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Cutting Red Tape for Christmas

Recently, a business associate of mine gave me a gift card as an early Christmas gift. However, unlike most gift cards I've received in my life to places like O'Charley's, Ruby Tuesday's, or my favorite iced mocha bar, this was a gift card that looked just like a credit card from one of the major credit card manufacturers. We won't say which one, but, suffice it to say, it was one of the major ones. For the sake of this article, we'll call the card company, Brand X.

I thought, "How nice. A gift card that I can use anywhere that accepts Brand X credit cards."

Then I started to read the paperwork that came with the card. According to the bank that issued this Brand X card, I did not in fact own this Brand X card, they did. As such, should this bank (who we'll call Bank X) ever want their Brand X card back, I would have to forfeit any remaining credit on the card and give them the card immediately.

Additionally, the card wasn't FDIC insured, so I was basically using my Brand X gift card at my own risk.

As I read on, I found out that the Brand X gift card could not be redeemed for cash from Bank X, but must be used for normal purchases. However, it could not be used online or at gas pumps, but must be used at a kiosk where a clerk could verify that I was signing my signature for a Brand X gift card issued by Bank X that did not have my name on it!

To make things even more fun, I could not use up my Brand X gift card in the way one normally uses up gift cards (ie finishing off the card on a more expensive purchase and paying the difference.). No, if I wanted to finish off my Brand X gift card (which I can never throw away because Bank X still owns it), I must know the exact balance of my Brand X card before attempting to use it. Then I must pay only the part of my purchase which exceeds the amount for which my Brand X card is currently worth, and then I can use my Brand X card to pay the exact amount that is still on the card. Otherwise the card would be denied and some overzealous clerk might attempt to take her scissors to the Brand X gift card that I don't actually own due to the fact that it's Bank X's property, at which time I might forseeably go to jail (just like if I'd snip off those tags on mattresses!).

Suffice it to say, this yuletide tale concluded with me at Wal-Mart at 4 AM trying to buy one of the kids on my gift list a skateboard and repeatedly hearing, "I'm sorry, sir, your card's been denied." After each utterance, I would throw a dollar bill at the cashier, hoping that that would finally bring us close enough to my Brand X gift card's balance for it to be used. (It was sort of like playing the slot machines, only much more annoying!)

Why do I bring this tale up now? Is it to bring up that funding films on Brand X credit cards is a bad idea? No, though funding any film on any credit card is an asinine idea. (Yes, I know that Kevin Smith made Clerks on credit cards and that got accepted to Sundance and now he's 'made it'. Every year a few people survive lightning strikes, too. That doesn't mean that shoving a lightning rod down your pants and running outside during an electrical storm is a brilliant freaking idea!)

The reason I bring up my yuletide Brand X story is to talk about red tape. The current film industry thrives on red tape because it has the money and the lawyers to waste on cutting through red tape.

In the movie Bowfinger, Steve Martin's character claimed that, when you got past all the BS from Hollywood, all films were made for less that $10,000. While this is a bit of an exaggeration, one has to wonder how much Hollywood films would actually cost if you got rid of all the lawyers, all the Union shenanigans, and all the red tape?

While Hollywood may be able to afford the huge drain that this red tape causes, we as microfilmmakers cannot. We have too much on our plates working odd jobs so that we can afford cameras or tapes or editing equipment to afford all the red tape of the movie industry as it stands right now.

With that in mind, my Christmas gift to you, my no-budget filmmaking brethren, is to focus Microfilmmaker Magazine on cutting through the red tape of filmmaking over the coming year. You've seen how we've started to streamline the process of finding musicians through standardized agreements that benefit both you and them. You've seen how we've started to provide discounts on services that you need and how we've created a community that is slowly growing to help you make better and better films.

Well, this upcoming year, we're going to be working on everything from an even greater selection of musical artists and composers to a prize-packed full length feature film contest to a streamlined connection for your films to national distributors.

It's going to be an exciting year, so stay tuned and see what happens!

Merry Christmas and God Bless you all!

Jeremy Hanke

Microfilmmaker Magazine

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