The Korean Film Council and the Beijing Film Festival

The Hollywood Reporter this week, focuses on the Beijing Film Festival and the political situation involving the Korean Film Council, in which Korean film screenings have been cancelled. The tension allegedly evolved from the issue surrounding South Korean’s deployment of US defense system THAAD. What this ultimately means for the festival and for Korean films in the Chinese market at this time is unclear, however, there is room for speculation.

A senior VP at one of the Korean studios, states the following:

“The Beijing Festival is a very young event, with programmers constantly changing and rapports with international companies still being forged….We will have to see how the Shanghai International Film Festival will deal with Korean films. It will be a better barometer of the political situation, since it is a much more seasoned event with stronger ties with Korean companies.”

Waiting for the Shanghai festival makes sense, considering that the city itself in general, is more a “world city” than Beijing, and as a result, is more likely to have stronger business relations with foreign partners like Korea. Hopefully, the behavior of the Beijing festival is an isolated one. Due to it being China’s capital city it is logical to suspect that any political controversy would stem from government issues and affect large events like film festivals which bring in revenue, publicity, and tourism. If the ban continues with Shanghai, than fears of the situation being steeped in politics have been realized.

Jung Soo-jin, a Showbox representative, remains optimistic about the future of Korean films in Chinese markets despite the tension.

“We are continuing to work hard on developing our projects, which, unrelated to the diplomatic situation between South Korea and China, always take a long time. We are hoping they will bear fruit in the not-too-distant future — though given, of course, that the political situation will become better”

She does however, make an excellent point regarding audiences, which are the lifeblood of films:

“The worst case scenario would be Chinese audiences turning their backs on Korean content. Even if diplomatic ties smoothen, it would be much more difficult to win back audiences’ hearts.”

Even if piracy becomes an option, like Soo-jin suggests, while the films will be seen, it will be still be promoting illegal activity, which depending on perspective, is bad for business. That is a discussion for another time. For the moment, all anyone can do, is hope that the situation resolves itself and that Shanghai allows Korean films to be seen.

The Treatment: “The Lost City of Z”

KCRW’s The Treatment hosted by Elvis Mitchell, talks with James Gray, the director of “The Lost City of Z” a biographical adventure film that tells the story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who searches for a lost city in the jungles of Brazil. Most of the talk deals with Gray dealing with the subject matter of “The Lost City of Z”, a book by David Grann, specifically with Fawcett’s personality.

“He describes Fawcett in a wonderful way, enigmatic, not able to navigate, as he puts it, the messy maze of race as he was both progressive but also deeply prejudiced. And I found those contradictions very interesting because it gets to the core of what we might call a person’s identity and their sense of self”

He goes on to say that this kind of conflict is what makes for good movie-watching; and he is right. The question then is, given these circumstances, specifically with the main character being both a “progressive” and a “prejudiced bigot”, how will the film perform in the box office?

First and foremost, The Lost City of Z is an adventure film, a genre that almost invariably does well provided that the acting and story are on par, and the visual effect,s when applicable, are decent; so it should not have a problem with most people. However, there are always going to be certain individuals who turn immediately (and often times unnecessarily) to politics with films of this nature, especially when the main character is a white Englishmen who is a prejudiced in Brazil. Some appropriate context of course, is required, for the people who will be potentially rise eyebrows at this, will not bother to read the book or even listen to James Gray’s intentions. If it sounds like a cynical statement, it is, and for good reason- because it happens all the time.

James Gray goes on, here are some of the highlights of his point.

“A lot of things go into making us who we are as a culture…ours would be the idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all that…so if you are expressing the idea that is essentially the opposite of that, that the ability to change who you are and your destiny is very limited, it’s a terrifying idea…It is a very European idea.”

In a way, this is about perspective, for in all honesty, people outside of the United States do not care, at least as much, about such issues, and welcome the idea of predetermined destiny as a concept they are willing to accept, not because it is a form of indentured servitude, as some would believe, but because their ideas about the world and the way it works are different from America.

The Lost City of Z premieres on Friday, April 14th. The full podcast can be found at KCRW.com

The WGA Negotiations: the Art of Making the Deal

Deadline reports on the current WGA negotiations with the AMPTP, specifically the initial concerns which led to a strike authorization proposal. In an interview with one of the WGA negotiators, Chris Keyser, he explains how the negotiations are generally supposed to work and where things ultimately went wrong:

“The truth is that what needs to happen here is that we each get close to what our bottom lines are – what things we need to make this deal. And in doing that, we take things off the table, back and forth. The first week or so of the negotiations was a good conversation where we identified – and I say we, that means David Young, who’s our chief negotiator, and Carol Lombardini, who’s the companies’ chief negotiator – we identified, through signaling, which things matter to us in the long run – what we’re gonna need to make a deal. And then the sides begin to take things off the table. That’s a necessary part of the process.”

This back and forth negotiating, when due correctly, produces results that are mutually beneficial; which is why is it called negotiating. Words such as “winning” and “losing” do not apply in this scenario, for if one side loses, than both sides loose, if one side wins, both sides win. At least that’s the ideal. But because nothing is ideal, and negotiations with unions always have a way of favoring the bigger player in the onset, problems arise. In this case, the problems came about in terms of what the AMPTP took off the table and what they added on:

“Instead, they made a tactical move, which they’re allowed to do, in which they put stuff back on the table. They put stuff back on the table which they had taken off before. They added a rollback of health care, at the same time as not putting a single penny on the table for writers’ economic demands.”

This is not to say that AMPTP are the bad guys in this situation, for such distinctions are grossly unfair and generalized, especially in the world of business, where such emotion rarely exists in meaningful form. In response to these demands, the WGA has issued a strike authorization form, which no one wants. It is still hopeful that a reasonable deal can be made, but that will require some give and take for both sides in order to benefit. Neither party can afford to be greedy or modest; a healthy middle ground must be found in order for the negotiation to have any affect. This is common sense; something that both parties recognize, but somehow, despite knowing this, are unable to agree on the right path to take.

 

Screenwriting and Psychology

On March 28th, last Tuesday, John August and Craig Mazin of Scriptnotes dug through the archives and granted us with one of their most requested podcast episodes: Psychotherapy with Dennis Palumbo. The episode discusses many issues that screenwriters often have- writer’s block, procrastination, dealing with partnerships- in a way that is both personal and telling in regards to what it takes to become from the mental perspective.

Palumbo: “What I find very quickly in working with a patient who is struggling with writer’s block is that the issues are bound up in their personal lives”

“I think writer’s block is very similar to the development steps we go through as people…I think when you’re blocked, you’re about to make a growth spurt in your work.”

This kind of thinking, which is discussed in the first fifteen minutes of the podcast, is important to understand because it looks at the actual process of screenwriting from the standpoint not of a writer, but as a person who coincidentally writes. John, Craig, and Palumbo go on to define the difference between writer’s block and procrastination, signifying writer’s block as related to a full on stop of work brought on by a generalizing fear of failure,  rejection, and the thought of being completely unable to write. Procrastination on the other hand, is related to a specific project, in which the writer is stuck but is able to move on and approach the problem differently, rather than complete paralysis from the craft altogether.

Understanding the human mind is just as important as understanding how to write a screenplay for a scriptwriter, for if writers are unable to take care of themselves than nothing will ever get done, no ideas will ever emerge and everything in film and television will remain the same. The full discussion can be viewed at the Scriptnotes podcast website, it is highly recommended for everyone, regardless of profession.

 

The Netflix Ratings System

IndieWire posted an article early today detailing the upcoming changes to Netflix, specifically the rating system, that are set to appear sometime in April. While by no means a perfect analysis, neglecting for the most part the business side of the issue (i.e. why Netflix thought it would be a good idea in the first place), it does however, bring up some interesting points concerning the company and other streaming services like it such as Amazon.

Consider if you will, for your approval, the following excerpts:

“Five stars feels very yesterday now,” said Netflix VP of product Todd Yellin in a press briefing. He went on to suggest that star ratings hurt its business investments in catalogs of titles, noting that “bubbling up the stuff people actually want to watch is super important.”

“It{the new system} suggests that there’s no value in divisive material…By depriving viewers of the opportunity to broaden their range, Netflix denies an essential aspect of the maturation process for the critically engaged viewer”

The new rating system, which will be a thumbs up-thumbs down system reduces film selection on Netflix to the quality of a Facebook post or Twitter tweet and frankly, films regardless of overall quality, deserve better critical review than that- even from their audiences. Such an action is insulting to the viewer and belittles their intelligence to a four year old who doesn’t know any better. Netflix should treat their audiences as if they were their business partners (because they are) and let them decide for themselves what is good and bad and to what degree. Furthermore, to beat an already dead point into the ground, this rating system is especially insulting to the filmmakers, whose work has been reduced, for the sake of convenience to 50-50 chance.

“The thumbs up/down system has been a negative force in the critical landscape ever since Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert first applied it from the couch of their television show nearly 40 years ago…Over the years, however, this binary approach has encouraged reductive assessments that depressed the value of nuanced opinion. It’s that same impulse that has led to our current age of Rotten/Fresh polarities determining a movie’s fate with the ease of a flipped coin. By judging any culture through the limited range of binary possibilities, it’s always one step away from outright dismissal.”

This kind of behavior is not surprising from a company such as Netflix, or Amazon, or any of the streaming services. Through no fault of their own. These companies were brought up, as real competitors in the film industry, in an age when films began to mean less and less to the general audience. If it sounds cynical it’s because it is; if it sounds insulting, it is, but only because of its small nugget of truth at the time. It is not to say that film audiences today do not care about films, they most certainly do- but the companies, like Netflix and Amazon, seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

Hopefully, the rating system is just a fad that will eventually fade itself out; and if by some chance it doesn’t then it can only be hoped that audiences in April will be able to tell for themselves what makes a good film.

Scriptwriters and Social Media: Etiquette

Scriptnotes John August and Craig Mazin this week discuss whether or not screenwriters should use social media and how they should use it effectively. Craig makes the point that:

“On Twitter, people have to follow you. They have to choose to follow you.”

Craig goes on to give advice, tailored to writers, about how to use Twitter effectively. Some of his main points are:

  • Be clever
  • Be positively passionate
  • Promote sparingly and avoid “the walking billboard syndrome”. Craig notes that: “it is the worst way to use Twitter”
  • Don’t re-tweet other people’s promotions or praise.

Most of it comes down to online etiquette, basic rules of conduct that are normally used in every day life applied to the digital world; and this is worth mentioning for good reason. People, despite what others may think, do not respond to overt promotion, it is annoying and generally seen as a waste of time. This explains why so many people who talk to the industry  professionals tend to get shut out in given circumstances. The best way to get to know someone professionally, in some cases, is to know them personally. Does this work for everyone? Of course not. People are individuals and respond differently to content that is presented to them, so naturally the results, in theory, will be different each time.

Craig and John continue, talking about how to convey emotions through text.

Craig: “The things that I think tend to work well are honest expressions…If you are honest, and you are authentic, in the long run…you will be viewed positively. The worst of it is the lying. Humble bragging is not bad because it’s bragging, it’s bad because it’s false, because it’s manipulative”

“The counterpart to that is bravery complaining, it goes something like this: Some people clearly want me to believe that I’m not capable of telling this story but I am; I’m a writer. And I won’t be ignored….I don’t know anything other than this, that tweet was designed for people to say: we are behind you, you are amazing, don’t let anyone get you down…it helps no one but yourself.”

The issue that Craig presents is one that is all too common in the attitude of both the film industry and those currently studying film. So what does this ultimately mean for screenwriters who use technology? Be humble. Be clever. Talk to people as if they are people. If you do these things your online presence will improve and eventually start to grow.