I Will Consult On Your Script Or Project

Here's the deal: you help the Flyaway Film Festival & I help you and your project.   Okay, it's not quite that simple, but it is still a great bargain.  I really enjoyed my time visiting the Flyaway Film Festival and I want it thrive.  They just had a very successful crowd funding campaign; it's nice to see my affection is matched  by many.  

To help them raise money, I donated a one hour consultation session.  I will also add in free the time it takes to read your script and make some notes.  This often goes for quite significant amounts.  Flyaway has it listed for bargain rates.

Check it out here: 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2010774505/save-flyway

Ten Rules On The Producer's Role In Development

On one hand there's the methods we use to develop scripts, and on the other there is the process.  In the method we ask the questions, finding what works with the writer, director, and story.  The process is what happens in between those questions and where the relationships are born.

What is it that we want to accomplish in the development process?

  1. We learn in the process that "development" is not just making the story or script better; it is about learning or unearthing what is important to your director.  Find those big ideas, and protect them for the rest of the process.
  2. It is about gaining & securing confidence and trust in each other.  The movie won't work unless you achieve this; if you can't, it probably is not one you should stay on.
  3. In the development process we create a common language, a short hand for what we are trying to do and what we really mean when we say a certain thing.
  4. The producer asks a series of "what if..." questions to see where the story might go.  You don't have a choice unless you know the choice exists. 
  5. As decisions are made, it is the producer's responsibility to reveal the repercussions of the choices, both creatively, to the process, and in business terms.
  6. Ultimately we want the director and writer to be "lost in the head" of the story.  We can't expect them to follow each thread as to how it may play out on a practical basis.  That's the producer's responsibility to reveal it.
  7. Protect the characters, protect the relationships, protect their world.  In doing so, you are also protecting the audience.  Often when someone has something they want to say, they bend rules to try to get their point across.  Logic can suffer.  Emotional truth can fall by the wayside.  Whatever is not your writer or director's top priority, should become one of yours for the benefit of the film and those involved.
  8. Speaking the truth about choices is not the same as opening the flood gates.  Managing the flow of information without playing your partners is an instinctual art that can not be taught; the craft can only come from experience.  I found that it helps to pause before sharing a realization and ask what good comes from discussing it now, and really examining where the creative flow is headed at the tim.  You can always make notes to discuss later, and difficult choices have a way of addressing themselves over time.
  9. Through the development process, you learn both what you all want to happen in front of the camera, but often also what the director wants to happen behind the camera.  These closed door discussions reveal a great deal what  the public creative side of things will later be.
  10. The process continues until there are no more questions that can be asked that haven't been answered (and are relevant).

What have I left off?

 

Indie Film in South Africa Part 2

By Jon Plowman How do you turn your passion for film into a profit? How does one take all that experience built up on non-paying indie projects, and turn it into a career? I'm glad you asked. Welcome to the second part of a two-part article on indie filmmaking.

It seems to me that a lot of filmmakers are chronically losing sight of a very simple fact: there has been a total revolution in the film industry in the last few years. The last AFM - American Film Market showed some unsettling trends in the industry. The recession is biting hard, and it's as much to blame as anything else, but unfortunately piracy is also taking a huge toll. Investors are much more wary of putting money into any given production, because it's unlikely to turn a profit the way it used to five or ten years ago. The days when a filmmaker could command a budget in the tens of millions of dollars range are basically now a thing of the past, especially if that filmmaker is an unknown. The industry has slimmed down, it's leaner and meaner and there is no space for egotistical filmmaking, for running way over budget and making huge, extravagant productions. The Avatars of this industry are going to be once in a blue moon in the future. And don't think that you can make a film on a shoestring budget and have the slightest chance of selling it at AFM or Cannes, without having done your homework and made sure that it meets the minimum requirements for the industry. More of those in a moment.

[caption id="attachment_6937" align="aligncenter" width="410"] Discussions between scenes. One of the military advisors in the greatcoat.[/caption]

99% of films nowadays are the micro- to low-budget productions, films made intelligently utilising a minimal budget and still managing to get the best possible results out of them. Which, if you think about it, means that the so-called "indie" filmmakers are perfectly placed to make films for the mass market. We're already good at making films on a shoestring, the thing is that we need to be able to sell them and turn enough of a profit to do the whole thing all over again, and give investors a return - which will encourage them to invest again. So what's the answer? It's simple, with the right ingredients.

Firstly, we need a network. Networking is critical. This industry coined the term "it's not what you know, it's who you know", and that applies now more than ever. But indie filmmakers don't have the cash to spend on cultivating the right people, so how can we make those crucial connections? Simple. Social networking. After a couple of years of networking via free social sites such as Facebook, I get about 90% of the work I do through the internet. I have a huge network of industry people, from actors, to directors, to producers, to production houses, to crew. Local and international people. None of that would have been possible without social networking. And even with nothing but handfuls of small change in my pocket, I can still afford to get online at a local internet cafe.

Secondly, we need a kick-ass script. Film is a visual storytelling medium, a way of presenting a story in a medium that is universal to people of all cultures, languages, ages and backgrounds. But without a story, there is no film. I run a group on Facebook which has nearly 200 members, almost all of them scriptwriters, many of them with great talent. Almost none of them have ever sold a script. It's easy to find South African production houses who are keen to make the films, but there isn't much local money here. We have a critical shortage of writing agents, so we are usually forced to try and sell our scripts overseas, where they tend to get lost in the crowd. So for us, it's Catch 22. Again, social networking has helped to bridge that gap.

[caption id="attachment_6938" align="aligncenter" width="410"] The cast and extras readying to shoot the charge.[/caption]

Thirdly, we need a good core production team, people who are prepared to do what it takes to nurse the project through to the finish line. No chancers, no laziness, no incompetence, but people who know their business, know the industry inside-out and are well connected. They don't need to be experienced if they are good at what they do. And they need to know their own strengths and weaknesses and to be team players, able to delegate and share the workload with others whose own strengths can compensate. They need to be able to focus on the bigger picture, and work together to bring the production in, on time and on budget. It's asking a lot, but those kinds of people are out there. Get to know them. Make it your business to know them, because without a good producer at the head of a good production team, a production - your film - is dead in the water.

Fourthly, we need a good business plan. Filmmaking is a business. It's all very well to be creative, but at the end of the day, movies that don't make money bankrupt the investors and lose potential investments for the future. Investors are people with money, and they made the money by being good at business. They need to know that the money they might invest is going to people with good business sense, who won't waste the investment, but will make it turn a profit. So do your homework, and work out a proper business plan, complete with realistic projections of both sales and return on investment. Investigate the markets into which you plan to sell your finished film, find out whether or not it is a product that will have saleability, and get realistic estimates of the kind of income selling your film in that particular territory will generate. Critically, have a fully-fleshed out, workable marketing plan for the film, complete with marketing agreements with the right agents for taking the finished product off your hands to sell. Without those agreements in place before you ever greenlight the production, it's virtually impossible to sell a film. They don't need to be signed - frequently they can't be until you know you have the other components of the production in place - but the fact that you have done your homework and have initial interest in your production can make all the difference when it comes to actually selling it.

Fifthly, we need Names attached. In the industry, a Name = money. Simple as that. Investors in the film industry only feel comfortable with their investment if they know we have someone with a reputation involved, someone who has already proven themselves. If the Name is not already internationally well-known, they need to be listed on IMDB and have a good portfolio and a good track record. Those are the only two viable options. Nothing else will do. And you're going to hate me for saying this, but forget about making a cheap film with unknown cast, director, producer and writer. You simply won't sell it. 99% of agents at the festivals won't even take the time to discuss it further without someone that they can have confidence in attached.

[caption id="attachment_6940" align="aligncenter" width="410"] The director, cast and extras after wrap. The lead military advisor, a member of a historical reenactment society, is wearing the Afrika Korps cap.[/caption]

Sixthly, we need the money. With a good script, a good business plan and a good Name, the money is out there and can be found. There are production companies with money - many of them international ones, and don't feel that because your production is a local one, that you need to focus on trying to raise local money. There are private investors with the money to spend. And many countries have quasi-governmental or private organisations with the capital set aside specifically for local film production. Do your homework. With the right business plan and good connections, it's perfectly possible to find the money you need in another country or even on another continent. I've been asked, "OK, fair enough, but what's the right budget?" My answer to that is always, "How long is a piece of string?" The right budget is going to be different for every production, but it boils down to the usual mix of salaries, locations, crew, post production, etc, etc. On some productions, you might be spending as much as 50%, or more, on salaries. On others, the lion's share might go into special effects. It's going to be different for every film. Remember that anyone in the industry who has pull - your Name - will expect to be paid commensurate with that pull. But that doesn't mean you can't work out a deal whereby they get a percentage of the profits, and it doesn't mean you're going to have to pay $30 million just to have Brad Pitt in your film. You can find plenty of actors with similar box-office draw who will do the same or a better job at a fraction of the rate, especially if they believe in the project. Part of knowing what you need to spend is having a good producer who can give an accurate budget estimate, and who already knows where to shop to get the most cost effective savings with the money he'll be given. And with the right budget, we can afford all the talented actors, crew, experience, locations, gear, etc that we need.

Get all those ingredients right, and from there on out, you can hang up your apron. No more flipping burgers for the rent and food, because you might just be able to make a career out of indie films.

Ted tells me he's focusing on setting up the infrastructure to help support the indie film industry. With that infrastructure in place, it's going to make the whole process of making and marketing films much easier. As indie filmmakers, we've done our time and proven ourselves. We've got the experience, the connections, the know-how. We're perfectly set to take over where the bloated, hugely cost-ineffective mainstream studios can't compete, and put ourselves on the map as the filmmakers of the 21st century.

About Jon:

Jon's fairly typical of indie filmmakers in South Africa. He's worked on more than 75 productions, everything from PSAs, student films and shorts, to commercials, television series and movies, and full-length internationally famous features such as Goodbye Bafana, Avenger and Blood Diamond. Last year he worked on the World War II film The Fallen, a short about South African soldiers' contribution to the fighting in North Africa and which was a top 25 finalist in the International One Minute Film Festival. Since he lost his fulltime job, he's been working on music videos and short films. He's even been paid for some of them.

You can connect with Jon on Facebook: www.facebook.com/magscadar

The 99 Recommended Steps For Making Good Movies

This is how I do it, generally speaking.

Or rather, this is how I try to do it. There really is no template; I have to adjust the plan for each project. And it doesn't always work. Sometimes I fail (at least to some degree).

And yes, I have left out the details. After all, that is where the art, experience, & innovation is. And of course as this is a collaborative endeavor, there is always -- and thankfully -- that "other" factor.

1. Maintain wonder & love for the world & most/some of the people.
2. Recognize the barriers & be empowered by my desire for change.
3. Find an inspiring idea & the correct collaborator for it.
4. Maintain love & respect for the film industry.
5. Develop script.
6. Fall in love with project.
7. Get non-financier, non-buyer industry types to give feedback on script.
8. Maintain wonder & love for the process.
9. Further develop script.
10. Maintain respect for collaborator(s).
11. Identify audience & market for project.
12. Enhance my enthusiasm for potential of the results of audience engagement with ambitious cinema.
13. Develop additional materials to properly contextualize project, like image books (aka look books), reference material, blog posts, etc.
14. Try to locate audience and key influencers for the project.
15. Develop transmedia extensions (I know I should do this earlier).
16. Encourage Filmmaker to engage with True Fans (i.e. build community).
17. Strategize production process.
18. Ballpark budget.
19. Evaluate potential cast for project.
20. Consider possible shooting locations.
21. Introduce Writer/Director to US Talent Agencies if necessary.
22. Have Director meet wide range of actors.
23. Strategize financing.
24. Strategize casting process.
25. Develop financing plan.
26. Execute casting process strategy.
27. Attach lead actor.
28. Attach another actor (or two).
29. Revise financing plan as necessary.
30. Revise script as necessary.
31. Estimate possible profit & losses.
32. Revise financing plan as necessary.
33. Approach sales agents.
34. Get foreign sales estimates & foreign sales deal terms.
35. Revise financing plan.
36. Budget, ideally in multiple variations.
37. Approach private equity.
38. Revise financing plan.
39. Revise script as necessary.
40. Get verbal commitments from private equity.
41. Determine most appropriate & then secure sales agent.
42. Continue to source additional financing.
43. Revise financing plan.
44. Revise script as necessary.
45. Develop initial outreach, engagement, awareness strategy.
46. Consider and possibly secure a presale or three.
47. Revise financing plan.
48. Revise script as necessary.
49. Revise Budget.
50. Consider and possibly secure gap & mezzanine financing if necessary.
51. Finalize financing structure & partners
52. Consider & secure key crew collaborators.
53. Scout primary location.
54. Revise script as necessary.
55. Revise Budget.
56. Secure tax credit/rebate.
57. Lock all financing.
58. Lock talent deals.
59. Lock Location.
60. Revise script as necessary.
61. Revise & Lock Budget.
62. Revise initial outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
63. Prep.
64. Revise script as necessary.
65. Initiate initial outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
66. Shoot.
67. Celebrate completion of shoot.
68. Wrap production.
69. Ponder the big picture.
70. Edit.
71. Revise outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
72. Initiate revised outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
73. Build awareness.
74. Ponder the big picture.
75. Complete "Movie".
76. Wrap post.
77. Further revise outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
78. Take to festivals.
79. Win awards.
80. Celebrate.
81. Further revise & implement outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
82. Sell & license “movie”.
83. Celebrate some more.
84. Deliver “movie” to licensors.
85. Further revise & implement outreach, engagement, & awareness strategies.
86. Market some more.
87. Screen, screen, screen.
88. Publicize.
89. Market some more.
90. Distribute.
91. Harvest, aggregate, & analyze, data.
92. Ponder the big picture.
93. Share the knowledge with the community.
94. Win more awards.
95. Collect profits.
96. Share the wealth the partners.
97. Ponder the big picture.
98. Plan the next one.
99. Do it all over again, but do it a little bit differently.

The Polite Ways They Pass On Your Project

A "polite" pass is quite contrary to substantive notes.  When they are polite, they don't want to see you again.  If they really liked you and your project they'd be cruel.  Or something close to it.   So how do you know they never want to see you again?

  1. It's too close to what we are already committed to.
  2. We can't wait to see what you do/have next!
  3. We'd be interested if you beef up the comedy/action/horror/penis jokes.
  4. Our slate is too full to pay it the attention it deserves.
  5. We have very defined focus these days.
  6. It doesn't fit our model.
  7. We love it, but you know who would really get this project? Here let me give you so&so's number/email.
  8. I think Star #23 would really respond to this.  If you got Star #23, we'd really be interested in it.  It's perfect for them. Get them and we are IN!
  9. You really are onto something here.  Thing is, we would need a regular and consistent supply for this audience -- we can't do just one.  You should build a whole slate around this.
  10. Come back to us when you've built out the transmedia components.*
  11. Come back to us when you've built up a substantial community.*

*= Okay, they don't actually say this yet, but they will by the end of 2012 (or is it 2013?)