As a science fiction filmmaker, I’m always freaking out when the dystopian visions from different scifi writers turn from fantasy to reality either slowly or overnight. Having just finished my first time of reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s obviously more true than ever. The “Big Brother Is Watching You” –idea of all-seeing, all-controlling government that monitors every aspect of your life is obvious when reading about NSA’s operations uncovered by Edward Snowden and more recently, Russia’s plan to openly start doing the exact same.
But what sturck me hardest on even more acute basis on reading Orwell’s magnificent science fiction book was the term doublethink – which seems to be describing quite accurately the current political toolkit on especially the right wing side.
Doublethink is – and I’m quoting Wikipedia here – the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.
In other words it allows you to both accept that certain piece of information is both true and untrue at the same time, and just go about your life with this fact in mind. Looking at the political campaigns of late – the Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign etc. – the one thing in common is that they are based on lies and false accusations and constant flooding of disinformation, which is blatant and obvious. But the most characteristic behaviour is the voters’ will to choose to accept these apparent non-truths, simultaneously understanding that they are and can not be anything but lies, but still allowing them to lead their voting behaviour.
And the politicians know this. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and in Finland Timo Soini are using the people’s willing doublethink to push on, overtaking country by country and driving us into an Orwellian nightmare. The people have ceased to care of the truths, and are even defending the politicians for their blatant lies. This is what’s new – before, the politicians have lied to us, of course, but they’ve tried to cover the lies and when uncovered, they’ve lost the trust of the people. Today, the people say “I understand that this isn’t true, but in order for the world to become a place where I’m happy to live in, the lies are justified and I choose to believe they are true.” This is, in its’ very essence, what Orwell described as doublethink.
In the book, the main character, mr. Smith, begins as a government drone in a cubicle, fabricating the past to fit the needs of the future. One day, he opens up a diary and secretly starts writing his own thoughts – not those fed by government – on the paper. Those words breaks apart the doublethink lifestyle he’s been leading, a woman emerges in his life and the proverbial excrement is ready to hit the fan.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world has gone past the tipping point and nothing can be done to the world anymore. In our current, we’re not quite there yet, but moving swiftly towards it. If lie-fed cows like Brexit campaigners and Trump are allowed to lead, soon doublethink is not just a word, but a rule and anything contradicting it is thoughtcrime, punishable by not only death, but something even worse.
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four remains to be even more relevant than before. It’s a great read, not exactly easy holiday book (I took it with me as a poolside book to St. Martin, which gave it an interesting twist) but a thought-provoking and scary one. I’m yet to see the Michael Radford‘s film from 1984, starring stellar John Hurt, which I’m looking forward to very much.
Fanicideis 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
…And what a year in film it has been! Global box office records have been shattered twice (Jurassic World, followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens), triumphant return of the beloved franchises – this time done right (mainly, Mad Max: Fury Roadand Star Wars: The Force Awakens) – and also, not so right (Spectre, Terminator: Genisys) – also Tarantino returns with yet another western. Not that much anything new on the big screens, but much of the old stuff re-heated, sometimes with great success, sometimes, not so great.
Here are the best films of 2015. Disclaimer, I haven’t seen some of the important ones (The Revenant, The Hateful Eight) yet, because they hadn’t come out in Finland yet.
Staggering out of the theatre after the intense experience that was the new Mad Max, the film that had been in the making for over 20 years, having so many times almost getting made but then getting cancelled the last minute, I felt strangely numb and even a bit sad. Numb, because all my sensory inputs had been blasted with so much pure awesome for the last two hours, and sad because I knew I’ll never do a film better than Mad Max: Fury Road in my life. I came out having watched – no, witnessed – something that 20-30 years later would be an action classic, an experience I can brag to my son and his friends later on, just like our parents were able to brag about having watched Indiana Jones or Star Wars in theatres, or having seen Beatles live.
Mad Max: Fury Road was so extremely good because of these three factors:
Sheer energy was tangible in the way I haven’t seen in action films in years. Computer generated visual effects, stunt choreography, action vehicles and all the special effects – cars wrecks, explosions and weapons – worked seamlessly together, fooling even the more experienced viewer that they were actually watching a film that was analog in the same way films were in the 80’s (which, of course wasn’t true, but just to be able to grasp the same effect, look and feel is a directorial triumph of its’ own).
Simple plot is the very key to a successful action film. Mad Max‘s plot was: go there, kick ass and come back. Instead of focusing on pushing the viewer through the marshes of self-indulgent scribes trying to find their way around their life-long writer’s block, it focused on the drama and the characters which made the simple plot interesting and epic.
Characters were treated in an interesting manner for an action film. Main guy Mad Max (Tom Hardy) was actually an observer, and it was Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who slammed the pedal to the metal and led the way. This slight shift in power made it feel fresh and modern.
Love isn’t the film which features all this real, direct penis-in-vagina -sex. It isn’t the movie which brought threesome in the big theatre screen near you. It’s the film which investigated the most interesting – and most familiar, and most believable – relationship issues and dialogues of the year. It was the best film about love this year.
Love introduced us a man who mixes love with dependancy in the wrong way, a man who believes his actions are above other people actions, a childish kid who experiences feelings related to love, but has no idea or concept of what love is supposed to be. There’s the woman who knows very well what love is, but burns her love with such a heated flame it leaves only ashes behind. They end up searching ways to explore their sexuality, bump into jealousness, ex-es and sheer stupidity around intoxicants and ruining what could’ve turned into something good.
Gaspar Noé manages to find real intimacy between the characters, and the cheesy relationship dialogue which sounds way too stupid to be written in a film is actually exactly the same pillow talk we all are so familiar with in real life.
Honestly, I don’t understand why Sicario isn’t spoken more about. It’s a serious, shocking bad-ass thriller about the futile, already-lost war on drugs, topical and modern in storytelling. The grit and scale and the element of constant, harrowing danger all around makes it definitely one of the strongest experiences in cinema this year, one where you feel you as an audience member are being spoken to directly, looking right into your eyes, about something that’s going on right now. Jóhann Jóhansson‘s music paints even darker clouds in the distance.
Director Asif Kapadia made one of the strongest documentaries of the recent years, Senna (2010), few years back, and now returns with a brilliant and uncomfortably closeup documentary about the drug- and alcohol addicted singer Amy Winehouse, and one of the biggest losses of music industry since the death of Kurt Cobain. The film starts off with seemingly random collection of bad-quality home video clips from Amy’s years, and the more prominent and popular she becomes, the more the produced interviews and TV-footage starts to wipe out the person she was and presents herself as the person the media wanted to see. In the end, we’re witnessing mostly flashing lights of the paparazzi and Amy running into black cars, herself being completely consumed by the ever-hungry shit media and her gift becoming secondary to her troubles. More than the story of Amy Winehouse, it’s actually the story of how the Yellow Press and media in general, friends, parents, managers, lovers and bodyguards abuse the center of all attention, all tearing her apart in their own way. Left is nothing but a shell, talented shell, but the person is gone before she’s pronounced officially dead. There’s no need for talking heads of the people around her – we only hear their voices – because these are the people who, in the end, pushed her to the edge and beyond.
Although the film is far less popular than the rest on this list, it’s just as effective and gripping. A Swiss filmmaker’s harrowing story about two (or, spoilers ahead, is it only one?) kids who decide their mother is actually not their mother, and start torturing her in her own home in the most gruesome manners. It follows the home invasion / torture horror schematics and definitely isn’t the first time it’s done, but Goodnight Mommy does it the right way. More than anything, it’s in the end a story of loneliness, growth of identity, blame and guilt, all woven into a simple story shot in a simple location, in a chilling manner. The film deserves all the love it’s getting from genre festivals around the world, and there was even a slight chance of it ending up competing for Oscars (it didn’t, in the end), but it’s bound to be re-made in America, probably turning it into a crappy DVD-horror fiction, unless they hire the directors and let them have their way with it.
I love Steve Spielberg, and if you’re like me, Bridge Of Spies is a perfectly rationed Spielbergian drama. Good script, stellar cast and beautiful cinematography are all the elements that a good film needs for a very enjoyable 2 hours in cinema. It gets a bit too overtly American, but then again, that’s also Spielbergian trait, so the film is best when taken in with a grain of salt.
Agricultural science fiction is unfortunately an ailing treat in cinema nowadays, but bravely as ever, Ridley Scott takes a potato and makes a full-fletched billion-dollar scifi classic out of farming on Mars. Matt Damon is best when he’s left alone doing his Matt Damon -thing, without any actors buzzing around and bothering. Clearly based on a good source material – book by Andy Weir– it’s a very good, although not a genre-changing as Ridley’s earlier works sometimes have been, comedic-element-loaded scifi story.
The feelbad movie of 2015 comes – again – from Joshua Oppenheimer, whose The Look of Silence is just pure brilliant documentary filmmaking. Although based on some of the same elements as 2012 film Act of Killing, it’s a completely different, and way more personal account on the atrocities of Indonesia, following one man’s journey into confronting the murderers of his brothers, who nowadays live large and as respected members of the community. The lack of remorse in the film is only strengthened when a daughter of one of the murderers tries, feebly, to ask forgiveness for her sick father. The darkness in The Look Of Silence is so intense you’ll carry it with you a long time.
Born from the brain of brilliant novelist and ambitious scriptwriter Alex Garland, this year’s smaller scifi classic Ex Machina works its’ magic on robots and emotions. Not the first time this topic is on, nor will it be the last time, but the subtle approach entertains the brain and gives a nice breather among the explosions and starships of typical scifi visions.
Pixar’s films have been going downhill since Cars 2, but Inside Out brings a nice change to the sequel-stuffed roster. As a concept, it’s original and that’s quite a lot to say nowadays. The film itself suffers a little bit when trying to be the brainy, kid-friendly, adult-loving all-around family film, when it apparently wanted to be a film for a little bit more mature audience to begin with. Nevertheless, it’s very clever and intelligent and most of the time quite funny, and just like all the best Pixar films, also touching, although the main characters are not that well developed that they’d become instant legends the same way Toy Story’s or WALL-E‘s characters did.
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”!