Lee Thomas at Cannes 2014

We caught up with lecturer and film producer Lee Thomas and asked him for his insight into the world that is the Cannes Film Festival.

 

“Inspiring people to see films, make films, and love films”

was how Festival Director Gilles Jacob once described the scope and ambition of the Cannes Film Festival.

 

I’ve been coming to the Festival and Market since 2000. That first time I’ll never forget as Film4 had just green-lit our first feature “Crush” for a summer shoot in the Cotswolds. We were sent to Cannes so that director John McKay and I could hang out with our lead actress, Andie MacDowell. I know, life is tough! We were fresh out of film school and this all seemed like an amazing coup for us. We kept pinching ourselves at the good fortune. But more importantly than I ever realised at the time – this was also an opportunity for the sales team at Film4 to promote Crush to potential foreign buyers and to use us and the cast for meetings and publicity events. It’s the film business after all, and most financiers need to make some money back!

 

The following year we were back for our world premiere. Like many films, Crush was screening in a side bar of the festival but not in competition. It had pre-sold many territories including Germany, Spain, France and Australia, but we were still after a US sale, and one or two others. Limos, red carpets, and an amazing after screening party up in the hills with fireworks and champagne made the experience everything I imagined it could be…

 

I then skipped the following year before I then became Head of Production at Screen Agency SWM and it was time to go again. This time with a different hat on. Debbie Isitt’s “Confetti” was our first investment so I attended to support the film, approve negotiations if it sold, and also to talk to people about our funds. Confetti sold to Fox for a good sum taking us instantly into profit after a 5 hour negotiation. I remember shaking hands on a deal in a tent with Michael Winterbottom and his producer Andrew Eaton to collaborate on their next film “The Road to Guantanamo”. Suddenly I was going to more meetings, and doing a lot of networking, but watching no films, in order to attract investors and film-makers to our region and promote West Midlands talent to other financiers.

 

So why didn’t I go before 2000 and why did I skip a year, and several others since? Cost aside, it’s because the best advice I got was to only go to Cannes when you have a very clear and specific purpose in mind, and not just to “hang out” and “soak up the atmosphere”. It can be a very broad purpose but whatever you do you need one. Maybe your film has been produced and you are invited to support the sales efforts like we were, or perhaps you decide you want to catch up on world cinema and watch at least 3 films per day for your own education. Or, you are a British producer with a European co-production in early development and you want to go and find and secure a co-producer for your project. Basically you want something measurable and achievable so that you don’t succumb to the inevitable low morale when you get turned away from your umpteenth party, or catch sight of a friend walking up the red carpet in a long evening gown and wondering why it’s so unfair that you were not invited up there with them! Basically it’s very easy to compare yourself unfavorably to others and in this sense, having some structure helps get around all that.

Alternatively, perhaps if you are just starting out in the business, maybe the best way to go is to get some experience / knowledge of the market and film business by being an intern. This is a GREAT way to add some structure to your time and enable you to network, find your way around the town and the business without the fear of going into melt down / depression. If I was starting over, this is exactly what I would try to do first.

 

The fact is, Cannes is now the largest and most prestigious film festival and market in the world and what you come up against when you arrive there is a festival with a deep history and love of cinema combined with a fairly undiscerning and cut-throat market that needs to make money and distribute crowd pleasing films to worldwide audiences. Finding a way to be an intern, for example through BCU’s MA Distribution and Marketing programme, is one way to really get inside the festival’s alter ego, the market. It’s not all glamour, but judging by the experience of this year’s students with placements in some of the world’s leading companies, the insider view is invaluable.

 

But why does Cannes have such a reputation? Well, for a start – think of these directors: Scorcese, Copola, Wenders, Jane Campion, Quinten Tarentino, Steven Soderbergh…  they have all won The Palm d’Or for films ranging from Taxi Driver and the Piano,  to Pulp Fiction. That’s quite a glamorous list, and one of the biggest self-evident reasons why the festival attracts so many cineasts, buyers & sellers, braggers and celebrity tourists  – all hoping for some of the sparkle to rub off on them.

 

All that’s left now is to wonder who will win this year… and there is not long to find out !

Godzilla

Godzilla
by John Seedhouse

Friday night seems as good a night as any to unwind with some large scale nostalgio-destruction and so Mrs L and yours truly found ourselves at the Giant Screen with tickets for Godzilla.

 

This is a movie that has been teased, trailed and social media shared to the nth degree in recent weeks. Inevitably there has been backlash with a few decent memes flying around online. I watch teasers and I pay attention to the promo that the studios throw around (I mean market) online and to be honest I was starting to get a similar feeling of dread to the one that I have towards a defunct giraffe owned by a retail park toy merchant – a malaise shared by Emma Goddard on Bustle who was (SPOILER ALERTish) hoping for 123 minutes of Bryan Cranston.

For a generation of school-kids, Godzilla was the playground game of choice. I am sure some of you can remember running around terrifying buildings and soldiers with your arms pulled up to your elbows into the sleeves of that school jumper that mum or dad would berate you for stretching. You remember doing that, right? It was a really important game.

“Let me make you think that I am attacking your city as you shoot me, even though I am really saving you from a giant moth,” we would shout. “I am Gojira!”

We shouted that every single break. Except we didn’t. It wasn’t in the tellybox of the 1980s playground. What we got was watered down and re-dubbed versions of Japanese culture. Remember Battle of the Planets? Look it up. It’s pretty bad. It was once a great cartoon with some seriously screwy elements like cross-gender baddies and devious betrayal by the “hero”. We got a dodgy inserted pedal bin character and bemusement at re-used scenes.

 

During their recent Monster Season the guys at the Giant Screen played out the rebuilt original version of Gojira – the one that wasn’t screwed up by smart alec execs in Hollywood trying to hit an audience demographic by including audience pacifiers and characters. It’s a great film when you take out the excessive add-on crap.

I had been hurriedly revisiting the source material that was part of my childhood. This involved this thing from Hanna Barbera Studios.

Bundle this with some classic Marvel Comics pulp from random charity shops and you can see why this wasn’t a playground staple as far as break time games went.

Godzilla Comic 23 from Marvel

Blockbuster mash-up from the vaults of Marvel Comics. America really didn’t get the whole Monster thing really. It got worse too…

The work of Toho Studios is very much a cultural element of Japanese entertainment. Couple this with the popularity of long book manga and the differences between East and West become glaringly obvious. Our dinosaurs are “realistic” – they don’t breathe fire. They don’t inhabit that semi-mystical ghost world that permeates Japanese pop culture.

This leads us to the movie itself. This is not Breaking Bad with a bloody great mutant nuclear lizard involved. I could tell that at least half the audience were hoping for this. Walter, I mean Bryan Cranston, makes a good stab at the role of concerned scientist/forgetful father and presents a pretty decent slightly mad, jailed for law breaking, broken man on a mission. I wonder if he has recently done a similar role? Juliette Binoche doesn’t trouble us overly with screen time and it does seem that she is largely wasted here with half a dozen lines, a bit of dramatic running and a tragic death.

We are left with Aaron Perry Johnson from Kick-Ass and High Wycombe (I didn’t know that) and younger Olsen, Elizabeth, who at least seems more competent on screen than her more monied sibling twins. Johnson runs around a lot from set piece to set piece whilst Olsen, who appears both too young to have the child they have and too young for her job, makes a series of perplexingly bad decisions.

Stand out part must be Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishiro Serizawa. The pain in his eyes underlines the schism between the cinema cultures. He is there and you feel that at times his character would rather not be. In probably the most meta moment of the film he mentions Hiroshima and shows a stopped pocket watch. It’s pretty poignant and kind of sums up just where Hollywood goes so badly wrong by attempting to “correct” perfectly good foreign cinema.

Director Gareth Edwards must have been a sure thing for this movie following on from his 2010 Monsters and again he uses the teasing snippet approach to his monster tension build-up. It seems that by reel 3, the studio must have grumbled as we get an awful lot of monster from that point on. It jars. It really jars. By the time we get the whole nuclear warhead egg impregnation monster semi porn-fest you start to worry that the ocean that Godzilla is swimming in might just have few airbourne sharks exiting it.

Is it bad?

In a word, no. It isn’t terrible. It isn’t great. It is what it is – a monster romp. It could have been awesome had it given us Japanimation with Hollywood whammo but instead we get far too much Planes, Trains and Automobiles without John Candy and with added lizard.

Should you wait for DVD? No. It’s made to be big screen and you should punt a few quid at the entry price. You won’t leave hating it. You might really enjoy it. Mrs L thought it was a decent flick for a Friday night. I wasn’t despairing either but I think that secretly I wanted something a bit more something else.

Some of the rows around us left markedly pointing out that they did not get 123 minutes of Bryan Cranston…

Result? Better than kiss chase but not as good as cops and robbers.

 

We saw Godzilla courtesy of The Giant Screen at Millennium Point.

 

John always took a distinct dislike to Godzooky but always secretly fancied owning a ship called the Calico with a big red button onboard. In between getting distracted from work and reminiscing unfondly about the 80s he can be found online at a number of places like here and here and also here

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
by John Seedhouse

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

Did you avoid the “leaked” first 10 minutes which has been doing the hide and seek routine across the net for the last few weeks? If so then well done. If not? Well it’s not going to wreck the story for you.

2 Warnings.

Firstly there are SPOILERS in this review.

Secondly? I am a huge fan of the original Ed Brubaker series of Captain America that this film borrows from.

 

Anyway here is the synopsis from IMDB 

Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Not all comic book readers are “hyper-critical armchair forum warriors” however, as countless bad movies show, they can be the destroyers of a film before the camera even rolls – perhaps even more of a poison chalice than including Ryan Reynolds in the cast…

Do I need to see the first film?

No. Added to that, you probably shouldn’t. It was a film about the Second World War that failed to mention either Germany or the Nazis… All you need to know is that Cap (the hero) got bumped into the future whilst his best mate Bucky (spoiler – he is the Winter Soldier of this movie) gets killed falling off a cliff being heroic.

Did you just wreck the film you are reviewing?

Have you been living under a rock? I assume that you may not have read anything about the film and that you didn’t notice that Sebastian Stan (the very likeable insane Mad Hatter from Once Upon a Time) is listed in the main cast. If these 2 facts are true then possibly, yes, sorry.

Why did you just do that?

I did mention that I was a fan of the comic books the plot is kind of based on. Unlike Fox and Sony’s approach to the Marvel properties (X-Men and Spider-man) which it plays quite fast and loose with the original comics and at times causes fan-boy head explosions, Disney (maybe due to Joss Wheedon and Jeff Loeb) products seem to be more selective and less embarrassed by the source material. In the same way that Iron Man 3 borrowed swathes of story ideas from Warren Ellis’ brief tenure as book writer, Cap 2 picks out the core thriller-esque elements of Brubaker’s run.

So it’s just a hand-job for the fanboys then?

I am not going to lie to you here. We saw this in the Giant Screen at Millennium Point and it was a fan-boy (plus the odd date) audience. It was maybe 1/3 full (probably down to the fact that nobody in Birmingham seems to realise that the cinema exists rather than it being a poor film – spoiler – it isn’t…) Anyway there were quite a few happy gasps (mumbled discussions) at the mention of Stephen Strange (Rumours abound that Dr Strange may be the unlisted 2016 product,) the appearance of the unnamed Agent 13 (Sharon Carter – longterm comic love interest) and a certain quote from Ezekiel on a gravestone. Easter eggs yes but hardly a distraction to the story.

Is it a 2 hour crescendo of explodo-gasm with CGI replacing a strong narrative?

There are explosions. Some very good ones. Some very big ones. There are also some non-flammable moments. When Cap chases across the roof top it is more like Bourne than spandex. This is an espionage film that just happens to contain some BIG BANGY ramifications to the choices the characters make. It’s a SHIELD movie more than a mask and flag film.

You lost me there. Explain?

The narrative focusses more on clever solutions than by solving the problem through pulling on a mask and hitting something hard. In the first reel Cap throws off his mask before indulging in some Streetfighter II style kicky-punchy with baddy number one.

This is a rubbish explanation…

Patience. The important bit was the whole chucking the mask aside bit. A lot of the story relies on the idea of masks and intentions. This is a story with deceit woven into it. It may seem a clumsy metaphor but there is a lovely echo in reel 3…

So there is an element of cleverness somewhere?

The story impacts on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is actually greater purpose to the film in the context that it will affect other properties on-screen. If you watch the TV show Marvel’s Agents of Shield then this film sits in between the last episode you saw and the next. It probably also means that pitching season 2 of that show may have been quite difficult prior to the movie release.

No happy ending then?

Yes and no. Remember how all 2nd franchise movies tend to be better than the first? This has the Empire Strikes Back factor. It’s not a lock up the bad guy, let’s all have a cuppa and start again type story.

What about the acting?

These are comic book characters – what are you expecting? Everyone who wishes they could get time back after watching Green Lantern will know that this is point and speak stuff, right? Actually this is a tightly directed ensemble. Chris Evans plays the “less is more” type of lead, tipping a nod to the muscle stereotype with a gratuitous vest scene. If anything the show is stolen by a superb Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who probably deserves a character film of her own and Samuel L. Jackson as a grumpy and belligerent Nick Fury.

Should I go? 

If you enjoy the whole super-hero thing then you probably already went. If you are reading this and want to go enjoy a couple of hours of well put together action story then yeah I would. I actually paid to go and didn’t mind. Did I like it? Yes I did. I went with the wife. She liked it. A lot. She went home and spent the weekend reading the comic books.

My name is John Seedhouse and I am a 40+ year old who reads comics…

I talk rubbish on twitter @Leftlung post stuff on Google Plus

300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire.

Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

 

300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire

After watching 300: Rise of an Empire there are a number of things I could tell you about the film. For example, It’s based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel ‘Xerxes’, a sequel to the hugely popular ‘300’, which in turn is based on the story by the Greek historian Herodotus.

I could tell you that Frank Miller left his job at DC comics because he felt that his work was censored too much, and as a lover of history, he felt that he wasn’t doing justice to the stories. Hence the awe-inspiring, yet gruesome, action sequences in the 300 series.

I could also say that the back-stories of Artemisia (Eva Green) and Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) are so ridiculously inaccurate that it makes no sense to anybody who’s studied a bit of history, or that there was little or no character development for the lead, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and the Greeks so we feel absolutely nothing for them when their city burns down to ashes.

But lets be honest, nobody’s going to go see this movie as an insight into what happened thousands of years ago – you’re going to go see this if you like a lot of semi-naked people beat the crap out of each other in carefully choreographed, slow-motion fight scenes. So the good news is that this is bigger, there’s more blood, more anger, and dare I say, more nipples?

Movies_300__Rise_of_an_Empire_Xerxes_054817_The story is more or less the same as last time: Persians are coming to take over Greece. This is a parallel story to the previous 300 – the Greek navy takes on the Persian navy in the bay as the Spartans hold off the huge Persian army at the hot gates. The Greek men are not as perfectly ripped as the Spartans, and the fighting does not seem as cool and romanticised as it did in 300. The Greek army, minus General Themistokles, is clumsy and crude with their weapons, unlike the Spartans who were gave viewers goose bumps when they fought.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-Comic-Con-Poster-Artemisia

The star of this film is Eva Green, playing the cruel, throat-slitting general to the God-King Xerxes as she goes around slitting throats and scaring the testosterone out of her commanders in one beautiful shot after another.

This is a movie made to watch on a big screen, and luckily it is showing on one of the best screens in Birmingham, the giant screen cinema. The 3D is great, the sound is great, and the screen is really, really big. I say ignore the accuracy and depth of the story, grab a drink, and sit back and enjoy hot people swinging swords and bringing a comic book to life.

 

By Vasi Hasan.

Making millions from your film on the internet, AKA Digital Distribution or DIY Distribution.

So you’ve made a film? Now you want to make money from it?

What’s that? You don’t have A-list Hollywood stars in the cast? Sir Elton John hasn’t done an original soundtrack for it? Well, I hate to break it to you; it’s going to be hard to get your film in the cinemas. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s hard. Very hard.

Did I hear somebody say DVD? Yes, that clunky old gadget that’s getting buried under all the other eternally connected-to-the-cloud gizmos under your TV. I would never say that only your grandma watches DVDs, I would only say you’re better off selling it online before you start thinking about securing a DVD deal.
Hold on, don’t rush off to upload it just yet – here’s a few things you need to know about digital distribution, or Video On Demand (VOD).

There’re different types of VODs, common amongst them are:

  • Transactional Video On Demand (TVOD):
Also known as pay-per-stream or download to rent/own.
  • Ad-supported Video On Demand (AVOD):
That’s where ads are placed before or during your film.
  • Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD):
Viewers subscribe to the service and pay monthly or yearly for the provider’s collection of films.

Then there are Aggregators; companies that negotiate on your behalf with the big boys like iTunes and Netflix. They’ll also arrange for you film to be encoded according to your chosen platform’s specifications.

However, there is a catch. There’s always a catch; basically different ways companies will take money from you. Yes, get used to it. But if you know what you’re doing you can choose the right platform for your film and not get ripped off. Let’s see what the different platforms have to offer.

iTunes icon

 

 

 

 

Viewers can either rent your film from iTunes, or purchase it.
iTunes will take 30% of whatever you make, after you pay an encoding fee. The encoding fee is paid to the Aggregator, the middle-man who charges for dealing with Apple on your behalf.
No, Apple does not want to deal with you directly, you have to go through an Aggregator.
You should go for iTunes because they have close to 600 million active users all over the world, that’s a huge user-base.
You shouldn’t go for iTunes because the encoding fee will probably put you in debt (It can be up to several thousand pounds), or if you don’t want to give them 30p out of every pound you make.
Use it if you have A-list Hollywood stars in the cast. Or if Sir Elton John did the soundtrack – otherwise it never gets featured on their main page and just gets lost under millions of other things and is hard for viewers to find unless they specifically search for it.

Netflix logo

 

 

 

 

Like LOVEfilm, NETFLIX is a subscription based service. They’ll charge you an upfront fee for rights to your film and own it for a number of years. The amount and time period vary on a film by film basis.
You should go for NETFLIX because of the prestige involved, the huge reach, and the fact that it plays on all devices.
You shouldn’t go for it because they could play it a billion times and still not pay you anything other than what you got to sell them your film. There’s an Aggregator involved in this too, so you have to pay them as well for getting your film encoded.
Use it if your film has done well in the festival circuit so you can take advantage of the heat & buzz.

Amazon Instand Video Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Subscription based service by Amazon. Most people don’t know that Amazon does this too, get used to it; Amazon does everything!

Amazon will take 50% of your revenue.
You should go for Amazon because there’s no set-up or encoding costs. You also get links on the IMDB website.
You shouldn’t go for it because you have NO control over what they charge for your content, it’s not available globally, and because 50% seems just a bit too much.
Use it only if you have no money, at least this way there’s no loss, and you can only gain, no matter how little.

Vimeo On Demand logo

 

 

 

 

 

Viewers either rent or purchase your film.
Vimeo will take 10% of your revenue.
You should go for it because there’s no middle-man involved, you get to keep 90% of the money, you can set your own price and geo-block it according to your needs, and because its device friendly and has a global presence.
You shouldn’t go for it because there’s a $200 annual Vimeo Pro fee that you need to pay to upload your content for this service, and that’s for 50GB, anything more and it’s an extra $200.
Use it because it’s quite flexible, but you have to really push it hard yourself with your marketing campaign.

YouTube icon

 

 

 

 

You can do Ad-supported, rental or purchase, or a subscription service with YouTube.
YouTube will take roughly 45% of your revenue – it varies user to user according to their Partner Program that you have to join.
You should go for it because there’s no set-up fee, and because YouTube is huge. You can also set your own prices for subscriptions and rental.
You shouldn’t go for it if 45% seems too high, or if you think you can’t get the thousands of hits/views you need to qualify for the Partnership Program. Also keep in mind that YouTube users aren’t used to paying for anything – you might have a hard time there.
Use it if you have quick turn-over with your content, like a series. It takes time to build up an audience on YouTube.

indieflix icon

 

 

 

INDIEFLIX is a subscription based service.

You are paid by the amount of minutes subscribers watch of your content.
You should go for it because there’s no middle-man, and because you’ll get money per minute for your film. You also get a small amount for each new subscriber you introduce to Indieflix. You have control over where you want to play it (geo-blocking), its device friendly, and it’s available globally.
You shouldn’t go for it if your film didn’t go to a festival – they probably won’t even take it unless it has. The subscriber base isn’t too big so there’s less exposure.
Use it with a mega social media campaign, or something that might go viral. You have to get minutes here, think repeat viewings.

This is it for part 1 of my DIY digital distribution piece, in part 2 we’ll take a look at the rapidly changing world of Travelling VOD Players and what they can do for you.

Vasi Hasan

November 22, 2013