YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE

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

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

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

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

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.)