class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-50862″ style=”margin: 10px;” title=”Skyline Final” src=”https://www.heyuguys.com/images/2010/10/Skyline-Final-220×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />Skyline was released last weekend (read Dave’s rather comical review here), and only just made it into the box office top five. This weekend, it is all set to disappear, and will fast become a distant memory. I hope, however, it does not get so easily forgotten by aspiring filmmakers, or even the current movers and shakers in the business. You see, I think there are valuable lessons to be learnt from this experiment in cut-price filmmaking.
For years, we have been screaming out at Hollywood that big budget effects do not a great movie make. CGI heavy movies though do tend to make a big noise at the box office, so can be considered very effective. The likes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen have championed big computer animated set pieces at the expense of competent acting and coherent plot, and continue to get away with it. The sizable budget usually extends to a big marketing push, which seems to be half the battle for box office success these days. We now seem to have reached a new level however. Skyline had the expensive looking effects, but didn’t even have the marketing push behind it. Consequently, it failed.
Except it didn’t. Sure, it has received a critical mauling, and the movie-going majority are avoiding it like the plague. But with a budget reported to be around $10 million, and an opening of $11 million, the movie is already set to make a profit, and on that basis can be considered (moderately) successful. To put it into a bit of perspective, I think it is important to point out that Skyline’s opening weekend total earnings matches almost exactly that of another much maligned alien invasion movie. The difference is that 2000’s Battlefield Earth cost a staggering $73 million to make, resulting in a $50 million loss. When all is said and done, Skyline could almost double it’s money. So what can we learn from the story of Skylines’s ‘success’?
There is a popular, and woefully misguided, belief that writing a science fiction movie is easy. On the surface, it does sound easier than writing a story confined by known physics and logic. If you create your own world, you can create your own rules, and therefore do anything you want. As a writer, you can let your imagination run wild, and no-one can queston the concepts you create. The reality, of course, is that to write a compelling sci-fi movie that audiences can buy into can be considerably harder than in other genres. It’s all very well designing fantastical alien ships and otherworldly beings, and casting them against a contemporary Earth setting, but if the logic of your character motivations are flawed, your actors are unconvincing at best, and the plot is nothing short of tedious, it is a massive waste of time.
You can see where the people involved were coming from. They clearly saw movies like Cloverfield and District 9, low budget sci-fi movies that made a big splash, and felt that with their effects background they could do just as good a job. The effects are good, but no consideration has been given to any of the other necessary elements. The characters in Cloverfield perhaps weren’t that likeable, but they at least had a plan, a motivation. The story had a good pace to it, the plot was structurally sound, and the overall effect was very entertaining. District 9 had very deep ideas at its heart, a fascinating political statement mixed with some laugh out loud humour and genuinely exciting action sequences made it the surprise package of last summer.
This, in a broad strokes, is the difference between a movie like Skyline and far better conceived films of the same genre. The starting base for any movie should be story and plot, and when you have gotten that right, only then can you add the shock and awe. It is a real shame, too, because the theory behind Skyline is actually pretty sound. Computer effects are getting cheaper and more accessible. It isn’t necessary to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on massive sets and overpriced actors. If just an extra $10 million had been spent getting better actors, polishing up the screenplay and building a couple of extra sets, Skyline could have BEEN this year’s District 9. It may have been panned by 99% of its audience, but Skyline does show that it will be possible for more talented and experienced filmmakers to make great looking action movies without a huge budget.
I hope, for this reason, that potential filmmakers are not put off of trying their own lower budget genre films. If the right level of effort is put into getting a compelling story laid out, and more thought is put into sketching out believable, likeable characters, independent filmmakers could start to rival the likes of Paramount and Sony at the box office. We’ve seen cheaply made movies like Paranormal Activity go supernova thanks to unconventional filmmaking techniques and the contagious buzz of viral marketing, and hopefully we will continue to see more of this kind of inventing filmmaking.
It will be a struggle. Inexpensive films like Buried can get all the positive reviews in the world, but without the marketing budget of more expensive studio pictures, the awareness just isn’t there. That is part of the importance of movie blogs like HeyUGuys. We help to bring these smaller films to the attention of the public. As more and more consumers make a habitual use of the Internet, our reach will increase, meaning we can hope to make more of an impact on movie going habits.
This only works, of course, if the films get screened for critics, and are actually good. Skyline fell down on both of these elements, and as a result is destined to the bargain basements of this world.
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Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann