HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 3 of 4

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

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

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)

The Wamego Trilogy

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its initial release, I am making the WAMEGO TRILOGY available for FREE on Vimeo.  Spread the word and share these documentaries with every filmmaker (aspiring or professional) you know.

“Dreams are made of this stuff… Missing here are power-lunches and power-trips. Which is a breath of that fresh Kansas air.” – AFTERTASTE MAGAZINE

“Perfect! If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’d be a complete fool not to watch all the docs in this trilogy… There’s a lesson to be learned from the Baldersons.”
FILM THREAT

“Hollywood should be jealous.” – ICON MAGAZINE

“Literally thousands of miles away from the world of red carpets, cocaine nose-jobs and botoxed to the bone, anorexic 40-year-old women pretending to be 21, Wamego is a world full of cinematic dreams and devoid of pretension.”
HOFSTRA CHRONICLE

“Steve Balderson’s approach to his work is not just a breath of fresh air – it is a gale-force wind that just may huff and puff and blow that famous Hollywood sign down right before the film industry’s eyes.”
OREGON DAILY EMERALD

“A constant reminder to never give up or give in…”
ALL ABOUT TOWN MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO is a testament to the hard work ethic of the Midwest. It proves that with determination, anything is possible – even making a feature film by yourself, in the middle of nowhere!”
LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

“What was ‘Lost in La Mancha’ could easily be ‘Found in Wamego’ … A warmfelt, honest lesson how to realize your dream without sharing a bed with the devil.”
PLANB MAGAZINE, NORWAY

“Balderson serves a fat slice of humble pie to his Hollywood peers. A reality-check to inspire indie artists worldwide!”
THE BLACKSMOKE ORGANISATION, UK

“Those who have filmmaking ambitions of their own will get a little more…”
MICRO-FILM MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO will have a league of moviemakers clicking their heels to be transported to the Kansan, Do-It-Yourself state of mind.”
BRAD JEWELL

“It’s fascinating, entertaining, inspiring.”
PLAYLOUDER, UK

“The documentary, more than any other movie-in-process film, actually demonstrates how to make a movie. It’s not a tedious and silly art school exercise, but a deep look into the thinking, perspective and determination that a filmmaker has to have in order to get a vision on the screen. Wamego is good story telling… A rich tale with fully developed characters, a well-developed plot and layers of conflict… Wamego is recommended viewing… Shows those professionals from LA how things should be done.”
DISCOVERY PUBLICATIONS

EXPOSURE AND MONEY

They aren’t one and the same.  Sometimes they go together and sometimes they don’t.

Because of my interest in eating well, I’ve known many restaurant owners.  Once, I asked a maverick restaurateur why her bottles of wine were priced less than other fine dining establishments.  She confided in me that her main objective was to move more product.  Her goal was to sell twice as many bottles of wine than her competition.  So she priced them affordably.  Usually the markup is ridiculous.  A good $12 bottle of wine in a liquor store usually costs $24-36 at a restaurant.  But, at her establishment, it might only cost $22-26.

I used to struggle with this idea until I started realizing what my preferences were when it came to releasing movies.  Often times, people will ask me which of my films has been the most successful.  It’s a really hard question to answer.  First, I have to ask them what they define as success.  Everyone has an entirely different definition.  Some people define success as the amount of money a movie makes, while others might define success based on the critical acclaim, awards, exposure, or in what countries your movie is released.

My film FIRECRACKER was released in almost every country on the planet, won numerous awards, pre-eminent film critic Roger Ebert gave it a special Jury Prize on his list of that year’s best films, yet the investors never made a decent return on their investment and in the USA it was basically shelved by the stupid distributor and is currently only available for streaming at Vimeo On Demand HERE: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/firecracker

WELLSPRING was a really cool distribution company who wanted to distribute FIRECRACKER.  The company is now long defunct, but at the time they were the coolest boutique place to be.  They were distributing Todd Solondz’ movies.  WELLSPRING offered a decent advance, but only wanted to print 10,000 dvds.  While another distributor, FIRST LOOK STUDIOS, was offering a little less money but planned to release 50,000+ dvds on the initial run.  We decided to go with the FIRST LOOK.

For me, at that time in my career, it was more important to have the volume and exposure, even if I was setting myself up for less financial reward.

When it comes time to release a film, I always ask myself, in the event I’m unable to strike a deal for global exposure AND financial reward, which is better: to release the film globally, in as many countries as possible, for potentially less return?  Or is it better to have a smaller release in a just a few countries and make more money?  Each movie has a different set of criteria and a different set of questions and answers.

Of course we all want as many people as possible to have the chance to see our work.  And we also hope for great financial return so we can continue to make more movies.  This is why it’s important for me to keep costs as low as possible.  That way, I have a greater chance of financial reward.

Some of you might not know that exhibitors take 50% of any ticket sales at the movie theatre.  So if a studio movie cost $50million to produce and market, they will need to have box office returns that exceed $100million before they’ll ever see a cent of profit.  If you’ve sold your movie to a distributor, the distribution company will take even more, so the likelihood is you’ll need a box office figure closer to $150million before you’re living the Sinatra “good life.”

If your independent movie has a chance to make about $250,000 worldwide over the course of a lifetime, it might behoove you to keep the budget for that particular project about a third of that or lower.  The Movie Business is a business, albeit an idiotic and incredibly limiting one, which I’ll explain more in another article.  But it can be incredibly rewarding and successful on many levels.  Just depends on what you define as success.  And how you’d like to share your work with the world.

LLOYD KAUFMAN

The first time I met Lloyd Kaufman, it was in his Troma Tower on Ninth Avenue in New York City.  It was before the premiere of my film PEP SQUAD at the Cannes Film Festival, where I would later get to know him better.

I first learned who Lloyd Kaufman was during the shooting of my first film PEP SQUAD.  My CalArts mentor and confidant Eric Sherman introduced me to the world of Troma.  Eric had been Lloyd’s college roommate at Yale, and spoke highly of him.  When I first saw the brochure for Troma movies and merchandise, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.  I was getting my first taste of truly independent filmmaking, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  Was there a market for movies like this?  I had no idea how important and groundbreaking Lloyd’s empire was.

I agreed that Troma would announce my film at the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France in 1998.  My team (well, my father, sister, and best friend) flew to NYC to seal the deal.  We met at the Troma headquarters and I was overwhelmed.  It was reminiscent of what I imagined the New York Times reporting room to be like.  Desks of reporters lined wall to wall, and smoke rising to the ceilings while they banged on typewriters and answered rotary dial phones.  I can’t recall what it was really like, but that’s my romantic memory.

Lloyd has a mammoth energy.  It felt like I was meeting royalty.  And indeed, Lloyd remains, a King among men.  He sat behind his big leather desk.  I imagined Madonna and other celebrities, sitting where I was, seeing the same thing.  It was humbling.  And scary!  I would learn later that Madonna had, in fact, done just that, earlier in her career.

The deal was signed and stamped.  Soon we were in the south of France.  I joined Lloyd at the Carlton Hotel.  It was a massive white cream-frosting of a place, with armed guards to keep the uninvited out.  But we had official badges, so we were allowed inside the inner sanctum (lobby).  And then up to the rooms where all the Industry (Miramax, etc) rented out make-shift offices while in town.

The next day I joined Lloyd on a panel with Roger Corman.  E! Entertainment filmed it.  It was awesome.  Later I found out that my hometown hadn’t yet subscribed to E! so no one I knew saw me.  O, the travesty.

The two weeks flew by with a snap.  And then I was back home in Kansas and no idea what had happened or what was to happen next.

It came to me nearly half a decade later.  Lloyd Kaufman was indeed a King among us.  His empire and know-how became an inspiration to me.  What he has done to shape the TRULY independent film industry is nothing more than an extraordinary accomplishment.  And beyond.  What I love most of all: he did it on his own terms.  He followed his dreams, his plan, HIS inner spirit.  And he will always remain one of the most important and influential filmmakers of all time.

THE BILLING BLOCK

The Industry’s unhealthy obsession with The Billing Block I may never fully understand, but I’m happy to discuss it with you today.

The Billing Block refers to the collection of names and credits that are positioned at the bottom of movie posters and advertisements.  Usually they are composed on fonts with tall and very narrow, vertical lines.  So small and tall and narrow that most everyone can’t read them at all.  In fact, it’s safe to say that probably no one ever reads them except the people who are in The Billing Block.

I agree, without The Billing Block, your movie poster looks unfinished or under-designed.  Just like all those laurel wreaths from awards or film festivals.  No one stops to read the text inside each laurel wreath.  People might see the words OFFICIAL SELECTION or something of the sort, but hardly anyone can see the tiny words underneath that read: Billy Joe’s Steakhouse BBQ Film Festival.  It doesn’t matter.  Having the ability to put laurel wreaths on your movie poster, or in advertisements, makes it look to the consumer that your movie is THE movie they should see.  The Billing Block has this same worthless effect.

To make a Billing Block, one should start with the name of a production company like: “Paramount Presents” and then have a little space, and follow with “a Steve Balderson film” or whomever.  Then, you’ll list your top actors who have, in their contracts, agreed to be in your movie so long as their names appear BEFORE the main title, on individual title cards (these are moments in the movie when no one else’s name appears on the screen at the same time).  Following them, you’ll type in THE TITLE of the movie.  And then a short selection of supporting stars (or other actors who have agreed to be in your film so long as they get their own title cards).  Following them will be a list of crew people: editor, writers, art direction, the cinematographer, and maybe someone else, or a producer, and ending with the director.  And repeating the same words that were the start of your Billing Block.

But, who reads them?  Who can even see them?  Nobody.  Well, nobody except the people who have their name in The Billing Block.  And god forbid someone who expects their name to be in The Billing Block and can’t find their name.  O, the unjust insanity.

Placement is an integral part of The Billing Block.  Some actors specify in their contracts they must have the THIRD placement.  Or, the FIRST.  Or the SECOND.  I’ve never heard of anyone asking for the fourth onward.  Sometimes people will negotiate that they want their name listed first, and will gladly take second position but only if on the same title card as the first person.  Even if their name will appear second on The Billing Block.

Size of the font is also a big deal.  If the star is at a 12 point font size, typically the supporting cast will be at a 10 or a 9 or 8 font size.  Usually this is because the main star gets their own title card, whereas the supporting cards are sharing their card with other names.  So their font size should be smaller to keep room for multiple names.  There are some actors who specify in their contracts their name must be written in the same font size as the main star.

Once (or twice) I’ve relished the idea of making my name (as director) one or two font sizes larger than everyone else in the movie just to prove a point.  In a joking way.  I’m not one to flatter myself with endless on-screen credits.  Even if I did the costumes, make-up, set design, cinematography, writing, and editing, and whatever else, I think it’s tacky to make a movie that has my name repeatedly credited.  So usually I just stick with “produced and directed by” and leave it at that.

But there are people out there who want EVERY credit they can get.  And that’s fine.  I say, might as well give it to them.  It’ll shut them up so you don’t have to deal with them, or listen to them.  And at the end of the day, nobody cares or knows.  I mean, right now, think about it.  Which name is listed first on The Billing Block for BASIC INSTINCT?  Which name is listed second on the credits for SPIDERMAN 2?

One last bit of advice: if you’re ever negotiating with an actor who wants the first title card, but you’ve promised it to someone else, simply offer them a credit like “AND” or “WITH” at the very end f the opening credits on their own title card.  This is what Joan Collins got on DYNASTY.  They feel special, and unique, and it works every time.

HOW TO BUILD A PRESS KIT

I think it’s fun to google press kits online.  It’s easy to find some for your favorite movies, TV shows, or product launches.  Making your own isn’t really that difficult, but it will take some time.

There are no rules to crafting a good press kit.  I’ve seen incredibly complicated press kits, three-dimensional designs, and short and concise press kits.  In ancient times, press kits were usually a package (or folder) with papers inside, photographs, and other bulky things used to promote the product.

These days, press kits are usually entirely online or easily shared via email.  Some might consist of audio/visual treats and be shared on a flash drive.  But, most everyone agrees that there’s no reason to spend money on something when you can achieve the same result for nothing.  So, I say, go with a simple PDF.  You don’t need to send a DVD or CD anymore.  A link to Vimeo works just great.

You’ll want to write a well-formed synopsis.  It’s often a good idea to include a medium-length synopsis and an even shorter one.  Keep in mind that you should make it sound exciting, as if you were writing a review.  Most often, journalists want to simply copy-n-paste what you’ve written so they don’t have to work so hard.  And in the process, when the Boston Globe (or whomever) writes that your movie is a “fast-paced gem” you can easily lift that quote from their article, quote the Boston Globe, and use it for promoting your movie.  Even though you were the one who wrote it.  So remember that.

Write biographies for your key cast and crew.  If you aren’t working with anyone notable in show business, write their bios full of excitement and wonder about the world those people live in.  If your lead actress was a former beauty queen, or if your DP was an escaped felon, or if your supporting actor was a hot dog eating champion—share that info!  Weird stories make for great media coverage.

You might want to consider incorporating a mock interview with yourself and other key players in your project.  Sometimes this acts as a showcase for the type of interesting interview you can do.  I like to make up a game of 20 Questions and keep them light and simple, and sometimes juicy and controversial.

You’ll want to include some stills from your film.  Some should be glossy shots of the actors that might be considered a scene from the film, or a portrait.  Other shots should be from behind-the-scenes, showing the camera and lighting set-ups, or certain “filming” moments.

You’ll definitely want to include a link to the trailer, and maybe even some clips from the film.  Some people with online or broadcast capabilities could run clips of your movie during their news segment.  (For an example, check out the opening 10-15 minutes of “WAMEGO: Making Movies Anywhere” which shows news stories about my movie PEP SQUAD as featured on television.)

Consider including other reviews or other third-party blurbs.  The world is incredibly lazy when it comes to independent thought.  By sharing that a dozen (hopefully influential) people love your movie, it sends the signal your movie is great.  “Why, if so-and-so loved it, it must be good!”

Keep in mind that at the end of the day, of course you want your project to speak for itself.  But, sometimes if you don’t tell people in the media what they’re looking at, they won’t know what to think.  So even if it sounds a little creepy, or pretentious, you’d better do it.  Or you might risk getting lost in the shuffle of all the people who are.

WAITING TO WORK

If you are serious about wanting to get your film actually made, you should avoid Hollywood altogether.  Trust me.  No one but The Majors make movies in Hollywood.  The players you would think would be the most involved are precisely the individuals least interested in the activity.  What?  How can you say that?  Well, because it’s true!  People go to Hollywood to be in a continuous state of development.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY ARE LAZY.  They do not want to work.  They do not want to be productive.  They want to stay in bed or lounge about the fucking pool sipping martinis.

No one in Hollywood will return your calls because there’s just no time!  They will tell you they’re SO swamped.  People in the movie business are SO busy.  Try so busy scheduling their August holiday!  Think you can call back in September?  Guess again!  From September to November people in the movie business can’t manage a conversation because all capable speaking skills are being sucked up by Toronto and the other fall film festivals.  No one works in December, regardless of religion, and when they return after the New Year, all available time is spent obsessing over Sundance.  And, of course, February is out of the question because everyone is obsessed with what happened or didn’t happen at Sundance.

April through May is lost to Cannes.  This leaves only March and a slim chance to reach anyone by telephone during hiatus (June and July).  Please note: no one in the industry seems to understand how to use e-mail.  Unless you’ve got Spiderman 7 in the works, or the latest “special effect’s show,” the only real chance you’ve got is to make your film on your own.  Think you want to involve the movie business?  Heed this warning!

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying time off from time to time but must we remain “off” so much of the time?  And what are people doing in their off time?  Playing videogames, chatting with online strangers, playing golf, attempting yoga, gorging on wine and cheese.  Whatever happened to productivity?  Come to think of it, maybe Hollywood isn’t the only place contaminated with laziness.

There are 365 days in a calendar year.  104 of them are wasted by people not working on the weekends.  That only leaves 261 days to get any work done.

Think it stops there?  Guess again!  We can’t forget the holidays!  (FYI: The movie industry observes every holiday known to man, and not just the major ones.  I used to think they did this to avoid offending any major cultural or religious group.  But, it seems to me that most everyone in the U.S. does it as well—even people who are deliberately offensive on a daily basis and clearly cannot be attempting to avoid offending someone!)

We have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day (by all means a special day to deliberately not work!), Columbus Day, Election Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas…and those are just the Bank Holidays!

We can’t forget Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools, Passover, Easter, Tax Day, Cinco de Mayo, Nurses Day, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Father’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Eid al-Fitr, Hanukkah, Ramadan, and, of course, Kwanzaa!

I found the following on the website for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking: “When a fixed holiday falls on Sunday, it shall be observed on the following Monday; when it falls on a Saturday, it may be observed on the following Monday.  Independence Day, July 4, 2004, will fall on a Sunday and, therefore, must be observed on Monday, July 5, 2004.  Christmas Day, December 25, 2004, will fall on a Saturday and, therefore, may be observed on Monday, December 27, 2004.”

Are they kidding?  No!  We wouldn’t want to overlap a weekend with a holiday for a chance at yet another day off!

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, people take yet another two days off!  Yes, two whole days.  (No one should have to work with a hangover!)  I’ve never understood why people celebrate the coming of a new year.  Are they excited that yet another year has passed?  Are they thrilled at the notion that in the coming year they only have 24 days to work?  Or, are they thrilled at the idea that 341 days will be spent not doing ANY?

On my street, there isn’t a reason to take a vacation.  We don’t need a break from our lives.  We need no escape.  We happen to enjoy what we’re doing.  That’s a rare thing these days—actually having enjoyment at your place of work.

I used to get really frustrated.  It seemed that every time I turned around people were finding any excuse possible to avoid doing any work.  Now, I see it as a gift.  While millions are sitting around by the pool, playing golf, taking a holiday, the rest of us can get the upper hand.  My advice is to encourage other people to take even more time off from work.  This way, you’ll be able to accomplish more while they’re gone.  And if you’re as efficient as some, you might even get the desired results before they get back.

If, on the notion you dislike your life and don’t really want to do any work, I suggest moving to Los Angeles and getting a job in the movie industry.  If the move seems daunting, taking any job seems to do the trick regardless of the location.  Don’t worry. You’re sure to find a place where you don’t have to do anything!

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)

LESSON IN ETIQUETTE (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we learned how important it is to re-introduce yourself when you see someone you know in public.  This week, it’s all about the reverse.  What the hell do you do when someone comes up to you and doesn’t introduce himself or herself, and you have no idea who the hell they are?

I’d suggest asking them who they are, or how you know each other, but, I did this once and it had a dreadful outcome.  Right after I asked, they replied, “We slept together.”  I replied, “O.  I… Sorry, I… about that, see…” and went on to explain how people who work in show business meet more people in one year than most people meet in their entire lives.  This sounds like such a silly excuse to use in real life, but it’s true.

To avoid any kind of sticky situation, my advice is to simply say, “It’s good to see you.”  And smile.  This sentence works if you know the person AND if you’re just meeting them for the first time.  If you’re at an event showcasing your work, like a premiere, or whatever, it’s good to follow that up with, “Thank you for coming” or “Thank you for being here.”  Those replies will always work in your favor.

Now, if the other person persists and continues to have a detailed conversation, and you still have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, you could always change the subject into a topic universally fresh – such as the purpose for the event you’re both attending.  Or, if you truly want to avoid the person, pretend to get a phone call and excuse yourself.  No cell phone handy?  A trip to the loo might take care of that.

Likewise, if you’re in a situation with a person whom you totally remember but can’t stomach talking to—like a stalker or something—the best reaction is to still say, “Good to see you, thank you for coming,” before walking away from them.  If they follow you, you can always alert security.

Another great plan of action is to have a pal present who can save the day.  A secret sign or gesture, a code word perhaps, could alert your friend to spring into action and drag you away for an important matter that needs addressing immediately.

The bad part about the reverse situation is being taken advantage of.  See, I know many people who have very famous friends.  I’ve met some of these very famous people, but there are others I haven’t.  If I wanted to meet these other very famous people, I could just walk up to them, introducing myself as “We met at so-and-so’s movie, party, or fill-int-the-blank.”  And I guarantee you that very famous person won’t actually know whether we did or didn’t.

I don’t think this is a very bright idea, but it could actually work if you know all the right people and are familiar enough to carry on a short conversation long enough to be photographed standing next to them for some stupid Wire Image shot.

Working in show business might have a lot of perks, but sometimes by being in public it opens up a huge can of beets that no one really wants to eat.