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EXPLOITING AMERICAN INDIANS IN FILM?

Hi I just got this interesting comment to a posting that I felt I wanted to share the reply with you all to dispell a regular misconception about film production in Indian Country. The comment was:
“Are any of the royalities going to the Pine Ridge Rez? Or are they going to get took like they did with Dances with wolves, getting paid chump change; $200.00 a person to appear while the movie made millions with more Chump Change in royalities! These people need to be treated with respect, and treated like human beings! They need money to feed and clothe themselves! They went for months with no heat in the middle of winter and nobody helped! They were caught up with the Federal Goverment’s crap and got no help from them. When will this change?”

And I replied as follows:
You know I agree with your passion an sentiment about people ignoring the plight of Pine Ridge and the poverty but overall your question angered me for a very simple reason and that is It cost me personally many thousands of dollars to make the film on Pine Ridge. It was originally meant to be shot in Britain but I personally chose to shoot it on Pine Ridge because I wanted to bring economic development. In a film sense it was not practical as there are not experienced actors or crew there but my commitment to Pine Ridge brought it there. I’ve spent three years of my life on it and may never see my investment back and certainly not enough to justify my time.

Skins spent vastly more about $4 million and a reasonable amount in the area and most of that was lost. Imprint will likely lose money though not so much was shot there. Thunderheart may have broken even but only after millions were put at risk. As with Dances with Wolves, tens of millions were put at risk in a film no-one in Hollywood would invest in, the money came from England, yes it was very successful but it extras were on $200 a day then that’s a good wage for a day on that job. Films never share profits with people that were extras, it would never and could never work. Too expensive to administer etc so if the film is bringing in vast $’s into the local communities through production and since 95% of films loose money and never have royalties to pay out then why should they be obligated unlike any other business to pay those that worked on the films twice?

The other problem is that if you want a different recoupment structure for films in Indian country then investors and studios will find yet another pathetic excuse not to set films in those areas. With Rez Bomb I only took in three actors and three crew and hired everyone else locally and that is different to any other comparable reservation movie. Everyone was paid equally whether one of my very experienced stars from Hollywood or someone doing a day role from Pine Ridge who had never acted a day in their lives. They actually made more as no agents fees, SAG fees, or taxes will be taken off.

Also with Rez Bomb I did something unique which was to tell a truly universal story on a reservation not a culturally specific one that could only be set there. I want to expend beyond just the culturally specific, to break down the cultural apartheid in film and change the way people look at the possibilities of storytelling. See my other blogs on Cultural Apartheid and also my Q&A with Russell Means where he spoke of his pride in being in a universal story set on a reservation where he plays a person not a stereotype.

We are trying to fight double standards when it comes to race and culture and it would be a double standard to treat the actors in my film of one color,culture,race different than another.

But as I said at the top of the message I appreciate your passion and concern for justice for those on the reservation. I’ve also spent part of the last 10 years creating an epic feature documentary about Pine Ridge, financed by myself (and I don’t have the money to spare) and I will never break even on it.

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