Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Budgeting for Booze

Slowly and surely, the engine of Women's Studies is starting to burn faster and cleaner. Full-fledged pre-production is starting to rev up. If all stays on course, we should be making some major announcements soon.

There's been a shifting of focus here at Ningen Manga HQ from the business/legal aspects of production to more practical filmmaking concerns. I for one am happy that we're finding the ability to move into this direction. To me, the place where business and actual production start to marry is in the budget.

In independent film, the usual response when asked about budget is "What budget?" Trust me, I understand that sentiment. I've worked on and produced my fair share of "no-budget" films. However, with a feature, a budget starts to become a necessary evil. Really, there's nothing evil about it. It's just that most filmmakers hate dealing with budgets, present company included. Still, though it's usually a producer's job to keep track of the budget, the director is almost universally the one to get blamed if a film goes over budget. Therefore, it's a good idea for a director to know how to deal with them.

It could be said that film is recorded theatre. At it's most basic level, theatre is composed of four elements, actors, ideas, a place to perform, and audience. If you have these things, you can create theatre. Film can be similarly broken down, and when you're looking at budget it's good to consider four basic groups: personnel, equipment, locations, and script. Basically, to create a budget, you split these four groups down into smaller and smaller sub groups, all along the way figuring out a) what things are going to cost and b) how long you're going to need to use it.

I'll run through a quick, vague example.

Since I wrote the script, that one's pretty easy. Cost of script: $0. Wow, isn't making a budget easy?

Equipment. Let's see. I'll need a camera to shoot it on. And I'll need some stuff to record sound on. You know, microphones, maybe a mixer, definitely a boom pole. Editing equipment! I need that too.

Wait, let's just focus on one thing. How about that camera? We'll need lenses. And a tri-pod. Ooo, and I want a crane shot so we'll need a crane. Oh my god, I almost forgot media to record to! Does this camera use tapes or some weird new digital capture thingy? How much are those again? Hey, we're going to need cables and stuff to plug all this shit in. Wait, there's outdoor shots so we're going to need batteries, maybe even a generator. Oh shit, we'll need lights so we can see what we're shooting. And a gel kit for the lights to add color, also a dimmer board so we can control the lights. Gaffer tape! I always forget gaffer tape

Does anybody know how much all this stuff costs? What? I have to look it up myself? Shit. Well, I better get this list organized then.

Lens kit
Media (tapes or digital capture)

Basic lighting kit
Specialty lights
Gel Kit
Dimmer Board

Gaffer tape

(*Always have a little extra money ready for shit you've forgotten about. Trust me. You've forgotten something.)

Now, I took equipment and broke it down into three basic categories: Camera, Sound, and Editing. Then I broke Camera Dept. down into three more categories: Camera, Lighting, and Electric. From there, I listed things that would be needed that will probably cost money. Each of those items could be broken down even further if I wanted. For example, I could list off each cable type and how many I'll need. Does that seem anal retentive? Take a look at a budget for a big Hollywood film. (Actually don't, there's probably some pretty interesting bookkeeping going on with some of these films, though I'm sure very penny spent on every cable is accounted for somewhere.)

To figure out what things cost, you have to do the research. You're either going to rent or buy. If you're buying, you budget in only the purchase cost. If you're renting, you need to know the rental cost (either per day or per hour) and how long you're going to need it for?

How do figure out how long you'll need it for? Funny you should ask since that's just the cluster-fuckery of shite I'm currently buried in.

It's in that script. You know, the only thing that costs $0. First you have to break it down. (See this blog.)

Once the script is broken down, you and your DP decide exactly what the specific needs for an individual scene may be. For example, you may decide that you need to shoot three days in one location, but only need the crane for one. However, you need the tri-pod for two and the dolly for two, but on two different days. Wait though, that's scheduling, not budgeting . . . though it is sort of is budgeting too. Isn't it?

Booze. We budgeted for booze, right?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Live Nude Girls!

This past weekend, I was talking to some friends about Women's Studies. One of them who, yes, was male asked, "Is there going to be any T&A in this movie?" (In case you were raised on an asteroid, T&A is an acronym for "tits and ass.")

It's not the first time I've been asked the question. Far from it. In fact as soon as I tell most males I'm making a film about killer feminists, the nudity question is usually the first one out of their mouths. How's that for thousands of years of evolution, ladies? The mere mention of "hot chicks with knives" sends us into a tizzy of ecstasy.

The issue of nudity in horror films is one that's been debated by fans and critics alike for years. The general consensus is that there's too much gratuitous nudity in horror. Even fans of the genre admit it's so. The problem is that for horror's target audience (18 to 35-year-old males), sometimes the fact that there's a bit of T&A is the only consolation for sitting through a particularly bad and not very scary movie. The attitude is often "Well, the effects were childish, the acting horrendous, and the story non-existent, but at least I got to see a few nice racks."

Again ladies: How far we've come.

Remember though, horror is more popular now than it ever has been. In past years, the selling point for these films were that they crossed the taboo lines set by "normal" social values. People went to see the things that they didn't see in everyday life, sex and death being the two biggest draws throughout history. Also, horror films were (and still are) targeted at teenagers, who while pretty much thinking about sex all the time, are dissuaded by just about everyone around them from doing it.

(And despite sexuality being a much larger part of mainstream American culture today than in the 1960s and 1970s, stats will support my saying that most American teenagers aren't engaging in actual sexual intercourse until the age of seventeen or beyond.)

Women's Studies deals with sexuality on a lot of different levels, from infidelity to the personal ethics of abortion to not so vague hints of lesbianism between various characters. In fact, I'd even go as far to say that sex is always just below the surface in the story. There's sex a plenty in Women's Studies, though how titillating it all may be will be up for debate. Among cast and crew the big nudity debate has revolved around the opening scene where three guys visit a strip club and get a little bit more than they bargained for.

First, a point I think is relevant: I'm making this film in America where the views on sex are much more conservative than in many other parts of the world. (Remember, we're a country founded by Puritans.) If this film was being made in Europe, where attitudes toward sex are far more liberal, there would be in all likelihood no discussion about nudity. However, many American audiences and actors aren't as comfortable with it.

Personally, I'm not prudish at all when it comes to sex and nudity on film. My philosophy towards it is that if graphic sexuality is necessary to the integrity of the scene and/or film, then it's imperative that it's there. On the flip side, where both sex and violence are concerned, in many cases I'm from the "less is more" school of thought. Sometimes, what you don't see is made sexier or more horrifying by the imagination.

The question then becomes one of when is nudity and sex is necessary and when it's simply gratuitous. In all likelihood, the answer is one dependant upon personal taste, but let's look at a few examples that illustrate different degrees anyway.

I could pick any number of films to show nudity being used gratuitously , but let's look at a scene from Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning since most Friday fans feel the entire movie is gratuitous. (I actually think there are a few admirable aspects to the film, though I'm very aware that I'm in the minority among horror fans.) In this scene, a woman is in a diner bathroom getting ready for a date. For no discernable reason, she turns to the mirror, exposes her breasts to herself and yells, "It's Showtime." While she has a fine pair of breasts, her exposing them does nothing to tell us anything deeper about her character. (At this point, we've already seen enough to tell us she's a self-centered airhead.) Nor does it move the story forward in any way. The breast flash is only there for pure titillation.

Here's one open for interpretation: In the film version of Cold Mountain, the two main characters, played by Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, have been pining for each other while Law has been off fighting in the Civil War. When they're finally reunited, director Anthony Minghella decided to give us a fairly long, explicit scene of the two making love. While I thought the sex scene was hot as hell, I also felt it was gratuitous and ill-conceived. I feel this way because throughout the film, Law and Kidman have spoken of of a deep, resounding love for each other and the emphasis on the sex seems to strip that love of some of it's power by reducing their desire to one more lustful than truly intimate. Secondly, what does Law's hand shoved up Kidman's pussy tell me about their relationship that I didn't know before?

I'm sorry, was that language a little too gratuitous?

Now, I don't think the explicit love scene between Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is gratuitous at all. It illustrates that these two people are thrilled by the prospect of danger and control. (He's an art stealing billionaire. She's the investigator hired to figure out who's stealing priceless works of art. Oh, and they just met.) Also, it's brief and shot in a manner that makes your mind do much of the sexual heavy lifting. (Russo stands in the foreground as her dress drops to the floor with Brosnan looking on in the background. Their sex on a staircase is shown from an overhead wide shot.) One could try to argue that the scene isn't needed to tell the story. However, I feel the scene is important to the character's relationship as the story unfolds. The fact that they've slept together is what complicates their motives later in the film. (He wants to steal more art. She's supposed to stop him.)

Have I dodged the question of whether or not there will be nudity in Women's Studies? I haven't meant to. However, I will say that since the film is dealing with sexual politics, I'm vary aware of the ways I will or will not use nudity. So, rather than answer, I'll leave you with a related question to ponder:

Does it truly matter whether or not there is nudity in Women's Studies?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Herr Direcktor

It's funny. The whole filmmaking blog thing is an experiment that I kind of just started on a whim. There's never really been much rhyme or reason to it. Rather, whatever I happen to be feeling on a particular week gets spewed up onto Al Gore's interweb.

While I feel it's been successful so far, I'm always just the tiniest bit nervous about it. I'm not sure what people do and don't want to know about this project. Thankfully I have a good friend, Andrew Gifford, who I can bounce ideas off of. Like me, he's in charge of his own company which deals with the arts. In his case, he publishes long fiction. (You can get information about his company, The Santa Fe Writer's Project, at www.sfwp.com. ) So, because I trust Andrew, I asked him, "What are things you're interested in knowing about through the blog?"

He said, "You. Your inspirations, your personal journey. How you got to Women's Studies?"

While it wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for, I realized that I never really took the time to properly introduce myself, though anyone can go to www.lonniemartin.com and read my bio. I get a little weird talking about myself because I'm deathly afraid of coming off like a pretentious prick, or worse, a complete idiot.

Anytime I try to tackle the idea on my own, I end up starting my friggin' memoirs, Therefore, I enlisted the help of Women's Studies co-producer and star, Cindy Marie Martin to ask the questions and keep me in check. She was a broadcast journalism major, so I expect I'll get the full Barbara Walters treatment.

# # #

So, Lonnie, what is a little thing in life that makes you happy?

Little things are just about all that make me happy: a warm cat in my lap. Seeing an old couple holding hands . . . that kind of thing. While Big things can create strong emotions, pure happiness usually isn't one of them.

What about creatively? Where do you see yourself in five years that would make you happy, artistically?

Am I still interviewing for the director job? Ultimately, I'd like to be in a place where I can keep making films and exploring the ideas I've brushed the surface of with First Session, Under the Bed, and now Women's Studies. That doesn't mean "rich and famous" in the least. But to be able to make these smaller films, yet keep evolving as a writer and filmmaker, AND have it pay my bills would be nice.

What ideas, specifically, are you itching to explore further? First Session touched on betrayal and murder, Under the Bed, rape and betrayal, and Women's Studies runs the gamut from terrorism to feminism! All related and if I may say, you deal more with the human journey involved in a situation than the situation itself. Are the journeys shown in these three projects connected in any way with one project flowing into the other or are they all their own beast?

I think the three movies are three different plays on the same theme: the relationship between love and fear, emotional concepts which manifest themselves physically as sex and death. I'm interested in the grey areas where love and fear, sex and death meet. In First Session, I dealt with some very dark consequences of infidelity. Under the Bed was more about how somebody deals psychologically with sexual trauma, or any sexual experience really. Both of those ideas work their way into Women's Studies, which illustrates in a lot of different ways how love can be used against someone to create fear. That's kind of vague, but I don't want to give anything away.

Why the fascination with sex and death? Traumatic childhood? Spurned lover? You seem so well adjusted. And does that mean you yourself have a jaded view of love?

You mean sit on your couch, doctor, and show you on the My Little Pony where Uncle Charlie touched me when I was seven? Honestly, I have no idea where my fascination comes from. It's just how my mind works. I believe all emotions we feel stem from one of two places, a place of love or a place of fear. Hope, joy, goodwill, optimism; these all come from love. Hate, racism, rage, pain; these are created from fear, usually a fear borne of ignorance. We fear what we don't understand. As I said before, the physical manifestation of fear is death. We fear death because we don't know what comes after. Zen Buddhists believe all we do in this life prepares us for the next one. It's a philosophy built upon preparing to die. So, I guess my obsession with death is borne from a desire to understand it . . . and I believe love is a key to getting to the next life instead of coming back to live out this one.

Sounds remarkably well adjusted actually. Now, there's obviously an underlying vibe of horror to all of your recent work. Why attack these socially relevant and universal themes within the context of the horror genre? (And can we ever expect a nice romantic comedy?)

Well, horror is good for allegory, because once you've screamed, laughed, thrown your popcorn, and made out with your best girl, you can lean back and ask yourself, "What was I really scared of?" At the same time, you can't get too caught up in your "big ideas." The main point of making a horror film is the great pleasure I take in scaring the hell out of people. As far as a romantic comedy goes, I actually have a soft spot for a good love story. I loved The Notebook. While I'll probably never go the Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Nora Ephron rom-com route, I'd like to do a love story someday. Hell, Women's Studies in it's own way is a sort of non-traditional, tragic love story.

So, you love to scare people! You're a great host and entertainer: anyone who knows you can attest to that. "Lonnie, the life of the party." So, does the reason you love to scare others have anything to do with the joy you take in being scared yourself? "Entertain others with what best entertains you," if you will? (As your wife, I can vouch that I've seen more horror films since meeting you than in all the 23 years prior.)

Probably. To me, the joy of being scared by a horror movie is the relief and affirmation of life I experience when the credits roll. It's like, "That was pretty bad, but at least it's make believe. I'm still here." People shouldn't be afraid to embrace the darkness. There's a lot to be learned by trying to see what's hidden in the shadows.

Do you ever just set back and relax? This all sounds so serious and intellectual.

I'm mister mellow. Just because my mind is always working doesn't mean I'm stressing about the world. I've tried to master the art of letting go, and I think for the most part, I do pretty good.

Lonnie MartinCINDY:
What's your favorite thing to do to unwind?

Heh. Watch horror movies.

Well that says it all, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Business Time

So, I almost forgot abut the blog this week. I know. I know. You feel betrayed and neglected. How could I disregard your feelings in such a manner? I guess I'm simply an insufferable prick.

I want to take the time and squelch two rumors. The first is that I never had sex with a transvestite named Simone in Bali. We just had a few drinks, he/she and I shared a laugh, and maybe made out a little bit. Money might have been exchanged too, but I was too drunk to remember.

The second is the notion that Women's Studies is on it's death bed. In fact, it's still very much alive and well, and the project is slowly but surely moving forward. Between the lack of hard news and my announcement that I was writing the Deadlands 2 screenplay a couple weeks ago, more than one person asked me if the project was a no-go. "Posh," I say. "Pish-posh-pa-doo!"

I know I say, "Things are moving behind the scenes," quite a bit. Those privy to Hollywood-speak may choose to interpret this to be producer bullshit along the lines of "I've a variety of projects in development" or "I'll call you and we'll get things rolling." However, it should be taken into account that I'm a terrible liar. Really, I'm honest to a fault. It's actually cost me friendships. While it's been said that honesty is the best policy, I think Forrest Gump's mama was probably right when she told him that a little white lie wouldn't hurt anybody.

"Things are moving behind the scenes" is me-speak for, "There are various negotiations going on that would be unethical of me to talk about in public," which means they involve money and/or people's reputations or involvement in the project.

Now, I'm not trying to build up any big, sexy secrets here. I'm just saying that there are aspects of the production that I don't talk about publicly because it would be unprofessional to do so. At the stage of development Women's Studies is in right now, we're simply doing a lot of "wheeling and dealing."

For example, while I do a lot of "Filmmaking 101" type articles in this blog, one thing I don't talk about is how I've gone about raising money for the project. I have this policy to protect both our investor's privacy and the integrity of Lady Killers, LLC, the business entity financing the project. (I also have the policy for a shitload of legal reasons.)

Again, there's no dark secret here. Our method of raising funds is no ancient, black, Masonic ritual in the least. It's just our business and no one else's. I would tell anyone interested in learning how feature films can be financed to pick up John W. Cones aptly titled book, 43 Ways to Finance Your Feature Film.

Also, it would be imprudent and unprofessional of me to announce any cast members or locations that we're in talks with before a deal is made. First, the deal could fall through and then I look like an idiot. Secondly, acting like a pretentious dick and telling everyone that "OMG, Britney Spears is going to be in our movie," before Britney has actually agreed to be in our movie could cause Britney to question the professionalism of the people she's considering working with.

(For the record, we HAVE NOT and WILL NOT be talking to Britney Spears about appearing in Women's Studies. It was an outrageous example used in a desperate attempt to be funny.)

If all of this sounds unsexy, welcome to show business. Yeah, I know. I thought it was going to be all cocaine and hookers too, but that's just Hollywood-Speak.