Welcome to the 20th edition of Limping on Cloud 9. Today we chronicle a memorable time in 1999, when I lunched with and befriended an Original Gangster. Film director Steve Anderson (South Central) introduced me. I’ve also attached the “official trailer” from Steve Anderson’s film, “South Central.”
Everyone has hurdles to overcome in life, career and social interactions. Some of my most memorable ones were actual hurdles from 7th grade P.E. class, which were especially daunting for an undersized kid with a disability. This short podcast chronicles my year-long battle with hurdles, and how the experience molded my resolve. I hope you enjoy the listen, and I thank you for lending me your ears!
I was nursing an Arctic-cold Dr. Pepper at the American Film Market (AFM) on Santa Monica Beach a few years ago, when a fiercely confident independent filmmaker interrupted my moment of bliss by asking me why he couldn’t sell his film directly to buyers without dealing with companies like mine. “Because credible buyers don’t trust filmmakers they haven’t worked with many times before to deliver their film,” I replied. The filmmaker fell silent for a second, and then boasted, “I can deliver my film myself. I have my own Fed Ex account.” With that, the filmmaker left. As I watched him proudly strut away, it dawned on me that it’s possible most filmmakers have no idea what it means to “deliver” a film. Not that it’s their fault. The egregious act is never discussed in film school, and the only filmmakers who would know how to deliver are those who have been distributed before. So, today I’m sharing some key points on “deliverables.”
Definition Of Delivering A Film
Delivering a film means all technical, practical, quality and legal aspects of the film are completed and delivered to the buyer in order to complete the sale. The thing to remember is all international distributors are going to demand you have all of your “deliverables,” before they sign your film and far before they ever attempt to sell it. The reason for this is your international distributor never wants to strike a sale for your film and then realize you haven’t cleared the music, bought the necessary insurance, or completed any one of a myriad of issues that will cancel even the healthiest of sales.
Items That Must Be Delivered To Your International Distributor/Sales Agent Within 30 Days of Signing With Them
To clarify, these are items that you must provide to your international distributor, before they will attempt to initiate a sale.
Any available Masters and trailers (i.e. digi-beta Pal, digi-beta NTSC, and any other formats). This includes sound, M&E tracks (music and effects must be on separate tracks) and any other elements related to your Master.
Side note: If your Master tape does not meet broadcast quality standards, you must have another one made. Furthermore, you should only deliver a “protected” master of your film to your international distributor/sales agent. A “protected” master means that you have a “for screening purposes only” or a “property of (insert your production company name here)” notification come up every seven to 10 minutes throughout your screener. This way, when your international distributor gives your screener out to several buyers at sales markets, those buyers can’t rip-off your film. But, don’t worry. A good international distributor will think twice about giving out your screener to a buyer they haven’t worked with before – especially if that buyer seems shadier than an oversized tree.
A List Detailing Where the Masters are Held.
Full access to the Masters, for the purpose of delivering on deals during the term of the agreement with your international distributor.
Posters, flyers, screeners and any other media related to the promotion and sale of your film.Side note: Play close attention to this clause, filmmakers. Just because you have a poster and some screeners, doesn’t mean your international distributor has to use them. In fact, several international distributors will change your artwork and the title of your film in order to get a deal. While in many cases this move will increase your film’s value, you should be aware that they will charge the expenses involved with making the changes to you. The key is to negotiate up front how much they can charge you.
Artwork, copyrights, music cue sheets, trademarks, and English dialogue list.Side note: These are essential elements of completing any deal, so you really should have them in order. Furthermore, turning in an “English Dialogue List” doesn’t mean you just turn in your script. Actually, they’re night and day from one another. You may want to go online and find examples of how a dialogue list is constructed, in order to turn in something your international distributor will accept.
Availabilities for all territories, as well as the term length of those availabilities. Basically, this means that if you’ve sold your film to one or more territories, you need to notify your international distributor which territories you sold, and how long you sold them for.Side note: Under no circumstances should you hide what territories you’ve sold prior to signing with your international distributor. Don’t think you can pull a fast one and sell the same territory twice, because withholding information on a previous sale will tangle you into an ugly legal mess that will cost you ten times more than the few extra dollars you’d pocket from double-selling a territory. Besides, international sales professionals generally know each other, and know what titles each other are selling. So, a double-selling attempt will be found out faster than you can read the end of this sentence.
All language tracks (i.e. German, French, Spanish, etc).
Copies of E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance paperwork.E&O insurance is professional liability insurance that protects companies and individuals against claims made by clients for inadequate work or negligent actions. E&O often times covers both court costs and any settlements up to the amount specified on the insurance contract.
Side note: This one is a biggie. E&O insurance used to cost $7,500 per film, but now a more realistic cost is around $3,000. While it’s true filmmakers usually don’t need E&O insurance until they get their first distribution deal outside of the United States, it’s also true that the money for the E&O should be in place the day your international distributor starts to shop your film to his or her buyers. The last thing you want is to lose a deal over not having the elements in place to do a deal.
Of course your international distributor may front the money for your E&O insurance – but only in cases where profits from a pending deal far exceeds the cost of the E&O. In those cases, your international distributor will take the amount they fronted for the E&O, plus a fee, off the top of your film’s first sale.
All of the points made above are what your international distributor expects of you when they sign your film. However, the buyer who ultimately buys your film in every territory worldwide will also have a sea of stringent delivery demands for your international distributor to fill. Fulfilling those demands are crucial to this entire process, because you’ll never close a deal until you successfully deliver your film.
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, I’d like to share a funny short on delivering a package:
I’d also like to share my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is not film-industry related, but it is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears!
One of the best lessons I ever learned about knowing my international territories came in Budapest, Hungary at DISCOP; a Film and TV content market “for growing world regions.” I was at dinner with Edward Stencel, (a dear friend who ran my company with me for five years) and some new clients. We were at a hip restaurant on a boat called “Spoon,” when the conversation shifted to the emergence of Benelux. Benelux, I thought. What the hell is Benelux? It sounded like a virus, or a new military coup. As dinner wore on, I started to wonder why I’d never heard of it. Flashbacks of seventh grade suddenly arrested my thoughts as I remembered getting a “C” instead of a “B” on a world geography test because I failed to list the countries in North America (I listed the USA and Canada, but missed Mexico). So, before desert was upon us, I asked Edward where Benelux was. He just gave me a look and said “Benelux isn’t a country. It stands for Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg.” I was surprised, but relieved.
The thing about film sales territories is you have to know where and what they are and how they work – before they can work for your film. Currently there’s about forty territories worldwide, but less than ten that will be financially significant to your film. I’m not saying that most film territories are insignificant, since all of them provide a vital platform for getting your film out. Nor am I saying your film will only sell to ten territories (although you should do cartwheels if it does sell to ten territories). What I am saying is don’t be surprised if some of the smaller territories offer you such little money for your film that you’re too offended to say yes.
My rule of thumb is simple: If the offer is a) less than the cost of my Fed EX and related shipping costs to complete the deal, or b) if I know our client will surely go into cardiac arrest after hearing the offer, then I can’t accept it. But filmmakers-be-warned: there are more than a few distributors out there who will accept lowball deals. Those deals are too small to ever help you, and you’ll never see any money from them because they’ll be eaten up in your distributor’s fees.
Since there are many more “territorial insights” that you need to know, here are some key ones to consider.
How Territory Sales Work
Don’t worry. It’s simpler than it seems. Basically, buyers will offer to pay your distributor a “flat fee” for the right to distribute your film in their country. You get paid and they get your film. It’s that simple. They’ll pay for all language dubs and they’ll duplicate and market VOD and DVD in their country. In rare cases, you can also get a back-end bonus on your VOD and DVD sales put into your contract. But, it’s almost impossible to get a distributor in another country to pay those bonuses. I’m sure it has happened before, but such a magical occurrence happens about as often as people prove the existence of Santa Claus.
The Most Significant Territories
China, Germany, Japan and the UK are the key territories. Getting healthy sales there will significantly increase the value of your sales in smaller territories. But, the opposite is also true. A weak sale to the big four equals almost no sales in smaller territories.
Key Notes About Some Territories
1) Germany usually also includes German-speaking Switzerland.
2) France is very hard to sell to, because their government limits how much American product can be distributed.
3) Unlike other territories, Japan is not a place where a distributor can swoop in and make a quick buck. But, if nurtured correctly with honor, a relationship with Japan can provide decades of healthy sales.
What’s In A Title?
Your film’s title will probably change overseas.
What’s In A Look?
You film’s artwork will also change in other countries. But don’t fear, they’re just trying to position your film in its best light to capture healthy sales. Actually, you should request posters of your film from the various countries your film sells to. That fun exercise will do two things: 1) Create a great conversation piece for your friends, future investors and lovers when they see how many different countries your film played in, and 2) You’ll get a sense on how your work is being marketed to other countries.
What’s In A Final Cut?
Some territories will re-edit your film in order to get it approved by their censor boards, or to make it more acceptable to their viewing audiences. I know this cuts into the hearts of many filmmakers, but think about it this way: is cutting out sixty-eight seconds from your film worth getting a $75,000 sale? Or, worse yet, is keeping your sixty-eight seconds worth losing a $75,000 sale? Hmmm, things to consider.
Financing Your Film From Territory Sales
The problem is territories won’t pay until after your film is completed. The ones that will agree to cutting a check before you start shooting will only do so in pre-sales.
Pre-sales are when a territory buys your film before you finish it, or sometimes even before you make it. But, these deals are generally reserved for star-driven films, which are made in “slam-dunk” genres (action, thriller, sci-fi).
There’s a ton of things to know about the various territories, as their cultures, tastes, and business practices vary so much. All of those elements factor into what kinds of films each territory will buy and how much they’ll pay for them. In closing, I know the thought of understanding the various needs of each territory can be daunting. But, how is that different from understanding the needs and wants of your significant other who is wondering why you’re reading this article instead of spending “quality time” with them? In both cases, do the best you can, and let the universe figure out the rest.
That’s what I have today. Before I go, here’s a funny international video:
Additionally, here’s a link to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused, so it may serve as a short getaway for you.
One of the most important abilities to learn and master in the motion picture and television industry is to know what someone is saying about your project without them actually having to say it. Since much of this industry runs on hope in the face of constant rejection, most filmmakers prefer to sit on the hopeful side of the fence as opposed to dealing with the harsh realities of the situation. However, knowing what’s happening with your project can save you tremendous amounts of time, anguish and, ultimately, money. Thus, today we’re exploring three common situations when having the ability to “read between the lines” can help you get your project made. So, without further ado, let’s put on our “bionic reading glasses” and see what’s really going on.
It’s Not in Our Wheelhouse
Situation: When you submit a script, packed film that needs either all or part of their financing, or a completed film.
I love this term, be cause it’s a kinder and gentler way of letting you know they didn’t like your project. What’s funny to me is that if your project wasn’t in their “wheelhouse,” then why did they accept your submission in the first place? With every company having very direct mandates, i.e. being clear on what they will or will not develop, finance or distribute, this term often times signals non-interest in your project.
The best way to combat hearing this is:
When you hear the fateful words, “it’s not in our wheelhouse,” don’t try to convince them to reconsider, because if they’re not 110% behind your project from the very beginning, they are not a place your project will thrive at. Instead, ask them what is in their wheelhouse, and if they’d be interested in developing a like-minded project with you to that effect. Should they shy away from wanting to work with you on a project other than the one you submitted, they probably don’t want to work with you. However, if they are open to the idea, then you should jump at that opportunity.
Another way to combat “It’s not in our wheelhouse.”
In the event you’re dealing with a major studio or otherwise monstrous multi-billion dollar company, ask the person you submitted your project to if there is any other person at the studio who may respond more favorably. In other words, large corporations have multiple wheelhouses, and so your project may make sense for a person or division other than the one you submitted to.
We Love The Writing, But….
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I laugh every time I hear this (even when I hear it about my own writing), because the bottom line is, there are only three responses you ever want to hear when it comes to your writing being submitted.
1) “We love your writing and we’re buying your script.”
2) “We love your writing and we’re optioning your script.”
3) “We love your writing, but your script is not right for us, so we’re going to hire you for a OWA” (Open Writing Assignment).
Short of hearing either one of the three responses above, rest assured that your writing was anything but loved.
Not having the ability to read through the lines of hearing “We love the writing, but your script is not right for us,” can royally screw you in more ways than one. In fact, here’s two ways in which it can do its part in wasting a hell of a lot of your time.
1) It can give you a false sense of hope with regards to the quality and or readiness of your script to being sellable. Simply put, if you keep hearing how much everyone loves your script, you’re probably not going rewrite it, even if it gets passed on 44 times.
Side Note: I didn’t just pull the number “44” out of thin air. I actually know someone who has had his current screenplay passed on 44 times, and yet he refuses to rewrite it because he keeps hearing how much industry professionals “love his script.”
2) Saying they “love your script” and then not buying it, means they don’t want to spend the time and effort needed to tell you what about your script didn’t work for them. Besides, if they’re not buying it, then they have absolutely no reason to help you make your screenplay better. Think about it, no company or person will ever want to help out a project they passed on, because there’s no upside for them.
Thus, the only barometer you need to gauge interest from a studio, distributor or financier, is if they pay you for your work.
We’re Not Looking at New Projects Right Now
When you hear, “We’re not looking at new projects right now,” take the initiative to ask when they plan to be looking at new material, and what kind of material they are looking for. If they’re interested in working with you, they’ll tell you exactly when their development submission window opens up, as well as what types of genres they’ll be look at. If you’re lucky, you may even get an idea of what budget levels they’ll consider.
Another thing to ask is what elements, if any; they need you to have in place before you submit your project to them. These elements can range from a business plan, to partial funding, to casting attachments, and everything else in between. You may also ask them how many new projects they generally pick up.
Lastly, make sure you actually contact them when they say their submission window will be open. Don’t bother them before that date, and don’t bother contacting them too far after that date. Simply put, if you want them to respect you as a creator, then you need to respect the guidelines in which they work in.
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a funny video about “not hiring.”
I’d also like to link you to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9. My podcast has nothing to do with the film industry, but it is positivity infused, quirky and a bit offbeat. Limping On Cloud 9 is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thank you for lending me your eyes and ears.
Since January of 1997, I’ve produced and or executive several independent productions. I’ve also had the honor to serve as a film festival jury member, screener or panelist at several festivals worldwide. From the far north reaches of Dawson City, Yukon, to the down under sands of Sydney, Australia, to the ice-capped streets of Park City, Utah, and the Slackerlicious groove of Austin, Texas, I’ve absorbed more than a few vital truths about independent film productions, regardless of where they were made. Thus, here are a few key strategies to think about during the production of your cinematic masterpiece.
Never Start Until You Can Afford To Finish
If you’re like 99.8% of the amazingly talented independent filmmakers I know, you whole-heartedly disagree with this statement. Most indie filmmakers would much rather start shooting with the money they have and hope they can raise finishing funds later by showing potential investors their footage. The problem is 99.8% of potential investors won’t be impressed by footage enough to write a check. This is why 99.8% of the independent filmmakers I know have films they can’t finish.
The other problem is, those investors who may give you finishing funds are going to take an arm and a leg from you for doing so. They will make sure their money is in first position, and their money will be the most expensive you take. In addition, not having the money to finish from the start will also create major issues with retaining your talent, as they will move onto other productions if you can’t finish your film within the window of time they allotted to act in your film. If you have name talent, this will obviously kill the value of your film. If you don’t have name talent, replacing your talent midway through a project will surely increase the cost of your production and create a mountain of continuity issues. Thus, the smart move here is to find your full funding before you start shooting.
Don’t Treat Post-Production Funding As a Separate Matter
Post-production is often times treated like it’s something you worry about after you shoot your film. “I’ll get my film in the can and then worry about post” are famous last words, because a film without the money for post-production is clearly unfinished. Sure, it’s a lot closer to the proverbial finish line than a film that burned through its budget half way through production, but you’ll still be in a very undesirable situation with potential investors and distributors. In fact, distributors and investors will be far more inclined to invest in your film at this stage, because they will have to risk less and wait for a shorter period of time to recoup their investment. But, make no mistake about it; their investment terms will be just as unfavorable to you as if they invested when you ran out of money during production. All you’re doing by asking for money in post-production is lining the pockets of investors and distributors with cash that you’re taking away from yourself and your initial investors.
Did You Hear Me? Sound Is Important!
The simple rule of thumb is that sound is only noticed when it’s bad. Although there are examples of films that were enriched with amazing sound, it’s a rare moment when anyone comments on how great the sound of a film was. However, bad sound can be noticed immediately and having it will kill your chance of selling your film. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, bad sound can force collective cringes and rapid exits from your viewing audience. It’s funny to me how many times I hear filmmakers during production keeping a take laced with sound issues, because they think they can fix the issue later. The truth is, bad sound is bad sound and ADR can only do so much. I’ve also found that indie films rarely listen to the production sound team. Remember, bad sound is one of the first things buyers and distributors notice, and the last thing you want your film to be judged by.
Music Rights and Wrongs
Non-distributed independent films have always used extremely popular music, without paying for the songs. Some indie producers don’t think stealing music is a problem until their film is about to be distributed – at which time they assume the distributor will pay for their top shelf choices. Other indie producers feel that sending the musical artist a film with their unauthorized music in it will go a long way toward getting them the rights to the song. Both assumptions are far from being true. First of all, no distributor will mess with a songs rights issue unless they assured (through pre-sales) of making a killing on your film. Secondly, no musical artist is going to be happy about having his or her work used without permission. Their initial reaction will be to have “their people” bend you over a barrel and charge you an ungodly amount for the use of their music, and that’s only if they don’t flat out refuse to license the songs.
The smart play here is to approach music clearing houses like The Harry Fox Agency early on, and find out what can and can’t be cleared for your film. Tell them you have very little budget and that you doubt your film will ever be distributed – but you are hoping to get it distributed. This will ensure you the lowest price for your music. You can also look at music clearing houses online and/or subscription-based clearing houses.
Furthermore, be sure you’re paying for the correct rights. Paying for “festival rights only” is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for “worldwide rights in all media,” but festival rights will only allow you to play at festivals. Also, make sure you’re buying all of the rights involved with your song of choice; including the rights to the lyrics, the music and performance, because these rights could be held by different entities.
Another cost effective way to go with wrangling a popular song is to buy the remake rights. In short, that would entail having a lesser-known performer sing a hit song.
The rule of thumb to music in your film is that it’s ridiculously more cost-effective and doable if you seek out the rights early on. Like most things in life, waiting to do something that you could have done earlier, will always cost you more.
Shooting Schedules That Won’t Shoot Your Crew To Death
Most independent films are made on six, 18 hour shooting days per week, whereas most studio films tend to shoot five, 12 hour per day weeks. While I understand independent films need to shoot their film as quickly as possible due to budget constraints, six day shooting weeks with excruciatingly long hours will certainly lower the production value of the film. Furthermore, exhaustion fuels compromise, so the more tired everyone is the more compromised the scenes will look. The point to remember here is that distributors (and audiences for that matter) could care less how long – or short – it took to shoot a film. They will only judge films by what they can see. The last thing any filmmaker wants anyone to say is that his or her film was film was “pretty good for a small movie.” In distributor talk that means the film was not as good as its better-made counterparts, and the film is not something they will ever pay an advance for.
One consideration to creating a better shooting schedule is to alternate five and six day shooting weeks. This way the film crew may remain coherent and capable. Remember, one bad scene may damage the value of any independent film, while two or more scenes of lesser quality will certainly kill the sales potential for the film.
Good Food, Happy Crew, Great Production
Feeding your crew good food may be the difference between making a good little movie and a great independent film. Yes, I know how outlandish this statement may seem, but since most independent film crews are either paid very little or nothing at all, it’s extremely important to let them know they’re respected. The best way to show them love outside of paying them well is to feed them really good food. In fact, meals and craft service should be allotted enough money to make the crew brag about how good the food is. Doing so will keep up the collective morale of the production, which will raise the quality of the production.
Talking Small Will Help You Become A Big Success
When dealing with vendors for your lighting, camera, props, film or tape stock, and so on, make sure you talk small and remain humble. Let them know that you’re production is virtually broke (if it is) and that you’d greatly appreciate any guidance they can provide you. Also ask for the spelling of their name, so you can list them in your thank you credits for taking the time to help you. Taking these measures will get you killer deals. But, going into the same situation demanding a discount because the vendors should feel lucky to be involved in a film like yours, will get you nowhere. While they still might give you a discount, it’ll be a standard rate cut that they give everyone, and will be nowhere near the discount you would have gotten by being humble.
For many, being in production is the single-most sought-after phase of the filmmaking process. It’s what most of us live for, and like a first kiss, memories about being in production are cherished memories that all of us will forever remember. Also like a first kiss, the people involved in the production of a film have everything to do with how good the final outcome is. Thus, utilizing these above mentioned strategies will go a long way toward having your outcome result in getting distribution. So hunker down, pucker up and go out and create those memories!
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, here’s a quick video about film production:
I’d also like to share my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Thanks for lending me your eyes!
The first draft of the first screenplay I ever wrote left a lot to be desired. It was a family drama I wrote with a friend of mine in the fall of ’94, just months after I graduated UCLA Film School. I still remember how sure Mike and I were we’d sell our script. Unfortunately, I also remember our first “big Hollywood meeting” where the overtly polished studio executive’s biggest suggestion for our script was for us to “buy a shovel.” That’s right, “buy a shovel” as in “bury this waste of paper and never dig it up again.” I was shocked, crushed and disillusioned. I was even more depressed after the second, third and fourth drafts of the script triggered similar responses. This incessantly painful experience was my first (but not last) foray into DEVELOPMENT HELL!!!
For those of you who are wondering what development has to do with distribution, ask yourself what an engine has to do with a car. Like an engine, a solid script makes your film work. But without it, your film will be dead on arrival. This is clearly the case for independent films more so than studio films, because indies don’t have the luxury of a star-studded, $200 million dollar budget that can cleverly mask a really bad script.
After years of being a writer and a producer who has optioned several writers, I’ve compiled certain insights about the development game that may help you. These insights are for writers with either no sales or limited sales to their credit. Once you’re earning $2 million per screenplay, or have an Oscar prominently placed on your mantle, some of the following suggestions may no longer apply to you. But, until that earth-shattering, life-changing moment, you may wish to consider the following suggestions. In an effort to promote clarity, I’ve separated my suggestions into two categories:
Preparing Your Script and Submitting Your Script
The Standard Screenplay Length Has Shrunk!
The standard length of a screenplay is now 110 pages for dramas/action/thrillers, and 95-100 for comedies. Like VHS tapes (and DVD’s) 120 page screenplays are history.
One of the First Things a Development Executive Does is….
Flip to the last page of your screenplay, to see how long it is. If he or she deems it to be too long, they will not read it. Your beloved life’s work will become recycled.
Don’t List Your Copyright Number Or WGA Registration Number
Placing these numbers on your cover page is telling the person you’re submitting to that you think they’re going to steal your work. Talent agencies never list registration numbers on their script cover pages, so you shouldn’t either.
“Poor Man’s Copyright” Is Not An Actual Copyright
It always amazes me how few new writers register their screenplays with the U.S. Copyright Office. It only costs $40, and takes about 5 minutes of your time. Yet, not doing so will definitely put the rights to your screenplay in jeopardy. Trust me, mailing your script back to yourself is not a legal copyright. All you have to do to secure your work is go to the Library of Congress website and look up the Registrar of Copyrights. Some writers choose to register their work at the WGA (Writers Guild of America). This is an excellent step to take in addition to, not instead of copyrighting your material. Remember, WGA registrations are good for five years, while copyrights are good for 99 years after you go to your final resting place.
Never Submit A First Draft
Ever. All first drafts (including mine) suck. Even Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” You’ll thank yourself later for not submitting a first draft, and you won’t even be able to read your own first draft once your script is ready.
Never Put The Draft Number On Your Script
Stating your script is a “first draft” will make your reader think you’re an idiot for submitting a first draft. Conversely, stating your script is a “fourteenth draft” will make your reader think your writing still sucks after fourteen tries, if they don’t like the script.
Don’t Listen to Praise From Your Friends And Family
Family and friends won’t share their true opinion about your work in fear of damaging their relationship with you, so you must take their praise with a pound of salt. However, if you get praise from a qualified film industry professional who had no idea who you were at the time they read your work, then you may be on to something.
Hire a company to write professional coverage for your script. Many screenwriting contests also offer these services.
Recognize Trends Of Opinion About Your Screenplay
If one person hates a specific story aspect or character in your screenplay, then make a mental note of it. But if three or more mention the same problem, then change it!
Know Your Audience
One of the keys to making a solid script is to know who you’re making it for. So, when you sit down to scratch out your first set of notes for your future-Oscar winner, ask yourself one simple question: “Who is going to pay $14 to watch this film in a theater?” Make sure you have that question clearly answered before you start writing, so you can craft your story to fit the demands of your audience.
Limit The Number Of Characters
Fewer characters are better, because they are easier to remember. Once you confuse your reader, you lose any chance of having them buy or champion your script.
Give The Best Lines To Your Lead Character
Never give your best lines to sidekick characters. Remember, “I’ll be back,” “Go ahead, make my day” and “You had me at hello,” were all delivered by lead characters.
Make Sure Your Characters Talk Naturally
Humans don’t usually converse with each other in complete sentences; so neither should your characters. If you pay close attention to your next real-life conversation, you’ll notice that you and the person you’re speaking with often cut each other off. Conversational dialogue reads better on paper and plays better on screen.
Dovetail Your Characters
If you find you have too many characters who do too little in your story to matter, then combine (aka dovetail) those characters into a fewer number of meaningful characters.
Don’t Fall into the Gender Trap
Women don’t talk differently than men in real life, so they shouldn’t do so in your script. Of course characters, whether they are male or female, will speak differently. But don’t have your characters talk differently just because they are female.
Don’t Fall Into The Age Trap
Thanks to the Internet age, kids don’t talk like kids anymore (unless they’re young).
2) Submitting Your Script
Never Send Out Unsolicited Material
Mailing your script to a person or company, who never asked to read it, will do two things; a) burn your bridge with them b) get your script returned unread. Always contact the person or place you’d like to submit to. They’ll probably require you to have an agent or entertainment attorney submit your screenplay to them. Due to the legalities, writers usually can’t submit their own work.
Submission Releases are a Great Tool to Help Get Read
In the event that you can’t get an agent or entertainment attorney to submit your screenplay, you can contact the company you’re trying to submit to and ask them if they’ll accept a “signed submission release.” A submission release basically waives your right to sue the entity that would be reviewing your work, in the event they are developing or develop something in the future with similar elements to your screenplay. Don’t worry, if they truly rip-off your script, having you sign a submission release won’t free them from legal action.
Keep an Open Mind During Development Meetings
So your script as about a 22 year-boy, but a development executive wants you to switch it to a 34 year-old woman. Listen to what they have to say before you shoot down their idea. Who knows, maybe they have an actor in mind that would love your script. One of the other reasons development executives may suggest radical changes, is because they’re trying to gage how easy you are to work with. In short, the more you say “never” to their suggestions, the more you’ll hear “never” from them.
Submit Your Screenplay To Screenwriting Contests
There are several screenwriting contests out there, but far fewer credible ones that have withstood the test of time and have the respect of the motion picture industry professionals. The contests that will get you noticed if you win them include: The Nicholl Fellowship, Chesterfield, Sundance, Slamdance, Zoetrope, Bluecat (very cool because every script submitted will receive notes back to the writer) Scriptapalooza, Script Pimp and The Austin Heart of Film. You should do in-depth research on each contest and consider submitting to the one(s) you jive with.
Be Patient With Feedback
It’s highly unlikely that the person reading your script will do soon soon. It will take at least several weeks, if not a few months for them to give you feedback, unless of course, you have a huge agent, or you’re a winner of a huge screenwriting contest – or both.
Contacting the person you submitted to them weekly, or God forbid, daily, isn’t going to make them read your work any quicker. All it will do is piss them off. You may want to contact them every two to three weeks to check in. Just remember the task of carving out time read a new writer can take a while to schedule.
Always Have at Least a Few Different Scripts Ready
What if the film professional you’re meeting with likes you, but doesn’t think your script idea is right for them? If you have a few more script ideas ready to go, you can submit them instead. But, if you only have one idea, you’ll be seen like a one-trick pony and you’ll lose your contact to the professional.
Development Hell is a necessary evil to reach the heights you need it to. The journey is treacherous and oftentimes painful, but the results from a well-crafted screenplay can be wildly enjoyable. Creating a great script will allow you to attach better talent, get a bigger distributor and ultimately allow you to reach your dreams. Remember, they say good things come to those who wait, so great things come to those who rewrite!
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a link to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9.
Today I’d like to discuss a handful of thoughts on co-production protocol, with regards to partially financing your feature films overseas. So, without further ado, here are five tactics designed to assist you in your journey.
Don’t Give Anyone A Hard Copy of Your Script (unless they prefer it)
Most people will want you to mail or e-mail them a copy of your work, instead of taking it from you on the spot. Even if they would accept your sample right then and there, tell them you’d be happy to them electronically – after the market. This is because regardless of how interested they may be in your film, they probably won’t take your sample home with them. When you try to follow-up with them a few weeks later, they’ll just pass on your film instead of admitting they never actually gave it a look. Why won’t they give your film a look? Simple. When a distributor, financier or like-minded person is at a film market or co-production gathering, they hear at least 100-200 different ideas. If every filmmaker gives them a DVD, script, one-sheet or an electronic press kit on their film, they have 100-200 extra things to pack in their suitcase the night before they fly home. Just imagine sitting in your hotel room, looking at hundreds of items that you have no space for, and wondering if it’s worth paying for the extra baggage fees to transport the work of filmmakers you met for forty-six seconds. Never mind the fact your luggage just got a hell of a lot heavier and more cumbersome to carry. See what I mean? Your film will either be thrown away or left in the hotel room. So, unless the cleaning staff of the hotel is in the business of financing films (which is possible, you never know), your work will be prematurely disregarded.
Don’t Talk About Your Film Too Much
If you give people the word-for-word, scene-by-scene account of your film, they’ll felt like they’ve already seen it and have no reason to inquire further about it. Keep it simple. Give them a taste, but not a full bite, and they’ll want the four-course dinner.
Ask Your Potential Co-Production Partners About Themselves
One of the biggest mistakes I see filmmakers making at co-production meetings is they’re so wrapped up into their film’s universe, they never bother to ask anything about the people they’re meeting. Spent some time learning about with whom you’re meeting, and you’ll quickly find out what they respond to and how you can best utilize their abilities to benefit your film.
Don’t Be Set In Stone Over How Your Film Should Be Made
If someone asks you to consider changing you film from being about a drug bust in Detroit, to being about a drug ring in Paris, keep an open mind. If you flat-out say “no,” you’d better have a compelling reason why the city in your story can’t be changed. Just know the person inquiring is probably asking you for two reasons; 1) They’re looking to see how open you are to changes in your film and 2) They may have a source of financing based in the location they’re inquiring about.
Keep An Open Mind With Casting
When dealing with co-productions, you’ll have to consider what every actor you choose to cast is worth on an international stage (When I say “actor” I mean both male and female actors). It’s amazing how varied the value of actors can be overseas. Thus, you could pay the same amount for two actors, where one could be worth ten times more than the other. Meeting with an international distributor/sales company would be a good first step to learning what your proposed actors are worth.
International co-productions may seem daunting or far-fetched, but they’re actuality rewarding and fun. If you notice I often mention the “fun” factor, just know it’s done on purpose. Fun work won’t seem like work at all, and what else could you ask for?
Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Before I go, here’s a link to a cool video on co-productions:
I’d like to share a link to my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is not film-industry related, but it is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again soon.
Today we’re focusing on International Co-Productions as a way to finance your cinematic genius in waiting. Now, unless you already have direct relationships with government-run cinema finance boards all across the globe, the best way to crack the door open on such financing is to attend major film sales markets and meet face-to-face with those who have those contacts.
My company, Lonely Seal Releasing has trekked to countless international film sales markets more times than my wife and kids care to remember, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time at such markets. Thus, I’ve listed two key film sales markets that are ripe for co-production harvesting. In addition, I’ve listed a bit of protocol you may wish to consider when dealing with co-production opportunities. So, without further ado, here is a dose of (hopefully) useful insight for you.
Cannes Film Market (the Marche Du Film)
The Cannes Film Market is hands down the best on the planet and its Producers Network is a heaven for producers looking for financing, completion financing and distribution for their films. I can assure you that you will not regret making your way to the South of France in May. It’s quite a breathtaking experience that will not only invigorate your creativity, but it will expand your Rolodex overnight. Again, Cannes is clearly the Super Bowl of film events, so you will meet the best of the best from Africa to Austin and beyond. Of course, since you belong in that category yourself, you should probably meet your peers as soon as you can.
European Film Market (EFM)
The co-production market at the European Film Market (EFM) during the Berlin Film Festival is also excellent. The insight on this market is simple:
a) Berlin is a world-class city and the Berlin Film Festival (where the co-production market is concurrent with) is one of the finest film festivals in existence.
b) The people in Berlin are incredibly serious and committed to their craft, so the “flake factor” will be at a minimum.
c) The weather in Berlin during February is about as cold as the weather in Hell is hot.
Okay, that comparison may be a bit exaggerated, but Berlin is damn cold. If you consider “snow” to be a four-letter word for more than one reason, make sure you’re bundled up before you go.
The one thing to know about Cannes and Berlin is that since they’re incredibly fun cities to play in, everyone involved in the co-production markets are usually in a damn good mood. The best way to get something from someone is to ask them for what you need while they’re ridiculously happy. Thus, just as the person you’re pining to meet is sucking down his or her fourth shot at that mind-blowing, ridiculously ostentatious yacht party you slid into in Cannes, or at a cocktail party overlooking Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, ask if you can buy them lunch sometime to discuss your project. They may be too busy to accept, but your gesture will probably get you their e-mail address, or at least get you their assistant’s e-mail address, which is a start.
Another thing to consider about going overseas is the fact that you endured a painfully long flight, lost luggage and delays at customs to find a way to finance your film, tells the people you meet with all they need to know about your commitment to your project. Besides, you’ll have a lot of fun. Film markets and co-production conferences are rarely placed in boring cities. I grew up in Kansas, which I still love dearly, but you’ll probably never see many international co-production movers and shakers converge at the Embassy Suites in Overland Park. You will, however, see them in Cannes, Berlin and other world-renowned destinations.
By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not mentioning AFM in Santa Monica as a great place to initiate co-productions – it is a great place and you should attend it too. However, if you want to fund your film from other parts of the world, then it may be a good idea to actually visit those parts of the world.
The key to having a successful co-production is to create a multi-country collaboration to unlock financing hurdles together. Meaning, there is a stack of cash out there in some national, regional or city based production fund, in some country you’ve never put in your vacation plans, just waiting to be spent on your film. But that pile of green, blue, purple, or whatever color of currency finances your baby, will need certain elements to be involved in your film before the funds flow your way. It’s like leading a horse to water. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also lead a filmmaker to financing, but you can’t make him or her fly. But, if you choose to “fly” to help your film get off the ground, you’ll meet the elements that you can turn around and thank during your Academy Award acceptance speech a few years from now.
Okay, that’s what I have for you. Before I go, I’d like to share a link to my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused and a touch offbeat. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
Welcome to Going Bionic. Last week’s article, “Just Say No,” discussed five things to say “no” to, when it comes to advancing your career or increasing the salability of your film. Thus, today we’re going over five things to say “yes” to, which should help to advance or at least enhance your situation. So, without further ado, here are a handful of situations to look forward to.
Taking More Up Front, In Exchange for Fewer, Or No Points
While there are (very few) exceptions, back-end points are never paid out. This is true for everyone, including writers, producers, directors, investors, above-the-line crew participants, and even actors. A+++ listers will get paid, because they have the power to delay other projects they’re attached to, until they get paid. But, if you don’t possess that kind of power, then it’s highly unlikely that any back-end points will be paid to you.
Thus, it’s much smarter to get paid as much as you can up front, and not worry about the back-end. I say this for two reasons;
1) If you waive your back-end profits to take more money up front, and your film becomes a hit so huge that you miss out on a few million, don’t worry, because your value will increase so greatly that you’ll make up your loss of income quickly.
2) Even if the powers that be owe you back-end profits, they probably won’t pay you anyway, if the film is your first financial hit.
Short-Term Option Agreements
The last thing you want to do is sign a long-term option agreement (for your screenplay), unless the person optioning your literary property is paying you high five to six figures. Thus, if a producer wants to option your material and they are not willing to pay you handsomely to do so, then it’s still prudent to say “yes” if the following conditions apply:
1) The producer has significant credits or a deep Rolodex.
2) The producer has financing, or a clear path to financing.
3) The “short-term” option is no longer than 6 months.
4) The option has no “grey area” that triggers an extension.
Side Note #1: 12-18 month option agreements are the norm, but they usually come with a healthy payment up front.
Side Note #2: One dollar options are also normal, but I’d only recommend signing one if a) they person you’re granting the option to is highly successful and is someone you want to be associated with or b) they are your business partner and someone you trust 110%.
Simply put, agreeing to a short-term option is a good move, as it won’t tie up your film for too long if things don’t work out.
Trading Producer Credits For Investments Or Attachments
If there’s an investor or a person who can legitimately get you major above the line attachment, give them whatever producer credit they want, as long as they deliver. Just make sure their credit is contingent on them actually delivering the element promised. Additionally, make sure you have the option to remove their credit if the element they are bringing falls off.
Investors Influencing Casting Decisions
Some investors may only give you their money, if you use it to cast a specific actor. It’s your job to decide if the actor is a) right for your film and b) worth the money. While the final decision should rest on what’s best for your film, if such a situation doesn’t damage your film’s cache or financial potential, then why not say yes?
Warning: Some investors will want you to cast their friends, spouse, kid, or themselves, before they cut you a check. This situation is harder, because if their role is anything other than a glorified extra, you are putting your film’s future in grave danger.
The best thing to do here is to convince your investor casting them is likely putting their money at risk. The problem is, they may not care, because they may see their investment as a way to get an acting job. If that’s the case, you could be in trouble.
Giving Up Directing Credit To Gain A Much Bigger Budget
I know you don’t want to give up directing your film, but if a studio wants to turn it into a major production with a considerably larger budget, then you may wish to consider it. Doing so may get your career moving further, quicker, because getting writing credit, and possible producer/executive producer/co-producer credit, on a major studio release, holds a lot more value than making an indie film yourself does.
By the way, should you wish to check out my crazy little podcast, here is the iTunes link: Limping on Cloud 9. Additionally, our website is:
Wow….did that just happen? The better question is, How in the Hell did that happen? How exactly did Warren Beatty announce “La La Land” as the “Best Picture” winner, only to have it reversed in favor of “Moonlight” moments later when “La La Land'” producer Jordan Horowitz?
Warren Beatty claims there was a mix-up with the envelopes, but that’s not what Emma Stone says: (click on her image below).
In fact, here are her exact words when the media asked her to comment on being involved in the greatest Oscar scandal of all time. “I don’t mean to start stuff, but whatever story that was, I had that card. So I’m not sure what happened,” Stone said. In other words, Warren Beatty couldn’t have been handed Emma Stone’s envelope, if Emma Stone was clutching onto it backstage.
Accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers claims there are always two envelopes for each winning category – a statement they made during BBC interview earlier in the week, so it is conceivable the mix-up was valid.
Hmmm, sounds like we’ve got a healthy conspiracy theory brewing. Here’s a quick clip of the debacle:
In any case, “Moonlight,” a $1.5 million dollar independently financed coming-of-age film about a gay black teenager in a rough neighbor in Miami, became the smallest budgeted film to ever win “Best Picture” at the Oscars, Should you be wondering what the next smallest budget to win the “Best Picture,” was, that would be “Precious,” (released in 2009 and won the “Best Picture” Oscar in 2010), which had a $10 million budget.
“Moonlight,” which was released on October 21, 2016, has earned $21,520,324 at the box office domestically, and another $3,689,457 internationally, giving it a combined box office total of $25,209,781.
Furthermore, in addition to “Moonlight,” earning the “Best Picture” award, it also won two more Oscars; Mahershala Ali won for “Best Actor in a Supporting Role,” and director Barry Jenkins won the “Best Adapted Screenplay,” Oscar alongside Tarell Alvin McCraney, who based the script on his own play, “Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.”
Minority artists had a big night at the 89th annual Academy Awards. In addition to Moonlight’s well-deserved wins, Viola Davis won the “Best Actress in a Supporting Role,” Oscar for “Fences,” and Ezra Edelman won “Best Feature Film Documentary” for “O.J.: Made in America.” Additionally, here are other key points on how the evening parted from the status quo:
The 2017 edition of the Academy Awards marked the first time that black actors were nominated in each of the four major acting categories.
Six black actors were nominated in the top four acting categories.
Four of the five “Best Documentary” nominees were black, including the winner, Ezra Edleman for “O.J.: Made in America,” which, at 467 minutes, also set the record for being the longest film to ever win an Oscar.
After the outcry of #Oscarsowhite in 2015, the Academy invited 683 new Academy Members; from 59 different countries; 41% of which are women and 46% of which are non-white. But, never in a million years did I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would correct itself in front of millions of viewers on TV and countless streaming services, but they did and I, for one, am thankful. So, things are changing, ever so slowly, but markedly, which is good.
On that note, I’ll wrap up today’s article. By the way, Should you be as so kind to lend me your ears, please check out the iTunes link to my podcast, Limping on Cloud 9. Additionally, here is a link to our website: Limping on Cloud 9. I’d like to once again thank you for lending me your eyes.
Hey everybody, I hope you had an epic week. As we all know, every single creative person in the entertainment industry hears the word “no” far more than he or she hears “yes.” Thus, my intension today is to provide you with situations where saying “no” is the best move for both you and your project. So, without further ado, here are four situations where saying “no” to a contract clause, benefits your film’s financial success.
No Automatic Contract Extensions Without Performance
When going over your film, TV, VOD and or Over the Top network distribution offer, one key point to look for are extensions mentioned in your license term. Many distributors will try to sneak in extension verbiage somewhere in your contract, which will be heavily beneficial toward them. Of course, it’s your job as the filmmaker to protect your own interests, i.e. the interests of your film.
Here is what to look out for:
Your contract with your sales agent/distributor calls for five years, but due to an “automatic extension” clause, embedded somewhere in the contract, you could be signing your film away for 20 years or more, without knowing it. They say “ignorance is bliss,” for a reason; meaning if you failed to read your contract thoroughly, or have it read by an entertainment attorney, then it’s your fault for not catching the distributor sneaking an automatic extension clause into your contract. Our industry is flooded with shrewd negotiators who will always take as much as they can get, so be careful. Of course, it’s always smart to include a performance-based extension clause based on the amount of sales your distributor/sales agent generates.
Here’s some more stuff to get fired up about:
No License Reassignment Without Approval
Another thing to look out for is giving your distributor or sales agent the ability to reassign your film (sell it to another sales company) without your approval. The main problems with allowing your sales agent/distributor to reassign your rights are a) the company your sales agent/distributor reassigns your rights to has no relationship to you or your film. They’re probably receiving your film in a “bundle,” where several films are “fire-sold” together at a deep discount and b) your film will have to adhere to the rules and regulations of a new contract from a company you may not have ever met or heard of. Thus, your film should rest with the sales agent/distributor you originally signed with, until or unless you agree with the reassignment.
No Licensing Without Bankruptcy Protection
Demanding this clause as part of your contract will save you a tremendous amount of headache and heartache. What you want is to protect your film’s future in the event your sales agent/distributor files for bankruptcy. A smart move here would be to make sure your film can’t be included in the sales agent/distributor’s list of assets when they file bankruptcy. You may want to have your lawyer write a clause that says your film’s rights revert directly back to you the moment your distributor/sales agent files for bankruptcy. If you fail to do this, your film will be tied up in bankruptcy court.
No Percentage Based Administrative Costs Without Ceilings
Many contracts try to gather additional administrative fees through percentage clauses. This is never good for the filmmaker, unless reasonable “cost ceilings” are built into the contract. For example, let’s say your distributor is asking for $50,000 in administrative fees, plus 20% of the sales they generate for your film, both of which are normal. But, if they want an additional 15% in advertising and marketing costs (or any additional costs for that matter) based on the sales they make, then you’re getting royally screwed if there is no “spending ceiling” on the deal.
Assumption #1: Your sales agent/distributor is signed to receive $50,000 in administrative fees +20% of sales.
Assumption #2: They generate $500,000 in sales for your film.
You are already paying them $50,000 for their admin fees and $100,000 more for their 20% sales fee (20% of $500,000 = $100,000). Thus, they are earning $150,000.
If you allow them an additional 15% for marketing and advertising, you’d owe them $75,000 more (15% of $500,000 = $75,000).
3. This totals $225,000 out of $500,000 for the distributor.
Thus, the smart move would be to put a ceiling on the amount of marketing and advertising costs your distributor/sales agent can recoup off sales. Whether that number is $10,000, $25,000, $50,000 or more, you need to have a finite monetary amount on those “additional costs,” so that the distributor can’t drain you dry.
And for good measure, Here’s a Ted X talk on the art off saying “No.”
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a link to my podcast, Limping On Cloud 9. My podcast has nothing to do with the film industry, but it is positivity infused, quirky and a bit offbeat. Limping On Cloud 9 is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Additionally, here’s a link to our website, which includes pictures and descriptions of each podcast.
Hey, friends. I hope you’re had a wildly productive week, or at least a mildly relaxing one. Today I’m presenting a $50,000 question:
I’ve got $50,000 and a cinematic dream. How I can maximize my money into order to launch my career to the next level?
Now that’s a question most filmmakers have to answer at some point, so without further ado, here are my answers.
First Things First
Your initial action should be to decide what you want out of the project. Do you want money? Fame? Do you desire more money than fame, more fame than money? Being honest with yourself with help you clarify how to best spend your investment funds.
Growing Your Budget
If your $50,000 is readily available and verifiable, multiplying your budget shouldn’t be too hard. This is because many investors will consider films with partial funding. They may want to recoup their investment before you can recoup yours, but giving your investors “first position” during the payback stage is a small price to pay to multiply your budget.
Packaging Your Film – The Spend
You could spend all of your $50,000 on attaching a valuable actor (male of female), whose involvement would sharply enhance the value of your film. Make sure the actor is worth a hell of a lot more on the open market, ($500,000+) before you advance the $50,000 to attach their name.
You could also get an actor who normally charges $1 million to agree to a $500,000 out of your budget and them offer him or her payments from the first crop of money that comes in from sales to make up the other $500,000 of their fee. I’d also throw in an executive producer fee and backend profits as a “thank you” to the actor for taking less up front. That way, you’re utilizing your $50,000 to attach and actor worth up to $1,000,000. Not bad, eh?
Marketing, Social Media and Crowd Funding
With $50,000, you can also create and maintain a strong social media presence as well as drive attention to your crowd funding campaign. While I don’t recommend you spend all $50,000 on social media, spending up to $15,000 may make sense ($2,500 per month for six months). Doing so should help you garner enough interest to wrangle an investor or two or more. Furthermore, spending $15,000 on social media should help you get about 150,000 likes or followers across all of your social media accounts.
Book Rights, Life Rights.
One key insight is that you don’t have to spend any of your $50,000 on production. You can just use the funds to acquire or develop A-list source material, like book rights, rights to an article, or life rights of a person in the public eye. I assure you doing so will get you noticed by those who matter.
As for other ways of earning thousands of dollars, here’s a link to Snoop Dog playing for $25,000 during the “Fast Money” round on “Family Feud.”
Okay, that is what I have for you today. But before I go, I’d like to invite you to check out my blog, Limping on Cloud 9 (iTunes). Should you wish to see pictures and descriptions of our podcasts, check out our website:
Hey, everyone! I hope you’re having a great day. Today I’d like to discuss a trap that visually all filmmakers fall into at some point in their careers (I know I did). It’s called the Indie Filmmaker Trap, and it’s more treacherous than loose quicksand.
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 convince yourself your vision is the only one that matters, and everyone else flat out wrong.
6) You beg friends and family to invest, and some do. However, more than likely, they are investing in “you” not your film; meaning they’re only giving you the amount of money they are wiling to lose, because they know they’re losing it.
7) Encouraged by getting a little bit of outside money, you risk your credit cards, car and other assets to make your film the way you want to make it.
8) Two to three years later, you have a completed film – but it probably has a limited cast and a low production value.
9) You send your film to the same places that rejected your script years earlier.
10) They reject your film, because, a) they passed on it the first time around, b) you have no bankable stars, c) you have no production value and c) you never bothered to change your screenplay/address concerns others had with it to begin with.
The above sequence happens far more than it should, but luckily, The “Indie Filmmaker Trap” is an affliction that can be cured early on. All you have to do is three things:
a) Listen to concerns about your story. If one person has a key concern, thank them for their notes and file the information away. However, if three or more professionals have the same exact issue with your script, it’s time to change it.
b) Get professional coverage, because your friends and family will never tell you what they really think. Remember, studio execs have no vested interest in giving you detailed notes. They don’t have the time for it, nor does it benefit them in any way. All you’ll hear from them is that they liked your film (or script) but it wasn’t in their wheelhouse.
c) Stop banking on the fact you think your film will be the breakout gem that defies the odds and makes you an “overnight sensation.” The truth is, there’s over 11,000 combined shorts, features, documentaries, etc that apply to Sundance alone every year, and you may only hear of five or six of them. What’s even more daunting is of the half-dozen you hear about, less than one per year on average ever makes money, or even makes it into the public eye. As for breakthrough “hits” like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, those only come around every eight to 10 years.
Okay, that’s the (lack of) genius I have for you today. However, before I go, here’s a funny video of “How to be a Filmmaker.”
Furthermore, if you’re an avid (or curious) podcast listener, my podcast is called, Limping on Cloud 9. It has nothing to do with the film industry, but it is positivity infused, quirky and a bit offbeat. Limping On Cloud 9 is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher. Of course, if you’d like to listen to my podcast while seeing pictures and reading a description on the topic, visit our website below. Thank you for lending me your eyes!
Happy Hump Day, everyone. I hope your Valentines Day was joyful and fun . Getting back to reality, today we’re exploring three quick ways on how to field horrific notes on your scripts or feature films, without jumping off a bridge, or burning a bridge with the person who gave you the notes.
In today’s cinematic world of fragile egos and harsh opinions, the only thing harder than listening to insensitive professionals bash your life’s work, is to actually listen to their suggestions. Since filmmakers have been known to fancy themselves auteurs, the mere thought of altering their vision to enhance the commercial viability of their project turns their stomach. However, ignoring good notes that could turn an edit here and a rewrite there into a distribution deal here and a film festival award there, will turn far more than just your stomach; it’ll saddle you with an unsellable mountain of celluloid that will sharply reverse any forward progress you may have earned in your career.
Thus, here are three tips on how to accept the right advice.
Know Your Project’s Endgame Before You Field Notes
Having a realistic expectation of where your project is headed is key to positioning it for success. Is your project a super low-budget cult classic with no stars, or is it a star-driven, Sundance darling that may win more awards then sell tickets at the box office? While both strategies can do wonders for your career, you should have clear idea as to which path you’re focused on.
Once you figure out what your endgame is, you can start to focus on only the notes and opinions that directly pertain to it. This will help save you a colossal amount of time, because you won’t clutter your mind with 3,168 or so opinions that may not pertain to the current focus of your project.
No Personal Connection To The One Considering Your Work
While it’s comforting to have your family and friends praise your project, their opinions are useless. They have to interact with you on a daily basis, so they’ll be careful about their criticism. Billy Joel said it best in his song Honesty: “Honesty, is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue.” Remember, human nature doesn’t change; it merely evolves. Thus, the solution is to have your work reviewed by respected, professional people who do not have a personal relationship with you. While their notes may be brutal, their praise will be honored and endorsed by all major entities in town.
Beware Of Including Coverage With Your Script Submission
Regardless of how good the coverage, including it with your screenplay will almost guarantee nobody will read your script. Reading five pages is a lot easier than reading 105 pages, so if you give your reader the opportunity to do so, he or she will certainly exercise that option. Furthermore, if you use a high-priced script doctor, some places may question the authenticity of the coverage, because they know you paid a very pretty penny to get it.
Okay, that’s (almost) all I have for you today. Here’s a link to a short video about key screenwriting techniques used in “Gone Girl.”
By the way, should you be as so kind to lend me your ears, please check out the iTunes link to my podcast, Limping on Cloud 9. Additionally, here is a link to our website below. Thank you for lending me your eyes.
Hey everyone. Today we’re going to explore a few key “Copyright Strategies” that can sharply increase the value of your cinematic property. However, before we start strategizing, let’s walk through a few basics first.
The Basics: Copyright Protection in Years
For original work filed by the author under his or her name, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. That’s far greater than the five-year term of a WGA Registration. If you deem your script to be worth a $55 investment, then you should splurge for both registrations ($35 for an Electronic Copyright Registration + $20 for WGA Registration for screenplays from non-WGA writers).
For completed motion pictures, screenplays and related performing arts, an Electronic Copyright is your best bet at $35. Should you prefer to mail in a hard copy of your work, the fee jumps to $85. Here is a link to all of the current copyright fees: https://www.copyright.gov/docs/fees.html
Completed motion pictures and screenplays require a Form PA, while novels are registered under Form TX. Furthermore, there are “Short Form” versions of the above forms, but they can only be used during if the item being copyrighted is created by one author.
A Copyright’s Validity Begins When….
When registering a claim through the ECO (Electronic Copyright Office), your copyright is valid when you, a) complete the online form, b) pay the required fees and c) upload the material. You’ll also get two confirmation e-mails; one to confirm the successful upload of your material and the other to confirm the receipt of your payment.
Copyrights Stand the Test of (Most) Rewrites.
Regarding screenplays, unless you are completely changing the story, as well as its characters and the names of the characters, there is no need to copyright your script more than once.
When To File a Copyright Claim
Make no mistake, you should always copyright every project you create. However, when you do it can make a world difference to your project’s value.
Consider these insights:
Copyright the material right away, because the year in which a screenplay was written does not adversely affect the value of the literary property.
You should copyright your finished product quickly, unless your film is completed toward the end of the calendar year.
When Not to File a Copyright Claim
Completing a Film in the Last Quarter of the Calendar Year
If you complete your film during the last quarter of the calendar year, it may behoove you to copyright your film in the first week of January, to get the new year’s copyright. Think about it, if you were to buy a new car today, a new 2013 model is far cheaper than a new 2014 model, even though both models are brand-new. It’s the same with films, so do your best to your copyright your film at the beginning of a calendar year as opposed the end of it.
Shy Away From Putting Copyright Information on IMDb
Unless you’re 1000% confident your film will be sold and distributed in the year you finished it, do not list the copyright on your IMDB listing. Just fill that space with question marks. Why? Because if your film is listed on IMDB as a 2017 release and then it takes more than 12-months to get it released, international film buyers will pay far less for that film, thinking you were unable to sell it. Should this sound confusing, here’s an explanation:
December 2016 to January 2017 is only a one month time span, but it counts as one-year on your copyright. December 2015 to January 2017 is only a 13-month time-frame, but that counts as two years on your copyright. Thus, don’t prematurely sabotage the value of your film on IMDB.
Okay friends, that’s what I have for you today. But first, Here’s a quick video called about copyrights, produced by “Crash Course.”
I thank you for lending me your eyes and I look forward to borrowing them again soon! In the meantime, please check out my new podcast called, “Limping on Cloud 9,”. Here’s our website:
It was February of 2006. I had just returned from my annual birthday trip to the Super Bowl when I learned that an indie producer from the east coast wanted to hire me to rewrite a modern day pirate script. So we met, agreed on the value of my words, and I started writing. A week later my mailbox still hadn’t been graced with a check. After avoiding my first several calls, my “producer” finally answered my call just long enough to try to renegotiate my price. Obviously, mutiny was afoot over my payday.
When we met again, I asked him how his film was being financed. His answer was the most harrowing and painfully unique I’ve ever heard. He claimed his film was going to be financed by lawsuit settlement money from a guy who was run over by a UPS truck and turned into a quadriplegic. Wow! A recent quadriplegic wanting to risk the bulk of his settlement money on the second-most dangerous investment in America (restaurants being the first). What a huge mistake. One thing I was sure about is that I no longer wanted to have anything to do with his film. I don’t need bad karma, and the producer never paid me anyway, so I bowed out.
That experience solidified my belief that indie producers will do anything – and I mean anything – to get their films financed. This, of course brings us to today’s topic: Indie Film Financing. Let me start by saying over the past 20 years, I have directly invested in production financing for independent films, development financing for much larger films and I’ve been a indie producer who has tried to reel in investors. Throughout it all, I’ve made money, lost money and have learned hard lessons that will forever be tattooed in my memory. So, my goal here today is to give you some insight on how to position your film in its best light to potential investors.
The Right Investors Aren’t In It For the Money
Classic film investors won’t be affected if you lose their money. Of course they usually want to make money (sometimes they don’t because of tax liability reasons) but their real reason for investing in an indie film is so they can tell their friends they’re an ‘executive producer.’ These investors are usually too busy to keep tabs on your film, or visit your set more than once. But, they’re also very shrewd and they need to make sure you know what you’re doing before they cut you a check. Thus, they will rake you over the coals on your budget and demand your production is filled with seasoned veterans. They will also ask you hard questions about your film’s distribution. In most cases, these investors have invested in films before, so be ready for an assault of challenging questions. Obviously, their money is hard to get. But, it’s the best kind because you’ll keep getting it in the future if your film gets to breakeven or even gets close to breakeven for them. Plus, in the event your film tanks, these investors usually won’t cause you much grief because they’ll use the loss as a write-off on their taxes.
Getting ‘Dumb Money’ Is A Dumb Move
By ‘dumb money,’ I don’t mean these types of investors are dumb. In fact, they’re usually quite intelligent and highly successful. Doctors, dentists, lawyers and corporate professionals usually fall into this category. These are people who make a very healthy living, but will certainly feel a pinch in their pocketbook if you lose their money. These investors are usually easier to get on board, because they have no idea they have a better chance of starting for the Los Angeles Lakers next season than they do of making their money back. They will also want to be on your set far more than you’ll want them to be there, and they will call you incessantly for updates. Be very careful with these types of investors, because they will come after you if their money is lost.
Be Honest With Family And Friends Who Invest
Let’s be honest; mom, dad, grandma, your siblings, cousins and your best friend from grade school don’t really believe your film is going to make them rich. In your mind they’re investing, but in their mind they’re donating. So, if you choose to take investment money from family and friends, it may be a good idea to ask them to give you the amount of money they can live with losing. That way making them money is a pleasant surprise. But, losing it won’t ruin your relationship with them.
Create a Business Plan That Makes Sense
If I had a dollar for every business plan that has come across my desk with ridiculous assumptions and exorbitant fees for the filmmakers, I could afford to the buy the Ferrari’s for every day of the week – on cash! Trust me, once your financial assumptions shoot into the galaxy of ridiculous, your potential investor won’t sign that check you’re pining for. So, in an effort to help you get that check signed, here are some insights on how investors view indie film business plans:
a) Your business plan doesn’t have to be Bible-thick, especially since 99% of your potential investors won’t read it anyway. They will, however, focus on two crucial aspects: how much money you’re asking for and when they should expect to see a return on their investment.
b) Don’t pay yourself too much money. For example, if your film is a $1,000,000 budget, don’t pay yourself $100,000 to direct, another $100,000 to write and yet another $100,000 to produce. Asking your potential investors to let you pocket $300,000 of a $1,000,000 budget will kill their interest. Investors don’t want you to get rich off their money, they want you to make just enough money to cover your bills during the shoot. Simply put, your investors want you to suffer alongside them until they get their money back. Besides, if you ask for heavy fees, some investors will ask you to prove you’ve made the same level of money on your previous project (I know I always ask).
c) Demanding the investor sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) before they look at your proposal is NOT a good strategic move. Think about it, if you’re asking an investor to give you money, you shouldn’t threaten them with a lawsuit. In this age of lawsuit happy people, the last thing an investor will do is sign something that allows you to sue them. Thus, most of them (me included) would rather not get involved in looking at your business plan. But if you insist on having a NDA signed, you should clearly notify your potential investor of your intention before you meet with them.
I was duped by such a crafty move several years ago, when I took a meeting with a producer who wanted me to invest in and distribute her multi-picture production slate. While a very positive ninety-minute meeting ensued, as the meeting winded down, the producer pulled out a NDA for me to sign. Asking me to sign an NDA after the pitch? Needless to say, my interest evaporated. On the inside I was thinking, “Damn, what a waste of ninety-minutes,” while on the outside I politely told the producer I don’t usually sign NDA’s for film business plans. Suddenly, all of the positive vibes left the room and the meeting ended soon thereafter.
d) The film successes you choose to compare your film with should be within the realm of believability. For example, if you’re making a $400,000 comedy, don’t compare its potential to “The Hangover” – which was a bigger studio film, with studio advertising and studio muscle at the theater chains. Try to find films with budgets like yours, and list how well they did without a theatrical release. Since getting a theatrical release on an indie film is like winning the lottery, your numbers should look strong without adding potential numbers at the box office. If they do, you’ll have a much better chance of getting a check cut.
e) If you choose to describe your film (tonally speaking) as a cross between two other films, make sure those two films were successful! You can’t imagine how many filmmakers will list their film is a cross between two critically-acclaimed indie films that nobody outside of the indie film world has ever heard of. Remember, investors don’t care if your film is like other critically acclaimed gems. They don’t care or if it plays at Cannes, Sundance and Berlin, or how many awards it’s won. All investors care about is making money. So, if you’re going to say your film is a cross between two others, make sure you mention highly successful titles that a even farmer in Kansas has heard of.
f) Make sure your numbers make sense. I recently looked at a business plan that stated “since the filmmaker’s previous short film made 798% in the educational market, his feature film will make 798% in the mainstream market.” Are you kidding me? How much did his short cost? A few thousand? How much does he want for his feature? A few million? Anyone with half of a brain will see the flaw in that logic. Sometimes you have to take a step back from and ask yourself if you would buy what you’re selling.
g) Do not include your script with your business plan, unless your investor specifically asks for it. No, I’m not worried about an investor stealing your script; I’m worried about them reading it. Most investors have never read a screenplay, and so they may not understand the “EXT. DRIVEWAY – DAY” or the “CU: ON A BURNING CIGARETTE.” Just give them what they need and no more.
Only Take Money From Accredited Investors
Being an accredited investor means your investor is willing to sign a document stating they understand the high-risk nature of investing in your film, and they have the money to lose. Usually, this means the investor’s total net worth should be at least ten times greater than the amount they’re investing. Making sure your investors are accredited is the one step that most independent producers ignore. But, it’s an important element of your investment package, because accredited investors can’t sue you if they lose money.
Treat Your Investors Like You’re Married To Them
Because you will be married to them, for a few years. Before you take money from an investor, ask yourself if you’re okay with dealing with them. I firmly believe some of the best investment money I ever dealt with was the money I chose not to deal with.
There are several ways to finance your film and since we’ve only covered investors and business plans today, I will continue discussing other ways of financing on Wednesday.
That’s my offering for today. Before I go, here’s a link to my new podcast, Limping On Cloud 9, which is positivity infused, so it may serve as a short getaway for you. My podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.