We had a chance to catch up with Producer Scott Macaulay (Raising Victor Vargas, Gummo) and editor of Filmmaker Magazine which has been supporting independent vision since 1992. This past week Filmmaker Magazine kicked off a special subscription drive. In an effort to support out friends at Filmmaker we’ve asked Scott a few questions about indie film trends, the future of Filmmaker Mag and what he liked in 2010.
What are some emerging trends in independent film that you find interesting and why?
Scott Macaulay: I’m not sure this counts as a new trend because it refers to people going back to doing what they’ve done before, but established producers going back to older, leaner and meaner production models is a good thing. As any producer knows, it can be hard to go backwards in terms of budget. It can also be hard to switch gears from a feature-film mentality to a web or transmedia one. You develop a crew base and that crew base gets older with more financial obligations and can’t do the low-to-no-budget thing anymore. And you get set in your ways too. Today, though, most of the best work is being done at the micro or very-low levels, and new platforms are just beginning to be explored by independent filmmakers. So, recently, you are seeing people like Ted Hope get involved with the kind of productions they started their careers with — in Ted’s case, it’s executive producing Sean Durkin’s Sundance-bound feature. I know I’m also beginning to open myself up to lower budget work than the $2 – $5 million films I’ve been involved with over the last few years. Another development that I hope will turn into a trend: filmmakers working instead of stewing in development hell. So many filmmakers in the ’90s sat around while waiting for their mini-major films to get green lit without a lot to show for themselves. There’s a new group of filmmakers for whom that kind of stasis is an anathema, and some established veterans too are figuring out ways to stay productive, whether through short films, blogging, webisodes, etc.
How do you see Filmmaker Magazine growing in the next year? Any plans to go digital?
SM: We’re working on a number of things, some we can talk about and some we can’t. We’re obviously figuring out the best way to get our print edition on the iPad and, following that, how to develop for mobile platforms apps that would appeal to our readership. (Interested mobile developers, feel free to drop me a line.) We should have a dedicated VOD page up soon — a monthly round-up of our picks. Our Sundance coverage will be a lot more extensive this year and will encompass daily newsletters throughout the festival. (Sign up for our newsletter here) We also hope to be involved with more events, including ones we do with the IFP, our parent organization. Also, I’m working harder these days to draw good writers to Filmmaker, both on the print and web sides. It’s really important to me that the magazine presents information that you can’t find elsewhere, and that our writers bring strong points of views to their pieces. I’ve been happy to have writers like Nicholas Rombes, Zach Wigon, Lauren Wissot and Mary Anderson Casavant contribute original web-only pieces, and I hope to develop our online roster even further in 2011. Beyond all of that…. we’ll see.
Any words of advice for filmmakers who are about to embark on making a new project?
SM: First, make sure your script is tight. If you’re working on a low budget, don’t waste time shooting stuff that won’t make your final cut. And by being rigorous about figuring out what that extraneous material is, you’ll make your screenplay a lot more focused and its drama clearer. As a related point, think about the scenes you want to spend your time and resources on. If you just let your A.D. do the schedule without much input from you, the nuanced scene you want to finesse with your actors may share a day with your biggest stunt. The converse is also true. Think about what you’re willing to let go of, or shoot in a one-r, if time is tight. Don’t fall into the mindset of thinking that every scene has to be realized with the same level of perfection. Unless you’ve got the kind of more leisurely shooting schedule that comes with higher budgets, you’ll wind up shorting the scenes that need time the most.
What’s in your playlist? What are you watching, reading, or listening to?
SM: One of my favorite books this year was Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, which I’ve extolled on the blog and was recently happy to see selected by the New York Times as one of its Best Books of the Year. I think it’s essential reading for anyone interested in content, including filmed content, in the age of Web. 2.0 (and 3.0). I’m currently finishing Ander Monson’s “experimental memoir,” Vanishing Point. I’m about to start the book it’s usually linked to, David Shields’ Reality Hunger. This year I read books by Brian Evenson and Stephen Elliott. The latter’s was The Adderall Diaries, which James Franco just optioned. (I’m also a big fan of Elliott’s literary website, The Rumpus.) I recently finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. It doesn’t need any more praise from me, but it’s a gorgeous book, both bigger (in terms of its scope and ambition) and smaller (in terms of its intimacy) than I expected.
As I type this I’m listening to the new Kanye West, which I’ve become kind of obsessed by. While a lot of years what I listen to is pretty obscure, this year I liked most the two big mainstream works that reaffirm the value of the long-playing, thematically-developed album: Kanye’s record and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I recently downloaded Blix Bargeld’s anbb collaboration with Alva Noto. This year I also began to catch up with TV. I just finished Season One of “Mad Men” and have knocked off three seasons of “The Wire.” In terms of current TV, I liked “Walking Dead.” I recently saw the Abstract Expressionist show at MoMA, which is great, and there’s also an amazing iPad app for it that has a lot of the artwork as well as video interviews with the curators and other stuff.
Might be too early for a best of the year list but what are five independent films that shouldn’t be missed from 2010?
SM: These are both foreign and independent:
“The Oath” – Laura Poitras
“Carlos” – Olivier Assayas
“Exit to the Gift Shop” – Banksy
“Tiny Furniture” – Lena Dunham
“Daddy Longlegs” – Josh and Benny Safdie