GOING BIONIC, Article #30, “Star Powerless” December 7, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – STAR POWER(LESS)

I will always remember 1994 for three things; earning my Masters from the UCLA School of Film’s Producers Program, watching O.J. Simpson elude police in his friend’s white Ford Bronco two days before I graduated UCLA, (which of course, triggered the trial of the century) – and experiencing how Jim Carrey single handedly planted “Star Power” into the driver’s seat of Hollywood.
That’s right, Jim Carrey. In 1994, Carrey had three landmark hits, Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveThe Mask, and Dumb and Dumber.  The trifecta enjoyed a combined domestic box-office of $319,200,000. Jim Carrey’s meteoric rise took him from earning $700,000 for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, to signing a deal to become the first actor to be paid $20 million for one film (The Cable Guy – 1996), all before 1995 calendars became useful. Thus, “The Year of Jim” not only made Jim Carrey one of the brightest stars in the universe, but it triggered the “Star Power Era,” a fifteen-year time span when Hollywood’s biggest stars dictated what got made, just by uttering the most important three letter word in any filmmaker’s vocabulary, “yes.”
Having actors break the 20 million dollar threshold was just the beginning, because a select handful of A-list actors (Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford) started earning north of $20 million per picture, with Cruise topping the 50 million dollar payday, when profits from his film’s worldwide box office receipts were paid out to him in addition to his fee. But as they say, all good things come to an end, and 2009’s worldwide financial crisis served as the last nail in the coffin of the “Star Power Era.”
A-list stars today are only earning half or less of what they were getting as early as a year or two go, and most of their current earnings are being deferred. For example, Sandra Bullock agreed to earn $5 million up front instead of her usual $10 million up front, for The Blind Side (2009), and George Clooney is believed to have taken only $2 million up front instead of his usual $20 million for Up In The Air (2009). I know how crazy it is to empathize with an actor who is “only making $2 million up front” – especially since for most of us, making $2 million is more like winning the lottery rather than being a three-month salary. But, to put it into perspective, imagine going from earning $40,000 per year to $4,000 – 10 times less — overnight, all while having to work just as long and hard. Simply put, earning less sucks at any pay level.
What does this mean for all of you independent filmmakers?
The Good News – A-list actors may now be slightly more open to looking at projects outside of the studio system, because a good project is a good project and actors have to work.
The Bad News – Since A-List actors are not worth as much as they used to be, “indie film actors” are worth a lot less – and I mean a hell of a lot less – as in the temporary shamrock tattoo you got from a Lucky Charms cereal box as a kid, is probably worth more than an indie actor is currently worth to a buyer or a distributor. Don’t get me wrong, I love indie actors, but when it comes to getting financing or distribution, having them attached won’t help.
In an effort to help you get your film from a damn good script, to a damn good script with financing and bankable talent attached, here are four things that may help you get your film made.
1) Refer To The Ulmer Scale
James Ulmer, a seasoned entertainment journalist, created the Ulmer Scale. This scale allows everyone to quantify a star’s value to a film production in terms of getting a film financed and taken to principal photography. The Ulmer Scale takes an actor’s history successes vs. failures into account, as well as his or her versatility, professional demeanor, and ability and willingness to travel and promote the films. In 2009, The Ulmer Scale yielded the following top 10 “most bankable actors” in Hollywood:
1. Will Smith
2. Johnny Depp
3. Brad Pitt
4. Tom Hanks
5. George Clooney
6. Will Ferrell
7. Reese Witherspoon
8. Nicolas Cage
9. Leonardo DiCaprio
10. Russell Crowe
I’m not saying you need to have one of the actors listed above attached to your film in order to get it financed and made, but it’s always good to know who sits on the mountaintop so you can learn where the actors you want to cast are in reference to the A-List.
It should also be noted that the 2009 Ulmer List is nearly two years old, and that it may have been released before the financial crisis. Thus, the actors on the list may have changed, and their “bankability” may have been significantly reduced.
2. The Forbes Magazine “Best Actors For The Buck” List 
This list examines the actors who earn the most money for the studio/and or production, based on the investment in paying them.
The scale below details how much money studios, distributors or investors would get back from investing in these actors.
1)   Shai LeBeouf: returns $160 for every $1 invested in him.
2)   James McAvoy: returns $114 for every $1 invested in him.
3)   Michael Cera: returns $102 for every $1 invested in him.
4)   Daniel Radcliffe: returns $93 for every $1 invested in him.
5)   Robert Downey, Jr.: returns $78 for every $1 invested in him.
6)   Javier Bardem: returns $73 for every $1 invested in him.
7)   Ryan Reynolds: returns $61 for every $1 invested in him.
8)   Christian Bale: returns $55 for every $1 invested in him.
9)   Aaron Eckhart: returns $45 for every $1 invested in him.
10) Dennis Quaid: returns $43 for every $1 invested in him.
For more detailed information about the Forbes Magazine list, take a look at this link: http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/24/best-actors-for-the-buck-business-entertainment-payback_slide.html
3. Meet With Sales Agents and Distributors
The worst people to discuss an actor’s value with are their agent or manager, because it’s their job to convince you to hire their client and pay them the most money possible. A much smarter way to figure out how much the actor(s) you want to cast are worth is to take meetings with international film distributors/sales agents and domestic distributors. In those ever-so-crucial meetings, ask the powers that be if they’re willing to distribute your film, and or give you an advance toward your financing, based on the actors you are interested in hiring. If the answer is “yes,” go do some hiring!
Should the sales agents/buyers/distributors reject your list of actors, kindly ask them to provide you with a short list of actors that they would pay for. If so, you may want to rethink your casting in order to get your film made.
4. Take Your Emotions Out Of The Equation 
The film industry is an industry, not an art exhibit. Thus, investors, distributors, sales agents and buyers worldwide don’t care how much you like a certain actor, if that actor isn’t a smart financial choice for them to fund. Listen to what they have to say, and then make the decision you feel best helps your film come to fruition.
“Star Power” is quite the curious animal these days, because although this animal doesn’t bite as hard as it used to a few years ago, it certainly isn’t extinct by any means either. It’s just changing, and change is always a good thing.
Thank you for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/28327/#ixzz1EgMWSDoI

GOING BIONIC, Article #29, “Avoiding The Holiday Death Trap” November 30, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – AVOIDING THE HOLIDAY DEATH TRAP!

One of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood is that nothing gets done over the holidays. When I say nothing, I mean nothing new gets acquired from Thanksgiving week until at least the beginning of the second week of January. Distributors and production companies alike spend the holiday season wrapping up deals they’ve already landed, as well as publicizing their soon-to-be Oscar nominated films. Thus, they are never focused on fielding new material, unless that material is infused with solidified A-list talent (by A-list talent I mean someone with the likes of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, not some indie actor who isn’t a household name known by your aunt Becky in rural Pennsylvania).
The problem is; the holiday season is also the only time during the year when a major player would have enough down time to squeeze in a meeting with someone new. Although such a meeting is deliciously tantalizing, it can quickly shoot you into the Holiday Death Trap – a Bermuda Triangle-like abyss where submitted projects go to die before the New Year.
Simply put, the Holiday Death Trap can suck the life out of an otherwise valuable independent project, just because it was submitted at the wrong time. This is because independent projects do not have large enough attachments to force potential buyers to make quick decisions. Thus, projects submitted during the holiday season usually linger into the New Year. This is usually very bad news, because by the time the powers that be are back from vacation and prepared to make a decision, your project will feel like “an old submission from last year.” Since Hollywood’s DNA is comprised by loving new, hip and fresh ideas, having something that feels “old,” even if you just submitted it a few weeks earlier, will certainly not inspire the gatekeepers to write you a check – especially in January when studios and production companies are looking for something fresh.
Thus, today’s article is designed to help you avoid the Holiday Death Trap, and create a smart submission strategy for your project. We will also discuss how to utilize the holiday season. Trust me, I know you have a script ready to overnight to a studio executive you met at a recent film festival. But, before you rush to Fed Ex, just hear me out….
Ask If They Would Rather You Submit After The Holidays
If they yes “yes”, then send them a holiday greetings card wishing them a wonderful holiday season, without mentioning your project. Furthermore, wait until the beginning of the second week after the holiday season to contact them. Ask about how their holidays went first, and then politely ask them if they’re ready for you to submit. If they say “yes,” then submit away. If they say, “give me a few weeks,” then don’t worry. They are not blowing you off. They just need a few weeks to catch up after the holiday season before they can take on someone new. Just politely contact them in a few weeks and inquire if they’re ready for your submission. Remember, if you’re dealing with someone you consider to be a “game-changer,” then they probably feel like they’re doing you a favor by even dealing with you. Thus, you’ve got to play by their rules. Just be relaxed, confident, appreciative and positive, and you’ll be able to submit to them soon enough.
If They Want To Read Your Project Over The Holidays….
Ask them if they’re sure they’ll have time to consider your work during the busy holiday season. If they say “yes,” then they like something about your project – which is a good thing. Your next step would be to ask them what their next step would be if they love the project. Whatever they say, whether it matches your vision for your project or not, just listen and absorb. Then go ahead and submit your project to them. Just like the previous paragraph heading, don’t contact them until the beginning of the second week after the holidays. Ask them about their holidays first, and then ask if they’re had a chance to read your material. If the answer is “yes,” then ask to set up a meeting in person to discuss your project in person.
If they hesitate to meet you, then either a) they hated your project or b) they haven’t read it yet. Don’t worry, if they didn’t like your project, they’ll tell you so quickly, in order to not have to meet you. However, if they haven’t read it yet, but aren’t willing to admit that to you, they’ll have their office set up a meeting with you in 3-4 weeks, to give them ample time to read your submission.
In the event they do admit not having read your submission, quickly offer to send them another copy. Just make sure that when you re-send your work, you put a 2011 copyright on all the material – making it seem new and fresh. Hell, even if you submit your project in December, I’d still put 2011 copyright on all of your submitted material, just so it doesn’t seem old. Also, try to set up a quick in-person meeting before they read your material. If they like you in person, they may like your material more, or at least may want to help you more, than if they never met you.
If You Have Submitted An Earlier Version In The Past….
If it’s to a production company, you have to divulge the information about your initial submission to the executive you’re submitting to – especially if the first executive you submitted to still works at that same company. It is highly doubtful that an executive will take on a project than one of his or her other executives has already passed on.
However, if the first executive has moved on (to another company or to heaven for that matter), then you should be okay to submit. Even so, change your project’s title! The last thing you want is for the current executive to pull up the coverage on your first submission and not review your project based on the original notes. Remember today’s there – stay fresh, fresh, fresh! If you’ve submitted your project to the same studio before, definitely change your title, and divulge everything like in the previous paragraph. If the first executive is still there, you really shouldn’t submit your project to another executive at that studio. If you really think your project is “new and improved,” you should contact the first executive you submitted to and see if they’d be open to giving it another look. Even then, change the title!

Things To Do During The Holidays:

Write, Create And Perfect
You should be spending this holiday down time writing, creating and perfecting everything you want someone substantial to consider – especially if they’ve asked you to submit your project in the New Year. I’ve never read, or written anything that couldn’t have been made better with another pass through (including this article). Thus, you need to look at the holiday season as being six weeks that can change your next six years. Now is the time to hone in on where you are and what heights you want to launch to in 2011.
Seek Out December Investors 
You should also be in contact with potential investors in December, because truly qualified investors often times scramble to find something to “lose money in” before the end of the year, in order to show a greater write-off on their taxes. Their accountants call them and say “you need to either spend $500,000 in an investment quickly, or you’ll be giving your money away to Uncle Sam.” The message is clear; the investors are going to have to get rid of the money either way. So, they can either spend it on something they enjoy (preferably your film), or they can give the money to the government. Thus, December is when qualified investors buy twin Ferrari’s or drop $500,000 on gift cards good for private jet rentals.
As the old adage goes, timing is everything, and so you need to be really smart about what you do – or don’t do during the holiday season. While I know how exciting it is to find somebody substantial to agree to review your work, especially in this economy, I also know how long you’ve waited to get him or her to pay attention to you and your project. Therefore, why blow your shot by submitting your project in less than ideal conditions? You deserve better, and “better” is what you’ll get if you wait until next year to make your splash.
As always, thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/28159/#ixzz1EgLiUnjy

GOING BIONIC, Article #28, “2011 FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT – PART 1” November 23, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – NAVIGATING THE 2011 FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT (PART 1)

Over the next few weeks, the fate of several thousand filmmakers will be decided as the 2011 programs for SundanceBerlin and Slamdance will be locked and loaded. While dreams granted will trigger a publicity-enriched chain of events for the chosen few, several thousand filmmakers will be shot down as their films fail to make the cut. Thus, today we’re addressing what to do in both instances.
Key Points On Getting Accepted:
  • Get Representation ASAP
    One of the key mistakes you want to avoid as a filmmaker after getting into your first major film festival is to cop an attitude with the agents, managers and entertainment lawyers who come calling. Of course these are the same people who wouldn’t take your call the second before you got into Sundance, Slamdance or Berlin, but it’s not smart to let a grudge sabotage your budding career. You should meet with several suitors, and then choose who you best jive with before the festival. Waiting to see how your film does at the festival before you decide on representation is often times a fatal career mistake, because your film’s potential is far sexier and more valuable before its premiere. Once your film opens at the festival, the reality of how it actually does may be far less sexy than initially anticipated.  Should that happen, you might lose your best shot to land a substantial agent, manager or lawyer. Thus, signing before the festival premiere is a smart move.
  • Get Your Next Script/Project Ready To Go
    Contrary to your belief, and the belief of those who invested in and worked on your festival film, your “real money” is probably going to come from your next project, not the one in the festival. That’s why you should have your next project(s) ready to go. You need something your newfound representation can push before your current film plays the film festival. Just as stated in the prior paragraph about your film having more value before it premieres, your value as a filmmaker is also far greater before your film plays the festival (unless of course you win the festival and sell your film for millions). The key is to remember that when you’re starting your film career, your “potential” is your most powerful tool.
  • Don’t Make Promises you Cant Keep
    Don’t guarantee your producers producing jobs on your future films, and certainly don’t do the same with the unknown actors in your cast. While your intentions may be true, directors and writers are usually the only ones who get “plucked” from highly successful independent films, to do bigger and better things. Yes, actors are shown some love on occasion, but for the most part, producers are discarded like the last Kleenex you used. Studios already have their own stable of seasoned producers to produce your next production, and those producers will not deal with your producers. They don’t want them as producing partners, consultants, or otherwise, so promising a producing job that you can’t deliver will at best ruin your friendship with your indie film producer(s) and at worst tangle you into an ugly lawsuit.
  • Be Humble
    There’s nothing more powerful than a highly talented humble filmmaker. If you’re talented and humble, you’ll spend decades making movies and winning Oscars, because you’ll be given repeated opportunities to succeed even after you’ve had some bombs (look at Ron Howard). However, if you’re an egomaniac who is difficult to work with, the fate of your career will lay in the success or failure of your films. Meaning, the second you have a string of flops, Hollywood will determine you’re simply not worth the trouble to invest in again. Remember, being liked will get you far. Being loved will get you an Oscar.
  • Be Ready To Succeed
    When the machine that is Hollywood accepts you, it expects you to hit the ground running. Everybody assumes you’ve been waiting forever for an invite to their party, so be ready to have quite a bit demanded of you. Not being able to meet deadlines, network with hundreds of people, and ultimately sell yourself as an up and coming creative force, will send you back to the minor leagues before you even realize you struck-out.
Key Points On Getting Rejected:
  • Find Out Why – Without Anger
    Most film festivals don’t have the time, energy, or staff available to be able to tell each and every filmmaker why their film wasn’t accepted. But, if you’re gracious and appreciative, and if you inquire without any sign of bitterness and anger, you may get a clue as to why your film wasn’t accepted. The best-case scenario is that they liked it, but it didn’t fit into their programming agenda for this year’s festival. The worst-case scenario is they hated it, and they would have never programmed it in a billion years. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Your goal is to find as much of the truth as you can. Depending on the level of honesty, insight, or encouragement from the festival, you could be given some insight on either how to re-cut your film, or better yet, where else to take it. The key is to just listen and keep an open mind.
  • Find Your Champion – Every Film Has One
    Every film needs a “champion,” someone with more contacts than yourself, who is willing to utilize their contacts to help you find a good home for your film. You should first see if any of the programmers at the major festival that just rejected your film loved it. If so, they may be the perfect person to help you find the right home. If a festival programmer doesn’t come to your film’s rescue, keep talking to people about your film until you find someone who is willing to help. Try to target people who may be drawn to your subject matter, or to the location where you shot your film. If you look hard enough, you will find someone willing to help.
  • Look For A Notable Executive Producer 
    This step is often times utilized by the films that were selected to major film festivals – but it’s just as valid for the sea of films that weren’t selected. The key here is to find a celebrity – the biggest one you can wrangle – to put their name on your film as the executive producer. You need to make sure they are a household name to the extent that most everybody (including your parents and your mailman) will know who the person is. Only then will their name get you attention and open doors for you. Only then can you be assured that every major film festival and distributor worldwide will look at the film. The tactic here is to get your film noticed. Once programmers take notice, then it’s up to your film to deliver the goods. However, if your executive producer is someone the industry likes, fears or respects, the festival programmer may slide your film into their festival as a favor to your executive producer.

    If you were wondering what the cost is of convincing an A-list gem to lend their name as executive producer, I’d guess giving them 10%-15% of the sales on your film should do the trick. Of course they have to love you and your film, and they have to be willing to associate with both. But, if you can jump that hurdle, you’ll be heading for a great finish soon thereafter.

  • Re-cut Your Film Based On Notes, Whenever Possible
    If you’re lucky enough to have a “pretty good” film, that could become a “very good” or an “excellent” film, after another edit, better sound or smoother special effects, then take your film off the festival circuit and reshape it. Doing so may give it new life at another major film festival. However, not changing what you have when you have the means to make it better will only hinder the heights your film could have reached with changes.
  • Assume Top Tier Festival Programmers Know Each Other 
    Many top tier film festival programmers not only know each other, but they are aware of what films each other are programming. Therefore, if you get into Sundance and do well there, it’s likely you’ll get in invite to screen at Berlin or Cannes. Of course the same procedure works in reverse; if you get rejected from a few of the ultra-top tier, extremely well financed film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto, Venice), then you’ll probably get rejected from the others. Thus, it’s probably a good idea to only apply to one of them initially. If you get in, great! If not, pull your film off the circuit and reshape it, so you can have a better chance at the others.

    You have to look at your festival run as a journey – a marathon of sorts – and definitely not a sprint. Like any marathon, you have to condition yourself for it properly, strategize it with a clear mind, and be ready for the bumps and bruises you’ll have to endure before you ultimately reach the finish line.

Since the 2011 festival season is getting close, with Sundance and Slamdance at Park City in January and Berlin in February, I thought it’d be a good time to start prepping everybody on the upcoming festivals. I will write more specific articles about Sundance, Slamdance and Berlin as I attend them in the coming months. I will also cover SXSW and Cannes when they approach. In the interim, should you wish to get a bit more information on film festivals and strategies on how to submit to them, you can check out my June 8, 2010 Going Bionic article titled “Film Festival Strategies.” For now, I’ve got my fingers crossed for each and every one of you, hoping that your film gets into your festival of choice!
I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving, thanks for lending me your eyes, and I hope to see them again next week!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/28004/#ixzz1EgL8OjEY

GOING BIONIC, Article #27, “A CASE FOR NEVER GIVING UP” November 16, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – A CASE FOR NEVER GIVING UP

This past Sunday afternoon, Myron, my dear friend and fellow filmmaker, treated my wife and I to a double feature of Shutter Island and The Aviator at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. A 75-minute Q&A featuring Martin Scorsese (via satellite from London) and Leonardo DiCaprio (via satellite from some undisclosed location in Southern California) highlighted the event, as Scorsese and DiCaprio were on the screen in real time while several audience members asked them questions about their craft. While the entire Q&A session was insightful and memorable, Scorsese’s and DiCaprio’s most poignant responses came when a 24 year-old filmmaker asked them for career advice.
Martin Scorsese told the young filmmaker to treat his passion for telling stories through moving images as if his passion was air; something he could not live without. Scorsese also advised the young filmmaker not to wait for the studio system to accept him, but to make films outside the system whenever possible. Lastly, he urged the filmmaker to “never, never, give up.” On that note, Leonardo DiCaprio chimed in, by adding how many studio executives “scour the internet looking at $3,000 short films in search of new talent.”
Just as I filled myself with hope, DiCaprio added that he wasn’t sure if [period pieces like] Gangs of New York and The Aviator would be made in today’s studio system, due to the “sharp shift in what studios are willing to take risks on during the recent financial crisis.” Wow. Leo and I agreed on the state of distribution. Maybe I should have chatted him up when he sat right in front of my wife and I during game seven of last year’s NBA Finals (when my Lakers gloriously took out Boston 83-79 to win their 16th NBA Championship). Then again, maybe I would have gotten thrown out of Staples Center for trying to talk to Leo, which would have forced me to miss one of the greatest sports moments I’ve ever attended in my life.
Hearing Scorsese’s and DiCaprio’s comments on Sunday reminded me that there is hope, and good things do happen if your diligence is equally matched by your patience.
Then I thought of Chip Gorman, my childhood friend who recently contacted me on Facebook to suggest I write an article about what to do after your film bombs. Chip wanted to know how to pick yourself up and move on, after your film’s “hope” turns into a “nope” from film festivals, distributors, and everyplace else you’re seeking validation from. So Chip, here’s some encouragement for you and all of our other readers!
Dispel The Myth Of Overnight Successes
One of the first truths that budding filmmakers should be aware of is that there are more UFO sightings worldwide then there are actual overnight successes in Hollywood. While there are occasional exceptions (with actors usually), an “overnight success” doesn’t account for the ten, fifteen or twenty years of struggle the filmmaker endured before they were discovered. I know it’s sexy to think you could be a part-time greeter at Wal-Mart today and a full-time filmmaking millionaire tomorrow. But, even if that’s the case, you have to remember how many years of struggle you endured to become an overnight success. Thus, don’t compare your struggle to the latest overnight success, because the “overnight success” probably took as long or longer than your struggle to get noticed. Just relax and enjoy your journey.
Career Clocks Always Tell Bad Time
Keeping with the theme of overnight successes, your “career clock” starts when you get noticed, not when you start trying to get noticed. For example, if you started creative writing when you were six, but didn’t become a paid writer until you were 32 (like in my case), your professional writing career didn’t start until you were 32.
Greatness Takes Time
While meeting Randall Wallace through a friend of mine in Nashville years ago, I was really surprised when Randall told me he was forty-six years old before his original screenplay to Braveheart hit the silver screen. “Wow”, I thought. Waiting until you’re forty-six until you break through on a high level takes a hell of a lot of patience and determination. I’m sure it was worth the wait for Randall Wallace, because he went on to become a creative force on several healthy budgeted epics, from writing Pearl Harbor to recently directing Secretariat.

Years before I met Randall Wallace, I met Frank Darabont after his lecture at California State University, Northridge. What I remember most about the experience is learning that Darabont wrote the 1988 remake The Blob before he wrote and directed The Shawshank Redemption. That’s right, writing The Blob preceded making one of the greatest prison movies ever made.
Thus, greatness takes time. Never get caught up in thinking your first project will forever be your greatest work, because if it is, you’ll be a flash in the pan, and who the hell wants that?
Iconic Films Require The Perfect Storm
Your script may not have the right timing or social climate to work. For example, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, and Star Wars all head a laundry list of iconic films that took 9 years or longer to be brought to the screen. Even The Unforgiven took nineteen years to be made. Of course these films were always great scripts and worthy stories, but they not only needed the right climate to get made, they needed the right social culture to become successful. Since it takes a perfect storm for great films to be born, and perfect storms only happen about once a decade, don’t worry it your career is dry and sunny at the moment. If you hang in there, it’ll start sprinkling soon enough, and you need lots of rain before you see a perfect storm.
Always Know How Pretty (Or Ugly) Your Baby Is
Most parents firmly believe their children are the most beautiful human beings who ever graced the earth, and filmmakers are no different. But, the truth is that some children are more beautiful than others and some indie films are better than others. The key for filmmakers is to quickly assess which side of the spectrum your film falls on, so you can accurately create a strategy to get it sold and distributed.
For example, on one of the first projects I executive produced, the director kept denying television, cable and DVD deals for five or six years after the film was completed, in order to chase a theatrical distribution deal. We never got a theatrical release, and we never even got a TV, cable or DVD release either, because the film grew too old for anyone to want it. Trust me on this one, if your film doesn’t find a theatrical distributor in five to six months, much less five or six years, it simply isn’t meant to be a theatrical release.
Hence, you should figure out how pretty your “baby” is early on, and then find the right home to nurture its release.
Spend As Little Money As You Can On Your First Film
It’s probably a good idea to assume your first film won’t be the one you retire on, so there’s no need to break the bank for it. While you should break your “creative bank” to make sure the script is damn good, you should remember that your first film is more of a calling card and less of an American Express Black Card. Thus, if you’re spending your own money, try to only spend what you can afford to lose.
Look At The Big Picture
Over the years, I’ve seen far too many filmmakers get caught up in worrying about their current project’s shortcomings, or how they got screwed out of a film festival slot and subsequent distribution deal. The thing to remember is that you should never worry about where you are now, but rather where you want to be in five years. It’s all about looking ahead and moving forward.
As for myself, I’ll share a personal ritual that I’ve never told anyone before. Every New Year’s Eve, I go for a drive and listen to The Beatles while I assess where my career was five years ago versus where it is today. So far, I’ve always been further along The Long And Winding Road today as opposed to five years ago. So, I guess I’m doing something right. I just wish like hell I could tear down that open road at a must faster pace!
Film careers are never “smooth and easy,” but that’s not a bad thing, because “rough and painful” builds character. Besides, “smooth and easy” would never sell as a story in Hollywood anyway, because it lacks the conflict needed to be interesting. I guess it comes down to what I say about my own career:
“There’s a fine line between stupidity and genius, and the only genius that graces me is that I’m too stupid to give up on my childhood dreams.” Here’s to all of us remaining “stupid” until our last breath.
Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/27764/#ixzz1EgKC9uFY

GOING BIONIC, Article #26, “PR” November 9, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – GETTING OVATIONS THROUGH PUBLIC RELATIONS!

Utilizing public relations is one of the smartest tactical moves any independent filmmaker can make. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the rarest moves ever taken. In fact, the only time most independent filmmakers even think about hiring a PR firm is after it becomes painfully apparent that the film isn’t going to be grabbing headlines. This nerve-racking “PR scramble” usually gets thrown into motion at the “oh, shit” moment – the very second when the first major film festival or studio passes on the film. Suddenly everything gets turned upside down as the filmmakers second-guess themselves and their film. The “PR scramble” is a haunting sight that nobody wants to see, much less experience. Therefore, in an effort to help you avoid it yourself, here are some insights on public relations.
Don’t Let Your Ego Blind Your Need For PR
I’ve always believed the reason why most independent filmmakers fail to budget for public relations early on – or ever for that matter – is because they are bred to believe their cinematic gem will get national PR on its own. Every filmmaker, including myself, has been guilty of hesitating to spend money on PR because they think their film will get them all the PR they can imagine for free. The truth of the matter is that trying to get an indie film noticed without the use of a professional public relations company is like trying to steer a Formula One racecar through the Monte Carlo Grand Prix – without a steering wheel. Sure you’ll make a lot of noise as you peel off the starting line, but you’ll crash and burn quickly because you can never win a race without a steering wheel….
Public Relations Is An Art For Trained Professionals Only
So, don’t try this at home! Far too many filmmakers discount the value of a well-trained PR executive and try to handle their own public relations. Sure, anyone with a pulse and a passion for their project can garner up some level of basic PR. But, they simply can’t create or maintain the same media traction that a seasoned PR film can.
Come To The “PR Party” Early
Hiring a PR firm is something you should do before anyone sees the final finished version of your film, not after. Doing so will allow your PR team to create a viable strategy on how to find the right audience for your film. Finding a supportive group of enthusiastic viewers, no matter how small, will create a positive public relations nucleus that you can build on. A good PR firm has deep contacts to major media outlets, film festivals and distributors, so allowing them to flex their muscles on your film’s behalf early on will help your film reach the heights you dream about.
However, bringing your film to the “PR Party” after it’s already stumbled publically will surely damage those dreams of yours. This is because expecting a PR firm to change a film’s public perception after the film has already been deemed unworthy is like expecting a four-year old to understand quantum physics. It’s possible, sure, but highly improbable. Remember, crafting a successful public relations campaign takes time, strategy and access; all of which must be negotiated early on in the process.
Get A Dose Of  “PR Reality”
Your film is your baby, and most proud parents find their kids to be flawless. But, your PR firm will have no subjective or emotional attachment to your film, so their comments will be some of the most honest and accurate ones made. Remember, your friends, spouse, significant other or family members will never tell you what they really think of your film, because they have to live with you. Neither will film festivals, most executives and some agents, just in case you make something they love at a later date.
However, since your PR firm is a “hired gun” to create the right angle and find the right home for your film, they have free reign to be honest with you. While you may not like what they have to say, rest assured they are on your side. Besides, PR firms are masters at sugarcoating even the most horrific news, so it won’t feel really bad even when it is really bad.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
Paying for the biggest PR firm may not be the best move for your film. While they will surely have the contacts and muscle you’ll need, your film may get lost amongst the other A list projects the PR firm represents. Don’t kid yourself. Just because you pay the same amount as a much larger film (which runs several thousand dollars per month), your film simply won’t get the same bang for its buck, because large media outlets are more naturally drawn to star-studded projects.
Clearly Understand Exactly What You’re Paying For
Have the PR firm lay out exactly how they plan to promote your film, to whom, and for how long. Then have them list how and when they will give you progress updates. You should also know what is expected of them, and how much your total representation will cost you. Furthermore, don’t sign a long-term contract with them, until you see the results they create.  This way, if they ultimately fail to deliver what they promised, you can amicably part ways with them and find another firm.
The most important thing to remember about PR firms is that they are not miracle workers. They are highly capable strategists with a Rolodex that most people would kill to have. Thus, they can only be as great as your film is.
It’s like that old saying “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” If your film is a rose, a great PR firm will nurture its full bloom.  However, if your film is a weed, your PR firm will try like hell to make it look like a rose, and hopefully convince most people it’s a middle-of-the pack daisy. Surely daisies aren’t as fabulous as roses, but they sure as hell aren’t weeds!
Until next Tuesday, thank you for lending me your eyes!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/27540/#ixzz1EgJbYFe0

GOING BIONIC – Article #25, “SCRIPT ACCESSIBLE” November 2, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “SCRIPT ACCESSIBLE” AND STRATEGIES FOR SUBMITTING TO SCREENWRITING CONTESTS

It was five years ago when I first thought of Script Accessiblea screenwriting contest to promote writers with disabilities as well as non-disabled writers who write about disabled characters. As a writer with one usable hand, (which was the result of falling on my head as a kid), creating Script Accessible has meant quite a bit to me. I’ve always wanted to do something for writers with disabilities and I’ve longed to promote more characters with disabilities on screen and on the tube.  Besides, there’s been a noted increase of disabled characters in the media over the past several years. For example, I love that South Park has two disabled characters, Timmy and Jimmy. Glee has disabled “gleester” Artie, Friday Night Lights has the wheelchair bound, former golden arm quarterback Jason Street, and even Nemo from Finding Nemo had one fin smaller than the other – a fin, I might add – that saved the day. So, although I was armed with recent precedences and good intentions, I had no viable platform to launch from.
Then, a few years ago in the ever-so-frigid Park City, I shared my idea with Slamdance guru Peter Baxter. Luckily for me, Peter was immediately receptive to Script Accessible and he offered to host my little contest through the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. So, with me creating and sponsoring Script Accessible and Slamdance hosting and administering it, we awarded our first winner during The Slamdance Film Festival in January 2010.
This brings us to last Wednesday, October 27, 2010, when I awarded the second annual Script Accessible award to R. Ian Simpson, for his wonderfully honest and hauntingly poignant screenplay, Below The Waist. I gave Ian his most deserving “prize envelope” during a very hip awards ceremony for the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition, at the Writers Guild of America-West offices in Los Angeles.
As I stood there at the awards ceremony in front of several talented writers, dedicated Slamdance staff members and supportive WGA-West executives, it dawned on me that Script Accessible needed to be more than an annual check to a great writer. It needed to become as great of a screenwriting award as the two amazing scripts that won it so far (along with this year’s winner R. Ian Simpson, Gia Milani won the first annual Script Accessible award for her awesome script All The Wrong Reasons.)
Now I’m on a mission to turn Script Accessible into a not-so-little source of hip and poignant disabled-based material, that is a catalyst to getting these visions on screen. What good is awarding great scripts if you can’t help getting those voices heard and those stories produced, right? Call me crazy – everyone else does – but with the help of Peter Baxter and Slamdance, I think we can do something special here. I know nothing happens overnight, but something positive will happen. It has to. It deserves to. I will certainly keep you posted on how we progress with making Script Accessible more bionic (bigger, better, and stronger.)
While Script Accessible is in its infancy, there are several well-established screenwriting contests, which may help your script get produced and distributed. I briefly listed a handful of these “upper-crust” contests in my Going Bionic article titled “Development Hell.” Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
Since my previous article did not go into the strategy associated with submitting to screenwriting contests, I’d like to give you a bit of insight now.
Know The Intention Behind The Screenwriting Award
Since I’ve just laid out our intentions with Script Accessible, you know where Slamdance and myself are coming from. But, not all screenwriting contests are so forthright. While most above-board screenwriting contests are there to promote fresh new writing talent, some lesser ethical ones are there solely to make money off the submission fees. While there is NOTHING wrong with making money – especially since maintaining a screenwriting contest requires years of tireless dedication – making money on submission fees, while having absolutely no interest in even reading the scripts submitted, is shameful.
That’s right; some of these fly-by-night screenwriting contests get a few hundred screenplays and teleplays submitted at $50 each (200 scripts at $50 each is $10,000 in fees), and then they pick one random script out of a massive pile of unread scripts and call it their “$500 Grand Prize Winner.” They make $10,000, pay out $500, and pocket $9,500 without ever reading anything – including the winning script! What a scam!
Look Up The Screenwriting Contest’s Previous Winners
Have any of the previously winning scripts been made into a) films and b) good films? Have they been optioned? Did their writer(s) get an agent from winning that particular contest? These are all important questions to ask and find the answers to as you decide which contest to apply to. Remember, every screenwriting contest will brag about their past and current successes, so this information should be easy to discover.
Research Their Validity In Hollywood
Have you heard of them? Are they a household name? Would  winning their contest impress your mom, significant other, or future distributor? If the answer is yes, then you should consider applying. But, if you, or anyone else in your cinematic circle of friends haven’t heard of them, then you may want to do more research before you cut them a check.
Read Their Rules!
This is the one thing that most writers don’t, but should do. You need to read ALL of the rules, to make sure that you’re not losing the rights to your script for a prize of $500 or less. Now don’t freak-out, I’m citing an extreme case. Most screenwriting contests are well-meaning entities run by hard-working people. I’m just trying to stress the importance of reading the rules and regulations associated with the screenwriting contest(s) that you’re applying to.
Do a Genre Match With Your Script And Several Contests
Your script, no matter how amazing it is, will not be a perfect fit with every screenwriting contest out there. Thus, you should look at their previous winners and find out which genre’s they’ve awarded in the past.  Of course, awarding a comedy script last year doesn’t mean that only comedies will win this year, or ever again for that matter. But, if you look at all of the contest’s previous winners, you may be able to discover a pattern of the types of stories they tend to award.
Contact Them With Your Questions
I am by no means giving you the green light to call or e-mail a screenwriting contest that you’ve submitted to every day, every week, or even every month. I am merely saying before you submit your script, you may wish to contact them with any questions that will give you more clarity about their contest. All credible contests will be happy to answer your concerns and questions. But, you do not want to contact a screenwriting contest more than they want to hear from you. Doing so will only agitate them; we all know you’ve worked too damn hard on your masterpiece not to give it the best shot you can.
Submitting your scripts to screenwriting contests is like getting married: while the right decision will bring you decades of bliss, the wrong one will bring you decades of regrets. Okay, that’s a harsh comparison, but you get my point!
So, as I hunt and peck for the final few words to this week’s column, I thank you for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!!!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/27538/#ixzz1EgIv8Rvj

GOING BIONIC – Article #24, “ETHNIC FILMS” October 26, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – RELEASE STRATEGIES FOR SUBTITLED AND ETHNIC FILMS

It’s 1 AM Sunday night and I just finished watching an amazing Indian film called My Name Is Khan (2010). I’ve never been a fan of Indian films, as nothing will put me to sleep faster than a three and a half hour singing and dancing marathon littered with blatant overacting and unrealistic romantic relationships. But, My Name Is Khan was different. It was extremely well written, beautifully shot and fiercely poignant. It was also void of singing and dancing, and surprisingly enough, it was readily available through Redbox, which made me think maybe I shouldn’t discount it too quickly. Along with the Academy Award winning gems Life Is Beautiful (1997) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), My Name Is Khan is one of those magical foreign films that I soon won’t forget. It also sparked today’s article:  Release Strategies For Subtitled and Ethnic Films.
For the most part, subtitled and ethnic films have struggled to perform domestically and ethnic films have struggled even more internationally. Mind you, nobody in the international film sales world – including me – likes discussing how poorly ethnic films perform. But, if you’re a filmmaker who is about to embark on making a subtitled or ethnic film – the information in this article will help you strategize your release.
Before we dive into this, let’s get the exceptions out of the way.
On the subtitled side, The Passion Of The Christ (2004) made $370.274 million at the domestic box office, Slumdog Millionaire (2008) made $141.319 million (although it was based in English with some Hindi subtitles) and Life Is Beautiful (1997) made $57.598 million.
On the ethnic side, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) made $241.638 million domestically, both Will Smith’s and Eddie Murphy’s films have made billions of dollars over the years, Jackie Chan’s films have been solid financial ventures for decades, and Tyler Perry is printing money on his projects.
But, if you take away the top tier, a grim reality exists about releasing subtitled and ethnic films in America and beyond. Here’s some insights you should know:
Only Large Waterfront Cities Love Subtitles…
You’re probably cringing at this paragraph, because you’re an astute film aficionado who loves subtitled films.  But, most people have never even heard of Life Is Beautiful (1997) or Amelie (2001) or Cinema Paradisio (1990), much less having seen them. The ironic thing is, all three of these cinematic gems were hits domestically. They made the majority of their money in large metropolitan waterfront cities (i.e. New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago). Meaning, if you offered the average person in North Dakota or South Carolina $100 to tell you what any of these pictures were about, you probably wouldn’t wind up being any lighter in your wallet or purse. That’s not a hit against the good folks of North Dakota and South Carolina; it’s just the truth of how subtitled films sell in America.
So, if you’re a filmmaker or producer making a subtitled film, you should do your research about which cities, and more specifically which neighborhoods have traditionally supported subtitled films. Then find a theater that will allow you to four wall your film (that is if you’re going down this road without a distributor). Remember to contact local publications that may give you ink or web space about your release, (free publicity is always good), and make sure you have a publicity crew on the streets plastering flyers and handing out postcards about your film. You should also have a clever website that appeals to the community you’re trying to have embrace your film, as well as a corresponding viral campaign that’s targeted to that community. The key is to start a groundswell of positivity in areas most likely to love your film. Having a few sold-out or nearly sold-out screenings in a neighborhood theater will go a long way toward getting you distribution.
International Territories Are More Accepting Of Subtitles
This is because they’re going to have to subtitle your film into their language anyway. Thus, it may make sense to sell your subtitled film overseas before you release it domestically. You’ll have performance statistics from foreign territories and you’ll have an article or two about how wonderful your film is; both of which will help you with your domestic release.
The key here is to understand the world is your oyster and you have to look at the entire globe to build your release strategy. Don’t let your ego or emotions get in the way; just because your film doesn’t start out in America, doesn’t mean it can’t wind up being a smash hit here. It’s all about doing the best for your film, and in turn, doing the best for you.
A Successful Dub Of A Subtitled Film Is Genre Dependent
While a great dub job can do miracles for a film’s domestic box office, a poor dub job will make the film instantaneously comedic – even if it wasn’t meant to be. The film’s genre also matters a great deal regarding if the dub is deemed successful. For example, action films and physical comedies are far easier to dub, because there’s less lines of dialogue in them. There are also gunshots, explosions and wildly humorous situations deterring the viewers’ attention away from the mouths of the characters. On that note, Sci-Fi films are easy to dub too, because many of the characters are drabbed in uniforms, helmets and other outfits that hide their mouth movements. Animated movies also dub well for similar reasons.
Dramas and romantic comedies are difficult to dub believably, because so much of the focus is on the main characters’ expressions and dialogue. Furthermore, certain phrases don’t translate well from language to language. Dramas and romantic comedies also have more close ups and heart wrenching moments, which demand more focus on the characters.
Ethnic Films Don’t Sell Well Overseas
They just don’t, and film buyers worldwide reflect this truth in the offers they make on ethnic films. Of course Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Jackie Chan films do well internationally, (but, of course those are all huge, studio backed monstrosities.) Some Bollywood films hold their own outside of Asia, but for the most part the offers for ethnic films are far lower than they are for non-ethnic films.
Ethnic Films Don’t Sell Well Domestically
I’m not talking about star-studded studio films; I’m talking about indies. They just hold a lesser value than non-ethnic films to both distributors and viewing audiences alike. I’m not saying domestic audiences don’t love them, I’m just saying these films make less money than non-ethnic films. That’s why their foreign values are traditionally lower; because most foreign values are based upon what the film does domestically.
If you’re releasing an ethnic film in America, just follow the same guidelines of how to release a subtitled film (target specific cities, neighborhoods, theaters, publications and have a hip website and corresponding viral campaign), and rest assured you’re doing everything you can to help your film.
Please be clear in understanding that I find this truth about the international film sales world to be utterly disgusting and there’s nothing I’d love more than for your film to be the “game changer” that makes this idiotic rule obsolete. But, until then, it’s my mission to provide you with information you’ll need to position your project in the best possible light, regardless of how unsettling that information is.
Subtitled films and ethnic films are vital components to the world of cinema, because they shed light into cultures that many of us may not experience otherwise. They are enriching, entertaining, and essential, and I encourage you to make them. Never let horrible “rules of the game” deter you from playing the game, as with any game, rules are made to be broken.
Here’s to you helping to shatter these age-old rules and creating a world where our future children can develop whatever films they want, without even considering what language they’re making them in, or what ethnicities they choose to tell their stories through.
Thanks for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/27366/#ixzz1EgIG9ofB

GOING BIONIC – Article #23, “THE SEOUL OF 3D” October 19, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – THE SEOUL OF 3D!

Hi everyone. Greetings from high above the Korean clouds! Yes, I’m “Up In The Air” again, this time at 37,000 feet. Last week I wrote the article about MIPCOM on my way here to Seoul. Today’s article about Korea’s remarkably deep-pocketed commitment to 3D technology is being written on my plane back home (by the way, when I mention “Korea,” I am referring to South Korea).
I’m sitting here on the plane next to Kelly, 29, a super-friendly Korean woman who is moving to the Chicago, sight unseen, to learn English. She has never before stepped foot on American soil, nor does Kelly speak much English, yet she’s diving in headfirst and immersing herself into America’s vast unknown. That’s amazing to me, since the most exploring I’ve done lately is spending two hours walking the streets of Seoul in search of a McDonald’s (if I actually spoke Korean, my journey to the golden arches would have taken fifteen minutes).
My new friend Kelly’s mission to learn English is like Korea’s mission to become a major player in the world of 3D; both journeys will take a lot of time, commitment and money. Thus, today’s topic “The Seoul of 3D,” is an eye-opening look at what Korea is doing to enhance 3D technology, and how you may be able utilize their technology and corresponding 3D fund.
Before I dive in, let me first share a really moment from Seoul:
During the middle of a meeting I took at a major Korean Television Network, a seasoned Korean producer pulled out one of my “Going Bionic” articles that he read, after he had it translated in Korean! I knew my wife; my mom and a few of my Facebook friends read my stuff, but a producer in Korea? Hot damn! I was humbled and honored and let’s face it – I was excited (although I didn’t show it during the meeting). So, Mark Bell – congratulations!!! We’re not only being read in Korea, we’re being read in Korean!!!
Anyway – back to this week’s topic on Korea’s 3D play.
First and foremost, I can think of a few billion reasons why you should consider Korea as a place for your 3D projects (yes billion with a “B”). That’s because the Korean government is spending the equivalent of a few billion US Dollars to support 3D projects. That’s a bleep-load of cash. The best part is the money from the fund is given – not loaned. Imagine that. A multi-billion dollar government fund in support of 3D technology that films and TV projects can utilize (I hope someone with deep pockets in Washington D.C. is reading this).
I must disclose that not all of Korea’s 3D fund is allocated for film and television technology – but a lot of is. According to Kim Tong-Hyung‘s April 12, 2010 article in the Korea Times titled “3D Ready For Prime Time,” Korea has already committed the equivalent of $712 million U.S Dollars over the next five years to have full-blown 3D TV networks by 2013. What’s more, at least 20% of Korea’s movies, TV shows and video games will be produced in 3D by 2015. If not that’s enough; also by 2015, Korea’s residents will experience full 3D on their home televisions – without needing to wear 3D glasses. That’s right; those clunky, ugly-ass 3D glasses are about to go the way of eight track tapes (at least for Korea’s residents it is). In fact, Korea’s progression toward a glasses-free 3D experience is already starting, as I met with another producer in Seoul who showed me his new cell phone with a 3D screen. Very cool!
Before you can brag to your filmmaker friends about having your 3D project green lit out of Korea, you must understand a few things about working in Korea. Here’s some insight:
Ask Yourself If Your Project Is Right For A Co-Production
Which means before you pick of the phone or write e-mail to a potential Korean producing partner (whom you’ll need), you’ve got to ask yourself why your project would be of interest to the Korean market. Thus, in true “Going Bionic” fashion, only projects with a multi-national scope need apply. I’m not saying your project needs to be a $100 million dollar budget, I’m just saying it has to benefit Koreans as much as it benefits Americans. Only then do you have a shot to fund.
Find A Korean Producing Partner Who Is Fund-Approved
Like any ridiculously sought after government backed deal, the Korean 3D fund is reserved for Koreans. Therefore, you’ve got to have a 3D fund-approved Korean producer as your partner. More importantly – their company – not yours – submits the funding request. I’m sure there are also substantial requirements for the 3D work to be done in Korea. But, these are all small prices to pay to get your film made.
Never Ever Be Late To A Meeting
And I mean never, with a capital “N.” Koreans are incredibly precise and are always on time. If you have a meeting at 1:00PM, the person you’re meeting with will be there by 12:45, ready and prepared. Thus, being late not only makes you look uninterested and unprofessional, it also shows a severe lack of respect for the person you’re meeting with. You should find a way to be as early and prepared as your Korean counterparts – no matter how hard that is for you to do. Trust me, I should know. I’m always 20 minutes late to everything – except for (most) Lakers games and my annual birthday trip to the Super Bowl. Thus, I spent all of last week getting up one hour earlier than I should have – just to make sure I was never late.
Your Word Is Your Worth
Don’t say anything you don’t mean and don’t guarantee anything you can’t deliver. Unlike America, where getting second chances is our way of life (i.e. Michael Vick, Martha Stewart and Marion Barry), Koreans expect you to deliver what you claim you can on time and under budget – with no excuses.
Try To See Your Project Through Their Eyes
As Americans, we are deeply ingrained in our beliefs of business should be conducted. Of course, Koreans are raised to believe their way of doing business is supreme. The fact is both ways are valid. They key isn’t to determine which way is right, it’s to create a mutually beneficial way of doing business that addresses the needs and concerns of both parties. Thus, it may behoove you to step outside of your way of thinking and give your project a look through their eyes. I’m sure you’ll be surprised by what you’ll see, as well as what you couldn’t see by solely relying on your way of thinking.
I guess at the end of the day it’s all about expanding your mind, your network of contacts, and your financing opportunities. So what if you have to go to Seoul, Korea to get your 3D project financed? Isn’t that what “Going Bionic” is all about? Utilizing everything the world of international film distribution has to offer you?
Lastly, if you’re worried about diving into an unknown country to chase your dream, just think of my new friend Kelly. She just landed in Chicago – alone – without even a basic grasp of English and she’s actively chasing down her dream. If Kelly can come to America to wrangle her dreams, why can’t you go to her home country of Korea to lasso yours?
Until next Tuesday, thank you for lending me your eyes!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/26809/#ixzz1EgHvs02O

GOING BIONIC – Article #22, “MIPCOM 2010” October 12, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – INDIE FILM TRENDS FROM MIPCOM 2010!

Greetings from MIPCOM in Cannes! Actually, I’m not in the South of France anymore.  I’m 35,000 feet above sea level en route to South Korea – Seoul to be exact. But, I just left MIPCOM and that’s what we’re focusing on today.
For those of you who are new to “Going Bionic” (thank you for reading by the way), MIPCOM is a major TV sales market in Cannes, France every October.  Yes, it’s a “TV” sales market, but these days TV markets provide the best opportunity for independent films to find distribution. So, without further ado, let me shed some light on some up-to-the-minute trends that I noticed at MIPCOM last week, and how these trends shape the immediate future of independent film.
TV Markets Are Better Homes For Independent Films
TV markets like MIPCOM are better homes for indie film sales, because the prices offered for TV sales are more in tune with what most indie films can wrangle – and that’s if they’re lucky enough to get an offer in the first place. Like film buyers, TV buyers will expect your film to have solid names. But, if it doesn’t, you still may have a chance to land a TV sale because your film may fit into an open slot that needs to be filled by various networks and cable outlets.
Chapter Eleven Is Distributor Heaven
With the crash of the world financial market, quite a few distributors and sales agents have found themselves taking huge, six figure and seven figure losses. Most are so hopelessly under water, that it’d take an Avatar or two to pull them out of debt. So, instead of continuing to dig their own grave, many independent distributors are purposely bankrupting themselves and then setting up shop under a new company name. This can be a very smart business move, but it royally screws filmmakers. This is because once bankrupt; the distributor doesn’t have to pay filmmakers what they owe them. What’s worse, the films the distributor represents usually get tied up in the bankruptcy. Attention filmmakers: when you’re signing a distribution contract, make sure you get two things in it:
  1. Your film rights revert back to you immediately upon your distributor or sales agent filing for bankruptcy.
  2. Your distributor cannot reassign or sell your rights to another entity, without your express written consent.
Demand these two clauses and you’ll safeguard yourself from having your film be eaten up by a bankruptcy.
Ghost Town Markets
Calling MIPCOM 2010 a “ghost town” is a bit extreme, but far less distributors, buyers and sales agents attended than in years past. I noticed fewer sales booths and shorter lines at high-end beachside restaurants – two very bad financial signs. The companies who did attend MIPCOM 2010, (like my company Lonely Seal Releasing) found a “let’s wait and see” attitude from buyers, regarding the value of independent films. How bad is it these days? Right now, I’d bet you own a pair of shoes worth more than most indie films. I know that statement is harsh, but the bottom has really dropped out with regards to the value of independent films. Thus, if you’re a filmmaker whose about to make a film, it’d be a really good idea to meet with distributors and sales agents to get a read on what your film would be worth – before you risk life and limb to make it.
If you’ve already put your neck, credit rating and everything else you and your investors own on the line to make your film, then you should get a few distribution companies to give you an estimate of what your film is worth. If the number will get you shot by your investors, then it’d be smarter to wait until the first quarter of 2011 to go after distribution, in order to see if prices get better. Of course waiting until 2011 is also risky, because doing so will age your film and likely lessen its value. However, prices are so low right now it may not matter either way, and waiting may give you a shot to see if the market for independent films picks up. Either way, film values will eventually go back up. They always do.
Blame It On The Euro
Over the last five years, the Euro has been worth a lot more than the United States Dollar (1 Euro cost $1.65 USD at one point). While during that time my company’s travel budget was abused like a bad comic on open mike night, the only advantage to the Euro being strong is that European buyers bought a hell of a lot of American independent films, because they were so cheap to buy. The feeding frenzy started four years ago, and lasted until about this time last year. But, as the American Greenback started to gain on the Euro, (1 Euro cost as little as $1.22 recently, and it now sits at $1.39); European buyers put the brakes on snatching up high amounts of American independent films.
The other issue is the European buyers bought so many American independents while the getting’ was good, that they saturated the world market with them. This killed the current need for American independent product in Europe, and now it may take a year or two before a healthy need for American independent films gets built up in Europe again.
Even Well-Packaged Films With Stars Attached Have Lost Value
One emerging trend from MIPCOM 2010, is that film buyers are no longer willing to pay big bucks for films with big stars – if those films aren’t made within a genre that traditionally sells well (sci-fi, action and thrillers are the go-to “bionic” genres).
Case and point: My company was asked to take a handful of film packages to MIPCOM last week, in order to gage the interest level from buyers. These “packages” are films that have not shot yet. Most of them have actors attached, and part of the budget in place. Since financiers are being much tighter with their purse strings these days, film producers need to know what their projects will be worth internationally, in order to see if they can raise part of their production budget from international sales.
With all of that in mind, here’s a quick rundown on how film buyers worldwide responded to a few of our packages.
  • A) The first film we were getting a temperature on is a dramatic biopic with a few Oscar-winning, above the line elements. Although the producers originally wanted a 70 million dollar budget, film buyers agreed it should be no more than seven million – ten times less than the producers wanted. In fact, most buyers said a seven million dollar budget was “ambitious” and the film makes more sense in the three to five million-dollar ballpark. They also said the film would be better suited as a cable project, citing that the story – even with Oscar winners telling it – would not captivate enough theatrical filmgoers to make it a good financial risk.

    Think about that; Oscar winners tied to a dramatic biopic originally thought to be a 70 million dollar budget – can today only support international sales based on a three to five million-dollar budget. That blows me away. Of course, there’s no way the producers will ever agree to dividing their 70 million dollar budget by 20, (which would be $3.5 million) but the reality of the current market may not give them a choice. Then again, they may get a studio to make the film for $18-$25 million. Studios like doing favors for Oscar winners – at least they used to.

  • B) The second picture is a $10 million dollar horror thriller. Several buyers blurted out the same response to this very hip concept; “we love this package – if it were budgeted at $3 million.” The buyers also pegged the film to be one that would thrive on cable and DVD, but many of them doubted that the film would garner a theatrical release.
  • C) The third film is a $6 million dollar thriller with a laundry list of solid names. Buyers flipped over this film so much, they’re already lining up to buy it.
What the film buyers’ reactions to the above three packages tells me is that now more than ever, genre films made at a price, and with at least a few sellable names, will do well – even in this troubled financial climate.
Attending MIPCOM 2010 felt like I was on a plane that reaches its destination early, but is forced to circle the airport in a holding pattern until an ugly layer of excessive fog clears. We’re right there, ready to land, but we can’t. All we know is that the fog will eventually clear. We just don’t know when, or how bumpy the actual landing will be. So buckle up, hang on tight, and enjoy the ride into the future of independent film.
Thanks again for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/26469/#ixzz1EgHD6v80

GOING BIONIC – Article #21, “NYDENION – A GERMAN SCI-FI?” October 5, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “NYDENION” – A GERMAN SCI-FI?

One hundred eight-eight months ago (15 years, 8 months) in a land far, far away, (Frankfurt, Germany), director, actor, composer, cinematic genius and mad scientist Jack Moik began his journey on “Nydenion,” an epic German Sci-Fi film.
Twenty months ago, Edward Stencel met “Nydenion” Executive Producer Caspar Arnhold at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival. The film was at least 18-24 months away from being finished, giving Edward the opportunity to court “Nydenion” and show Caspar how interested we were to sell their film worldwide. One year later, Edward and I met with Caspar at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival. Then, less than twenty-four hours after our first handshake, my company not only signed “Nydenion,” but a mention of our signing earned ink in Screen International.
In true Sci-Fi fashion, lets time travel to ninety-six hours ago, when Edward Stencel and I landed in Frankfurt, Germany to meet with Jack Moik, Caspar Arnhold and other ridiculously talented members of Moik’s producing and production team. Upon our arrival, I realized how close we were to Stuttgart (home of the Porsche factory). Visions of driving to Stuttgart, touring the Porsche factory and racing a new 911 around Porsche’s private track danced in my head, but Edward quickly knocked my ass back into reality. We weren’t in Germany to play at the Porsche factory; we were there to see the (almost finished) Sci-Fi gem “Nydenion” in its entirety for the first time. Our mission was to get to know the creative geniuses behind the film, and to put all of our heads together to build a cohesive strategy for its 2011 release.
Since I’ve spent the last 20 Going Bionic articles prior to this one going over strategic methods on how to best distribute indie films (I can’t believe I’ve got 20 articles in my rear view mirror), I thought I’d to provide you a case study of a very unique indie film that I’m about to sell worldwide.
Let’s start with the basics: Jack Moik first wrote the script to “Nydenion” in 1995, and then he started creating miniatures and building sets for his epic Sci-Fi soon thereafter. It wasn’t until 1999 when “Nydenion” shot its first scene. Then, ten years, three million Euros and ten billion headaches later, they shot their last scene this year. Think about that for a second. You create a Sci-Fi script fifteen years ago. Then you spend four years making quality miniatures and building believable sets before you start filming. Then your shooting schedule takes you ten years to complete; all while you and your team have to invent software programs, special effects enhancements, and post-production techniques in order to deliver a full-fledged Sci-Fi film, on an independent budget. Talk about commitment.  In fact, I’m so blown away by what these guys were able to do; I’ve got to throw a few more wild statistics about the film your way.

Nydenion Shuttle Miniature

“Nydenion” was comprised of 1,912 shots – with 900 of the shots involving VFX compositing. Secondly, 500 of the shots are pure VFX shots, involving 3D, miniatures, matte painting and FX. If that’s not enough to explain how much time, care and general insanity this film took be completed, there were 47,194 frames needed to be Rotoscoped, frame by frame, in order to make everything look fluid and believable.

This intense schedule would be a pain to complete with a $60 million dollar budget – but these guys did it in $4 million. That’s right; they are about to complete their Sci-Fi feature film for less than the cost of a studio Sci-Fi film’s catering budget. It’s always refreshing for me to witness such amazing ability, collaboration and commitment to an independent vision. Simply put, it’s films like “Nydenion” that give me hope for the future of independent cinema. One that note, let me beam us to the next phase of this case study: strategizing to get “Nydenion” in a theater near you.
Have No Screenings Until The Film Is Really Done
The “Nydenion” think tank made their first giant step toward getting a theatrical release a few days ago, by something they didn’t do. Edward and I came to Frankfurt for what was supposed to be a showcase screening for about 200 invited guests, including buyers and reporters. But, less than forty-eight hours before the scheduled screening, the brains behind “Nydenion” pulled their screening because their film wasn’t completely finished.  So, Edward and I got a private look.
I can’t tell you how incredibly important is was for the “Nydenion” team not to show an incomplete film. I’m sure they just made themselves $1 million or more in sales, just by not screening the film.
Side Note to Filmmakers: No matter how anxious you are, or how many years (or decades for that matter) it’s taken you to complete your film, never show a buyer, a distributor or a film festival an incomplete version of your film.  All you will do is lose the buyer in seconds, show the distributor how inexperienced you are, and burn a non-flattering memory about your film into the mind of the film festival programmer.

A 2011 Copyright Is Better Than A 2010
Since “Nydenion” isn’t completed yet, it’s far smarter to take the rest of 2010 to work out all of the last-minute kinks, and then have it copyrighted in 2011. This way, the film is brand-new to buyers, distributors and film festivals alike. Trust me filmmakers: if you have an almost-finished film right now, the last thing you want to do is copyright in this year. 2010 is less than 12 weeks away from ending, so in 12 weeks, your film will be one-year old to those who matter. If you’re wondering what a 2010 copyright means to you, here’s a quick run down:
a) As of January 1, 2011, distributors and buyers will pay you less for a 2010 copyright – just like car dealers give discounts on 2010 models when the 2011’s arrive.
b) As of January 1, 2011, your film festival run will be cut at least one year short, and your film may be disqualified from several festivals for being too old to screen before it should.  Since most film festivals require films screened to be made within 12-18 months of the time of submission to the festival (some smaller ones will give you up to 24 months), the last thing you want to do is copyright an unsold film in the latter part of the year. Of course, if a distributor is buying your film with a life-changing offer, then finish your film today and sell it off. But, if not, a 2011 copyright is truly the way to go.

Original model from Nydenion

Buyers Have More Money In January Than In December
Another reason for us to help guide “Nydenion” through its final stages of completion now and wait until 2011 to copyright the film is because 99% of buyers get funded in January. Thus, they will have a lot more money to spend at the beginning of the year, as opposed to October, November or December. While I’m not saying you can’t sell your film in the fall months, I am saying that you’ll get more money for your masterpiece when buyers and distributors have their coffers lined with cash. Since “Nydenion” has $4 million dollars and 15 years of unimaginable hard work already riding on it, my job is to make sure we position “Nydenion” in its best possible light.  Thus, making sure it’s offered to buyers in 2011 and not a second before will do exactly that.
Make Buyers And Distributors See Your Film On A Screen

You can only do this if your film is made at a healthy budget, has garnered an incredible amount of publicity, and most importantly, has not been screened by anyone.  I repeat: the following rules don’t apply for micro budgeted films that have already played several film festivals. They only apply to films that have a certain production value and have never been screened.

In the case of “Nydenion,” a ridiculous amount of safety measures are in place to make sure nobody sees the film until it’s done. Of course trailers are on the Internet, but the film will not be screened in its entirety until several buyers attend a screening controlled by our team. That screening will probably take place in early 2011.
Just in case you’re wondering why we’re not sending out DVD’s to buyers, it’s because if “Nydenion” is easy to get, then it’ll no longer be a big deal. That’s why a Porsche Turbo 911 turns more heads than a Dodge Mini-van. A Porsche is harder to get.
Showcase At The Right Film Festival
With respect to “Nydenion,” we’re trying to showcase it at a major film festival in the first quarter of 2011. I know in the past I’ve said many indie films should go straight for a distribution deal because going on a long festival run will only make your film older. But in the case of “Nydenion,” getting exposure at a few key film festivals may actually help the film because it may create a following from Sci-FI fans.
Platform Theatrical Releasing 
This means that you release your film on one screen, and grow it slowly week after week. This is where “Nydenion” will probably start its theatrical journey. Starting on a platform release doesn’t mean your film can’t be huge; look at “Slumdog Millionaire.” Hundreds of millions of dollars in box office and eight Oscars is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom line is whether you start your film on one screen or 4,000 screens, if it is meant to be a hit, it will be. It’s not where you start that matters; it’s where you finish.
I’m really optimistic and excited to be on the journey with “Nydenion,” and I can’t wait to see how far we can roll her out. Hopefully, with a pound of strategy and a ton of luck (every hit movie needs a lot of luck) we will be able to take “Nydenion” “to infinity and beyond!”
Thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/26467/#ixzz1EgGJqLo7

GOING BIONIC – Article #20, “DELIVERING DELIVERABLES” September 28, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – DELIVERING DELIVERABLES

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 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 going to share 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/sales agents are going to demand you have all of your “deliverables” ready to go, 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.
  1. 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.
  2. A list detailing where the Masters are held.
  3. Full access to the Masters, for the purpose of delivering on deals during the term of the agreement with your international distributor.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. All language tracks (i.e. German, French, Spanish, etc).
  8. 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.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks, because my articles will focus on my company’s upcoming international travel. This week Edward Stencel and I are headed to Frankfurt, Germany to attend our client’s showcase screening. Next week we’ll be in Cannes, France for Mipcom, and the following week I’ll be in Seoul, Korea, exploring distribution and co-productions in Asia. As always, I’ll give you an up-to-date account of everything we experience in the ever-changing world of international distribution.

Until then, thanks for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!



Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/26129/#ixzz1EgFG03hS

GOING BIONIC – Article #19, “REGIONAL FILM FESTIVALS” September 21, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “REGIONAL FILM FESTIVALS!”

Film festivals are like rabbits; every time you turn around they’re multiplying all around you. There are over 4,000 film festivals worldwide – with at least 1,628 of them in the United States alone. That’s about 1,000 more in the U.S.A. than there were in 2004. While there are no more than a handful of film festivals worldwide with the ability to change your life and tax bracket overnight, (Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance, Venice) there are several “regional” festivals that may help you hone your film’s release strategy.  Yes, I know; all you really want to do is walk the red carpet at Cannes, win the Palme d‘Or, and sell your ridiculously captivating, generation-defining work of cinematic art to a goliath movie studio for $16 million. Then you want to fly back home just in time to see your picture on the cover of Daily Variety as the major studios fight over your services. Of course you want this. Everybody does, and there’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness.  But, while most filmmakers expect to hit a grand slam on their first swing, they forget that all they really need to do is to get in the game.
Regional film festivals can help you get in the game.  My mission today is to show you how playing a few strategically chosen regional film festivals can enhance your knowledge, confidence and contacts, while giving you key insights on how to distribute your film.
First you have to understand that regional film festivals are primarily focused on supporting, educating and promoting filmmakers. Playing them will make you part of their family, and like a lioness protecting her cubs; they will always protect their family. Hence, regional film festivals are simply the best support group a filmmaker can have outside of their family, friends and film school.
Secondly, regional film festivals key in on making the filmmaker’s experience ridiculously fun and memorable. The parties are mind-blowing, the connections are honest, and the egos are virtually non-existent. Simply put, while a major film festival’s attitude is “you’re lucky to be here,” a regional film festival is more likely to say “we’re lucky to have you here.” Such a warm and welcoming attitude can do wonders for your confidence, while it can also help to shake out the incessant negativity that comes along with working in the film industry.
Thirdly, due to the emergence of opportunities in the world of self-distribution, regional film festivals have suddenly become an invaluable resource. Now filmmakers can see how their work plays in select parts of the country – or world for that matter – and utilize their findings to strategize their distribution plan. Remember, a film that hits in a few big cities and nowhere else is usually a film that nobody outside of film critics and rabid film geeks have ever heard of. The key is to be a hit in all of the places you think don’t matter, because it’s those places that matter the most. Thus, if you’re a hit in New York and L.A. you may win a few awards, but, if people in Kansas and Tennessee are talking about your film, you may buy a few mansions. That’s why several independent films released theatrically start on a few screens in New York and Los Angeles, and then work their way to the middle. It’s the middle that counts, because your success between the coasts will publicly define how successful you are.
Over the years, I have attended quite a few regional film festivals and I can honestly say I have never had a bad experience. Not once. Every regional film festival I ever attended, from the (now defunct) Blackpoint Film Festival in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to Media 10+10 in Namur, Belgium, has been magically inspirational and relentlessly valuable.
However, there are three regional film festivals that I have a deep love for because they have a deep love for filmmakers. These gems include The KC Film Fest (formerly named the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee), The Nashville Film Festival, and The Temecula Valley Independent Film and Music Festival. I have collectively attended these three festivals nearly 30 times, and for the purpose of full disclosure, I have also been directly involved with each of them as either a filmmaker, judge, advisory board member, panelist or sponsor. Thus, I have a clear understanding of how they work and how they can enhance the lives of every filmmaker that attends them.
So, without further ado, let me dive in and tell you a bit about each of these wonderful regional film festivals.

KC Film Fest Reel Head

The KC Film Fest – (April) (formerly named The Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee) 

I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, so I was extremely excited when I learned my hometown was starting a film festival. I still remember attending the first Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee in April of 1997. The entire festival program consisted of ten short films screened one afternoon at Royal Hall on the UMKC campus. Of course it was beyond sold-out, as 450+ people jammed the room. Fourteen festivals later, they now screen 100+ local, regional, national and international features, documentaries, shorts and experimental films. Furthermore, the festival has awarded more than $200,000 in cash prizes to filmmakers since their inception. They also bring in excellent panelists, and hold some of the finest seminars I’ve ever attended at any festival. One annual panel/program not to be missed is the “Cross Cut Women Making Movies Symposium” – which showcases the accomplishments of women in the media.

Another very cool element to the KC Film Fest is “Cinema JAZZ,” which is described as “an annual event in collaboration with the American Jazz Museum and Mutual Musicians Foundation that unites the heartbeat of KC with a storytelling medium to capture KC’s jazz heritage.” There’s nothing like mixing classic jazz with images inspired by the essence of the music. Cinema JAZZ, much like the festival’s closing night party at the Mutual Musician’s Foundation, is something you won’t forget.
As for their tastes, I’ve observed their programming to be a refreshing mixture of single-minded independent voices, mainstream choices, and eclectic and avant-garde experimental films. Unlike other regional festivals that only program films that their locals are comfortable with, this film festival more than pushes the envelope – it pushes the paper mill.
The KC Film Fest creates a highly energetic, wonderfully positive environment that all filmmakers should check out at least once. But, one hit won’t be enough. It’ll suck you in and leave you begging for more. I know what you’re thinking, “Kansas City? Is he crazy?” Of course I’m crazy, all creative people are. But, trust me on this one; Kansas City is the most fun city you’ve never thought to visit and the KC Film Fest is the perfect host to shepherd you.
Nashville Film Festival (April) 
I first discovered the Nashville Film Festival in 2001, when I took a one-semester gig to be an instructor at the Watkins Film School in Nashville. Since the writers in Hollywood were threatening to strike, I knew my projects back home wouldn’t have much movement until the strike resolved. So, I taught a class while continuing to fly back home to L.A. to take occasional meetings.
At first glance, the Nashville Film Festival is much bigger, better, stronger (and hence more bionic) than you may expect it to be. This is one hell of a well-run festival with excellent films and an extremely knowledgeable staff. Make no mistake about it; this is no small festival. Over 23,000 people attend the Nashville Film Festival annually, (which has doubled since 2004) with over 250 films shown from several countries. If these numbers seem bigger than you were expecting, consider the fact that the Nashville Film Festival is almost as old as I am (it started in 1969), so they have not only survived the test of time, but they’ve thrived throughout the decades. For filmmakers who want to see how their film plays in one of the most culturally significant and economically rich cities in the southern United States, The Nashville Film Festival is your perfect launching pad.
Besides, the music in Nashville is awesome (not just country music) and the festival does an excellent job in incorporating it into their very fabric as well as their events. I’m not saying your film has to be music related to play the festival, nor am I saying that music related films have a better chance of getting in – because both statements are abundantly untrue. In fact, if your film is music-related, it’d better be damn good because Nashville only programs the best of the best. What I am saying is that The Nashville Film Festival may be embedded in music heaven, (which is exemplified by their amazing opening-night party), but it is a highly competitive film festival that programs films based on their merit and quality, not their soundtrack.
Film festivals, like marriages, can’t thrive for over forty years without doing something right, which is proof the Nashville Film Festival, does a hell of a lot right!
The Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival
By the time this article posts, I would have just returned from the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival’s extravagant closing night gala event – a star-studded, black tie shindig. The gala truly is quite classy and it honors independent filmmakers with the same style and grace that it gives its annual A-list celebrity honorees. This year’s honorees included Kenny Loggins, whose “acceptance speech” consisted of picking up a guitar and doing an impromptu mini-concert with “I’m Alright” (which was the theme from “Caddyshack”) “Danny’s Song” and “Forever in My Heart” (which he performed with David Foster). Rachel Welch and Eric Roberts were also honored.
It doesn’t hurt that the festival is nestled in the gorgeous wine country of Southern California, or that it’s just far enough out of L.A. (about an hour and a half) but not too far, for “the stars to come out” and enjoy a weekend in the wine country. In my almost 15 years of attending Temecula, I’ve watched it balloon from a small film festival location, into a hip film festival destination. In fact, attendance has grown from 600 in 1995 to more than 20,000 by 2009. I will alert you to the fact that the audiences in Temecula tend to be somewhat conservative, but this is a positive for you because you can gage how your film may play in the mid-west and south, while being in Southern California.
As for their programming tastes, I’ve observed that Temecula tends to gravitate toward well-made product doused with a heavy dose of passion from the filmmaker. Family friendly material is always welcome, as is anything patriotic.
Music also plays a vital role in this festival, as it not only showcases some talented new recording artists, but it honors some of the greatest recording artists of all time. I’ll never forget seeing national treasures like Ray Charles, Billy “The Fifth Beatle” Preston, and Etta James accept their lifetime achievement awards in front of several hundred adoring attendees. With its mix of location coupled with its intention to promote independent filmmakers; Temecula clearly should be on your regional short list.
It’s funny; I just realized that all three regional festivals I just showcased have strong music elements. That’s either because I love music as much as I love film, or because regional festivals tend to embrace how the cinematic experience intertwines with other vital creative forces like music – into the very fabric of their society. Either way, regional film festivals are often times married to the music that’s created within their region.
The KC Film Fest, The Nashville Independent Film Festival and the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Film Festival are all incredible oases in the vast desert of regional film festivals, but they aren’t the only springs to discover. A few other regional film festivals with great reputations areThe Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, which takes place in Birmingham, Alabama every September, the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri every March, and the Austin Film Festival in Austin, Texas every October.
Like always, I would recommend you limit your film’s exposure at too many film festivals – regional or otherwise, because you may saturate the very markets your film would sell to. But playing a few well-respected regional hot spots will give you some invaluable insight into how your film plays to audiences in various parts of the country.
In closing, the experience of playing regional film festivals will give you a few extra swings at the proverbial “ball of success.” You may not hit a grand slam right off the bat, but you’ll be in the game, and being in the game is your first step toward hitting that grand slam you’ve waited your whole life to knock out of the park.
Thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25598/#ixzz1EgEPWlVw

GOING BIONIC – Article #18, “PRODUCTION STRATEGIES” September 14, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “PRODUCTION STRATEGIES”

Since January of 1997, I’ve 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 reviewed and been pitched a countless number of independent productions. Then, in 2005, everything multiplied beyond belief when I started trekking the globe with my international distribution company.  Suddenly, I was dealing with more indie films, made in more countries and told in more languages than I could ever imagine. Throughout my travels, I’ve absorbed some 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 surely 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 usually don’t budget for their sound department correctly and they rarely listen to the production sound team. Trust me on this one; you want your PA and interns to be your sound department about as much as my beloved Lakers want me to start over Kobe Bryant. I can’t shoot a basketball like Kobe and your PA and interns can’t capture sound like a professional sound team. Always remember that bad sound is one of the first things 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 pay for popular songs that were illegally used in the film – because many times the cost of those songs is probably greater than the entire cost of the independent movie. In fact, the distributor will probably ask the filmmaker to remove all popular songs and replace them with unknown music in order to avoid a sure-fire lawsuit from the popular recording artist or the entity that owns their music.
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 give you 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. Of course, make sure you have the rights if your film is distributed.
There are several different types of music rights granted, so you must be sure you’re paying for the correct rights. For example, 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. These may include the rights to the lyrics, the music and the performance rights, because oftentimes these specific rights are 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 totally 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 throughout the shoot. 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 it’s true. 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, via deep discounts from your vendors. 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’ll get 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!
Until next Tuesday, thank you for lending me your eyes!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25416/#ixzz1EgDtpbz6

GOING BIONIC – Article #17, “THE BUDGET GAME” September 7, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “THE BUDGET GAME”

During my time in international distribution, I’ve seen several $1,000,000 documentaries that should have been made for ten times less, and a few $100,000 features that should have been made for ten times more. In both scenarios, the producers always try to use their film’s budget as leverage in negotiating sales. The problem is most producers never realize that unless their film is laced with a star-studded cast, their budget has little to do with the value of their film to distributors. For example, if a producer spends north of $1,000,000 on a documentary while other like-minded documentaries are being made for under $100,000, then the distribution value of the million-dollar documentary is no more than the value of the docs made under $100,000. This is an incredibly painful pill to swallow for filmmakers and producers. Thus, in order to avoid such a sour pill being lodged down their throats, filmmakers and producers should remember that distributors will never reward overspending. The other fact to absorb is since the value of documentaries has severely crashed, they are now only worth one tenth to one twentieth of what they were worth as recently as three years ago.
Conversely, if a producer makes a $100,000 feature film that looks like a $300,000 film, then the distribution value of that film will be based on $300,000. Obviously, this is a much better position to be in because the budget can be recouped and the producers and filmmakers may even get to plant a few extra dollars into their hungry pockets. However, if that same producer lies to distributors about his or her $100,000 film costing $1,000,000, then their project will be seen as a failure if it only generates $300,000 – even though it really only cost $100,000 and enjoyed a profit. This is a scenario to be avoided at all costs. Since perception is everything in Hollywood, it’s important to always be seen as a success. Simply put, having the perception of being a person who made a micro-budgeted film that turned a profit is far more impressive than being seen as a person who made a healthy budgeted indie film that tanked.
One thing that’s consistently true about playing the “budget game” is everyone lies about his or her budgets. Filmmakers and producers lie to their distributors and distributors turn around and lie to their buyers. However, in the midst of the maze of smoke and mirrors, here are some vital truths about the “budget game” that will help filmmakers and producers understand how distributors play the game.
International Distributors/Sales Agents Will Slice Most Budgets In Half
Unless filmmakers and producers have proof of their budget, via a strong cast with stunts and or action sequences that clearly show where the money was spent, the budget filmmakers give their international distributors is divided in half in the minds of the distributors. So, if a filmmaker tells his or her international distributor their budget is “slightly under one million,” the distributor will immediately assume the actual budget is far less than half of a million. This is because the international distributor knows that all filmmakers lie about their budgets, and that he or she has to take those lies into account when they calculate the minimum sales potential of a film. But, knowing the budget will be sliced in half, doesn’t give filmmakers a license to inflate their film cost twenty times more than it is. Remember, not only do distributors usually know what a film costs just by looking at it, they also always know what a film is worth just by looking at it.
Bragging Upwards About Your Budget is Smarter Than Bragging Downwards
We once dealt with an amazingly well made micro-budgeted action picture that cost $6,000, but looked like it cost $150,000 (thanks to the legitimate $140,000 + of freebies given to the filmmakers). Several buyers were so impressed by the tight little film, that the initial offer for the first territory was $30,000 – five times the film’s budget. But, on the eve of signing the deal, our buyer researched the film IMDB and realized that our filmmaker was bragging about having made the film for $6,000. By the next morning, the film’s $30,000 offer turned into an $7,000 offer that we had to pull teeth to get up to $10,000. The buyer canceled their $30,000 offer, because they just couldn’t stomach paying five times more than the budget. Of course, when the buyer thought their $30,000 offer was only paying one fifth of the $150,000 budget, they thought they were getting a good deal. But, knowing the film cost $6,000 killed the buyer’s financial appetite for the film. The lesson learned here is that filmmakers should never brag about what they can do with little money, because the powers that be will assume they can only handle little money. Thus, the notion, “see what I can do with $6,000 so imagine what I can do with $6,000,000,” never works. This is because distributors usually don’t trust six thousand dollar filmmakers with six million dollar budgets, unless those six thousand dollar films make six million dollars.
The International Distributor Should Know The Actual Budget
Assuming the international distributor is well meaning toward the success of the film, he or she should be aware how much money needs to be recouped to break even. Too often filmmakers will play games and refuse to reveal their actual budget to their international distributor, but such a practice only hurts the filmmaker and the film. If an international distributor is kept in the dark of how much needs to be recouped, they will simply accept every offer, regardless of how small it may be.
Recouping The Budget Is Not A True Concern of An International Distributor
Technically speaking, international distributors don’t have to worry about a film breaking even because they will get paid on what they sell, even if those sales are far less than the budget of the film. Thus, it’s important to find an international distributor who truly believes in the film, because they’re going to get paid whether the film does well or not.
The Portion Of A Film’s Budget That’s Recouped By International Sales
In a perfect world (which we are clearly not in), a film should recoup 40%-60% of its perceived budget through international sales before the international distributor takes out his or her fees. However, in the current marketplace for independent films, getting even 40% of the budget from international sales would be a dream. More realistically, filmmakers should expect international sales to come in around 20%-25% of their perceived budget with an outside shot of wrangling 40%.
Tell Tale Signs A Film’s Budget is Far Smaller Than A Filmmaker Claims
Too many close-up shots, too few (or no) extras walking around in the background and limited locations are all obvious signs that a film didn’t cost much to make. Furthermore, small films tend to feel claustrophobic, because there are no overhead shots or wide shots. So, even if filmmakers need to go small with their budgets, they need to think big with the scope of how they execute it.
Know What You Have And What You Don’t Have
Producers and filmmakers alike should be well aware of the fact that a $100,000 film will probably not look like more than a $300,000 film – and will never look like a $1,000,000 film. In fact, if I had a quarter for every time I heard a filmmaker or producer tell me that their $100,000 film looks like a $1,000,000 film, I’d have more than a million dollars. The truth is, all distributors care about is that your film was a successful financial investment, regardless of how small that investment was.
At the end of the day, playing the “budget game” is a necessary part of every filmmaker’s journey. All of us, like our films, want to be perceived to be bigger than we are. Such a belief is what drives us to create bigger and better projects, and is also how such wonderfully poignant statements like “fake it ‘till you make it” and “he who can make one thousand dollars look like one million dollars will soon have one million dollars,” have become our battle cries. Thus, winning at the “budget game” doesn’t depend on how you play, it depends on knowing how the other side plays. Now play nice….
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. 
Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25213/#ixzz1EgDCsNIH

GOING BIONIC – Article #16, “FILM MARKET BAGS” August 31, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY: FILM MARKET BAGS, BOOTHS, AND YOU

I was sitting in my sales booth at the European Film Market in Berlin watching a film seller in a neighboring booth boast about his upcoming film slate to a few overtly uninterested film buyers. The seller was positive his slate would surely afford him a yacht, or a Rolls Royce, by next year, while the buyer was even more positive that the seller’s future toys would be less amazing than the toys the buyer already had. As I tried to block out the bullshit littering the air around me, I couldn’t help but to notice that the market bag hanging on the shoulder of the seller was three years old. I had the same bag. I had given it to my wife (like always) and she had soon thereafter fed it to the monstrous mountain of market bags in our closet. And just like that, it dawned on me how much filmmakers can learn from a simple market bag.
My topic today is: Film market bags, sales booths, and you. An odd mix, I know, but it’ll all make sense soon enough. You may be wondering what the hell free shoulder bags given out by film markets have to do with anything, but trust me; these “badges of stability” can give you invaluable insight into your international distributor.
First let me refresh you a bit with what film markets are: Film markets are worldwide swap meets for film buyers and sellers to negotiate, deliberate and orchestrate sales of motion picture and television programming to various parts of the planet.
Secondly, let me explain what market “booths” are. A “booth” is a fiercely overpriced sales booth that film sellers spend between $15,000-$80,000+ per market to showcase their films at. Since the markets are usually three to five days long, with 10 days (Cannes Film Market) being the longest, film sellers (i.e. international distributors/sales agents) spend several thousand dollars per day just for the right to display their films for sale. These sales booths are no bigger than an ambitious lemonade stand, but they cost as much as a three bedroom home in much of the Mid-Western United States.
So, what great prize do us film sellers get for enduring countless hours on airplanes, being sleep deprived and spending a sick amount of money for booths, travel and advertising to make sure our clients films are exposed to film buyers worldwide? A free market bag.
Market Bags
Every market attendee expects a damn good market bag; because it’s so f-ing expensive to be at the film markets in the first place. Attendees will either praise or curse the market bag, and their ‘bag approval rating’ will partially mold their opinion about that market. The market bags given out in Berlin are clearly the best and most durable in the business. They last for years, and they are quite well thought out. The Cannes Film Festival/Marche Du Film bags are usually a close second, but the 2009 Cannes market bag was the ugliest and cheapest one ever made. That bag ripped apart the first day. When I had it replaced, my replacement tore apart by day three. It’s almost like Cannes had the foresight to know that a vast number of film sales companies would go bankrupt in 2009 (which happened), so they chose not to spend money on market bags when less companies would exist to buy their booths in 2010. Such foresight must be why Cannes is clearly the greatest film festival and film sales market in the world.
Some sellers will hang on to their favorite market bag for years. Others will change out their bags from market to market in order to nonchalantly prove their financial strength to their buyers (i.e. to show how many markets they attend). As for me, I give all of my bags to my wife. She gladly keeps the ones she likes. I donate some of the other bags to Goodwill, use the primarily useless ones to house toys for our dog “Pepper,” and the rest get the pleasure of joining me throughout my market-to-market trek.
Note to filmmakers: If your international distributor/film sales company hasn’t earned a mountain of useless market bags over the years, then something is definitely wrong with how they’re representing your film. This is because if they don’t have market bags, then they are a) not investing the $15,000 to $80,000+ into buying booths or worse, b) they’re not even buying the $800-$1,500 passes at film markets to meet with buyers. It’s elementary, actually: cheap passes + no booths = no market bag.
My favorite market bag ever was the Cannes Film Festival 60th anniversary bag – which printed every Palm De ‘Or winner since the inception of the Cannes Film Festival – right on the bag. Too bad I lost that bag – the only one I’ve ever lost – in a ridiculous act of stupidity. Please allow me to share how it happened:
Circa Fredonia, Kansas, April 2007: I was at my grandmother’s funeral in the middle of nowhere when I realized that I’d lost my cell phone (there’s a pattern here – I lose everything), so I had no way to touch base with my office back in Los Angeles. After a nearly two-hour drive back to my hotel – which was north of the middle of nowhere, I called my office for my messages. I was quickly surprised to learn that my friend David Blake, a co-producer on Julian Lennon’s “Whaledreamers”, had recommended my company to Julian. To my further surprise, Julian Lennon wanted to meet me at Cannes and discuss the possibility of having my company represent his film worldwide. If you had any idea how big of a fan I was of Julian’s music – (I bought his album Valotte on vinyl, before CD’s, with my lawn mowing money when I was 17), and how much I idolize his father John Lennon and the Beatles (I’ve loved the Beatles since grade school and I even named my dog “Pepper” from Sgt. Pepper’s…) you’d understand how thrilled I was to meet Julian and possibly represent his film. The stage was set…
I first met Julian in Cannes at my sales booth, where we (luckily) clicked. We then lunched and soon thereafter he agreed to have my company handle his film. Wanting to tell the world of my prized acquisition, my company teamed up with www.Hollywoodtoday.com to put together a massive party for “Whaledreamers” at the Hotel 314 beachside bar – a very highbrow bar planted oceanfront on the sand in Cannes. Julian agreed to play a midnight concert – his first show in a decade – and my company Lonely Seal Releasing and www.Hollywoodtoday.com both agreed to host the party as a charity event for Greenpeace. Julian’s song “Saltwater” was (and may still be) the international theme song for Greenpeace, so everything was flowing toward becoming a magical and memorable night. Simply put, it was. What was supposed to be a 350-person party, swelled to 1,653 people and Julian’s midnight set was an amazing memory that is firmly tattooed in my mind for as long as I have a memory.
So, what does that story has to do with my Cannes market bag? Well, the afternoon before our party, my Lonely Seal Releasing compadre Edward Stencel and I had just made about 30 VIP laminate passes for the party. In a rush, I stuffed the VIP passes in my market bag, and barreled into the parking garage of the Palais at Cannes, then put them in the back seat of our rental car…too bad it wasn’t our car! Yes, I actually planted my beloved 2007 Cannes Film Festival 60th Anniversary market bag – filled several VIP laminate passes to one of the hottest parties at Cannes – into the backseat of a stranger’s car. In the few seconds that I had my head turned looking for Edward, the wrong car’s owner drove off. Our party wine sponsor Ben and I ran after the wayward car for a block – but the driver never noticed that they had two frantic guys running and screaming behind them. Then again, maybe the driver did notice, and drove away because of it.
I often wonder how long it took the driver to see the “prize bag” in their back seat. They could’ve thought it was their own market bag, in which case they may have not noticed it until the following day or beyond. Then again, maybe the driver was a struggling filmmaker, or better yet a film student-turned-temporary-American-Pavilion-waiter, who found the passes, attended our party, got a job, a deal, a lover, or at least a lasting memory. I hope it’s the latter, as its certainly more cinematically romantic!
Incidentally, this year’s 2010 Berlin bag is their 60th Anniversary bag that sports all 15,000 plus films that played the Berlin Film Festival over the last 60 years on it. I’m sure printing all 15,000 films onto a shoulder bag was an effort to upstage Cannes’ 60th Anniversary bag that listed their 60-film festival-winning directors. After all, 15,000 is greater than 60. It’s a very cool bag indeed….
Booths
Since your international distributor is charging you a “market fee” to cover the expenses of taking your film to several film markets, you must find out what markets they are attending and which ones are they “boothing” at. In all fairness though, ever since the world economy melted, all international distributors are boothing at fewer markets. It just doesn’t make sense to spend $15,000+ on a tiny booth, when virtually no buyers are willing to pick up small independent films for anything more than a few thousand dollars. Thus, until the international film sales tide turns in favor of independent films again (which I hope it does), most international sales companies will limit where they booth.
Sales Markets That Can Change Your Life
There are four significant film sales markets that mold the trend of film sales worldwide. Ironically enough, three of them happen to take place in Cannes, France. The Rolls Royce of all film sales markets is the Cannes Film Market, which runs concurrently with the Cannes Film Festival in May. MIPCOM is at Cannes every October, MIPTV is at Cannes every April, and The American Film Market (AFM), America’s premiere film market, is in Santa Monica every November. The one clarification I wanted to make is that MIPCOM and MIPTV are officially TV markets, not film markets. But, since most independent films are not star-studded enough to get theatrical releases, they do far better sales wise in TV markets.
Film market bags and sales booths can’t tell you everything about your international distributor, but they can tell you about how your film will be positioned on the worldwide stage.  Since you need to make sure your film gets its share of the spotlight with buyers, there is no better way to do so than to understand the intentions of your distributor before you sign with them. Thus, asking about their favorite market bag and where they booth will give you some sharp insight into if they’re a good match for you and your film.
Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/25211/#ixzz1EgCflMdT

GOING BIONIC – Article #15, “TAX CREDITS ROCK” August 24, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – TAX CREDITS ROCK!

I always loved Halloween growing up. For one magical evening, I could transform myself into a clown, Dracula or any other flavor of the month costume and create future cavities as I devoured candy from the kindness of strangers. I deeply appreciated every freebee I was able to lasso into my trick-or-treat pillowcase, but it was finding the “mother loads” that made my night.  I’m talking about the families that gave out regular sized candy bars and didn’t care if you took more than one.  Every neighborhood had a mother load, but once they were discovered an army of kids raided them until every last morsel of chocolate was gone. That’s the thing with mother loads; they’ll make you ecstatic for a short period of time and then they’ll disappear for at least for one year, possibly forever.
The same is the case with Film Tax Credits.  While they serve as “mother loads” for the filmmakers lucky enough to grab a piece of them, there’s clearly not enough “candy” to go around. So, in an effort to help you get your own piece, here’s some information on film tax credits and what they can do for you.
The Basics
Film tax credits are incentive programs designed to entice film productions to shoot in their state. Generally speaking, these tax credits are reserved for the amount of money spent on below the line costs within the area giving the tax credit. This means money paid to above the line costs like talent, director, writer and producer, usually won’t count. However, there are areas that allow tax credits for above the line costs, if you meet certain requirements.
The Upside
A number of tax credits are structured like cash rebates, so film productions can be paid back in cash once the proper paperwork is filed. With the economy still struggling, filmmakers can use tax credits as a solid way to severely reduce the amount of money their film needs to recoup in order to become profitable.  Simply put, everybody wins. The state giving the tax credit gets an infusion of cash spent on their residents and services and the filmmakers utilizing the tax credit get cash back for doing so. It’s a beautiful honeymoon of a deal for both sides.
The Downside
Each state has limited funds to give. For example, just last week California announced its $100 million dollars of tax credit funds allotted for 2010, were fully spent on the very first day of funding.  The $100 million was dispersed to 30 applicants, who were selected randomly. But, there are already 45 films on a waiting list for the 2011 California film funds, which won’t be available until July 1, 2011.
The other potential downside is that there is a constant push by several state legislatures to repeal their own state’s film tax credits.  Several politicians find them to be a waste of the public’s money. So, many programs are constantly in jeopardy of either being reduced, suspended, or officially closed. Thus, filmmakers should have a clear understanding of the tax credit status of the state they’re trying to shoot in. The easiest way to do this is to contact the film commission responsible for the area where the production desires to shoot.
The Blind Side
Read the instructions and procedures of each offer closely and  follow them to the letter of the law.  If you don’t, your tax credit could be delayed or deemed invalid.  There’s nothing worse in business than having a stack of cash abruptly taken away because certain procedures weren’t followed.
The Best Film Tax Credits Available
  1. Michigan – Hail, hail Motown, the Motor City, and every other filmmaker-loving part of the Wolverine state, because they have the most aggressive program. Michigan film tax credits are 40%, which can swell to 42% if the production shoots in a designated “core community.”  Furthermore, all above-the-line personnel qualify for the 40%-42% tax credit as “direct production expenditures.” This is very important, because the above-the-line personnel cost is usually quite a hefty chunk of an independent film’s budget (especially the actors). Thus, allowing these costs to be included allows for the film production to receive a much greater cash rebate. As for the below-the-line costs, Michigan offers the full 40%-42% tax credit for costs deemed “direct production expenditures,” and 30% tax for costs deemed “qualified production expenditures.”

    Furthermore, the way to ensure your production qualifies for the 40%-42% tax credit is to be a resident of Michigan for at least 60 days before your application is approved. Proof of residency can be achieved by having a Michigan driver’s license or a Michigan voter’s registration card. If you’re not willing to become a Michigan resident to save several hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars, then you can either wrangle a Michigan based producing partner to file the application, or settle for the 30% tax credit given to non-residents of Michigan. For more information about the Michigan Film tax credit, please visit: http://www.michiganfilmoffice.org/For-Producers/Incentives/Default.aspx

  2. Louisiana  – The home of the “Big Easy” is an amazingly fun, ridiculously friendly place to shoot.  Their tax credit is between 30%-35%,  (usually 30%) and both residents and non-residents of Louisiana are eligible. Since these tax credits are fully transferrable, film productions can elect to transfer them to the state of Louisiana, in exchange for an immediate check for 85% of the tax credit’s value.  Only production costs that are spent within the state of Louisiana are eligible. For more information, please visit the Louisiana Film Office http://www.louisianaentertainment.gov/film/content.cfm?id=61
  3. New York – The “Big Apple” has quite a big bundle of green waiting to give to filmmakers. New York is putting their “money where their mouth is” to the tune of $2.1 billion dollars over the next five years. On average, that’s $420 million per year, $35 million per month, and about $1,166,667.67 per day.  Needless to say, utilizing New York as a production location is something to think about given their commitment to supporting filmmaking.
As for other places to help filmmakers turn their dream into a reality,  here’s a list of  states that offer transferrable tax credits (which means they can be turned into a cash refund).
  • ALASKA – 30 % Base Film Tax Credit. Add 2% if it’s filmed in rural areas. Add 10% for wages paid to Alaska Residents and an additional 2% if the qualified expenses are incurred between October 1 and March 30.
  • ARIZONA – 20% for productions spending $250,000-$1,000,000 in Arizona and 30% if more than $1,000,000 is spent on qualified expenditures.
  • CALIFORNIA – 25% for independent productions with budgets under $10 million.
  • CONNECTICUT – 30%.
  • GEORGIA – 20% Base Film Tax Credit, plus 10% more for using an animated Georgia promotional logo in the finished product.
  • ILLINOIS – 30%.
  • MASSACHUSETTS – 25%.
  • MISSOURI – 35%.
  • NEW JERSEY – 20%.
  • PENNSYLVANIA – 25%.
  • PUERTO RICO – 40%.
  • RHODE ISLAND – 25%.
  • WEST VIRGINIA – 27% Base Film Tax Credit, with 4% more if at least 10 local hires are made on the production.
Several other states offer some form of film tax credits, but the “transferrable” tax credits listed above are the ones filmmakers should focus on. For more information on any of the state film incentive programs, just contact the various state film commissions.
It’s so refreshing for me to see so many states offering healthy film tax credits. When I graduated UCLA Film School in 1994,  it was virtually unheard of for states to entice film productions  with public funds.  Today we have a full-blown film tax credit civil war between several states,  making the immediate future of independent film production look quite healthy.  But, just like  the “mother loads” I enjoyed on many Halloween nights, these film tax credits could  be eaten up and sent into extinction sooner than anyone is willing to admit. So,  filmmakers would be wise to start utilizing them today!
Thanks again for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24340/#ixzz1Eg628xJf

GOING BIONIC – Article #14, “GOING THEATRICAL” August 17, 2010



GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – GOING THEATRICAL!

I was nine years old in June of 1977, when my uncle Babu convinced my dad to corral the family one Saturday afternoon to go see some new Sci-Fi movie called “Star Wars.” I still remember nursing my 7-11 Big Gulp filled with Dr. Pepper as I wilted in the hot Kansas sun waiting to get tickets. What was probably twenty minutes seemed like thirty years, as I couldn’t wait to nestle myself into a plush velvet seat in the Arctic-cool Glenwood Theater to see what my friends were raving about.
I was beyond excited as I sat in between my sisters Dolly and Mona armed with another Dr. Pepper and peanut M&M’s. Sure, I’d seen cinematic gems like “Herbie Rides Again,” “Freaky Friday” and “The Shaggy D.A.” before, but I’d never attended an “event” release like “Star Wars.” This was a big deal and everyone knew it.
As the theater lights finally went dark, I was hooked the moment “Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away” began. The bewildering special effects, amazing stunts and rich musical score all captivated me to the point that by the film’s end credits, I not only knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I knew what I had to do with the rest of my life. I needed to tell stories. That was the day I caught the “filmmaking bug.”

Every filmmaker has a cinematic experience that forever changes his or her life’s path. “Star Wars” was mine.
I believe because these remarkable moments of epiphany occur during the film that delivers “the bug,” filmmakers are forever focused on getting a theatrical r

elease for their films.




This brings me to today’s topic: Going Theatrical!

Like soap operas and toupees, theatrical releases aren’t for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I wish generation-defining successes like “Star Wars” upon everyone reading this column, but it’s important to know the ins and outs of the theatrical game before you jump in. So, here are some insights into releasing your film theatrically.

The First Two Weeks Are The Biggest
It’s estimated that 70-75% of a film’s total theatrical gross will be earned on the first two weekends of its release. One reason for this is because when film studios know they have a dog, they open their “barker” on as many screens as they can. This way, they can make as much coin as possible before bad word-of-mouth kills the box office.

“Battlefield Earth” (2000), is an excellent example. It made $11.548 million on 3,307 screens on its opening weekend, which represented 53.8% of its total domestic gross. Simply put, if you make more than half of your domestic total in three days, it means by the Monday after your opening weekend, bad word-of-mouth quickly killed your film.

Even if a film is great, most people see it by the second weekend of its release, unless word-of-mouth increases its fan base or it earns repeat customers. A recent example of this is “Sex and The City 2” (2010). This picture grossed $95.3 million domestically and $286.4 million worldwide. But, the gross receipts dropped from $31 million in the opening weekend, to $12 million on the second weekend. That’s a 60.2% drop in revenue. That trend suggests those who wanted to see it did, but they didn’t recommend it.

Legs
When a film has “legs,” it means it keeps tearing ticket stubs week after week. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” for example, opened with a weekend box office of $597,000, and then kept steadily chugging its way to a $241 million dollar domestic box office after 52 weeks in release. Fifty-two weeks. Think about that. That little indie romantic comedy stayed in theaters for one whole calendar year. Now that’s some seriously strong legs!

Per Screen Average
This is a key element in helping a distributor decide if he or she wants to expand your film into more theaters. For example, if your film makes $60,000 from being released on 30 screens, it has a $2,000 per screen average. But if your film earns $18,000 from being released on one screen, it has an $18,000 per screen average. Your distributor will be far more excited about expanding your film’s release from $18,000 on one screen as opposed to $60,000 on 30 screens. So remember, it’s not about the number of screens you get, it’s the number of “butts in seats” you get into each screening.

Rent-A-Distributor
If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: it is NEVER a good idea to pay a distributor up front to release your film theatrically. If they’re not willing to put their own money behind your film, then they clearly don’t believe in your film. All you’re doing by paying them to release your film, is paying for their overhead, their rent and their twin Ferraris.

Platform Releases
This is the kind of release you want for your brilliant independent film, and you want it with Fox Searchlight. A platform release is strategically placing your film on a few screens in key cities and utilizing critical acclaim word-of-mouth to carry it forward.

You want to work with Fox Searchlight because they’re the best at it. For example, in 2008 Fox Searchlight released “Slumdog Millionaire” on ten screens, earning $360,000 (that’s an incredible $36,000 per screen average). The picture eventually expanded to 2,943 screens, earning $141.3 million domestically, another $236.6 million internationally, and took home eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Furthermore, in 2004, Fox Searchlight released “Sideways” on four screens. That picture went on to play 1,786 screens and earned an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
If you’re wondering what my connection to Fox Searchlight is, the answer is nothing outside of my admiration for their ability to curate great indies.

Four Walling
This is the dangerous art of renting a theatrical screen from a theater or multiplex and showing your film on it. It’s simple. If your box office receipts eclipse your rental fee, you’re in profit. If not, you lose. Either way, the theater wins because they still get a healthy rental fee from you regardless whether the film hits or not.
If you’re thinking about four walling, it’s probably a good idea to rent their smallest screen at first – and only do so for one week – even if a stand-alone week costs a bit more than if you signed a multi-week contract. The reason is if your film is wildly successful, the theater will probably give you a much better deal for week two in a much bigger theater. But, if your film doesn’t catch fire, then at least you can cut your losses after one week.

Advertising is also a key element. Who is going to know or care about your film unless you create awareness? Targeting a specific audience who is likely to watch your film is your best bet in getting the support you need.
Location, location, location, as they say, is the most important element in four walling. Thus, do demographic research about the area before you choose a theater. Are the people in the area in the age range you’re targeting? Have they supported indie films in the past? Are they too conservative? Too liberal? Knowing these answers will enhance your chances of doing well.

Lastly, you should report your weekend grosses to the trades. Usually, grossing $3,500-$5,000 will break into the “Top 100 grossing films of the week.” This, of course, can help you keep your investors happy while they’re waiting to get their money back. However, distributors won’t take notice until your film grows “legs.”

The Exhibitor And Distributors Split
Generally speaking, a little over half of the domestic box office stays with the exhibitors (the theaters). While it’s true that major distributors will demand 90% of the opening weekend box office for their “tent pole” releases, most films released can’t command such a fee. Besides, even the 90/10 opening weekend split gets more favorable for the exhibitor week after week.

Coke And Popcorn Make The Real Money
Someone once said that TV shows were just advertisements between commercials. That statement is also true when it comes to concessions at movie theaters; theatrical films are just a way to get people to buy more Coke and popcorn. It’s estimated that somewhere between 88%-95% of a theater’s profit comes from concessions, not ticket sales.

Breaking Even Theatrically
Because the distributor gets slightly less than half of the total domestic box office gross, it’s widely believed theatrical releases must make 2.5 to 3 times their budget to break even. Of course, that assumption does not take international box office, DVD, cable, V.O.D. and TV sales into account. These all contribute toward helping a film break even. But, even with all of these ancillary markets, less than 20% of theatrical releases ever break even.

How A Film’s Rating Affects Box Office
Indie filmmakers have long been obsessed with making “R” rated films, because they’re supposedly hip to do. Sex, drugs, blood and weapons are staples that usually can’t be escaped. But, if you look at the numbers, the domestic audience much prefers “PG” ratings. The following chart from www.the-numbers.com details a 2009 breakdown for each MPAA rating:

Rank MPAA Rating Movies 2009 Gross Tickets Share
1 PG-13 138 $4,802,199,968 640,293,335 45.20%
2 R 179 $2,731,948,073 364,259,752 25.72%
3 PG 66 $2,717,426,214 362,323,496 25.58%
4 G 15 $298,233,758 39,764,500 2.81%
5 Not Rated 117 $73,554,038 9,807,204 .69%

As you can see, in 2009, over $7.5 billion dollars, or 70.78% of all money made at the domestic box office, was rated PG-13 or PG. That’s something to think about if you truly want to take your film theatrical.

Why Indies Usually Don’t Go Theatrical
It’s a simple case of math. Since most indies cost less than the catering budget of a studio film, it doesn’t make sense to invest tens of millions of dollars into marketing a small film that costs a fraction of the advertising budget needed to push it. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t put a $120,000 stereo system into an $8,000 car, because the stereo, albeit amazing, doesn’t make the car more valuable. The other factor is that major distributors only have so many theatrical slots per year that their staff can handle. Thus, taking on an indie film effectively takes away their ability to distribute one of their much larger, star-studded studio films.

When Films Are Traditionally Released
Indie films are traditionally released in the fall or winter, unless they have an Oscar buzz, at which time they will be released from November to December 25th. In fact, Christmas is the last day a film can be released in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. This is because a film must be screened theatrically for seven consecutive days before the end of the year in order to qualify for consideration. Indie films traditionally don’t do well during the summer, because May through August is reserved for the mega-budgeted studio action films to eat up most of the box office dollars.

The Only Thing That Really Matters
Filmmakers get so caught up over wanting a theatrical run, they forget what really matters: making money. I know you’re telling yourself making money doesn’t matter, and all you want is to have audiences see your work. But, unless you’re a billionaire, making money always matters. It matters to your investors, your future distributors, and to the perception of how good of a filmmaker you are. The good news is people don’t care how your film makes money, they just care that it does. Meaning, a very successful film on DVD or cable will do far more for your career than a theatrical run that flops.
At the end of the day, all filmmakers really want is a generation defining, bank-breaking theatrical success, which will deliver the filmmaking bug to some nine year old kid in Kansas. But in order to have your moment in the sun, you’ve got to be wearing the appropriate “cinematic sunscreen.” Understanding the theatrical game will allow you to bask in the glory of your theatrical success. But, ignoring these time-tested facts will burn you, if not worse….

Thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I hope to borrow them again next Tuesday!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24148/#ixzz1Eg5C2GoD

GOING BIONIC – Article #13, “HOW NOT TO GET SCREWED ON YOUR DISTRIBUTION CONTRACT” August 10, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – HOW NOT TO GET SCREWED ON YOUR DISTRIBUTION CONTRACT!

I still remember how wide-eyed and excited I was when I attended my first American Film Market (AFM) in 1992. President Bill Clinton was less than two months into his term, and I was less than two months away from getting my Bachelor’s degree. As I entered the main floor, I was immersed in a zoo of overpriced Italian suits, snakeskin boots and naive wannabe filmmakers, who were ripe to get screwed by distributors. I remember approaching a self-proclaimed “big-shot” distributor and asking him how long his contracts with filmmakers were. He just smirked and said, “forty years, kid.” Forty years? I was twenty-four at the time, and all I could think about is if I had a film and signed with him today, I’d be a few months away from retirement when I got the rights to my film back. The experience was the first time I realized how badly filmmakers actually get screwed. It was a daunting and depressing moment that will forever be tattooed in my mind.
This brings me to today’s topic: How not to get screwed in your distribution contract.
Over the years, I’ve been screwed heartily by distributors (on things I produced) so, when I started my little international distribution/sales company, Edward Stencel and I took a vow to always offer very fair-pro-filmmaker contracts. Since both of us are filmmakers, the last thing we set out to do is to screw our own kind. Thus, here’s a few key points you should be aware of so you don’t get that “freshly-screwed feeling” before the ink dries from the pen you used to sign your film away.
Advance Payments
Getting an advance on an independent film these days has gone the way of the woolly mammoth and legwarmers. Even if you have a solid cast and a multi-million dollar budget, advances are hard to come by. If you demand an advance, just know it will probably be the last check you will ever see. This is because most distributors are afflicted with an inability to pay you a penny above the advance money they shelled out to you, because in their minds they already paid you for your film.
Money Guarantees (MG’s)
Money guarantees from independent distribution companies are usually nothing more than a piece of paper to get filmmakers to sign with them.  Most distributors are well aware of the fact your film is never going to generate the income needed to fulfill the MG. They also know if they told you the truth, you would have never signed with them in the first place.  So, once you complain about not getting paid your MG, your distributor will release the rights of your film back to you, instead of paying you the money they guaranteed.
Sales Projections
Swallow a pound of salt before you read or hear sales projections from a company trying to sign your film. I’ve personally lost films before because I was too honest. When you tell a filmmaker their $600,000 film would be lucky to recoup $120,000 in today’s marketplace, that filmmaker runs away. They’d obviously rather hear someone say it’s going to make “$3 million easy.” In fact, a filmmaker friend of mine once told me her previous distributor claimed her little $200,000 film would sell 2 million DVD’s. The only thing crazier than that boldface lie is my friend actually believed him.
Cross-Collateralization
Do not allow cross-collateralization to occur. This means your distributor can’t charge off losses from their other titles onto your title. Your film should have its own accounting, and your distributor should only charge you costs that you’ve agreed to.
Single Contract Packaging of Several Films
This one may make your stomach turn, so if you have Pepto-Bismol or Tums handy, get them ready…What a lot of fiercely unethical film distributors do is sell an army of films to one entity at a painfully low price, which forces the filmmakers to get screwed beyond belief while the distributor banks a big fee.
Here’s how it works:
The distributor signs 100 indie films, and then builds in outrageous administrative fees of $100,000-$250,000 into each film. Meaning, the distributor must first recoup these ridiculous fees in full, before they are legally obliged to pay the filmmakers their profits. So basically filmmakers are giving away the first $100,000-$250,000 in sales of their film to their distributor, plus their distributor will take their sales percentage on top of their administrative fees. If that doesn’t want to make you swallow a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, this will…
Then the distributor takes all 100 newly signed films, and sells them off to one entity for $1,000 per film. ($100,000 total). Since each filmmaker owes the distributor the first $100,000-$250,000 of their film’s sales, the $100,000 payment from the entity buying the films goes directly to the distributor. In the end, each filmmaker is still $99,000-$249,000 away from seeing dollar one, while the distributor pockets a cool $100,000. It’s sick, I know. Thus, make sure if your film is included in large package sale, it has its own contract and is not lumped into a single contract with 99 other films.
Term Lengths
The length of a contract truly depends on what your distributor gives you upfront. In the event your distributor pays you an advance, they’ll want the rights to your film for 10-25 years. However, if they’re not paying you an advance, 3-7 years is more reasonable. But, there’s also something tricky about term lengths you should clearly understand. These are the length of time your distributor has the right to your film – not the length of time they can sign your film away to another entity. An explanation, let’s say your distributor has your rights for Germany until August 14, 2010.  On August 13, 2010, they can sell your rights to Germany for 10 years. Thus, you may be out of a contract with your distributor on August 14, 2010 but your film rights in Germany are sold until August 14, 2024. In cases like this, your distributor is still on the hook for making sure you get paid for that last-minute deal, even if you’re film is no longer under contract with him or her. But of course, if you still owe your distributor money for administrative fees, the money from that last-minute deal will go straight into their pocket.
Payment Schedules
Distributors will usually pay 30-60 days after the end of each quarter. That is of course, if they ever pay you.
State Laws To Be Governed By
Regardless if you made your film in Kansas, Bombay or Brussels, it’s always a good idea to agree to have your contract governed under the laws of the State of California or the State of New York. I’m not saying this is because my company is in wonderfully sunny Los Angeles, I’m saying this because California and New York are the two places on the planet that have thousands of precedents from previous cases, which will clearly help your argument. Thus, taking a film related lawsuit to a court in Des Moines, Iowa (even if you are from Des Moines and made the film there) is far riskier than trusting the Meccas of filmmaking (California and New York) with your dispute.
Market Costs
Every distributor has them, just make sure you clearly understand how much they are. These costs are related to the cost of going to film markets, not marketing. Market costs are usually included in the “administrative fees,” but you should clarify that.
Advertising Costs
Make your distributor place a cap on how much they can charge you for advertising. If you don’t, every time they get close to having to pay you, they’ll tack on more advertising fees.
Sales Reports
Regardless of what your distributor agrees to, most of them will only generate a sales report for you after sales are initiated on your film. Since most indie films either a) never get a sale or b) get a sale several months or more than a year after signing the deal, don’t be freaked out if you don’t get a sales report for a while. Besides, what’s the point of sending you a sales report with no sales in it? It’d be like giving you a Big Mac with no meat in it. However, once you get your first sale, you should get regular sales reports.
Percentages
Here’s a simple rule of thumb: The bigger the budget, the lower the sales percentage. For example, an international distributor will usually get 8% -12% of sales on a budget of $50 million, but they’ll command 20%-25% of sales on films with budgets ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars. On occasion, you may be able to negotiate having your distributor take a much higher percentage (30%-35%), in exchange for not charging you administrative fees. But, getting someone to agree to waive his or her administrative fees these days is quite unlikely. This is because current indie film sales are not high enough for the distributor to cover their overhead costs solely by their cut of sales.
The bottom line with distribution contracts is that they’re only as valid as the intentions of the distributor giving them to you.  The key is to go into every contract negotiation with your eyes open, your ears perked, and your hand armed with a pen ready to sign – if and only if you get yourself a fair contract.
Simply put, when you deal with most distributors over their contracts, imagine yourself being a gazelle thrown into a den of hungry lions. They’ll tear you apart given the chance, but you’re no ordinary gazelle. You’re “bionic,” and bionic gazelles will escape the deadly clutches of a bad distribution contract any day of the week.
Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/24146/#ixzz1Eg4OAQda

GOING BIONIC – Article #12, “DEVELOPMENT HELL” August 3, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – DEVELOPMENT HELL!

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.
1) Preparing Your Script

The Standard Screenplay Length Has Shrunk!
The standard length of a screenplay is now 110 pages for dramas/action/thrillers, and 95-105 for comedies.  Like VHS tapes, 120 page screenplays are a thing of the past.
The First Thing A Development Executive Will Do 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 a doorstop for a few months before it’s recycled.
Don’t List Your Copyright 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.
A “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 gets into a well-developed form.
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 in fact they don’t like your 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.
Get Coverage
Hire a company to write professional coverage for your script. If your coverage comes back strong, you could have something worthy. But, if it comes back weak, you’ll still benefit from having detailed notes on what to fix. 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 four, five or six people mention the same problem, then you should 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. In fact, 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 delivered in short sentences will read better on paper and play 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 more 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 we live in, kids don’t talk like kids anymore (unless they’re really young).
Don’t Fall Into The Indie Filmmaker Trap
This is a crucial element of this development process. Here’s what you want to avoid:
1)   You write a script you love, so you send it to a few places.
2)   Those places say “no,” so you send it to a few more places.
3)   The new places say “no,” leaving you frustrated.
4)   Instead of rewriting, you make your film yourself.
5)   You risk your credit cards, car and other assets to do so.
6)   Two years later, you have a completed film – but it probably has a limited cast and a low production value.
7)   You send your film to the same places that rejected your script two years earlier.
8)   More often than not, they will reject your film, because you never bothered to change your screenplay.
The above sequence happens far more than it should. In my office alone, we get pitched a countless number of indie films that will probably never find a distributor. I often wonder if anyone told those filmmakers how limited their options would be after they finish their film, or if those filmmakers knew their film’s fate all along and wanted to make the picture anyway.
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 suggestions, the more you’ll hear “never” from them about buying your script.
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.
*On a side note, I personally created a screenwriting contest called “Script Accessible,” which I currently house at the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. “Script Accessible” is for writers with disabilities who are free to write about whatever they wish, as well as non-disabled writers who have a disabled lead character in their script. Should you fall within either of those two guidelines, and are interested in submitting, please contact Slamdance directly.

Be Patient With Feedback
It’s highly unlikely that the person reading your script will do so in a short amount of time. It will take at least several weeks, if not a few months for them to give you feedback. Contacting 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 about every three weeks to check in on the status of your screenplay. Just remember the task of carving out an hour and a half to two hours to 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 endure for your script 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 (way bigger than me) and ultimately allow you to go bionic.
They say good things come to those who wait, but remember, great things come to those who rewrite!
Thanks for lending me your eyes, and I’ll see you next week!

Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23966/#ixzz1Eg310APT

GOING BIONIC – Article #11, “CO-PRODUCTIONS – FINANCING – PART 2” July 27, 2010

GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – CO-PRODUCTIONS (FINANCING PART TWO)

Over the past five Octobers, my company has trekked to Tokyo, Japan to attend TIFFCOM, an up-and-coming film sales market that runs concurrent with the Tokyo Film Festival. Knowing that very few American companies attend TIFFCOM, and achieving healthy sales in Japan are primarily based on trust and relationships, Edward Stencel and I have found an oasis of opportunity just by maintaining our relationships there.
One amazingly productive event we engage in while we’re there is The Tokyo Project Gathering. TPG is a four-day international co-production market where filmmakers meet with producers, financiers and distributors from all over the world in order to discuss ways to collectively finance their projects. We usually listen to 25-35 pitches each per year, some of which are given to us via a translator (which is a very cool experience because it reinforces the fact that a great idea is a great idea in any language). If you knew me personally, you’d know that I love to: a) talk and b) meet people. So, I’m always a breath or two away from losing my voice at the end of each TPG.
The reason I’m mentioning TPG is to shed light on ways of financing your film that you may not be considering. While you may be asking yourself why I am suggesting you fly half way around the world to finance your film, ask yourself something else; why not? Tokyo is one of the most incredible cities on the planet where the food is great, the people are nice, and the Tokyo Fish Market is something you will never forget. Besides, a trip to Tokyo will only cost you about $2,500-$3,000. If that seems expensive, consider the fact you’re probably budgeting your film right now for several hundred thousand to a few million dollars. Thus, spending a few thousand dollars to get your dream financed is a pretty good trade off, isn’t it?
Another key co-production market that you should consider attending is the Producers Network during the Cannes Film Festival. Since Edward and I attend Cannes three times per year for the Cannes Film Festival/Film Market and two TV markets, 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. 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.
The co-production market at the European Film Market (EFM) during the Berlin Film Festival is also excellent. This event lasts two and a half days every February (not three days, but two and a half, since Germans are so exact about everything). 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. Of course, I find Berlin in February to be especially unpleasant, because I’m in Park City the week before for Sundance. So, my teeth are usually chattering from mid-January to mid-February.
On a side note  – which has nothing to do about this article but is nonetheless interesting – several restaurants and hotel lobbies in Berlin in February have flat screen televisions with images of a chimney fire burning on them. When I saw them for the first time, I thought, “What the hell is a televised image of fire going to do for me? I’m still damn cold. Somebody, turn up the heat!” The hotels and restaurants claim that warm images of fire always help their guests feel warmer, but it think it’s probably the work of an incredibly gifted sales person who got them to buy into the scam.
The one thing to know about Cannes, Berlin and Tokyo 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, or even during a 4 A.M. adventure to the Tokyo Fish Market, 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, Tokyo, 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’s because the rapid decline of the Euro has directly affected how many European financiers and distributors make the trip to Santa Monica. Ever since the Euro has tumbled in value, I’m hearing several European financiers say they’re choosing to attend the European co-production markets in order to save money. Don’t get me wrong. AFM is a solid market, but 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.
When you do grab your passport, buy an eye pillow (Bucky eye pillows are awesome) and fly the friendly skies to meet with the people who may help your dream become a reality, here are a few key points, which may help you have a positive experience.
Don’t Give Them A Copy of Your Script or DVD
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 rather send it to them 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 different ideas. If every filmmaker gives them a DVD, script, one-sheet or an electronic press kit on their film, they have 100 extra things to pack in their suitcase the night before they fly home. Just imagine sitting in your hotel room, looking at 100 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 simply 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. The better move would be to send your work to their office a few days after they get home. That way, you will be fresh in their minds, and you won’t become one of the countless people they met at a party.
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 Them 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 if you’d 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 about this change 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 from a job?
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 quickly meet the elements that you can turn around and thank during your Academy Award acceptance speech a few years from now.
Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.


Read more: http://www.filmthreat.com/features/23806/#ixzz1Eg2RAlSO