Friday, January 8, 2010

Features vs TV

My friend Lynn Ival, actor and visual artist Lynn Ivall asked me about the difference between feature films and TV movies so while this might be old hat for some of you, let me offer my take on the whole thing.

First of all, feature films are those made for theatrical release and of course TV movies are made for what else... TV. And features end up on TV after their run is finished, usually a few weeks for average films, a month or two for more successful films, and of course, the Avatar audience will most likely keep it in theaters for maybe 6 months with one of those odd things like a theater in Toledo who plays it for the full year. 

Here's another point; features are the status movies, they are made by major studios like Paramount and Warner's and Universal. More money is spent on them (unless you count Paranormal Activity, but we know that as a "non-recurring phenomenon) and bigger stars and the prestige is greater, you could get nominated for an Academy Award vs the same nominations every year for the TV award Emmy.

Their poorer sibling, the TV movie began way back in the late 60's when TV networks  were starved for product and there were no HBO's or Showtimes that showed recent feature films. In the beginning, the movies were written by good writers and were actually very good, tackling controversial subjects and even action.

Steven Spielberg's first movie was a TV movie, called DUEL which became a cult feature film in Europe. If you haven't seen it you should. A car pursued by an evil truck on the highway, done in 12 days.

But it wasn't long until the TV movie fell into "disease of the week" as it became known as. You know, the woman who has to go to look after her dying mother or father, or the woman woman whose husband dies and she has to fend for herself. Or the woman with an incurable disease.

Notice something familiar. Yes, towards the end of the 70's they became female-orientated and stayed that way for the next 40 years until they became redundant as plots were redone and redone and re-imagined and re-thought. There were a few good TV movies but not many, not when you stick to the same formula for 40 years.

And yet today TV movies still exist. TV movie production by the major networks ceased in the early 2000's, and they were most of what I did with the exception of a few. Too much competition from pay-TV and videos pretty much killed that genre. But cable networks were quick to pick it up, the female-driven audience was new now, the GenXers with young families. And so the women's network Lifetime began producing and/or buying TV movies. One of my first projects, Betrayal of Silence, was aired by them. 

And Hallmark came along and went beyond their usual Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies (they always had the best screenings with food and live music tied to the theme of the movie.). They had smaller budgeted family movies (my version of Gentle Ben) mostly. Their cost was in the $2 million range rather than the respected but incredibly slow-moving Hall of Fame movies at anywhere up to $9 million.

Then ABC launched it's ABC Family network to create product for their cable sibling. Then came Sci-Fi Channel which bought science-fiction themed movies with monsters and creatures from other worlds. 

And then the prices dropped in the late 2000's, some producers were making these movies for less than $1 million dollars. Most of my TV movies were in the $2.5 to $5 million mark. Suffice it to say these movies weren't very good at all, with B and C level talent and many done in Canada to help keep the costs low.

A friend of mine made one called Savage Planet, where giant bears populated a planet and he had only one day to shoot with a trained bear who waved his paws a few times. The result was fairly comical but it was supposed to be a sci-fi thriller.

Then something else was created.

There's yet another species of movie being made now and before. It's primarily aimed at the DVD market and just to make it confusing, is sometimes referred to as a feature film. But these films never see a big screen nor do they play on regular TV. They are simply made for DVD release and usually star Michael Madsen, Val Kilmer (who seems to have destroyed his feature career), Eric Roberts (did one for me) and a lot of other actors who have slid down the slippery slopes of mediocrity.

I recently read a casting ad for one name actor for $50,000 for one day's work. Thus his name could be put on the DVD box.  Seems the producer hired two other "name" actors, each at $50,000 a day and each in maybe 4 or 5 scenes.  The lead actors were people you never heard of.  The money's not great a once A-list actor, but everyone has bills to pay.  And these guys can get a lot of days like that.

I'm told these "straight to DVD" movies play in Europe and Asia, and this is confirmed as I get residuals from at least 2 movies that went to DVD from Great Britain and Europe with some in Asia and Russia. My best residual was from Turkey for 67 cents.

But, as I mentioned in a previous blog, things are changing. A new format will be released soon into the DVD market but it isn't a DVD, it's a memory card. Like the one in your digital point and shoot camera. Only bigger to fit the full-size video box. Some of you might have forgotten the major concern with DVDs when they came out: they would be easy to steal. So bigger boxes were created and sealed to prevent this.

And of course, the great DVD/BlueRay killer is on-demand video, which I have on Netflix. I can play movies on my computer when I want but those people with new TV sets will have internet jacks built into them and they can now watch some (not all, not yet) movies on big-screen TV straight from Netflix bypassing DVDS completely.

The memory card described above is cute, but I think it'll go the way of Video discs. Remember them?

How quickly we forget.

And what about movies. They will continue to be made for those markets described above that still exist or will manage to keep their heads above water. But budgets will be lower as more people download movies illegally. A whole generation has grown up thinking it's their right to not pay for anything, movies and music included.

People say "it's not everyone", and no, it's not, but in a world of over 6 billion, even 1% can hurt the industry.  There are 6 million people in the U.S. who download illegal movies in 3 months with 60% being porno, and the rest being TV shows and movies.

I want my 67 cents!!

Coming Monday - who holds the power in features and TV