HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 3 of 4


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Click here to read PARTS ONE and TWO.

We began doing research on the best equipment to invest in, best sound package, and best HD camera (we judged each camera based on the level of color captured, best sound captured, and overall user experience).  Months later, we had the whole set up.

I was ready to make my next narrative feature.  And I wouldn’t need so much money after all.  By owning my own equipment, omitting unnecessary personnel and expenses, and keeping costs as low as possible, it would be possible to make a feature film for little more than the price of a used Toyota.

This also appealed to investors.  Distribution has changed significantly since the glory days of the million-dollar buys at Film Festivals.  That simply wasn’t happening any more.  A top sales rep told me, “no company is buying low-budget independently made films for more than $50,000 up front.  And if you get that much you’d be one of the lucky ones.”

The first project to test if my new renegade style of filmmaking would even work or not, was an adaptation of Joseph Suglia’s dazzling novel WATCH OUT.  Could I really make a feature-length movie using only two people on my crew, with me doing all the camerawork, and still make it high-quality art?

The answer was a big loud YES.

WATCH OUT, which became my third feature film, was shot in two weeks.  Our working days were incredibly light.  We’d start shooting at 9 AM and on a few days we were done by 4 PM.  It felt like summer camp and everyone had a ball.

The film was highly praised by critics as “One of the great cult films of all time, (MJ Simpson).”  WATCH OUT also premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London to sold-out crowds, where it was nominated for Best International Feature.

A review in Film Threat wrote, “(Balderson) makes movies that are so gorgeous that it’s not unreasonable to say that, cinematographically at least; he’s the equal of an Argento or Kubrick in their prime. Some people have perfect vocal pitch, Steve has perfect visual composition.”

I repeated the road-show tour concept we did for FIRECRACKER and released WATCH OUT theatrically in 2008 to sold-out audiences in the “Stop Turning Me On” world tour, to promote the self-distributed DVD release several months later, where it debuted at #24 on Amazon.com’s Top 100.

The third and final installment of the WAMEGO TRILOGY on DIY Filmmaking (WAMEGO: ULTIMATUM) chronicles how we did it.

Once I knew we could do it, I decided to raise the bar a bit more and experiment with a cast of all well-known actors.  The production would cost and be the same = the film would be shot in my new renegade style, without permits and in a secretive manner.  There would be no equipment trucks lining the street, no craft service table, no excessive lighting or camera gear, no substantial crews, or anything to attract attention.  The cast and crew would resemble tourists, which would give the production the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

With no make-up or costume person the cast would be required to do their own make-up, take care of their own costumes.  We’d all be staying in people’s homes, not hotels, and would have to accept there would be no cash per diem.

I approached several stars, some I’d worked with before, and others I hadn’t, and to my astonishment, they all agreed.

That project, my fourth film, became STUCK!

When I called SAG to ask them if they had special deals for projects under $50,000 they laughed at me and said, “It’s impossible to make a feature-length film for less than $50,000.”  They also said I “needed to seek professional help.”  Actual words.

But, they were wrong.  I had just proven it was possible with WATCH OUT.  I thought about telling them, but decided that they were just like those insecure filmmakers who needed all that phony “stuff” for passers-by.  Trying to educate SAG on the reality of the world was going to be a waste of time.

(To be continued next week)

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 2 of 4


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Click here to read PART ONE.

By that point the industry had changed so dramatically I wasn’t sure what was happening.  HD Cameras were becoming technically more advanced.  They were finally beginning to have the look and feel of celluloid.  Shooting on actual film was becoming obsolete.

Then I got an idea to do a documentary on the life of my friend—Los Angeles icon, writer/poet, and punk rock royalty Pleasant Gehman (aka universally celebrated belly dance star Princess Farhana).  Traveling with her, and filming her for a year, really helped put my career path in perspective.  Why was I making movies to begin with?

I didn’t need to have fancy equipment trucks lining the streets so it would “look” like I was making a movie to passers by.  I didn’t want the phony photograph with hoards of crew people posed behind me while I stood nose-to-the-sky next to the 35mm Arriflex (or today’s version: The RED).  I know those kinds of filmmakers and that isn’t the kind I aspire to be.  My desire is about what’s on screen.  What is there for the viewer, regardless of the format.

When a person is watching a movie they can’t see what kinds of snacks are on the craft service table, or if any of the actors had personal make-up trailers.  So why should I waste the money on frivolous stuff that doesn’t enhance the image?  Why worry about it?

I realize that many aspiring filmmakers out there try to mask the fact they don’t know what they’re doing by “playing the part” of Director.  To passers by, so long as they “look like” a director, they will feel like a director.  And the equipment, crew, cash, and drama of the “production” become props in their disguise.  And without those props they would feel amateurish and worthless.  And they will often talk down to the ones who don’t follow in their footsteps.

During this time, I learned David Lynch was planning to downsize from celluloid to video with a project called INLAND EMPIRE.  Getting rid of all the “production” associated with film and moving to digital has tremendous cost savings.  By omitting shooting on celluloid, we filmmakers would omit having to house and feed 42 people.  We also omit the excessive equipment rental costs and several hundred thousand dollars of unneeded expenses associated with a project shot on film.

I started thinking really seriously about the way Kubrick shot his movies.  And the way Cassevetes liked to work.

They preferred a kind of intimate production.  One where the crew was made up of just a few people: they did their own camera work, had just one or two people on the crew (sound, lighting) and a few actors.  Why, it would be no different than a few friends shooting in their backyards like we all did in film school.  It would appear to passers by to be exactly the same.  Amateurish.  Except that each person in that small group would be respecting their craft.  I realized that so long as there is a respect for what you’re doing, the appearance to passers by is totally irrelevant.

There would be no glamorous shoot, no luxuries, nor stylists applying make-up to actors in high-back chairs with their names stenciled on them.  It would be punk rock, baby.  We’d have to do our own work.  Lift our own camera case, do our own make-up and hair, bring our own lunch to the set.  Passers by wouldn’t stop.  They’d keep right on walking, paying us no mind at all.  We would be free of onlookers.  We would also be free of actors or crew people who placed more emphasis on the appearance of the set than they did their actual craft.

That possibility excited me to no end.

(To be continued next week.)

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 1 of 4


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In 1997, I made my first film PEP SQUAD.  It was a campy, subversive satire on America that predicted what would become a string of school violence incidents.  It was shot on 35mm and cost roughly the GDP of Barbados.  It took six weeks to shoot with 40 people on the crew and with long, tiresome fourteen-hour days.  In 2000 after the controversy surrounding American school violence had calmed down it was released on VHS.  YES!  VHS!  See, in addition to the yet-to-be universally accepted “world wide web,” DVDs were not established yet.  Can those of you under 30 even imagine?

2010 marked PEP SQUAD’s 10-year anniversary with a special Blu-ray release from Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma.  Critics have called it the best B-Movie ever made and it has become a cult classic.

In 2003, I made my second feature.  It was called FIRECRACKER, shot on Super 35mm, and also cost roughly the GDP of Barbados.  Preeminent film critic Roger Ebert gave it a special jury award on his list of 2005’s Best Films.  It was a demanding production: eight shooting weeks, six days per week, fourteen hour days, 42 people on the crew, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on camera and lighting equipment rentals, housing and feeding people, costumes, sets, equipment trucks, cables, generators, and on and on.

When it came time for FIRECRACKER to be released, the rules of the film industry were rapidly changing.  The Internet had caught on, everyone had email, DVDs had replaced VHS, and certain companies weren’t buying movies the way they had a few years prior.  The exclusive independent film deals from Hollywood Video, etc., were nonexistent.  The top-tier film festivals were becoming “owned” by sponsors who dictated which movies they could screen (often these movies were also funded by said sponsor), industry “buyers” were offering less and less upfront payment for distribution rights, and even if you did make a sale (like we did) they would likely never pay you (fairly, or at all).

Domestic companies didn’t understand our movie.  I encouraged them to market it to Mike Patton’s fan base but they didn’t know who he was.  I showed them our website stats, where the fans were coming from, and they still didn’t get it.  It was as if they simply didn’t believe me.

So I decided to release the film in theaters on my own.

I took the film on the road in a first-ever DIY kind of deal with Landmark Cinemas.  It was the “Freak Show Tour” which I modeled after the kinds of tours a musician would take.  We screened in a dozen or so major cities across the USA, having some of the stars appear at the screenings for extra media attention.  And it was a massive success.  Not only did we sell out all of the shows, but suddenly, because of the media attention and critical acclaim, domestic distribution companies were all over us.

We struck a distribution deal with two companies: one for domestic and one for international.  Internationally, the rights for FIRECRACKER were sold to companies in Greece, Germany, Australia, Thailand, the Middle East, the UK, Scandinavia, South Africa, among other countries.  As of December 31, 2009, the foreign sales receipts added up to $97,240.

FIRECRACKER was also released in the USA.  AEC One Stop, Baker & Taylor, Blockbuster, DVD Empire, Hollywood Video, Ingram Entertainment, NetFlix, among other re-sellers.  As of March 2007 (our domestic distribution company refuses to send us additional reports) the total domestic sales receipts added up to about $159,468.

Did we ever see that money?  No.  With all their so-called “marketing” expenses—First-Class flights to festivals and markets in Milan, Cannes, Berlin, five-star hotel rooms, and other useless fees—it was clear to me that we would likely never see anything.

Then there came a story on the front page of the New York Times about the producers from the Oscar-winning film CRASH not yet receiving any money from their distributor.  Turned out we had the same distribution company.  No joke.

Could we have taken legal action?  Sure.  We probably still could.  But it would cost more money to fight them than any we’d get in a settlement.  If they are ripping off big-guy Oscar-winners, who do have access to the kinds of money to pay for legal fees, there is no way us little guys even have a chance.  And if we did fight them and win, we’d be broke in the end regardless.

So we saved our time, money and energy, and moved on.  Productively.

(To be continued next week)

ACTORS AND THE MEDIA


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It always amuses me when actors pretend to get shy around the media.  Most of them, even if they deny it, are actors because they love and crave attention.  As children, they were the first to jump up in front of a group and “perform.”

Many actors are also pretty insecure people.  I mean, think about it.  They turn their life’s objective into avoiding their true selves in exchange for always being somebody else.  The good ones get paid for it.  Sometimes, actors find out there’s very little time left to be themselves, and some might even forget who they used to be all together.

Actors could also be called professional liars.  The good ones are so good at lying, that you actually believe what they’re saying and feeling.  Even though it’s totally fake.  I mean, it’s a movie, right!?  Someone wrote that for him or her to say.  And in some cases, this isn’t always exclusive to their performances on screen.  Sometimes the good actors can achieve amazing results in normal day-to-day life.

Anyway, if you’re a director or producer and you ever come upon an actor who is shy around the media, or afraid to do interviews with the press, you might need to pretend you understand them, and hold their hands, but know, deep down, by the time they get into the interview they’ll be all lit up, performing, doing what they do best.  And they always eat it up.  You’ll see.

Depending on the actor, it may be a good idea to give them a script to follow.  Some actors are brilliant at improvisation.  But many need a back-story, a character arc and a sheet of dialogue.  Or, at least, talking bullet points.

I like to supply my actors with a go-to bullet point list of topics to discuss about our movie.  Questions to answer in a precise way, using careful language.  Sometimes I’ll even include a list of topics to avoid, such as, giving away any plot secrets, or proprietary information.

Another idea I’ve advised other filmmakers in the past, is to be a kind of go-between with the media.  Have the interviewer send you the questions first, so you can look over them and make sure there’s nothing offensive asked, or anything that might cause the project harm.  And, likewise, maybe there’s a question asked the actor would otherwise not know how to answer—so you can tell the actor what to say.

Or, you could simply tell the interviewer you’ll pass along their email address or phone number to the actor and let the actor take it from there.  I guess it depends on which way make you more comfortable.  Some of the more famous actors don’t like having their email or number given out, so in most cases dealing with a celebrity of any kind, this will be the best avenue to take.

Actors are a funny bunch, and of course I was generalizing their personalities at the start of this article.  Not every actor acts like that, and not all of them are ruthless self-absorbed fame-hungry monsters.  Some of my greatest friends are amazing actors and their gifts and talent are greatly appreciated.  Without actors, there’s no such thing as a movie.  So we need them.  And we need to cherish them.  But, when it comes time to promote your movie, you might need to nudge them a little bit this way or that.

YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE


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No matter what you do, it is impossible to please everybody.  There will always be a percentage of people who hate what you create, no matter what it is.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  However, once you realize this is a true statement, you can best position your work to exist in an environment where the majority of the people will like it.

My first film PEP SQUAD is a satirical comedy about school violence.  It’s in the same vein as John Waters’ SERIAL MOM or that movie HEATHERS from the 80s.  When Hollywood Video wanted to release the movie, they decided to market it as a horror film.  I thought this was a terrible idea, because there’s nothing about the movie that remotely resembles a horror film.  And, I knew that if an unsuspecting viewer, who was out to find a horror film, rented or purchased PEP SQUAD, he or she would be totally disappointed because it didn’t meet their expectations.  That kind of marketing is the most stupid because, I would think, the whole point is to make as much money as possible from the release of a movie.  Instead, by marketing it to the wrong audience, they shot themselves in the foot.

Same thing happened with my film FIRECRACKER.  The distributors wanted to put artwork on the cover featuring a Ferris Wheel and carnival with blood dripping off the letters.  I was like, “Really?! Are you serious?”  After a lengthy email educating the distributors about good design and bad design, they agreed to use the artwork I’d originally created for the film.  There were elements in FIRECRACKER that were horrific, but it was a sort of Gothic Horror, or a classic Shakespearean Tragedy.  Again, it wasn’t a horror film.  I wondered what the obsession is with every distribution company trying to market their movies as horror films.  Yes, horror films sell really well.  So buy a horror film.  Don’t try to pretend the film is horror even if it isn’t.

A similar thing nearly happened to my film CASSEROLE CLUB.  It’s a film about the disintegration of married life.  Although there are sex scenes, and situations, there is nothing “sexy” about it.  Yet the distributors wanted to change the title to SWING PARTY ’69 because they were certain it would show up sooner on the Video On Demand channels.  I put my foot down, as did some of the actors in the film, and just wouldn’t let them change the title.  Any viewer expecting a sexy romp wouldn’t like it a bit once it turned serious and emotionally heavy.  The only people who dislike that film are precisely the ones who put it on thinking they’re about to watch some kind of soft-core porn.  Like the distributors obsessed with marketing every movie as a horror film, if you market every movie as a sexy soft-core number, you’ll alienate people and you won’t live up to meeting the expectations of your viewers.

This article isn’t intended to be about marketing, but I illustrate those two examples as a means to explain the following.  Your project—whatever it may be—is what it is.  No matter what you do, 75% of the people will like it, and 25% won’t.  If you try and disguise the project to please everyone, and gain the respect of the people who don’t like it, you will alienate some of the people who would’ve liked it.  Always leaving you with a percentage of people who hate what you’re doing.

Instead of paying any attention to the people who dislike what you’re doing, my advice is to focus on the 75% who do.  Market to that group and embrace those people.  Ignore the rest.  There will always be a negative review, a group of people who hate it.  There’s nothing you can do about them.  They’re stuck that way forever.  Instead, focus your attention on meeting the expectations of the people who do like what you’re doing.  If your latest movie is loved by kids 14-19 year olds, who cares what the 35 year old thinks.  Market the movie to kids!  That is one of the recipes for success.

EVERY FILM IS REALLY THREE


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Did you know that every movie is actually made up of three different movies?  By the time you’ve seen it, the film you’re watching has gone through metamorphosis at least three times.  I’m not talking about different endings, re-shoots, and the like.  I’m talking about how the film changes its form between conception to screening.

At first there is the film you write, then the film you shoot, and next the film you edit.  Each of those is a different film.  Sometimes the differences between each step can be drastic.  Sometimes, the transitions are subtler.  But it is a fact that no movie remains the same as it first appeared paper by the time you reach completion of the image.

First-time filmmakers usually struggle with this.  Panicking about how to capture every line exactly as it’s written (and if they wrote the script, they’re even worse).  Yelling at actors until they get it perfect.  Making them do twenty takes because they keep forgetting that word.  Fighting with an editor because he shifted some lines, rearranged some scenes, or got rid of them entirely.

I know I struggled with this when I started, but no one bothered to tell me this until after I’d made a few movies.  But then one day, I heard, “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit.”  It was like a new world of possibility and freedom opened up.  Learning how to adapt into this way of thinking has helped strengthen each step of the process.  My screenplays have benefited, my on-the-set shooting time is more productive, and the post-production and editing process comes together seamlessly.

There will always be a word in the screenplay that an actor changes, forgets, or the editor removes.  There will always be sequences that flow differently when acted out than when they were imagined on paper.

Opening yourself up to the metamorphosis in the process will present opportunity when you least expect it.  On a recent film project, there was a scene that included the prop of an actress blowing bubbles.  You know, those small kids toys of soapy water that, when you stick the wand in and blow through, creates bubbles that float around the room.  Well, I found the perfect bubbles set on eBay for $4.  So I ordered them.

When they arrived, I was shocked to find a plastic gun that shoots bubbles and glows with plastic LED lights.  Instead of sending it back, I thought, well, this was supposed to happen.  I was meant to use this in the movie.  And, you know what, the scene worked out so much better with the bubble gun then I’d have ever imagined.

Had I been the kind of hard-nosed director who wanted to stick to the written word, I’d have sent the gun back and demanded the bubbles I’d originally ordered.  And, had I done that, sure, the scene would’ve played out as it was written on paper, but, it would not have been as exciting as how it ended up with the bubble gun.

The other thing I like to do when shooting is keep the writer from ever visiting the set.  For me personally, I like the freedom to focus my perception on the translation of the material without having someone’s eyes over my shoulder the entire time.

Frankie Krainz is a brilliant screenwriter I’ve worked with multiple times.  And I respect him as a person on top of that.  He always insisted he’d keep to himself, quietly in the corner, but could be please visit the set.  I explained to him that even if he did keep quiet, I would be aware of his presence, and that a voice in my left ear would constantly be second-guessing everything I was doing.  What would Frankie think about that?  How is Frankie feeling about this?  So to prevent that distraction and any loss of my own confidence, I decided to make it a rule to never have the writer of the project appear on set while filming.

My advice is to keep oneself open to any possibilities of change along the way.  From writing, to filming something differently than it was written, to editing a scene in a totally new way.  Once, I re-wrote a scene in the editing room to spectacular results.  Putting the first line third, and the second line first, and so on.  It’s fascinating what can happen if you’re open to the possibilities.

DISTRIBUTION: THE PRODUCER’S REP


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This article is part of an ongoing series of articles solely about distribution.  A lot of filmmakers are confused about the realities of distribution, and rightly so.  I’ve been making and selling movies internationally for over a decade, and I’m still learning about all the secrets and tricks The Industry hides from us.  Part of the problem is that no one shares this information with each other, both the good and bad, so I’m making it my mission to do so.  Openly, honestly, and hopefully clearly.

When your film is ready for release, there are a variety of ways to get it out into the world.  There are aggregators and sales reps, producer’s reps and distributors, foreign sales agents and a variety of “middle men” who can help you.

Today we’re going to talk about just one of those ways.  The Producer’s Rep.

A Producer’s Rep is a person who acts as a negotiator for your film and his or her sole purpose is to get your film sold to a Sales Agent, Aggregator, or Distributor.  They will hold private screenings (you’ll pay for it, naturally), they’ll send out post cards or other materials (you’ll pay for those too), and they’ll do a bunch of other stuff (some useless) you’ll need to reimburse them for as well.  Sometimes they’ll do things that don’t require reimbursement, such as talk to people on the telephone.  Eventually, when they make a sale, they will take a percentage of that sale as commission.

There are many people out there who call themselves Producer’s Reps.  Some of them are failed Industry executives.  Some are failed filmmakers.  A few are attorneys and only a couple actually know what they’re doing.  All of them claim to know everyone in the business, and most of them will require a retainer before actively taking on your film.  Those are the kinds of Producer’s Reps to avoid.  Instead, find one who works solely on commission.  Those kinds of Producer’s Reps are very rare, but they will try harder to actually sell your movie.  Producer’s Reps that have already been paid a retainer of, say, $5,000, don’t really have an ambition to make a good sale since they’ve already made some money.

The first Producer’s Rep we hired was a disaster.  We’d stupidly paid him a retainer (not knowing we could otherwise have found someone who would take commission), and he just didn’t have the ambition to get the job done.  The longer he didn’t sell the film, and the longer we paid him, the more reason he had to NOT sell it.  We believed everything he told us, which was naïve, I know, but he had been a former VP of Acquisitions at a major studio.  So why wouldn’t we believe him?

The thing about Producer’s Reps is that they aren’t willing to do anything that rocks their boat.  If they were too aggressive, their relationship with Harvey Weinstein, or whomever, would be damaged, so they aren’t going to be an aggressive salesman.  They’ll pussyfoot around delicately so they can always look good in the eyes of the buyers they have relationships with.

Like most people in The Industry, Producer’s Reps will act as though you work for them.  They will somehow totally deny the fact they are, in reality, working for you.  Once I asked our Producer’s Rep to share with me his contact list (mailing addresses, etc) of buyers at each company.  This information is publicly available.  It isn’t secret.  You can make a telephone call to every distributor and ask the front desk, “who is the name of the Acquisitions personnel,” and they will tell you.  It’s easy.  But it takes time to call them all.  Maybe not days and days, but I wanted to save time, so I just asked our Producer’s Rep for his list.

He was flabbergasted.  He flew through the roof.  How dare I ask him such a thing!  He said, “It’s my livelihood, I can’t share that with you.”  I informed him that anyone can make that list, that it was just going to save me some time.  But, he was the wise and experienced one, and I was some filmmaker from Kansas, what did I know?  Of course he didn’t take me seriously and share his list.

So, I did the research on my own.  It took a couple days, but in the end, I’d gathering the data and had the list I’d asked him for.  When I told him I had my own list, he actually asked me to share it with him so he could make sure his was up to date.  Was he kidding?

I think that was the last time I spoke with him.  A few weeks later we sold the film.  Perhaps he helped.  Or, perhaps it was my list and the marketing strategies I did on my own (without his help) that ended up selling our film.  Who knows.

I haven’t used a Producer’s Rep since that first experience, and I continue to sell movies without using one, so I’m not sure there’s any reason to hire one.  But if you do, be aware.  And beware.

SCHEDULING: PART 2 OF 2


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You do not need any fancy, expensive, or magic movie making software to schedule a movie.  You simply need some note cards, scotch tape, and Microsoft Word.

In the previous blog post, we learned how to make “shooting days” using colored note cards.

shooting schedule

I keep the note cards taped to my wall during the entire pre-production process.  The more you see it, the more familiar you become with each shooting day, and the more comfortable you will be when it comes time to shoot.

Now, we’ll incorporate that information into Word, ending up with a shooting schedule, or as I like calling it, the Master Plan.

I’ve built a template in Word (master-plan_template) so that each shooting day fits nicely on a single page.  At the top, you’ll write in DAY ONE, DAY TWO, DAY THREE, and so on, and work on building the entire schedule before you actually pick a date on the calendar.  It’ll also allow for easy swapping of days, say, if you want to move DAY THREE to DAY EIGHT, and so forth.

Here is an actual page from the Master Plan showing the first day of filming CULTURE SHOCK in London. master-plan_CSexample

It was the first day of filming, so I wanted to keep it light.  Even though there were only five cards in the strip for this day, there were several location changes and some travel time on the London Underground to consider.

The information at the top is where you can tell what actors are needed when, and where to show up.  I also list crew to the right, so I know which days we’ll have extra help.

The first column is for the time on the clock.  I’ve separated it into 15-minute intervals because it’s the most efficient.  The second column is where the scene numbers go.  The third column is for scene name, description, travel directions, addresses, eating venues, bathroom breaks, and so on.  Leaving the final column as a place to write what characters are in what scene.

Organizing the Master Plan this way eliminates the need for a Second AD, since the pages in the Master Plan replace the Call Sheets that experienced actors and crew are familiar with.  The Master Plan is much easier to read and understand than traditional Call Sheets.

What happens when your schedule gets wacky?  Well, if it does, use a ball point pen, or pencil, and make changes as needed.  Usually, if you do a good job organizing the time on the note cards in step one, and account realistically for travel and break time in the Master Plan, it’s likely you’ll remain on schedule.  Or ahead of schedule.

Once you’ve made your Master Plan, get out a calendar.  Pick the date you want to start shooting, and then all the days can be changed from DAY ONE, etc., to a specific day and date.  When this is complete, you can send the Master Plan to your cast and crew.  They can use it to plan which days will they be working, or not, or when to plan for a heavy day, or when to let loose on a light one.

Being organized is the most efficient way to make a movie.  If the entire cast and crew know what you’re to be doing at all times, it will help keep everyone on schedule and moving swiftly each day.

(If you need help creating your Master Plan, I’m available for consulting via telephone or Skype.)

SCHEDULING: PART 1 OF 2


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You do not need any fancy, expensive, or magic movie making software to schedule a movie.  You simply need some note cards, scotch tape, and Microsoft Word.

To begin the scheduling process, buy a stack of colored note cards.

Colored note cards

Each note card will represent a scene from your script.  Use yellow cards for all exterior “day” scenes, green cards for interior “day” scenes, blue for inside “night” scenes, and purple for exterior “night” scenes.

To make a card, match the card color to the scene in your script.  Is it inside, outside, day or night?

On the top of each note card, write in the scene number and name.  Then write a brief description of the scene.  On the right, list the characters in that scene, and at the bottom, any special props or unique elements (such as a car, animal, special effects, etc).  Then, at the top right corner, put the amount of time you think it will take to shoot that scene.

How long will it take you to shoot the scene?  That’s up to you.  Think about it from the standpoint of shooting difficulty.  Is it a scene filled with action and multiple shots?  Maybe you’ll want to give yourself an extra 30-45 minutes.  Or, maybe it’s one camera set up but two pages of dialogue that you think you’d be able to do in less than an hour.

I average an hour of shooting time per one page of the script.  So if my scene is two pages long, I’ll write down “2 hrs” at the top of the note card.  If it’s half a page, I’ll write down “30 mins.”

Then, once I have all the note cards done for each scene in the entire script, I will separate them into piles based on location.  All the scenes/cards to be filmed at the “diner” in one pile, all the cards for “hotel” in another.  And so forth.

Once you’ve separated the cards into location piles, you can begin organizing them into “shooting days.”

To do this, lay the cards on the table and count the hours.  I try to keep the shooting times each day right around 8 hours total.  (Later, when you add in breaks, travel time, lunches, dinners, etc, you’ll see that 8 hours shooting time is plenty; more than 8 hrs makes for a long day.  On the flipside, 6 or 7 hours for shoot time is divine).

If your locations are shorter, say, you have just two cards for the “hotel” which add up to 3 hours, set those aside.  Either that day at the hotel will be very light, or you’ll match it up with another location and move sets mid-day.

When you’re finished organizing them, lightly tape the cards together on the reverse side (so if you need to move cards around later on, you won’t tear the front off).

Then, tape the strips of days up on your wall.

Shooting days

Each vertical strip of cards represents one shooting day.  At the top of each strip I put a pink card that says the location.  If you are doing a feature, and organizing scenes based on roughly an hour’s shoot time per page, you should have somewhere between 12 and 18 days, give or take.  Of course, that can be shorter if you aren’t changing locations, or longer, if, say, half of your movie takes place in Hong Kong (you’ll add a day travel time just flying there).

Feel free to rearrange the strips of “days” until you are comfortable with the order of locations.  I always try and select an easy location to start, as the first day on set is always the one that should be the lightest.

rearranging the strips

In the next blog post, we’ll open up Microsoft Word and make the shooting schedule.

(If you need help creating your note cards, I’m available for consulting via telephone or Skype.)

CRITICS: USE THEM OR LOSE THEM


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Maybe I had it good going to CalArts, because when it came time for a critique of any work (whether it was a script, or a film, or a photograph), we were educated in a way to look at the work that is totally NOT what most people learn.  In addition to style, form, and technique, we were taught to explore the intent of the creator, and to base our critique on how we felt that intent was communicated.  Did the work communicate the intent clearly?  Or was it confusing?

Most people grow up learning that to critique something means to only draw out the negative aspects of something.  Or to talk about what’s missing.  No one is ever taught to look at what’s actually there and critique what they see.  Instead, most people use critique to talk about what they don’t see.  This has spread to our entire culture.  When someone says, “Sorry I’m being critical,” they mean they’re sorry because they are being negative.  If you’re doing it correctly, critique isn’t something to apologize for.  It can become very helpful and beneficial.  But most often, people are bad critics.

Most people—professionals and amateur—have been taught that the best way to critique something is to discuss what is WRONG or what is MISSING.  Or, in most cases, how they’d have done it better.  That kind of criticism is useless because the truth is that if we look at anything long enough we can find what is wrong with it, and what is missing.

Let’s take Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, now listed by The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine as the greatest film of all time (replacing Citizen Kane.  Someone could say that the sequences in the museum, or when Jimmy Stewart is following around Kim Novak, are boring and need work because there’s no dialogue.  But to focus on the fact that there isn’t dialogue, and wrong, that critic fails to see what is there, and he misses the whole point.

The critique in that case might be a bit melodramatic, but I mean it to only illustrate a point.  I’m sure there are people out there who watch VERTIGO and feel the exact same thing (it’s boring, it’s too quiet, there’s no talking; so it must be BAD), even though they are watching what is now considered the greatest film ever made.

When I get a review from a critic, I like to learn about how they SEE what I’ve shown them.  I don’t particularly have an interest in what I haven’t shown them.  If I made a heavy, dark character-study, I’d like to learn more about how they were impacted by that, or what was their insight into how I portrayed those elements.  If I read a review that says it’s a bad movie because it’s not campy or funny, that doesn’t help me at all.  Sure, it relays the message that particular individual is only interested in campy, funny movies, and if I want him to like something it should be campy and funny.  But it doesn’t help me learn about multiple perspectives of the heavy, depressing, character-study.

Now, say my intent was to make a heavy, dark character-study and it ended up campy and funny, and the critic thought it was hilarious, well that would indicate that my execution was done poorly.  And, in that case, the criticism would be very educational and helpful.  But, helpful critique is very rare.

Another thing to remember about criticism is that it’s only about that person’s singular viewpoint and their tastes.  If a critic doesn’t like westerns, he’s not going to like your western no matter how brilliant it is.  Or, if he only likes westerns, he’s not going to be a fan of your Upper West Side romantic comedy.  So when you read a review from a critic, remember that there will always be someone, somewhere, who’s experience watching it was the opposite.

I love reading reviews of my movies that are totally contradictory of each other.  Take my film, THE CASSEROLE CLUB, which is out now on DVD/VOD.  Some critics call it a “masterpiece,” an “emotional tour de force,” and we’ve even won awards for it: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (for Backstreet Boys crooner Kevin Richardson in his debut role) and Best Actress (for Susan Traylor).  And then there are the reviews that say the acting is “horrible” and the movie a “waste of time.”  And after reading the negative reviews, I received the news that the US Library of Congress selected THE CASSEROLE CLUB for their permanent collection.

It’s so fascinating to me to learn how differently people see the very same thing.  I love stuff like that.

As you proceed in your filmmaking path, whether as a director, producer, writer or actor, you’ll find this truth across the board in all aspects of The Industry.  One person will always love something another person hates.  Yin/Yang.  So enjoy it.  If nothing else, it will teach you who are the intelligent people to surround yourself with, and who are the dumb shits to avoid.