October 30, 2015

Teaching the New Model

Professor Jason E. Squire hosts DIY Panel

Jason Squire with the DIY panelists

Everyone has noticed that the entertainment industry is changing. Gallons of ink have been spilled about the tech revolution in film in television with regards to Virtual Reality, online networks, the smallest pocket-sized cameras, and the largest IMAX films. The more quiet revolution of the past five years, however, has been in the worlds of workflow and cost. As superhero films grew and grew, film crews in the micro budget, DIY world shrank and shrank.

USC School of Cinematic Arts Professor Jason E. Squire has become a cheerleader, mentor, and a hub of information for Trojans looking to break into the world of micro budget and, on October 28th, he hosted a panel of DIY film professionals that featured producer Mali Elfman (Fun Size Horror Series), producer Eric B. Fleischman (Ritual, Carnage Park), Gersh Talent Agent Josh Glick, Writer-Director Mickey Keating (Ritual, Carnage Park), Blumhouse Chief of Staff Olivia Mascheroni, and Adam Paulson, a CAA Finance Agent.

“There are three models of filmmaking business these days,” said Squire. “There's the studio model. It's bigger. It's established. It's expensive.  The second is the independent business model. It's rough around the edges and its content is much more specific. It's much harder to distribute because of content and it's similar to the studio model. And then we have the DIY, micro-budget model which bypasses the traditional routes. Sometimes the content goes directly onto streaming. It's done on extremely low budgets and in extremely challenging conditions. Our panelists on the 28th were practitioners and pioneers of this new form."

The conversation maintained a balance between the business and art of the new form of filmmaking. Mickey Keating, who started his career with the micro budget slasher Ritual, stated that micro-budget filmmaking is more of an art than its commercial studio counterparts. He said that, while DIY filmmaking is a labor of love, it can also be part of a bigger career strategy.

“It's that willingness to take a risk on yourself and put up with the complete nonsense of zero budget production,” said Keating. “At the end of the day, you have autonomy over the art that you make and, in a lot of ways, it's embracing the idea that if you do everything, the art is ultimately yours. It's worth it to have your own sculpture, something you made.”

Panelist Eric B. Fleischman has actually created a new model of DIY films and, since recently graduating from SCA, has produced nine films which have all turned a profit. He encouraged students to think about the commercial prospects of their film before submitting to agents, sales agents, or any other places. “There are more films being submitted than there used to be, so you have to be smart. You have to be targeted. It used to be enough to just make a film, but now you have to find people that you trust and not only make a good film but make the right film.”

Mascheroni from the company Blumhouse has a foot in both the DIY and the studio world. Blumhouse began its long run of massive grossing hits with the DIY film Paranormal Activity and has continued to work with new talents and small budgets. She recommended that students consider DIY filmmaking as a healthy place to start their careers. “Even though Blumhouse is a little more established, we look at micro budgets as an opportunity for talent. It's kind of a 'show us what you got' [mentality]. It's a calling card so [Blumhouse] knows who to trust. What we also love is when people just do what they want. People just putting it out there. Doing work they love. That's what this space is perfect for. Trying something for the sake of doing it. Besides that, it's a resume. For actors. For directors. For producers. You can say, 'I made this. Reckon with that.’"

Mali Elfman, who produces the Fun Size Horror series, encouraged students to consider new models when looking for distribution and to create their own path rather than following in anyone else’s footsteps -- including those of the panelists. “Distribution is something that’s constantly shifting. There are always going to be the traditional models: foreign presales, trying to get to a studio. One of the things that I learned is that distribution evolves. The real opportunity is finding something that hasn’t been done before.”

The event was sponsored by the producing track of the Production Division. Panelists took questions from the crowd and encouraged several students to take a more entrepreneurial role with their careers. The advice was practical and, for the most part, encouraged students to use their own judgment when navigating the new, scrappier world of DIY. As the models of DIY filmmaking continue to become a viable career and art, professors like Jason E. Squire are making sure they have a place in the discussion at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.