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Read (Or Watch) Steven Soderbergh‘s Epic 'State Of Hollywood Cinema' SFIFF Keynote Speech

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 30, 2013 11:58 AM
18 Comments
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UPDATE: Video of the speech has surfaced and is embedded below, so if you don't want to read the lengthy piece, watch the video at the bottom of this post instead.

Courtesy of Deadline, here is the full transcript of director Steven Soderbergh‘s “grenade-dropping” keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival delivered on Saturday. 

It's been the talk of the town over the last 3 days, given how frank and hilarious it is. And I encourage you to read it in full. If anything, you'll be entertained, but you'll also get an insiders POV of how this industry works. You'll share his understanding, or, at times, a lack there of the business, which lead to his frustrations with the business.

It's a great read, and I think touches on much of what we discuss on this site, and probably on other film sites as well.

If this is intended to be Sodebergh's swan song (he's talked about retiring a few times recently), it's a heck of a way to go out!

A few months ago I was on this Jet Blue flight from New York to Burbank. And I like Jet Blue, not just because of the prices. They have this terminal at JFK that I think is really nice. I think it might be the nicest terminal in the country although if you want to see some good airports you’ve got to go to a major city in another part of the world like Europe or Asia. They’re amazing airports. They’re incredible and quiet. You’re not being assaulted by all this music. I don’t know when it was decided we all need a soundtrack everywhere we go. I was just in the bathroom upstairs and there was a soundtrack accompanying me at the urinal, I don’t understand. So I’m getting comfortable in my seat. I spent the extra $60 to get the extra leg room so I’m trying to get comfortable and we make altitude. And there’s a guy on the other side of the aisle in front of me and he pulls out his iPad to start watching stuff. I’m curious to see what he’s going to watch – he’s a white guy in his mid-30s. And I begin to realize what he’s done is he’s loaded in half a dozen action sort of extravaganzas and he’s watching each of the action sequences – he’s skipping over all the dialogue and the narrative. This guy’s flight is going to be five and a half hours of just mayhem porn.

I get this wave of – not panic, it’s not like my heart started fluttering – but I had this sense of, am I going insane? Or is the world going insane – or both? Now I start with the circular thinking again. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s generational and I’m getting old, I’m in the back nine professionally. And maybe my 22-year-old daughter doesn’t feel this way at all. I should ask her. But then I think, no: Something is going on – something that can be measured is happening, and there has to be. When people are more outraged by the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos than some young girl being stoned to death, then there’s something wrong. We have people walking around who think the government stages these terrorist attacks. And anybody with a brain bigger than a walnut knows that our government is not nearly competent enough to stage a terrorist attack and then keep it a secret because, as we know, in this day and age you cannot keep a secret.

So I think that life is sort of like a drumbeat. It has a rhythm and sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slower, and maybe what’s happening is this drumbeat is just accelerating and it’s gotten to the point where I can’t hear between the beats anymore and it’s just a hum. Again, I thought maybe that’s my generation, every generation feels that way, maybe I should ask my daughter. But then I remember somebody did this experiment where if you’re in a car and you’re going more than 20 miles an hour it becomes impossible to distinguish individual features on a human being’s face. I thought that’s another good analogy for this sensation. It’s a very weird experiment for someone to come up with.

So that was my Jet Blue flight. But the circular thinking didn’t really stop and I got my hands on a book by a guy named Douglas Rushkoff and I realized I’m suffering from something called Present Shock which is the name of his book. This quote made me feel a little less insane: “When there’s no linear tie, how is a person supposed to figure out what’s going on? There’s no story, no narrative to explain why things are the way things are. Previously distinct causes and effects collapse into one another. There’s no time between doing something and seeing the result. Instead the results begin accumulating and influencing us before we’ve even completed an action. And there’s so much information coming in at once from so many different sources that there’s simply no way to trace the plot over time”. That’s the hum I’m talking about. And I mention this because I think it’s having an effect on all of us. I think it’s having an effect on our culture, and I think it’s having an effect on movies. How they’re made, how they’re sold, how they perform.

But before we talk about movies we should talk about art in general, if that’s possible. Given all the incredible suffering in the world I wonder, what is art for, really? If the collected works of Shakespeare can’t prevent genocide then really, what is it for? Shouldn’t we be spending the time and resources alleviating suffering and helping other people instead of going to the movies and plays and art installations? When we did Ocean’s Thirteen the casino set used $60,000 of electricity every week. How do you justify that? Do you justify that by saying, the people who could’ve had that electricity are going to watch the movie for two hours and be entertained – except they probably can’t, because they don’t have any electricity, because we used it. Then I think, what about all the resources spent on all the pieces of entertainment? What about the carbon footprint of getting me here? Then I think, why are you even thinking that way and worrying about how many miles per gallon my car gets, when we have NASCAR, and monster truck pulls on TV? So what I finally decided was, art is simply inevitable. It was on the wall of a cave in France 30,000 years ago, and it’s because we are a species that’s driven by narrative. Art is storytelling, and we need to tell stories to pass along ideas and information, and to try and make sense out of all this chaos. And sometimes when you get a really good artist and a compelling story, you can almost achieve that thing that’s impossible which is entering the consciousness of another human being – literally seeing the world the way they see it. Then, if you have a really good piece of art and a really good artist, you are altered in some way, and so the experience is transformative and in the minute you’re experiencing that piece of art, you’re not alone. You’re connected to the arts. So I feel like that can’t be too bad.

Art is also about problem solving, and it’s obvious from the news, we have a little bit of a problem with problem solving. In my experience, the main obstacle to problem solving is an entrenched ideology. The great thing about making a movie or a piece of art is that that never comes into play. All the ideas are on the table. All the ideas and everything is open for discussion, and it turns out everybody succeeds by submitting to what the thing needs to be. Art, in my view, is a very elegant problem-solving model.

Now we finally arrive at the subject of this rant, which is the state of cinema. First of all, is there a difference between cinema and movies? Yeah. If I were on Team America, I’d say Fuck yeah! The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.

So, that means you can take a perfectly solid, successful and acclaimed movie and it may not qualify as cinema. It also means you can take a piece of cinema and it may not qualify as a movie, and it may actually be an unwatchable piece of shit. But as long as you have filmmakers out there who have that specific point of view, then cinema is never going to disappear completely. Because it’s not about money, it’s about good ideas followed up by a well-developed aesthetic. I love all this new technology, it’s great. It’s smaller, lighter, faster. You can make a really good-looking movie for not a lot of money, and when people start to get weepy about celluloid, I think of this quote by Orson Welles when somebody was talking to him about new technology, which he tended to embrace, and he said, “I don’t want to wait on the tool, I want the tool to wait for me”, which I thought was a good way to put it. But the problem is that cinema as I define it, and as something that inspired me, is under assault by the studios and, from what I can tell, with the full support of the audience. The reasons for this, in my opinion, are more economic than philosophical, but when you add an ample amount of fear and a lack of vision, and a lack of leadership, you’ve got a trajectory that I think is pretty difficult to reverse.

Now, of course, it’s very subjective; there are going to be exceptions to everything I’m going to say, and I’m just saying that so no one thinks I’m talking about them. I want to be clear: The idea of cinema as I’m defining it is not on the radar in the studios. This is not a conversation anybody’s having; it’s not a word you would ever want to use in a meeting. Speaking of meetings, the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.

Well, how does a studio decide what movies get made? One thing they take into consideration is the foreign market, obviously. It’s become very big. So that means, you know, things that travel best are going to be action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, spectacle, some animation thrown in there. Obviously the bigger the budget, the more people this thing is going to have to appeal to, the more homogenized it’s got to be, the more simplified it’s got to be. So things like cultural specificity and narrative complexity, and, god forbid, ambiguity, those become real obstacles to the success of the film here and abroad.

Speaking of ambiguity, we had a test screening of Contagion once and a guy in the focus group stood up and he said, “I really hate the Jude Law character. I don’t know if he’s a hero or an asshole”. And I thought well, here we go. There’s another thing, a process known as running the numbers, and for a filmmaker this is kind of the equivalent of a doctor showing you a chest x-ray and saying there’s a shadow on it. It’s a kind of fungible algorithm that’s used when they want say no without, really, saying no. I could tell you a really good story of how I got pushed off a movie because of the way the numbers ran, but if I did, I’d probably get shot in the street, and I really like my cats.

So then there’s the expense of putting a movie out, which is a big problem. Point of entry for a mainstream, wide-release movie: $30 million. That’s where you start. Now you add another 30 for overseas. Now you’ve got to remember, the exhibitors pay half of the gross, so to make that 60 back you need to gross 120. So you don’t even know what your movie is yet, and you’re already looking at 120. That ended up being part of the reason why the Liberace movie didn’t happen at a studio. We only needed $5 million from a domestic partner, but when you add the cost of putting a movie out, now you’ve got to gross $75 million to get that 35 back, and the feeling amongst the studios was that this material was too “special” to gross $70 million. So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out. There have been some attempts to analyze it, but one of the mysteries is that this analysis doesn’t really reveal any kind of linear predictive behavior, it’s still mysterious the process whereby people decide if they’re either going to go to a movie or not go to a movie. Sometimes you don’t even know how you reach them. Like on Magic Mikefor instance, the movie opened to $38 million, and the tracking said we were going to open to 19. So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go how did we miss that? If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much?

I know one person who works in marketing at a studio suggested, on a modestly budgeted film that had some sort of brand identity and some A-list talent attached, she suggested, “Look, why don’t we not do any tracking at all, and just spend 15 and we’ll just put it out”. They wouldn’t do it. They were afraid it would fail, when they fail doing the other thing all the time. Maybe they were afraid it was going to work. The other thing that mystifies me is that you would think, in terms of spending, if you have one of these big franchise sequels that you would say oh, we don’t have to spend as much money because is there anyone in the galaxy that doesn’t know Iron Man’s opening on Friday? So you would think, oh, we can stop carpet-bombing with TV commercials. It’s exactly the opposite. They spend more. They spend more. Their attitude is: You know, it’s a sequel, and it’s the third one, and we really want to make sure people really want to go. We want to make sure that opening night number is big so there’s the perception of the movie is that it’s a huge success. There’s that, and if you’ve ever wondered why every poster and every trailer and every TV spot looks exactly the same, it’s because of testing. It’s because anything interesting scores poorly and gets kicked out.
Now I’ve tried to argue that the methodology of this testing doesn’t work. If you take a poster or a trailer and you show it to somebody in isolation, that’s not really an accurate reflection of whether it’s working because we don’t see them in isolation, we see them in groups. We see a trailer in the middle of five other trailers, we see a poster in the middle of eight other posters, and I’ve tried to argue that maybe the thing that’s making it distinctive and score poorly actually would stick out if you presented it to these people the way the real world presents it. And I’ve never won that argument.

You know, we had a trailer for Side Effects that we did in London and the filmmaking team really, really liked it. But the problem was that it was not testing well, and it was really not testing as well as this domestic trailer that we had. The point spread was so significant that I really couldn’t justify trying to jam this thing down distributor’s throats, so we had to abandon it. Now look, not all testing is bad. Sometimes you have to, especially on a comedy. There’s nothing like 400 people who are not your friends to tell you when something’s wrong. I just don’t think you can use it as the last word on a movie’s playability, or its quality. Magic Miketested poorly. Really poorly. And fortunately Warner Brothers just ignored the test scores, and stuck with their plan to open the movie wide during the summer.

But let’s go back to Side Effects for a second. This is a movie that didn’t perform as well as any of us wanted it to. So, why? What happened? It can’t be the campaign because all the materials that we had, the trailers, the posters, the TV spots, all that stuff tested well above average. February 8th, maybe it was the date, was that a bad day? As it turns out that was the Friday after the Oscar nominations are announced, and this year there was an atypically large bump to all the films that got nominated, so that was a factor. Then there was a storm in the Northeast, which is sort of our core audience. Nemo came in, so God, obviously, is getting me back for my comments about monotheism. Was it the concept? There was a very active decision early on to sell the movie as kind of a pure thriller and kind of disconnect it from this larger social issue of everybody taking pills. Did that make the movie seem more commercial, or did it make it seem more generic? We don’t know. What about the cast? Four attractive white people… this is usually not an obstacle. The exit polls were very good, the reviews were good. How do we figure out what went wrong? The answer is: We don’t. Because everybody’s already moved on to the next movie they have to release.

Now, I’m going to attempt to show how a certain kind of rodent might be smarter than a studio when it comes to picking projects. If you give a certain kind of rodent the option of hitting two buttons, and one of the buttons, when you touch it, dispenses food 40% of the time, and one of the buttons when you touch it dispenses food 60% percent of the time, this certain kind of rodent very quickly figures out never to touch the 40% button ever again. So when a studio is attempting to determine on a project-by-project basis what will work, instead of backing a talented filmmaker over the long haul, they’re actually increasing their chances of choosing wrong. Because in my view, in this business which is totally talent-driven, it’s about horses, not races. I think if I were going to run a studio I’d just be gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters. So I would call Shane Carruth, or Barry Jenkins or Amy Seimetz and I’d bring them in and go, ok, what do you want to do? What are the things you’re interested in doing? What do we have here that you might be interested in doing? If there was some sort of point of intersection I’d go: Ok, look, I’m going to let you make three movies over five years, I’m going to give you this much money in production costs, I’m going to dedicate this much money on marketing. You can sort of proportion it how you want, you can spend it all on one and none on the other two, but go make something.

Now, that only works if you are very, very good at identifying talent. Real talent, the kind of talent that sustains. And you can’t be judging strictly on commercial performance, or hype, or hipness, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect someone running a multi-billion dollar business to be able to identify talent. I get it, it’s the studio, you need all kinds of movies. You need comedies, you need horror films, you need action films, you need animated films, I get it. But the point is, can’t some of these be cinema also? This is kind of what we tried to do with Section 8 is we tried to bring interesting filmmakers into the studio system and protect them. But unfortunately the only way a studio is going to allow that kind of freedom to a young filmmaker is if the budgets are low. And unfortunately the most profitable movies for the studios are going to be the big movies, the home runs. They don’t look at the singles or the doubles as being worth the money or the man hours. Psychologically, it’s more comforting to spend $60 million promoting a movie that costs 100, than it does to spend $60 million for a movie that costs 10. I know what you’re thinking: If it costs 10 you’re going to be in profit sooner. Maybe not. Here’s why: OK. $10 million movie, 60 million to promote it, that’s 70, so you’ve got to gross 140 to get out. Now you’ve got $100 million movie, you’re going spend 60 to promote it. You’ve got to get 320 to get out. How many $10 million movies make 140 million dollars? Not many. How many $100 million movies make 320? A pretty good number, and there’s this sort of domino effect that happens too. Bigger home video sales, bigger TV sales, so you can see the forces that are sort of draining in one direction in the business. So, here’s a thought… maybe nothing’s wrong. Maybe I’m a clown. Maybe the audiences are happy, and the studio is happy, and look at this from Variety:

“Shrinking release slates that focus on tentpoles and the emergence of a new normal in the home vid market has allowed the largest media congloms to boost the financial performance of their movie divisions, according to Nomura Equity research analyst Michael Nathanson”.

So, according to Mr. Nathanson, the studios are successfully cutting costs, the decline in home videos have plateaued, and the international box office, which used to be 50% of revenue is now 70%. With one exception in that all the stock prices of all the companies that own these studios are up. It would appear that all these companies are flush. So maybe nothing’s wrong, and I’ve got to tell you, this is the only arena in history in which trickle-down economics actually works, because when a studio is flush, they spend more money to make more money, because their stock price is all about market share. And you know, there’s no other business that’s this big, that’s actually this financially transparent. You have a situation here in which there is an objective economic value given to an asset. It’s not like that derivatives mortgage bullshit that just brought the world to its knees, you can’t say a movie made more money than it actually made, and internally, you can’t say that you didn’t spend what you spent on it. It’s contractual that you have to make these numbers available.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of waste. I think there are too many layers of executives, I don’t know why you should be having a lot of phone calls with people that can’t actually make decisions. They’ll violate their own rules on a whim, while they make you adhere to them. They get simple things wrong sometimes, like remakes. I mean, why are you always remaking the famous movies? Why aren’t you looking back into your catalog and finding some sort of programmer that was made 50 years ago that has a really good idea in it, that if you put some fresh talent on it, it could be really great. Of course, in order to do that you need to have someone at the studio that actually knows those movies. Even if you don’t have that person you could hire one. The sort of executive ecosystem is distorted, because executives don’t get punished for making bombs the way that filmmakers do, and the result is there’s no turnover of new ideas, there’s no new ideas about how to approach the business or how to deal with talent or material. But, again, economically, it’s a pretty straightforward business. Hell, it’s the third-biggest export that we have. It’s one of the few things that we do that the world actually likes.

I’ve stopped being embarrassed about being in the film business, I really have. I’m not spending my days trying to make a weapon that kills people more efficiently. It’s an interesting business. But again, taking the 30,000 foot view, maybe nothing’s wrong, and maybe my feeling that the studios are kind of like Detroit before the bailout is totally insupportable. I mean, I’m wrong a lot. I’m wrong so much, it doesn’t even raise my blood pressure anymore. Maybe everything is just fine. But… Admissions, this is the number of bodies that go through the turnstile, ten years ago: 1.52 billion. Last year: 1.36 billion. That’s a ten and a half percent drop. Why are admissions dropping? Nobody knows, not even Nate Silver. Probably a combination of things: Ticket prices, maybe, a lot of competition for eyeballs. There’s a lot of good TV out there. Theft is a big problem. I know this is a really controversial subject, but for people who think everything on the internet should just be totally free all I can say is, good luck. When you try to have a life and raise a family living off something you create…

There’s a great quote from Steve Jobs:

“From the earliest days of Apple I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people, and it hurts your own character”.

I agree with him. I think that what people go to the movies for has changed since 9/11. I still think the country is in some form of PTSD about that event, and that we haven’t really healed in any sort of complete way, and that people are, as a result, looking more toward escapist entertainment. And look, I get it. There’s a very good argument to be made that only somebody who has it really good would want to make a movie that makes you feel really bad. People are working longer hours for less money these days, and maybe when they get in a movie, they want a break. I get it.

But let’s sex this up with some more numbers. In 2003, 455 films were released. 275 of those were independent, 180 were studio films. Last year 677 films were released. So you’re not imagining things, there are a lot of movies that open every weekend. 549 of those were independent, 128 were studio films. So, a 100% increase in independent films, and a 28% drop in studio films, and yet, ten years ago: Studio market share 69%, last year 76%. You’ve got fewer studio movies now taking up a bigger piece of the pie and you’ve got twice as many independent films scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie. That’s hard. That’s really hard.

When I was coming up, making an independent film and trying to reach an audience I thought was like, trying to hit a thrown baseball. This is like trying to hit a thrown baseball – but with another thrown baseball. That’s why I’m spending so much time talking to you about the business and the money, because this is the force that is pushing cinema out of mainstream movies. I’ve been in meetings where I can feel it slipping away, where I can feel that the ideas I’m tossing out, they’re too scary or too weird, and I can feel the thing. I can tell: It’s not going to happen, I’m not going to be able to convince them to do this the way I think it should be done. I want to jump up on the table and scream, “Do you know how lucky we are to be doing this? Do you understand that the only way to repay that karmic debt is to make something good, is to make something ambitious, something beautiful, something memorable?” But I didn’t do that. I just sat there, and I smiled.

Maybe the ideas I had don’t work, and the only way they’ll find out is that someone’s got to give me half a billion dollars, to see if it’ll work. That seems like a lot of money, but actually in point of fact there are a couple movies coming down the pike that represent, in terms of their budgets and their marketing campaigns, individually, a half a billion dollars. Just one movie. Just give me one of these big movies. No? Kickstarter!

I don’t want to bring this to a conclusion on a down note. A few years back, I got a call from an agent and he said, “Will you come see this film? It’s a small, independent film a client made. It’s been making the festival circuit and it’s getting a really good response but no distributor will pick it up, and I really want you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.” The film was called Memento. So the lights come up and I think, It’s over. It’s over. Nobody will buy this film? This is just insane. The movie business is over. It was really upsetting. Well fortunately, the people who financed the movie loved the movie so much that they formed their own distribution company and put the movie out and made $25 million. So whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going. The other thing I tell young filmmakers is when you get going and you try to get money, when you’re going into one of those rooms to try and convince somebody to make it, I don’t care who you’re pitching, I don’t care what you’re pitching – it can be about genocide, it can be about child killers, it can be about the worst kind of criminal injustice that you can imagine – but as you’re sort of in the process of telling this story, stop yourself in the middle of a sentence and act like you’re having an epiphany, and say: You know what, at the end of this day, this is a movie about hope.

Thank you.

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18 Comments

  • Darryl | May 2, 2013 10:25 PMReply

    No brainer you still don't believe me a film can be shot for a $100, I'm going to show you right fast. You pick a location you can get for free, get a cast of 2 to 4 people . it's been great films shot in one location and only had 2 people in the cast. The reason I say get a small cast is it easy to get 3 dedicated people than trying to get 10 to 15 dedecated people for an indie film. Be prepared to shoot the movie in a day or 2, depending on the dedication of your actors. make sure you rehearse with your actor, they know their lines and what the characters are about. good dedicated actors will add to your movie and take your characters to places you never dreamed about. Go over lighting with your crew guy. i say shoot with 2 cameras, if you can't afford a dlsr camera shoot it on 2 cell phones. it' great movies made on cell phone. No brainer you don't believe me check out the movie Night Fishing by Park Chan Wook, the director of Oldboy. Also don't try and be so artsy farsty with your camera. You don't have the money to do a whole bunch of camera movements, keep it simple, Just worry about your story and acting, people will love your film if you have a good story and good acting, they could give a damn baout you showing off on how you move the camera. have the mind sate I'm going to give my best and make the best $100 film i can make the budget is not going to restrict me from making a good film. No brainer before you say what kind of film is this going to be, that's what hollywood would tell you to keep you from making films. I say use the resources you have and this is about you growing as a filmmaker and bringing a story to life. Also don't worry about making money from it, it would be nice if you're able to. Remember you only spent a hundred dollars and this is about you and your love for movies and being a filmmaker, just think about all the dum stuff you have spent a $100 on that you didn't see a return on. Look at it like this you invested a $100 in yourself and something that you love to do so It's a win, win.

    I'm going to say it again make sure you get dedicated actors, a lazy actors can destroy a whole film that's the problem in the indie film world now, it's not enough dedicated actors. A dedicated actor is a actor that can look at a film no matter what budget the film is and believe they are going to elevate it with their perfromance. The lazy actor asks how much I'm getting paid and if it's not big money I'm wasting my time on it. If Al Pacino, Robert Dinero, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Angela Bassett could do their first film roles for no pay or little pay who are you to demand stuff especially if you don't have an audience and you just starting out, you should be worrying about doing many films as possible to work on your craft to get you to that point you can demand stuff because you got the resume and fan base to back you up. Stay away from actors like this, that's why you be up front with them and tell then you going to give your best and if their not hit the road because they will just end up messing up your film. People like no brainer iwll stop you from being able to make a film for a $100, that's why you don't deal with them.

    No brainer you still don't beliive it can be done go see the film La Jetter, in case you don't know it it's the film that 12 monkeys was remade off of. The whole film uses still photographs to tell the story. You use what resources you have.

    No brainer you still don't believe me or you asking what if I don't have dedicated actors or I can't pay them go see SuperStar The Karen Carpenter Story By Todd Haynes. He uses Barbie and Ken dolls to tell his story. You use the resources you have.

    No brainer you keep using the hollywood model for film budgets and storytelling. I' m telling filmmakers to use to models that works for them to tell their story. That's why I gave you the examples of La Jette and Superstar, those filmmakes used the model that work for them or resources they had.

    No brainer you believe it can't be done and think it's insane for a filmmaker to believe you can do a film for a $100 because you keep letting hollywood dictate your filmmaking process, Hollywood is set up to overspend and waste money, remember they are controlled by Wall St. I believe and know it can be done, doing a film for a $100 because I don't let them dictate mine and I'm telling filmmakers to use the model that works for them and use the resources they got, were there's a will there's a way.

    Indie filmmaking including you no brainer , no more excuses, let's make our films and build a strong independent film community and share our stories with each other because we are filmmakers and film fans too.

  • Daryl | May 2, 2013 9:36 PMReply

    No brainer the Zombie movie Colin was shot for $100, I'm sorry it was made for $70.

  • urbanauteur | May 1, 2013 10:25 AMReply

    Steven Soderbergh is that typical Hollywood shape shifter(ask director Wendel Harris) , but really i think he's really Renny Harlin in disguise remember him..;-)?

  • Darryl | May 1, 2013 12:57 AMReply

    No brainer you are talking like a hollywood guy. Steve Soderbergh is worth 30 to 40 million dollars. He could spend the rest of his career making $500,000 to 2 million dollars films and he wouldn't go broke. His name alone is worth a million or 2 alone. This guy is at a point in his career he doesn't have to pander to anyone to make movies. So why not make a statement and just do those type of movies to show the studios it's a market for these films and you don't need them instead of just running your mouth at a film festival. No brainer you keep talking about people got ambitions, you making my point, that what's I been saying filmmakers out here believe just because you spent 100 million to make a film you arrived or I'm making a living so I'm a filmmaker. It's a lot of garbage filmmakers that are rich, that are just hack artist. No brainer you sound like you are just concern with status. All you keep talking about is making a living paying bills, news flash 99 percent of filmmakers are never going to get to that point, do that mean they are not good filmmakers or they failed, no. That's why I said do the busness model that works for you. If yours is hollywood success than that's all that matter that's on you. Mine is my own defintion of success and that's being able to tell the stories I want to tell and continue to make movies I want to make. I don't need to make a living off of it to be happy making movies, you do. When I say spend $5000 on a movie you get people that are there for the love it and understand the situation that this is not a blockbuster film but a story they like or a character they like or it's a story that's not being told or you be a one man crew, do what you got to do. The suff you talking about in film budgets don't apply to low budget films that's why they are low budget films., it's a different ball game. That's why you can't make a film for a $100 because you got in your head the hollywood way. Just because you never heard of a film that was made for a $100 doesn't mean it hasn't been done and yeah if you make a film for a $100 and it makes $300 to $1000, you did good for yourself. You made a profit and you are able to make another film. You talking about actors working for free, your whole concept about real independent filmmaking is bs, I'm not not talking about the 50,000 and up films to me they are low budget studio films now with technology because everybody can't raise that type of money but these films are called independents like eveybody can call sombody up for $50,000. I'm talking about the films $10,000 and under that are realistic film budgets for independents that don't have connections and are not rich. If an actor work for you on a movie for free it's because they know you are a low budget filmmaker and understand the indie game, they got a chance to showcase their talent and end up getting paid gigs after this, how is that getting over or a dp and sound guy gets to showcase their talent and then get other jobs , also you can get good sound equipment for a good price. What you saying is the biggest problem with the independent film community today nobody wants to work together, everybody just wants to be a star and not put in any work to get there or just get paid because film has become a hustle now it's all about how much money I'm going to get or who is in it, I seen actors who are happy to be background players with no speaking parts on a big studio film and brag about it but will scoffed at a starring role on a small budget independent film that would showcase their talent. No brainer you need hollywood co -sign, I don't. It's not the film budgets that's stopping us, it's us and our selfish attitudes and Wall St Hollywood mindstates that are stopping us in the independent film community of making films. Independent actors and directors, and crew start coming together and making films because they love the craft and the creativity of being an independent these conversations become irrelevant, I know it's irrelevant with the tools in our hands now , the people got the power but they don't want it, they rather be in a control paradigm talking about what's wrong with hollywood. As of right now it's just not enough independent filmmakers that relize it, too many have the no brainer philosophy. So I will let you keep complaining and waiting on hollywood and giving props to fake heroes who make statements but are not willing to change things when they got the money but give you lip service, while I make films and work to build a strong film community that do for self and tell the stories they want to tell because I believe we can and will do it. So I'm going to end this here no brainer because you are eager and want to dance for hollywood and I only dance for myself. So get your shoes out and give hollywood a good dance because that's what you want to do, maybe you will get a hollywood star if you dance good enough for them.

  • NO BRAINER | May 1, 2013 3:36 PM

    The more you talk, the more I can see you're one of them. You know, those people who have been misinformed by wannabes who want people to believe they're geniuses for pulling off "successful" productions without spending any money. I'm also guessing you never made a feature before. Am I right? All this talk, and you still didn't name three successful feature films that were made for $100. You want me to make it easy for you? Okay. Name one. That's it. ONE.

  • Miles Ellison | April 30, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    Soderbergh pretty much summed up why there are so many bad movies.

  • Nadia | April 30, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    I just love, LOVE that he mentioned Barry Jenkins. That put a big smile on my face. I hope he gets to make another feature again soon.

  • Daryl | April 30, 2013 7:01 PMReply

    To no brainer you missed what I was saying. I said if you are that concern about hollywood not telling the stories you want to make why don't you make your own films, meaning whatever the budget you can do that want bankrupt you that's the film you make,it's always this new excuse from millionaires, we need funding from them or they don't have it like that when technology has made doing films for cheap available.Steven Soderbergh did some small indie films, my point if this is how he feels why didn't he keep doing them, oh I forgot they want bringing in big box offices, because don't get it twisted those films where profitable it's just they took longer to make a profit than the Ocean's 11 films. No brainer you are caught up in the hollywood figures on what a movie should cost to make and distribute. We just see things different I always like the b action pictures better than the hollywood 200 million dollars crapfest films. Hollywood wastes a lot of money on crap they don't have to for people like you to drink the kool aid that you need them for funding. A strong story, good directing, good crew and good acting will beat a big expensive hollywood bs movie anyday and yeah I'm not talking about box office gross. They spend a 180 million for the film and marketing and they make 350 million, they lost money. The independents spend $5,000 on his or her film and marketing and they film make $10,000 online, they won. They was able to make a profit and make more movies. No brainer I know the business, I just don't let hollywood dictate my business model like it seem that you do. I do the one that works for me. You want validation from them and I don't, I just care about filmmakers telling their own stories and being able to continue making movies, that's were we are different. Steve Soderbergh has made some good films but he is part of the establishment. This is his own words, I make one for them and then I make one for me. How about making one for you all the time, that's the concept I believe in. You can spend your own money now and not be in debt and be homeless, so why do we keep telling filmmakers to go get investors for their films that want to control their vision and put out the same bs stuff hollywood is putting out, this is why you got so many low budget hollywood imitations. I said it before if you just got a $100 to make a film that's what you use to make your film. Don't say it can't be done because it's been filmmakers that have done this and made good films on this small of a budget. It all comes back to a lot of filmmakers are more concern with status then making films. Filmmakers and actors have always been looking for the day when you didn't need to go to the gatekeepers to make your films and get them out to the public, now that day is here and we are still begging and trying to to jump the gate with cameras and all the resources we need to distribute our films like nothing hasn't changed. No brainer I know that day is here and I know it's a new business model in town for the independents, we don't have to go to the studio with our hat in our hands no more, No brainer I guess you didn't get the memo, you still stuck in the 90's business model and distribution.

  • NO BRAINER | April 30, 2013 8:44 PM

    This conversation is WAAAAYYY too complex to even assume I'm saying we NEED Hollywood for anything. I said nothing of the sort. Talk about missing what someone is saying. I said, and simply put, it really depends on your goals. Maybe Soderbergh's goals are loftier that most filmmakers. If so, who are you to throw in your two cents? Are you telling an Oscar winning film director to change his plans, his goals, his aspirations for his future projects? Are you telling him to settle? That's kind of absurd to me.

    "A strong story, good directing, good crew and good acting will beat a big expensive hollywood bs movie anyday and yeah I'm not talking about box office gross," says DARYL.
    ANYONE who had ever produced a film with a sizable budget, where you're dealing with insurances, unions, agents, lawyers and the mayors office, can tell you that it's never that simple when you don't have the money to pay for the team you want. Good crew? Starting out, that is easier said, or wished for, than it is DONE. Each crew member has an agenda. When you first meet them, on a low budget film, it's about getting the job. Once they get the job, and crew agreements are signed or not signed, then you might get confronted by their ulterior motives. I've seen people's productions get held hostage for crew re-negotiations because they want more money, forget what they agreed upon when they wanted the job.

    And a strong story is a matter of opinion. I don't like most of the films raved about by Shadow & Act, and judging from box office numbers, I'm not the only one who is disinterested in them.

    "The independents spend $5,000 on his or her film and marketing and they film make $10,000 online, they won." -- DARYL
    LOL. Really? There isn't much of a feature film you can make with $5000. And even if you make it, which is possible but (again) might be lame duck soup, how soon do you expect them to make back that $10,000? A year? Two? This statement isn't really realistic. Not that it can't be done. But if the film is made for 5K and financed out of the filmmaker's own pocket then I say GO FOR IT.

    "I just don't let hollywood dictate my business model like it seem that you do," says DARYL. That's not true. Working within Hollywood's business model and me doing my own thing are two different things, and when I'm doing my own thing I'm doing it in a practical manner. For me, it starts at conception. It starts at the LOGLINE. I'm thinking about melding stories I'm passionate about with the audience's appetite for entertainment.

    "You want validation from them and I don't," says DARYL. You're just ASSuming. I don't want anything. I just want to pay my bills, stack up in savings, take care of my family and vacation ever so often. And I'm doing just that. If you knew me, you would know that I am very vocal and I stand with the Soderbergh's of the world. I'm standing with him right now, against you. That's the only reason why we're even here. I never had a problem with what you're saying, DARYL, even when I thought you sounded a bit ignorant. But when you started in on Soderbergh you were technically starting in on me or anyone else like us.

    "Steve Soderbergh has made some good films but he is part of the establishment," says DARYL. Funny, you just said, "just want to be accepeted in the hollywood power structure." Now you're saying he is part of the establishment. I think they're the same. So, which is it? Is he in or is he not?

    "I make one for them and then I make one for me." This is the best way to be. I can't imagine being any other way in any industry. How can you say make one for you all the time? You know how difficult it is to make movies on a low-to-no budget? It gets exhausting and Soderbergh is getting older. You're not being realistic and that's my point.

    "so why do we keep telling filmmakers to go get investors for their films that want to control their vision and put out the same bs stuff hollywood is putting out," says DARYL. It depends on the filmmaker. Soderbergh can do this. Spike Lee pretty much did it with Red Hook Summer. But how many times can any of them do this? Not only low-to-no budget films are difficult to make, they also get EXPENSIVE after a while. So, how are you going to finance these films if you're not AT LEAST doing one or two for them as well, as he said? That's the best way to be in my eyes. George Clooney also benefited from this philosophy, his words too, and now he is on top of the acting world, winning an Oscar for PRODUCING along the way. And if the filmmaker is an up and comer, unlike veterans like Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh, they better be rich, or know rich people, or be prepared to ruin their credit, or keep their goals to a minimum.

    " I said it before if you just got a $100 to make a film that's what you use to make your film." This is a realistic as Santa Claus. I don't know any filmmakers making decent feature films for $100, definitely one that can make back a little money. Call me what you want. It's just not happening, even with a great story and crew. Wait, what crew? You can't have a crew for $100. Not happening. I, for one, cannot ask talented people to work for free. Maybe on the first or second effort but after that, I believe people should be paid for their talents. And if you're talking about a GOOD CREW, you're doing a disservice to the universe by not paying them for their talents. And since we're on the subject, you said filmmakers were successful at making good films for $100. First of all, were they features? Secondly, NAME THREE. And if I never heard of them, your point is MUTE.

    And another thing, I always hear people on S&A blogs talking about the technology of cameras as if their God sent. Actually, I think the technology is allowing wannabes to unconsciously exploit the film industry as many had done with HIP-HOP. But, I never hear any of them talk about SOUND. Ah, that thing no one talks about and easily underestimate. Let me tell you, people are more forgiven to bad picture than they are to BAD SOUND and that means production sound mixing and post sound editing. And a good SOUND EDITOR won't work within a $100 budgeted film. Just not happening.

  • Charles Judson | April 30, 2013 7:18 PM

    Do you win if you make $10k on a movie? Better question is can you eat and pay your bills if you make $10k? Is that $5k profit? Or just the first installment on the hundreds of deferred hours that went into making the film? If you are a one man army, maybe it's profit. In most cases it's not. In most cases that's money that could be split 50 ways to pay all the folks that helped get the film made.

  • ALM | April 30, 2013 6:21 PMReply

    1. Soderbergh did a great job explaining why the "Liberace" movie changed course.

    2. "There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies".

    Sadly, this is also true of the music business. This is where the lack of quality in both industries originates. Those in charge have absolutely no passion for the business that they are in.

    3. "So when a studio is attempting to determine on a project-by-project basis what will work, instead of backing a talented filmmaker over the long haul, they’re actually increasing their chances of choosing wrong".

    This is also true of the music business. There are several '90s acts who have sold tens of millions of cds that have been pushed aside because they released one "flop", and that "flop" sold 700,000 copies (a hit in today's world of mp3s).

    4. "There’s another thing, a process known as running the numbers, and for a filmmaker this is kind of the equivalent of a doctor showing you a chest x-ray and saying there’s a shadow on it".

    This is a good point to know where you truly stand when you are pitching your ideas.

    5. "So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go how did we miss that? If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much?"

    They are not doing a good job of tracking. It's obvious that they need to change the sampling pool that they are using.

    6. "Why are admissions dropping? Nobody knows, not even Nate Silver. Probably a combination of things..."

    Admissions are dropping because the quality of major studio releases has plummeted, while ticket prices have skyrocketed. I'm not paying $13 for what appears to be a piece of junk either via the film's trailer or based on the word of mouth from people who saw the movie during it's opening week.

  • Daniel | April 30, 2013 5:21 PMReply

    I respect Soderbergh for his filmmaking chops and have followed most of his work from "Sex, Lies and Videotape." I don't think there's very much of what he says that, I would hope, a majority of people who understand the business model of Hollywood, don't already know. He made it entertaining. Soderbergh, and some others like him, have ascended to the position that I think most aspiring filmmakers dream of: make a low budget film that gets noticed, begin carving out your career in Hollywood and eventually win an Oscar. But that doesn't necessarily make him part of the establishment. He has successfully been able to direct big budget, star vehicles that make money and modest, unusual fare that probably satisfy his own creative juices more sufficiently. A few years ago, he directed a low budget feature called "Bubble" that was one of the first films to be released theatrically and VOD (day and date, I think it's called), and the films that he might have a stronger personal stake in haven't necessarily been box-office smashes. But their budgets aren't astronomically large, so as he mentions, the risks aren't that great and what is created maybe is more "cinema" than "movie." There's also a difference between a filmmaker, director, producer having difficulties securing funds for an idea they want to do and that same filmmaker/director/producer being hired by a studio to direct for the studio. Everyone wants to work and sometimes you take a job to get college tuition for your kids and pay off your mortgage. You do the best job you can so you can, hopefully, do something you like more in the future. There's the hope. But, yes, the business model does not allow for much of anything other than giant, spectacles that will make money world wide. The paradigm is changing, slowly. Filmmakers all over the world and coming up with innovative ways to create and distribute their work without ever stepping foot in Hollywood. There's the hope again.

  • Daryl | April 30, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    Steve Soderbergh makes good points on the state of movies and the audience, but the thing that loses me with him and other hollywood people if you feel like that and you got the money and connections to get money ,why don't you do it yourself and reach the audience that wants to see something different and is tired of hollywood. The reason being is a lot of people like him just want to be accepeted in the hollywood power structure and make statments like this to look like they are being radical when really they are conservative going along with things hollywood tells them to do. That's why so many filmmakers got it ingrained in their heads that if a film doesn't go to the theater or seen by a lot of people it's not that valuable or they failed, they are filmmakers looking for prestige and being part of hollywood class system, instead of telling their stories the way they want to. It doesn't matter if your film is seen on a ipad, iphone, home tv, home computer or a theater or only 5 people saw your movie, the most important thing is you made the film you wanted to make and your film has a chance to be seen. That's why when I see hollywood types make statements like this, you go to ask yourself how real is it if they don't practice what they preach. You saying this and you got a movie coming out on hbo next month, okay. This is a pr stunt to get viewers to watch his movie because he is being radical now. Filmmakers have to stop worrying about what hollywood is doing and worry about how they are going to tell their own stories. What kind of filmmakers do you want to be, a hollywood filmmaker waiting and complaining about the hollywood system to give you a chance or let you make the film you want to make or are you an independent filmmaker who control his or her work? If you are a the latter, everything in this article is irrelevant to you because you are making and realeasing your films the way you want to.

  • NO BRAINER | April 30, 2013 5:56 PM

    The second comment from this DARYL chap that reads like something from someone who doesn't know damn thing about the way things work in the film industry. Soderbergh didn't say anything about having his own money to finance films. So, what's the point of saying, "why don't you do it yourself and reach the audience that wants to see something different and is tired of hollywood"? I don't think Soderbergh ever HAD IT LIKE that. But few filmmakers do, one being Mel Gibson.

    Soderbergh has at this point exhausted his network for finances and he have not made back a profit to his investors--the reason why he stresses the amount a film has to make back to reimburse, if you will, money spent on development, production, post-production, marketing and distribution. I LOVE how he brings up the cut for exhibitors. Nobody, not the authors of S&A, the filmmakers they praise or the regular commentators of this blog ever talk about such intricacies in a film's income projections, yet they like to make you believe how some black films are doing good. Those films aren't doing GOOD! Not to Hollywood standards. Like I always say, a film needs to make back 4x the budget for anyone to see a profit and Hollywood is all about PROFIT. They don't just want to make back their investment, they want to make back MUH'NEE (money).

    Want to be accepted in the Hollywood structure? He is accepted in the Hollywood structure. He won an Oscar for directing Traffic in 2001, beating HIMSELF for his direction of Erin Brochovich. How many directors you know were nominated twice for directing in one year? After that, he was trusted with franchises like the Ocean's Eleven series. He's totally accepted.

    "That's why so many filmmakers got it ingrained in their heads that if a film doesn't go to the theater or seen by a lot of people it's not that valuable or they failed," says DARYL. No, filmmakers, the smart and considerate ones, who take money from investors know that they have a RESPONSIBILITY to at least make back their investor's money plus whatever other things promised to investor, like in most cases an investor's 20% priority return (on top of their investment). Now, if you're spending your own money or money you don't have to make back for anyone, then you're right, the filmmaker shouldn't allow themselves get caught up with the thinking that their film should go to theaters. But if it doesn't go and the filmmaker has to pay back investors, they know that box office is critical to making back the investment.

    You say, "It doesn't matter if your film is seen on a ipad, iphone, home tv, home computer or a theater or only 5 people saw your movie, the most important thing is you made the film you wanted to make and your film has a chance to be seen." If the film was made for cheap, like under 250K, then you're right. Such outlets for revenue would suffice. But once you go over that, and have people to pay back, then those outlets may not be enough. Theatrical box office influences those other mediums. That's why it's so important to filmmakers and investors. But it all depends. I say, make the film for a shoe-string budget out of your own pocket and rely on those outlets.

    "You saying this and you got a movie coming out on hbo next month, okay," says DARYL.
    So? Is that supposed to account for all the many films he probably was developing for the past 10-15 years or has had in turnaround?

    "Filmmakers have to stop worrying about what hollywood is doing and worry about how they are going to tell their own stories," says DARYL.
    Maybe. But it's all about who money you're spending, and when you're messing with other people's money...

  • miktal | April 30, 2013 4:53 PM

    That`s actually a very good point. Soderbergh actually contradicts himself with the Memento example. He said it was madness that the film couldn't get a distributor, a proper film which didn't adhere to the Hollywood norm and wasn't spoiled by non film loving execs. People loved it and it is now considered a classic, but instead of learning from that and being inspired to leave the Hollywood system, he stays and moans about it. If he really believed that Memento was THAT good, then why didn't he invest his own money, and then tell people that?? There is definitely an element of "putting your money where your mouth/talent is, that is missing from his rhetoric.

  • NO BRAINER | April 30, 2013 2:50 PMReply

    Soderbergh says, "So, according to Mr. Nathanson, the studios are successfully cutting costs, the decline in home videos have plateaued, and the international box office, which used to be 50% of revenue is now 70%. With one exception in that all the stock prices of all the companies that own these studios are up."

    This is why black films don't sell overseas.

    Wasn't I basically saying the same thing on Tambay's thread about black films selling overseas (blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/about-that-popular-black-films-dont-sell-overseas-industry-belief-reality-or-just-laziness)? This is a must read for everyone. Maybe it will save us from some of the ignorant statements people tend to make on this blog, making more room for healthy discourse that can lead to practical solutions. This can generate a certain mindset that will get some moviegoers realizing their part in the state of cinema today. Spike Lee tried to tell black audiences the same thing a few years ago. Instead of galvanizing the people, he was met with backlash from them who hated his comments about Tyler Perry. Hopefully, you good folks would be ready to receive from Mr. Soderbergh better than you did Mr. Lee.

    Black films need a rebirth. Take heed or bleed.

  • KOS | April 30, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    WOW, Amazing rant! AMAZING!
    A must read!

  • SA | April 30, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    well said, as a cinephile and film student I feel the same way...The movies I grew up with (I am born in 1992) seemed to be based on such great ideas, were about great stories and memorable characters and were also GREAT RISKS...not only live-action films, but also animated films like Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame...they all had heart...films nowadays, at least the mainstream ones, don't have any, there is no heart in the movies people are making now...we just see the same people doing the same thing over and over again, all of them dull and predictable, who don't take risks and do not take a stand for what they believe in, and this statement goes for Black Cinema too...TP are boring, uninventive, uninteresting and not even creative...its sad...but I still have hope.

    I plan to be a filmmaker and will forever support great creative, thought-invoking stories, no matter how big or small they are...I guess we just have to really look at each film that comes out individually instead of painting them all with the same brush.

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