Friday, December 26, 2008

John Hadity presentation

Been busy with holiday travel. Had much fun watching grandparents be goofy with my toddler. Had less fun being patted down at Security in the airport, with said toddler and All Things Baby in tow.

Came across an informative link today off the IndiePix blog. Blogger and IndiePix friend, Brian Geldin at The Film Panel Notetaker picks his Top Ten Film Panels of 2008. Here is a link to his transcript of a presentation about independent film financing made by John Hadity at the 2008 IFP No Borders Conference.

Inspiring and zapping at the same time.

Why do I want to do all this to myself? :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Meet The Producer Jane Kosek

Jane Kelly KosekMeet producer, Jane Kelly Kosek, with whom I've corresponded because I found her blog about independent producing. She's graciously agreed to respond to my version of a Proustian questionnaire for producers, and I hope you enjoy reading her responses.

Thank you, Jane! And, many happy returns on all your projects!

Jane Kelly Kosek is an independent film producer and co-founder of Wonder Entertainment. Jane produced her first feature-length film, STRAIGHT LINE, with writer/director Sean Ackerman. Filmed in eight countries, this drama took two years to make and premiered at the 2005 South by Southwest Film Festival. This production launched Jane’s career as a producer of emotionally charged, character-driven motion pictures.

Originally from Livonia, Michigan, Jane attended University of Michigan—Ann Arbor and Oakland University. She worked for eight years in publishing as a writer and editor, both in Detroit and NY. Realizing that her passion was for the moving image, Jane began working in NY film production as an assistant coordinator. In 2001, Jane relocated to LA where she assisted Academy Award-winning screenwriter and producer Akiva Goldsman for three years at his production company Weed Road Pictures, located on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA. With Akiva, she worked on A BEAUTIFUL MIND, CONSTANTINE, STARSKY & HUTCH, and MR. & MRS. SMITH.

Jane is currently developing a biopic on the famous art forger Han Van Meegeren titled ART OF DECEPTION by Brandon Trenz. Dominique Deruddere is attached to direct and Hugh Dancy is attached to star. She is also working on attaching talent and securing financing for THE MAN IN THE WOODS by Russell Schaumburg (dir. Jeff Stephenson), THE DIARY OF PRESTON PLUMMER by Sean Ackerman (dir. Sean Ackerman), and FLOATERS by Ron Freidman and Steve Bencich (dir. Jeff Stephenson). With producer Rene Smallwood, she is developing adaptations of two books, SPOKEN IN DARKNESS by Ann E. Imbrie, and THE WHISPER OF THE RIVER by Ferrol Sams.

Sustaining the Muse
A Producing Questionnaire
  • Please name all the "hats" you wear as a creative producer.
Every hat you can find, I wear.
  • List all of the jobs you've held before or while pursuing a career in producing.
Writer, Editor (word not picture), Copy Editor, Proofreader, Assistant, Story Editor
  • Do you have a Big Dream or career goal as a producer?
To make entertaining films that resonate with an audience.
  • What inspires you to do what you do?
Good films that change my life, even in a small way.
  • Please name five essential skills and/or traits a creative producer needs to sustain a career.
Obsessed with movies, persistent, outgoing, confident, creative
  • Name a movie, or several, that you wish you had produced. And/or, producer(s) you admire (living or passed on).
Say Anything, Good Will Hunting, Forrest Gump, Dead Poets Society, Terms of Endearment, The Notebook.
  • How do you define success for yourself?
Being able to wake up every day and work on movies.
  • What's your motto when it comes to raising money for your project(s)?
Offer high quality projects and investors will come.
  • How long did it (will it) take to support yourself as a producer?
I wouldn’t say a producer is ever supporting him- or herself on a steady, secure basis from film projects. It’s smart to have another skill to help supplement your income during the down periods.
  • Who do you turn to when you need a pep talk?
My husband.
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Be a billionaire so I could fund my own movies!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brain On Fire

Last night, I couldn't sit still at my desk, because I had so many things racing through my mind (this is a familiar refrain with me, isn't it?). I had so many ants in my pants that I had to pace at almost hopping speed in my kitchen, rattling off the many ideas, to-do's, worries, etc. to my poor husband. It didn't help that my toddler decided NOT to take a nap yesterday afternoon. I had a lot of mental detritus to unload. :) He was a great sport, although he did say I was driving him crazy.

So, here's a brief rundown. Found another creative producer's blog here. Her name is Jane Kosek. How fun! I look forward to checking her blog frequently to see what sort of issues, ideas, obstacles, triumphs she experiences as she produces her features.

I'm currently reviewing a good friend's business plan. I'm quite excited for him, because I think he's got a really good handle on how to build a business for himself as a musician and online entrepreneur. Plus, he's stupidly talented as a guitarist, musician, music producer, and composer. PLUS, all the research he's done on monetizing his blogs and his current and future assets (written content, as well as music) ties in very strongly with the trends that seem to be surfacing in the indie film community. I am inspired as I read his plan. In return, he's going to help me create my website - which is coming soon!

I have decided that I'm definitely going to pursue financing for a small slate of low-budget films - as opposed to focusing solely on raising funds for Lost In Sunshine, alone. I'm still doing homework to determine whether I'm going to pitch three films over five years, or five films over seven years. But, I'm looking at framing each project at around $1M. That won't be just production budget money, though. The idea is to use approximately $1M for each project's production budget and marketing/distribution/deliverable expenses. I also mostly expect to bypass traditional theatrical distribution. Festival screenings, most likely, yes. And, possibly even some sort of niched DIY theatrical screenings, but not an I-hope-to-get-acquired-by- somebody-when-we're-finished theatrical distribution plan.

Well, crap. The toddler's crying... No nap today either. Agh. More thoughts later.

Oh, and check out this blog Jentri has begun related to Lost In Sunshine. I've been inspired by folks like Lance Weiler and blog postings by Scott Macaulay and Ted Hope about the need/utility of indie filmmakers building community(ies) for their projects. This is one of the ideas we're acting upon. I'll keep you posted - obviously - on other web developments we create in support for the project.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Embracing the Web

If you haven't checked out the Workbook Project, you should.

The following is a link to a 40-minute panel discussion with Tech and Film venture capitalist, Todd Dagres:

DIY DAYS: An investor’s POV - Todd Dagres

A couple ideas their discussion prompted for me are to again, think of how to build audience/community for the movies I produce as early as I can, and the idea of reaching out to like stories and/or filmmakers before, during, and after shooting one of my projects. Either to possibility present ourselves as a prospective slate for investors and/or a series of screenings trying to reach complementary audiences in our release phases.

Cool stuff.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Head or heart?

So, I've been spending way too much (unpaid-for) time on this recent consulting gig: the marketing analysis for the horror script.

In a nutshell, I've been impressed with the volume and breadth of this client/writer's work. The horror script, in my opinion, is competent; but, it's not my vibe. But, he's got several other scripts: another couple genre scripts and a couple more "arty" scripts. The impetus: he's got an affluent friend with other affluent friends out West, and they're possibly amenable to investment opportunities. He needs something on paper to present to them.

There are two reasons this has been taking me so long. Well, actually, three reasons.

One: The current market for horror movies, even micro-budgeted ones, is glutted. Unless his potential investors might be game for putting up $4M+ for an indie horror flick without any "name" attachments, yet, with an unrepresented, inexperienced writer - sending them the market analysis write-up I did wasn't going to do him any favors.

Two: I like movies where things blow up as much as the next fan. When I read his other genre script, a crime-action story, I debated whether I was interested enough in producing it. I needed to do some (extra) homework.

Three: I've been doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out how much "heart" I need to have for a script/project before I know in my bones that it's something I've got to be attached to.

I like the writer; I feel there's some sort of synergy there. My brain can evaluate how to break down, produce, and pursue the end-game for his genre scripts. But, my heart's definitely not in one of them, and is ambivalent about the crime-action story (I vibe to action-adventure more than the crime slant).

Have I been trying to talk myself into something, or out of it?

Don't you hate that? Days, weeks, years later, you can look back at something and go, 'Of course, X!' But, in the middle of it, duhhhh... I don't know. Ummm...

So, here's where I'm at: since neither he nor I are in love with the horror script, it's being shelved as a prospect for now. He has another genre script (sci-fi), which needs polishing, but there you have it. The research I've done so far on the crime-action genre seems to indicate that there are currently two points of entry: the $500K-750K budget and the $5M-15M budget. I need to do some research to determine whether that tendency seems to hold the same currently for sci-fi genres, too. If it does, I know how to present an overview for his prospective investors. And, if they might be game to proceed, I'll help the writer take the next steps.

In the meantime, the writer and I will take up some development/workshopping work on his sci-fi and/or "arty" script early next year. It'll be a good chance to work on something together and determine whether we have compatibility...

Re: my assertion about the glut of horror flicks in the marketplace --
Stacey Parks at Filmspecific (I LOVE her site) reported as such from the 2008 American Film Market which just closed a few weeks ago. For a Horror project to have a chance in the next couple years, it seems to me that it'll have to be produced to compete with Hollywood horror (A-list stars, or at least B+ stars, high production values, expensive above-the-line elements overall) projects. That means a little $500K horror budget is gonna have to work REALLY hard to get its audience and its money back. And, that's do-able, if you have a team behind it that really loves the genre and fan-base and prepares for an alternate distribution strategy (grass roots fan-building, word-of-mouth marketing, a web-site, genre-focused film fests, etc.).

So, if you LURVE low-budget horror, it certainly can be done. Just be aware of how hard it'll be to punch through to your audience(s) when it's time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More fun at the Crazy Farm

Okay, now I'm also seriously considering producing another consulting-client's work.

Will have final talks tomorrow about going ahead, or not, with that.

For someone who's been unsure of the path ahead, given my beautiful path-changing foray into parenthood, some good things just keep dropping into my orbit.

My heart says it's all good. I'm excited about both. I still have to figure out how to parse my time between parenting and producing. Much less, producing from Minnesota an ultra-low-budget independent film by a Texan writer-director. Ha!

I'm nuts. But, I'm a happy nut.

Oh, and I have to add that I'm currently very inspired by one of Ted Hope's blogs, Truly Free Film. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Then again...

Okay, I've kept saying Horror is not my favorite genre, personally.

But, I'm very seriously considering forming a producing partnership with this writer I've been consulting. He came to me for advice because he has a connection to potential investors. He wanted to know how to approach them, and with what info? I've been reading his scripts and creating a marketing analysis for one of them, a thriller/horror film.

We just met for an update session yesterday. I told him there were basically, three ways to proceed. He could seek to sell his scripts outright to the likely buyers; take the money he can get, and move on to the next thing. He could raise the money to shoot one or more of his scripts for very low budgets and aim to sell it/them as negative pickups. Or, he could raise the money to shoot them and distribute them himself - a la Lance Weiler's Head Trauma or the filmmakers behind Four Eyed Monsters, etc.

As a writer with a day job, who's never made a film, himself, before, I knew he wouldn't have any personal context for what options 2 and 3 would actually entail. Which is, years of effort and work and responsibility.

He needs a producer.

I can see how to do it. And, his other scripts have breadth. And, they're different genres. And, I'd have an opportunity to build a production company around a mini-slate of properties. And, I like his vibe so far.

Then, all the second-guessing comes in.

What about parenting my toddler? How can I tackle this when I still get pole-axed from tending to her every weekday? I've hired a babysitter for Monday afternoons, which is a HUGE help; but, I start thinking about the escalating costs to hire her (if she's even available) for additional days, and it gives me pause. Remember, I'm an independent producer - ha. I'm not currently rolling in dough...

And, what about partnering with someone I've never worked with before? What about partnering, period? I've had partners in the past, in both film and software companies I've founded; and, they were (and are) good people, all. But, I'm not partnered anymore with any of them, and there are reasons for that. I worry that I could be setting myself in an unsustainable position again.

Thanks for reading. I've just wanted to roll this idea around and share some fears.

It felt very natural yesterday at our meeting for me to say, 'I'll do this.' 'Let's move forward and take some more steps together.' I'll work with him to develop his sci-fi script. This will provide us a more in-depth opportunity to work together. In the meantime, I can do the homework on the titles/genres we would pitch for our mini-slate, plus a full business plan.

It's a lot of work. But, it's also in my interest, whether this particular opportunity pans out into something more long-term or not.

I've kept saying I want to build a new production company. So, here I am, looking at forming a new production company. Right?


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Horror, the horror

I have spent the better part of the last three days immersing myself in the production, fan-dom, and distribution worlds of horror-thrillers. Man, am I tired of the mayhem.

I'm meeting with my client tomorrow to review what I've researched and discuss next steps. In a nutshell, he wants to get investors and get his scripts produced. I applaud that. I'm just consumed with how he might/should go about it. ???

On one hand, I can see very clearly how to tackle the goal as a DIY endeavor. Raise the money for the production budget AND for the distribution/marketing efforts. Build audience awareness before you shoot. Build a web/digital presence. Build your niche audience's anticipation for your film. Producer Ted Hope (I so admire him and wish he would adopt me as his "baby producer") has been speaking and writing lately of filmmakers' needs to claim the promises of digital access to their audiences/markets. Peter Broderick, another long-time indie advisor/rep/legal eagle, has also written about the changing independent film marketplace. I'm with them, totally.

On the other hand, that approach calls for COMMITMENT. And, I don't know, yet, if my client fully grasps just how long and likely, arduous that commitment may be. We're talking years. Years to prepare (raise funds, lay groundwork) for the eventual "launch," the production, the post-production, the actual launch and marketing efforts, the babysitting and continued execution of the distribution, and all the fun back-end stuff of having a movie out in the marketplace.

Plus, the world is in a global economic smack down. Industry folks attending this year's American Film Market in Santa Monica are talking about it being one of the hardest, slowest markets in the last 25 years.

He needs a producer.

I wish I loved the genre, myself. But, nope.

The other approach is to identify and pursue production companies/financiers who might be game to acquire his script(s) outright. I've researched those, too.

I have a feeling he's going to prefer the former over the latter.

Which I admire and again, applaud.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Good To Know...

So, I'm working a consulting gig these days, putting together a marketing analysis for a horror/thriller/mystery script. It's written in the style of an Italian giallo of the '70s. Lots of sex, blood, red herring suspects, and nudity. It's a well-executed script for its genre. But, I've spent most of the last two days delving into the genre's cinematic history, current titles, fan base, distributors, and so on.

As a producer, it's good to know that this isn't a genre I'd want to personally spend my time on. I recognize it has its fans, and a market. But, being an integral player in making a movie that finds new and cinematically ambitious ways to kill mostly naked women is not on my list of aspirations.

Back to work...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hello Again

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm still trying to figure out how to balance career aspirations with parenthood.

At least a million times over the last couple months I've thought about posting to this blog.

Yep, thought about it.

Thought about it as I worked on consulting gigs (thankfully, they've kept coming).

Berated myself for not getting down to business. Questioned my notion of starting it. Wondered if I've tried to bite off more than I can chew.

Yeah, I have a pattern of doing that.

But, you know what? My butt's in the chair today. I've hired a babysitter to help me a bit during the week. And, I'm going to focus on creating a sustainable weekly practice of noting my experiences here in this blog.

Along those lines, I'll share this. I'm finding that with each new consulting gig (script analysis/doctoring or business planning/marketing/fundraising strategies), I wonder if the project/script/writer is crossing my path because I'm supposed to recognize it/her/him as a springboard back into active producing.

I'm conflicted. These folks (have) come to me to help them draw out their ideas, their "voices," and I really like where we're able to go together. I think of the ideas I have for starting my own production company; I think of people I've worked with and/or would like to work with. I start assembling structures, plans in my head. And, then I poop out for a little while, because I still spend most of my time keeping my toddler from emptying an entire box of Cheerios on the kitchen table. And I think, 'it's not time, yet. Stay with the consulting. Hold your horses.'

I think to myself, 'When she's 3 years old, maybe then...' But, then again, I wonder if it'll be 5 years old, or 7 years old, or 25 years old!

Plus, the economy's gone to shit. Money is always a dogged pursuit for filmmakers. The endgame/distribution/exhibition world of movies is in transition... It's harder than ever to get independent movies made and seen and monetized. Blah, blah, blah, etc. I think, 'it's just as well that I'm sidelining myself for the time being.'

Oh, but I want to go to AFM to meet international buyers. I want to go the international producers lab in Rotterdam. I want to be supporting a director on set, seeing that gleam in his/her eye as they execute on a long-held dream. I miss the camaraderie of production folks. The excitement of seeing one's finished film with an audience. The challenges and strategies of getting it out into the world.

I think I'm going to be jumping back into active producing sooner than later. :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

What's Your Movie's Poster?

Last week, I wrapped up a short consulting gig with a screenwriter who plans to direct the feature script she's written. I worked up a marketing analysis for her script. I wanted to share a few things here from her consultation.

Hers will be an ultra-low-budget HD project, especially given that she plans to direct it and she has no feature directing credits, yet. The question is, should it be a $100K budget, $250K, $500K, or $1M low-budget indie?

The first question we had to address was "what was her movie?"

She had spent the last two years getting her script to the stage it was at. Like most writers, it was hard for her to sum up what the script was about. As I read the script, it seemed to start off as a straight-ahead drama with a female lead, but then it branched off into a quirky-characters, edgy-comedy road trip movie at the top of the second act. I found it competently written, with distinct characters, but confused in its overall tone.

I spent many hours researching comparable titles to hers, based on their budgets, genres, plot elements, and story lines. I sent her that list of 15 titles and asked her to Google them and look at their story lines and especially, posters before our phone discussion. Then, on the phone, I asked her to tell me which posters reminded her the most of her movie.

This was a good place for us to start discussing whether her movie was an art-house drama with a female lead, or an ensemble road trip comedy/drama. Would her poster feature an up-and-coming and/or established actress as the lead -- a prickly screw-up who makes bad choices until she figures out how to love herself? Or, would it feature the lead actress and main supporting actor, plus maybe the road, a car, the motel where she works, etc. with one or two of the supporting characters, too? Would it be SherryBaby or Waitress?

By figuring out that her story was really the former and not the latter, the writer was able to: (a) identify some elements/characters/subplots in her script that were inadvertently leading the reader away from the story she really wanted to tell, and (b) understand a key component of her movie's "sell" -- she'll need to cast her lead with a known actress. What she'll have going for her in her casting efforts is a role that will present an actress an opportunity to play someone unlikable, but ultimately reconciled by the end of the story.

"How much should she make it for?"
This also helped us frame the size of her budget. If she's unable to cast a "name" actress, for whatever reasons, and goes forward with the project, she shouldn't spend more than $100K on its production budget, or even less. This is because of her track record as a first-time feature director and the movie's genre - art house drama with female lead, coming-of-age. The website filmspecific has detailed info/reports for its subscribers on typical sales figures that worldwide territories have paid for films of varied budgets. I gleaned my figure above partly from that website's data and partly from reviewing budget and sales/distribution figures for the comparable titles I researched.

There will also be additional end-game costs to cover like festival submissions, festival/market attendance expenses, publicist(s), deliverable expenses to a distributor (if the movie gets sold), and on and on. Figure that a $100K indie movie may run up $100K in expenses to get out and delivered to paying audiences. If it has no "name" actors in it, and it doesn't become some sort of blessed freak exception/critical darling, it will hard pressed to earn its money back, even at $200K or less, total.

Which does not mean there would be no value in the writer making her $100K movie. She just needs to have an idea what conditions will likely be for her movie's profitability, and plan accordingly (and inform her investors accordingly).

The more known an actress she might cast, and known supporting cast in her movie, the higher she can inch up on the budget scale. If and when the writer-director comes up with a wish list of actresses, I'd be able to do some more specific homework; but, right now, I think $500K is the top of her budget scale...

I know it's anathema for a lot of writers and filmmakers to think of their artfully-crafted stories as a product boiled down to a logline. Your voice is unique, and it's important to be true to yourself. But, by gauging what else is out there BEFORE YOU RAISE MONEY OR SHOOT YOUR MOVIE, you can better articulate your movie, your vision, and be able to enlist others - like sales reps and distributors - to help you reach your audience when it's completed.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dear Indie Producer

Dear Indie Producer,

What is the best way to go about finding really good actors for a short or independent film? It seems that so many short and indies have bad acting. I'd like to avoid that. Is it the actors or the directors? Basically, how does one make sure that the acting will be good?

Alison Coffey
Iowa City, IA

  • Don't cast the wrong actors.
I've been here before. Wrote a short, produced and directed it myself. And, I made a mistake in casting that I won't repeat again. I had a local stage actor in mind for a principal role as I wrote the script. It was someone I had worked with before on theatre productions; someone I'd been really pleased with in that milieu. So, I cast her in my short without auditioning her.

It was a mistake.

I still don't know if it was an incompatibility with the role, or a poor transition from stage to screen work. But, I didn't fully see the gap until we were filming, and then I couldn't do much to change it. I think I kept hanging on to the good impressions of the prior work we'd done together, hoping that good things would translate... I kept hoping we could rehearse ourselves to a performance I wanted. Ultimately, nope.

It was a mistake as a producer, and a failure as a director.

So, a piece of advice for casting your ultra-low-budget short or indie feature film. Hold auditions for everybody. You need to see and feel the dynamic among different combinations of auditioning actors. One actor may read beautifully as Character A; but, when paired with another actor auditioning for Character B, they don't match up somehow. You'll have to make some hard choices.

You've got to be selfish with your movie. If someone looks the role, but can't act themselves out of a box, don't cast them. Worst-case scenario will be that they won't improve during rehearsals/filming, you won't be able to direct them or edit them into an acceptable performance, and your movie will suffer for it. Badly.
  • Contact local casting directors and/or acting coaches and schools.
If you're making a feature, find the money to work with an established casting director. Casting is their business. They'll know actors you've probably never heard of. They'll know which actors have agents and don't. They'll have an idea who's reliable, and who's a flake. They'll have an idea who's a consistent performer, and who's not. They'll know SAG rules. They'll know politics and etiquette with agents.

If you don't have enough money for their casting fee(s), barter. Figure out how to make the situation a win-win for you and them. Or, hold a fund-raising garage sale, benefit concert, etc. to raise the dough. It will be money well-spent.

If you're casting a short, a casting director will be overkill. Instead, contact local acting coaches and acting schools. Ask them for their help getting the word out about auditions for your movie. Ask them for recommendations of local actors. Cast the net (pun intended) as wide as possible in your community about your upcoming auditions: web sites, college acting departments, local acting schools, community and professional theaters, audition fliers in coffee shops and community bulletin boards, etc.

Plus, each state has a film commission. Check out their website and resources. Do they post an audition announcement page? Get yours on it.

And, don't forget your peers. Ask your fellow filmie friends what they've done and how for casting their short/indie movies.
  • Be prepared for auditions.
Be sure to choose "sides" (audition scenes from your script) that give actors something to bite into during their auditions. If it's a scene where two characters are brooding silently in a car -- not much to work with there for an auditioning actor, y'know? On the contrary, if it's a scene where two characters are hiding from someone and heatedly discussing their next move, there'll be more subtext and dynamism in the scene for auditioners to work with. And, sides should be no longer than two pages, three max.

Assemble a team for the auditions. A sign-in person, who may or may not be the person who scheduled actors' audition times. The director, the producer, a camera person if you're shooting auditions. And, an extra person who can read lines with an actor, if necessary. Plan for and manage your time so that your team can get actors in and out of auditions on a timely basis. Do your best to create an atmosphere of efficiency and respect, so that actors can give their best auditions.
  • If the director is inexperienced or uncomfortable with actors, s/he could benefit from auditing or taking an acting class.
To collaborate on a good performance, it helps for both parties to speak the same language. Learn what actors look for in scripts, in their roles. Learn their vernacular. The better to guide them (or get out of their way).

Thanks for the question, Alison!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Intro to Meet The Producer...

I don't know how many times over the years that I've wished for a producing mentor to guide me, to bounce ideas off of, to even reassure me that I'm doing fine as I keep stumbling along following my Muse.

So, I've come up with this questionnaire, and I plan to ask fellow creative producers to respond to it at this blog for your illumination and hopefully, inspiration:

Sustaining the Muse
A Producing Questionnaire
  • How did you get started as a producer?
  • What do you look for in a project, and how do you decide whether to commit to getting it made?
  • Do you have a Big Dream or career goal? What inspires you to produce movies?
  • What’s the hardest part of producing, in your opinion?
  • Name a movie, or several, that you wish you had produced.
  • How much time tends to pass between projects for you? Is this intentional? What do you do during this downtime?
  • Do you produce multiple projects simultaneously, all the time, or do you prefer to focus on one at a time? Why?
  • How do you pay the bills? Do you earn your livelihood from producing, or do/did you have a “day job” or do other income-earning activities?
  • How long did it (will it) take to support yourself as a producer?
  • Whose producing career(s) do you respect/admire?
If you have ideas, suggestions for additions or deletions, I'm all ears (and eyeballs)! I'm hoping to post responses from my first guest producer in August.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Downtime and Day Jobs

Okay, I admit it, I'm a loser. I have so many ideas for this blog that I've been constipated from actually DOING anything about them. I'm disappointed with myself that it's been so long since I've posted.

My excuses: always, baby time with my toddler daughter. Plus, my husband's still doggedly pursuing a full-time job, and in the meantime, he's home with us, and that gets distracting. And, it took a while to get the laptop operational, so that I can leave the baby and husband at home and go off yonder to post to this blog. :)


So here I am, let's move forward!

Something I always wonder about fellow indie filmmakers is how they manage to pay the bills while building their careers?
  • What do they do between projects?
  • Do they have downtime between projects, or do they always keep 3, 5, 8 plates in the air at all times?
  • Do they consistently eek out money from their producing work, or do they have to supplement with other income-generating activities?
  • Was/is there a turning point for them into profitability/revenue stability?
I've been on this journey for over 12 years now. I'd consider at least half that time as a sort of personal grad school for myself. But, in the rest of the time, although I've earned income from my efforts along the way, I'm still not in the black with my filmmaking/producing efforts. And, I haven't made a consistent living at it, yet.

Things I've done for money while trying to build a filmmaking career, so far:
  • Had a corporate day job as an instructional designer.
  • Managed a native plant nursery outside of Austin, Texas.
  • Garden design and maintenance for homeowners (this lasted a couple years, until I got poison ivy for a third and vicious time, ack!@).
  • Screenplay consulting.
  • Coaching other filmmakers and screenwriters. Either on creative/writing objectives, or on the marketing/business aspects of developing their scripts into feature films.
  • Temping. At studios, and not.
  • Water fitness instructor.
  • Teaching filmmaking to high school students at an "alternative" high school.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some stuff, too.

I like the coaching, consulting and teaching gigs. I really like that exchange between my client and me. It's very gratifying if/when I can be an effective catalyst for someone's creative process. And, I've been fortunate that those types of gigs are picking up for me since my move to the Great North.

I'm still figuring out some formatting and organizing schema for this blog, but I plan to query other producers on their income-generation habits and efforts. Please stay tuned.

Or, post a comment with your experience(s) paying the bills while pursuing your muse!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Gate Keepers?

Another link here, commenting on Mark Gill's "The Sky Is Falling" speech:

The part of the entry where the author, Brian Newman, remarks that new "gatekeepers" are needed in the indie world piqued my attention.

I'd like to be a Gate Keeper. I love putting people together. And, that extends to audiences meeting filmmakers...


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Food for distribution thought

Some great, great stuff over on the Filmmaker Magazine blog.

Check out the links below to filmmakers' stories about the state of indie film distribution.

At Filmmaker's blog -- check out the entry, "GOING THEATRICAL AND PROJECT 281 ," for Scott Macaulay's addendum to the link above.

Lots to think about for a creative producer trying to forecast the endgame of her indie-films-to-be...

There always is.

Monday, July 7, 2008

To Do's

Figure out budget ranges of indie films I want to produce. For the genres I'm interested in, is the "sweet spot" $1M, $3M, $15M?

Research comparable, recent titles in the genres I like -- figure out their budgets, markets/"windows", and marketing costs.

Spend more time at download-able movie websites -- Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, etc. Figure out who's starting/operating which web-based movie sites (Amazon, Apple, Sony, HD Net, etc.) and what their goals are for expanding their customer bases/services and content offerings.

I don't need theatrical releases to motivate my movie producing. If a project and its economics and the state of the marketplace support a theatrical release for it, totally cool. But, there are plenty of other outlets to target for reaching audiences and consumers/buyers for the movies I want to make. I want to get a better idea of who my buyers can be for my movies...

Horse in front of cart

Been thinking a lot lately about starting another production company. Researching and writing a business plan for it. Trolling the websites of the AFM and Cannes to glean ideas on the market for film sales. Thinking about writers I know and wondering what they've written lately.

In the past, I've either written stuff myself (shorts) in order to have stuff to produce and direct. Or, I produced a screenplay contest for several years in order to meet more writers. That effort culminated in finding a script I wanted to option (to direct and produce at the time), but ultimately, in short, it wasn't meant to be.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2005, there were two scripts from two different writers that I wanted to option to produce as indie films. There was also a story idea I had for a thriller that I began working on with a screenwriter who was supposed to write the script. I knew I liked the scripts, the ideas, the writers' abilities. I thought if I had cool content in "my basket," I could go out as a producer/merchant and sell my goods in the marketplace. The whole have-good-script-and-produce-it-on-a- shoestring-then-hustle-for-an-acquisition model.

As I did my homework on the projects for their viability to earn enough money in the marketplace, though, I knew that two of them would be hard sells. For the budgets I was looking at doing them (under $3M each) and their genres (indie comedy/drama and international comedy/drama), I'd have a really hard time recouping the investment it would take to make them on spec.

Even though I loved their stories, and I STILL think about how I could get them made, I bowed out of pursuing options on making them when I learned I was pregnant. I didn't think I could do those projects justice while taking on parenting for the first time. No more "film babies" until I got the hang of our human baby. :)

Well, our daughter is now 14 months old, and I'm itching to get busy again. And, now, I want to do things differently. I want to raise money to make three films over five years, to start. Those films will be within a certain budget range, each (TBD), and they'll fall into one of three genres that interest me: sci-fi/fantasy, action-thriller, or indie drama (maybe comedy). I'm not planning to start with content and then try to sell it to pay for having made it. I want to start with money and find content that meets my creative and financial criteria.

Horse in front of cart; not the other way around.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Dear Indie Producer

A follow-up question from Kat in Austin, Texas:

Dear Indie Producer,

How do you find financing?

Doggedly. Persistently. Tirelessly.

Oh, Readers, we'll be talking about this one A LOT. Forever.

The answer is, it depends. On about a billion factors. But, let's just start with a couple.

Do you anticipate a theatrical release for your film? Whether to aim for a theatrical release for your project is a whole subject in and of itself (there are many, many paths to audiences, and theatrical is WAY expensive and absurdly competitive). But, if so, it further depends on whether you're aiming for a Hollywood indie budget (and their notice/possible acquisition), or a truly outside-the-studios indie budget.

There's a big shakeout happening in Indiewood right now, with studio specialty divisions being shuttered or reabsorbed into the mother ships. In his LA Film Festival June 21, 2008 financing conference speech, The Film Department's Mark Gill offered that to be viable in the marketplace, an indie film's production budget needs to be in the $15-$50M range to stand a chance (more money equals more "name" elements, like actors, director, producer, and/or special effects). In other words, if you've only got $10M to work with, you're looking at sorry chances to recoup enough revenues for your efforts.

Isn't that just nutters?

On the other hand, if you're working outside of the studios, I've read that a $100,000 budget (not including distribution and marketing costs) is the sweet spot for a tiny indie film to possibly recoup its money. Even if your budget is merely $500,000, and you've shot a genre movie (horror, action, sex-comedy, urban), you're still facing a stiff challenge these days to sell your film to distributors and audiences. This info comes from an experienced international film sales rep I know who produced an indie horror feature late last year. Even with his knowledge of the markets and his contacts, by the time his nearly $600K horror film was completed, the market had finally reached its saturation point. Any way he looked at it, his film would likely lose money, given what it could sell for. He wished he'd made it for $250-$300K instead. And, this was his second outing as an indie producer.

ADDENDUM - checked my anecdote above with my friend and he replied, 'What you wrote about our movie was correct in terms of emotion, the numbers were just a little bit off. We spent $2.3 million, and would have been in great shape if we had spent something in the neighborhood of $1.2 (ish).'

So, finding financing depends upon what you anticipate your budget will be, that's a big thing.

For the sake of brevity in the rest of this posting, let's assume you'll be producing a tiny, truly indie project for $200,000. You know who your audience is (and don't say "everybody," because you're not aiming to make Shrek IV, are you?), and you know who will pay to see your movie. You have to have a grasp on the endgame of your production, before you raise a cent, before you shoot a frame/pixel. Since you've done your homework, while you're raising money for your project, you really should be raising at least $400,000, in order to support a small theatrical release yourself (or be able to pay a distributor a service fee to release it, plus provide all the marketing money for its ads, etc. yourself), and/or to pay the deliverable expenses of presenting the finished film to a distributor that acquires it.

So, $400,000 smackeroos.

Got a rich uncle? Got a trust fund?

If not (even if so!), make a list of all the family, friends, and family friends you can think of whom you believe might be game to invest in your film. Identify any grants, endowments, fellowships, etc. that you might qualify for and apply to with your project. Identify all the distributors that might be interested in your finished film, as well as any domestic and international film sales reps, too.

Be sure that you're working with an entertainment attorney who can help you frame your solicitation in proper legalese before asking anyone for money.

Briefly --

Make a spreadsheet of all your contacts and start calling them. Practice your pitch so you sound polished and confident and informed. Tell them you're seeking investors for your project. Ask them if they might consider making your minimum investment (determine this with your attorney), and if they'd like to review your business plan. Make a note in your spreadsheet what their response is. Whether they say 'yes' or 'no,' ask for referrals. Do they know anyone else who might be interested? Would they be comfortable with you mentioning their referral when you contact that new person? Be prepared for 99 out of 100 people to say 'no.'

Set a deadline for yourself to meet your financing goal -- this won't be an open-ended process. You'll have to state in your investment memorandum (among the necessary legalese) what the time frame of your solicitation will be, and what effect on the project's future there'll be if a certain minimum number of funds are not raised within that time frame.

Do as much homework as you can about each contact before contacting him, her, or them. Keep in mind, "what's in it for them?" when you're communicating with them.

Don't give up. Okay, give up for a day. Go have a mocha. Then go back to not giving up.

There's so much more to say about this topic, but I'm going to leave this post at that.

Like I said, we'll talk financing, money, legalese, and more in future postings!

Thanks for the questions, Kat!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Indie Film & The Edge of Doom

Been reading a lot the last ten days about the demise of independent film.

Check out these links.

Indie Film Is Dying - Unless It Isn't

Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling

Art Houses Are Empty - But, It's Summer

Indie Sector on Shaky Ground

I agree with Dylan Leiner of Sony Pictures Classics who said that the end of indie film is pronounced about every 17 years -- yet, it survives. But, the current teeth-gnashing in the indie film industry is something to track, to be aware of, because when it comes time to raise money for your indie film, you'd better have an idea what you'll be up against.

Finally, here is an article about Paul Mezey, an indie creative producer on the East Coast.

The New American Realism

I like this article a lot, because I think he's representative of what indie producers can be. He's talented, determined, and charismatic, but he's in the same spot we all are: recreating the wheel with every project. Yet, he has to keep doing what he does, because he loves it (that's my interpretation, at least).

Dear Indie Producer Intro

Dear Readers,

I've been remiss in posting. Forgive me. Summer has sprung here in the Great North (Minneapolis/St. Paul), and I've been playing hooky with my toddler and husband in the glorious weather.

Let's see if I can do some catching up here.

I've had this idea for a format to include in this blog, and it's a feature along the lines of "Dear Abby" for fellow creative producers. I'm not the end-all, be-all of advice for all things indie producing, but it'll give me some structure to work with to get at all the thoughts and experiences I've had (or would like to have) out of my head and here for you to cogitate on. Plus, I'll pose people's questions to fellow producers over time and present their answers, too!

So, our first question is from filmmaker Kat in Austin, Texas:

Dear Indie Producer,

How do you find projects?

Truth be told, Kat is one my former partners in an indie film production company in Austin, Texas, Storie Productions. Together with our fellow partner/producer, Stacy Schoolfield, we produced Kat's feature drama, jumping off bridges, which premiered at the 2005 SXSW film festival.
  • I got involved with job because I believed in its writer-director, Kat's, directing skills and in her script.
  • I recognized that our team brought formidable skills to the table, and that we were all hungry and determined to get a small, indie feature made in 2004 - come Hell or high water. I knew we could hustle our asses off to break down the script, create the business plan, secure attorneys, secure equipment, secure investors, cast actors and deal with SAG paperwork, secure locations, crew, and the billion other details it took to pull a film together.
  • It was a script that could be shot on an ultra-low budget (few locations, no big effects, no cast of thousands) and in our immediate surroundings, Austin. We had a great pool of crew and local acting talent to work with, most of whom had worked with one or more of us before, and who wanted to support Kat's project. There was a lot of goodwill in the local film community for us.
Looking forward, how I seek projects still comes down to the script - it has to grab me. I know when one has me when it gets under my skin and I can't stop thinking about it. Also, scripts that leave me with lots of visual recollections of the story and characters get me excited. If I'm seeing scenes in my head from a script, that's a good sign.

Where do I find them?

I've found them by running a statewide screenplay competition, seeking out filmmakers whose films I've liked (that's how I met Kat), by teaching workshops and coaching filmmakers and writers, by querying screenwriting/filmmaking instructors about their students, and by reading scripts for national screenwriting competitions. I can also contact fellow producers, writers, production friends, and so on and tell them the genre and budget level I'm seeking and ask for their referrals/recommendations.

So, how did this first question and response strike you? Too much, too little?

By all means, send me questions you'd like to see addressed, and I'll add them to future postings. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where things are at...?

I read a lot of trade press, trying to keep a finger on the pulse of current financing and distribution trends. Like that's possible: but, I try.

Per Jon Taplin's blog, I agree that we appear to be experiencing an interregnum:
"As (he) said before, the notion of an interregnum has classically been tied to those periods when one king has died and there is no clear successor. But for our purposes, the notion of interregnum refers to those hinges in time when the old order is dead, but the new direction has not been determined. Quite often, the general populace and many of its leaders do not understand that the transition is taking place and so a great deal of tumult arises as the birth pangs of a new social and political order."

His entry goes on to discuss the social and political histories and ramifications of this assertion; but, it can also be applied to the movie-making industry. Not only has the standard capture technology evolved from film to digital, but the financing, distribution, and revenue streams for both studio and indie films are convulsing from old paradigms to grasping guesses and bold experiments. Fun and terrifying stuff if you're trying to get a movie made.

One resource I'm excited about recently finding - Wonderland Stream magazine - frequently posts on both business and technical developments in the movie-making world. I liked this posting on it, an interview with Ira Deutchman, "A Strategy For The Little Guys." Check it out to read his take on the status of the distribution market for indie films.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Something from nothing

The first real job I had out of college was as an Instructional Designer for an industrial training software company. I remember sitting in my office (my own office!) facing my tiny Apple McIntosh box-shaped personal computer and the grey-white expanse of a new document, blank. Blank, blank, blank. I was surrounded by notes, stickies, reference manuals, old training manuals, and piles of technical specs and manuals, and I couldn't think of where to start. I'd get up, go to the bathroom, stop by the kitchen, kibbitz with an office mate for five minutes, then return and sit down. The screen was still blank. I stared at it and felt a sucking panic. They're totally going to fire my ass.

Panic, dread, desperation, futility all knocked up against the knowledge that I had all the info I needed to write something. I knew I had the answers; I was just paralyzed in getting it all out of my head and onto the page.


Finally, I typed a word. Then I backspaced over it and typed a different word. Backspace again. Third try. Okay, that'll work. Jesus, Lorie, just keep typing. Anything, nonsense, just type!

And it worked. I eventually created enough momentum to get into a flow and generate real content.

And, they didn't fire me.

This was a good precedent for creative producing - you gotta make stuff up as you go. :)

Monday, June 9, 2008

What is a creative producer?

When I was little, I loved playing pretend. My family lived on the edge of a forest preserve, and my young friends and I would race through its foot paths playing "SWAT" or pretending that we were on dangerous quests. Said quests usually required hiding, climbing trees and chain link fences, running across fallen logs straddling small streams, skipping rocks, finding crawdads, and kicking the caps off the giant mushrooms that dotted the forest floor.

I started my first business the summer I was 18. My family had moved into a town-home community in Colorado Springs that was bordered by busy roads and heavy traffic. I didn't have a car, and the closest commercial establishment within walking distance was a Circle K. If I was going to earn any spending money, it was either Circle K or start my own gig. So, I made fliers, got clients in the town-home community, and cleaned houses for the summer.

I didn't know it then, but I was laying the foundation for a future of creative producing in movies. Dream things up; make things happen.

There are all kinds of producers. Presently, I consider myself to be an entrepreneur whose business is independent movies.

It's taken me about 12 years to figure this out, because I didn't know if I was an actor, writer, director, producer, or something else entirely. I had co-founded a software development company in my late 20s, which was the most exciting, ambitious thing I could think to tackle. And, it was. And, then it wasn't. Long story short, making a go of that company (and it still exists, as part of another software development company these days) made me realize it wasn't truly my heart's desire.

My heart's desire was movies.

So, I tried on every artistic hat (except cinematography - I know my technical limits) over the years, while founding and running separate businesses on the side to subsidize my "education:" a gardening/landscape design consultancy, a non-profit screenwriting contest, and finally, an independent film production company with two partners.

I love all of it, especially directing. But, what I've learned I love most of all is the one thing that always came so easily to me -- producing. Making it all happen. Seeing the big picture. Bringing all the pieces and personalities together toward a common goal: a movie that inspires, that entertains, and that hopefully, is timeless, too.

Presently, I'm "on sabbatical" from actively developing any projects. My current full-time production is parenting my year-old baby daughter. But, I teach classes and coach indie filmmakers and screenwriters. And, I can't stop reading about, talking about, and thinking about producing, making movies, finding cool stories, raising money, what's going on in the industry, etc. So, my outlet's going to be this blog.

I hope you'll join me in my obsession and check in and comment occasionally. :)