I’ll be posting short reviews for the sake of search-ability, focusing on genre and how they live up the Action Kickback Model. I’ll review genre films in general; action, horror, sci-fi, etc. The main points I want to address with the reviews are:
Story – Do we care what’s happening? Genre Promise – Does the film deliver on the genre promise? Does the sci-fi film use science as a device? Does the action film have action that serves the narrative? Etc. Marketability – How well did it sell?
My hypothesis is that films that excel in story and genre promise tend to do the best on the market. There are exceptions, like the great films that failed due to poor advertising campaigns or being released on the same weekend as other major films, or good films that were saved by one-off advertising gimmicks that (probably) couldn’t be repeated, but my hypothesis is a general, high-level one that I hope will serve as a guide for anyone looking to make genre films, action or not.
While working on a science fiction concept I’m developing, it’s been interesting to study how the genre itself functions. Science Fiction has two key responsibilities:
Predicts the logical ends of a technological trajectory and sets it up as the conflict.
Utilizes current filmmaking and computer technology in a profound way.Or “Tech-porn”. Often sci-fi films will have throwaway scenes that really have no place in the story except to showcase a new technology. These are necessary for the trailer, so they’re forgiven because they’re profound enough to elicit a strong response.
(My favorite example is in Total Recall, where police see an x-ray of Quaid’s gun, so he just breaks through the x-ray glass, toward them! The police then cower and let him run away. The scene obviously had no logic to it, yet it’s iconic, so it’s forgiven.)
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.
We expect sci-fi films to extrapolate on our current trajectories and set those up as the conflict. AI goes berserk (2001, Terminator), space travel finds more than it bargained for (Alien), and playing God goes bad (Jurassic Park, Gattaca). It’s what the genre promises. Take what we know about technology and show the consequences. The results of scientific innovation could be positive, but when a human is the main character, the genre tends to fall into the realm of man vs. technology. This is not an error of mere convention, but rather how stories have evolved over thousands of years.
Yet many recent sci-fi films depict scenarios already unacceptable, such as increased pollution, corporations exploiting the population, oppressive police states rising to power, etc. To make them “sci-fi”, technological elements are mixed in, often as solutions to the problem rather than problems in and of themselves. These stories are “What-if” scenarios, not logical ends to scientific innovation. Contrary to these, I can predict with certainty that in 10 years, no matter who takes office, there will be more green energy, smarter artificial intelligence, less religion, no time travel, and no zombie Hitlers. Last two notwithstanding, it’s disappointing that sci-fi filmmakers rarely tackle such issues.
In case you’ve been in a cave for the last 30 years, you won’t be surprised to hear that government-funded Science (with a capital S) has settled into a cozy era that has placed it on the pedestal. Artists are less inclined to predict its drawbacks and more interested in “what-if” scenarios should the trend reverse. That is the new sci-fi. Exceptions aside, for a genre which produced dozens of classics before the 2000s, its continual reneging on its promises has cause it to go soft and limp.
Basically, sci-fi sucks because Science takes itself so goddamn seriously.
My prediction is that this trend will not reverse any time soon, unless somehow Science loses its government funding and falls from grace, or an alternate information source springs up that competes with it. Until then, there are thousands of sci-fi concepts just dying to be made, and the audience is still there. It’s a good time to be a genre filmmaker.
The premiere for Death Grip on June 30th, 2012 was a night I’ll never forget. Two years of solid labor suddenly morphed into something real and alive. The audience reaction was incredible. They got every joke (and a bunch of others, which I didn’t expect), screamed at the gore, and cheered after every fight scene. They ate up the DVDs and shirts, people said they wanted to invest, and we’re expecting a bunch of reviews to flow in soon.
And now I’d like to extend a thank you to everyone for making Death Grip happen.
Cast – The overwhelming response was that while the action still beat everyone’s expectations, the acting was the ultimate surprise. The most frequent comment I received was, “I came in expecting just some action movie, but it was like a real movie.” The cast did an incredible job at taking Death Grip far and above the schlocky action film genre and into a new ballpark. Johnny, Nathan, Chelsea, Shaun, Amberly, LaChe, Cynthia, and Sean, I wish you could have made it for the show, but due to a combination of prior engagements and leaky car batteries weren’t able to attend, and the audience missed you all.
Crew – The audience was convinced that Death Grip was made for a few million dollars. This is largely thanks to the efforts of our amazing crew that squeezed every bit of production value out of our budget as they could thanks to their superb grasp of the art form. Drew Daniels (DP), Brett Perry (composer), Brad Wagner (sound recordist), Phil Gorn (sales agent), Justine Jacob (legal), and Matteo Grilli (sound designer and mixer), we missed you all.
Donors – The overwhelming support of our donors helped us meet our budgetary needs and showed us that there’s plenty of hope for the independent genre film. Thank you all. We’ll be sending out donor packages this week, with a short delay for those who requested the Blu Ray upgrade.
Family – Our families gave us extra support when we needed it the most. From financial help to location services, the Jacobus, DeGregorio, and Ahn families were invaluable to the production.
Fans – To readers of this blog, members of The Stunt People Forum who have pushed me since day one, the Facebook community, our Press contacts, and all the other forums and blogs out there putting the word out, we couldn’t make a splash without your support. Many of you came from a long distance to see the show and it as a pleasure to see you all!
Friends – To all the good people who lent support whenever it was needed, from handing out fliers to pushing us on social networks to just bringing people to the show, we thank you!
Investors – To the executive producers who truly believed the independent action film could hold its own in the market, we hope (and expect) to make it worth your while in spades, setting a precedent with Death Grip.