Interview With Michael D. Sellers, Director of Eye of the Dolphin

EYE OF THE DOLPHIN, a MovieBank and Quantum Entertainment ProductionINTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL D. SELLERS/WRITER-DIRECTORQ: This film takes place in a particular setting and besides its more universal themes of coming of age, has a focus on dolphins. What motivated you to make this your next film and to give it this subject matter?A: On many levels the movie is about communication, and being open to the possibilities that are out there. Hawk says “it’s our failure of imagination” that keeps us from being able to recognize the intelligence and beauty of the dolphins, and in a very real way it is our failure of imagination as parents and children that keeps us divided. How easy it is to erect walls and hide behind them. Isn’t that what parents and teenagers do? Yet if we make that leap of imagination, we can understand each other, and discover that we’re not so different. I think it was that idea of the challenge of being open to possibilities – of humans being open to the possibility that dolphins are intelligent and it’s corollary – parents being open to the possibility that teenage children are intelligent — that intrigued me.Q: You are the father of a daughter who is roughly Alyssa’s age. Did that influence you as a filmmaker in your choice of protagonist and the relationship she develops with her father?A: Well, to be truthful – I think the movie was part of a process whereby I was trying to understand, and ultimately make peace with, one of my teenage daughters – I won’t say which one. (I have three…she knows who she is.) I was an absentee father like Hawk, chasing a self-consuming dream, and I missed a lot of her life. She resented it. When I first worked on the story, it was more from Hawk’s point of view—then as I got deeper into it, it was more from the daughter’s point of view. If it sounds like therapy – well, it was. Has it healed us? I like to think it has helped. But I can never get back those years I missed. And I’m not sure she will ever forgive me for it. But I guess if you’re asking …was it personal? Yep. Very.Q: You worked together with screenwriter Wendell Morris to revise the script. Could you talk about that evolution a bit?A: I’ve made a kind of inverse progression from producer to director to writer so I have no problem recognizing and understanding the value of bringing in writing support to help refine a screenplay that isContinue Reading

Film Recommendation: Go see "Day Watch"

by Michael D. Sellers4011041010aFor anyone interested in an incredible piece of unique film-making razzle dazzle, there is an extraordinary movie out there in a few cities now, and it will be going wider as the summer moves along. It’s called “Day Watch” — the second film in a projected trilogy by visionary (and I mean visionary) Russian director Timur Bekmanbetov. This film is like “Matrix” meets “Underworld” — but with a soulful slavic brain and an acute, ironic post-Soviet Russian humor. It’s a bit confusing at times, but never boring. Here’s a link to the trailer….check it out.It’s also a fascinating business story. Made for $4.2 Million dollars, it delivers all the special effects and energy that you see in films like Pirates of the Carribbean — but delivered with a kind of unrepressed glee that is just infectious. I’m good at getting a lot of production value for each dollar spent — but I have to confess I’m in awe of what’s been accomplished here. I’m not quite sure I believe all the reports that they really did this for $4.2M …. but there is enough out there on the web confirming this that I think it’s probably true. (And — as an aside — if they can do this for $4.2M then there is an extraordinary opportunity for any enterprising US producer who can create a story that can be shot over there using the same production team …. wow – what a value.)Now — here’s the most delightful part. They released this on January 1, 2006 in Russia and it very quickly became the alltime top Box Office hit in post-Soviet Russia. Two million people saw it in the first weeks and it has earned $31M to date in Russia. The US release (limited) was on June 1 and it’s rolling out to more cities now.In recommending this — I’m conscious of the fact that it’s got all the thrills and action of the big Hollywood movies — but those movies bore me to death. My wife had to keep poking me to wake me up during Pirates III; I made it through Spiderman 3 without nodding off but was decidedly restless; and I just couldn’t bring myself to go see Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer. But this movie just mesmerized me, using many of the same techniques but employing them not in some corporate America overkill way–but instead, employing those techniques in a kind of rebellious, underground, indie-spirited, whack-job way that is a strange and compelling delight.

Film Biz 101: Marketability vs Playability

by Michael D. SellersOne of my mentors in the business is Lenny Shapiro, a spry, delightful sixty-something guy who was formerly the head of Avco Embassy pictures “back in the day” when that company was a major theatrical player. Lennie is one of the most genuinely likeable people in the business — he’s got an infections laugh and a twinkle in his eye that the rest of us can just hope to have when we hit the big 6-0.Lenny was the first one who taught me the mantra of “marketability” versus “playability”, and I’ve never forgotten it — and over the years, I’ve heard many in the higher reaches of theatrical releasing say things that indicate Lenny was right in breaking it down this way.First, if you think about it — a film has to in the first instance sell itself as an idea. Meaning — we all go see a movie because the idea of that movie is attractive to us. That’s “marketability” — the ability of a film to attract an audience into the theater. The most common aspect of markeability is cast — if you have a Brad Pitt movie, it’s marketable by definition because it has Brad Pitt in it. There are several dozen, perhaps as many as fifty, directors whose names attached to a movie automatically make it marketable. Most movies derive their marketability from some combination of stars, director, underlying literary property (famous book, comic book,etc). At the indie level, festival acclaim comes into play, and reviews count, a MySpace buzz matters. But in analyzing the film from this aspect — the entire point is to answer the question, “Can the film attract moviegoers into the theater”?”Playability” is the analysis of what happens to that audience once they are in the theater. Never mind what got them there — what is their experience once they sit down and watch the movie. How well does the movie “play”? Will it generate favorable word of mouth? Will it catch the fancy of reviewers?Studios are often confronted with a movie which they know is “marketable” — they know that it will attract a great first weekend audience. But they also may know that the reviewers will clobber the film, and filmgoers will be disappointed. Even so — such a film can be financially successfull if the “marketability” is good and the marketing campaign is carefully designed and executed with flair and vision. A great marketing campaign — a strong opening weekend — damn the dropoff and get on to the DVD — it can still work.By contrast, a good film that delivers good “playability” but doesn’t have marketable elements is a problem. How do you get the warm bodies in theater seats to begin with? This is the true challenge to most good indie films. Such films usually don’t have major stars, they aren’t laden with multi-million dollar special effects and so the marketing hook must come from something else. Festival and critical acclaim helps, and starting small gives the disributor an opportunity to concentrate on fewer markets and build a reputation for the film as it rolls out.Marketability and Playability — we’ll be talking about this more as the release of Eye of the Dolphin approaches.

Visit with Kelli Schroeder, Carly's Mom

From Michael Sellers

Kelli Schroeder, Carly’s mom, called today. It was the first time we’ve spoken since she and Carly left on the Gracie promotional tour, so we had a lot of catching up to do. I went over all the plans….she reiterated their support, and we did a lot of post mortems about Gracie. She and Carly are thrilled with the reviews and they have been getting deluged with offers and scripts as a result. Kelli feels that Picturehouse made a mistake by trying for 1,1000 screens to begin with and had some questions about how the promotional money got spent. Apparently they bought two 30 second spots on the finals of American Idol at $600,000 per spot. And they did $5M at Nickelodeon (I can’t imagine how you get that much value out of Nickelodeon). We talked a lot about how crucial the internet is for us, and about our plans for maximizing it. Anyway — the main thrust was to let us know they’re ready and very happy with the way the promotions have rolled out so far.

She sent me an email afterwards….here it is:

Hey Mikey,
It was great talking to you today. Your energy was fantastic. I needed that. I agree with the whole internet thing. The internet is powerful. Over the past month…. 1500 people were added to Carly’s myspace. That is a very small amount. They entered through the www.graciemovie.com web site.

You figure out what we need to do…and we are there.

Kel

Tech Note: Film Completion Using "Digital Intermediate"

by Michael D. SellersIn many discussions about Eye of the Dolphin, the term “Digital Intermediate” comes up, and needs to be explained. So here’s an explanation:Goodbye America, Legacy, Vlad, and Karla were all shot on 35MM film and completed during post production using traditional techniques that include physically cutting the negative, creating dissolves and titles using an “optical printer”, and creating the film elements used to create release prints — all using traditional means that involve physical handling of the negative and creation of elements using traditional, chemical based laboratory methods. This “tried and true” method is essentially the same series of steps and techniques that have been in use for over half a century.In the case of Eye of the Dolphin, we went a different route and made a digital intermediate. This is the way that virtually all major studio films are being completed, and for the film-maker it is a very welcome change because it eliminates many cumbersome steps and maximizes the film-maker’s creative control. When makng a film using digital intermediate techniques, the film megative is scanned frame by frame at very high resolution to create a digital version of the film. This allows the film-maker to then make all of his color grading choices in a digital environment, which provides much greater color control than in the traditional system. In the case of Eye of the Dolphin, we were particularly interested in maximizing the beauty and color values of the shots involving water — both above and below the surface–as well as all the other aspects of the film. Working in the digital environment also makes it much easier to do special effecs shots. For example, there is a critical shot at the end of Eye of the Dolphin where three dolphins are jumping (it’s in the trailer, actually, so many of you have seen it). We actually only had two dolphins in the shot, so we had to add the third dolphin digitally. Working in a digital environment this was very simple and inexpensive.A digital intermediate results in an end product that is digital, which is fine for DVD and video masters — but does not solve he problem of how to create film elements for theatrical exhibition. This is accomplished by creating a “film out” of the digital intermediate at a cost of about $30,000. This film-out results in the creation of a new negative from the digital intermediate “master” — and then from this negative prints can be struck and traditional theatrical exhibition accomplished.Having done a digital intermediate — I can say that it would be very difficult and frustrating to go back to traditional post production. This is the way of the future for all movies that are acquired on traditional film.

Film Biz 101: How Films Are Developed, Packaged, Produced, and Marketed Worldwide

Following is a rundown for the uninitiated on the process by whiuch films get made in the independent production universe:

The Development Phase: The process of creating film packages which are complete and ready to go into production is known as ‘Development’. The process is essentially the same (except for financing aspects) whether undertaken under the aegis of a studio, or as an ‘independent’. It is skill in this process which generally tends to separate successful producers from those who are not so successful. Steps in the process include:• Literary Rights Acquisition: If a film is based on previously published material of any type, the producer must acquire the literary rights to develop a film based on that material. This is normally done through the purchase by the producer of an ‘option’ which entitles the producer to have sole rights to attempt to bring the project to fruition within a given period of time. Although the amounts involved in securing an option are usually not high when measured against overall cost of film investment, this is high risk capital since statistically most projects for which options are taken out never get into production.Continue Reading

Film Biz 101: Anatomy of an Indie Film Release

 by Michael D. SellersWith the theatrical release of MovieBank Studios and Quantum Entertainment’s  Eye of the Dolphin looming, many are asking questions about the whole release process. Following is a rundown on what is typical for an indie theatrical release on the level that we are carrying out.BookingTheater bookings are accomplished either by using in-house personnel or working with one of a number of theatrical bookers who may be hired by independent films and distribution companies. A well established booker will have longstanding relations with many of the theater chains nationwide who will need to be approached as the theater lineup is established. The booking process usually begins with phone calls from the booker to theater chain representatives (also called “bookers”, only in this case they represent the theaters, not the films) and attempt to elicit a preliminary expression of interest and possible playdates. This is followed by submission of a viewing DVD and marketing materials, including (often times but not always) the planned promotional plan for the particular markets involved. There are then follow-ups, more discussions,Continue Reading