WRITE A MANIFESTO

When I’m casting and crewing a movie, before I take a look at anyone’s skill level or talent, or resume, I insist they read and sign a manifesto.  Only after I receive the signed manifesto will I consider working with them.

This manifesto is a brief history of who I am, what I’m about, and what it’s like to work with me.  About 75-80% of people who read the manifesto are moved by it, and are more excited than ever to climb aboard.  But, the others walk away offended and irate.  Some have even written threatening letters to me in response to reading the manifesto.

It doesn’t matter who likes it and who doesn’t.  But what matters is I’m weeding out the types of people who I don’t want to work with, and the personality traits that simply won’t get along with people on the set.

This is why I believe it’s a good idea for everyone to make a manifesto.  Tell everyone from the get-go what it’s going to be like.  Be honest and direct.  This will promote clarity and focus and you’ll avoid all the problems later on.  There will be no surprises, and everyone is on the same page.

In my case, unless it’s absolutely necessary visually to the film or character, I insist that all the actors do their own hair and make-up.  It omits the need for a make-up artist, saving money, and will save hours of time each day on your shoot.  I explain this in my manifesto and anyone who is incapable of doing their make-up, but agree with everything else, will sometimes write and ask if there’s someone else in the cast or crew who might help them.  Those cases have happened, and I just tell the actor it’s their responsibility.  If they want a friend to do it, or if they want to hire a make-up artist to come and work on them personally, that’s fine with me.  I’ll even give them a credit in the movie.  But they won’t be on the payroll, and they’ll likely need to feed themselves.

Let’s say you’re doing a movie like CASSEROLE CLUB where you’re going to rent a house that everyone will stay in together.  You’ll want to explain that in your manifesto so that everyone knows they’re going to have to share a bathroom (or will they have a private one), or whether or not they’ll be sharing a room with someone else, etcetera.  I’ve known filmmakers who fail to explain this until their actors show up on location, and each time they tell me, “I’m afraid they’ll quit if I tell them.”  Which always confuses me, so I reply with, “Yes, but if they’re going to quit, do you want them to quit now when you have time to recast, or would you rather wait for them to quit when they show up at the set and you have no time to recast?”

Always be honest, and let people know what they’re getting into.  If they don’t like you, and don’t like what you’re doing, that’s okay.  It’s better to find out before you’ve invested any time working with them or getting to know them.  There are millions of people out there who would be great on your crew or in your movie.  Find them instead.

I also like to incorporate a questionnaire with my manifesto.  Some of the questions are, “Would you share a room with someone” or “are you on any kind of medication which affects your ability to drive a vehicle” or “do you have any food allergies?”  This will help pair people up who are okay to share rooms, and select single rooms for people who don’t want to.  It also helps to know if someone has a food allergy so when you’re planning meals, you can make sure to have something for them.  On that note, I think that food allergies are meant to be taken seriously, but if someone says they just don’t like to eat meat, even though they do eat it from time to time, there’s no reason to mark them down as vegetarian.

My manifesto changes for each movie, so I’m not going to post it publicly.  But if you’re interested in reading it, shoot me an email and I’m happy to share it.

SELLING YOUR MOVIE: The First Rule (Part 2 of 2)

You’ll want to read Part 1 if you missed it.

Say you’ve shown a sales agent (lets call him Bill) your movie and he says, “I loved Act 2 & 3, so great I cried, but Act 1 is boring.”  Remember the First Rule and ask yourself, “What does that really mean?”  Meaning: What does that say about Bill? (Remember to always turn the question around and think about it with the First Rule in mind.)

Did he watch the film late at night?  Early on a Saturday morning.  Was he drunk or hung over?  Was he tired?  Was he awake?  Was he hungry?  Did he feel Act 1 was boring because he didn’t realize what the tone of the movie was?  Was it because he hadn’t seen the press kit?  Or perhaps it was because he simply didn’t care about character development and wanted it to start with a bang like Dark Knight.  Any of those situations are plausible.

Bill probably doesn’t understand that one of the reasons he loved Act 2 & 3 so much was because of Act 1.  If one starts watching a movie in Act 2, there is no kind of care for the characters and no emotional connection to them.  Which then would make Act 2 & 3 not work.  Unless you’re making Batman.

Perhaps Bill is incapable of getting to know someone, which would indicate that he would want to jump right into sex without even going on a date to test the person out.  (Yes, by using the First Rule, it’s possible to learn a lot about a person).

When someone comes back with feedback or notes, listen to them, kindly say, “that’s something to consider” and then immediately switch the topic to:

“So all that aside, who are the companies buying these types of movies?  Remember Wellspring?  They would’ve loved to release this movie.  Who are the other companies out there like Wellspring today?”

That’ll distract them, and pull them into what you need them for.  Now they’re giving you a list of companies like Wellspring! (Which should be written down in case you need to approach them on our own).

You do not need Bill’s advice on how to make a movie (though he will disagree).  You need his advice on how to find the right buyers and get into the right festivals.  Remember that.

Always remember to stay on topic when people like Bill offer feedback.  By saying “that’s something to consider” it puts the topic to rest and allows the rest of the conversation to continue.

Maybe a question like, “Do you think it’s important to find a buyer before a festival premiere?  Cassian Elwes told a friend of Steve Balderson’s the other day on the phone, that with social media as it is today it might be important to find a buyer before it’s ever screened publicly.  But how do you get a buyer without anyone seeing it?”

Move them away from “notes and feedback” and into the other.  Keep them engaged.  Keep them giving you what you want.

If they refuse to engage in any conversation beyond notes and feedback, tell them you have other interested parties and thank them for their time.

If Bill passes, simply smile and say thank you and hang up.  Then call the next sales agent on the list.  And repeat the process until one of them says yes.

As you continue your path, you’ll be inundated with everyone’s two cents on what he or she would do better, what they love, and what they would change.  But keep in mind, that unless that person is writing you a big fat check, or sending the jet to fly you to a screening, none of their feedback really matters at the end of the day.

And if they are sending the jet?  Tell them you’ll be happy to change something about your movie.  But my advice is to not do anything of the sort without a legal agreement in place.

That way, if they fail to deliver, you can get rid of them and revert to the movie to it’s original cut and move on to the next person.