Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Productions at Once

I am juggling two productions this week and it's blowing my mind. I am wrapping out of one production during the day and prepping another one to start on Tuesday. 

I spent the day calling vendors and ensuring we are all settled up as we are wrapping. I then come home and have a long production meeting for my next production. 

I should also mention that I am in post on another film and prepping a short film for early August and casting another for next year. Insanity? Probably. 

When it rains it pours. And it's a good sign that people's spirits are rebounding a bit and feeling better about the state of filming. So I'm riding the wave and loving it. I'm also writing a film and almost done with the first draft. I'm happy.

I don't recommend doing 2 productions at once but I do feel immersed in filmmaking, which I love. I am a workaholic so I'll survive. 

So back I go to wrapping in the morning and filing for permits in LA for the other one! Oh and I am filing an insurance claim on yet a third -- that is a whole other story. 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paying Your Bills as a Producer

Being a producer is much like being an actor -- you get paid once a film is in production. Everyone's heard of starving actors, right? Well there are a lot of starving producers too.

If you set up a film at the studio, you may get a paltry development fee (usually $25k) that you usually end up splitting with a producing partner or two. But for argument's sake, you are very much like an actor -- working diligently toward being on set with the hope of a good pay day.

If you are an indie producer, you may not get any upfront pay. You may only have a deferral deal. Or you may only get a portion upfront.

And, typically, the salary that you do get won't make you rich unless you live in a third world country.

So how do you pay your bills as a producer? Well, there are a number of ways and I am sure every person's story is different. But from my experience, the typical indie producer cannot solely live on his or her producer fees from their films. The fees are either too small or too far apart.

For me, I do a lot of freelance work both in publishing and film. I used to be a full time writer and editor in publishing so I still write and copyedit material for other companies. I also desktop books -- another skill from my publishing days. And I work in film production too. Before producing films, I was a production coordinator so I can always take on short gigs for other films. Or I may personally assist someone on various jobs.

The overall theme to paying bills as a producer is flexibility. Try to find jobs that allow you to take big breaks to produce a film. Who cares where the money comes from to keep you going? Whether it's writing, editing, bartending, waitressing, bagging groceries, doing construction, working productions, living off mom and dad, etc., you can still call yourself a producer if you are truly developing and producing films as you are paying your bills.

The proof is in the pudding. If you make a great film, no one is going to care that you were walking dogs to survive. In fact, the Hardly Famous Web site lists the jobs celebrities had before they were famous. Check it out. It sure made me feel better and gave me hope!

It would be incredible to make a nice living as a full-time film producer. And I believe it is possible. That is certainly my goal. How do you make it happen? It comes with experience, connections, talent, and funding. And all of these aspects of producing take time to develop. Don't get discouraged if you still have to clean people's homes or nanny their kids or drive a cab so you can fund your goals as a producer. You are not alone. I'm right there with you as is every other indie producer out there.

Why do you see top indie producers at panels or writing articles or doing Webisodes online? Survival! They usually get paid a fee to do these things. Or they are getting publicity that can lead to more work and more pay. Sure they may be earning enough from their producing fees to live but the extra gigs probably give them a nice cushion.

The key to paying your bills as a producer is to figure out how to fit in paid work with the spec work so you can be solvent. It's not easy but you need to figure it out if you want to be a working producer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two in One Day: Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson Both Gone

It seemed like any other day today. Actually, for me, it was going to be a catch up day after finishing up a film over the weekend, attending a funeral for a relative the last two days, and working on prepping my film that shoots in a week and a half. 

Then I saw the first report of Farrah Fawcett passing. Being a child of the 70s, it felt like a personal loss. The reminder of what seemed like an endless childhood in the 1970s. 

Here are some historical events that helped shape the world in the 1970s:
  • demonstration at Kent State, resulting in the deaths of four students (1970)
  • opening of Disney World (1971)
  • voting age lowered to 18 (1971)
  • founding of Ms. magazine (1972)
  • passing of Roe v. Wade (1973)
  • resignation of Nixon (1974)
  • end of the Vietnam War (1975)
  • Charlie's Angels premieres (1976)
  • pardon of Vietnam draft evaders (1977)
  • accident at Three Mile Island nuclear-power plant (1979)
  • 52 Americans held hostage at the American Embassy in Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini followers (1979)
And we can't forget films of the 1970s, like 
  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • Dirty Harry (1971) 
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • American Graffiti (1973)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Rocky (1976)
  • Star Wars (1977)
  • Blazing Saddles (1978)
  • The Deer Hunter (1978)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)  
The iconic poster of Farrah Fawcett in the red swimsuit came out in 1976 and a frenzy of poster buying happened. (That poster manufacturer hit the mother lode on that one.) I read that the photographer used a Mexican blanket from his car seat as the background. Sounds like indie filmmaking! 

Then Charlie's Angels happened and she was everywhere once again. Even though she was only on the show for one season that role would be the one she is most remembered for (whether she liked that or not). 

So hearing of Farrah's death, I immediately began thinking of the 70s again. And then, Michael Jackson dies on the same day! What?! A major icon of both the 1970s and 1980s? What is going on?

So now, I am being thrust back in time to the days of Thriller. The craziness over Michael Jackson in the 1980s will never be forgotten. (I try to forget the more recent craziness over him - yikes!)

I remember doing the moon walk and a friend who wore a silver glove all the time. Who can forget the red leather jacket and the Pepsi commercial saga in 1984 when pyrotechnics burned Michael's head during the filming of a commercial? 

So thinking of the 80s, here is what we were dealing with culturally:
  • trade embargo against the USSR (remember the USSR? -- known as Russia today) (1980)
  • 8 Americans killed trying to free hostages in Iran (1980)
  • AIDs identified (1981)
  • Iran hostages are freed (1981)
  • attempted assassination on U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1981)
  • appointment of first female Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor (1981)
  • release of Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982)
  • suicide bombing, killing 241, at U.S. marine installation in Beirut (1983)
  • release of Madonna's Like a Virgin (1984)
  • Gorbachev in power in USSR (1985)
  • release of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. (1985)
  • U.S. space shuttle Challenger comes apart at takeoff (1986)
  • Chernobyl nuclear incident (1986)
  • Berlin Wall comes down (1989)
And here are some amazing films from the 1980s:
  • Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
  • The Empire Strikes Back (1980) -- the first film I was allowed to attend without adult supervision; I sat in the front row!
  • Ordinary People (1980)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • ET (1982)
  • Sophie's Choice (1982)
  • The Big Chill (1983)
  • Return of the Jedi (1983)
  • Terms of Endearment (1983) -- one of my favorite dramas!
  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
  • The Terminator (1984)
  • Out of Africa (1985)
  • The Color Purple (1985)
  • Empire of the Sun (1986)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
  • Rain Man (1988)
  • Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
  • Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
And so two figures made famous in two different decades -- a fame that lasted to today and will carry on tomorrow -- say goodbye. No matter who they were personally, you can't ignore they had an affect on generations of people. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Working Production and the Indie Film Indusry

Working on a production this week, which always takes over my life and my energy. Production always seems to make me feel like a mushy bowl of jello. I love it but it's hard to run on adrenaline for 16 hours straight (standing for most of those hours) over a number of nights! Yes it's even a night shoot.

I'm working locations, filling in for the line producer while she is out of town. So it's a quick gig. But, at the same time, I am prepping for my next project as producer, which starts the 7th. We are filming the second half of Take Me Home in July. So prep is kicking my butt too!

As my butt is being kicked, I found an excellent article that everyone should read!

Jim Stern of the company Endgame talks about the state of independent film and how we may move forward from here. Check out the article here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Location Surveys: Hi, We're the Annoying Filmmakers Shooting in Your Neighborhood, Sign Here

I am helping out a shoot this week and doing some location surveys in downtown LA. What an interesting task and completely exhausting. I have to go door to door to every building in a 300 foot radius of our location and let people know we will be filming there this weekend and during odd hours. (Normally you don't have to survey if you are shooting during business hours.)

I now have an even greater respect for my location crews! My feet hurt, I had no idea where a bathroom could be found, and I was parched from having no liquids in my car! 

I met some really interesting characters though. Totally worth it to me. As a storyteller, meeting new people is always a treat. Some were very nice and welcoming. Others were quick to anger and completely perturbed by my presence at their door. 

One guy was nice at first and then got really angry at the idea the City of LA would disturb him for a shoot 200 feet away. Quote: "I don't care what the hell you do down the street!" And more than a few had no problem ranting about the parking infringements we're going to cause. I left one only to have him follow me down the street so he could continue ranting. That was fun! 

I don't blame them. I hate being inconvenienced too. There's nothing worse then coming home and finding all the parking taken by some invasive film crew. At the same time, the parking is not private. It is owned by the City and if they want to give us permission to block it then they have the right. I definitely see both sides and I'm sympathetic to both. 

Being the survey-taker is a very odd position to be in. Talk about being in the line of fire! Not only are you inconveniencing the neighborhood by filming. You are now entering their establishments and expecting signatures. Knocking on random doors and not knowing who is behind them is kind of bizarre too. Towards the end of the day, I would daydream about who would be behind the door. Thank goodness none of my scary dreams came true!

I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised though. In general, everyone was very nice and the cast of characters were intriguing. There were graffiti artists painting a whole building, lots of lofts, a toy warehouse, buildings under construction, plenty of mixed-use space (i.e. work and residence). And a couple of really cute restaurants I would have never known about. It's good to get out of your comfort-zone and be part of another world for a while. It offers some good perspective and the discovery of some gems you may want to revisit post-filming.

Honestly, everyone was probably nicer than I would have been if some random person showed up on my doorstep, told me they were coming to take over my parking and make my life more difficult and, btw, can you sign here so I can prove to the permit office, I did my job? 

Thanks everyone for being so nice! See you again in the morning! I'll bring the coffee and the donuts. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Science and Entertainment Exchange: A Resource for All Filmmakers

As a storyteller, aren't you constantly amazed by the real-life science out there? And don't you wish you had the ear of top scientists to help you distill fact into fiction? Well, that's the entire mission of the Science and Entertainment Exchange -- a recent program unveiled by the National Academy of Sciences. 

Check out their Web site at www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org

Here is some information from the Exchange: 

The portrayal of science "its practitioners, its methods, its effects" has often posed a challenge to the entertainment community. Though it has inspired some of the most intelligent and compelling storylines, science's many complexities have confounded even the most talented writer, director, or producer, time and again pitting creative license against scientific authenticity and clarity.

Likewise, the scientific community has struggled to find an effective conduit through which it can communicate its story accurately and effectively. Though many of the world's biggest problems require scientific solutions, finding a way to translate and depict scientific findings so that they can reach a wide audience has required a sounding board that has often been missing.

The Science & Entertainment Exchange bridges this gap and addresses the mutual need of the two communities by providing the credibility and the verisimilitude upon which quality entertainment depends -- and which audiences have come to expect. Drawing on the deep knowledge of the scientific community, we can collaborate on narrative and visual solutions to a variety of problems while contributing directly to the creativity of the content in fresh and unexpected ways.

What Does The Science & Entertainment Exchange Do?
Spanning the range of science topics, The Exchange can find experts that will work with you to identify and effectively portray the science details that complement a storyline. We can help flesh out ideas that depend upon accurate details relating to insects, extraterrestrial life, unusual Earth-based life forms, or the mysteries of oceans. We can refine concepts relating to emerging science concepts in areas such as space travel, multiple dimensions, nanotechnology, computer technology, and engineering. We can find experts in environmental and ecological issues, health, medicine, and disease, and U.S. educational practices. We are also well positioned to work with you on public policy issues that relate to science such as stem cell research, global climate change, and teaching about evolution and the nature of science.

The Exchange also has a blog called The X-Change Files: http://blog.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org/

They supplied consults for WATCHMEN and TERMINATOR: SALVATION during their pilot phase and since consulted on TRON-2, IRON MAN 2, Marvel's forthcoming THOR, a new Discovery Channel series called "Science of the Movies," numerous development projects (both TV and film), and FRINGE. They also supplied scientists for DVD extra bonus features for Season 5 of LOST and Season 1 of FRINGE, too.

So check them out and don't forget to use them for your science-based project. It's an invaluable resource!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Ultimate Indie Filmmaker and Entrepreneur: Coppola

I continue to be amazed by Francis Ford Coppola's attitude about filmmaking. He reveals a great deal in the article at TheWrap: Francis Ford Coppola ... Grilled. I think any one of us indie filmmakers would be happy to have even an ounce of his success. 

The Godfather alone set him up as a legend. Then came Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders -- the list goes on.

With what he has accomplished, he could have easily sold out his indie convictions and churned out studio fare for the rest of his life. But he isn't doing that. And he has struggled with similar issues as the rest of us. He was in debt for many years until The Godfather III helped him out. And now he finances his own films from his successful ventures in winemaking and gourmet foods. That is very indie. 

To be an indie filmmaker is to be an entrepreneur. And that is Coppola. From his other businesses, he is financing his films. To be indie, you have to love being a maverick and setting out to build a business out of filmmaking that allows you to express who you really are as a storyteller.

I think it's important for indie filmmakers to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Your career is more than just making movies. It's building successful businesses. Each film is a business and as Coppola has shown, you can build other businesses that help you to feed your filmmaking businesses. 

Coppola reveals why he has chosen to be indie:  

"I want to be an amateur filmmaker -- “amateur” meaning what the word means: that you make it because you love it. I don’t want to get paid. I have plenty of money from other things, and I just want to learn. As you get older you realize that to learn something is the real pleasure of life."

What a great attitude! I'm sure you are all thinking, but he has the money to think this way. That's very true. But he created his good fortune through a lot of hard work and we can too. And so often, people change when they have money and I applaud him for sticking to his convictions and making movies on his own terms. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Internet Marketing for Filmmakers

Marc Rosenbush is a filmmaker who like all of us works on getting his films marketed and sold. He has figured out ways of using the Internet to successfully market and sell his films to his audience directly. I think we can learn a thing or two from him. 

He too sees the value in teaching others about what he has learned. It takes years of experience and trial and error to figure out techniques that work in getting your films made and sold. 

Marc has launched the Web site Internet Marketing for Filmmakers and I've already watched a few free videos that are very helpful. For greater information, you can join a club and have access to even more marketing ideas. 

Check it out and see what you think: Internet Marketing for Filmmakers. Let me know if you find it useful!

And if you want to become a member of the marketing club Indie Film Insiders or take Marc's online marketing course Indie Film Launch Formula, you can do that too. Click on the names of the club or the course or click here to sign up. Good luck! And happy marketing!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mandatory Reading: Producers Struggle to Stay Productive

Every producer needs to read this article: Producers Struggle to Stay Productive. 

Material Is the Nucleus!

Clint Eastwood was quoted this past weekend as saying "Material is the nucleus" at the Produced By conference here in LA, put on by the Producers Guild. I couldn't agree more.

Successful films start with a strong script. And a strong script makes your life so much easier when putting the project together. Talent will be attracted to it, who will in turn help you to attract the financing, which will lead you to an audience. And really, why would you want to put a lot of time, energy, and money into a poor script?

This is where the development process becomes a very important part of the film's journey. As producer, you may come across a script in which you see the potential for a strong film. It's very likely that the script is not production ready and you will need to take time with the writers and perhaps the director (if you have one on the project already) and help mold and shape the script into something that is sellable, both to talent and money.

As producer, you are the mouthpiece to promoting the film at all phases. You need to believe 100% in the quality of your film. If you are not sure if the script is ready then it isn't. Take the time to make it ready. 

Once you believe you have a script ready for talent and financiers, ask others to read it too. Get colleagues and friends who understand screenplay structure to read it. And seriously consider their feedback. It's easy to get too close to a project so get an outside perspective that you respect. 

You may even want to send it out anonymously for professional coverage, perhaps to 2 or more readers so you can get a few responses. Studios rely on coverage to weed out the good from the bad. If your coverage comes back and it rates the project as poor, then that is a strong indication that your project is not ready for the next phase. 

Remember, material is nucleus! You cannot build a strong, entertaining, sellable product around a weak center. Tootsie Roll is right. It's all about the center! 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

50 Ways to Describe What It Means to Be a Film Producer

  1. You make movies
  2. No one really knows what you do
  3. Everyone thinks they know what you do
  4. You are accountable for everyone and everything
  5. You are blamed for everything
  6. You get the highest acclaim
  7. Everyone wants your credit
  8. No one wants your responsibility
  9. You are a CEO and CFO and COO
  10. You are an intern
  11. You make decisions
  12. No one likes your decisions
  13. You are a gymnast
  14. You are rigid
  15. You are a maverick
  16. You are old-fashioned
  17. You are a cheerleader
  18. You are part of a team
  19. You are an island
  20. You are a leader
  21. You are a follower
  22. You are a writer, a director, a producer, a PA
  23. You are a psychologist and sometimes psychiatrist
  24. You are a storyteller
  25. You are creative
  26. You bring creative forces together
  27. Your life is making movies
  28. You are a master negotiator
  29. You are a fighter
  30. You are a financier
  31. You are a Queen to some and a plebe to others
  32. You make about ten cents a day for what you do
  33. You don't do it for money
  34. Everyone thinks you're selfish
  35. Everyone thinks you're selfless
  36. Everyone thinks you're courageous
  37. Everyone thinks you're weak
  38. Everyone hates you
  39. Everyone loves you
  40. Many look up to you
  41. Many don't want to look at you
  42. You have money
  43. You don't have money
  44. You make good movies
  45. You make bad movies
  46. You are fun to be around
  47. People can't stand to be around you
  48. You are a conflict in terms
  49. You are human
  50. No one wants to be a producer. They just like the idea of being a producer.
It's a tough job, but you do it because you love making movies. Hang in there Producers! Your work is valuable even if others have a hard time admitting it. I know what it means to be a producer and I value each and every one of you!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chain of Title for Your Film

As part of your deliverables to a distributor, you may be required to turn over the Chain of Title for your film. 

So what is the Chain of Title?

Simply, the chain of title consists of signed agreements giving you permission as owner of the film to use property owned by another person or entity in your film. These agreements are part of the chain of title of ownership back to the original copyright owner. 

For example, a screenwriter writes a script and owns the copyright to that script. The film company must then have an agreement with the screenwriter that proves that they have secured the rights from the screenwriter in order to make a film based on that screenplay.

Chain of title includes, but may not be limited to:
  • screenplay agreement
  • music licenses (both sync and master use)
  • trademark clearances of products depicted in the film
  • talent agreements, including rights to their work, image, likeness, and personality
  • crew agreements, including rights to their work, image, likeness, and personality
  • location agreements
  • art releases
  • E&O Insurance (errors and omissions insurance), which provides insurance to producers for any omissions in the chain of title (often secured at time of sale)
Without an adequate chain of title or E&O Insurance, you may be jeopardizing the sale of your film. More than likely, the distributor will require a proper chain of title and E&O Insurance and ask you to sign an agreement in which you represent and warrant that you do in fact have all the proper rights in place and hold them harmless to any claims of copyright infringement. 

Thus, it is important to take the time during pre-production and production to secure all the proper agreements. And it's wise to have an entertainment lawyer guide you through the process and create those agreements for you. Get that Chain of Title! 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Running the Financials

My eyes are bugging out of my head from running the financials on our film Not Since You! There are so many deals and numbers to go over. Thousands and thousands of pages of paperwork to consult and compare to our tables and tables of figures. There's a reason I didn't become an accountant! 

On top of that I am prepping for a two-week shoot next month and I have the next round of a script to write from my screenwriting partner. And I am due to write 6 more financial articles! 

When it rains it pours! Now back to the grind for me!

Monday, June 1, 2009

To Partner or Not to Partner, That Is the Question

There have been a number of people asking me recently if I think it's worth partnering with someone on producing a film. My feelings are pretty straightforward on this topic. I partner if the partnership helps me get a film made or it furthers my career to do so.

I have partnered on many projects, both in film and publishing. And I have a lot of opinions about partnering. They can be exciting and fun and inspirational, yet emotional, draining, and exhausting at the same time. 

Partnering often has me in a state of feeling bipolar. Some days are amazing. Others are completely frustrating. It's like when you're playing as kid and your best friend steals your toy. One minute you're excited and having fun with your friend; the next you want to knock her block off. 

I think the key to a strong partnership is really knowing and respecting your partner. But sometimes we don't have the time to get to know someone well as we are trying to put our team together on a film. What then?
  • Trust your instincts. If your gut tells you this person spells trouble, well then I can almost guarantee, he or she will bring you a ton of sleepless nights. If you are okay with not sleeping then that is your choice.
  • Get references. Ask if you can speak to others who have worked with him or her. Or do some digging on your own and get the scoop.
  • If it's too good to be true then it probably is. I have had many experiences of people trying to sell me the moon but until the moon is on my doorstep, I don't believe them.
  • Make sure you click creatively, unless you don't care about being creatively involved. 
  • Establish specific tasks and what is expected of one another early on. 
  • Agree on titles and deal points for each producer as soon as you know you want to partner. 
  • Get Producer Agreements signed as soon as they are created. Don't let them sit and remain unsigned for lengthy periods. The more time goes by; the less inclined people are to sign. And then you end up spending countless, unnecessary time trying to get the agreements executed when you really should be working on finishing your film.
It may not sound like it but I am a fan of partnering. But I have two wonderful business partners in my company. And I count my blessings every day that I have them.