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I do on occasion check out The Big Idea in the hopes of spotting an opportunity to expand my experience and skills in Film-making. It is always interesting to see what others are trying to do in the pursuit of making it in the industry.

What recently struck me is one Wellington based gentleman who has chosen to make a series of fake trailers or scenes for non-existent action films. The idea appears to be to make a showreel of material – which is always an admirable goal.

However this Aussie ex-pat seems to be stuck in the 80s regarding what the market wants. His ads stress that all work has to be American focused. No antipodean accents, no NZ culture or style. Just pure America.

Talk about limiting yourself. Not to mention that most kiwis and ockers do atrocious American accents. A brief look over his personal website shows a guy who clearly is a fan of EXTREME cinema to the tune of “Yippee Kai Yay.”

Of which there isn’t anything wrong, action is very challenging to write and film. Having a passion for it is no different to only writing fantasy or liking sci-fi.

I just think that if he wants to be noticed he’s not going to achieve it by pandering to the audience. A brief glance on the net shows this kind of attempt is a dime-a-dozen. It isn’t enough to be good. You need to stand out.

Producers aren’t concerned with accents and locale when it comes to finding new talent – look at District 9 – they want to know you can bring something exciting.

I reckon a witty series of Kiwi and Aussie action trailers with humour unique to our part of the world would grab more attention than a series of generic action trailers with bad US accents.

It is interesting to see someone proposing this, as I start planning projects based on my experience with The Winding City and oversee the final steps of the first episode edit. I wonder how successful his project is going to be, knowing how hard it is to find people willing to work for free.

Conan

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In a cynical attempt to draw blame away from MEAA, Actor’s Equity and CTU, Helen Kelly is now accusing the government of using the Hobbit dispute as an excuse to change labour laws that will directly impact contractors across the country. Which is true, to a degree. They are definitely using the row as a reason to clear up a loophole in law that will disadvantage contractors looking to be seen as employees.

But the blunt reality is that Actor’s Equity and CTU are the ones to blame for this. Much like the classic legend, Actor’s Equity as Pandora has naively opened a box full of trouble, and it just keeps spewing out problems for them.

The blunt reality is that if they had not gone ahead with the boycott, if they had told Simon Whipp to rack off, if they had not decided to clumsily use The Hobbit as a bargaining chip – none of this would have happened.

As Gerry Brownlee and Peter Jackson have pointed out, until the boycott there was absolutely no doubt that The Hobbit was going to be made in NZ. There were no plans to change the labour law. People were happy to go ahead with business as usual.

But they did choose to push the matter, and naively seemed to think everyone would go “oh, union action. We better give them what they want.”

This isn’t how union disputes work, and Helen Kelly should know this. What happens is that everyone involved starts asking questions about the way things have been done, and there is a very good chance that the reality will swing against the unions as much as it will favour them.

As the old saying goes “pick your battles carefully.”

When action is taken, you are always taking a gamble and you need to be ready for things to go bad. What is astounding in this dispute is that all the warning signs were there that this was not going to go the Actors’ way.

The problem is that their problems are based on factual issues but on theoretical ones. Actors in NZ have not been overly abused, they have been working as contractors and the demand to change had no solid impetus for doing it now rather than any time previously.

Actors are freelancers, and as such they have to be contractually managed as individuals. If Actor’s Equity wants collective contracts, they need to be auditioning their actors as a single “troupe” for hire and be competing with non-equity actors. They would need to negotiate an individual contract covering their “troupe.”

Naturally, this approach would be somewhat unlikely to succeed.

Now the box is open, there is no closing it. CTU and Actor’s Equity have let this out and it’s a bit late to be complaining that it isn’t going the way they wanted.

To be frank, if they want any sympathy from the public and film crews who are baying for their blood – the first thing they need to do is unconditionally acknowledge that they made a mistake, are responsible for starting this sorry mess and that it was handled poorly by them.

It’s their backhanded whining and constant finger pointing elsewhere that is pissing people off most. Everyone knows that they started this, so saying it was all a trick by Warners to get concessions just rings hollow. Warners are taking advantage of the dispute, yes. National is taking advantage of the dispute, yes. But the only reason there is a dispute at all is because MEAA and Actor’s Equity started it with declaring a boycott.

And the only people who really are being fooled by Actor’s Equity are themselves.

Of course, Pandora’s box also contained hope – and we can only hope that this mess is resolved without taking the NZ Film Industry back 20 years. I also hope that it will lead to a more contrite Actor’s Equity as well.

Conan

As the NZ Actors Equity/Hobbit dispute continues, Phillipa Boyens, co-producer and co-writer has kind of implied a conspiracy by MEAA to try and get the films moved to Australia.

It is interesting that MEAA in Australia were the ones who seem to have instigated this drama and now that Warner is reviewing the numbers, Aussie is up with a big nice juicy offer to attract the films away from NZ.

Much like others have said, the damage has been done. Regardless of whether this was MEAA’s intention or not, NZ’s film industry has been dragged through the mud, all because of how poorly Actors Equity handled this problem.

I hate to be negative, but my gut tells me that it is too late to save the Hobbit films. They will now be going off shore, because this has been dragged along too long now. I hope to be proven wrong.

In their naΓ―vetΓ©, Actors Equity foolishly believed that they had leverage and that Warner were only bluffing. I’m not sure it is an actor thing – many of NZAE’s senior members have been producers – they should have known that there was no bluff.

In my experience a producer rarely has the luxury to bluff. You need to get your project moving and out there before it is dated or the hype dies down. This means that any delay requires a backup plan, you simply can’t afford to be farting around for months if you can get things moving again.

I had no doubt that if Warner and SPJ were saying the films may have to go offshore, they were already looking around and preparing to replan their budget.

I honestly don’t understand how NZAE or MEAA seriously thought this was a bluff.

I wonder if Actors Equity genuinely thought that without their actors, films cannot be made. The reality is that while you need actors for a film, there are a LOT of people who want to be actors and if you’re paying – they will show up.

Which isn’t to lessen the importance of finding talented actors, but to stress that NZAE can’t afford to be precious. It is a tough gig being an actor, but this saga is going to make things that much tougher for actors, not better.

It just astonishes me how silly NZAE is looking and how foolish they are for putting the local industry into this situation.

Conan

And the war continues between Actors Equity and Sir Peter Jackson. What floors me is that Spada and Sir Peter offered to attend the Wellington meeting last night to discuss the matter, and they were turned down.

Now Actors Equity appears to be dragging this out, while Sir Peter has warned that Warner is already beginning to plan how to save their movie.

How clueless are the heads of Actors Equity?

Once a film is in production stage, time is of the essence. No doubt NZAE and MEAA were hoping that this would force Warner and Wingnut to want to rush to resolve the issue. What they didn’t count on is the producers being stubborn.

Unfortunately for them, this is making NZ look bad to the rest of the film industry. The timing of the boycott has placed the film in jeopardy and it has been revealed that Spada have been trying to resolve disputes with NZAE for over a year.

The impression being created is that NZAE is trying to hold the industry hostage rather than aiming to get a genuine compromise. This will not end well for the industry as a whole unless all parties involved resolve this before the end of the weekend.

NZAE has hours, not days, to get this fixed. I will not be surprised if Monday’s news will be that the Hobbit is moving to Eastern Europe.

And that will make work for guys like me, who want to make a break into the industry, that much tougher.

There is a time and place to pick a fight. The more I hear, the less sympathy I have for NZAE. Which is a shame as there are many talented actors who will be more harmed by this action than by any non-union contract Wingnut would have offered.

Conan

So the Hobbit saga continues. NZ Actors Equity has weighed in with some respected names, Sir Peter is swinging between embattled creator and petulant child, and now with NZ’s film industry seriously at risk of vanishing and taking approx $3b NZ a year with it the Government appears to be preparing to wade in with it’s scattershot sights set.

I previously sided with Sir Peter regarding the MEAA’s stance as being bully tactics and I very much still stand by it. NZ Actors Equity has tried to argue that this is about Actors getting a fair contract – but I still have to ask where was NZAE when Boy was being made? Why were there no boycotts for lack of union contracts then? Secondhand Wedding? Under the Mountain?

What, exactly, has NZ Actors Equity succeeded in providing to NZ’s acting fraternity other than a regular working gig for Jennifer Ward Leland?

The blunt reality is that it is one thing for these famous folk to step forward and say that this is about fair contracts, but it is another to genuinely put the entire industry at risk.

Weirdly this kind of acts as a mirror to the Teacher’s dispute, and I wonder if National is seeing it as the same kind of problem.

It is interesting to note that when you look at the protest placards that the teachers have been holding up – they are more concerned with the National Standards than their 4% pay rise. National has been trying to paint the issue as a greedy teachers fight – but the reality appears to be more about teachers saying either address National Standards OR give them a 4% pay rise.

Meanwhile, Actors Equity isn’t talking about better conditions on set for actors – their argument is that actors need to get a bigger cut of profits from films that are made.

Now as I said before, actors tend to be the ones who get the abuse in the film-making relationship. Part of this is because there are so many actors out there that the cheapest will always be the preferred option.

Naturally, with work being so unpredictable and the competition so fierce, actors want to have some security – and this is where royalties can be a major boon. Ask any writer which is better – paid per word or paid per unit sold.

The flip side is that if the film bombs, you don’t get as much back from it.

But I’m wandering off message. While what is at stake here is to some degree reasonable, this is not a fight that Actors Equity will be able to win easily.

Picking the fight with a major international project is drawing the wrong kind of attention. Timing it when casting calls started rather than approaching the producers much earlier in the situation gives the boycott the air of a cynical stunt to grab attention and influence rather than being an effective support of actors these organisations purport to be supporting.

Ultimately, MEAA and Actors Equity need to change tactics and go on a charm offensive. They do not have enough clout or goodwill to be able count on Sir Peter and Hollywood being only bluffing about Eastern Europe.

I have no doubt that if they don’t try to change their approach soon, we will see film companies looking elsewhere. And that is going to make things a lot worse than not having a collective union contract.

Conan

<a href="In the paper today Sir Peter Jackson takes a shot at the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. (MEAA)

Essentially the MEAA is concerned that there are no compulsory union contracts for The Hobbit, and they are pushing a boycott of the film production until contracts are provided. Arguably, these contracts will benefit the cast and crew, ensuring their rights a protected and that they get their due royalties for any money made from the films.

Sir Peter is arguing that it is more about an Australian business bullying their way into NZ’s film industry.

Now, as with so many union based issues, it is never a cut and dry case. I remember when I was a young aspiring actor, I was told matter of factly by my agent at the time that joining the actors union was not a choice. If you didn’t belong, don’t expect to be cast in anything.

This is what really pisses me off about the entertainment industry’s unions. While the idea of a union is a good thing – providing security and bargaining power for actors and crew – the reality is often that the actors and crew are exchanging one abuser for another.

My brief dealings with the union left me feeling that they didn’t care less if I got work or not, as long as they got their fees. And that is the real rub. The entertainment industry, which should be full of creative and excited people keen to produce quality product is instead a brutal industry that can be prone to people who resort to bullying tactics behind the scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, not every actors union or guild is a nasty scumbag – the NZ Writer’s Guild, for example, works hard to help writers protect their work and find people to get their works out into the Market.

But I am inclined to side with Sir Peter on this one. The MEAA seems more interested in forcing memberships than ensuring that the cast and crew of The Hobbit are getting a fair deal. The tactic of spreading negative comments to other guilds and unions, and timing it just as casting calls begin – this seems to me to be more about the MEAA than about it’s members.

There is an anti-competitive streak to this all. I would be interested to know if Boy had met the same criteria that the MEAA are touting. Secondhand Wedding?

I suspect not because neither of those films had the international attention or, to be blunt, money to be worth the fuss. I feel that this is a political stunt to gain cachet and a stronger foothold in NZ’s burgeoning industry.

It is a shame that this is happening, rather than people putting more attention towards actually making films.

Conan

Sorry for not posting in a long time, folks. I’ve been a busy beaver trying to get a few projects underway and kickstarting some stymied projects. But I’m back with a review on a recent film – Jennifer’s Body.

Be warned, there may be a couple of spoilers in the following review. I’ll try to avoid them where possible.

The reason this film has kickstarted me into posting is because it exemplifies the issue of how even with all the right ingredients a film can fall apart very easily.

Needy is your stereotypical Hollywood high school geek girl. We know this because her hair is frizzy, she wears glasses and usually has her hair in a ponytail. She is best friends with high school cheerleader, Jennifer. (Played reasonably well by Megan Fox.) They live in the small hick town of Devil’s Kettle – so named after a mysterious waterfall and sinkhole on the outskirts of town. After escaping from a bar fire, Jennifer allows herself to be driven off by a visiting indie band who are devil worshippers in disguise and ends up possessed by a demon who proceeds to eat the local jocks and boys. But when she sets her sights on Needy’s cute boyfriend, Chip, the war between BFFs is on.

Despite being penned by Diablo Cody of Juno fame, and despite a number of talented actors – this film never knows what it is trying to be. It is clear that Cody is trying to tell a metaphorical tale about the pitfalls of an abusive friendship -the boy eating takes a backseat to Jennifer and Needy’s friendship and the strain put on it by Jennifer becoming demonic.

However the director’s lack of confidence unhinges the film, as does the weak set pieces and Cody’s error in writing the characters as more in depth than the archetypes they are meant to subvert.

While making things have a very real foundation, the failure to decisively be a comedy or a humorous horror ends up making for an uncomfortable mess of a film.

That, in my view, is the director’s responsibility. Despite casting a pretty girl as Needy, she never transforms into an attractive character. She remains geeky throughout. Even though the promotional posters have her sexied up.

Jennifer is presented at times in a sympathetic light, but nothing ever really comes from this.

Often humorous lines are delivered in a flat manner, and are accompanied by totally inappropriate music that steals from the scene.

By refusing to take one position over another in style, the film is just an awkward mess. The big face-off even happens at the beginning of the third act rather than the climax, leading to another weaker climactic face off that is far too emo for its own good and leaves everything feeling flat and undercooked.

A comedy, even a dark comedy, should never make you shy away from finding the humour. It should make you feel uncomfortable for laughing – but it shouldn’t make you feel too awkward to even laugh.

This film lacked that decisive directing that would have kept the film balanced. Which is a shame. In the hands of a more capable director, this did have the potential of being another Heathers. Brilliant, witty and dark. But what we got was wishy-washy and awkward instead.

Well it has been a little while since I last posted on this blog. To put it in simple terms, I have been extremely busy!

My latest web project Setting it Straight has now entered filming, and we’re near to successfully wrapping on the first two episodes. Unlike The Winding City, this show has virtually no complex effects, so once it is edited and we have added music – it will be online!

It certainly has been an educational experience for me. I have made it a more collaborative effort than TWC, which means that the actors have had more input regarding their character’s storylines. I have since learned that if you give an actor an inch, they tend to take a mile!

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as some great ideas have been bourne from this process. Unfortunately I have run into a bit of a situation with one if the cast who has waited until we’re near wrapping to tell me that he won’t kiss anyone. Normally I’d be fine with that, however this is an integral part of the character’s behaviour and was something I had clearly stated during auditions.

It is, to say the least, extremely frustrating.

So I have started to reorganize the story if the series to work this in – not an easy task given that I am juggling several subplots, and either have to create a new character or dramatically rearrange the current storylines to fit in the actor I had already cast for his now derailed storyline.

Fortunately, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. It’s remarkable how much GMing roleplaying games has made me skilled at creating new plotlines in a pinch!

During the shoot, the director accidently filmed two scenes that he didn’t realise were linked (we filmed out of order and he is new to directing) in such a way that one couldn’t logically follow the other in editing. I just sat down and pumped out a one page “filler” scene that explained a number of background events we had initially shot for laughs, tied up a loose storyline AND introduced a character two episodes earlier than planned with better integration than I had originally conceived!

I’m quite proud of that achievement. πŸ™‚

All in all, the weekend proved incredibly productive and fun. We’re achieving my goal of making a zero budget show with people getting the opportunity to try out roles they normally don’t get a chance to try. Hence the inexperienced director.

Having said that Matt was inexperienced, he did do a fantastic job. He knew to film scenes multiple times and from varying angles – so the editor should have plenty if material to work with.

Projects like this are what help people gain confidence and experience – and I’m hoping that is the case for some of the people who worked on the weekend.

I’m all excited for next weekend now! πŸ™‚

Conan

One of the things about creative endeavours is that you often unlock a flood of ideas as you continue to write. With the development of SiS I have found myself developing several other future productions as well.

One such concept is moving to the forefront of my mind – a kind of Charlie’s Angels for the new millennium. It’s a concept I’d probably need proper backing and resources to make it work – but the idea seems to have my trademark humour behind it.

I often find inspiration comes to me in the form of trailers. I will see how an ad would promote the show, then I’ll develop the story from there, using the set pieces and imagined dialogue as guidelines as to how the story develops.

This tends to keep me focused on the idea that every scene should potentially have trailer worthy material.

Of course the reality is sometimes a bit different to this. But I have been growing more confident in my ability as a writer – failing to get into the MA for writing at Vic University certainly threw me for a while there.

I’ve realised recently that I’m also becoming more focused on film-making. I want to be working on projects all the time.

What I should do is investigate how to get a proposal to a production company. Naturally there is a risk of me losing control over the project, but then i’d be passing control to people with more experience and developed skill than myself.

That is assuming I can successfully sell a concept in the first place. πŸ™‚

As it is, I have SiS, TWC and TWC2 to keep me preoccupied. πŸ™‚

Conan

The other day I was told of a bit of a horror story involving a film student director. Oddly every industry person I’ve spoken to has shared some similar tale of woe.

In this tale, actors had shown up to the shoot to discover nobody was around. The director rocked up nearly an hour late and proceeded to argue with the crew and generally was rude and defensive. Then about halfway through the scene he spat the dummy and left!

This is not the first time I have heard such tales, and it makes me wonder why it is that film schools tend to attract these prima donnas.

Clearly not all film students are like this, but so many are it raises questions about why these people are looking to make movies.

One of the most important lessons Winding City taught me about crews and cast us that you simply can’t let ego dominate. A film is the product of co-operation. Sure, there maybe one or two people driving things, but they need to be able to work well with others to get results.

I do feel that film-making is like writing- it’s not for fame, but the intent to create. Further to that, you aren’t a success if you get into film school. You are a success when you successfully make a film and the cast and crew want to come back and work with you again.

Film school provides experience, resources and contacts. Yet it sounds as if many students take these advantages for granted.

On the other hand, if you really want to make movies, you don’t need to go to school – you just need to make films.

I can only hope that I never make such a performance on set. For me, a set should be a fun place where people feel appreciated and creative. Here’s hoping that I can keep that atmosphere on my next shoot. πŸ™‚

Conan

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