is far smaller than it would have been otherwise. I still see a lot of potential in this idea of creating incentives for sharing and online participation but we shall have to go back to the drawing board and see how best to streamline this promotional idea.
As for the failure of the campaign to reach it's full goal, I must first lay the problem at the feet of a film and story that's chief strength is it's uniqueness, mystery and ambiguity, a problem I adressed several months ago in Defining the Indefinable. We are not making a slasher film, torture porn, survival horror or anything else that comes with a built in audience and that will always be a problem as pointed out here; "films that are genre-benders or are in the absence of a solid public aim are hard beasts to secure crowdfunding for, trust me. People need to know within a few seconds of having clicked over to your campaign page what your story’s about exactly and why you’re asking for their hard-earned ducats." Secondly, our Twitter campaign while hard fought by Luis Alguera of Mubi and his team started too late in the campaign to really reach critical mass. We should have started our presence a few months prior and not nearly half way through the campaign. Beyond these two problems, I am at a bit of a loss as to why we were not able to rally the troops further in the last days of the campaign. The generous support of Pulsion Productions halfway through the campaign put us over the half way mark and we at Lotushead Productions expected that to help us out of our slump and re-invigorate our audience to take another look at the project. This did not happen. Looking back we should have done some video updates, and created a real sense of urgency and excitement as the campaign came to a close as the folks behind the successful ExtremeIndie doc did earlier in the year.
In Closing a final list of those you shared our links in the spirit of Indie solidarity and winning an iPad2 :)
For those of you that supported us on Twitter I will be tweeting your names seperately as a final list and thank you, I will leave this list posted for a week so that anyone that shared and is not listed has the opportunity to notify us. After which we will be giving away a brand new iPad2 to some lucky film lover! Thank you all very much for your time and support and as always please feel free to contact me with any questions, conerns or ideas you might have to help make Moderngrumble a reality.
Well 2011 is coming to a close and so is the Moderngrumble crowdfunding campaign. These last few hours I have much to reflect upon. 2011 started with me and a profoundly weird script and the following goals:
1) Incorporate Lotushead Productions.
2) Secure my core visual team; passionate and knowlegable magicians in the roles of Director of Photography, Production Designer, and Special Effects Supervisor who were all willing to take this journey with me despite how long it might actually take to find funding.
3) Write a thorough Business Plan that reflected the uniqueness of the project including a Shooting Schedule, Budget, and Offering Memorandum.
4) Secure as many locations as possible for the shooting of a teaser trailer, at the very least securing our central Farmhouse location.
5) Find an actor or model that embodied the duality of Boy’s nature.
6) Launch a successful Crowdfunding Campaign.
7) Shoot the teaser trailer.
8) Create a Power Point presentation encapsulating our pitch, including the Business Plan, Financial Projections, Excerpts from the Script, Storyboard, and scenes from the work of the participating crew.
9) Create a 3 minute narrarated video overview of everything in #8 to send out to potential investors.
10) Raise the feautre budget and begin shooting Moderngrumble by the beginning of 2012.
Looking back now I have to say I may have been a bit ambitious in my goals and expectations. However # 1-5 have been accomplished to a greater degree of success than I could have hoped for. #6 is wrapping itself up now and while we have come very close to reaching our $10,000.00 goal we are still floundering around the 6k mark. Regardless of the outcome of our crowdfunding campaign Lotushead Productions will carry on with the remainder of our goals in the New Year. I am setting a 6 month goal on reaching #10 and armed with the hindsight of this last year and the wonderful crew and supporters I have found during this journey I believe we can do it. Of course my success or failure will be published right here for all to see. I hope those of you reading this find something of value here, whether it be insight, inspiration or even entertainment. As always I welcome suggestions, criticism and support in any form it comes. Thank you for taking the time to follow this journey and if you haven’t already SUPPORT MODERNGRUMBLE anyway that you can and let’s close out this year together!
I’m a film school drop-out. There are many reasons for this but mostly I blame my first screening of Godard’s Weekend and Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time. With Godard’s film it was the realization that everything had already been done and with Tarkovsky’s book it was the re-affirmation of my own ideas that true power of cinema lay not in clever games, but in its attempts to master cinematic time. I was introduced to both texts not in film school but outside in the repretaroy theaters and bookstores of the real world. To be certain film school was full of fellow film fanatics but the school I attended was geared more towards practical knowledge that would secure you a job after graduation and not film theory or studies. More often than not my fellow students were excited about the latest technical breakthrough or Scorsese’s tracking shots, or DePalma’s use of the split di-opter and not the more heady ideas of the likes of Godard or Tarkovsky. To be fair I am certain there were many fellow students interested in just that, I however never met one. And so realizing that I was not interested in shooting commercials or music videos but in finding the most effective means for expressing myself, I decided to go it alone, live and experience life so as to evenutally realize my own, personal cinema on my own terms.
I would never have guessed that that process would take over a decade. But in that time, through all the triumphs and deaths of my life I never strayed far from Tarkovsky’s book. Godard fell by the wayside I am afraid but everytime I opened that book, I found a fresh perspective on not only cinema but my own perceptions of life. To make a long story short, when I began looking for a Cinematographer to help me realize Moderngrumble I was looking first and foremost for someone with a strong and unique sense of cinematic time or at least someone with the potential to capture and manipulate it with a gentle rhythm and not the rapid cutting of much recent cinema. I found that co-conspirator in Joriah Goad. In all of the films I watched in this search it was his Father/Mother/ilivmodern that captured me. The rest of his work only re-inforced the fact that here was a magician capable of everything I sought and more. Speaking with him only cemented the bond. I am proud to say that Joriah was my first real creative partner in the creation of Moderngrumble, and it’s hard to not get too excited about the prospect of what Moderngrumble will become in our hands. For I think we both believe as Tarkovskysays: “The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning it to good.” I have only ever sought to plough and harrow my own soul. Moderngrumble is the first fruit borne of this journey.
The blue bird hatching from a man’s head; a surrealistic flourish in retrospect obviously indebted to the cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky but one none the less that presents a real challenge. Like many of the effects in Moderngrumble, anything less than perfection could send us into a downward spiral of cheesy over-indulgence or worse, camp. Much of Moderngrumblewalks this fine line. Tone is key and it’s all in the presentation. What to do then when you are dead serious in creating such a scene as realistically as possible with the intent of imbuing the scene with not horror but wonder and even a warped sense of beauty?
Well, first of all you have to build the moment appropriately, give the scene a suitable context, and frame the hatching head just right but that’s another discussion entirely. Chief among our concerns at this point should be the deft execution of a believable silicone head with a built in skull compartment complete with an easily removable but seamless cover. The idea being that we create a nest inside the silicone head for our Bluebird, close the skull compartment and then use a blast of compressed air from inside the head in conjunction with mono-filament line attached to the outside cover to create the effect of a startled bird escaping the head wound. Of course if I had my druthers we would figure out a way for the Bird to tear its way out of the skull and not simply fly out.
The logistics of such an effect are relatively simple save the bird which could present any number of practical problems and that is why we are including this scene in the trailer shoot and devoting a large portion of the budget and shooting schedule to getting it right. With a trial run on one of the more significant effects in the film hopefully by the time we are shooting the feature we will have a good handle on what works and what does not. As much as I want to rely entirely on practical effects for Moderngrumble, digital will always remain an option should any unforeseen complications arise working with live birds.
However, if anyone can make it work, it’s Marcus Koch, our expert on any and all things related to head trauma. If anyone can make a bird fly out of a man’s head it’s him. How well we sell his efforts will be the true test and with myself and Joriah Goad working closely with Marcus on framing and lighting the scene I think we will all be surprised how fantastic it turns out to be.
Now we just have to figure out how to handle the floating dead.
I met Marcus Koch at the Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, Texas about two years ago. He was there supporting the film ‘Sweatshop’ a low budget Texas shot slasher set at an all night rave. I was attending a screening packed with fellow horror junkies on a Friday night. Having drifted into the screening from the bar where I had already had one too many, I was drawn to the exibition by the incessant laughter and gutteral moans. Squeezing through the standing room only crowd, I found a space against the wall and proceeded to watch an onslaught of just about every type of gore you can imagine. The specialty of the night however seemed to be crushed body parts, especially heads. You see, the killer in this particular gore fest was a giant in a welders helmet wielding not a sledgehammer but a hammer made from an anvil. Yes, you read that correctly – an ANVIL.
Now, I’m horror fan to the core but have never particularly been a fan of gore for gore’s sake. That said I do have an appreciation for the work that goes into it. In fact the very first occupation I can remember wanting to pursue was not filmmaker, fireman, astronaut or policeman but Special Effects Artist. A fact that reveals a very mis-spent youth devouring whatever sick clamshell treat my local Mom n’ Pop video store could offer up. As a result I have seen my fair share of head trauma and more often than not said head is usually a ridiculously poor imitation of the real thing. The standard by which I judge all fake heads is Chef’s head in Apocalypse Now. The scene where Brando appears out of the rainy night to deposit a special gift to Martin Sheen’s Willard is about as real as it gets. While the heads in ‘Sweatshop’ are not quite that spectacular they are, forgive the pun, head and shoulders above what you typically find in horror films, especially budget challenged productions such as this. They were in fact some of the best heads and gore effects I have seen in a film of this caliber and many films with higher production values.
After the film ended, the lights came up and I found myself standing next to a very jolly Marcus Koch, Special Effects Artist extraordinaire. Most of the Cast and Crew Q&A centered around Marcus’s work, where it was revealed that while typically one would do a head cast of an actor for a decapitation/head squashing this particualr production hadn’t had the budget to bring Marcus aboard soon enough to do casts. What was the solution? The Production sent Marcus photos of the actors and from these photos Marcus sculpted the heads! I realized very quickly that I was standing next to an artist of the caliber we needed working on Moderngrumble especially if we were going show in full Close Up the hatching of a bird from a man’s head.
The role of Production Designer is an important one, especially on a low budget feature where there may not be a budget for Set Designer and or an Art Department. In such a situation the Production Designer and her Assistant(s) may make up the entirety of this aspect of your film. Tasked with realizing the look of your film through the medium of paint, furniture, props, set design, and set dressing while at the same time working closely with the Director of Photography to ensure proper placement and lighting of the set and it’s dressing, the role is a Herculean task for a department let alone a few people. The significance of working with a talented and experienced Production Designer can make a huge difference in how your film is perceived because like the actors and the DP, their work is the foundation of everything the viewer sees on screen.
Working with the Tottey House for the Moderngrumble trailer shoot I felt like we could get away with not hiring someone for this important role and so I did not budget for it. The house after all was already dressed but as we’ve grown closer to the shoot I have realized that we do need someone to make some sense of the overwhelming clutter. We are overflowing with props and dressing but there is no rhyme or reason to it. Part of me likes it that way but even if we are to maintain the sense of chaos present in the Tottey House there still has to be some practicality exercised for issues such as camera and actor movement. Add to that, that the trailer hopefully will be a chance for our core crew to get a chance to work together, a test run so to speak for the feature film and we have every reason to bring aboard someone to fill this essential role.
That said, Lotushead Productions is proud to announce that Mitchell Crisp has joined the project as our Production Designer. Fresh off working on Arkansas native Jeff Nichol’s latest ‘Take Shelter’ and upcoming ‘Mud,’ Mitchell has the experience to help realize Moderngrumble’s unique blend of Southern Gothic, Manson-chic and seventies styled occult psychedelia. With over 20 years professional experience on everything from Law & Order to some of the best short films to come out of Arkansas in the last ten years, Mitchell is a major addition to Moderngrumble’s visual aesthetic helping to complete the core of our visual team. She is also a painter of some note. Her mother and grandmother's work hang in national Museums, while her own work shows nationally, but sells primarily into private collections in New York and Los Angeles. Her paintings have appeared in script specific roles on NBC's "Law and Order" and on the sets of many films. She paints to support her filmmaking obsession, in which she is known as "Mitchell Patterson." Combined with the talents of our DP, Joriah Goad, and FX master Marcus Koch we can be sure that the trailer and subsequent feature will look fantastic. Please help me in welcoming her aboard the production!
When I first started writing Moderngrumble, the main character, ‘Boy’ was envisioned as an ethereal creature, a hairless, albino with a mouth stained gray/black with ash, chapped, raw, pursed lips, and glowing green eyes. He was also meant to have a mouth and jaw that could unhinge like that of a Python. However, as the writing progressed two things began to dominate my vision: 1) Boy was androgynous and 2) The more human he appeared the more disturbing his actions would be. We are after all speaking about someone who eats the dead and for my money that’s a far more interesting idea when it’s not simply another monster doing the eating but a living, breathing human being.
Once I started working with Michael Duggan on the storyboards/graphic novel however we settled on a more hulking, monstrous but gentle vision for ‘Boy’. Fortunately the hairless albino look, with the green eyes and chapped, stained, pursed lips remained. This change in physical style was due to the artist’s strengths and in the drawn frame the hulking version worked better than a more slight one. Still my intentions remained basically as they had originally, save for the unhinged jaw, and I thought that when the time came to cast, I would still entertain the idea of casting an androgynous actor. I even thought for a while that I might cast a female in the lead to further play with the ambiguity of who and or what Boy is.
As I made the first moves toward casting however I realized that while visually the slight, androgynous look for Boy that I favored fit well with my vision there was one significant aspect of the script that I was overlooking. Boy is an almost entirely silent role which means I need a great physical actor who can project his presence and emotions through body motion and gaze alone. I entertained the extreme of this idea, that I should look for a model, and not an actor, someone who could take direction and project the desired emotions or even in Bresson’s style a model as empty vessel or conduit for my direction and intention. Thankfully, my senses returned with the realization that I needed to find someone with a strong physical presence coupled with the ability to play naïve, and innocent as well as deeply soulful, a child with an old soul, not a model.
Luckily, rather early in the casting process we have discovered an experienced, professional actor who has reacted strongly to the script and whom I hope to secure in the coming week for participation in the trailer shoot. Watching this particular actor in other films, I was struck by a few things: 1) He was consistently the best actor in the film as well as the most interesting thing on screen. 2) He has a very striking, very male face with enough angles to make lighting him a very rewarding adventure. 3) His eyes belie a great deal of experience while at the same time projecting a great deal of vulnerability.
So, not the androgynous look I was initially looking for but something better, the best of two worlds really; the strong male presence and look balanced with the more feminine and vulnerable qualities expressed in his gaze. I can only hope that that same gentle expressiveness will not be hampered but amplified by the green contacts he will have to wear throughout the shoot. If we cannot find a set of contact that allows for that communication between actor and viewer then we may have to consider changing that too. After all, if there is one thing I have learned in this process it’s that you have to be nimble and willing to re-imagine the finer points in accordance with the numerous variances that arise from working with others. The trick is to always come up with something as good or better than the original idea. And that challenge seems to me to be the real core of successful filmmaking. Sticking rigidly to a script written a year ago, and imagined well before that will only result in failure.
“For the theater as for culture it remains a question of naming and directing shadows.”
Antonin Artaud, The Theater and It’s Double
It is the masterful use of a technique that should garner attention not simply the use of the technique. Yet in this ever increasing landscape of information and opinion overload the distinction seems to be blurring or shall I say the viewer’s faculty for distinguishing. We have migrated from a culture of ideas needing expression to a culture of symbols and signifiers in need of something to express. All that art, science and the humanities have achieved has been reduced to information, and often without context.
The words we once used to reach for those feelings and ideas that remain elusive to the intellect are now more increasingly used to define and thus limit and streamline our experiences. The same can be said for the visual language of cinema, built on symbols, and thus a form of expression seemingly tailor made for the illustration of dreams, reveries, fugue states and divined visions but which to the contrary has most prominently been used in the role of entertainment and the exploitation of base emotions. The following words are guilty, they are signifiers, seeking to express something that should be experienced and not intellectualized however as a filmmaker tasked with defining his vision for those unaware or unconcerned with such dilemmas, I have no choice.
The film I am in the process of making, Moderngrumble, is awash in these signifiers even as it struggles to break free of such restraints and realize a direct experience. In fact, that struggle is at the heart of Moderngrumble in both theme and style. Moreover, Moderngrumble is about the attempt and ultimate failure of shaking off these shackles and the possibility that we cannot return to an existence less encumbered by the language and analysis of modern man without a stubborn and very deadly refusal to ‘evolve,’ a willingness to regress in order to progress. A de-evolution as it were, a shrinking away from common knowledge and rule. Let me be clear, this is not a manifesto but a search, a shining of light on the inherent failure of manifestos, and an attempt to render an honest experience from a guilty medium.
In Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, she posits that all film is subject to the ‘male gaze’ a psychoanalytical reading of film text that states the narrative of cinema is overwhelmingly presented from an empowered male perspective. A perspective that objectifies women. And that breaks down into either a sadistic form of voyeurism that the audience participates in, a type of wish fulfillment for our collective desire to watch other people without fear of being discovered, or a fetishism of nostalgia that becomes about the reinforcement of narrative in our daily lives. There have been several challenges to Mulvey’s essay over the years that claim the male gaze is too narrow in its definition not taking into account the sexuality, ethnicity or social status of the viewer. It also does not take into account the gaze present in other styles of filmmaking beyond the American Hollywood narrative such as experimental cinema, or the so called ‘slow cinema’ of many art films, and more and more these days, mainstream films as well.
Carol J. Clovertakes an interesting position in her essays regarding the male gaze in the horror film that defies Mulvey’s damnation of the genre as sadistic pornography, and illuminates it, particularly the slasher film as the most feminist of genres for its portrayal of the ‘final girl.’ The last survivor of the slasher film’s requisite violent onslaught, ‘the final girl’ almost always defends herself from literal and figurative penetration by adopting the male gaze and penetrating the monster first. In this analysis, then we see the possibility of co-opting the theory of the male gaze for one’s own critical agenda but little else. It remains an interpretation, after the fact, and little more. I am not concerned with interpretations here but intentions.
The past decade has seen a rise in a style recently besot with a somewhat derisive term, ‘slow cinema’, that genre of art and foreign film chiefly concerned with mood, tone and atmosphere over plot, character and action and whose practitioners are mostly devout cinephiles owing their style to the masters and pioneers of this aesthetic; Tarkovsky, Bresson, Ozu, Akerman, et.al. More recently there has been a number of articles, blogs and rebuttals about this new generations use of the aesthetic, the gist of which seems to be the question or accusation depending on where you stand – are filmmakers using these techniques as a shortcut to critical praise? Is it in fact a simple way to garner serious artistic consideration and no longer a valid form of cinematic expression? I don’t particularly care how the cinema blog-o-sphere chooses to entertain itself but it raises an entirely other set of questions that do interest me – why do the practitioners of such a style tend toward character studies, emotionally resonant, philosophic and existential quandaries and not, say, the genre film? Why are such techniques, once cutting edge in their own way still used only in the service of dogmatic social dramas, character meditations and neo-seventies styled American realism and not the latest slasher film? And moreover, why can’t the horror film be concerned with the above themes?
Obviously, the quick answer is that there do exist films of this particular cross breeding but ultimately the horror film does not lend itself to such interpretations nor does the average horror audience seek such examinations, whereas the so-called art film and audience often does. The hidden implication is that in the period drama or character study there is more to consider, more to take in and more to reflect on. The subject of say, a French house wife’s daily routine is in the minds of the cine-literate of far more value than whether or not the latest Final Girl will dispatch her stalker. I have to dissent here. The horror film after all, and this is true for even the cheapest of exploitation films, is ultimately about our relationship with death and how we as a collective choose to deal with this deepest of anxieties. It is unfortunate then, that a significant, and thorough grammar has not been developed for the horror film beyond the cultivation of shock and suspense. A fact, I imagine that has everything to do with the inherent content – who among us really enjoys contemplating death, the ruin of our body, the rot of the grave? And so this collective investigation known as the horror film or thriller for that matter has increasingly taken on the form of entertainment. A progression that says much about, not only our global culture’s penchant for simultaneously confronting and negating the disturbing questions of our existence through entertainment, but which seems to this viewer a neutering of one of our most powerful venues for the examination of the self and our relationship with our own and each other’s bodies.
Unlike the male gaze of horror cinema, the gaze in art cinema is more often than not an objective, omnipotent gaze, the equivalent of say the omniscient narrator in literature, a ‘God gaze’ if you will. Typically removed from sexual politics, this gaze is often devoid of fetishism, sadism, and eroticism but by no means is voyeurism absent. In fact it appears to be the purest of voyeuristic engagements as it is the voyeurism found in scientific observation, unencumbered by opinion, or artifice, at least as much as fiction filmmaking can offer. This slow aesthetic by its very nature then is a style tailored to such serious subjects as the meaning of life, death, love and any number of other moral, religious, and philosophical questions we have as human beings. The idea of using that aesthetic in service of genre, artifice and provocation, if truly even possible, is often either seen as pretension of the highest order or practically heretical. It is the marriage of art and trash as Pauline Kael might have remarked but to what end? Is it simply another fracture in an already fractured set of genre tropes? Another style, or trend, another clever re-working of long established stylistic choices that ultimately provide nothing more than an ‘a ha’ moment for the astute viewer?
There are several films that exist at this intersection of genre and art. It is nothing new. Most recently we can take Refn’s ‘Drive’ as an example. The near dream like quality of much of the film has as much to do with the time taken to tell a rather simple story as it does the editing and cinematography. Whatever your take on the success of the film, it is most definitely a surface cross pollination of these styles but not the realization of a new aesthetic. It is what amounts to a curiosity at best and a gimmick at worst. That said, I do believe at this intersection, there does exist the potential for a truly new aesthetic, one however, that first requires a new gaze.
For all the gorehounds that exist and the legion that have been created by the DVD revolution’s excavation of countless forgotten gialli, grindhouse and slasher films, there appears to be a new gaze forming when it comes to on-screen violence. Well, perhaps not new, as it appears to already be reaching a tipping point in the collective conscious, a critical mass even. More and more the viewer of not only cult, underground and independent but mainstream, commercial cinema is engaged in the enjoyment of the desecration of the human form, whether on a purely visceral, and ignorant thrill based level or on a more malign, sadistic level. This is ultimately a distillation of an aberrant aspect of the male gaze but there is another aspect present in certain viewers’ fascination with the method or magic of the violence, an appreciation of the artistry found in the special effects. There is something of the objective observer, a bastardization of the God gaze, emerging in this and yet, there remains a reluctance to dwell on the meaning. Even the films themselves seem reluctant to stay too long on any one effect, the editing such as to hide the work of the effects artist, practically ensuring that the violence will be experienced, and forgotten in time for the next atrocity, a very limited and arguably unhealthy situation that keeps the emphasis on the shock, the ‘gross-out.’ Personally as a viewer, I find it wearisome that each new horror film that comes along seeks to shock us with the same old ‘ultra-violence’. The relationship between violence and the human form is ripe with possibilities beyond shock and disgust. Is it irresponsible of me to suggest that in this desecration, in the destruction of form there can be beauty?
Regardless, I believe the key to such an aesthetic lays in the relationship we as viewers have with our own bodies as well as the bodies on the screen. For if there is to be a new gaze to accompany our new aesthetic there must be a new body on which to gaze or if not a new body, then a new representation of the body beyond the narrow confines of which it now exists in cinema as either that which is coveted or that which is punished.
I am not suggesting the simple application of the slow aesthetic to a genre film. As I have mentioned, this has been done enough already to varying degrees of success. I am suggesting the creation of a new aesthetic based upon a new gaze, a gaze borne of this intersection. The Death Gaze, a synthesis of the male gaze and the God gaze achieved through the rendering of the human form through an abstraction of its place in time and its movement through space. Or to a finer point, the selective elimination of the 180 degree rule or fourth wall, continuity mis-matches, and the role reversal of the animate and inanimate as they generally pertain to frame composition not to mention an active dislocation of the body from its surroundings as well as its fellow extremities. Giving an arm the autonomy of a body, the strained deltoid given the close-up usually reserved for the actor’s face. This is not to imply that I intend on creating a series of abstractions of the human form in service of a narrative but that I intend on re-defining the composition of the human form in the classical frame as it services the story or in this case the tone of the emotions to be conveyed.
Ultimately we can render the soul just as well in the taxonomy of the fingers on a hand as in the lying face of the actor. In the case of the horror film, in the case of Moderngrumble, most important in establishing this new gaze will first be the fetishizing, or eroticizing of the inanimate, of Mother Nature and secondly, the un-wavering, lingering attention spent on the effects work and subsequently the acts of violence they detail. We shall not look away from horror but look closer, deeper, not for thrill and not for shock, but until the violence is an abstraction, until the horror can be re-imagined and the body’s meaning within the frame lost completely. Only then can it be re-defined until the rending of flesh rivals the beauty of budding May flowers or the swell of a river seduces our vision like the contours of a lover.
However we return to the question; to what end? Why formulate, prepare, and execute such a design? To further glorify violence? To continue our cultural desensitization towards the perverse, horrific and indulgent? I can only say this; it has nothing to do with a sadistic desire to dwell on violence for the sake of the gross out, to turn stomachs or shock the audience and everything to do with facing the truth, establishing a new grammar of death, a new transcendent gaze rooted in the confrontation and meditation on and of our own mortality.
If you’ve been following these entries you read yesterday about the discovery of the Tottey House, a hundred year old house filled to the brim with unique period furniture and pop culture artifacts that unfortunately has a logging road running through the front yard. So, the perfect location inside and out, save for the logging road. The Tottey house presents my first real triumph and my first real heart break over a location. From a visual perspective, I couldn’t ask for more. The fact that there is ample parking, facilities, and a general store nearby and the logistical aspect of the location is looking pretty good too. But the road and those damn logging trucks would make it impossible to get even one line of dialogue out before ruining the take with the roar of a diesel engine.
As I have mentioned before, Moderngrumbleis light on dialogue especially during the first half, and it is entirely possible to shoot half of the Farmhouse scenes at the Tottey House while just recording sound for atmosphere and action. But that still leaves the dialogue scenes. I have a couple of options here: I can enlist the help of the State Film Commission , pay for the permits, hire an off-duty police officer and re-direct traffic for several hours or I can simply find another, more suitable location. This might seem like a no-brainer and under normal circumstances it would be, however the nature of Moderngrumble being what it is, I have to say the Tottey House has the potential to be our Bates Motel and I don’t think I will find anything to top it within an hour’s drive that meets the other location criteria of accessibility, facility and privacy. And so I’m torn.
There is a third option however that I am entertaining. Part of my hesitancy to move on has a lot to do with the fact that I had planned on doing all of the interior scenes on a closed set and at least one exterior shot on set as well. This has everything to do with a fetish for exteriors shot on sound stages and nothing to do with practicality but if we are already budgeting for a built set how much harder would it be to change one dialogue scene’s location, shoot the farmhouse scenes with just natural sound while keeping the other dialogue scenes either indoors or on the farm without the house in sight, i.e. a completely different location devoid of logging trucks that can stand in for the farmhouse property?
I’m indulging a fancy, here. I am of course currently looking for a new Farmhouse location but for the purposes of the Moderngrumble Trailer, the Tottey House will more than suffice as there is no dialogue in the first ten minutes of the film and hence no audio concerns for now. While the road is busy it is not so busy that we can’t record a minute of location sound for ambience. So let the logging trucks roll! Whether or not we find a new location or build the sets I so badly want to build, the Tottey House will figure in the feature film one way or another. And should we not end up using the location for the feature film, I have a pretty good source for all the props and set dressing I could ever want!
When writing a script for a film you plan on shooting, a film you know will be made, comparatively, on the cheap you would be wise to write something low on location changes and utilizing locations that provide: 1) ease of access 2) nearby washroom facilities for cast and crew 3) areas with low visibility so as to cut down on the looky-loo factor. If you can manage to avoid public spaces, all the better as once you choose a public space you enter an entirely more complicated and expensive scenario. With regards to Moderngrumble, I was keen from the outset to utilize the under-used beauty of my home state, Arkansas and the majestic Ozark Mountains and many rivers that run through it and as such many of the locations in the film are stretches of those rivers and forests. A generlaly cheaper propostion for a location but one that amplifies the need for 1) ease of access and 2) washroom facilities.
Early last year, an opportunity came about that looked like we would be able to finance the picture in one fell swoop if we were willing to shoot in California, using the many acres owned by the finaciers, so they could realize a nice little tax shelter. We were so excited about the possibility that we were willing to migrate West and attempt to realize a very unusual and very Southern film in the very familiar California landscape. What a mistake that would have been! If that opportunity had come to fruition, I am absolutely sure that the film would have been only half of what I intended, no matter the budget made available to us. The reason for that is that Arkansas doesn’t really look like any other place in America as far as it’s forests and foilage are concerned. There is something ancient, primitive even about our landscape that I have not found elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the limestone bluffs lining our rivers or mess of vines and underbrush that cover nearly every inch of our forests and mountains. It manages to be ugly and beautiful at the same time, a dichotomy central to Moderngrumble. Add to this the role that nature plays in the script for Moderngrumble and the role it’s taking on as we talk more and more about the visual execution of the script and it’s ideas and I can only give thanks to the Investment Gods for letting that opportunity fall apart.
After that adventure we returned to the project with a renewed interest in making the Ozarks central to the project and made a decision to never again let money tempt us away from it. In fact, this experience was intergral in forming the core idea at the heart of Lotushead Productions; we are now dedicated to the matching up of regional filmmakers and crew with out of town talent for Arkansas based projects only but that’s another blog entry entirely.
There are essentially twelve locations in Moderngrumble. 3 of them are houses. 1 is a restaurant. 1 is a junkyard and the rest are exterior locations such as forests, highways, rivers and caves. So while I didn’t manage to keep my locations to a minimum, they are for the most part locations that will be cheap, private and abundant. The real challenges were and are the houses and the restaurant. The main location in the script is a farmhouse, something we have plenty of. The problem is that it’s very hard to find one with ease of access and that doesn’t have a busy road running nearby which presents a significant problem for recording audio. Thankfully there is not much dialogue in the film, especially during it’s exterior scenes but it still presents a challenge that we cannot ignore.
Of all the houses we have seen and considered the most intriguing is the Tottey House in Combs, AR, a forty-five minute drive from our base of operations. The Tottey House is over 100 years old and solid as the day it was built. It’s quite striking really, iconic even if presented right but the inside is the real draw. The owner met us the first day we discovered the site. He just happened to be walking down the road and saw us standing in awe in front of his childhood home. He graciously allowed us inside where we discovered literally a hundred years of dust and the cultural deritus of the last century. Mr. Tottey explained that his mother had been a shut-in and had lived in the house up until the previous year when it had been necessary to move her to a nursing home and the house had not been touched since. The treasures were many: an upright piano littered with Church hymnals. An old jukebox. Wall to wall stacks of books and National Geographic from the 1940’s. An Addams Family Board Game. A Charlie's Angels tin lunchbox, creepy dolls, a hodgepodge of furniture seemingly from every decade. It was as if the interior of the farmhouse from my script had exploded into the real world. Here was almost literally the perfect location; empty, available and already set dressed and art designed to a tee. I had been worried about the amount of set dressing and props that would have to be purchased and moved into the location we ultimately found but here was everything I needed and the Owner was more than willing to let us shoot and make any changes needed. The only problem? The road that had been built practically right through their front yard, a road used by logging trucks!
The genre film, whether film noir or slasher, sci-fi or western, can hardly be called ambiguous. In fact, a chief characteristic of genre films is their easily identifiable features; a set of signifiers that define a certain style of film, i.e. chiaroscuro lighting, femme fatales and the anti-heroes of film noir. Ambiguity it at first appears has no place in these worlds. The audience needs to know who the good guy is, who the bad guy is or if there is ambiguity in this matter, as there often is with the anti-heroes of film noir, then the audience at least needs to identify in some significant way whether through an appreciation of the characters wry sense of humor, tough guy antics or a charming leading man. Which is to say you may be able to play ambiguous with right and wrong, good and evil, in the form of a character but you cannot play ambiguous with the intentions of the central character, at least for very long. And definitely not with your own intentions as a filmmaker. A character’s motives must ultimately be laid bare and decisions must be made in the process of filmmaking. Still, ambiguity in the genre film exists, sometimes only for a few brief moments between characters and sometimes due to the filmmaker’s intentions or lack thereof.
Looking at many so-called ‘art’ films, ambiguity is often on display, front and center in both the form of a character’s intentions as well as in the form of the filmmaker’s own intentions. Ambiguity in a character can be a wonderful thing sowing mystery, suspense, and surprise among other things. However ambiguity in a filmmaker’s intentions is often disastrous. In this writer’s opinion many filmmaker’s resist making choices when it comes to a story as either a misguided attempt to capture an objective reality, create mystery where there is none, or out of pure laziness. And some critics and viewers, when they witness something so opaque in its meaning and reason for existing mistake this as ‘art.’ After all it must mean something. Regardless, ambiguity remains a powerful and under-used tool.
One of my chief intentions with Moderngrumble is to explore ambiguity in the genre film, not with my own intentions, but with the protagonist’s as well as in the presentation of certain key aspects of the film. Mostly this is a desire to explore the ambiguous in genre films, particularly horror films, as I believe ambiguity to be key in exploring the existential crises/terrors of the modern world, a little explored avenue of horror. If it creates another layer of mystery in the process, all the better.
The genre film is often all about Tone. Whether it be the paranoid,who’s chiseling who tone of some of the best film noirs or a relentless, suspense wracked tone of terror in an especially effective horror film. Tone is one of the signifiers, one of the defining traits of a genre film. In this sense, tone is in many ways the exact opposite of ambiguity. A sign on the road pointing the way, reminding us how we feel or at least how we are supposed to feel. The prevailing wisdom is that tone is essential in telling a genre story correctly. There are certain expectations that must be met and if you seek to revise genre then you must first master those expectations and only then subvert them through bold tweaks of structure, character and of course, tone.
If you are working with ambiguity however there are no expectations to subvert, the entire notion of ambiguity is a subversion of the identifiable. Applying ambiguity to a genre film then is at once a neutering of the power or shorthand that comes with genre expectations and the ultimate subversion or revising of genre. Or so my thinking leads me to believe this morning as I write this. These are thoughts on a method and are ever changing. I share them here in an effort to create dialogue. Please feel free to disagree, argue, challenge and offer alternatives or if so inclined list some of your favorite ambiguous films or moments. Extra points if it’s genre cinema!
In keeping with yesterdays post regarding inspiration I thought I would make a somewhat exhaustive list of the books, music and films that have influenced Moderngrumble. The books and movies are influences in that after writing Moderngrumble and reading over it, I see the obvious links between scenes and set pieces in the film and those in the books and films listed. The music however served as inspiration at the time of the writing as these were the records spinning on my turntable most often during that time.
There is nothing new under the sun. Moderngrumble grew slowly, over many years in response to this fact. As a screenwriter it drove me nuts on a regular basis that I could not escape the structure, archetypes and rhythms of conventional storytelling without veering into experimental, un-readable at least by industry standards, territory. At the time, I was already expressing myself through numerous experiments with film and did not wish to explore or otherwise transfer these ideas to the screenplay format. Such an exercise would have been pointless as much of what I was exploring with film was of the moment and not plotted or designed. There appeared to be no middle ground, at least for me and my capabilities at the time. I could only produce, at best, a new context or perspective on a story already told. Add to this, the fact that this particular period in cultural history, that of the dreaded post modernism, makes it virtually impossible to create a non-self conscious take on such a story especially a genre story. That very realization being the root of the entire problem. Genre Revisionism was not the answer.
Around the same time, as digital innovations were democratizing filmmaking, it became apparent that someone could realize a genre masterpiece of mass appeal on a shoe-string budget, something that in my mind still has not been achieved. So I set about writing Moderngrumble with very lofty goals indeed. However, as I wrote those first few pages, of a film that resembles in no way what I am presenting as Moderngrumble today, it became obvious that if I was to get at an honest story, something at once personal and universal I was going to have to turn off my conscious mind. At first, I came at this idea in a direct way, I simply stopped writing when my mind made a linear connection, i.e. anything resembling a character arc or plot development. As such the script began to take on an episodic or vignette style. Realizing that even this was not enough, I restricted myself to drawing inspiration from spontaneous ideas, free association, music, dreams, and visions received during transcendental meditation, a practice I was once very passionate about and returned to periodically during the writing of Moderngrumble. Of course when my mind should have been empty during these sessions, often I indulged myself and followed the rhythms of my subconscious instead. This process took several years. I was in no rush, as I had a son to raise and more and more the idea that Moderngrumble may be the only feature film I ever produced took a hold and provided a level of comfort and patience I had not experienced before.
When I finally completed the script, I hesitated in the editing. A part of me felt that like Kerouac, a jazz musician or filmmakers from the French New Wave to No Wave, that I should let it stand as it was, blemishes and all but I relented, my excuse being that I needed to know what I had written, as there had been no review or revising during those years of detailing reveries, especially if I was going to move forward with making the film a reality. In the review that followed, I realized initially that in drawing from meditation, dreams and free association I had created a road map to my own secret traumas, desires and fantasies and that terrified me. How could I bring something so personal to the screen and expect others to enjoy it? While I have always felt that film and literature can be excellent therapy for the troubled mind, I did not and do not generally think that makes it acceptable for wide release. Lars Von Trier not withstanding, most of us do not possess the talent or discretion to render our own nightmares palatable for a mass or even niche audience. That of course does not stop anyone from trying but I digress.
The second thing that I realized in my first reading of the script was that nearly every scene was a re-working and revision of something that had come before. I despaired. In allowing myself to indulge the subconscious I had produced a mix tape of scenes that had been lodged in my skull, in some cases since early childhood. Genre revisionism here we come. I sat there after that first reading, a failure, years of my life wasted in a silly endeavor that I should have known better than to start.
Then I read it again and began to see a bigger picture: 1) Yes, it was intensely derivative but it was and is a story realized almost entirely un-self consciously. 2) As a Rorschach of my own soul it was bound to resonate with others of a similar dis-position. Both artistically and emotionally, it was honest. 3) The structure and archetypes of Story are all very present, and not just a few but damn near all of them. It is a ready-made. Because of it's ambiguous design and honesty anyone could apply their own ideas about what the story is about and they would be right. It can be read as a road movie, a coming of age tale, a horror story, a philosophical treatise on modern art, a cultural and political metaphor and even a very dark romantic comedy. It is all these things and more. 4) It was pretty damn entertaining and could be enjoyed on a purely visceral level.
As such, Moderngrumble, when complete was at once everything I had tried to escape as a writer/filmmaker; self indulgence, navel gazing, derivative and everything I had wanted to achieve; a universal truth about the human condition laid bare, an honest rendering of my own soul's journey no matter how dark the recesses, and an original love song to the genre and art films that formed my early years, and not an homage.
In the year since I finished the script, my mind has been occupied with the nuts and bolts of the business of filmmaking and the visual design of the film. I have accepted that there is nothing new under the sun but my own interpretation. I have embraced that realization and it has freed me as a writer and artist from my own self-imposed restrictions and expectations. And as the script makes it's way into the world, I continue to be amazed and thankful how many of my fellow movie lovers and madmen see it for what it is.
Moderngrumble is a mirror and the only thing left for us to do is polish it.
I was speaking with a friend recently. He had just finished reading the script for Moderngrumble and was compelled to call and speak with me about what it meant to him. He then proceeded to tell me that he couldn't put into words what he felt but that he had connected with it deeply. This is not just another zombie movie. In fact this appears to be a common experience with Moderngrumble. Most people don't give it a second look, it's too weird, too esoteric, too something . . . but those who do take a few moments to peek into our world, let alone read the script, have almost all become passionate supporters of the project. As I have discussed in previous posts regarding my own problem with defining something meant to be indefinable, receiving that kind of compliment; sincere, informed and from someone you respect makes a huge impact on any creative endeavor and I have been blessed as of late with a very many artists I respect giving me similar encouragments. It has meant the world and two weeks into this campaign, I have to say, I am happier than I have been in quite some time and we haven't even raised a $1,000.00 yet!
You see, Moderngrumble is about as personal a film as you can make. Wait a second, we're talking about a monster movie, right? A horror film, albeit of stange breeding? Yes, but I have to say that in many ways it is autobiographical. Not plot-wise of course, but emotionally and philosphically speaking, it is my story. I even look quite a bit like the character 'Boy' you see in the Moderngrumble logos and in a very real way it is an expelling of old, personal demons and the rendering of new ones. As such the entire process of writing the script, working on the storyboards and graphic novel with Michael Duggan, writing a business plan, making a budget, location scouting, talking to actors and now going public with the project has been a ripping off of the band-aid so to speak, a baring of my soul to those who would judge. The fact that something I thought to be so off the beaten track, so strange by mainstream standards has been embraced by not only my friends but other artists and filmmakers whom I respect is ultimately the best thing that could have happened with this campaign. Don't get me wrong, we want and we will raise our budget, whether through Indiegogo or other channels but the connections I am making, the insights I am receiving and the support I have been given is truly the best part of this entire process. Thank you to all of Moderngrumble's friends and fans!
Toby Venable is a writer and filmmaker with Lotushead Productions, Inc., an independent production company based in Arkansas with a core focus on connecting regional filmmakers with national and international talent. Modengrumble will be his first feature film.
16 days left of the year 2011, 17 days left in Moderngrumble’s campaign to fund the Trailer Shoot and world domination. However, we’re at a standstill with only 6.2% of our total goal raised. Why is that?
Are our Perks not engagine enough?
Is the video too amateurish?
Is the budget/goal unrealistic?
Is the story just too strange for the average movie-goer to dig?
Answer those questions if you are so inclined but for me I believe we started strong then plateaued the first weekend because of the staggered approach I’m taking to soliciting my audience, perhaps a mistake, and the fact that I really should have given myself an extra week of preparation before launching. Something I thought I had done by laying out a comprehensive guide to posts, solicitations, etc. for the coming month but . . . apparently, I still needed a full week of immersion before taking on this task if only to prime my brain for the many hours spent infront of the computer – something I do enough of at my day job. The last few days have been spent in a fugue state negotiating the Twitter and Linkedin realms, prepping for the next stage and as such this week has suffered. Not a waste but certainly time that would have been better spent straight campaigning. Regardless of the reason for our current stasis, it’s about to change.
So here we are, a few weeks before Christmas launching a crowdfunding campaign for money to shoot the teaser trailer for Moderngrumble. This is something that was supposed to happen in late summer, early fall and we were to have already shot the teaser by now so that we could use it in conjunction with our business plan for presentations to more traditional investors so as to raise the more substantial budget for the feature film. All by the time the snow was falling. Several months later we find ourselves soliciting funds for a baroque, artful, horror film . . . during the holidays . . . in this economy. Some may call it bad taste to even think of asking people at a time like this for their hard earned dollars. Fortunately, I’ve never had much taste and so once again, here we are.
My partner in this endeavor thought we should just wait until after the Holidays to launch for the reasons listed above and I clearly see and understand that argument. However there are a few factors that argued for taking action now:
1)We need the money now if we’re to maintain deals with our main location, and Special Effects Artist and not end up having to reschedule for later in the year, further pushing the actual start date for the feature.
2)We have designed and implemented a rather exciting and I think new idea when it comes to crowdfunding that we call “perks for sharing” that is perfect for our supporters during the Holidays. More on that later.
3)Looking at statistics, it would appear that a significant amount of donations to successful campaigns come from investors unknown to the campaigners, which only stresses the crowdfunding maxim: it’s not so much who you know but who they know.
Personally, all this brings me to a conclusion that others have already made; for this campaign to be successful we have to break that glass ceiling of our networks and reach yours. But how do we do that? Well, in this case Indiegogo has what it calls the GoGo Factor – which basically is a way of tracking the interactions, contributions and shared links related to your campaign on a weekly basis. Raise that factor high enough and Indiegogo steps in and does a little promoting for you; featuring you on the home page, perhaps including you in weekly emails and so on. Great, but first we have to increase that factor using everything in our arsenal.
First of course are the personal appeals made to our closest friends, family and supporters, preferably face to face if at all possible, followed by a phone call, then email and finally online if the other options are not feasible. Second, the inception and maintenance of the projects presence online via periodic but not overwhelming updates on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other such sites; one a day regarding a new aspect of the project is good with a possible second one regarding something tangentially related to the project but keep these brief, interesting and fun if possible. Third, participation in discussions with others online about issues related to your project or theirs. This is something you should already be doing well before the launch of your campaign if possible. Fourth, support of other projects however you can. Fifth, and actually this should be First but; an official Press Release if you can swing it, and really don’t let that scare you, they are pretty simple to write and you don’t have to get it in a national paper or major online journal to be legitimized though it doesn’t hurt. Your local paper works just fine (and can result in possible interviews or stories on your project) or utilizing a site like feoamante.com which has a wide audience and is very supportive of indie filmmakers especially if your project falls within the realm of horror, thriller, cult and the like. Once you have a published press release you can list the project on IMDB which while the merits of this avenue can be debated does help bolster the seriousness of your project in many people’s eyes, especially in the independent film world. Sixth, updates directly to your contributors, the more personalized the better. Seventh, if you have managed any type of media exposure, be it virtual, print, or television share it!
All of this will help mobilize your network and up the IndieGoGo factor but I’ve left out a big aspect of a successful crowdfunding campaign and that is the Perks. While there are those out there who will contribute without need of a reward, perks are right up there with your Pitch Video in getting people to take the project seriously and contribute. You have to be original, personal and generous with these but there is a fine line you must walk so as not to run across any tax issues (especially if you are actually incorporated, as we are, and not just a lone wolf or non-profit) or worse, unintentionally being found guilty of securities fraud. While the laws for what is and is not considered a security are different in each state (and as an online offering you could very well be subject to any or all of them) it’s a safe bet that if a contributor is under the impression that they will undoubtedly receive a monetarily valuable reward simply for their investment you could be found guilty should someone want to prosecute. This grey area tends to keep most campaigns from going anywhere near offering anything of real value as a perk and that is probably for the best. Such fears drive creativity and help keep perks personal and meaningful.
Lotushead Productions, Inc. has decided however to do both. Each of our perks are related to the project at hand as well as being personal, thoughtful gifts that reflect the inspiration we took in the creation of Moderngrumble, as well as reflecting the pride we take in our home state and its role in the film. On top of that each Perk offers public appreciation, and a chance to earn cool stuff like tickets to music festivals, gift certificates and even an iPad2, not guarantees or promises.
After all of this however, we still face the same hurdle every campaign faces; internet laziness. Perhaps I’m alone in having this problem but I suspect otherwise. In our online world most of us are inundated with so much information, news, and the promotion of someone else’s passion project that the tendency can be to just scan everything, at best. In the online film community it’s a real problem, the number of crowdfunding campaigns that cycle through our community is mind boggling and after a while even if you are an avid supporter, we tend to grow a little dis-enchanted with the whole process, and your average Joe on the street is probably even less interested. So, how do we cross that divide and actually get our network to care and share but your network as well? Just getting someone to share a link on their wall or blog at times seems like a Sisyphean task and yet it’s such an easy thing to do. Call me cynical but I believe the key to crossing that divide is by creating incentives for sharing. Everyone familiar with crowdfunding knows about perks for donating but what if we created perks for simply sharing a link with your network? If we create a simple and workable method of rewarding anyone who shares our campaign widget or links to us with a chance to earn something they actually want at absolutely no cost to them, but based purely on good will, I believe our chance to exponentially grow our audience has much better odds for success. So in service of that theory, Lotushead Productions is offering a chance to earn cool gifts to anyone who shares our campaign widget and interacts with us through a comment or tweet.
It’s an experiment to be sure and may very well fail, backfire or be a success but as I considered running this campaign during the Holidays, I realized that as much as I want to raise the budget we need, I also just want to reach as many people as possible with the project. To see how many would just simply share. For me even if we do not succeed in raising our budget, I will still consider it a success if we have been able to increase our audience, even by a few. To that end I will be keeping track of all statistics, including new fans gained so at the end of the campaign we can return for a campaign post-op for all to see what worked and what didn’t – something that should be quite insightful and helpful for anyone running a campaign in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about our project or ‘perks for sharing’ please visit our campaign page as well as the Moderngrumble website. And please let us know here or there what you think. Will it work? Will it fail? Why? What would you do differently? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
“the more things change, the more they stay the same.” - Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Crowdfunding. VOD Distribution. Viral marketing. Alternative Theatrical. Trans or Cross Media. The lynch pins of a new digital frontier, buzz words of a hopeful new paradigm, strategies for survival in the ever changing world of the cutting edge indiefilmmaker. However, there exists quite a few other terms and concepts that seem to get less and less attention these days despite their undeniable significance: Incorporate, SubStandard S Corps, Business Plan, Offering Memorandums, PowerPoint, Negative PickUps, Foreign Sales Agents, Gap Finance, Pay or Play, Associate Producers, Finder’s Fees, Mailing lists, Dentists. Ugly in comparison. Aesthetically and phonetically but also in the processes they signify. They imply work of a less streamlined variety, theyimply the old Hollywood, and worse still business world paradigms that have dominated filmmaking since its inception. Regardless, if you are not familiar with the above methods of financing a feature film, you need to be but I will not waste space here detailing them. There are countless other blogs to do that for you. My concern is with the disconnect that seems to be spreading through the independent film community. The liberating role technology has played and is playing in the world of independent film has it seems in many cases caused a rupture between what is possible and what is expected by many filmmakers. These new technologies are it seems by some expected to be enough to change the misanthropic bent of the modern American consumer and separate him from his hard earned dollar, our financing and distribution problems solved by the click of a few buttons. Unfortunately, this is simply not true.
The so-called digital revolution may have put a few cracks in the bell wether that is Hollywood but let’s not mince words here; for independent filmmakers nothing much has changed in the financing and distribution world. What about the crowdfunding success stories you say, the VOD opportunities springing up everywhere in need of content? Sure, crowdfunding has changed the game of financing for nano-budgeted films, niche docs, and there has been the occasional break out success story. And now with Sundance partnering with IndieGoGo it would seem the entire process is getting a legitimate welcome into the big boys club. In reality though, the competition to patronage ratio is just too high for it to be a viable option for all of us, especially those of us with films without topical content, ultra-supportive niche groups or stunt casting coups. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pursue every option when it comes to financing or use crowdfunding for start up capital or as a platform to attract more traditional investors, it’s just a caveat that as exciting as the concept and execution is, it is not the end all be all solution to your financing problems but a new tool to be used in tandem with other more traditional ones. Likewise, distribution seems to have gained a new avenue in the VOD world and more and more filmmakers are happy with either incorporating this opportunity into their overall distribution plan or with VOD distribution being their end goal. Hell, even studios are sensing the paradigm shift. We can only hope that theatricalruns do not eventually become the sole domain of the event film. However, if your goal is to not only raise a significant amount of money, shoot a professional looking film and then get an actual theatrical run the game is very much the same as its ever been. And while the importance of the theatrical distribution deal is arguably dwindling, when it comes down to it, despite whatever marketing or financing trend crops up next week,movies cost money, other people’s money and at the end of the day, you have to realize that we are living, economically speaking, through a late era capitalist tail spin and nothing short of a true political revolution is going to change that.
In a perfect world, the words business and filmmaking would not be uttered in the same sentence. In this world however, the two are practically synonymous. Many would argue this is the price we pay for working in the ultimate medium of human expression and many more would argue it’s the filmmakers responsibility to utilize the considerable technological advantages at his disposal to drastically alter this relationship. Speaking for myself, I cannot do both at once, perhaps there are some out there that can and if so more power to them, they have my support, but for me the financing of my feature film is intensely personal just as writing the screenplay was intensely personal and just as casting and shooting the film will be. They take everything I have to ensure that not only am I expressing myself creatively and honestly but that I am communicating that vision lucidly and responsibly.
So, as anachronistic as it might be, I’m approaching financing and distribution for Moderngrumble as the old school capitalist enterprises they are and while forward thinking artists are coming up with new and varied ways to circumvent these paradigms, I must admit I have always found the most successful revolutions occur from within a given system. And while Distribution seems likely to be the next to succumb to a more non-linear interpretation, feature film financing, despite the relative success of crowdfunding remains a paradigm resistant to change and I would argue one that will not change drastically in the coming years. All of which is to say, if you’re going to ask for other people’s money to fund your visions and dreams, not only do you need to have something unique to say, you damn well better have a sound business plan to back it up and then be capable of communicating that plan in spectacular fashion. It is in this capacity that adhering to more traditional methods of financing benefits Lotushead Productions and Moderngrumble. I can proceed down the financing path knowing that I am providing investors with a well researched business plan that has put their interests at the forefront, and while film financing remains one of the riskiest of investments, I can sleep peacefully knowing that I have done everything possible to insure Lotushead Productions is 100% transparent in its business dealings. With that kind of foundation, any number of financing and distribution models can be entertained without compromising the company or projects integrity.
What am I suggesting? That we avoid crowdfunding and VOD deals with distributors that understand our film and its intended audience? That we cease attempting to change these paradigms? Absolutely not. I’m only saying that if you really want to make your film, then you’re going to do it by any means necessary which includes the digital as well as the old analog way of doing business: meeting people . . . in person, pitching them your idea, backing it up with sound market research, writing a business plan, making presentations, cold calling dentists if you have to, and generally becoming something you hate, a salesman, at least until you can find someone to do it for you. And face it, if you can’t or won’t do that for your dream project then you never really wanted to make a movie in the first place. You only thought you did.
I’ll be shooting my first feature film this year and amidst all the ups and downs of pre-pre production, namely securing funding the problem I have yet to find a solid solution for is not one of casting, crew or creative insolvency but defining the film for others. I know, I know, if you can’t summarize your story in a well turned line or two there is in all likelihood a serious problem in the story department. And I agree with this piece of wisdom, to an extent.
Consider this, the horror film as art. Does it exist? Can it exist? Of course the answer is subjective. To many cinema lovers out there the idea is an oxymoron, the equivalent of say, civil war. One exists at its most basic level as an exercise in that rawest, most unfiltered, visceral of human emotions: fear. While the other in its most classical sense is concerned with beauty, proportion, intellectual refinement and the supposed betterment of the human soul. Those are pretty black and white definitions allowing no room for the grey area in which most things in life become more interesting and gain their significance. But if I’ve learned anything in life thus far it is that while life may be led in the gray areas it is often perceived and judged in black and white terms. Hence my problem; I am hurtling towards a start date on my first feature film, Moderngrumble (yes, it’s one word) and I’m faced with the very real possibility that in my efforts to create something unique and dare I say original, I have managed to ostracize myself from not only the horror community but the art house crowd as well, the most obvious audience for my film.
Why do I care what audience my film is ultimately for? Why do I care what other films may be considered influences and or peers? Why in short do I give a damn about these labels at all? Well, I wouldn’t if it were not for the necessity of pigeonholing oneself for the benefit of financiers and marketing. Imagine Lynch pitching Eraserhead to a bunch of doctors and lawyers for financing without the benefit of AFI and you have an idea of the struggle I am facing. I’m not comparing my film with Lynch’s but the content versus financing scenario is apt. Starting from zero, without an established track record as a director on a production not benefiting from the built in networks of such film centers as Los Angeles, NYC, Austin or Toronto but Arkansas, it behooves me to be able to pitch my film to investors in the simplest terms possible.
Unfortunate then that I wrote a script that’s biggest strength is its mystery, ambiguity and for lack of a better term, otherness. How easy my job would be if I were just pitching a romantic comedy or drama, another slasher film with a few witty bits of dialogue and twists or a criminal character study and not a coming of age tale about a monster. Not a near silent epic about the poetry in a dead boys soul. Not a horror film that draws more inspiration from music and novels than it does from other horror films and whose cinematic language is more in line with Bresson and Tarkovsky than Romero. Can I dig myself any deeper?
Of course, there is that small but growing subgenre of art house horror of which many Lynch films could be designated. Films like Haneke’sFunny Games, Von Trier’sAntichrist, Taxidermia, Let the Right One In, or Amer could qualify as well though only the last two could be considered true, dyed in the wool genre films. Perhaps, I’m talking about that already maligned term ’elevated genre’ which seems to be Hollywood’s new buzz word.
Either way, I have to admit that Moderngrumble fits none of these descriptions and ultimately, I have to let the work speak for itself, as in the end, any writer does, and hope that with a little guidance the financiers can see the light. A scary proposition but one of many I will have to face if I’m going to not only finance but produce and distribute my film. Of course, I could always shoehorn in a crude but affable best friend or maybe a car chase in the second act? Hmmm . . .
Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.
~ Stan Brakhage
Metaphors on Vision
Wherever your opinion falls in regards to a technological singularity, it’s difficult to argue that at present our technology has not significantly altered our methods of communication, organization and recall. These changes in our information processes are begetting changes in every industry and culture in the modernized world and yet the worlds of information technology and cinema seem to me to be the ones worth concentrating on here. This is because while the one is the source of these changes, the other is a mirror, capable of giving us perspective. The fact that at present that perspective is seemingly hopelessly mired in the linear is the crux of the problem. Regardless, both are driving forces in our culture towards a hive mind i.e. a collective consciousness. Cinema has always been a vast edifice of memories but our ever growing immersion in a second life via technology is now if not challenging that edifice then working in tandem with it, creating the possibility of new streamlined perceptions that are both exciting and dangerous. Imagine for instance a post intellectual perception in which we would no longer be concerned with the amassing of knowledge but the experience of it, a possibility dependent on myriad factors not the least of which is our ability to free ourselves from the shackles of narrative but a possibility none the less. Are we not in many ways creating a collective memory through our online interactions here on The Auteurs or through sites like Facebook, Flickr and our personal blogs? A collective consciousness in the form of flow based interactions on Google Wave or Shareflow? And while the digital revolution may have democratized the world of filmmaking it has also seemingly, paradoxically narrowed not only the playing field but the field of vision of the so called revolutionaries, a phenomenon, I believe to be directly related to the non-linear technology we have embraced while still slaves to a linear perception. I am not suggesting that these interactions are alone set to drastically change us as humans but I believe the seeds are being sown at the root level to completely upend our perception and therefore our experience of time. There is a shift occurring from the linear to the spatial that should not be ignored.
This concerns me at this early stage first and foremost as a filmmaker because for me cinema is an essential tool in the forming of social, cultural and political perception. Given this is mostly accomplished through propaganda whether it be of the political or lifestyle variety the fact remains that much of how we perceive the world is informed by cultural/historical narratives reinforced by cinema and to a larger extent, cinema’s bastard child; media in all her permutations. As a lover of cinema I have long enjoyed the pleasures of both narrative film and documentary but as a practicing filmmaker I can’t shake the power experimental cinema holds over me. The immediacy and rawness of emotion evoked in the best examples of the form are integral to my continued fascination but the true power of experimental cinema for me has always resided in the intangibles; that which I cannot locate absolutely in a strip of unspooling celluloid or line of resolution is the alpha and omega of my addiction, those moments when time is mastered and sculpted not into a perception guided by narrative but pure, direct experience. More often than not I find these experiences in experimental film where the intention, the theme, the emotion is unencumbered by trite storylines or clever structure. And it is with experimental cinema that our greatest chances for an evolution of perception lay.
From Muyenbridge’s work with the persistence of vision to Melies showing us the man in the moon to Eisenstein and the birth of formalism, the experimental, the avant-garde, the underground has existed within cinema since its inception. In fact, cinema itself was the experiment, only later did it beget the entertainment that supports and reflects life, that now however pervasively dictates it for many of us. It can be argued that cinema changed the world as much as the automobile or the splitting of the atom. For me it is most obviously the tool mankind has created to teach himself the art of non-linear perception (the process of creating a film, narrative or otherwise is and has always been non-linear) led sickeningly astray by advertising executives. However this proto-spatial perception we are designing for ourselves is long on knowledge and short on experience, a problem exacerbated by cinema’s reliance on narrative, a problem whose remedy relies in cinema's true non-linear nature.
If we look at the history of the best experimental film, it’s not hard to see the social and political corollaries, the concerns and pressures that formed the work and methods of filmmakers like Deren in the 40’s (female identity, social rituals.) Anger in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (homosexual identity, occultism) but too often these works were marred by a reliance on Freudian symbolism, the non sequitur, psychosexual themes and metaphors that read today as clearly as any Hollywood narrative (perhaps a reason why modern student filmmakers emulating them often fall flat.) It wasn’t until Brakhage made his central metaphor that of visual perception that we were given a language with which to articulate direct experience on celluloid and as much as his work was a part of the larger movement of Modern Art it was more importantly the ground work for a spatial cinema that has yet to be fully realized but whose time has come.
Experience is the key word here, not entertainment and certainly not knowledge but direct experience devoid of the intellect. An experience beyond the sum of its parts, an experience becoming more and more rare in today’s culture for while we live in a time where the possibilities for sharing our visions are unparalleled the critical thought and support for experimental cinema is simply not there. In fact it hasn’t been since the golden era of the music video, an era that saw the exploitation of experimental film techniques in the service of song narrative and band image effectively moving the form one step forward and two steps back. The advent of the internet and video sharing sites like YouTube have so far only further widened the gap between intelligent discourse and true experimental filmmaking, an occurrence that is completely at odds with the possibilities of the technology at hand and I would argue due not simply to a lack of interest but a lack of exposure, education and support, initiatives that we must foster as we venture forward if there is to be any hope for the intangible.
Moving forward what matters most is that we encourage, nurture and multiply these intangibles by providing a breeding ground for the experimental; a place online and physical where instinct, emotion and experience are placed before form, intellect and tradition. We mustn’t leave experimental cinema to be regulated to the online ghettos of YouTube and the rarified world of art galleries but give it a serious national and international platform where it can if not change the world than at least the viewer’s perception of it. For why do we create art? Is it not to share visions, illuminate corners of human experience, cleanse the palette of the ubiquitous?
The less accessible a work is to the intellect, the greater it is