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BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

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So, I've been saying for a while now that I'm going to write an editorial about our promotion strategy for BloodSpell. Here it is. Advanced warning: I'm going to swear.

It's interesting that Hollywoodiness has been by far the most controversial aspect of BloodSpell, more so than the music, the engine, or the self-harm aspects of the film. We've been told that BloodSpell gives people a "Hollywood feeling", I've been told that I'm being "selfish and damaging" for comparing BloodSpell and Hollywood productions, even if it's in the context of a more indie competitor. And I've seen people complaining that another film (Potentior by Nicholas Werner) "emulates the Hollywood epic style",

So... BloodSpell gives you a "Hollywood feeling"? Great. It should. It was written following the precepts of Robert McKee (the master of story in Hollywood right now) and the writing techniques of Joss Whedon (firmly Hollywood, no matter how brilliant he is). It was explicitly concieved as an epic, Hollywood-style action movie (you'll see that phrase crop up right from the start of this blog), as a result of my mantra for years that Machinima allows indie producers to create films with a plotline previously only accessible to the big studios.

(I don't understand the prejudice - and it is a prejudice, often held by the same people who are queuing up at the multiplex - against Hollywood movies. Sure, many of them are shite. Have you watched the average European indie film lately? They've got a reputation for quality because we only see the very cream of the crop - the rest of them, frankly, range from average to suck. Hollywood at least manages to hit "watchable" most of the time - and at its best, the system produces films that just couldn't have been made anywhere else. )

Machinima allows you - allows me - to create epic sets, to create casts of thousands, and to film the lot in your bedroom. Which means you get to miss out on all the exciting backstabbing and politics, the tiny, tiny chances of even modest success, the process of endless committees and producer meetings which my friend Alasdair Watson once memorably described as "taking your creation into a room and then fucking it with razorblades", and still make a Hollywood-esque movie.

So are we competing with Hollywood? Fucking right we are. I'm not interested in being seen as a "nice little Internet short". I'm not interested in being "user-made content". It's not what we're doing here. We're not their "users", we're their competition.

But surely I can't mean that I'm competing with Hollywood? I mean, they've got top stars, amazing visuals, special effects, genius cinematographers. BloodSpell's just a little game-engine project, with blocky characters and dodgy lipsynching.


No, BloodSpell doesn't look as good as "Cars"*. In fact, it doesn't look as good as "The Return". (Ezra and Terran are officially Overly-Talented Bastards in my book). But the Blair Witch Project didn't look great, either. Nor did Clerks. Looks aren't the only way to compete.

My feeling is that Machinima and Machinimators have gotten scared. We've been burned by Ottowa, we've been burned articles in popular media. We've all shown what we consider great Machinima to someone whose opinion we care about, only to be told "I don't get it".

And so we've aimed our sights lower. I've seen advice on the Machinima.com forums recently saying one of the most important things in making a Machinima movie is to make it "short and sweet". I've seen people attack Machinima films purely for being too ambitious.

And we've set our critical faculties to kill. I've heard people saying that we need yet more criticism of Machinima (when the most vibrant and active Machinima community, Sims99, is also by far the nicest and most welcoming). I've heard prominent members of the Machinima community express the feeling that it would be good to exclude "some of the dross".

Right now, we've got a huge opportunity to do - well, whatever we want. More people than ever before are watching Machinima and watching films that are part of a dialogue, not a monolithic corporation's broadcast. That are full of ideas, perhaps even new or dangerous ideas, that haven't been carefully filtered by 50 lawyers and a room full of "producers" worried about how the movie'll play in the Midwest.

Sure, we're not in Empire yet, and I don't think Nicole Kidman or Johnny Depp will be queuing up to star in BloodSpell 2. But BloodSpell is winning viewers, thousands of them. And every single person who chooses to watch BloodSpell rather than whatever's on TV right now - that's a win. That's someone who has conciously decided that BloodSpell is a better watch than Friends rerun #24 or a dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy.

There's only one problem - in order for people to decide they like BloodSpell, or "The Return", or "An Unfair War", they have to find out about it. And that's where Hollywood still has a huge advantage.

So that's why we're putting ourselves out there so much, why we're using every tool available to us to make ourselves visible over the ambient noise of the mainstream media**. Because we want as many people as possible to see BloodSpell, so that the ones who would like it will find out they like it. And if we have to portray ourselves as being rivals to Pixar - why not? It's the truth.

If you're publishing video drama, in any fashion, you're competing with Steven Spielberg, you're competing with Pixar, and you're competing with Fox, whether you like it or not. The only choice you get to make is if you throw in the towel and claim you can't possibly win, or if you decide to make a fight out of it.

We've decided to make a fight of it. I hope more Machinima producers will do the same.

*I'd prefer to say we were competing with Peter Jackson, but there's the whole "animation" hurdle to get over. Evidence suggests people have real trouble comparing animation to non-animation, so Pixar it is.

**Oh, and on the "BloodSpell is big" front: BloodSpell has taken over 10,000 man-hours to make so far. Acts 1 to 3 contain 1,159 seperate shots. I've done a quick estimate and we've got over 90 speaking roles, and an estimated runtime of 115 minutes or more. If you know of a Machinima film bigger, send me stats, and we'll talk. Otherwise, the "biggest Machinima film ever" tag is here to stay.
  • (Anonymous)
    Gerard "neoRetro" Delaney

    Howdi Bloodspellians (hehe just thought that up)

    "Biggest Machinima film ever" - does not guarentee quality. That is the comparison to hollywood I would like to make. Hollywood is a business the sells creativity. That statement is try to sell your creativity. Your comments here have some validity but I would stray away from making assumptions:

    "and it is a prejudice, often held by the same people who are queuing up at the multiplex" - this is an assumption, how the hell do you know anything about those who make the comments about your work. I watch films at both the megaplex (where I work) and at the local independant theatres and pride myself on seeing alot of films and have an academic interest in cinema as well. My views of Hollywood stem from my above view of it as a business. Example: Do you think the recent Mission Impossible film was made for a) someones desire to be creative? or b) someones need for a bit more cash?

    You have a right to say what you want in defence against a percieved threat, but I don't think this article will win you fans, in fact it seems you always need to justify yourselves against every criticizm, if you enjoy your work...who cares dude. Its one guy/girl at a keyboard. I'm just giving my opinion or reply to this article as I did make a similar comment on machinima.com.

    About making a fight...that sounds like a bit much but whatever guys. Best of luck with the rest of Bloodspell, they are getting better with each episode.
    • "how the hell do you know anything about those who make the comments about your work"

      This isn't a comment about the people watching BloodSpell. I've no idea what all you guys' opinion is!

      It's a comment about the people who parade their anti-Hollywoodism and can be heard making generic statements like "I hate Hollywood films" or "Everything Hollywood produces is crap", with very little evidence to back those statements up.

      Sorry, I probably should have been clearer there.

      "Do you think the recent Mission Impossible film was made for..."

      Well, it depends who you're talking about. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman probably had a blast making it (after all, it was fulfilling a long-term ambition of his), and certainly took his role very seriously. I think that an awful lot of the crew probably took it very seriously indeed. I kinda feel like the scriptwriter was phoning it in, but I might be wrong there.

      But you've taken a sole example of one film, and used it to represent all of Hollywood. What about The Godfather? Unforgiven? Lord of the Rings? The Matrix? Moulin Rouge? Shrek? The Incredibles? Star Wars? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (funded by Columbia, if you didn't know)? Lost In Translation? Serenity? Buffy? The West Wing?

      Hollywood produces good films, bad films and horrible films. Just like independent cinema.

      "my above view of it as a business"

      Yes, but 99.995% of ALL feature-film production is a business. We're talking about projects costing, at minimum, £100,000. Very few people are willing to lose that sort of cash, so any project on those lines - ie any feature-film project - becomes a business by default.

      Sometimes it's a business where the quality of the end product is irrelevant - and I'm talking about situations like the Section 48 tax-breaks in the UK here, where film production provided investors a tax break regardless of the quality of the end product - but it's (almost) always a business.
  • (Anonymous)
    Awesome write up Hugh! Very inspiring.

    Well done.

  • (Anonymous)
    Your justification makes sense, but think of it from the point of view of your average internet-goer, and the rest of us machinimators.

    A regular joe sixpack sees "Biggest machinima film ever, on the scale of LotR and Pixar films on a shoestring budget". And they go "WOW! This machinima thing must be really new and exciting!". They download Bloodspell expecting to see Pixar level animation and Tolkien style storytelling. Their reaction?


    That has nothing to do with the quality of Bloodspell. It has to do with creating hype and expectation in one way, then offering something entirely different.

    You made a great point about how graphics aren't necessarily important for the overall success of the film - Blair Witch, Clerks, South Park, even Red vs Blue, etc.

    That seems to fit BloodSpell much more accurately than comparing it with Lord of the Rings. Look at the credits for the first film, and the ridiculous level of work they did and the amount of money spent. The comparison just doesn't fit to most people, and that's where that complaint comes from.

    Don't be ticked off or get angry at these criticisms or controversies, by comparing yourselves to some of the best film productions of our time, you were asking for it.

    And before I get too carried away I'd also like to say I just have a different point of view on getting people to watch your film - I'm more in the "word of mouth" crowd than the "press release" crowd. So all that I say will probably sound like crabcakes to you, but I'll say it anyway. And I'm definitely not telling you guys what you should do, but just what I honestly think of all this.

    You guys are statistically the biggest machinima film ever. Big deal. Sure you can win a lot of viewers that way. But you can't expect the rest of us machinimators to sit still and take the beatdown do you? ;) You guys are not the only ones working your asses off. Calling yourselves the biggest machinima ever is kinda like Hitler crowning himself the Fuhrer. OK no, kidding, but you know, those kind of titles and descriptions are usually given by critics, fans, and the audience. Not the creator.

    We know you guys are working hard. You don't have to beat it over our heads every day.

    You know what feels so Hollywood to me about BloodSpell? It's not the quality of the movies, but those ridiculously stupid trailers with "From the director of (some film you've never seen)!", "From the man who brought you...", and "America's #1 movie!" etc, etc. I can't STAND this.

    "Biggest machinima film ever" is getting there. It has that same feeling. If you guys ever put this line in a trailer or anything other than a press release, I'm boycotting Bloodspell forever. ;)

    If you're going to continue to label yourselves the biggest and baddest machinima ever, then please at least fix the visual glitches and anomolies before releasing. Again, when you're at the level of "biggest evar" and "Cars", "We tried" is a disappointing response.

    "And every single person who chooses to watch BloodSpell rather than whatever's on TV right now - that's a win. That's someone who has conciously decided that BloodSpell is a better watch than Friends rerun #24 or a dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy."

    So apparently every single person who likes Bloodspell has consciously decided to cease watching all his favorite shows so he can watch 10 minutes of Bloodspell every other week. Big assumption there.

    "If you're publishing video drama, in any fashion, you're competing with Steven Spielberg, you're competing with Pixar, and you're competing with Fox, whether you like it or not."

    This is getting way too long, so I'll just disagree with this last one. ;) It's like saying a high school basketball player is competing with Michael Jordan. Technically, it's true, but it's very odd to say that... Michael Jordan or his fans / viewers / everyone else won't see the kid as competition, until he grows up and is on a similar skill level.
  • (no subject) -
    • Yeah, good call. I'd considered mentioning SoN, but the article was getting too long anyway.

      SoN is longer than BloodSpell, but was made in six months, using one voice actor (a pretty amazing feat, actually), and I'm pretty sure has a good number less shots and setups than BloodSpell.

  • Thats said !

    Hello i'm google bot, but you're already know me (comments on bloodspell) i've just spend an half of hour for read you're entire article because im french, but i love you're think style but something of offense me : ""dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy."" Buffy roxx ! why are you saying that ! i'm kidding, I just wanna say something to you & your crew : keep going, be ambitious isn't a crime.

    Well let's PWN the next "bollockbuster" on the Tv with the EP6 of Bloodspell.

    I admire the scipting work on neverwinter nights too, i'm moding & ... I Dont get how to active well the scripts >< .. Thank for the work & bye .
  • RvB

    Surely the biggest machinima movie ever made was and still is Red vs Blue? They make one big film and release it as episodes like you guys ...
    • Re: RvB

      They've been going the longest, but they have less shots, less assets, less voice actors and a far less complicated shooting script than we do. I'm also not sure it's a movie. It's far more akin to a television series. They even have different numbered seasons. BloodSpell is and always was intended as a movie (albeit in episodic releases). Once the whole film has been released, we'll be re-editing it into one single movie.
  • (Anonymous)
    People should enjoy such a unique creation and count their blessings it isn't another halo machinima with 12 year olds shouting obsenities at each other through the duration of the video. These people should count themselves lucky to experience something of this creative quality from the founders of machinima itself. nuff said, Also Hugh keep up with the good work without you we may never have had a chance to make such films with out the the big budget.

  • Come on you guys...

    - Rellik

    You know how you become successful? I can tell you for damn sur eit's not by being the quiet meek one in the corner softly saying "hey guys, I made this little movie, it's okay I guess, you might like it, you might think it sucks, gee golly I dunno whatever."

    StrangeCompany are putting themselves out there, way waaaay out there and that takes a hell of a lot more balls that to just sit back and gripe at them for trying. That's also how you become successful, period. You work hard, you make yourself heard, and you fight your way up the heap.

    And when you look at all the factors you'll see this really is technically the biggest machinima ever made (and take that as you will), and I really hope the knee-jerk negativity about the claim ends. If you really want to squash SC, go ahead and make something bigger. It should only take you a couple years.

    With the RvB comments, please keep in mind that RvB has no custom assets, no animations, nothing. While IMO they do a great job at it, it's much easier to record, then add dialogue then having to actually get elbow deep in the guts of a game and try to bend it to your will.
    • Re: Come on you guys...

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Yeah, I agree (obviously) with a lot of what you say. At their best, movies, and particularly "cool, indie" movies, tend to resemble a swan (stop me if you've heard this one). From the outsider's perspective, it looks as if they just sail along smoothly and effortlessly - what you can't see is that below the water they're paddling away furiously.
  • (Anonymous)
    I'm the person who made the comment about the machinima film "Potentior" "emulating the Hollywood Epic Sytle". It was part of a long review and a conversation on the film at Machinima Premiere (mprem.com). By quoting me out of context, you give the impression that I am against Bloodspell (and any other machinima film) for trying to use Hollywood as a model for their work. This is not my position. My point in the review was that a machinima filmmaker has other options than just trying to copy Hollywood. I was trying to encourage filmmakers to be more original and creative. However, if you or any other machinima filmmaker prefers to use Hollywood as a model, more power to you. As long as the film is well made, use any model you want. Machinima is a wide open medium with room for every kind of movie style. And since it's not live-action machinima has more kinship with animated films. I'm suprised that more machinima don't use Anime as a model for inspiration. "Spirited Away" or "War of the Worlds"?
    Not a hard choice for me to make in choosing which film I gives me more ideas and inspiration for machinima.

    And while I appreciate your comments, I don't really agree with you. Machinima seems to have so much more potential for personal expression than copying out tired packaged films that Hollywood offers us with regularity. I don't suggest that this is what Bloodspell is doing. On the contrary, the series is well-made. It's just not my cup of tea.

    I don't know that much about the indie film in Europe, but Korea and Hong Kong films are leading the world in revising old forms and creating new styles of filmmaking. "Old Boy", "My Sassy Girl", "Election", "One Night in Mongkok" and "The Promise" are all films that have inspired, entertained and moved me in ways that the majority of Hollywood films do not. These
    are the films that are part of the machinima I make.

    If you want to compete with Hollywood, that's fine by me. You certainly have the talent. But, as my review of "Potentior" suggests, there are other possibilities that should be considered.

    Good luck with Bloospell, Hugh.


    • My point in the review was that a machinima filmmaker has other options than just trying to copy Hollywood.

      That's a very fair point, and something that we should all be aware of.

      (Of course, for all that I'm saying that BloodSpell is heavily inspired by Hollywood work, it's throwing out as much as it's keeping in. It might be more accurate to say that I think of BloodSpell as aiming to be Hollywood-style storytelling done right.)

      People like Friederich Kirschner are doing great work in Machinima working from a totally different angle to Strange Company or Hollywood either - and they're producing fascinating stuff. That's the thing about Machinima - you can do whatever you want.

      "Spirited Away" or "War of the Worlds"

      Well, obviously. But I could equally say "Which would you prefer - "Legend of the Overfiend" or "Lord of the Rings"?". Anime's not short of turkeys either - just as Hollywood isn't short of great films.

      I must admit, this rant came about partially because I think Hollywood gets a bad rap. There's just as much formulaic crap coming out of anime studios or Hong Kong as there is Hollywood. Sturgeon's Law - 90% of everything is crap.

      And there's just as many geniuses working in Hollywood as there are in HK. But when a Hollywood film is fantastic, people seem to conveniently forget that it's Hollywood, and use the term "Hollywood" only to refer to the mistakes or the crap.

      (I'm not suggesting you're doing that, either - I've maybe just been in one too many cafes with film snobs).

      It's a taste thing, of course. I have almost the reverse reaction to you - whilst I enjoy HK and Korea (and Thai) cinema, I've yet to find an East Asian film that moves or inspires me in the same way as Moulin Rouge, or Lost in Translation, or Lord of the Rings, or the West Wing.

      And so we'll both keep creating and criticising from our perspectives based on those tastes.

      Thank heavens. 'Cos it'd be bloody boring if we were all doing the same thing.
  • Praise or Hype?

    I think the criticisms of Bloodspell's promotion isn't about so much "what", but about hype. It's true that you need to spark interest, but press releases are old methods to getting your series seen. As the internet represents a newly connected consciousness, word-of-mouth holds much more value than chest-beating your own accomplishments, regardless if you're deserving of that acknowledgement or not.

    You want people to watch to watch your film? Make something good and create fans. Red Versus Blue, Ask A Ninja and Rocketboom never sent out press releases or actively promoted why their shows should be watched. No cares about the amount of effort or about the how film was made (that novelty wears off real quick). The work was their messenger, and is what makes people keep coming back and has them tell their friends. They will be your PR agents, blogging about it and promoting it without question. Then you'll know for sure if you made something worth watching.

    • Re: Praise or Hype?

      Interesting comments - thanks.

      I think I've talked about the "word of mouth" issue extensively enough below, to Jason, so I'll not bore you with it more!
  • Cogito. Ergo. Commeto.

    Firstly, the point of marketing is to get some attention to your product and so, although 'the biggest' will mean something different to whomever reads the tagline, it has certainly generated marked attention - which is the whole point in the first place so good on ya!

    From a purely market strategy positioning perspective, the 'biggest machinima' tagline does not seem to strongly support Hugh's overall aims. If an overall aim is for Bloodspell to be considered a ‘legitimate’ film, then why muddy the waters with the term ‘machinima’ and invite the comparison in the first place? In fact, you may end up providing the mainstream, especially skeptics, with a reason to easily dismiss your work, perhaps without even having to give it due consideration for merit at all a la ‘it’s just some video game thingy for kids’.

    Aside from the aim of the current marketing, the Bloodspell marketing strategy also seems a little incongruent. For example, what exactly is appealing about the "Biggest Blair Witch Project"? The draw of Blair Witch was not its grandeur but the very lack of this scale in the first place. Just what is “the biggest little” anyway?

    IMHO, drop the term ‘machinima’ and its associated jargon as a central marketing component and make the angle 'low budget approaches' which everyone can relate to. In fact, you have more good stories to tell along this line than just about technology when you consider all of Strange Company.

    Sure, machinima is an interesting angle and fascinating cultural phenomena, but, as an artist, you should be marketing your work first, machinima second; especially given the choice of an older game engine for the production. With machinima front-and-center in the marketing message, you end up with “the biggest little movie yet made using the older technologies of a new medium”. Huh? Easier to avoid it all in the first place and focus on the Bloodspell attitude and Strange Company brand itself.

    Peace and rock on Bloodspell!
  • (Anonymous)
    It's hard to say things about this without sounding negative about Bloodspell - I just wanted to clarify that. I enjoy the series and appreciate the work. Episode 6's last scene had me laughing my balls off, and that doesn't happen all too often with machinima. :P

    But again, the point is about the marketing. I won't go too long again since I think you guys get the point by now - all of those successes like RvB, Blair Witch, South Park, Clerks, any small, independent productions or "cult hits" like that became big and successful not by press releases and self proclaimations, but by curious audiences and word of mouth.

    Their story is a tale of rags to riches. Zero to hero. But you guys seem to bet on success with numbers and statistics. Another thing about those films' success is not just the content. It's culture. They are made at the right time and right place, etc. and you just cannot plan for that, and that is the risk we take with art and the gamble for success.

    "Biggest machinima ever" can be a wow factor when you mention it ONCE. The law of diminishing returns rules us all. And remember that Waterworld was one of the biggest budget films in Hollywood history. And we all know what happened there.

    Maybe it's just the wording that throws me off. It just gives out the wrong vibe, if you know what I mean. Why not try "ONE OF the biggest machinimas ever attempted?" or something to that effect? You're still getting the point across and you're no longer self claiming a #1 position, but rather, representing a part of a whole.
  • (Anonymous)
    Guys the fact is, the biggest machinima movie ever (so far) has been "Shenmue - The Movie". Biggest in regards to everything: sound, graphics, shots, acting, camera etc. It even had a cinema release in Japan and DVD release everywhere else.
  • The Seal of Nehahra


    At 235mins I believe this is probably the biggest Machinima movie of all time. And it's been around for years. Dunno where you guys got the idea that BloodSpell is the biggest.

    Nice job on the movie all the same, I was very impressed.
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