Answering The Questions: "How do I make sure that in twenty years I will feel good about the choices I make today?"

Earlier this year I proposed what I saw as the five most critical questions for someone to answer in order to have a fulfilling and sustainable career producing films.  I went on to list out eighteen more. I think the answers to these questions don't have a right or wrong answer; they should be profoundly personal.  Yet I also think it is very hard to answer these questions on your own.  Frankly, I think the answering of these questions should be part of any film school curriculum -- but I am also not sure that film school is a necessary component for all producing careers.  Anyway, I thought it might be helpful for those considering this path to have someone try to answer these questions.  Today that someone is me. Producing benefits from having addressed certain moral and ethical challenges before they actually confront you.  Hell, what field or way of life doesn't?  I have encouraged the consideration of some of these "challenges" before in virtual party game manner, but I do think it is always worth considering.  I think it comes down to the questions of "what do you value?"  People? Money? Principles? Property?  And how much do these matter to you?

If you've set your values -- or at least have a firm handle on them--, if you then seek to make the product of your labor (i.e for a film producer, your movies) reflect your values, you will be on your way to still feeling good about what you are doing twenty years from now. Essentially this is the "Know-what-you-care-about-and-reflect-that-in-your-work" approach.  But it alone is not enough to carry you through the twenty years.  It is the content driven approach and you will have to also consider the process and the environment you inhabit to stay satisfied.

To feel as good twenty years from now as you do today (and that is assuming you feel good today of course), it is not just the destination that you must concern yourself with but also the journey.  It is the daily interactions and the small things that require as much attention as the big picture.  How do you treat the people around you?  Do you see them as just as important as you?  If you value people, maintaining their equality with you is something you won't want to ever lose sight of.  The hierarchy of a film set can chip away at this if you are not vigilant.  I've certainly seen many filmmakers whose work reflects such values but their day to day interactions reflect something quite different.  Always ask yourself: "How are your values reflected in the smaller interpersonal processes?".

I wish it was as easy as making sure that both your work and your processes reflected your values in order for you to feel as good a couple decades out as you do when you start -- but it is not going to work that way.  The next part of the equation is the one of building an environment around you that you admire.  Certainly for some in the film field, this seems simply to apply to the design and decor of the office -- which usually is meant to convey some sort of power message.  Ultimately, this is really about whom you choose to surround yourself with.

I think that it in the long run it is important to have the people who you work with reflect your values as much as your work and processes do.  It is a bit harder when it comes to people, because not only do you not control them, but they don't always know their own values, and even when they do, they are not always static.  I almost left my first company Good Machine when my partners would not dismiss a mid-level employee who could not treat those below (or really around) her decently; I ultimately wasn't going to leave the company over another person, but it was when I first knew that I would need to move on to something else if I valued my happiness.  Working with decent people who care about things in a similar fashion to you is not a privilege of the film business, but a necessity since the industry is otherwise over run with those that will stop at nothing to make a buck.  Unfortunately, it is also one of the more difficult things to achieve.

Having your values reflected in your work, your processes, and your environment, seem to me to be the three most important factors in making sure you feel as good today or tomorrow as when you started out.  I am sure there is a lot more to it though and I hope you can help me figure it out a bit more fully by your comments.

The Triumphant Return of Good Machine

Yes, it is true.  Good Machine is back.  But in a new and improved form.  Perhaps we should have done a press release, but I thought I should do it here instead.  Press releases are so yesterday.

If you went to Sundance, perhaps you noticed the secret stealth return of our so-called 90's powerhouse.  Or if you were at the Golden Globes, it must have caught your eye.  Hell, even if you just watched the Golden Globes.  If you missed all that, certainly by perusing the Oscar noms, something should have caused a bit of stir.  I've been waiting for some sharp newshound to break with the story, but nope.  So here's the real buzz...

The Good Machinists seem to have now taken over indie film.  The only difference between back then and now is that like any good thing, Good Machine the company achieved its own obsolescence.  The Good Machinists each have their own shop.  Call it, the decentralized approach. But look at what Good Machine achieved just this month.

My former assistant and partner, former head of production, Anthony Bregman, nabbed the biggest sale (I think) at Sundance for his production MY IDIOT BROTHER.  I haven't checked, but also think he's giving Mr. Rudin chase for the title of Most Prolific Producer (when I asked Ant his secret, he replied "Have four children, and you don't have a choice: you have to produce!").  His credit list also includes recent collaborations with many former Good Machine directors, including Nicole Holofcener and Bob Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Good Machine's 2nd initial hire, and the first employee to enter the producer ranks, Mary Jane Skalski, had one of the best received films of the Sundance fest in her 3rd collaboration with Tom McCarthy, WIN WIN.  But why stop there?  She was also in the elite club of Sundance twofers, with the fest opener and competition stand out PARIAH, which Mary Jane Executive Produced -- and Focus just announced that they picked up.  No rest for the weary, eh?

The whole time Anthony was a partner at This is that, and even some of the time he was at Good Machine, he had one assistant, and a remarkable one at that.  With Bregman's new company, Likely Story, Stefanie Azpiazu has taken on Executive Producer duties (what are those exactly, btw?).  She holds that credit on Jesse Peretz's MY IDIOT BROTHER, as well as several others, including last year's Sundance opener, PLEASE GIVE (and this year's WGA nominee).

Another former assistant of mine, now the head of hottest international sales company in the entire universe (aka FilmNation), Glen Basner, recently decided to expand his company's portfolio into the specialized arena.  Awhile back he told me he had found something that should spark.  But I think 12 Oscar nominations for THE KING'S SPEECH is an outright bonfire.

Of course, my fellow Good Machine founder, the legendary erudite Mr. James Schamus, is always expected to do well, and last year -- back before Sundance returned as a sales market -- , he picked up a nice little title in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and now has four Oscar noms for his label.

The founder of Good Machine International, David Linde, could well have decided to take some time off after running a studio, but as long as there's great movies to make, I don't think David will be taking a break.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most gifted filmmaker out there, but his films are challenges, thankfully.  But that means they will never be easy to get made, but luckily he has a Lava Bear on his side.  David EP'd this year's entry to my top ten list, BIUTIFUL and yes, as a result has some more Oscar noms to his credit.

Anne Carey, my partner at This is that, did not go to Sundance this year.  But that did not stop The Hollywood Reporter from naming her on their Indie Hit List the hottest producer there:

THE PRODUCER

Then: Lawrence Bender
On team Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs, he has also handled Oscar-winning pics like Good Will Hunting and An Inconvenient Truth.

Now: Anne Carey
The former WMA agent toiled at Good Machine before partnering with Ted Hope on pics including Adventureland and The American.

And why not, her tenacity and genius, did yield the "coolest" film of the year in THE AMERICAN, which happened to enjoy the distinction of being the only This is that production to grace the top of the box office charts.  (PS.  Hey Anne: that wiki needs some updating!  And: Hey HRptr: she wasn't an agent, she just worked there!)

Unfortunately, Good Machine can't take credit for WINTER'S BONE, but that won't stop me from trying.  After all, Ang Lee's fantastic RIDE WITH THE DEVIL might have been Good Machine's biggest financial flop (despite being a great movie), but it was the first film to be adapted by WINTER BONE's novelist Daniel Woddrell.  Okay, it's a stretch but certainly it speaks a tad of our mutual fine taste for the man's prose and stories (even if Ms. Granik has turned down our efforts to work with her!).

Okay, so this does leaves some Good Machinists still unaccounted for, but after winning some Globes last year, Ross Katz is entitled to some time off.   Interestingly enough, Ross should take the reigns on a film Bregman is producing and Basner is arranging the financing on; the film, by title only is a mash up of several of our former projects, THE AMATEUR AMERICAN.  One of Mr. Schamus' former assistants, Jawal Nga, has been active on the producing front, with last year's Sundance hit HOWL and prior Grand Jury Winner FORTY SHADES OF BLUE to his credit.  And of course there's a squad of GMers doing great things behind the scenes too, some that will no doubt start some bonfires of benevolence in short order.

Me?  Well I already told you how I spent my Sundance non-vaction a few days ago (I've put a few updates into it if you want to check back) and how inspiring it was for me this year.

All in all, though, I must admit it is pretty swell to see the trees those seeds have sprouted.

Most Read HopeForFilm Posts Of 2010

I wasn't sure what to call this post. "Top Posts"? "Most Popular"? They are not necessarily the most engaging, as they don't always correspond with the "most commented" -- if that qualifies for engaging that is... But I thought it would make some sense to see what was the most viewed.  I thought I would learn from it.

One of the things that I am proud of regarding this blog is the fact that it has become a community forum.  I learn from the comments people post.  I have made new friends from such comments (and identified a few I hope to avoid!).  It's been really great how much people contribute, and I love that almost half the most popular posts are from folks other than myself.

So, what were HopeForFilm/TrulyFreeFilm's most read post of the past year?  Surprisingly, they are all quite recent.

38 More Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today - With over 10,000 views this clearly hit a nerve.  Everyone likes lists, but I like to think  so many folks went to this for a dose of preventive medicine.  We are going to conquer this right?

Ten Things To Do Before You Submit A Script - Getting your script read by the right people will always be a challenge.  As will making the best film you are capable of.  We all need advice, and I probably can come up with a few more posts like this.  You certainly want it.  I have listened.  I hope the advice was helpful!

The Hard Truth: Filmnaking Is Not A Job - I aim to be 100% truthful about what I do.  I want to demystify what producers do.  I think the readers of this blog and the community around it that you have built wants us all to say like it is.  I must confess that occasionally I let the struggle of getting movies made and seen, get me down.  Fortunately I get great support from my wife and friends, yet nonetheless sometimes I produce posts like this one!

The Good Machine No Budget Commandments- Oldies can be Goodies.  I always got a lot of demands for this list that I drew up for a NYU Grad screenwriting class.  It's nice to see people still use it!

Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition - clearly this is going to have to be an annual tradition now.   It looks like the community needed something that pointed more to ideas than just to the work at hand.

Miao Wang On The Secret Of Her Kickstarter Success-  This was the year that crowdfunding really came of age, and everyone wants to know how to do it well.  We will only learn the answers by all of us sharing, and people responded well to the lessons Miao learned.

Filmmakers vs. Aggregators: Distribber Speaks Of A Win,Win! - Adam Chapnick contributed this post on the dawn of Distribber being acquired by IndieGoGo, and outlined the problems facing all filmmakers in placing their work online.

Jon Reiss on Proper Prior Planning Prevent Perplexing Problems - The most commented post ever!  It's surprising that it remains a question how much filmmakers should focus on the distribution and marketing of their films, but it something that people love to talk about it, and Jon is one of the best at it out there.

Thoughts On The New Festival Model -  Film festivals are evolving, and when Tribeca announced their VOD initiative, people took notice.  I wasn't alone in my commenting for sure.  And there is still a lot more to say on the subject. I expect more big moves in 2011.  As a post format, I enjoy this kind of "thinking out loud" pieces, and wonder if this is a vote for more of them...

Children Of Invention: Why They Turned Down 8 Distribution Offers- Mynette & Tze were some of the Brave Thinkers of 2009 and it is precisely due to posts and actions like what they share here.

There were also a couple of old posts from the prior year that were viewed enough times in 2010 to place them in the top ten.

The 21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film 2009 - The prequel to this year's #4 hit -- all of them worth noting as much for what they did in 2010 as the year before.

38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns - This was the prequel to this year's most popular post.  I guess I am going to have to dig up another 38 for 2011 to keep the tradition going.

Well, it is a new year.  Let me know what you want to discuss.

What Makes A Good Partnership?

The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a must-read article on my former Good Machine partner James Schamus. The author, Carlo Rotello, does a thorough job on the difficult task of capturing most of the complexity that makes James someone that is fun to collaborate with: he is not easily defined, has many interests (sometimes conflicting), and enjoys deeply both the process and the product.  People so often look for people they get along with to collaborate with; I think that is is mistake.  Harmony may work in other types of relationships, but in a creative one, it is a formula for mediocrity.   If you truly care about the end result of your work, you should look for someone you enjoy arguing with to partner with.

Rotello sums up our Good Machine partnership by defining David Linde as the business mind, Schamus the intellectual, and me "Hope, an advocate of radically decentralized media democracy, was the revolutionary;".  I like how that sounds, but what really worked at Good Machine, and in other creative relationships, is when people can argue clearly and without ego for what they feel will make a story work best.  Trust is the next most required ingredient in a successful partnership, quickly followed by a willingness to accept that you may not be right (that non-ego thing again).

Good Machine had a great number of really smart and passionate people working together who realized that if they spoke up and advocated clearly for what they believed in, they could get things done if they were able to work REALLY hard.  Everyone spoke up, but also learned how to listen.

Arguing about creative choices should be a fun process, because you are chasing a truth and an ideal.  The challenge is making sure the participants are all chasing the same thing.  When partners start chasing different outcomes is one of the ways things go wrong.

Collaborating among producers though is different from the collaboration between a producer and a director, or a producer and a writer.  I have had the good fortune of collaborating with A LOT of producers.  When producers collaborate and recognize that they lifted the project up and made it better, you know you'd always like to do it again together.  That result does not always bring the same result with other categories of collaborators.

The Good Machine No-Budget Commandments

Back in the day, before I had This is that, I had a production company called Good Machine. James Schamus and I founded it together, and we later partnered with David Linde. Mary Jane Skalski and Anthony Bregman were also partners, and we had the good fortune to work with a host of other talents including my later partners Anne Carey and Diana Victor, and Ross Katz, Glen Basner, Heta Paarte, Lamia Guelatti, Melinka Thompson-Gody, Jean Castelli, Kelly Miller, Dan Beers, Eric Papa, Jawal Nga, and many other later-legends to be. As good as the films we made, as great as the individuals we got to collaborate with, we also had a genuine fondness for memos and how-to's. If you come to my office these days, it looks like a FEMA site; we are going paperless, and I am sorting through the files, finding many choice nuggets. My madeleines.

One day, way back when, I went into to speak to a NYU grad class and I felt I would feel more substantive if I had something to hand out (btw I believe The Savages director, Tamara Jenkins was in that class). That was the start of the Good Machine No-Budget Commandments. James and I revised them here and there, and I am pretty sure, that Mary Jane and Anthony tossed more than a suggestion or two.

My surprise in reading them today is that no where do they say "The budget is the aesthetic."  That had seemed like the mantra at times.  We get pretty close with #4, but not as dogmatic.

They hold up today. I still subscribe to the full set of notions.  Here they are, for your critique and comment, in their dusty glory.

1. Write to direct. A screenplay, especially a no-budget screenplay is a very loose blueprint for a film – ultimately every choice you make will compromise something else.

2. Write for what you know and for what you can obtain. This goes for actors, locations, animals, and major propping or set dressing. If your friend owns something, anything, write it into the film.

3. Remain flexible. Recognize the essential element in a scene and allow it to take place in a variety of locations or circumstances.

4. Choose an aesthetic that will capitalize on the lack of money (i.e. period anachronisms, monochromatic color schemes, etc.). Invest meaning in everyday commonplace things – make an orange a totemic object John Ford would be proud of.

5. Don’t over strive. Don’t try to show how much production value you have (you don’t have it, so you’ll either fail or unbalance your film). A film that people say is “well produced” usually means that the story didn’t have much going for it. Keep the story aligned with the budget.

6. Don’t limit yourself to too few locations – it’s a dead give away of lack of dollars. I like the number eight.

7. Use everything more than once. You’ve already paid for it, so use it, use it, use it.

8. Write for a very limited audience – your closest friends. Do not try to please anyone – crowd pleasing costs.

9. Write to cut it back later. You can trim to subtlety.

10. Contradict the above commandment and only write what you know you absolutely must shoot.

11. Keep it simple. You can learn how to do the impossible on your next film. No dogs. No babies. “Business” is expensive. Keep it controllable.

12. Keep it intimate. Dialogue and close ups are cheap.

13. Make the most of a day’s work. It’s easier to get a commitment for one day than it is for a week. Exploit people’s willingness to give a day.

14. Ignore everything listed above if it doesn’t further the story.

The Rise No-Budget NYC. Good Machine '97

I don't even know what this was for, This was for something on WNYC called "Egg" produced by Jeff Folmsbee.  but I do know that my friend Dan McGuire was also heavily involved in the shooting and editing of it.

I co-founded Good Machine back in 1990. We made a lot of good films and had some good times too. Iget a big kick out of seeing glimpses of folks from so long ago: Mary Jane Skalski, Heta Paarte, Glen Basner, and James Schamus and Ang Lee.  Nothing like seeing those gigantic computers and roladexes too. Too think we could make a film without an iPhone...

It also feels so fresh to me.  The same drive and ideas that made Good Machine a good idea back then, holds true to this day.  Everything is new again. We founded that company on the idea of a no-budget film fund (okay micro-budget in today's vernacular) could make money and build a better mousetrap in the process. That, and the fact that I had a good long list of directors who needed some help. Both those things still hold true.

Although I must admit I no longer have a Che poster behind my desk, although the Obama "Hope" won works as the same sort of litmus test.

TIFF IFF Discussion: DIY, DIWO, But Just Do It

Eugene at Indiewire caught the essence of the public conversation I had with Thomas Mai of Festival Darlings to kick off the IFF at TIFF the other day. I particularly like the photo, so check it out here.

In a nutshell it came down to the fact that we seem to be fighting for the role of Nero as our culture burns down around us. The audience were producers with great projects, maybe 50 or 75 were there (invite only). Only one of them had a blog. Only one of them curated a film series. Only one of them had a project priced at under $1.5M. Maybe 10 were on Twitter. About 25 were on a social network.
It's kind of shocking how the film biz is such a luddite culture. Innovation has been the key to my survival and it's never been because of things I invented, just utilized.
THE WEDDING BANQUET is often said to have been the first narrative feature cut on an Avid. Granted it meant working on AVR Level 3 and having as a result 8 out of focus shots in it, but that didn't stop it from winning the Golden Bear in Berlin.
LOVE GOD was one of the first films originated on video and output to film, and although it never secured distribution, it never would have made it to Sundance and beyond without Sony & Apple both granting us free tools and processes to make the film.
Good Machine may have been the first American-based producer-driven international sales company, but regardless of whether it was or not, it capitalized on the obvious (that our full film's cost could come from overseas) at a time when the status quo was something else, and ultimately gave us something to sell beyond the films themselves.
I got some of my initial breaks because I had built a budget program when they weren't yet commercially available, explored product placement prior to agency involvement, and other early adoptions that were available to anyone with their eyes open.
I have been a beneficiary of others' slack behavior. I got full advantage of an inefficient, lazy, inbred, elitist system. I have gotten to make over 60 films in 20 years. It gets much harder from here. I am doing what I can to help and there are some others that are out there doing the same, even a few doing more, but it is not enough. We have work harder to increase the reach of our web, to shrink the holes in our net. We have to get our comrades to adopt and utilize the tools before them.