Its All About Magic, Movies and Magicians

These days, there is a wide range of movies which speak loud about magicians, magic or more precisely illusions. They have been around for quite a long time but have proven popular from only some countable years. This is the result of the latest illusion creating technologies, animation science and growing interest in the magicians and movies. Filmmakers today frame up a great drama which drives the audience in to a whole new world of magic, thinking it to be all real and achievable. They push one to make a journey through new zones of capabilities and possibilities.

Magicians in the movies take the breath out of audience with their ability to mislead and slight moves of hand to make the unbelievable, believable. The list of movies about spells and witchcraft is endless and many such movies and TV shows speak volumes about their glory. Some of the famous movies about illusionists and magic are as follows:

To begin with, Bewitched, a movie which was directed in 2005 following a television show with the same title, became highly talked about, the world over. The protagonist is a good natured, naive witch who is determined to part ways with her supernatural powers and lead a normal life for the happiness of her husband.

Two other movies that hit the cinemas a couple of years back are the Illusionist and the Prestige. Though Illusionist did not leave much of a mark on the audience, the Prestige was highly recognized and appreciated. It is about a physicist who develops a machine which can tele-port a man from from one place to another in a fraction of seconds. The plot of the movie is simple but is told in a much complicated fashion. Yet it is a thrilling, intelligent film which surely keep one hooked till the end of the movie.

Talking of these movies about magicians, one cannot skip to mention the Harry Potter series. These movies have gripped a mass of audience through their popular book series. The special effects and the story line keeps all age groups totally attracted.

Hopefully there will come a new era of such exciting movies about magicians in the coming years. With more special effects and better equipment to make the line between illusion and reality finer, chances are surely high, that we will be greeted with spectacular movies portraying magicians, in the future.

Movies That Show Us Ourselves

There’s a type of movie I particularly like. By its construction, such a movie helps bring forward what’s required from you to complete it. You give it its definition; that, to me, is a real viewing experience—to personalize it and make it your own, meanings as various as the numbers of people who create them.

It’s easy to identify such a picture by its reviews, which are always in marvelous disagreement as to what the picture is fundamentally about. These movies differ from the straight story types in the same way teaching styles are dissimilar, the didactic method (you’re told or shown what the point is and you learn it; the fair-minded goodness of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is an artful example) versus the socratic (you’re led to discover the point on your own). The discovery may just happen to be about yourself, because your interpretation of the movie shows something that you may not have been conscious of. I have four of these “socratic” movies in mind as examples, Agnes of God; All Is Lost and Life of Pi; and last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Birdman, all movies that introduced me to myself more fully, the first exposing a core spiritual value system, the next two the strength of a spiritual belief, the last the depth of my perception. The films cover quite a span of years, paralleling stages of personal development I had to go through to be ready for them.

Agnes of God (1985)

This was the first that made me aware of the type of movie I describe. In it, a newborn is found strangled and disposed of in the room of a young nun, Sister Agnes. She’s the mother of the child, though the Mother Superior says Agnes has no memory of the conception or pregnancy. A court-appointed psychiatrist investigates, trying to determine if the nun is mentally capable of standing trial. Uncovering how psychologically troubled Agnes is, the psychiatrist proceeds in building a case for homicide, while the Mother Superior defends her innocence as a girl manifesting a miracle of God, the most convincing result of which are her stigmata. The clash between the two demands that you, the viewer, resolve the conflict, because the movie never confirms guilt or innocence. Your judgment of whether Agnes is touched by God or by madness solves the mystery and at the same time reveals your sense of values, faith or reason.

For me, it’s reason, which turned out to be an important finding for my future spiritual quest. I began to know then that matters of God must make rational sense to me before I can have faith. Faith for me is determined first by the mind, then the heart. If you question your own subterranean bias, watch this movie and I guarantee your natural response to it will provide the answer.

All Is Lost (2013) and Life of Pi (2012)

I was so affected by All Is Lost, I published a blog shortly after I’d seen it, “All Is Not Lost.” I’d been interested initially because Robert Redford was the star—and furthermore the only on-screen character—and I am a fan. But it unfolded to be vastly more than just a Redford vehicle, and, for the sake of the viewers surrounding me in the theater, I had to stifle the sobs that welled up in my chest because of the final scene, a compelling moment which some viewers would see as proof of God’s salvation.

I was astonished by my own reaction, for I’d not realized how powerfully my God-seeking journey had taken hold until I was faced with deciding the movie’s meaning. A secularist would experience the story as an adventure tale of a man lost at sea, all events and circumstances taken literally at the level of reality only; a spiritualist, which my surprise reaction determined me to be, would take it metaphorically as a soul’s journey, the movie’s rich setting full of symbology and hints at a religious thrust.

The other movie, Life of Pi, presents the same form of interpretive choice. At the end of Pi’s story, however, the selection the viewer has to make as to meaning is made explicit. In contrast to Our Man (Redford) in All Is Lost, where a religious theme coexists implicitly with an overtly secular one, the adult Pi tells two versions of his earlier adventure at sea as a boy, mystical and pragmatic, and then finally asks directly, Which do you believe? The voyage of his soul, sailing in surrender to the vast unknown with his only companion, a God-like Bengal tiger whom Pi loved and feared in equal measure? Or the voyage of his raft? I sobbed all the way home from that film, too, moved beyond words by Pi’s spiritual experience, he a novice seeker so like myself at the time.

Birdman (2014)

This movie posed the toughest revelation, my ability to see. The full title of it is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The subtitle (and veiled by parentheses yet!) should have been a tip-off that the movie was going to be enlightening if I could let it be; for, let’s face it, the only unexpected “virtue” of being ignorant is when you’re not anymore. Yet I couldn’t discern the movie’s real point at first, and I left the theater afterward feeling disappointed by a skimpy black comedy about actors’ pretensions. The movie had had a big promotion budget and therefore lots of pre-release buzz about its Oscar quality. But I felt cheated by the predictable story of a washed-up movie actor’s egomaniacal attempt at career redemption. However, Birdman kept pecking at my thinking, patiently dwindling my ignorance. Finally I got it because I saw this clue: the play-within-the-movie was named “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Well, what do we talk about?

That play is the platform that has-been Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson uses to get audiences to adore him again as they did back in his glory days of playing movie superhero Birdman. And there the Birdman still is, in fact, dogging Riggan, reminding him of what used to be, driving him to (at worst) insanity, to (at best) insensitive dismissal of all else but scrambling to the top again. Birdman even whisks him away on fantasy flights high above Broadway, metaphors for Riggan’s obsessive lust for celebrity—that famous stand-in for love—again. By the end, and after a dramatic ironic reversal of Riggan’s rotten comeback luck, Birdman’s left squatting in the bathroom (a darkly humorous symbol for how the past can block and constipate a life) and Riggan is surrounded by the ones who had loved him—really loved him—all along, his daughter, his ex-wife, his longtime agent. Recognizing this at last (not ignorant anymore), Riggan takes off in joyful flight on his own. What we talk about when we talk about love, therefore, is up to us, the genuine, accepting love which is offered right before us, or the fickle, superficial, people-pleasing variety.

Now that’s a meaningful flick. But, with Birdman, it’s up to the viewer to know it, to explore beneath the obvious story line about the conceits and self-involvement of the entertainment industry (movies and the “legitimate”—read “Broadway, New York City”—theater). See it (or see it again), and test your depth perception. Because of my life experience, I found my level of sense; you may find another one, filtering even farther below the story’s surface.

That is the glory of the capital-A Arts. Through the extent of understanding of individual recipients, the significance of works of art is determined. Which, in turn, helps to tell us who we are.

Indie Film Financing and Movie Distribution – Dancing Nude

Indie film financing and movie distribution reminds of what it would feel like dancing nude on stage (much respect for exotic dancers at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club!). You show up to pitch your movie project and need to be able to dance to a film investor’s music. It’s their stage and not yours as an indie filmmaker seeking film funding. They want you to make a sellable movie which appeals to movie distributors so the production can make money.

Most investors I’ve met with are not interested in putting hard money into indie art house films because those are tough sells to movie distributors and overseas film buyers aren’t usually interested in seeing them. The dialogue and scenes of certain art house type films don’t translate well to foreign buyers and movie viewers. Action, horror and skin does not need subtitles for people to follow the story is what I’ve been told by distributors. Talking head movies can make no sense to viewers that don’t understand subtle lines spoken in a foreign language.

Independent film financing continues to change as indie movie distribution gets more financially shaky. The place it’s hitting indie movie producers hardest is right at the source – film financing. Film investors right now aren’t feeling excited about putting money into movies that do not have bankable name actors. This is not like so-called indie movies that have A-list actors or are produced for millions of dollars. Those type of indie film passion projects you can make once you’ve made it in the entertainment business at the studio level.

Indie film investors and movie distributors won’t expect you to have an A-list actor, but they do want producers to have actors (B-list or C-list or D-list) with some name recognition or celebrity. The first question film investors and movie distributors ask is who the cast is. This is where most indie movie producers are blown out of the water because they have an unknown cast of actors. Plus there is a glut of indie movies being made because technology has made it more affordable to make movies.

The bright side is that entertaining indie movies are being made that might not otherwise ever have seen light of day before. The downside is meaningful movie distribution (getting paid) for indie produced films continues to shrink as indie films being made rises (supply and demand 101). I talked to one movie distributor that caters to releasing independent films and they told me they receive new film submissions daily.

They were honest saying they get very sellable movies and ones that are less than appealing, but with so many movies out there they no longer offer a majority of producers advance money against film royalties or pay a lump cash “buy-out” to secure distribution rights. Their business viewpoint is most indie filmmakers are just happy seeing their movie released. The term they used was “glorified showreel” for an indie filmmaker to display they can make a feature film. So, they acquire many of their movie releases without paying an advance or offering a “buy-out” agreement.

Not making a profit from a movie does not make financial sense for film investors that expect to see money made. When people put up money to produce a movie they want a return on their investment. Otherwise it’s no longer a movie investment. It becomes a film donation of money they’re giving away with no expectations. I’ve been on the “dog and pony show” circuit meeting with potential film investors and learning invaluable lessons.

I’m in the habit now of talking to indie movie distributors before writing a screenplay to see what types of films are selling and what actors or celebrity names attached to a potential project appeal to them. This is not like chasing trends, but it gives producers a sharper picture of the sales climate for indie films. Sometimes distributors will give me a short list of actors or celebrities to consider that fit an independent movie budget. Movie sales outside of the U.S. are where a bulk of the money is made for indie filmmakers.

Movie distributors and film sales agents can tell you what actors and celebrity talent is translating to movie sales overseas at the indie level. These won’t be A-list names, but having someone with some kind of name is a great selling point to help your movie standout from others. Brief cameos of known actors or celebrities used to be a good way to keep talent cost down and add a bankable name to your cast.

That has changed lately from my conversations with distribution companies. Movie distributors now expect any name talent attached to have a meaningful part in the movie instead of a few minutes in a cameo role. Cameo scenes can still work if there is a visual hook that grabs the attention of viewers in some way. But having name talent say a couple of lines with no special hook won’t fly anymore.

Another way to make an indie film in need of funding more attractive to investors is to attach talent that has been in a movie or TV show of note. Their name as an actor might not be that well-known yet, but rising stars that have appeared in a popular movie or TV show can give your movie broader appeal. If you cast them in a supporting role keep working days on the set down to a minimum to save your budget. Try to write their scenes so they can be shot in one or two days.

When you’re pitching to serious film investors they will want to be given a detailed movie budget and distribution plan on how you plan on making money from the film’s release. The Catch-22 that happens a lot is that most movie distributors that cater to releasing indie films won’t commit to any deal until they’ve screened the movie.

There is not built-in distribution like with studio budget films. Film investors that are not traditionally part of the entertainment business can get turned off when a producer does not have a distribution deal already in place. They don’t understand the Catch-22 of indie filmmaking and distribution. This is where a movie producer really needs to have a solid pitch that explains the financial dynamics of indie film distribution.

Most film investors will pass on an indie movie producer’s financing pitch that mentions self-distribution in it. From a movie investor’s business perspective it takes entirely too long for an indie movie to generate money going the self-distribution route. It’s like the old school way of selling your movie out of the trunk of your car at places, but now it’s done online using digital distribution and direct sales via a blog. That’s a long grind that most investors will not be interested in waiting around for. Moving one unit of a movie at a time is too slow of trickle for investors.

A possible way around the Catch-22 is to reach out to movie distributors while you are pitching to film investors. With a firm budget number and possible cast attached you can gauge to see if there is any meaningful distribution interest in the movie. It’s always possible a distributor will tell you that they would offer an advance or “buy-out” deal. They usually won’t give you a hard number, but even a ballpark figure of what they might offer can let you know if your budget makes financial sense to approach movie investors with.

I know one savvy indie movie producer that makes 4-6 movies a year on very reasonable budgets and knows they’re already making a profit from the advance money alone. The film royalty payments are a bonus. The producer keeps budgets extremely affordable and streamlined at every phase of production. Once you have a track record with a distribution company you know what you can expect to be paid. Then you can offer film investors a percent on their money invested into the production that makes sense.

Social networking with other indie filmmakers lets you hear what’s happening with movie distribution from other people’s real life experiences. A cool thing I’ve been hearing about is that there are film investors that won’t put up money to make movie that is going to be self-distributed, but they will roll the dice on a feature that is going to specific film festivals. Not the art house film festivals. The ones that are very genre specific like for horror or action films. Like Screamfest Horror Film Festival or Action on Film (AOF). Film buyers attend these events and meaningful distribution deals are made.

Independent film financing and movie distribution are areas of the entertainment business all filmmakers will have to deal with and learn from each experience. I was in the hot seat today pitching to a film investor. I’ve streamlined the budget as much as I can without making the plot lose steam.

The jam I’m in as a producer is there are hard costs that cannot be avoided that include lots of gun play including two rigging shots where baddies get shot and are blown backwards off their feet. Badass action films need experienced and seasoned film crews to pull-off hardcore action shots off clean and safe. The cast I want to hire has the perfect appeal and name recognition for this indie action movie to rock viewers. There is nothing that can get lost in the translation in this film for foreign film buyers and movie viewers.

What I think got lost in the translation with the potential film investor today is if I keep taking out below-the-line crew to save money I’m going to have to do rewrites to the screenplay to take out action scenes. These are selling points that will hurt sales if they are written out. But it’s my job as an indie filmmaker to balance a budget that appeals to film investors. We’ll see how this goes. This is indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing fade out.