Opinions

Opinions

Me Too, You Too, we all do… let’s not.


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It’s been a year to remember. Starting with #MeToo campaign and the fall of Harvey Weinstein, followed by the demise of Kevin Spacey and so many others, the tables have truly turned in the film business. Women have stepped up, even some men, who have clearly spoken out about the dark side of the film business, in a manner we haven’t heard or seen before. It started in USA, and has been popping out in many Western countries. Unfortunately, the East is still to be conquered by the movement, let’s hope it reaches there, too.

Here in Nordic countries, Sweden practically collapsed because of the whole #MeToo campaign. Many entities were dragged into the light and revealed to the public for the creeps they are, and not just in film. Nearly every industry was affected.

On the flipside, some of it went too far, to some, the whole #MeToo became a hobby with nothing to do with actually outing the perverts but more just a thing to do to make yourself be part of some movement. We all want to belong, to some it means even if it’s belonging to a group of abuse victims.

In Finland, the discourse has been, as it typically is, quite a bit more muted, but just recently, three things happened: a director (Heidi Lindén) spoke out about a handful of names in the business who constantly harass women (she didn’t release the list of these names, though, so we were all left wondering); an ex-professor in the most prominent film school (Lauri Törhönen) in the country turned out having been highly inappropriate and abusive towards rather helpless students; one of the most well-known director in the country (Aku Louhimies) turned out having used questionable directing methods, which are borderline sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

There is, and will be, also cries out for the wolf in Finland, too. Even though we are this dark, Nordic isloation-enjoying people, there are always those longing for attention, and failing to get it any other way, they will become desperate.

Big problem is also, there’s a lot of victim-blaming going on, which seems to be the case every time especially a female falls a victim of abuse of any kind. We humans are disgusting in that way.

So, let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball: the business is offering a roof for creeps and those getting their kicks from power games of all sorts, and those we don’t need in the business. Let’s oust them. This is supposed to be a working environment which is first and foremost, safe, artistically fulfilling to ourselves, preferably slightly profitable in exchange for the time we spend doing it,  and last but not least, sometimes fun. And never, ever dangerous or abusive.

Simultaneously, let’s remember we are humans, we interact with other humans, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so. Also, we are artists, sometimes our “arts” fail to connect. Not every time situations like this are “abuse” or deserve a #MeToo hashtag, or any equivalent of it.

One thing is for sure, though; times *have* changed, and that’s a *good* thing. It means, now there is a direct way to communicate, the problem has an easily-identifiable name and there are loads of brave people who acted out and told their stories. And some creepy stories they are. Those actions we need to commend. Witness.

Truth is, guys, we can do this better. It’s not hard, even. Refuse to abuse, and refuse to accept any abuse from people around you. This doesn’t require any special codex to decipher, you know when things are wrong if you are an approximately mentally healthy human being. And by “approximately” I mean you are not a sociopath.

We shouldn’t feel too bad we haven’t interfered every time we’ve seen some shit go down, however we try to avoid it, some of it has been “silently accepted part of the business” – you know, “we all know him, he’s always like that”…. but from now on, if we still decide to not to behave like humans when we see an abuse happening around us, then it’s on us. What we’re doing is a fucking illusion, a suspension of disbelief, a charade, and no amount of “it’s great art” -crap can fill the emotional gap an abuse-approving environment leaves in the business.

The film business is shedding its’ skin. Let’s show the next iteration is better.

Opinions, Oscars

How To Make The Oscars Better


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I’m an avid Oscar-watcher. Every year since 2008 I’ve always tried to watch every contender in every category (save Best Song, which I think is a dumb category), and I do it because it’s a good incentive for me to go out to the theatres and see some of the most remarkable movies of the year. Also, I enjoy watching the show. I think the people look amazing over there, the production values are top notch and the political twist the Oscars have every year is fun, sometimes even remarkable. Also, it’s a great look into American culture: this is what American TV-entertainment is, every day, throughout the year. Once a year is enough for me. It’s really, really exhausting.

Having said that, the unfortunate fact is that this year, the Oscar ratings dipped to all-time low, marking fourth year of steady decline since 2014. Apparently, something is wrong. And there are many reasons: the awards season is packed with all kind of shows competing on importance, and many have managed to gain foothold in the recent years. Also, the competition is more fierce: how to get people dragged away from their games, sports, other shows, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – for four consecutive hours? And last, but not least, it’s a 90-year-old TV format, which hasn’t practically changed at all during those ninety years, how can you expect to keep the attention of people of nowadays?

So, for the Academy, I have compiled here a list of changes you need to do in order to get the show back on track for next year. Let the new era of Oscars begin.

oscars-2018-full-nominations-list

1. Algorithm it! What the hell are you doing with this ages-old secret Illuminati-type organization called “Academy”, when you can go full-on Orwell, create a secret yet always changing algorithm which creates an infallible system on which you choose the films for each category.

2. Gamify it! I mean, a real competition, that’s what’s popular nowadays. Let the academy choose each category contenders, but the audience to choose the actual winners. And don’t make it boring: make them reprise their whatever role it is: actors performing their roles, directors directing, sound designers creating their sounds… Live. That’s sexy nowadays. Like American Idol. That shit sells. And cooking shows.

3. Optimize it! I mean, it’s totally possible have different set of films, awards and presenters for each group out there, all you have to do is just to optimize it based on the person’s political views. Current Oscars are missing the apparently massive amount of Americans who support Trump, NRA, school shootings, racism, sexism and all that stuff -so why even bother showing the current format to them. Better yet, just create your own presenters for every different segment, and it’s all much better and nobody needs to get upset.

4. Make it a journey! Customers need to be brought to the new media in a completely new way. You have to start making the Oscars a journey for the audience. You have to add an Augmented Reality layer on movies, where one can start awarding their Oscars right when they watch movies. They form Teams and then you can all be #TeamShapeOfWater or #TeamThreeBillboardsOutsideEbbingMissouri on the social media and make it a fight that lasts not just one night but the whole year.

5. Geofence it! There’s something Americans will never believe: we still love you. We want to see your award ceremonies in Europe, so start selling those advertisements locally so that we have a chance to watch the show everywhere. And no, even if you sell it to say China broadcasting, it doesn’t mean China broadcasts the show live, which is kinda the idea, really.

6. Micro-Momentisize it! Would you like to know more? Do I need to say more? People want to spend time with your show, but four hours is quite a long time. Make it possible for them to do so at their own pace, base don their own interests. Just remember to add a nice price tag to every click and split the revenue between presenters and award-winners so everyone can make this into a nice dog and pony show for their paycheck.

7. Build Some Smart Content! We want to feel special, right. Wouldn’t it be nice if the winners would say: “…and I want to give special thanks to Timo, who made it all possible for me.” I’m sure there’s an easy tech fix for that, just scan the nominees and make them come wearing a green hood over their heads when they pick the award and everyone can be mentioned.

These are just some of the brilliant ideas I think would really spark up the Oscars. So, see you next year, and feel free to call me in for more terrific consulting. Oh, and the buzzwords are stolen from this website. Thank you Isabella Andersen!

China Diary, Opinions

Day 170: Art Of Compromise


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I’d like to reiterate my theory on editing. I said it’s the art of compromising between story and flow of the movie, but that’s actually not the truth. It is in fact a compromise between the effort and the flow. Every screenwriter puts a lot of effort into explaining everything in the script. The actors and director work hard on scenes, taking hundreds of takes over the period of the production. The cinematographer films thousands of hours of material, and the set designer creates huge sets that are filmable on every angle. It all takes a tremendous amount of effort to make it happen, but ultimately, it’s the flow of the movie that counts. For the sake of flow, everything is discardable: that one amazing take we worked so hard to get; that incredible dialogue the actors had on the set; the huge backstory which was explained over a series of scenes we shot for days… But if they kill the flow of the movie, they have got to go. But it is a compromise: sometimes that one shot really is worth brining it into the story, even if it doesn’t really serve the flow – this is, in the end, a movie and people come to theatres to see also beautiful imagery. Or this piece of backstory needs to be inserted in the story, even though bringing it up might really exhaust the viewer. And the art comes in balancing between the compromises and making it feel for the viewer that nothing could’ve been added into the movie, or taken away, to tell the story in the format it eventually lands in the theatres.

As I said, we started out the first cut of the movie at 160 minutes. Our aim is to try to squeeze it into 110 minutes, which means we have now – as the film is about 118 minutes long – cut 50 minutes of shot material. I’m actually known by my producers as being quite a ruthless director when it comes to editing. I might find myself taking out even too much, but that’s also because I think films are nowadays easily too long, and usually the shorter is better. Also, when you take something out of the cut you’ve been watching so many times, you may feel it’s suddenly fresher – but it’s fresher only to you. You have to try to place yourself in the position of the viewer who comes in having not seen anything. That can be sometimes really tricky.

And of course, there’s always the question of economics. If you’re going to cut 50 minutes of the film, why shoot those 50 minutes in the first place? The trick is really knowing which 50 minutes you will cut and which you will keep. Shooting a film is just agreeing on a script and then covering it as lavishly as possible, keeping in mind your resources, and grabbing as much material as possible, so that you can then bring it to the editor and make a film out of it. With the screenwriter, you have to try to find out what are the absolutely necessary scenes to be shot, but even that is usually just a guess – only on edit you actually see if these scenes are necessary or not.

It’s interesting to see how it all comes together. Also, it’s interesting to see how certain characters become more important than you thought when shooting, and some characters become more like side characters, ones you thought will have a big role in the film. The whole editing is in fact the most interesting part of the filmmaking, because that’s when the movie reveals its’ true self.

Opinions

Star Trek: Axanar – is Paramount committing a Fanicide, and why it doesn’t matter (to them)?


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Fanicide is a term meaning an action or decision which leads to the abandonment by the fanbase. Fanicide happens either deliberately, when power- or money hungry entities make a call that completely disregards the wishes and needs of the fanbase, or indeliberately when trying to renew, change or modify the direction of the IP, or policies, but execute the changes badly. Famous examples are Star Wars prequels, Queen’s Hot Space -album and Finnish politic party True Finns decision to go to the government.

star-trek-axanar

When we released our first film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, I spent the next year every morning in fear when clicking open my email. I was awaiting the letter the producers of the fan film Star Trek: Axanar received yesterday: a formal charges by Paramount Pictures, the owner of the Star Trek IP. That letter never came, thankfully, and neither did it land on the desk of the producers of Star Trek: Of Gods And Men, Starship Exeter, Star Trek Continues, Hidden Frontier, Intrepid, Phase II or any of the other, countless Star Trek fan films.

When Universal, the biggest competitor of Paramount, picked Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning for distribution, we did go through the one-year trouble of changing all the rendered VFX shots into original design spaceships, just to make sure there was no copyright infringements left when going ‘pro’ – releasing the film under the monstrous name Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning – Imperial Edition.

But why now? Why is suddenly Star Trek: Axanar being sued after so many years of tolerance from the IP owners? And will this lead into charges by Disney on all Star Wars fan films, which are an even bigger phenomenon? Lucasfilm tolerated, even cherished the fan films, but will it change now that Disney is in charge? Does it mean an end to the whole fan film – and possibly, on a larger scale – fan art culture?

I don’t think so. I think Paramount is pulling a massive asshole move in charging Axanar, and it might very well lead into alienation of the hardcore fans, but at the same time, I partly understand them and their actions.

TRADEMARK DILUTION

The dilution in this case means the theoretical fear of the lawyers that in case they are not suing those using their trademarks and IP without their consent, they are not enforcing the trademark enough, and in some theoretical future day a judge might decide they’ve given a silent approval of the use of the trademark.

And they have approved the use of their trademarks for so many years now, as long as there has been the fan art culture around Star Trek. But now, as the business is getting too real from their perspective, they are forced to do such moves. The main reason is not that suddenly Star Trek: Axanar – produced with 1/150th of the budget of the actual, proper Star Trek franchise products – would surpass or take over their market share, but the fear that maybe one day Universal decides to make their own Star Trek movie, and when these  giants get into courtroom, they don’t want to give any possible opening for the competitor to strike back.

Alec_Peters
Alec Peters, one of the producers of Star Trek: Axanar.

Having said that, the producers of Axanar are quite vocal on challenging the Paramount studio quality with their products.

“While some may call it a ‘fan film’ as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew — many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself — who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trekthat all fans want to see.”

The problem here is that there’s no moderation between a major studio and a fan filmmaker here, in the eyes of the lawyers at least. Ideally, there would be a legal exception which would defend IP owners from major infringements, but allow “unofficial” fan art being produced, even with a little bit of money involved in it.

IT’S GETTING PROFESSIONAL

The other “mistake” Axanar producers made was that they let their production become too professional, meaning there was too much real money involved (they’ve raised over $1 million so far from the fanbase using crowdfunding) and – also – too many a real actors casted.

The problem with real money is, I believe, that Paramount had defined a sweet spot, and when that had been crossed – meaning, over 1 million was being invested in the production of the fan product on their IP without their involvement – they would move to sue. Before this, all these fan films were made with quite small amounts of money – Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was produced with 15k€, for example – but now we’re talking of real money, and raising over 1 million, Axanar people went too far in the eyes of Paramount.

But let’s be realistic at the same time. That 1 million dollars will be sucked into the production in no time, and probably the filmmakers will be even left with a debt after the film is done. Axanar will be released for free, so there’s not a lot of profit in it, even though they may be selling a handful of Blurays and T-shirts. This is real fan activity: from fans, who are willing to put years of their life and a lot of their own money into the production. What’s the point in punishing them? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of solidarity when it comes to the IP worth of hundreds of millions…

richard-hatch-zarek-bsg-dragoncon
Richard Hatch plays the role of Klingon general Kharn in Star Trek: Axanar

The cast issue has to do with the trademark dilution: when too many professional actors join the cast, a real confusion can happen between the official productions and a fan film. Instead of your friend, his hot girlfriend, your mom and brother’s jiu-jutsu -trained army buddy, Axanar has actual actors involved: Richard Hatch played Tom Zarek in Galactica, Tony Todd – a horror legend, and even actors who’ve played roles in the original Star Trek TV series, reprising their role on this one.

The lawyers are, again, worried to lose the integrity of their trademark when things get too professional. But still, it’s an overprotective act – we are talking about a product that’s being made with 1/150th of the budget of new Star Treks. It may be good, but it will never be mixed with the actuals.

Or will it?

THEY DON’T NEED THE OLD FANS

Unfortunately, the hardest fact, though, is that Paramount or CBS don’t really need the old fans anymore. With JJ‘s help, they’ve renewed the whole series, introduced it to a whole new moviegoing audience who were 16-20 when the 2009 Star Trek came out. To them, the old TV series are ancient history, to them Star Trek is all about Zachary Quinto, Beastie Boys, cool motorcycle jumps and that weird hand sign which has something to do with William Shatner, or something like that, used mostly to prove that although I’m cool I’m still a bit geeky y’know. None of these people have ever even heard the name of Gene Roddenberry.

Previously, Paramount has been clearly worried about angering the fans, but the biggest service JJ did, in addition for a bunch of quite successful films, was that they were finally free of the old fandom and are free to build on a new one.

And that’s quite clear, looking at the new trailer for the upcoming Star Trek. Very little of Roddenberry’s legacy is left there. One might even say that the last, best hope for Roddenberrian Star Trek are nowadays the fan films, so for the sake of that bit of cultural history, they should be left alive.

When we made Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, released in 2005, it was a whole different world back then. Internet video was new. We became the first ever feature length film released on the Internet, the first ever feature length fan film and the first ever crowdsourced and -funded feature film. None of this had been made back then, and although fandoms existed and fan art existed, it never really became so popular as it did with In the Pirkinning. 

Nowadays, fan films are becoming and established art form, one which can not only entertain the fans, but also keep franchises alive through dark times. And right now, Star Trek is heading deep into an uncharted, dark territory, where no fans want to follow it anymore. It may be that Paramount needs Axanar more than it realizes.

Opinions

Elokuva eriarvoistuu


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Finnkino uudisti näytöslippujensa hinnoittelun juhannuksena niin, että elokuvan sisältö – ei näytösaika – vaikuttaa lipun hintaan. Jesse Raatikainen kirjoittikin Episodiin kommentin hinnoittelun ongelmasta hyvin.

Itselleni tässä haiskahtaa vähän isompikin ongelma takana kuin vain se, että asiakas joutuu maksamaan enemmän leffalipuista – leffalippujen hinta on ollut noususuhdanteessa aina. Tämän uudistuksen myötä Finnkino yrittää leipoa uuden hinnankorotuksen ah-niin-muodikkaaseen asiakaslähtöisyysjargoniin. Totuus kuitenkin on: jotta homma kannattaisi, jotta leffoja kannattaisi pyörittää puolityhjille saleille enskariviikolla ja pitää ohjelmistossa ja nyhtää niiltä viideltä päivänäytöskävijältä muutama pennonen, hintojen pitää nousta.

Se, mikä tässä uudistuksessa kuitenkin hämää on sen vaikutukset leffojen ansaintalogiikkaan. FK:n kanssa sovitaan diili josta X% per lippu tulee tuottajalle (tai siis, levittäjälle, joka jakaa siitä osuuden tuottajalle). Aikaisemmin hintaryhmät ovat perustuneet asiakkaiden kulutustottumuksiin tai selviin teknisiin lisävaatimuksiin – 3D-projisoinnin aiheuttamat lisäkustannukset (lasit, uudet projektorit jne), päivänäytökset jne – ja peruskulttuurikuluttamisen yleisesti hyväksyttyihin alennuksiin (opiskelijat ja eläkeläiset).

Nyt jos oikein tämän muutoksen ymmärrän, homma muuttuu sellaiseksi, että leffateatteriketju päättää mitkä leffat tienaavat ja mitkä eivät määrittelemällä teatterina elokuvan sisällön ansaintalogiikan pohjaksi. Toisin sanottuna, jättiblockbusterit pääsevät kalliimpaan Special-luokkaan, joka tarkoittaa, että jättiblockbusterit maksavat enemmän kuluttajalle ja näin tekevät huomattavasti isomman tulon tuottajilleen kuin esimerkiksi pienehköt kotimaiset tai eurooppalaiset elokuvat jotka rankataan “Classic”-luokkaan ja samalla tehdään niistä sisältöpohjaisen hinnoittelun puolelta väkisinkin huonommin tienaavaa sisältöä. Ja huonommin tienaavan lento tietenkin katkeaa nopeammin, tuottajille jää vielä laihempi luu käteen ja sitten keskitytään tekemään leffoja jotka saadaan Special-luokkaan.

Isot syövät pienet, niin kankaalla kuin sen ulkopuolellakin.

Eriarvoisuutta elokuvatuotteissa on ollut vuosikymmeniä toki, mutta se lovi jenkkiblockbustereiden ja muiden välillä tuntuu kasvavan jatkuvasti – aivan kuin kyse alkaisi olemaan jo aivan eri taiteenlajeista. Sisältöpohjainen hinnoittelu jatkaa eriarvoisuuden vahvistamista – pienten tekijöiden tienausmahdollisuudet nimenomaan elokuvateattereissa kuristetaan entistä tiukemmalle, jättileffojen marssiessa entistä suurempiin tuloksiin. Aikaisemmin sentään leffateatteri on ainakin yrittänyt näyttää, että kaikki sen tarjoama sisältö on samanarvoista – vaikka tietenkin eriarvoisuutta on leffateattereissa rakennettu näytösmäärien, salien, näytöskopioiden ja puhtaan mainospinta-alan perusteella. Nyt, kun koko yrityksen ansaintalogiikka perustuu tähän sisältöjen eriarvoiseen luokitteluun, tulee se väkisinkin vaikuttamaan teatterilevitykseen tehtäviin sisältöihin. Yksinkertaisesti sanottuna: on entistä vähemmän syitä tehdä elokuvia, jotka tulevat loksahtamaan huonommin tienaavaan “Classic” -luokkaan – kannattaa pistää kaikki paukut siihen, että elokuva on tarpeeksi “Special”.

Teatterilippujen hinnannousu on itsessään vaikuttanut käyntitiheyteen. Itse maksoin juuri yli 100€ kun vein nelihenkisen perheeni katsomaan leffaa viikonloppuna. Popparit mukaan laskettuna – mutta kuitenkin! Satanen leffasta on melko paljon – mutta senkin maksan ihan mieluusti. Ainakin minä, elokuva-alalta leipäni tienaava joka ymmärtää ainakin hitusen ansaintalogiikan problematiikkaa.

Samalla kuitenkin Netflixit, HBO:t ja iTunesit tarjoavat entistä helpomman ja laadukkaamman digisisällön muutaman euron hinnalla, piratismista puhumattakaan. Kuten muuan ystävä mainitsikin, teatterielokuvat maksavat nykyään enemmän kuin BluRayt tai DVD:t; vuosikymmeniä tallenteet olivat se “kallis tapa” kuluttaa.

Ongelma on siis kaksitahoinen: sisältöpohjainen hinnoittelu eriarvoistaa sisältöjä ja vie teattereista pois pienempiä elokuvia nopeammin ja tekee niiden tekemisestä entistä vaikeampaa bisnestä. Hintojen hurja kohoaminen taas entisestään vaikeuttaa leffabisnestä, ruokkii osaltaan piratismia ja tasapäistää sitä yleisöä, jolla on enää varaa käydä elokuvissa – mikä sekin vaikuttaa teattereihin tehtailtavaan sisältöön! Työväenluokka ei pian leffantekijöitä enää kiinnosta; hehän eivät pian enää leffaan raaski lähteäkään. Se taas puolestaan tulee – jälleen kerran – eriarvoistamaan elokuvaa ja sitä kautta vaikuttamaan sisältöihin.

Ehkä näinä aikoina se, mitä juuri tarvitaankin ei pelkästään elokuvakulttuurin vaan koko elokuvan taiteenmuotona pelastamiseen on pienteattereita jotka esittävät arvottamatta rahallisesti sisältöjä jokaiseen lähtöön. Finnkinon hinnoittelupolitiikka sopii tietyille elokuville mutta myös toisenlaisten on saatava hengittää – tai pian on vaikea vakavalla naamalla enää väittää puhuttavan elokuvataiteesta.

Kirjoittaja tekee parhaillaan elokuvaa maan keskipisteessä dinosauruksella ratsastavasta Hitleristä. Jos joku, niin sen luulisi olevan tarpeeksi “Special”!