Friday, July 13, 2007

The way I see it

For those of you that have not been paying attention, the arrival of the month of July means that I am in the final stretch of funding this film. Det. Budd and I have decided that we have until Jan 1, to get this film funded. This is of course in line with my pledge to get this film funded this year. The budget I am seeking is about $4MM, which seems really large to a lot of you, but it’s really not large in the universe of negative costs (film budgets). I know that several of you just grimaced at that sum and already feel that I’m being unrealistic and overly demanding as a director and to that charge I will say this much. The same economies of scale that we utilized in making the short film we can use to our advantage with the feature. We want to be taking seriously as filmmakers and we are not trying to shoot just one film, we are trying to launch our feature film careers. Consequently, that cannot really be accomplished with shooting a “modest” first feature.

Why should I compete with hundreds of other producers (just here in SoCal) trying to shoot features that cost less that $1MM, when I could move to the $3-$5MM range where there is considerably less competition and where we will be taken much more seriously since I’ planning on shooting a film that’s 2-3X more expensive than my peers at this level and that I will be utilizing a larger crew that will definitely be union and we will shoot over a longer schedule. But my biggest gripe with this attitude of “just don’t spend a lot” is that you develop this attitude of always cutting corners in your filmmaking. And sooner or later it will show up on the screen. So not only does it put you in the most competitive part of the producing pool…but it reinforces this attitude of not paying for things. I object to this because you are going to have to shift your thinking to “what’s the highest level of production value this outlay will provide me” instead of “how can I make it look close to what I want and not spend any money at all”. You aren’t going to continue to make your film by not paying for things and how can you expect to have a “superior” film – if you are cutting corners at every turn.

It is because of this that we have chosen to shoot a $4MM film. But why my way and not the other way? For starters you are in the deep end of the pond. Everyone is trying to shoot at that range. And wait, let me guess – you aren’t focused on production values or visual style because you want your writing to speak for itself. That a noble point of view – foolish, but noble. There is no way physically possible to differentiate yourself from the other two hundred thousand or so filmmakers who are shooting on digital. I don’t care how well written your script it; and if I can digress for a minute – most of us can’t write. There I said it. You wanna know why screenwriting sucks so bad? Because there are so many people who are come into screenwriting as a means to enter the industry. I really don’t give a fuck about all your work on the stage, or you TV writing or how much you had published…it means shit here. Either a scene walks and talks or it doesn’t.

And before I get the nasty emails let me state this plainly. The future is not going to be dominated by witty romantic comedies, or sequels or prequels or any other form of pre-sold property you can garner. It’s not about slasher films or torturing women (which is now a genre in and of itself)…the future is going to be about well written non-traditional scripts… IE not in three act structure. Yeah, I know you think I’m a fanatic but hear me out.

It’s a hell of a lot easier for me to get producers interested in project because my project is extremely visual first and foremost. Their panties get wet when they think about the finished print…because we want to emphasize color-timing and wardrobe selection. There are less than 50 films on the “please-fund-me” circuit that tout their visuals. I know a lot of you think that a “good looking” film is par for the course. But if you are shooting on digital for less than $2MM it’s not going to be amazing. You can’t feed a crew and have lots of art department and production design for $700K.

Since we have a hideously expensive short film it’s a lot easier to have a real conversation about financing…and you want to know what else… I don’t get pushed around. I don’t have a lot of meetings where some fat, jaded baby boomer is telling me how it’s going to be. Maybe you think that $50K was over spending, but here are the facts:

1) There is not one single film that looks or feels like Sex-Love – and that’s because we spent $$$ to get a unique look. It indicates that we had vision and the balls to follow that vision.

2) People who shoot on film are taken more seriously – this is a fact; I don’t care if you disagree. 15K ft of footage garners respect from whoever you are meeting with because it was a huge undertaking for a project that will not really be profitable. If I’m willing to go to such extreme lengths to prove my case….I will be heard eventually

3) Creative control – we have it. This is not meant to insinuate that I can now take a dump on the set and make the PA’s clean it up – but that the realm of capturing the image is now respected (because we shot something unique). They are investing in us to create more of the same style.. .and will more willing to allow us some creative room to shoot our feature since we’ve demonstrated that we understand what the requirements and pitfalls are.

4) We won’t embarrass anyone. Now this might offend a lot of you, but you aren’t going to show your greatest, hottest, most financial secure connections a grainy DV short to try and raise money…even if it’s well written. And I know you are objecting to the description of “grainy” but let’s be honest. How many of you actually do a lot of post work? How many have a dedicated strategy to light temp and wardrobe selection to enhance your color palette. Few I doubt, because if you truly valued these things you would shoot on film, where the picture quality is much more malleable.

5) We’re a centerpiece. All festivals, screenings and gathering that show more than one film have a centerpiece. A film that illustrates the type of artists the festival can attract and the level of filmmaking talent. When you have fight sequences, car stunts and such…it’s really easy to garner this kind of spot…and that means more attention.

6) We are competing on a professional level. We are in competition with features not shorts. We have indicated that we can fund raise, schedule, hire union members, have 10 hr days…and exit post quickly. We aren’t filmmakers, we are a production company. That means that we have an editor, DP, Director, costumer, line-producer and post production relationships all ready. We don’t need essential pieces and favors to shoot the feature.. all we need is money. It makes a lot of filmmakers look like fixer-uppers. Being able to complete the film is a given for us…where as for the <$1MM films that’s a big “if”.

7) A real track record. If you have an expensive film, you’ll have to justify its existence through festivals, online promoting, web traffic, unique merchandise etc. This is a great example of how a production company will act with its feature. If you’ve spent a few thousand on marketing and publicity…then there is a comfort level that you as a filmmaker understand that completing the film has little to do with its success in the marketplace. It makes them feel confident that you are going to really sell this film. And if you haven’t promoted your short to any great extent (out of your own pocket).. then don’t expect them to get excited. We have and industry full of “well written scripts” that have no visual style and no marketing….if the odds of financial success are basically the same for all films regardless of content.. then.. why not gravitate towards the ones where the filmmakers did a lot of marketing. It demonstrates that there is personal responsibility attached to their titles and not just hype.

8) Positioning. Ok, this is a conceptual so bear with me. If you really want to kill’em when you release your feature, then you need to have a gradual increase in your marketing efforts over several years. I’ve spent 3 years on this short and it has the same name as my feature. It will seem like my film arrived overnight...when it’s really taken several years. You just aren’t going to fly to other states and hand out tons of free DVD’s when your film only cost you a few thousand dollars. The more you spend, the more you can position.

9) We are worth the trouble. Ok, here’s a groundbreaking statement. It takes a lot to prepare a film for release. You really can’t judge your film by how it looks in FCP you really need to see it projected in a large screen. That’s what will bring out the imperfections in your print. But you will soon realize that it’s “what’s in the shot” that makes it hot. No studio or production company wants to get into a shit-polishing contest. Larger ideas beget larger budgets.

10) I’m willing to go down with the ship. I know that you believe that you should never spend your own money, and that you should always be working on 5 projects at the same time…all of that is admirable. But the one thing that I have noticed is that it is the passion I have for filmmaking and for my feature in particular that has attracted people to the project. If you aren’t willing to risk you credit rating and your livelihood and your professional reputation…then you really don’t want to filmmake. You like the idea of filmmaking, but when it comes right down to it, you’d much prefer job security to following your dreams.

This was the backdrop that I used to position this film. I have been able to demonstrate that we are more dedicated than other filmmakers because we went ahead and spent $$$ knowing full well that it is not recoverable. This is advantageous because we can position the funding conversations from a point of view of “here is what we learned on the short”…and go from there. When you are approaching as two filmmakers who haven’t taken much risk, let alone personal risk, to shoot their film and are now asking to get a funder to support an inherently risky feature film with low production values having never had to filmmaker under those circumstances – it makes the entire project seem like the dreams of an unseasoned “artist”. This may not seem like a huge distinction but when a prospective investor asks me how it feels to blow $50K and not see immediately tangible results I can loudly boast that “it fucking sucks”, he’ll laugh and we’ll laugh but there will be a common understanding on a professional level that that is the scenario that all of us are trying to avoid.

So we positioned ourselves as more seasoned than our peers and we have a clear view of what we are trying to achieve. I state this because I am continually amazed at how tough it is for director and writer/directors to talk about what they want out of the production of their film and out of their filmmaking career. If you cannot answer this question in a discrete two sentences or less – then you don’t know what you want. I’m notorious for putting people on the spot at parties and festivals and man do they yammer on about “making good stories” and “being in the industry”.. all of which is jargon and codewords for “I haven’t really thought about it”. That’s why it’s easy to distinguish yourself so quickly in filmmaking because so many people in this industry are just here to hang out. Our ability to have precise focus on a goal is what impress people.

But I am getting off track, so let me help you catch up (to me). I have very mixed emotions about my film right now. On one hand I feel as if I have missed several opportunities and performed a poor job of running this company. I wasted close to $80K if you are keeping a running tab, I’ve yet to play a top-tier festival, I still struggle to insure that we are not considered “another indie film”...but as something different. But on the other hand I can be proud of 15K on the homepage, 9 Google pages, 10 reviews, screening on average of once every 4 weeks, etc.

But here is where we currently are:

1) I’ve made contact with my A-list actor and can get a serious look at my feature script.

2) I have one confirmed equity investor who says he wants in if it’s going to get made

3) I’ve have 15 possible screening opportunities (each with a greater than 70% chance of happening) between now and Jan 1.

4) I have a “premiere” indie film attorney who is willing to prepare my film offering memorandum

5) I have some “heat” (well known artists) to put on my soundtrack.

6) I have a connection at New Line Cinema that can get me a meeting (if I have all my shit together)

7) Lastly, I have a manager who’s pitching on our behalf and garnering us serious consideration.

So it would appear that we have all the pieces to get a serious film budget, but it remains to be seen if it pays off. The reason I am telling you this is because we shot this film in the summer of 2005 and in less than 2 years we have leveraged it to give us a serious shot at the money. I don’t think you could do it this quickly with a mini-DV film because they aren’t that “special” …or at least not as special as 16MM shorts with stunts in them.

My point is, what this exercise should have illustrated is that even though it seems like a huge waste of money to spend so much on a short, it’s actually a lot easier to promote yourself and your film if it is a huge undertaking. The most vivid illustration of this is how Sex-Love is received when I first show it to people.

“It looks like a real movie”

“Hey, that’s the guy from Office Space”

“How did you attach the cameras to the car?”

…..it’s this uniqueness and attention to detail that makes people go out on a limb for the film. I personally think that it is more important to shoot something that is interesting than something that is “good”. A good film is only good when it’s viewed by the correct audience. An interesting film is interesting almost every time it screens. This is my central point, this is why I was able to raise the $$ for the short and why the feature is being taken seriously…because it’s interesting, because it’s different.

So this is crunch time people, this is where it happens or doesn’t happen – so, place your bets – punks!



- and in the interest of discourse, I welcome comments on this post. If you are a DV shooter and you feel that I have slandered you and your choice of format, I will give you an opportunity to speak your piece. And to a certain filmmaker who reads this blog and laments that he wishes he could see my film, to see if it's as "hot" as I say it it...just shoot me an email (that goes for all of you as well) and I'll send you a screener. When I say that Generation X owns this film, I mean it. If you wanna see the short... hit me up at cooprdog@aol.com

COOPRDOG

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