Machinima Artists Guild

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Machinima as a professional film medium

Today I want to talk about machinima being a “professional” film medium, or we could translate that as a “legitimate” film medium.

What I mean is…the mainstream (not all, but most) don’t take this form of film making seriously. Some may even go so far as to say that machinima is for those wanting their 15 minutes of fame, or for the film maker wannabe-but-can’t-be types, or something along those lines.

What they see, as many do who are unfamiliar with machinima, tends to be mostly hobbyists taking footage of him or herself playing games. Or if there is a storyline, it may be shallow scripting, or poorly shot footage and ill thought through dialog. It isn’t everyone, so if that doesn’t describe you, then please don’t take offense…but if you are familiar with machinima you have likely seen what I’m talking about.

It can actually be a little harder to find machinima directors that really take the time to make their work as professional as they can, even if they don’t have the money or equipment. I would like to take some time today to discuss what this whole professional idea means.

What does it mean to be professionalized?

Well, we need to break it down a bit. What’s professional in real world filming? “Sucking as much money as you can out of some poor sap to do mediocre work!” That’s not exactly what I’m talking about, although it does happen. I’m associated with a film company who filmed a car commercial years ago (I won’t say which car company). This short commercial cost about $4,000,000 to produce…for a simple commercial! Paying for a product is one thing, but that might be somewhat unrealistic, particularly for machinima.

So…what does professional mean? Let’s think about another question as we answer the first question…what is the difference between a feature film and something done on some guys home camera? Give that a moment of thought and it may partially answer the first question.

Now, back to that first question - let’s look at it this way; if you were to spend $10,000,000 on producing a movie, would you want to hire a part-timer that will work on it when he/she gets a chance after work, or on weekends? Probably not if you want something quality that has at least half a chance to earn your $10,000,000 back.

It’s likely you would want someone who will work on your project full time and give his/her full attention to producing a quality product. Does that mean you search for the highest bidder and spend way more than you need to? It doesn’t have to, and certainly not for machinima.

Here’s the real question: Is it reasonable to work toward maturing machinima film making to where writers, voice actors, virtual set builders and animators, directors, etc., can earn a living off the art? Maybe it won’t be enough to buy mansions, or million dollar boats, but perhaps enough to be able to pay the bills and support a family. Would that qualify as professional?

Why would I be talking about professionalizing machinima?

Okay, here’s the bottom line…if we want the film industry to see machinima as a viable, serious, legitimate form of movie making, then we will need more people making the art a profession, not just a hobby.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad with someone having machinima as a hobby, no more than someone buying a video camera and making back yard movies as a hobby. It can be fun and interesting, but there are people who not only dislike that anyone gets paid for working on a project, but will actually be offended!

I saw on a forum about a year ago someone paying for animation and scripting work for a machinima project in Second Life in exchange for payment in Lindens. Someone posted back saying that the work he was asking for would be about two weeks worth of work. The issue regarding the offer was that the payment would have equaled about $20.

Would two weeks of work, even if it’s part time hours after your normal job, but still taking time away from family, friends, and hobbies, etc., for about $20 be worth it? There are some who say yes, but how valuable is your time?

I do believe a workman is worth his hire. If I’m going to hire someone to do a job, I should recognize that the person’s time is valuable. Wouldn’t that be the professional attitude to have? I mean, they likely have a regular job, maybe a family, friends, and other daily obligations that my project would be taking this person away from.

Some people will actually make the argument that if someone asks for money for their work, then they’re just being greedy. True, being helpful and giving to others is important, but if someone spends 80 hours or more for free so you can make money (or benefit in some way), which one would be the selfish, self centered one? I know that we have gotten into the mindset of everything should be for free without inconvenience to ourselves, but does that produce quality productions? Not likely!

Now, if you can’t afford to pay much for help, that’s okay! In the professional world there is also collaborative work. Many people are willing to work with you on a big project cheap, or free, if you will help them on their project. Collaboration is a great way to get things done when we don't have much of a budget, but keep in mind that their time is valuable and should not be taken for granted.

So, what would a professional production look like?

Again, there is a whole slew of bad machinima and storylines that are tolerable at best. How do we change the perception of this media with the general public and the professional film world?

Professional film can take many forms, from music videos, documentaries, commercials, news segments, episodic series, film shorts, or full movies. The difference between pro and novice is the time and talent put into the project. This translates into smooth footage and engaging storyline.

Perhaps you don’t have the training or experience to feel talented enough to do something visually striking. Maybe you don’t have the money to hire someone who does have the talent. What you need to ask yourself is “Am I willing to do what it takes to learn?”

There is a lot of learning material out there. Most of the quality ones are not free, but there is still some good advice and teaching material that is for free if you’re willing to work to find it. Also, don’t be afraid to find someone who is good at what they do and offer to help on their projects for free to learn from them. Pay attention to what they do and ask questions…a LOT of questions! If they are truly willing to help you improve your skills, they won’t mind questions, as long as you don’t get crazy with the privilege. There are lines that can be crossed.

Study, study, study…then jump in a do something! Make a short film, perhaps 5 or 10 minutes long just to get some experience to pull from.

These are some thoughts on machinima as a profession. I know there are some people who would love to make a living doing machinima, but very few do. Having more people think of it as a profession is a start, but as a group, a community, however you want to see it, we need to put our desires into action and create some quality works, getting the attention of the general public.

Let them know it’s more than just a game. This will open up many new doors that we never knew were even there.

Until next time…do something great!



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Comment by Wayne Graves on August 27, 2011 at 1:02pm
The business part of Machinima is a tough one, mostly because the industry is so undefined in that respect...but I'll be happy to give my thoughts on your questions when you're ready.
Comment by cisko vandeverre on August 27, 2011 at 4:35am
thx for sharing ur thoughts and project. i'll get back later with some Q&A regarding the business aspect of making machinimas


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