Friday, April 20, 2012

Build Your Arsenal, Screenwriting is Free!

One thing that screenwriting has over filmmaking, without question, is that it's free.  Free to do for free!  You don't need millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it.  You don't need to develop or color correct the paper you write on. You don't even need to pitch to investors in order to write one.  Anyone can write a screenplay, an art in its own right.  If a screenplay makes it to the big screen, consider yourself lucky, but if you're not making one now or you plan to make more than just one film, build your arsenal of screenplays if you're a writer.

I haven't made a feature film yet, so I have lots of time to write.  Okay, that's not entirely true, but there's enough time for it.  We all work and we all need to make money, but I actually need to write, too, especially when I'm not making a movie.  And let me tell you, I have a lot of screenplays.  Tons.  I'm prepping to write a new one as I write this... literally.  It's up on another window on my computer right now!  I'm sick in the head; I can't stop myself.  Some writers feel they must perfect the one script they have and put all their efforts into that one idea.  I agree it should be the focus, but if you don't spend any of your energy on other projects, you better hope people like the one you're entirely fixated on.  What's more, let's say you do make it big with one great film, people are going inevitably start asking you, "What else you got, son?"  I hope you have something in that case, because as quickly as you can get hot, you can just as quickly fizzle out.  Don't you want to be able to say, "I've got this, and this, and that!  What interests you most, big man?"  Okay, don't call anyone "Big Man."  But seriously, build your arsenal!  Turn a super soldier into an army!  You're current project may be general, but you need some captains and cadets and whatever else.  The more projects you have, no matter how far along, the more likely you are to catch someone's eye.  Then it's on to the next one.  Use any time you aren't working on your current project on making another good screenplay great.

In my opinion, the more different each project is, the better.  A lot of producers or investors continue making the same kinds of movies, so even if they don't want to do three ideas because it's not their thing, they may take the fourth one if it is.  If you have a drama, comedy, action, AND thriller... just ask them what they're looking for and pitch what they want.  I have all sorts of genres prepared... some way further along than others.  But they're all full, workable ideas that can probably use another draft or two... or three.  The point is you have them in a place where you can either pitch it, show it, or at least do a very quick revision and then send it along.  But again, the more variety and the more in number, the more likely someone will show interest, especially after a hit if you're that lucky.  If you're hot, stay hot.

I remember my first day of advanced film production way back in college.  My professor, who I never took a class with up to this point, asked the class what everyone wanted to do one day in film.  Who wants to direct?  About 75% of the class raised their hands, including me.  Who wants to be a D.P.?  Several more raised their hands, and so on.  By the time we got to sound, I think we had one.  He was making a point:  almost everyone wants to direct.  He then told everyone to look around at the non-directors.  Take a look at these people, these are the ones you want working on your films.  He also asked the directors what kind of films they want to make, what genre.  He went around the room, and everyone gave the answer: they want to do comedies, horror, action, and so on.  I was honestly so confused.  All I could think about was, "Do I really have to pick one?"   I was one of the last ones down the line and I simply said, "I want to do one of each, and when I'm done, I'll think about doing them again."  Now I was trying to be cute here, and I got a laugh from the class.  I was serious though.  I was twenty years old and dead serious.  I remember a little smirk from my professor after that.  We're still in touch to this day and meet every so often.

I guess my point to my story is don't limit yourself.  Write about whatever you feel like writing about.  If you stick to just horror or something else, that's fine too, but don't feel you need to be stuck on one kind of movie if you're not.  Build up your arsenal.  Maybe the project that you think is first is third, or second is last, or whatever.  It may be less about what you feel is your next project and more about who's financing or what a producer may want to go with.  Seriously, if you give five scripts over one, your odds increase like crazy.  I'd say five times more, but it may even be more than that.  Now you have scripts that aren't alike, and each person you're pitching to is different, so I believe it raises your odds even more.

So if you feel you could be doing something and you're a screenwriter, you're right.  No more excuses; screenwriting is FREE.  That's a lot less money to send than a few million bucks... by, oh, about a few million bucks!  But hurry up already and stop wasting time on waiting.  Because face it, a filmmaker is always waiting, whether it's for their first project to happen or even their twentieth.   And it can take a lifetime to write 20 great scripts.  So what are you waiting for?  Gather all your ideas and write!  It's the one thing you don't need money for... no excuses.  On your marks, get set, go!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Film Financing, the Final Frontier

Here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for (including me)....

How the heck do movies get financed?!  Why is it such a mystery?  Why is it the one thing left I can't get done?  We're talking about film financing here, folks.  It's the final frontier in getting your movie made.  No one makes a film without an investor.... or two, or three...  This is the horrible fact about development.  No money = no movie.  That will never, ever change.  Wonderful.  Film is expensive, video is expensive (yes, even video), crew is expensive... cast, props, sets, camera equipment, sound equipment, locations, trucks, food, hotels... man, the list never ends!  Every set needs this friggin' stuff!  I promise you, even while creatively cutting some financial corners, you'll need serious, serious cash to make a movie.  This is simply a fact, so if you still haven't accepted this as truth, I'll say it one more time: Films need financing!

Now I'm a writer and director who was never really very interested in the business of film.  You creative types may be just like me.  It doesn't matter, brethren; get interested.  I haven't met anyone since starting development who'll let that attitude fly.  I have to be interested, even if I don't want to be.   Why?  Because the film business is part of the business, and I can't do anything well unless I'm interested.  At a certain point, you learn that even if you have people taking care of most of this, you're still going to have to be heavily involved.  Every business decision affects your creative vision, whether you like it or not.  Wouldn't it be nice for some millionaire friend to give you millions to make your movie so you can skip all of this?  Well, since that ship has sailed, or actually never set sail at all, we have to find money the hard way (pretty much the only way is the hard way.)  It's that simple, that depressing, and an improbable task.  Most of you are probably aware of this already.  That's good because it can take some people too long to figure this out.  So how do we find financing?

Beats the heck out of me!  Yeah RIGHT!  If I knew the answer I'd be knee deep in production by now, probably being asked which shirt looks best on which actor.  Listen, I'm not about to pretend I'm an expert on finding investors.  Even the experts have trouble.   But I can say I am an expert on knowing what it's like to deal with the ups and downs on trying to find money.  Admittedly, I'm not the one driving this part of development for my film.  That's what my two producers have been working on.  I don't envy them... it's the hardest job of all!  No one likes to ask for money or search for people with money.  I've never met a soul who enjoyed asking people for money.  Well, at least not anyone I'll hang out with for more than ten minutes.  Oh crap, is that how they see us?  That's why you can't go to just anyone.  People who enjoy films or have always been enamored by them are the people to pursue.  So where do I find these saintly, lovable people?

I don't know!  You think I know?  Are you crazy?!  I'd be yelling cut after a good take if I knew.  It's the best kept secret in Hollywood!  These people are like Leprechauns or Gremlins... or even better, Santa Claus!  They live in the walls of small apartments or under your stairs.  They're mythical beings like unicorns and the one-eyed cyclops!  I know what you're going to say, "You ever see a Cyclops with more than one eye?"  I digress.  Okay, okay... hold your horses.  Financiers are real; they do exist.  They live in regular homes like you and me, but probably much, much bigger ones.  We probably live under their stairs if anything.  The truth is, most people don't know big-wig film investors.  They're hard to find because they're not only rare, most of us aren't part of their social circles.  That's okay... from what I've observed there are film people who do actually know these people.  Just get to know those people!  Network at industry events, work on sets, go to film festivals, or ask people you already know.  Find someone who knows someone who knows someone.  It sounds simple, or maybe it doesn't... it's because it isn't simple.  It's tough!

Then there's crowd funding, a new fad on the internet.  As you probably know if you've been following this blog, we tried this by using Kickstarter.  Our team spent several hours shooting a video of me, writing up tons of info on the project, and pushing ourselves into the social media world.  Kickstarter didn't work.  Don't feel bad, even though we hoped it would, I don't think we really expected it to actually do so.  We benefited from this for sure: we raised awareness of the film, kind of went viral and public with it, and still found lots of support from places we didn't expect. Just because we didn't reach our goal, doesn't mean this path can't work.  It has for other projects.  The problem is our script calls for the need of a certain size budget, one that may be too high for crowd funding.  Then again, I don't really know.  Just do what we did: don't put all your eggs in one basket.  Funding is about taking an egg and putting just one in several baskets.  Okay, now I'm wondering if that even makes sense.  Yeah, it does.  It's a numbers game.  Have as many options out there as possible.  It only takes one egg to continue down your road to wrap.

So there you go.  Unfortunately, I don't have the answer to financing.  That's why I call it the final frontier.  You'll hear success stories every now and then, but I'm starting to realize they are tough to emulate.  Just about every road to wrap is different.  I'll be happy to reveal mine once I've made it through.  I really think this topic is usually kept a secret because no one wants to tell someone else about a potential investor one can use.  And who can blame them, right?  If you know a potential investor, I'm sure you worked your tail off to find them.  You should have first dibs.  So what do us first time directors and producers do?   All I can say is it's tough, but keep plugging away.  If you aren't trying to find money, then you're really up the creek.  That's like showing your screenplay to no one once you've written it.  Give yourself a fighting chance.  It's been done before, it'll happen again.  First timers do make their movies.  How many producers or directors skipped making their first feature?  Ah-ha!!!  None!  Not one!  No one skips their first movie!  Makes you look at your chances a little differently, right?  And a lot of movies out there have been made, so that's a lot of first-timers.  Keep at it... all frontiers get discovered eventually!