Sep 28 2007

The Hard Cost of Fantasy

The movie business is so peculiar. It is a business that is all about creating whimsical, imaginative, daring artistic visions… but when you have a chance to actually MAKE that vision, you have to engage in a lot of cold, logical, pragmatic discussions about it. The nuts and bolts of hoisting the dream high is the ugly part the audience doesn’t get to see. This is where the writer grieves over a cut scene, where the director pulls his hair out over a studio mandate. This is where raising the age of the child lead in your film affects millions in marketing costs. This is where you have to be reasonable and rationally debate the fuffy, silly bits of fantasy you cooked up.

And this is what my meeting with the Fox execs was like last week. This is studio filmmaking.

Still, I had a really good meeting with the top brass (I like that phrase: “top brass.” As if I flew a fighter jet to the lot). The visual presentation knocked them out, and raised questions at the same time. They liked the artwork enough to ask for MORE (which they will actually start paying for). They want more from me to explain the tone. No green light yet, but at last I have something to do! At last, something real is happening.

It’s fun to get some more concept art made. I’ve pulled in a couple of new artists and it’s helping ME get a handle on the look of the movie too. The other concern is the budget. Apparently these paintings scream “CRAZY MONEY BURNING MACHINE.”

So today I met with David Starke, VP of Feature Production and John Kilkenny, head of Fox VFX. SO educational. And so cool to talk about the physical production hurdles. This is the beginning of a big magic trick we need to pull off: making an expensive-looking movie for an amazingly low price.

We “got into it,” as my manager likes to say. Sets, locations, practical vs. CGI effects. Now this is fun. It’s surprising to know that CGI is rarely the easy answer that people think it is. John and David actually seemed to prefer a lot of the old-school tricks, such as miniatures, forced perspective tricks and real locations. Many of these traditional techniques can save a lot of money, and in the end, actually look better than CGI. Computer effects take a LOT of refining to get right. It’s also too easy to make change after change after change. The temptation to tweak a shot long past the shoot date has run up many a budget, and fast.

And can I just say that walking into a soundstage filled with minatures would be so freaking COOL.

Then we talked about all the location possibilities. Economic leaps can be made by shooting in New Zealand, Australia, Romania, Prague… good thing I don’t jet lag much. This is part of the adventure.

This is the thrill of pulling off a big, big magic trick. But I have no idea where I’m going to hide this money-eating, eight-foot hairy rabbit.

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