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The Torch: Can we sell it in pieces?

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Film as it is today faces many challenges. As a medium it has been around for quite a while but just like any other art form it is in need of constant renewal. With the industry’s big boys complaining about the audiences’ growing lack of enthusiasm for the old-fashioned movie experience (be it in your local cinema or at the multiplexes downtown), with the studios ferociously battling against piracy with mixed results and blaming the unfaithful consumer for their own short-sightedness instead, you at times hear nothing but the shrill cry of persistent crisis.

But does it really have to be this way? I can’t help but thinking that this alarmism doesn’t tell the whole story. I think there is a flip side to the matter.

To me there can be little doubt that making a film is above all about making a point of some sort. About telling a tale and addressing an issue — then bringing it to the audiences, to your fellow countrymen and contemporaries, the people you’re part of. No film comes to life unless it gets seen, right?

Undoubtedly, too, the web and new media offer a whole range of opportunities, not all of which are yet fully understood or have been realised to their utmost potential. They call for a different kind of approach and certainly involve some extra risk-taking where money is concerned.

But they include new opportunities as well. And if on the one hand we rightfully claim there be some new consumer ethics out there, should there not exist at the same time such a thing as the producers’ obligation to ensure that the public gets what it wants the way that it wants? Isn’t that a legitimate claim as well? Profits aside, if one takes the art of film seriously and views it not as a luxury but as an indispensable public and social requirement, then one equally has to see the mutual nature of that delicately calibrated relationship — and ultimately come to address it!

So if indeed the call goes out for a re-invention of the industry then what it says is basically this: be creative (about your formatting)! While that may scare some, for those who prefer facing each challenge as it comes and enjoy setting course where there has been no road to speak of before (and filmmaking in Singapore provides plenty of opportunities to train this skill): it could be your time to shine!

Now, I think we’ve all taken note of TIME magazine’s decision to name YOU, the average internet user, as person of the year in 2006. For my part, I still wonder who’d be smart enough to pick it up and combine it with our very own, distinct consumer habits of the digital age.

Web 2.0 regulars have set the agenda anew, so that it includes the many technically enabled ways of sharing amongst users, the virtual dimension to old-school social networking strategies and some community-building, the sheer dynamism of which eloquently bespeaks the basic human need it has grown from. Apply these standards to your filmmaking and delivery, et voilà: that’s what I’d call the ever so desperately sought-after sign of the times! Couldn’t this at last lend much needed new meaning to that well-worn phrase: that it is every director’s and producer’s goal to turn their movie into “an experience” for the viewer?

Not that this is the first time someone has hit on this line of thinking. I’ve come across at least one example from Singapore’s independent cinema: the encompassing pre-release campaign to introduce Originasian’s upcoming production Becoming Royston. As an attempt to successfully organise a bit-by-bit launch, thus continuously raising the level of public awareness and building sustained interest from its target audience, webisodes were made available on the film’s official website before the film was even completed or released.

Indeed, with online streaming solutions being perfected all the time, with manga being successfully distributed to mobile devices in Japan and with iTV at the starting blocks, the race is very much open already. Learn from the innovators, since it doesn’t hurt your film to copy successful marketing strategies.

Here’s something for the audacious to prove: that it is only for Holly-Bolly Studios to be dependent on millions of dollars to make a point (marketing-wise). Or to put it in the words of that old saying , “For all their Wood, they can’t see the Forest no more.” (Okay, I admit that was a bad one!)

For the time being it seems like the entire industry is still stumbling along like a toddler in this, so there’s plenty of free space waiting to be claimed! Couldn’t it be precisely the small, independent production for once that shows itself better equipped for adjusting to new market demands and thus be ahead of the game?

And for those out there who still harbour doubts about their creativity in keeping up with all this new gadgeteria story-wise: just look at the 19th and early 20th century novel as it were, the works by such renowned writers like Fontane, Dickens or Tanizaki. They got serialised, sequenced, broken up and literally sold in pieces. That didn’t kill them.

Formatting doesn’t kill the quality as a rule. But at the same time I am firmly with you in this: content comes first – whatever the format!

Look out for mo’s comments on the arts, film and filmmaking in “The Torch” every other Thursday.

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7 Comments

  1. […] Previous columns in “The Torch”: On real love, In the crux: subtitling, Can we sell it in pieces?, Bridging the gap, Introduction […]

  2. […] Previous columns in “The Torch”: In the crux: subtitling, Can we sell it in pieces?, Bridging the gap, Introduction […]

  3. […] Previous columns in “The Torch”: Can we sell it in pieces?, Bridging the gap, Introduction […]

  4. 21 January 2007 at 12:04 am

    My first comments were in response to the original article. Sorry for not making that clear.

    To Randy:

    I think marketing is important too. I just don’t think it’s part of filmmaking, though filmmakers need to be good at marketing. We’re quibbling over definitions here though.

    I also agree with you that you can’t mix TV and film structures together. The main article seemed to be suggesting that (although the writing’s so garbled that it’s difficult to tell).

    You wrote that “a film’s treatment can be that of a serial and done in parts.” What exactly did you have in mind?

  5. 19 January 2007 at 1:12 pm

    On the contrary, marketing is part of film-making. Independent filmmakers have to see that. How many people not in the industry actually know about the numerous awards and accolades an indie film has, more importantly, do the general audience really care. Ultimately, an independent film has to be clear what the intend of the film is. If it is just a personal project that happens to win awards, good. But, to grow as an industry, we have to have a wider view and intend. My personal film has to lead to my next project (unless you just want to make one film your whole life). How do I convince future investors that their money is well spent.

    And, you cannot mixed TV dramas with a film because the entire formula is different. However, that said, a film’s treatment can be that of a serial and done in parts.

    Finally, independent films doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have marketing dollar (it very well should), it just means that it is not made by a major studio.

    An indie film in Singapore works on a rough S$200,000 – S$400,000. An indie film in Korea is S$1 million and can go up to S$10 million. We just don’t have the domestic consumption like the other countries. So how do we as filmmakers get our investments back?

    What we are trying to address here is that indie filmmakers have to be creative. If not, then don’t worry about getting your money back.

    The dream scenario is that we can all do our thing, make films, and not worry about the money or the audience. That is however, not realistic. The choice is yours. Just make a damn film already!

  6. 18 January 2007 at 6:00 pm

    I think you’re confusing the content of a film from its marketing. Often both have little to do with each other. For example, with good marketing, you can lure people to crap movies.

    About marketing: your point isn’t new or insightful. Independent filmmakers don’t have to answer to executives and vested commercial interests, so naturally they have more freedom to market their work. The trade-off is that you don’t have the multi-million dollar ad budgets and distribution chains into cinemas that studios do.

    About content: writing in serials is different from making a film in serial form. The writers you cite — they didn’t write a whole work and then chop it up into pieces. They wrote as they went along, and in order to keep audiences interested they always had to end on some sort of a cliffhanger.

    Film doesn’t work like that. What you’re suggesting in your post… well, haven’t you heard of TV dramas?

    I think “Becoming Royston” is being marketed comprehensively, which is good. Its claims of “redefining cinema” are hollow though. But hey, it’s part of the marketing.

  7. 18 January 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Film formats and outlets have been changing tremendously in the last few years. Filmmakers have to become more business minded. It is NOT about selling out, because ultimately, you would want your film to be view by a mass audience. Many new filmmakers (myself included until I did my first film) do not see outlet formats as viable. What’s worst is that most new filmmakers realised what it means for your film to be picked up by a distributor or festival. A good story is the most important, but there are so many factors, the actors, the director, the audience appeal, the promotional angles. Filmmakers who want to be seriously regarded as filmmakers have to understand the business. How do you do that then? Well, make you first film, today. If I have anything to add to MO’s brilliant article above, it would be this: How are you going to make your project work and still be able to answer to everyone on board the project feel that what they have invested their time and effort in, a worthwhile effort? Then, how do you get this film to an audience who would understand what they have invested their time and effort in, a worthwhile effort.

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