ACTORS BUYING ROLES

Lately there has become a huge controversy about actors buying roles, thanks to certain perks on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I understand the perspective of people who are against this sort of thing, but I can also understand the perspective of people who don’t think it’s a big deal.  Like me.

As an independent filmmaker (Happy INDEPENDENCE day, btw), I need funding in order to make a movie.  The amount of funding is irrelevant.  Even if you plan to shoot a movie for no money, or you aren’t paying anyone, you’ll still have to buy hard drives to store footage, and put gasoline in your car to move from one location to the next.  So when someone comes along and says, “hey, I can give you some money, but will you put me in the movie,” my response is, “Of course!”  If I said, “No, I’m morally against that sort of thing,” chances are I won’t be able to make my movie.  Or it’ll take longer to find the funding needed, and I’ll be wasting time.

I make sense of it by thinking about it as an investment.  Even if the person giving (ie. donating) money on a crowd funding website isn’t “investing” per se, they are investing in their careers.  How it is any different to spend $2,000 on headshots and acting classes when you can skip all that and just buy a role with it?

And in that same thinking, what’s the difference between that activity and someone like Jodie Foster creating a script for herself to star in?  I can’t think of one.

I know that if Stanley Kubrick was still alive and running an Indiegogo campaign, and for a $10,000 donation, I could go and be his script supervisor for two months on his latest movie, without being paid, fed, or housed, I’d jump at the chance.  And if I couldn’t afford it, I’d encourage any other filmmaker who could, to do it.  One would learn more than the best film schools combined, and it would cost a lot less.

If that scenario were true, some would say it’s unfair because all the script supervisors are out of work because I bought the job away from them.  I don’t feel badly about it.  After all, only one of them would’ve been hired to begin with.  A production doesn’t need to hire ALL of them.  So what difference does it make?

Likewise, when an actor buys a role, all the other actors out there who could’ve auditioned are now out an opportunity for work because somebody else bought their part.

I think it was the magnificent Rosanne who said, “Success isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you take.”

Going back to the Jodie Foster scenario.  Same thing.  Was she waiting around for someone else to develop and produce, and then cast herself as, NELL?  Nope.  She took the initiative and did it herself.  There are people out there who blame her because she has “privilege” because she’s a superstar, and all that.  How is her kind of privilege any different than someone who could afford to buy a job as script supervisor, or an actor who can afford to buy a role?  None so far as I can see.  Yet, why is it okay for celebrities to develop and cast themselves in parts, and it’s not okay for an unknown person to buy one as a perk?

Is the backlash directed towards the moral integrity of the person making these crowd funded movies?  Take me, for instance.  If I did a Kickstarter campaign, and offered a perk that for $2,000 you could be my script supervisor, would you call me a villain?  Would you say I’m out to take advantage of people?  I understand I’m not Kubrick, which is why my perk would cost a donation considerably less than his.  But I can assure you that the person who bought that perk would learn more on my set than spending $2,000 on seminars, books, classes, or anything else.  So isn’t that actually fair?  They’re helping me, and I’m helping them.  It’s a mutual arrangement, and one that I think is just fine.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT

Unless you’re a famous person making a movie with another famous person, a movie that will be released in cinemas around the planet, chances are you won’t find a company willing to PAY YOU to showcase their products or brand name.

Fresh off of SUPER SIZE ME, Morgan Spurlock directed THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, which, after a promise from POM to pay $1,000,000 USD, the title became, POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD.  You might not be Morgan Spurlock, but there are ways to get sponsors to donate goods and services that will help your production save certain expenses.

During the filming of FIRECRACKER we were able to receive product placement from the company Red Bull, who provided the cast and crew with cases of the energy drink to use while shooting.

When I set off to make CULTURE SHOCK, we had no investors and planned to shoot in London and Paris.  So I used product placement as a means to trade services we would other wise have to pay for.  The two most expensive elements of making a movie are lodging and feeding people.  So first, I hit on hotels.

I emailed every hotel in London asking them for free rooms in exchange for promoting their brand in the film.  There would even be scenes filmed in their lobby and guest rooms.  That process took about a week.  It’s an easy thing to do but it is incredibly time consuming.  There are over 1,000 hotels in London.  First I went to Tripadvisor to get the list of the most popular places to stay, and then I’d go to each hotel’s individual website to locate their marketing, sales or PR department.  Then, I made a spreadsheet in Excel of the people I needed to contact, and their telephone numbers and email addresses.  Once I was finished gathering data, I emailed every single one of them.

I heard back from three who were interested.  I received half a dozen declines, but other than that, none of the remaining 900+ hotels responded to my request.  Nonetheless, I had three!  So I began to do more research into each hotel, where they were located (near to an underground stop which would be convenient), what did they look like (cinematographically speaking) and how easy would they be to work with.  I chose the best one by far, and once we had lodging taken care of I went on about food.

I made a “Meal Sponsors Sign Up Sheet” which I passed around to the cast and crew, and asked if there were any meals they would like to donate.  It’s fun for the host to be able to share their favorite cuisine, and also fun for the cast and crew to eat dinner in someone’s home—to really experience the culture of where you are and who you’re working with.

Another part of product placement is what I would call a “perk.”  Items that won’t necessarily help you shave expenses from the cost of the film, but increase morale and give the cast and crew something to enjoy.

Samsonite donated some luggage for us to use as props in the film.  We would’ve used our own luggage, naturally, but having some cool Samsonite pieces really boosted the feeling on set.

Larabar, the makers of the popular heath snack, sent several cases of various styles for us to enjoy as a healthy alternative to craft service.  And if we couldn’t find a meal sponsor, we’d just eat a Larabar!  In exchange, I wrote some dialogue in the film to help promote their brand.

There are numerous items in any script suitable for a product placement trade.  Make a list of any props you need to get, and start calling around to see what kinds of stuff you can get donated.  In addition to fun stuff, like luggage or wine, think about practical things too: paper towels, shampoo, and toothpaste.  Everyone uses those items every day, and if you don’t have to buy them, you’ll save money in a variety of areas.

Getting product placement is a time consuming task.  Be prepared to send hundreds of emails and make dozens of calls, most of which will never reply.  And most people will reply will a decline.  But, when someone replies and agrees, and sends you a lovely case of wine, or donates rooms in a four-star hotel in Europe… I’ve found the time it takes to do it is totally worth it.

FINDING INVESTORS

Anytime I’m at a film festival, I come across a group of people lined up outside the theatre, each sitting at little folding tables with signs reading: “I want to invest my money in your project” or “Pick Me! I’m the investor you want!” like in some kind of bizarre job fair.  Actually, none of that is true.  But, wouldn’t it be lovely if it were?

You might think finding investors to fund your movie is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do.  But, if you know where to look, and how to look, you’ll discover it isn’t as difficult as you thought.  First, it’s important to understand what type of investor he/she is.  Once you know the kind of person you’re talking to, it’ll help you give the best presentation of you or the project.

Philanthropists are a type of film investor.  These people regularly give their money to foundations and/or charities.  This group is more likely to want to invest in you as a person, or your message (what you stand for, your drive and desires), and less likely to care about the particular project you’re working on.  If they feel a connection with you, or to your path, and want to help you achieve your goals with their resources, you’ll win them over.  I’ve worked with investors like these before and sometimes they don’t even want to read the script.  They don’t care what the project is because they believe in YOU.  These are my favorite types of investors to work with because the connections come from a more spiritual place, and make great long-lasting friendships.  This type of investor is also less concerned about making money.  Quite frankly, I believe that many consider it a donation.

Businessmen and Businesswomen make up another type of investor.  These people are very knowledgeable, and most of them are people who have extensive and diverse investment portfolios.  Typically, these types will strategize by investing a little bit everywhere (over there in a new bar, or in a restaurant chain, or a film, a sports team, stocks, other companies, start-ups, you name it).  Their strategy is that one of those investments will be a winner, and bring a giant return.  One major win covers their losses with the rest.  One investor I knew said she was “happy to take a loss” on a film she invested in that didn’t make money.  “Taking a loss,” means the investor can write off the loss of a bad investment, which reduces their taxable income.

Another type of investor is the Vanity Investor.  This type of investor is someone who is interested in self promotion.  They see that by investing in your project, their own dream somehow becomes a reality.  Perhaps it’s an actor who wants to showcase his ability but hasn’t been given the chance.  Perhaps it’s a musician who always wanted to score a movie.  Perhaps it’s a mother of a young writer who wrote a screenplay before he died, and she just wants to give him a legacy and see his name on the screen.  This type of investor is very similar to the Philanthropic investor, in the sense that their objective is about self promotion, or the achievement of their own personal desires, and less about you or whether your project makes any money.

Similar to the Vanity investor is the Strategic Purposes investor.  The Strategic Purposes investor is one who has a defined outcome they’re looking for, and they are willing to invest in a project that directly addresses that outcome.  For instance, if you’ve written a movie about, or in support of, Gay Marriage, my hunch is you’ll likely have no trouble raising money if you approach investors who are also in support of Gay Marriage.

Investing in a film is incredibly risky.  But so was investing in the stock market just before the recession.  Or investing in Enron.  Both were considered “safe” investments at the time.

There will always be people who want to invest in movies.  Your challenge is simply to find out where they are, who they are, and most importantly—how to present yourself or your project.  If it’s the Philanthropist, come at it from the heart.  If it’s the Businessman/Businesswoman, illustrate your project in a business plan with charts and projections.  If it’s a Vanity investor, demonstrate how you can be the one to give them what they want.  If it’s the Strategic Purposes investor, connect with them about the goal and desired objective.

Hopefully, you’ll discover that finding an investor isn’t as scary as you thought.