Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Amazing Thing about Having a Blog

There are many amazing things about having a blog but what I find really remarkable is that my readers are from around the world. You name the country, and I am pretty sure that at some point, someone has read my blog in that country. It's humbling and pretty cool.

So thanks for reading and let me know if any of you ever have any questions for me or want to guest blog. I would love for this blog to be more interactive and international!

Indie filmmakers unite!

The Making of an Ultra-Low Budget Film

Currently, I am producing a documentary for Starz. It's going very well and we have the resources to pay for everything we need to make the film. Sure there are still crazy busy periods and moments of begging but nothing compares to the making of an ultra-low budget film.

Ultra-Low Budget films challenge you to the core. You must consider every aspect of creating a film and figure out how to make it happen with little to no money. Bartering becomes your modus operandi and you hear yourself saying "in-kind" and "deferred" and "we are a tiny film" and "we don't have a budget for that" over and over.

On Ultra-Low Budget films you need to back into your budget. This means you start with the amount of money you have or think you can feasibly get and then you back into the budget based on that figure.

For example, if you think you can get $50k to make your film, you put $50k as your Total Budget amount and you go backwards from there and examine every category in your development, pre-production, production, and post production phases and see how you can spread that $50k over each phase. Sounds easy, right? Think again.

It often takes $50k just to pay for crew -- at a very deep discount. And that's a very typical producer fee on an indie film as well. Getting the picture? There are many pieces of the pie needing a slice of that teeny-tiny figure so when you decide to make an Ultra-Low Budget film, you need to wrap your ahead around the idea that you have no money with which to make the film. You should enter every negotiation with the idea that you are starting with zero as your budget for that line item.

But we all know you can't make a film with no money. That's why Ultra-Low Budget films require a great deal of creativity and courage and personal attention. You can't just throw money at a problem. Instead you need to think of unique ways to tackle a problem and seek out solutions from your colleagues and those you have never met before.

We are in post on an Ultra-Low Budget film and we are in pre-production on another one. Why do I keep making these no-budget films? That's easy. I feel they are stories that deserve being told. And I believe in the creative team behind them. I believe the story has an audience and will be a success.

And they provide me with great war stories and incredible experiences:

1) Traveling across the United States in a caravan of an RV, NY Taxi cab and SUV
2) Hiking up the mountains of Montana with a 35mm camera on our backs
3) Shooting in the ocean at sunrise. Did I say, "in" the ocean? Yes, I did.
4) Shooting in a working hospital using real nurses as our actors
5) Being accepted to and attending a top-notch film festival with the cast and crew. Fun times!
6) Shooting a graduation scene at a real graduation and having attendees believe our actor dressed as a professor is a real professor -- just makes you laugh.
7) Getting that perfect location by knocking on the door and finding a kind business or homeowner who welcomes you with open arms. A satisfying moment.
8) An opportunity to work with people who have always dreamt of being part of filmmaking. You can't beat that positive energy.
9) Working with private equity investors who take pride in your work and support you for years. It's humbling and makes you want to be the best you can be.
10) Building content of which you own the copyright. Content is King!
11) Helping to launch new creative talent to the world. That's pretty powerful stuff. Being part of a successful team is incredibly joyful. They become part of your family.

And lastly: Freedom. Freedom to express. Freedom to create. Freedom to choose. Freedom to make a great film.

One thing I do know is that Ultra-Low Budget films breed happiness and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I have never met a disgruntled crew on a ULB. The creative team is inspired and grateful and passionate. And the investors are excited and interested and helpful. Everyone is making the film because they believe in it. And who doesn't want to be part of such happiness and passion and belief?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Getting Creative with Your Indie Film Business Plan

To build on my recent posting on negotiating, I am revising a business plan this morning for one of my Ultra-Low Budget projects and I thought it would be a good case study to share on how to get creative with an indie film business plan.

For this project, we are seeking $150k to make the film -- a very standard ULB project budget.

We feel very confident about the film's future, especially with that budget. We are building a great, bankable cast for that budget as well.

I believe we could put that $150k together in bits and pieces from friends and family and colleagues and past investors. But funding in bits and pieces can take a lot of time and energy. We'd rather focus on finding an investor interested in investing the entire amount.

Easier said than done. And this where the creativity comes in.

In talking with my director, who has another life in what will one day be a high paying second career for him, he has offered to pay the investor back in full plus interest after five years (a timeframe that will allow himself to get settled in his new career) in installments of $1000/mo. -- if the film does not make its money back by then.

Sound familiar? To investors, it should. For an investor, it's sort of like a reverse or private mortgage. You put in your money now and five years later, if the film has not earned its money back through sales, you get $1000 per month until that loan is paid back plus interest. And you are privy to back end splits should the film succeed and be profitable. And you will get an executive producer credit.

I know this sounds scary for the director, but he looks at it as no different than a student loan and honestly, he is investing in himself -- something we all do every day. And we both believe in the bankability of the project so hopefully he won't even have to pay anything back. He's not a first-time filmmaker. He has a track record with a premiere at a major film festival.

Why doesn't this director just pay for the film now, you ask? Well, he doesn't have the full $150k in the bank at the moment and we are making the film this year.

So I am revising the business plan and presenting to investors. I am very intrigued to see how this idea is embraced. It's a very low-risk investment opportunity in a film and an Executive Producer credit to boot.

I'll keep everyone posted as to how this case study plays out. As a producer and negotiator, getting creative is fun and inspiring and very interesting...

Negotiating Is a Producer's Life

Negotiating is probably the number one task that I do as a producer. Day in, day out, I am negotiating talent and crew deals, investor and operating agreements, union contracts, and vendor costs.

Each production poses a new set of terms for every aspect of a person or company's involvement. No two projects are exactly the same.

So consider that I have about 10 projects going at one time. This means I am negotiating x 10 every day.

The good thing is that it gets easier after a while. You create relationships with crew and vendors and investors, who are already familiar with the kind of deals you like to make. So there is a short cut the next time you negotiate.

However, there are those projects that have you feeling like you are starting from scratch. You need a new investor. You are filming in a new location. You are working with new cast and crew. And the process starts all over again.

But this time you're smarter, savvier, and, most important, you have experience. With that past experience, you know the tools upon which you need to lean to get that new investor and find the perfect location, cast, and crew. You also have connections to colleagues who can provide ideas and short cuts to make life easier on your new production.

You know what works thus your negotiations can be focused.

From experience, you will also have greater confidence. And confidence is a key ingredient to great negotiating. You are confident that the deals you are negotiating are strong and allowing you to make the most cost effective and creative production.

Negotiating can be intimidating at first. And in our world of indie filmmaking, it can often feel like begging. But remember, a film is a business. And negotiating is an art form. Believe in your product and your work and over time you will become a master negotiator and hopefully be fulfilling your dream of becoming an award-winning filmmaker.