Sunday, November 30, 2008

Indie Theaters Bring Hope

Truly Free Film: Art House Theaters Unite!

Here is an entry from Ted Hope's blog Truly Free Film. Ted Hope is one of the most successful independent producers today. He has produced or executive produced a number of films that we all would consider premier independent films (21 Grams, In the Bedroom, American Splendor -- to name a few). I worked on one of his productions (Todd Solondz's Storytelling) when I was working in film production in NY. He is a smart, hardworking producer who brings high integrity to his work. I certainly aspire to be like him.

In this blog entry, Hope lists theaters that are interested in working toward increased opportunities for indie films to be screened theatrically. This is a great development in the changing landscape of indie film distribution. It's very hard for independent films to compete for screen time at theaters. Most theaters work solely with their own bookers and these bookers and theaters usually prefer to have a blockbuster studio film on all of their screens than to share the space with a smaller film that may not attract as large of an audience (thus less box office money). This is exacerbated by the fact that independent films can't afford the kind of stars or marketing that a studio blockbuster can. 

But there is hope on the horizon. A lot of work is being done right now to improve the conditions of independent film distribution as the distribution deals are nearly nonexistent right now for indie films and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) distribution has become an essential part of every indie film's plan for survival. I'll comment more on this state of the industry in another blog entry. But for now, take note of the theaters Hope lists and hopefully we will see your film on their marquees in the near future.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Filmmaker Producer versus Dealmaker Producer

There are two types of film producers. One is a filmmaker producer; the other a dealmaker producer. The filmmaker producer likes to be part of every facet of making a film. He is excited about the process of filmmaking and has no problem getting his hands dirty to help make sure the film is running smoothly every step of the way. The electric department needs help moving a light? No problem. The filmmaker producer will jump in and place that light where it needs to be.

The filmmaker producer has strong relationships with screenwriters and directors and crew. Typically, he will forge those relationships on a personal level and will often keep making films with the same writers, directors and crew over the years. They are driven by the creative process and the art of filmmaking. 

On the other hand, the dealmaker producer loves making deals. She enjoys finding projects that she feels will attract a strong deal from a studio or financier. She builds her relationships with studio executives, agents, managers, and investors. Her picks for creative talent are based primarily on who the money people like and want to invest in. She is keenly aware of who is hot and who's not. 

As you gain experience toward your goal of becoming a producer, you will naturally find yourself becoming the kind of producer you want to be. I am a filmmaker producer. I love everything about making movies and enjoy my close relationships with the creative talent with whom I work. Does that mean I don't like doing deals? Not at all. I am happy making deals but it's not what drives me to produce. And I have every intention of making studio films someday; they just won't be driven by the deal. Instead they will be driven by the exciting creative talent I have brought together. Either kind of producer can be incredibly successful. What kind are you?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hollywood "Time"

I just received some wonderful news this morning. We heard from the agent of an actor we are extremely excited about for one of our projects; she has confirmed that the actor is interested in playing the lead part in our film. This is a huge moment for me and the director. We have been trying to find our lead actor for this project for almost seven years. 

Seven years sounds like a long time and, trust me, it is! But it's not overly long in Hollywood time. Projects can be stuck in development for many years. Maybe the script needs work or the topic isn't timely or the lead actor or director can't work on it for a while. Whatever the reason, it can take years for a script to come to life. Forrest Gump took over a decade and a possible sequel is taking just as long. 

In our case, we had actually cast the project at one point but couldn't find the financing for it with that group of actors. Financing is mainly driven by the actors you have attached. A-list actors can mean a strong box office so studios and other financiers want to see the most popular actors attached. But this can be nearly impossible for independent filmmakers to achieve. There's less money and usually producers and directors with less credits behind independent projects. These factors can make it difficult to secure an A-list actor. 

As an independent filmmaker you have to do the best you can and try to build the most attractive package of talent possible. You must have a solid script or you won't be able to compete for the bigger actors who will attract your financing. So start with a good script and keep your standards high every step of the way and never give up. Many obstacles will be thrown your way. You may have to rewrite the script a number of times or recast the film or find a new director, but if you believe this story needs to be told then try to be patient and hang on through the down times. Remember: Good things come to those who wait!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Giving thanks is an important part of my job as a producer. In order to get a film made, I have to rely on so many people to support the project in order for it to be a success. From colleagues helping to find and develop the best script to writers willing to toil for years over their work to directors giving their creative vision to agents introducing the project to their clients to mentors offering their advice to investors taking a chance on you and the project to cast and crew working hard for free or low pay to family dealing with long work hours and months away on location to organizations or festivals offering to screen or promote the film to audiences taking time to pay for or watch your film--the list goes on... And today I thank them all! 

The film industry works at a really fast pace and it never goes to sleep. I am working 24/7 or 31 -- as some say today -- as a film producer. It isn't just a job; it's a lifestyle. It is very easy to become self absorbed and to only think about yourself and your projects. But this business is all about relationships and nurturing them. You may have a great script but if you don't have the relationships to get them considered properly then you are dead in the water. And part of nurturing these relationships is giving them attention and thanks. 

Even those at the top need to give thanks. When I was working for a top producer, I helped him coordinate his thank yous. He and his colleagues would be sure to acknowledge birthdays or holidays or new babies or big moments -- like winning an Academy Award --  with lavish gifts. Each year at Christmastime and Hanukkah, huge campaigns of giving thanks are being waged all across Hollywood. Every agency is showering their clients as well as their assistants who are the gatekeepers to their clients with gifts and thank yous. I have a closet full of "thank yous."

Film productions are no different. At the end of each shoot, which can last from 2 weeks to 6 months or more, the production presents the cast and crew with wrap gifts and a wrap party. Producers know how much time and energy it takes for one person to work on a film and they want to acknowledge their hard work. 

It may sound like an expensive proposition to give thanks in the film industry. But even a nice verbal thank you or written thank you can go a really long way -- as evidenced by the scrutiny we bring to celebrities who don't thank all the right people when they are being honored. The size of your thank you isn't as important as the size of your heart. If your heart is big then those around you will be grateful and know you are thankful for their help. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE! 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Breaking in to Film

So I won't bore you all with my life story every day, I will focus on a new topic today and plan to continue my personal journey in one posting a week. 

Today's topic will be breaking in to film. This is another question I get all of the time. How does one break in to the industry? It is very true that there is a ton of competition in the film industry. It is not unheard of for each job opening to receive a thousand resumes. In fact, most industry jobs aren't even put on the open market. They are often filled through word-of-mouth, or referral. This is so the person filling the job doesn't have to deal with so many resumes and unknown applicants. Instead, they can feel comfortable they are hiring someone who has been endorsed and, many times, tested by a trusted source. 

Don't give up! It is possible to break in. You just need to make yourself stand out from the rest of the applicants. The best way to do this is to have experience. Thus enters the Catch-22: you need the job to gain experience but you need experience to get the job. So what's the answer? Be a child of a famous celebrity? Well that is one way. There is another way for those less fortunate, like myself. 

The single, best way to break in to the film industry is (drum roll please): work for free. Yes, that's right. Work for free. It doesn't matter at what phase in life you are or how much work experience you have, the best way to break in is to become an intern. Of course, you should also apply for those coveted paid positions but don't hold out for them. It's better to work for free for a while and gain experience that will land you the paid position than to hold out for a long period until you find that company that will pay you.

There are many opportunities available for interns. The most opportunities are for students who can garner school credit for their internships. In fact, most production companies will only hire interns who are getting school credit. This is due to liability. They have less liability if you are getting school credit than if you are just volunteering in their offices. But never fear, there are many smaller companies and film productions that need the help and are willing to overlook any liability concerns. 

The best advice I can give about what kind of internships to seek is to aim as high as you can. If you are a student, definitely try to intern for an established production company. Learning from the best is invaluable. But don't overlook the value of cutting your teeth on smaller productions and with smaller companies and then moving up from there. The relationships you garner at any level, even as an intern, will help you to establish the career you want. And you never know where that person for whom you are working will end up. She may be a small producer working out of her home today but tomorrow she may be running a major production company or studio. And who knows? She may even take you with her.   

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Childhood Dream

I am often asked how I got started in the film business. I will start from the beginning. I find it helps other filmmakers to know they are not alone in having a very untraditional path to their goals. When I was a kid growing up in suburban Detroit, I spent hours watching all kinds of TV shows and going to as many movies as I could afford. I remember when the first Beta tapes became available so you could rent a movie and watch it on your TV! (Yes, I am that old. I told you my career path has not been traditional.) We had to drive about five miles to the store (in the snow sometimes too! -- no hills though and I wore shoes)  and I can still remember the smell of the store and the imageless, light brown hard cases enveloping those 2-hours of escape. I also knew every movie theater in a 10 mile radius and what films were playing at each. The $1.50 shows were my favorite. I just couldn't get enough of the immense joy I had when watching a great TV show or film.

And each year, I would watch the Academy Awards and I just knew I would be part of that world someday. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't. I would watch the red carpet and dream of the day I would be mingling with everyone and feeling proud of whatever got me there. I still have that dream, don't you?

But then reality set in and I had to pursue a "real" career according to my parents. So I tried to push those creative tendencies aside and focus on something serious. At first, I chose law. I really liked LA Law and it looked like the next best thing to a career in entertainment. Okay, my reasons were not quite that frivolous for pursuing law but, hey, I can't help believe LA Law had something to do with my decision. I worked hard and got into the University of Michigan. I was on my way!

The problem began freshman year. I was that kid who was very passionate and worked hard when I knew what I wanted. Up to that point, I had a single goal: I wanted to go to the University of Michigan, especially since my sister and brother had gone there. I was just as smart as them! So I worked as hard as I could possibly work to achieve that goal. I knew how hard I must have worked when a guy in my class saw me after graduation and said, "you were the girl who had all the answers in science class." Woo hoo. That made me feel attractive. And then, I started U of M and realized I had no clue what I wanted to do. And that is a whole other story.

What I did learn from being accepted to U of M was that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. And that is what keeps me going, every day. If I work hard enough and smart enough, I will achieve my goal of being a successful film producer. I often look back at my high school years and I think that was a time that feels very similar to how I work today. I am very passionate about my filmmaking so I work day and night to achieve the highest quality and most entertaining films I can. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

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