Sondra Lowell, founder of Film Sleepy, began making movies in 1999.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
At Film Sleepy, I am making movies that put the audience to sleep. In this age of instant information, constant chatter and resulting emotional and physical breakdowns, there should be no need to explain why the world needs movies to sleep through. And yet I find myself having to explain over and over why my movies are so boring.
My first feature, WEBCAMMURDER.COM, is the slow-moving tale of four lifecasters with webcams turned on 24/7. They read, they sleep, they play Solitaire and they dream of overtaking eBay and Amazon's ratings.
Who would want to watch that, you wonder? No one. That's the point.You have no qualms about sleeping through it because you know you'renot missing anything. And you wake up healthier and more refreshed than you've felt in years.
But don't take my word for it. As a viewer said, "It just sits there." And the Los Angeles Times, bless its soul, called WEBCAMMURDER.COM "the most boring talky ever made."
My second feature, SUBLIME CRIME: A SUBLIMINAL MYSTERY, takes sleeping through movies to a level I could not have conceived of had I not already gone through the process of bringing WEBCAMMURDER.COM to fruition.
As the first entirely subliminal mystery in history, SUBLIME CRIME is mostly a pure blank screen with an unintelligible soundtrack of affirmations such as, "I am really, really charismatic" and "I am going to buy DVDs of this movie for everyone I know." The occasional onscreen flashes of the plot spur the viewer/sleeper to solve the mystery in their dream.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
Editing at home is perfect, because you edit when you can and take care of everything else in your life between cuts. You've got your refrigerator, shower and, if you need clean clothes, you can wash those without leaving work, too.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
For beginning filmmakers, the Film Sleepy genre is without a doubt the most cost effective route to a motion picture career. A lot of first timers go for horror because it's popular in both domestic and foreign markets. But horror are all those special effects. Film Sleepy? None.
Movie making gurus say you'll do much better if you hire a household name for the lead, even if their last gig was as a neighbor on Ozzie and Harriet. Film Sleepy? Your audience will be asleep. Period. End of problem.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
I belonged to several actors' groups, so almost all the cast members were either people I'd known a long time or members of those groups. When I couldn't fill a role that way, I looked up people on Internet acting sites and asked a few whose videos looked right to come in. Since WebcamMurder.com was my first feature, I was overwhelmed by just about every part of the process and choosing from a bunch of strangers at an open call worried me. What if I hired someone and they didn't show up?
Luckily, in 2001, the Screen Actors Guild Experimental Agreement allowed low budget filmmakers to make a film without paying the actors until it was shown. And by the time I finished editing five years later…uh, I kept finding flaws and Adobe Premiere 6 kept crashing…there was a new contract. The Ultra Low Budget Agreement let producers pay the union actors $100 a day, a big savings over the regular minimum, which was very helpful.
Finding the crew was harder than finding actors. I wanted a crew that came in one package. One guy talked like he and a friend could do it all at a very reasonable price. Best of all, he sounded excited about getting involved. But by the time I got all the other details worked out, his price was a lot higher and not all-inclusive. He had also lost his enthusiasm.
I finally found a man who put the crew together for me for a reasonable price—although I noticed myself screaming every time we spoke and he didn't come through on a prior agreement to replace a non-working microphone. It was too late to back out, and renting the lavalier mics that replaced the boom mic increased the budget of the eight day shoot quite a bit.
On Sublime Crime, shot in 2008, I was the crew. I spent $3.00 on tape and about $100 on my salary. The non-union clip art characters worked for free. Way to go.
[Note: I became a SAG signatory because, as a member, I wanted to follow their rules. Filmmakers who won't be using union talent can make any agreements with the actors that both parties agree to.]
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
When I realized that making WebcamMurder.com would mean I was a filmmaker, I was filled with dread. I didn't see myself as a filmmaker. I couldn't imagine directing actors and technicians and thereby turning into a filmmaker without dying in the process. The biggest difference between what I expected and what happened is that I came out alive.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
In retrospect, I should have been less optimistic about the process of changing people's artistic habits. I expected the public to welcome movies that put them to sleep with open arms and closed eyes. You only have to look at evening news horror stories, grocery shoppers taking phone calls, drivers texting in intersections, couples tweeting as they dine and audiences facebooking while they watch movies that don't put them to sleep, to see that we all need to s—l—o—w d—o—w—n.
And yet, we are so brainwashed by Big Pharma and Big Cinema that we resist the very thing that can save us—dozing in a situation where nothing more is required of us.
We only have to look at Tiger Woods to see how sleeping pills can destroy our endorsement deals. And movie stars we vote for because of their super powers onscreen turn out to be incapable of running a state government. Getting caught up in their magic does not serve us in the end.
I do not regret starting on this path. It's just a longer, more winding one than I anticipated. Then again, WEBCAMMURDER.COM'S standing at #294,373 in DVDs isn't that bad, considering the advertising budgets of "wakies" turned out by Hollywood moguls. Perhaps next week it will be #294,372.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
While most films made even now follow the same tired rules as shoot'em ups like The Great Train Robbery (1903), the Film Sleepy genre offers an opportunity for growth as this new industry expands, and I recommend it. My downloadable manual, How to Make a Movie That Puts the Audience to Sleep: A Home Study Course, will give you a head start against the competition.
The hardest part of the business currently is finding an audience that knows they want to sleep through movies. However, I am paving the way, and the more filmmakers who join the cause, the greater our chances to educate the public about the benefits of the genre to society as a whole.
In keeping with this educational process, WebcamMurder.com can now be seen for free on YouTube, in nap-sized one minute segments.
Oh, is the interview over, I dozed off. Thank you for your time, Sondra.