Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lights, Camera, Default!

Dan Mayfield has a story in today's Journal on the short, and bumpy, history of NM loans to film companies shooting in NM. (ad/$$ required)

Leaving aside the aesthetic argument that NM taxpayers shouldn't have their money wasted on interest free loans to make crappy movies starring Jessica Simpson, et. al., did anyone else have another reason to come out from reading this article by violently shake their head in an almost Exorcist level of head shaking? Like head-spinning level head shaking?

Maybe me and my terribly sore neck is alone on this one, but the idea of a government investing in filmmaking as a means to make money makes about as much sense as the city of Albuquerque selling Amway and Herbalife products. Actually less sense.

Now there are reasons for governmental entities to invest in locally produced films. Providing jobs: great reason. Showing off the city/state to outsiders involved in productions: good reason. Showing off the city/state to movie viewers: great reason. Highly increased chances of seeing Jessica Simpson at Flying Star: kinda crummy reason, but alright, sure.

What doesn't make sense is taking the total crap-shoot commercial venture that is "independent film" and glomming a governmental entity onto it. I say "independent" because let's face it, extreme high box office films like Shrek 2 or the Chronic-what?-cles of Narnia are not the kind of films New Mexico is going to attract.

Yes, some independent films make money. Some, e.g. Blair Witch Project, make an obscene amount of money. But most films don't make money, a point made more obscure by things like DVD sales and international box office (check this metafilter discussion for some of the obscuring details). Unfortunately, like other artistic endeavors such as music, the business of film is all about putting up with the losses of the many in order to hit the Blair Witch Project home run once in a while.

One small subplot of this season's The Sopranos has Christuphur Moltisanti trying to talk Tony S. into investing in straight-to-video slasher films like Saw. Tony S. always looks at Christuphur like Chris is suggesting getting involved in something so morally unclean and stupid that it makes running strip clubs and selling credit card numbers look like Red Cross work.

And now we have the State of New Mexico playing Christuphur and who's playing Tony S.? Nobody at the State, and evidently nobody else in NM as I don't see peep one about how morally unclean and stupid state investment in film might be.

So, Hell...sure, I'll play Tony S., and right now I'm giving those involved in this state investment thing that look. You know the look. The one that says "I might have to whack you, you're so &(#)@#$* stupid. "

Obviously a big reason for support of this program is that THEY ARE MOVIE STARS! MOVIE STARS AMONG US! REAL CELEBRITIES BUYING COFFEE AT FLYING STAR! Yes, the celebrity bug has gripped humanity in a way Avian Flu can only dream of (that is, if viruses can dream). To illustrate how insane idol-worship might alter how we think about state film investment let's close by comparing it to another proposed public/private investment strategy.

Namely, Social Security. Some time back our currently so-unpopular-as-to-be-hard-to-believe President decided to use some of his "political capital" at the time to call for a privatization of Social Security. Simplifying the idea a bit, the proposal called for those paying into social security to be able to invest in things like mutual funds with the money they sent in instead of the monolithic government-run program.

People on both sides of the political aisle, especially Democrats, went beserk. You would have thought the currently unpopular President had suggested social security funds should be invested in lottery tickets and crap games. Oh, the hue and cry was vociferous.

Maybe the problem was that the currently unpopular President didn't propose using the money to invest in celebrities drinking coffee in your neighborhood. Because while the scale of investment is nowhere near that of Social Security, the stupidity of state investment in film is far greater than just telling folks they can plug personal investments into a no-load small cap. But where's the glamour in that?

Much better to bask in the brush-with-Jessica-glow crap shoot of independent film production. Besides, isn't becoming Los Angeles what all Burqeans/New Mexicans want? Really?

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