¡Fo Reels, Yo! (...and for rants, and for other things too.)

May, 2008
(Rant updated, September 15th, at bottom of page)

brooklyn Atlantic, the NKOTB of the entertainment world is here!  With an eye on the past, the future of independent film, has arrived.  Well, we hope to, at least.  Actually, we're just one of many indie production companies to pop up in this digital age. More accurately, one of MANY-MANY-MANY indie production companies. Uhm, many. 

But were any of these others born in a bar off of Coney Island's famous boardwalk?  Self promotion aside, the digital age and its many toys like blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Youtube, and the ever increasing VOD outlets has given us all a shot at claiming our 15 minutes.

According to IMDB, Lisa Donovan, of Mad TV, was discovered off YouTube.  Then again, for every Donovan, the digital media has flooded us with hundreds of thousands of not quite Lisa Donovans.  So are the truly talented being drowned in the seas of mediocrity?  In terms of film, today there are far more film fests than ever even imaginable just ten years ago.  At the same time, everyone and their grandmother is reaching for a camera.  But where are the distribution deals?

During its short lifetime, Tribeca has gone from receiving 1,000 film submissions a year to 10,000. But does more voices to the film world mean more "talented" voices to the film world?  What does it say when more movies are being made than ever before, yet distribution deals are actually down?

In the growing age of webisodes, things that might (or might not) bring a chuckle while online, we ask the following:  Has the level of good films, shorts or features that are capable of entertaining us (not while clicking away on a computer, but while actually sitting in a theater) increased? 

The answer to that seems to be no.  In fairness, Hollywood, with the constant rehashing of comic book movies, old TV show movies, and Manhattan disaster movies hasn't exactly raised the bar either.  No surprise there of course.  What might be surprising to those not close to the subject, however, is that while the amount of projects on shoestring digital budgets has exploded, while the amount of studio funded 100 million dollar action/adventures have exploded along with it, the mid-range independents seem to be an endangered species. 

Indie classics such as Do the Right Thing and Reservoir Dogs that sparked us in the '80s and early '90s have taken hits from both the digital world and studio world.

Let's take a spin on the WayBack Machine before addressing where we are now.  Back in the late '60s, the Hollywood's studio system was on life support.  Torn by Vietnam, the Civil Right's movement, political assassinations, and good ol' sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, the American public was tired of westerns, musicals, bland dramas and safe comedies which previous generations saw as an escape from earlier and even greater problems, like World War. 

Young directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen as well as writers like William Goldman and Paul Schrader joined with veterans like Sidney Lumet, John Schlesinger, George Roy Hill, John Cassavetes, and Waldo Salt to create a New Hollywood.  Financially strapped, the studios had no choice but to give these artists the opportunity to create.

By the late '70s, having profited off of New Hollywood and having learned what excites the new crowd of American movie goers, studios retook the reigns of power from directors and writers.  In doing so, those who would not play ball created the DIY boom of the '80s and early '90s.

With New Hollywood's demise, filmmakers like Jim Jarmush, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Allison Anders, and Quentin Tarantino went their own way.  Similar to New Hollywood's fall, success would help kill this generation of DIYers as well.  

Disney buying Miramax in 1993 was the first domino to fall.  By decades end, virtually all of the indie players were bought out as every studio created their own indie sub-divisions. These "IndieWood" divisions, originally hungrier for critical acclaim and Oscar gold than box office green (although, more than ever, we now see that it's always about the green) spent like the big boys to achieve their goal.  And that of course was because they were funded by the big boys. Competition between Miramax and those that followed like Fine Line, Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, Focus Features, and others bumped up the stakes for all.  Budgets and star power skyrocketed as each tried being a bigger indie than the other.

Not that these sub-divisions were bad for the movie goer.  Crash, Juno, Waitress, Little Children, and Little Miss Sunshine are only a few examples of good films that audience members could not find before the studios gave home to their indie division foster children.  In terms of truly being indie however, they're as authentic to the indie spirit as Creed was authentic to alternative rock. Granted, any comparison to Creed is harsh, our apologies for that, but the point is that while Little Miss was warm, smart, sweet, and very funny, it wasn't by any means a true indie. 

Until the mid 2000s, sub-division's engaged in faux-indie wars, leading to 20 million dollar "indie" budgets. Miramax went from being (pre-Disney) home to The Grifters and the Crying Game, to the home of bloated messes like Gangs of New York, and Cold Mountain.  Shortly after the release of Miramax' Cinderella Man, however, the Weinstein's again changed the rules.  They left Disney and the most famous and acclaimed sub-division of them all.  Since then, studios (despite Oscar success) have been merging and killing off entire sub-divisions which has thus made the latest round of Indiewood flicks even more "Wood" and less "Indie" than ever before.  

This while, on the other end of the spectrum, HD cameras, Final Cut Pro, internet distribution, plus great tax rebates in places like Connecticut has made it possible for anyone to make a $50,000 feature.  So again we ask, where is the middle ground? The middle ground which gave us films like Poison?    

Brooklyn Atlantic is a product of the digital world.  It is ever grateful to the person who invented the Canon XL2.  It is one of the many getting by on shoestring shorts, and hasn't even touched the world of features yet.  Its goal however is not YouTube popularity, nor sub-division budgets.  With the help of artists who have something to say, generous (ahem-ahem) investors, and ballsy distributors, Brooklyn Atlantic's lofty goal is to play a small part in bringing back the mid-range independent.  Bringing back films (such as Spanking the Monkey, Kids, Safe, and Welcome to the Dollhouse) which because of content, competing budgets, star power, and the agents who represent them, are no longer being made.  

In the future we hope to step into the past by making the type of movies which others no longer make. In the more immediate future however, we look to start by plugging away with our digital shorts. We'll soon add a wide collection of reels, highlighting talent we've come across, and of course, we'll rant a bit too.  Not about the over saturated topics that can be found on any blog, or MSM website, but instead rant about the smaller stories, hidden away, deeper in the arts, news, politics and spots pages.  Reels and rants aside, as the newest member of the ever-growing entertainment business, our long term goal is simply to entertain in an old school, sorta way!*

UPDATE -  September 15th, 2008:  Brooklyn Atlantic's Under the N recently had the great pleasure of opening for a true indie feature this past Saturday at the LIFF.

The aptly titled, Big Heart City, directed by Ben Rodkin, stars Shawn Andrews (Dazed and Confused) and has the 70's styled, quiet grit and grunge, which would make John Cassavetes proud.  Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, it co-stars Cassavetes' actor, and indie legend, Seymour Cassel (Faces, Trees Lounge, and a bunch of dry, hardy-har-har, Wes Anderson comedies). 

Ben, if you're reading this, thank you!  We hope to follow your lead!