Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My New Website!

Hello Lovelies.

I have finally pieced together a website to host my producing blog and assorted other tidbits. Please join me at forwardMarsh!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Keeping It Real

My daughter painted her legs blue this afternoon.

Paint table set up, check. Water-based paints in little cups, check. Brushes out, check. Paint smock on, check. Paint away, little toddler child of mine!

Lo, I stepped into the kitchen to get my little Matisse a snack and when I returned to the living room, I was greeted by a big, look-what-I-did grin, and blue legs!

I share this with you all, because I've had a very full day as a parent, and my joy for producing feels very far away right now.

And, it's a Monday, and I don't have any fewer producing tasks beckoning me than usual. I'd like to be 100% ON TOP OF THINGS every minute I want to be, but it's not happening today. Agh.

And, yes, my toddler did look adorably cute (and messy) when I found her like she was. :)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Meet The Producer Noah Harlan

I'm delighted to present producer Noah Harlan's responses to my creative producing questionnaire. Noah is co-founder of 2.1 Films in NY and maintains a blog, The 401st Blow, which I love to read.

Sustaining the Muse
A Producing Questionnaire

* Please name all the "hats" you wear as a creative producer.

I teach producing at NYU and one thing I reiterate to my students is that, as a producer, you have to know something about everything that is involved with making a film as eventually everyone will have a question for you. That beings said, as a classical 'producer' (ie: not an executive, co-, associate, line or other type of producer) you are a talent scout, a friends/counselor/guide, a collaborator, a financier, a financier-finder, a marketer, and a leader. I think the most important 'hats' are the collaboration and the leadership, but they rest firmly on your taste. Assuming you have taste, your ability to accomplish things is predicated on your capacity to understand the needs of those you work with, support those people and keep a hand on the wheel so you're always moving forward.

* List all of the jobs you've held before or while pursuing a career in producing.

Intern, Production Manager, Production Coordinator, Casting Assistant, Casting Associate, Line Producer, Co-Producer, Field Producer, Producer

* Do you have a Big Dream or career goal as a producer? What inspires you to do what you do?

I love engaging people's imagination, I love creative expression and I love problem solving. There is not a particular film goal that I have beyond trying to make as many films as I can that I believe in. I don't put limits on what type of film I want to make as there are huge blockbusters I love and tiny arthouse projects I love.

I don't know that I can say what inspires me to do what I do. It feels more like a compulsion perhaps. Since I don't see a specific goal to my career, I likely don't have a singular motivation. If there is one thing I do feel, it is that I love to be transported - to forget where I am and get lost - and film and media allows us to bring that sensation to others.

* Please name five essential skills and/or traits a creative producer needs to sustain a career.

(in no particular order)

1) Tenacity: You will hear 'no' more than you can imagine. You will not make a lot of money and when you do, there will be no assurance that you ever will again.
2) Taste: You cannot control whether your films are financially successful. You cannot control whether your films are critically heralded as successes. However you can control the taste-level of the projects you choose. A producer's success if tied, in part, to their ability to get people to respond to their projects and consider them for financing. If you spend your cache on bad projects people will be less inclined to return your calls and read your scripts. If you are always pushing ahead with projects that are admirable then those who pass on one will always be curious about the next.
3) Leadership: If your crew and/or collaborators do not believe you know what you are doing, and you cannot inspire them to keep doing what they are doing then they will abandon you and the work will suffer.
4) An Understanding of Finances: You are asking people for their money, know what you are talking about. Increasingly the notion of a producer who doesn't have to deal with financing is a fallacy. You will have to. Take care of your investor's money, watch the contracts and understand the deals you're offering.
5) Patience: This takes a long time. From concept to script takes at least a year generally. Then you finance. Then you shoot. Then you edit. Then you release. While it can be very short, it generally is a long time in the making and often, if you rush it, the work is half-baked.

* Name a movie, or several, that you wish you had produced. And/or, producer(s) you admire (living or passed on).

The list of films I wished I had produced is probably far too long to reasonably print. I admire the careers of Jon Kilik, Scott Rudin, Marin Karmitz, Marek Rozenbaum, Jean Labadie, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Sarah Green and many, many more.

* How do you define success for yourself?

I'm never satisfied and thus it is hard to define success. Perhaps a time will come when I look back and say, I was successful, but for now, I suppose, it is being able to continue making movies. When I can't do that, I'll have failed.

* What's your motto when it comes to raising money for your project(s)?

It's out there.

* How long did it take to support yourself as a producer?

Given the cyclical nature of our revenue, it's a perpetual question for all indie producers. However I was working for a few years before I could make enough off of producing to not take other jobs.

* Who do you turn to when you need a pep talk?

My fiance and our dog. Mostly our dog.

* If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I'd be a faster reader. I feel like I'm terribly slow, I'm not, but I feel like I am. There's a lot of things on that list I suppose but I try not to think about them...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dear Indie Producer

At dinner this weekend, I was asked, "How do you find investors?"

I posted on "how do you find financing?" a year ago, but today, as I'm in the midst of shopping an offering to prospective investors, I have a few things to add.

First off, know what you're selling. Be able to talk about your project in product/genre, scope, market, cash-flow, projected Return On Investment, and sales terms.

Secondly, and more importantly, know what type of investor you believe will "vibe" to your project. Will they be friends and family supporting your Big Dream? Will they be accredited investors who pool their monies in an Angel or Venture Capital group? Will your project lend itself to international co-production/financing partners? Will your ideal investor be someone who's as passionate about the topicality or genre of your project as you are? Will they be folks who thrill to support vanguard/experimental/pushing-boundaries content? Will they be constituents of your website who'll donate monies to your project?

Know what you're asking for, and don't be coy. Be specific.

Some samples:
  • I'm seeking accredited investors for $500K of an $800K action-adventure movie to be shot on HD in 2011. My minimum investment amount is $50K, and my offering closes in March 2010. The remaining $300K will be/has been secured through an international co-production arrangement.
  • I'm seeking $500 donations from a minimum of 100 constituents of my website over the next four months for an experimental narrative-with-archival-training-footage on Crime Scene Investigators and the history of their craft.
Once you identify your ideal potential investor(s), develop a contact list:
  • Start with your writer/director/filmmaker. Is there anyone in their orbit who has said, 'Call me when you're ready...'? Put them on your list.
  • Same thing goes for you, the producer. If you have any angels in the wings, now's the time to make your "ask."
  • If you're inspired by a panelist's comments at a conference, approach or contact them for feedback on your project/plan.
I've trolled through many, many film-related web sites reviewing past panels and panelists from the last two-three years. I've read transcripts of panels, watch videocasts, listen to audiocasts. If I've landed upon someone whom I'd love to "pick their brain" about my strategy, I'll seek them out for their feedback. If, then, they think I'm on a good track, I'll ask them if they might be comfortable referring me to someone as an investor, co-producer, financier, etc.
  • If your film lends itself to a certain field or demographic (archaelogy, Asian-Americans, weepy romances, etc.), brainstorm/research potential entities or nodes of support there, too.
What magazines, associations, organizations, conferences, retreats, websites, etc. exist in support of that field or demographic? Do some homework: look at panelists, boards of directors, editors, event/fundraising coordinators, you name it...

I'm not advising that you contact them for money, per se. But, if they're in the field/group that's pertinent to your project, ask them for feedback, clarification, potential buy-in when it's finished. And, if they're amenable, ask them if they can think of anybody (person or entity) who might be inclined to support the project with resources and/or investment.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 1, 2009

More producers? Nope...

Remember the additional producers I thought we'd seek? Not doing that now. Mostly, because I've managed to finally whittle the final numbers, projections, estimates, and so forth down for the project's lifespan... and, it's just not a compelling enough financial scenario to warrant additional producers. Now, if circumstances lend themselves to a financier(s) coming on board, with credit(s) given for producing, that will be something else to consider. But, for all the work and responsibility that being a producing partner would entail, at this budget level, more producers on board is a luxury we can't afford.

And, that's okay.

AND, I've finished the Fighting Version of the Business Plan. OH MY GOD. Hallelujah!

My completed first draft was 40 pages (including 5 appendices). The Fighting Version is 22 pages (including 3 appendices). The time is nigh to begin soliciting investors... Wheeee!

While in Austin, we confirmed our editor, website designer/developer, and attorney. We had a productive meeting with our Art Director, Ia, who's aiding Jentri in storyboarding the script. We also had promising meetings with several DPs. We'll be making a final decision about that key role by mid-June.

My toddler starts daycare two days a week at the end of this month. I'm really psyched about having more time to tend to this blog!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

After The Conference

I had a great, productive, charged-me-up time at the IFP MN Annual Producers Conference. The greatest result out of it was two-fold: I got good feedback on my revenue sources and projections for Lost In Sunshine, as well as my positioning ideas for it, and one of the panelists expressed interest in coming on board to help the project. If/when I have anything formal to announce about that development, I will. But, at the moment, let's just say I felt like skipping TRA-LA-LA! for the rest of the afternoon! :)

Post conference, I know definitely that we need to make due with less money than I initially thought. What I hoped to do with $700K needs to be done with $500K (or less). Daunting, but good to know.

Very recent developments in the Texas legislature are promising for better-funded film tax benefits, so we're hoping to finalize Texas as our shooting location. I'm flying down to Austin in mid-May to meet with our growing kickass production team: line producer, locations manager, film editor, potential cinematographers, storyboard artist, and more.

My brain's getting fuller and fuller with Things To Do. As if that's possible.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Still Business Planning. God, I'm still business planning.

Here's the current skinny.

Traditional theatrical release is an aggregate money-loser and has enormous P&A costs for entry. North American cable sales for indies are currently diminished, because cablers are wanting more "sure thing" content with bigger-name talent in them (there goes my ultra-low-budget budget), among other reasons. Foreign sales numbers are down for indies for a bunch of reasons (subscribe to Filmspecific.com - love that site). Traditional home entertainment (DVD) distributors generally offer no advances for acquisitions, spend a lot of necessary money to market your title (if you're lucky), and pay you a smidgeon of any unit sales at the end of a long line of expenses, fees, and percentages owed to other players. Broadband and download scenarios are neat-o in concept, and no doubt will play bigger roles in even a few years, but currently offer close to zero in revenues.

So, where can an indie project make any money, especially make its money back with a return?

Cue Vincent Price laughter. Ha ha ha ha ha aha hahaha!

And, how will I, the producer, ever make a dime either, after investors are repaid? I'm already looking at how I can squeeze out a stipend, really, out of our budget. And, we're talking five figures here. And, that's supposed to tide me over between now and that mythical time that the movie makes enough revenues to have paid back its principal, and the remaining net profits will get split between me and the investor pool. And, right now, I use the term "me" loosely. It's likely that it will be some sort of "us" to share those monies.

Okay, now we've moved on to maniacal laughter. Seriously, someone needs to be locked up. It's scary.

I do this because I love the process. And, I'm motivated to inspire people with stories.

I've been working on projected return-on-investment (ROI) tables for Lost In Sunshine. And, it's hard. In a way. Because I can see how we can/will do it. But, making returns on movies is ALWAYS a nail-biter. But, then again, I'm really psyched about us keeping the reins of this project - from conception and execution through launch and distribution. There just aren't a lot of comparable titles and their numbers to reference. And, my projections include a large percentage of direct sales numbers from our (in-progress/future) website.

I keep thinking about our prospective investors.

On one hand, knowing what we need to do going in, arms us to prepare and work our asses off for that outcome. On the other hand, the Doubt Monster says, 'But, from what you can tell, maybe only one or two films/filmmakers have even reached those levels of revenues in the last two years.'

I'm not one to prop up exceptions as standard operating procedure. I want investors to know what a crap shoot indie film financing is, even if the producer(s) do everything "right." And, I keep wondering if there's more data I'm missing. I'm getting a picture; I just have moments where I wonder if there's a piece or two missing...

So, ALL OF THIS ABOVE, greatly explains my excitement over attending the IFP MN's Annual Producers Conference this coming Saturday in Minny-apple-less. Last year, I was blessed to be invited as a panelist; and, this year, I get to go listen to Peter Broderick talk about distribution! Plus, I'm delighted to be scheduled for a one-on-one mini-session with Matt Dentler of Cinetic Rights Management. He used to program SXSW, and jumping off bridges premiered there in 2006; so, I have a certain fondness for him already. I look forward to picking his brain over some of my digital projections, and all the others, too.

Thanks for reading.