December 27, 2006

Haxan’s Indie Hell

by Andrew Stern · , 2:21 am

As we’re talking about the challenges of getting a commercial indie production off the ground, I thought I’d link to these (1 2 3 4 5) posts from Eduardo Sanchez of Haxan, co-creator of the 1999 indie film mega-hit The Blair Witch Project, that cost $22,000 to produce and earned an estimated $250 million at the box office.

The 5 posts are about the nightmare they’re going through with their follow-up project, Altered:

I mean, how can you go from one of the biggest INDIE successes of all time to a straight-to-DVD release? How?

Now that’s scary.

4 Responses to “Haxan’s Indie Hell”

  1. Jason Scott Says:

    What, exactly, is so scary about going direct to DVD? What is so scary about having hours of presentation time (much more than you could hope to have in any theatre) at your disposal, plus alternate angles, cuts and programming that would never have been available just 10 years ago?

    Why are people still brainwashed that only a theatrical release represents the One True Form that all cinematic presentations have to take? At this point the widest, most massive theatre releases end up in roughly 3,500 locations, dump hundreds of millions of money into the gamble, and result in an astoundingly low percentage for the creator of the film. Meanwhile, over 80 percent of all homes have DVD players, all ready to take in the best you have to offer them.

    While I cringe at the bringing in of producers and film companies at all, in this case, the filmmakers got weeks of time at a top flight recording studio, the funding for the film, and a budget which at no point garners complaint though all five postings. At the end of this, the people paying for it decided not to go ahead. In television, this would be the end of ever seeing ALTERED again; it would literately go to the vaults forever. Here, they get the chance to have to go out into the wide world, right into homes, and find the audience they’re convinced it has.

    There is no tragedy here. There is no reason to be sad here. There is just a delusional view of what makes a film “worth it” to be done, coupled with an apparent derision of a perfectly excellent and flexible viewing format.

  2. SS Says:

    The response to your response, Jason, is simple – Most filmmakers don’t want to see the result of their blood, sweat, and tears (and if they’re truly independant, a lot of their money), be primarily viewed by an audience member on a 20 some odd inch screen when they’re only half paying attention, and pausing on a regular basis to take phone calls, check their e-mail, or they have siblings/parents/roommates walking in on them and talking to them. Films are supposed to be an experience. Being confronted with something, in an environment where you can’t stop or pause it, where you can’t (but you might anyway) ask questions about it to the people your sitting with, in other words – where you give up control, is what going to the movies is all about. An experience no one is going to get at home. The problem with theatrical releasing is not the cost. When it all comes down to it, to TRULY put a film in a theater, it doesn’t cost that much. But studios have bought into the idea that every film needs a huge marketing budget (most of these budgets are close to, if not exceeding of, the original budget of the film). Little Miss Sunshine had almost no press on its initial release, yet it was one of the more popular “indie” films of the year. Which goes to show that you don’t need a multi-million dollar budget to open a film (You just need a good film).

    I love film, and have seen a lot of films on DVD. But if you ask me, the best thing to do would be to get rid of DVD altogether, and bring back the two or even three for one Bargain movie theaters, dollar movie theaters and grindhouses. There’s nothing like seeing a film on the big screen, because, like I said, it’s all about giving up control, and letting yourself take the ride. I don’t take ride when I watch a DVD, and for me, that is what’s so scary about going straight to DVD – The fact that if I ever do get to make a feature, I may never get to take anyone else on a ride.

  3. andrew Says:

    This week’s New Yorker has a great article on this exact topic, by the magazine’s lead movie critic, David Denby.

    In a theatre, you submit to a screen; you want to be mastered by it, not struggle to get cozy with it. Of course, no one will ever be forced to look at movies on a pipsqueak display—at home, most grownups will look at downloaded films on a computer screen, or they’ll transfer them to a big flat-screen TV. Yet the video iPod and other handheld devices are being sold as movie-exhibition spaces, and they certainly will function that way for kids. According to home-entertainment specialists I spoke to in Hollywood, many kids are “platform agnostic”—that is, they will look at movies on any screen at all, large or small. Most kids don’t have bellies, and they can pretzel their limbs into almost any shape they want, so they can get comfortable with a handheld device; they can also take it onto a school bus, down the street, into bed, cuddling it under the covers after lights-out.

    The movies currently offered by Apple and other downloading services are the first trickles of a flood. Soon, new movies will come pouring through the Internet and perhaps through cable franchises as well, and people will look at them on screens of all sizes. For those of us who are not agnostics but fervent believers in the theatrical experience, this latest development in movie distribution is of more than casual interest.

  4. Eduardo Sanchez Says:

    The “tragedy” isn’t that my film went straight-to-DVD, it’s that it followed THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Before BW, this would’ve been the greatest accomplishment of my professional career. But expectations are a bitch, especially mine, and I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. Add to that the little marketing muscle UNIVERSAL put into the ALTERED DVD and you can begin to understand where I’m coming from with this.

    And while I do share the love of watching films in theaters and hope some of my future films will be shown on the big screen, I have two young kids at home and I wouldn’t be able to watch 95% of the films I watch if it weren’t for DVDs. I have a big screen TV, a comfortable couch and a nice sound system and I honestly don’t miss going out that much.

    Also, as a filmmaker, the straight-to-DVD and on-line distribution market is especially attractive because it begins to cut out the studios’ strangle-hold on the distribution chain. You can now make your film and sell it on DVD to a world-wide audience with no studio involvement at all. That’s pretty exciting.

    Thanks for the discussion.


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