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Making local movies that matter

The definition of making movies is changing in big ways. At one time it was synonymous with standards set by Hollywood. These days making movies is getting more local, less high budget and more about niche content than fancy technology. The evidence can be found in a shrinking Hollywood and a growing YouTube that connects with every region of the world.

These profound changes are developing underneath the pop culture radar, but people connected with the film industry are paying attention. Earlier this year I interviewed former Crest Theatre manager Matias Bombal for SacTV and he mentioned how there will be less movie theaters in the future due to YouTube. I also spoke with local filmmaker Frank Casanova, who runs The Studio Center, one of the top professional film and video facilities in Sacramento. He agreed that YouTube is becoming a big part of the new paradigm that challenges Hollywood for people’s leisure time. Local filmmaker Rick Gott, producer of a video drama series called Dark Pool, also told me about how YouTube was creating new opportunities for local filmmakers that may even lead to new revenue streams. He was able to raise thousands of dollars on Kickstarter to fund his project.

In the traditional Hollywood model of filmmaking, the first order of business is raising capital, which in recent years has  averaged around $40 million per film. Most films do not recoup that money, but for the eleven companies that control most popular major motion pictures, the hit and miss gamble usually pays off since one big hit pays for the stack of losses. These high stakes pretty much guarantee than small filmmakers cannot compete with the big studios at least on a national level.

Now consider the YouTube movie making model and how radically different the thinking is. Just by thinking the opposite of Hollywood on almost every level, you can create a movie that’s more meaningful and timeless without spending a cent. If you get a group of people together who just want to have fun and make a movie, instead of for profit, it’s possible that a core audience will think of that movie as more special than the common box office flop they see once and question whether or not they got their money’s worth. One of the biggest criticisms of movies that don’t break even is that they’re just like zillions of other films. 

Over the weekend I made a ten minute SacTV video production called "The Sac Scene 80s Reunion Movie" and uploaded it to YouTube. In less than a week it has gotten almost 100 views on YouTube. The key to this unique production is its cast, starring local musicians who each have hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of friends on Facebook. The movie is special to these people because it documents a time marker in history, triggering exciting memories of the past while showing that these talented players can still entertain their fans in 2013. 

The movie is actually a brief summary of a much larger series of videos. From one show at Old Ironsides on Saturday night, August 9, came hours of additional video footage. The four acts were The Features, Numonix, Rhythm School and Thomas Bix, who each contributed to the local music scene in the 1980s. This reunion not only brought musicians back together, it brought local fans back together in one place. That’s something that a high budget Hollywood formula film cannot really do. The event attracted several other photographers and videographers, such as Joe-G, who shot the entire set of Numonix. So for future local music researchers and fans, there’s plenty more footage to explore at some point. 

The "Sac Scene 80s Reunion Movie" is a concept to inspire other local movies so that Sacramento begins to build a meaningful archive of entertaining videos on YouTube, for the people who want to always have access to seeing their friends in action. Instead of just random raw footage, the movie is produced to showcase highlights of the evening, which includes a guest appearance from radio host Kitty O’Neal and her husband Kurt Spataro, who both used to perform in a local cover band called Secret Service. They appeared with Numonix, founded by Harrison Price with vocals from Jerry Pompei, a local figure at Tower Records. 

The movie, despite being only ten minutes, is a time capsule that can inspire plenty of conversation, even for people who did not attend the show or are not familiar with the bands. So many interesting stories are tied to these acts, especially The Features, who tie closely into the story of Steel Breeze, the Sacramento band who had the 1982 national hit on RCA Records called "You Don’t Want Me Anymore." The Features covered the song Saturday night, as members Waylin Carpenter and Vinnie Pantaleoni played on the hit recording. Johnny Pride, frontman for The Features, eventually renamed the band Pride In Peril and they appeared in the Oliver Stone film The Doors as the group who performed "Eve of Destruction." The Features came very close to getting a record deal in the 80s, but things fell through. Even so, they still released an album in 1983 called Up Up Side Side, which still stands as one of the best selling local band albums in Sacramento history. The movie includes their original ska-flavored rock songs "It Happens" and "Swing Right," as well as clips of "Ego" by Numonix and "What Went On" by Thomas Bix.

One of the evening’s special treats was Rhythm School, one the first reggae/ska bands to play on the local scene. The movie captures their song "Background Noise," which reflects singer/songwriter Sean O’Callaghan’s passion for mixing social commentary lyrics with a fun dance groove. I interviewed Sean in a separate video that brought out more of his songwriting philosophies about truth, unity and how individuals should think for themselves. Making movies independently of the Hollywood philosophy with an emphasis on preserving local history is what more Sacramentans need to do then submit them to SacTV for free, which can only help improve local culture.

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