June 1, 2000

The Buzz on 'The Biz' Welcome To The Real World

THE BIZ: THE BASIC BUSINESS, LEGAL AND
FINANCIAL ASPECTS OF THE FILM INDUSTRY

by Schuyler M. Moore
Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2000.
ISBN: I -879-505-53-3
364 pp. $26.9-5 (paper), 7"x9"

 

As a media professor, I am always on the lookout for books and writings that effectively convey useful information about entering and surviving the "real world" media industry maze. My top-most criteria for determining the "effectiveness" of such works are accessibility of language, depth of explanation and, above all, refusal to play into the self-promoting rhetoric and hype of industry-speak. It has been my observation that nothing benefits and inspires the serious, aspiring film- and video-maker more than information that balances respect for the reader's intelligence with a commitment to substance. As an advocate for independent production in general and documentary in particular, one goal that I set for media students is appreciation that the "real world" maze of the "biz" encounters independents differently than it does commercially affiliated "players" and their ventures. Thus. entering and surviving the media industry as an independent carries unique information needs and challenges.

For the most part, Schuyler Moore's The Biz meets the above criteria by providing an exhaustive inventory of legal and financial facts, procedures and sample documents. While The Blr appears to be addressing, at least implicitly, the commercial dramatic feature producer, the book surveys crucial legal and financial strategies and survival tools that apply as much to independent as commercial production across all formats and genres. Moore's industry "jargon" definitions, his overall walk through the stages and challenges of film production, and his extensive appendix of sample agreement documents provide an important and useful catalog of introductory information.

The book's introductory nature is at once its strength and limitation. It does not overwhelm; it is accessible and basic. By the same token, the layperson without benefit of a professional trade or university film production program will find that the book does not provide a useful measure of intermediate-level elaboration. Related to this is Moore's penchant for anecdotes; for while they may make for some entertaining reading, they do not compensate for the volume's introductory scope. In moderation, anecdotes can humanize a writer's perspective, taking the cold edge off of otherwise dry and technical information.

With respect to the US film industry, perceived by many as an exclusive playground for incredibly privileged and/or ruthlessly competitive visionary/entrepreneurs, an anecdotal prose style can go a long way toward representing "the biz" as a humanly navigable professional environment. Moore's anecdotes, however, often come across as the raison d'etre for his descriptions of given industry practices and procedures. In other words, the content at times slips from being merely introductory to supeficial by serving repeatedly as the pretext for cautions and opinions culled from Moore's experiences as an industry attorney.

For aspiring filmmakers who seek an understanding of the legal and economic lay of the land, The Biz is a useful resource. As its title promises, The Biz surveys industry basics just enough to whet the ambitious, aspiring filmmaker's appetite for more information. As a teaching tool, Moore's overview of the industry's business aspects is a usefully structured primer that leaves room for details and elaboration to be filled in by the knowledgeable media instructor. Moore is a practicing attorney and adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law and, given this fact, it is admirable that his writing style does not mystify the "biz" in impenetrable legalese. In fact, Moore states that his goal for the book is "to be basic enough to be sold through general bookstores and read and understood by laymen, yet detailed enough to use as a text in an introductory course on the film industry in law school or business school." (ix)

Notably absent from Moore's target markets is the course in film schools. In conclusion, I underscore what I find to be the book's most promising value-namely its usefulness toward bridging that all-too-frequent and curious distance between university film studies and the "real world" of reel business, law and finance.

 

John Ramirez is on the Publications Committee for International Documentary and is Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies at California State University, Los Angeles

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