Friday, September 30, 2011

Audiences Speak Out and We Need to Heed the Call as Indie Filmmakers

Take Me Home
Dear Ms. Jane Kelly/Mr. Jaeger,
I don't even remember how I stumbled across this movie online, it's been quite a while now, but at the time it had the promise of coming to the the big screen.  So I bookmarked the page so that I could keep an eye out for it's opening.
During my attempt at deleting my many useless bookmarks this one I cannot delete.  While I was looking at the website again I realized that all these film festivals, i.e., Chicago, Boston, USA, Brooklyn, Nashville, Albuquerque, Napa, etc., just to name a few had the privilege of viewing it-- why not me?!  Will it ever be made available for viewing to the general public?  Why not?  I mean have you seen what's called a movie now on TV, cable, Lifetime (yuck!) & even the Hallmark misses it--meaning that either the acting is poor or the story is weak & predictable or both. 
I confess, I am a "romance" admirer (who isn't) but can't this movie come to fruition & be available to view.  May be I haven't done a good enough search for it there a way to see it legally? 
Hey, thanks for your time reading this ranting woman's plee to view great entertainment when she sees it.  Please take time from your busy schedule & shed light on this mystery for me.  Thank you.
Ann Marie Busacca

I wanted to share this recent email I received and a major call to action for all independent filmmakers. It's not unlike a number of emails we receive pretty regularly about our films. And I figured it was time to share the mutual frustration that exists among independent filmmakers and their audience.

We make films for an incredible audience - a smart audience who wants more than the studios are offering. Our audience wants to see our films. But we have a really hard time getting it to them. Why?

Simple answer: Competition.

The festivals receive thousands of entries and hand-pick only about a hundred per festival, with many having already played most of them. This leaves very few slots for strong films to get their World Premiere at a major film festival. Without a World Premiere at a strong film festival, it's hard to get reviews and the word into the media that your film is worthy of being seen. Without anyone knowing about your film, how can you build an audience?

Next, there's only a handful of sales agents willing to take on independent films. It's hard to sell indie films so sales agents don't have it easy so they are picky. Even if your film is great, you may not even get a sales agent to watch it because you don't have an A-list cast in it. True story.

Then, the studios make it very hard on us. They don't want to pick up your film because it doesn't have A-list actors.

And when you finally get your deal with a distributor who agrees to take a chance on your film, you often get no advance and not a lot of help marketing your film.

So you're already down and to rub salt in your wounds, you find out the studios have a lockdown on the major retailers. For example, we can't get our film Not Since You into Redbox because Redbox has deals to fulfill with the major studios and the minimal slots that are left over are filled quickly with independent films from the mini-majors, usually with A-list actors, and larger DVD manufacturers.

To top it all off, you don't see any revenue for your film until the sales agent, the aggregator and the platform all take their cuts, which can leave you with less than 20% of each sale. Yes, all these middle men/women who complained about taking on your hard-to-sell film are making more off your film than you. Pretty crappy scenario, right?

This system needs to be fixed. I know there is a better way. Thousands of great independent films don't even get distribution and it doesn't have to be this way.

Right now, our film Take Me Home, the one Ann Marie wants to see, is navigating the film festival circuit and seeking the best distribution deals. The film will eventually make its way to Ann Marie so she can see it in her own home legally. Eventually sucks. The odds need to be way better.

We have the power to change the system. New media is giving us this power. And now we have to be smart.

I want tools that allow me to reach my audience direct. And if no one makes them for me, I need to get them made myself. And I will. We all should! We need to demand these tools and then make great content for them. One day, very soon, we will have the ability to compete direct with the studios and networks from our own servers in our own homes and offices. Let's do this!

We need to take control of our industry and make it better. No one will do it for us. Let's get our films to our audience. They are asking and we need to heed the call. Who's with me?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not Since You DVD Giveaway for Wonder Likes!

My production company Wonder Entertainment has re-launched our Wonder Entertainment Facebook page. And we'd like people to see it and it's a great way to keep up with our films. We always love an audience.

We'd also like to give away 3 copies of our film to three randomly chosen people who Like our Facebook page here. For my blog readers you can hit the Like button on the left-side of this page.

We will announce the winners the week of October 17th! Thanks for all your support! Your humble producer friend.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SnagFilms Adds Narratives - Yay!

We have another buyer of narrative films - SnagFilms! Yippee! I love buyers. It means my films have more opportunities to be sold and that independent film is getting stronger. (Doing little of dance of joy.)

For You Rom Com Junkies (Like Me): Living the Romantic Comedy Blog

If you are a romantic comedy writer or lover like me (I watch 'em. I write 'em.), you should put Living the Romantic Comedy blog in your blog roll to read. I love that this blog focuses specifically on romantic comedies. It's such a great genre.

And Billy Mernit, the blog author, does a great job analyzing romantic comedies and offering writing tips and more. So if you're looking for a place to get your rom com on, check out the Living the Romantic Comedy blog. It's good stuff.

Plus he quotes This American Life's Ira Glass, who offers some pretty essential advice we all should heed:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Keystone XL: It's Time to Listen

Leslie Iwerks and I finished our short film on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It's been an incredible journey. We've met so many amazing people on this film and we hope it helps shed light on the concerns Americans are having regarding the creation and route of this pipeline. We spoke to landowners, politicians, the union, and even Canada's Minister of Energy. We wanted to hear from the voices on both sides of the issue and try to understand this controversy over the Keystone XL.

Through our work, we found a major disconnect between the political and oil agenda - from the federal to the state levels - and the landowners fighting to save their property and livelihoods. A major lack of effective communication exists among all parties. Landowners aren't feeling heard and, while the government says it is listening, actions speak louder than words.

I will say that the U.S. State Dept was very responsive and did listen and seemed supportive of our efforts to get answers to our questions. Though they have already decided to support the pipeline, we did feel heard and that goes a long way.

One area with which we were not impressed was our dealings with TransCanada. Despite repeated attempts to engage TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, in a dialogue about the pipeline so our audience could understand their perspective, they refused to speak to us. Their evasion did not make us feel that they cared about Americans' concerns over the pipeline. It only told us that they are concerned about their own agenda and I'm sure this attitude contributes greatly to this controversy.

Bottomline, people want to be heard and have their concerns addressed.

We made this film as ordinary Americans wanting to understand what was happening to the middle of our country. We had no monetary support from any organizations. This is our film, our questions and hopefully our subjects will resonate as intended: as real people with real concerns. Perhaps we can all take time to listen.

Trailer coming soon! Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Take Me Home Takes Home the Audience Favorite Award at the Boston Film Festival

Take Me Home, our little movie that could, was awarded Audience Favorite at the Boston Film Festival. Yay Boston! Yay Take Me Home! Yay everyone! I love making movies and making audiences happy. Yay!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Film Independent Forum Coming Soon with Werner Herzog as Keynote

Film Independent is putting on its 7th annual forum with "real world discussions, solutions and case studies, which reflect the reality of our industry TODAY."

It will take place from October 21 to 23 at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles. For a full schedule of events, panelist updates and to register, visit:

Werner Herzog
German filmmaker Werner Herzog will be the Keynote Speaker. I know Herzog's work but I can't say that I've seen all his films. He's one of those artists that I say, oh yeah, he's a legend. His work is highly acclaimed; I need to watch his films. I really do.

So what has he done? He has produced, written, and directed more than fifty films - including Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, published more than a dozen books of prose, and directed as many operas. Francis Truffaut supposedly called him "the most important film director alive."

But why? Part of the reason is that he was a prominent figure in New German Cinema, which consisted of a group of young, talented filmmakers who were discouraged by the stagnation of the German film industry. They made it their mission to focus on artistic, highly acclaimed films rather than commercially-driven product. Sound familiar? I think today's filmmakers can learn a great deal from those who struggled similarly decades ago.

The New German Cinema era lasted from the 1960s to the 80s and sparked a resurgence in high quality German filmmaking. The 1972 film Aguirre, the Wrath of God is considered Herzog's contribution to the New German Cinema. It went on to garner great international acclaim.

I haven't seen Aguirre, the Wrath of God myself but the logline sounds pretty adventurous: In the 16th century, the ruthless and insane Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of El Dorado. Sounds like something I need to check out soon.

Here's the trailer. It's in German but even if you don't speak German, you can still see how great it must be. I look forward to hearing what Herzog has to say at the Forum!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dramas, the Lost Genre

What's not making it to the theater that we are missing?

What genre is not getting enough attention?

What kind of characters are you jonesing for?

How do we bring them back?

My opinion: Big, sweeping dramas like Terms of Endearment or Dead Poet's Society or The World According to Garp or Forrest Gump or Out of Africa or ET. The Help's success proves that dramas can do well. We need more.

I realize dramas are hard sells, especially original dramatic scripts. Dramas based on bestsellers usually win out over originals because they have a built-in audience.

It's very difficult to sell an original dramatic script. Period pieces (not including Jane Austen stories obviously) and Westerns are the kiss of death. Most times execs will pass outright on period pieces and westerns without even reading them. Perhaps if they have a big director and are based on an old movie, i.e. True Grit, there's a fighting chance.

With this in mind, writers are steering clear of drama, unless they are lucky enough to secure a writing gig to adapt a bestselling novel for which the studios have the rights. In the world of filmmaking, everyone's wanting to write the sure thing and dramas are not that.

I can't blame them. We all need to survive. Filmmaking is a business and we try to produce product that we know will sell. The more you are beaten down by a genre, the easier it is to give up the fight for its survival. And the dramatic genre has been getting a beating.

But at the same time, how can we ignore an incredible genre that has the power to change lives? Drama is the one genre that can touch a person's soul. Comedy, thrillers, action - they make great entertainment. But drama feeds your mind and body. It inspires, makes us laugh and cry, challenges us, and gets us thinking.

In fact, here's a few scenes from some great dramas that have always touched and inspired me:

We learn so much from a great drama. I hope we can find a way to resurrect this genre. The world needs some inspiration. Perhaps if we all ask for what we want, the studios will listen? We really don't know until we make that effort.

Here's mine: Please studios, make an effort to greenlight more dramas. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Break on Through the Writer's Block

As a writer, I have blockage almost every day - okay, not that kind of blockage - ha! Whether I'm writing my blog or a screenplay, I can be on a roll and then suddenly find myself staring at my screen and then searching for a snack and then cleaning my house and writing bills. Before I know it, I've blown the day.

Writer's block can lead to all kinds of work getting done - just not the writing. So how do you get back in the writing groove?

First, don't kick yourself for taking a break. You may need one. Sometimes it takes time away from a project to get clarity. I just took a few weeks away from an outline and came back to it wondering, what was I thinking? There's way too much going on. The time away allowed me to have clarity.

Second, don't give up. Even if you take a break, there's a reason you were drawn to the idea. Explore that original inspiration. Ask yourself if you are achieving what you originally set out to do. Sometimes it takes going back to your original idea to re-center you on your writing objectives.

Third, there's technology that can help. Check out softwares like Contour that can help you break the story down, step by step. Maybe going back to the basics will allow you to regain control of your story.

Fourth, just write. Keep writing until you can't anymore and then keep writing some more. I find just putting pen to paper, even if it's gibberish helps me work through problems.

Fifth, get creative. Put your creative hat on. About anything. But be creative and that will spread out over everything you do.

Finally, watch movies. If you write them, you love them. So watch them and remind yourself how great they are and why you want to write them. And watch the kinds of movies you are writing. Especially the highly acclaimed ones. They just might fix what's ailing.

TheGrill Conclusion: Being Social Is Key to New Media

Boy am I inspired! After attending The Wrap's conference TheGrill yesterday and listening to its incredible roster of media leaders, including - only to name a few - Facebook's Matt Jacobson, Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, Modern Family's Steve Levitan, and, I left with a renewed surge of hope for the future of indie filmmaking.

It also got me thinking about how I can be a strong part of this changing landscape toward a brighter future for indie film. My wheels are turning!

Arianna Huffington
at The Grill
My biggest takeaway from this conference is that every business, including film, needs to have a social aspect to it. As Arianna Huffington points out, we need to be building platforms that are all about engagement.

We should constantly be thinking about how to improve our social engagement and create a community who emotionally (and even financially) invests in our work. The thinking is that no company can thrive or even survive without social engagement in what they are producing.

This is so true for filmmaking. Every film should have a means of communicating and engaging with its audience. These means can include a Web site, Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog and so on.

Before buying the Huffington Post, AOL knew they had Trust and a Brand. But they had no Identity. By bringing the Huffington Post into the fold, they were bringing in an Identity. How smart.

It's that kind of thinking we indie filmmakers should have. We need to build an audience that trusts that we will create quality, entertaining stories through a brand they can believe in and promote that has a strong identity that they can point out in a crowd. This is something I work at every day with my films and my company Wonder Entertainment., the closing speaker at TheGrill, is also engaging. He's trying to engage young people to go into science and education. The singer is an avid googler and tech nerd himself - he said he often sits in his hotels when he's on the road and googles all day long and teaches himself about new technology.

Recently, put up his own money to put on a TV special that would entertain our youth while showing them the sexy side of a career in science and education. And he's working to help make his hometown of Boyle Heights a better place to live. As he points out, he has an elbow and it allows him to point at himself as the one who can inspire and make change. He also reminded us that we all have elbows and we should start using them too. at TheGrill

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TheGrill - Let's Talk About Media Leadership, I'm Ready to Listen

Had a great time at the opening night of The Wrap's second annual media leadership conference TheGrill. Sharon Waxman, founder of The Wrap, kicked off the event with a discussion with former chairman of Warner Bros. and CEO of Yahoo, Terry Semel and co-founder of the film fund Global Eagle Harry Sloan.

Semel and Sloan seem to think that content really is king and that major media companies will be opening their pocketbooks to license material for the Web. This is great news for content creators - though I still wasn't hearing how content creators were going to afford to create content that could be licensed.

I think we are still going to need a solution for covering costs of development and production. But at least the buyers will be there. That's a step in the right direction! I'm off to attend the conference now. Up way too early for someone who sets her own hours - ha! They may find me asleep in my chair.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Take Me Home part of first 25 films picked by the Chicago Film Festival

Take Me Home has been picked as part of the first 25 films of the Chicago Film Festival. Here is the press release. Our film plays October 7, 8 & 14. If you are in the area, please come on out!

Take Me Home at Boston Film Festival now!

Take Me Home plays the Boston Film Festival now (7p est)! Thanks to everyone who came out for it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wonder Entertainment on Facebook

We have restarted our production company Facebook page. Please LIKE our page for Wonder Entertainment if you are interested in keeping up with the films we are making! We're having a blast making movies - join us on this journey!

LIKE it here. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fair Use & Copyright & Films

Fair use is a foggy arena for filmmaking. As filmmakers you try your best to license all material in your movies. It's required by law and your Errors and Ommissions policy and your distributors. And it's the right thing to do. Would you like it if someone else gained from your hard work?

However, there may be some material that is available to the world, like news reports etc, and those who own it may not want to license it to you or you may not be able to track down the owners or it may be so costly that you can't afford to clear it but it's extremely important to the piece you are creating.

In these cases, and I want to make this very clear that this is just my opinion and I am not a lawyer, you MIGHT be able to make a case that you can use the material under fair use. According to the U.S. Copyright Office Web site,

"The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

If you are uncertain about whether something would be considered fair use or not, you can consult an attorney who specializes in fair use law and he or she can write up a fair use opinion report. You could then use that report to substantiate your use of the un-licensed material.

Also fair use attorney Michael McDonald wrote a book on the subject: Clearance & Copyright: Everything You Need to Know for Film and Television.  Check it out if you want to know the gritty details about clearances and copyright. It's a fascinating topic for filmmakers.

The major downside to using un-licensed material and invoking fair use is not having access to a high resolution image for your piece - which may be the deciding factor on whether to use it or not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Take Me Home Playing Boston Film Festival - Sept 17

Our film Take Me Home will be playing the Boston Film Festival this weekend! Come on out and join us if you are in the area. Sam Jaeger and his costar and wife Amber Jaeger will be in attendance. 

The screening will be held Saturday night (Sept 17) at 7p at the Stuart Street Playhouse:

Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Film Festivals Are Expensive!

Okay, I'm saying it out loud. I think most of us feel the same way. I wish I could afford to attend all film festivals. It would be great for networking and seeing many films that may never get traditional distribution. But I have to say, they are pricey!

I have two films on the festival circuit right now and keeping up with them has deflated my wallet substantially. I'm sure all of you can relate to this dilemma: you try your best to put festival costs in your budget and inevitably your post production eats it all up. And when your film is finally getting some attention, you can't even afford to revel in it. So sad.

And then the premiere festivals come around and you hope you have a windfall so you can attend but typically, you find it difficult to afford the few thousand that it takes to be there. Again, sad.

And between you and me, I'm not quite sure why the festivals will only cover accommodations and travel for the director. It's true that the film is the director's vision. But the film is also the producer's creation. I don't think most understand the tremendous weight of responsibility that rests on a producer's shoulders. Everyone, including the director, looks to the producer to make it ALL OKAY. Any hiccup is the producer's problem to fix. And trust me, there are usually a lot of hiccups. Gripe, gripe, gripe. There, I've said it. Now time to move on.

The great thing it is that I have worked with a wonderful group of directors who do honor what I do. So even though the festivals won't provide the same accolades to the lowly producer, all I have to do is look to my directors and they are there in my corner always - as I am in theirs. And that's really what counts. So whenever you are feeling neglected by the industry, just look to your team and they should be there for you. If they aren't then you need a new team. Keep looking, you will find them.