Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2010
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The Rating System

Posted: Thursday, April 8, 2010
by Jeremy Doyle

The Question.

A couple of weeks ago Julie and Jessica threw out a simple question (on the King is a Fink facebook fan page) that really intrigued me.  It was a question that has many implications and the answers are completely subjective.  It effects everyone that watches movies.  Their question: PG-13?  That was it, a simple rating with a question mark.  My answer at that time was, "I have a lot to say about it.  Maybe I should make it a blog post."  Welcome to that post.

Now at this point I could go into a whole description of the rating process and the history of ratings, but that information is already out there, so I'll just point you in that direction if you want to read more about it:

There is also a tremendous documentary that I would highly recommend that goes pretty in depth as well.  Its title is "This Film Not Yet Rated".  Not only does it cover ratings, it also goes into some piracy issues which are very interesting.

For the sake of this post, I'm just going to list the current ratings and their definition.

G - General Audiences
All ages admitted
PG - Parental Guidance Suggested
Some material may not be suitable for children
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian
NC-17 - No One 17 and Under Admitted

Here is my take on the ratings system:

 It sucks.  It's good intentioned, but it doesn't work.  Much like the television and video game rating systems, the MPAA is a self-governed committee.  They are putting ratings on films as a way to self-police, and there is no standard for giving a film a rating.

Now as we watch films we can start to guess at the formula.   Generally, in my observation, if you have male full-frontal nudity, you are going to get an "R" rating.  On the contrary, if you have female frontal nudity, (by female frontal nudity I mean breasts and / or vagina) it's going to depend on the length of the shot.  Take, for instance, one of the first PG-13 movies, "The Woman in Red", which has a scene of a woman's dress being blown up.  Guess what?  No underwear.  What?  Why is that? How come the double standard?

If you use the "F" word more than twice, you'll pretty much be guaranteed a "R".  I guess other profanities are less vile, as they don't earn an "R".  Seriously?  Why?  This is language most people hear everyday.

Language is such an objective, culture-based thing.  I don't use "profane" language much myself for the simple fact that I don't find it polite.  But it doesn't take much looking around to see that even politeness changes. "Pissed off" is something that I regularly say.  It's common language now days.  However, I'm thinking it wasn't that long ago that that phrase seemed pretty vulgar.

Most people are either familiar with or have heard of The Ten Commandments.  At one point in time this was a moral code.  Are they relevant for today?  Not according to the ratings system.  There is not a single one of them that, if broken in a film, would give it more than a PG rating.  So where do we derive our moral code from?  How is that translated into our films?  What is the compass the ratings board uses to judge things?

Clearly, in my opinion, the ratings system is broken. 

Back to the original question...

PG-13?  Yes, I believe there needs to be something between PG and R.  A couple years ago a change was made that was much needed and has improved an imperfect, broken system.  Underneath the rating is a box that lists the potentially objectionable content that was used to determine the film's rating.  For me, especially now as a parent, this is helpful.  I know what my child is being exposed to.  Don't get me wrong, I will still see the majority of movies before my children do in their formative years, but it could (and should) be a big help to lazy parents.  The short of it is, you can't un-see something.  Whether it be in real life or at the movies, it will be filed in your memory.  And, as parents, it's important to pay attention to what's going into our kids' heads.

In the end, I believe that the ratings system a broken system, but it's something that needs to be in place.  

This is a big, big topicI didn't even get into violence or how ratings effect box office ticket sales.  Feel free to add your comments. 
  • What are your thoughts about the rating system? 
  • Can you think of an alternative?
  • And I'll ask again: PG-13? 
BTW Tilt, if rated at this point, would be  "PG-13" "R" for Language, Violence, Some Drug Use. Of course, the script's only 2/3's done, so maybe that will change and we can still hit "NC-17"...

What makes a movie compelling?

Posted: Monday, April 5, 2010
by Jeremy Doyle

What makes a movie compelling?

Is it the actors?  Is it the shooting? The editing?  The musical score? Sure all these things add into it, but none on their own make a movie compelling.  I believe the answer to what makes a movie compelling is the story.  Without a compelling story, movies become forgettable.  

Because I work in production and post-production and have for the last 13 years, I watch movies and TV differently.  I'm critical of the lighting, editing, sound mix, color grade, shot composition, and just about everything else. There is no way around it.  That is just how I'm wired.  I'm sure many of you reading this blog can relate.  

If a story is good, I'll be drawn in and the analysis will become secondary.  I'll throw out an example from an educational video that my wife and I were watching recently.  The host was telling a dramatic story of a friend who had cancer.  The music was slow and low, giving a sad vibe.  Photos of the friend were doing simple fade ins and outs as not to draw attention to the editing.  When it dissolved to the talking head, the camera was on a slow zoom in (and when I say slow, I mean crawl, barely distinguishable) to heighten the intensity.  Then as the story climaxed, the music switched.  It became a little quicker and more lively.  My mood lifted. The camera started to pull back lessening the tension.  

I was fully aware of every trick being done in the production and still I felt the tears building in my eyes.  The story had touched me.  I was able to put myself in the storytellers place and relate with the people being talked about.

Later, in the car, my wife and I were talking about what we had just saw.  I told her I had been laughing at the same time as crying because I was fully aware of how I was being manipulated, but it didn't matter.  The story connected.  She just looked at me, because she knew.  She knew I can't just watch something without analyzing it.  It's rubbed off too.  She can sometimes speak my language now, as we dissect what we watch.

What does that mean for us as indie filmmakers? 

Let me throw out a couple of my ideas.  

First, we have to have a compelling story.  It has to be interesting and people have to be able to connect to it.  The easiest way for this to happen is for the characters to be relatable.  You have to see part of yourself or part of someone you know in a character.  Another way this can be done is by telling a tale people are familiar with.  The subject matter is relatable.  The audience has experienced what is happening, and shared experiences make it relatable.  Still another way is to make it so unique, that every one watching is learning something.  In my opinion this can be hit or miss.  Some people just don't want to experience or learn new things and I think you'll lose them fast. So, in my opinion, the easiest way is to make it relatable either by character or experience.

Second, indies are made with sweat equity.  Lots of time and devotion.  People pouring their own hard earned money from their day job, supporting their film making habits.  These films are our babies.  They are a part of us.  They are stories we believe need to be told.  Because of this emotional attachment, we can sometimes take criticism the wrong way.  We need to be able to step away from the story and look it from another view point.  This is very challenging, but needs to be done.

To sum it up, I think story is the key, but the acting, shooting, editing, and sound all play support parts that if not done properly, can distract from the story.

What do you think?  Can a movie be compelling without a captivating story?

An Intimate Look at King is a Fink's Screenwriting Process

Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010

Casting Tilt: Part 1

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010
There are a lot of things that go into pre-production.  It's a busy time, trying to fit everything together to prepare for shooting.  There is one task, though, that has me in equal parts excitement and worry. Casting.  I think the casting of Tilt will be one of the more difficult parts of the pre-production process. There are several things that are working against us. However, I believe we will find the right people. And then I'll be able to sleep again, for a little while.


This can be a stumbling block.  I would imagine that it would be so much easier to get people to try out for parts if they know they will get paid.  This will not be one of those films, though. Tilt is an ultra-low budget film.  There is not going to be a place in the budget for actors, aside from expenses.  We will be covering travel, accommodations, and meals.  Hmmm...written like that, it sounds like a vacation.  Maybe that's how I should put it in the casting notice: "Come to the beautiful Brainerd Lakes area for an all inclusive acting gig."  I like it!


Some of the roles in this movie are not easy down right difficult.  The two main characters are complex and will really take some special actors to be able to pull them off.  I have gotten really lucky with the actors for my short films.  There have been some fantastic performances, even from people who have never acted before.  I'm going to need some of that luck, now more than ever.  I know there is someone out there who is going to be perfect for each of the parts.  The hard part is going to be finding them. 

Location, Location, Location

Brainerd, without a doubt, is a very lovely place to live.  I really enjoy it here, and I think it's a great place to raise my kids.  That being said, Brainerd is not a very lovely place to cast a feature film.  I would like to audition as many actors as I can for these wonderful roles, but the population of Brainerd is 13,178.  Our friend, Ted Fisher has about that many people who live on his block.  So, it looks like we will have to spread our search a little wider than just locally this time.  

If we go south 2 - 2.5 hours, we have the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Now we're getting somewhere.  We might even find a little bit of that luck I was talking about.  I know there are people in the Twin Cities who want to act, but what other projects are we competing with to get actors?  Well, here is a comparison.  I pulled a screenshot of the casting notices for New York City and from all of Minnesota from in the casting lo/no pay catagory.

Click photo to blow up New York!

Click photo to blow up Minnesota!

There are 296 results in New York City and 1 result in all of Minnesota.  Of course, that's only on one website, but the research I've done hasn't turned up a huge number of of casting notices on any site for Minnesota.  Perhaps there just aren't a lot of features films going on in Minnesota?  Maybe this will work in our favor.  

There are a couple other websites I will post the casting notice on.  One will, of course, be craigslist; I don't think I need to explain that.  However, should I post it in the talent section under gigs or in the tv/film/video section under jobs?  The other site I'll be posting to is our Minnesota Film and TV Board website.  It's a great resource for anyone considering filming in Minnesota.  

Hmmm, maybe all of this isn't going to be so bad.  Now, to get people to drive a couple hours north to come to a casting call.  Stay tuned for part 2...

Let’s Do It: Writing a Movie Based on Someone Else’s Idea

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2010
by Julie & Jessica of King is a Fink

Director Phil Holbrook had been kicking around his idea for TILT for a few years, but our involvement with the project started on December 29th, 2009, with this message:
Just for the sake of discussion, what do you think you would charge for a script, if you were given an idea & an outline?
I’m pretty sure we looked at each other and said “one million dollars” in unison.  Then we took a deep breath and got serious.  What would writing for another person mean?  The decision to take on this project wasn't easy.  Soon after getting Phil's message, we “met” him on Skype.  He shared his idea with us, which had to have been hard, and then we mulled it over for a couple of days. 

While we didn’t actually make a pro and con list, if we had, it would have looked something like this:

  • We’d ever worked with anyone else on this level.  So far we’d written 15 or so shorts and (almost) 3 feature-length screenplays, but our process had been a private one.  By accepting this assignment, we’d be not only developing someone else’s idea but relying on their feedback and criticism.  This. Was. Scary.
  • We had other projects on our slate.  We were about to finish The Unlovables.  We wanted to revise Moonbugs.  We were in talks to adapt a naughty memoir by author Kevin Keck (no relation; totally family).  We wanted to make another short.  Did we really have time for another major project?
  • What if it didn’t work out?  This was the most worrisome issue.  We’d developed a great rapport with Phil and considered him our friend, but we knew that there could be problems.  What would happen if he didn’t like what we wrote?  Or what if we wrote the movie and didn’t like his directing?  What if the movie was a huge success but we didn’t like how the profits were split up?  (Admittedly, the last one would be a great problem to have.)  Lots of things could go wrong.
  • First and foremost, we really liked Phil.  We’d developed a great rapport with him over Twitter, submitted shorts (and gotten accepted) to his film festival, and genuinely enjoyed interacting with him.  We also thought he was a talented director.  (You've seen Honest Work, right?)  Phil was the perfect Twitter friend: supportive of others projects and eager to share great information.  And he was just freakin’ funny.
  • We genuinely liked Phil’s basic idea.  The idea was fresh, provocative, and edgy, definitely in line with our other work. 
  • The project fit in with our ultimate goal, which was to write screenplays for others.  If we could successfully partner with Phil, develop a script that he loved, and help him make the best movie possible, we’d have proof that we could do the same for other directors.  (Kathryn Bigelow, can you hear us?)
Our Decision
Obviously, we decided to take the leap and join Phil on this journey.  No regrets.
First Steps
After we decided to take on the project, we emailed Phil a 5-page treatment for TILT.  We’d fleshed out the story in some ways that he hadn’t expected, but, from the very beginning, he encouraged us to contribute our own ideas.  This has been one of the best things about working with Phil: he has always maintained that this is our project, too.  It's made the writing process a lot easier.  We don’t just submit pages to him like he’s our boss; we share our work with him as our partner, someone we can rely on for honest feedback and encouragement.  

Turning in Act One
As promised, we turned in Act One to Phil the week before EgoFest.  And then...we didn’t hear back from him.  For about 12 hours.  Julie's hair turned white.  We worried that he didn’t like the script, that he didn’t want to work with us anymore, that we’d ruined everything.  But the next morning Phil sent us a message saying that, overall, he liked what we’d done.  Whew...

Our 1st Big Collaborative Bump

While we were in Brainerd for EgoFest, we talked a lot about TILT, and we talked about one particular element of Act Two that we all had differing opinions on.  Without giving anything away, there’s an element that Phil wanted to add that we disagreed with.   By the end of the weekend, Jess and I had promised to give it a shot.  On the ten-hour drive back home to Chicago we threw ideas back and forth and tried to figure it out.  By the time we got home, though, we still hadn't figured out how to incorporate Phil's request.

A Big Talk
We talked with Phil about the issue over Skype, and it was the most difficult talk we've had.  In the end, we asked Phil to give us a chance to prove that we could make a solid Act Two our way.  We know this had to be hard on Phil; it took a huge toll on us.  On one hand, we knew that this had started as Phil’s project, and we wanted to give him what he wanted.  We didn't want to let him down.  On the other hand, we wanted to stay true to ourselves and create character arcs and story lines that made sense to us.  We also wanted to end up with something that we could share with others as a true reflection of our ability to develop stories.

We sort of felt like we were designers on Project Runway: we wanted to satisfy our client (Phil) while still letting our personal style shine through.  (Hmm, note to Phil: we may need to get a TILT Tim Gunn.  And maybe a TILT Heidi Klum.)

Ready for Act Two?
We’re planning on turning in Act Two to Phil by Saturday (3/27).  We think it’s good.  We hope Phil does, too.  We’re still a little nervous about showing him what we’ve done, but, in the end, we know that we’ll be able to talk about the story honestly and respectfully.  Our partnership is solid (solid as a rock, in fact), and we all have the same goal: to create the best movie possible.

Where's The Time?

Posted: Monday, March 22, 2010
I was asked a question recently while eating lunch at the E Squared Cafe.  "How in the world do you find the time to work, spend time with your family, and make films?"  That is a very good question.  I have a day job, my own video production business, a family, and then this passion for filmmaking that seems to keep me from ever being bored.   Sometimes I'm not sure where all the time comes from (or where it goes), but I do my best to keep track of it.


I need to use some tools to keep me on track.  The old memory just isn't what it used to be.  I have tried tons of task management, or "to do" programs, ranging from really simple to having many features.  ToDo, Toodledo, Awesome Note, and Remember the Milk are just a few.  For one reason or another, I would quit using the programs and go back to just using my Mac's iCal. One of my big issues had always been syncing everything between home, work, and my ipod touch.  This should be easy.  It should just work.  Perhaps it's one of those "you need to be smarter than the equipment" type of things.  Lately, I've been using google calendar, and I really like it.  I can put in tasks, and, no matter what computer I use, it's always there and up to date.

Plan the Obvious

I'm going to write for a while today.  Do I really need to put that on my list?  Why, yes. Yes, I do.  I know it's not like a meeting or something with a specific time, but it should be.  I need to put a specific time on it, or it might not get done.  There are many things that I could be doing with my day, and, if I don't put on my list that I will be writing from 7-8, what's to stop me from doing something else?  I can get involved in a project, and the blinders go on.  Without setting aside time to do some of the basic things, I might get unbalanced and start ignoring what's really important.  This may sound really stupid, but I specifically set aside time to spend with my kids.  They are important to me.  Why shouldn't I give them at least the same respect I give someone I have a lunch meeting with?  But if I have time set aside to do certain tasks, what happens if something pops up, you know, surprise-style?

Plan Spontaneity

Can you really plan to be spontaneous?  I think so.  For starters, I try not to jam too many tasks into one day.  I realize that it can't always be helped, but ,for the most part, you don't have to be 100 mph all the time.  This does two things for me.  One, it's nice to get to the end of the day and know that you were able to finish everything you were hoping to accomplish.  I don't care who you are - that's a good feeling.  And two, (here's the spontaneous part) if I don't have my entire day mapped out, it leaves time for those things that just "pop up."  I can go outside and play with the kids, work on a new idea, work on the what I feel artistically pulled to at the moment, or even just sit back and listen to the latest episode of Film Courage (@FilmCourage).

I may be busy, but I'm living a life.  I also know I'm not the only one who has to tackle these time issues.  How do you do it?