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IFH 400: Creating a Film Riot During COVID-19 with Ryan Connolly

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Well, we made it. #400! I couldn’t have imagined that when I started this little podcast back in 2015 that we would ever get here.

I say “we” because I couldn’t have done it with the IFH Tribe’s love and support over the years. I am humbled, grateful, and honored to have the privilege to serve you all. Thank you for everything guys.

As promised I wanted to make this episode special and today’s guest will do just that. We have filmmaker and founder of the legendary Film Riot Ryan Connelly. Ryan launched Film Riot on Youtube back in 2006 and has been helping indie filmmakers create killer VFX for their films ever since.

Ryan has shot over 15 short films and has taken his followers on the journey of how he made them. I’ve been a big fan of Ryan’s for a long time and just love what he has created with Film Riot. Hustle respects HUSTLE!

We discuss so much in this conversation. From creating Film Riot to when he’ll make his first feature film to how our industry will survive the Coronavirus. I just loved having Ryan on the show.

Enjoy my EPIC conversation with Ryan Connelly.

Alex Ferrari 0:55
And as promised, this episode had to be epic. So how else could I have done it? By bringing the OG in the YouTube filmmaking in the film space Ryan Connolly from Film Riot is on the show today. Ryan launched Film Riot back in 2006, where he has been helping independent filmmakers create killer VFX on a budget ever since I've been a monster fan of Ryan, his brother and what they do over at Film Riot for a long time. And I even joke with Ryan in the in the episode where I I see what Film Riot has become. And I know what I could have done something similar back in 2004 2005. When I long I've actually released some of the first if not the first film independent filmmaking tutorials on YouTube, where you can still see them online. But But I'm not bitter. I'm just want to let you guys know not bitter at all. No I really am a huge fan of what Ryan does with Film Riot and, and he provides such an amazing service to independent filmmakers. And I wanted him on the show, I wanted to sit down and talk to the man, because hustle, respects hustle. So this is a fairly epic conversation and we talk about everything from how he started Film Riot to when he's going to make that first feature film, to how we're going to deal with COVID-19 as an industry, especially as indie filmmakers. So without any further ado, please enjoy my epic conversation with film rights,Ryan Connolly. I'd like to welcome the show Ryan Connolly, man, thank you for being on the show today, Sir.

Ryan Connolly 5:48
Absolutely happy to be here.

Alex Ferrari 5:49
And so so everybody understands where Ryan and I are right now. We were about 40 minutes 45 minutes into our first interview when the Coronavirus took out my power and and then we started again, and then his light went out. So we're gonna give us a well, we're gonna start it again. So I'm gonna ask a lot of questions. I already asked Ryan before, but we're gonna go down this road again. And I think you know, take two take three let's see how it goes. But I think it's gonna

Ryan Connolly 6:18
Third time's a charm

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Regardless. So like I said before, right. I'm a big fan of what you you done with Film Riot and and the good work you've been doing for filmmakers since 2009. And I told you this before, but I'll tell you. I was my first video. I was one of the first guys ever to put up a tutorial on YouTube with my first short film broken in 2005, which is still up there. And I wish I would have kept going, but I had that conversation with myself which obviously you didn't which said, I'm not a teacher. I'm not a I'm not gonna do filmmaking tutorials. I'm Spielberg. I'm going to be the next era and Tito. Tarantino doesn't do tutorials. Why should I do tutorials? And that ridiculousness stopped me from continuing down the path which I have now fallen in love with again since 2015, when I launched the indie film hustle. And it's kind of like I wish I would have bought apple at $8. Scott enough situation. So, um, but you and Rocket Jump. I know. Those guys and Indy Mogul. You're You're an OG man. You're an OG in the filmmaking space brother.

Ryan Connolly 7:30
Yeah, we've been doing it for a minute. Yeah, when we started it, it was it was for me, it was kind of filling something that I wish existed but didn't exist. Because it was, you know, I was four or five years out of film school at the time. And I had done some short films. And you know, since film school before film school, it was another like 4050 short films a day. But since film school had been a handful of short films, and, you know, nobody's even seen these and, and then just getting information even at that time was so difficult. I mean, there was Indy Mogul, which was just basically they just did prop builds and stuff. And then there was Philip bloom, who's doing like camera views. And then of course, there was Andrew Kramer, who is doing after effects tutorials, which is basically how all of us learned after effects. And there was this real big slot not being filled. And a friend of mine wanted to go to film school, but didn't have money to go to film school. And he was just venting to me, and then I just thought, you know, what, if there was a thing that created a community more than everything, not that I was like, I'm a film instructor because I didn't even like to call myself a filmmaker, like I was, you know, I had I've had a hard time not making a feature and then calling myself a filmmaker, even to this day, you know, I'm a little bitter about it now, but we're just silly, I know. But in the early days, it was very much about like what our opening said in the opening of the show, I said, you want to be a filmmaker so to y let's figure it out. And that was kind of the heart of what I wanted to do just to put out there and show the process of this you know, person who is pretty obviously green still, again, only four or five years outside of film school, but with a little bit of knowledge thanks to film school and thanks the experience that I've had I had since then, but putting out this thing of you want to be a filmmaker so do I now let's go along this journey, and every week was about me trying something new, somebody sent in an email, hey, how would you do this and be like, Well, let me figure that out. Here's how I did it. I grabbed some duct tape and a firecracker and, you know, stuff like that, you know, like literally like making light stands out of PVC pipe and stuff like that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, old school stuff, man. Oh, no. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 9:43
Oh, no. Yeah, the Home Depot, like remember the Home Depot lights

Ryan Connolly 9:46
To this day I have them to this day. They're in my studio, we still use I've used those clamp lights. And I even made this like bathroom fixture light which Shane hurlbut showed me like years and years ago, this thing that he made where it's like this two by four and I'm sure he's put it out since then, but it's it's two by four and he put like light sockets across it and created this really beautiful light. So I've just went and bought a bathroom fixture and then I've mounted like a little baby arm to it and and, and then use that as a light. We showed how to build that on the show. And I did construction work before I that once I came out of film school, my dad was a, an electrical contractor. So I went to work with him for several years just making money to, you know, three jobs at one time sort of thing making money to get gear and then that eventually led me to be able to build enough of a reel to where I got work at Alienware, which is Dells gaming division. And so I had a little bit of electrical knowledge, I could build those things too. And, and I still use those things to this day, at least one of them show up on every film set of mine, to this day. So it's like, you know, they still have their uses. It's not always the, you know, $20,000 light.

Alex Ferrari 10:57
Oh, yeah, there's, there's no question, I still have things that I built that I kind of bring onto set every once in a while. And people are like, people are like, what's that I'm like, let me show you. And like, that's how I am like, you know, and,

Ryan Connolly 11:09
And I just, I love the look of a tungsten bulb dimmed halfway, you know, that just real nice, orange, it's just so nice. I love using it, especially just as practicals within the scene, obviously. But um, you know, I really wanted to even then it's like, I've always tried to be very objective about where I'm at, in my career, where I'm going and, and I knew very well, that I was nowhere near ready to make a feature in the beginning. And so it was very much like, Man, what if this could start now, and I know, I'm, I don't know how many years but I know I'm many, many years away from being able to make a feature, whether I just make it myself, or if somebody actually takes a shot on me would have this thing, just track that. And along the way we built the community and you know, figured it out together. And because, like we talked about before, overnight success, you know, a lot of people have talked about how David Sandberg went from, oh, he made this one short film with his, you know, with his wife in Sweden, and then boom, he's making a feature film. Yeah, but no, he, it's like a decade of stuff before that, just like the rest of us. So it was like, What if there could be this thing that showed that this, you know, even five years after film school, it's been another 10 years since then we're going on, you know, 11 years. Since then, uh, you know, trying to get to the point of a feature just busted ass every single week, because there's an episode every single week, sometimes two times a week, just showing that work being put in constantly, hopefully, curbing what we've seen kind of pop up with, you know, that, you know, Willy Wonka golden ticket, you know, mindset that not all have not all, but so you have you do see some people talking about why like, you we do when we do competitions, there's inevitably somebody who is mad that they weren't even an honorable mention, like, I'm disappointed that I'm not even an honorable mention. Well, that should just tell you that not yet. You know, you need more experience, work harder, don't let that discourage you, instead, let that be okay. Let me show you what I can do next time because of what I learned from this time. And let that be, you know, the trajectory. This one's still not good enough. Well, the next one will be okay, this one isn't, well, the next one will be and that's been my mindset and kind of what we wanted to bring to to Film Riot and, you know, not so much to try to be like, you know, a video essay of here's why they did that because I think that's just bs stuff. You know, it's, it's, it's not useful. It's, you know, we just wanted to be something of like, here's the hard work and you know, good attitude that might, you know, get you to a place

Alex Ferrari 13:46
Isn't it? Isn't it true that most Well, I'd argue to most filmmakers they just don't understand what a long road This is. They don't I didn't I didn't either like I thought I was like shoot I should be at the Oscars like next year. I'm like, I'm good. You know, like let's like I gave myself start prepping my speech. But I mean, I got five years solid to get to the Oscars. I mean, that's just come on. So there's there's a level of delusion, which I think you have to be delusional in a general sense to be in this business because it's not it's not a solid logical path to walk. So you've got to be a little bit crazy, but the egos that are involved in our industry. We've all had them I still have mine but it's tamed at age teams it a bit sometimes depends on the person I guess. I just been beaten up so much to be like, yeah, okay, that's fine. It's fine. No much rejection. It's so much rigid. Like I always say I take in shrapnel for like, you know, 25 years in this business. I've just been taking shrapnel I got it in my slower. I walk slower. I got a limp in my knee hurts when it rains. But that's That's kinda how it is in this business. But they don't realize that this is absolutely a marathon and not the sprint, that the sprint that they think it's going to have. And that's what Hollywood sells. So Hollywood sells the golden ticket idea, Holly, because it's a great story. The Robert Rodriguez story is fantastic. The Tarantino story, the Spike Lee's story, the john Singleton story, all these stories that we kind of grew up with paranormal activity, all these kind of stories. They're, they're magical, they're mythical, in a sense, but that's not they're outliers, they happen. You know, once in the gym, I'm still talking about all of like, four of the five of those guys, all of those guys came up in the 90s, four out of five of those guys were in the early 90s. And we're we're like 2020 as of this recording, so like, it shows you how many of these stories lights out, that's one of those stories, but that's also you know, it's an outlier. It's it's a thing, and I don't think they understand the, you got to go in every day and just do the work every day.

Ryan Connolly 16:04
I mean, even even David's story, it just appears to be that and that's what I wanted to that's what I love about film, right that hopefully it will, you know, if Fingers crossed, I can get to that feature that it'll you know, it's right there to watch from 22,009 to whenever the feature happens of how long it took, where's like, you know, David, I know I know David and I know how much work he put in before time I you know, all the short films he did all the time he put in figuring out how to craft these ideas how to connect with an audience you know how to direct the scene, you know, what coverage he needs to accomplish the thing that he wants to so it wasn't this thing where he made a short and it got noticed and you know did is because all the work he put in trying thing after thing and putting thing after thing up. And you know, this competition that competition until finally the right person saw the right thing when he was in the at the right time, in his you know, path to then move to you know, that point. And a lot of people I know it that that's what's really great about where we're at now is like it is possible for you to put something up another another friend of mine just finished writing and directing his first feature starring Idris Elba. He did a short film called the cage and 2017 incredible film, which is awesome, great, great, great short, but it only has like 60,000 views. That's it. But that got passed around to the right people, because it was just great work. And that got this person attached. That person attached this, this producer wanted to talk to him and he was ready for it. And said, here's the other stuff that I have that I want to do, because he's been putting in so much work behind the scenes preparing other things, that he could be like that hit one, you know, I love your short What else you got, oh, I got this, because I've been putting in the work non stop behind the scenes with no congratulations because it's thankless work to do because nobody even knows it exists. But he was ready for it when the opportunity came knocking, and that, you know, turned into making his first feature with frickin Idris Elba. You know, and, and, you know, I have a similar story to what's going on now. You know, it's like, again, it's more outward, it's more open, even our failures have been very open. We were going to have like, it was like, gonna be a $300,000 short film. And it just all fell apart last minute. And that was very, very much an open failure. And but that turned into one of my favorite short films, I've made proximities. So that, you know, great, sure, that's where it went. And so all of the path for what I've done is, is very, very much open. But there's a lot behind the scenes that I just don't talk about that I'm constantly working on, on top of the stuff that I've seen. And it's that stuff that kind of just, it's the ammo that if you ever have the chance, like ballistic, opened up some chances. So when people came calling, I could be like, Well, here's the other stuff I have. Here are the other ideas I have. And then I mean, the interesting story about that is you know, it's all stuff that's going on now. So it's not something that I could talk about in detail, but it's like ballistic, led to getting managers and producers being interested. And then that led to developing a feature but I'm a first time director with an original action sci fi property that would be a very large budget. So you know, that is Yeah. Yeah, so that's where we landed. And we're like, Yeah, we got a producer attached that was a very exciting producer. And he was the one that was like, I really love this but out like a script. I don't know I don't see the path for this and then so I was able to be like well, here's another one and this is a sub 10 thing and it's you know, it's horror. And that's there comes a knocking which I made a short add up. So then I wrote the feature with that because I already had this like 70 page script already written because I just been putting in the work behind the scenes assuming these were, you know, you always got to have that ammo and they all really responded to that. And so we developed that a little further and then decided that a short film would be the right way to go before sending out the script. And so we did that. So we were able to couple the short film with the script. And now you're talking like a year and a half, since, you know, it started since ballistics. And now, they went from ballistic to this. And now we're a year into this. And I still have, you know, it's still thankless, but now, okay, at least I get to make this short film. So I do that. And then, and then finally, we send it out, and it's just silence for months, but then all sudden meetings start to pop up. But now maybe it's not going to be this thing. Maybe it could be this other thing, because then you're in these meetings, and you're talking and then even if they don't like the current project they're doing, they like you. And then they say, Well, what else you got? You know, and if you put all your eggs in one basket, and you're not constantly, like your head says, Hustle, Hustle, Hustle, they're constantly putting in the work behind the scenes that nobody knows about, except your closest friends and collaborators. You know, my answer would be like, Oh, well, I have some ideas. But instead, my answer is, I have these other pitches completely done. And I have pitch docs. And if you're interested, send it to you. I could pitch it right now, if you want in there. Well, let me that that one sounds interesting. Let me hear it. Okay. Well, let me tell you about it. And then boom, you can, because you've already you've already put in the time pitching this idea to friends, just in case, the right person asks you, and then that opportunity presents itself, and then you can deliver it. So it's just, you know, it's all that stuff, I think is what leads to success. And they're not, you know, it's not my original ideas. This is just going off the backs of the smart people who, you know, I've been lucky enough to pick their brains for the past, you know, six years, and I took their good counsel and you know, follow those things.

Alex Ferrari 21:38
Yeah, I mean, the thing like I, with my first short film, broken, the one that I uploaded those tutorials in 2005. Yeah, that that short got around a lot because it wasn't anything like that. There was I was a mini DV short with like, 100 visual effects shots in crazy unique. So yeah, it was it was really unique. And it looked like film. And it was like, you know, film, you know, if you look at it now be like, yeah, doing something for people. But back then people were like, holy crap, what did you do? It was very moody. And it was like shot in a great location. And I got around town, and I started getting calls from producers, agents, managers, I even had like some Oscar winning producers, contact, I was 20. I don't know 24, 25 27, something like that.

Ryan Connolly 22:25
Oh, man, that is too young for me to have that I'm so happy. It didn't happen that you know, it's in myself,

Alex Ferrari 22:31
Well, this is what happened. So I would go into these meetings. And they're like, this is great. And like, do you have a script version of the short? And I'm like, we're working on it. Mistake number one. Do you have anything else? Yeah, I have ideas. Mistake number two. And by the time that the heat, you know, like I was pitching to studios, I was doing stuff, but I didn't have anything ready because no one had ever told me to do what you're doing. Or what I've done since is to have other project prepared other pitches prepared. And by the time I got around with the script, it was obviously like $125 million. extravaganza. Right. And, you know, all the people that were interested in me, I was like, yesterday's news. And I was just like, know that the spotlight is on you for a minute. And you've got to strike when that minutes ready and have a lot of stuff ready to rock and roll. If you're if you're trying to play the studio game, you know, which is, you know, depending on the size of the work you want to do in the projects you want to do, unless you're independently wealthy or can raise that kind of funding yourself, you're going to have to work within the studio system, I opted out my first two features where I opted out of the studio, I'm like, screw it, I'm just gonna do it myself. And I'm like, I'm just gonna do it real low budget, and I'm just gonna do my own stuff. And that's fine. But again, like I always say, Kevin vague. If you're listening, I'll take the meeting. You just let me down to talk, Kevin, anytime. I got some ideas for the next Avengers. But uh, but I was, it was funny. I was in, I was in an agent's office. And this really was kind of jarring to me. I had another short film. I did like five years later, that got a lot of attention as well. And I got to do the tour, the water bottle tour again, I was already here in LA at that time. And I did the water bottle tour around town. And I walked into an agent's room, and they were like, We really love your short this and that, blah, blah, blah. And he goes, listen, I want you to watch a couple of shorts that we have and want to see what you think of it. And they had these other shorts, and this is like 2000 I must say 2011. So we're still early on, you know, the YouTube thing had not really like you know, people weren't watching shorts yet like that on a high level like they are now. It wasn't as it was today. So I was watching DVDs of short, and some of these shorts were from directors from overseas, and people had never heard of, and they were amazing. Like, like insane like Quiet productions Zack Snyder, production quality, David Fincher production quality on short stuff. And I'm like, why haven't I heard about this? Why haven't I seen this. And he's like this is the other project we're looking at. These are the other directors, but they, you know, we're working on developing other stuff. And at that moment, I really, and by the way, most of those guys, I think almost every single one of those shorts didn't ever, they never materialized. They those projects never went anywhere. Because I remember the names, I wrote down the guy's name, like, I want to see it, this guy goes anywhere. And a lot of them didn't go anywhere, they might have gone into commercials or music videos, or something else. But they didn't get to make their features in the studio system. And that was the moment I realized, like, oh, talent doesn't mean everything. Talent is great. And skill is great. But it's also with timing. It's about timing. I mean, if, if El Mariachi or clerks showed up today, we would have never heard of who Robert Rodriguez or Kevin Smith is, period. And they've said it themselves, like, it just wouldn't have made it because that was that moment of time for that, that kind of product. You know, I think I think like a young Robert Rodriguez today would have done what you guys were doing, doing like these really awesome, you know, visual effects, late and short films and putting them up on YouTube and stuff like that. But what he was able to do in 91, you know, it was a different time. So it's about timing as well. And it's weird, and that's the thing, you've, you've kind of got to be ready. At all times, like you're training constantly. You're training constantly for the Apollo fight, you're on, you're always you're you can't be like hanging out, you know, eating bomb bombs, you know, because one day Apollo is gonna call you, hey, do you want a shot at the title? And, and, and you've got to be constantly in shape, constantly ready for when that opportunity comes? And that could take 10 years?

Ryan Connolly 26:49
Yeah. And it's, it's kind of like, you have to have heat and you can try to create heat for yourself and, and that he dwindles out very quickly. And then you got to wait till the heat has been created. But it's the lottery, you're just playing the lottery over and over and over again, you can't I mean, they, there's very few things you can do to like, this is going to create heat. For me. It's like you just try over and over and some of the stuff that I did, I did a short film called Sentinel right before ballistic. And it actually got me contacted by several producers. I never would have guessed this in a million years, it was this short little piece that I just did for fun and kind of just to try something where it was just a visual effects. And one guy, I didn't even write a script, I made it all up as I went, we had a crew of like six people in the middle of nowhere and it costs me sandwiches, you know, and that got me more attention than the $30,000 short film I did with a 30 person crew. And all these actors that I flew in and all the stuff that got me zero attention. Nobody contacted me after that one. And, and similar to you. I had the similar night I didn't really do the water bottle water. Or, but after proximity, I was contacted by some managers, some agents and two different producers. And all of them asked me the same thing and I had the same answers, you know, what's the future version of this? Oh, I didn't even think about a wait a future version of this. That would be cool. Wouldn't it? Ready for that?

Alex Ferrari 28:21
Like should you should write that like you're telling them you should write that all directly good. You should want your help and call me when it's ready.

Ryan Connolly 28:28
Yeah, totally. And then it's like well, what else are you working on? Well was this I was working on this I got a PA get all of that just evaporated because it just tells them like this person's not even kind of ready anyway moving on. We'll see what they come up with down the line. So that taught me a lot and then talking to friends and whatnot needed them telling me the same then after that it was like everything I did I tried to make sure the thing that I could talk about after that and it's just like after that's just constantly trying to make a little bit of heat for yourself like ballistic got some heat which got me some stuff going and then that heat dwindled but then doing the short film there comes a knocking actually brought that heat back up that was like the main reason for making it because yeah, we have the script but if we also have the short that puts some heat because it's something actionable it's something right now that they can look at that you know Begley ballistic created enough heat to have the managers that would then allow this to get passed around because without brutal ballistic that doesn't happen. And then you know, there comes a knocking shows what is it but even what's funny is like everything is gonna lead to something if you let it like I did a short film called Ghost House back in. I think it was 2016. So it is a short film called Ghost House in 2016. It was just for fun. It was basically like a punchline of a short film like horror movies in real life. Like your house is haunted. No one's staying there. You're burning that thing to the ground. Like that's the short film in a nutshell. And a friend of mine saw it and he passed it to a friend of his who was an assistant at three arts at the time. I don't believe he was a manager yet. And and he was like, Oh, this is cool. I'd love to chat with him. So we just talked just Hey, who are you? I may, you know, this is what we do. Oh, that's cool. All right, man. Well, it's great to meet you. That was it from 2016 to the end of 2018, when ballistic hit and then all of a sudden, there's all these different producers, there was like five producers at the same time all saying they wanted to develop a feature with me. And I'm like, how does this how do you navigate this? And so I asked director, friend of mine, he's like, dude, you need a manager now. I'm like, great. So how do I do that? You know, and then I had remembered, oh, this guy, three arts. We really hit it off. Maybe he has a night. So I emailed it. I'm like, man, we I don't wanna take any your time. But I'd love to just pick your brain. Here's what's going on. And I'm not sure what to do next. Not knowing that he's now a manager at three arts and then he's like, Hey, can we jump on a call and then we jumped on the call and he really responded that short. And and that's how I got my manager. You know, and now the him and Luke Maxwell and will Robotham are at three arts are now helping me navigate all this stuff. But it's because of a relationship that just to Hey, man, what's up in 2016 for a short that nobody cared about, you know? So it's like, it's all those little things, like you said, always being ready for whatever it is. And like, all these little ingredients, eventually amount to hopefully that final baked delicious cake, you know.

Alex Ferrari 31:25
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. The one that they've been telling us about since we started this damn journey, talking about getting heat. So I actually, I was I had my first short film broken and the heat kind of fell off a little bit. But then I submitted that short to a little show called Project Greenlight. Oh really as, as a as a sample of my directing. And I made it to the top 20 Top 20 of second season a Project Greenlight. And actually, I'm in the first episode of Project Greenlight Season Two Oh, wait, are you really I am for five seconds and you here and it's I did this. Like my my video, like whatever that video is that you had to put in like the submit yourself like I can do this kind of stuff. I was 20 whatever. I was some 20 something. And I have the I actually posted the video on my YouTube channel because it was so embarrassing. so ridiculous. Like I was so egocentric. I was so like it was and I just like Alright guys, I just wanted you to see what happens. And when that aired on HBO, because that was a big thing for our industry like, project we'd like everybody in the business watch Project Greenlight, because they all wanted to see the train wreck. It was a great show. And, and then I would get calls from the managers and agents that that I like not that like oh, yeah, he's whenever Hey, what are you up to? I saw your project it was that you on Project Greenlight, and it's just me, oh my god, like five seconds in the opening montage saying, I can do this. I can do it. I've lived this. I breathed this. I could do this for I've been wanting to do this for my entire life, something along those lines. And then they cut to somebody else. It's like the montage of all the filmmakers that didn't make it. And it's just so and it's just my face, like so intense. With completely jet black hair. I didn't had no gray back then. I mean, I will I will. For everyone listening, I will put it in the show notes. Because I will put it in the show notes because it needs to happen.

Ryan Connolly 33:54
That's it. They like everything we put online. It's there forever.

Alex Ferrari 33:58
It's brutal. It's brutal, man. Yeah. No, I wanted to ask you, man, you've been doing film right for 11 years, man. How? How do you keep going because I I've been doing mine now is going to be five years in July. And I've seen a lot of people come and go, I know you've seen a lot of people come and go, as far as YouTubers, as far as podcasts as far as film blogs that come and they go and they don't really stay or they do a nice run for three or four years and then they're out. There's a level of endurance that is needed to do this kind of work. And while you're still also chasing your dream, and also doing work that you want to do, and also building and also building your business because you've got to feed that business. I don't know about you, but for me, I find it so rewarding helping people. It's addictive. It's addictive. Now I I can't live without doing something like this, because I see the impact that my work is doing for people. And then I still get the pleasure to do my own work and direct my own movies and Do my own projects and stuff like that. But the endurance is something that a lot of people come jumping into this filmmaking space either on YouTube or podcasting or blog. They have no understanding. Yeah, what it takes, like I want episode almost, I'm getting close to 400 on on this podcast, and you know, you guys, how many videos do you guys have? Like,

Ryan Connolly 35:22
It's almost that cuz we don't count everything we put up but as far as like episodes of film right go We're almost at 1000 but if you would count everything we're well over 1000 but then we used to have a show called film state, which was like a movie news show and that had something like 400 episodes. So all together with like all short films, all videos we've done 2000 probably around 2000 Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 35:49
So that's an insane amount of work to create that much content and consistently do it, which is one of the reasons why you're one of the one of the brands that has has survived and are left at the mountaintop if you will. There's a handful of of those brands that have been around for a long time that are still around but I remember I remember brands that in companies that that were around when I was starting out they're gone to just

Ryan Connolly 36:19
Yeah, you know, yeah, it is an endurance game like you're definitely right about that but I mean I think just like the industry you have to have a sickness you know takes a broken brain like we have Yeah, it's just like where sanity and insanity insanity it's just you cannot help yourself I mean, a story I told earlier on on on another show was you know ballistic when when we shot that there was there was two legs two ballistic was a an action sci fi I did and released in like 2018 and there was an LA leg to it. And there was a Texas like to at the Texas was all night stuff. It was thriller ish. And la stuff was all day action. And there was about 100 plus people on set. We had like six to eight cameras, we had practical explosions. wirework dude lit on fire, you know, ISIS car that we were launching and blowing up and madness, madness. And I had to orchestrate this chaos and Dude, I dry heaved in the morning, and on the way to set every morning, I was like, I want to go back to the hotel, I want to go back to the hotel, I want to go back to the hotel. Yeah, but then the second those monitors come up, all that falls away, it becomes blinders, and you're just in it, and it's like Game on. And, and you get through that process, and it's the most stressful, you can't eat, you know, and it's, it's horrible and amazing. And you get through the process, and you're at the end of it, and you haven't slept and you feel like shit. And you're like, God, that was hard. I can't wait to do it again. We're just sick. We're sick individuals, you know, just even like what we've been talking about, about trying to make it like, it's Jesus. It's like 16 years since film school for me longer for you. And yes, still beating our head against the wall. Because we just can't help ourselves. It's that somebody asked me yesterday, they said, You know, I haven't been doing this this that long. But I feel like I'm not getting better. And, you know, just feels like maybe this industry is not a super viable industry. And I'm like, What can I do? You know, how do you think I'm like, the only question you have to ask yourself is can you do something else? If you could do something else and be happy? This isn't for you do that thing? Yeah, you can't. If you cannot do something else, then yeah, pursue this. But you know, still be smart. I mean, you know, my I will not stop until I either die or make a movie. I don't one or the other, you know, but you still got to be smart just as you have and be able to pay your bills and provide for your family. So there is that no matter what having your financial backup plans as you're still pursuing your goal, you got to be smart, but there's no anything else I don't, I couldn't do anything else. I would be miserable. In fact, there was just like, to emphasize the point. There was a time. God, I think it was around early 2017 where I was getting so burnt out. I was just like, not super happy about life. My wife and everybody was like, dude, you need to take a break because I was working almost seven days a week like once my kids were born I took it from seven days a week to six days a week. But I was still working like insane amount of hours a week and I was starting to get sober dot and my I hadn't taken a vacation since my honeymoon which was like, you know, seven years ago and my brother was like, Alright, I'm forcing you're pulling the plug. You have to go on a vacation. I was like, fine. Okay, yes, I'll go on a vacation, went on a vacation for seven days and I came back feeling physically more refreshed but mentally I felt the exact same. I'm like What is going on? We just went on a week long, gorgeous beach vacation. I should be so like ready to get back to work. And then I started a new project and also Have that, like miserable feeling just went away. And what I realized was, it had been like over a year since I was working on something outside of just general weekly Film Riot, like, like a short film or just writing something. And I was like, Oh, that's what was making it. That's what it was. And which I, you know, we set this we have to do this thing. It's a sickness,

Alex Ferrari 40:22
it's a sick sickness,

Ryan Connolly 40:23
Just to have that like, clear evidence of like, Oh, yeah, I have to be doing this, or I'm legit, miserable, it doesn't make any sense. But you know, if if you have that sickness, it, it makes it a little easier, because you just it's not, you just can't help yourself. And then like you said, it is a bit of a drug to help people like to see it actually helped them is like, more rewarding than anything that we do. Like, if in the end, all I do is film, right, I never get my chance to make my feature. Because either a, I can't bring the finances together, myself or the studio, which is not going to happen, I'm going to do it no matter what's going to happen. But even if that were the case, the reward that Film Riot has been for me for us, would be totally worth it. Like there's been some meetings that I've had for people that, you know, are way more advanced than me. And they're like, Hey, I used to watch film, right? When I was in film school, and I'm like, shut up. Crazy. Yeah, yeah, I've had that too. It's insane. Isn't and it's a sad feeling. And then when they tell you, not only did they watch it, but then they say like, that really helped me, or this is what made me realize this is what I wanted to do. That's like, dude, nothing, nothing is more of a gift than hearing that. So that that's like a huge, you know, motivator. And, and I think, I think that feedback, not just being able to make stuff, like just being able to be creative on a weekly basis, and the education that has been brought, but that feedback, or, you know, the feedback of somebody telling us that it's entertainment for them that lets them get their mind off this or that. That stuff, I think is really what fuels the tank for us to do it over and over and over and over and over again, because it does get you know, it does get tiring. Just having that community. Yeah, that that definitely is, is the fuel for that is the main fuel in the tank, I think.

Alex Ferrari 42:19
Yeah, without question, man. And it can can you can we talk a little bit about the positive side of failing? Because Oh, yeah, because so a whole episode on it, I moved because so many people like I don't want to fail, I don't want to fail, I'm like, you have to, it's very hard to fail big and fell off. Because that's the only way you're gonna learn, you know, you don't win. If you when the, if you hit a home run, every single time you're up at bat, you will never understand when it when and where and when it doesn't happen, you won't be able to handle it because you won't have the resources inside of you. The coping mechanisms to deal with the failure, you should fail often all the time. So when those when those when those things happen that are like amazing, then you're like, Oh, this is nice, but something's gonna happen. I see it, let's go back to work.

Ryan Connolly 43:11
But and then it's also multifaceted. Like I said, I've said, since the beginning of Film Riot, my, my phrase has been like failures, the bridge to success. I don't know, if I stole that from somebody. That's my own thing. I actually don't know at this point. But I had been doing it long enough to know how important failure was. And especially now I understand even more that you two things, one, you can't appreciate what you have, unless it's been hard as hell to get it. If you eat the best $100 steak in the world every night for dinner, you know, it's not going to mean but if you just have shitty fast food all the time, and then you get to take a bite of that steak, then it's like, oh my god. So one, you're appreciating what you have. And it just makes you more well rounded person. All that failure is going to make you like specifically for me, for a director, all the failure that we've had has made me a better director, because it makes me empathize with my crew crew more, and let you lead them better with more empathy and you know, sensitivity. And then I don't know how you can be a well rounded, good storyteller that connects with an audience without experiencing that failure. But understanding of that failure is one, it's just the human experience. And it's gonna put everything in perspective for you. But to every single failure is the best education you've ever had. Like, I don't learn off of success when I show somebody a script, and they're like, this was fantastic. I'm like, cool. But what didn't work though, you know, the that all you say to me is this is fantastic. And there was nothing that didn't work for you. There's nothing I can process. There's nothing I can learn from. But if it comes back with this didn't work, this didn't work. This didn't work, even if it's not, this is why I think it didn't work that's not always needed. It's just like, Okay, this isn't landing for you. Why is that and being able to analyze those. So it's the, it's those failures, those those negative outcomes that allow you to You know, proceed get better advance as a human and a storyteller. And just a craftsman overall, I think.

Alex Ferrari 45:10
There was, there's a this young filmmaker, his name Spielberg, he never heard of him. Never heard of him. He did a few things early in the 70s and 80s. But exactly, not really into cinema, but almost take on that one. Close, I'm so close. No, um, a lot of people look at Spielberg and be like, oh, Spielberg is you know, he's the most successful film director of all time. He's made the most money, all this kind of stuff or close to it. And a lot of people don't realize it because, you know, he did Jaws, we did sugar that express which was a success for its for what it was that he did jaws which exploded. Then he did Close Encounters, which was a hit. Then he did the Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well. So he was like hitting home runs at a level. But then there was this little film that no one talks about called 1941. And everybody pretends just didn't have a just everyone pretends it was this huge, like big, kind of like, john Landis style comedy with john Belushi, and all this kind of kind of stuff. And it was it was fun. It was like a really bad arm. And he, I think, as I've heard him do interviews about it, he was just like, I didn't even know what to do. He was not prepared for that kind of failure. Like, you know, because he had just been rocketing up to the top. So when he fell, it took him a minute to recoup himself and then he did etc. And then and he's had ups and downs. But he's had ups and downs you know, you know, Empire, the sun, you know, the color purple that weren't these big monster hits that he wanted them to be. So he's been up and down constantly throughout his career. But it was very interesting. Even someone like him, I mean, all of them have had it. I mean, I think even like Cameron and Scorsese and Nolan has Nolan had a bomb. I don't know if you still believe. I don't think a bomb. He's pretty much been on a rock a rock meteoric Mira kit, he's, but he's like a mutant. He doesn't really. He's a robot. He's not a robot. I actually saw him on the I saw him on the backlot once in from a distance I was on the Warner Brothers backlight and I saw him walk you just like, No, no, I actually tried to absorb whatever, Musk. He was putting off the aura of Mr. Nolan. And I saw him walk. Like he was walking. But when he walked it was like a walking of purpose. Like he's just like, I don't have time for anything. I am working. He's a mutant. He's one of those like, those creatures that just keeps keeps going. It's a very unique, he is a genius. There's absolutely no absolutely you just show there's very few directors you show up just because it's them. You know, Tarantino makes a movie. You're gonna watch it no matter what it is. You know, Nolan Fincher. You know, they make something you're like, dude, we gotta watch this is this is happening, huh? My language? Come I can't I'm so sad. Am I not mine hunter no more. No more episodes, they canceled it. Like he had five seasons set up by Fincher is crazy. David's crazy is great. David is crazy. David is good. But he's also a sir. A certified genius. His whole family is prodigies. I don't know if you knew this or not. His. His entire families are prodigies, like in music and other areas. And I've known a few people who've worked with him,

Ryan Connolly 48:44
What did they eat?

Alex Ferrari 48:47
I don't know. But they are like a whole like he when he, they're like he's at a whole other. He's playing chess and the rest of us are playing marbles. Like it's not even checkers. It's a frickin marbles. Like he's at a different place. And when you when you meet, when you meet, I've had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to some of these, these people who are at that level. And it's always fascinating, just like it's a you're like, I would have loved to make Kubrick like I would have just loved to have that conversation just for five minutes, but the meaning of your life, like I mean, exactly, you know, I mean, who else could have Tom Cruise and Nicole Kim and the two biggest movie stars of its at that time, locked up for a year and a half doing a drama and just beating down Tom Cruise with 100 of the same damn thing. He's like, I don't really see I don't really see anything until like take 72 that's when we really start getting the engine rolling.

Ryan Connolly 49:50
Okay, yeah. Yeah, actually just I'll be in the trailer. Once you're on take 80 just call me I'll come out and we'll start shooting the movie.

Alex Ferrari 49:58
It's It's insane man. Now there is something we haven't spoken about at all in this episode, which we should probably talk about, there's that elephant in the room, which is called the the Corona, their cerveza sickness that is going on. And it is devastating not only the world, but since this is a film show, we're going to talk about how it's devastating our industry. And I'd love to hear your point of view where you think things are going how things are, are changing, and will change and will not go back to the way they were. There is a lot of stuff happening. This is a once in a generation. Once in a lifetime event, this has never happened in the history of the world. And the way it is happening now. And in our industry is never dealt with any industry hasn't dealt with this. But let alone our industry has never dealt with anything like this. I mean, I can't I can't fathom a summer without a blockbuster summer. I'd like I can't, I can't. Because I'm not going to the movies this summer. I don't care if Dr. Fauci shows up and says, We're good. We're good. We've got the vaccine Rue that Yeah, like, like he says, We're good. We've got the drugs to take care of. That's if you get it. It's just kind of like getting a sniffle. You're good. You're solid. Don't worry, everyone go back outside. If Dr. Fauci said that, which he won't, but if he would say that I still would not, it's gonna take me a while before I shake a hand again, or go into or go into a public place, let alone on a big TV, or an enclosed movie theater. So that's, that's the first question, man as far as how the business is, you know, the theatrical experience. You and I grew up on the theatrical experience, you know, you're a bit younger than me, but we both remember video stores. You know, and we both Remember, you know, I remember 1989. Batman, like it was yesterday. You know, like McDonald's cups. Oh, my God, all of that. Did I still, I still have the cards. I have it for Batman. I still have them somewhere in my account. That's I have all like in the card thing, all organized stuff with the rappers Yeah. But like, I remember that excitement of there wasn't like VHS is around, obviously in video stores around but that theatrical thing, which I don't see it as much anymore, maybe because I'm older. But even when Avengers showed up, which I mean, I obviously wanted to see Avengers in the theater. And game. There's so much competition for eyeballs. Now. There's so much more to watch. Yeah, but the theatrical experience is kind of a holdover from the past. And it should be a movement of the future. I think there'll always be at some sort of theatrical experience. But I don't, there always will be there always will be the IMAX experience. The the, it's I mean, AMC theaters, when you go in there, like those couch things that they got going on now. like they've had to take their game up. But what do you like, I just read the AMC is probably going to go bang. Yeah. Like, what? How do you how do you? How do you? How do you see this going? Yeah,

Ryan Connolly 53:06
I just have a lot of questions. You know, it's like, you know, is this something where you know, you're gonna have a repeat of like, 1918 1919? Where you saw a studio step into the theatrical system? Or? Who knows? I don't know. Um, I think for sure, you know, you're, it seems to me that lower end theaters are going to have a real hard time surviving this one. And I think theatrical experience will exist, because I think people want to get out of their house, obviously, you know, people are going stir crazy. And then just the experience of seeing a movie with them, there's just a whole different level, you can't pause it, you can't, there's a different level of reverence and like respect, and like that communal experience, I don't think will ever go away. You know, I think that'll always be there one way or another, but I definitely, it definitely seems like it's changing quite a bit. And I've talked to a few people that are, you know, what, no way, way more than I did, and then ended up consulting with a few companies, which obviously, I can't I can't say about but consulted with because they're looking at other avenues. Because of the lay of the land. Yeah. And the companies that I was talking to for that it was kind of blown my mind because it's like, Man, what does this mean if you're talking to because you know, they're talking to you guys like us, because we're in this space where the YouTube space, we're in the streaming space, we understand that market, the lower indie market, and so they're starting to turn, you know, their gaze in that direction of what could we do to add another leg in that area? Because this thing is sort of, and that's kind of like, Man, what does that mean? And I don't have an answer.

Alex Ferrari 54:43
Like, if they're talking to us, we're in trouble, right? Yeah.

Ryan Connolly 54:49
Exactly. So it's like I don't know what that means. You know, and and I don't have an answer for it. I just know that those thoughts that those that thought process and those questions are being asked, and that's Like, man, and pretty much everybody I talked to says the same thing like, not 100% sure we're kind of taking it one day at a time, and we'll see what happens. But everybody, you know, keep saying things are fundamentally going to be changed, but then no one's following up with what that change is. Exactly. And so I think no one really knows. You know, I, the optimist in me, and I just, you know, it's just what I think I think we're gonna get back to great stories, I think we're gonna get back to you great storytellers, telling those great stories, you know, entertainment, and the arts are so inter woven with our daily life. And so no, Horton says, just so I mean, that's that, but like, at what in from what platform will be the main you know, source like, you know, you see like trolls to came out today straight to streaming that was gonna be you know, that was gonna be a big moneymaker in theaters for sure. And, you know, for a second, I was reading that they were considering sending wonderwoman straight to streaming and then they might push it.

Alex Ferrari 55:55
They might though, they still might, because there's their mind, how long are you going to push this stuff? Like, everyone's been pushed everything, it's going to Christmas into the winter holiday. And then you're gonna have like, 100, big blockbusters for Christmas. Like, that's not gonna be? Well, not only that, but you know, there is a very good possibility that this thing comes back in the winter. Right, right. And there is a wave of it. There's another wave of it. So and even even if everything's okay, okay, how many people went to the theater? Yeah, like how many people are really going to go to the movie theater? Like, personally, my love hate relationship with movie theaters has happened since I was a teenager, where they've had I've always said they've had a combative relationship with their customer. They they charge for food, and popcorn and stuff. Like you're like you're in an airport. Like, we don't know what a coke cost in the real world. Like there's an in these inflated costs there. And then, for a long time, the experience wasn't particularly that great unless you spent money at a higher end theater. Like now like, AMC figured out that like we better we were putting the money in. So now the seats are good. The floors aren't sticky. The floors are sticky. If you remember that dollar theatres dude. Oh, they're so gross. They were nasty. They were selling if you ever clean this ever, I mean, it was just like layers of like soda pop on the floor. And oh, it was just Oh, oh, it's horrible back in.

Ryan Connolly 57:24
Back in the day when we used to leave our house and go places. Alamo Drafthouse was my thing. Like, that's where me and my wife went like once a week, we'd have a date night to Alamo Drafthouse. Yeah, because it also it also no phones, no talking, like when you

Alex Ferrari 57:37
I love those ads. I love, love, love

Ryan Connolly 57:40
If somebody picks up their phone in front of you, and they're on Facebook, and you're like, What the hell are you doing? Like, it's one thing if you're like a parent, you're like, just checking real quick, and it goes away. Alright, I have no problem with that. But like, you're literally scrolling Facebook, like everyone else paid to be here to row like, yeah, go outside.

Alex Ferrari 57:55
So I've always felt that they've had a combative relationship with their customer base. And now I feel that it's kind of biting them in the ass because now the second there's another opportunity or their second, there's something else. They're like, you know, what I really kind of don't want to go and now have an excuse not to go because I don't want to get sick. That's going to be a difficult thing mentally, to kind of break through the customer. Like the customer is gonna have to feel really comfortable to be in an enclosed space. And that goes for concerts. That goes for huge events. This is going to be it's going to hit so and film festivals like a south by you know, and all the everything's happening with that Kansas holding in there. But the you know, there that's Yeah, that's I don't see I can't see that happening.

Ryan Connolly 58:39
It's just so crazy and interesting to me because it all just is so unprecedented that there's really no like, because I mean, you can look all the way back to 1918 100 years ago like what is that really going to tell? You know what I mean? Like

Alex Ferrari 58:56
didn't even know what they had no idea what bacteria was, they didn't know that washing your hands was a thing.

Ryan Connolly 59:03
And there was no home entertainment that wasn't a thing now we have all these streaming services. We got Netflix, you know have you seen the trailer for that new Chris Hemsworth movie that's going straight to Netflix looks like $100 million blow

Alex Ferrari 59:14
I heard it Yeah. Who is it? Isn't that with the Russo brothers? Yeah, I didn't know that was going to that's going to the Netflix that's going to Netflix

Ryan Connolly 59:21
Going to Netflix and they produce it and I think Joe Russo maybe wrote it one of the Russo brothers read it maybe but it looks badass but it looks like this massive to it is this massive tentpole project and it's just going to, you know, it's a Scorsese film, what straighten it. So it's a different world. So that kind of throws you know, a wrench into the works to of trying to be, you know, trying to predict what might be the outcome of this situation. So it's like, it's just a lot of questions from me. The only thing I land on is, you know, we're gonna keep telling great stories. I don't know what the medium for delivery of those stories are going to be as far as like the main Like, well theaters start to take a much bigger backseat and be less of a thing. You know, for the first time ever, I would say maybe, but are they going to go away? I would say no, no way. But who knows who freaking knows this thing is so crazy.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
I mean, look, I remember when home video wasn't a thing I remember when I remember going to my first video store when I was in 84. It was in New York, and I went to my first video store when we rented Flashdance. We rented Flashdance and we watched it on the other top loaded, it was a top loaded VHS I remember I remember it was a tablet, a tank of a VHS and we watched it. And I remember walking into a video store. And I remember, like I worked in a video store when I was in high school. So I worked there for like four or five years. And I I remember that that what like home video wasn't a thing. Like no one ever thought that that was going to take over. No one ever thought that DVDs were going to do the thing. No one ever thought that streaming was going to be a thing. And now we're saying no one ever thought that movie theaters weren't going to be a thing. And if they aren't, and if you look at the current model of businesses, let's talk a little bit about money here. In the current business model, in order to justify a 200 plus million dollar tentpole, there has to be a theatrical revenue stream to justify it. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show that you can't make Avengers for Disney Plus, you might be able to get away with it now. Yeah, right now you can Oh, we can know that you could do it now, because they still only have 20 million subscribers. But when you hit mass, critical mass, in the US, let's say let's say 200 million people sign up for Disney plus. And that's it. Like you're not there's no more if nobody else is gonna sign up for it. Now you're spending 200 million to keep what you have not to make more. So how there's going to be a moment where that money has to drop. And so it makes sense to keep that revenue stream, you see what I'm saying? Where Yeah, me. And also before the $200 million movie was completely reliant on the US box office, which now it's completely reliant on the international box office, which now like when China shut down every once in a while, what what, what what happened? What happened? And then now Oh, Europe, just shut down. And then everything just shut down? So if those revenue streams, aren't there, I, is there a future for as many tent poles? As we're getting?

Ryan Connolly 1:02:45
Yeah, that's that is a good question. That is a very good question. I think, you know, the rest of this year is gonna, like at least present possible outcomes, you know, because I think we're gonna be really, like heading in a direction for the next few years? No, I don't think we're really going to land on the this is the outcome of this happening for another two to five years. But I think, you know, toward the end of this year, I think we'll finally have an indication like, we'll have a mile marker to, to sort of be like, okay, here's what this looks like. It's where where it can be predicted at that point. But, like, right now, at least for me, and I don't know. But I, you know, curious and hopeful and my fingers are crossed? Because, I mean, I certainly don't want theaters to go away.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:31
I don't either. I think they're loved that experience. Yeah, absolutely. But the one thing also, I feel that there is going to be some casualties in the, in the business meeting, our companies, companies or companies are going to go down and studios are going to be either go down or get acquired a big, big studios that we know of, and have grown up with, I mean, look, Fox just got bought, for God's sakes, you know, by Disney. So if Fox could get bought, you know, there's four or five other studios that have that were lower on the totem pole that could easily be purchased by Apple, Google, Facebook, you know, any of those big guys who have those guns, it's that the landscape is going to change in such a way that we can't, nobody really knows. Nobody knows what's gonna happen.

Ryan Connolly 1:04:16
I think it's most definitely going to accelerate the acceptance of and the draw to streaming. I mean, we're already headed there. But obviously that's just gonna accelerate like be the acceptance and adoption of it from some of the major studios and players I think are is going to happen far quicker than it was going to that but that's just kind of obvious. Because what other what other option is there? It's don't or there's this.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:43
Yeah, and I'm curious about this whole $20 you know, I call it premium t VOD, that they have like trolls came out today at 20 bucks. Yeah. You know, like, I don't I want to see numbers. I don't how many people are paying 20 bucks. I feel that's a fair number for a family

Ryan Connolly 1:04:57
Kind of but that's what they charge. Anyway, like It's usually about 1999 when a brand new movie comes it and so it's not even an insult,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:05
But to buy the who's buying who's buying movies nowadays? That's the other thing. Like, I know, I've seen TV numbers, and that but you come from a different generation though.

Ryan Connolly 1:05:12
Yeah, come from my mom. I buy it for the special features if I could rent the special features I totally what,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:18
But the point but yeah, but you but you're an anomaly. Like you're a very small market, like you're a film very true. You're a, you're a filmmaker. And you also come from a generation where we were used to purchasing these things. Because that's what we that's the only way. So we had physical media libraries and DVDs and things like that. But there's a generation that expects all this for free, like or expects it as part of their subscription model, like

Ryan Connolly 1:05:41
Or just feels free because their parents pay for this thing, and they never have that experience of it.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:46
Yeah. So you know, I I'm really curious to see also how much longer I'm now I'm really curious,

Ryan Connolly 1:05:53
is how much is it that to rent like, what's what does it cost to rent for a brand new,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:57
like, if you were gonna rent? No, no, no, it's, it's 20 bucks, period. It's 20 bucks

Ryan Connolly 1:06:02
To rent it?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:03
Yeah, it's not you're not buying if it's in a box, it's renting it for 20 bucks, because it's premium. It's like going to the theater. Gotcha. Okay, so it's not available? That makes more sense. Yeah, it's not. So you're paying a rental. Now, if you're gonna go out to the theater, and you want to first run a movie, and you have a couple and you've got kids, that's an 80 $90. If you get popcorn and stuff, it's 8090 bucks, 100 bucks to go out to the movies. And if you got a full family, or you're going out with Francis, it could easily, you know, go past three figures. So $20 for home in you have a nice system at home. It's not outrageous. But I'm used to paying something else in this environment. And I the psychology of that.

Ryan Connolly 1:06:47
What you're saying is, is because also a ticket costs me let's say 15 bucks. Right? Right. But then I'm looking at him like, this is $20 kids movie, are you kidding me? When really, you know, like you said, in actuality, I'm buying my ticket, my wife's kit kit, my kids ticket, then we're getting popcorn. And it inflates to like this $80 fair wear but it's like $20 for a cartoon just to rent it. That's because of the psychology of like, exactly what you said in this space.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:15
It's a very, so I'm really curious on what those numbers are going to be like, because, you know, they haven't released a bunch of them already. And some of them, they have to have no other way to make any money with

Ryan Connolly 1:07:29
The numbers because they don't really they the streaming numbers are always a lot pretty confusing. They're not as cutting drop box.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:35
Right? And they and this is not a part. This is not a thing like you know, premium t VOD number this week, box off. Yeah. So I'm curious to see what those numbers really are. And if they're making, you know, I know they're not making 20 I know trolls is not gonna make $20 million $30 million. I just don't. I just don't see that. And this never

Ryan Connolly 1:07:57
looked much into streaming numbers. There's there somewhere that that posts those numbers like yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:03
there there isn't there, isn't there? There. I have some back end friends who work at some of these places that showed me numbers. But I would see some of these numbers. I would see some of these numbers and I'd be like, Oh, so that tentpole movie made 50 grand this week. Oh, oh, okay. You know, like, like in TiVo like, Oh, Oh, right. I mean, I personally think t VOD is dying a slow miserable death because nobody want no one's renting. It's very difficult to rent or purchase. Most people are waiting for Netflix waiting for the part of their subscription model. It's just like, they're like, there's just so much good stuff to watch. I don't need to go out unless it's like if it's Avengers, like I paid 20 bucks to see Avengers. I would rather see it in the theater, but I would pay 20 bucks for the next Marvel movie. You know, I probably like I'd probably, you know, I'll probably pay 20 bucks to blackwidow my page 20 bucks for Wonder Woman you know these big, you know, extravaganza kind of films, spectacle films. I might do that. And that's a big might do that. But I mean onward the Pixar movie. It was one week and T premium t VOD. A weekend rentals. like normal and then it's in freakin Disney plus, like two weeks later, I was like, yo, what's going on? What's going on? Like, explain? I don't understand. So the business it's like we are in an upside down Bizarro world right now. I don't think that they I've been saying this for a while that the the the money that's being spent in streaming is a bubble. Like you can't keep that. Spending just buying catalogs buying libraries. 100 billion dollar $100 million for this friend's thing and another 150 for all the South parks and and all this stuff. And they're just buying content buying content cuz it's kind of like a space race, if you will, a streaming race or streaming wars as they call it streaming wars, right? Yeah. To try to bring every By the end, but I think a lot of that is based on future projections of growth. But if those future projections of growth are not there, or slowed because of what we're doing, do you know how much Netflix is? So in the whole Netflix is billions in the hole. And they're leveraged to the hilt, because they're just trying to grab market share. They're trying to grab market share, trying to grab market share. And I don't know, I don't know where it's gonna go, dude. I mean, it's, it's, it's a weird word.

Ryan Connolly 1:10:31
Yeah, yeah. Same here, man. I have no like solid predictions. I just have, you know, optimal towards a story. And that's about it. And then it's like, well, I guess we'll see, you know? Yeah, it's crazy. Have you?

Alex Ferrari 1:10:47
Have you seen any noticeable jumps in your, in your numbers, from traffic and stuff? Since the corona thing, like more people find our

Ryan Connolly 1:10:56
Yeah, our numbers have gone up quite a bit. However, our other show hasn't. Under under my company trying films, we also have another show called variant which is about comic books. But that has pretty much, you know, stayed even keel. And I've noticed other channels didn't, I wasn't really seeing a boost there either. So it's probably more along the lines of the content we're putting out that people were just attaching to because, you know, we're doing the contest of like, we're all stuck at home. Let's, let's talk about that. So it seems to be people are just, you know, responding to that more, maybe I don't, I don't really know, I guess we'll just have to wait and see in the months ahead. As we do different content, if it goes back to normal, or if it will see because it also it all kind of hit at the same time. Like there's been a little bit of a slowdown in film, right as some behind the scenes stuff was worked on. So that's been a little more slow goings. And just as of a few weeks ago, we started wrapping back up and this hit so it I don't really know which thing is doing that, because there's three things happening at once. And I'm, maybe it's all of the above, that's, you know, that's doing that. So I can't really tell because everything else other than that seems to be no difference.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
So, sure, so since you are you are a YouTube OG, I have to ask you the question. If you were going to start a YouTube channel today, is it a viable way to make a living?

Ryan Connolly 1:12:25
I mean, I think, you know, I think it's as viable now as it was then like, it's just a stupid idea. You know, it's just like getting into the industry, it's the same thing, you know, if 100 people do it, maybe one of them might be able to be fine, some, you know, success, success, and and, you know, maybe one out of 100,000 might find actual solid success, and maybe one out of a million might find longevity in that success, you know, and that seems very, you know, to be the case across all sorts of media, this kind and it's just and I mean, Film Riot, at first I started as a show called making the film, which in an episode, we put up one of those original episodes, it was unbelievably bad. But I did that for free. Because YouTube didn't make money. There was no monetizing at the time, there was no money to be made. So that came from sponsors, but how am I going to get sponsors and I didn't even know that was a thing yet. So I had no aspirations of money out of the thing to start with, I was just doing it for the love of it. And then it got picked up by revision three, and then they blew my mind with Oh, you can put sponsors on this. And you can actually make this a job. And I was like, wait, I'm sorry, this can make money. And then that happened. And it didn't make me any money for I had a full time job for over I think it was over a year before I was able to finally quit my full time job and focus on this. And then even that it was several years before I could pay anyone else other than myself, really. So it was me doing everything by myself. And then finally I was able to it was bit by bit it took years that turn it into a thing. It wasn't like, you know, you have people who, you know, go on and hit for doing this or that, but that that candle ends up burning out, you know, it's the ones that put in that it took a long time to build and understand. And it's kind of like you You were saying earlier, the maturity that comes with it, I think is what leads to longevity. Because there, you know, it's been really hard. And then sometimes reviews are really good. And sometimes they're not. Sometimes you're getting a great rate from sponsors. And sometimes they're like, Listen, dude, you're getting 30,000 an episode, we cannot pay you that and you're like, great. So then you have to have multiple legs. It can't just be this one thing is one basket, you know, you got to have multiple shows in a store and you're also doing stuff work on the side that no one will ever hear about, but it helps pay the bills. They're versatile. They're diversifying your revenue streams. Exactly. diversification is everything. My dad always posed it to me as like, which is probably you know, he probably got it from somewhere but he's like if you're gonna sit on the stool, you Do you need four legs right now? Like, yeah, that's the like, take off one of those legs now sit on the stool. How comfortable is it? I'm like, Oh, he's like, now take off two legs now How you doing? Oh, now have one leg on that stool? Are you able to sit on that stool? Nope. He's like, there you go. I like and I own a company. And

Alex Ferrari 1:15:16
I'm gonna steal that I'm gonna steal that. That's so good. So good.

Ryan Connolly 1:15:20
And that's what he taught me that since you know, I was young, because he owned a company. And so he really understood what that meant. So he's been quite quite a mentor to me as far as you know, building a company and, and that was I had that person to talk to to help. But if it wasn't for that, thinking, if it wasn't for my dad, putting that four legs on the stool mindset in my head, I don't think film right would be around today, because there's no way I would have sustained it. In fact, we just went through a period of time where we had several months without a single sponsor, we were doing Film Riot, for free. It was everything else that was helping us sustain us through that time, as we move out of one thing and into another. And it had to have that so we could move into a new, you know, path. But you know, the, it's difficult. So I guess the point I'm making is, I don't think it's viable for anyone on its own. If you're gonna do this, it needs to be multifaceted, there needs to be multiple things, and you need to be regardless if it was 2009. Or right now, you need to be ready, just like anything else in this industry, which is basically been our entire talk, you need to be ready to plant your feet in the ground and endure this thing for years and years and years and years. Not case views. We've never chased views. We do like some like flash speed effect every now and again, because we want to because it'll be fun, not because we know it's gonna get a ton of views. And that's been one of the reasons why, you know, our show has probably built slower than it could have the views, you know, are up and down a little more than that. But for me, it's if we're chasing views, I just can't do that. I wouldn't be able to keep doing this. I don't care. You know, I want to talk about what is the psychology between why I put together this action scene not just Hey, check out this cool stuff. But let's talk about the psychology but let's talk about the intention of what's going on. You know that what is it you know, what does it mean with what is happening with the camera you know, that stuff? That stuff doesn't always get the most views but you know, it's the stuff that really matters to me so we balance it out. So it's you know, I think it's that doing something that you have to do just like anything else if you're doing YouTube to make money from it, but it ain't gonna last and and YouTube revenue just frickin forget it unless you're making millions of views every single episode you're not making enough money to sustain it's just not a thing. It's like the YouTube revenue we don't even hardly pay attention to it. It's all that's all like sponsor base or however else you could parlay that into something. So yeah, man, it's just super hard. I think anything in the entertainment industry comes back to that same thing I said before with that Twitter question of the only question you have to ask yourself is can you do something else? If you can? Don't do this? Because it is friggin hard.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:06
And everything you just said and obviously film a shampoo prank videos. That's obviously how

Ryan Connolly 1:18:12
Well obviously shampoo pranks and be a horrible person and blogs and you're

Alex Ferrari 1:18:21
How about if you do a shampoo prank video on a cat while being a douche? A billion YouTube channel now I'm going to ask you a few questions I asked all of my guests sir. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today? Besides the shampoo prank cats and being a douche? Okay, besides the shampoo douchebag cat prank? Cats the douchebag and do i think i think we should do a collab honestly, we should do a collab and really do that video.

Ryan Connolly 1:19:00
I think it see what douchebag but I think it's just kind of what we've been talking about is you just need to do it. Everything is for me, it's been entirely about building experience in my entire career has entirely been about building. I mean, even you know, recently, excitingly I'm able to which we've been open and honest about it on the Film Riot channel and will something come of it I don't know. But I've been able to talk to you know, studios and stuff and we're starting to do that thing and being able to have these conversations and pitch the way that I've been able to pitch has been a result of the experience that I've gained from Film Riot and being come becoming comfortable in my voice as a filmmaker and again, that's just all experience based being able to direct their comes knocking like I did or ballistic like I did was purely based off the experience that came before it with each one, learning from it and learning how to you know, not diving into the deep end right away but dipping my toe into the the shallow end of the pool and then getting in Then moving Little by little, you know, starting to work with a dp, I used to do it myself. Now I worked with a dp. Okay, I know what that is. And he taught me all these things. Okay, great. Now we bring in a sound team, and they're teaching me what that is. Okay, great. And now I'm bringing in makeup and wardrobe. And they're teaching me Okay, great. And then the stunt team, and then more of a visual effects team. And then a full post pipeline, and my editors really teaching you how this pipeline works. Okay, great, you know, little by little crafting that experience over the course of it's been, you know, 10 years publicly, but even more so after that. Before that. And then even before getting to those collaborators, all the time that I put in doing it myself, and spending, what could take two hours with a crew is my entire day of shooting, you know, when I shot my short film, tell, which we actually shot in 2008, before film right ever existed. And then we released in 2012. But we made it seem like we were shooting it now. Because, you know, obviously, it would be a lot more fun to feel involved in the moment. But in 2008, I didn't know anybody in film, the only person that knew anything that was happening was my roommate, who's also my cousin who went to full sail with me. So we're the only two people there that know anything about film, my 13 year old sister was the boom operator. And the actors were cool with it, which was amazing, you know, tons of DIY gear, it's me operating a crane as the director, dp sound guy, you know. So it's, and that took, you know, every weekend for that, I remember how it ended up being like a 30 minute short film. And, man, I don't know how many days it actually was, I don't think we put all the days to get we combined days to like, make it faster on the show and not be so boring. But it was more days, just weekend after weekend after weekend after week, because we all had full time jobs. And I put it all on a credit card, which I don't suggest you do, obviously, that's stupid. But you know, I did what I had to do. And so I think that that's it, like getting out of your head that this is an easy road, it is not, it is a very bumpy path. And it is a very long road that might lead to a dead end, it might lead to a dead end, that's just fact, this path that I'm on, it might be a dead end, but I'm going to stay on it until I don't have a choice, you know, and understanding those things, I think is really important. Because they're just hard truths, you know, and you might be a thing where you end up being a filmmaker that you're making film to because you're doing it yourself, no one ever opened the gate to you, you know, that's a possibility. You know, that's, that's more of a likelihood than not, which is discouraging. But if you're doing it for that end goal, I don't know how far you're gonna get anyway, it has to be that sickness, it has to be the passion and love for telling a story and connecting with an audience through that story. If you have that, then that's all that matters, you know, so that would be my, my main bit of advice is Do it, do it again, do it some more and just keep going

Alex Ferrari 1:22:56
And, and enjoy the enjoy the path. Because if that path does lead to it, and then you and your only hope was the end goal, and you hated the path you walked, you're going to be you're going to be the I always say you're going to be you become that angry, bitter filmmaker. And I always anytime I do a talk or something, I go everybody here, we all know an angry and bitter filmmaker. And if you don't know the better filmmaker, you are the angry and bitter filmmaker that everybody else knows. You're the dude that if you don't know them, that means it's you.

Ryan Connolly 1:23:30
That is a that's actually a great way to distill it of no matter what even if you make it because I know we both know filmmakers who are currently doing it. And it is not the end result. That's the reward. It's the journey that's the reward that Olds hold saying and even in the short film realm, you know, I've been lucky enough to make a short film and I have an audience to put that short film out and you know, I think ballistic is over a million views now so but that's not the reward you know, making it there was a reward and then the journey of the audience connection to it is the reward you know, and then if that's on thing well then now I'm on to making the next one and that you know, that path is the reward so it's like you said you got to be happy with the path because the end result may never be a reward.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life Oh, man, that is a tough one because I'm I'm flawless Obviously, I'm polishing my Oscar as we speak.

Ryan Connolly 1:24:28
Yeah. God, there's so I feel like every other day I'm learning something that I'm like, God, I'm such an idiot. You know? I think balance Yeah, that would absolutely be which is a mixture of, you know, career and life. And to my wife's credit, she is you know, the most patient, angelic saint like human being I've ever met in my life. And I think that's what all of our if we're all still with someone, that's what they are. She She gently helped me arrive to a place of balance. Because you know, I just burning the candle on both ends the entire time. You know, before kids were born seven days a week, minimum 15 hours a day minimum. So my average was 1518 hours a day and then I'd roll into bed roll out of bed and go right back to it. That's just like legitimately what was going on. And often, especially the first year of Film Riot, I've talked about it, I call it the dark days, I went two days without sleeping every week without fail because I had that full time job. And on Wednesday night, I would have to deliver the episodes. So I would stay up all night, finishing the episode, I would hit upload pants on and go right to work, I kept the pillow at work because of that. So you know, during lunch, I would try to take a nap I that's when I discovered Newton naps where you keep a spoon in your hand and you like lay on the thing. And then once you doze off, you release a spoon, it hits the tile and it wakes you up. And that was like these little micro naps and actually helped me out a little bit. And it got even worse during like holidays because then Alienware would ramp up with contents on producing way more. So I'm already working overtime and Alienware. Plus, there was still this thing. And, you know, that was kind of, you know, what choice do I have situation, but then that way of living stuck. And that's how I worked. And it took a while, but there was a, it finally landed on. If I stopped work at this time, the world's not gonna fall apart, everything's not gonna first. It'll be here tomorrow. And it was really the birth of my first kid, my daughter that clicked like, I am not missing this. And I kind of I just regret five years of being married and wasting so much time that we could have been doing more fun stuff. And she was just being patient, waiting for me to figure it out, you know. But even with my kid, she she had a sit down talk with me and, and it's I credit my wife entirely. And she just had a heart to heart of being like, I'll follow you, wherever you go. It wasn't an ultimatum. But she's like, I am terrified that in 20 years, you're going to look back and regret all the time. And I've said it on film, right? Ever since I quoted on film, right ever since at 80 I will not look back and regret the movies I didn't make I'll look back and regret the time I missed with my family. And a man that's that's the lesson that has been learned. And I'm still trying my best I've been doing better. You know, sometimes in this industry, you know, it just gets hard. Right now is one of those times finding balance. So it has its ups and downs. But for the most part, I've found a decent balance. And I've been trying to be there more because I don't know who said it. But I so far, I think it's the truest thing I've ever heard is, you know, just being there is 90% of the way toward being a good parent, you know? So that's I've been really focusing on making sure I'm there and not like this ghost of a memory to my kids like that. That would be the dagger to the heart for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:15
Very great answer to that question, sir. And quickly three of your favorite films of all time that will be on your tombstone go.

Ryan Connolly 1:28:23
Jurassic Park. Okay, Alien. God, I have a bunch of Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible? Can I add,Can I four?

Alex Ferrari 1:28:32
How about that Jaw's sitting behind you?

Ryan Connolly 1:28:35
Oh, jaws is up there. Basically any film from hit Oh, rope, rear window. Dial M for Murder psycho. You truly don't understand your film.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:45
You truly don't understand the topic of three.

Ryan Connolly 1:28:48
This hurts me. I would say like, everybody knows who watches the show. Everybody knows my, my sick love for Jurassic Park. And it's just because Jurassic Park like changed my world. I was already making like stuff for my family. But when I saw it as like bark, I was like, 11. And it was an experience. Like I watch movies like that. Yeah. I mean, it really was experience that no one had. But you know, I love to watch movies of that. Yeah, at 11. And so I felt so unsafe in this safe place. So after that, I became obsessed with this Spielberg dude, like, Who's Spielberg? And what's a director because that's what I want to do. Like, and once I figured that out, it was just like, so that's my like, I mean, plus, it's just an incredible film. But that's, you know, that's my massive admiration for that film is that's what made me realize what I specifically wanted to do like what I've been already pursuing and not knowing and to that experience that I felt as an audience member as has been something that I've been chasing ever since. Now, where can people find you in the work you do, sir? You can just go to a Film Riot, calm and pretty much everything's there. Of course, we're on YouTube as well at YouTube. comport slash Film Riot but film right comm has pretty much everything, including the podcasts we do and page to connect with any of us our social media all that.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:09
Man It has been a pleasure talking to you, Ryan for the second time. We just nailed out to full blown podcasts. Thank you, Kyla, thank you, quarantine. Thank you so much for the show. But for all the good work you've done community for the last over a decade of work and all those sleepless hours that you put into, into the work you do with fullbright. Man I truly appreciate and hustle definitely recognize this hustle. So I appreciate everything that you do. And thank you for being on the show, brother.

Ryan Connolly 1:30:46
Thanks. I appreciate that. Thanks so much. And thanks for having me. This is a blast.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:50
I want to thank Ryan for being on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the indie film hustle tribe today, brother I I am a fan Ryan, I am grateful for what you do for the filmmaking community at large and have been doing it you are an OG in this space. So thank you again for not only being on the show, but for everything you do, man. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including checking out some film rights awesome content, head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustlecom/400. And guys, I wanted to let you know that the beta version of my new epic course on film distribution called film distribution confidential, or predatory film distributors do not want you to know is in beta launch right now. So I have 100 seats, actually less than 100 seats now available for anyone who wants to jump in early at a massive discount. And you get to watch me build the course and help me build the course as I start uploading new lessons every week. And everyone who's inside so far is loving the course, really giving me some great feedback and helping me build out the most comprehensive course on film distribution for today's world that exists on the planet. So if you want to check that out, head over to indie film hustle comm forward slash let me in. Thank you again, for listening guys. I am again humbled that we have gotten to this, this level in this podcast of Episode Number 400. I continue I plan to continue going I don't see any time in the near future where I will stop doing these. If anything, I'm adding more and more on the pot on podcast on my podcast plate if you will, as you guys know the new podcast filmmaking motivation, which has been very well received when you get your weekly motivation to keep going down this path as insane as it might be sometimes. And we of course launched the ifH Podcast Network, which is going to be housing some of the best filmmaking, podcast and screenwriting podcast around as I personally will be curating new shows as they come in. We are adding new shows all the time. So if you want to check out what we have, and if you want to discover some new podcasts if you don't have enough to listen to with me, you can head over to eye f h podcast network.com. I appreciate you and I thank you guys so much for giving me the privilege of doing this for you every day. Thank you again. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there. And I'll talk to you soon.

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The Shining: Breaking Down Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpiece

The Shining is the legendary 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson as the protagonist of a psychological horror story. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it’s touted to be one of the top 10 all-time scariest horror shows. The original story was written by Steven King who published a novel with the same title in 1997.

Director Stanley Kubrick was searching for a new movie after mediocre audience responses to his latest film before that, Barry Lyndon, which in fact received a number of critical acclaims. The Shining storyline focuses on Jack Torrance as he descends into madness, brought on partly by exposure to supernatural elements. It takes place in the hotel that he, his wife, and his son are caretakers for while it is closed for winter. Isolated from people and intending to write a novel with his time, Jack and his son Danny reveal an apparently shared trait of being able to “shine” or see ghosts from the past and potential future.

It’s revealed through backstory with Jack’s wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, that Jack once abused their son due to a drinking problem. Viewers discover the hotel was built on a Native American burial ground and later the hotel manager advises that a previous caretaker killed his family due to cabin fever. Jack’s son has a premonition about the hotel, seeing a cascade of blood. Scatman Crothers playing the hotel chef, Dick Hallorann shares a psychic moment with Danny and we hear the term “The Shining” for the first time, describing psychic ability.

After this setup, the family maintains the status quo for a month as Jack attempts to write, without much success. During a heavy snowfall, the phone lines go out and Danny has more frightening visions. Jack has his own premonition telling his wife, when she wakes him from a nightmare, that he had seen images of killing her and their son. Danny visits an off-limits room numbered 237 and turns up later with a bruise, causing Wendy to presume Jack hurt him again.

At this point, Jack begins to see and communicate with ghosts from the hotel past, sharing drinks in the ballroom. When Wendy discusses Danny’s bruise she tells Jack that Danny says a woman in 237 did it. Jack visits the room and can see the ghost but doesn’t share this with his family. Danny has more visions and slips into a trance crying out the word, famous to movie buffs, “REDRUM.”

As the climax draws near, Wendy finds Jack’s typewritten manuscript with nothing on it but a repeating phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Now in a panic, she begs Jack for them all to leave but he threatens her. She knocks him out with a bat and locks him in a cupboard to search for a way out for herself and Danny. But Jack has disabled the radio and snowcat tractor, the only way to drive out in the snow.

As she searches through the main house, Wendy discovers that Danny has written redrum on the door. Closing it, she turns to see it reflected properly in the mirror and reads, “murder.” Jack escapes with the help of one of the ghosts and pursues Wendy who is able to save Danny by shoving him through a window to the outside but has to face Jack as he hacks through another locked door with an ax. She gets the upper hand for the moment and runs through the hotel, finding the ghosts and visions that Danny had seen.

Meanwhile, Halloran who has psychic gifts of his own has returned from his vacation, worried about what is happening at the hotel and heads there. When he arrives, he meets a similar fate and dies at Jack’s hands. Jack pursues Danny into a garden maze but the son lays down false tracks and hides successfully. Danny meets up with Wendy and they flee in Halloran’s vehicle while Jack freezes to death in a snow mound. The final scene shows Jack as a new member of the ghostly group at the hotel, as seen in a hotel photo of party goers from 1921, where he now stands smiling.

Although the story as told throughout the film is sometimes considered a masterpiece inspiring generations of horror filmmakers, it’s purported to have been a difficult shoot and production. Kubrick was fanatical about his method and pushing the actors to their limits. Shelley Duvall became sick from the stress she was under as Kubrick apparently pushed her in scenes far too often. Jack Nicholson purportedly gave up memorizing script revisions because they changed so frequently. You can see first hand what I’m talking about in the behind the scenes video below.

A number of writers agree, though, that Kubrick created something new in film for the genre due to it’s planned ambiguity. It’s never clearly stated that the hotel is haunted but only that Jack and Danny both can potentially see ghosts. Or is it that they share the same delusions? Additionally, there are long periods of silence where the audience watches Jack brood which serves to heighten the tension for watchers, where normally those periods can create irritation to an audience. But in The Shining, it sends a message to the audience that an evil is brewing in Jack’s mind as he sits and thinks.

These long moments of quiet menace serve as a perfect set up for the startling moment when Danny goes in search of his toy at night and come across Jack sitting up in bed. Again there is silence until Danny asks him what has been hinted as being on his mind already, “You’d never do anything to hurt Mom and me, would ya, Dad?” It’s a perfect foreshadowing but also serves the ambiguity. Did Danny see the future, have a hint of his father’s madness, or did he give Jack the very idea?

With the fact that Jack turned on his wife and son so readily and had a history of abuse, although we don’t know in what context he hurt his son, except that he was drunk, the movie can also be a reflection on domestic violence. It’s a biopic of a small nuclear family and being isolated for such a length of time, pressures actually do not serve to bring them close.

Kubrick is considered a genius director as far as versatility and vision. He is able to express feelings of isolation, enormity, and claustrophobia all in one in this film. The imagery is disturbing and perfectly timed for audience psychological stress set off by a score that creates further tension.

The fact that much of the ghost story is implied without ever being confirmed actually fuels the audience’s anxiety to know the truth and follow the tension to the climax. The scenes of actual horror and shock are so overdone with rivers of blood and dead bodies that it could be trite in anyone else’s hands. Here it serves to heighten the fear, dropping flashes of the gore and decay of physical fear along with Jack’s psychological menace.Although it did well enough at the box office, like many films that look to create or influence genres, it wasn’t until years later that people began to consider it a critical hit. When it came out, reviews were not glowing and it’s understandable since they pinpoint the very things that were questionable about the horror theme. There were multiple quiet moments, the gore was overdone and the characters didn’t have as much development as most people thought. But in retrospect, it’s the totality of those elements against the theme of psychological and psychic stress combined that give the movie its punch. Picking apart scenes may reveal the same criticisms that critics had at the time but the overall work has helped to define a genre.

Since the movie was filmed in 1980 and moviegoers and filmmakers alike have matured with the greater abilities of film to relay stories, it’s natural to look again at something and change your mind about its value. As time has passed, The Shining continues to be a model of horror film-making, becoming a specimen of new genre work and a pop culture icon.

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IFH 240: How to Work the Film & Television Markets with Heather Hale

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Today’s guest is Heather Hale, author of How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators. Heather Hale is a film and television director, screenwriter and producer with over 50 hours of credits. She is currently under contract to direct an indie romantic comedy.

She directed, produced and co-wrote the million-dollar feature Absolute Killers (2011) which was marketed by distributors at Le Marche du Film and the American Film Market. She wrote the $5.5 million dollars Lifetime Original Movie The Courage to Love (2000) which starred Vanessa Williams, Stacy Keach, Gil Bellows and Diahann Carroll.

Heather’s new book How to Work the Film & TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators was just published this summer by Focal Press/Routledge while her Story$elling: How to Develop, Market and Pitch Film & TV Projects will be published in 2018 by Michael Weise Productions.

For over two decades, Heather has served as an international keynote speaker, teacher, moderator, panelist and custom workshop facilitator for film and TV markets, festivals, writers workshops, colleges and universities and Chambers of Commerce around the globe, including creative adventure weeklong retreats such as StoryTellers on WalkAbout.

Enjoy my conversation with Heather Hale.

Alex Ferrari 0:34
I'd like to welcome to the show. Heather Hale, thank you so much for being on the show, Heather.

Heather Hale 2:50
It's my honor. Thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 2:52
So before we get into it, I really want to know how did you get into this crazy business?

Heather Hale 2:58
Oh, gosh, people always ask your breaking story. And you probably know, well is anyone we all have like five times do we have to break back in and you know, you can never rest on your laurels. And so I don't even know which one you know

Alex Ferrari 3:12
The first one. Let's just start with the very beginning.

Heather Hale 3:14
I don't even know what the first one is. I will say the who knows. But what most people look at as my break in was the courage to love which was a lifetime original movie. And the speed version to that was my aunt passed away. So this is a top total Hollywood Story. So with, you know, dog groomers and hairdressers. My aunt passed away she and my parents became executives of her trust and that we became we had to handle a townhouse in Pasadena. And foolishly I didn't grab it because you know, I wanted to live in LA not Pasadena. And selfishly, I'm such an idiot. I such

Alex Ferrari 3:56
I would have taken that bran

Heather Hale 3:58
I'm an idiot. I appreciate that now gorgeous garden jacuzzi. Like, I'm an idiot. Okay, we've established I'm an idiot. So anyway, that we became executives or trust, and my parents couldn't afford to debt service that and their own mortgage and all that. So we had to rent it out and we had to rent it out ASAP. And so we're literally like, packing up the garage of a woman who never moved in 40 some odd years, while we're grieving while we're dealing with the wake and all of that, while there's a moving truck with the other people moving in like it was that crazy. So as I'm moving banker's boxes out, and the new renters are moving banker's boxes in. They one of the wife says, hey, I've got a great idea for it. That would make a terrific movie. I understand you're a screenwriter. And how many times have we all heard that like every Hey, I have an idea. You do all the work. And you use all your relationships and resources and we'll split the profits and probably I'll sue you for stealing it. Like it's just never out. But I sat her down and I said, Okay, like, I don't want to do this, but let's do it. Because I'm an idiot. We've established Yes. And we literally sat there with a plate of brownies and ice tea, and I handed her a legal pad of paper and a pen. And I said, Let's write a deal memo. And I want it in your handwriting. So we can't say you didn't know what this was. And we wrote out this deal memo. And I was really careful. She claimed that her son was Vanessa Williams music producer. And how many times have we heard people say, I couldn't get it to so and so I can do this. Yeah, so I had her put, you know, my name is XYZ, Heather is XYZ. My son is Vanessa Williams music producer, and she put his name in there. And I will get this script to this. Vanessa Williams, like, that's that that piece was what made me do it. And so then I told her, I would mentor her and help her and support her and she wanted to write it. And I was just going to help her as a friend from the sidelines. And so over the next three months, I read and read on the research junkie, you know, most writers are voracious readers. So I knew everything about New Orleans in the 1830s. And this woman is amazing. The first African American nun ordained by the Catholic Church is really powerful story. And over the three months, she wrote back and faxed me This tells you how All right, me. That's me, like five pages describing a room. And that's as much as she had done in three months. And she begged me, Heather, can you please write this? And I said, Okay. And so I wrote this outline. And we got the outline to Vanessa Williams. She kept her word, she was good to her word. And then Vanessa Williams got it to Emily. Gosh, Gershon, at the William Morris at the time. And Emily called me we had sent her a five page outline, which bear in mind was really well researched, it was historically accurate adaptation was a powerful story. And we sent it to her and my associate, in her zeal and enthusiasm. I don't want to say lied, but eagerly told her wait till you read the script. It's fantastic. course, there was no script, of course, right. It's just an outline, just a five page treatment of what the beat outline was really well written in prose, really, really engaging of what we were going to do. Sure. And so I get a call from Emily Gerson Sainz, who says, I understand the script. No, I didn't get a call. I was told. Emily wants to see the script. She and Vanessa are going to be at the Cannes Film Festival in 10 days. So could you send it to him?

Alex Ferrari 7:55
Sure.

Heather Hale 7:56
And there, it was a god moment. And I literally picked up the phone before I had time to think and quit my job. Wow. And I told my boyfriend, I'm not leaving this computer. Until I have that script. Done. Like, this is my break. It was scary as all get out. And I called Emily, which was very terrifying. Like one of the first people I've ever called, was like the head of William Morris, who's waiting for a script that's not written from me. And I gently said, so how firm The date is that deadline? She goes, she goes, Oh, bless her heart. bless her heart. Oh, honey, it's not from not for me at all. I I love the project, the NASA loves the project. And Vanessa and I are going to be in Cannes at the same time, loving the project. So I'm not sure when that will occur again, when the two of us will be together interested in your project. At that moment, we will be and so I went, Okay, thanks. I got the phone. And then I realized I didn't have 10 days I had nine because I had FedEx it. So I literally wrote and wrote and wrote and then I would hit print fall asleep. My boyfriend would read I had girlfriends, people writers group. So I would like email them the 12 pages I'd written I would email them the 17 pages I'd written I, I would sleep and then I would wake up and I get back at it. And I would put in people's notes, fix all the typos keep cranking so I had literally copied the treatment, threw it into final draft first script I'd ever written and just went for it. And it got set up. And it was a five and a half million dollar feature on lifetime and 2000 and then you know, I had to break it all over again. But let's call that my break.

Alex Ferrari 9:51
That's that was the most passive aggressive way of saying the deadline is the deadline. Right? But but good for her because It was true no and you know what and you know what? Yeah but that description that for people listening that that description of how she she spoke to you eautiful is exactly how people in LA talk in those positions, though then general everyday No. Generally never say no. They're generally never like they are there are the you know the art golds of the world. There are but but a lot of them will do this kind of passive aggressive. Yeah. And it's, it's honestly an art form.

Heather Hale 10:34
It's an art. It's like on my vision board to be unflappable. And if you ever if you've listened to Shonda Rhimes, his latest book, I listen to it on audio tape, I love to listen to like Tina Fey and Amy Schumer all their books, Andy kailyn on when they narrate on their audio books. But so listening to Shonda Rhimes, which was awesome. I, you know, she coined the word badassery. She said, you know, they say it's not a word unless it's in the dictionary. But in my Microsoft Word, I right clicked and added it to my dictionary, so it's a word. So I have like, unflappable, badassery on my vision board. That's my goal is to be able to not cuss and swear not raise my voice, not lose my temper, but say so eloquently. And maybe it's passive aggressive, but it is an art form exactly what you mean and still be smiling and look like you're being courteous in such a team player when you're really laying down the bottom line.

Alex Ferrari 11:30
And that is an art form. And this Yeah, without question. So So let's talk about markets, film markets, television markets, that's one of your expertise is, which it all started there, right? Because I had to get it to cat you have to get the cat. Exactly. So can you explain to the audience what the difference is between film festivals and film markets?

Heather Hale 11:51
Sure. I think that's actually one of the least understood and even people who have been in the business forever. Because you'll have people say, it's funny. I never know whether it's can or con because I get corrected no matter how I said someone's gonna correct me. So they'll say they're going to Cannes. But are they going to the festival of the market because the festival in the market are on opposite sides of the cross that you know this promenade, and they're going on at the exact same time. And people can fly around the world and realize that they have credentials, they've paid two or $3,000 in here and there at the festival when they meant to be at the market and everybody they want or or worse I mean at least that you can probably Jerry rig but what if you're in the wrong city at the wrong week, you go to the Berlin you know, the main event to go to the European film market. And you ended up at Berlinale at you know and or you're at the different the TV markets and you're in the wrong week. Everybody you paid 3000 or 5000 to go see is not even there. Yeah, so I think it's really important. So so so real clearly like festivals, we were talking about Sundance before we went live fest. If you think of show business, you can think of the festivals as the show and markets as the business of the entertainment industry. great analogy because festivals are open to the public. Usually, they're all about audience enjoyment. They're all about the craft, they celebrate the love of the art. It can be about a specific genre, or locale and it's all about community. So film fans and TV lovers from the public can come and enjoy premieres fun parties, they can vote, you know, especially for audience awards. But these competitions are curated by taste making gatekeepers and they award prizes based on their judgement of quality. And the audience response and critical reviews is what everybody's looking for. And that's what can launch these surprise breakout hits are dashed the hopes of what everyone thought was gonna be a winner. And as you know, there are no prizes at markets.

Alex Ferrari 14:06
The only prize is a check.

Heather Hale 14:08
There's no prizes, right and the press are often blocked from the screenings because they don't want spoilers leaked. So markets are the entertainment industries trade shows and like everything else in show business, they tend to be more glamorous, faster paced and more intimidating than any other business sector. And so these markets getting on the market floor is typically restricted to accredited industry professionals. So you have to have bought a badge you have to be a player to get on that floor. And then those products or content, the film and television things you might have seen shown at film festivals or television festivals are what is bought and sold business to business and then turned around and parlayed to the to the wider public. So there is this symbiotic relief shipped between the two circuits. So it's possible that a film that does fantastic at Sundance gets picked up by a distributor and is then sold internationally, like a cute little Little Miss Sunshine is bought at Sundance, and then they turn around and sell it to Europe, that European film market. So and then the same, the same thing can be in reverse. Maybe a product does really well at a market. And they choose to use the film festival platform as their promotional marketing to create some audience awareness and create buzz. So

Alex Ferrari 15:36
It's at Sundance every year,

Heather Hale 15:38
Every year, Toronto, Midnight Madness, you name it. So one of the things I think that helps put things in perspective is the size and scope of the material presented. So if you look at like a typical Cannes Film Festival, there's like 21 films that are in competition officially. And then right across the promenade is Lamar Shea to film, which is the Cannes Film market. And there's 3030 500 films at the market. So that shows you the size and scope because what's being sold at the market are shown or screen or viewed, is literally the entire year's inventory, and a backlog of the year before and what. So it's a good year to three years worth of assets that are competing in this incredible, incredible den of noise, to try to make a blip on the radar for anyone to notice you like it the one of the most humbling experiences ever, is to walk on a market floor with your little one sheet. Right? And think My poor baby. And I will tell you, it kicks you in the teeth and says, Is your logline strong enough is your pitch like you're competing with George Clooney on the market floor looking for money, right? Like that's there. I mean, you don't normally run into them, but they are they're raising money. And so your materials have to be so not just slick and professional. But the concepts and the execution has to be so viscerally grabbing, that someone's willing to risk money on them. And so it really does make you take a step back and check yourself that nobody cares about your hopes and dreams and aspirations. They care about are you bringing them something they can make money off of?

Alex Ferrari 17:31
Can you talk a little bit? What can you name a few of the big markets that people should look out for?

Heather Hale 17:36
Well, of course the can the Lamar shaida film is the Cannes market. The European film market is probably the second largest now the American Film market is the third. And then and then there's there's a ton of others. There's the Hong Kong film art, there's the Asian film mark, there's TIFF, com, then titanosaurs, the Latin American one, but another thing that's kind of bubbled up, which I think is really fascinating and helpful for independent filmmakers, is you have the film markets over here and you have the film or the of the film and TV markets over here. And you have film and TV festivals. Oh, and for the just real quickly for TV markets. You have Nat p, which is the National Association television program executives, you have real screen you have kids screen again, the Hong Kong film art is both you have the MIPS we call them the MIPS sweet, so there's mipi mc doc MC formats. And then you have like Nat p in Europe, there's just a ton, Bogota has one. And but in between, you know, you've seen I'm sure that the independent film arena that was such at the golden era in the 1970s people are talking about the Renaissance that we're seeing, and the golden era of television that we're seeing, which is really kind of the shift of independent filmmaking going to television because we have this convergence of film and TV, where the what we call over the top television, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, these, you know which are almost telcos right there, they're almost ISP fees that are offering this is all the issues of net neutrality, but that that is an opportunity for them to create these they create content and deliver content. So in the middle, where the independent filmmaker can often get lost because the studios are doing the huge blockbusters and the networks are doing their channels. What's bubbling up is this co production market scene. And that's where things like cinema in Rotterdam and the Berlin Berlin all a co co pro market, which is over like while the European film market is going on. And while the Berlinale Film Festival is going on, they kind of seamlessly overlap with the Berlinale co production market, which is where independent producers can find financing where they can find production partners where they can find distributors were willing to see projects that are works in progress. And so here's another difference between film festivals and markets. People will tell you, like, you know, as a screenwriter, never send your script out until it's just kick ass as good as it could possibly be. Right? That's it. Okay. So with films, they tell you never to submit to a festival until it's perfect, right? Because it's being judged. So a lot of people miss perceive that and come over to the market space and say, Oh, I can't show it to them. I can't do this because it's a market. Well, they're accustomed to seeing things with holes, and placeholders. And we're going to do the special effects on this. And, you know, they've even done studies where people had missing scenes or animation, they didn't even know that the animation wasn't there, because they were so caught up emotionally in the moment. So a market there, they're happy to see a talent reel for a possible reality show host or a character that we're going to build a world around in their mail you, they're accustomed to seeing, like, let's say you're shooting an independent film, and you're not going to be ready by the market. But your opening sequence is awesome. You just show that as your sizzle reel or trailer or just some selected scenes, and at the market that professionals use to scene products in every stage of development. So that's yet another difference that people you know, will come with the wrong misperceptions that limit their opportunities.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
Now, who should attend markets in general? As far as filmmakers are concerned? Like, should it be at what level of of the process should they go?

Heather Hale 21:48
Well, I think it depends on what your goals are and what your product is. So you will see on the net p floor or you know, MIPCOM IP TV, on the TV markets, people who are not in the industry at all, who might have a sizzle reel on themselves often, or an idea or concept. And they're trying to sell a game show they're trying to sell a reality show they're trying to sell some nonfiction thing like Adam ruins everything, you know, some sort of an edutainment type product. And even if they all they have is a one sheet that's a good one sheet and a good concept. They can literally you know, buy a badge and go pitch almost door to door You know, they're going sweet to sweet. That's another thing. You know this, but maybe your listeners don't. You look at something like the AFM at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica. They literally move every bed out of every room. And every suite becomes a sales office. So some market floors have booths like a trade show, where you know, you go from booth to booth to booth on a market floor nappy has these towers where you go up to the suites, and again, they've moved the beds out. So you walk in, and there's the table and chairs, and there could even be cubbies set up with offices for receptionist and all that, actually at the Loews hotel. I was one of two people sleeping there, during the AFM, which was you talk about the shining light, step out into an empty hotel, and you're the I'm not even like there's no room service. There's nobody there. Just closed down. It's It's surreal. So that's, I think. So anyway, to answer your question, Who goes, so if you're a director, you want to go over to festivals, because that's where they're celebrating you. At the markets, it's largely producers. So you might be a writer, producer, director, producer. So if you're wearing a producer hat, and you're trying to raise money, or you're trying to initiate distribution interest, that's a really good place to be another way a lot of producers can use markets that they may not be aware of, is not on the first few days. But on the last couple of days, you can go in with your really great one sheet or sizzle reel. And when the distributors are have gone through the bulk of their meetings, because remember, they've paid 30,000, probably to be there. So you show up selling them and they've paid a ton of money to sell. You're in their way. You're in their way. But the last few days, they are thinking about the next market and they're trying to build relationships as well. And the cocktail parties are all great opportunities for this. But let's say you come in and you've got your indie film project, you got a million dollar project and you have a hit list of 10 stars that you think are really good. It's really a good idea to take that simple bulleted list. don't bore them just go in. Here's my one sheet. Here's my logline. These are the 10 stars I'm thinking of, and you might be blown away where they say this person's not marquee value. This person will never get distribution. I like this person, this person is really good. And someone on that list you might not be aware, is really huge in the breath block or the mint, the new MIT, you know, might be something that you weren't aware was a company, a person who would really attract the Chinese market, you know, I'm always trying to think of the other markets. Or they may say, Oh, I like all of these eight mafioso, guys, these character actors, and they're all really good. Have you thought about x, y, z, and they adds names to your list. And that is priceless information. Because it and they may tell you look, if you get any one of these people off this list, come back to me, and we'll talk about a distribution. It may not be a distribution commitment, because you know, it's hard to say, Yes, I will distribute your film when it's an unknown commodity. Of course, it's not in the can. So that's, I mean, that's the thing is your your film is probably never worth more than when it's nothing yet.

Alex Ferrari 26:03
And to a certain extent, you're right,

Heather Hale 26:05
Right. Everyone can imagine in their mind's eye the very best it could possibly be.

Alex Ferrari 26:11
But a lot of times also do you do you agree that depending on the cast, yeah. If the cast is big enough, there will be commitments to distribute then in there purely because they know if you can afford Nicolas Cage? Yes, you're the project is going to be at at least a somewhat of a benchmark that I know I could sell, because you're not gonna hire Nicolas Cage and do a $20,000 movie.

Heather Hale 26:37
Right? Well, I will. Yes, I agree. But I will say that there's two parts to that. One part is that if you get Nicolas Cage, like I got Vanessa Williams true. It's not you getting the money. It's probably Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Cage is contacts, resources, referrals. So one of the things I suggest people do is make their hitlist for who they want as their stars for lead actors, and look and see who's got a production company and go get to the production company of the star you want. And let them be partners with you because now they're that much more financially incentivized to come on board and be a real partner. And then that's when the ball starts rolling. You know, my dad always used to say that the most precious asset in Hollywood is momentum. its momentum, you know, and its traction getting people to have it's, it's making your enthusiasm contagious, so that you can get some traction so that you can create some momentum momentum because you can work for 10 years on a project and blow dust off of it. And if you get the right people to shine their light, man, things happen fast, you know, that's the overnight success. So I think that is a huge part of it. And then the other part I will say, is, a lot of times people make their hit list and they're hit the hit list reveals a lot about you. If you have Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep on your hitless. They exactly they may be very polite because they're so polite, but they're laughing at your neophyte ism, right, because it's so delusional. But if you come in with some really amazing actors from say, Breaking Bad, or you know what I mean? Like, some animals obtainable? Yeah, if you mentioned their name at your family holiday. No one else at the table who's not in the business will know who you're talking about? Or maybe you show them their picture and they go oh, yeah, yeah, I know that guy. But the difference is with a distributor, they know that the caliber like David Morris, if you remember, if you know who he is, he was in the Green Mile. He's a fantasy or Freddie Highmore. You know, right now in the in the good doctor, and he was in Bates Motel. So Freddie Highmore at a holiday function. The average person not in the business, Michael, I don't know who that is. Well, do you watch the good doctor? Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 28:59
I do. Okay, that's about Rob's rush,

Heather Hale 29:03
Obvious rush. He deserves a Lifetime Achievement Award already. I love him. But what I would say is that when you come to a distributor with someone like that, they may not be, you know, cinema marquee value that he can open a movie by himself, of course. But what that tells the distributor is the caliber of acting is going to attract other very strong actors. It's going to attract good directors, it's going to attract people who are going to that's going to raise the bar of their, of their work. So that so if you came with a feat, it's like, in the old days, you needed your Sylvester Stallone or Van Damme to sell DVDs in Asia. Sure, right. But it's changing. It's changing a lot. So now the mass, you know of YouTube competition. It's quality that rises up So having a good concept well written, well executed with really good stars. I think our star culture while it's still hugely important, you look at any advertisement, it's all about celebrity. But it's changing because of the fragmentation of the dial and what the Internet has done to revolutionize our business.

Alex Ferrari 30:18
So you mean Steven Seagal versus mike tyson is gonna have problems? Not if they're fighting. That was the that was the most AF me. AFM movie. This year.

Heather Hale 30:31
You remember when it was a couple Emmys ago where they put all the YouTube stars on the red carpet? No, I didn't. Okay, this was a couple of years ago. And they took all these YouTube stars with millions of followers. And they thought, oh, we're gonna tap into their site, guys. And what you realize is asking questions on a red carpet is a skill set that Ryan Seacrest and the people who have earned the right to eat, they're like, they didn't know who they were talking to. They were disrespectful. And they thought that their 15 minutes of fame was going to carry them on red carpet. And people forget, this is a business. Right? And so I think it's fine to stop cast, maybe one YouTube slab. And if you are a YouTube celeb, then then cool, that's you. But make sure you populate that cast with rock solid actors around you. Because everyone in the business can see through a fame run.

Alex Ferrari 31:27
And it's getting it's getting like before, it was all about how many followers you have. And I have to a certain extent, a lot of casting decisions now are made on social media. If the if there's two actors of equal caliber, equal credits,

Heather Hale 31:44
That's assuming they're equal caliber and equal credit. Exactly. It's not usually that case,

Alex Ferrari 31:49
Usually not, but if you assume that they're, you know, at the same playing field, yeah, I'm gonna go with the one that has the bigger social follow.

Heather Hale 31:55
Absolutely. But they also have ways of assessing your digital footprint. Like I have a widget in mind when I look on Twitter. I know how many of your followers are fake? I mean, you bought?

Alex Ferrari 32:11
That's before?

Heather Hale 32:13
Yeah. And a huge thing is your engagement. Like are you perceived to be authentic in your engagement with a legit tribe? Right, you know, we have our our mutual friend, Richard bato, the are bound stage 32, his crowdsourcing for filmmakers book is all about that, like it's being authentic to a community. So I think it's really important that people, like it's really important to have a social media following and a social media presence and be authentic. But it's like anything else that, you know, it's the quality of how you do it, you can't just buy a million followers and slap up promotional stuff. Because first of all, those million followers probably aren't even real and don't care. So they're not going to leave in droves. But the real people are, if all you ever do is throw up, you know, JPEGs of your book that you're selling,

Alex Ferrari 33:01
Right! A perfect example I always use is there's this filmmaker that I was working with on a project years ago, and they spent I'm gonna say they spent like about four or $5,000 buying views. Yep. of their trailer. Yeah. And nothing and we all know it. Right. So but they thought the like the end, I think they got I think it got up to about a million and a half 2 million views that they spent money. It all spent. Yeah, nothing organic, no interaction, no anything. But they were touting that to distributors. Like, look, we've gotten 2 million hits on our trailer, give us money for our movie. There's an audience out there for it. Yeah. And that might have worked in 1995. Exactly. But not today. And people can definitely tell when it's, look, it's not hard to find out if you're if they're fake or not. You just have to look at the engagement. And even the engagement they're trying to fake now. And it's still so difficult to fake real engagement.

Heather Hale 34:00
Yeah, I know someone a very high profile author, producer, TV person. So I am and they've passed away and they were very beloved. So I won't throw them under the bus because that would be disrespectful. Sure. But they hired friends of mine to go online into the chat rooms and take on this was way back in the day. So it is not new. You said chat. Yeah. Yeah, take on personas. So they would have three, four or five different personas each and get into debates and arguments with themselves, right like and be trolls and jerks and you know, so that other people would jump in and then they'd get out of that chat room and go start somewhere else. So that Pete that there was buzz and engagement. But I think that, you know, first of all, people are really savvy to that now. And then the flip side of that is too bad because the person who really busts their tail to get a million or 2 million followers legitimately and then goes to Bandy that about the marketplace. Now everybody's pretty jaded, and even if you earned them and spent 15 years creating that following that, like, yeah, yeah, but that that comes back to the quality of the content and the material.

Alex Ferrari 35:08
You know, and also and also, and I know we're going on a tangent with social media, but it's important in regards to what we're doing is also the the proof is in the pudding, you know, like, yeah, you know, I'll tell you right really quickly, if you're real or not purely buy a bike, do a post, yeah, do a post and we'll see how many retweets they get, or how many reactions they get, and see how much traffic I can generate off of it. If it's something that's adding too much. I'll tell you in a second, like, Here you go, boom. And, you know, so when people find people who are actually real and authentic, they gravitate to respect.

Heather Hale 35:42
Absolutely. I'll tell you something beyond the social media is also your assets, your marketing assets. So I help people create pitch packages, sizzle reels, practice their pitch and all that. And I've been a judge at you know, nappies player, TV player contest bondage for a bunch of things. Yeah, forever. So one of them at one market. And again, I don't want to, you know, hurt anyone's reputation. I just share the spirit of the story. This gal came in and she was competing. And she, the first round ever, there were three rounds. And the first round was to pitch verbally. And so this girl came in and pitched her heart out on I think it was a mafia comedy, like a sitcom. She was so hysterical. We were like wiping tears, though. I think there were eight or 12. I don't know, several judges, I don't remember how many judges about eight, let's say. But we were laughing, literally slapping our needs wiping away tears cracking up, she had us eating out of her hand and we loved her. We loved her project. We loved everything about her. So then she made it to the second round. And in the second round, she brought in her sizzle reel. And in her sizzle, she had spent $250,000. No. And she had I don't know if it was friends or I don't know who these actors were. But in this sizzle. The production value was awful. The timing was awful. The acting was awful. The costumes were awful. And 250 100%. And that is not the only time I've seen that I've seen people do better with zero budget than 250. I've seen lots of bad how

Alex Ferrari 37:28
I'm just figuring out how do you spend a quarter of a million dollars on a sizzle reel? Like how do you do it happens all Oh my god.

Heather Hale 37:37
So because companies want to get paid. And they I think prey on delusions. So. So what happened was and I'm proud of myself, I'm not bragging but just it's hard to find people who will tell the truth in Hollywood and I do always get in trouble all the time. So I will say I'm here at it when it helps. So she was gonna get knocked out. And I spoke up in the, in the voting round with her in the room and said, I got to tell you, I said I'm going to point out the elephant in the room because everybody was giving her feedback on the sizzle reel. Yeah. And I said to her to enter the fellow judges, I said, Look, that sizzle reel, unfortunately, you have wasted $250,000, you know, on her face had she's almost in tears. You shouldn't be she was almost in tears because everybody was ripping the sizzle reel to shreds, and she was going to get knocked out of the contest. And she had spent all this money. And I said Look, I said I'm gonna vote to put you through on the caveat that you pitch verbally, again, because you had us, you had us imagining your vision, and this sizzle reel is going to kill you. So you need to never show it. Anyone again ever. I don't care how much it cost. I don't care how much lead tears went into it. It's going to shoot you in the foot. It's an albatross to your project. Let it go consider it a mistake. And and and she everybody changed their votes. And we put her through and she pitched verbally. And she did that she didn't win. But she was like number two or number three. And she was really grateful. And I mean, it's heartbreaking to tell someone that but it's true.

Alex Ferrari 39:19
You got to you've got to tell the truth. And it's not even up for debate. It was just like, Look, this was horrendous. Yeah, you're hurting yourself by

Heather Hale 39:28
To acknowledge how fantastic she did without even a piece of paper. That that shows the integrity of the idea, her passion, her personality, her ownership and authenticity with that material. As the writer she had earned the right to stand up and bolus over and it was so well executed on the page. It is not her fault that the collaborators didn't rise to the occasion and she can find other collaborators because she owns the intellectual property. It's her baby.

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Absolutely, absolutely. So How How should someone with a digital series approach to television market in today's world? Because now, as you said, everything's going towards television? What How should someone should they do a pilot? Should they just come in with the idea? Should they do have a full series produced? What do you What's your suggestion?

Heather Hale 40:19
Well, I think all of those you know, it's like Hollywood How do you break into Hollywood? Well, let's give you the 2000 ways we all know friends who've done it, you know it there's no right or wrong. I will say there probably some quicker avenues than others and then the minute you say this is the way you do it, then there's some breakout Blair Witch success that you know, it's this stuff that happens the angry orange, I don't know if you're familiar with that. I mean, I, there's a ton of examples of stuff. But one way they do watch just as we were talking about earlier, within social engagement, there are people who put up Twitter accounts that are in the voice or the point of view of one of their characters and then voice and that's, I think, how eight things about my daughter eight roles about my daughter got done was started off a Twitter feed, you know, it was that such a unique, authentic voice. So coming up with ways to select I think was angry orange was a little two minute thing that was an orange, literally an orange. marquee face drawn on it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:18
He's. He's done very well.

Heather Hale 41:21
Yeah. So they were like 32nd two minute things, but they were so freakin funny. They went viral. And you know, I forget who it was. pretty famous gal. I should remember her name. But she said viral is not a business plan.

Alex Ferrari 41:35
Like Sundance is not a distribution plan. Sundance is not a distribution.

Heather Hale 41:39
That's like saying, I'm going to buy a lottery ticket. Yes. Somebody, somebody who buys a ticket will win. But your odds, like that's not the business plan. Go ahead, throw the penny in the crib.

Alex Ferrari 41:52
I'm quitting my job today. Because my next year, I'm covered because I'm going to do the scratch off.

Heather Hale 41:57
Exactly. Yeah. So I mean, I pro pennies and fountains and I'm all about superstitious little rituals. Cool. Do it by your lottery tickets. I all the more power to you. But Call me if you went please sleep call that

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Five projects. Yeah.

Heather Hale 42:11
Yeah. So but some of the things they can do one, of course, if you're like, I judged the Marcee web Fest, several years back, and that was fascinating, because you know, Josh Gad, yeah, of course. Okay, Josh, Gad one. Oh, lover. Yeah, yeah, he's all off and Buting the beast, but he also had 1600 pen, if you remember that as a short lived series. So right before with Dharma, the girl who played Dharma and Dharma and Greg, right before that. He was submitted into the Marseille web fest. And it was me and I think the Warner Brothers digital VP, bunch of really cool people. So we were, you know, sequestered in a room for 12 hours watching nothing but websites went to a web series, one after another. And there were people who had fantastic business plans, and ancillary marketing and Merchandising, and it was so well like sales and marketing 101, like, or not even that PhDs and sales and marketing. But we weren't engaged by their content. So what difference did it make, right? And then you had people who had years of seasons and seasons, like hundreds of episodes. And then you had Josh Gad with like two little three minute sketches that were practically SNL. And again, we're in hysterics. So I think it comes down to the quality. So if you have, let's say you have a web series that's won some awards, don't expect someone to watch eight episodes of it, grab the, you know, 30 seconds or two minutes of the very, very, very best footage. And don't feel like it needs to be five minutes or seven minutes or any of that. If it's if you have a really good two minutes, that's the beginning, middle and end. And there's a little bit of weak stuff, when in doubt, cut it out, cut it out, cut it out, if it is not very, very, very best cream of the crop. You know, they say Shakespeare threw away 95% of his stuff. I don't know how anyone knows that. But you know, I believe it as a writer,

Alex Ferrari 44:07
I'm sure and I would love to be in that trashcan.

Heather Hale 44:10
Exactly. But that's what I'm saying. You got to throw away kill your babies, kill your darlings, and then only take the cream of the crop and then that tease, you know, you sell the sizzle, not the steak, you want to elicit their interest and intrigue them to want more. And you may not show them more. You may get into a room. They're really engaged. They have their different ideas and you go in their direction because he who has the gold wins. Don't feel like you owe it to the material to bring in your old crap that they might not what find what tickled them because it might be different, like what Spike TV is interested in is going to be quite different than what the sci fi channel is interested in.

Alex Ferrari 44:50
Sure. Exactly. And that's a problem for a lot of creators is that they spend so much time so much money creating something they want to show it all exactly. It's and you just like maybe pictures, right? It's your baby, you want to show baby pictures to everybody. I try not to do that. But But every once in a while, just for, you know, exactly. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. But at the end of the day, you've got to take off your Creator hat and put on your business hat, put on your marketing hat and go, Okay, what I got to look at this with clean eyes, and you can't have someone who can do it for you

Heather Hale 45:36
And ditto your YouTube channel, maybe you have a YouTube channel that's got all of that on there. But you have a branded YouTube channel that only has the best of the best that represents the show, which is, you know, you think of what you put on social media, especially what you're putting on that is projecting to the industry is your 24 seven shingle. Don't put crap out there. And if you do, like, hide it in a way that only friends and family can see it, but if you're gonna put it out there on your website, anywhere, you know, it's way better to have three great two minute clips, then something that's, you know, really, two hours of bad. No, that's what they say the greatest sin in Hollywood is to be boring.

Alex Ferrari 46:21
Yes. And there has been plenty of that going on at the movie theaters lately.

Heather Hale 46:25
Yeah. And on the market floors and at the festivals and co production markets. You know, I used to joke that, you know, the perfume of Hollywood is desperation.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Oh, God, that's a great line. And it's so true. Yeah. And you and and because I used to wear that, that Oh, we've all worn it. We've all to desperation.

Heather Hale 46:45
Yeah. And the purse and the deodorant. Like it comes out. It's the Bo of Hollywood. It's desperation also.

Alex Ferrari 46:51
I mean, it is something that you can smell on someone. Yeah. So fast into the room into a ballroom you can smell and and I used to, I used to just just it would it would rain around me. I should spring out of me like, what's his name from Charlie Brown? The guy who's always dirty? Up rock? Yeah, he would just always walk. Yeah, it was around me all the time. Yeah, I would meet someone when I first got here, I would meet someone, you know, at another level, higher level or just a place that I could? And I'd be like, I hate doing it at the end, you would just go after them. Yeah. And they could just be like, Okay, he's that and that would be the end of it. No. And I happened to me a bunch of times till I finally, I don't know how I did it. But naturally, I just stopped it and became more giving and more of service to people I meet trying to be.

Heather Hale 47:42
And that I think is the is the to me, networking is the highest form of service. It's what do they need? How can I help them and you hope that by the time it pays forward 10 times somewhere it comes around back to you. Right? But you know, when you're trying to intentionally network, you know, one of the most prudent things is to ask them about them in their projects, because and that's the thing you have to be careful of with you is because when someone asks a writer about their project, oh, no. Right? We love our babies, we want to talk about them. That's all we want to talk about. So you really are it's kind of like being on a first blind date after a divorce. You don't really want to talk about your ex, right? So you want to listen and ask questions. And if the conversation comes back around to you be locked and loaded with a silver bullet. That's really quick and easy than kills.

Alex Ferrari 48:30
Right! But don't don't but don't walk up with that bullet in hand just yet. Don't shut it off.

Heather Hale 48:35
Z or the machine gun. Yeah, God on silver bullet.

Alex Ferrari 48:40
I it's, it's it's just so funny. And I meet and I was my next question was gonna be about networking. And I think we're on that topic now. But like, sometimes I'll be speaking and, you know, people will come up and they'll just, they're just kind of like, you can tell that they're they're just wanting to their I call them energy suckers, even successful people. Right? Yeah, just energy suckers. They just want to obsess Empire, vampires, they just want to start from you. And, you know, you as you get older and you've been in the business long enough, you'd become attuned to that. That frequency very quickly, or your hair goes on and as they come up as they approach you, yeah. Oh, desperation. There's the odor desperation. There's the O of BS. You know, I'm not trying to do anything, but I'm just trying to impress you because I've done this, this and this. I know this. I could definitely get your project that this person because I cut their hair.

Heather Hale 49:37
I'll tell you two quick little stories about that. I was I you know, I'm not a vain person. You know, we all get beat up so much. I guess you just don't have time or energy to be vain. You just working hard

Alex Ferrari 49:51
Not on this side of the camera, at least.

Heather Hale 49:53
Yeah, yeah. So I was at an event. It was a women's event and I was talking to a group of women and you know, I'm a I'm a first I'm a, I was a first time director, I think I've done two things now. But you know, I'm really still a rookie, I really am trying to break in as a director. So I was at this event and I have done I had directed a million dollar feature, which on the one hand, anyone in the business knows like soup to nuts. That is, that's like an ultra marathon series like that. It's a huge accomplishment, whether it made any money or not, it got in the can. And it got picked up by two distributors. It was at the AFM and right, huge, it was at Walmart Best Buy. Okay, so who cares if it's any good or made any money like that, just the fact that we got from point A to point z, and I did not die or kill anybody, right? So and it had meatloaf and Ed Asner and Eddie Furlong, so I'm at this event. And I'm feeling like simultaneously proud and scared, shitless and insecure and blah, blah, blah. And these girls are talking about all the stuff they've directed, and they're posing and dropping names and being all the all this. So I'm just sitting listening because I really need to network and I really need to learn a lot more. And I need to expand my horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, I can our listening to them give all sorts of advice and tell me what I should do. It comes around that one of them his entire directing oeuvre was a PSA. And he had done a short film. So I sat there and not that I'm all bad. But I sat there respectfully listening to all and and then when they asked me what I had done, which like the event was almost over, and I was like, Oh, you know, just a million dollar feature with meatloaf. And yeah, and then I walked away because they like seriously put their lap late. Like I said to her, they they had done a free public service announcement for 30 seconds. And that was what they directed. Sure. The flipside of that I was going to say is when people are posing, you know, the, if you have to get a catcher's mitt out to catch the names that they drop, no, odds are, they're full of it. And if you call them out on it, well to have two stories. I had a guy who told me and I won't say who he is, because he's kind of a power player. But he told me he Ma, it'll be too obvious. He had directed a little movie called and then I won't put the movie in, but it was a huge movie. Sure. He had no he had he had line produced a little movie called insert huge movie here. Sure. And I was like, Oh my god, I better check my ego. And so I sucked it up and let him treat me like shit because he was a misogynist. He was awful. And then I optioned my material to him, which was a huge mistake. And then I googled because nowadays you can I am in the bathroom like now I've learned like, excuse me go to the bathroom, IMDb the shit out of their lies, right. But it turned out he had second unit line. Oh, no, he had told me he had produced it. But he had second unit line produced it. Which is he's basically Yeah, producers like finding the money soup to knotting it. And second unit line producing is someone who was hired to cut checks for a couple of days.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Second, not even the main line producer the second

Heather Hale 53:00
Second unit line producer when he told me he produced it. But then the third I was gonna say because it goes the other way, too, is people who drive the flashy cars and have the gorgeous, can sometimes be so so encumbered and sold, leased and so fake about what they're projecting is their image, that they don't have the money to scrape together, change out of their depth for iced tea at a McDonald's, right? Yep. And sometimes you'll be with someone who's driving a beat up car, and they're not inexpensive shoes. And they do not offer to pick up the tab that's on somebody else's expense account. And they are the person who owns 21 homes free and clear and could actually find your film, but they're not trying to impress you, and they are cheap. And the reason they're rich is because they're cheap. And that doesn't mean they won't invest in your film. So I mean, it goes both ways.

Alex Ferrari 53:55
I do find and this is against only from years of experience, that the people who are the big loud mouth, the people who are the boasters Yes, there are those guys, you know, that are the Brett Ratner's of the world that are those kind of people, you know, and do actually know these people and actually have the money and stuff. And I threw bread out there because he deserves to be thrown out there. And I have no problem with that. But there but most of the times you're going to you know if you see the guy quiet in the room, and he's in the room, first of all, she's in the room. That means that they've done something to be in that room. Yeah. And generally speaking, they're not going to be the boasting guys and not going to be the ones dropping names. If you see Steven Soderbergh's car. He drives like a 2005 2008. Pre Buffett does too, by the way, right? Exactly. Because they're not trying to impress anyone. They're damaged. Yeah, they're very, they're rare in LA. They're in the business in general, you don't meet those people very often. They're rare on wall street there were Nashville's, ya know, they're everywhere, and they're very vague in every industry, but in our business, you know, you don't meet those people. So what I do actually meet people like our be Suzanne Lyons who's, you know, like you as well, people, you know, people who are actually doing what they're saying they're doing and are not boasting about, hey, I've got you know, 300,000 followers and you know I have this or I have that the proofs in the pudding. Yeah, like, Look, you just, you know, go and look, you know, look me up, I don't care, you know, look, or they'll say, look, you know, I want to talk about it.

Heather Hale 55:38
And that, quite frankly, is the value to your website and social media, you know, the more I feel like it, my website's not perfect, but I try really hard to have it projected good image. But I think that's good, because you can have a conversation, give them a business card, and then they can do their due diligence on you. And they can check you out after the fact they can check your bio, they can check your credits on IMDB. And so you can just be a human being involved and engaged in the conversation and not be trying to spit out your resume. So, you know, that is that's how I think you can be using your marketing and social media and those things to, to back you up with this 24 shingle that's out there all the time, but just be a human being when and be present in those conversations.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
Now, we've gone off off the rails a little bit in this interview, because we were talking more about markets. But this all works into the network. It all works out. But can you add, can you throw a few insider nuggets of things that we should look for at film markets, things that you like, I wish I would have known this doing a market before?

Heather Hale 56:44
Well, there's so much that I wrote a book on it. So like, that's before, that's actually the whole reason for the book was because you said you had gone to one of your first markets recently. Really kind of like blown away and overwhelmed. I think anyone in this business should just get on a market floor as fast as possible. Because you what you learn and how humbling it is, will really put things in perspective for the rest of your career. So whether you sell anything, Oh, go ahead,

Alex Ferrari 57:12
No, it's a product. That was the thing I said in my review of AFM like, it's so humbling, because they don't care about the craft. They don't care about the artistry they don't care about. It's a product. And yeah, and as soon as you understand that changes your perspective, a whole I don't care what your personal project, they don't care about it.

Heather Hale 57:30
Yeah. And they're not being mean either. They're just, it's not even callous. They're just so Matter of fact, and they can smile while they're just eviscerating you. painful. Leave a case you know, it's art to us but they don't care. They don't care.

Alex Ferrari 57:49
Obviously Steven Seagal and Mike Tyson not a lot of art in that movie.

Heather Hale 57:52
So So I will say that honestly, like I I'll tell you like how the book started. And then I'll tell you a couple secrets. I was at the American Film market in 2013. I booked all the speakers and I was helping focal press come up with their line, their franchise line, the AFM present. Sure. And so they had a focal press it said, you know, who do you think would make a good author for one of our books or in our series and who would be a good subject matter expert and is like, you know, you need to get RB to do something on crowdsourcing ad got him on a panel is like you've got to get no but nobody's talking about that. And I gave him all these names of people and I'd gotten another friend Anne Marie Guillen on the finance panel. I just really tried hard to get, you know, some new fresh voices that we needed to be hearing at the AFM. I was actually really proud because people told me later they opened up the full page spread, and I was Hollywood Reporter daily variety. And I had all the pictures for the all panelists. And people, at least a dozen people wrote me privately and said, I don't know how you did it. But it was 5050 female male, and it was every color of skin under the sun. That's because normally we don't see that. So I was really had like my own private agenda to try to really diversify what we saw, so that you weren't ghettoizing like putting all the women on one panel, because we don't know when you can avoid that panel, or all the people of color on one panel, and that's our diversity panel, but get one on every panel. That was my golf. Good. Anyway, um, so. So when I was helping her, I was giving her all these people that I think I got eight or a dozen friends book deals that year. She said, Well, if you come up with anything else, let us know. And I said, I can tell you right now what you're missing. And she said what? I go, you've got the American Film market presents and no one's ever written a book on how to work the markets. And her face just dropped like yeah, da it's like always the obvious that we miss. And so I said, I'll, I'll write it, you know, and I, of course, didn't feel like I was a guru. I just knew I could research and I reached out to at least 200 People I did interviews for a couple years for that book. So some of the things I learned at one at one AFM I was sitting there and I won't mention names of companies, I will tell you privately.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:11
Sure, no problem. I appreciate it.

Heather Hale 1:00:13
Anyway, I was sitting there with a girlfriend and we were going into meet someone I had interviewed, because that was another thing I did. I used it to network like crazy so that I could meet 200 people that were, you know, international sales agents and distributors and all that a financier, as an investor. So are sitting there to meet one of the people who I'd interviewed with. And we were on the other side of this cubby wall, because, you know, they sometimes have these temporary cubby walls and like there's four feet of empty room, you know, that it's the wall is not there. So on the other side was somebody pitching. And on the other side of another wall, were a couple people. So there was an established distributor, who was teaching a wet behind the ears, rookie distributor who was new to their company, of how to do what they needed to do. And I don't know how much you know about, like, I do my own budgets and schedules, and I can my views and stuff. So I don't know how much you know about this, but it hit us. But basically, when you do an independent film, you have to often do a SAG bond, right? Okay, so let's say you have a million dollar film and your budget for your actors is, let's say 200,000. So sag might make you put up 200,000, or 50,000. But you have to put up a bond, so that if for any reason you flake out and don't pay the payroll for that week, sag can dip into this bond, that it's a formula that they make you that they hold the whole time. So if you need a million dollars, you actually need 1.2 million, because you got to put this money up that sits there that you can't touch until you get it back. And so this distributor was explaining to the other distributor, the new distributor, how they could basically make a commission off you getting your sag bond refunded to you, if they use the wording for gross receipts into the account they were managing, okay. So in other words, they're supposed to be selling your film, and getting a commission from Turkey or China or you know, wherever they're selling it. And as those monies come in, they take 10% 20%, whatever their commission is off the Pasha. She was teaching him how to get the bond, the savings account, you raised blood, sweat and tears that you had sitting there to pay your actors, that when you got it back from sag, they could take 10 to 20% of it because it passed through their account.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
So let me let me clarify something you're telling me that there are unscrupulous distributors in the marketplace? Can you imagine this? Is this an exclusive?

Heather Hale 1:02:45
And they were training one another down the daisy chain? How to screw independent producers? So I know, shocking, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:53
I've never heard anything like that.

Heather Hale 1:02:56
Like you're gonna take a commission off my savings account that I barely scraped together to make this Phil Street. What is this? Oh, my God, and then they want us to sign a contract that says, Oh, yeah, yeah, you can handle my money. I trust you. Yes. Yeah. So those are the kinds of things So literally, during the course of writing this book, I will say, I am this probably not politically correct. But we've established I'm an idiot, yes. I probably will make very little money off this, you know, because the publisher makes 80%. You know, funders are bad. Okay, so I don't, people are like, oh, I'll buy your book. I'm like, thanks. Like, what am I like? Maybe I'll see two cents. 10 years from now? I don't know. So I was so frustrated writing this book, because all that I was learning and all of that. And then I didn't even want to do as two years of work for free. For what, right? But what kept me going was storytellers around the world, content creators, people who have a dream, people have a passion, people have a story that is so under their skin, that they're working for two or five or 10 years for free speculatively. And I thought I got to help them. I got to help them navigate these markets. I got to help them stop being screwed. I got to help them save money. And I will tell you, this is really inappropriate. And I love it. I really need to edit it. No, we won't. I was in the AFM series originally in the franchise. Sure. And I was part of that. And it was always going to be that and it was kicked out. Because of many of the things I said of how to save money and how to you know, okay, if you can't afford a badge, here's what you do.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
Well, Heather, Heather to A to A to A FM's Kravitz defense here. I'm sorry, but I get that.

Heather Hale 1:04:46
And I edited it all out. You know what I mean? just done, the damage was done. And so the truth is, you know, there's a lot in this book that the markets don't want you to know. And the other thing was by the end of it, I was like, okay, you Here's how you work around the markets. Here's how you take everything you've learned. Yeah, that work on a market floor. And here's how you DIY it. Here's how you do YouTube. Here's how you use social media. Here's how you sell not business to business, but business to consumer, because that is revolution that Amazon and who else there still in the middle, you literally could have your own website and sell your books and your movies and your TV if they're good enough directly to the crowd that you're creating. So I think it was too independent and too irreverent, too real. And I have a problem with that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:34
No, look, I I gave away. I give away a lead generator for if you sign up to my email list, six, six tips to get into film festivals for free or cheap. Yeah, exactly. And I think I got into over 600 film festivals in the course of my career, and I paid for probably less than 5% or 10% of Yeah, yeah. But you know, sometimes I wrote the film film festivals the wrong way. I'm like, but guys, look, you know, it's awesome.

Heather Hale 1:06:03
It is. It's such a hard business. You know, people are like I would volunteer for variety. sommets I bought I volunteered for everything I couldn't afford to go to. You know, so I'm a little pee on peasant with a name badge, but I get to hear the studio execs telling it like it is to, you know, be a fly on the wall to the $5,000 a seat thing I can't get into. So you just we one thing about independent filmmakers is we are scrappy. We are resilient. And we are pitfalls and we need to learn to be unflappable badasses.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
No. Can you say that? Can you talk? We spoke about the book a bit, but what's the name of the book? Where can they get it?

Heather Hale 1:06:42
It's called how to work the film and TV markets. And it's available on Amazon. It's available. You know, it's actually add a lot of the markets the the publisher took it to the AFM and it sold out in the first day. I'm sure so yeah. So my website is HeatherHale.com and I will put a plug because it's not even cost them any money. But on HeatherHale.com, I'm pretty sure it's /howtoworkthefilmandTVmarkets is all sorts of giveaway stuff. Like it has a calendar of the map of the markets all around the world, co production markets festivals. And I'll tell you that that calendar, that matrix took me forever, because I had to line up what was going on simultaneously, what was an ad junk event? What was going on? Like if you're going to another country? What could you also hit while you're there, it's a really great calendar, I've got the facts on packs. So who's got housekeeping deals where I've got them archived, so you can look back who used to have a deal with what studio and what distributor, it's got so many different sets of information. So and that's all you know, it's got a global map, it's got all the market statistics, it's got some great full color, key art examples. It's got a Union's low budget matrix, because if you can ever make sense of that game of Sudoku, good luck, right? So it's got anyway, it's Heather hale.com, how to work the film and TV markets, and it's got tons of giveaways. And then and then also on there, there's a 21% off on Amazon and 20% off the publishers like a code. So you know, it's gonna make my two cents go to one. But you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
I love the honesty, it's awesome. And I'll put all of those links in the show notes. So I have a few questions left that asked all my guests, all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Heather Hale 1:08:36
Oh, we have another hour. Now. Honestly, this is gonna sound really cliche and soapy. And but it's so true. It's just so frickin true. And you remember, you get reminded of it every year and every decade. And that's just be true to yourself. Be true to yourself, be authentic, and know who your friends are, because you will learn over and over and over again, who they are and who they aren't. And, you know, if you're going to be miserable, working around the clock at two in the morning, you damn well better make sure it's something worth working on. And I would say also, you know, when we create film and television products or content, I mean a lot of people artists hate to hear it referred to as product and content, but at the marketplace, that is what it is. It's a art over at the festivals. But whatever it is that you're creating, that you're generating, you are essentially exporting our culture. So I would beseech you to please be careful that you're really espousing values you actually hold not lowering to pander to the lowest common denominator of what you think you can sell. Because you could have a breakout hit with something that's actually meaningful. You know, you look at Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day and you know, there are films out They're and there's nothing wrong with entertainment, like cult hits, like there's so much good stuff out there. But, you know, do stuff you're really proud of. And that really means something to you. And it's cool if it's comedy, Thriller, Horror, whatever it is, but I mean, even look at alien aliens. Those are real horror, like in silence of the lamb and the believers, like there's some scary shit out there. And it's still entertaining. So I'm not saying it has to be g rated Disney answers for sure. I'm just saying, make sure that what you're saying with your art is really what you mean, because it's easy for it to get, you know, going through that gauntlet to get like GMO two headed shaped weird. That's not what you meant at all right? You know, stay true to yourself, stay true to your voice. And, and one thing that is good about Hollywood, there are many, many, many, many, many good things about Hollywood. But one of the things I love most about it is it is a society and a culture, where Everywhere you look, people are following their dreams everywhere. And it is exciting. It's entrepreneurs, I call them everywhere you look as people who passionately believe. Usually they're scams and posers and flakes, and felonies and all that. But most of the heart that beats in Hollywood, is people who have a mission for something they want to say that so under their skin, that they're trying to figure out a way to say it and hold true to that. And, you know, it's like I always say, you know, I'm a I'm a voluptuous girl. So I'm lucky because I'm very thick skinned, because you need a rhinoceros skin to survive in Hollywood. But one of the hardest things is to keep your heart open, and to stay responsive to the communal consciousness and to have empathy for other people's worldviews and points of views. So if you can, don't be a dick,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:55
That's, that should be on a T shirt. If that's not it, don't be there. That's like the best advice you could have in Hollywood. Don't be just don't be a dick.

Heather Hale 1:12:02
Yeah, be a nice person. And that doesn't mean be a doormat. It means be an unflappable badass who can cheerfully tell the truth and be honest and be you know, have good intentions and, and, and write great stories because the world needs them.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:20
Amen more now than ever. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Heather Hale 1:12:29
Oh, boy, this is gonna reveal my libertarian roots. And probably Atlas Shrugged or the fountainhead. Okay, really? I know that's not an industry book. But sure. Oh, it's all about golf coach.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:46
I gotcha. I gotcha. I gotcha. No problem, no problem. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Heather Hale 1:12:56
Oh, my goodness, there's so many out. I'm not sure I've learned them all. Um, okay, well, I'm stealing this from my dad, but I think he would allow me to, and I'll probably cry because he recently passed. But um, you don't have to make every mistake personally. Interesting. And that you can surround yourself with mentors, and mastermind groups and friends. And you can learn from other people's mistakes and advice. And that doesn't mean, you know, don't have to make every mistake yourself.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
If you're smart, you can learn from others mistakes. And yeah, because I mean, why wouldn't you? Sometimes Sometimes you have to learn it by sticking your hand in the fire. But if people tell you, hey, I've been burned there, don't put your hand there.

Heather Hale 1:13:45
And that's why you have to know who your friends are. Because there are a lot of people who are going to tell you, Oh, don't put your hand in my cookie jar, when really you can build your own cookie jar, and they shouldn't be in your kitchen. To know who your friends are. Because your friends. And I'm very blessed to have a few who will tell you when you're being a shit. Who will tell you when you're being myopic, who will tell you when you're not seeing the forest for the trees. And and then there's times where and I've had this happen many, many, many times, where you know, you have an email and you send it to a few friends to make sure that they vet it to make sure it's not too emotional or you're not saying anything that could be slanderous, or whatever. It sometimes you can have. And I had this happen to my fact that it's an old story I've told many times, but I wrote to Sherry Lansing once, and everybody in my circle said no, don't send it. Don't send it. Don't send it. No, you'll embarrass yourself. No, you're reaching too far. No, no, no. And guess who called me Sherry Lansing,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
Really? Now by the way, can you tell everybody who doesn't who Cherie,

Heather Hale 1:14:51
She was the first woman to run a studio and she repairment like Titanic and you name Yeah, she was behind.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
She was a beast.

Heather Hale 1:14:59
Yeah. Like Behind every successful film for like a decade and a half? Yes. So all I'm saying is that there are times when all your friends and fans and champions who have your best interests at heart, I'm not saying they're wrong, but they are not seeing either how big you could be no, or the path that you're seeing through the trees. Or sometimes you know, it's not a lottery ticket, sometimes it's just luck and you reach out and with this sharing Lansing example, I'm I can give a million others. It was some connection I had, that I knew she would respond to, you know, you can see someone's Achilles heel, you have a tender spot in your heart that you know that that thread will connect you to them. And if you authentically speak to that, and sometimes your rage, I mean, I've had, you know, knock down fights, not fights, but verbal, with people who I loved and adored, who were eight, we were able to come back around, because we spoke our truth. And we realized we were like, kind of out of sync. When we both heard the other person's point of view. We understood it and got it and we got our friendship back on track and, you know, that could have been derailed, and it's the stronger friendship for it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:16
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Unknown Speaker 1:16:19
Oh, for sure. I have to say my Groundhog Day and Shawshank Redemption.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:24
I was gonna say those two for sure.

Heather Hale 1:16:25
For sure, for sure. But I'll say a couple others. One of my favorites, a little teeny, teeny film, waking that divine love waking that I'm in love with. That is one of my all time favorites. And I have to say this won't be those would be my top three. I'll leave it at that. Those are my top three.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
Yeah. Heather, thank you so much for for sharing with the tribe and dropping some very big knowledge bombs on us. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

Heather Hale 1:16:57
Thank you. It's my honor. And my pleasure. And I hope that everyone learned something, or at least had a good laugh.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:03
Thanks. I really want to thank Heather for dropping some major knowledge bombs about film and television markets on the tribe today. And if you guys have not had the opportunity to go to a market like AFM or Cannes, or MIP, D or MIPCOM, definitely, if you have an opportunity go and do it, even if you have nothing to sell. Just go and understand talk to people understand the process of how independent film and Independent Television series are sold. And the more you understand about that process, and about the business of selling your product, you will be so much more successful and get to your goals faster and faster. Trust me, I learned not only a ton with this as Meg but I had already learned a lot about selling movies and going through that process throughout my career. But I learned so much more just doing with this as Meg as well. And now in the new film on the corner of ego and desire. I'm taking all that knowledge and bringing it to that project. So the more you do, the more you learn, the better it is, I tell you when I went to AFM when I've gone to Toronto, at their mini market, there's so many amazing nuggets of information you can get. So please, if you have an opportunity, do it cuz you will not be disappointed. If you want links to anything we spoke about in this episode including links to Heather's book, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/240. And if you haven't already guys, if you love the show, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us a five star review. It really really helps me out a lot helps out the podcast a lot to get it ranked higher, to get more people to see it and listen to this information. So please just head over to filmmaking podcast.com and leave us that five star review. Thank you so much. And as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

LINKS

  • Heather Hale – Official Site
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”1138800651″ locale=”US” tag=”whatisbroke-20″]How to Work the Film and TV Markets: A Guide for Content Creators[/easyazon_link]
  • StoryTellers on WalkAbout

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IFH 238: How to Make Money Shooting Short Films with Carter Pilcher

Right-click here to download the MP3

Have you ever wondered if you could actually make money making short films? Take it from the guy who made over $90,000 selling a short film, yes you can (click here to hear that story). Today on the show we have the founder of the world’s largest short film distribution company SHORTS International, Carter Pilcher. 

Carter Pilcher founded Shorts International in 2000. Coming from a background in both investment banking and law, Carter has made Shorts International the world’s leading short movie entertainment company, functioning as a distributor, broadcaster, and producer. Carter has extensive experience in short movie production and short movie entertainment. He is a voting member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and a member of the Short Film and Feature Animation Branch of The US Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)

Enjoy my conversation with Carter Pilcher.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Carter Pilcher man How you doing, sir?

Carter Pilcher 0:06
Fine, Alex, thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

Alex Ferrari 3:49
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I know you are in Mumbai right now. And we have a 12 hour difference. So I know it's extremely late over there. So thank you for jumping on and hopefully dropping some knowledge bombs on the tribe today.

Carter Pilcher 4:01
Fantastic. Glad to be here. It's it's it. It's late, but not that late.

Alex Ferrari 4:07
Okay, good. Now, tell me a little bit about shorts International, and how it became how it came to be. And all that because I mean, I was a short filmmaker for a long time. And shorts international is kind of the the the Academy Awards, if you will of shorts in many ways to get your short on to that platform. So I'd love to know how I got started and the whole story.

Carter Pilcher 4:29
Yeah, I honestly am a was a Astronautical engineer when I went finished university and went and did got a law degree and then practice investment banking. And I I really decided I couldn't you know, when I decided that I'd always wanted to start a business and so at one point, I had enough money to try to do that. So I did. And we started sourcing it was way too early. We were Just in I was living in England, doing investment banking. And we started and I started a little company just to put shorts, it was called Brit shorts. So we were putting British short films online. And, you know, at the beginning of the internet, everything just froze the street, the

Alex Ferrari 5:19
Streaming

Carter Pilcher 5:21
Was streaming, it was just like pictures and audio, static pictures, so I was horrible. And the more you did in terms of people watching you, the more street people that streamed stream, the kind of your stuff, the more money that am I charged you. So the more more popular you became the poorer you also became so. So I rip through all the money. I've made an investment banking very, very fast and said, Oh, my gosh, what do I do? And, you know, we're a little company with four or five people. And we just started building up a catalog and distributing shorts. In 2006, we built up a huge catalog. And we started distributing films and selling them to TV channels, then to you know, we weren't as successful as you are you work with broken, but we, you know, we, we were at least staying alive. And in 2006, we started putting we I went out to California and met with the guys in San Francisco near you at Apple and said, Hey, we we have the largest catalogue of short films in the world. We'd love to put them on your platform. And they said, Uh, no. And I said, Well, you know, what, have we got some really famous ones? And they said, I don't know. Just tell us what you mean. I said, maybe we done a deal that year with Sundance to promote their films. So they I said, they said, What about if you I got used the Sundance Film, they said, Oh, Sundance, that would be interesting. And one of the guys in the meetings and Can you get us all the academy nominated shorts? Hmm. I said, I said, Well, that would be so interesting. And they sort of you can get those two is this was in November, if you can get us those. In fact, you know, after the nominations are announced, then we'll do a deal with you for all the films. So I said, let's do the deal first, and then we'll make totally contingent if we, you know, don't wait to do the deal. We'll do the deal first, but it's contingent on us getting you the shorts on these shorts. They said, Whoa, okay, why not? We'll do if you think you can get him I said, I don't know. I'm gonna try. So we went trotting off. And, you know, no, no one. At that point, there were a few people who would go out and buy a few of the shorts and put together a theatrical compilation of a few animations and a document and maybe a couple of live actions and put it in a theater in New York for a week and kind of tour festivals. It wasn't popular didn't have all the film. And Apple said the only way we'll do this though, is if you give us all the films in both those two categories animation and live action. So anyway, we there it turns out, there was another company Magnolia Pictures who was trying to do the same thing. And the guy who was doing it as Tom Quinn, who's now at neon running neon, okay, great company. Yeah, Tom's a great guy. And we screamed at each other. We each got a couple of films, and neither one of us could do the Oscar shorts release at all. Unless the other guy agreed. So I wanted to do the digital side. I had no idea how you do theatrical release and Tom only one theatrical release. So you think we but we're both very hard headed guys. And both of us wanted to do all of it right? And we screamed at each other all of January like till fourth and until finally, and Tom was at Magnolia then finally we agreed he do the of course he do that we'd get we buy all the films, we will give him for theatrical, he provide the cash for the theatrical PNA publicity and advertising and we would get them for digital. So we didn't trust each other. We screamed each other a lot, but it worked on that. In that process, we became great, great friends. Tom is still a great friend. So we did it. We did it for three or four years together and then Mark Cuban wasn't making money in theaters told Tom that if we took it over, we could keep doing it. But they were out, right. And so we did. And we took it over and at about the same time launched the first shorts TV in France, on numeric cabling, which cable system there. And because we had this huge catalog, and we're and I was pitching cable companies every week to try to get somebody to agree to let us launch a channel. And so this license launch in France and and so since then we've grown and distributed the channel now in Europe and also in in the US on direct tv. And we're about to launch in India and Latin America so so it's it's really grown a lot.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
And that so basically, it was all because I remember that you guys were the Oscar like all the Oscars have to go through you and, and for a certain time. And I think that's still the case, if you want to get a short up on iTunes, you were the the place had to go through you for a certain amount of time. I'm not sure if that's still the case or not.

Carter Pilcher 11:07
It's not the case. It's not the sort We're the largest catalog in iTunes. And for a long, long time. We were the old people. You know, they said once they found out how nightmarish short films are, you know, every Rajak there's, it's not a standardized thing. And they said, Oh my gosh, so you guys just handle all that. And we'll take whatever you give us. And that's kind of how because it was hard work for all of us back then. But yeah, we that's exactly what it was like.

Alex Ferrari 11:36
So you were to you, arguably the largest distributor of short films in the world.

Carter Pilcher 11:42
Yeah, we for sure we are we have just on air in the US we're showing on TV we're showing probably 5000 shorts in the US and another four or 5000 in Europe and I was we were trying to between all of them were probably the total catalog size is probably anywhere from between any year between six and 9000 films. It's a lot

Alex Ferrari 12:08
That's insane. Now let me let me ask you how does how do filmmakers because I'm sure everyone listening there's a handful of short filmmakers out there How do they submit How do they get involved? You know how do they How can they get their short films to you to be even looked at?

Carter Pilcher 12:25
So here are all the things that are great you know what the I I was a banker A long time ago and and one of the things experiences that I've had that is like every short film maker ever with your Producer Director is that love the lovely biter utter poverty, you know, in this whole process before we did this deal with Apple, literally there were years three or four years at you know, he started with a lot of money and and I went through it, it's paid it all back Am I in practically almost had to close the company. You know, so our one of our big goals is making sure that that filmmakers get paid. And it's been a slow slog, but but we're paying we're paying filmmakers nearly a million dollars a year just in in license fees. So nobody and nobody else is in that just short filmmakers we so the way you get your film to us is you can go online to shorts.tv which is our website and there's a submissions page and just download the the form and fill it out and then send us send us your film we'd love to look at it the other the other thing that we do we send lots of guys we we have four people in the US that are looking at films and we have another three in Europe that do the same thing. So we try to cover most festivals and and and see most films.

Alex Ferrari 14:01
Now do you acquire a film shorts at festivals like other other distributors just acquire features?

Carter Pilcher 14:08
Yeah, we do absolutely we do. So that's what that's what I'm saying is the other place we go is festivals. We our guys all go to the festival screenings they go to the festival to the markets and scrape go into those little boxes and screen for eight hours a day. So yeah, we we go to we do all of that weird I'm going to can we do a bunch of pitch competition with the with Cannes film festival every year. But really the reason we go is our our acquisitions team just goes into the little vaults in the dark sits in the dark in Cannes on the beach, you know, right from the beach, and they sit in the dark eight hours a day watching horror movies. And this won't go outside at all. But it's great as a place to see films as a great place to see filmmakers and and you No, it's it's just short films are really really becoming a big thing they've been always been for any one, whether your Producer Director, they're a great way to get your, your talent seen and whether you can tell a story or not. But you can tell when a guy can can tell a story in a short film. And you can tell they're going to be a good director or not. The the truth, though, is that shorts have never really been that popular. But they're, but we've seen in the shorts, you know, we released the Oscar shorts theatrically every single year. And this year, we had our best year ever. It's in almost every It's amazing. We have all elderly people who are really into it. We have young people go, it's a very eclectic audience and surprising audience. But it's really it's, especially people who like films and people who are in film school. We want to see them, but they see them every year. And this year, we took three and a half million at the box office, which is

Alex Ferrari 16:11
For short films. Wow.

Carter Pilcher 16:13
You're short, that's insane. And that's just the North American box office in the US, we we released them in. We made several 100,000 more dollars all we release them across Europe. It's more it's not as steady as a runs in Europe. But we're we had a nice release in the Netherlands, a nice release in Germany. And then small releases in lots of other countries.

Alex Ferrari 16:36
And this is for the Oscar These are for the Oscar films.

Carter Pilcher 16:39
Yeah. The Oscar nominated shorts that I started releasing with Tom way back in 2006. We still do it every year. And it's increased every year from the first year the box office was less than 100,000 bucks. And this there was three and a half million. And and that's you know, and we and each of those filmmakers on average, last year, so this is 2018. So 2017, the filmmakers, on average made to call them about 30 or $35,000. Each of the nominees. That's and that's from the theatrical release. Yep. So we're getting back to the filmmakers. More than 10% of the the box office back directly being paid to the filmmakers as a whole not, you know, not each one individually. Were we you know, there, it's like one motion picture. But it's it's a great opportunity for filmmakers.

Alex Ferrari 17:36
Now what In your opinion, since you've seen I'm so I'm assuming you've seen a few short films in your day? What makes what makes a good short film?

Carter Pilcher 17:48
Well, that's a great question. I think there are a lot of different things that one is, whether if they're going to use a hook, or, or a surprise reveal at the end, those are always a fun. It's a fun technique that works in shorts, it doesn't really work in features always. Sometimes it can, but in shorts, it definitely works. And so if that's that if that's a good setup, and it's a clever, well thought through script that that makes a great short. Always an emotional connection is a set. You know, a well it's a well acted piece is always fantastic. This year, the short that won an Oscar best for Best Live action film was a very beautiful story of a little girl who was deaf. And her parents. Her parents didn't want her to be strange. So they didn't want her to learn sign language. And they didn't really and it was a story about how families can go through can be insensitive without realizing that they're being insensitive to their handicapped child. So it's a big topic. It's a it was a big story, but it was told in a way that was very endearing, and and very moving and short films are, are exceptional vehicles for moving and heart rending stories. They're great, too, for comedies, you know, a great short comedy. It's this year one of the nominees was a was a great comedy film in a great short comedy is probably in my mind better even than feature length comedy because feature length comedies, they always have part of it where you just kind of run up a gas or you have to wait. Right You have to wait till it gets to a point where you can laugh again, and assured That's funny. If they time Right You just Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing is over. Right and, and, and i think i don't know i for me that a better moment a better entertainment experience, then the long good laugh and then kind of, you know, even even a Sandra Bullock or Melissa McCarthy film they have great moments that are hilarious like that. But you know they're very few they own I can the only one that comes to mind is the brides.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
Yeah, exactly. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Carter Pilcher 20:47
Bridesmaid is the only one that I think of that actually made you that I've been to in a long time. In years that really where I left from the moment I started watching that film to the end.

Alex Ferrari 20:57
For me it was hangover the first hangover when that came out. Oh, God.

Carter Pilcher 21:03
Yeah, exactly. So it's the most but it's it's that it's hard in a feature to get you maybe one good laugh two, good three or four good laugh. You have a whole hour of just kind of a nice story and in some laughs It's hard to get hangover is a great example hangover bridesmaids, that kind of your laugh. You cannot believe what is happening in front of you. But a short can do it. And so for me that so you know, I I started out as an Astronautical engineer, I honestly, am still in this business. Because I think shorts are way more fun than features. I love them. I think they're inventive. I think they're amazing. It's and they're, you know, and they're coming from, often from really the heart of the filmmaker, which I think is a fabulous, fabulous thing.

Alex Ferrari 21:59
Now, how long should a short film be?

Carter Pilcher 22:03
How long should a short film be? averages first average average animation that we show out of 1000s of animations, average animation is under 10 minutes. And normally around seven have a film that we see in live action is about 15 average film, I'm sorry, I just have all these averages, but average film that wins. an Academy Award is about 20 to 20 1822 minutes so and average Sundance winner is shorter. So this is an amazing thing. You kind of look at these different festivals and different prizes. And different winners are at different lengths. Yeah. But you have to

Alex Ferrari 22:54
No, no, I didn't mean to cut you off. I've just remember that. You know, I've been to many short film festivals or festivals with shorts and instance sitting down watching shorts. And sometimes, you know, they just a 45 minute short, it is not a short anymore in my opinion. Like just keep going and finish it off as a feature.

Carter Pilcher 23:14
Some of them are that way. But you know, even even a 25 minute short. It's a big, it's a big story. There was one that was nominated. You know, the nominees are on my mind this year. But right now, what to what it was a German film. It was a big it was actually a big story is probably 25 minutes. And just the idea. I like that it's you almost feel enough. And I kind of think this is where movies are headed. In 2530 minutes. It's kind of enough. It was It's great. It's fabulous. It's a whole story. You don't we don't hang out for for another hour. I feel that way. And I'll be totally honest with documentary features. I really honestly most of the time, I feel like I just need to go out and shoot myself.

Alex Ferrari 24:12
I get it.

Carter Pilcher 24:14
But a documentary short, that's 30 even 30 minutes. I love it. I love it. And, you know, because I feel like I've learned something. And I don't feel like I'm bogged down by hours of observing my good friend through documentary filmmakers, but I like documentary shorts way better than a documentary feature. And no, no, you're saying no, I was gonna say and and the same is true for animations and live actions. No, I just I think they're a better form of entertainment.

Alex Ferrari 24:45
Now are are there some ways that filmmakers can monetize short films if they don't get into shorts international? Obviously that's the dream for sure filmmakers. It'd be great for a distributor pick them up And send them a check every once in a while, that'd be great. But in your opinion, are there other ways that that film shorts can even be monetized in today's world?

Carter Pilcher 25:09
Well, you know, there is this this world YouTube, which has lots and lots of promise.

Alex Ferrari 25:15
Yes, it's a brand new thing just showed up.

Carter Pilcher 25:18
Well, no, but I mean, they, in the shooting in San Francisco pointed out the promise and the downside of the promise. And and basically, the story was the reason she went and shot people was because they, all these creative lab people that they've funded, and we're making starting to make money. They're making too much money. So they change the algorithm and the rules, so they don't make much money. Right? They shop people, right, which is great. It's a point. Yeah, but YouTube is designed to help you never make money. And that's, that's really YouTube. And if you're a big content provider, they know they can't really exploit you and they change. But if you know, so, if you put your film, one of the big problems we see is that filmmakers put their films online too early. And because once it films online, I, I am unlikely to buy it, our teams are unlikely to buy it. Big channels can't buy it, you can't release it on iTunes, it becomes disqualified for lots of prizes and lots of festivals. So short is one of those things that you have to somewhat nurse a little bit if you want it to be worth something, you have to kind of protect its value. And by that, I mean you have to you have to get it into the festival, spend some time getting it into festivals and getting it seen there, you know, there's film, how is it film, film freeway, and there's without a box without a box that are great, great assets, and make it much less expensive and troublesome to submit your film. But it's a it helps it helps you and the value of your film immensely if you have won some festival prizes, if you get seen on the festival circuit. And you don't put it online once once you put it online, you're not you know YouTube get used to people are pretty much wised up, but but YouTube people used to think you could put it online and make a lot of money, but you can't really and and it's better to take it through the whole process. And and and it's better in terms of notoriety too. Because, you know, shorts, one of the things we're working on is an app and I'm happy to talk about that with you, but but part of the purpose is one of the things we know for viewers, people who love shorts, love watching shorts, is that what they they will everyone with short any type of short content if they have to touch their clicker more than or their phone more than once it's over, they're off to something else. So you so you're not it's it's a very difficult sale. There aren't the thing. You know, you mentioned before we got on the call the fact that your film had sold an awful lot of DVDs. And that that method, you know, kids or you have a daughter I have you know, kids are are don't understand. Really the whole idea of a DVD. Why does it have to? What do you do with it? Where do you put it? Right. I you know, I don't know if that conversation but I have and it's the kind of located thing where you try to end why why music used to be on pieces of metal. Right. And it was in your phone and on your computer? Why? Why does it have to be on pieces of metal that you carry around? So I don't think anybody DVDs to sell them? I don't think that's a way forward. So so that I would say those are the those are the main routes.

Alex Ferrari 29:30
Now can can filmmakers create a successful like studio that focus solely on short form content and short films?

Carter Pilcher 29:39
Yeah, you know, I think I think, too, there's lots. The great news is there's lots of money sloshing around out there looking for short form content, and looking and more than that, looking for great new ideas. Every TV channel is trying to come up with some kind of digital something that is that augment what they're doing on TV. There are lots of opportunities. So I, in terms of getting yourself seen, and this is where doing short form content on YouTube does make sense not when you're working on making money. But when you're worried about creating an impression and getting people to know you, or and if it's if you're doing something shorter that and less precious, I guess then a proper short film, but that kind of short form content, whether it's gags, or little documentaries, or whatever your thing is, or cooking or any of those areas, those are huge, I think. And companies are putting incredible amounts of money and they're spending guys I know spending unbelievable amounts of time finding people who know how to take a camera and use it hold it make say something intelligent into the camera and and get it get a video, short form video that really works.

Alex Ferrari 30:59
Yeah, there's a lot of companies now I've seen that advertising has gone to short films now as well because of YouTube and because of online platforms where they you know, big brands are hiring filmmakers to do a three or four minute short with their product that it

Carter Pilcher 31:14
Well, even even here in India, Pernod Ricard, which is one of the big alcohol brands has a a, the most popular whiskey brand in India is called royal stag. And they and I it's not a brand, a whiskey brand I'd never heard of before, because I think it's only here in India, but they have launched a website where they and they they had all these stars that they are they're kind of fake, you know, celebrity faces. And they started, they got them to do shorts, they hired directors and had to make shorts with one with the stars just as a project to get their brand out there. And here in India, they got you know, they've gotten their huge stars, they're very popular, their movies have gotten 50 100 million views, which India everything staggering button for hits for that. For them as a brand. Even in India, that is as moved everybody's needle. And so it's it's also you know, so I think brands are making more and more short form content. So getting yourself seen if you're, if you're worried about getting yourself seen and have a way to promote yourself on YouTube, and you're not worried about monetizing your film, then then that's a different consideration. And something to think about. No, but if I can, if I can just say this. And in in Europe, where I live in England, and in America, where I where I came from short form, watching stuff on your mobile is, is great. And young kids do it all the time. But most of us when we get home, a TV's on someplace, and we just turn on the TV and, and we and maybe look at Facebook or YouTube or something. Snap Chat well, while you're sitting in front of TV, but you're not really watching video on your phone as much. In places like India and Latin America, I think they're actually the future. A small percentage of people, when you're speaking of the overall overall population, have mobile phones have TVs, everybody has a mobile phones, smartphones are everywhere. And they watch all their TV, all their TV, on their phones, and they watch all shorts and they and that's part of the popularity of these films that this alcohol brand made is that people are watching those, because on your on your phone, it's it's kind of irritating to have to stop all the time if you try to watch a movie or even a TV and our TV show, but a 50 movie or a 12 minute movie is kind of perfect for for transport or, or, you know, if you're just trying to take a break and watch something on your phone. It's a The world is changing, I think faster even than the US

Alex Ferrari 34:21
So I was I was gonna ask you that. I know historically, shorts are been very well accepted in Europe, much more so than in the United States. But you feel now that that's changing where people are now being more accepting of shorts as a general as a general statement.

Carter Pilcher 34:37
I so I think in Europe, there were always more accept, did and thought of as a more pure and intellectual pursuit as a type of I think that general people, Gen young people probably in Europe are slower getting acquainted with shorts than young people in America. But I think in because we're watching more and more and more and more young people first and we're, we're, you know, in California and and everyone in Latin America, everyone in, in India, everyone in China is watching almost all content on their phone and they're all watching, you know, Game of Thrones in India. Because the advertising is so big as made less than 10 minute versions of Game of Thrones, real just, yeah, just as just because you can get it out to more people.

Alex Ferrari 35:37
That's insane. That's insane. Now, are there any tips that you would give on making a successful short film? And we spoke a little bit about making a good short film, but things that would like grab it? Are there any genres that specific genres that are more accepted than others, things like that?

Carter Pilcher 35:56
Well, depends on what you're after. If you're winning festival prizes or getting audience oh one audience, audiences horror, heart rate sci fi, a good sci fi film, it's easier to make an audience energizing film, comedies are great for for audiences. If you want even sketch comedy is a really works. It's kind of in between a proper short film and, and, and just a short sketch. But sketch comedies can be can be great ways to make a film, if you want to want to. Really, if really what you're trying to do is compete for prizes at festivals and become you know, and really your you see yourself as a big director of film director, maybe directing someday one of these big TV shows or being those crews, I think you you want to focus on, on films that tell meaningful stories. And they can be comedies, they can be. They can be poignant love stories, they can be thrillers, they can be hilarious. But telling a written showing that you can deliver a great story in a short amount of time is the mark of a great filmmaker. If you look at and this is this, I think is absolutely essential in in thinking. If you look at the last six directors that have won five directors, five in the last six directors who've won Best Director at the Oscars all around one at twice. Steve McQueen. The guy who wanted wanted for moonlight.

Alex Ferrari 37:52
Yeah, I know he talked about

Carter Pilcher 37:54
And, and, and Guillermo del Toro and one other guy anyway, they're five or six

Alex Ferrari 38:01
Guillermo Del Torro one for shorts. No, no, no, that's direct resurrector. Of course, yes.

Carter Pilcher 38:08
Guys have won Best Director in the last five or six years. All of them have at least as many short films, if not more than they've made features. Barry Jenkins made moonlight. Yes. And Barry Jenkins had made two features and nine or 12 shorts, right? Baran had made about the same in your Ito who may did Birdman and Revenant almost quit filmmaking and he went off and made for a period of three years, he just made shorts, he made three or four shorts in a row. And then he came back and made Birdman. So the but I think the point is about shorts is it as a director, you know, for in your Ito is a great way to re establish your confidence. And it really gives you an ability to practice distinct storytelling. And it really it's an unforgiving to do it. Well, it's a very forgiving format. The other side of that is it's cheap, cheaper. So you can make three or four and really, you know, do some great practicing. And you don't have people standing over your shoulder saying Nope, don't do that. Nope, you have to do this. It's a much freer environment where you really can try things out that you want the you the director wants to do

Alex Ferrari 39:35
To play

Carter Pilcher 39:36
I think. Yeah, play and practice. You know, and in filming, if you if you get hired on a big film, and or you kind of get hired on the first small feature, and it's crap, you're kind of done. Right? It's there's no there. There are 100 lines of guys who want to have a $5 million budget or a $10 million budget. How Out the door. So it's short. If you want to tell great stories, then you've got to start right away learning how to pick great scripts, pick some great actors and really practice telling those stories in a unique way.

Alex Ferrari 40:17
Now, you talk a little bit about the shorts international app. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Carter Pilcher 40:22
Yeah, it's called the shorts TV app. So the, you know, we, all of this time, one thing you do learn is what people you know, I'm an audience guy, I spend all my time thinking about talking to listening, trying to figure out what people like about short, our shorts, all shorts, what they hate, what's good about a short to an audience member. And one of the things we provided these big libraries of shorts, 500 shorts, at a time to these big TV cable networks that we're showing the TV channel on end, you know, nobody ever looks, because if you look at VOD on a cable system, it's really slow. And you have to click click, click, and then there are all these titles. You've never seen you ever all of us have been there. So we, the guys in Holland, the, the big cable system in Holland that we work with, came to us and said, Hey, would you design an app that goes on the set top box and makes your VOD more exciting? So we kind of rolled our eyes and they said, and if you don't do it, we're going to reduce your feet. So he said, Oh, yeah, we really want to do that. That was really something we were just now thinking about really excited about. So we went off and developed it. And we came back. But as we started developing it, it's, it's really fabulous. We, our guys came up with an app that while you're watching in the Netherlands, while you're watching our channel, you just push the red button on your on your clicker. And an overlay comes over with a navigational guide, like kind of like it's similar to Netflix, not exactly the same, but and then you click on short, you can either create it, but it's a lot of Spotify functions, a lot of the watching a short film, we feel is very, very similar to listening to music. So we we've created the ability to build playlists, and we call them channels, we've developed the ability to use like a film, or skip it, if you it starts and you don't like it, you skip it, and you go straight to the next film. So it's always moving. And you never have to read a title pick a film. And we we built it with a lot of very heavy machine learning capability. like Spotify or Pandora, we are guys actually modified that type of an algorithm. So that after about 20 likes and skips, it pretty much starts really feeding you films that you like and don't like and it learns your it's more interactive, like a music app. Because just like like music, you know, you go through a title very quickly compared to a movie or a right. So it comes on the tape. So right now it's it's playing in the Netherlands, and you just push the clicker, it comes over your TV, gentlemen can just start going through the end, we've we launched it with 2500 films. We're just testing next week, starting next week, the iOS version of that, that'll be on phones, and there'll be it should be out by June. That's a man let me let me tell you something. It is fantastic. It's so cool. It's it's I think it's revolutionary. Nobody's ever done scripted content with music type algorithms.

Alex Ferrari 43:48
Very, very cool. I'm glad someone out there is is fighting the good fight for the shorts of the world.

Carter Pilcher 43:54
Yeah, we're going to give everybody and we're putting and now you know, we're we're able to go and say, we can create a playlist that is just a films, you know, the film, the graduation films for blah, blah, blah, film school and put them on the app. We're doing it in the Netherlands, and putting their graduation films on for a month, so that you can go see all the graduation films and just skim through them. And then you know, or so it just gives you this enormous flexibility to be able to bring all kinds of new interesting content to our audiences where it's it's really we think it's really fun. It's, it's definitely the viewership is it takes a while for people to get used to how to use it. But you can see viewership is very high. And the amount of time that they spend on the app is high. Very cool, which is really great.

Alex Ferrari 44:46
So I'm going to give you now the speed round of questions. I ask all of my my guests. Okay. What advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?

Carter Pilcher 44:59
There is never Ever been a better time to get into filmmaking or video? Anything? This is the time so if you're even halfway thinking about it, just do it.

Alex Ferrari 45:09
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? Wow, I know pretty.

Carter Pilcher 45:20
Pretty deep ballot. It's my gosh. Okay, I would say a lot. Longest lesson that took the longest to learn. Well, you know, some lessons you never quite learn.

Alex Ferrari 45:34
Amen.

Carter Pilcher 45:36
But but probably I would say, a hard lesson to learn has been to make sure that you never, you know, I don't really understand and I went through this phase when all our competitors were had tons of money in the early 2000s AG company called atom films, or all these other there was a company called Steven Spielberg was starting a company with Jeffrey Katzenberg called pop calm, they spent 18 million bucks and that all popped and it never all of it died. So the one thing that I took away from from those experiences seeing that happen and going through my own little challenges is that you always stay close to you you make money you keep money and you stay close to money.

Alex Ferrari 46:35
Yes sir.

Carter Pilcher 46:38
It's just you don't you don't do the Start your film and not have enough money to finish it.

Alex Ferrari 46:44
Oh god, no, please don't do that. That's the biggest mistake you could do. Now what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Carter Pilcher 46:50
Oh my god. Well, honest, I would say Saving Private Ryan is is probably one one of them. For a comedy Princess Bride

Alex Ferrari 47:05
Genius movie.

Carter Pilcher 47:06
Yeah. It's it's just and I can watch it endlessly. I think it's brilliant. Gosh, and what would what would a third one be Casablanca

Alex Ferrari 47:18
Good choices, all very good choices. Now where can people find you or and get more information about?

Carter Pilcher 47:24
Shorts shorts.tv is probably the best place to go. It's it's there. And there's all everything about our website. You can go find anything you want about the company. And if there's an info thing and just put my name Carter Pilcher in the subject line, and people will shriek and run it over my desk.

Alex Ferrari 47:51
Carter thank you so much for for talking all things shorts with us on the podcast that I thank you so so much for your time.

Carter Pilcher 47:58
Yeah, Alex, thank you is great. I Lovely to meet you. And I look forward to meeting you in person.

Alex Ferrari 48:02
I want to thank Carter for being on the show. He dropped a bunch of knowledge bombs about short films, things I even know about. And I'll make sure to put links to how to get ahold of Carter how to submit things to short shorts International, as well as links to shorts that I discuss. In the episode just head over to indiefilmhustle.com/238 for the show notes, and I want to thank everybody all the indie film tribe members who have gone over and started subscribe to the bulletproof screenplay podcast. It is blown up. It is amazing how fast it grew like almost overnight. So thank you guys, so so much, please, if you have not subscribed, head over to screenwritingpodcast.com. And if you can leave us a review, leave us a five star review and subscribe because there's a lot of amazing information on that podcast as well. And I should be doing a crossover event soon where one episode will play on both podcasts at the same time. So keep an eye out for that. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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David Fincher: The Ultimate Guide to His Films & Directing Style

1999 was a watershed year for people in my generation, as it no doubt was for other generations as well. On the eve of the new millennium, we were caught in a place between excitement and apprehension.

The 21st century loomed large with promises of technological and sociological innovations, yet we were beset by decidedly 20th century baggage, like an adultery scandal in the White House or the nebulous threat of Y2K.

This potent atmosphere naturally created its fair share of zeitgeist pop culture work, but no works had more of an impact on the public that year than The Wachowski Brothers’ THE MATRIX and David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB. I was only in middle school at the time, but FIGHT CLUB in particular captivated my friends and I with the palpable substance behind its visceral style.

As a kid already consumed by a runaway love for movies, FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest instances in which I was acutely aware of a director’s distinct voice. As such, the films of director David Fincher were among the first that I sought out as a means to study film as an art form and a product of a singular creative entity.

His easily identifiable aesthetic influenced me heavily during those early days, and despite having taken cues from a much larger world of film artists as I’ve grown, Fincher’s unique worldview still shapes my own in a fundamental way.

David Fincher was essentially the first mainstream feature director to emerge from the world of music videos. Ever the technological pioneer, David Fincher innovated several ideas about the nascent music video format that are still in use today. This spirit of innovation and a positive shooting experience on the set of 2007’s ZODIAC eventually led to him becoming a key proponent of digital filmmaking before its widespread adoption.

A student of Stanley Kubrick’s disciplined perfectionism and Ridley Scott’s imaginative world-building, David Fincher established his own voice with a cold, clinical aesthetic that finds relevancy in our increasing dependency and complicated relationship with technology.

David Fincher was born in 1962, in Denver, Colorado. His father, Howard, worked as the bureau chief for LIFE Magazine and his mother, Claire Mae, worked in drug addition facilities as a mental health nurse.

David Fincher spent most of his formative years in northern California’s Marin County (a setting he’d explore in his features THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC), as well as the small town of Ashland, Oregon. Inspired by George Ray Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), an 8 year-old David Fincher started to make little movies of his own using his family’s 8mm film camera.

Having grown up in a time when film schools were well established, David Fincher—rather interestingly—opted against them in favor of going directly into the workforce under Korty Films and Industrial Light and Magic (where we would work on 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI).

It was David Fincher’s time at ILM specifically that would shape his fundamental understanding of and appreciation for visual effects, and his incorporation of ILM’s techniques into his music videos no doubt led to his breakout as a director.

AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: “SMOKING FETUS” (1984)

At the age of 22, David Fincher directed his very first professional work, an anti-smoking ad for the American Cancer Society called“SMOKING FETUS”. Anti-smoking ads are infamous for being shocking and transgressive as a means to literally scare people out of lighting up.

“SMOKING FETUS” was the spot that undoubtedly started it all by featuring a fetus in utero, taking a long drag from a cigarette. The crude puppetry of the fetus is horrifying and nightmarish—an unholy image that delivers a brilliant whallop.

David Fincher has often been called a modern-day Kubrick because of his visual precision and notoriety for demanding obscene numbers of takes—a comparison made all the more salient when given that both men shared a thematic fascination with man’s relationship (and conflict with) technology.

David Fincher’s modeling of his aesthetic after Kubrick’s can be seen even in his earliest of works. Shot against a black background, the fetus floating in space resembles the Star Child of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). “SMOKING FETUS” brought David Fincher to the attention of Propoganda Films, who subsequently signed him on in earnest, effectively launching his career.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” (1984)

Due to the strength of “SMOKING FETUS”, 80’s rock superstar Rick Springfield enlisted David Fincher to direct his 1984 concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. The responsibility also entailed the shooting of four pre-filmed music videos to incorporate into the live show.

“DANCE THIS WORLD AWAY” features three vignettes: a man dancing amongst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a happy-go-lucky TV show for kids, and a ballroom filled with socialites oblivious to the nuclear missile launching from underneath the dance floor. The piece establishes several traits that David Fincher would incorporate into his mature aesthetic like stylized, theatrical lighting, an inspired use of visual effects and elaborate production design.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “CELEBRATE YOUTH” (1984)

“CELEBRATE YOUTH” is presented in stark black and white, punctuated by bright pops of color like the red of Springfield’s bandana or the indigo of a child’s sneakers. This conceit further points to David Fincher’s familiarity with special effects, as such a look requires the shooting of the original footage in color and isolating specific elements in post production.

The look predates a similar conceit used by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY (both the 2005 film and the comic it was based upon), so it’s reasonable to assume that David Fincher’s video very well could have served as an influence for Miller. “CELEBRATE YOUTH” also highlights David Fincher’s inspired sense of camera movement, utilizing cranes and dollies to add energy and flair to the proceeds.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “BOP TIL YOU DROP” (1984)

“BOP TIL YOU DROP” tells David Fincher’s first narrative story in the form of a slave revolt inside of a futuristic METROPOLIS-style dystopia. This is Fincher’s earliest instance of world-building, using elaborate creature and set design, confident camera movements and theatrical lighting (as well as lots of special visual effects) to tell an archetypal story of revolution.


RICK SPRINGFIELD: “STATE OF THE HEART”(1984)

Rounding out David Fincher’s quartet of Rick Springfield videos is “STATE OF THE HEART”, which compared to the others, is relatively sedate and low-key in its execution. While the piece takes place inside of a single room, David Fincher still brings a sense of inspired production design in the form of a cool, metallic color palette. Indeed, “STATE OF THE HEART” is the first instance within Fincher’s filmography of the cool, steely color palette that would later become his signature.


THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984)

All of the aforementioned music videos, while capable of acting as standalone pieces, were produced for eventual incorporation into Rick Springfield’s larger concert film, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM.

With his first feature-length work, David Fincher more or less follows the established format of concert films—performance, audience cutaways, wide shots that give us the full scope of the theatrics, etc. He makes heavy use of a crane to achieve his shots, partly out of necessity since he can’t exactly be on-stage, yet it still shows a remarkable degree of confidence in moving the camera on David Fincher’s part.

And while it probably wasn’t Fincher’s idea or decision, THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM contains a pretty blatant Kubrick nod in the form of a guitarist wearing Malcolm McDowell’s iconic outfit from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

The concert film format doesn’t allow much room for David Fincher to exercise his personal artistic voice, but he does manage to add a few stylistic flourishes in the form of visual effects that were added in after the live filming.

He adds a CGI blimp hovering over the stage, as well as fireballs that erupt from various places throughout the stadium (several audience cutaways appear blatantly staged to accommodate the inclusion of these effects).

Despite being something of a time capsule for ridiculous 80’s hair rock, it’s a high quality romp through Springfield’s discography that briskly clips along its brief 70 minute running time without ever really sagging.

Fincher’s involvement with THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM wasn’t going to net him any opportunities to transition into features, but it did generate a significant amount of buzz for him in the music video and commercial world, where he’d spend the better part of a decade as one of the medium’s most sought-after directors.

The success of THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM (1984), director David Fincher’s feature-length concert film for Rick Springfield, led to a very prolific period of music video assignments for the burgeoning auteur. In three short years, David Fincher established himself as a top music video director, held in high regard and higher demand by the biggest pop artists of the era. It was the golden age of music videos, and Fincher was the tastemaker at the forefront developing it into a legitimate art form.


THE MOTELS: “SHAME” (1985)

In his early professional career, Fincher’s most visible influence is the work of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, two feature directors who were quite en vogue at the time due to blockbuster, high-fashion work like BLADE RUNNER (1982) and THE HUNGER (1983). Tony in particular was a key aesthetic influence, with David Fincher borrowing the English director’s love for theatrical lighting and the noir-ish slat shadows cast by venetian blinds.
For The Motels’ “SHAME”, Fincher makes heavy use of this look in his vignette of a woman stuck in a motel room who dreams of a glamorous life outside her window. Because computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy at the time, Fincher’s penchant for using special effects in his music video work is limited mostly to compositing effects, like the motion billboard and the fake sky behind it.


THE MOTELS: “SHOCK” (1985)

David Fincher’s second video for the Motels features lead singer Martha Davis as she’s chased by an unseen presence in a dark, empty house late at night. The concept allows Fincher to create an imaginative lighting and production design scheme.“SHOCK” also makes lurid use of Fincher’s preferred cold color palette, while a Steadicam rig allows David Fincher to chase Martha around the house like a gliding, ominous force. This subjective POV conceit echoes a similar shot that David Fincher would incorporate into his first feature, 1992’s ALIEN 3, whereby we assume the point of view of a xenomorph as it chases its victims down a tunnel. The piece also feature some low-key effects via a dramatic, stormy sky.


THE OUTFIELD: “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” (1986)

By 1986, David Fincher’s music video aesthetics were pretty well-established: cold color palettes, theatrical lighting schemes commonly utilizing venetian blinds, and visual effects. While The Outfield’s “ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD” was shot on film, David Fincher embraces the trappings of the nascent video format by incorporating tape static and a surveillance-style van.


THE OUTFIELD: “EVERY TIME YOU CRY” (1986)

David Fincher’s second video for The Outfield in 1986, “EVERY TIME YOU CRY”, is a concert performance piece a la THE BEAT OF THE LIVE DRUM. Like the latter’s incorporation of rudimentary visual effects, here Fincher uses the technology to replace the sky with a cosmic light show and add in a dramatic moonrise.


HOWARD HEWETT: “STAY” (1986)

In “STAY”, a piece for Howard Hewett, David Fincher makes use of another of Tony Scott’s aesthetic fascinations—billowing curtains. He projects impressionistic silhouettes onto said curtains, giving his cold color palette some visual punch.


JERMAINE STEWART: “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” (1986)

While Jermaine Stewart’s “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR CLOTHES OFF” is a relatively conventional music video, David Fincher’s direction of it is anything but. The core aesthetic conceit of the piece is the playful exploration of aspect ratio boundaries. David Fincher conceives of the black bars at the top and bottom of your screen as arbitrary lines in physical space, so when the camera moves to the side, those lines skew appropriately in proportion to your perspective. He takes the idea a step further by superimposing performance elements shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio over the main 2.35:1 anamorphic footage, giving the effect of visuals that transcend the constraints and the edges of their frame.

You can watch the video here.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1988-1990)

Throughout the 80’s, David Fincher became a director in high demand thanks to his stunning music videos. As he crossed over into the world of commercials, his imaginative style and technical mastery began to command the attention of studio executives, who desired to see his visceral aesthetic to features. During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Fincher churned out some of his most memorable music video work and worked with some of the biggest stars around.


YM MAGAZINE “HER WORLD” (1988)

While his “SMOKING FETUS” spot for the American Cancer Society in 1984 was his first commercial, Fincher’s “HER WORLD”, a spot commissioned by Young Miss Magazine, kicked off his commercial directing career in earnest. The spot stars a young, pre-fame Angelina Jolie walking towards us, clutching a copy of YM Magazine as several cars painted with the words “sex, “love”, “work”, “family”, and others zip and crash around her in a ballet of violence. Even when working in the branding-conscious world of advertising, Fincher is able to retain his trademark aesthetic (indeed, you don’t hire someone like Fincher if you want a friendly, cuddly vibe). His characteristic cold color palette is accentuated by stark lighting and slick streets. An eye for stylized violence that would give 1999’s FIGHT CLUB its power can be glimpsed here through the jarring collisions of the cars.


Alien 3 (1992)

The runaway success of director James Cameron’s ALIENS sequel in 1986 turned the property into a major franchise for Twentieth Century Fox. Executives wanted to strike with a third ALIEN film while the iron was hot, but coming up with the right story proved tricky.

Adding to the threequel’s film’s development woes, a revolving door of writers and directors experienced immense frustration with a studio that was too meddlesome with its prized jewel of a franchise.

In a long search for an inexperienced, yet talented, director that they could control and micromanage, Fox settled on David Fincher—a rising star in the commercial and music video realm with a professed love for the ALIEN franchise and its founding director, Ridley Scott.

Fincher jumped at the offer to direct his first feature film, but in retrospect it was a naïve move that almost destroyed his career before it even began. His supreme confidence and bold vision clashed with the conservative executives, causing a long, miserable experience for the young director.

He eventually disowned ALIEN 3, abandoning it to flail and die at the box office. However, as Fincher has grown to become recognized as one of America’s major contemporary auteurs, his debut has undergone something of a reappraisal in the film community, with fans choosing to see the good in it instead of the bad.

More than twenty years after its release, ALIEN 3’s legacy to the medium is that it makes a hard case against the kind of filmmaking-by-committee that meddlesome studio executives still impose on gifted visionaries to this day.

ALIEN 3 picks up where ALIENS left off, with Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and Newt (Carrie Henn) resting in cryosleep as their ship, The Sulaco, drifts peacefully through space.

However, in their hibernating state, they are unaware of the fact that an alien facehugger has stowed away onboard their craft. Its attempts to penetrate and impregnate our heroes leads to a fire on deck and the cryosleep chambers are jettisoned away in an escape pod that crash lands on nearby on Fiorina 161, a sulfurous industrial prison planet colloquially known as Fury.

Tragically, Hicks and Newt don’t survive the crash, but Ripley does when she’s discovered by a group of inmates and nursed back to health. Once restored, Ripley finds herself thrust into an all-male, religious extremist culture that hasn’t seen a woman in decades.

Ripley quickly toughens up to counter the sexual aggression of the inmates, but her problems multiply when its discovered that one of the alien xenomorphs has followed her to Fury 161 and is picking off the inmates one by one.

A distress signal is dispatched to a rescue ship, but Ripley and the inmates still have to contend with the xenomorph before help arrives, a task made all the more difficult by the lack of conventional weapons anywhere in the prison facility, as well as the discovery that Ripley is hosting the embryo of a new egg-laying Queen alien inside of her.

In her third performance as Ripley, Weaver yet again transforms the character via a radical evolution into a tough, resilient survivor. Her arc throughout the three films is compelling, and for all the controversies over the film’s storyline, Weaver deserves a lot of credit for never phoning it in when she very easily could have.

Hers is the only familiar face in this hellish new world, save for the mutilated visage of Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop (and his flesh-and-blood counterpart that appears towards the end of the film).

Among the fresh blood, so to speak, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance and Pete Postlethwaite stand out as the most compelling inmates on Fury 161. Dutton plays Dillon, a tough, righteous voice of spiritual authority that the other inmates can rally behind.

Dance plays Clemens, the sensitive, intellectual medical officer who helps Ripley acclimate to this harsh world and harbors a dark secret of his own. The late, great character actor Postlethwaite plays David, an observant prisoner with a high degree of intelligence.

David Fincher’s collaborations with director of photography Jeff Cronenweth in the music video realm led to Fincher hiring his father, the legendary Jordan Cronenweth, as ALIEN 3’s cinematographer. Best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 masterpiece, BLADE RUNNER (itself a huge influence on Fincher’s aesthetic), Cronenweth was being slowly consumed by Parkinsons Disease during filming.

The earliest of ALIEN 3’s several considerable production woes, Cronenweth’s condition deteriorated so quickly that cinematographer Alex Thomson had to step in and replace him only two weeks into the shoot. Despite this setback, ALIEN 3 is a visual stunner that firmly established David Fincher’s uncompromising style in the feature realm.

Fincher’s stark, grungy aesthetic translates well into the theatrical anamorphic aspect ratio format, with the smoky, industrial production design by Norman Reynolds giving Fincher plentiful opportunities to incorporate artful silhouettes and his signature cold, desaturated color palette (only David Fincher can make a palette that deals heavily in oranges and browns feel “cold”).

Fincher’s emphasis on architecture and world-building manifests in a subtle, surprising way—he chooses to shoot a great deal of the film in low angle shots that look up at the characters and expose the ceiling. This creates an air of helplessness that pervades the film, like we’re way over our heads and drowning in despair.

While this hopeless mood ultimately might have contributed to the film’s failure at the box office, it’s an inspired way for David Fincher to communicate a real, tangible world that draws us into it—most sets are built without a ceiling so a lighting grid can be easily installed overhead, but by showing the audience the existence of a ceiling, it subconsciously tells us we are in a place that exists in real life… and that the events of the film could very well happen to us.

Fincher and Thomson’s camerawork in ALIEN 3 is also worth noting. Fincher has always had a firm, visionary command of camera movement, and the considerable resources of studio backing allows him to indulge in sweeping, virtuoso moves that bring a fresh, terrifying energy to the film.

A particular highlight is a tunnel sequence towards the end of the film, where the xenomorph chases the inmates through a huge, twisting labyrinth. David Fincher uses a steadicam that assumes the POV of the Xenomorph as it rages through the tunnels, twisting and spinning at seemingly impossible angles to communicate the alien’s terrifying agility and speed.

The industrial, foreboding nature of Fincher’s visuals are echoed in composer Elliot Goldenthal’s atmospheric score. Instead of using traditional symphonic arrangements, Goldenthal blurs the line between music and sound effects by incorporating non-instruments and electronic machinations into an atonal blend of sounds.

In many ways, this approach proves to be even scarier than a conventional orchestral sound could conjure up. To reflect the medieval, religious nature of Fury 161’s inhabitants, Goldenthal also adapts haunting choral requiems that weave themselves into his tapestry of ominous sounds and tones.

ALIEN 3’s infamous production disasters are well documented, hopefully as a means to ensure that the film industry as a collective learns from the production’s mistakes. These woes began during the earliest stages of pre-production which saw the hiring and resigning of director Renny Harlin before Vincent Ward came onboard for a short period to realize his vision of a wooden cathedral planet populated by apocalyptic monks.

While a semblance of this conceit remains in the finished film, the script was changed radically several times before cameras started rolling, and even then the filmmakers didn’t have a finished version to work from. The ramifications of this were numerous, from actors being frustrated with constantly-changing character arcs, plot inconsistencies, and even $7 million being wasted on sets that were built and never used.

The process was particularly hard on David Fincher, who was constantly fighting a losing battle against incessant studio meddling that overruled his decisions and undermined his authority. Fed up with the lack of respect his vision was being given, the young director barely hung on long enough to wrap production, and walked off entirely when it came time for editing. The fact that he ever decided to make another feature film again after that ordeal is something of a miracle.

Despite constant challenges to his control of the film, Fincher’s hand is readily apparent in every frame of ALIEN 3. A science fiction film such as this is heavily reliant on special effects, a niche that David Fincher’s background at ILM makes him well suited for.

Computer-generated imagery was still in its infancy in 1992, so Fincher and company had to pull off ALIEN 3’s steam-punk vision of hell and the devil through a considered mix of miniatures, puppets, animatics and matte paintings. Some of the earliest CGI in film history is also seen here in the film, in the scene where the skull of the hot-lead-covered Xenomorph cracks under the sudden onset of cold water before exploding.

Fincher’s fascination with technology plays well into the ALIEN universe, where the complete absence of technology—and for that matter, weapons—is used as a compelling plot device to generate suspense and amplify the hopelessness of the characters’ scenario. In order to vanquish the monster, they ultimately have to resort to the oldest form of technology known to mankind: fire.

ALIEN 3 fared decently at the box office, mostly due to franchise recognition and the considerable fan base built up by the film’s two predecessors, but was mercilessly savaged by critics (as was to be expected).

Long considered the worst entry in the series until Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet gave David Fincher a run for his money with 1997’s ALIEN: EVOLUTION, ALIEN 3 has become something of a cult classic as Fincher’s profile has risen. Fans forgave the film of its transgressions because they knew Fincher’s vision had been hijacked and tampered with. They knew that somewhere out there, in the countless reels of film that were shot, David Fincher’s original vision was waiting to be given shape.

In 2003, Fox attempted to make amends by creating a new edit of the film, dubbed the Assembly Cut, for release in their Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set. Fincher refused to participate in the re-edit, understandably, so Fox had to go off his notes in restoring the auteur’s original vision.

The 2003 Assembly Cut differs markedly from the 1992 original, restoring entire character arcs and adding a good 50 minutes worth of footage back into the story. There’s several key changes in this new cut, like Ripley being discovered on the beach instead of her escape pod, the Xenomorph bursting out of an ox (and not a dog), and the removal of the newborn alien queen bursting out of Ripley’s chest as she falls to her death.

The end result is a much better version of the film, giving us greater insight to the characters and their actions. While it doesn’t quite make up for the studio’s stunning lack of respect for Fincher during the making of the film, it ultimately proved that their concerns that the untested young director didn’t know what he was doing were completely unfounded, and were the film’s ultimate undoing.

The experience of making ALIEN 3 would be enough for any director to quit filmmaking forever, but thankfully this wasn’t the end for David Fincher. He would go back to the music video and commercial sector to lick his wounds for a while, but his true feature breakout was just on the horizon.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (1992-1995)

The abject failure of ALIEN 3 was director David Fincher’s first high-profile disappointment. It nearly made him swear off filmmaking altogether and he publicly even threatened as much— but when the dust settled, Fincher was able to slip back into commercial and music video directing with ease. Working once again in his comfort sphere, David Fincher churned out some of his best promotional work between the years 1992 and 1995.

NIKE: “INSTANT KARMA” (1992)

1992 saw sports gear giant Nike commission Fincher for a trio of commercials. The most well-known of these is “INSTANT KARMA”, which mimics the energetic pace of music videos. David Fincher’s touch is immediately evident here, with his high-contrast look that incorporates key components of his style like silhouettes and a cold color scheme.


NIKE: “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” (1992)

Nike’s “BARKELY ON BROADWAY” is shot in black and white, a curious choice for a high-profile spot like this. The central conceit of a theatrical stage show lends itself quite well to Fincher’s talent for imaginative production design and lighting. Like “INSTANT KARMA”, “BARKLEY ON BROADWAY” has taken on something of a cult status, especially because of Charles Barkley’s cheeky persona.


NIKE: “MAGAZINE WARS” (1992)

The third spot, “MAGAZINE WARS”, revolves around the conceit of sports magazine covers in a newsstand coming to life and causing a mess. The idea is heavily reliant on visual effects, which comes naturally to David Fincher. While it’s a brilliant idea, it’s one that’s most likely inspired by a similar scene in Gus Van Sant’s feature MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, which had come out only a year earlier.


NIKE: “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” (1993)

In 1993, Fincher once again collaborated with NBA superstar Charles Barkley on another spot for Nike called “BARKLEY OF SEVILLE” that makes use of some potent old world imagery that David Fincher’s prime influence Stanley Kubrick used so excellently in 1975’s BARRY LYNDON (while also foreshadowing the eerie Illuminati imagery that Kubrick would depict inEYES WIDE SHUT six years later). The piece is textbook Fincher, featuring a dueling orange and blue color palette, theatrical lighting that highlights some excellent production design and casts artful silhouettes.


BUDWEISER: “GINGER OR MARIANNE” (1993)

Also in 1993, Fincher took on two spots for Budweiser beer. The first, “GINGER OR MARIANNE” features young adults playing pool and debating their preferences of old TV character crushes. The pool hall is lit in smoky, desaturated warm tones with high contrast, as per Fincher’s established aesthetic.


BUDWEISER: “CLASSIC ROCK” (1993)

The second Budweiser spot, “CLASSIC ROCK”, features a handful of middle-aged dudes golfing and arguing over their favorite acts. David Fincher utilizes the high contrast natural light on the scenic golf course, supplementing it with a subtle gliding camera as it follows the characters. The result is a pretty conventional, but no less well-crafted, piece of advertising.


CHANEL: “THE DIRECTOR” (1993)

Fincher’s spot for Chanel, called “THE DIRECTOR”, is an excellent example of his “grunge-glam” aesthetic. The piece makes evocative use of its cold, blue color palette and smoky, European urban setting, with the director’s high contrast lighting bouncing off the wet streets and old-world architecture. Fincher’s fondness for revealing the artifice of the shooting process is incorporated into the narrative, as his opening vignette is revealed to be the shoot for a large movie, with the titular director being shown mostly in abstract, silhouette form.

COCA-COLA: “BLADE ROLLER” (1993)

Fincher’s filmography owes a lot to the work of Ridley Scott and his brother, Tony Scott. Ridley’s influence in particular is deeply felt in the fundamental building blocks of David Fincher’s aesthetic, and Fincher’s “BLADE ROLLER” spot for Coca-Cola seems to be directly lifted from Ridley’s visionary sci-fi masterpiece BLADE RUNNER (1982).

We see a dystopian city of the future, characterized by neon lights and Asian architecture, bathed in perpetual smoke and soaked through to the bone. Fincher’s signature high contrast, cold look plays directly into the BLADE RUNNER style, which the young director builds upon by adding his own flourishes like artful silhouettes and a high-energy camera that screams through the cityscape.“BLADE ROLLER” is one of David Fincher’s most well-known commercials, and easily one of his best.


AT&T: “YOU WILL” CAMPAIGN (1993)

It’s not uncommon for advertisers to create entire campaigns with multiple spots centered around a singular idea. In 1993, AT&T wanted to communicate how their technologies were going to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, which would have long-term ramifications for how we live our lives and connect with others.

To convey this message, AT&T hired Fincher—a director well known for his fascination with technology—for their “YOU WILL” campaign. The campaign is a series of seven spots that actually predict many of the things that are commonplace today, albeit in a laughably clunky, primitive form that was the 90’s version of “hi-tech”.

The spots show us various vignettes of people connecting with others through AT&T’s theoretical future tech: GPS navigation, doctors looking at injuries over video-link, video phone calls, sending faxes over tablets, and more. Fincher’s high contrast, cold palette serves him well with this campaign, further enhancing the appeal of this promising technology that aims to transform our lives.

Looking back at these spots over twenty years, it’s easy to laugh at the clunky tech on display, but it’s remarkable how much of it they actually got right.


MADONNA: “BAD GIRL” (1993)

David Fincher’s output during this period of his career was heavily weighted with commercials, but he did make a few music videos, one of which was another collaboration with pop diva Madonna for her track “BAD GIRL”.

The video incorporates some Hollywood talent in the form of Christopher Walken who plays a silent, watchful guardian angel of sorts and supporting character stalwart Jim Rebhorn, who would later appear in Fincher’s THE GAME four years later.

The look of“BAD GIRL” is similar to Fincher’s previous collaborations with Madonna, featuring high contrast lighting, diffused highlights and a smoky, cold color palette. The video is very cinematic, no doubt owing to a large budget afforded by the combined clout of Madonna and David Fincher (as well as Walken’s goofy dancing, seen briefly towards the middle).


LEVI’S: “KEEP IT LOOSE” (1993)

The first of several spots that Fincher would take on for jeans-maker Levi’s, “KEEP IT LOOSE” features the director’s iconic blue color palette as a static background, with a variety of actors composited into the scene dancing wildly and expressing themselves in their hilariously baggy 90’s jeans.


LEVI’S: “REASON 259: RIVETS” (1994)

1994 saw several more Levi’s spots put on Fincher’s plate, with “REASON 259: RIVETS” being the standout. The piece features the cold, blue high contrast look David Fincher is known for, along with a premise centering around tech—in this instance, a machine that is able to punch a single jeans rivet into someone’s nose as a decorative stud. The spot as it exists online currently can’t be embedded, but you can watch it here.


THE ROLLING STONES: “LOVE IS STRONG” (1994)

Fincher’s video for The Rolling Stones’ “LOVE IS STRONG” is shot in high contrast black and white, featuring grungy bohemian types in a smoky, urban setting.

The video shows off Fincher’s natural talent for visual effects, as he composites his actors as giants against various NYC landmarks, using the dwarfed city below them as their own personal playground. It’s a pretty simple concept, but extremely well-executed and staged—a credit to Fincher’s meticulousness.


SE7EN (1995)

In the mid-90’s, a script by newcomer Andrew Kevin Walker called SE7EN (a stylization of “seven”) was making the rounds and generating excitement all over town. Readers and creative executives alike hailed its bold, original storyline and that ending.

That audacious, coup-de-grace ending that nobody saw coming. That ending that could possibly never be put into the finished film and thus had to be rewritten and castrated into oblivion for fear that its inclusion could break cinema itself. Indulgent hyperbole aside, it was the ending that cajoled a young David Fincher back into the director’s seat that he had so publicly sworn off after a catastrophic experience with his debut, ALIEN 3 (1992).

While David Fincher didn’t have enough clout on his own to drop mandates that the original ending would remain as written, his stars (Hollywood heavyweights) Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman did, and they used that clout to back up this untested auteur. As such, Fincher was in an enviable position to infuse this hauntingly original story—free from the baggage of franchise—with his unflinching style and uncompromising vision.

SE7EN takes place in an unnamed, crumbling metropolis of perpetual precipitation and endless blight—an oppressive environment where hope goes to die. Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a longtime member of the city’s police force, is in his last week of retirement, with a young, headstrong detective named Mills (Brad Pitt) arriving in town to take his place.

On their first day together, they are called to a murder scene where an obese man has been forced to literally eat himself to death.

Initially assuming it to be another one of the city’s routine murders—business as usual—, a similar scene at a lawyer’s office the next day (where the victim was forced to carve up his own body and the word “greed” is painted on the floor in his blood) prompts a second look at the fat man’s murder scene (where Somerset finds “gluttony” written in grease behind the fridge).

This discovery prompts the detectives to realize that they are in the midst of a killing spree perpetrated by a psychopath who carries out his murders in accordance with the seven deadly sins and leaves behind grisly scenes that taunt and challenge his pursuers. With the days passing and the bodies piling up, Somerset and Mills must race against time to deduce the killer’s identity and stop him before his grand plan reaches its shocking and grisly conclusion.

Morgan Freeman is pitch perfect as the insightful, bookish Detective Somerset—a man haunted by the mistakes of his past and the city that threatens to consume him. His presence lends a great deal of gravitas and authority to the film, grounding the outlandish story developments in reason and logic and making them all the more scarier because of their realism.

Brad Pitt’s performance as the hotheaded, impatient Detective Mills is interesting in that the performance itself tends to be wooden at times but we as the audience are still pulled into his swirling emotional whirlpool.

Perhaps it’s only because Pitt has become such a sublimely subtle actor in the twenty years since that his forcefulness in SE7EN reads now as a younger man struggling with inherent talent but an unpolished craft. Mills’ impatience and stubbornness is well set-up throughout the film—when assigned a handful of heavy philosophical books by Somerset, he opts instead to read the Cliff Notes versions.

Because he takes shortcuts and is quick to action without necessarily thinking things through, he’s in a prime position to be manipulated by Spacey’s John Doe and play into his twisted, murderous scheme.

Speaking of John Doe, Kevin Spacey absolutely murders it as SE7EN’s creepy, calculating killer (puns!). Spacey imbues this psychopath with a degree of intelligence and brilliance that one doesn’t necessarily expect in their garden-variety serial killer.

For Doe, his life’s work IS his life—he has no job or relationships to speak of, only a single-minded focus to complete his grand plan and etch himself permanently into the criminal history books. As evidenced by Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series, Spacey is at his best under Fincher’s direction, and their first collaboration together in SE7EN results in the actor’s most mesmerizing performance in a career stuffed with them.

While the potency of SE7EN’s story hinges on this trifecta of brilliant performers, Fincher doesn’t skimp in the supporting department either. He enlists Gwyneth Paltrow (who coincidentally was dating Pitt at the time) to play Pitt’s supportive, sweet wife, Tracy.

Paltrow has something of a bland reputation of an actress, but collaborating with auteurs like David Fincher, James Gray, or Paul Thomas Anderson bring out the very best in her and remind us why she’s an excellent actress.

Paltrow takes what could easily be the standard non-confrontational, supporting house wife stock character and infuses it with a creeping pathos and dread— grappling with moral conflict over bringing a child into the dark, overbearing world that Fincher has created on-screen.

In another nod to director Stanly Kubrick’s profound influence on Fincher, FULL METAL JACKET’s (1987) fire-and-brimstone drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey shows up here as Somerset’s weary precinct captain. Additionally, John C McGinley shows up against-type as a militaristically macho SWAT commander, as does Mark Boone Junior as a shady, scruffy informant to Somerset.

To accomplish his stark, pitch-black vision, Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Darius Khondji, who is able to translate David Fincher’s signature aesthetic (high contrast lighting, cold color palette, silhouettes and deep wells of shadow) onto the 35mm film image.

The film is presented in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, but in watching some of the film’s supplemental features (and with no other evidence to go on), I’m convinced that Fincher and Khondji didn’t actually shoot anamorphic.

It appears the 2.35:1 aspect ratio was achieved via a matte in post-production, which plays into Fincher’s reputation as a visual perfectionist who uses digital technology to exert control over the image down to the smallest detail. This control extends to the camera movement, which uses cranes and dollies for measured effect, echoing John Doe’s precise, predetermined nature.

In fact, the only time that Fincher goes handheld is during the foot-chase sequence in Doe’s apartment complex and the finale in the desert, both of which are the only moments in the film that the balance of control is tipped out of any one person’s favor, leaving only chaos to determine what happens next.

While SE7EN was filmed in downtown Los Angeles, David Fincher intended for it to stand in for an unnamed East Coast city, which he successfully achieved via a mix of careful location selection and production designer Arthur Max’s vision of oppressive decay.

A never-ending, torrential downpour of rain amplifies Fincher’s signature grunge aesthetic, although its presence was initially less about thematics and more about creating continuity with Pitt’s scenes (who had to film all of his part first before leaving to work on Terry Gilliam’s 12 MONKEYS).

Howard Shore crafts an ominous score that utilizes a particular brassy sound evocative of old-school noir cinema, but its’ in Fincher’s source cue selection that SE7EN’s music really stands out.

He uses a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” for the opening credits, foreshadowing David Fincher’s later collaborations with NIN frontman Trent Reznor on the scores for THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Other standout cues include a Marvin Gaye track playing in the Mills apartment, and—in another nod to Kubrick—classical arrangements that waft through the cavernous library Somerset conducts his research in.

It’s also worth highlighting SE7EN as Fincher’s first collaboration with Ren Klyce, who would go on create the visceral, evocative soundscapes of Fincher’s subsequent films.

Overall, SE7EN is a supreme technical achievement on all fronts— a fact realized by the studio (New Line Cinema), who then mounted an aggressive awards campaign on the film’s behalf. Only Richard Francis-Bruce’s crisp editing was nominated at the Academy Awards, with neither David Fincher nor his stellar cast getting a nod.

Despite the cast turning in great, truly original performances, it’s apparent that Fincher’s emphasis on the visuals and the technical aspects of the production came at the expense of devoting as much energy and attention to the performances as he probably should have.

The result is a visually groundbreaking film with slightly wooden performances, despite the cast’s best efforts and a first-rate narrative.

An oft-mentioned aspect of SE7EN is its haunting opening credits sequence, designed by Kyle Cooper. The sequence acts as a preview of John Doe’s meticulous psychosis, with jittery text trying to literally crawl away from the disturbing images that we’re shown in quick, rapid succession.

Shot separately from the main shoot after the original scripted opening credits sequence was trashed, the piece both pulls us into this sick, twisted world and prepares us for what comes next. The sequence was shot by late, great cinematographer Harris Savides—who would go on to lens Fincher’s THE GAME (1997) and ZODIAC (2007)—and edited by Angus Wall, who has since become one of David Fincher’s key editors.

Fincher, more so than a great deal of his contemporaries, uses the opening credits of his features to set the mood and the tone of his story in a highly creative and stimulating style. His incorporation of the technique began in earnest with SE7EN, but the practice hails back to the work of Alfred Hitchchock, who pioneered the idea of opening credits as part of the storytelling and not just an arbitrary device to let the audience know who did what.

SE7EN is one of the earliest instances in Fincher’s feature filmography in which his aesthetic coalesces into something immediately identifiable—no small feat for a man at bat for only the second time. The film places a subtle, yet strong emphasis on architecture—specifically, an early twentieth-century kind of civic architecture seen in noir films and old New York buildings (a mix of classical and art deco).

There’s a distinct claustrophobic feeling to the city David Fincher is portraying, which is reinforced by his framing of several shots from a low angle looking up at the ceiling (implying that the walls are closing in around our characters).

Fincher’s fascination with technology is also reflected in a mix of cutting-edge forensic tools and outdated computer systems that are used by the protagonists to find their man. Lastly, a strong air of nihilism marks Fincher’s filmography, with the incorporation of its philosophy giving SE7EN its pitch-black resonance.

Several story elements, like the moral ambiguity of Detective Mills, the rapid decay of the city aided and abetted by uncaring bureaucrats, and the darkly attractive nature of John Doe’s crimes cause a severe existential crisis for our protagonists.

SE7EN was a huge hit upon its release, and put David Fincher on the map in a way that ALIEN 3 never did (or could have done)—precisely because it was an original property in which Fincher could assert himself, free from the excessive studio needling that plagued top-dollar franchises back then (and still today).

This freedom resulted in one of the most shocking thrillers in recent memory, jolting audiences from apathy and re-energizing a fear response that had been dulled by the onslaught of uninspired slasher films during the 80’s.

SE7EN, along with Fincher’s other zeitgeist-y film FIGHT CLUB (1999), is frequently cited as one of the best pictures of the 90’s, perfectly capturing the existential, grungy essence of the decade. Above all, SE7EN is a gift—for David Fincher, another chance to prove himself after the failure of ALIEN 3, and for us, a groundbreaking new voice in the cinematic conversation.

That, my friends, is what was in the box.


THE GAME (1997)

Director David Fincher had built up quite a career for himself in the commercial and music video realm through his association with Propaganda Films. After the breakout success of his feature SE7EN (1995), Fincher was able to leverage this newfound clout into a collaboration with Propaganda for his third feature, a suspenseful puzzle thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock called THE GAME (1997).

THE GAME’s origins are interesting in and of itself, with Fincher actually being attached to direct the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris as his return to features after his abysmal experience onALIEN 3 (1992). The sudden availability of SE7EN star Brad Pitt forced the production of that film to go first and delayed THE GAME by several years.

Ultimately, this proved to be a good thing, as SE7EN’s runaway success set THE GAME up for similar success with a built-in audience hungry for the visionary director’s next work.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker who lives by himself in a huge mansion outside of San Francisco. His solitary existence keeps him at an emotional distance to those around him, a result of some deep emotional scarring that stemmed from his father’s suicide during childhood.

On a particularly fateful birthday (having reached the age his father was when he killed himself), Nick’s brother Conrad (Sean Penn) shows up with an unusual present: the opportunity to participate in a live-action game, organized by an enigmatic entertainment company called Consumer Recreation Services.

Nick ventures over to the CRS offices to indulge his curiosity, but after a rigorous mental and physical evaluation, he’s ultimately deemed unfit to take part in the game.

So imagine his surprise when he arrives home that night to find a clown mannequin in his driveway (placed in the same position that his father was found after jumping off the mansion’s roof), and the nightly news anchor interrupts his television broadcast to address Nick personally and announce the beginning of his “Game”.

Trying to ascertain just what exactly is going on, Nick follows a series of perplexing and macabre clues, eventually encountering a waitress named Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) who may or may not be a part of this Game.

As his life is manipulated to increasingly dangerous degrees, Nick loses control of his orderly lifestyle and begins to question CRS’ true intentions for him—- is this really just a game, or is it an elaborate con designed to drain his considerable fortune and rub him out in the process?

With THE GAME, Fincher has constructed an intricate puzzle for the audience to solve, wisely placing the narrative firmly within Nick’s perspective so that we’re taken along for his wild ride. Because the story is so dependent on shocking twists and turns, subsequent re-watchings can’t replicate the exhilarating experience of seeing it for the first time.

However, Fincher does a great job of peppering clues throughout that are so subtle I didn’t even notice them until my fourth time around, such as Unger’s character being on the periphery of the first restaurant scene without so much as a close-up or wide shot of her face to announce her presence.

Likewise, Nick’s first visit to CRS contains a strange interaction wherein the receptionist appears to give an order to the Vice President of Engineering (played by recently-diseased character actor James Rebhorn)—- why would a receptionist be telling a VP what to do?

These are only two subtle clues in a story that’s absolutely stuffed with them, which makes for something new to find with each re-watching.

Douglas turns in a fine performance as a cold, lizard-like Scrooge archetype. Nicolas Van Orton plays like a subdued, less flamboyant version of WALL STREET’s Gordon Gekko, which works because the distant, calculating aristocrat archetype is one that Douglas can pull off better than anyone.

David Fincher’s casting of Douglas also adds reinforcement to the idea of Fincher as Stanley Kubrick’s heir apparent (Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was also a famous film star who headlined Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957) and SPARTACUS (1960).

As the cold, cynical waitress Christine, Deborah Kara Unger is a great foil to Douglas’ character, as well as an inspired female part that resists becoming a conventional “love interest” trope. Her ability to mask her feelings and intentions is crucial to the success of THE GAME, leaving Douglas and the audience constantly trying to figure out where her loyalties lay.

Sean Penn’s role as younger brother Conrad is smaller than his usual performances, but he is no less memorable as a disheveled, mischievous agent of chaos. The late character actor James Rebhorn may have never held the spotlight in his own right, but every one of his performances was never anything less than solid, as can be seen in his performance as the disorganized, CRS VP of Engineering Jim Feingold. Rebhorn’s talents get a chance to truly shine in THE GAME, becoming the human face of the ominous CRS entity and, by extension, the film’s de facto antagonist.

David Fincher also throws in some small cameos in the form of fellow Propaganda director Spike Jonze as a medic towards the conclusion and SE7EN’s Mark Boone Junior as a private investigator tailing Nick.

THE GAME is also Fincher’s first collaboration with the late, great cinematographer Harris Savides in the feature world (they had previously shot a number of commercials together). The anamorphic 35mm film frame is awash in steely blues and teals, accentuated by high contrast lighting that signifies David Fincher’s signature touch. Flashback sequences filmed on 8mm provide a dreamlike nostalgia that appropriately dances along the line of sentimentality and melancholy.

Savides is well-suited to translate Fincher’s vision to screen, ably creating a push-and-pull dichotomy between the sleek polish of Nick’s old money world and the slick CRS offices and the seedy grunge of the back alleyways and slums that Nick’s Game takes him to.

The film is essentially about Nick’s loss of control, which juxtaposes his confused flailing against deliberate, observational compositions and precise dolly movements as a way to echo CRS’ forceful herding of Nick along a predetermined path.

This visual precision is highly reminiscent of Kubrick’s work, and very well may be what it would have looked like if Kubrick had ever decided to make an Alfred Hitchchock thriller. Another nod to Kubrick can see in the video slideshow that Nick watches as part of his initial evaluation, which in and of itself highly resembles its infamous counterpart in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

SE7EN’s Howard Shore returns to create the score for THE GAME, crafting an intriguing, brassy sound to reflect the propulsive mystery and peppered with a tinge of melancholy piano that hints at Nick’s inability to move past his father’s death.

David Fincher’s stellar ear for needle drops also results in the incorporation of the White Rabbits’ iconic “Somebody To Love” as a psychedelic taunting mechanism in the scene where Nick arrives at his mansion to find it’s been vandalized with black light graffiti.

All of these elements are tied together by Ren Klyce’s sound design into an evocative sonic landscape that draws us further into the puzzle.

Fincher’s music video work often explored the boundaries of the film frame, transgressing arbitrary lines to see what was being hidden from view. Most of the time, this meant that the artifice of the production process (crew, set facades, equipment, etc.) was made known to the viewer.

THE GAME is an appropriate avenue to explore this idea in feature form because the story concerns itself with what happens when Nick is essentially placed inside of his own movie. This plays out in the form of any close inspection of a given object or development by Nick reveals its inherent fakery and connection to filmmaking.

Christine’s apartment is revealed as a fake set via various set dressing techniques Nick stumbles upon. The hail of gunfire directed at Nick and Christine by masked gunmen is comprised of harmless blanks. Nick’s iconic plunge from the top of a San Francisco skyscraper is cushioned by a giant stunt airbag.

The game Nick has been thrust into is an elaborate, deliberate manipulation of actors and events designed to take him on a film-like character arc and transformation.

To this effect, architecture (another of David Fincher’s thematic fascinations) plays a huge role in the proceedings. Fincher’s locations and sets are always architecturally impressive, and THE GAME doesn’t disappoint in the classical style seen in Nick’s mansion and San Francisco’s financial district, as well as the sleek modernity of CRS’ futuristic offices.

David Fincher often frames his subjects from a low angle in order to show the ceilings—this accomplishes the dual effect of establishing the realism of the space as well as conveying a subtle sense of claustrophobia (a sensation very important to THE GAME’s tension).

Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft makes great use of lines as a way to direct your eye (especially in the CRS headquarters set). These lines subtly point Nick (and by extension, us) in the right direction to go despite the orchestrated chaos around him.

Fincher is able to find several instances within the story to indulge in other fascinations. THE GAME uses technology to striking ends in advancing the plot, like the television magically talking to Nick in his own home, or the hidden video camera lodged inside the clown mannequin’s eye.

A distinct punk aesthetic runs through Fincher’s filmography, with the most literal examples being found in FIGHT CLUB (1999) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), but even in a cold-Scrooge-turned-good tale such as THE GAME, David Fincher is able to incorporate elements of punk culture in a natural way (the aforementioned mansion break-in and black light graffiti vandalism sequence).

And finally, Fincher’s approach to the story is informed by a nihilistic sensibility, in that Nick is inherently a cynical, selfish person, along with the prominent theme of suicide and the ultimate revelation of the film’s events as orchestrated manipulations and inherently false.

THE GAME was a modest hit upon its release, bolstered by a compelling story and strong performances that were, in this author’s opinion, much better than those seen in SE7EN. By achieving a balance between engrossing performances and superb technical mastery, Fincher shows off huge growth as a director with THE GAME.

Ultimately, the film itself was somewhat lost in the sea of late 90’s releases, and for the longest time it languished on a bare-bones catalog DVD with a neglected transfer. Thankfully, THE GAME has undergone something of a cultural reappraisal with the release of The Criterion Collection’s outstanding Blu Ray transfer.

Now, THE GAME is often referenced among film circles in the same breath as his best work, and is fondly remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s (alongside SE7EN and FIGHT CLUB). For David Fincher, THE GAME cemented his reputation as a great director with hard edge and reliable commercial appeal.


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

1999’s FIGHT CLUB was the first David Fincher film I ever saw, and it became a watershed moment for me in that it was absolutely unlike any movie I had ever seen. Granted, I was only in middle school at the time and hadn’t quite discovered the world of film at large beyond what was available in the multiplex.

FIGHT CLUB was one of the earliest experiences that turned me on to the idea of a director having a distinct style, a stamp he could punch onto the film that claimed it as his own. My own experience with FIGHT CLUB was easily dwarfed by the larger reaction to the film, which has since become something of an anthem for Generation X—a bottling up of the 90’s zeitgeist that fermented into a potent countercultural brew.

Coming off the modest success of 1997’s THE GAME, director David Fincher was in the process of looking for a follow-up project when he was sent “Fight Club”, a novel by the groundbreaking author (and Portland son) Chuck Palahniuk.

A self-avowed non-reader, David Fincher nonetheless blazed through the novel, and by the time he had put the book down he knew it was going to be his next project. There was just one problem—the book had been optioned and was in development at Twentieth Century Fox, his sworn enemies.

Their incessant meddling and subterfuge during the production of Fincher’s ALIEN 3(1992) made for a miserable shooting experience, ultimately ruined the film, and nearly caused Fincher to swear off feature filmmaking forever.

This time, however, he would be ready. He was now a director in high demand, having gained significant clout from the success of SE7EN (1995), and he used said clout to successfully pitch his vision of FIGHT CLUB to Laura Ziskin and the other executives at Fox.

The studio had learned the error of its ways and was eager to mend relations with the maverick director, so they allowed him a huge amount of leeway in realizing his vision. Armed with the luxury of not having to bend to the whims of nervous studio executives, David Fincher was able to fashion a pitch-black comedy about masculinity in crisis and the battle between modern commercialism and our primal, animalistic natures.

The novel takes place in Wilmington, Delaware (home to the headquarters of several major credit card companies), but Fincher sets his adaptation in an unnamed city, mostly because of legal clearance reasons (which would have been a nightmare considering how much FIGHT CLUB disparages major corporations and institutions).

Our protagonist is the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), an insomniac office drone obsessed with Swedish furniture and support groups for serious, terminal diseases he doesn’t have. He finds in these support groups an emotional release and a cure for his insomnia, achieving a stasis that props him up while pushing down the nagging feeling that he’s wasting his life away.

His world is up-ended by the arrival of the acidic Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fellow support group freeloader that confounds his perceived progress at all turns.

Constant travel because of his job as a recall analyst for a major car manufacturer provides some relief, and it is on one particular flight home that he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whose effortless cool is unlike anything the Narrator has found in his so-called “single-serving” flight companions. Upon returning home, he finds his apartment has blown up due to mysterious circumstances. With nowhere else to turn, the Narrator calls up Tyler on a whim, who offers him a place at his ramshackle squatter mansion on the industrial fringes of town.

As the two men bond, they discover a cathartic release from an unexpected source: fighting. They channel this release into the founding of an underground brawling organization called Fight Club, where similarly culturally disenfranchised men can get together and unleash their primal side in bareknuckle grappling matches.

Soon, the duo’s entire outlook on life and masculinity changes, with the Narrator in particular taking charge of his own destiny and liberating himself from his perceived shackles at work.

In Fight Club, they have tapped into something very primal within the male psyche—a psyche subdued in the wake of rampant commercialism, feminism, and political correctness, just itching to be unleashed.

Fight Club grows larger than Tyler or The Narrator had ever hoped or expected, with satellite chapters popping up in other cities and the purpose of the secretive club evolving to include acts of domestic terrorism and anarchy.

When The Narrator finds himself losing control of the monster that they’ve created, he comes into mortal conflict with Tyler, who has gone off the deep end in his attempts to fundamentally and radically change the world.

Norton brings a droll, dry sense of humor to his performance as the Narrator, a medicated and sedate man who must “wake up”. In what is one of his most memorable roles, Norton ably projects the perverse, profoundly morbid thoughts of his character with sardonic wit and a sickly physicality. This frail, scrawny physicality is all the more remarkable considering Norton had just come off the production of Tony Kaye’s AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), where made him bulk up with a considerable amount of muscle.

In his second collaboration with David Fincher after their successful team-up in SE7EN, Brad Pitt also turns in a career highlight performance as Tyler Durden, a soap salesman and anarchist with a weaponized masculinity and radical, seductive worldview that he is fully committed to living out.

His character’s name and persona have entered our pop culture lexicon as the personification of the unleashed, masculine id and the grungy, counter-commercial mentalities that defined the 1990’s.

Helena Bonham Carter counters the overbearing masculinity of David Fincher’s vision while oddly complementing it as Marla Singer, the very definition of a hot mess. Marla is a cold, cynical woman dressed up in black, Goth affectations.

Her aggressive feminine presence is an appropriate counterbalance to Tyler Durden’s roaring machismo, as well as serves to highlight the film’s homoerotic undertones. Meat Loaf, a popular musician in his own right, plays Bob—a huge, blubbering mess with “bitch tits” and a cuddly demeanor, while Jared Leto bleaches his hair to the point of anonymity in his role as a prominent acolyte of Durden’s (and thorn in the side of The Narrator).

To achieve FIGHT CLUB’s oppressively grungy look, David Fincher enlists the eye of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the son of legendary DP Jordan Cronenweth (who had previously worked with Fincher on ALIEN 3). The younger Cronenweth would go on to lens several of Fincher’s later works due to the strength of their first collaboration on FIGHT CLUB.

The film is shot on Super 35mm and presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but it wasn’t shot anamorphic—it was instead shot with spherical lenses in order to help convey the gritty tone Fincher intended. Indeed, FIGHT CLUB is easily David Fincher’s grungiest work to date—the image is coated in a thick layer of grime and sludge that’s representative of the toxic philosophies espoused by its antihero subjects.

The foundation of FIGHT CLUB’s distinct look is built with Fincher’s aesthetic signature: high contrast lighting (with lots of practical lights incorporated into the framing), and a cold, sickly green/teal color tint. David Fincher and Cronenweth further expanded on this by employing a combination of contrast-stretching, underexposing, and re-silvering during the printing process in order to achieve a dirty, decaying look.

The production of FIGHT CLUB also generated some of the earliest public reports of Fincher’s proclivity for shooting obscene numbers of takes—a technique also employed by David Fincher’s cinematic forebear, Stanley Kubrick.

Both men employed the technique as a way to exert control over their actors’ performances and wear them down to a place of naturalistic “non-acting”. While this earns the ire of many a performer, it also earn as much respect for a director willing to sit through the tedium of dozens upon dozens of takes in order to really mold a performance in the editing room.

In a career full of visually dynamic films, FIGHT CLUB is easily the most volatile and kinetic of them all. Fincher employs a number of visual tricks to help convey a sense of surrealist reality: speed-ramping, playing with the scale of objects (i.e, presenting the contents of a garbage can as if we were flying through the Grand Canyon), and Norton’s Narrator breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a technique he’d later use to infamous effect in Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS series).

Production designer Alex McDowell supplements David Fincher’s grimy vision with imaginative, dungeon-like sets in which to house this unleashed sense of masculinity, all while countering the sterile, color-less environments of the Narrator’s office and apartment.

Interestingly enough, the Narrator’s apartment is based almost exactly off of Fincher’s first apartment in (soul-suckingly bland) Westwood, an apartment he claims that he had always wanted to blow up.

THE GAME’s James Haygood returns to sew all these elements together into a breathtaking edit with manic pacing and psychotic energy, creating something of an apex of the particular sort of music-video-style editing that emerged in 90’s feature films.

FIGHT CLUB might just be the farthest thing (commercially-speaking) from a conventional Hollywood film, so it stands to reason that a conventional Hollywood score would be ill-fitting at best, and disastrously incompatible at worst. This mean that Howard Shore, who had scored David Fincher’s previous two features, had to go.

Really, ANY conventional film composer had to go in favor of something entirely new. In his selection of electronic trip-hop duo The Dust Brothers, Fincher received a groundbreaking score, comprised almost entirely of drum loops and “found” sounds. I have almost every note from that score memorized—I used to listen to the soundtrack CD almost every day during high school as I did my homework.

And then, of course, there’s The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”: a rock song that will live in infamy because of its inclusion inFIGHT CLUB’s face-melting finale. Sound and picture are now inextricably linked in our collective consciousness— I defy you to find someone whose perception of that particular song has not been forever colored by the image of skyscrapers imploding on themselves and toppling to the ground.

The music of FIGHT CLUB is further heightened by the contributions of David Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce, who was awarded with an Oscar nomination for his work on the film.

A main reason that Fincher responded so strongly to his initial reading of Palahniuk’s novel is that it possessed several themes that David Fincher was fascinated by and liked to explore in his films.

On a philosophical level, the story contains strong ties to nihilism with Tyler Durden’s enthusiastic rejection and destruction of institutions and value systems, and the subsequent de-humanization that stems from Fight Club’s evolved mission objective (which extrapolates nihilistic virtues to their extreme).

The novel’s overarching screed against commercialism also appealed to Fincher, who gleefully recognized the inherent irony in a director of commercials making a film about consumerism as the ultimate evil. David Fincher plays up this irony throughout the film by including lots of blatant product placement (there’s apparently a Starbucks cup present in every single scene).

This countercultural cry against commercialism and corporate appeasement is inherently punk, which is yet another aesthetic that Fincher has made potent use of throughout his career.

With FIGHT CLUB, David Fincher also finds ample opportunity to indulge in his own personal fascinations. His background at ILM and subsequent familiarity with visual effects results in an approach that relies heavily on cutting-edge FX.

This can be seen in the strangest sex sequence in cinematic history, which borrows the “bullet-time” photography technique from THE MATRIX (1999) to turn Pitt and Carter into enormous copulating monuments that blend and morph into one single mass of biology.

The idea of stitching numerous still photographs to convey movement (where the traditional use of a motion picture camera would have been impractical or impossible) also allows Fincher to rocket through time and space, such as in the scene where we scream from the top of a skyscraper down to find a van packed with explosives in the basement garage.

Architecture also plays in important role, with Durden’s decrepit (yet organic) house on Paper Street resembling the grand old Victorian houses in LA’s Angelino Heights juxtaposed against the faceless, monolithic city skyscrapers that are destroyed in the film’s climax.

Here, as in his earlier features, David Fincher tends to frame his subjects from a low angle looking up—this is done as a way to establish the realism of his sets and locations while imbuing the subjects themselves with an exaggerated sense of power and authority.

FIGHT CLUB also contains Fincher’s most well-known opening credits sequence: a dizzying roller-coaster ride through the Narrator’s brain.

Beginning with the firing of impulses in the fear center, the camera pulls back at breakneck speed, with our scale changing organically until we emerge from a pore on Norton’s sweat-slicked forehead and slide down the polished nickel of the gun barrel lodged in his mouth.  It’s an incredibly arresting way to start a film, and prepares us for the wild ride ahead.

Finally, FIGHT CLUB allows David Fincher to really play with the boundaries of his frame and reveal the inherent artifice of the film’s making. This conceit is best illustrated in two scenes. The first is the “cigarette burns” projection-room scene where the Narrator reveals Tyler’s fondness for splicing single frames of hardcore pornography into children’s films by explaining the projection process to the audience in layman’s terms.

This scene is present in the novel, but Fincher’s approach of it is further informed by his own experience working as a movie projectionist at the age of 16, where he had a co-worker who collected random snippets of a given film’s most lurid moments into a secret envelope.

The second scene in question is Tyler’s infamous “you are not your fucking khakis” monologue to camera, whereby his intensity causes the film he is recorded onto to literally wobble and expose the film strip’s sprocket holes. The effect is that of the film literally disintegrating before our eyes—the story has gone off the rails and now we’re helpless to do anything but just go along for the ride.

David Fincher’s terrible experience with the studio on ALIEN 3 directly contributed to FIGHT CLUB being as groundbreaking and shocking as it was. When studio executives (most notably Laura Ziskin) inevitably bristled at the sight of David Fincher’s bold, uncompromising vision in all its glory, their attempts to tone it down were blown up in their faces by a director who had already been burned by their tactics once before and was one step ahead of their game.

A great example of this is Ziskin asking David Fincher to change a controversial line (Marla Singer telling Tyler Durden that she wants to have his abortion), which David Fincher responded to by agreeing to change the line under the condition that it couldn’t be changed any further after that. Ziskin quickly agreed, because how could anything be worse than that?

Imagine her outrage, then, when Fincher came back with Marla’s line changed to “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school” and she couldn’t do anything to change it back. Once David Fincher knew how to play his meddlesome executives to his benefit, he became truly unstoppable.

FIGHT CLUB made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and its worldwide theatrical run was met with polarized reviews and box office disappointment. Quite simply, audiences were not ready for Fincher’s abrasive vision.

However, it was one of the first films to benefit from the DVD home video format, where it spread like wildfire amongst eager young cinephiles until it became a bona fide cult hit. It probably couldn’t have been any other way— FIGHT CLUB was made to re-watch over and over again, to pore over all the little details and easter eggs that David Fincher and company peppered throughout to clue us into the true nature of Tyler Durden’s existence.

FIGHT CLUB’s release also had real-world implications in the formation of actual underground fight clubs all across the country. In mining the dramatic potential of a fictional masculinity crisis, FIGHT CLUB tapped into a very real one that was fueled by a noxious brew of feminism, political correct-ness, the new millennium, metrosexuality and frat-boy culture (a subgroup that glorified the carnage and violence while ironically failing to recognize the film’s very palpable homoerotic undertones and thus assuming them into their own lifestyle).

Fifteen years removed from FIGHT CLUB’s release, the film stands as the apex of the cynical pop culture mentality of the 1990’s, as well as a defining thesis statement for a cutting-edge filmmaker with razor-sharp relevancy

If you want more inside info on the making of Fight Club, take a listen to the IFH Interview with FC screenwriter Jim Uhls.


PANIC ROOM (2000)

The expansive, sprawling nature of FIGHT CLUB’s story meant that director David Fincher spent a great deal of the film’s production in a van traveling to and from the film’s four hundred locations. Naturally, he wished to downscale his efforts with his next project and find a story that took place in a single location.

He found it in a screenplay by David Koepp called PANIC ROOM, inspired by true stories of small, impenetrable fortresses that New York City’s wealthy elite were building for themselves inside their homes. Because the story lent itself so well to an overtly Hitchockian style of execution and form, David Fincher approached PANIC ROOM (2002) as an exercise in pure genre, refusing to “elevate” the material with the infusion of potent allegory and subtextual thematics like he had done with FIGHT CLUB or SE7EN (1995).

The film is expertly constructed in a way that only Fincher could have envisioned, with top-notch filmmaking on par with any of his best work. However, PANIC ROOMwas somewhat lost in the noise of 2002’s other releases, and thus doesn’t enjoy the same cherished status of David Fincher’s higher-profile work (despite the argument that it should).

Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) is a recently divorced single mom, looking for a new home in Manhattan for her and her young daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart). They are shown a beautiful, expansive brownstone complete with cathedral ceilings, original crown molding, and a panic room—a hidden concrete room outfitted with survival and communications tech and designed as a refuge in the event of a home invasion.

Despite Meg’s misgivings that the property is simply too much house for the two of them, she buys it anyway. As Meg and Sarah sleep during their first night in the house, three burglars—Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) break inside.

Meg and Sarah are awakened by the commotion, and instinctually barricade themselves in the panic room. Any assurance of safety soon vanishes when Meg realizes that she never hooked up the panic room’s dedicated phone line, along with the revelation that what the burglars are after—millions of dollars in US bonds—is hidden in a floor safe underneath their feet.

What ensues is a suspenseful, contained thriller that would make Hitchcock green with envy as Meg and Sarah fend off this trio of unpredictable male intruders who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Jodie Foster is compelling as lead heroine Meg Altman, a fiercely maternal woman whose initial mild-mannered-ness gives way to a resourceful, cunning bravery. Interestingly, Foster replaced original actress Nicole Kidman, who had to leave the production due to the aggravation of an earlier injury (she still has a voice cameo as Meg’s ex-husband’s new girlfriend).

Despite the short notice, Foster exhibited enormous dedication to the role by giving up her chair on the Cannes Film Festival Jury as well as working through the pregnancy of her second child. Kristen Stewart, who was only eleven at the time of filming, turns in a great performance as Sarah, Meg’s punk-y daughter with a cynical attitude and intelligence beyond her years.

Stewart provides a nice balance to Meg’s refined femininity with a rough, tomboyish and androgynous quality (something which Foster had herself at Stewart’s age). In making the character of Sarah a diabetic, Stewart is able to become an active participant in the suspense and engage us on a personal, visceral level.

The three burglars prove just as compelling as our female protagonists due to a complex combination of values and virtues that causes conflict between them. The most accessible of the three is Forest Whitaker as Burnam, a professional builder of panic rooms and a sensitive, honorable man who projects a warm, authoritative presence.

This complex physicality is essential to the success of the role, and Fincher’s choice of Whitaker, who he previously knew not as an actor but as a fellow director at Propaganda Films, is an inspired one. Burnham is compelled not by greed but by obligation to his family, meaning that while he’s misguided in his attempts to right his wrongs, he’s not beyond saving.

His antithesis is Raoul, a mysterious, volatile man who quickly asserts himself as the group’s dangerous wild card. Raoul is played by Dwight Yoakam, a country singer turned actor who injects a great deal of menace to the proceedings.

Jared Leto, who previously appeared in David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB in a small role, benefits from the expanded screen presence that the character of Junior affords him. Junior is the self-designated leader of the operation, but he quickly finds control of the situation slipping from his grasp as the night unfolds.

Leto finds an inspired angle into what would otherwise be the stock hotheaded, impatient villain archetype by turning Junior into a trust-fund kid who’s ill-advised attempts at giving himself some edge (take those atrocious dreadlocks, for instance) only lead to the hardened criminals he’s trying to impress taking him less seriously.

PANIC ROOM, like all of Fincher’s pre-ZODIAC (2007) feature work, was filmed in the Super 35mm film format. While shot open-matte in the full-frame Academy aspect ratio, the finished film is presented on the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio so that David Fincher had total freedom to compose the frame as he saw fit. He did it this way, as opposed to shooting in the anamorphic aspect ratio, because he apparently hates the limited lens choices and shallow depth of field that plagues the anamorphic process.

Fincher hired Darius Khondji, who had previously shot SE7EN, but Khondji left the production two weeks into the shoot due to creative differences with David Fincher’s meticulously planned and extensively pre-visualized approach (which stifled any on-set spontaneity). Cinematography duties were then passed on to Conrad W. Hall (not to be confused with his father, the legendary Conrad Hall who shot ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967)).

Hall Junior proves adept at replicating Fincher’s signature aesthetic via a high-contrast lighting scheme and a cold color palette whereby traditionally warm incandescent bulbs glow a pale yellow and the harsh fluorescents of the panic room take on a blue/teal cast. Fincher’s mise-en-scene is dotted with practical lights, creating an underexposed, moody image that is bolstered by a “no light” approach—meaning that David Fincher and Hall sought as much darkness as they could get away with, primarily using the extremely soft light afforded by kino-flo rigs.

A highlight of PANIC ROOM’s look is a constant, fluid, and precise camera that glides and floats through the house, as if unfettered by the limitations of human operation. This technique is achieved through the combination of the Technocrane and CGI that stitches multiple shots into one, seamless move.

The best example of this in the film is the virtuoso long take that occurs as the burglars break into the house. We first see them arrive, and swoop through the house as they try various entry points, all the while taking the time to show us Meg and Sarah asleep and unaware of the impending danger.

This shot would have been impossible to achieve before the rise of digital effects, a revolution that Fincher helped usher in due to his familiarity with the process from his days at ILM.

Because of his natural grasp on digital filmmaking tech, he is able to turn this incredibly complicated shot into a “thesis” money shot that condenses his entire visual approach to the film into a single moment while effortlessly establishing the geography of the house and orienting us for what’s to come.

As I mentioned before, the extensive location shoots and setups required by FIGHT CLUB resulted in Fincher desiring a singular, contained scenario for his next project. In developing PANIC ROOM, he realized he wanted to create the entire house as a studio set (a la Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (1954) so that he could exert complete control.

Toward that end, he hired SE7EN’s production designer, Arthur Max, to construct the full-featured house inside a large soundstage as one continuous structure whose walls could be flown out to accommodate a camera gliding through the set.

Max’s work here is nothing less than masterful, as nary a seam of the complicated construction exposes itself throughout the entire film. The same could be said of the fluid edit by Fincher’s regular editor James Haygood, working in collaboration with Angus Wall.

Wall had previously edited bits and pieces of David Fincher’s commercial work, as well as the opening credits to SE7EN, but PANIC ROOM is Wall’s first feature editing job for David Fincher, and his success here has to led to continued employment in Fincher’s later features.

After a brief hiatus taken during the production of FIGHT CLUB, composer Howard Shore returns to David Fincher’s fold with a brassy, old-school score that oozes intrigue and foreboding.

During this time, Shore was consumed with scoring duties for Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, so PANIC ROOM was an assignment taken on precisely because of its low musical demands.

As it turns out, Shore’s work in PANIC ROOM is generally regarded as some of his best and most brooding. The score is complemented by a superb sound mix by David Fincher’s regular sound designer, Ren Klyce.

When done right, genre is a potent conduit for complex ideas and allegory with real-world implications. PANIC ROOM is essentially about two women fending off three male home invaders, but it is also about much more: the surveillance state, income equality, the switching of the parent-child dynamic…. the list goes on.

A visionary director like David Fincher is able to take a seemingly generic home invasion thriller and turn it into an exploration of themes and ideas. For instance, PANIC ROOMaffords Fincher the opportunity to indulge in his love for architecture, letting him essentially design and build an entire house from scratch.

The type of architecture that the house employs is also telling, adopting the handsome wood and crown molding of traditional brownstone houses found on the East Coast.

Architecture also serves an important narrative purpose, with the story incorporating building guts like air vents and telephone lines as dramatic hinging points that obstruct our heroes’ progress and build suspense.

Again, David Fincher employs low angle compositions to reveal the set ceiling in a bid to communicate the location’s “real-ness” as well as instill a sense of claustrophobia.

Fincher’s fascination with tech is woven directly into the storyline, which allows him to explore the dramatic potential of a concrete room with a laser-activated door and surveillance cameras/monitors.

The twist, however, is that despite all this cutting-edge technology (circa 2002, provided), both the protagonists and the antagonists have to resort to lo-fi means to advance their cause. Another aesthetic conceit that David Fincher had been playing with during this period is the idea of micro-sized objects sized up to a macro scale.

In FIGHT CLUB, this could be seen with the shot of the camera pulling back out of a trashcan, its contents seemingly as large as planets.

Fincher echoes this conceit in PANIC ROOM via zooming in on crumbling concrete until it’s as big as a mountain, diving through the gas hose as the burglars pump propane gas into the panic room, and jumping inside the glass enclosure of a flashlight to see a close up of the bulb spark on and off.

David Fincher ties this visual idea in with another signature of his films—imaginative opening credits sequences.  With PANIC ROOM, he places his collaborators’ names against the steel and glass canyons of New York City, as if the letters themselves were as big as skyscrapers and had always been a part of their respective structures.

As interesting of an idea it is, I’m not sure the large scope that these credits imply fully gels with a movie that’s so self-contained and insular.  And finally, the punk/nihilistic flair that hangs over David Fincher’s filmography has a small presence in Kristen Stewart’s androgynous punk stylings, as well as the appearance of The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious on one of her t-shirts.

Fincher’s desire to exert total control of the shoot via meticulous set-building and extensive computer pre-visualization ended up working against him, making for a long, strenuous shoot bogged down by technical difficulties and slow advancement.

However, the effort was worth it—PANIC ROOM became a box office hit upon its release, receiving generally positive reviews.  As a lean, mean thriller, PANIC ROOM is incredibly exhilarating and well-made; perhaps even one of the best home invasion films ever made.

More importantly, PANIC ROOM would be the last feature that David Fincher ever shot on celluloid film (as of this writing).  The 2000’s would bring the swift rise of digital filmmaking, a technology that Fincher—as a noted perfectionist and control-freak—would swiftly embrace.

PANIC ROOM closes the book on the first phase of David Fincher’s feature career (marked by gritty, subversive fare shot on film), heralding the arrival of a new phase that would solidify Fincher’s legacy amongst our most prestigious filmmakers


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2002-2007)

After the release of director David Fincher’s fifth feature, PANIC ROOM (2002), he took a five-year hiatus from feature work. However, this doesn’t mean he was lounging poolside with margaritas for half a decade.

He was hard at work in other arenas: prepping a sprawling film adaptation of the infamous San Francisco Zodiac murders during the 70’s, as well as taking on select commercial and music video work. During this five-year period, David Fincher created some of his highest profile (and most controversial) short-form work.

Fincher’s 2002 spot for Adidas, called “MECHANICAL LEGS” is a great little bit of advertising done in the classic David Fincher visual style: high contrast lighting, steely color palette and a constantly-moving camera.

The entire piece is a digital creation, featuring a pair of disembodied robot legs exhibiting superhuman agility and speed as they test out a new pair of Adidas sneakers. Fincher’s flair for visual effects and dynamic compositions really makes the spot effective and, more importantly, memorable.


COCA-COLA: “THE ARQUETTES” (2003)

I remember this particular ad, Coca-Cola’s “THE ARQUETTES” when it came out, as it received a lot of airplay based on the popularity of the titular couple following Courtney’s successful run on FRIENDS as well as their combined appearances in Wes Craven’s SCREAM films.

Of course, I had no idea David Fincher was behind the spot when I first saw it, but having grown accustomed to his aesthetic, I can easily spot it now. It’s evident in the desaturated warm tones that favor slightly colder yellows instead of typical oranges, as well as the high contrast lighting. The spot’s tagline, “True Love”, is poetically tragic now after the couple’s divorce in 2011.


XELEBRI: “BEAUTY FOR SALE” (2004)

In 2004, Fincher was commissioned by Xelebri to realize a stunning concept in the spot for “BEAUTY FOR SALE”. The piece takes place in a futuristic world, filled with the imaginative production design and world-building Fincher is known for, and bolstered by the visually arresting conceit of normal people wearing supermodel bodies as costumes (achieved through clever CGI and other visual effects). A cold color palette and high contrast lighting wraps everything up into a neat little David Fincher package.


HEINEKEN: “BEER RUN” (2005)

Fincher’s spot for Heineken called “BEER RUN” is also a commercial that I remember quite well from its initial run, primarily due to the fact that it was a big, lavish Super Bowl ad. The piece stars Fincher’s regular feature collaborator Brad Pitt as himself, adventurously trekking out into the urban night for a case of Heineken while avoiding the hordes of paparazzi.

Visually, a green/yellow color cast is applied over the image which accentuates the high contrast lighting and evokes not only the color branding of Heineken itself, but David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB (1999). Dynamic camera movement and the inclusion of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the soundtrack further point to Fincher’s confident vision.


NINE INCH NAILS: “ONLY” (2005)

Fincher’s only music video during this period was created for Nine Inch Nails’ single “ONLY”. Fincher had already been associated with NIN frontman Trent Reznor due to the inclusion of a remix of Reznor’s “Closer” in the opening credits toSE7EN (1995), but this is the first instance of the two men working together directly. This is notable because Reznor would go on to become a regular composer for David Fincher, beginning with 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and continuing to the present day.

Interestingly, the video is presented in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the look is classic Fincher: high contrast lighting, a steely/sterile grey color palette and a constantly-moving camera that gives the simple concept a dose of electric energy.

The concept serves Fincher’s fascination for tech, with a Mac laptop acting as the centerpiece to this 21st century orchestra. CGI is used to inspired effect in incorporating sound waves on the surface of coffee, as well as conveying Reznor’s face and performance via those needle-art slabs that were popular during the era.


MOTOROLA: “PEBL” (2006)

In 2006, David Fincher reteamed with his cinematographer on THE GAME (1997), the late Harris Savides, to shoot a commercial for Motorola called “PEBL”. The spot tracks the long, slow erosion of a rock until it becomes so smooth that is adopts the form factor of Motorola’s Pebl mobile phone.

Fincher uses CGI in the form of meteors, craters, and weather to portray eons of time in only sixty seconds. This spot was filmed with digital cameras, and is credited with giving Fincher and Savides to adopt the format for the production of their next feature collaboration, 2007’s ZODIAC.


ORVILLE REDENBACHERS: “REANIMATED” (2007)

A commercial recently started airing that digitally recreates the late Audrey Hepburn, and understandably caused a lot of furor. There’s a huge ethical debate about using CGI advancements to bring long-dead celebrities back to life, a debate that more or less began in 2007 when David Fincher and Orville Redenbachers had the audacity to bring Orville himself back from the dead to hawk some popcorn.

I understand advancing the technology so that it can be used for necessary purposes (i.e, finishing the performance of an actor who died during production like Paul Walker), but the final effect is never truly convincing. It’s mildly upsetting at best, and pants-shitting horrifying at worst.

Here, Fincher’s familiarity with effects works against him, with his excitement at bringing dear old Orville back from the dead perhaps blinding him to the resulting “uncanny valley” effect. “REANIMATED”is easily one of Fincher’s most controversial videos, and for good reason.


LEXUS: “POLLEN” (2007)

Another spot that’s heavily-reliant on CGI, Lexus’ “POLLEN” is set inside of a greenhouse that was created entirely in the digital realm. Here, David Fincher is able to exact total control over his image and dial in a high contrast, steely color palette that highlights the car’s streamlined design.

The main takeaway from this period of Fincher’s career is his experimentation with digital cameras and acquisition would result in his overall confidence in the format and its future. Once he shot the majority of ZODIAC on digital, his film days were basically over.

His early adoption transformed him into the poster boy for the cinematic potential of the nascent digital format on a large, blockbuster scale.


ZODIAC (2007)

I’ve written before in my essays on Paul Thomas Anderson and The Coen Brothers about how 2007 was a watershed year in modern cinema. That specific year saw the release of three films that are widely considered to be the best films of the decade, the apex of efforts by specialty studio shingles like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent.

Mid-level divisions like these flourished during the Aughts, with studios putting up considerable financial backing into artistic efforts by bold voices in an attempt to capture the lucrative windfall that came with awards season prestige.

It was a great time to be a cinephile, but it was also ultimately an unsustainable bubble—a bubble that would violently pop the following year when these shingles shuttered their doors and studios turned their attention to blockbuster properties and mega-franchises (ugh) like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As an eager student in film school, 2007 was a very formative year for me personally. It was the year that Anderson’s THERE WILL Be BLOOD and The Coens’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were released, but those films are not the focus of this article. This particular essay concerns the third film in the trifecta, David Fincher’s masterful ZODIAC.

When the film was released, I was already a David Fincher acolyte and had been awaiting his return to the big screen five years after PANIC ROOM. As I took in my first screening of ZODIAC on that warm, Boston spring afternoon, I became acutely aware that I was watching a contender for the best film of the decade.

ZODIAC’s journey to the screen was a long, arduous one—much like the real-life investigation itself. The breakthrough came when writer James Vanderbilt based his take off of Robert Graysmith’s book of the same name.

From Graysmith’s template, Vanderbilt fashioned a huge tome of a screenplay that was then sent to director David Fincher—helmer of the serial-killer-genre-defining SE7EN (1995)—basically out of respect.

Fully expecting Fincher to pass, Vanderbilt and the project’s producers were quite surprised to learn of the director’s interest and connection to the material— but Fincher himself wasn’t surprised in the least. He remembered his childhood in the Bay Area, where Zodiac’s unfolding reign of terror was the subject of adults’ hushed whispers and his own captivated imagination.

In an oblique way, ZODIAC is an autobiographical and sentimental film for David Fincher—a paean to an older, more idyllic San Francisco whose innocence was shattered by the Zodiac murders and ultimately lost to the negative economic byproducts of rampant gentrification.

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ZODIAC spans three decades of San Francisco history, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1991. The focusing prism of this portrait is the sense of paranoia and panic that enveloped the city during the reign of terror perpetrated by a mysterious serial killer known only as The Zodiac. Simply murdering people at random is a scary enough prospect to shake any city to its foundations, but Zodiac’s command of the media via chilling correspondence sent to newspaper editors and TV stations allowed him to disseminate his message and strike mortal fear into the heart of the entire state of California.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) takes up the Zodiac beat and finds an unlikely ally and partner in plucky cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose familiarity with pictorial language and messages aids in the endeavor to decode the Zodiac’s cryptic hieroglyphics.

Meanwhile, Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is breathlessly canvassing the populace and questioning hundreds upon hundreds of suspects in an effort to crack the Zodiac case, only to find frustration and confusion at every turn.

As the months turn to years, Zodiac’s body count continues to rise—until one day, it stops entirely. Time passes, nobody hears from the Zodiac for several years and the city moves on (including the increasingly alcoholic Avery).

That is, with the exception of Graysmith and Toschi, whose nagging obsession continues to consume them whole. With each passing year, their prospects of solving the case drastically decreases, which only amplifies their urgency in bringing The Zodiac to justice before he slips away entirely.

What sets ZODIAC apart from other serial-killer thrillers of its ilk is its dogged attention to detail. Fincher and Vanderbilt built their story using only the facts—eyewitness testimony, authentic police documentation and forensics evidence.

For instance, the film doesn’t depict any murder sequence in which there weren’t any survivors to provide accurate details about what went down. Another differentiating aspect about the film is the passage of time as a major theme, conveyed not only via on-screen “x months/years later” subtitles but also with inspired vignettes like a changing cityscape and music radio montages over a black screen.

ZODIAC’s focus lies in the maddening contradiction of factual accounts that stymied real-life investigators and led to missed clues and dead-end leads. The true identity of The Zodiac was never solved, and the film goes to painstaking lengths to show us exactly why that was the outcome.

ZODIAC attempts to deconstruct the larger-than-life myth of its namesake, but it also can’t help exaggerating him in our own cultural consciousness as the serial killer who got away—a modern boogeyman like Jason or Freddy that transcends the constraints of time and could pop up again at any time to resume his bloody campaign.

ZODIAC centers itself around a triptych of leads in Gyllenhaal, Downey and Ruffalo. The author of the film’s source text, Robert Graysmith, is depicted by Gyllenhaal as a goody-two-shoes boy scout and single father who throws himself into a downward spiral of obsession.

His sweet-natured pluckiness is the antithesis of the hard-boiled, cynical detective archetype we’ve come to expect from these types of films. Downey, per usual, steals every scene he’s in as the flamboyant, acid-witted Paul Avery. Ruffalo more than holds his own as the detail-oriented police inspector in a bowtie, David Toschi (whose actions during the Zodiac case inspired the character of Dirty Harry).

These three unconventional leads ooze period authenticity and help to immerse the audience into the story for the entirety of its marathon three hour running time.

By this point, Fincher had built up such an esteemed reputation for himself that he could probably cast any actor he desired. With ZODIAC’s supporting cast, Fincher has assembled a, unexpected and truly eclectic mix of fine character actors. John Carroll Lynch plays Arthur Lee Allen, the prime suspect in Toschi and Graysmith’s investigation.

Lynch assumes an inherently creepy demeanor that, at the same time, is not overtly threatening. Lynch understands that he has a huge obligation in playing Allen responsibly, since the storyline effectively convicts him as the Zodiac killer posthumously (when it may very well be not true at all).

When the Zodiac killer is seen on-screen, you’ll notice that it’s not Lynch playing the role. David Fincher wisely uses a different actor for each on-screen Zodiac appearance as a way to further cloud the killer’s true identity and abstain from implicating Allen further than the storyline already does. Additionally, this echoes actual survivor testimonies, which were riddle with conflicting and mismatching appearance descriptions.

Indie queen Chloe Sevigny plays the nerdy, meek character of Melanie. As the years pass in the film, she becomes Graysmith’s second wife and grows increasingly alienated by his obsession. She possesses a quiet strength that’s never overbearing and never indulgent.

Brian Cox plays San Francisco television personality Melvin Belli as something of a dandy and honored member of the literati. His depiction of a well-known local celebrity oozes confidence and gravitas. Elias Koteas plays Sergeant Mulanax, an embattled Vallejo police chief, while Dermot Mulroney plays Toschi’s own chief, Captain Marty Lee.

PT Anderson company regular Phillip Baker Hall appears as Sherwood Morrill, an esteemed handwriting analyst whose expertise is thrown into question as he succumbs to an escalating alcohol problem. Comedian Adam Goldberg appears in a small role as Duffy Jennings, Avery’s sarcastic replacement at The Chronicle, and eagle-eyed Fincher fanatics will also spot the presence of Zach Grenier, who played Edward Norton’s boss in FIGHT CLUB (1999).

ZODIAC is a very important film within Fincher’s filmography in that it marks a drastic shift in his style, ushering in a second act of creative reinvigoration fueled by the rise of digital filmmaking cameras and tools that could match celluloid pixel for crystal.

Fincher’s early adoption became a tastemaker’s vote of confidence in a fledgling technology and substantially bolstered the rate of adoption by other filmmakers.

Having shot several of his previous commercials on digital with THE GAME’s cinematographer Harris Savides, David Fincher was confident enough that digital cameras could meet the rigorous demands of his vision for ZODIAC and subsequently enlisted Savides’ experience as insurance towards that end.

Shooting on the Thomson Viper Filmstream camera in 1080p and presenting in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Fincher is able to successfully replicate his signature aesthetic while substantially building on it with the new tools afforded to him by digital.

Because of digital’s extraordinary low-light sensitivity, Fincher and Savides confidently underexpose their image with high contrast, shadowy lighting—many times using just the available practical lights, which resulted in moody, cavernous interior sequences and bright, idyllic exteriors. Fincher also is able to create something of a mundane, workaday look that stays within his established color space of yellow warm tones and blue/teal cold casts.

The procedural, methodical nature of the story is echoed in the observational, objective camera movement and editing. David Fincher’s dolly and technocrane work is deliberate and precise, as is every cut by Angus Wall in his first solo editing gig for Fincher having co-edited several of his previous features.

Wall’s work was certainly cut out for him, judging by Fincher’s well-documented insistence on doing as many takes as required in order to get the performance he wanted (it’s not uncommon in a David Fincher film for the number of takes to reach into the 50’s or 60’s).

To my eyes, ZODIAC is quite simply one of the most realistic and authentic-looking period films I’ve ever seen, owing credit to Donald Graham Burt’s meticulous production design. Burt and Fincher aren’t after a stylized, exaggerated vintage look like PT Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), but rather a lived-in, well-worn, and low-key aesthetic.

Absolutely nothing feels out of place or time. Fincher’s borderline-obsessive attention to historical detail extended as far as flying in trees via helicopter in one instance to make the Lake Berryessa locale look just as it did at the time.

Practical solutions like this were augmented by clever, well-hidden CGI and digital matte paintings that never call attention to themselves. Funnily enough for a film so predicated upon its historical authenticity, David Fincher also acknowledges a surprising amount of artistic license taken with the film’s story— compiling composites of characters and re-imagining real-life events in a bid for a streamlined, clean narrative.

In developing the film, Fincher initially didn’t want to use a traditional score, instead preferring to incorporate a rich tapestry of popular period songs, radio commercials, and other audio recordings.

Toward that end, he used several different styles of music to reflect the changing decades, such as jazz, R&B and psychedelic folk rock like Donavan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, which takes on a pitch-black foreboding feel when it plays over the film’s brilliantly-staged opening murder sequence.

Once the film was well into its editing, Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce suggested that the film could really use some score during key moments.

David Fincher agreed, and reached out to David Shire—the composer of Alan J. Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976), a film that served as ZODIAC’s tonal influence.

Shire’s score is spare, utilizing mainly piano chords to create a brooding suite of cues that echoes the oblique danger and consuming obsession that the story deals in.

The story of ZODIAC is perfectly suited to Fincher’s particular thematic fascinations. Architecture plays a big role, with Fincher depicting San Francisco as a city in transition. He shows cranes on the skyline, holes in the ground waiting to be filled, and most famously, an impressionistic timelapse of the TransAmerica tower’s construction.

This approach extends to his interiors, specifically the Chronicle offices, which slowly transform over the years from a beige bullpen of clacking typewriters and cathedral ceilings to a brighter workspace with low-slung tile ceilings and fluorescent light fixtures (as seen in the well-composed low angle shots that pepper the film).

Nihilism— another key recurring theme throughout David Fincher’s work— pervades the storyline and the actions of its characters. Because they’re unable to solve the mystery and tie things up with a neat Hollywood ending, they either fall into an existential crisis about all their wasted efforts, or they simply lose interest and move on.

Fincher’s exploration of film’s inherent artifice is present here in very meta stylings: film canisters and their contents become promising leads and clues, and the characters get to watch movies about themselves on the screen (Fincher makes a big show of Toschi attending the Dirty Harry premiere). ZODIAC’s unique tone and subtext is perfectly indicative of David Fincher’s sensibilities as an artist, and frankly, it’s impossible to imagine this story as made by someone else.

ZODIAC bowed at the Cannes Film Festival to great views, its praise echoed by a cabal of prominent critics stateside. They hailed it as a masterpiece and Fincher’s first truly mature work as a filmmaker—the implication being that the maverick director was ready to join the Oscar pantheon of Great Filmmakers.

The critics’ high praise hasn’t eroded since either; it consistently ranks as one of the best films of the decade, if certainly not the most underrated. I wish the same could be said of the box office take of its original theatrical run, which was so poor that it only made back its budget when worldwide grosses were accounted for.

Thankfully, the release of Fincher’s director’s cut on home video managed to bring the film a great deal of respect and attention. As a reflection of David Fincher’s strict adherence to facts and eyewitness testimony in making the case for Arthur Lee Allen as the Zodiac, the long-dormant case was actually re-opened by Bay Area authorities for further investigation. When the pieces are put all together, the evidence clearly points to ZODIAC as Fincher’s grandest achievement yet.


THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)

With some films, there’s an intense connection that you can’t fully explain. It resonates deep inside of you, in that cloud of unconsciousness. At the risk of sounding a little hippy-dippy, director David Fincher’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008) is one such film for me. It feels like a life that I’ve already lived before, despite the fact that I’ve never been to the South and I was born too late in the twentieth century to remember most of it.

Yet, there’s something about the film’s eroded-paint interiors in particular that reminds me of a distinct time in my life, a time when I was re-discovering my hometown of Portland, Oregon with new eyes during summer breaks from college.

I only realized it after my most recent viewing, but the film also sublimely foreshadows major developments in my own life: The treasured tugboat upon which Benjamin Button spends a great deal of his early adult years is named The Chelsea (coincidentally the name of my fiancée), and the love of his life is an elegant dancer (again, the soon-to-be Mrs.).

I can’t make it through the film without tearing up a little bit (or a lot), especially during the last montage where David Fincher shows us the smiling faces from Button’s life as Button himself opines in voiceover about how relationships are life’s biggest treasure. The scene utterly slays me. Every. Single. Time.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is based off the F. Scott Fitzgerald book of the same name, published in 1922. A film adaptation had been in development since the 1970’s, associated with a wide variety of big-time Hollywood names like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Nicholson.

Due to the storyline of a man aging in reverse, which would require 5 different actors playing Button at various stages of his life, the idea never picked up much steam. A leading role split up between five men wouldn’t appeal to any one movie star, and the studio couldn’t justify the required budget with unknowns. After a while, most executives considered it to simply be one of those great screenplays that never got made.

By the early 2000’s, executives began to realize that CGI technology had caught up with the demand for a single actor to portray Button throughout the ages. They brought FORREST GUMP scribe Eric Roth aboard to try his hand at a new draft, but the project really began generating momentum when Fincher, fresh off his success with 2002’s PANIC ROOM, became involved.

Working with Spielberg’s producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (in addition to his own regular producer, Cean Chaffin), he developed the film simultaneously with his 2007 feature ZODIAC, which ended up going before cameras first. David Fincher’s creative steerage was instrumental in securing the participation of Brad Pitt, and with the decision to forsake the novel’s original Baltimore setting in favor of New Orleans and its generous post-Katrina tax incentives, the project was finally given the greenlight after decades of development.

Within Fincher’s filmography, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is just that—a curious case. It’s his most honored film, and certainly his most emotionally resonant and powerful. However, the film is not well-liked amongst the film community at large, let alone his devoted fanbase. It is commonly accused of maudlin sentiments, which at the time of its release were at odds with a cynical American mentality wrought by terrorism and an unpopular war abroad.

However, as the long march of time strips the film of the context of its release, its fundamental integrity increasingly reveals itself. Like its sister project ZODIAC, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON makes a strong case for one of the best films of its decade.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is bookended with a framing narrative that concerns an elderly woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lying on her deathbed in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. She implores her daughter to read her a series of journal entries she’s saved in a box, all of them written by a mysterious man known only as Benjamin Button.

His story begins on the eve of World War 1’s end in New Orleans, where a baby is born with quite the defect: severely wrinkled skin and a frail condition that’s consistent with an old man at the end of his life.

The baby’s mother dies during labor, and the father, wealthy button manufacturer Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), flees with the baby in horror, abandoning him on the back steps of a nursing home. The home’s caretaker, a fiercely maternal soul named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) discovers the baby and takes him in as her own, giving him the name of Benjamin.

The child confounds all expectations as he continues growing up into an elderly-looking little boy, appearing better and healthier every day. Benjamin (Brad Pitt) fits right in with the residents of the creaky old nursing home, and they become something of an extended family around him. One day, Benjamin meets a precocious little girl named Daisy, who sense just how different he is, and they begin a lifelong friendship.

As the years give way to decades, Benjamin continues to age in reverse, becoming more youthful and virile as he sets out into the world on a grand adventure that places him against the backdrop of the 20th’s century historical moments.

He becomes a master sailor, battles Nazi submarines in open waters, and even experiences a secret love affair with an old married woman (Tilda Swinton) in Russia. When Benjamin returns home from his adventures, he finds Daisy has grown into a beautiful young woman as well as a successful ballet dancer in New York.

Their attraction towards each other alternates erratically, never overlapping until Daisy’s career is cut short after getting hit by a taxi in Paris. Middle age sets in, and as Daisy becomes acutely aware of her mortality, she and Benjamin finally give in to each other and start a grand romance.

When Daisy announces she’s pregnant, Benjamin becomes withdrawn emotionally—he’s reluctant about becoming a father because as the child grows, he’ll only get younger still and, as he puts it, “(she) can’t raise the both of us”.

As Benjamin’s singularly unique life plays out, the film reveals itself to ultimately be about the heartbreak of age and time. It plays like a melancholic yearning for youth, while at the same praises the experience of life and living it to the fullest with the time you have.

Brad Pitt’s third collaboration with David Fincher is also his most sophisticated. As Benjamin Button, Pitt needs to be able to convey a complex life through all its various stages and differing attitudes. The main through-line of Pitt’s performance is that of a curious innocent, who soaks in everything around him with wide-eyed glee because he was never supposed to live long enough to see it anyway. The majority of Pitt’s performance is augmented by CGI, but his characterization is consistent and his physicality is believable across the spectrum of age. Simply put, Pitt’s performance is a career-best that takes advantage of his off-kilter leading man sensibilities.

Blanchett’s Daisy is an inspired counterpart as a complex character who is both tender and cold, idealistic and practical. Like Pitt, Blanchett must convey the full spectrum of womanhood with her performance, and does so entirely convincingly (with a little help from CGI “youth-inizing” techniques and conventional makeup prosthetics).

Tilda Swinton plays Liz Abbott, Benjamin’s mistress and lover during his short residency in a grand, old Russian hotel. Swinton, like Blanchett, is capable of playing a wide variety of age ranges, and here performs beautifully as an older, sophisticated and worldly woman who introduces Benjamin to the world of caviar and secret love affairs.

As Benjamin’s adopted mother Queenie, Taraji P. Henson is a revelation. She projects a strong, resilient dignity that allows her to essentially run the show at the old folks home Benjamin lives in. Mahershala Ali, better known for his role in Fincher’sHOUSE OF CARDS series, works for the first with the director here as Tizzy, Queenie’s lover and a distinguished, mild-mannered father figure to Benjamin.

Jason Flemyng plays Benjamin’s real father, Thomas Button, as a man besieged by melancholy over how his life has turned out. He’s a rich man, but all of the money in the world couldn’t have prevented his current situation, so he keeps Benjamin at an emotional distance until its time to pass his legacy and wealth on.

And last but not least, Elias Koteas— in his second consecutive performance for Fincher following ZODIAC—plays Monsieur Gateau, a blind clockmaker. Consumed by grief after losing his son to the Great War, Gateau constructs a clock that hangs in the New Orleans train station and runs backwards—thus paralleling Benjamin Button’s own life.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON furthers David Fincher’s foray into the digital realm. Working with a new visual collaborator in cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Fincher once again utilizes the Viper Filmstream camera to establish an all-digital workflow. Indeed, not a single frame of the film was ever printed to film before the striking of release prints.

Acquisition, editing and mastering was done entirely with bits and pixels— ones and zeroes. Presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the film is easily the director’s warmest-looking picture to date. The frame is tinged with a slight layer of sepia, while the warm tones veer towards the yellow part of the color spectrum and a cold blue/teal cast defines the current-day Katrina sequences.

The incorporation of practical lights into the frame creates a high contrast lighting scheme while making for moody, intimate interiors that evoke the old world feel of New Orleans.
Fincher’s color palette deals mainly in earth tones, which makes the presence of red (see Daisy’s dress during their first romantic date) all the more striking when it finally appears.

Red in general seldom makes an appearance in David Fincher’s work (except for blood, of course), a phenomenon that can be chalked up to Fincher’s self-avowed aversion to the color as it appears on film due to its distracting nature. However, with Daisy’s dress in particular, the costume designers were able to convince Fincher that the distraction served a legitimate story purpose.
For a director well known for his dynamic sense of camera movement, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a surprisingly sedate affair.

While certain key moments are punctuated with dolly or Technocrane movements, for the most part David Fincher is content to let the frame stay static and allow the performances to take center stage. This approach is bolstered by returning production designer Donald Graham Burt’s exceptional period reconstructions (themselves augmented with CGI and digital matte paintings).

Fincher’s regular editor Angus Wall stitches everything together in a deliberate, meaningful fashion that eschews flash in favor of truth and emotion. Kirk Baxter joins Wall, and would go on to become part of Fincher’s core editing team himself.

For the film’s music, David Fincher collaborates with Alexandre Desplat, who creates an elegiac, nostalgic score that sounds lush and romantic. Desplat’s work stands in stark contrast to the moody, foreboding scores that Howard Shore or David Shire created for Fincher’s earlier films.

Fincher supplements Desplat’s whimsical suite of cues with several historical needledrops that fill out the period: southern ragtime, R&B crooner hits like The Platters’ “My Prayer”, and even The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout”. Above all of these, the incorporation of Scott Joplin’s Bethena waltz stands out as the most powerful and cutting of cues (in my mind, at least). The song is as Old Time Dixie as it comes, but it’s a nostalgic little tune that resonates with me on a very strange level.

I can’t hear it without tearing up a little, and I can’t figure out why besides the obvious beauty of the song. The best way I can describe it as if it’s some remnant from a previous life that only my unconscious soul recognizes—which is an odd thing to say coming from a guy who doesn’t believe in reincarnation.

For a lot of people, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON doesn’t feel like a David Fincher film, mainly because of its overall optimistic and sentimental tone that stands at stark odds with the rest of his emotionally cold, nihilistic filmography. However, the film is right in line with the trajectory of Fincher’s other thematic explorations.

While the passage of time is a key theme specific to the film’s story, it builds upon the foundation that Fincher established in ZODIAC (a story that also took place over the course of several decades). The old world New Orleans setting allows for lots of Victorian/classical architecture in the form of ornate southern mansions and municipal buildings that, as the years tick by, give way to a distinct midcentury modern feel (see the duplex where Benjamin and Daisy’s daughter is born).

And finally, despite being shot on digital, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON plays with the artificial constructs of the film medium. Flashback sequences, like the blind clockmaker scenes and a man getting struck by lightning seven times are treated to look like old silent pictures from the Edison era—jittery frames, contrast fluctuations, and heavy scratches, etc.

These filters, applied in post-production, serve to differentiate the flashbacks from the sumptuously-shot main story, but they also clue in to a curious phenomenon that has risen out of the industry’s quick shift into digital filmmaking: the treating of digital footage to look like film, which is akin to a vegetarian trying to make a soy patty taste just like the chicken he refuses to eat in the first place.

To my memory, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is one of the earliest instances of applying filmic artifacts onto a digitally “pure” image, along with Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR in 2006.

It’s a commonly held tenet that age softens even the hardest of personalities. The production of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON saw David Fincher enter middle age and come to grips with his own mortality after the death of his father. As such, the film stands as a testament of an artist looking back on life and softening his edge without sacrificing who he is.

The film’s release in 2008 was met with modest commercial success and polarized reviews, with some deriding it as aFORREST GUMP knockoff while an equally vocal contingent hailed it as a technical triumph and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Fincher had his first real brush with the Oscars after the film’s release, with his direction receiving a nomination in addition to a nomination for Best Picture amongst a slew of actual Oscar wins for its groundbreaking visual effects work in seamlessly mapping a CG face onto a live-action body performance.

The cherry on top of the film’s success was its induction into the hallowed Criterion Collection, which—while met with scorn by Criterion fanboys for its perceived maudlin mawkishness— earned Fincher his place in the pantheon of important auteurs. It is an admittedly easy film to dismiss for cynical reasons, but THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON holds many treasures for those who choose to embrace it.

Like its unique protagonist, the film will persist through the ages precisely because of its poignant insights into the meaning of our fragile, fleeting existence on this earth.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2008-2010)

The release of 2008’s THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON found director David Fincher without a follow-up project immediately in the pipeline. His search for new material would eventually lead him to Aaron Sorkin and 2010’s masterful THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but due to the fact that the story wasn’t nearly as development-intensive as his previous film, Fincher was able to squeeze in a few commercials. His most notable work from this brief period consisted of multiple spots done for Nike and Apple, both giants in their respective fields.

NIKE: “SPEED CHAIN” (2008)

One of several spots that Fincher created for Nike in 2008, “SPEED CHAIN” is simply masterful in concept and execution. It depicts the evolution of speed, starting with a snake coming out of the water, morphing into a man, a leopard, a car, and finally a speeding bullet train. The piece is presented in David Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, as well as his signature cold color palette and dynamic camera movements that are augmented by CGI.


NIKE: “FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” (2008)

“FATE: LEAVE NOTHING” is yet another exceptional piece of advertising, set to a trip-hop remix of Ennio Morricone’s score for THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) as two young boys grow and develop essential football skills like agility and strength. It all culminates in a key confrontation between the two on the field as they collide with explosive force. Alongside the ever-present visual signatures, the piece is indicative of a major fascination of Fincher’s from this period in his career—the passage of time.


NIKE: “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” (2008)

Fincher’s third spot for Nike, “OLYMPICS FILMSTRIP” is heavy on the post-production, framing Olympians in film frames as the strips themselves run and twist through the frame. Shot by THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON’s cinematographer Claudio Miranda in David Fincher’s characteristic steely color palette, the piece also falls in nicely with Fincher’s continued exploration of the film frame’s boundaries and the mechanics of film itself as an artificial imaging medium.


STAND UP 2 CANCER: “PSA” (2008)

Stand Up 2 Cancer’s “PSA” spot features several vignettes in which celebrities (and scores of regular people too) stand up and face the camera—an admittedly literal concept. Several of Fincher’s previous feature collaborators make an appearance here: Tilda Swinton, Morgan Freeman, Elle Fanning, and Jodie Foster. Others, like Susan Sarandon, Keanu Reeves, Casey Affleck, and Tobey Maguire also pop up.


SOFTBANK: “INTERNET MACHINE” (2008)

David Fincher’s “INTERNET MACHINE” is a spot for a foreign cell phone company that, to my knowledge, never aired stateside. It’s a strange piece, and so dark that we almost can’t see what’s going on at all. Cast in a heavy, David Fincher-esque green color tint, Brad Pitt walks down the street and casually talking on his phone— all while CGI cars are blown away by apocalyptic winds behind him.


APPLE: “IPHONE 3G” (2009)

In 2009, Fincher did two spots for Apple’s iPhone line of products. The first, “IPHONE 3G” teases the secrecy that usually surrounds the release of a new iPhone by depicting the complicated security process of accessing the prototype stored within Apple’s laboratories.

The sleek, high contrast and steely look is characteristic of Fincher, but fits in quite sublimely with Apple’s own branding. The colorless set is full of various security tech and looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick movie, which is fitting for a director whose work is profoundly influenced by him.


APPLE: “BREAK IN” (2009)

“BREAK IN” advertises the imminent release of the 3G’s successor, the iPhone 3GS. This spot echoes the look of “IPHONE 3G” with a similar steely color palette and Kubrick-style set piece, but this time around David Fincher has a little more fun with the storyline and technology on display.


LEXUS: “CUSTOM CAR” (2009)

“CUSTOM CAR”, done for Lexus, is simple in concept and execution, featuring Fincher’s steely, cold, urban aesthetic and fascination with mankind’s relationship to technology—seen here via the convenience of custom car settings that help identify ownership in the absence of visual differentiation.

The piece isn’t available to embed as far as I can tell.


NIKE: “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” (2009)

Fincher’s 2009 spot for Nike, “TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION” is incredibly artful in its high contrast, black and white approach. It might be one of the most expressionistic depictions of football I’ve ever seen.

David Fincher’s characteristic use of CGI as a storytelling tool (not just for visual flash) can be seen at the end, where the football player/protagonist retires to the locker room and exhibits a lizard-like skin pattern of scales.


NIKE: “GAMEBREAKERS” (2010)

“GAMEBREAKERS” is all computer-generated, and as such it hasn’t aged as well. It looks more like an old videogame, but perhaps that was the intent. Fincher once again works with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who shot live-action face elements that were then mapped onto CG bodies. The idea is similar to the tech employed for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, but reversed and applied to a dynamic action sequence.


THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

Facebook is easily the biggest, most transformative development of the early twenty-first century. It completely revolutionized how we communicate with each other, how we keep in touch with old friends and family, and even how we use the Internet on a fundamental level. It single-handedly ushered in the era of “Web 2.0” that experts spent most of the 90’s predicting and theorizing about.

The fact that Facebook was born in the dorm room of some Harvard kid meant we had entered a brave, new digital age. We were now in a world that benefitted the young and the savvy, the likes of who didn’t wait to “pay their dues” or obtain a blessing from the old guard before going about casually changing the world.

At the end of the day, however, Facebook is a tool. A product. A collection of ones and zeroes organized just so and projected onto our monitors. So, when it was announced that THE WEST WING creator Aaron Sorkin had written a screenplay based off “The Accidental Billionaires”, Ben Mezrich’s book on Facebook’s turbulent founding, the question on everyone’s minds (as well as the film’s own marketing materials) was: “how could they ever make a movie out of Facebook?”

As Mezrich’s book revealed (and Sorkin’s screenplay built upon), the inside story of Facebook’s genesis was fraught with a level of drama, intrigue, and betrayal normally reserved for Shakespeare.

Sorkin’s script, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, was a high-profile project from day one. It attracted the efforts of top producers like Scott Rudin, in addition to well-known personalities like Kevin Spacey, who signed on to executive produce the film. Directing duties were eventually handed to David Fincher—- the right decision, given that literally nobody else could’ve made this film as masterfully as he has done here.

When THE SOCIAL NETWORK debuted in October of 2010, it enjoyed very healthy box office receipts, mostly due to the name recognition of Facebook as well as a collective curiosity about its eccentric founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Others—like me—simply came to worship at the altar of David Fincher, subject matter be damned.

Because life is unfair, THE SOCIAL NETWORK came close to Oscar glory but was ultimately robbed by some movie about a cussing monarch or whatever that nobody will remember in ten years. There’s a strong case to be made that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the best film in Fincher’s entire body of work, but that’s a hard case to argue considering the strength of the rest of his filmography.

One thing is for certain: we hadn’t even completed the first year of the Teens before David Fincher had given us a strong contender for the best film of the new decade. THE SOCIAL NETWORK uses Zuckerberg’s deposition hearings as framing devices, allowing for the bulk to story to occur as flashback while the “present-day” sequences orient us in time and space and help keep us on the same page as the characters.

We see Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) under fire from two fronts—Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) are suing him because they believe Facebook was an original idea of theirs that Zuckerberg stole, while Zuckerberg’s former best friend and Facebook CFO is suing him because he cheated him out of millions of dollars that were rightfully his. Fincher then transports us to Cambridge, Massachusetts during the mid-2000’s where Zuckerberg was an undergrad at Harvard.

When his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) dumps him for being a cold, cynical little twerp, Zuckerberg goes home and creates Facemash—a website that compares randomly-generated portraits of female students. The ensuing traffic crashes Harvard’s computer network and gains him a large degree of notoriety among the student body as well as disciplinary action from Harvard’s board.

Word of his antics reach the Winklevoss twins (henceforth known as the Winklevii), who hire him to realize their idea of a Harvard-exclusive social networking site called Harvard Connect while dangling the vague possibility of an invitation to their prestigious Final Club in front of him like a carrot.

But in bouncing their idea off of his friend Saverin, Zuckerberg realizes he has a much better one, disregarding his commission to build Facebook with Saverin instead. The popularity of Facebook explodes around the campus, turning Zuckerberg and Saverin into local celebrities. It’s not long until the site expands its user base to other Ivy League schools as well as Stanford, located right in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Understandably, the Winklevii finds themselves humiliated and infuriated by Zuckerberg’s deceit, and so begin building a nasty lawsuit against him.

Having left Boston for the warmer climes of Palo Alto for the summer, Zuckerberg and Saverin hustle to find more capital for their successful little business, eventually starting a partnership with Napster founder Sean Parker, who helps set them up with meetings with big-time investors as well as some primo office space.

As Facebook is launched into the stratosphere, Zuckerberg finds himself accumulating enemies faster than friends. Much is made in the film about the inherent irony of the creator behind the world’s most successful social networking endeavor losing all of his friends in the process.

This idea is most potent in the major conflict between Zuckerberg and a scorned, exiled Saverin who rages back with venomous litigation after he’s deceived out of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential earnings.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK would live or die on the strengths of its performances, a notion that the technically-minded Fincher recognized and applied to his strategy by putting an unusual amount of focus (for him) on the performances.

Beginning with a generous three weeks of rehearsal time prior to the shoot, and following through with consistently demanding obscene numbers of takes (the opening scene had 99 takes alone), David Fincher led his cast into delivering searing, career-best performances.

The lion’s share of the attention and the film’s only acting nomination at the Oscars went to Jesse Eisenberg’s pitch-perfect performance as Mark Zuckerberg, or rather, the fictional version of the real-life Facebook founder that Sorkin had created. Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as a cold genius with sarcastic, antisocial tendencies. He is regularly absent from the present—his mind is elsewhere, preoccupied by his duties back at the office.

At the same time, he can be calculating and ruthless when he needs to be. As Eduardo Saverin—the initial investor and embattled ex-CFO of Facebook—Andrew Garfield delivers a breakout performance. Decent, passionate, and perhaps a little squirrely, Saverin is Zuckerberg’s closest friend and confidant; a brother. But their relationship is a Cain and Abel story, and because of his blind trust that Zuckerberg will do the right thing and look out for him, he inevitably assumes the Abel position.

Pop icon Justin Timberlake— in a performance that legitimized his status as a capable actor— plays Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and Silicon Valley’s de facto “bad boy”. Timberlake easily channels a flashy, cocky, and flamboyant physicality that’s at once both undeniably attractive to Zuckerberg and duplicitously sleazy to Saverin.

Fincher’s casting of Timberlake is quite playful, and he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pointing out the irony of a pop star playing a man who single-handedly transformed (some might say ruined) his industry.
Fincher’s eclectic supporting players serve as rock-solid satellites that orbit around the film’s three titanic leads. David Fincher’s series of collaborations with the Mara clan begins here with the casting of Rooney Mara as Erica Albright, Zuckerberg’s ex girlfriend. She’s patient and honest, but in a no-bullshit kind of way that’s not afraid to tell people off and put them in their place.

Mara’s character is presented as a major driving force behind Zuckerberg’s actions, with their breakup becoming the inciting event that drives him to create Facemash in the first place. Mara turns in a spectacular low-profile performance that would lead to high-profile roles in other films, not the least of which was as the lead in Fincher’s next project, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011).

Rashida Jones, better known for her work on PARKS & REC, plays the admittedly thankless role of Marilyn Delpy, an insightful young lawyer in Zuckerberg’s deposition. Her knack for comedy is well documented in her larger body of work, but in THE SOCIAL NETWORK she shows off a fantastic serious side that is consistently realistic.

Armie Hammer’s dual performance as the Winklevoss twins was yet another of the film’s many breakouts. Hammer’s portrayal of the film’s primary set of antagonists required the dashing young actor to not only change his physicality between Tyler and Cameron by mere degrees, but also to undergo the arduous process of motion-capturing his face for its later digital compositing onto the body of actor Josh Pence.

Pence, it should be noted, is the great hero of the piece, as he valiantly forfeited his own performance in service to Fincher’s vision. And last but not least, Joseph Mazzello turns up in his highest-profile role since 1993’s JURASSIC PARK as the anxious, nerdy Dustin Moskovitz— Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard and one of Facebook’s founding fathers.

As I’ve grown older and more entrenched in Los Angeles’ film community, I’ve found that my connections to major studio films have become increasingly personal, and my degrees of separation from the prominent directors and actors I admire decreasing exponentially. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a personal flashpoint then, in that a lot of my friends and acquaintances are a part of the film.

I suppose this is due to the story’s dependence on talent in their early twenties, as well as just being associated with the larger Los Angeles film community at the right time. For instance, my co-producer on my 2012 feature HERE BUILD YOUR HOMES, Josh Woolf, worked on the film as a production assistant and was there during the filming of the aerial title shot with Zuckerberg running across Harvard Square (a shot we’ll address in detail later).

Additionally, an actor friend of mine who I shot a short film with in January 2014, Toby Meuli, plays one of the more-prominent Harvard students during the Facemash sequence. A member of my group of friends from University of Oregon makes a brief appearance during a Final Club party sequence in which he chugs from a bottle of liquor and hands it off to Andew Garfield standing behind him.

I even went to a party in Los Feliz in 2010 that was thrown by the young woman with a pixie cut who was featured prominently during the opening frat party sequence. And finally, Mike Bash—a very close friend of mine—was cast in a great scene that followed the Bill Gates seminar. He was originally the guy who didn’t know that it was actually Bill Gates who was speaking. The scene was initially shot in Boston, but his role was cut when David Fincher eventually decided that he didn’t like how he directed the scene.

Rather than live with what he had, David Fincher reshot the scene in LA with new actors. Naturally, Bash was pretty despondent over his exclusion from the finished product, despite my assurances that he achieved a dream that eludes the grand majority of aspiring (and successful) actors: receiving direction from David Fucking Fincher.

David Fincher’s foray into digital filmmaking soldiers on in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this time he swaps out the Viper Filmstream camera with its maximum resolution of 1080 pixels for the glorious 4k visuals of the Red One camera.

His FIGHT CLUB cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, returns to shoot THE SOCIAL NETWORK in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, ultimately bagging a Cinematography Oscar nomination for his trouble. Fincher and Cronenweth convey an overall cold tone without relying on the obvious blue side of the color spectrum. Warmer shots are dialed in to a yellow hue, with a prominent green cast coating several shots.

David Fincher’s visual signature is immediately apparent, once again utilizing high contrast lighting and practical lamps that make for dark, cavernous interiors. In shooting the film, Fincher and Cronenweth pursued a simple, unadorned look. Combined with the digital format’s increased sensitivity to light, most lighting setups were reportedly completed in twenty minutes or less.

The camerawork is sedate and observational, containing none of the flashiness of its kindred tonal spirit, FIGHT CLUB. When the camera does move, the name of the game is precision—meaning calculated dolly moves or the motion-controlled perfection of the Technocrane. There’s only one handheld shot in the entire film, when Timberlake’s Parker drunkenly approaches a bedroom door at a house party to find police on the other side.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK marks production designer Donald Graham Burt’s third consecutive collaboration with Fincher—and third consecutive period piece. Thankfully, reconstructing the mid-2000’s isn’t as arduous a process as recreating the 70’s or large swaths of the twentieth century.

The major challenge on Burt’s part was replicating a well-known campus like Harvard in an authentic manner when the school refused to let the production film on their grounds. Shots filmed at Johns Hopkins University, as well as various locations in Los Angeles are unified in time and space by David Fincher’s editing team of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

The director’s adoption of digital techniques extends well into the post-production realm, with any promise of the technology’s ability to make editing easier going right out the window because of Fincher’s preferred shooting style.

Fincher had routinely used two cameras for each setup, effectively doubling his coverage, in addition to regularly demanding dozens upon dozens of takes until he was satisfied. At the end of it all, Wall and Baxter were left with over 268 hours of raw digital footage to sift through—a momentous task made all the more complicated by David Fincher’s tendency to mix and match elements from various takes right down to individual syllables of audio to achieve the cadence of performance he desired.

The new tools that digital filmmaking affords have certainly unleashed Fincher’s control-freak tendencies, but when that same obsession results in his strongest work to date and Oscar wins for his editing team, it can hardly be called a bad thing.

One of the most immediate and striking aspects of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is its unconventional musical score, written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor in his first scoring job after a series of casual collaborations with Fincher (SE7EN’s opening credits and the music video for Reznor’s “ONLY”).

Partnering with Atticus Ross, Reznor has managed to create an entirely electronic sound that not only evokes his own artistic aesthetic, but also complements the film’s tone perfectly. Reznor’s Oscar-winning suite of cues is quite spooky, incorporating a haunting droning sound that unifies all the disparate elements. It almost sounds like someone dancing upon a razor’s edge.

The now-iconic main theme uses melancholy piano plunks that recall nostalgia and childhood, slowly getting softer and lost to audio buzz and droning as Zuckerberg strays from innocence. Another standout is a rearrangement of the Edvard Grieg’s classical masterpiece “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” that appears during the Henley Regatta rowing sequence, which sounds as through it were filtered through the manic, electric prism of Wendy Carlos (Stanley Kubrick’s composer for THE SHINING (1980).

Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce layers everything into a coherent audio mix that would net him his own Oscar nomination. Klyce and David Fincher’s approach to the sonic palette of THE SOCIAL NETWORK is quite interesting, in that they don’t shy away from mixing in loud music and ambience during crowded scenes like the opening tavern sequence or the midpoint nightclub sequence.

The dialogue is almost lost amongst the loud din of activity, becoming a counterintuitive strategy to invest the audience and signal to them that they’ll really have to listen over the next two hours. Despite being a primarily talky film, the experience of watching THE SOCIAL NETWORK is anything but passive.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes all of Fincher’s core thematic fascinations and bottles them up into a singular experience. The director’s opening credits are always inspired, and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is no different (despite being relatively low-key).

Echoing Zuckerberg the character’s composed, plodding nature, David Fincher shows us Eisenberg running robotically through the Harvard campus late at night, which not only establishes the setting well, but also introduces us to the lead character’s relentless forward focus. Treating the text to disappear like it might on a computer screen and laying Reznor’s haunting theme over the whole thing are additional little touches that complete the package.

The title shot in this sequence, where we see Zuckerbeg run through Harvard Square from an overhead, aerial vantage point, also shows off Fincher’s inspired use of digital technology in subtle ways. The shot was achieved by placing three Red One cameras next to each other on top of a building and looking down at the action below.

This setup later allowed Fincher to stitch all three shots into one super-wide panorama of the scene that he could then pan through virtually in order to follow Zuckerberg. It’s insane. It’s genius.

Mankind’s relationship to technology has always been a major staple of David Fincher’s films, a thematic fascination influenced by his forebear Stanley Kubrick. In THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Fincher’s career-exploration of this theme comes to a head as the story’s main engine. The saga of Mark Zuckerberg is inherently about computers, the Internet, our complicated interactions with it, and its effect on our physical-world relationships.

Whereas Kubrick painted technology as dehumanizing and something to be feared, Fincher sees it as something to embrace—- something that distinctly enhances humanity and differentiates one person from the other. In David Fincher’s work, the human element tends to coalesce around the nihilistic punk subculture.

Our protagonist is inherently nihilistic and narcissistic, willing to burn whatever bridge he needs to advance his own personal cause, despite his actions not being fueled by money or power. The story hits on Fincher’s punk fascinations with Zuckerberg’s rebelliousness and devil-may-care attitude, in addition to the overt imagery of antisocial computer hackers and the inclusion of The Ramones’ “California Uber Alles”.

Finally, Fincher’s emphasis on architecture helps to evoke a sense of time and place, mixing in the old-world Harvard brownstones with the sleek modernism of the Facebook offices and deposition rooms that echoes the film’s subtext of the old guard stubbornly giving way to a new order.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK is easily David Fincher’s best-received film. When it was released, it scored high marks both in performance and critical reviews, going on to earn several Oscar nominations and even taking home gold statues for some of the big categories like Editing (Wall & Baxter) and Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin).

Ultimately, Fincher himself lost out on its deserved Best Director and Best Picture awards to THE KING’S SPEECH, but anybody could tell you which of the two films will be remembered in the decades to come. THE SOCIAL NETWORK again finds Fincher operating at the top of his game —a position he’s held since SE7EN even though he only broke through into true prestige with 2007’s ZODIAC.

It may not be an entirely accurate reflection of its true-life subject, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a pitch-perfect reflection of what Zuckerberg left in his wake: a society that would never be the same, fundamentally changed by a radical new prism of communication.


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

The late 2000’s was a golden era for young adult fiction in both the novel and film mediums. Just look at the runaway success of the TWILIGHT series or THE HUNGER GAMES—books or films. Doesn’t matter, because they both are equally prominent within their respective mediums. Despite your personal stance on these properties (trust me, I want them gone and buried just as much as you), you can’t deny their impact on pop culture.

During this time, another book series and subsequent set movie adaptations captivated an admittedly older set—Stieg Larsson’s MILLENNIUM trilogy. Named after the muckracking news magazine that central character Mikael Blomvkist works for, the books (and movies) comprise three titles: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”. In 2009, the first of the Swedish film adaptations came out based on “Dragon Tattoo”, featuring newcomer Noomi Rapace in a star-making turn as the series’ cyper-punk heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

As the Swedish film trilogy proved successful both at home and abroad, it was inevitable that the major US studios would remake the property for American audiences. The task fell to Sony Pictures, who set up THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO with super-producer Scott Rudin overseeing a screenplay by esteemed writer Steve Zaillian.

Rudin’s natural choice for a director was David Fincher, who he had previously worked on the very successful THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) with. Fincher was drawn to the story of two mismatched misfits trying to solve a decades old murder, despite his misgivings that he had become the go-to guy for serial killer films after the success of SE7EN (1995) and ZODIAC (2007).

The tipping point came in Fincher’s realization that he would be at the helm of one of the rarest projects in mainstream studio filmmaking: a hard R-rated franchise. As expected, David Fincher delivered a top-notch film with Oscar-caliber performances and effortless style. For whatever reason, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO didn’t connect with audiences, and its lackluster box office performance probably aborted any further plans for completing the trilogy.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is structured differently than most other thrillers, in that it eschews the traditional three-act design in favor of five acts. This might be perhaps why the film floundered in the United States, where audiences have been subliminally conditioned to accept the ebb and flow of three acts as acceptable narrative form.

The film’s first half tells a two-pronged story, with one thread following Mikael Blomvkist (Daniel Craig)—a disgraced journalist who has recently lost a high-profile lawsuit against wealthy industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. After taking some time off from his co-editor gig at news magazine Millennium, he is approached by Henrick Vanger (Christopher Plummer), a rival of Wennestrom’s and a wealthy industrialist in his own right. Vanger brings Blomvkist to his sprawling estate in rural Hedestat under the auspices of authoring a book of his memoirs.

However, the true purpose of Blomvkist’s employment is much more compelling—to try and solve the decades-old case of Henrick’s granddaughter Harriet, who went missing in the 1960’s and is presumed killed.

Blomvkist takes up residence in a guest cottage on the property and dutifully begins poring over the family records and taking testimony from the various relatives, some of who have shady ties to the Nazi Party in their pasts.

Meanwhile in Stockholm, a young computer expert named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) grapples with the fallout of her foster father’s debilitating stroke. She’s forced to meet with state bureaucrats for evaluation of her mental faculties and state of preparedness for life on her own.

Her case worker—a portly, morally-bankrupt man named Yils Bjurman (Yorick van Wageningen)—forces her to perform fellatio on him in exchange for rent money, his abuse eventually culminating in Salander’s brutal rape.

However, he doesn’t expect Salander’s ruthlessness and resolve, made readily apparent when she returns the favor and rapes him right back.
Blomvkist requests the help of a research assistant, and in an ironic twist, is paired with Salander—- the very person who performed the background check on him prior to Vanger’s offer of employment.

They make for an unlikely, yet inspired pairing—both professionally as well as sexually. Together, they set about cracking the case, only to discover their suspect is much closer—and much deadlier—than they could’ve imagined.

James Bond himself headlines David Fincher’s pitch-black tale, but it’s a testament to Daniel Craig’s ability that we never are actually reminded of his secret agent exploits throughout the near-three-hour running time.

Craig has been able to avoid the sort of typecasting that doomed others like Mark Hamill or Pierce Brosnan before him, simply because he refuses to let his roles define him. As disgraced journalist Mikael Blomvkist, he projects a slightly disheveled appearance (despite still being an ace fucking dresser). It may not be the most memorable role of his career but he turns in a solid, faultless performance regardless.

The true spotlight goes to Rooney Mara’s cold, antisocial hacker punk, Lisbeth Salander. Mara underwent a radical transformation for the role, even so far as getting real piercings, tattoos, dye jobs, even having her eyebrows bleached.

Considering her previous collaboration with David Fincher was as the squeaky-clean girl-next-door Erica Albright in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Mara’s appearance in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is gut-level arresting.

The depth of Mara’s talent is evident in her unflinching confrontation with the most brutal aspects of her character arc. By giving herself over to the role entirely, she’s able to take a character that was already so well-defined by Rapace in the Swedish versions and make it completely into her own. Her Best Actress nomination at the Oscars was very much deserved.

Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Wright round out Fincher’s compelling cast. Plummer is convincing as Henrick Vanger, depicting the retired industrialist as a good-natured yet haunted old man, as well as a bit of a dandy.

Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger is the current CEO of the family business, and his distinguished-gentleman persona cleverly hides his psychopathic, murderous inclinations. Wright plays Erika Berger, Blomvkist’s co-editor at Millennium and his on-again, off-again lover. Wright is by her nature an intelligent and savvy woman, as evidenced not just here but in her subsequent collaboration with Fincher in HOUSE OF CARDS as Kevin Spacey’s Lady MacBeth-ian spouse.
In keeping with David Fincher’s affinity for digital filmmaking technology, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO takes advantage of the Red Epic digital cameras, the next generation of the type that THE SOCIAL NETWORK was shot on.

The film is presented in Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, but again it is not true anamorphic. Besides being a reflection of David Fincher’s general distaste for the limitations of anamorphic lenses, the shooting of the image in full-frame and the later addition of a widescreen matte in postproduction is a testament to Fincher’s need for control.

This method allows him to compose the frame exactly as he wants, and the Red Epic’s ability to capture 5000 lines of resolution allows him an even greater degree of precision in zooming in on certain details, blowing up the image, or re-composing the shot without any loss in picture quality.

This technology also affords better image stabilization without any of the warping artifacts that plague the process.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth returns for his third collaboration with Fincher, having replaced original director of photography Fredrik Backar eight weeks into the shoot for reasons unknown.

Despite his initial position as a replacement DP, Cronenweth makes the picture his own, with his efforts rewarded by another Oscar nomination. David Fincher’s signature aesthetic is very appropriate for the wintery subject matter, his steely color palette of blues, greens and teals evoking the stark Swedish landscape— even warmer tones are dialed back to a cold yellow in Fincher’s hands.

The high contrast visuals are augmented by realistically placed practical lights that suggest cavernous interiors. Fincher’s sedate camera eschews flash in favor of locked-off, strong compositions and observant, calculated dolly work. When the camera moves, it really stands out in an affecting way.

Nowhere in the film is this more evident than in the shot where Craig’s Blomvkist is in the car approaching Vanger’s extravagant mansion for the first time. Presented from the forward-travelling POV of the car itself, the mansion grows larger in the center of frame— the symmetrical framing conceit suggesting ominous perfection.

The fact that the camera is stabilized makes for a smooth foreboding shot that takes any sort of human element out of the equation and replaces it with a fundamentally uneasy feeling. In the commentary for the film, David Fincher cites a favorite book from childhood, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”—the sequence in which Harker approaches Dracula’s Castle serving as inspiration for his approach to this particular shot.

The connection is certainly not lost on this writer. Like several key shots in Fincher’s larger filmography, the Vanger Estate Approach (as I like to call it) would become a tastemaker shot that has not only been copied in his successive project HOUSE OF CARDS, but in subsequent pop culture works by other artists as well.

Production designer Donald Graham Burt returns for his fourth Fincher film, artfully creating an authentic sense of place in the Swedish locations while showing off his impeccable taste and eye for detail.

Editing team Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter are key collaborators within David Fincher’s filmography, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO would become their second consecutive Oscar win for editing under the director’s eye.

Their work for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO really utilizes the advantages that digital filmmaking has to offer in realizing David Fincher’s vision and creating a tone that’s moody but yet unlike conventional missing-person thrillers.

Angus and Wall establish a patient, plodding pace that draws the audience deeper into the mystery before they’re even aware of it, echoing Blomvkist’s own growing obsession with the case.

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his music partner Atticus Ross reprise their scoring duties, giving the musical palette of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO an appropriately electronic and cold, wintery feeling.

Primarily achieved via a recurring motif of atonal bells and ambient soundscapes, the score is also supplemented by a throbbing, heartbeat-like percussion that echoes Salander’s simmering anger as well as the encroaching danger at hand.

One of Reznor’s masterstrokes is his reworking of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the opening credits and trailer, featuring vocals by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Given a new coat of industrial electronic grunge, the rearrangement instantly conveys the tone and style of the film.

Fincher’s needledrops are few and far between in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but one sourced music track stands out because of the sheer audaciousness of its inclusion. In the scene where Skarsgard’s Martin Vanger tortures Blomvkist in anticipation of butchering his prey, he fires up the basement’s stereo system and plays, of all songs, Enya’s Orinoco Flow.

I remember the moment getting a huge laugh in the theatre, and rightfully so—the song is just so cheesy and stereotypically Nordic that it acts as a great counterpoint to the sheer darkness of the scene’s events.

The laughter instead becomes a nervous sort of chuckle, the kind we employ to hide a certain kind of fundamental unease and anxiety. Fincher’s go-to sound guy Ren Klyce was nominated for another Oscar with his standout mix, taking this noxious brew of sounds and turning it into a razor-sharp sonic landscape that complements David Fincher’s visuals perfectly.

On its face, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t seem like it would call for a substantial amount of computer-generated visual effects. Fincher’s background in VFX results in the incorporation of a surprisingly large quantity of effects shots.

Almost every exterior shot during the Vanger sequences has some degree of digital manipulation applied to it in the way of subtle matte paintings, scenery extensions and weather elements that blend together seamlessly in conveying Fincher’s moody vision and desire for total control over his visuals.

His affinity for imaginative opening title sequences continues here, in what is arguably his most imaginative effort to date. Set to the aforementioned “Immigrant Song” cover, the sequence plays like a dark nightmare version of those iconic James Bond title sequence, depicting key moments from the film in abstract, archetypical form as a thick black ooze splashes around violently. The choice to incorporate a black on black color scheme is undeniably stylish.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sees David Fincher at the peak of his punk and technological aesthetic explorations. While not Fincher’s creation, the character of Lisbeth Salander fits in quite comfortably within his larger body of work—the culmination of a long flirtation with punk culture.

She is most certainly the product of the cyberpunk mentality, which values not only rebelliousness but technological proficiency as well. Unlike other depictions of this subculture in mass media, it’s easy to see that Fincher obviously respects it for what it is and aims to portray them in a realistic manner.

He builds upon the downplayed foundation he laid in THE SOCIAL NETWORK here by refusing to generate fake interfaces for Salander to use. He shows Salander actively Googling things, looking up people on Wikipedia, etc—he doesn’t shy away from showing corporate logos and interfaces as they appear in real life.

While a lot of people have a problem with blatant product placement, I can respect a director who doesn’t go out of his way to hide (or aggressively feature for that matter) brands and logos when depicting a realistic world. After all, we live in a world awash with corporate branding, so why pretend it doesn’t exist?

David Fincher’s body of work is defined by a distinctly nihilistic attitude towards story and character, even though I don’t believe he’s nihilistic himself. With THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in particular, these sentiments are a prominent part of the storytelling.

These protagonists are morally flawed people who aren’t afraid of doing bad things to get ahead. They’re mostly atheists, and they don’t care whether you like them or not. The themes of abuse that run through the narrative also reflect this overarching mentality, playing out in the form of authority figures exerting their influence and selfish desires over the women that depend on them.

We see this reflected both on the bureaucratic level with Salander’s lecherous case worker, as well as on the familial level in Harriet Vanger’s repeated rape and abuse at the hands of her brother and father.

Architecture plays a subtle, yet evocative role in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. One of the core themes of the story is the clash between new Sweden (Salander’s weapons-grade sexual ambiguity and technical proficiency) and old Sweden (the Vanger family’s moneyed lifestyle and sprawling compound).

This clash is echoed in the architecture that Fincher chooses to present. The Vanger estate consists of classical Victorian stylings and rustic cottages; compare that to the harsh lines and modern trappings Martin Vanger’s minimalist cliffside residence (all clean lines and floor-to-ceiling glass), as well as the whole of Stockholm—very much the model of a modern European city. In showing us this duality of place and time, Fincher is able to draw a line that also points us directly to the narrative’s major emphasis on the duality of man.

Despite THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO’s impeccable pedigree and unimpeachable quality, it was a modest disappointment at the box office. It opened at a disadvantage, placing third on its debut weekend and never rising above it during the rest of its run.

There were, of course, the inevitable comparisons to the original series of film adaptations, with purists preferring them over David Fincher’s “remake”.

Having seen Fincher’s version before I ever touched the originals, I quickly found that I couldn’t get through the first few minutes of the Swedish opening installment—Fincher’s execution, to me, was so much more superior in every way that it made the originals look like cheap TV movies of the week.

Unfortunately, we will probably never get to see what David Fincher would have done with the remaining two entries in the series, as the poor box office performance of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO most likely put the kibosh on further installments.

But, as I’ve come to discover again and again since I’ve started this essay series project, time has a way of revealing the true quality of a given work. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is only three years old as of this writing, but the groundswell of appreciation is already growing—hailing the film as the most underrated in Fincher’s filmography and an effort on par with his best work.


HALO 4 “SCANNED” TRAILER (2012)

In 2012, the long-awaited, highly anticipated HALO 4 was released for the Xbox 360. During the buildup to the release, the game-makers enlisted director David Fincher to craft an unconventionally long commercial/teaser trailer.

Titled“SCANNED”, the piece takes on the POV of Master Chief, showing us flashbacks from his life as he was selected for the Master Chief program, surgically enhanced, and let loose into the galaxy to protect Earth. The flashbacks are triumphant in nature, which only underscores the severity of the situation when we cut to the present and reveal Master Chief in captivity, facing off against what appears to be a greater threat than he’s ever encountered.

“SCANNED” is a combination of live-action and all-CG elements, evoking the slick commercial work of David Fincher’s earlier advertising career as well as reiterating his confident grasp on visual effects. The high contrast, cold/blue color palette is one of the piece’s few Fincher signatures, in addition to the focus on the futurist technology required to make Master Chief in the first place. At two minutes long, “SCANNED” is a supersized spot and must have been incredibly expensive. Considering that both the HALO video game series and Fincher have huge fan bases between them, it’s a bit surprising to see that their collaboration here wasn’t hyped more than it was.
There’s not a lot of growth to see on David Fincher’s part here, other than the observation that his long, successful commercial career has made him the go-to director for only the highest-profile spots and campaigns.


HOUSE OF CARDS “CHAPTER 1 & 2” (2013)

Director David Fincher has long been a tastemaker when it comes to commercial American media. His two pilot episodes for Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, released in 2013, are simply the latest in a long string of works that have influenced how movies are made, how commercials are engineered, and how music videos have evolved.

Due to HOUSE OF CARDS’ runaway success, he has played a crucial part in making the all-episodes-at-once model the indisputable future of serialized entertainment and reinforcing the notion that we’re living in a new golden age of television.

HOUSE OF CARDS had originally been a successful television series in the United Kingdom, so of course it had to be re-adapted for American audiences, who presumably have no patience for British parliamentary politics.

On principle, I think this is a terrible practice that discourages us from learning about other cultures based off the assumption that we’re too lazy to read subtitles. But like Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) before it, once in a while the practice can create an inspired new spin on existing work that distinctly enhances its legacy within the collective consciousness.

HOUSE OF CARDS’ origins stretch back to 2008, when David Fincher’s agent approached the director with the idea while he was finishing up THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Fincher was interested in the idea, and enlisted hisBENJAMIN BUTTON writer Eric Roth to help him executive produce and develop the series.

After shopping it around to various cable networks around town, they found an unexpected home in streaming movie delivery service Netflix, who was in the first stages of building a block of original programming in order to compete with the likes of HBO and Showtime while bolstering their customer base. Along with LILYHAMMER and the revived ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HOUSE OF CARDS formed part of the first wave of this original programming, which took advantage of Netflix customers’ binge-watching habits by releasing all episodes at once instead of parsing them out over the space of several weeks.

It was (and still is) a groundbreaking way to consume television, and despite the naysayers, the strategy worked brilliantly. Funnily enough, the reunion between Fincher and SE7EN (1995) star Kevin Spacey didn’t occur out of their natural friendship, but because Netflix found in its performance statistics a substantial overlap between customers who had an affinity for David Fincher and Spacey, respectively.

As such, executives at Netflix were able to deduce and mathematically reinforce the conclusion that another collaboration between both men would generate their biggest audience. This also gave them the confidence to commit to two full seasons from the outset instead of adhering to traditional television’s tired-and-true practice of producing a pilot before ordering a full series.

Admittedly, the use of metrics and numbers instead of gut instinct might be a cynical way to approach programming, but in HOUSE OF CARDS’ case, the idea really paid off. Under Fincher’s expert guidance, Spacey has delivered the best performance of his career and HOUSE OF CARDS has emerged as one of the best serialized dramas around, rivaling the likes of such heavyweights as MAD MEN, THE WIRE, and BREAKING BAD.

Fincher directed the first two episodes in the series, which takes place during the inauguration of fictional President Garrett Walker. Walker wouldn’t even be taking the oath of office if it weren’t for the substantial canvassing done by House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in exchange for the coveted position of Secretary of State.

After taking office, however, Walker has a change of heart and reneges on his promise. Underwood shows grace and discipline in accepting the President Elect’s decision, but immediately begins scheming how to manipulate his way to the top. He’s simultaneously challenged and reinforced by his wife Claire (Robin Wright), the CEO of a prominent nonprofit and a strong-willed leader in her own right.

On the President’s first day in office, Underwood targets the new nominee for Secretary of State, Michael Kern, via an education reform bill— which is revealed to be radically left-leaning and unacceptable to the public’s interests.

Underwood leaks the bill to the press through Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), whose story on the matter lands on the Herald’s front page and prompts the education reform chairman to step aside and designate Frank himself to head up the authorship of a new bill.

It isn’t long until Underwood manages to unseat Kern by exploiting his handicaps via hardline questions from the press, subsequently installing a pawn of his own as the new candidate. Over the course of the first season, Underwood’s machinations and orchestrations will whisk him up into the upper echelons of power and within a heartbeat of the highest office in the land.

Kevin Spacey has always been a well-respected actor, but his performance as Frank Underwood reminds us of his unparalleled level of talent. Underwood is an unconventional narrator, straddling a line between an omniscient and personal point of view.

A southern gentleman from South Carolina first, a Democrat second, and currently the House Majority Whip (a temporary position, to be sure), Underwood is a ruthlessly calculating and manipulative politician—but at the same time he’s endlessly charismatic and armed with an endless supply of euphemisms and folksy proverbs.

Although Spacey and David Fincher haven’t worked together on this close a scale since 1995, it seems they’re able to slip right into the proceedings with a great degree of confidence and comfort.

Robin Wright, also on her second collaboration with Fincher after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, plays Underwood’s wife, Claire. Every bit as strong and calculating as her husband, the character of Claire adds a distinctly Shakespearean air to the story by channeling the insidiously supportive archetype of Lady Macbeth.

The CEO of a successful nonprofit firm, Claire pulls her weight around the Underwood household and becomes Frank’s rock during difficult times. Wright does a great job of making Claire inherently likeable and relatable, despite her outwardly cold characterization.

With HOUSE OF CARDS, the Mara family has established something of a dynasty in their collaborations with Fincher. After Rooney’s career-making performances in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, older sister Kate proves every bit her equal as Zoe Barnes, a wet-around-the-ears journalist for the Washington Herald. Plucky, street smart and ambitious, Barnes is able to use her intelligence as a tool of empowerment just as well as her sex.

Corey Stoll and Mahershala Ali, as Peter Russo and Remy Denton respectively, prove to be revelations that stick out amidst the clutter of David Fincher’s supporting cast. Stoll’s Russo is a politician from East Pennsylvania who has problems with alcohol and drug abuse. He’s severely disorganized and impulsive, despite his promising intelligence and ambition.

Ali’s Denton is almost the exact opposite—super focused, disciplined, and exceedingly principled. Denton is a high-powered lawyer who serves as a great foil to Underwood’s scheming. Ali’s performance also benefits due having worked with Fincher on THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Like all of Fincher’s late-career work, HOUSE OF CARDS is shot entirely digitally, taking advantage of the Red Epic’s pure, clean image to convey the series’ sterile, almost-surgical tone. Instead of hiring a cinematographer he’s worked with before, David Fincher enlists the eye of Eigil Bryld, who ably replicates the director’s signature aesthetic.

The cold, steely color palette has been desaturated to a pallid monotone in its treatment of blues, teals, and greys. Warm tones, like practical lights that serve to create a soft, cavernous luminance in interior chambers, are dialed into the yellow side of the color spectrum.

The aesthetic deviates from Fincher’s style, however, in opting for a much shallower focus—even in wide shots. Curiously, the aspect ratio seems to be fluid from format to format. When streamed on Netflix, HOUSE OF CARDS is presented in 1.85:1, but watching it on Blu Ray, the image appears to be cropped to Fincher’s preferred 2.40:1 aspect ratio, making for an inherently more-cinematic experience.

HOUSE OF CARDS plays like an old-school potboiler/espionage thriller, featuring shadowy compositions and strategic placement of subjects in his frame that are reminiscent of classic cloak-and-dagger cinema.

The camera work is sedate, employing subtle dolly work when need be. The effect is a patient, plodding pace that echoes Underwood’s unrelenting focus and forward-driven ambition. Perhaps the most effective visual motif is the inspired breaking of the fourth wall, when Spacey pulls out of the scene at hand to monologue directly to camera (which makes the audience complicit in his nefarious plot).

Spacey delivers these sidebar moments with a deliciously dry wit, enriching what might otherwise be a stale story of everyday politics and injecting it with the weight of Shakespearean drama. The foundation of this technique can be seen in 1999’s FIGHT CLUB, where David Fincher had Edward Norton address the audience directly in a few select sequences. HOUSE OF CARDS fully commits to this idea, doing away with conventional voiceover entirely.

While it’s been used in endless parodies since the series’ release, the very fact that the technique is commonly joked about points to its fundamental power.

Another visual conceit that has been copied by other pop culture works like NONSTOP (2014) is the superimposition of text message conversations over the action, rather than cutting to an insert shot of the message displayed on the cell phone’s screen.

Considering that characters have been texting each other in movies for almost ten years now, I’m frankly surprised it took us this long for the on-screen subtitle conceit to enter into the common cinematic language. It’s an inspired way to dramatize pedestrian, everyday exchanges that act as the modern-day equivalent of coded messages in cloak-and-dagger stories.

Behind the camera, Fincher retains most of his regular department heads save for one new face. Donald Graham Burt returns as Production Designer, creating authentic replicas of the hallowed halls and chambers of Washington DC. Kirk Baxter, who normally edits Fincher’s features with Angus Wall, goes solo in HOUSE OF CARDS and weaves everything together in a minimalist, yet effective fashion.

The ever-dependable Ren Klyce returns as Sound Designer, giving an overly-talkie drama some much-needed sonic embellishment. The only new face in the mix is Jeff Beal, who composes the series’ music. Beal’s theme for HOUSE OF CARDS is instantly iconic, fueled by an electronic pulse that bolsters traditional orchestral strings and horns— echoing the romantic statues of fallen heroes that dot the DC landscape with a patriotic, mournful sound.

The series doesn’t rely on much in the way of needledrops, so David Fincher’s inclusion of two pre-recorded tracks is worth noting. The first episode features an inaugural ball where we hear Dmiti Shostakovich’s “Second Waltz”, which cinephiles should recognize as the main theme to Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT (1999).

Additionally, the second episode features Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” when Russo goes to visit a conspiracy theorist in rural Massachusetts. While not exactly the most original choice of music, it’s appropriate enough.

For visionary directors like Fincher, television is tough because of the need to work within a strictly defined set of aesthetic boundaries. While this is changing and becoming a better stage for visually dynamic work every day, the basic rule of thumb is to direct the pilot in order to set the style in place and make the entire series conform around it.

In that regard, HOUSE OF CARDS as a series absolutely oozes Fincher’s influence, despite 24 of the (to-date) 26 episodes being helmed by different directors. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the fact that David Fincher’s episodes dovetail quite nicely with several themes and imagery he’s built his career on exploring.

Take the opening titles for instance—while they are usually part and parcel with the conventional television experience, Fincher makes them his own by showing time-lapse footage of Washington DC locales, suggesting the bustling scope of his stage while further exploring the passage of time as a thematic idea— also seen in earlier work like ZODIAC (2007) or THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

This theme is also reflected in Fincher’s depiction of DC’s iconic architecture. Like he did in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, his compositions and location selections when taken as a whole suggest a clash between the old Washington and the new.

Old DC, marked by classical, colonial structures like The White House and The Lincoln Memorial, face off against the growing tide of steel and glass towers, or the modern infrastructural design of subway stations. A key takeaway of HOUSE OF CARDS is that Washington DC, a city defined by its romantic memorials to the past, is increasingly modernizing into a world city of the future.

This transition is aided by mankind’s increasing dependence on— and complicated relationship with—technology; another core idea that David Fincher has grappled with throughout his career. HOUSE OF CARDS’ focusing prism is communication: cell phones, text messages, the Internet, Apple computers, CNN, etc.

The series goes to great lengths to depict how information is disseminated in the digital age, with government and the media forming a complex, symbiotic relationship.

In asking the audience to root for, essentially, the bad guy, HOUSE OF CARDS echoes the strong undercurrent of nihilism that marks Fincher’s stories. Underwood is less of a protagonist than he is an antihero.

Objectively, he’s a bad person who’s scheming to outright steal the Presidency to rule the world as he sees fit. In real life, we’d react to this sort of notion with outrage—just ask anyone who’s ever irrationally obsessed over a particular birth certificate of a certain standing President. However, we can’t help but root for Underwood to succeed, simply because he’s just so damn attractive and charismatic (on top of actually being, you know, a fully-fleshed out, relatable person with moral shades of grey and not a stock villain archetype).

HOUSE OF CARDS’ groundbreaking release was met with quite the warm reception. It was nominated for several Emmys (a big deal for a series that hadn’t been broadcast first on television), and launched Netflix into HBO’s orbit in terms of compelling original content.

For Fincher as a director, HOUSE OF CARDS served as a great comeback after the disappointment of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The series, whose third season is scheduled to premiere in February 2015, is a confident, near-flawless exploration of man’s lust for power and our complicated governmental structure—and wouldn’t be nearly as successful without David Fincher’s guiding hand. My one regret with HOUSE OF CARDS is that he didn’t direct more episodes.


COMMERICALS & MUSIC VIDEO (2013-2014)

Director David Fincher barely had any time to notice the modestly-disappointing performance of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, what with the continuing development of several projects he was attached to make. It would be 3 years before he was back in cinemas with another feature, but the years between 2011-2014 were by no means a fallow period.

His sheer love for directing and for being on set couldn’t keep him away for long— and so in 2013 he returned to the arena that first made his name, armed with a new commercial and a new music video.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “SUIT & TIE” (2013)

You couldn’t go anywhere in the Summer of 2013 without hearing Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” on the airwaves. As Timberlake’s own bid for Michael Jackson’s pop throne, the song’s broad appeal couldn’t be denied.

The inevitable music video for the song couldn’t be trusted with just any filmmaker—it was too high-profile to go to anyone but the biggest directors in town. Most likely due to their successful collaboration in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Timberlake chose Fincher as the director for “SUIT & TIE”—their union begetting one of the better music videos in many, many years.

Fincher’s visual aesthetic proves quite adept at its translation into the world of high fashion and style. He uses black and white digital cinematography and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to echo the polished, sleek vibe of Timberlake’s song.

While a lot of his earlier music videos were shot in black and white to achieve a sense of grit, David Fincher’s use of it here echoes the crispness of a black tuxedo against a white shirt.

There’s a great interplay between light and dark throughout the piece, both in the broad strokes like the dramatic silhouettes he gets from his high contrast lighting setups, as well as smaller touches like Timberlake’s white socks that peek out from between black pants and shoes (another homage to Michael Jackson).

Despite being primarily a for-hire vehicle for Timberlake and a selling tool for his single, “SUIT & TIE” manages to incorporate a few of Fincher’s long-held thematic fascinations.

Fincher’s exploration of our relationship with technology sees a brief occurrence here as Timberlake and Jay-Z utilize state of the art recording equipment in the studio, as well as employing iPads as part of the songwriting process.

David Fincher features Apple products in his work so much more prominently than other filmmakers that I’m beginning to think he has a secret product placement deal with them. Architecture also plays a subtle role in the video, seen in Timberlake’s slick, modern bachelor pad as well as the Art Deco stylings and graceful arches of the stage he performs on.

One strange thing I noticed, though: the size of the stage itself doesn’t match the venue it’s housed in. For example, when the camera looks towards Timberlake, the stage extends pretty deep behind him like it was the Hollywood Bowl.

But when we cut to the reverse angle and see the audience, the venue is revealed to be disproportionally shallow and intimate. If you were to draw out the geography onto a blueprint, you’d realize it was a very unbalanced auditorium. Most likely, these two shots were shot in separate locations and stitched together with editing.

As his first music video in several years, “SUIT & TIE” finds Fincher working at the top of his game in familiar territory. It’s easily one of his best music videos and will no doubt serve as a taste-making piece and influencer for many pop videos to come.


CALVIN KLEIN: “DOWNTOWN” (2013)

Later the same year, Fincher collaborated with his THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO star Rooney Mara in a spot for Calvin Klein perfume called “DOWNTOWN”. Also shot in digital black and white, the spot finds David Fincher and Mara eschewing the punk-y grunge of their previous collaboration in favor of an edgy, glamorous look.

Mara herself is depicted as a modern day Audrey Hepburn—being adored by the press as she attends junkets and does photo shoots—but is also seen engaging in daily urban life and riding the subway (while listening to her iPod, natch). Fincher’s love of architecture is seen in several setups, the most notable being a shot prominently featuring Mara framed against NYC’s George Washington Bridge. The whole piece is scored to a track by Karen O, a kindred spirit of Mara’s and Fincher’s who provided the vocals for Trent Reznor’s re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Overall,“DOWNTOWN” is a brilliantly executed and stylish spot that sells its product beautifully.


GAP: “DRESS NORMAL” CAMPAIGN (2014)

2014 marked director David Fincher’s return to cinema screens with his domestic thriller GONE GIRL, following a three year hiatus from feature filmmaking.  It also saw the infamous provocateur release a series of four commercial spots for the blandest clothing label in the business: Gap.

In a transparent bid to regain some cultural relevancy, Gap released a campaign entitled “DRESS NORMAL”, a move that could be construed as the struggling brand capitalizing on their sudden popularity amongst the emergent “normcore” crowd– arguably one of the more idiotic non-trends in recent memory.

To his credit, Fincher achieves Gap’s goals brilliantly, creating four effortlessly cool and stylish pieces (despite what some of the more-cynical voices in the blogosphere might say).  Titled “Golf”, “Stairs”, “Kiss”, and “Drive”, all are presented in stark shades of black and white, rendered crisply onto the digital frame.

Fincher eschews a sense of modernity for a jazzy mid-century vibe, with the old-fashioned production design and cinematography coming across as a particularly well-preserved lost film from the French New Wave.  Each spot pairs together a couple (or groups) of beautiful urbanites living out the prime of their youth in generic urban environs.

David Fincher’s hand is most evident in the sleek, modern camerawork that belies the campaign’s timeless appeal.  He employs a variety of ultra-smooth dolly and technocrane movements that effortlessly glide across his vignettes while hiding the true complexity of the moves themselves.

All in all, Fincher’s “DRESS NORMAL” spots are quite effective, injecting some much-needed style and sex appeal into Gap’s tired branding efforts.


GONE GIRL (2014)

Since the beginning of time, men and women have been at odds with each other.  One of the grand ironies of the universe is that testosterone and estrogen act against each other despite needing to work in harmony in order to perpetuate the species.

We scoff at the term “battle of the sexes”, like it’s some absurdly epic war over territory or ideology, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard we try to bridge the gap, men and women just aren’t built to fully comprehend each other like they would a member of their own sex.

Yet despite these fundamental differences of opinion and perspective, we continue coupling up and procreating in the name of love, family, and civilization.  In this light, the institution of marriage can be seen as something of an armistice, or a treaty– an agreement by two combative parties to equally reciprocate affection, protection and support.

Naturally, when this treaty is violated in a high-profile way like, say, the murder or sudden disappearance of someone at the hands of his or her spouse, we can’t help but find ourselves captivated by the lurid headlines and ensuing media frenzy.  Names like OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, or Scott Peterson loom large in our collective psyche as boogeymen symbolizing the ultimate marital transgression.

The treacherous world of domesticity serves as the setting of director David Fincher’s tenth feature film, GONE GIRL(2014).  Adapted by author Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name, the film marks David Fincher’s return to the big screen after a three year absence following the disappointing reception of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

In that time, he had refreshed his artistic energies with Netflix’s razor-sharp political thriller HOUSE OF CARDS (2013), with the serial’s warm reaction boosting his stock amongst the Hollywood elite.

Fincher’s oeuvre trades in nihilistic protagonists with black hearts and ruthless convictions, so naturally, the churning machinations and double crosses of Flynn’s book were an effortless match for his sensibilities.

Working with producers Joshua Donen, Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, as well as his own producing partner Cean Chaffin, Fincher manages to infuse a nasty undercurrent of his trademark gallows humor into GONE GIRL, making for a highly enjoyable domestic thriller that stands to be included amongst his very best work.

GONE GIRL begins like any other normal day for Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck).  But this day isn’t like any others– it’s the fifth anniversary of his wedding to wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a privileged New York socialite and the real-life inspiration for “Amazing Amy”, the main character in a series of successful children’s books authored by her parents.

He leaves home to check in on the bar he runs in the nearby town of North Carthage, Missouri, expressing his dread of the occasion to his twin sister Margot, who mixes drinks there.  When he arrives back at the generic suburban McMansion he shares with Amy, he finds a grisly scene– overturned furniture, shattered glass, streaks of blood… and no Amy.

The police launch an investigation into Amy’s whereabouts, with her status as minor literary celebrity causing a disproportionate stir in the media.  He’s taunted at every turn by deceitful talk show hosts and news anchors, as well as clues from Amy herself, left behind in the form of letters that are part of gift-finding game that’s become their anniversary tradition.

In her absence, the clues have taken on a more much foreboding aura– channeling similar vibes and imagery from David Fincher’s 1997 classic mystery THE GAME.  The media’s increased scrutiny on Nick’s life and the history of his relationship with Amy drags his flaws as a husband out into the light, where they’re subsequently used against him to raise the possibility that he just might be responsible for her disappearance.  But did he kill his wife?  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t… but the truth will be more surprising than anyone could’ve expected.

Ben Affleck headlines the film as Nick Dunne, skewering his real-life image as a handsome leading man by bringing to the fore a natural douchebag quality we’ve always suspected he possessed.  Dunne covers up his supreme narcissism and anger issues with a thin layer of charm, finding the perfect balance between a sympathetic protagonist who is way in over his head and a slick operator who thinks he’s got his game on lock.

Affleck proves inspired casting on Fincher’s part, and it’s nice to be reminded that besides being a great director in his own right, he’s still a great performer.  As Amy Dunne, Rosamund Pike conjures up one of the most terrifying villainesses in screen history.

An icy, calculating sociopath, Amy will do anything and everything necessary to carry out the perfect plot against her husband– even if the physical harm she deals out is on herself.  Pike’s skincrawling performance resulted in the film’s only Academy Award nomination, but it’s a well-deserved one that will be remembered for quite some time.

If the pairing of Affleck and Pike as GONE GIRL’s leads seems a bit odd or off-center, then Fincher’s supporting cast boast an even-more eclectic collection of characters.  Neil Patrick Harris– Doogie Howser himself– plays Amy’s college sweetheart Desi Collins.

A rich pretty boy and pseudo-stalker with bottomless reserves of inherited funds, he’s so intent on dazzling Amy with his high-tech toys and spacious homes that he’s completely oblivious to her machinations against him.  Primarily known for his comedic roles in TV and film, NPH makes a successful bid for more serious roles with a performance that’s every bit as twisted as the two leads.

Beating him in the stunt casting department, however, is maligned director Tyler Perry, whose films are often derided by critics as patronizing and shamelessly pandering despite their immense popularity amongst the African American population.  The news of his involvement in GONE GIRL with met with gasps of disbelief and confusion by the blogosphere, but here’s the thing– Tyler Perry is great in this movie.

He effortlessly falls into the role of Tanner bolt, a high-powered celebrity lawyer from New York, soothing Nick with his seasoned expertise and wearing expensive designer suits so comfortably they might as well be sweatpants.  He’s extremely convincing as a whip-smart, cunning attorney, never once hinting at the fact this is the same man who became rich and famous for wearing a fat suit under a mumu.

Emily Ratajkowski and Patrick Fugit are great as Nick’s jiggly co-ed mistress Andie and the no-nonsense Officer Gilpin, respectively, but GONE GIRL’s real revelation is character actress Kim Dickens.

Calling to mind a modern, more serious version of Frances McDormand’s folksy homicide investigator in FARGO (1996), Dickens’ Detective Boney is highly observant and sly– almost to a fault.  The joy in watching Dickens’ performance is seeing her internal struggle against the growing realization that none of her prior experience or expertise could ever prepare her for Amy’s level of scheming.

GONE GIRL retains David Fincher’s signature look, thanks to the return of his regular cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.  As a team, they’ve built their careers out of using new filmmaking technologies to fit their needs, and GONE GIRL isn’t one to break the tradition.

One of the earliest features to shoot on Red Cinema’s new Dragon sensor, GONE GIRL was captured full-frame at 6k resolution and then thrown into a 2.35:1-matted 4k timeline in post-production.

This allowed Fincher and his editing partner Kirk Baxter to re-compose their frames as they saw fit with razor-precision and minimal quality degradation.  This circumstance also afforded the ability to employ better camera stabilization in a bid to perfect that impossibly-smooth sense of movement that Fincher prefers.

As one of the medium’s most vocal proponents of digital technology, David Fincher inherently understands the advantages of the format– an understanding that empowers him with the ability to make truly uncompromised work.

Appropriate to its subject matter, GONE GIRL is a very dark film.  Fincher and Cronenweth use dark wells of shadow to convey a foreboding mood, while Fincher’s signature cold color palette renders Nick’s trials in bleak hues of blue, yellow, green, and grey.

Red, a color that David Fincher claims to find too distracting on film, rarely appears in GONE GIRL, save for when he specifically wants your attention on a small detail of the frame– like, say, a small blood splatter on the hood over the kitchen stove.

Despite the consistent gloom, the film does occasionally find short moments of warm, golden sunlight and deeply-saturated color.  Fincher’s slow, creeping camerawork leers with omniscience, placing its characters at an emotional arm’s distance.

Knowing Fincher’s background as a commercial director, it’s not surprising to see GONE GIRL throw around nonchalant product placement for flyover-country conglomerations like Walmart, KFC and Dunkin Donuts.

Looking back over his other features, it’s clear that David Fincher has never been one to shy away from the presence of well-known brands in his frame– indeed, a large chunk of his bank account is there as a direct result of his interaction with brand names and logos.

Product placement is a controversial topic amongst filmmakers, with many seeing the intrusion of commerce as an almost-pornographic sacrilege towards art, but Fincher’s view seems to be that reality is simply saturated with corporate logos, branding, and advertisements, so why should a film striving for realism be any different?

In Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and his musical partner Atticus Ross, Fincher has found a kindred dark soul, and their third collaboration together after 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO doesn’t surprise in its aim to bring something entirely unexpected to the proceedings.

Working from David Fincher’s brief that the music reside in the space between calm and dread, Reznor and Ross’s electronic score for GONE GIRL is characterized by soothing ambient tones interrupted by a pulsing staccato that conveys the razor-sharp undercurrents of malice that Amy so effortlessly hides behind her statuesque facade.

Outside of John Williams and Steven Spielberg, it’s hard to think of a composer/director partnership where each artist’s aesthetic is so perfectly suited towards the other.  Reznor, Ross, and Fincher have cultivated a symbiotic relationship that, together with Fincher’s regular sound designer Ren Klyce and his consistently excellent and immersive soundscapes, elevates any project they undertake into a darkly sublime experience.

A nihilistic sentiment abounds in the style of GONE GIRL, falling quite effortlessly into David Fincher’s larger body of work.  The same attention to detail and insight into the banal side of law enforcement (paperwork, legal red-tape, etc.) that marked 2007’s ZODIAC is present in GONE GIRL’s almost-clinical depiction of the day-to-day process of investigating such a luridly mysterious crime.

Two of David Fincher’s most consistent fascinations as a director– architecture and technology– play substantial roles in the drama, but never at the expense of story and character.  The architecture that Fincher concerns himself with in GONE GIRL is the domestic structures in which we house our families, or to put it another way, the castles in which we shelter our charges.

However, as seen through the perspective of David Fincher’s particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, our suburban castles instead become prisons.  The neutral tones of upper-middle-class domesticity that pervade Amy and Nick’s McMansion are almost oppressive in their blandness, while the structural elements on which they’re painted bear no characteristics of the values of those who inhabit them.

Fincher reinforces this idea by shooting from low angles to expose the ceiling, suggesting that the walls are figuratively closing in on his characters.  Likewise, Desi Collins’ grandiose, rustic lakeside retreat is simply too spacious to ever feel constricting or claustrophobic, what with it’s cathedral-height vaulted ceilings and oversized windows letting in an abundance of sunlight.

However, Desi has rigged his well-appointed home with an overblown array of security cameras and other surveillance, effectively trapping Amy inside if she wishes to remain under the auspices of “missing, presumed dead”.  And speaking of technology, David Fincher places a substantial focus on Nick’s distractions with video games, cell phones, oversized televisions and robot dogs.

This “boys with toys” mentality is quite appropriate to Fincher’s vision, as it is crucial to the authenticity of Amy’s convictions that Nick has fallen prey to that all-too-common suburban phenomenon of men turning to the stimulation afforded by electronics and gadgets after growing tired of their wives.

The dangers of growing complacent in your marriage– whereby we distract ourselves with screens instead of with each other– is a key message in GONE GIRL, and Fincher’s career-long exploration of mankind’s relationship to technology makes him a particularly suitable messenger.

Thanks in part to GONE GIRL’s high profile as a bestselling book as well as David Fincher’s own profile as a highly skilled artist with a fervent cult following, the film was a strong success at the box office.  As of this writing, it actually holds the records for Fincher’s highest-grossing theatrical run in the United States.

Critical reviews were mostly positive, and while it received only one nomination for Pike’s performance at the 2015 Oscars, it’s generally regarded as one of the best films of the year.  The tone and subject matter of GONE GIRL may not feel particularly new for Fincher (a notion that may have played into the film’s lack of Oscar nominations), but this well-trodden ground provides a solid platform for David Fincher to perfect what he already does best: delivering taut, stylish thrillers with razor-sharp edges.

Now firmly into middle age (52 as of this writing), Fincher could be forgiven for what so many other artists his age do: slowing down, mellowing out, looking backwards, worrying about legacy, etc.  It’s pretty evident however that he has no intention of doing any of those things.  While his next feature has yet to be announced, he’s deep in development on several projects running the gamut from theatrical to television.

Fincher’s skill set may have become more refined and sophisticated in its taste, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone soft on us.  Indeed, he’s actually grown much sharper.

He’s cleaved off extraneous waste from his aesthetic, and in return he’s able to focus his energies to the point of laser precision.  One only needs to look at GONE GIRL’s gut-churning sex/murder sequence to see that he hasn’t lost his unflinching eye for the macabre and his affinity for stunning his audience out of complacency.

He may be older, yes, but in many ways, he’s still that same young buck eager to shock the world with Gwyneth’s head in a box.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics and Indiewire. 

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors. 


David Fincher’S FILMOGRAPHY

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Barry Lyndon: Breaking Down Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpiece

In the history of dramatic films, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon gets a beautiful ranking. It won a total of four Oscars under the production category. It is a film that is based on a novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray: ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon,’ in 1844. The film itself was made in 1975. Stanley Kubrick was also the writer and producer of the film.

The characters who starred in it include Patrick Magee, Ryan O’Neal, Hardy Krüger and Marisa Berenson, among others. It revolves around the escapades of a fictional adventurer of the 18th century.

After its release, although the film received a lot of criticism, it is considered as one of the best films by Stanley Kubrick. In fact, polls conducted by BBC, Village Voice in 1999, Sight & Sound in 2002 and 2012, and Time in 2005, ‘Barry Lydon’ is one of the best films ever produced.

Why is this so? Anyone who has seen the film or read the plot would know better. Below is the plot of one of the finest drama movies to hit the TV screens.

The film opens with a narrator describing events, both present, and the past, taking place as the motion picture unfolds. This narrator tells the audience that in Ireland around for 50’s, the character playing Barry Redmond’s father gets into a fight over horse purchase, and is killed in the process, leaving behind a widow and a son.

Barry Lyndon grows up a depressed young man who was often in low spirits. He begins to have a crush on his cousin, Nora Brady, despite the fact that she is older than he is. She notices and goes as far as flirting with him during a card game, but it ends there.

This is probably because she sets her sights on a captain of the British Army, John Quin, who is affluent as well. This saddens Barry Lyndon greatly.

Meanwhile, with her family, Nora makes plans of using marriage to John as leverage to secure wealth. Barry, on the other hand, feeling spurned, sees John as an enemy.

This bad blood between the both of them, comes to a head one day, as the both men engage in a fight by the riverside, and Barry takes a shot at John before fleeing, thinking that he has killed him.

The police search for Barry Lyndon, but he outruns them, going towards Dublin, via the countryside. On his way, however, a notorious highway robber; Captain Feeney, dispossesses him of his horse, gun, and purse. Unable to do anything to defend himself, a sad Barry trudges ahead.

Getting to the next town, an opportunity presents himself. There is a promo going on for interested people to join the army, in return for an easy life and pension until death.

Barry Lyndon finds this interesting and enlists to join. While in the army, Barry has an encounter with a captain: Grogan, who turns out to be nice and easy going. It was Grogan who informed Barry that John, whom he thinks he killed, is alive. He also tells Barry that his bullets were replaced with something else and that the reason the fight took place, was that Nora’s family wanted Barry out of the way.

This was because Barry was proving to be an obstacle to Nora getting financially secure through marriage to John; therefore, they planned to have him killed but gave him a gun without real bullets. Barry Lyndon, of course, is greatly disappointed with this news, but he takes it in stride.

Soon after the war; the Seven Years’ War breaks out, and Barry’s regiment is posted to Germany to go and fight. On the battlefield, precisely during the Battle of Minden with a small part of the French Army, Captain Grogan is hit by the enemy, and it is obvious that he would not survive his injuries.

Barry decides that he has had enough and left the rest of his comrades, and as he leaves, he steals a uniform belonging to a courier officer, including his identification papers and his horse.

Passing through neutral Holland, he is stopped by Captain Potzdorf of the Prussian Army. Upon close inspection, the captain discovers that he is a runaway soldier traveling incognito and gives Barry Lyndon two options; either accept to be turned back to the British Army and killed for being a deserter or become a Prussian soldier.

Barry goes for the latter. Sometime later, he saves Captain  Potzdorf’s life in battle and is given a special commendation by Frederick the Great.

The war finally ends two years later, in 1763 and Captain Potzdorf’s cousin, who is a police officer, employs Barry to serve an Irishman; Chevalier de Balibari, who is an expatriate and a professional gambler. This is no ordinary employment; the government thinks that Chevalier is a spy, so Barry’s true mission is to find out undercover.

But Barry has no plans to work undercover. He tells Chevalier everything, and they become fast friends, gambling together, especially as Barry has good eyesight, which is an advantage at home, tables. One day, during a game, the two partners cheat the Prince of Tübingen, who throws accusations at them, though without evidence.

The prince refuses to pay and begins to make trouble. Barry tells his employees what is going on and they, wanting to avoid the trouble that could stem from the aggrieved parties meeting, arrange for Chevalier’s expulsion from the country. Barry Lyndon tells Chevalier about their plan, and he runs away at nightfall.

Morning comes and Barry, who takes the disguise of Chevalier, is removed from the country by Potzdorf and his men; to freedom.

The previously separated partners meet again, and these two men traverse Europe, visiting gambling parlors and spas, and making money from gambling. Anyone who refuses to pay is forced to a sword duel with Barry Lyndon and ends up paying their debts. As time goes on, Barry sees how empty his life is, and decides to find a wealthy wife, to make something out of it.

His search pays at a gambling Spa, in Belgium, where he meets the Countess of Lyndon, who is not just wealthy, but beautiful as well. He goes after her and fortune smiles on him, with the death of the Countess’s husband, Sir Charles Lyndon. Barry makes the Countess his wife.

The second act opens to 1773, where a newly married Barry adopts his wife’s last name and makes England his home, living off her, with no money to his name.

The countess’s ten-year-old son, Lord Bullingdon, sees through Barry’s scheme and calls him a ‘common opportunist.’ Barry does not find this funny and resorts to physically abusing the child as often as he can.

Soon, the Countess gets pregnant and bears Barry’s son. However, the marriage becomes a sham, as a result of Barry Lyndon being an unfaithful husband and spending his wife’s money on luxurious frivolities and turning his wife to a loner.

A while later, Barry invites his mother to come and live with his family in the estate. The old woman after a period of her stay observes that Barry has everything to lose if Lady Lyndon dies because she has a first son who is not Barry’s.

She advises him to take a noble title to prevent this from happening. Barry Lyndon heeds his mother’s advice and befriends a well known Lord named Wendover, also spending a lot of his wife’s money to be accepted by members of high society.

Unfortunately, his efforts are in vain. During a birthday party in honor of Lady Lyndon, Lord Bullingdon, who is now almost an adult, takes to the stage and lets everyone know how much he dislikes his stepfather.

He goes on to add that he has decided to forgo his father’s estate as long as Barry is on its grounds and still his mother’s husband. The boy’s actions and words infuriate Barry, who rushes and begins to attack him until people around drag him off Bullingdon.

His new wealthy friends are appalled by Barry’s behavior and call it quits with being his friends. Their actions do not stop Bullingdon from leaving his estate and country for an unknown destination.

Ironically, Barry Lyndon loves and adores his own son, Bryan, whom he gives everything. For this reason, he sees nothing wrong in granting the young child’s request for an adult horse, as Bryan’s birthday gift as he turns nine. Barry tells the child never to ride the horse in his absence, but being over pampered, one day, Bryan disobeys his father. The horse throws him off, paralyzing him, and a few days later, the gravely injured Bryan dies.

In grief, his mother and father turn to religion and alcohol, respectively. Reverend Samuel Runt, employed to tutor Bullingdon and later, Bryan, becomes Lady Lyndon’s spiritual mentor.

After a while, Barry’s mother relives the reverend of his services, as the estate does not need a tutor anymore, and because his presence makes the Countess’s situation worse. This aggravates her state as Lady Lyndon tries to kill herself, but the poison she ingests is just enough to sicken her. The reverend, along with the family accountant, Graham, set out to find Bullingdon and persuade him to return home.

Bullingdon returns, on hearing of all that had happened. He meets Barry Lyndon drinking in a bar, and feeling offended that his stepfather should be comforting his mother instead, challenges him to a duel.

In a tithe barn, the duel, in which pistols are used, takes place. A coin is tossed, giving Bullingdon the right to shoot first, but the nervous young man misfires.

Next, it is Barry’s turn and not wanting to hurt Bullingdon; he shoots at the ground. However, Bullingdon is not satisfied, so he takes another shot, this time, hitting Barry on the leg.

Barry is taken to a small hospital, where he is informed by the attending surgeon that unless his affected left leg is not amputated below the knee, he will die. And so, Barry undergoes an amputation.

Bullingdon takes over his father’s estate, as Barry Lyndon convalesces. Then, he sends Graham to tell Barry to accept an annuity of five hundred guineas, as long as he is willing to leave England and never return.

The accountant also tells him that the annuity would cease, the moment Barry steps back into England. Having lost everything, including his leg, Barry accepts the proposition and leaves England with his mother.

The narrator then tells the audience that before returning to Europe, they both stop at Ireland and then continue to his country home, where Barry Lyndon continues gambling. However, he is not as successful as he used to be, during his days with Chevalier. He neither went back to England nor saw his wife after he left.

In December 1789, Lady Lyndon, now noticeably older, is seen signing a cheque for Barry’s annuity, and watching his mother, is Lord Bullingdon.

Now, here are some interesting facts about Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

• Kubrick was so particular about the film that he went to museums and hired 18th-century clothing for his cast, including the extras.

• The film was shot with special lenses attached to the cameras, to capture the candlelight scenes perfectly, as was to be expected in a time before electricity. He had the option of creating the illusion of candlelight scenes but decided instead to use real candlelights.

• Kubrick’s previous film generated a lot of criticism, due to its violent setting, so, he told the press little or nothing about Barry Lyndon, except the names of the cast. He was so tight-lipped about the film that his character for Lady Lyndon, was only told that the film would be based on the 18th-century setting and that she should not go out under the sun, in order to be pale skinned for her role.

• Kubrick’s daughter made an appearance in one of the scenes.

• He sent instructions to the projectionists who were showing the film because he wanted everything about it to be perfect.

• His efforts to every detail paid off; Barry Lyndon is until date, one of most highly awarded films of Kubrick.

Understanding The Cinematographic Magic Behind Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick’s cinematography methods in producing Barry Lyndon were sheer madness… or pure genius! Kubrick had the vision to use only natural light throughout the scenes in Barry Lyndon.

While that may have seemed like a swell idea to him, it soon proved to be much more difficult than he had anticipated. Barry Lyndon was shot entirely on location in England and Ireland. It contained some 179 actors and took over 8 months to complete.

These factors were small feats for Kubrick’s “natural light” requirement. Another factor, the weather, was an entirely different ordeal.

Since Barry Lyndon was shot on location and not in a warehouse somewhere, the weather was a huge factor for the film’s production. In England and Ireland, the actors and production team had to travel from location to location.

The weather was never a “sure” thing for them. With its abrupt changes and uncertainty, the weather made finding the right light challenging to say the least.

Filming in the gulf stream made the Ireland scenes extremely trying. In the Gulf stream, there are two different wind currents: high and low. At any given moment, the currents could be flowing simultaneously and often in opposite directions.

The wind was unrelenting on the clouds. In any given scene, it could be light one moment with the clouds parted and dark the next with brooding clouds blocking the natural light.

Kubrick didn’t plan perfect scenes. He worked with what he was given. When he was given something he couldn’t work with he improvised.

For instance, when he had an indoor scene where the natural light needed a bit of manipulation, he would improvise by adding gels and/or tracing paper to mimic natural light through the windows.

This method allowed him to maintain a similar lighting inside throughout the day.

In other indoor scenes, Kubrick wanted to maintain the 18th-century feel by lighting some of the scenes by candlelight. As aesthetically appealing as that may seem, it proved too difficult to accommodate.

With the flickering lights of the many candles, it was hard to catch the proper lighting in certain scenes. Not willing to give up on that 18th-century theme, Kubrick found a lens that would do the trick.

That new lens was one designed specifically by NASA. Its sole purpose was to take pictures of the dark side of the moon. The new camera lens proved to be the perfect cure to the lighting issue. That coupled with reflectors and heat shields created ideally picturesque candlelit scenes.

In an interview, Kubrick said he did not dwell on the camera… he did not like to think about it at all. He also did not believe in extensive story boarding or overly planning scenes.

He simply had all the actors dressed in full costume and makeup and had them start the scenes. At dawn, they began trying to find the perfect first shot. When finding that perfect shot seemed unattainable, Kubrick would find his influence in 18th-century paintings.

These paintings typically detailed just the right setting lighting for scenes. In the end, it would all tend to flow.

IFH 143: How NOT to Shoot a $50,000 Short Film – Lessons Learned

Right-click here to download the MP3

So as filmmakers we all want to make the best films we can. Sometimes filmmakers think that a bigger budget is the answer, that bigger is better. This is what I thought when I went down the road and create my short film Red Princess Blues. After going down this road once before with my first short film BROKEN, I thought bigger had to be better. If $8000 was good (budget of BROKEN) then with $50,000 I could blow everyone away.

BROKEN opened a ton of doors for me as a filmmaker. I was contacted by studios, executives, producers, agents, you name it. BROKEN was an ambitious short film, to say the least. You can listen to that story here: How I Made Over $90,000 Selling My Short Film. 

In this episode, I discuss the mistakes I made when I made a $50,000+ short film. Mistakes with

  • Budget
  • Crew Choices
  • Size of Crew and Cast
  • Production Design
  • Distribution Plan
  • ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Who is the end-user (audience I’m trying to reach)

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues someday soonI’m just not sure spending $50,000 for a proof of concept short film was the way to get that train moving.

Here’s the synopsis of the short film:

ZOE, a young teenage girl, is lured into an after hours carnival tent by the sleazy rock n roll carnie RIMO, and gets more then she bargained for. It’s up to the mysterious PRINCESS, star of the new knife show, to pull her out of the wolf’s den.

This is not the first short film I made based on my feature film screenplay. I co-directed, with my brother in arms Dan Cregan, a traditional Japanese Anime Prequel called Red Princess Blues: Genesis starring the legendary Lance Henriksen

 

I was a bit ahead of the curve on the distribution of Red Princess Blues. I was the first short film to be distributed exclusively on an iPhone app. Streaming was not a thing yet. I go over what happened with that in the episode as well. Check out this promo I made for the app.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Many amazing opportunities were generated from RPB, I just wish it wouldn’t have cost me as much. = ) These are some interviews and red carpet moments from Red Princess Blues’ World Premiere at the HollyShorts! Film Festival.

 

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues. I hope you find some words of wisdom in this episode and that you can learn a few lessons that cost me a bunch of $$$ to learn. So if you are thinking of shooting a $50,000 short film, FOR GOD SAKE DON’T. Listen to this first, I beg you! = ) Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3
Download on iTunes Direct
Watch on IFH YouTube Channel


Killer Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas

Short films have become a lot more popular nowadays with the advancements in the field of media, but coming up with short film ideas can be challenging. Since short films are easier to make than the feature movies, the production cost is also a lot cheaper. One has to have some ideas and they may be inspired or may come mainly from your everyday life, personal life, personal experiences, experiences of others, or even on the fantasies that you have.

The first thing to remember is that you have maximum 10 to 15 minutes to grab your audience’s attention, so make sure to make the best out of the least. Some people do not have any trouble in coming up with ideas for the short film, and they get it spot on. On the other hand, most people do not even know how long should their short film should be.

Here are a few ways that you should try to come up some great short film ideas:

1. Brainstorm Short Film Ideas:

You can brainstorm a lot of short film ideas to get started, and it can be in the form of a small script or anything. The initial ideas are raw, and they do not have to make any sense, but you have to keep working until you find the right idea. Your short film idea or plot relies on your creative skills and thus, you have to start some brainstorming activities to start with the concept of the short film.

Everyone wants to get done with the visual content first so that they can visualize the main plot or theme of the short film. On the other hand, remember that you have to remain attentive while brainstorming the ideas and do not stop until you find something that you think will captivate the minds of the audience. Most of the award-winning short film ideas come from brainstorming, and you have to use brainstorming as a form of exercise.

2. Write It Out:

There is no doubt that the best of the directors are also one of the best screenplay writers. You have to use those writers as a form of inspiration to get that perfect idea for your short film. Writing about your personal experiences, or something experienced by someone else, can make a huge difference to the ideas that you already have thought of. Write about some believable or unbelievable ideas, even if you haven’t selected the theme or the genre of the short film.

Drawing an initial outline is the first step that you can take towards the formation of an idea. Before writing, make up some scenarios in your mind, and write about the central concept that comes to your mind with that scenario, and then, with the help of a few friends, you can form the idea to give it a defined shape. Work with instincts and instances and add some experiences so that your idea can remain original and the basic plot is set.

3. Create a Routine:

In an attempt to decide the major theme or the core plot of your short film, you can form a routine so that you try to generate the best ideas every single day until you find the right idea. The best times to produce the perfect ideas out of your mind is morning and at night. Creating a routine is a tricky concept as you have to devote 10 minutes in the morning, and that too, before having breakfast or doing anything else.

In the morning, your mind is fresh, and your level of creativity is at its peak, so make sure to use that time well. It is a quite healthy part of a routine and healthy for the mind. Plus, this way you can also use your dreams as an outline, or form something out of the dreams you had before. This similar routine can be integrated into the nighttime as well before you go to bed. There is a 50 percent chance that you will generate the best idea during one of these times of the day.

4. Watch Other Movies:

Everyone wants to make the topic of their short film unique and original. But then again, you can always use other films, or even novels, as a source of inspiration for the idea of your short film. You can become a keen observer to make something out of the most neglected topic in any movie or novel that you’ve seen or read.

You can raise an issue that you think that the director ignored in the film and created your short film around that idea; it doesn’t matter if you are in favor or against that idea. All you have to think of is to find a way to form and present that idea as yours, and make sure that it stays original no matter what.

5. Find The Right Resources:

Robert Rodriguez said it best when he was making his landmark film El Mariachiuse what you have access to. If you have a house, backyard, dog, motorcycle in the garage and a parrot write your story around those elements.  You should list the number of resources and make certain that you visit those places or people to form the right idea for yourself. Furthermore, if you do not have the right resources available for the idea of your short film, then you can start your research to find something that is more visually exciting for your project.

You have to remember that if your initial idea is not interesting enough, no matter how much determination you put into it, your short film will not be good enough. On the other hand, some miraculous directors can make the best movies using the simplest ideas by using the right resources and presenting it in such a manner that it makes the short film a remarkable one. The resources can be many things, i.e. a particular location, props, or anything that grabs your attention.

6. Make Up a Story:

By replicating a few quotes from some of the prominent film scenes, or by envisioning some of the mainstream plots of the most famous movies or novels, you can form some short film ideas, or find something that inspires. You can also create a story by developing individual characters in your mind; for instance, place your characters in a situation where they do not have any resources and no other way to get out. Use different challenging scenarios to make up the perfect storyline for your short film.

Entrap your characters in various and unusual circumstances and limit the resources they have to free themselves from these conditions. However, keep in mind that you should not choose such a conflict that can take too much of the time to be explained. Most of the short film ideas come from the exhausted themes or plots, and you have to find a way to present it in such a way that it becomes your original idea.

7. Stories from Real Everyday Life

Why don’t you look at your local paper for some short film ideas? You can choose an idea from the news, or you can create a short film from the actual real world situations. It can be on the financial affairs of the state, or the political conditions, or anything else that can be extracted out from the newspaper or the headlines. You can form the best short film ideas by incorporating any current headline and forming it into a recognized piece of art.

As they say,

“truth is stranger than fiction,”

you have to find the news that you think needs to be explained on a certain level and you can do in-depth research on the subject to form the plot and idea of your short film perfectly. The idea would be original, and your short film is going to be recognized by a larger audience. A good headline can result in a remarkable plot or idea for a short film.

8. Simple yet Engaging:

There is no doubt in the fact that first-time directors or screenwriters should consider opting for a simple genre, theme, or storyline for their short film. If the idea of the movie is too complicated or grandiose your short film will suffer. Don’t try to complete with big Hollywood tentpole films. Focus on a great story, characters, and plot.

Unless you are completely aware of the dos and do nots of the film industry, you cannot work on complex ideas. The best way to step into this industry is to find something that is simple yet intriguing to the audience. If your first short film is a failure, then most people would not be interested in watching your second film, even if it is one of the best short films of all times.

Alex Ferrari 1:38
So today, guys, I wanted to talk about a project I did many moons ago. And I learned a tremendous amount of lessons. It's actually one of the most valuable projects I ever did in regards to the lessons and what I learned from it, and how not to do things. Now, as the title of the podcast suggests how not to shoot a $50,000 short film.

Now, you must be asking yourselves, Alex, where the hell did you get 50 grand? Well, Mistake number one is I invested $50,000 from my savings that I had been saving over the course of years. But before I get into all of that, I'm going to go back to the beginning. And I'm going to talk to you guys a little bit about what how the project came to be, how I how, what happened to my journeys through Hollywood meetings, things like that, and where it is today. So the project I wrote, I wrote a screenplay A few years ago, a few years ago now called Red princess blues. And I wrote a full screenplay because when I went through this the first time with my short film broken, where I got a lot of press and got into a bunch of festivals and the detours got studios calling me producers calling me about the movie, I had nothing ready. So I said to myself, well, if I can make a cool short film, again, get a bunch of attention, but I'll have a screenplay ready, and it'll be ready to go. So when I do those meetings, I'll have that screenplay. And I can pop it up, and I'm off to the races. And that was the theory. So when I started doing when I went after creating red princess blues, that was my first main focus was to create a calling card for not only myself as a director, but also for the project and hopefully getting the project off the ground. So after doing broken I did, you know I wanted to do, I want to take everything up a notch, I wanted to get some name actors, or at least faces some really accomplished actors that I can work with. And I was blessed to have working with Robert Forster, an Academy Award nominee from Jackie Brown, Tarantino's Jackie Brown. He's a legend, legendary actor who worked with us on the project as of course, Richard Tyson, from Kindergarten Cop fame from back in the 80s. And he's always working and he's a very established actor as well. And Rachel grant who is a Bond girl from one of James once one appears Boston's James Bond movies back in the day as well. So these were all established actors and experienced actors and I want to just take everything up a notch from what I did before. So I wanted to create a world and create this environment which is a really seedy, carny. You know, Carnival folk, you know, backstage after a carnival, you know, hookers and prostitutes and drinking and all sorts of debauchery going on. And I had never seen anything like that on screen before. So I was like, Well, let me see if I can kind of create this world. So not only did I have, you know, the most experienced actors I've ever worked with, at that point in my career in front of the lens, I needed to have an insane team on the back behind the scenes as well. So I was able to work with a production designer from 24, the show 24, who was amazing and he was able to create these crazy sets and I'll tell you a little story about where we got the sets in a bunch of the sets in the first place. But we also was I was also able to work with a stunt coordinator. His name is Jeff parlanti who was the stunt coordinator on 24 he's been I mean he was on the CRO he was on Scarface I mean he'd been around for a while but he was the the head stunt coordinator on 24 and now has been the stunt coordinator on Hawaii Five o for the last seven years six seven years that he's been on that as well so he was able to gather a bunch of amazing stunt performers to come and work out work with us on this little action short and I again the quality of people I was working with was pretty much top of the industry I mean people were coming from Kill Bill the matrix You know, I'm insane you know, insane credits, we're all coming to work on my little short film that I was shooting here in North Hollywood for God's sakes. So these guys were coming up and helping me work on this stuff I had a great dp who you know very seasoned dp that I worked with as well and and we were pulling favors left and right I was you know, I was pulling fit and like you can imagine like, it cost 50 grand, but yet I got a lot of stuff gratis, I got a lot of stuff donated or helped or pulled favors or exchange services, all sorts of stuff like that. So I had a really top end team and when you see the short you'll you'll see that it was well put together I mean, and I'm not being cocky, but on a on a professional standpoint, the production value was fairly high on it without question because I had amazing talent working behind the scenes. So we built this insane set that you know, we were able to since 24 was just shutting down. My production designer basically went over to the 24 warehouse and just grabbed a bunch of flats which are basic walls pre done walls that had graffiti on them and had you know, brick on them so we were able to create the outside of a carnival inside of a soundstage. So we were able to do that we went to their prop warehouse and basically just took a shopping cart and grabbed whatever we needed for free this was all for free guys I mean so even with all of that you might you'll ask how where'd all this money go to? No, I'll tell you in a minute. So we were able to build this this really awesome short and I'm very very proud of it. And I'm gonna just step back for a second this is the second red princess blue short The first one was an actually an animated a Japanese anime that I co directed with my my brother in arms Dan creegan who is the animator on on it and I tried to create kind of like a prequel story to the short film into the into the screenplay trying to get attention that way. So not only had one short I had to really high end shorts that that I'm using to promote and try to get this project off the ground. So what's the first lesson I learned? Well, I'll tell you I'll finish up where this this short went. We made the short it got into probably I don't know 60 7080 Film Festivals I didn't keep going with it. I could have probably gotten to another 50 or 60 of them. But you know went out I did a lot of I did a lot of as they say the water bottle tour around la in the studio's meeting with different producers meeting with different studios who are interested in the project. I had a book of artwork created for it. I mean storyboards we had an entire investment package created a ppm all the legal paperwork to start getting the ball rolling with it. I mean we really I really went all out for it guys you know I I swung for the fences without question. I swung for the fences with red princess and I'm very proud of how it ended up I'm very proud of it's still one of my favorite things I've ever done in my life it was it was so beautiful and I was so happy with the way it turned out. Of course we always want to change things but that's that's the way all artists are all directors are, you know, you want to go back and like Oh, I wish I could have done this or that. But you know, we shot it in over three days. I think it was two days or three days. I don't even remember anymore. But it was pretty intense. And it was a lot of a lot of extras. A lot of wardrobe. A lot of a lot of everything. So what happened with what happened with the project? Well, a lot of dead ends. A lot of people wanted to be attached. You know a lot of a lot of producers like hey, let me go get money for it. It was set up i i optioned it a few times. Nothing ever came out of it, you know. So that's where a lot of not only that project, but all the projects I've done in my career. That's why I'm a little cynical about how things work in Hollywood as a general statement, but Nothing really came out of it. So, you know, where Why did it cost $50,000? Well, the very first thing is I was trying to create a world I was trying to do something that I hadn't seen before. And I was really trying to impress Hollywood and press studios and press producers or agents or managers. It was a, it was a point in my life where there was a desperation. It was a desperation in, in my work, and in the way I carried myself, a lot of the things I preach against Now, on the podcast and on indie film, hustle, I was doing back then. So when I say not to do it is because I know what happens when you do do it. And I was doing it for a long time. But, you know, I think one of the big mistakes that you make, and this is one of the this is one of the top mistakes that I made on red princess is trying to compete with a Hollywood production. As far as production value is concerned, huge. I was trying to create a 10 minute piece that had the same production value out of a 10 minute, a 10 minute Hollywood blockbuster of $100 million, which is not really, really not really possible. It really isn't. Now, you're a lot of people are listening to that as well. How about district nine, I mean, they did this insane visual effects, huge production value, and there's multiple other shorts that came out, that did things that are really high end to get noticed, and to get their projects off the ground. Yes, that is exactly it. So district nine, I'm going to use as an example, if you have access to high end visual effects, guys, that really are insane. And you feel that you can create a world and can create a production value that's on par with a studio. Great, do it. Okay, but my advice and my experience is don't because, yes, district nine happened, how many district nines Have there been in the last 1520 years? Not many. And there's a reason for that. Because when and again, this is my opinion, when Hollywood looks at new talent. You know, the El Mariachi model of like, look at all that production value, they got out of no money, those days are gone. They really are, they're not there anymore. Because production value is affordable. Now, you can get high production value. But now that that bar is moved from the days of El Mariachi, you know, an action movie back in 9291 92 is a lot different than an action movie now, before they were making 15 20 million $10 million action movies that were being released theatrically. Now they're not. Now they're making 100 100 and $50 million action movies. You know, it's not, it's not on par anymore. But what has created a lot of stars directors, writer, writer directors, who's created a lot of noise is been with good short films that are story based, character based, vision based. That's what Hollywood is looking for. They're looking for a unique voice. They're looking for someone who can direct story and character someone could tell a story and tell and work with characters and actors and have a point of view a vision. Okay, a voice a unique voice. Because this is the way Hollywood looks at things, guys. And this is again my opinion. They look at a guy like Chris Nolan. Okay, who started off with with a film called the following. You look at the movie called if you look at movie called memento or following, you don't think blockbuster you don't think one of the biggest blockbuster directors of his generation. You don't think that. But what Chris was able to do, or Mr. Nolan, excuse me, I don't know him personally. What Chris Nolan was able to do was show people he can tell a story, that he can work with actors, that he had a unique point of view, a unique vision. That's what you need to focus on with short films. And guess what, those kind of shorts, or those kind of independent features are affordable. When you go after these bigger big movie action style kind of films, and you're trying to compete with Hollywood, you're not going to make it and I'm not the I'm the I'm the first to say, never give up on a dream. Never give up on trying to try something new. But understand that there is a risk when doing it at a big dollar value. Like I did, I roll the dice with $50,000 of hard earned money that I had created. And believe me, it wasn't like I had half a million in the bank. That was a lot of money and it took a big chunk out of my savings out now if you want to go and try to create high production value and really compete with the big boys on a feature length film. You can I'm gonna have an amazing story coming up in the next few weeks of a filmmaker who just did that. Wondering $50,000 budget that looked like a 20 to $30 million budget. And it really did and how he did it. So the it is possible with the feature you have something you can sell, you have something that you can make money with, you can have an ROI. On shorts, it's very difficult to make a lot of money. It's unique if you can. So you can't invest a large amount of money in those kinds of short film projects unless you really feel that you're going to be able to make all of your money back. Lesson number one, focus on story on on how to tell a story how to work with actors and character and create characters and a vision, a point of view or new voice. That's what Hollywood is looking for with short films, specifically, if there are going to if there anything even happens with short films. I know many short films that like the Raven, which is one I'll put a link to in the description, I read all these articles Mark Wahlberg bought bought the script and all this stuff, nothing's happened with it. That's happened three, four years ago, it's probably stuck in a hotel somewhere. And I would love to know what happened with that project. Because it was a great little project had a lot of great, you know, there was a commercial director who did it, he busted out all his friends spent about 150 100 grand on it, and did a really nice job and really showed off what he can do. But nothing happened. Nothing happened with it. Not saying that there's anything wrong with that project. But it just didn't happen. It's just the way Hollywood works, guys. So and I've seen so many of these shorts that are all high end. When I was when I was doing this water bottle tour I was these guys were showing me shorts in their rooms of other guys who were doing cool things I was looking at, like why haven't I haven't seen this before? Holy Cow look at that doesn't matter. It was rough. So guys focus on story and telling a good story. The next mistake I made is, I didn't initially I didn't know who I was going to do that, who was who I was aiming this to who was my audience, I didn't know who my audience was, you know, I really thought like, well, I'll just make it and make a whole bunch of noise. And I'll do what I did with broken and people will come You know, if you build it, they will come. And it didn't work that way. So because I didn't understand who I was aimed this aiming this at or focusing this at. I kind of kind of like, floundered I didn't know where to do because I made a very conscious effort not to redo what I did was broken in the sense of creating a whole bunch of tutorials and put out another DVD and sell that I decided like, I'm not going to do that again, in my high end ego craziness that I was back then, where you're like no, I'm not gonna do that I've done that already. I've moved on from that. Well, believe me, in hindsight, I wish I would have done something like that, because then maybe would have been able to bring back a little bit of dinero from I would have maybe recoup some of my money, which was which I didn't. I did do one thing. And I did try to create a unique thing I was I think I was the first short film to actually create an app, an actual app on the iPhone and Android where you can buy the app for 99 cents or $1.99, or whatever it was and watch my short with a bunch of behind the scenes footage. And other things that I put on it. I was a little bit ahead of my time. But I also don't think it was a wise thing because I was out of the after making the after making the app and everything like that I might have if I was lucky, I might have pulled in 500 bucks, 1000 bucks if I'm lucky. And it cost me like 500 bucks to make the damn app in the first place. So you know, the the self distribution outlets, we're not there yet. This is 2010 2009 2010. So there wasn't amazon prime, there wasn't, you could put it on YouTube. But that was still very taboo to put a short film on YouTube back then, if you're going to try to get into festivals and stuff like that. So it was a bunch of different things that were going on back then. So knowing who you want the short, the short, that you're making to go to is very important, especially when you're risking so much money.

The next big mistake I made and I didn't ask myself this question because I was just so gung ho about putting it out there was where is going, what's going to be my ROI, what's gonna be my return on investment. You know what, I was really swinging for the fences on this. And I'm do I did basically everything I preach against. I had no real real distribution plan. I had no real way of making money with it. Because I had no I had no indie film hustle. There was nothing like that around. I had no audience I had nothing I can sell. So basically I was just going to put it out in the festival market and hope that someone watches it and someone comes down from Mount mount Hollywood, taps me on the shoulder and says you shall direct here's a check for for $5 million, go make your movie and you're off to the races. And it did not work that way and it does not work that way. That's why I yell so much about this when I when I talk about this subject We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So I didn't ask myself that question, what's my return on investment, so I had no way of selling it, I had no way of making any money with it. And I had no way of guaranteeing that I even had a chance of making any money with it. So that was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a filmmaker is I invested as a businessman, I invested $50,000 in a product that I had no way of selling, I was just using it as a proof of concept. And $50,000 is a hell of an expensive proof of concept, you're doing it for a grand or to something that's really affordable in a smaller scale than Yes. And if you want to do that, by all means you can do that. But on an investment like $50,000, you look at that now a lot of you guys listening like 50 grand, I can make three movies with 50 grand you can make I could have made a feature film with 50 grand, but at that time, technology wasn't caught up yet. And this this new revolution, that DSLR revolution hadn't hit yet, as far as making really affordable, short, independent films, things like that. So please always ask the question, what's going to be my return on investment? Where am I going to make money on this? How am I going to make money on this? Can I afford to lose all this money? Or am I going to swing for the fences, and you can do that, and a lot of people have done that with features, you know, they mortgage their house, for God's sakes, listen to Episode 88. If you're thinking about doing something like that, and I'll put a shirt I'll put that in the show notes as well, you know, or to put it all on your credit cards, you know, and make $50,000 you know, it's very romantic. But anyway, I don't want to get into that because I'll go off again. But, you know, at least I did it with my money. And I didn't put it on credit and it didn't kill me. It was something that I could afford. It still hurt. So also, I wanted to go back real quick on the production of it. And lessons I learned from making a $50,000 short film like Where did $50,000 go? That's the question Where did 50 grand go if I got all this free stuff, people working for free, high end people working for free, or really cheap, how about where it all the scope I made the goddamn thing too big, it was an event you walk on that set that I had first of all, I had a soundstage that I had to run out for a week that wasn't cheap, I had to hire producer all the food the the I must have had on set on any day, probably 30 to 40 people maybe even 50 people on a short film. So all those people had to be fed all of those people a lot of those peoples were being paid a lot of them were actors and extras I had to deal with with sag and all the fees that had to pay for it back then before all the the rules changed so it was a little bit tougher back then to deal with sag so the thing was that there was just so many people and each of those departments needed a bunch of different things and if you watch the short film you'll understand like okay, there was a lot of stuff going on you know and that's what a lot of free stuff you know, I had a lot of favors I pulled to get it done but it was just so big. I had a really good production team for the most part there were issues there were people that I wish I would have not hired on my team because you know, I wasn't working with a lot of people that I knew and had only been in LA for basically a couple years at that point so I didn't have the the depth of connections and relationships that I do now let's say because I hadn't worked as much as I had at that to that point. So I was still I was still you know kind of green and I was definitely green working with a full full blown Hollywood set you know, full blown Hollywood set with really high end people that are expected to do certain things. So I felt that the whole short got a little bit away from me back then. And we're talking about now eight years ago, almost seven, eight years ago. And I learned a lot about how I wanted to run a set how I wanted to control my my vision and make sure that the vision that I have is gonna get gets onto that screen. So I had to fight on set with people's egos and stuff like that which I was not aware of. It wasn't any of my actors by the way all my actors were wonderful talking about people behind the scenes, and it could be the smallest thing it could have been the biggest thing but but because I felt like this was all out of control for me. I think that's where a lot of this money when I when when you when you do a project this at this size, there was a money hose and all of a sudden when you crack that money hose open, it just keeps flowing. It keeps flowing and keeps flowing and it's it is it's like opening up a brand new business which I have a little experience about as you guys all know with my gourmet shop. It was very similar to opening up our store like The second you open it, every day, there's something new every day, you need to put more money in here. And I didn't know that I didn't know that. And, you know, oh, this department needs this now. And this heart needs that now we need this permit. Now we need this insurance now. And, you know, we did a lot of things that I wish we wouldn't have done. But I felt that it was a little out of control. And once that train left the station, it was very difficult for me to control it. So that's that's just an experience, and running with a $50,000 budget when you were that inexperienced to something I think was a bit foolish on my part. Now, with all of that said, Those were the big mistakes, I felt, trying to compete with high low production, you know, values, not focusing on on story and vision as much. I didn't understand who I was really focused, how I was going to be able to make money with this and who I was focused, what my audience was going to do, and what my ROI what my return on investment is going to be and having a distribution plan at all. That's why I always yell. festivals are not a distribution plan, you have to actually have one. So what good things came out of red Princess, and whereas red princess today? Well.

A lot of good things came out of red Princess, I was able to do a lot of festivals made a lot of connections. I was on on panels with big, big star the Collingwood stars, made connections with them had the experience of doing a lot of La film festivals. I mean, it was literally every other week I was on a red carpet with this with this film, it was very well received. And people really do enjoy it and really liked it, which is great. And it did, it did add one thing it did do, it did add a level of legitimacy to myself as a director, and that little short did get me jobs. So I think probably from all the jobs I've gotten based off of that short, I was able to probably recoup my money, at least just from the jobs that I was getting as a director as a commercial director, music, video director, and things like that based off the quality that I was able to create with that. So on that sense, it was a very big success. I have been able to if you guys are part of the syndicate, you've probably seen the short film that I'm talking about short films I'm talking about because they're part of our of the syndicate, part of the filmmaking hacks course, that I have, where I talk a little bit about my experiences making the film will go a little bit behind the scenes of how we did some things I did do some behind the scenes, but nothing compared to what I did on on broken or the depth of the tutorials that I was able to do back then. And I By the way, I still have probably about 10 or 15 hours of behind the scenes footage. Maybe one day, I'll go into it and start creating some tutorials on how we did some of the cool stuff we did back then. But I'm busy right now you can imagine. So many of the lessons I learned on red Princess, I brought to this is Meg and this is Meg is the complete opposite of what I did with red princess. You know, it's a feature first of all is not a short, it was very controllable. I, I kept it really small, very small crew, and focused on story focused on character focused on vision of what I wanted to try to do, and the kind of story I was trying to tell as a director. And it you know, it's a complete and the risk is very minimal, comparatively to, you know, 50 grand or 60 grand on on a short film.

Well, let me go back, of course, obviously, this is made was made for under $25 million. And I released the budget once my my IRS artists done, but it was done on a humble budget, to say the least. But again, so I do believe that red princess blues was a amazing experience for me as a filmmaker. And I think, you know, I wouldn't want you guys to have to go through that and lose 50 grand and then wait years to hopefully get jobs to get yourself paid back. That's not a business plan. But um, you know, I'm very happy that I went through that. And I'm very happy that of the lessons I learned from it because it made me a much, much, much better director, and very proud of it and very proud of what we were able to do with it. Now where is it today? Well, my screenplays still available. And I love that screenplay. I love what I did with it, it has been read a bunch haven't really pushed it too much, I might start pushing it a little bit more in the next coming months. Once I start getting a little bit of attention from this is Meg hopefully, and I'll have something else in my back pocket to show people at meetings and go oh, by the way, I also did this short so I think the story of red princess blues and where it's going to take me as a filmmaker and a storyteller is, is still being written but I wanted to share this experience with you guys because I know a lot of people out there are thinking maybe of doing a big swing for the fences kind of short film. And I just wanted to show you guys my experience and tell you guys Mike experience of what I went through doing something like that. The bottom line is guys that you got to keep working. And you know, if I would do this all over again today I would take that 50 grand and make a feature film without question without question. In today's world, there's no reason absolutely no reason you would spend $50,000 on a short film, unless you're trying to do exactly what I told you not to do, which is to create a world create the same kind of production value that you're trying to compete with on a on a Hollywood budget film to try to get those jobs. If you're trying to get those jobs. My suggestion is follow what all the other really well known. directors who have gotten noticed the Darren Aronofsky is with pi, Chris Nolan, with with the following the momento, these guys focused on story, not big blockbuster films, hollywood figures that they can't hire a great team around a visionary director, because the technical stuff can be you can hire technical, it's hard to hire vision, it's hard to hire someone with a voice. That's something you can't buy as easily as a very competent, creative crew. So understand that and next time you're going to try to make a short film, a feature film to try to get attention or to even get your name out there into the world guys. I hope you got something out of that guys and hope you learn from my mistakes and it was an expensive mistake, but I'm proud of that mistake and I wear it with pride. So thanks again guys for listening. Don't forget to head over to free film book calm that's free film book calm to download your free filmmaking audio book from audible. The Show Notes for this episode our indie film hustle.com Ford slash 143 and I have links to everything I talked about in this episode there as well as trailers for princess if you guys want to watch princess and are not part of the syndicate. You can always go to Amazon it's on Amazon Prime if you want to watch it there I'll leave a link there in the in the show notes as well. Or you can rent or buy there as well. And both shorts are on Amazon as well the animated one the red princess blues Genesis, as well as the the live action red princess blues. And don't forget guys, this is Meg is going to be at cinequest March 3 is our world premiere on Saturday. 320 put links in the description if you guys are in the area, please come by the whole the whole town the whole gang is going to be there. A lot of cast and crew are going to be there at the two premieres the two two showings that weekend. So please come by we really appreciate if you do. Thanks for listening guys. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 114: The Six Stages of Character Development with Michael Hauge

This week we have a returning guest, screenwriting guru Michael Hauge. In this episode, he discussed The Six Stages of Character Development. A very eye-opening episode.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 2:00
So today guys, I've got a special treat for you. We're going to discuss what it takes to get really good characters and I've got a friend of the show Michael Hauge, he is going to be discussing the six stages of character development. And a lot of people are confused about characters, and how to develop each character making really amazing characters like a Walter White from breaking bad. Or Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, or whatever any any great character you can think of in history. They all started with some development. And of course actors bring a lot of panache to the character. But it all starts with what's on the page. So he's going to go over those six stages for you. And this is part of this is a kind of a sneak preview of the course that Michael and I released called screenwriting and story blueprint, the heroes two journeys, which also includes another mega star in the screenwriting world, Chris volger, the writer of a writer's journey, based on Joseph Campbell's work, and the course is pretty pretty amazing. If you guys want to get about 25% off, head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash story blueprint, that's indie film hustle.com Ford slash story blueprint and it'll take you right there, you'll have 25% off the the course and it's awesome. It's a really good course about three hours on really understanding character, story, structure and everything. And it goes from two different perspectives Michael Hague's perspective, and Chris Volkers perspective, and how they meet in the middle and have different ideas about story, and it's really wonderful to watch. And they were really awesome. And as you know, both of them have been guests on the show, and I will leave links to their podcast episodes, to show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/114. So without any further ado, enjoy Michael Hauge.

Michael Hauge 4:27
And that brings us back to this six stage structure. Now I used to think that character arc just occurred in its own sweet time, wherever it was. And I think if you read my book, I sort of refer to it that way. I say there's a structure to the plot, but not to the character arc and I was wrong. I think there's a very clear structure to the arc for the character. Because each of the six stages I gave you before correspond to a stage of the hero's inner journey.

Even though through the movie, there is a constant tug of war between identity and essence, there is also an That's why they call it an arc. It's a gradual transition or transformation. So in the setup, remember that first 10% this is where your hero exists completely and totally within her identity. Shrek is just an ogre, who keeps people away. Rows is just a woman who exists in all of this protective wealth. Mitch mcdeere is just a guy who is going after money. He says, Daddy, did you ever believe that I'd be able to make this kind of money. And she says sure, because of course, she sees his so we're going to get back to her in a second, then an opportunity at 10% is presented to the hero. And for the next 15% of the film, in that new situation, not only are they getting used to the new situation, your hero is going to get a glimpse, a peek at what life would be like living in his essence. So not only does rose start getting acclimated to the Titanic, starts to get a sense of what the other thing might be cuz she sees jack making these passionate drawings. And she looks in any catches are looking and she looks away. And she has this beautiful art that nobody else understands. But she it touches her. And in Shrek, it's it's there's this very pointed moment. Which also is, to me a very subtle form of it, it'd be interesting to see if Chris agrees, because I haven't talked to him about this. But it seems like there's a very subtle but obvious sense in which trek is refusing the call. Because he steps out. And he says, All I want is privacy living in his identity. And then what's the opportunity, all these fairy tale creatures, and he says, Oh, no. And he says, I want you, I want to get you off my land are going to do whatever it takes to get you back. And he thinks they're going to just run away. And instead they all applaud. And somebody comes up and drapes a robot over him, there must be some name for a royal robe. It's like he's been crowned you're our hero. And he, he like shakes his head and immediately shrugs it off. He's getting a glimpse of what it would be like to be accepted. But he wants nothing to do with it. He just wants to be in his identity. But he's still getting a picture of it. Then what happens? stage three goes into in, or that leads him into the new situation. Same thing happens when he goes to Lord for quad. It's preceded by him fighting off the soldiers who come after him. And it's like a mock wrestling match like a WWE f match. And when it's done, there's this scene just for a joke where he's going like this, he says thank you, thank you. I'll be here till Thursday. And it's just sort of a but it's also look at this. Now he's starting to accept the possibility of being a hero, getting more of a glimpse. And then of course, at the one quarter mark, Lord farquaad says, okay, you want your land back, here's your goal, rescue the princess, bring her back to me. That's the outer motivation. That's the visible goal. And it happens precisely at the 25%. So now what happens for the next stage, the hero is straddling the fence or straddling something, one foot into essence, one foot back, not fully committed. He's still talking about onions and layers, and he just wants to go in and get the princess take her back and be done with it. But he is starting to pursue something that is going to make him more of a leader more popular, more accepted. That's good. And he's starting to get closer to donkey, which takes risk because he's never really had a friend before. And then at the midpoint, he gets the princess they come down the hill precisely at the midpoint, what happens he takes off his helmet and tries there's that wonderful moment when he smiles that sort of toothless smile, trying to look his best. Okay, and now he realizes Wait a minute, I'm starting to fall for it. And that's the point of no return. Especially because the scene that follows it this also runs parallel for the princess but the princess has been talking in this artificial language. Now aren't my prince and Duff thou want to save me and you thou must carry me and give me a kiss and all this malarkey. And that's her living in her identity.

She is the opening shot of the princess is her in a tower a perfect image. Have identity, because towers are both protective. And their prisons. Exactly the same opening in Shakespeare in Love opens in a castle. So she's perfectly protected. She's, you know, there and safe and apparently well fed and stuff, but she can't leave. She's stuck. And of course her identity is she is defined by others because she's defined by fairytales. She knows all the rules, you know, you've got to carry me away, and then you got to give me a kiss. And he says, You've had a lot of time to think about this, haven't you? Because he's saying, this is your identity, but he sees her as something more. And then later when they have the Robin Hood encounter, and she shows that Charlie's Angels parody kick, he starts to respect her as something more than this hothouse flower that he's rescuing. And they start to fall in love. So that's the point of no return, he starts pursuing her until he overhears her. He gets too frightened when he hears her talking about ogres as too ugly, and you can't have a relationship with an ogre. He doesn't know she's talking about herself, because she's also retreating at that point to her identity. But that's when major setback typical for a romantic comedy, which is what this is, the two people will separate at that point. In Sleepless in Seattle, right at the three quarter mark, Annie, the Meg Ryan character declares, I'm back I'm going back to Walter Sleepless in Seattle is history. And of course, then the audience thinks that all is lost. Because what's happened is on the inner level, once the character passes the point of no return, they fully commit to living in their essence, trek is going to open up and risk doing that. And now the outside world starts coming in the conflict in the first half of Act Two, and someone was asking about that, that first half the conflict comes from obstacles inherent in the goal, the moat and the dragon and all the things we knew he was going to encounter. But now what happens is the other worlds coming in, he doesn't think she can love him. Lord farquaad comes in and takes her away. And so the hero retreats, the hero gets finally so frightened of risking this new thing that they make one last try retreating to their identity. And that really is the major setback at the end of Act Two. So they run away. And they go back, it's when she remember, she jumps on the lifeboat. Go, it's the the lifeboat for the rich. She's gonna make one last stab at being rescued in Titanic by her identity. And then she says what all heroes must then say, in stage five. And that is, wait a minute. This sucks. This may have worked for me at the beginning. But I've had a glimpse, I've had a taste of who I truly am. This doesn't work for me anymore. I can't do this, I have to go after who I truly am. I have to be myself. And I certainly have to find my destiny, which in a love story is the other person. And so that's the final push. It's saying I don't care what it takes, I will risk death. Because I already I already experienced it. My identity is already dead. I can I can do this. And they take every last ounce of courage they have until they reach the climax. And the climax is the moment not only of achieving that visible goal, it's the moment of fully realizing the character's essence. And that takes us into the aftermath. The aftermath is the part of the story where we say, Okay,

this is now the new life, the hero is going to live having fully realized who they truly are. And so at the end of Shrek, we see him leaving the swamp that was his protection and leaving behind the fairytale creatures. Because the fairy tale creatures were her identity. This is a this is really a movie about getting rid of the fairy tale definition of the way you should be or the way life is and defining themselves. So they ride off into the sunset. And they're fully living their essence or when he says at the end of the firm. Okay, we're we're going back to Boston. It was interesting when Chris was talking about the elixir because sometimes it's very subtle, but I think the elixir in that movie is the law. He's saying we're going right back where we started, which is I mean, there's a circular pattern if you ever saw one. But now he's going back to the law because he says when he's talking to Ed Harris, in that movie, the FBI guy, and he says, here's the tape of our conversation where you tried to bribe me really forced me to do this. He says, You know, I could you I could get a lot for this or something like that. He says, Why are you giving it back? Just because it's against the law. And then he says, You know what you did. He says, You made me remember the lies that four years of law school didn't do that. But you made me remember the law, meaning you put me in touch with who I truly am, which is someone who stands up for what's right. And then when Abby comes back, there's that wonderful line, where he says, Did I lose you? And she says, How could you lose me, I have loved you, since the moment I knew you. And before I loved you, I loved the promise of you. And you have now fulfilled that promise. That's what brings two people together, she says, I see, I have always known who you truly are, you just had to step up into it. And you've done that. So now you cannot lose me. Because that's who I was always in love with. Not the guy who was scared of the trailer park, who had forgotten the law, the guy who lived his essence. And so the elixir that they take back is he has found his ideals. And now he's going to go back and be a lawyer that stands up for what's right, and go serve the law, our society, whatever, in a different way at the end of the story. And one last thing before I open it for questions, which you may or may not want to hear, but as I said, at the top, this is very much about real life. Everyone in this room has a visible goal might be slightly different. But you either want to finish a script. Or you want to get an agent, where you want to finish your novel or you want to get it published, you want to get your movie produced, you want to finish your film, or you have some brass ring you're after. Because you long at a deeper level to be a part of making movies. And you are pursuing that goal, because it's part of your learning. That's the good news. But here's what I got to tell you. We all pay lip service to what we long for. There's a part of all of us that we frequently we always have to go back and revisit that you can say, Yeah, I want to make it in Hollywood. But what you also have to ask is how would you fill in the blank, I'll do whatever it takes to sell my script. Just don't ask me to blank. I did this as an exercise in a classroom in Switzer with one of my students. And I said, Would you be willing to go through this process? So she got up in front of the room? And she said, The thing is, I can't figure out why I can't sell my script. She says I've written a number of scripts. And I said, Well, have you read books on screenwriting? Yeah, I've read, you know, books I've taken classes will do have a regular regimen. Now I write every day. And I said, God, it sounds like you're doing everything you can do. And she said, Oh, yeah, because when I grew up, I was taught, if you want something done, you do it yourself. So I turned into the sort of shrink slash asshole that I sometimes am prone to be. And I say, let me ask because she was making an identity statement. Oh, this is who I am. This is how I was raised. And so I said, let me ask you some, when was the last time you phoned somebody and ask them to help you sell your script? And you could practically see or melt? It was like the Wicked Witch of the West? No, no, no. Because when you touch somebody whose identity it is, you've like, slapped him upside the head.

And she said, because that's what her wound was, she was raised to believe you can't ask for help. And I said, let me ask you something. And I said, why not? And she just got very frightened at the prospect. But I said, let me ask you some Why do you want to be a screenwriter? She said, Oh, because I love it. I just love movies. And I love taking that story and turn into that. And I said, If I could promise you, you would have that experience every day of your life. Would you be willing to risk calling people and asking for help? And she said, Sure. Because that's the solution. You've got to get in touch with what your inner conflict, you've got to get in touch with your identity. But the answer is find your lung and live in that space risk going into that space, because that's what heroes do. They want so badly to get that the finally it's worth the danger and worth the risk of of die of letting who they thought they were die and resurrecting something much more.

Alex Ferrari 19:25
So I hope you got a lot out of that. That little snippet of the course by Michael Hauge and Chris volger. I mean, I've been a big fan of Michael and Chris's, since I was in college actually. And I was I jumped to the chance of working with them on this project and really excited to share this information with you but it's a lot of great valuable stuff that you just heard. And the course is also a lot of cool stuff as well. So again, if you want to get access to the course head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash, story blueprint. And guys, that's it for this Episode man I really hope you got something out of that one I got a lot of cool stuff coming up in the coming weeks as you've noticed on the on the blog I've been posting a ton of content and I'm going to be hopefully doing one a day. five five pieces of content a week is my new goal. So to podcast possibly three and as well as cool articles and since this is a screenwriting episode I want to let you guys know if you haven't already known, I created a post that has all of the 2017 oskin contending screenplays available for download. I've got screenplays by MAC Max Landis, Victor Frankenstein, Zootopia, Secret Life of Pets, the Coen Brothers Hail Caesar, the amazing film Captain fantastic Bridget Jones baby, and a ton of other amazing screenplays that you can download. And it is for a limited time the studio's put these up, only for a while. So up until basically the Oscars and after that they get pulled down most of them will get pulled down. So if I were you I would go there and you can legally download them for educational purposes only. At indie film hustle.com forward slash 2017 screenplays, that's indie film hustle comm forward slash 2017 screenplays, it is absolutely free. You can download as much as you like. And as a bonus I also added about 70 other screenplays from the best of 2016 2015 2014 and 2013. So we've got American Hustle there. Dallas Buyers Club, kill your darlings Nebraska Hitchcock, beasts of the Southern wild Desa time ton of different Brooklyn Bridge of Spies, The Big Short Beasts of No Nation. Straight out of Compton, a ton of great articles I mean, she's got a ton of great screenplays that you can download and learn from it's an I would always advise you to read as many screenplays as you can see, you can see how other screenwriters craft their stories. So it's a little bit of a bonus a little bit of a fun thing for you guys, but I think it'll be very, very helpful in your screenwriting endeavors. And guys, if you can't please have an filmmaking podcast.com and leave me a good review on iTunes. It really helps to show out a lot and gets the message of what we're doing here at indie film hustle out to the world. So thank you guys. And as always keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 024: How I Made Over $90,000 Selling my Short Film + Video Tutorials

Making a Short film can be tough but selling a short film can be impossible. Here’s my story on how I did both.

I directed a small action short film a few years back called BROKEN (Watch it on Indie Film Hustle TV) I shot the short film on MiniDV Tape (yes I’m old) on the Panasonic DVX 100a, the indie film workhorse of its day.

My team and I filmed it in West Palm Beach Florida (not exactly the Mecca of the film industry) and it starred only local, no named actors.

Now once the filming was over I marketed the living hell out of that short film. It went on to screen at over 250 international film festivals, won countless awards and was covered by over 300 news outlets.

That little short film had a life of its own. I even got a review from legendary film critic Roger Ebert (to hear the full story on how that happen to take a listen to this podcast: Getting Attention from Influencers & Gatekeepers)


BROKEN is essentially a demonstration of the mastery of horror imagery and techniques. Effective and professional.” – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, short film, short films, indie film hustle, film school, independent film, robert rodriguez, indie film, moviemaker, red camera, arri alexa, cinematography, digital filmmaking, filmmaking, alex ferrari, guerrilla filmmaking, NYU, USC, Full Sail University, Sundance Film Festival, film festival, tarantino, kurosawa, cinematography, short films, short film, indie films, filmmaker, how to make a movie, short film ideas, filmmakers, filmmaking, film festivals, film production, guerrilla film, film distribution, indie movie, screenwriter, screenwriting, short film competition, film producers, short films online, how to make short films, film distribution process, great short films, good independent films, digital video production, list of film festivals, watch short films, marketing video production, indie filmmaking, filmmaking software, short film contests, short film festivals, how to make an independent film

Roger Ebert at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Now you must be asking,

But Alex how the hell did you make money with it?

Well, I knew that no one would pay “real money” for a 20-minute short film, shot on MiniDV, with no-name actors, and from a first time director to boot. So I thought like a Filmtrepreneur and planned to create a guerilla indie film school with over 3 hours of footage, tutorials, commentaries and more. 

By creating all the supplemental material and packaging with the short film on DVD I created a viable product for the marketplace.

VOD (Video on Demand) and digital download technology were just getting off the ground and still very expensive if it worked at all. Youtube was not “Youtube” yet, it had just launched. So DVD was the only way to go.


I went after every message board and film news outlet I could get my hands on. I’d had created so much hype around the release that on day one I sold over 250 DVDs for $20.00 a pop. That’s $5000! 

The orders kept coming and I went on to sell over 5000 copies worldwide (and counting), shipping them out of my bedroom in Fort Lauderdale, FL. 

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Speaking on a panel at the Director’s Guild of America opening night at Hollyshorts! Film Festival

10 years later I’m still selling copies today, as crazy as might sound. I’ve probably have generated well over $90,000 selling that little short film over the years. All because I understood my marketplace and what it needed. 

At the time there was nothing on the market like the BROKEN DVD; no courses on how to make a low budget indie feature or short film with low budget technology. BROKEN has found a new life in Indie Film Hustle’s first online educational course “BROKEN (Watch it on Indie Film Hustle TV)” More on that later.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
So this episode today, I wanted to talk about a question that I get asked a ton. It's something that I did almost 10 years ago now was 11, over a little was 11 years ago at this point. And I talk a lot about this little short film, I think in the most, it's the most talked about short film in history. But my film that I did 10 years ago called Broken, I was able to do something very special with that film back then, and continue to do stuff with that film. And my other works today. And I wanted to share with you guys a little bit of how I was able to generate a substantial amount of money selling and self distributing, broken and now my other works as well. So when I created broken, it was a short, I'll give you a quick, quick story about it if I haven't mentioned that already on the show. But the quick story of broke it is that it was a shot as a small short film, shot for about $1,000 shot on mini DV back in 2004. There was no high end technology back then. So I was editing it on Final Cut shot on a mini DV. But what I did do was create a look for the film because of my post production experience. And I took the format of mini DV and did something really cool with it that a lot of people hadn't seen before. So what I did was did a lot of color grading and made it look in a very filmic. And the way it was and a lot of filmmakers started asking me how I was doing it and how I did it. So when when I released the trailer, like when I first started the movie, I had no plans on selling it. I don't think I didn't even understand what I was going to do with it. I just wanted to try to get it out there and see what would happen with it. But as I started posting in places and posting the trailer, in places people kept asking me how did you do those visual effects, which by the way, we did over 100 visual effects in this little short film. So people were asking me how did you do the visual effects? How did you do the had the magic, that camera looked like that I have that camera, which was the dv x 100 A the workhorse of its day. I still love that little camera, they were asking me how I'm able to do it, I can't do it. I have that camera, well, your techniques. So that started giving me the idea. When I first was about to start doing broken, I looked everywhere for some sort of resources to be able to make broken as far as like DVD tutorial something to show me how to make a mini DVD movie editing on Final Cut just something to teach you how to make independent film and believe it or not back in 2004. There wasn't a whole lot. There was actually nothing, I couldn't find a thing about how to make movies for that kind of budget with that kind of technology. YouTube was just it's an infancy was just getting started. And it definitely wasn't owned by Google at the time. So the quality was really horrible as well. It just there was nothing there. So I saw that there was a a hole in the marketplace. So I was like, Well, you know what I'm going to do this. I'm going to learn a whole bunch of stuff on how I did it along the way. And I documented everything I had to documentary crews following us through the entire five days shoot documentary crews being my friends.

And we shot just hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of behind the scenes footage of how we made this movie. So then I went on and spent about six weeks I would imagine to create over three hours or so of behind the scenes tutorials, kind of like a gorilla film school and put it on DVD. Now while this was going on, I was creating a buzz about the movie. For about six months, I was creating a lot of buzz about the movie. I was getting into film festivals. We were winning awards. We were getting written up. We went to Sundance, we've just done a whole bunch of different things with the film. And I was on spin offs to me now I know this now is like you I was doing a product launch. A lot of people talk about doing a product launch online. There's a sequence that you go by and I was doing it and I didn't even know what I was doing at the time. But I was actually Creating a product launch sequence, creating anticipation for the product. So when I started released it, it was very excited about the movie then, when I announced that I was creating this DVD, about how to make the movie, and how I made it, and all the tricks and tips of how I did it, and it was so full of information so full of rich content, the indie film community at the time, really, really just embraced it and went crazy for it and started sharing it and started talking about it. People were already getting excited for I didn't even do any pre orders, I should have done pre orders, I didn't do any pre orders. All I did was like, Hey, if you want to know when it comes out, just sign up for my email list. And I was even getting email lists at the time. And that wasn't something in vogue back in 2004. So I was doing all this kind of instinctually I can't say there was a master plan that I was doing this back then. But so anyway, the day opens that I launch it, all of a sudden, I just hear Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, all my emails keep coming in from PayPal. And we sold over 250 DVDs in the first day, which was about five grand, because we were selling the DVD at 20 bucks a pop, my partner and I had to run to the post office handwrite all all of the addresses hand stamp all the addresses, we didn't have any infrastructure laid out and the printing of postage, nothing. So it was it was pretty crazy. And then it just kept building and kept selling and kept selling. Okay, building a building. But I was able to create a tremendous amount of press and a tremendous amount of energy around the product. But it was all about creating a piece of a product, if you will, that had content for people like I know, I wouldn't have been able to sell the short film by itself. It just didn't make any sense. It has no stars in it. Yeah, it's an action genre. And, you know, there's a lot of visual effects and things like that in it. But there was just no way someone was going to pay 510 20 bucks to buy this on a DVD, there was no digital downloads, no VOD at the time, that was at least accessible to indie filmmakers like myself. So when I was able to do this, I, I was able to create this, this product that had a tremendous amount of content, and people just went crazy for it, and then start talking about it and start sharing it. And what I was able to do is generate a sold, we've ended up selling over 5000 DVDs, over the course of the years have gone by. And it was all because I was able to identify a hole in the marketplace and understand what they wanted and fed my marketplace fed my audience what they wanted. And what they were asking for. It was pretty humbling, honestly, the whole process of what happened with broken so I tried to do something similar later on with our next film sin, where I was able to do some stuff on with some digital downloads through iTunes. But that was a kind of wonky way of doing it didn't create a bunch of content, like I did with broken was just wasn't as big of a movie. And then years later, I created my movie Red Princess Genesis, which is the animated prequel to references blues, which is the live action short for my feature film that I hope to make one day. And I created a whole bunch of content around that. So what I decided to do recently is to create a new brand new guerrilla indie film school encompassing all of my movies, and giving you almost seven hours of how to stuff like how to everything from pre production production post production, how to market your film, I do brand new content on how I marketed the film's how I went through it, how I how I built the websites, what techniques I used as far as theories and the concepts that I used, why I was doing certain things still hold very true today. So I put this all together under the name lipstick and bullets, lipstick and bullets was a Blu ray compilation of all of the stuff I did, and released that in England. I got all the rights back. And now I'm going to distribute them as an experiment through indie film hustle. So indie film hustle will present the guerrilla indie film school lipstick and bullets edition. So it's gonna have a ton of stuff. It's available. Now, if you head over to indie film hacks, calm, that's indie film hacks, calm. And since you're listening to this podcast, you're going to get a coupon for 20% off. Right now I'm selling it for $47 that will go up in the future. Right now. It's an introductory offer, I think it's a super deal for that much content, or you can rent it for 15 bucks. We're doing it all through VH x.tv going to have the the some representative from VH X on the show in the coming weeks as well. So look out for that explaining to you how how to do video on demand or self distribute through their platform, which is amazing. So far, I love it. The coupon code is I FH tribe. That's I F h tribe and you get 20% off the sale price of $47. So it ends up being like $37 and change. So you get almost 10 bucks off. So to wrap it up guys create how I was able to create this kind of amount of money with a short film is these key elements you have to remember. Now write these down, understand your audience, understand where your audience is, go to that area, where they are, where they're hanging out, whether that be on Facebook groups, whether that be in on forums, at film festivals, wherever they might be hanging out, depending on what that group is, if it's about, I always use the vegan chef example. But if they're vegan chefs don't go to the foodie blogs go to, there's so many different places you can go just find out who your audience is, okay? Once you find out who do you audiences, then start crowdsourcing them starting interacting with them start, you know, asking them what they want, when you find that information out, then build a product that you can sell to them through your movie. So whatever that movie is, and I'm using the word product, but it's really your movie. So write the movie around it around what they want, build a product base about what they want, whether that be hats, T shirts, extra extra materials, film, schools, whatever, whatever they want. If it's you're doing a movie about vegan chefs rom com about vegan chefs, my God, you'd be a fool not to create a whole series of videos on how to make vegan like, you know, a vegan chef of vegan recipes, and show them how to do it, because that's what they want. You know, that's something that they would want to do. If you're making a horror movie, it would be awesome to do tutorials about how you're making, you know, the heads explode, how are you doing it, you know, how you making the fake blood recipes, stuff like that, believe it or not, people really, really love, especially if you're focusing on other filmmakers or other people who are trying to do what you're doing. Once you do that, then you sell the product to them. And now how you how you sell that product to them in 2004 2005 DVDs with the answer, there were no other options. Today, I would not suggest you do a DVD, it's not a great place to it's a lot of upfront costs, and time. And all that stuff, I wouldn't do blu ray either. What I would do is strictly video on demand through through companies like VH X through Gumroad, through Vimeo Pro, any of those guys just do it directly to your consumer and cut out the middleman as much as you can with your project. And again, this is a case by case basis. Some projects have budgets that, you know, this is a much longer conversation about which project makes sense to do VOD and do this for short film and what I was doing to make perfect sense I spent $8,000, you know, I was able to recoup my money and then some with with what I was able to do. If you were doing $100,000 movie, you better have a heck of a marketing plan, and a heck of a business plan on how are you going to be able to recoup your money. And that goes into crowdsourcing crowd, crowd building crowdfunding, all those kinds of different topics. But that's how I was able to do you know, generate a tremendous amount of money, close over $90,000 Over the years selling broken as a broken on DVD. And now I'm continuing to sell not only some of the hand picked stuff from broken, that is still very relevant, I'm not going to give you a tutorial on mini DV. But a lot of the a lot of this cool stuff that was still very, very relevant today. I have picked that by creating and also created a bunch of stuff for red Princess references Genesis sin, and then marketing materials on how to market all of A plus tons of commentary tracks on composing and visual effects and all that kind of stuff for indie film. So I also include in this guerrilla indie film school, my book, The Art of broken, I've always been a big fan of all the art of books like The Art of matrix art, Sin City, and so on. And Ken Robinson and Dan create, and I put together this book with all of the artwork from not only broken, but for the defunct feature film version of broken, but there was so much artwork, and you can kind of see as an example of what can be done with some with a short film for God's sakes. But it's another product line. And we did sell it a hardcover hardcover copies of it. During the days of broken when it came out. We sold a handful of them. But I wanted to give this to you guys not only as an example of what can be done with a project, but also just for fun for people who just want to see all this cool, amazing artwork they all the artists did. I also include all the marketing materials of all the four movies that I did. So all the poster work all the kind of extras I did on the websites and things like that. So you can kind of see the progression of how I was able to market all of our films, and how we were able to get into over 500 film festivals and so on. And how about that you also get my ebook on how to get into film festivals for cheaper free. And that gives you a complete detail explanation of how I was able to get into over the into over 500 film festivals after the first 30 or so film festivals. I spent I spent over $1,000 in submission fees were broken, it was ridiculous. But after a certain time, I was like, You know what, I don't know, if I'm going to be able to like, at this point in the game, any film festivals I get into after this, how much more they're gonna like boost my career boost the film. So I was like, You know what, at this point in the game, I'll be more than willing to pay a submission fee if I'm able to play in the movie, but just to pay to submit and just maybe I'll get into it wasn't playing that anymore. So I decided to create these techniques that worked very, very well.

So you also get that in this package as well. It's a hell of a package, it really, really is a hell of a package, I would have killed to have it. And for the price, honestly, it's awesome. And you get to watch it as much as you want, whenever you want to watch it. Again, head over to indie film, hacks.com indie film hacks, calm and use that coupon code ifH tribe. So on a side note, guys, I wanted to thank you again for making this podcast the number one filmmaking podcast on iTunes. I am humbled beyond, by beyond all recognition. It's amazing that within a three month period, this little show has been able to rank all the way as to the number one spot or filmmaking in iTunes. So I humbly humbly thank all my listeners, all my all the all the tribe, all the indie film hustle tribe, for doing that. Thank you again, so so much for helping us get to that point. And please, if you love the show, or if you just want to give us an honest review, head over to iTunes, give us a review, give us a give us a good rating. And that will help us even get more and more people to listen to the show and help more and more filmmakers. So thanks again guys for listening. I really hope this helped you guys out a lot inspired you a little bit that it can be done. So keep that dream alive. Keep that hustle going. I'll talk to you guys soon.

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