Studio, No — Distribution, Yes!

Published On June 4, 2013 | By Mike Carroll | Filmmakers

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog about the Dixon movie studio. In that I mentioned that everywhere that I’ve lived there have been people who have been very vocal about wanting to build a studio of some size, one sound stage to a vast complex, complete with offices and state-of-the-art post-production facilities. And I’m 200% positive that this kind of talk goes on in communities all across the country, and no doubt around the world. The goal is always to attract professional movie production from Hollywood and to put local movie professionals and aspiring movie professionals to work.

Most of these are the Dreams of people who are genuine in wanting to do something. A lot of them, frankly, are total scams preying on the Dreams of others.

To all the people with these types of Dreams I would like to point out a few things:

1) When a movie company comes to town to shoot a movie or a TV series, such as the way Breaking Bad shoots in New Mexico, they rent a warehouse and convert it to their needs. A warehouse is vastly more inexpensive to rent, especially in today’s economic climate, than a state-of-the-art sound stage and all the associated overhead that goes with that. When James Cameron started making Avatar in L.A. he never shot a foot of it on a studio sound stage. He rented or purchased a warehouse in an industrial complex.

2) A brick and mortar facility for filmmaking? Every single aspect of filmmaking can now be achieved on a laptop computer. The overhead for just the janitorial services alone would far outweigh the cost of post-production filmmaking needs.

Here in Sacramento, Frank Casanova and The Studio Center already has office and studio space for rent now at great rates.

3) If – if – you do succeed in raising money for a facility to build from the ground up or existing space to convert for use, my question is: Who is going to manage it? Who will do the hiring? Pay the bills? See to its maintenance? Make sure the insurance is keep up to date? In short, who will be the executive in charge?

If you are building this, meaning attracting city government leaders and involvement, seeking out investors, trying to get tax credits, yadi-yadi-ya-ya – are you doing this in order to create a job for yourself?

Do you have executive management experience?
(It’s one thing to be an artist – or “artist” – and quite another to be an executive.)
Are you expecting to be paid for this?
And if so, how much?
An executive salary?
Where is this new money supposed to be coming from?
Is this going to be a non-profit?
Are contributions going to be going into your paycheck?
Where is the accountability for all this?
Or is this a power thing?Will there be a board of directors who will oversee you?
And fire you, if warranted?

If your regional studio center is geared for attracting Hollywood groups to film locally, which is to say that you want to attract Hollywood companies to make their films in your community on a regular basis rather than using already existing and fully functioning facilities in Los Angeles — that is pointless. Hollywood companies come to northern California for one reason: locations. Interior sets that can be built on sound stages will be done in L.A. because it’s cheaper and the talent is there.

Don’t think this is my only rant. Fellow filmmaker Chris King ( chipped this in:

To sum up: attempts to “build” a studio in Sacramento or elsewhere is pointless, futile and financially irresponsible.

If this is geared for independent filmmakers, then I’d recommend re-thinking this concept to appeal to the most valuable and desperately needed aspect of the entire film process. And that is not filmmaking. It is Distribution. How to get the film out to the public. And how to make a nickel from it. (I say a nickel because making even a dime is gonna be tough.)

There are fewer and fewer independent cinemas. And fewer and fewer people going to them. Why should they go when they could get it at home on the Internet?

That would be a much more beneficial project rather than a building on which yearly taxes will have to be paid. And where is that revenue going to be generated?

Giving grants for artists to produce . . . whatever . . . is also destructive. “Artists” don’t need patrons. They need to make something that the public – complete strangers in Peducah, Kentucky, are going to want to plop down a dollar to watch over the Internet on their 42” or larger HD or 4K television in the comfort of their own plush sofa.

The competition isn’t the new Tom Cruise film playing at the multiplex. The competition is Real Housewives and Duck Dynasty and Dateline and whatever people are watching at home.

Strangers aren’t going to watch a film made by somebody in Sacramento because it is a new Sacramento independent film. Folks in upstate New York or a senior citizen mobile home park in Montana will watch a film because something about it reaches out and speaks to them.

Many of today’s top filmmakers got to be where they are, not by receiving artist grants, but by making films with money out of their own wallets to make movies that companies bought and people would pay to see.

John Sayles (Return of the Secaucus 7, self-financed for $27,000)

Kevin Smith (Clerks, self-financed for $20,000)

James Cameron ($10,000 to make a 10-minute special effects proposal film for a feature, which led to being hired by Roger Corman as a special effects creator and supervisor)

Christopher Nolan (Following, self-financed for $10,000)

Similarly, several dormant filmmakers have revitalized their careers, when investment in their films dried up by self-financing their own films.

Steven Soderbergh (Schitzopolis, self-financed for $50,000, which led to his next job directing The Limey)

Ingmar Bergman (Cries and Whispers, self-financed for $100,000, which was distributed by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film)

James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff and their American-International Pictures, as well as Roger Corman (who essentially did for American-International Pictures what Quentin Tarantino did for the Weinsteins) and his New World Pictures, probably did more for the filmmakers of the past fifty years than any other organization because they bought up independent movies that they could sell to audiences at drive-inns. Filmmakers like Ivan Reitman, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Francis Ford Coppola. What did they offer? Distribution. And both American-International and New World were honest and worked on hand shake deals.

The great studios like Warner Brothers, 20th Century-Fox, Columbia and Paramount were powerful not for having studios, but for owning their own theater chains to show their films in.

Distribution! Distribution! Distribution! That’s the key!!!!

So if you really want to help filmmakers then put aside about vanity brick and mortar monuments to antiquity, which will either never get built/rented/leased, or if they do will only become foreclosure space-for-lease in short order.

Become an Aggregator. Create a network of distribution channels through film festivals and onto VOD, Pay-Per-View, get filmmakers work played on Sundance or IFC, Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo and Youtube as paid rentals.

And – set it up so that the artists get 90% or more of the take from their work. The remaining 10% will make you work harder to cover your overhead. And since you won’t have a “studio” to maintain, that won’t be an issue.

I’ve helped a couple filmmaker friends to get their films onto Amazon for sale as DVDs and for streaming. It’s easy. And I never asked for a cent.

Anyone with a dream to help out filmmakers – if you really and truly want to help filmmakers and artists — create an effective distribution system. That won’t take a studio or a building or even an office. It can all be achieved with a laptop and a wifi connection.

However, if you feel you really need to have an out-of-home workspace, take your laptop to your favorite coffee shop, get some java, take up residence at a table, take advantage of their free wifi. Do that and I’d even come down and buy your first cup of coffee and hear what you’re doing. I might even be interested in wanting to sign on with you.

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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