Investing in The Film Industry: Day of The Spectacle
This is the second article about filmmaking, the first one discussed how to storytell in a way that will make the audience enjoy and get carried away by your film. This time around we will discuss the basics of how to draw the audience in through the different mediums involved in filmmaking.
As we mentioned before, investing in the film industry involves significant risk and is not for the faint of heart, however, there are things you can do to test a film’s potential viability by doing the right market research just like huge movie studios do.
Avatar 2 scorched through the box office by grossing over 2 billion Dollars; while at the same time, critics on YouTube and other platforms are baffled by the film’s success. They claim, it’s incredibly mediocre, too long, perhaps boring, and definitely not worthy of the attention it’s getting.
It’s very easy to go watch this massively distributed film and agree with the naysayers about the plot, while in fact, it’s being so successful for completely different reasons. It’s a Spectacle. Let’s digress for a little and take a look at films with less budgets and distribution that also enjoyed a similar formula:
The Contradiction of Blumhouse and Cannon:
Cannon was a production company that shined in the 70s and 80s, their biggest hits were characterized by low budgets and commercial genres. They weren’t known for their quality, but for their fun-oriented products that had multiple action / horror scenes. In a word, they made pulp and the art of cinema was campy at best.
Blumhouse Productions is a production company that’s shining now, their biggest hits are characterized by low budgets and commercial genres as well. But they’re known for their high quality, mostly horror, films. They strive to the highest echelons of scriptwriting, camera work, and overall top-notch product.
Remember that The Contradiction of Blumhouse and Cannon involves the level of quality between the two companies, but at the end of the day, they both attract you as a moviegoer. They’re both Spectacle-makers, they both understand what audiences want and that’s the key to entertainment.
So how I determine if a film has the potential of being a spectacle?
Use a small crowd as your litmus test, by attending a small social event or throwing a party. Do it once and you’ll see for yourself. Filmmaking is an extremely social event captured through a camera, the creative individuals involved all have skills that are deeply ingrained in their personalities, and are often easy to notice visually as well.
If you, as an investor, don’t have the instincts to test what’s good and what’s off, that’s fine. Use a room full of people, look at their reactions. Here are elements in film that are easy to test in such a way:
Testing the 4 elements in film that drive spectacles:
- Cinematography – show a short film or stills pictures made by the cinematographer, a good picture will make people say wow. Art galleries do exactly that, you enter into a room with a group of people to watch a painting from three hundred years ago, a painting that entire museums spend years preserving. Do exactly that, take a film by your cinematographer, or stills pictures, and show them to your audience. Talent proves itself.
- Actors – attractive and talented people often create gravity circles around them in rooms full of people, they perform without noticing. Mimicking, dancing, telling jokes, it comes natural to a performer. Make sure your actors make people turn their heads. The easiest way is to attend a theater play they are a part of; if that’s not an option, then ask for a reading with a small audience, or attend their acting class. Acting stands out, talent will make heads turn – with or without a million dollar production.
- Script – have a short reading or watch the writer tell the story to people, watch them being riveted and waiting for how it develops. My first article focused on the meat of any drama, the written word, I strongly recommend reading it. Make sure you have a strong story, that it’s not distracted by superficial elements (jets, bikinis, CGI) and that the catharsis is center stage.
- Editing – just like Frankenstein’s monster, editing doesn’t make sense unless your heart is truly in the story. Energy goes up and down, like waves, like music, and the editor takes hours of disjointed moments, puts them together, and boom an entire room of people is sitting on the edge of their chairs – carefully following any movement. Make sure to show people your editor’s work, in a similar fashion to your cinematographer, it will prove itself.
Let’s take films we all know, strip them of their stars and even great scripts, and emphasize other aspects that are a main attraction. When we say “wow, that film was amazing” what do we really focus on?
Two massive hits starring Keanu Reeves, both of which have the same crowd magnet: hyper-realism. In both Speed and Point Break, what we see really happens on screen. They jump out of planes, surf on huge waves, shave the sides of cars with a speeding bus and destroy property with massive real explosions. No nonsensical CGI, rubber-looking action sequences. This is a massive Spectacle.
The infamous Michael Bay, a director so well known that internet users have pinned him with his own genre called – “Bayhem”. No matter what the script throws at him, it will go absolutely nuts, the usual directions most films will take are out the window and people will go to see his on-screen madness.
Primer, by Shane Carruth, had no budget and no big names, but it had the envious hardcore sci-fi ability to analyze and bring forward real time-traveling science. Fans of the concept are to this day riveted by the sheer audacity of diving into a scientifically “realistic” time-travel movie.
The Coen Brothers’ first film had a relatively big budget but plenty of films have more money to spend. What they had was a solid thriller, an open end and a general weirdness to the whole experience. In a world of mundane products, weirdness can be a solid crowd magnet.
Every hit you’ve ever seen had several hooks that grabbed your attention, no matter how busy your day was, how tired you were just a second ago, and so on. A true Spectacle is immediate and immersive.
From an Investor’s point of view:
Remember that in case you don’t have a vivid artistic sense, you can still check most elements in a room full of people. Just like test screenings, you can do “production screenings”, and watch the people you’re thinking of investing in, do it live.
Every single element of your film can be alluring or a full blown Spectacle, of course it is a game of Tug of War with the budget you have, but a talented filmmaker with a good script can create a true work of art – with the right balance between artistic and commercial.
You, as an Investor, need to make sure your filmmaking team understands how to turn heads, how to create Spectacles, and then use that to turn your investment into profit.