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.