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Technology clears path to film

Business: Access to the big screen increases as production costs fall

Posted: January 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 2, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Co-producer Gordon Vasquez sets up for a behind-the-scenes interview with the actors during the recent filming of the feature “Huff” in Santa Clarita.

 

The ability for anyone with talent to shoot and produce a movie has multiplied with the advances in technology, leveling the playing field for those who want to enter the movie-making business.

Throw in the Screen Actors Guild’s support of independent films, when it created the “ultra low budget” category, and the doors opened for creative entrepreneurs in the film industry.

The combination of these two factors allowed for the recent production of the movie “Huff,” filmed locally over two weeks in the Santa Clarita Valley in December. A niche film, “Huff’s” genre is horror-thriller.

“You have to be fairly entrepreneurial-minded to even be in this space,” said Brian Comstock, CFO at Cort Howell Productions, which has produced commercials for Jenny Craig, Body by Jake Ab, Sports Bloopers and more.

Owner Cort Howell grew up in the entertainment business with his brothers. They all appeared in some of actor/director Ron Howard’s early films, Comstock said.

So as the infomercial business slowed down, Howell took the opportunity to pursue some “passion projects” creating Windchaser Pictures and serving as executive producer for “Huff.”

Both of Howell’s companies are Santa Clarita based.

A longtime Santa Clarita resident, Howell said the movie industry is changing its perception of working in the SCV.
And as the tide moves, Howell is putting some of his own money on the line.

Money game
It’s not easy to bring a movie to market.

Money needs to be raised, actors secured, the marketing arm must be executed, and a lot of pre-production planning that needs to be done.

Filming the actual movie is probably the most intense, but easiest part of the effort.

And once the film is shot, the post-production process takes a few months before the movie is even ready for distribution.

“Huff,” a project initially funded within the $50,000 range by Windchaser Pictures, is expected to be released sometime in 2012. And the hope is that it will make it into theaters.

“It’s the first time we have skin in the game, even though it’s not a lot of money yet,” Comstock said.

“One in every 10 or 20 films have any success,” he said. “But we’re definitely used to taking a risk.’

Basically, it’s a roll of the dice. But the fact that small companies can now produce independent films will open the doors to more in the future.

Technology advantage
“You couldn’t possibly do a low-budget film years ago,” said Comstock.

The price of cameras and film equipment alone was astronomical.

In working with the College of the Canyons intern program, Comstock said today 18- to 22-year old kids are already making and editing small films.

It’s amazing the films look as they do. That audio-wise they sound as good as they do, he said. They can output impressive short films from a desktop computer.

“In terms of films, we’re at the time like when the first iPod came out,” said Gordon Vasquez, co-producer of the film “Huff” and founder of realTVfilms.

Also an investor in the film, Vasquez is busy handling the marketing for some back-end equity in the film.

“Social media is changing Hollywood,” Vasquez said. “Many video rental stores are gone, there are lines at the Redboxes, and now with streaming technology, there are new distribution points for new movies.”

Social media is one of the exciting things about film today, he said. “In the past, movies were kept a secret. Today, you can use every tool available to market the film; even bring the audience in as if they’re on the set with us.”

“We make sure the crew and cast members are engaged in social media and tweeting too. It makes their time spent doing their art more enjoyable, and there’s instant recognition and notoriety for what they’re doing,” he said.

“But, you really have to control the (release of) the photos,” Vasquez said. “You don’t want to give the story or end result away.”

Social media or not, the biggest hurdle is distribution, and that’s where the gamble really pays off or leaves investors dry.


Known actors

Increasing the odds of success for a movie often means finding known actors to agree to appear in a movie.

Without them, attracting a good distribution partner can be like taking a shot in the dark, Comstock said.

“There are some celebrities in this film, which gives it a higher likelihood of commercial availability for theatrical release,” he said.

“Huff” features Clint and Rance Howard, veteran actors, and brother and father of actor and director Ron Howard.

Having worked with Cort Howell when he was younger, Clint Howard said working on low-budget films allows him to stretch as an actor.

The actors get paid next to nothing and have different deal structures when involved in an independent film, but it’s like doing an off-Broadway play,” Comstock said.

“They do it for the love of the game or opportunity.”

And for Clint Howard, he said he has worked in Santa Clarita several times before. Working with people he has relationships with and on a set only a 30-minute drive from his San Fernando Valley home allows him to focus on his acting.

“I’m able to do things that I might be more fearful to do on a big-budget film,” Howard said. “I can experiment more when there’s less pressure.”

To distribute the film as widely as possible, it’s important to find a good distribution partner who sees the movie as commercially viable, Comstock said.

Windchaser Pictures hopes to get “Huff” into some multitheater complexes, but all markets are pursued – national and international distribution, HBO, DVD and more.

Paul Morrell, director of “Huff,” faced the same dilemma when he made “Filth to Ashes, Flesh to Dust,” filmed in Castaic. Vasquez was an associate producer on the movie.

“He found a good distribution partner,” Comstock said, of Morrell.

Released Sept. 30, the movie had already grossed $202,531 in the United States by Oct. 23 according to the Internet Movie Database.

The market will dictate how successful “Huff” is, Comstock said. But if the film is done well with a good story and the viewers enjoy it, that success can be leveraged to help Windchaser Pictures move to the next project.

“We’re excited about becoming an investor or partner with people in the SCV, and bring them into the fold to work with them on future films,” Comstock said.

“I love to talk to like-minded entrepreneurs.”

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