Texas Indies & The Problem of Star(under)power

16 Oct

Christopher Kelly’s article highlights an interesting problem for Indie filmmakers: The cast.
Picture it: You are an up-and-coming indie director who has a fantastic script, the scruples to direct it, and the will to essentially tour with that movie to film festivals in an effort to land a distribution deal. Your cast consists of unknowns; probably friends and family. But you’re an indie movie so that doesn’t matter to anyone, right? it is fascinating then, that the article points to the lack of star-power as a potential reason for an indie film not getting picked up.

I hadn’t considered it before this class, but it is actually something that has dawned upon me as we’ve gone through various indie movies: A majority of them have a pretty major star attached in some capacity. Wes Anderson’s first movie Bottle Rocket featured a then unknown cast of brothers Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson, but it also featured James Caan, an actor who had long been in Hollywood and has been in quite a few notable productionssex, lies, and videotape featured a fairly unknown cast, but Andie MacDowell had just come off a minor role in John Hugh’s St. Elmo’s Fire, and Peter Gallagher had a solid TV career before sex, lies, and videotape. Buffalo ’66 had the film version of Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family movies. Heck, even (500) Days of Summer, a so-called ‘surprise indie hit’ had the Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the starring role. So it is ironic but not exactly surprising that distributors are weary of a indie film that is “good” but doesn’t have the star-power to back it up. It seems almost hypocritical to pass financial judgement on a film that is by very nature a low-budget affair but at present it seems that getting at least one well-ish known actor will greatly impact the likelihood of obtaining distribution and thus a wider audience/recognition.

In all truth, whether or not an indie film is good enough to get picked up for distribution seems to be largely a secondary concern in the grand scheme of wider distribution. It is still a matter of finding someone in the right places that is willing to stick their neck out for you. As we’ve learned, indie films have to make money too, and business is still business. So ultimately if you, young indie filmmaker, were to go forth and make an indie movie with the intent of reaching a larger audience, it might be in your financial interest to enlist the services of an actor or actress with more experience than your brother-in-law with the Theater minor.


Social Vs. Economical: The Indie Hollywood True Story

7 Oct

In King’s Alternative Visions, he argues that the lack of social or political scope in traditional Hollywood cinema is due to the “narrow moral economy.”(199) His meaning is that films outside of the accepted social norms are viewed as liberal to the point of financial risk. The idea that indie films are more free to address controversial/hot-button topics can be largely chalked up to creative freedom versus marketability, i.e. Major studios don’t want to back a picture that would cover a controversial issue like, say, transgender surgery because A: It would potentially limit audiences and B: It focuses on a topic that is largely unproven to be a financially marketable idea.

Independent productions don’t have to adhere to the financial guidelines that dictate a film must be a financial success at all costs. So there for indie movies have more freedom when it comes to what they can cover and how they can cover it. In essence, the lesser budget of an indie film allows for more control over the final product because you the filmmaker are not necessarily forced to make a film solely for profit purposes. This in turn is the reason you see indie films that are about subjects you most probably won’t see at your local Cinemark. King’s example of Happiness is an instance of this. Happiness simply would not be released ‘nation-wide’ because it would be seen as a limited audience and possibly negative fallout due to its subject matter. If a major studio say, Sony, makes a Marvel superhero movie, they are bound by the cultural mandate to keep things within the safe realm of a PG-13, where as an indie movie like Boy Wonder is free to create whatever content it feels like because it doesn’t have to be made within the confines of a traditional movie.

Judges Ruling: Indie or Not?

30 Sep

Prompt # 2

When Newman talks about the different way indie films are judged, he says, “In the case of indie cinema, depending on the nature of a given festival, its selection committee has the power to nominate films as indie or, more importantly, to establish which indie films and artists will be considered exemplary.”  What I think he means by this is that there are factors to be taken into account when judging an indie film. One of these factors is which festival the film is being screened at. Each festival has a different purpose to it, such as the Sundance festival, which is mostly just about indie cinematographers trying to make it in Hollywood. Then there are others, such as the Austin Film Festival, with a gentler attitude toward film. People come out just to enjoy the arts, it’s not so much about getting one’s name out. 145


Based on the categories a film can be nominated in (shown here), Austin Film Festival, as mentioned before, seems to be more interested in the arts, not the recognition (other than the award, of course). Although, the prizes do include cash and reimbursement for hotel stays and plane flights, so it’s actually more of a contest than just a gathering of film lovers. I think in this case, that this is how the films are judged on whether they are indie or “exemplary” or not.

The Fan Wars

3 May

In ‘Online/Offline: What it Means to ‘Watch (and Make) TV,’ Sharon Ross explores the effects of niche but highly vocal fan communities who go to great lengths to insure that their show remains on the air, even when not overtly popular with larger audiences. These dedicated fan-bases have become such an integral part of the television process, many times the creators, writers, and producers of historically loved-but-not-widely-popular shows will strive to build a relationship with fan interaction. When Lost was still on the air, the show’s writers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindleof regularly attended Lost panels and had discussions with fans about anything and everything Lost related. In her essay Ross is conflicted about what constitutes cult television fandom as opposed to soap opera fandom (Ross, 13). I would argue that if you look at the history of cult television, you’ll notice a pattern in that the vast majority of cult shows don’t last more than an average of three seasons. From Veronica Mars to the original Star Trek, very few cult shows live to see a fourth season.

Jericho was a CBS show that followed the life of a small town in Kansas following the nuclear annihilation of the United States. The show never managed to find a wide viewing audience, but it did, like Community, Lost, and Veronica Mars, maintain a small but highly loyal online community that fought exceptionally hard to keep Jericho on the air. In an effort to restore Jericho to television for a second season, fans created a campaign to send 50,000 pounds of nuts to CBS headquarters. CBS, impressed by effort, relented and Jericho got a second season and ultimately allowed the fan-base the closure to the various story arcs of the show; power to the viewer indeed, that a fan demonstration could make up for, in CBS’s eyes, the lack of significant viewership.

I agree with Ross when she states that social media is becoming an essential part of the television experience, not just with viewers, but likewise the networks, who no doubt see it as a change to capitalize and advertise their show free of charge. Although fan communities are becoming more pronounce thanks to the advent of the internet, the longevity of cult shows in the end still rely on viewership. Had, say, Chuck been aired on FOX, there is a good chance it wouldn’t have made it past the first season due to its less-than-stellar ratings. However, since NBC, the network that airs Chuck, is known to be ratings-starved, fan-based support was able to convince NBC to continue on for a five season run. It remains to be seen how much of an impact niche fan-bases will have going forward, but I would be willing to wager that their influence will continue to grow as television becomes more synced together with social media.

What is (Web) TV?

1 May

I never really knew when or how web series began; all I remember is when a good one came up and spread like wildfire, you had to watch it. New celebrities are emerging all the time on Youtube, while old celebrities get in on the action too. Aymar Christian’s journal “The Web and Television Reimagined?” gives a history of the beginnings of web series, and how it was shaped around the TV of the past; while the Televisual articles describe the successful attributes of webisodes and series.

In the 90’s, niche programming started to dominate successful television- as well as the technology that could allow for more individualized audience viewing, such as the internet. As tech companies and the movie/TV industry worked on entertainment and promotional websites of their own; the first web series called The Spot came along from an aspiring filmmaker backed by the advertising company he worked for. This web show, along with many afterwards, based itself off of a soap opera. This surprised me! I’m very familiar with recent hits on the web, such as comedy skits, how-to videos, and vlog series. But it makes sense when Christian illustrates cybersoaps as “very visibly “not television,” while relying from television genre, serialization and networking”. There was risk involved of course (no one knew how people would receive such a new concept of sort-of-TV on the internet), but with the production copying what has already been done on a TV set, at least there was tradition and comfortableness of familiarity to fall back on. Yet, through financial, technological and popularity issues, eventually cybersoaps went away and new technologies came in. Entering the 2000’s, web series shaped into niche media that could stand by itself, ready to be utilized by major and independent producers/industries alike.

In regards to popular web series of today, the Televisual articles talks about what works in our worldwide convergence era. I can relate to Christian’s points on comedy and the never-ending series characteristics of a successful web series. Comedy appeals to (usually) a wide range of audiences, be interpreted in many ways, and allow for otherwise ridiculous or uncomfortable topics to be addressed and/or discussed. We’ve seen this on broadcast TV. Also, it doesn’t need to depend on quality or high budgets. (Perhaps the ASDF series could be an example).

Secondly, the never-ending series, where creators “post videos continually — either on an irregular or frequent basis”, in order to maintain their audience at whatever point they join the viewership. It could be alike to regular scheduling of networks, or it could be very random. I’ve personally seen more independent producers do this (The Hunted), but industries/larger organizations have done it too (The Guild). I believe this is what makes web TV different than broadcast TV; where the webisodes can be more accessible- in when you ‘tune in’ and where you begin- than watching it live. Both of these aspects show how television on the web are similar to broadcasts, but not entirely!

1. Do you have a webseries you watch that holds Christian’s successful qualities? Is there one that doesn’t but is still valued in your eyes?

2. Will video hosting sites continue to develop with time to make web series more capitalistic?

3. Do you believe creating a web series could get you into broadcast television production, since the shows distributed on both are relatively similar?

Pushing the Boundaries

24 Apr

For many years television networks have been cautious about what they do and do not air on television. Broadcast networks make sure that shows being aired on television are not too risky when it comes to content that pertains sex and violence. Many have wondered how it is that these subscription television networks advertise. One example of a show that has been popular for many years, starting in 1998, on a subscription network known as HBO is the hit series Sex and the City. 

Sex and the City is a show that takes place in New York City and follows the lives of four women who are in their mid-thirties and forties. Throughout the series these four women are constantly confiding in each other and discuss their constantly changing sex lives. The story focuses on the main story lines about sexuality and promiscuity between friendships and relationships. This show is obviously on HBO for a reason. “Sex and the City told a story unlikely to be told be found on broadcast networks – or at least unlikely to be told elsewhere in the manner that it was on HBO” (pg. 216).  If a broadcast network were to air this content on their networks there would be some major issues. 

Now the question is how does a subscription television network such as HBO advertise? Broadcast and basic cable networks advertise throughout the entire day (hourly) based on the programming at that time. As Amanda mentions, “…networks must select programming likely to reach the broadest audience possible and allocate their programming budget accordingly…” (pg. 217). However, this is not the cast when it comes to subscription television networks. Since subscription television networks relly on their viewers to pay to watch their content they do not have to worry about advertisement. This is what makes subscription television networks different from broadcast and cable networks because since they are not rellying on advertisers to help finance their programming; they are able to produce whatever kind of content they want, of course with some boundaries, because people are paying to subscribe to their networks. 

1. Do you believe advertisement or subscription is more successful?

2. Do you think it is important for content that is more risky to be on a subscription network?

3. As mentioned in Chp. 7 by Lotz, HBO does not attain money through product placement. Do you believe HBO should change this? 



Advertising In Television Evolution

15 Apr

In the Chapter of The TV Will Be Revolutionized, Amanda Lotz suggests that while DVR played a substantial role in the loss of advertizing power on television, its impact is by in large overestimated. She argues that DVR/TiVo was merely the tipping point for a long overdue advertizing remodel. (Lotz, 154)

While I agree that DVR and TiVo had smaller impacts than originally thought, I think a big part of the reason why, is that DVR came into its own around the same time that the internet was rapidly becoming a new identity in the television landscape. The lovely Moore’s Law means that bandwidth in the mid-2000s was quickly becoming able to process the large load of data required to stream or download an episode of a television show. In this regard, I think that eventually DVR would have become more of a thorn in the side of TV advertisers had it not been somewhat quietly overthrown by the further technological progresses of online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, and pirating sites like ThePirateBay and Mininova (now deceased). It is not that advertising opportunities have disappeared from television, just that advertisers have yet to figure out the best way in which to adapt to this new technology. One thing that is noticeable in the way online streaming-based advertising works, is that the old method of single company sponsorship has thus far dominated internet-TV streaming. I recently watched an episode of NBC’s Community on their native website. Throughout the episode, an Old Navy commercial starring Mr. T was played every 5 minutes or so. I walked away from that episode completely unable to get it out of my head. I am not arguing for single-sponsored television to return, but simply stating that perhaps enough time has passed since the quiz show scandals that advertisers can once again test out a possible venue in a medium that sees more limited since the broadcast days.

1. Do you think the single company sponsorship idea is a potential possible mode of advertisement in what is perceived as a more limited source of television ad space?

2. What is your view on DVR/TiVo? Was it the major factor in TV many believed it to be?

3. Should product placement in shows be increased as a means to make up for the loss of the standard television ad space? And is that already happening?