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Posts Tagged ‘Spellbound’

Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me
Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

“Credit card debt is a major problem in America.”
Dave Ramsey
The Truth About Credit Card Debt


Americans love a good success story. We love good myths as well.  And the model of financing your film via credit cards has given us some wonderful success stories and a myth as well.  The truth is most credit card  filmmakers (99% would be a good guess) are like the one-legged dog that Springsteen sings about in The Wrestler—they leave with less than they had before. And the one thing worse than being broke, is being in debt.

The problem is we usually only hear the success stories. Robert Townsend was the first person I ever heard about who financed a feature film using credit cards. Back in 1987 Hollywood Shuffle was released and it launched his career.

“There was nothing I couldn’t get with a credit card. And what I couldn’t pay for with credit card I would get a cash advance on the credit card. I couldn’t pay people but I said, ‘I could put gas in your car.’ So I said, ‘All of you follow me to the gas station. I would tell the dealer, ‘See those 20 cars out there? Put it on my American Express.”
Robert Townsend
Jet magazine Jun 1, 1987

Kevin Smith’s Clerks is another film said to be funded on credit cards. Again, it launched a career. The documentary Spellbound was not only nominated for an Academy Award  but grossed over six million dollars and was funded by credit cards.

“We hit the road, using our credit cards to fund the project. Then we’d come home between shooting the film, pay down some of the debt and resume shooting,”
Spellbound producer Sean Welch in a Money magazine article.

So there you have three examples of success stories that solidify the myth of credit card filmmaking. But the truth is best summed up in a Charles Lyons 2005 article in The New York Times called Join a Revolution. Make Movies. Go Broke. Seriously, every filmmaker needs to read that article. Arin Crumley and Susan Buice were filmmaking darlings five years ago as their film Four Eyes Monsters was well received at film festivals and garnered lots of press. But the film did not find a distributor and left Crumley and Buice with $55,000.+ in credit card debt.

“It’s not O.K. for our film to have been mildly successful on the festival circuit. But otherwise, it was just a jaunt into the abyss and now we have financial hell to pay.”
Susan Buice (2005)

Filmmakers using credit cards to self-finance their films is another reason why Kelley Baker is The Angry Filmmaker;

“Too many people finance their films on credit cards, and they go broke! Their films end up not getting a distributor and they’re left paying 30% interest on a film that no one wants. Heed the words of noted financial consultant and former NBA player Charles Barkley, ‘Credit cards exist to keep poor people poor.’

DON’T USE YOUR DAMN CREDIT CARDS FOR ANYTHING!!!”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide

With that said, Four Eyed Monsters filmmakers Crumley and Buice got creative and kept finding ways to get people to see their film. One of them was in 2007 when their film became the first feature length film to be shown on You Tube. As I write this on October 29, 2010 there have been 1,256,401 views. They also made a plea on You Tube for people to join spout.com and that company would give Crumley and Brice $1 for each person who joins up to $100,000. Fast forward a few years and I read on the blog Distribution 2.0 that Crumley and Buice got $50,000. from the You Tube/Spout deal, and that exposure not only added DVD sales, but the online attention got them a $100,000 broadcast and rental deal. Does that add to the credit card myth or fall under the category of a crazy success story?

The entire film is linked below. (As a quirky side note, A few years ago I did a documentary shoot in Russia with DP Jon Fordham who was a cameraman on Four Eyed Monsters.)

Scott W. Smith


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“Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle.”
Ben Hecht

“The job of turning good writers into movie hacks is the producer’s chief task.”
Ben Hecht

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was born in 1894 just as moving pictures were being invented. Before he died in 1964 he worked on 70+ films and wrote many plays and books. He was the first screenwriter to ever win an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. He’s considered  one of the greatest screenwriters in the history of motion pictures.

Hecht was born in New York City and spent time on the lower east side before moving to Racine, Wisconsin. where his mother worked in downtown Racine. For those keeping score, Racine is not far from Kenosha, WI where Orson Welles was born.

After graduating from high school in Racine and briefly attending college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (for all of three days), Hecht went to Chicago where he eventually began working for newspapers (Chicago Journal and The Chicago Daily News). His first novel (Erik Dorn) was published in 1921. His Chicago-basedplay The Front Page was written in 1928 and was made into films several times. His time in Chicago covering murders and gangster would serve him well in Hollywood as those stories translated well to the big screen.

Jumping into the world of movies just as they were using sound, his script for Underworld was released in 1929 and earned him an Oscar award. He sometimes wrote a script in a matter of days and said that he never took longer than eight weeks. Scarface (1932) was written in nine days. He is quoted as saying of his screenwriting career that he was paid, “tremendous sums of money for work that required no more effort than a game of pinochle.”

He was called The Shakespeare of Hollywood but had this to say of his own career: “Out of the seventy movies I’ve written some ten of them were not entirely waste product. These were Underworld, The Scoundrel, Wuthering Heights, Viva Villa, Scarface, Specter of the Rose, Actors and Sin, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Nothing Sacred.
Ben Hecht

Some of the other movies he worked on (credited and uncredited) include:

Gunga Din
Notorious (Oscar Nominated)
Gone with the Wind
The Shop Around the Corner
His Girl Friday
Stagecoach
Angels Over Broadway (Oscar Nominated)
Viva Villa (Oscar nominated)

He won his second Academy Award for The Scoundrel (shared with Charles MacArthur). Because he sometimes used a pseudonym (partly because he was blacklisted in Europe) we’ll probably never know exactly how many novels, plays and movies Hecht actually wrote. But it’s safe to say that he cranked out his share of pages. Combine the tough-talking gangster persona Hecht carried with the rapid exchange found in His Girl Friday (based on Hecht/MacArthur play The Front Page) and it’s hard to think that Hecht didn’t pave the way for writers Joe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino.  (Eszterhas in his book Hollywood Animal called Hecht “the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood history.”

Later in life Hecht had his own TV talk show in New York City (you can find a weak interview he did with Jack Kerouac on You Tube) and was critical of the culture that American movies had helped produce:

“The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century….Of their many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them — as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people.”
Ben Hecht

What would he say of TV and the Internet today?

Scott W. Smith

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