Naked “Monster” – The Future Of Film
Weeks ago I was perusing through the trailers on iTunes and checked out Monsters. It immediately grabbed me with an interesting premise of two young people thrown together, wandering Central America six years after an alien invasion. I also saw that writer-director Gareth Edwards was also the credited cinematographer. Director-cameramen always grab my interest.
My initial reaction was this was a first film by a filmmaker of slick commercials and music videos who’s landed a shot at a first-feature churning a District 9 knock-off.
“In 2010 there’s been a tidal wave of new technology – particularly the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, a camera that costs £1,500 and yields images like 35mm film [used in cinemas]. The digital equivalent would have cost £100,000 only a year ago. You don’t need expensive cameras any more.” Monsters, a film about aliens, looks like a big-budget movie, but it was shot on a small budget – believed to be less than $100,000 – with a team of five rather than hundreds. The producer of Monsters, Allan Niblo, said: “People are not inventive enough.”
Monster is released being theatrically in cinemas October 29, but you can watch it now on iTunes, both in HD and Standard Definition.
I’ve now seen Monsters by renting it on iTunes. It should be added that the special effects are also by Gareth Edwards and are nothing short of mind boggling. They seamlessly drop into the reality of the film you are watching. Also worth noting is a brilliant and minimal soundtrack by Jon Hopkins that is reminiscent of the Cliff Martinez score for Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris.
From a cinematographic standpoint, to hear that Gareth Edwards had never photographed a film before is staggering. Every image is pitch perfect. Acting is low-key, natural and completely believable. The sound design is first rate. This film has certainly had an awful lot of post production work added since being picked up for national theatrical release, but it also had to look good to begin with — and Monsters looks fantastic!
Monsters and Gareth Edwards have set a new high bar for the no/low/micro-budget indie feature. Robert Rodriguez and El Mariachi could be displaced by this. This films looks better — and is vastly better acted — by any high-budget Hollywood studio feature in this genre.
If you don’t believe me, and I must be honest I found it hard to believe myself at first, here is a making-of featurette.
That Monsters is first being made available through iTunes is interesting. People are impatient to see a new film when they hear about it. (As I was.) By pre-releasing it as a rental before release there is the opportunity to develop big buzz. Of course, that is the gamble also because if the reaction isn’t strong, that can hurt box office when the film hits the multiplexes.
This could also be shrewd test marketing. By gauging the audience reaction through iTunes rentals the distributor can determine how wide to release the movie, how much to pump into advertising, how many prints to make and screens to lock in. This could be exactly what a micro-budget film will need. Also, to make it known with it’s cast of unknowns in the theatrical world of big budget names.
This could also be a preview of things to come.
Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and writer-director of American Gigolo and Light Sleeper, one of my favorites, recently discussed the current demise of cinema and film distribution on the internet podcast Movie Geeks United that movies are dead as we know them. He gives DVDs and Blu-Rays only another two or three years. He sees everything, with the exception of the mega-money driven blockbusters, as going to the internet. He says the days of easy cash flow for independent films are long gone, at least ten to fifteen years in the past. He also says that the new wave of self-distribution on the internet may not be a bad thing as the filmmakers can bypass the distributor and thus not have to spend money on expensive 35mm prints and having to share the bulk of any financial returns with a distributor or distributors. Now the filmmakers can directly see whatever financial rewards a film can bring it. It also, however, means savagely leaner budgets and crews.
Interestingly, Schrader is not just talking but jumping into the internet fray himself. He has just made a new film for just a few hundred thousand dollars that will be released as three 20-minute webisodes on the net.
This last part all dovetails back to Monsters, it was made, how it’s being marketed, and that the web is where it’s being distributed first and, ironically, within a few years when all is said and done, where it will be available from last.
A circle of life that if we as independent filmmakers, either working with backing from outside sources or out of our own pockets, should pay attention to. Eliminating the middlemen — both on your crew (if any), keeping costs to the bone, and in distribution, where every time you bring another entity to the table a bigger chunk of any return you hope to see is taken away from you — is rapidly becoming the new survival guide.
And — if your film gets well received and, holiest of holies, you make money — believe me, the money boys will be the ones taking notice.