The director calls this film an “animated documentary”
Truthdig.com’s Peter Z. Scheer has a list of the top 20 “socially conscious” films of the decade, and among them are eight documentaries, depending on how you count.
Leading that group is “The Fog of War” at Number 4, and it also includes “Why We Fight,” “Enron,” and “Farenheit 9/11″ in the top 10.
One interesting choice was “Waltz With Bashir,” which Scheer refers to as an “animated documentary.” We’re not sure we’d really call that a documentary, but Scheer notes “This unique animated documentary is hard to pin down, but one word for it is breathtaking.”
The Missouri Review is among the best of the thousands of literary magazines that traditionally publish poetry, short stories and essays in their sedate pages. many a writer launches with a first publication in such a quarterly, but the Missouri Review three years ago moved into new terrain – creating a $1,500 prize for short documentaries. It also has a category for audio literature.
The Missouri Review Audio & Video contest has its deadline this week, with the winning short to be screened at the 2010 True/False Film Festival in Columbia Missouri.
Here’s the description:
Video Documentary Short
This broad category includes everything from a filmed scene that stands on its own to a videographed 10-minute documentary play, interview or nonfiction narrative. In addition to short documentaries on any subject or historic period, interviews of artists and artist presentations are welcome, as well topics of interest to a general literary audience. Entries will be judged on strength of the script and subject, ability to meet its objective (stated or unstated i.e., a comedic short that’s funny, or an author interview that is informative, fresh and insightful), technical facility including sound and lighting, reporting, presenting and/or acting. For inspiration, check out last year’s winner in the Video Documentary Category on missourireview.com, and visit the 2010 True/False Film Festival website.
Time: 10 minutes or less.
First Prize: $1,500
Second Prize: $500
CBS News has a piece on Erik Proulx, an ad executive who, after getting laid off, decided to “drain his savings” to make a documentary film about being laid off.
The film is called “Lemonade.”
The good news is CBS News is mentioning it. But, as the economy of both filmmaking and information changes, is this really a good idea?
In the last five years, the cost of filmmaking has dropped to the point that it is now a crowded field. Lots of product, with only a fraction making it to where the filmmakers can make a profit.
On the other side, these films go into an economy in which, as Wired Editor Chris Anderson has said, “Information wants to be free.”
The CBS piece says,
Proulx said he was, “robbing Peter to pay Paul. Debt on top of debt is not something that’s easy to crawl out of.”
“There’s a reality to losing your job that’s quite frightening,” (CBS Correspondent Seth) Doane said.
“Absolutely,” Proulx replied.
So he’s living on faith that “Lemonade” will make it big, land a distribution deal and make money. Meanwhile he and the others in the film feel lucky exploring new dreams. Some are painting full time, or opening yoga studios.
The new economy for filmmakers may be much the same as for journalists and ad executives, all members of an information industry. While people still pay for food and clothing, the notion that information should not be something to be paid for is a given to many, especially younger audinece who are more than used to having iPods loaded with songs they never paid for.
The new economy for filmmakers may be much like that for musicians, giving away the product and making money on product-friven events: Concerts, concert T-shirts, and the like.
It may also involve finding other ways to use the same skills: Doing corporate videos, say (even though corporations are now getting hip to the idea that you don’t need to pay $10k for a 10-minute video for your shareholder meetings).
For Proulx and most of us, it’s not a living, but rather the capstone to a living made by other, or often a multitude of means.
Sebastian Junger hit the book world in a big way in 1997 with “The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea,” a best-selling book that led to a movie deal and to some wealth. In the years since then, his output has been limited to two more books: “Fire(2001)” is mostly a collection of magazine pieces he did on the subjects of war and of dangerous professions; “A Death in Belmont (2006)” is about a murder of a woman in his upscale neighborhood when he was a child. He had other ventures, as well: In 2001, he and friends opened a bar in Manhattan, The Half-King.
But Junger’s fascination with war and men in danger has not abated. Teamed with photographer Tim Hetherington, Junger has co-directed a documentary about the war in Afghanistan, and it is one of the Sundance Film Festival’s 2010 selections.
Here’s the Sundance site’s description of the film:
In 2008 Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) and Tim Hetherington dug in with the men of Second Platoon for a year. Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a stronghold of al Qaeda and the Taliban, has proven to be one of the U.S. Army’s deadliest challenges. It is here that the platoon lost their comrade, PFC Juan Restrepo, and erected an outpost in his honor. Up close and personal, Junger and Hetherington gain extraordinary insight into the surreal combination of backbreaking labor and deadly firefights that are a way of life at Outpost Restrepo.
Ever wonder what it’s really like to be in the trenches of war? Look no further. Restrepo may be one of the most experiential and visceral war films you’ll ever see. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers reveal the humor and camaraderie of men who come under daily fire, never knowing which of them won’t make it home.
Wait a minute… H.265?
The future is filled with compression and sharpness; Ars Technica foretells the Tens with this post on the past and future of compression.
Right now, a standards committee is busy hammering out the details of the H.265 video standard, which is again supposed to cut bitrates in half when compared to the previous top-of-the-line solution and a similar image quality. But another 50 percent objective improvement is hard to come by after so many generations of amazing mathematical acrobatics. This time, the group will settle for a 20 percent improvement in mathematically objective measurements. The rest of the improvements will be subjective.
Boxofficemojo.com has a list of the top-grossing documentaries since 1982, and of the top 100 films on their list, a dozen are films from 2009.
Even accounting for adjusted dollars, that’s a good representation, especially because some of the films are only at the beginning of their earning potential – when the Academy Awards come out, winners and nominess often enjoy extended runs.
Here’s the list, with the all-time rank, the current gross, and the number of theaters at which the film has screened.
3 Earth $32,011,576/1,804 4/22/09
8 Capitalism: A Love Story $14,363,397/995 9/23/09
21 Food, Inc. $4,417,674/155 6/12/09
23 Good Hair $4,144,599/ 466 10/9/09
26 The September Issue $3,811,853/143 8/28/09
56 Valentino: The Last Emperor $1,755,134/ 38 3/18/09
57 Every Little Step $1,725,141/ 70 4/17/09
62 It Might Get Loud $1,610,163/75 8/14/09
84 Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg $1,128,608/25 7/10/09
90 More Than a Game $950,675/ 111 10/2/09
96 Tyson $887,918/56 4/24/09
100 The Cove $849,306/56 7/31/09
The filmmakers behind “Know Your Mushrooms,” which has been running on the Sundance Channel this month, comes in DVD and in a “Collector’s Box” at $59.95.
The film is directed by Ron Mann, and was a selection at SXSW 2009.
From the site:
The “special edition” comes loaded with…
• a Mushroom-themed 4 GB reusable USB flash drive (plugs into your computer’s USB port) Portable, re-usable and great for storage!
• Flash drive contains the feature film Know Your Mushrooms, Formatted for Mac and PC. AppleTV and iPod. Quicktime 7 required.
• Dried Alaska Morel mushrooms hand-picked by the film’s star, Larry Evans, the “Indiana Jones of Mushrooms”
• A booklet with an original essay about the film by Canadian film critic, Jennie Punter
• Packaged in a hand-crafted collectable wooden box
When longtime filmmaker Nancy Porter and her collaborator Harriet Reisen decided to tell the story of 19th-century writer Louisa May Alcott, they started with the challenge of raising funds for a production of the scale and approach they imagined, one with large sections of dramatized material using sets, actors and costumes.
The film, “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” will be aired national on PBS Dec. 28; the process began nearly eight years ago with the first explorations of funding.
We began writing grants for this project in 2002 to the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Porter says, “and NEH supported us first with a planning grant and then a scripting grant and then a production grant, But NEH only really funds up to 60 percent, so then in order to get the that money you then need to go out and raise the rest of the budget.”
That began with a script, written by Reisen. The script was a combination of dramatized sections, using only words Alcott had written, and a rough of the experts they would use, and what those experts would say, much of that based on Reisen’s research process, learning what their experts had written about Alcott in their own books and scholarly work.
In the spring of 2005, working on a production grant up that extended through the fall of 2006, the filmmakers went to PBS’s American Masters show with the script. They met with Susan Lacy, the creator and executive producer of the series, which began in 1984.
“Susan loved the script and agreed to become a co-producer,” Porter says, “and so that gave us enough funding to be able to secure the rest of it with capstone funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, PBS, the CPB Program Challenge Fund (which they no longer have), the NEA and another called the Simons Foundations.
What is happening in public television at least is that it is difficult to get complete funding as in work for hire on public television anymore because television is so strapped so they would like producers to come with some funding and then their funding goes further. That was the idea that we would initiate this project and raise money and then go see who wanted it and how much they could support it.
Boyd Estus did the cinematography. Estus has a long line of credits for Nova, Frontline, American Experience, American Masters, and other productions. “Years ago he’d done Unsolved Mysteries,” Porter says, “and he had a lot of experience of that kind, with recreations. I think when you do drama for public television, you really have to set your sights differently. We’re not Hollywood filmmakers – we don’t have those budgets, we don’t have that experience, we can’t afford that look – but you do the best you can. I think the production value is very high and the acting is very good.”
Estus shot with a Panasonic HDX900, which is DVCPro format. The film was shot in 60i for broadcast.
“I make a film every two years or so,” Porter says, “and it feels like everything changes in that time. We struggled with the decision to shoot in film or in HD, but film is so much more expensive and HD can look great, and it did. I’ve been making documentaries a long time, so I go way back to the Steenbeck equipment. Now we’re up to having Avid XPress Pro up in my attic.”
There was a lot of After Effects work we did with the stills, and there’s also separate animation. We hired a couple of wonderful animators who were artists in and of themselves.
A big challenge I learned about in going to distribution was going from an interlaced master, which is what we broadcast, to a progressive master. That was challenging because of so many things with After Effects. Because of the stills and how they were used, there was a lot of moiré. Post was done at Modulus Studios in Boston.
With documentaries that use dramatizations and recreations, the issue of hiring actors and how to pay them is always a can of worms. Many documentary films (“Man on Wire” and “Enron” come to mind) establish scenes with actors in non-speaking roles, presumably not just because it helps tell the story but because the minute actors begin reading lines, a lot of union consideration kick in. For films, that usually means dealing with the Screen Actors Guild, but “Louisa May Alcott” was from the start a television venture, Porter says.
The budget was over a million dollars, and over half was for the drama.
That done, it was a huge enterprise, twice as big as anything I’d ever done. It was a shock to have 40 people a day on the set when you’re used to a documentary crew of three and four people.
We used AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), because we did a co-production with WNET, and WNET and AFTRA are co-signatories, so we had to use AFTRA, and pay AFTRA scale. But I think the biggest shock to our budget was that we had to make the film under IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes). We had thought we were doing a non-union film, because it’s a PBS film and we were raising the money all ourselves, and it was a low-budget enterprise, relatively speaking. I guess IATSE felt like, “Well, if you’re going to use costumes and actors and set designers, it’s going to be IATSE.” So once they come after you and tell you that you have to do it, you have to do it, or they’ll close you down. We were not able to negotiate.