In the first of what will become an ongoing series here at FilmNewsBriefs, we sat down with filmmaker Sally Potter to discuss the revolutionary release on mobile phones of her film “Rage.” In this conversation, we discuss the use of new technology while staying true to the integrity of the work, how she worked with actors in such a stripped down format and the challenge of finding an economic model for unconventional film releases.
Film News Briefs: How early in the process did you know of the unconventional release?
Sally Potter: From the very beginning of this version of the script. I did write a version of this story in a more conventional format about 10 years ago but rejected it myself. I knew it wasn’t the right way to do it somehow but I didn’t know what the right way would be. And then it was only when I had a blog myself, for my last film, “Yes,” and discovered from the stats that I had over 30,000 people coming to the site from over 80 countries. I made myself accessible, the intimacy combined with the width if you like, to the audience, [which] suddenly gave me the clue of how to tell the story, to try and make a film that not only could be released in a different way but would itself embrace as part of its subject matter a new way of looking at things.
FNB: Did you make specific choices knowing that it was going to be on the very small screen?
SP: Well, I shot everybody against a green screen and I shot them in an even, un-shadowed, reflected light so that whatever backgrounds I did use would also work. I didn’t know from the very beginning that I was going to use blocks of color. I actually shot a lot of backgrounds, but I discovered in the cutting room that it was too complex and it took away from the glorious minimalism of the human face. I wanted to find a way to look at faces that was that simple, kind of monumental in a way but would work at any scale. Would work postage stamp size, cellphone image size, and Internet size or billboard size. And it was very, very consciously designed that way, yes.
FNB: Were the actor’s aware of the multi-platform release when signing on?
SP: Yes, and they were so exited by it. They are all delighted by how its going to go out. They couldn’t be happier really because they knew they were up for an adventure. But it was an adventure that was going to take them back to where they were going to act in the first place. It’s kind of pure performance in which they are completely exposed. And have to therefore be incredibly truthful. Because there was nowhere to hide, no cutaways, no sets, no locations, no nothing except being there, working with character and working with their own experiences through the character.
FNB: Is there anything you’re doing differently with this sort of release than you’ve done in the past with a more conventional one?
SP: Well, you know I’m so hands on, I’m always doing things like cutting the trailer, or you know, I took all the stills for example for this film that you see, and so on, so there’s that. I think however, its been a real collaboration with Bablegum [the digital distributor]. And we’ve all been talking to each other and deciding to take the plunge together. There’s that feeling about it. None of it resembles the old model. We’re not having to pass through the old cultural gatekeepers. It’s like cutting out a whole massive middle man industry and going directly to people and trying to learn very, very fast what that means and how they might respond. And anyway my job in the middle of that is how to keep it true to the vision. How to be really authentic. From my own experience from doing a blog is that people smell a rat when you use it like a marketing tool. But if you really make yourself available and truthful as a human being, people respond to that.
FNB: Something a lot of the directors are talking about at IFP Week is how important it is to cultivate your audience yourself and not rely on anybody else. Like, say, joining a social network, especially for emerging filmmakers if they want distribution. If they can say “I have 100,000 people following on twitter,” they become more viable in the marketplace.
SP: Yes, absolutely. But that’s not never quite the way I’ve done it. I didn’t sort of do it to get a result but I did it to find, apparently, I was the first director to make themselves accessible with “Yes,” but it’s so common now that you can hardly believe it. Like I can hardly believe this is the first feature film to go out on cell phones but actually it is. So I’m never doing it as a career move or endgame thing but I want to know who I’m talking to and I want to know if it’s working for them, and hear what kind of experience they’ve had and that can be very moving.
FNB: From that, if what you learned from creating the blog on your last film influenced this film, has anything you’ve learned in this process going to influence the next?
SP: Sure. Because if it works, if it turns out that this way of making film, and I don’t mean it has to look exactly like this, it wouldn’t have to look hand held and close up which this is, but if, what I sometimes call barefoot filmmaking really works, it will be incredibly liberating. Because it really then means that you have artistic control, direct access to your audience and you can create an environment for actors and crew alike that is generally creative, and thrilling and intimate, and then go very wide. If that works, that will be wonderful. The economics of it, we all have yet to find out about it.
FNB: It’s true, everyone is talking about this, what is the economic model? Is there one?
SP: Not yet. The music industry is slightly ahead of us and had to go through the same thing already and it’s shock, horror, terror, everyone’s going to go bankrupt because everyone can have everything for free. Lots of resistance, I’m talking about filmmaking now, legislating against copyright and everything is watermarked, anxious, anxious, and all that. And I think my attitude is, go the other way. Open the gates, say “okay have it.” It’s free, it’s yours and then if you want me to go on and make other things, you’re going to have to complete the circle by going out and buying the DVD. Maybe in the future it will be some sort of subscription model but I always wanted to do that with this one.
FNB: There was a recent article we read that said the next generation of digital consumers still wants to pay to go to theaters. It’s not mutually exclusive, which is calming to know that just because one is succeeding doesn’t mean the other is going to disappear.
SP: Its not either/or, it’s AND. It might make cinema owners and distributors sit up a little bit, and make it a more pleasant and thrilling experience to go to the theater, make the quality of the projection better, the seats more comfortable, make it back to the real beginnings of what joining together in a big group is all about. Similar people can have their own access to watch it home on Blu-ray, its one of the things that I do. I have a good screen and I watch things together with a group of friends. Comfortably lying about. And that feel just as true of a cinema experience as going to some wonderful cinema.