Craig Maltby is an old friend of mine. He went from making sandwiches to making movies. In the last few years, he’s built a production company from the ground up. Check out Magnanimous Media for all your Chicago-land production needs.
Craig was kind enough to answer some general questions via email.
Have your professional goals changed since film school?
My goal in film school was to make movies—primarily, to direct and to produce my own films. This goal hasn’t changed. The idea of opening a rental house in aid of my original goal initially struck me at film school. I hadn’t a clue on how to start, operate, manage, or maintain a business at that point in my life, but I knew I had the ambition and I had the understanding that the idea was a valid means of stepping toward my goal. This is a very film-student way of thinking. You set out to make a movie and ask yourself, “What do I need?” The first thing that comes to mind is “Gear!” This is a result of my education, of course, which was very technical (gear-based) and not at all rooted in theory.
A photo of Craig I took during my last visit to Chicago…Looking very resolute.
Really, when you set out to make a film what you initially need is a great idea, then a great script, then a great production team, then a great cast, then a great crew, then great gear, a great editor, great sound design, and then comes distribution/promotion. When one works in film and video, one will often hear people say, sounding astute and confident, that this or that aspect of the filmmaking process is the “most important part.” The truth is that every part of filmmaking is the most important part—whatever phase of the process you are currently in is the most important part. The filmmaker’s canvas is reality itself. Everything must be accounted for in this reality (everything that the camera sees, that is). My goal has not changed; it has only become deeper and more dynamic. I know the level of knowledge that I need to achieve in order to make films, or any other sort of content, has to be thorough and integrated, because that is what reality requires of me.
Have you noticed any mistakes common to aspiring filmmakers?
I must preface this answer by saying that it needs to be understood that when one sets out to make their first film, it is without a doubt going to be shit. The next film you make is going to be shit, too. The film you make after that is probably going to be shitty too, but a little less so, and so on. This effect can be alleviated by having a lot of money to hire people who know what they are doing or are innately genius. Even then, a huge budget and a super-intellect isn’t a magic bullet—one must be a master communicator whether you are a Director, Producer, Assistant Director, Art Director, Costume Designer (and so on). The ability to clearly communicate an idea, a tone, a style, is the difference between good films and great films (or other art mediums, for that matter). I have found that this ability to communicate is earned through trial and error.
The most common mistakes I have seen among aspiring filmmakers are a tendency to focus on the unimportant, such as putting too much emphasis on the selection of a camera. Selecting the right camera for your project is important, but a specific high-end camera is not going to make your project “look more professional” or “look like a movie.” Film technique and an engaging story do much more toward that end than a highly resolute camera.
Secondly, audio. Human eyes are willing to accept distorted or harsh images. Human ears however, are much more sensitive and generally unwilling to accept any distorted or harsh sounds. I have encountered many a young filmmaker that has budgeted for some prop or special effect or even craft-service yet they lack a proper soundman. If one is on a limited budget, the member of your crew that you should pay for is a proper sound technician. Beyond location sound, sound design is just as important as visual design in regard to the immersive qualities of a film; it is probably more import due to the previously mentioned reactivity of our sensations.
Lastly, everything has a purpose in a film. Young filmmakers often use techniques they have learned just for the sake of using them. Cinematic tools have become much more accessible due to advancing technology and fierce competition among professional cinema toolmakers. Therefore, prices are much lower. This allows low-budget projects access to what have traditionally been high-end techniques, which is a truly awesome progression to be a part of, but just because one can achieve shallow depth-of-field, slow-motion, or a full frame image does not mean that the scene calls for it or that the theme of the story necessitates its use.
How do you predict changes in technology will affect filmmaking in the next thirty years?
As mentioned, the film and video industry is moving at a brake-neck pace. The advancement of image capture technology is moving so quickly that new cameras seem to be launched every three months (you can watch videos from our recent trip to the National Association of Broadcast (NAB) Show here: https://vimeo.com/album/1906083). It is commonly said that we are currently experiencing the “democratization” of film. This is an absurd statement. It is not about all filmmakers achieving equal status or “equal opportunity.” Anyone who has perused Netflix Instant-watch knows that all filmmakers are not created equal. What is actually happening is the decentralization of filmmaking from Hollywood, which has been happening for some time now.
Beginning with the independent filmmakers of the 90′s, this shift continues today with direct influence of the Internet and the technological reaction to the demand for video content. The ravenous, unquenchable appetite of web 2.0 is not going away anytime soon. The wide spread desire from millions of content producers internationally to achieve cinematic results via cheaper and cheaper means has brought, and continues to bring, filmmaking tools to a wider group of individuals—individuals that primarily create video for the web. The Internet has obviously become a source of entertainment for millions of people world wide, if not billions. The integration of the Internet to the traditional sit on your couch and watch television model is inevitable, but that model will undoubtedly change. With new media and new advertising methods, that experience will be an altogether different one. Thirty-second spots may be a thing of the past as we are able to navigate to a media source that advertises to us in a way we are comfortable with. With the integration of traditional television and Internet, which is already well on its way (i.e. Google TV, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo), the mass of new content Producers will have access to an even more massive audience. I foresee web-content that starts its life as a web-series and eventually makes its way to large screens in homes, and perhaps is retooled into a film and eventually shown in theaters.
For quite a while longer films will be distributed through Hollywood because the infrastructure exists to do so. But one day in the near future Hollywood won’t need to be involved at all. One will shoot their film on a digital camera that shoots 4k raw files or larger (or even some variation of raw like Dynamax that Panavision is developing). These files will be ingested into a digital editing and coloring system, a large final file (or files) will be generated and uploaded to a distributor. This digital distributor will upload or even stream these movies to ultra-high definition projectors in theaters across the world, maybe even in homes, ultimately rendering Hollywood a superficial cog in the system. They will still have lots of sunlight and back-lots, unless California falls into the ocean. I hear stories about filmmakers going to some film festival and pitching a movie and getting a multi-million dollar deal for their film; I see this as an old model with an expiration date.
There are still a limited number of screens and if this “democratization” is truly a successful shift there will be an increase in supply, meaning more quality films. If there are more quality films to be purchased by those who want to purchase them, the price they are willing to pay for these films will drop. One must be willing to ask themselves what the desired final destination for their project is, because the internet is looking, more and more, like a welcoming place for content curation and distribution.
Why do you choose Chicago over L.A. or New York?
I am from the Mid-west so I kind of just put down roots in Chicago, because there was opportunity and it was close. I have nothing against New York; L.A. culture is not really my style, but I can’t say that I really know either city all that well. I do know that Chicago is a great bustling city and I love it. It isn’t exactly business friendly and isn’t going to foster any real thriving filmmaking community until it incentivizes businesses to stay in Chicago. I am not talking about tax credits or subsidies. Chicago is at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to L.A. and New York, most of the acting talent flees to the coasts, the weather sucks most of the time, and the art community isn’t as robust in general. There is however plenty of creative talent here—really talented individuals walk in my shop everyday. I see a lot of amazing locally produced web-content. Chicago has traditionally been an advertising town, with a burst of major film production over the last ten years due to tax incentives. The thing that makes the Arts grow is wealth. Money must be incentivized to flow into Chicago, not out of it. I intend to be a part of making Chicago a better place to make movies.