Photo: A still from the Hollywood movie 'Open Water'
There was a time when every aspiring actor and filmmaker used to go to Los Angeles to pursue his or her dream. It was here Arnold Scawizinegger from Austria, Orson Welles from Wisconsin, James Cameroon from Ontario, and other biggies from all over the world made their mark into the Hollywood walk of fame.
However, times are changing nowadays, even faster than a blink of our eyes. It really doesn't matter whether you live in the mountainous Shar Khumbu in Nepal or the cosmopolitan Hollywood district of Los Angeles as long as you are aware of what goes into the art of filmmaking. Yes, every Tashi and Bakdo can be a filmmaker these days. All you need is to write an interesting story, be able to push some of your bewildered friends in front of the palm sized HD camera, edit the footages on your living room desktop, and then add some music to enhance the story. After all, Chris Kentis (Open Water), David Lynch (Inland Empire), Hubert Taczanowski (Tadpole) and Pema Tsetan (Old Dog) had proven it already with their digital productions. Particularly ‘Open Water’ shot with the SONY prosumer camcorder at the shoestring budget of US $ 130,000 end up generating more than 54 million Dollars at the box office.
With the advent of digital cinematography and user friendly, non-linear editing software, the whole aspect of filmmaking is revolutionizing nowadays. Your image quality could be far better than what the heavy weight professionals used to generate in the past. Now, we already have 4K whose image quality rivals even that of the 35mm and these are pretty much available on Best Buy shelves. The opportunities are immense and it has never been a better time to make a movie than now. I still remember the day when I screened our second feature film- Richard Gere is My Hero on big screen at the University at Buffalo, New York in 2007 where my Professors and students were impressed by the resolution generated by the Standard Def. DVX 100. Yes, we shot the whole film on MiniDV, as HD was a luxury by then. However, let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the imagery and the resolutions are the lone factor that determines the success or failure of a film. It is the story that drives audiences to the theater and not the technicals. Otherwise, I will be already living in a nice mansion in the Berkeley hills overlooking the golden gate in the distant horizon, right?
Being exiled Tibetans, the films also serve as an important tool to highlight our issue around the world. For instance, filmmaker Tenzin Sonam and Ritu Sarin's 'The Sun Behind the Clouds' received immense attention to Tibet and our cause when they screened their work at the 2010 Palm Spring and numerous film festivals. This is just one example.
Another great news is that all the major film festivals including the mighty Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Busan, Tribeca, and Cannes who earlier accept only celluloid works now consider as well as screen films on digital realms. On the down side, competitions are always fierce when there is already a large pool of filmmakers trying their luck in the game. You really have to have a rock solid film if you want a major distributor for your film. Therefore, my earlier suggestion of pushing your bewildered friends in front of the camera may not be a great idea, but everyone has to begin somewhere, right?
Now, how are you going to promote your film? Again, your living room desktop and the already excited friends have an important role to play. Design a simple and informative website that tells many interesting things about your movie. Make an impressive trailer (I think the pilot is even better) and ask your friends to share it on various social media, but not to the point that people start hating your movie even before it is released. Send your film to various film festivals and get it reviewed by someone who writes well. Believe it or not, buzz carries more weight than the contents. If your movies carries no buzz, your film will most likely end up on your computer's hard drive for the rest of your life. I had learnt this lesson from our own film- RGMH when the netflix panel watched it and shown interest to distribute on their site but turned down only because of lack of buzz.
Once you've generated enough buzz about your movie, it is now the time to distribute your film. But neither you have any idea, nor an agent to represent your work in the shark market and for that matter you didn't have any distributor, right? No problem. You could distribute your film by yourselves without engaging these intermediaries by relying on the Amazon, Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube and cable based VOD (Video on Demand) nowadays. In fact, all the major studios are making money from these micro outlets and not from the traditional theaters where distributors and exhibitors (theater owner) take the largest pie of the revenue.
Another most important factor to monetize your work is none other than lowering your cost of production. Yes, keep your budget to a minimum. Money you spend doesn't necessarily reflect on your screen. But, don't even think of starving your poor cast and crew, as they are the backbone of your project.
This pretty much sums up how to make a movie and succeed in the digital era. I wish you good luck in becoming another Chris Kentis by making your version of 'Open Water' right from your living room.