Hey, Everybody! In honor of “The Fast and the Furious,” franchise, today we’re examining the previous seven films that have raced through the worldwide box office since 2001. These films have earned a worldwide box office total of $3.9 billion, from budgets totaling $759 million. That’s an average of about $557,142,857 per film, on average budgets of about $108,428,000. Obviously, such earnings have made the series one of the highest grossing motion picture franchises in history.
Before we go look into the “Fast and the Furious” rear view mirror, lets look at the trailer to the upcoming April 17 release of “Fate of the Furious.”
Whew, that was good, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to disappoint!. So, without further ado, let’s look at The Fast and Furious series of films.
Furious 7 (Released April 3, 2015)
This $190 million dollar budget earned a massive $1,516,045,911 worldwide. This includes $353,007,020 domestically, and $1,163,038,891 internationally Thus, the domestic box office only represented 23% of its total gross.
Fast and Furious 6 (Released May 29, 2013)
This film cost $160 million to make, and earned $97,375,245 on 3,658 screens on its opening weekend, which won the box office for the fifth time in the six releases. The picture also enjoyed a $26,620 per screen average, which was the highest in the series. Furthermore, it earned $238,679,850 domestically and $550,000,000 internationally (both of which were the highest in the series) giving it a worldwide total of $788,679,850. Clearly, this picture’s performance insures the future of the franchise.
The fifth film in this series cost $125 million to make. The hike in budget was clearly rewarded, because the film won the box office on its opening weekend by making $86,198,765 on 3,644 screens, which is a phenomenal $23,655 per screen average. The picture went on to earn $209,837,765 domestically and $416,300,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide box office total of $626,137,675. By this point in the series, it became apparent that the Fast and Furious series was earning far more money internationally than domestically, as Fast Five was the third consecutive film in the series to do so.
Fast and Furious (Released April 3, 2009)
The fourth edition of the Fast and Furious series smartly moved its release date up by 2 1/2 months, in order to capture more box office dollars when there isn’t nearly the competition that there is in June. The move worked, because the $85 million dollar budgeted film won its opening weekend by making $70,950,500 on 3,401 screens, giving it an astounding $20,500 per screen average. The film went on to make $155,064,265 domestically and $201,100,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $363,164,265. For the second time in a row, the foreign box office surpassed the domestic take, which said quite a bit at the time, because this film had the largest domestic box office total in the series to date.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Released June 16, 2006)
With an $85 million dollar budget, the third installment of the series signaled the first financial dip in the series. This picture earned only earned $23,973,840 on 3,027 screens, which is a meager $7,920 per screen average. Furthermore, the film only mustered $62,514,415 domestically. However, it did earn $95,953,877 internationally, making it the first picture in the series to have its foreign box office surpass its domestic take. In total, Tokyo Drift earned $158,468,292 worldwide.
2 Fast 2 Furious – (Released – June 6, 2003)
The second edition of the Fast and Furious series had a $76 million dollar budget, which is double than the first. This picture also won its opening weekend by making $50,472,480 on 3,408 screens, which is a $14,810 per screen average. The film made $127,154,901 domestically, and another $109,195,760 domestically, totaling $236,350,661 worldwide.
With a budget of $38 million, the first installment of the series won its opening weekend by making $40,089,015 on 2,628 screens, which is a $15,254 per screen average. The film went on to make $144,533,925 domestically and another $62,750,000 internationally, totaling $207,283,925. Clearly, such a start would guarantee a sequel.
Okay friends, that’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes. Please check out my podcast, “Limping on Cloud 9.”
Hey, friends. Here’s a tidbit that you may not be aware of: Family Films involving kids and pets continue to sell well overseas. Did your stomach just turn? Do you feel the early stages of a violent hurl brewing in the back of your throat? While many filmmakers may be allergic to developing anything blatantly commercial, especially a forgettable, cookie-cutter children’s film with a monkey, dog or horse, I’m here to tell you that developing such a film is your shortest path to a) getting financed b) getting distributed and c) turning a profit. So, today we’re discussing three reasons why having a family film in your arsenal will benefit your career more than you can imagine.
The Family Film Genre Doesn’t Rely on Star-Power
Motion pictures featuring children with animals don’t need stars to drive sales. Of course, a notable TV name or former TV/film name as one of the kid’s parents may help, but those actors will cost you a lot less than you think – especially if you can cluster their shooting scenes together so you can limit the time you need to hire them. These films need little more than solid production value, a likable kid, a loveable pet and a (somewhat) believable conflict. While such an easy formula may seem to be too good to be true, it is true these days. Furthermore, we’re in the early stages of these films cycling into the wish lists of buyers, so there’s at least two to three years of cash-rich green pastures ahead.
The Budgets Are Reasonable
Most of these films can be made between $250,000-$750,000, with the “sweet spot” being in the $250,000-$400,000 range. For purposes of clarification, by “sweet spot” I mean the range in which your investors are more than likely to recoup their investment and turn a profit over time.
In an effort to break down the budget range even more, my rule of thumb is as follows:
A well-made children’s film with a budget of $250,000 or under will likely recoup its investment and turn a profit from cable, satellite and TV sales to multiple territories. These deals will likely catapult the picture into profitability in 12-18 months after completion.
A film budgeted between $250,000-$500,000 will be harder to recoup, but it will afford a few name actors, which will increase the value of the film.
Any indie film spending north of $750,000 should have a broadcast partner. Simply put, you need to know who is buying the film before you actually make it. Making this happen will require you to meet with several distributors and have them approve your film as one they will buy once it’s finished. That way, you know you’ll know how much of your budget is covered up front.
Most Child and Pets Films Are Natural Franchises
The only thing better than doubling or tripling your investor’s money on a crazy-ass children’s film, is creating a franchise that you and your investor group can milk for at least two to three more films. While sequels traditionally earn 66% of what the original film earned, and third and fourth installments of a franchise make successively less than the sequel, they still make enough of a profit for it to make sense to do it.
I’m sure you’re aware that making a children’s film will almost never get you into Sundance or Cannes, the films that would get you into to those two amazing film festivals are almost never money makers. While critical acclaim and appreciation from your peers is always good, so is the opportunity to make money. Don’t cringe; becoming a profitable filmmaker in the eyes of investors and distributors is not a bad thing!
I’m not asking you to dump your development slate and make a bunch of family films. The world needs awesome psychological thrillers, comedies, coming-of-age dramas and forward-thinking documentaries, and I’m sure you have more than one cinematic bullet up your sleeve. I’m just asking you to consider developing a family film, because that’s what film buyers are opening their check books up for in 2017.
Okay filmmakers! That’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again. Until then, please check out my “Limping on Cloud 9” podcast linked below.
Today we’re highlighting two key changes that affect every filmmaker, big or small. I’ll keep sharing game-changing events as they happen, but for today here are two climate changes you should be aware of.
Development Money Has Gone The Way Of The Dinosaur
In the old days, (i.e. a handful of years ago), major studios followed their own time-tested tradition of throwing seemingly countless amounts of money into developing projects they believed in. Writers wrote, rewrote and polished tent pole bound, or Oscar-worthy scripts, year after year, while A-list actors and directors played musical chairs as they attached, then detached themselves to and from high profile projects. In the end, many of these “marathon development” films boasted about their treacherous journey while they accepted their Academy Award on stage. However, those were the old days.
These days, major studios almost never spend money on development, unless a) the project is a part of a high-budgeted, established franchise with a history success, or b) is based on a novel with an established, best-selling audience. However, the good news is if you have your own development funds in place, everyone will take your call, and almost everyone will take a meeting. Of course, they have to initially like your project. But, if they do, your barrier to entry into Hollywood could be as cost-effective as hiring an established writer to pen a script.
Side note: it’s probably safe to say that hiring a writer in this climate cost seven to 10 times less than it used to, so don’t let the trend of needing your own development money deter you.
Audiences Revere Reality Stars More Than A-List Film Stars
As shocking as it may seem, a 2015 Daily Variety survey revealed that Americans actually revere reality stars of TV and the internet more than they do A-list “movie stars.” Whether it’s the unpretentiousness of or accessibility to reality stars through social media, or it’s just a time for a change after having A-list cinema stars serve as America’s royalty for over 80 years, movie stars just aren’t worth what they used to be. While this makes it slightly easier for you to get a solid name attached to your wonderfully written, yet-to-be-discovered indie gem, having that name aboard doesn’t guarantee financial, social or personal success in the same way it used to.
Okay, friends. That’s what I have for you today. But, before I go, check out this video on on Kim Kardashian’s “Robbed in Paris” explanation.
Since we’re taking about the “Winds of Change,” I thought it’s only appropriate to share the aScorpions “Winds of Change,” video.
And of course, should you wish to check out my “Limping on Cloud 9,” podcast, the link is below. Thanks again for lending me your eyes and ears, and I’d be honored to borrow them again soon!
Hey, everyone. Welcome to Going Bionic.Today we’re reaching into my email account, and pulling out a handful of recent questions I’ve received. So without further ado, let’s dive into to our Going Bionic mailbag.
I Was Recently Rejected From Sundance, Slamdance and SXSW. Do They Really Watch All Of Their Submissions?
Yes, they do. Religiously. I was a screener at Sundance in 2005, when I personally watched and wrote detailed notes on 78 international feature films. Furthermore, I also served as a panelist on the Slamdance Fireside Chats for several years, and I served as a “filmmaker mentor” at SXSW. Thus, I can tell you those who screen for Sundance, Slamdance and SXSW a) take their viewing responsibilities very seriously and b) rarely get any sleep. Thus, I assure you your film was thoroughly reviewed. Just remember that those festivals get thousands and thousands of submissions annually so getting your film accepted to a top film festival is just as difficult as getting in to the UCLA, USC, or NYU graduate school of film.
Why Are So Many A List Actors Doing Indie Films Lately?
Because (in general) they get paid a lot less then they used to. Many actors bought $10 million dollar houses with $50,000 mortgages before the world financial crisis of 2008, so now many of them are open to doing well-written, smaller productions. Another relevant factor is that well-written smaller films have won several Oscars in recent years, so actors also always looking to find great material than may earn them an Oscar nod.
What Is The Best Way To Get My Script To An A-list Actor?
The best way would be to already have your budget funded and to make a cash-money offer for the actor(s) you want (by actors, I mean both male and female actors). Should you not be funded, and you’re trying the attention of somebody on the A-list, here are a few things you can try:
Contact the Actor’s Production Company
They may be more open to considering your project than the actor’s agents will. Of course, the actor’s production company will ask if you’re fully funded too – and if you’re not, they’ll probably keep their door closed to you. But, if there’s a chance in hell for your unfunded screenplay to be considered by an A list actor, reaching out to their company s your best shot.
Contact the Actor(s) Manager
Should the actor(s) not have a production company, you should reach out to their manager. This is because unlike agents, managers can serve as producers on their clients’ projects. Thus, managers have a vested interest in making your project happen, because they could be paid their management fee, plus an additional producers fee if your film pans out.
Contact the Agent
This will be a futile move if you are not funded. This is because most agents won’t even entertain your project for their client, until you are either a) willing to make a hard money offer b) have a hard shoot date and c) can verify your funds. Thus, unless you have all of the above three elements in place beforeyou contact the actor(s) agent, your phone call to them will last no more than 10 seconds.
How Long Should My Film’s Business Plan Be?
As short as I am, and I’m not the tallest guy on the block. Seriously speaking, most investors (99%) won’t actually read your business plan. In fact, they’ll only glace at four things:
1) Your budget.
2) How much money you want from them.
3) How much profit they will make.
4) When you expect to pay them.
The last thing you want to do is to inundate your investors with useless charts and graphs that they will never read. Remember, most investors will invest because they want to, not because your business plan convinced them to do so. In fact, most investors know they’re waving their investment goodbye when they invest in any indie film. They invest for personal reasons or tax break reasons, but rarely do they plant their money in an indie film expecting to turn a profit. While I don’t have an exact number of how long your business plan should be, I would shoot for the 15-20-page range, instead of the 50-60-page range. Just keep your business plan lean, mean and easy to understand.
Okay, friends. That’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for your lending me your eyes, and I truly look forward to borrowing them again. But wait, there’s more! Since we’re answering questions today, here’s a few fun videos of great moments answering questions:
If you want to check out my podcast, “Limping on Cloud 9”, a link is below. Thanks again for lending me your eyes and ears!
One of the most amazing talents filmmakers are instilled with is the ability (or humility) to deal with constant rejection. However, most filmmakers don’t know how to react when they hear the most beautiful three-letter word in the English language, “yes.” So, today we’re going to discuss five key actions to take once you get a “yes” on your project. Without further ado, welcome to “OMG – They said yes! Now what?”
Make Sure Your “Yes” Comes From A Decision Maker
Throughout the cinematic ages, filmmakers have been toyed with when it comes to selling their creative work. “We love your script and we “want to produce it,” turns into, “We love your script, but the head of the company doesn’t.” Then, in the eleventh hour, when “your check” is filled out and waiting to be signed, the principal of the company decides if he or she is willing to part with their money for your project. Sometimes they do, and sometimes the company owners lay the pen down and walk away from investment opportunity. Thus, the best way to hear those three letters, y-e-s, is from the mouth of a decision maker. Should you be unable to speak to the company’s head honcho directly, ask the “messenger” of your good news for the name and title of the person who said yes. In some cases, you’ll hear, “You have a go project! We just need a few signatures to close the deal.” Beware of such a response, because those “few signatures” may never be obtained. Thus, so it’s best to find out exactly where you stand.
Clarify The Amount of Your Sale
How much are they paying you, and when can you expect to get your first payment? Is your full payment contingent on something, or are you guaranteed the full amount of your sale? Will this sale qualify you for membership into the WGA (Writers Guild of America)? These questions are essential to ask when negotiating your financial compensation. Furthermore, you should NEVER be afraid to ask these questions, nor should you fear hearing their answers. The key is to get a clear understanding of where you stand, and knowing what you can expect.
Clarify Your Level of Involvement
Yes, you just sold your baby/passion project/crowning jewel, but that doesn’t mean the new owners will want you to remain onboard. Unless you have a long track record of being a successful filmmaker, there’s a good chance you won’t be intrinsically involved in your film’s future. However, you’ll get a check, a credit, and a forward-progressing career. Of course, you can “just say no” to any offer. Just remember, unless your script starts a frenzied bidding-war between massive studios, your first solid offer could be your last.
Lawyer Up For Your Contract Negotiation
Once you’ve received your “yes,” the second call you should make is to a razor sharp lawyer, who will negotiate and review your contract offer. Your first call should be to your loved ones, of course!
Don’t Brag Until You Bag A Signed Contract and a Stash Of Cash
You had to know this little piece of advice was coming. Many great deals turn out to be great scams, or not so great offers made by not-so-ethical people. Therefore, try to refrain from announcing your riches to the world until you have a signed contract on a project that is actively in production, with guaranteed distribution and a release date. Buying the car you can’t afford, or taking a trip you can’t spare the time for, before the above mentioned criteria is met, is too risky. The bottom line is, you’ve waited so long to hear someone say “yes” to your project, you should allow yourself to enjoy the process.
kay people, that’s what I’ve got for you! Since today’s topic suggests how to react when you get great news on a project, please check out these two amazingly touching videos of deaf persons who hear sound for the first time.
Should you enjoy a positivity infused, slightly offbeat podcast, check out “Limping on Cloud 9.” Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
One of the most interesting social tidbits I’ve heard is Kim Kardashian West once asked for $750,000-$1,000,000 plus expenses, to tweet for an undisclosed brand.However, by recent accounts, she charges $10,000 per tweet, or 100 times less than her reported asking price. Kim does have 50.5 million Twitter followers, so $10,000 per tweet makes since for advertisers.
Subsequently, it’s reported that Selena Gomez commands north of $550,000 for a cross-platform endorsement, which includes her 46.6 million Twitter followers and 113 million Instagram followers. Now that’s reach!
Today we’re talking about three key elements in the world of celebrity tweets; Branding, Reach and Influence on the Film and Television Projects they’re attached to. So without further ado, let’s dive into this topic.
Branding is a key element in the world of celebrity tweets for both the celebrity and the company involved. For example, LeBron James, who has 34.5 million Twitter followers, was offered $85,000 by 20th Century Fox to send out a tweet about the film The Heat, (2013), but he refused.
Conversely, Kevin Hart, who has 32.2 million followers on Twitter, was paid $2 million by Sony to tweet about two Sony Pictures releases (he had 14.8 million followers at the time). Of course, LeBron may have tweeted about The Heat for a $2 million dollar payday, but that’s not what 20th Century Fox deemed his brand value to be for their film. In the end, everything worked out; The Heat wound up making $159,582,188 domestically and another $70,348,583 internationally, totaling $229,930,771 worldwide. As for LeBron, although he made $85,000 less than he could have in 2013, his brand value skyrocketed when he returned to the Cleveland Cavilers in the summer of 2014. In fact, it’s estimated that the city of Cleveland will earn an additional $500 million per year, every year LeBron remains in Cleveland.
Tweet values aren’t necessarily tied to the number of followers a celebrity has. At 32.2 million Twitter followers, Kevin Hart has 18.3 million fewer than Kim Kardashian’s 50.5 million, yet Hart has already signed multi-million dollar tweeting contract while Kardashian is still trying to break into the elite and largely elusive seven-figure tweet club. While I make no judgments on the discrepancy of tweet values between Kevin Hart and Kim Kardashian, one factor may be mass audiences pay $12-$15 each to see Kevin Hart on the big screen, while those same audiences can see Kim Kardashian for free on TV. Thus, a celebrity people pay to see will always have more influence over someone they see for free.
Influence on Film and Television Projects
Independent filmmakers have long begged notable actors to work for pennies on the dollar in exchange for Oscar-worthy roles, and recent Oscar winners are no exception. Julianne Moore, who won Best Actress for Still Alice and Matthew McConaughey, who took home the Best Actor award for Dallas Buyers Club, both won for films with $5 million dollar budgets.
While filmmakers will forever dangle the carrot of an Academy Award to enticed actors, these days filmmakers will be also be asking for a commitment to tweet about the film. Mind you, a notable actor tweeting about a small film they appear in will surely help the picture’s visibility, but it may have little bearing on the film’s public or critical perception. Either way, it rarely hurts to have a celebrity tweeting about a project. So, for you filmmakers out there, make sure you get a contractual “tweet commitment” from the actors you sign in your next project.
Okay friends, that wraps up today’s insight. But, before I go, here’s a link to my podcast art, “Limping on Cloud 9.” Thank you for lending me your eyes!
Hey, everyone. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope you a a fun (and safe) day! Being a Pakistani-American growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, it may seem as if I was the furthest person from celebrating anything Irish. However, my best friend, Patrick Edward Martin, (above) was very much Irish, so I was engrossed in St. Patty’s Day festivities throughout my childhood and teenage years.
Years later I started producing films with another Irish friend, Edward Patrick Stencel, who also helped me build and run Lonely Seal Releasing for five years. So, in honor of Patrick Edward and Edward Patrick, as well as everyone with Irish roots, today we’re chronicling some of the most memorable Irish-themed motion pictures. While I’m not ranking them, I am providing their “numbers,” i.e. their budgets and how well they preformed at the box office. I have truly enjoyed each and every one of the pictures. So, whether you’re revisiting these wonderful slices of cinema, or watching them for the first time, here is and octopus full of wonderful Irish-themed motion pictures.
I’ve attached the official trailers for reach film. Just click on the poster.
My Left Foot (1989)
Initially released on two screens by Miramax on November 10, 1989, this 600,000 Euro budgeted picture (about $800,000 USD) made $14,473,391 at the domestic box office. The picture earned two Academy Awards, Daniel Day-Lewis Best Actor, and Brenda Fricker for Best Supporting Actress.
The Commitments (1991)
Directed by Alan Parker, this $12-$15 million budgeted Fox Studios picture was originally released on August 16, 1991. While the film only earned $14,919,570 at the domestic box office, its original motion picture soundtrack profited nicely, as it topped the New Zealand album charts, peaked at number four in the UK and number eight in the USA. The success of the soundtrack spawned a “volume 2” soundtrack, which did not preform nearly as well as the first.
Far And Away (1992)
This Ron Howard directed adventure-drama is what brought Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman together in their personal lives. Budgeted at $60 million, Universal released the film on 1,583 screens on May 22, 1992. The picture went on to earn $58,883,840 at the domestic box office, and $78,900,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $137,783,840.
Tri-Star released this $12 million dollar budgeted Notre Dame football drama on October 15, 1993. It earned $22,750,363 at the domestic box office, and has since been noted as one of the most beloved sports films of all time.
The Secret of Roan Inish (1995)
First Look released this magical family film on February 3, 1995. While it only earned $6,169,269 at the domestic box office on an estimated $3 million budget, this picture is a rare gem that shouldn’t be missed.
The Brothers McMullen (1995)
Budgeted at only $238,000, Fox Searchlight released this debut film for Edward Burns on August 11, 1995. Released on only seven screens to start, the film went on to earn $10,426,506 at the domestic box office.
Waking Ned Devine (1998)
Fox Searchlight released this inspired $3 million budgeted film on nine screens November 20, 1998. The picture caught fire, and went on to earn $24,792,251 domestically and another $30,465,199 internationally, giving it a worldwide box office total of $55,257,540.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2007)
IFC released this 6.5 million Euros ($8.32 million USD at the time of release) Ken Loach directed war gem on July 12, 2007. The film earned $1,836,089 domestically and $21,063,819 internationally, giving it a worldwide box office of $22,899,908. The picture also won the coveted Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
Trends and Observations
None of the eight films listed above were released in March, and only three, Far and Away, Waking Ned Devine, and The Wind that Shakes the Barley, were released internationally. The average budgets of the films listed above are $12,794,750, with an average box office of $35,585,048.
However, once we remove the studio releases and focus on the independent films, My Left Foot, The Secret of Roan Inish, The Brothers McMullen, Waking Ned Devine and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, the average budget was $3,071,600, with an average box office return of $21,845,322. Thus, Irish-themed indie films have proven to be quite successful.
Pretty cool stuff, eh? I hope you enjoyed today’s offering. That’s all I have for you, but before I go, here’s a link of Daniel-Day Lewis’s “Best Actor” acceptance speech for at the 1990 Oscars for “My Left Foot.”
Should you be interested in checking out my Limping on Cloud 9 podcast, a recent episode is linked below. I thank you for lending me your eyes!
Today we’re discussing how the formula to make a successful drama has shifted from needing established stars with healthy budgets, to showcasing rising stars with anemic budgets. While dramas like Lawrence of Arabia, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Schindler’s List have laced the history of cinema with greatness, current dramas are finding success by skewing toward a much younger viewer base. Whether this trend is temporary or permanent, one thing is for sure: dramas aren’t just for grandparents anymore. Before we get into examining the trend-setting successes, let’s highlight a star-studded feature that reminds us of the “old way” of making dramas.
This Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall courtroom drama stumbled out of the gates by earning $13,116,226 on 3,003 screens, on its opening weekend. The picture went on to make $47,119,388 domestically and $37,300,000 internationally; giving it a worldwide total of $84,419,388. That, my friends, isn’t much to brag about. While it may seem like making $84 million plus on a $50 million dollar budget seems like a solid return, it’s actually anything but. You see, on average, a film needs to earn 2.5 to 3 times its budget to break even. Thus is because a) the studio will pay $15 million to $25 million or more on P&A (prints and advertising), and b) the exhibitor (theaters) keep about 53% of the box office total for themselves. Thus, The Judge, a $50 million dollar budgeted film, needed to wrangle $125 million to $150 million to be deemed a success, and its $84,419,388 cumulative total is a far cry from that.
Now let’s take a look at a few “young drama” successes, which were produced with modest budgets and a youthful cast.
The Fault in our Stars
This $12 million dollar budgeted teen drama earned $48,002,523 on 3,173 screens over its opening weekend, which is a powerful $15,128 per screen average. The film has gone on to earn $124,872,350 domestically, plus another $182,294,484 overseas, giving it a worldwide total of $307,166,834. Furthermore, not only did the picture break the record for pre-ordered ticket sales for romantic dramas in the history of Fandango, but it also broke the digital download record. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that over 5.7 million copies of the novel have been sold worldwide including more than four million sold domestically, but the picture certainly blazed the trail for other youth-oriented dramas with modest budgets.
If I Stay
This $11 million dollar budget earned $15,176,190 on 2,907 screens over its opening weekend, giving it a $5,394 per screen average. The picture has gone on to make $50,474,843 domestically, and $28,400,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $78,874,843. Just like The Fault in our Stars, If I Stay is riddled with a young cast and a modest budget. The winning formula has rewarded Warner Brothers by earning nearly seven times more than its production budget.
When examining these younger, hipper dramas, it’s safe to say the powers-that-be are redefining what they consider a successful drama to be, and how much they’re willing to spend on it. Thus, if you’re developing a drama, “think young,” with your cast, and think “small to medium” with your budget.
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. But, before you go, check out “Quest,” by Thomas Stellmach. This ultra-cool short film won the 1 997 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. I have a special place in my heart for this film, because I was judge for the 1997 Flickerfest Short Film Festival in Sydney, Australia just a few months before it won the Oscar, and yes, it won Flickerfest too!
And, a link to my Limping on Cloud 9 podcast is below. As always, thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
Today we’re tackling the overtly treacherous world of acquiring life story rights. I’ve acquired a handful of life story rights since 1993. These have ranged from buying the rights to a virtually homeless 15-year old boy who went from becoming a local hero, to a national hero, to a felon, to landing life rights to an OG (Original Gangster) in South Central Los Angeles, as well as wrangling rights to an affluent man who was a New York Magazine cover story.
Throughout my experience of dealing with life rights, I’ve learned to steer clear of situations that will torpedo deals. So, for those of you who are currently negotiating or chasing life rights, here are three things to be aware of during your negotiations with the selling party.
The Life Rights Are Far Less Valuable Than You Think They Are
Unless the person whose life rights you’re acquiring is a world leader, pop culture icon, or unquestionably revered household name, the rights are worth considerably less than you think. While most people assume their life rights will sell for at least $500,000 to north of $1 million, most life rights are offered $35,000-$75,000. Thus, many deals get squashed before they get started, because the people who are selling their life story feel slighted by the offer. Sure, there are the occasional seven-figure deals, but those are reserved for stories that wrangle enthusiastic interest from A-list actors, coupled with a major studio that’s willing to spend $50-$75 million or more on the production, plus $25-$35 million more in P&A.
Using A High Purchase Price To Secure A Low Option Amount Will Backfire
Many producers think making lofty purchase price offers , i.e. $500,000 to $1 million, is a smart way to get a low option price of $500 to $1,000, or even as low as $1. In other words, producers like saying, “let me option your life rights for a nominal fee, and I’ll work my ass off to sell your rights for a large sum of money.” The problem is, if the “purchase price” you promised the life rights holder is obscenely greater than the real value of the rights, you’ll find it impossible to get a studio or investor(s) to fund your project. Simply put, nobody wants to overpay for anything, regardless of his or her ability to do so. Thus, cost of acquiring life rights should stay between 2%-5% of the final approved budget, which is $20,000-$50,000 per $1 million of the budget.
You’ll Need Way More Time On Your Option Than You Think
Six months will feel like six minutes, because every place you pitch your story to will take several weeks to get back to you with an initial response. You’ll also need a great screenplay to entice actors, financing or distribution. Thus, you have to give at least four to five months to a highly talented writer, before your screenplay is good enough to approach key talent. Remember, the last thing you want to do, is to agree to a short-term option that will severely limit, if not completely kill any chance you may have of getting your project made.
As for the length of your option, I’d start by asking for three-years. If your client-to-be balks, ask for two years, and then go down to 18 months or even 12 months if need be. Allowing ample time to develop life rights into a viable, funded motion picture is going to take time.
Subsequently, one of the most important elements of your negotiation is your re-option, meaning your agreement should have terms in place to allow you to exercise an equal length of time as the initial agreement.
Okay friends, that’s what I have for you today. But, before you click off, check out this cool video on Eminem’s life story:
Should be interested in checking out my Limping on Cloud 9 podcast, it’s linked below. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
Welcome to Going Bionic. I hope you’re having a fantastic Friday morning. Today we’re exploring three “finance killers” that will likely kill, or at least severely injure the chances of your picture being funded. So, for the sake of your project and the forward progress of your career, please refrain from using these tactics in your pitch to raise investment funds.
Financing Needed to Renew Option/Rights
While I know firsthand how difficult it can be to pay for options, option extensions, and scheduled increases in the option price as months of development slip into years of development hell, the last thing you want to do is to tell your potential investors you need their investment in order to keep the rights to your project. Trust me; few things will close investor checkbooks quicker than having you admit there is a real chance you will lose the rights to the material if they don’t invest ASAP. Remember, investors don’t have, nor do they want, your time-sensitive pressures. All they want is to invest in something they believe will be a good financial or social decision for them. So, if you have to beg, borrow or steal to keep your option/rights intact throughout your fundraising stage, so be it. But, under no circumstances, should you make your project an even higher-risk investment than it already is, and asking investors to help you pay for the option will do just that.
Time Sensitive Shooting Location
Time and time again, filmmakers tell me they’re under the gun to raise the rest of their funds and start shooting, before they lose their location. Hearing such urgent news raises big red flags for me, because the project’s best-case scenario is to be rushed through production, which is never a good thing.
The problem with having to shoot your film during a certain time of year is that if you’re not funded in time, you’ll have to wait one calendar year to make your film. While you may be able to wait, your investors may not be able or willing to do the same. Remember, you can’t tie up investor money forever, especially if you want them to invest in you again. Thus, if you have a season-reliant project, make sure you explore multiple options with regards to your shooting location(s), so you don’t find yourself delayed for one or more years.
That’s what I have for you today. But first, check out this cool masterclass on film finance presented by the Dubai International Film Festival.
And of course, should you wish to hear my Limping on Cloud 9 podcast, here it is below. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
Welcome to Going Bionic, your source for creative insights, inspiration and information, all wrapped up in an easy to swallow pill.
As some of you may have heard, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish just issued a statement saying Paramount intends to make 15 feature films per year, most of which will be based on properties they already own, (i.e. Nickelodeon based TV series, Paramount feature films ripe for a revamp, etc). The thought of a major film studio only producing 15 films per year is alarming, but not unheard of. In 2014, Sony Studios (parent of Columbia Pictures) announced a $250 million dollar reduction in motion picture spending, bringing their number of produced films down from 23 to 18 per year. So, the trend is to produce less.
However, this cost-cutting trend can be quite beneficial to highly talented budding filmmakers. So, without further ado, here are three big reasons why recent cost cuts from the studios could actually benefit you.
Newly Minted Writers and Directors are Getting Hired More
Make no mistake; cost cutting at the studio level will make it far more difficult, not easier, for new talent to break in. However, once you do get invited inside the “invite only” party that is Hollywood, (by winning a major film festival, or selling a hot spec script) your cinematic youth will actually help you. This is because studios should start shying away from paying A list writers and directors several million dollars up front to do a gig that newly minted writers and directors would do for ten times less money. Of course, Hollywood will first ask the A listers to take ten times less up front, before they offer those gigs to less experienced filmmakers, but at least now hiring a new filmmaker may be seen as a smart financial move for many film executives, as opposed to being career suicide for the executive who hired the newbie.
Fewer Films will go into Development Hell, aka Turnaround
With less films made, a fewer number of them will fall into the depths of Development Hell. This is because studios probably won’t buy many things beyond what they intend to make. While this practice will make it harder to sell your film, if it does sell, your chances of getting it made go up sharply.
Actors will be More Open to Offers From Non-Traditional Sources
Gone are the days when A list actors could snag a $20 million dollar payday upfront, regardless if the film was a success or not. These days, everybody gets paid less, and actors are no exception. Of course, the select few will still get paid north of $20 million, but those payouts are tied to the film hitting certain lofty box office levels. Thus, given the overall reduction of income, coupled with a fewer number of films to be made in the foreseeable future, actors’ representatives may be slightly more open to fielding “outside the box” opportunities for their clients. Of course, you still have to have money in place to make offers to actors, but I suspect they will be open to hearing what you have to say, more so than they traditionally have been.
Okay, filmmakers; that’s what I have for you today. But, before I go, here’s a great little short film called “One Minute Time Machine,” by Devon Avery.
If you’re looking for a fun little audio pick-me-up, here is a link to my “Limping on Cloud 9” podcast: As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
I was nursing an Arctic-cold Dr. Pepper at the American Film Market (AFM) on Santa Monica Beach a few years ago, when a fiercely confident independent filmmaker interrupted my moment of bliss by asking me why he couldn’t sell his film directly to buyers without dealing with companies like mine. “Because credible buyers don’t trust filmmakers they haven’t worked with many times before to deliver their film,” I replied. The filmmaker fell silent for a second, and then boasted, “I can deliver my film myself. I have my own Fed Ex account.” With that, the filmmaker left. As I watched him proudly strut away, it dawned on me that it’s possible most filmmakers have no idea what it means to “deliver” a film. Not that it’s their fault. The egregious act is never discussed in film school, and the only filmmakers who would know how to deliver are those who have been distributed before. So, today I’m sharing some key points on “deliverables.”
Definition Of Delivering A Film
Delivering a film means all technical, practical, quality and legal aspects of the film are completed and delivered to the buyer in order to complete the sale. The thing to remember is all international distributors are going to demand you have all of your “deliverables,” before they sign your film and far before they ever attempt to sell it. The reason for this is your international distributor never wants to strike a sale for your film and then realize you haven’t cleared the music, bought the necessary insurance, or completed any one of a myriad of issues that will cancel even the healthiest of sales.
Items That Must Be Delivered To Your International Distributor/Sales Agent Within 30 Days of Signing With Them
To clarify, these are items that you must provide to your international distributor, before they will attempt to initiate a sale.
Any available Masters and trailers (i.e. digi-beta Pal, digi-beta NTSC, and any other formats). This includes sound, M&E tracks (music and effects must be on separate tracks) and any other elements related to your Master.
Side note: If your Master tape does not meet broadcast quality standards, you must have another one made. Furthermore, you should only deliver a “protected” master of your film to your international distributor/sales agent. A “protected” master means that you have a “for screening purposes only” or a “property of (insert your production company name here)” notification come up every seven to 10 minutes throughout your screener. This way, when your international distributor gives your screener out to several buyers at sales markets, those buyers can’t rip-off your film. But, don’t worry. A good international distributor will think twice about giving out your screener to a buyer they haven’t worked with before – especially if that buyer seems shadier than an oversized tree.
A List Detailing Where the Masters are Held.
Full access to the Masters, for the purpose of delivering on deals during the term of the agreement with your international distributor.
Posters, flyers, screeners and any other media related to the promotion and sale of your film.Side note: Play close attention to this clause, filmmakers. Just because you have a poster and some screeners, doesn’t mean your international distributor has to use them. In fact, several international distributors will change your artwork and the title of your film in order to get a deal. While in many cases this move will increase your film’s value, you should be aware that they will charge the expenses involved with making the changes to you. The key is to negotiate up front how much they can charge you.
Artwork, copyrights, music cue sheets, trademarks, and English dialogue list.Side note: These are essential elements of completing any deal, so you really should have them in order. Furthermore, turning in an “English Dialogue List” doesn’t mean you just turn in your script. Actually, they’re night and day from one another. You may want to go online and find examples of how a dialogue list is constructed, in order to turn in something your international distributor will accept.
Availabilities for all territories, as well as the term length of those availabilities. Basically, this means that if you’ve sold your film to one or more territories, you need to notify your international distributor which territories you sold, and how long you sold them for.Side note: Under no circumstances should you hide what territories you’ve sold prior to signing with your international distributor. Don’t think you can pull a fast one and sell the same territory twice, because withholding information on a previous sale will tangle you into an ugly legal mess that will cost you ten times more than the few extra dollars you’d pocket from double-selling a territory. Besides, international sales professionals generally know each other, and know what titles each other are selling. So, a double-selling attempt will be found out faster than you can read the end of this sentence.
All language tracks (i.e. German, French, Spanish, etc).
Copies of E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance paperwork.E&O insurance is professional liability insurance that protects companies and individuals against claims made by clients for inadequate work or negligent actions. E&O often times covers both court costs and any settlements up to the amount specified on the insurance contract.
Side note: This one is a biggie. E&O insurance used to cost $7,500 per film, but now a more realistic cost is around $3,000. While it’s true filmmakers usually don’t need E&O insurance until they get their first distribution deal outside of the United States, it’s also true that the money for the E&O should be in place the day your international distributor starts to shop your film to his or her buyers. The last thing you want is to lose a deal over not having the elements in place to do a deal.
Of course your international distributor may front the money for your E&O insurance – but only in cases where profits from a pending deal far exceeds the cost of the E&O. In those cases, your international distributor will take the amount they fronted for the E&O, plus a fee, off the top of your film’s first sale.
All of the points made above are what your international distributor expects of you when they sign your film. However, the buyer who ultimately buys your film in every territory worldwide will also have a sea of stringent delivery demands for your international distributor to fill. Fulfilling those demands are crucial to this entire process, because you’ll never close a deal until you successfully deliver your film.
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, I’d like to share a funny short on delivering a package:
I’d also like to share my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is not film-industry related, but it is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
One of the best lessons I ever learned about knowing my international territories came in Budapest, Hungary at DISCOP; a Film and TV content market “for growing world regions.” I was at dinner with Edward Stencel, (a dear friend who ran my company with me for five years) and some new clients. We were at a hip restaurant on a boat called “Spoon,” when the conversation shifted to the emergence of Benelux. Benelux, I thought. What the hell is Benelux? It sounded like a virus, or a new military coup. As dinner wore on, I started to wonder why I’d never heard of it. Flashbacks of seventh grade suddenly arrested my thoughts as I remembered getting a “C” instead of a “B” on a world geography test because I failed to list the countries in North America (I listed the USA and Canada, but missed Mexico). So, before desert was upon us, I asked Edward where Benelux was. He just gave me a look and said “Benelux isn’t a country. It stands for Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg.” I was surprised, but relieved.
The thing about film sales territories is you have to know where and what they are and how they work – before they can work for your film. Currently there’s about forty territories worldwide, but less than ten that will be financially significant to your film. I’m not saying that most film territories are insignificant, since all of them provide a vital platform for getting your film out. Nor am I saying your film will only sell to ten territories (although you should do cartwheels if it does sell to ten territories). What I am saying is don’t be surprised if some of the smaller territories offer you such little money for your film that you’re too offended to say yes.
My rule of thumb is simple: If the offer is a) less than the cost of my Fed EX and related shipping costs to complete the deal, or b) if I know our client will surely go into cardiac arrest after hearing the offer, then I can’t accept it. But filmmakers-be-warned: there are more than a few distributors out there who will accept lowball deals. Those deals are too small to ever help you, and you’ll never see any money from them because they’ll be eaten up in your distributor’s fees.
Since there are many more “territorial insights” that you need to know, here are some key ones to consider.
How Territory Sales Work
Don’t worry. It’s simpler than it seems. Basically, buyers will offer to pay your distributor a “flat fee” for the right to distribute your film in their country. You get paid and they get your film. It’s that simple. They’ll pay for all language dubs and they’ll duplicate and market VOD and DVD in their country. In rare cases, you can also get a back-end bonus on your VOD and DVD sales put into your contract. But, it’s almost impossible to get a distributor in another country to pay those bonuses. I’m sure it has happened before, but such a magical occurrence happens about as often as people prove the existence of Santa Claus.
The Most Significant Territories
China, Germany, Japan and the UK are the key territories. Getting healthy sales there will significantly increase the value of your sales in smaller territories. But, the opposite is also true. A weak sale to the big four equals almost no sales in smaller territories.
Key Notes About Some Territories
1) Germany usually also includes German-speaking Switzerland.
2) France is very hard to sell to, because their government limits how much American product can be distributed.
3) Unlike other territories, Japan is not a place where a distributor can swoop in and make a quick buck. But, if nurtured correctly with honor, a relationship with Japan can provide decades of healthy sales.
What’s In A Title?
Your film’s title will probably change overseas.
What’s In A Look?
You film’s artwork will also change in other countries. But don’t fear, they’re just trying to position your film in its best light to capture healthy sales. Actually, you should request posters of your film from the various countries your film sells to. That fun exercise will do two things: 1) Create a great conversation piece for your friends, future investors and lovers when they see how many different countries your film played in, and 2) You’ll get a sense on how your work is being marketed to other countries.
What’s In A Final Cut?
Some territories will re-edit your film in order to get it approved by their censor boards, or to make it more acceptable to their viewing audiences. I know this cuts into the hearts of many filmmakers, but think about it this way: is cutting out sixty-eight seconds from your film worth getting a $75,000 sale? Or, worse yet, is keeping your sixty-eight seconds worth losing a $75,000 sale? Hmmm, things to consider.
Financing Your Film From Territory Sales
The problem is territories won’t pay until after your film is completed. The ones that will agree to cutting a check before you start shooting will only do so in pre-sales.
Pre-sales are when a territory buys your film before you finish it, or sometimes even before you make it. But, these deals are generally reserved for star-driven films, which are made in “slam-dunk” genres (action, thriller, sci-fi).
There’s a ton of things to know about the various territories, as their cultures, tastes, and business practices vary so much. All of those elements factor into what kinds of films each territory will buy and how much they’ll pay for them. In closing, I know the thought of understanding the various needs of each territory can be daunting. But, how is that different from understanding the needs and wants of your significant other who is wondering why you’re reading this article instead of spending “quality time” with them? In both cases, do the best you can, and let the universe figure out the rest.
That’s what I have today. Before I go, here’s a funny international video:
Additionally, here’s a link to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused, so it may serve as a short getaway for you.
I thank you for lending me your eyes and ears, and I look forward to borrowing them again.
One of the most important abilities to learn and master in the motion picture and television industry is to know what someone is saying about your project without them actually having to say it. Since much of this industry runs on hope in the face of constant rejection, most filmmakers prefer to sit on the hopeful side of the fence as opposed to dealing with the harsh realities of the situation. However, knowing what’s happening with your project can save you tremendous amounts of time, anguish and, ultimately, money. Thus, today we’re exploring three common situations when having the ability to “read between the lines” can help you get your project made. So, without further ado, let’s put on our “bionic reading glasses” and see what’s really going on.
It’s Not in Our Wheelhouse
Situation: When you submit a script, packed film that needs either all or part of their financing, or a completed film.
I love this term, be cause it’s a kinder and gentler way of letting you know they didn’t like your project. What’s funny to me is that if your project wasn’t in their “wheelhouse,” then why did they accept your submission in the first place? With every company having very direct mandates, i.e. being clear on what they will or will not develop, finance or distribute, this term often times signals non-interest in your project.
The best way to combat hearing this is:
When you hear the fateful words, “it’s not in our wheelhouse,” don’t try to convince them to reconsider, because if they’re not 110% behind your project from the very beginning, they are not a place your project will thrive at. Instead, ask them what is in their wheelhouse, and if they’d be interested in developing a like-minded project with you to that effect. Should they shy away from wanting to work with you on a project other than the one you submitted, they probably don’t want to work with you. However, if they are open to the idea, then you should jump at that opportunity.
Another way to combat “It’s not in our wheelhouse.”
In the event you’re dealing with a major studio or otherwise monstrous multi-billion dollar company, ask the person you submitted your project to if there is any other person at the studio who may respond more favorably. In other words, large corporations have multiple wheelhouses, and so your project may make sense for a person or division other than the one you submitted to.
We Love The Writing, But….
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I laugh every time I hear this (even when I hear it about my own writing), because the bottom line is, there are only three responses you ever want to hear when it comes to your writing being submitted.
1) “We love your writing and we’re buying your script.”
2) “We love your writing and we’re optioning your script.”
3) “We love your writing, but your script is not right for us, so we’re going to hire you for a OWA” (Open Writing Assignment).
Short of hearing either one of the three responses above, rest assured that your writing was anything but loved.
Not having the ability to read through the lines of hearing “We love the writing, but your script is not right for us,” can royally screw you in more ways than one. In fact, here’s two ways in which it can do its part in wasting a hell of a lot of your time.
1) It can give you a false sense of hope with regards to the quality and or readiness of your script to being sellable. Simply put, if you keep hearing how much everyone loves your script, you’re probably not going rewrite it, even if it gets passed on 44 times.
Side Note: I didn’t just pull the number “44” out of thin air. I actually know someone who has had his current screenplay passed on 44 times, and yet he refuses to rewrite it because he keeps hearing how much industry professionals “love his script.”
2) Saying they “love your script” and then not buying it, means they don’t want to spend the time and effort needed to tell you what about your script didn’t work for them. Besides, if they’re not buying it, then they have absolutely no reason to help you make your screenplay better. Think about it, no company or person will ever want to help out a project they passed on, because there’s no upside for them.
Thus, the only barometer you need to gauge interest from a studio, distributor or financier, is if they pay you for your work.
We’re Not Looking at New Projects Right Now
When you hear, “We’re not looking at new projects right now,” take the initiative to ask when they plan to be looking at new material, and what kind of material they are looking for. If they’re interested in working with you, they’ll tell you exactly when their development submission window opens up, as well as what types of genres they’ll be look at. If you’re lucky, you may even get an idea of what budget levels they’ll consider.
Another thing to ask is what elements, if any; they need you to have in place before you submit your project to them. These elements can range from a business plan, to partial funding, to casting attachments, and everything else in between. You may also ask them how many new projects they generally pick up.
Lastly, make sure you actually contact them when they say their submission window will be open. Don’t bother them before that date, and don’t bother contacting them too far after that date. Simply put, if you want them to respect you as a creator, then you need to respect the guidelines in which they work in.
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a funny video about “not hiring.”
I’d also like to link you to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9. My podcast has nothing to do with the film industry, but it is positivity infused, quirky and a bit offbeat. Limping On Cloud 9 is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears.
Since January of 1997, I’ve produced and or executive several independent productions. I’ve also had the honor to serve as a film festival jury member, screener or panelist at several festivals worldwide. From the far north reaches of Dawson City, Yukon, to the down under sands of Sydney, Australia, to the ice-capped streets of Park City, Utah, and the Slackerlicious groove of Austin, Texas, I’ve absorbed more than a few vital truths about independent film productions, regardless of where they were made. Thus, here are a few key strategies to think about during the production of your cinematic masterpiece.
Never Start Until You Can Afford To Finish
If you’re like 99.8% of the amazingly talented independent filmmakers I know, you whole-heartedly disagree with this statement. Most indie filmmakers would much rather start shooting with the money they have and hope they can raise finishing funds later by showing potential investors their footage. The problem is 99.8% of potential investors won’t be impressed by footage enough to write a check. This is why 99.8% of the independent filmmakers I know have films they can’t finish.
The other problem is, those investors who may give you finishing funds are going to take an arm and a leg from you for doing so. They will make sure their money is in first position, and their money will be the most expensive you take. In addition, not having the money to finish from the start will also create major issues with retaining your talent, as they will move onto other productions if you can’t finish your film within the window of time they allotted to act in your film. If you have name talent, this will obviously kill the value of your film. If you don’t have name talent, replacing your talent midway through a project will surely increase the cost of your production and create a mountain of continuity issues. Thus, the smart move here is to find your full funding before you start shooting.
Don’t Treat Post-Production Funding As a Separate Matter
Post-production is often times treated like it’s something you worry about after you shoot your film. “I’ll get my film in the can and then worry about post” are famous last words, because a film without the money for post-production is clearly unfinished. Sure, it’s a lot closer to the proverbial finish line than a film that burned through its budget half way through production, but you’ll still be in a very undesirable situation with potential investors and distributors. In fact, distributors and investors will be far more inclined to invest in your film at this stage, because they will have to risk less and wait for a shorter period of time to recoup their investment. But, make no mistake about it; their investment terms will be just as unfavorable to you as if they invested when you ran out of money during production. All you’re doing by asking for money in post-production is lining the pockets of investors and distributors with cash that you’re taking away from yourself and your initial investors.
Did You Hear Me? Sound Is Important!
The simple rule of thumb is that sound is only noticed when it’s bad. Although there are examples of films that were enriched with amazing sound, it’s a rare moment when anyone comments on how great the sound of a film was. However, bad sound can be noticed immediately and having it will kill your chance of selling your film. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, bad sound can force collective cringes and rapid exits from your viewing audience. It’s funny to me how many times I hear filmmakers during production keeping a take laced with sound issues, because they think they can fix the issue later. The truth is, bad sound is bad sound and ADR can only do so much. I’ve also found that indie films rarely listen to the production sound team. Remember, bad sound is one of the first things buyers and distributors notice, and the last thing you want your film to be judged by.
Music Rights and Wrongs
Non-distributed independent films have always used extremely popular music, without paying for the songs. Some indie producers don’t think stealing music is a problem until their film is about to be distributed – at which time they assume the distributor will pay for their top shelf choices. Other indie producers feel that sending the musical artist a film with their unauthorized music in it will go a long way toward getting them the rights to the song. Both assumptions are far from being true. First of all, no distributor will mess with a songs rights issue unless they assured (through pre-sales) of making a killing on your film. Secondly, no musical artist is going to be happy about having his or her work used without permission. Their initial reaction will be to have “their people” bend you over a barrel and charge you an ungodly amount for the use of their music, and that’s only if they don’t flat out refuse to license the songs.
The smart play here is to approach music clearing houses like The Harry Fox Agency early on, and find out what can and can’t be cleared for your film. Tell them you have very little budget and that you doubt your film will ever be distributed – but you are hoping to get it distributed. This will ensure you the lowest price for your music. You can also look at music clearing houses online and/or subscription-based clearing houses.
Furthermore, be sure you’re paying for the correct rights. Paying for “festival rights only” is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for “worldwide rights in all media,” but festival rights will only allow you to play at festivals. Also, make sure you’re buying all of the rights involved with your song of choice; including the rights to the lyrics, the music and performance, because these rights could be held by different entities.
Another cost effective way to go with wrangling a popular song is to buy the remake rights. In short, that would entail having a lesser-known performer sing a hit song.
The rule of thumb to music in your film is that it’s ridiculously more cost-effective and doable if you seek out the rights early on. Like most things in life, waiting to do something that you could have done earlier, will always cost you more.
Shooting Schedules That Won’t Shoot Your Crew To Death
Most independent films are made on six, 18 hour shooting days per week, whereas most studio films tend to shoot five, 12 hour per day weeks. While I understand independent films need to shoot their film as quickly as possible due to budget constraints, six day shooting weeks with excruciatingly long hours will certainly lower the production value of the film. Furthermore, exhaustion fuels compromise, so the more tired everyone is the more compromised the scenes will look. The point to remember here is that distributors (and audiences for that matter) could care less how long – or short – it took to shoot a film. They will only judge films by what they can see. The last thing any filmmaker wants anyone to say is that his or her film was film was “pretty good for a small movie.” In distributor talk that means the film was not as good as its better-made counterparts, and the film is not something they will ever pay an advance for.
One consideration to creating a better shooting schedule is to alternate five and six day shooting weeks. This way the film crew may remain coherent and capable. Remember, one bad scene may damage the value of any independent film, while two or more scenes of lesser quality will certainly kill the sales potential for the film.
Good Food, Happy Crew, Great Production
Feeding your crew good food may be the difference between making a good little movie and a great independent film. Yes, I know how outlandish this statement may seem, but since most independent film crews are either paid very little or nothing at all, it’s extremely important to let them know they’re respected. The best way to show them love outside of paying them well is to feed them really good food. In fact, meals and craft service should be allotted enough money to make the crew brag about how good the food is. Doing so will keep up the collective morale of the production, which will raise the quality of the production.
Talking Small Will Help You Become A Big Success
When dealing with vendors for your lighting, camera, props, film or tape stock, and so on, make sure you talk small and remain humble. Let them know that you’re production is virtually broke (if it is) and that you’d greatly appreciate any guidance they can provide you. Also ask for the spelling of their name, so you can list them in your thank you credits for taking the time to help you. Taking these measures will get you killer deals. But, going into the same situation demanding a discount because the vendors should feel lucky to be involved in a film like yours, will get you nowhere. While they still might give you a discount, it’ll be a standard rate cut that they give everyone, and will be nowhere near the discount you would have gotten by being humble.
For many, being in production is the single-most sought-after phase of the filmmaking process. It’s what most of us live for, and like a first kiss, memories about being in production are cherished memories that all of us will forever remember. Also like a first kiss, the people involved in the production of a film have everything to do with how good the final outcome is. Thus, utilizing these above mentioned strategies will go a long way toward having your outcome result in getting distribution. So hunker down, pucker up and go out and create those memories!
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, here’s a quick video about film production:
I’d also like to share my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thanks for lending me your eyes!
The first draft of the first screenplay I ever wrote left a lot to be desired. It was a family drama I wrote with a friend of mine in the fall of ’94, just months after I graduated UCLA Film School. I still remember how sure Mike and I were we’d sell our script. Unfortunately, I also remember our first “big Hollywood meeting” where the overtly polished studio executive’s biggest suggestion for our script was for us to “buy a shovel.” That’s right, “buy a shovel” as in “bury this waste of paper and never dig it up again.” I was shocked, crushed and disillusioned. I was even more depressed after the second, third and fourth drafts of the script triggered similar responses. This incessantly painful experience was my first (but not last) foray into DEVELOPMENT HELL!!!
For those of you who are wondering what development has to do with distribution, ask yourself what an engine has to do with a car. Like an engine, a solid script makes your film work. But without it, your film will be dead on arrival. This is clearly the case for independent films more so than studio films, because indies don’t have the luxury of a star-studded, $200 million dollar budget that can cleverly mask a really bad script.
After years of being a writer and a producer who has optioned several writers, I’ve compiled certain insights about the development game that may help you. These insights are for writers with either no sales or limited sales to their credit. Once you’re earning $2 million per screenplay, or have an Oscar prominently placed on your mantle, some of the following suggestions may no longer apply to you. But, until that earth-shattering, life-changing moment, you may wish to consider the following suggestions. In an effort to promote clarity, I’ve separated my suggestions into two categories:
Preparing Your Script and Submitting Your Script
The Standard Screenplay Length Has Shrunk!
The standard length of a screenplay is now 110 pages for dramas/action/thrillers, and 95-100 for comedies. Like VHS tapes (and DVD’s) 120 page screenplays are history.
One of the First Things a Development Executive Does is….
Flip to the last page of your screenplay, to see how long it is. If he or she deems it to be too long, they will not read it. Your beloved life’s work will become recycled.
Don’t List Your Copyright Number Or WGA Registration Number
Placing these numbers on your cover page is telling the person you’re submitting to that you think they’re going to steal your work. Talent agencies never list registration numbers on their script cover pages, so you shouldn’t either.
“Poor Man’s Copyright” Is Not An Actual Copyright
It always amazes me how few new writers register their screenplays with the U.S. Copyright Office. It only costs $40, and takes about 5 minutes of your time. Yet, not doing so will definitely put the rights to your screenplay in jeopardy. Trust me, mailing your script back to yourself is not a legal copyright. All you have to do to secure your work is go to the Library of Congress website and look up the Registrar of Copyrights. Some writers choose to register their work at the WGA (Writers Guild of America). This is an excellent step to take in addition to, not instead of copyrighting your material. Remember, WGA registrations are good for five years, while copyrights are good for 99 years after you go to your final resting place.
Never Submit A First Draft
Ever. All first drafts (including mine) suck. Even Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” You’ll thank yourself later for not submitting a first draft, and you won’t even be able to read your own first draft once your script is ready.
Never Put The Draft Number On Your Script
Stating your script is a “first draft” will make your reader think you’re an idiot for submitting a first draft. Conversely, stating your script is a “fourteenth draft” will make your reader think your writing still sucks after fourteen tries, if they don’t like the script.
Don’t Listen to Praise From Your Friends And Family
Family and friends won’t share their true opinion about your work in fear of damaging their relationship with you, so you must take their praise with a pound of salt. However, if you get praise from a qualified film industry professional who had no idea who you were at the time they read your work, then you may be on to something.
Hire a company to write professional coverage for your script. Many screenwriting contests also offer these services.
Recognize Trends Of Opinion About Your Screenplay
If one person hates a specific story aspect or character in your screenplay, then make a mental note of it. But if three or more mention the same problem, then change it!
Know Your Audience
One of the keys to making a solid script is to know who you’re making it for. So, when you sit down to scratch out your first set of notes for your future-Oscar winner, ask yourself one simple question: “Who is going to pay $14 to watch this film in a theater?” Make sure you have that question clearly answered before you start writing, so you can craft your story to fit the demands of your audience.
Limit The Number Of Characters
Fewer characters are better, because they are easier to remember. Once you confuse your reader, you lose any chance of having them buy or champion your script.
Give The Best Lines To Your Lead Character
Never give your best lines to sidekick characters. Remember, “I’ll be back,” “Go ahead, make my day” and “You had me at hello,” were all delivered by lead characters.
Make Sure Your Characters Talk Naturally
Humans don’t usually converse with each other in complete sentences; so neither should your characters. If you pay close attention to your next real-life conversation, you’ll notice that you and the person you’re speaking with often cut each other off. Conversational dialogue reads better on paper and plays better on screen.
Dovetail Your Characters
If you find you have too many characters who do too little in your story to matter, then combine (aka dovetail) those characters into a fewer number of meaningful characters.
Don’t Fall into the Gender Trap
Women don’t talk differently than men in real life, so they shouldn’t do so in your script. Of course characters, whether they are male or female, will speak differently. But don’t have your characters talk differently just because they are female.
Don’t Fall Into The Age Trap
Thanks to the Internet age, kids don’t talk like kids anymore (unless they’re young).
2) Submitting Your Script
Never Send Out Unsolicited Material
Mailing your script to a person or company, who never asked to read it, will do two things; a) burn your bridge with them b) get your script returned unread. Always contact the person or place you’d like to submit to. They’ll probably require you to have an agent or entertainment attorney submit your screenplay to them. Due to the legalities, writers usually can’t submit their own work.
Submission Releases are a Great Tool to Help Get Read
In the event that you can’t get an agent or entertainment attorney to submit your screenplay, you can contact the company you’re trying to submit to and ask them if they’ll accept a “signed submission release.” A submission release basically waives your right to sue the entity that would be reviewing your work, in the event they are developing or develop something in the future with similar elements to your screenplay. Don’t worry, if they truly rip-off your script, having you sign a submission release won’t free them from legal action.
Keep an Open Mind During Development Meetings
So your script as about a 22 year-boy, but a development executive wants you to switch it to a 34 year-old woman. Listen to what they have to say before you shoot down their idea. Who knows, maybe they have an actor in mind that would love your script. One of the other reasons development executives may suggest radical changes, is because they’re trying to gage how easy you are to work with. In short, the more you say “never” to their suggestions, the more you’ll hear “never” from them.
Submit Your Screenplay To Screenwriting Contests
There are several screenwriting contests out there, but far fewer credible ones that have withstood the test of time and have the respect of the motion picture industry professionals. The contests that will get you noticed if you win them include: The Nicholl Fellowship, Chesterfield, Sundance, Slamdance, Zoetrope, Bluecat (very cool because every script submitted will receive notes back to the writer) Scriptapalooza, Script Pimp and The Austin Heart of Film. You should do in-depth research on each contest and consider submitting to the one(s) you jive with.
Be Patient With Feedback
It’s highly unlikely that the person reading your script will do soon soon. It will take at least several weeks, if not a few months for them to give you feedback, unless of course, you have a huge agent, or you’re a winner of a huge screenwriting contest – or both.
Contacting the person you submitted to them weekly, or God forbid, daily, isn’t going to make them read your work any quicker. All it will do is piss them off. You may want to contact them every two to three weeks to check in. Just remember the task of carving out time read a new writer can take a while to schedule.
Always Have at Least a Few Different Scripts Ready
What if the film professional you’re meeting with likes you, but doesn’t think your script idea is right for them? If you have a few more script ideas ready to go, you can submit them instead. But, if you only have one idea, you’ll be seen like a one-trick pony and you’ll lose your contact to the professional.
Development Hell is a necessary evil to reach the heights you need it to. The journey is treacherous and oftentimes painful, but the results from a well-crafted screenplay can be wildly enjoyable. Creating a great script will allow you to attach better talent, get a bigger distributor and ultimately allow you to reach your dreams. Remember, they say good things come to those who wait, so great things come to those who rewrite!
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a link to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9.
My podcast has nothing to do with the film industry, but it is positivity infused, quirky and a bit offbeat. It is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
I’ve also attached a cool video on “Development Hell.” Enjoy!
Today I’d like to discuss a handful of thoughts on co-production protocol, with regards to partially financing your feature films overseas. So, without further ado, here are five tactics designed to assist you in your journey.
Don’t Give Anyone A Hard Copy of Your Script (unless they prefer it)
Most people will want you to mail or e-mail them a copy of your work, instead of taking it from you on the spot. Even if they would accept your sample right then and there, tell them you’d be happy to them electronically – after the market. This is because regardless of how interested they may be in your film, they probably won’t take your sample home with them. When you try to follow-up with them a few weeks later, they’ll just pass on your film instead of admitting they never actually gave it a look. Why won’t they give your film a look? Simple. When a distributor, financier or like-minded person is at a film market or co-production gathering, they hear at least 100-200 different ideas. If every filmmaker gives them a DVD, script, one-sheet or an electronic press kit on their film, they have 100-200 extra things to pack in their suitcase the night before they fly home. Just imagine sitting in your hotel room, looking at hundreds of items that you have no space for, and wondering if it’s worth paying for the extra baggage fees to transport the work of filmmakers you met for forty-six seconds. Never mind the fact your luggage just got a hell of a lot heavier and more cumbersome to carry. See what I mean? Your film will either be thrown away or left in the hotel room. So, unless the cleaning staff of the hotel is in the business of financing films (which is possible, you never know), your work will be prematurely disregarded.
Don’t Talk About Your Film Too Much
If you give people the word-for-word, scene-by-scene account of your film, they’ll felt like they’ve already seen it and have no reason to inquire further about it. Keep it simple. Give them a taste, but not a full bite, and they’ll want the four-course dinner.
Ask Your Potential Co-Production Partners About Themselves
One of the biggest mistakes I see filmmakers making at co-production meetings is they’re so wrapped up into their film’s universe, they never bother to ask anything about the people they’re meeting. Spent some time learning about with whom you’re meeting, and you’ll quickly find out what they respond to and how you can best utilize their abilities to benefit your film.
Don’t Be Set In Stone Over How Your Film Should Be Made
If someone asks you to consider changing you film from being about a drug bust in Detroit, to being about a drug ring in Paris, keep an open mind. If you flat-out say “no,” you’d better have a compelling reason why the city in your story can’t be changed. Just know the person inquiring is probably asking you for two reasons; 1) They’re looking to see how open you are to changes in your film and 2) They may have a source of financing based in the location they’re inquiring about.
Keep An Open Mind With Casting
When dealing with co-productions, you’ll have to consider what every actor you choose to cast is worth on an international stage (When I say “actor” I mean both male and female actors). It’s amazing how varied the value of actors can be overseas. Thus, you could pay the same amount for two actors, where one could be worth ten times more than the other. Meeting with an international distributor/sales company would be a good first step to learning what your proposed actors are worth.
International co-productions may seem daunting or far-fetched, but they’re actuality rewarding and fun. If you notice I often mention the “fun” factor, just know it’s done on purpose. Fun work won’t seem like work at all, and what else could you ask for?
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, here’s a link to a cool video on co-productions:
I’d like to share a link to my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is not film-industry related, but it is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again soon.
Today we’re focusing on International Co-Productions as a way to finance your cinematic genius in waiting. Now, unless you already have direct relationships with government-run cinema finance boards all across the globe, the best way to crack the door open on such financing is to attend major film sales markets and meet face-to-face with those who have those contacts.
My company, Lonely Seal Releasing has trekked to countless international film sales markets more times than my wife and kids care to remember, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time at such markets. Thus, I’ve listed two key film sales markets that are ripe for co-production harvesting. In addition, I’ve listed a bit of protocol you may wish to consider when dealing with co-production opportunities. So, without further ado, here is a dose of (hopefully) useful insight for you.
Cannes Film Market (the Marche Du Film)
The Cannes Film Market is hands down the best on the planet and its Producers Network is a heaven for producers looking for financing, completion financing and distribution for their films. I can assure you that you will not regret making your way to the South of France in May. It’s quite a breathtaking experience that will not only invigorate your creativity, but it will expand your Rolodex overnight. Again, Cannes is clearly the Super Bowl of film events, so you will meet the best of the best from Africa to Austin and beyond. Of course, since you belong in that category yourself, you should probably meet your peers as soon as you can.
European Film Market (EFM)
The co-production market at the European Film Market (EFM) during the Berlin Film Festival is also excellent. The insight on this market is simple:
a) Berlin is a world-class city and the Berlin Film Festival (where the co-production market is concurrent with) is one of the finest film festivals in existence.
b) The people in Berlin are incredibly serious and committed to their craft, so the “flake factor” will be at a minimum.
c) The weather in Berlin during February is about as cold as the weather in Hell is hot.
Okay, that comparison may be a bit exaggerated, but Berlin is damn cold. If you consider “snow” to be a four-letter word for more than one reason, make sure you’re bundled up before you go.
The one thing to know about Cannes and Berlin is that since they’re incredibly fun cities to play in, everyone involved in the co-production markets are usually in a damn good mood. The best way to get something from someone is to ask them for what you need while they’re ridiculously happy. Thus, just as the person you’re pining to meet is sucking down his or her fourth shot at that mind-blowing, ridiculously ostentatious yacht party you slid into in Cannes, or at a cocktail party overlooking Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, ask if you can buy them lunch sometime to discuss your project. They may be too busy to accept, but your gesture will probably get you their e-mail address, or at least get you their assistant’s e-mail address, which is a start.
Another thing to consider about going overseas is the fact that you endured a painfully long flight, lost luggage and delays at customs to find a way to finance your film, tells the people you meet with all they need to know about your commitment to your project. Besides, you’ll have a lot of fun. Film markets and co-production conferences are rarely placed in boring cities. I grew up in Kansas, which I still love dearly, but you’ll probably never see many international co-production movers and shakers converge at the Embassy Suites in Overland Park. You will, however, see them in Cannes, Berlin and other world-renowned destinations.
By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not mentioning AFM in Santa Monica as a great place to initiate co-productions – it is a great place and you should attend it too. However, if you want to fund your film from other parts of the world, then it may be a good idea to actually visit those parts of the world.
The key to having a successful co-production is to create a multi-country collaboration to unlock financing hurdles together. Meaning, there is a stack of cash out there in some national, regional or city based production fund, in some country you’ve never put in your vacation plans, just waiting to be spent on your film. But that pile of green, blue, purple, or whatever color of currency finances your baby, will need certain elements to be involved in your film before the funds flow your way. It’s like leading a horse to water. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also lead a filmmaker to financing, but you can’t make him or her fly. But, if you choose to “fly” to help your film get off the ground, you’ll meet the elements that you can turn around and thank during your Academy Award acceptance speech a few years from now.
Okay, that’s what I have for you. Before I go, I’d like to share a link to my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
I’ve also attached a slide show about Sesame Street’s International Co-Productions, by Achilles Media. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again soon.