Magic for the Masses
Can little independent companies produce a
television channel you’re willing to pay for?
A few days ago, my fourteen your old son Gabriel re-discovered the visual wizardry of a young guy who can create glass-shattering car accidents without getting anyone hurt. He can bring down skyscrapers without real-world tragedy. He can build entire underground command bunkers without NORAD’s budget. Andrew Kramer and the smart people at Video CoPilot (he must have a team, right??) sell reasonably priced software tools that let you command time and space in a way that would have cost studios millions of dollars a decade ago.
Gabriel asked me to spring for $149, and I think he only had to ask 3 times, over 18 hours, before I relented. Last night, in a few hours, this was his first attempt at a new Colony Bay opening: (Turn up the speakers)
Of course, he had the help of Sarah Bond’s cool compass and Rotem Moav’s beautiful music, but can you imagine what that sequence would have cost in 1985, or 1995, for that matter?
It’s all a bit of a metaphor for what we’ve been trying to do at Riley’s Farm and Colony Bay Productions. We live in an age where there really is no technical excuse for NOT making a film if you want to, since the little guy really can produce material that doesn’t have to announce “amateur” with every frame. All of the production tools are getting cheaper and the means to get them to the entire world are too. (Yesterday, I sat, transfixed, watching Google Analytics real time global map of people checking out our new site; for some reason, people in Brisbane, Sydney were taking an interest.)
If we’ve been quiet here for the last few months, it’s because we wanted to invest our time and money into building a platform (this one) where we can finish a show, upload it, describe it, and let you watch it without having to re-tool and re-design our site for each new production. We’re concentrating on four shows for now — Courage, New Hampshire, Life of Riley, Primary History, and Tavern Talk, and our proposition to the market is fairly simple: $17.76 for a year’s subscription and you can watch anything we produce. Yes, we can never compete with the Amazon or Netflix library, but our audience is unique to us, to our interests, and our take on life. If the audience is anything like me, $17.76 for ongoing independent production is worth the trip to the back pocket.
But, why am I doing this? I ask myself that question all the time, because I have to admit — it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m competing against both free content almost everywhere and multi-billion dollar production mechanisms that churn out extravaganzas like Ridley Scott’s Exodus:Gods and Generals. This one comes to mind because I watched it for the first time last night, and while I don’t think it’s anything like a Biblical account of the story, you have to marvel at the visual tools that make you feel, for a moment, you are in ancient Memphis, in the shadow of an epic, ancient collonade. The crowds, (virtual and real), the costuming, the massive scale of the production, for someone like me, is both liberating and intimidating. It’s liberating to know we live in an age that allows people to experience the cruelty of building the pyramids without having to feel the stripes, but also intimidating because from a purely business perspective, why would anyone in their right might pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a project that has no guaranteed customer? Why is this done? By anyone?
The answer, for me at least, is that I don’t want to be the field marshal of such a production, because I’m convinced we’ve come to settle for all sizzle and no steak these days. We can recreate an intergalactic universe, but we can’t find its heart, because we’re too afraid to find God’s great truths in God’s small moments. We invest in the sexy cynicism of “House of Cards,” but what we really want is that final scene in the Coen Brother’s True Grit, where Rooster Cogburn begs a heart attack, running to save Mattie. We tell ourselves that a continuous-take, self-referential piece of dreck like “Birdman” deserves a “best picture” nod, when we’re aching for something simple and honest and flirtatious, like “Stone of Destiny.” We put on 3D glasses to watch the Titanic sink, but we ache for the honest, observing eye of a John Cheever or a Flannery O’Connor.
Our standards aren’t high enough, in other words. We have a generation that doesn’t appreciate film, because it has never really had to wrestle with good story. We’re visually over stimulated and spiritually underwhelmed. We want to see, on the screen, a conversation as challenging and redemptive as the stories my dad, and Uncle Blaine, told over the barbecue, beneath the pine trees. They weren’t flashy, but they were funny. There were no stunts, but there was truth.
I’m not saying I can do that. Very few people can. But I’m going to keep trying.
Next Blog: Our Take on Turn