We didn't get into "Pieces

by francine Hardaway on January 24, 2003

We didn’t get into “Pieces of April,” but it’s been sold to a distributor and we’ll see it in theatres. So we went to the Sundance Digital Center, where we played with all the new equipment available to filmmakers. For about $10,000 anyone can get a SONY digital camcorder that’s almost professional, and a Sony Vaio multimedia PC system with Avid editing software. Then all you have to have is talent. For most film people, using the software is a new skill; for someone familiar with software and technology, it looked pretty simple.

I can’t believe the studio system hasn’t already gone away. Certainly it will, as for most dramatic and documentary films anyway it is a fantastic waste of money. We participated in a panel about the making of “Pieces of April,” which was financed by a company called Indigent Productions– the company that made “Tadpole” and “Personal Velocity,” two hits from last year’s Sundance. The film, one of the most talked about at the Festival, was shot on digital video in two weeks. It had a scaled down crew, and the cast took backend participation. The financier, Micah Green of ICF, said that with the Indigent model, actors and actresses actually get checks from their backend participation (as opposed to most studio films, in which their is no backend — it’s eaten up in expenses.) This seemed to him like some sort of New Age miracle.

Historically, “backend participation” in Hollywood is a way producers have of taking advantage of talent. To me, the new model is similar to that of tech startups, in which people always accept lower salaries in return for options. When I asked Micah if this was analogous in his mind, he said it wasn’t, because most technology company stock becomes worthless as the companies go out of business before the stock becomes valuable. His view is pretty jaundiced about tech companies. I told him he was wrong; another woman in the audience burst out laughing and said she had put her kids through college and bought a house with her stock options. As a matter of fact, the most money I ever lost was investing in a film deal. Most films don’t even get finished, let alone sold, let alone seen by enough people to make them profitable.

This, to me, is just another example of how Hollywood and Silicon Valley don’t talk and don’t understand each other. Everything Indigent said about its model was familiar to me, a woman who has never made a movie. The panelists spoke bravely about how the line producer called in favors to get catering at lower cost; I don’t think they realized how lean and mean most businesses must operate.

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