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What's New
Once 
This past weekend the two premiere film award shows aired. The Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday and the Academy Awards on Sunday. I watched both and in them found the middle ground I hope may emerge and shape into a third premiere film award show.

Weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird VS. Black-tie-mainstream-marketing-machine

Weird-for-the-sake-of-being-weird - Independent Spirit Awards

The Independent Spirit Awards was edgy, informal and highlighted films whose budgets were under $20 million. I found the following selection guidelines the nominating committee applies to make selections:

• Uniqueness of vision
• Original, provocative subject matter
• Economy of means (budget at or under $20 million)
• Percentage of financing from independent sources

The second guideline strikes me, "original, provocative subject matter". My wife often classifies independent films as full of freaks and weirdoes. I tend to agree especially in terms of NoDak Films. I think of a typical North Dakotan and the types of independent films that take original ideas and douse them with provocative subject matter. These films are not North Dakota films and even though I consider myself an extremely open-minded movie watcher, even I am a little uncomfortable by the subject matter. I think it is great that filmmakers have the freedom to explore their own inspirations, but my inspirations and tastes come from different circumstances and backgrounds and so I am not drawn into provocative subject matter.

I'm not saying all independent films are on provocative fire, but most lack the sensibility most moviegoers expect.

I watched a documentary recently about the 2004 Presidential election called "So Goes the Nation..." In the documentary they play close attention to Ohio a week prior to the election. An older man and locals are interviewed talking about all the attention and the campaigners flooding in. The next shot follows a bus down an Ohio road and on the side of the bus is written "Celebrity Express". Inside the bus are A and B list Hollywood actors being prepped on their campaign roles. The film spends a couple minutes on the actors and eventually comes back to the older man who was interviewed at the beginning of the segment. He describes the actors as fake and Hollywood and how a mid western audience sees them as such.

Black-tie-mainstream-marketing-machine - Academy Awards

All Academy Award nominees are invited to exclusive luncheons, fashion shows and other black tie affairs and Motion Picture companies lobby and campaign heavily to get their films noticed by Academy members who cast votes. I compare the scenario to a buddy of mine who just finished his medical residency and is now on his way to doctor at a hospital in Bismarck. After his third year of residency he was able to write prescriptions and I joked that he would be eating a lot of comped steak dinners. There are just under 6,000 Academy members that choose Award winners and I'm sure there are a lot of comped steak dinners towards the run up to the Academy Awards show -- I have no proof, I am being completely speculative.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), in 2006 the average Hollywood Budget was $65.7 million dollars and marketing costs, per picture, totaled $34.5 million. Amazing! MPAA also said 607 films were released in 2006. The inflated budgets and inflated marketing costs total $608,820,100. The MPAA takes its data from all MPAA member companies. In 2006, there were 6 member companies -- 6 companies.

Like most things in Hollywood, the Academy Awards, to me, seem just as secretive as the back lots where films are made and although the public is consuming the product, we are also left wondering how a movie becomes Oscar worthy. Despite the sealed envelopes of the Academy Awards or the edgy antiestablishment rhetoric of the Independent Spirit Awards, one movie struck me and it won an award at both shows.

The film is titled Once. According to its distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures, the film tells the story of a street musician and a Czech immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story.

The film won best foreign film at the Independent Spirit Awards and best song at the Academy Awards. More impressive is the story of the making of the film, which has been summarized by writer-director John Carney in an often-quoted statement:

"This is amazing to start making films for a hundred grand with your mates in Dublin and not have any permits."

What I found amazing, at the Oscars, was when the songwriters accepted the award. There was this energy of shear impossibility that made the moment and their speeches sound surreal. It got to the point that as one songwriter spoke and finished and as the other was about to say her thank yous, the microphone went silent and the music started. Jon Stewart, the Oscar host, brought her back out so she could have her moment. As I watched and listened, I felt hope and also anger. Hope that every good movie made, despite the budget, has a chance at Oscar. Anger because the energy in the room looked upon these two songwriters as one who looks at a puppy - like 'how cute'. It doesn't take $65.7 million dollars to create a profound, amazing, worthwhile, classic film from acting to music to direction, production, and all phases of the film making process.

I don't think it's "amazing" to make films for a hundred grand and that's why I feel a third premiere show will emerge that simply looks at hundred grand films like hundred million dollar films. With the exception that hundred grand films can have the same mainstream qualities seen at the Oscars with the independent spirit still in tact.

This is NoDak Films and we represent the emergence of such a movement.




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Deja Vu... 
I was sitting in a cafe today working on the Idea Plan for the second round of the InnovateND entrepreneur competition when a bout of deja vu came over me. In this moment of clarity I found myself listening to the soundtrack to our first film, which was connected to my earphones, connected to my itunes.

An empty cup of coffee stood in the upper middle of the small table, where I sat, with the end of a plastic knife sticking from a plastic coffee lid. Paper's were scattered around the rest of the table, along with my computer and a copy of Prairie Business Magazine. A young woman was sitting next to me. In this moment of deja vu, the young woman leaned over and touched my arm because, in my deja vu thought process, she was interested in the music coming from my earphones. In deja vu actuality, she only wanted me to turn down the music. The latter never happened because as soon as I played the particular song that triggered the deja vu I, in reality, turned down the volume before she could react.

Despite a lack of sanity in the above observation, the moral is my interpretation of deja vu. I was once told that deja vu is a confirmation of your life up to that point. In effect, deja vu is the act of showing you that you should be doing that particular thing at that particular moment in your life. The fact this moment occured while working on the Idea Plan for NoDak Films for a North Dakota entrepreneur competition puts me at ease with the course of my life and the course of NoDak Films.



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Prairie Business Magazine and NoDak Films... 
In the December Target Marketing issue of Prairie Business Magazine, NoDak Films received a brief introduction by editor Rick Killion in the article "Marketing Support, Success Comes in Many Forms." Mr. Killion writes:

"A North Dakota filmmaker named Nathan Anderson is marketing film productions from western North Dakota through his Website."

Our films are not entirely "from western North Dakota" although western North Dakota, like all of North Dakota, will be a part of our productions.

I would like to think Mr. Killion for introducing NoDak Films to the Prairie Business World and for those who do not subscribe to Prairie Business Magazine (it's free by-the-way), it is a great magazine and a necessary window into the "prairie perspective."

Click on the "related link" tab below to view the entire article.



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My letter to National Geographic and Mr. Charles Bowden (Round 1 of 3) 
Mr. Bowden,

Your article was haunting and written beautifully. If I was not from North Dakota, I would file the recurring image of a lonely house stationery against the surrounding grassland along with every other article written about North Dakota. But, as a North Dakotan, I would then walk off my brother-in-law's acreage of spring wheat or peas (depending on the year) and the old schoolhouse his father once attended (rather than tearing it down it was left as a memento). And then walk about half a click to my sister's house and play ball with my two nephews or talk with my niece about the same kids my nephew's know.

There will come a time when my two nephews and my niece make a decision and there will come a time when my sister and brother-in-law make a decision (although I'm pretty sure my oldest nephew will take over the farm, I can't write an article on behalf of him, it's just a phenomenon that goes without saying). As a North Dakota journalist recently said, "it's a single frame in a full-length movie" and no one knows the outcome.

"The Emptied Prairie" is part of the deleted scenes package in the full-length movie of North Dakota. Not because the scenes you chose to depict are entirely false, but because it's only a single frame that's already been covered.

Here's what I mean: Last summer my wife, two kids and I lived in Minneapolis because my wife was the summer associate at a Public Health Institute and I was networking through my business, which is set-in North Dakota. We lived next to a 5 story elementary school that had just closed. At the playground near the school, congregating with other parents and children, I discovered the area of Minneapolis where we lived was once a neigborbood of single family homes. However, as life happened and children grew and moved on, so did the parents. The neighborhood became a place where college kids rented out rooms. A place where children once grew and families once dominated. And this, Mr. Bowden, is 5 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. This, in a city whose Metropolitan area is nearly 3,000,000 strong, yet I lived next door to a 5 story schoolhouse where the students would not return in the fall. Where the larger-than-life-size wooden plywood statues painted by the children would go unattended.

The disadvantage for North Dakota is we are NOT a needle in a haystack. We are a state in the union who feels the death of all of it's members like a great American novel whose pages are torn out, but the novel is always rewritten with the beautiful, frustrating and inevitably promising backdrop of our state.

Let's not overlook the place in your article Mr. Bowden where you highlight that backdrop:

"reeks...in place of...stab...eroded...rarely visited...swallows..."

These were some of the words chosen for the most encouaging part of your article. The full paragraph reads below:

"The ground itself reeks of life, the endless sweep of grassland and wheat fields, cattle feeding in place of buffalo. South of the Missouri River, the Badlands stab the eye with bands of color rippling through the eroded slopes. North Dakota is a rarely visited state and surely one of the loveliest and most moving. The land swallows anyone who walks out into it."

2,130 words in your article about North Dakota Mr. Bowden and only 7 of those words offer any light to an otherwise dismal portrayal -- "one of the loveliest and most moving" -- which is a paradox because you didn't have the guts to go further into your own soul and find the strength and promise that comes from your so-called "vanishing world".

North Dakota won't allow someone to grow up prematurely, but your article Mr. Bowden is proof that someone can write in such a way.

Thank you for listening...

Nathan

To view the article click on the "related link" tab below.


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Cinematography vs. Authenticity... 
I was reading the local paper’s film section and they had a heading titled “Industry Buzz”. In it they focus on the cinematographer for the new Coen Brother’s movie “No Country for Old Men”, Roger Deakins. Definitions differ on the role of a cinematographer, mine included because I prefer an example to illustrate the role. Mr. Deakins was also the cinematogrpher on the recent “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” starring Brad Pitt. He said this:

“Most of the sets were built on location with the backgrounds in mind…the farm where Casey Affleck’s character is arrested had to be set in a certain way to get the angles we wanted, looking at the hills, the gap in the trees. It’s quite specific, so we spent a lot of time searching for locations that would be right for those shots.”

He goes on to say, about his role as a cinematographer:

“I…try to get across that [emotional] quality in visual terms. It’s a challenge to make an image have a mood without a performance in it, where there’s no dialogue. You try to create an image that resonates with somebody else. That’s the thing you’re aiming for.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the role of the cinematographer and feel the role should receive as much attention as the director and Mr. Deakins own insight is the best definition I have read.

One area of the article I also found interesting was the choice of shooting locations for both “No Country For Old Men” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” The article says:

“For ‘No Country’ Deakins and the Coen Brothers scouted the Texas border towns where…the novel is set. Then they found similar locations in New Mexico and filmed there because of the state’s substantial tax rebates.”

Also:

“Deakins and writer-director of [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford] Andrew Dominik filmed in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, Canada.”

To me it’s unauthentic to shoot a western in Canada and shoot a blatant Texas film in New Mexico. It would be interesting if the US adopted a uniform pricing structure for all 50 states when it comes to shooting a film. This would open up the market for all states and add a level of authenticity to the setting of the story. Or not, movies are movies and the fact “No Country For Old Men” was shot in New Mexico has no bearing on it’s seeming authentic Texas setting. I doubt many people watched the film and thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t Texas, this is New Mexico.’

A place like North Dakota could benefit from authenticity – insert NoDak Films and we feel such a movement is already in the works. Not just great films, but great films with purpose, which interpreted means great North Dakota films set in and inspired by North Dakota.



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A comment and a response... 
Nowadays when an article is written for a newspaper and transferred online, there is room at the bottom to leave comments. When the Bismarck Tribune article was published after Thanksgiving I read the article online, but failed to read the comments until a few days ago. The person who wrote the statement below remained nameless except for an internet name:

"I will refrain from questioning his motives, but we should question his experience. Maybe a follow-up story could ask: Have you ever written a script that has been produced? Ever acted, directed, produced or even worked as a crew member of a successful film? Have you studied film? Do you have any contacts in the film business? Searched his name on IMDB and other film sources. He sure doesn't look like someone who has made any mark in the film business. Even experienced filmmakers can hardly make a decent indy for $200,000. "First sustainable filmmaking company?" Based on what? Too many questions, even for a "mere" $100."

Yes, please question my experience. I would too if I read an article in a North Dakota paper about some guy from North Dakota who wants to make movies. No need for a follow-up, I am going to answer all questions:

Have you ever written a script that has been produced?

Currently producing my first script Last Summer For Boys.

Ever acted?

No, has Spielberg, has George Lucas, did Stanley Kubrick or the Coen Brothers.

Ever directed?

Hiring someone to do that while I offer my own input.

Produced?

Currently producing NoDak Films first feature length film.

Ever worked as a crew member of a successful film?

Hiring a crew, but what if I was a crew member on an unsuccessful film, would that disqualify the experience?

Have you studied film?

Did I pay an institute of higher learning to study film -- No.

Do you have any contacts in the films business?

Yes.

Searched his name on IMBD and other film sources. He sure doesn’t look like someone who has made any mark in the film business.

In the cover letter to my contributors I tell them, “The artistic value of NoDak Films has yet to be determined, but I am certain you will be proud of our Films. For those who have never experienced North Dakota -- they’ll get it too.” Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple is very successful whether you like the guy or not; in an interview he once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” Although the comment is not revolutionary, it resonates perfectly with NoDak Films. I am the screenwriter, producer and CEO of NoDak Films. The areas of NoDak Films where I lack expertise, I will find someone, preferably a North Dakotan, who has expertise. I know two things as clear as I know my own children, I can write and I have great organizational skills – that translates into a good film done right.

Even experienced filmmakers can hardly make a decent indy for $200,000.

Off the top of my head I could list 33 films that were made for $200,000 or less. On average those films grossed $1.4 million at the box office. The average ticket price is about $6.50, which means over 215,000 tickets were purchased for each individual movie. Three scenarios made that possible:

1) A good film was made and the artistic value made it an easy sell.

2) The film was marketed perfectly and artistic value was secondary to the business of
making money.

3) A combination of both.

I prefer to think our first film will be a combination of both and I still believe there will be two sets of people involved with NoDak Films – those who have contributed and those who wish they had.

And our films are not “indy” films. I think NoDak Films maintains the independent spirit of filmmaking, but I wouldn’t classify our films as independent, I would classify them as NoDak Films. The United States of America makes films. I have lived and worked in New York City and San Francisco/Berkely and North Dakota. I am not making New York City films or San Francisco/Berkeley films. I am making North Dakota films that resonate with a movie-going audience – think of it as Foreign-Domestic like French films or German films or Italian films or British films. We are making North Dakota films or quality films with purpose.

First “sustainable filmmaking company” based on what?

Another great question. We are the first for three reasons:

1) We will be able to diversify our scripts (films) through different genres while still
making films in and inspired by North Dakota.

2) Inclusion of North Dakota individuals, businesses, towns, musicians, artists, actors/
actresses, topics, resources, land, funding, and technicians on a community level.

3) The ability to self-distribute (if necessary).

No other film has ever been made in such a way – this makes us sustainable.

Too many questions, even for a “mere” $100.

Where does the “mere” quote come from? I have never called anyone’s contribution “mere” and I can’t recall anyone who has. In fact, I searched NoDak Films and other sources and can’t find one place where someone used the term “mere”. $100 is a risk, but it’s a risk I think nearly 1,900 North Dakotan’s are willing to take to see themselves, their business, or their town in a great North Dakota film.

I hope the individual who wrote the comment finds this post and let’s me know if my answers are sufficient.

Look forward to your response

Nathan Anderson



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Fargo Forum and NoDak Films 
I would like to thank Tracy Frank for writing a great story about NoDak Films, the Fargo Forum for publishing the article and Greg Kempel, Eric Bobby and Casey Fines for their inspired words.

Click on the "related link" tab below to view the article



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Bismarck Tribune and NoDak Films 
I would like to thank Mr. John Irby for writing a wonderful editorial about 'longing for home,' Mr. Tony Spilde for writing a great story about NoDak Films, the Bismarck Tribune for publishing the article, Sen. Tim Mathern for his kind words, and Mr. Mark Zimmerman.

Click on the "related link" tab below to view the article



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It happened again... 
My wife and I buy our produce at a local produce grocery store that buys from independent growers. Some of my friends call us hippies because we indulge in such an activity and I always tell them:

What if there was a grocery store or a produce market that sold groceries straight from North Dakota farmers or North Dakota winemakers, jelly/jam makers, lefsa, pasta, meat, etc...an all inclusive North Dakota grocery store, not a farmer's market, a store. Would this be a good or bad thing?

They all say it would be a good thing because it is a good thing, it's a great thing. Why would I want to eat a grape from Brazil when I can eat one grown two hours from where I live? Why would I want to eat pasta imported from Greece when I can eat North Dakota grown pasta? These are questions I ask myself, I'm not a hippie for asking, I just prefer to buy at a mom-and-pop style place.

Anyway, I was in line today at the produce grocery store, checking out, when I saw a DVD near the cash register with the title "Eat at Bill's". The bottom part of the DVD was obscured so I lifted the DVD and read about "Eat at Bill's".

Fantastic! I thought after reading the DVD sleeve. "Eat at Bill's" was a documentary made about the produce grocery store. In a previous "What's New" post I talk about a DVD one of my wife's former classmates made. The DVD is a well-made, poignant, funny little mockumentary about the graduate school they attend. The adminstration enjoyed the DVD so much they pressed it, put it into DVD cases (that proudly display the school's logo) and distributed the DVD to alumni.

After seeing the DVD about the produce grocery store and remembering my wife's classmates DVD, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of excitement because I envisoned the potential of NoDak Films and the originality of our mission and the shift that filmmaking is undertaking.

I guess I'm just excited for NoDak Films and excited at what the future holds.


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An article with "soul"... 
I recently read an article from the SF Chronicle titled, “Straight from Italy, new films with soul”. The article began with the history of Italy’s “wildly ambitious” cinema juxtaposed with Italian movies today. Then the writer said this:

“Today’s Italian movies are…human scale movies about people, about emotional life, about family dynamics, about work, about morality…or to put it another way, they’re making exactly the kind of movies that Americans are not making – exactly the kind of movies that many Americans would like to see.”

Boom! When I started NoDak Films, I had this wild idea to call our films Domestic-Foreign films. The quote above articulates the sentiment perfectly. Substitute “North Dakota” with “Italian” and you have movies that many Americans “would like to see.” We could even substitute North Dakota into the title of the article:

“Straight from North Dakota, new films with soul”

The article continues:

“There’s something to be said for the cultural immersion, the cumulative impact of encountering a nation speaking to you through its movies.”

Pow! The passion and timing with which the journalist expressed this point forced my hand into a fist and I flexed my arm much like a fan whose team has just scored the go ahead run. Again, substitute “state” with “nation” and you have North Dakota “speaking to you through its movies.”

Since 2000, the US Film Industry is a $34 billion dollar a year juggernaut (US Box Office + DVD/VHS sales and rentals). Yet every state in the union has its own government, it’s own exports, its own “soul” and we are being fed sequel–after–cartoon–after–book series–after “opening weekend” numbers–kind–of–films that could care less where you’re from.

You can only have the same dinner so many times before trying new recipes. North Dakota represents the appetite and the cuisine so stay hungry and dine-out at a 4 star movie where $100 is more than the best meal, it’s the Best of North Dakota…



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