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.

HOW TO READ A SCREENPLAY

I never read other people’s screenplays when I don’t understand how to read them.  It’s a waste of time otherwise.  A lot of people read screenplays left and right, but have they ever stopped to think about from what perspective they are reading it?  When was the last time you read a screenplay you didn’t write?  How did you read it?  No, not “at bedtime,” or “with the lights on,” I mean… from what perspective did you read it?

Recently, a filmmaker sent me the first 10 pages of a script and asked, “Can you tell me if you think this has potential?”  I thought, well, it’s impossible to measure the value of a screenplay in the first ten pages.  I might be able to get a sense of the writer’s style, their use of vocabulary, whether their dialogue is lyrical or stilted, or even an example of the tone and atmosphere of the story, but feature screenplays are usually around 90-100 pages.  Judging a screenplay in the first 10 pages is a bit like licking the outside of an apple to determine the taste without biting into it.  And people who have tried both Granny Smith and Gala apples can tell you that neither tastes like a Fuji.  So, licking it just won’t cut it.

I answered the filmmaker: “Before I read it, tell me what is the perspective I’m reading it from…  A director’s perspective?  A writer’s point of view?  Or, a consultant’s?”  The filmmaker replied, “Great question.  Read it first as a director.”

To clarify further, I asked another question: “As if I were directing (which would mean I would only see if the story was something that spoke to me personally as an artist, and judge the story based on that alone)?  Or, do you want me to read it from the perspective of you directing (which means that I would not read it from my perspective, but rather, project an outward, external view and imagine this filmmaker’s personality—how he sees the world—and does this story seem to align with his sensibilities)?  Or, am I supposed to read it from the standpoint of Ron Howard directing (which means I’d be thinking about it from a totally different place—would Ron Howard’s sensibilities help this story appeal to a broad audience, and would studios find this story appealing financially)?”

The filmmaker answered in a tongue in cheek manner, which ended the discussion, but I was totally serious.  I decided to not read the 10 pages he sent to me.  Even if he had sent me the completed screenplay, I wouldn’t have read it without understanding from which perspective to read it.  If everyone did this it would change the industry.

It’s impossible to adequately judge a movie’s potential by the screenplay alone.  Screenplays aren’t novels, and what’s on paper doesn’t always translate visually.  Film is the director’s medium.  To judge a movie one must always take into consideration the visual elements: costumes, hair styles, make-up, art direction, production design, props, camera work, colors, rhythm, performers and their acting abilities and especially music and score.

Take this for an example: WIZARD OF OZ, which was gloriously colored and staged, and 1985’s RETURN TO OZ, which was dreadful looking (never mind the bleak storyline, I’m talking the lack of good design and sleek direction).  I imagine people reading RETURN TO OZ had in their minds the kind of thing that made the first one so cherished, but were devastated upon viewing the end result.  But, there exist brilliantly visualized shows like WICKED, and the latest film installment, OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, which looks incredible.  It’s all about aesthetic understanding and good taste.

Part of the director’s job is to translate the written word into visual storytelling.  Next time I speak at a film school, this will be my assignment:  Everyone gets the same script, and we’ll see what happens when they turn in their projects.  One director will take the same story and deliver something totally opposite what another director will do.  Yet both films will originate in the same words.

Instead of reading screenplays, I ask for either a complete plot or synopsis (not one meant to lure me into buying the movie, but rather the entire detailed story in just a couple of pages, including spoilers and climax, ending, etc.).  Usually if the structure is there, and the story is solid, it’s possible to make the screenplay great (even if, at that stage, it isn’t).  But if the structure is not solid, the movie won’t work.  No matter how scenes are re-written, or how dialogue is changed here and there, until that structure is defined and made solid, it just won’t work.

Eight times out of 10, this is the case with most screenplays.  This is why I ask for writers to share with me the structure first.  Why should anybody have to waste time reading an entire screenplay only to discover three hours later that there is no structure?  It’s a lot easier and less time consuming to just read a few paragraphs first.  Then, if there is a solid structure, dive into the screenplay and enjoy it.  But remember to ask yourselves: from which perspective am I reading this?  Am I going to read this as a viewer?  A filmmaker?  A distribution executive?  A marketing executive?  An actor?  Or simply for entertainment?

LES DELIVERABLES

When your film is complete and you sell it to a sales agent or distribution, you will need to deliver them a shit load of things—some of which are important and some of which are unnecessary.   They call these things “Deliverables.”  This is an article geared towards first-time filmmakers, but there are some tips here for veterans as well.

Years ago we filmmakers had to had to gather up and deliver twice the amount of crap we need to today, a lot of which cost thousands of dollars to produce.  Sometimes this made our projects go over-budget, into debt, and we had to borrow money to pay for them.  There wasn’t a way out of it, because if we wanted our films distributed, we needed to cough up all the deliverables they asked for.  Well, that isn’t totally true.  Sometimes a distributor will ask you for something that truly they do not need until they make a sale.

Let’s say your sound mixer didn’t do an M&E (separate tracks for music and effects, which makes it possible to dub dialogue in various languages overseas).  If you’re a newbie (like we all were at one point), you might panic (like I did) and spend several thousand dollars on creating an M&E simply because they ask for it on the list of Deliverables.  My advice is to save the money.  Tell your sales agent or distributor that you’re happy to pay for an M&E when the time comes, so long as the sale will cover the cost of making it.

If a distributor in Europe wants to buy the rights to your film for release in Germany, say, and they want an M&E so they can dub the film in German, make sure the sale of those rights exceed the cost of making an M&E.  Or, tell them they’ll have to release it with subtitles (which might make them reject the deal and not buy your movie).  It’s a risk, but in my experience, I’ve never had a deal not go through under these circumstances.

Likewise, when a distributor asks me for “Textless” movie or trailer files, I say NO.  That means they can change the title.  And if they do want to change your title, chances are it’ll be changed to something pretty lame and embarrassing.

Other Deliverables are: photocopies or scans of actor’s agreements, contracts with crew, copies of music and score licenses, time code charts of music cues, dialogue transcripts (of spoken dialogue, not what was written in your script), proof of copyright, stills, behind the scenes footage, and lots of other stuff.  I get why they want all this information, but gathering it takes time.  My advice is to gather it along the way so that when it comes time to deliver your Deliverables, you’ll have everything ready.

Never be afraid of saying you don’t want to deliver something.  If they ask for unmixed sound files, for instance, I never give it to them.  Because then they’ll have the actual sound files to certain effects and sound design that was created specifically for your project.  One of my favorite sound designers, Paul N. J. Ottosson, did the design and mix for several of my films.  He won the Oscar for Sound Design he did for THE HURT LOCKER.  When it was time to deliver Deliverables for my movies Paul worked on, there was no way I was going to share his secrets.  It just felt totally wrong to me.  So in my agreement with the distributor, I simply took a black marker and crossed out those items on the Deliverables list.  You can do this too.  Worst-case scenario is they come back and tell you it’s a “must” or else they won’t buy your movie.  My hunch is they won’t care.  I never had a problem with that.

Here is a list of Deliverables taken from one of my distribution deals.

BASIC DELIVERY MATERIALS:

A. VIDEO AND AUDIO ELEMENTS

If the Motion Picture is non-English language and an English subtitled version is delivered, a separate master with no subtitles must also be delivered in each of the following categories.

COMPANY shall perform one quality control check of each delivered master at Producer’s expense – if the QC report is not from the following labs: Visual Data, Fotokem, ElectroFilms

Digibetas should be direct down-convert of the approved HD master; otherwise, QC report is required for each tape master.

If the material does not pass the QC check, the Licensor must repair the submitted material so that it does pass QC, or Distributor has the option to terminate the foregoing Agreement or withhold payment for rectification.

1. Program Video Masters: Required delivery of original version (theatrical version if Motion Picture had a theatrical release):

(a) Firewire 800 or USB3 Hard Drive of final QC’d HD Feature Film, textless background and trailer. 1920×1080 23.98 ProRes HQ self-contained Quicktime file with correct audio configuration embedded (with M&E tracks and 5.1 sound).  Textless background and M&E should apply to Trailer as well.

(b) Bonus Material and Electronic Press Kit (EPK): all bonus footage for DVD release, such as deleted scenes, outtakes, director’s commentary, interviews, “making of” footage, etc.

If EPK is available, it should be no longer than 5 minutes, must have separate M&E (for dubbing), for worldwide use in all media, with waivers from the persons interviewed in form satisfactory to Distributor’s legal requirement.

(c) Check Disks: One (1) for NTSC and for PAL: DVD with visual time code output directly from the masters.

(d) DVD master: Three (3) NTSC DVD master, MPEG-2, 720×480 main program only without test pattern, count, menu, encryption, or extra material. With one original language only (no multiple language tracks). If the program is in language other than English, it should have English subtitle, burned in with MPEG-2 video track (TS file). It should start playing once hit play. Audio code should be AC-3, Stereo 192 Kilobits/second CBR.

Textless Title Backgrounds: Textless material shall be provided 60 seconds after program for all masters for all parts of the program which contain electronically or photo-chemically generated written information. This material shall include (without limitation) any fades, dissolves, blow-ups, hold-frames, or multiple exposures found in the original texted version. Textless background from the body of the program must include 5 frame handles on both sides of the cut and scene to scene color correction must be applied.

Trailer: Trailer, 16X9, 1.78, Title Safe for 4×3 shall be provided :60 seconds after program and program texless title backgrounds on all masters. Scene-To-Scene Color Corrected Direct Video

Transfer Master of the Trailer for the Motion Picture. Trailer shall not contain any self-promotional language (i.e. release date, visit myspace page, Buy DVD at…, etc.). Textless Trailer Background materials shall be “attached” to the tail end of Trailer, appropriately slated, and shall be located one minute after the conclusion of the trailer. Audio shall be configured as follows:
Ch 1 Stereo Mix Left
Ch 2 Stereo Mix Right
Ch 3 Music & Effect Left
Ch 4 Music & Effect Right

B. 100% PASS CERTIFIED QC REPORT: QC Report of the master(s) delivered to  should be completed by certified labs including VisualData, ElektroFilm or FOTOKEM.

C. PUBLICITY AND ADVERTISING MATERIALS (Deliver Electronically)

1. Color Stills and Photographs: At least Fifty (50) high-res (300 DPI) JPEG images on Disk. The images shall provide comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the production of the Motion Picture, including different scenes, single and combination shots of the director, principal actors and behind the scenes coverage. Producer shall deliver a statement by Producer that all such photographs and transparencies have been approved by all individuals with approval rights regarding such photographs and transparencies.

All photographs shall be suitable for reproduction for advertising and publicity purposes and shall be cleared for use in all markets, all media in perpetuity, or at least for the Term of the foregoing Agreement.

2. Key Art: Delivery of high-resolution (300 DPI), layered key art on Disk or FTP site.

3. DVD Packaging: If the Motion Picture has had a US DVD release, delivery of a minimum of 20 copies of the DVD packaging for the Motion Picture, plus layered artwork for the DVD cover.

4. Flyer Artwork: Delivery of any flyer artwork that has been created if different from #2 above, including textless transparency, DVD, photostat of title treatment and any additional text if different from #2 above, and access to additional images and backgrounds used on the flyer.

5. Presskit: Delivery of a complete presskit, both printed and electronically, including synopsis, biographies of key cast and crew, press releases and press clippings.

6. Final Continuity Script/Spotting List: Final, complete, verbatim continuity script of the Motion Picture in EXCEL or WORD format. The final continuity script should be an accurate transcription of the Motion Picture master with corresponding running time code referencing specific photographic action, characters and transcribed audio.

7. Screeners: (30) Region-free DVD-R [minus-R] screeners with “SCREENING PURPOSE ONLY” or Visible timecode burnt onto screeners. Please, no contact information. Provide in a spindle without label.

8. Digital Trailer: 60-90 seconds Uncompressed QuickTime or Pro ResM, 16×9, Title-safe 4×3, 720×480 resolution. Sound level should be at 0.db and not overmodulated. Also provide downsized Web resolution H264 Quicktime file 320X240.

D. PRODUCTION CREDIT AND CONTACTS (Deliver Electronically)

1. Final Main & End Screen Credits: One (1) complete typewritten copy of the final main and end credits of the Picture as they appear on the original negative together with original art work and photographic units used to manufacture the titles, and electronically as e-mail attachment. (Microsoft Word Format)

2. Credit Block: One (1) complete typewritten copy of the credit block that will appear on poster or on back of DVD cover, and electronically as e-mail attachment (Microsoft Word Format)

3. SAG and/or Any Union Releases

E. LEGAL DOCUMENTS (Deliver Electronically)

1. Certified Statement with Synopsis: One (1) complete typewritten copy on  approved form ONLY including important information about the films (including Picture title, year of production, genre, original language, director, MPAA rating (if available), name of production , synopsis, etc.) and Restrictions on photo, dubbing, subtitling, distribution, and Paid Ad Credit and contractual requirement.

2. Music Cue Sheets: One (1) copy of the music cue sheet for the Motion Pictures and (1) copy of the Trailer(s) on COMPANY’s approved form ONLY showing the particulars of all music synchronized with the Motion Picture (and the Trailer(s)) as follows: title of each composition, composer(s) (i.e., words and music), publisher, copyright owner, percentage of residual, composer(s) performing rights society affiliations (ASCAP or BMI), how used (visual or background, instrumental and/or vocal), and film footage and running time of each music cue. If pre-existing master recordings are used in the soundtrack, include the name(s) of performer(s) (if applicable) and name(s) of record album(s) and cut(s) used. Music Cue Sheets should be delivered electronically.

3. Music Licenses: One (1) copy of each music synchronization, performance, and mechanical license covering each musical composition embodied in the Motion Picture/Trailer(s) and which musical composition is not in the public domain, and evidence of payment in full. Required for all songs in Music Cue Sheet.

4. Composer Agreement: Delivery of one (1) copy of the fully executed composer agreement. For the original music in the Motion Picture, the composer agreement must convey to the Licensor the right to use the music, lyrics or recordings, as applicable, in the Motion Picture, in whole or in part, in all media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe in perpetuity without payment of any further compensation for the grant of such rights and shall include the right to use the music, lyrics or recordings, as applicable, in connection with the advertising, promotion and publicity of the Motion Picture, in all media now known or hereafter devised, in or out of context of the Motion Picture, subject only to payment of fees to applicable performing rights societies

5. Copies of Acquired Footage/Stills Licenses: Copies of all stock footage/stills licenses, if any, and evidence of payment.

6. Chain-of-Title

(a) Rights Agreements: Clearly legible copies of all contracts, options, option payments, assignments, licenses, quitclaims, certificates of authorship, written permissions, powers of attorney and other written documents relating to the acquisition of all rights (and reflecting a complete chain of title) in connection with the Motion Picture indicating how Licensor came to own the rights in such Picture. IF the name of copyright owner of the picture is different from one that signs agreement with , an authorization letter or transfer letter is required.

(b) Copyright Registration: Copyright certificate of (1) Motion Picture and (2) Screenplay duly stamped by the applicable Copyright Office; provided, however, that if the stamped registration statement has not yet been received by Licensor, Licensor shall deliver a copy of the application for copyright registration of the Motion Picture together with copies of Licensor’s letters of transit, and proof of receipt by the Copyright Office, and proof of payment of all requisite fees.

7. Certificates of Origin: At least six (6) executed and notarized originals of the Motion Picture’s Certificate of Origin in the form attached hereto.

F. ADDITIONAL DELIVERY MATERIALS:

The following items may become requirements, but are not required in the initial “Basic Delivery Materials.”  reserves the right to request from the Producer at a later date if needed.

Producer shall provide within reasonable timeframe, at Producer’s costs, to fulfill its delivery obligation.

1. One (1) 16×9 PAL, 1.33 Digital Betacam full frame videotape master down converted from the Hi Definition 16×9 1:78 master with English stereo mix on Channels 1 & 2 and stereo music and effects on Channels 3 & 4. The PAL master videotape must contain continuous EBU time code with VITC on lines 19 and 21. All blacks must be pulled up and scene to scene color correction must be applied. Textless material must be included in accordance with section C. 2. below.

2. One (1) 16×9, 1.33 NTSC Digital Betacam full frame videotape master down converted from the Hi Definition 16×9 1:78 with English stereo mix on Channels 1 & 2 and stereo music and effects on Channels 3 & 4. The NTSC master videotape must contain continuous SMPTE dropframe time code with VITC on lines 12 and 14. All blacks must be pulled up and scene to scene color correction must be applied. Textless material must be included in accordance with section

C. 1.

3. Close Caption Master(s) or .cap file. This item is required BY LAW for US distribution

4. Copyright and Title Reports:

a. A title report from Dennis Angel or Thomson & Thomson – accepted clearance  confirming the availability of the title of the Motion Picture for exploitation in all media, dated no more than three (3) months prior to the date of the attached Agreement, or a copy of the title report submitted to the E&O insurance carrier.

b. A Copyright Research report from Dennis Angel or Thomson & Thomson consistent with Licensor’s representations, warranties and agreements contained in the Agreement and dated no more than three (3) months prior to the date of the distribution Agreement.

5. E&O Insurance Certificate: A Certificate of Insurance in form and substance acceptable to Distributor’s insurance carrier, naming COMPANY and their respective subsidiaries and affiliates, and each of their officers, directors, shareholders, employees, agents, attorneys and employees as additional insured and loss payees and evidencing Licensor’s policy of “Errors and Omissions Insurance” in respect of the Motion Picture, which insurance conforms in all respects to the following requirements:

Coverage not less than $3,000,000 for each claim and $5,000,000 aggregate for all claims (with no material exclusions and a policy deductible no greater than $25,000) and shall be maintained at all times during the License Term (but at a minimum of three (3) years). At Distributor’s request, the insurance carrier will at no additional cost include any other person(s) designated by Distributor as additional named insured and issue to such person(s) a separate Certificate of Insurance evidencing the foregoing Errors and Omissions Insurance coverage. Licensor’s Errors and Omissions Insurance policy may not be modified, revised, or canceled without twenty (20) business day’s prior written notice to Distributor.

6. MPAA Rating Certification: A paid rating certificate from the Motion Picture Code and Rating Administration of America (if US rights are included and if the Motion Picture is the type of picture that is customarily rated).

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.