In the years following my efforts to develop a local television series, I continued to moonlight in the Utah film industry, working in front of and behind the camera on feature films, commercials, corporate productions, and reality series. I also remained involved with the local film community—attending local screenings and meet & greets and participating in the 48-Hour Film Project. All the while, I noted very little crossover between the two. The professionals I worked with were rarely seen at community events, and the locals I recognized—actors mostly—were usually spotted among the extras in productions from outside of Utah. From time to time, I was also recruited to work on locally produced feature films. Still, they often lacked the funding, organization, and discipline I had come to expect from out-of-state productions taking advantage of Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Program.
Ben Hawker, developing the Utah Filmmakers and Actors Facebook group into a growing professional resource that remained welcoming and instructive for beginners.
For a few years, starting in 2014, I was hired by Ben Fuller through mediaRif as an Assistant Director for a Utah State Fair ad campaign featuring local comedian Steve Soelberg. During one of our initial conversations, Ben told me that I was one of the few people he knew that has one foot planted in the film industry and the other in the local film community. Having never heard it articulated by anyone else, this casual observation confirmed what I had been witnessing. At this point, a new mission for the Utah Filmmakers™ Association began to crystalize, most easily summarized by what would become the organization’s vision statement: “Bridging the local film community with Utah’s film industry.”
The question remained: how does Utah Filmmakers™ help facilitate a community filmmaker’s transition to becoming an industry professional?
The answer would present itself in the core values adopted by the organization: Professionalism, Integrity, and Respect. These would inform a Code of Ethics & Conduct and become the guiding principles for Hawker’s Facebook group as it was adopted by—and subsequently named for—Utah Filmmakers™, becoming its official online forum.
The UFA™ Ethics Code offers local filmmakers—industry veterans and beginners alike—a standard to strive for. These basic parameters were written so anyone can apply them—in any vocation—to mitigate problematic behaviors and questionable business practices like those I have experienced and observed many others continuing to experience.
There’s a long, sad history of young creatives with a sincere desire to become industry professionals being exploited. The most common unethical and illegal practice they fall victim to is wage theft. Trite justifications along the lines of “paying one’s dues,” appealing to artistic “passion,” and even ham-fisted justifications along the lines of, “If I don’t do it, somebody else will” have proven effective in the short term for the completion of commercial enterprises like made-for-cable movies, commercials, and corporate videos—the latter of which represents a significant portion of Utah’s production work—to mostly unwatchable “passion projects” that are “made in Utah” by “local filmmakers.” The generally poor production quality of these independent films stands out considerably when compared to that of other, more successful films and series that are “made in Utah” by out-of-state production companies taking advantage of the aforementioned Motion Picture Incentive.
The reasons behind the disparity in quality are painfully obvious yet continue to be ignored. Many locally produced narrative projects—from short films to features and series pilots—have developed an unfortunate habit of cutting corners to just “get it done.” I’ve been involved in several of these projects, mostly in the lower echelons of the production, seeing poor decisions being made, not because the filmmakers don’t know any better but because they feel that they have no choice. Even when I’ve found myself above the line, able to identify potential problems and offer solutions to avoid them, I’ve run into the same problems. Resources that could have been better invested in more comprehensive preproduction and paying ALL cast and crew fair wages are reserved for only the most “essential” of department heads, with the remainder wasted on submission fees to major festivals with little chance of acceptance, and familiar-sounding, online-only “awards” competitions, “geographically” adjacent to—but lacking any endorsement and often even direct knowledge of—the established and reputable festivals whose coattails they’re attempting to ride with their confusingly similar branding. Oftentimes, the most that any filmmaker will get for their trouble is access to festival laurels in the form of digital assets—typically bearing the description “official selection,” which might as well just say “participant.” These graphics are incorporated into amateur-looking movie posters with the interminable false hope of getting a lucrative distribution deal.
Ultimately, many of these films remain unsaleable, lacking the deliverables that serious distributors require—like a clearly defined chain of title, signed contracts, and other industry-standard due diligence. Eventually, they may only be “released” on Vimeo or YouTube or relegated to obscure streaming services appealing to a tiny fraction of a minuscule audience. At best, they are buried along with similar sub-par content on wider-reaching platforms, available to rent for a few dollars—the lion's share of which is collected by the platform, leaving a few cents per view for whichever “creator” signed their virtual signature on the dotted line; but they do so with pride, having achieved something they can refer to—at least technically—as “distribution.” In reality, it’s the film industry equivalent to self-publishing a novel—a service that is also offered by the parent companies of at least two of the larger streaming platforms.
Do such projects ever see a return on their investment? Not to my knowledge, but that doesn’t stop the personalities behind them from launching another crowdfunding campaign with a “flexible” goal, “From the producers of…” that other local film potential backers may have heard of but probably didn’t watch, even if they received an “Associate Producer” credit for their last $100 contribution.
Does anyone actually benefit from these productions?
Any “experience” that’s gained by cast and crew is usually in the form of first-hand knowledge of how NOT to manage a film production. This assumes they’ve had the opportunity to work on a competently produced project to which it may be compared.
Do these projects benefit the local film industry? Are they even affiliated with the industry? The word “industry” is literally defined by economic activity. All industries have a quantifiable impact on the economy. Public and private investments are made in determining feasibility, building infrastructure, planning, development, and—most importantly—labor. The film industry is no different.
|The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and—especially where guest posts are concerned—do not necessarily reflect the official policies and/or practice of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association, its officers and/or associates.|