In Quentin Tarantino’s alternative history of Tinseltown in 1969, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the heroine Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) lives, the antagonists (Charles Manson’s disciples) die, and the protagonists (Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt) play a star and his sidekick stuntman trapped in the Hollywood studio system.
Fifty years later, our traditional notions of Hollywood still live in the major studios that have survived bankruptcy, churning out multimillion-dollar films like OUATIH, the Marvel and Star Wars franchise films, Top Gun 2, and other remakes. In Tarantino and even Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood, celluloid film stock and dark rooms still live, agents still make or break actor careers, and marketing costs can be a multiple of the actual film production cost.
But beyond the hype and glamor we associate with this industry, it is still a business. And the means to make films is actually becoming cheaper. Steven Soderbergh, tired of the outrageous costs associated with his remake of the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, totally went in the opposite direction and shot his feature film Unsane on 4K using a gimbal-mounted iPhone with a special anamorphic lens and external digital sound recording equipment just to prove a point.
All of these developments are familiar to filmmakers worldwide.
The arrival of regionalization and local content efforts by streaming video networks like Netflix and HBO Asia (based in Singapore) have also offered Asian filmmakers and studios a chance to reach broader international markets, including a very large Asian diaspora.
Hollywood is just a state of mind. Good filmmaking these days can be done anywhere. It’s about the will to get a great story made. It’s about getting it cast and produced with good actors and production crew who know their craft – and market it using social media and some great artwork.
Increasingly, Asian films are making it to the Netflix platform, complementing other streaming video on demand (SVOD) platforms like HBO and iFlix. Streaming video networks like Netflix offer filmmakers a smaller guaranteed upfront revenue (bigger if exclusive to them) but at less risk compared to theatrical showings.
The filmmaker has to weigh what is more important – a minimum guaranteed income, or a chance to bet on a riskier theatrical screening. Fortunately, there is a middle ground. Do theatrical first, then show the film on Netflix.
Hollywood is just a state of mind. Good filmmaking these days can be done anywhere. It’s about the will to get a great story made. Getting it cast and produced with good actors and production crew who know their craft. And market it using social media and some great artwork.
Even today, there are lots of unemployed Hollywood stars like Rick Dalton (Leonardo di Caprio) waiting for their next big project. With an iMDB Pro listing, he doesn’t need to settle for a Spaghetti Western. Asian producers can easily call and make an offer with their agent, subject to Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimum guidelines about working abroad.
Or as some Asian filmmakers are showing, use their own homegrown talent and stories, and match what is coming out of Hollywood toe to toe.
The only place where a Hollywood-type industry can’t be launched is wherever people have given up on the idea even before their hearts have stopped beating.
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