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The Big Push

Lots going on behind the scenes that we can’t talk about for a couple of weeks, but watch this space. All you need to know for now is that we need to get the biggest part of our post production finished by late June. That gives us maybe 10 weeks, which is tight by any standards. The redoubtable  Maile Daugherty who was our Line Producer has taken on the mantle of Post Production Manager to help guide us through the process.

We need the help of all our supporters to make it to the finish line. It’s been great to see extra investment come in since the screening of the first assembly a few weeks back. Thanks to those who have contributed, we have sufficient to get under way with some degree of confidence. But not enough to last the distance, as things stand at the moment. So we’re extending a plea to any more potential investors who might be out there in the wings. Another $100k would get us over the finishing line. Tap your friends, become shameless advocates for the sake of the Moon! Write to us here if you want to learn more.

While substantial contributions are best, don’t forget that you can make small charitable donations via Givealittle – details on the main website. And maybe it’s even time to reinstitute our lotto campaign? Buy a lotto ticket for the sake of Arthur, write your name on it and mail it to:

The Insatiable Moon (NZ) Ltd, 46 Williams St, Cambridge 3434

This is a remarkable film, made on half a shoestring and a heap of passion. Be part of the ongoing adventure! You have nothing to lose but your money! Join the revolution to take filmmaking back from the cynics. Now is the hour to ask not what cinema can do for you, but what you can do for cinema…

I was recently alerted to this discussion about the distribution of films in NZ: http://www.script-to-screen.co.nz/2010/03/setting-ourselves-up-for-box-office-success-%e2%80%a6-or-failure/

It’s a discussion chaired by Vanessa Alexander (Magik and Rose), between Andrew Cornell, Michael Eldred (distributors) and Graeme Mason, CEO of the NZ Film Commission. Graeme said:

Some films come through that are just worth doing – we go with our gut feelings.” However, he admitted that sometimes films are turned down, only to become future successes at the box office. “I turned down Shine three times.

He went on to say:

If you’re making a very intense drama, you’re up against films from all over the world so it has to be very good and resonate with someone here who will choose to see your film rather than one from overseas.

It’s an interesting discussion which belies the fact that once distributors and funders move away from ‘core’ territory, they lose perspective by which to judge potential success or failure. By definition, anything which is substantially original will not fit into previous categories, and therefore will be difficult to evaluate. I appreciate Grame’s admission of the necessity of ‘gut’, because that’s what it comes down to with new material.

In prosperous times, people in the ‘business’ are more prepared to take a punt on a film that breaks boundaries – they may follow their instincts. When it works, they can be greatly successful. I last year met a development exec who had turned down Slumdog Millionaire, alongside the guy who had run with it and made millions for his company. These days, there are fewer and fewer people ready to take risks.

We’re very fortunate with The Insatiable Moon to have found a group of private investors willing to share our risk. Without them, the film would not exist. But it’s tough times for independent films, and only the stubborn and bloody-minded filmmakers survive. But if we’re looking for true originality, it’s more than likely that it will arise from the land of the indies.

Pruning

Only your filmmaker knows for sure… just how painful it is to lose certain scenes. Even worse when you’re the screenwriter and you’ve agonised over crafting certain words, replete with subtext and resonance. And here they go, hitting the cutting room floor. There’s a sense of grief and loss. And how about those perfect camera shots, where the composition and lighting is a minor artform in itself, and you could linger on the image in quiet satisfaction – and now it’s going, never to be enjoyed by an audience.

The only good thing about all of these cuts is that they’re chosen willingly rather than being imposed by some studio or funding body. The real cost of financing a film is when you get people who want to take over the final cut. That’s when the story becomes something else, and often someone else’s. Thus far we’ve been lucky with Moon that such a compromise has not been necessary. Long may it continue.

So why are we hacking away at our own film? For the same reason a gardener might prune a tree or rose bush. To cut out the dead wood; to trim to shape; to accentuate and concentrate the growth in a particular area; and for the overall health and beauty of the plant. We’re looking for the scenes that don’t advance the story, as lovely as they may be. Searching for ways to draw out the essence of the film – and often that’s done by cutting back rather than adding in.

Essential to the pruner’s art is a vision of what they’re trying to do, before they make the first snip. You need a vision before the cutting starts. That vision is the creative core of any film, which must be protected to the death. For the rest, it’s material to be shaped, and where necessary, cut.

Easter seems a good time to reflect on the people whose lives intersect with ours for a while before moving on. Some years ago I wrote a play about James K Baxter, called Jerusalem, Jerusalem. We had a great time touring it around New Zealand and eventually took it to Edinburgh and beyond. I recall one review questioning what the point is in doing a play about someone who really lived. At the time I wondered if the reviewer had ever pondered Henry V.

The fact is that drama and narrative always has an intersection with what we call ‘real life’. When I first wrote the novel, The Insatiable Moon, it was inspired by a man who used to visit me and claim to be the second son of God. He was a psychiatric patient. I also encountered a host of other characters, including Norvel, an alcoholic Bible student who lived in the foyer of the Point Erin toilet block. These and numerous other good people became part of my life and eventually found their way into the fictionalised story which has now become a film. Most of them are now dead.

What happens when people die is a mystery, and everyone has their own views. But I do know at least that they carry on in the imaginations of the living. They shape the people we become, and so in that sense at least they are always with us. My own life has been enriched immeasurably not only by the likes of Arthur and Norvel, but by Tom and Don and Len and Sue and Arlene… the list goes on. It is a poor generation which neglects its dead, because they are part of living fully.

More than 15 years ago, the real Arthur asked me to tell the world who he was. It seems very strange to be answering his gentle request so long later. May Arthur rest in peace, and live on.

If the blogposts seem a little sporadic at present, it’s because the director and I are on holiday – currently holed up in bed late morning while she reads a novel and I update the blog. Luxury. But it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. Yesterday we spent several hours working our way through the film and doing a paper edit. That means identifying things that need changing, noting the time code of them, and writing detailed notes on what needs to be done. In doing this we were drawing on a huge range of comments from a diverse group of people who have seen the rough cut.

From here the paper edit will be reviewed by the creative team before we get around to actually making any cuts. We made some radical decisions yesterday, resulting in some 5 minutes being cut from the film. We feel they will all tighten and enhance the story, and make it both clearer, more focussed and better paced. In reviewing the multitude of notes received, there’s always an editorial process goes on – a deep listening but also a strong sense of what the story is and what the essential elements are.

We’re wanting to keep the momentum up as we aim toward late June for the finished product. Many things need to happen to make that deadline, and they need to happen in the right order. Meanwhile, we’ll take it easy on a sunny day in Hawkes Bay…

We are staying with Tom Burstyn and Barbara Sumner for a few days. What a wonderful inspirational couple they are. Their devotion to filmmaking includes not only making some of the most original and evocative work ever to be produced in New Zealand, but they are taking control of the entire process of getting their work out to audiences. While many in the industry think their job is done once the film is made, Tom and Barbara are entering new indie territory by also tackling distribution.

Their approach to it is completely motivating. Distribution is the missing link in the new age of filmmaking – way too scary and involved for most people. But as I write, they have This Way of Life on 25 screens in NZ, with another 5 shortly to come on stream. They are up against films with huge P&A budgets, extensive newspaper advertising, and yet are giving them a run for the money – up to 13th in the country this last week! It’s not accidental – they have a carefully thought out strategy, identifying interest groups, promoting web awareness, and building word of mouth.

It’s a new way of operating, and a necessary part of the Frugal Filmmaking philosophy. While requiring a new set of skills, the approach is the way of the future for taking on the big boys with quality material. Audiences don’t arrive without some thought given to attracting them. As we plan a strategy for the release of The Insatiable Moon, we’re taking great encouragement from those who have gone before us.

Feedback

Since the screenings on last weekend, we have continued to receive hugely encouraging feedback regarding the film. Thanks to all those who have taken the time to email or complete test cards. Some of the best responses have been from people who love the movie, but have reflected on how it might be made even better. We are very keen to pick up the lacks and flaws at this stage. From here we’ll be moving on to fine cut, and needing to lock the images so that we can get on with post production. Already we have emerging consensus on the areas we need to concentrate on improving. Rest assured that the director, producers and writer are constantly evaluating with a view to making the film fly.

This week copies of screeners have gone out to potential distributors, one film festival, and some possible funders. These constitute a tougher audience than those at the screenings, jaundiced as they are by exposure to thousands of would-be films. We remain confident that we have something special here however, and that handled properly it will be very successful.

In a few weeks we’ll have a trailer for the film – keep an eye out on this site to see it.