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Where Musicals and Jingles Collide...

In the last year, we've seen a Queen and Elton John biopic emerge with an Elvis Presley picture on the way under Baz Luhrmann. Besides being a timely tribute, it seems that this is the latest and greatest way to give records another spin. It's great if the music biopic can make money in a standalone capacity, but the spin-off effect of all the related film marketing probably boosts sales and royalties two-fold. The Lego Movie demonstrated that you can create a legitimate film experience with positive effects and in the wake of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, it seems it can be a win-win for everyone.

Where Musicals and Jingles Collide

The digital revolution means that a performing artist's entire catalogue of music is available to the masses almost immediately. You don't have to own a CD player, buy an MP3 album or attend a concert to hear their music anymore. While the new streaming model has undermined the music industry, giving new and old fans the ability to deep dive into their favourite band's entire backlog of music means everything is as good as brand new. The Beatles, arguably the greatest band of all-time, may have some of the most easily recognisable tracks on the planet but they're also enjoying the showcase as one generation introduces them to the next. To keep the stone rolling, music artists have to keep reminding people about their music, which involves reunion tours, publicity stunts, TV appearances and of course, movies.

All of these films, including Across the Universe and now Yesterday, create their own soundtrack by blending or relying on the actor's voices. This bypasses expensive licensing issues, creates an entirely new product and makes fans long for the original recording. Across the Universe was a psychedelic tour of the music of The Beatles, creating a musical platform for baby boomers to reconnect and for their offspring to connect. Artful, immersive and capturing the spirit of the times, it made a big and lasting impression, possibly stoking the embers of die hard and peripheral fans enough to buy or demand more Beatles. Yesterday is similar but instead takes a high concept story to connect with more heart, tracking a struggling musician who wakes up after an accident to discover a world where things like The Beatles and Coke have never existed.

The result is leveraging a pre-existing fan base much like the Marvel universe has done for its superheroes, but instead channeling fans back to the music instead of comics, merchandise and films. The music industry desperately needs reinvention in a more visual-driven age and while there are pioneers like Billy Corgan, who has truly embraced the digital age by creating more visually-enticing mediums for the music of his band, The Smashing Pumpkins, there's still no new standard. This new strategy of creating a tribute film is fresh, gets radio station play lists more in tune with upcoming releases, captures the imagination of lifelong fans and revitalises music sales whether in-store, online or streaming. In fact, it's difficult to prove but it did seem like Deezer were adding Rocketman into their Flow play list more often than any other song ahead of the film's global release.

Thankfully, the glut of music films based on popular recording artists has been credible and strong, not simply serving as a cheesy marketing gimmick but delivering on the promise of entertainment without leaning too heavily on the music. You could argue that there's even a market for artists to launch their albums by way of film if you think back to John Carney's influential music-driven romance drama, Once. If they're able to keep the standard high, no one's complaining. It's when associated films start running out of good excuses to showcase the music that we'll start to see a drop off. Let's hope that day never comes...

Film and Television are Converging...

It's no secret, film and television are converging as technology and viewing habits evolve. Gone are the days when film actors were too good to lower their standards to appear in "inferior" television productions. Nowadays, the TV industry has raised its standards to the point that actors are interchangeable between mediums, not forced to define their careers. The quality of television productions, the advances of the Internet and rise of streaming services has made a major impact on the entertainment distribution model. While this international phenomenon has seen many traditional actors shift into starring roles in TV series, possibly as their between films work, it's also happening in South Africa.

This is the case with Die Byl, a South African TV series loosely based on the life of the late South African super detective, Piet Byleveld. The police procedural follows workaholic, Piet van Bijl, a brilliant detective who specialises in crime sprees and chasing down serial killers. Set five years after the events of series 1, the second series is launching on Showmax. Directed by Quentin Krog, who's best known for Vir Die Voels and Ballade Vir ‘N Enkeling, the TV series has a filmic quality and shows a marked improvement on the original.

Primarily based at police headquarters, Die Byl follows van Bijl and his colleagues, who investigate crimes and bring criminals to book. The series stars Waldemar Schultz as Colonel Piet van Bijl and Lika Berning as Captain Lena Evans, who both won Tempo Awards for Best Actor and Actress in 2017. Some years later, van Bijl's relationship with Nicky van As has capsized, while Evans is married with child. With a number of makeovers from the offices to the lab, this tense crime drama is produced by Marche Media, the company behind Kanarie and Johnny is Nie Dood Nie. With guest appearances from award-winning acting talent such as Denise Newman, Deon Lotz, Marius Weyers and Jody Abrahams, it seems Die Byl - Series 2 is gearing.

From the True Detective inspired opening credits to stranger than fiction investigations, the detective series is finding its identity. Hopefully it can inspire a resurgence of top crime television to rival Britain's long-running and respected array of slow-boiling murder mystery shows. Based on the first episode, Die Byl is loaded with potential... from its classic detective show elements, aim for docudrama realism, homegrown investigations and well-respected ensemble, it could be the start of something great. Catch the first episode as Bijl and his team interrogate suspects around the deaths of a notorious Cape Flats gang, the Sons of Samson.

"Watching Movies for a Living..."

"Watching movies for a living" does seem like a dream job. Whenever I run into people who discover that I'm a film critic, this is one of the first things they will say, a statement often loaded with a twist of envy and a touch of naïveté. Movie critics don't simply watch movies for a living. In fact, it's very difficult to make a living from "watching movies"... maybe not quite as scary as this nightmarish image, but still.

The profession has evolved over the years, graduating from a situation where journalists were based at a newspaper and able to specialise, focusing their attention on film almost exclusively and writing for publications that were able to pay them a salary. This model has changed for a number of reasons. With newspapers downsizing, it's become a case of entertainment journalists rather than film critics.

While reviewing movies is a very specific commission, papers aren't getting the advertising monies that they are used to, also under pressure to slowly migrate from print to digital. Being able to measure digital more accurately, it seems that advertisers are gravitating towards specific measured results over the more general feedback of readership demographics and simply being in the paper. Distribution of newspapers has also diminished with many people finding the news they need online, not requiring as much in-depth reporting and older newspaper reading generations dying out.

Nowadays, film reviewers almost have to have a day job in order to support their love for movies and writing. While there are still instances where movie critics who are connected with newspapers are able to write about film almost exclusively, the next generation isn't quite as fortunate. With print media being one channel, the Internet and expanse of digital has created a number of channels for film critics to feature on.

Accessibility has certainly played its part in limiting the importance of a film critic, allowing just about anyone to get an opinion about any film critic from anywhere in the world. Consensus film rating sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have also made it possible for moviegoers to get the raw basics and a rough idea of what to expect from a film. Having this information at your fingertips, means that you don't have to go and buy a newspaper to find out what films are showing, what's worth seeing and give you a rough idea of what to expect.

This has made the role of a movie critic less important in the public sphere, forcing these entertainment journalists to broaden their writing across theatre, television and gossip. Moreover, they've had to diversify their types of reviews, keeping one foot in the domain of writing for print, online and in the same breath shifting over to the digital medium of podcasts and video. The idea of an intellectual pontificating on a subjective viewpoint has become an even more niche area, despite the ability of the Internet to spread the message further.

In terms of making a living, it's quite rare for film critics to be able to find one source of income to get by on. Journalists are traditionally underpaid, often undermining their peers and themselves by working for less or next to nothing. This has made it easier for struggling newspapers to underpay their full-time staff, to cry "no budget" to freelancers and generally get content for next to nothing. This collapse of the entertainment journalism world has made the content and quality of the writing less important through syndication deals and getting content almost gratis.

Nowadays, commercial publications and radio stations have come to rely on a jack-of-all-trades for gossip, TV, film and theatre news. While this approach has its benefits, the lack of specialisation makes for superficial reporting, pressuring the entertainment correspondent to try and know a little bit about everything rather than a lot about something. Writers who were used to getting paid a salary are now finding they have to operate in a more freelance capacity, peddling their services to multiple companies and even embracing the entrepreneurial spirit in setting up their own income streams independently.

It's a little bit like being a struggling actor some days, where you are trying to win new gigs and cement long-term working relationships with companies in order to keep your head above water. For many, their passion for writing about movies forces them to actually get a day job making the film writing a sideline passion project instead of a full-time pursuit.

The idea of filmgoing is now seen as an infrequent activity. Years ago, going to the movies was more of a weekly occurrence, whereas it's now seen as more of a monthly thing. This has relegated the importance of reviews in the general media and made it more niche. Thankfully streaming services like Netflix, Showmax, Hulu and Disney+ have once again opened the floodgates in terms of the importance of entertainment.

Instead of illegal downloads/sharing, people are subscribing to streaming services and finding themselves at a loss when it comes to figuring out what to watch next. With so many options at their fingertips, it seems that the idea of getting a review from a pundit is becoming more and more important again. Having many people simply reviewing films as a hobby can give audiences a better idea of what to watch. For the more discerning viewers, getting a voice that is tried, tested and trusted is the way to go.

Watching movies for a living isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Sacrifice is definitely felt in terms of income and often the work continues after hours with many screenings and events taking place in the evening. This means that you may actually be working much longer than the average person, yet getting by with less. So the trick is either to find a general entertainment journalism job and try to focus towards film with a reasonable salary.

Otherwise, the freelance route requires you to build healthy working relationships around you, using your content to leverage better returns and reach more people. Also be open to the possibility of broadening your skill set, offering your services to write more general film content, broadcast online or via radio or TV or even act as a judge.

The fact of the matter is that while watching movies for a living sounds amazing, very few employers are willing to actually pay someone to be a film critic. It's a tough profession with perks, which has been made much more accessible thanks to the Internet yet undermined by societies where art and culture is deemed less important. If you truly want to become a film critic, just like acting, you need to get a part-time job in order to cover the basics and then branch out from there.

Things to Consider Before Putting Pen to Paper

How does one come up with a great idea for a film?

These days with remakes, reboots and novel adaptations, it seems as though most films are graduating from having a pre-existing fan base or standalone source, which means that a pre-existing work needs to facilitate the process. Studios are much more likely to back ideas that already have merit and seem bankable based on their roots. While star power certainly has its place, it seems that it's not quite as critical as it used to be. Grand productions such as Marvel's Avengers, demonstrate that it's possible to rope in a multitude of leading celebrity actors into burgeoning ensembles making their names not as important. This trend is demonstrating that film spectacles are now becoming the stars rather than the stars themselves.

While this reliance on high concept, CGI wizardry and box office blockbuster certified films, it does seem to be slowing down. Since Disney took over Star Wars, the franchise seems to have become all too regular after the first few films were staggered by years. Now with spin-offs and reboots it seems that there is a saturation point even for the most avid fans. Coupled with the feeling that there's just too much content to consume, it's getting to the point where studios need to start considering how to build anticipation between the slate of upcoming films. With thousands of films being put together each year and the technology more accessible it's no wonder that platforms like Filmocracy are becoming a very viable and possible addition to the industry. Traditional distribution channels have broken down over the years, making it a very strange and new playground for budding filmmakers.

In the past, it seemed that there was a formula to getting your screenplay turned into a film and easier to determine which films had a much better chance of being made. Now in this uncertain time where disruption from almost every industry seems to be changing the game and resetting the parameters, it's become a very fluid environment where anything can happen and ensuring your own evolution is a must.

The Netflix model is a great example of how an industry can evolve over a few years, destroying the old video store model and creating its own production wing for original content. Producing their in-house films at a fraction of the cost of the films we are used to, the inflated numbers of yesteryear and budgets have been significantly affected. With many stars struggling to find the big paychecks that they are used to, it's becoming a much more diverse field where actors are almost being forced into producing roles.

On the plus side, successful film enterprises can result in much bigger paychecks as is the case with Will Smith in Men in Black III. However, operating on smaller budgets with less marketing spend, smaller films are going to naturally attract less numbers. While Netflix is creating its own content and films, it's also buying up content at a flat rate.

You could put together a film on a shoestring budget like Oren Peli did for Paranormal Activity, which outperformed itself many times over. Coasting on the found footage trend, the director found a niche, cleverly counterbalancing the world of low budget filmmaking and home video to concoct a franchise of horror films that probably also had an influence on the way films are made today.

Picking something that has relevance, staying power and viral appeal is key to unlocking what sells as a film. While you may want to go the artistic route, it's almost necessary to pander to the commercial interests before in order to make the film you really want to. The trick is to capture a wave so that your film will still have legs years from the inception of the concept. In order to crack the box office and achieve success at the cinemas, one needs to ensure that people are talking about it before it opens. Generating hype through guerrilla marketing is a business in and of itself and without having traditional distribution channels and marketing presence, can be a extremely costly exercise.

For the indie filmmaker, it seems important to attach oneself to a project and themes that are relevant and front of mind. Ingrid Goes West is a good example of a film that taps into the current fascination with Instagram, image saturation and the new generation of Instagram stars, who are making money off their posts and lifestyles. Toying with the idea of accessibility, which has tarnished the idea of celebrity, they manage to tap into a curious grey area, leveraging pre-existing tension around the world of social media.

While it isn't a big film, it definitely has the right idea, capturing the zeitgeist and current youth culture in the position. Picking your story needs to have a crossover of viral appeal, current affairs relevant and position itself in such a way that it doesn't overextend itself. Costing along the lines of the new wave of celebrity is a good idea, allowing the film to operate without a source, pre-existing fan base relating to pop culture but one that is rather harnessed through celebrity itself.

Tapping into the film's extended meaning to leverage publicity stunts and campaigns is another important aspect. If you're dealing with a subject like organ trafficking, then it's a good idea to create publicity material around supporting causes and creating awareness. The local film Bypass did a great job of this by tying into organisations that support the anti-trafficking message at its core. While entertainment, the far-reaching message had many synergies. One of their publicity stunts involved a truck where the trailer was transparent giving drivers the strange view of a mobile surgery where organs are being harvested.

With so many films coming out, it's a real challenge to distinguish yourself from the rest of the field, which is why the process requires so much creativity, vision and an entrepreneurial spirit. Filmmaking is always a team effort, but the scope and requirements of launching a film successfully have become a much greater challenge, forcing everyone to think outside the box, become much more resourceful and smarter. With many films being self-funded, the indie film industry should be thinking about ways to make it easier to get films to market, to self-promote and monetise the product to the point that it is able to recycle and sustain.

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