Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geek Power

Midnight Chronicles went from IMDb Moviemeter rating 6,865 to 28 last week -- up 24,417% in popularity -- putting it adjacent to other such low-budget fare like Knowing and Observe and Report.

Coincidentally, this week was also GenCon -- where I imagine the DVD was released. That's really an astronomical improvement and rating for what is an essentially indie feature with no major distributor (Epic Level Entertainment, whose only other distributed films are Xombie: Dead on Arrival and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising) and no advertising. I haven't even seen banner ads at EN World.

For nerd-friendly fare I'd think studios should pay attention to this as a booth at GenCon is practically free by studio-marketing standards. I also think studios should be more friendly to RPG adaptations of their franchises. There's no money involved, but it keeps a franchise's fan base active and you can mine the good ideas that were developed for later films, comics, or TV series.

Midnight Chronicles is also available on iTunes and through RPGNow -- though I'd recommend the iTunes route for downloading since RPGNow doesn't have the bandwidth to handle big downloads yet.

Midnight Chronicles itself is impressive in certain aspects. Production quality is strong -- a few terrific special effects, some really nice outdoor scenes and outdoor cinematography. Many of the performances turned out quite well -- I think they benefitted from going after actors who could perform instead of actors who could help them get distribution (of course, what helps the movie likely hurts the producers). The action direction and fights scenes are, unfortunately, rather tame -- too slow and careful.

But the real problem is the story. There's some good elements here and intrigue being set up between the different factions -- at one point it felt like it could be a strong Babylon 5 kind of series. But it's not a series. It's 100 minutes and I think they introduced as many as 15 or so characters, all of whom are launching their own story. So instead of one fully developed story we get the first 5 minutes of a dozen or so stories. I had to laugh when at about minute 68 (!) they introduce the secret surviving twin brother of some high-ranking legate who helps head the resistance. Save something for season two folks!

This cripples the story as a film -- and is also way too much for even a series pilot (which is what the Midnight Chronicles was originally intended as). In a series pilot you need to cleave more closely to a film mode -- find your core couple characters and key on their stories so that we have an enjoyable episode and get a chance to know them. Roll out the extra characters and plot complications as the season unfolds -- because, unless that first episode catches, you otherwise won't have a season to tell your story.

Which leads me to my last general lesson that I've learned writing. Movies are small -- at about 22,000 words they're really equivalent to a novella. Especially in a genre piece where you've also got action set pieces and such eating up minutes, you really need to choose your story and focus on it. And pilots are even smaller -- though you can leave a few hooks in them for later exploration.