Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Disco Ball Is Just Hanging By A Thread

I'd like to ring in 2010 by giving a quick shout-out to my pal, Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula.  Quite a few years ago now myself and some pals ran a site called Microcinema Scene which dealt with the emerging grassroots DV movement.  At that time we got probably 5 to 10 tapes and DVDs a week from all kinds of filmmakers from backyard horror directors to true auteurs.

But there was nothing quite like Red Cockroaches, a Shakespearean-sized sci-fi epic shot in NYC for $2,000 that looked like two million (with a priceless storyline too baroque to go into here). We realized then that we had found microcinema's first true rising star.

In 2004 I was a judge at Microcinema Fest in Rapid City, South Dakota, as well as taught video workshops at the Dahl Arts Center with Boston-area filmmaker Jason Santo. Santo connived to get Red Cockroaches screened at the Fest, which basically blew the face off of Mt. Rushmore and the minds of everyone in a several-mile radius. But I did Jason one better by conniving to share a dorm room with Miguel at National American University during the Fest.

Ah, how young and full of hope we were then; I was just getting going as a screenwriter in the direct-to-DVD market with Among Us hitting the shelves and Miguel had just finished his first major feature. And today, Miguel has a movie playing at Sundance and I...well, perhaps it's better to dwell on the success of friends.

Strangely, it has been almost ten years since I gave myself, on my 34th birthday, one year to break into screenwriting. And every year on my birthday I take stock and decide whether I want to keep going one more year.

In between, I was hired to write or re-write twenty screenplays: PLAYER IN THE GAME (Myriad Entertainment Group), MECHANIZER (Sterling Entertainment), AMONG US (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), BURNING GROUNDS OF THE UNDEAD (Polonia Brothers Entertainment/Intercoast), PETER ROTTENTAIL (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), RAZORTEETH (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), GIZZARD GUTS (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEMONS ON A DEAD END STREET (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), DEAD LAKE (for producer Bob Dennis), SEX MACHINE (Asphalt Planet), THE PAYBACK MAN (for producer Ivan Rogers), DEAD KNIGHT (Cine Excel), COWBOY (for producer Terrence Muncy), SPLINTERHEAD (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), PRIMAL (Sterling Entertainment), NEW JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (Polonia Brothers Entertainment), MENTAL SCARS (for producer Richard Myles), and three scripts under nondisclosure.

Twenty screenplays in ten years has a nice ring to it, really.
You can buy or rent or see on TV or see at a film festival six of these (MENTAL SCARS just came out this December on DVD). They are on Amazon and Netflix and ebay and available in dollar bins on DVD double features.
One other came out without any of my rewrite. One I think is still stuck in post-production. Two started shooting but never finished. The rest...well, you just never know what might happen.
Somewhere in there I found time to write a few specs, including HANDS DOWN, ONIBOCHO THE DEMON KNIFE, RING OF THE SORCERESS, ROOK, and my modern dress/original prose adaptation of Shakespeare's TIMON OF ATHENS (yes, you read that right). Three of those five have had interest at one time or another, but nothing has really happened on them to date.
For aspiring screenwriters, that's right; nobody has ever bought one of my specs, which I mostly wrote for fun anyway.
I have been proud of everything that left my keyboard and I have never used a pseudonym, two things I promised myself I would hold to all those years ago.
Part of the reason I haven't blogged much lately is that on 2009's birthday I just flat didn't know what to do next.
I took a lot of 2009 off from freelancing. I had done it once before, for the entire year of 2006, when a lot of personal and professional changes warranted it. This year, I changed jobs again and thought I would take six months off, which more or less turned into a year when I turned down two mockbusting jobs knocking off TWILIGHT and 2012. The good thing is that every time I take some time off there are still people that want me when I come back.
Way back in 1999 I thought the direct-to-DVD market was going to blow up and need content in the same way that the rise of mom and pop video stores launched the VHS boom a decade or so before. So I was able to position myself to be there when that was needed.
When I started seeing the grassroots DV movement taking off, I was lucky to be able to turn it not only into freelance work but an actual job. But about a summer ago I declared that grassroots DV was dead and it was time to usher in the next incarnation if I could only figure out what that was.
I spent a lot of time looking into social media and certain interesting not only philosophical but technological trends, such as the idea of truly free information and entertainment (like via Creative Commons). Strangely, I worked so hard at it as a freelancer that I got myself another real job doing it and all of a sudden was talking to other people about it.
I am still thinking about what that next-gen model is and how I can get involved in it as a freelancer. If 2010 brings less talk about rubber-suited monsters and more on these philosophical subjects, I apologize in advance. It will take something special or of great interest to me to keep doing what I have been doing for the past ten years on the freelance front. But time will tell.
Give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.


Jim said...

Hey, John-

Do you have a Roku box? If not, you might want to pick one up as that might be the new direction you are thinking about.

Roku now offers easy distribution for smaller scale projects than its original Netflix or (a little later) Amazon rentals. There are now channels for blip.tv and the Media Fly aggregation channel makes it possible to syndicate almost anything directly to your TV... for less than $100 on the consumer side.

Reportedly, Leo Laporte, a long standing tech guru, has built up a podcast network that is now raking in over a million a year. He has a partnership deal (as does the Revision 3 network) with Media Fly to provide branded channels to the Roku box. It's really pretty amazing when you start thinking of the implications. As a household, the Roku and Netflix discs have taken over our TV watching. If we're not watching something on Netflix streaming, we're renting a movie from Amazon streaming, or checking out the latest episodes of Scam School or Cnet's Mailbag.

Could a well written, decently produced show done on the cheap and funded through unobtrusive advertising deals hold the same promise for creative individuals that are not in the mainstream showbiz scene?

Some are banking on it. As another example, check out The Guild. This indie produced show now has full sponsorship and a decent budget... and its funny. My wife watches every episode even though she isn't part of the gamer audience that is its main target. You can currently watch it online (I'm working on wiring it up through my Media Fly account) or on Xbox Live's video offerings when they are released.

Anyway. Just some thoughts.

Pete Bauer said...

That's an interesting summary :) I'm glad Miguel continues to do well for himself. I, too, was blown away by Red Cockroaches. I remember reading that, when he shot that film, he never used the same shot twice. So, if he had a dialogue scene between two characters, every time he showed each character talking, it was always a slightly different shot or angle.

I've tried to figure out the whole future model thing, but I realized that, for me, it was better to just focus on content. No matter how the end delivery method will be determined, they're still going to need content.

So, that's been my focus.

If I was 10 years younger, I'd try to be the next David O. Selznick of the 2010s. But, I'm not and I won't. So, I'll continue to write and shoot in the niche market for which I am devoting my time, which is the Christian film market.

John Oak Dalton said...

Good thoughts, guys, thanks.

Amit said...

Thats awesome news about Miguel. I owe him a mail now. And you forget to put 'Urameshiya' as one of the spec scripts that didn't go anywhere. It might some day - who knows? We all live in hope. :-D

As far as content is concerned - time for grass roots people to up their game with content while finding a way not to be exploited by middle men who end up making all the money. I am still trying to figure that one out myself.

jessie said...

i was just wondering, is "a disco ball hanging by a thread" an idiom? does it mean anything?

John Oak Dalton said...

It's from that cheezy Owl City song, but seemed oddly, sadly appropriate.