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)

ACTORS AND THE MEDIA

It always amuses me when actors pretend to get shy around the media.  Most of them, even if they deny it, are actors because they love and crave attention.  As children, they were the first to jump up in front of a group and “perform.”

Many actors are also pretty insecure people.  I mean, think about it.  They turn their life’s objective into avoiding their true selves in exchange for always being somebody else.  The good ones get paid for it.  Sometimes, actors find out there’s very little time left to be themselves, and some might even forget who they used to be all together.

Actors could also be called professional liars.  The good ones are so good at lying, that you actually believe what they’re saying and feeling.  Even though it’s totally fake.  I mean, it’s a movie, right!?  Someone wrote that for him or her to say.  And in some cases, this isn’t always exclusive to their performances on screen.  Sometimes the good actors can achieve amazing results in normal day-to-day life.

Anyway, if you’re a director or producer and you ever come upon an actor who is shy around the media, or afraid to do interviews with the press, you might need to pretend you understand them, and hold their hands, but know, deep down, by the time they get into the interview they’ll be all lit up, performing, doing what they do best.  And they always eat it up.  You’ll see.

Depending on the actor, it may be a good idea to give them a script to follow.  Some actors are brilliant at improvisation.  But many need a back-story, a character arc and a sheet of dialogue.  Or, at least, talking bullet points.

I like to supply my actors with a go-to bullet point list of topics to discuss about our movie.  Questions to answer in a precise way, using careful language.  Sometimes I’ll even include a list of topics to avoid, such as, giving away any plot secrets, or proprietary information.

Another idea I’ve advised other filmmakers in the past, is to be a kind of go-between with the media.  Have the interviewer send you the questions first, so you can look over them and make sure there’s nothing offensive asked, or anything that might cause the project harm.  And, likewise, maybe there’s a question asked the actor would otherwise not know how to answer—so you can tell the actor what to say.

Or, you could simply tell the interviewer you’ll pass along their email address or phone number to the actor and let the actor take it from there.  I guess it depends on which way make you more comfortable.  Some of the more famous actors don’t like having their email or number given out, so in most cases dealing with a celebrity of any kind, this will be the best avenue to take.

Actors are a funny bunch, and of course I was generalizing their personalities at the start of this article.  Not every actor acts like that, and not all of them are ruthless self-absorbed fame-hungry monsters.  Some of my greatest friends are amazing actors and their gifts and talent are greatly appreciated.  Without actors, there’s no such thing as a movie.  So we need them.  And we need to cherish them.  But, when it comes time to promote your movie, you might need to nudge them a little bit this way or that.

CRITICS: USE THEM OR LOSE THEM

Maybe I had it good going to CalArts, because when it came time for a critique of any work (whether it was a script, or a film, or a photograph), we were educated in a way to look at the work that is totally NOT what most people learn.  In addition to style, form, and technique, we were taught to explore the intent of the creator, and to base our critique on how we felt that intent was communicated.  Did the work communicate the intent clearly?  Or was it confusing?

Most people grow up learning that to critique something means to only draw out the negative aspects of something.  Or to talk about what’s missing.  No one is ever taught to look at what’s actually there and critique what they see.  Instead, most people use critique to talk about what they don’t see.  This has spread to our entire culture.  When someone says, “Sorry I’m being critical,” they mean they’re sorry because they are being negative.  If you’re doing it correctly, critique isn’t something to apologize for.  It can become very helpful and beneficial.  But most often, people are bad critics.

Most people—professionals and amateur—have been taught that the best way to critique something is to discuss what is WRONG or what is MISSING.  Or, in most cases, how they’d have done it better.  That kind of criticism is useless because the truth is that if we look at anything long enough we can find what is wrong with it, and what is missing.

Let’s take Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, now listed by The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine as the greatest film of all time (replacing Citizen Kane.  Someone could say that the sequences in the museum, or when Jimmy Stewart is following around Kim Novak, are boring and need work because there’s no dialogue.  But to focus on the fact that there isn’t dialogue, and wrong, that critic fails to see what is there, and he misses the whole point.

The critique in that case might be a bit melodramatic, but I mean it to only illustrate a point.  I’m sure there are people out there who watch VERTIGO and feel the exact same thing (it’s boring, it’s too quiet, there’s no talking; so it must be BAD), even though they are watching what is now considered the greatest film ever made.

When I get a review from a critic, I like to learn about how they SEE what I’ve shown them.  I don’t particularly have an interest in what I haven’t shown them.  If I made a heavy, dark character-study, I’d like to learn more about how they were impacted by that, or what was their insight into how I portrayed those elements.  If I read a review that says it’s a bad movie because it’s not campy or funny, that doesn’t help me at all.  Sure, it relays the message that particular individual is only interested in campy, funny movies, and if I want him to like something it should be campy and funny.  But it doesn’t help me learn about multiple perspectives of the heavy, depressing, character-study.

Now, say my intent was to make a heavy, dark character-study and it ended up campy and funny, and the critic thought it was hilarious, well that would indicate that my execution was done poorly.  And, in that case, the criticism would be very educational and helpful.  But, helpful critique is very rare.

Another thing to remember about criticism is that it’s only about that person’s singular viewpoint and their tastes.  If a critic doesn’t like westerns, he’s not going to like your western no matter how brilliant it is.  Or, if he only likes westerns, he’s not going to be a fan of your Upper West Side romantic comedy.  So when you read a review from a critic, remember that there will always be someone, somewhere, who’s experience watching it was the opposite.

I love reading reviews of my movies that are totally contradictory of each other.  Take my film, THE CASSEROLE CLUB, which is out now on DVD/VOD.  Some critics call it a “masterpiece,” an “emotional tour de force,” and we’ve even won awards for it: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (for Backstreet Boys crooner Kevin Richardson in his debut role) and Best Actress (for Susan Traylor).  And then there are the reviews that say the acting is “horrible” and the movie a “waste of time.”  And after reading the negative reviews, I received the news that the US Library of Congress selected THE CASSEROLE CLUB for their permanent collection.

It’s so fascinating to me to learn how differently people see the very same thing.  I love stuff like that.

As you proceed in your filmmaking path, whether as a director, producer, writer or actor, you’ll find this truth across the board in all aspects of The Industry.  One person will always love something another person hates.  Yin/Yang.  So enjoy it.  If nothing else, it will teach you who are the intelligent people to surround yourself with, and who are the dumb shits to avoid.

BE STRATEGIC, PATIENT

I know that when you’re filming your movie, you’re excited and want to share that excitement with your friends on various social networking sites.  But think twice about posting photos too soon.  Movies take a long time to complete, and in this world of “now, now, now” you might be shooting yourself in the foot by posting things prematurely.

Think of it backwards.  When your movie is about to premiere at a festival, you’ll want to publicize it and get people to go see it.  So, naturally, you’ll want a website and a press kit, photos and such, and a trailer for people to see.  This will get them excited about the film and hopefully they’ll want to see it.  So, I’d suggest launching the trailer for your movie about a month prior to that first screening.

Backing up from there, a month or so before that trailer launch, you’ll want some kind of web presence to showcase some photos and information for festivals.  Maybe you’ll already have a trailer, but my advice is to keep it hidden from the general public.  A password protected Vimeo or unlisted YouTube page work well.

But, before you can submit your movie to festivals, buyers and critics, you’ll have to complete the final sound mix, score it, and do the color timing.  All of those things take time.  Some of those can be done quicker than others if you’re paying top dollar.  But if you’re paying less, it might take four to five months to complete post-production.

Think of it from the audience’s point of view.  When you see a trailer for a movie, and it says “coming soon” at the end, do you expect that to be in a few weeks, a few months, or a couple years?  Ask yourself if it’s a year later, will you still be interested in seeing that movie?  Will you even remember it?

It’s very important to tell your actors, crew, and friends, that when you’re filming your project, it might be the best idea to WAIT and not post any photos or news about the film until after it’s totally complete.

That first premiere screening very well might be—at the earliest—an entire calendar year away.  And most likely the release of that project will be the following year.

I made this mistake when promoting my film FIRECRACKER.  We filmed it in 2003 and couldn’t find distribution for a long time.  I had to invent a way to keep hooking the audience that was already generated, to keep them interested until it came out.  So, first I made a behind-the-scenes documentary (WAMEGO: Making Movies Anywhere).  I released that and used it as a promotional tool for the film, without giving anything about the movie away.

FIRECRACKER was based on a true story, so I gathered up all my research and figured out a way to showcase bits of information on a monthly basis via a “True Story Investigation” section of the website.  This would help pacify the fans who were there already, and would hook new ones.  Without those monthly updates, we likely would’ve started to lose our audience, as they slowly lost interest before the film was eventually released.

It was fun to do all that, but it was a full-time job.  It’s much easier to be strategic with your marketing and wait until the movie will be ready for people to see.  If you tell them about it too soon, you might lose them by the time it’s released.

So take all the photos you want, and make all the behind the scenes clips you can!  But, just be careful about making them public too soon.  Because coming up with a really great idea to maintain awareness of your project to last the next two years can be tough.

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

DISTRIBUTION: SALES AGENTS

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 Sales Agent.

Sales Agents are people who represent dozens, if not hundreds, of movie titles.  They take these films to markets such as Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto.  (Film Markets are not to be confused with Film Festivals, which sometimes happen simultaneously and in conjunction to Film Markets).  While attending these markets, they rent a booth or a space (such as a hotel room), and invite buyers from different distribution companies from all over the world, to stop by their booth and check out their titles.  Sometimes the Sales Agent will aggressively track down certain buyers from different countries with promotional flyers about your film.

The Asylum was the first Sales Agent I worked with and they were downright brilliant.  They are incredibly nice people, they paid their bills, they were actively in touch with us, and sharing with us ways they were selling PEP SQUAD.  They managed to sell my movie all over the globe: Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, China, Greece, the Baltic States, Indonesia, the Middle East, Portugal, Thailand, and Turkey.  Oh, and even Canada.  I can’t tell you how sad (okay, devastated) I was the day I learned The Asylum wouldn’t be actively selling other people’s movies anymore.

Finding a new Sales Agent to replace The Asylum was a bit like being dumped by the love of your life and having to quickly find a new soul mate or risk perishing into the depths of hell forever.  I think I’ve found a nice replacement, but to date they haven’t made as many sales as The Asylum did for us, so I’m waiting to decide if it’s true love or just fond admiration.

In the process of finding the good guys, I worked with a variety of scumbag Sales Agents selling several of my movies.  And I’ve encountered many that were so full of themselves, and so rude, that I ended up not hiring them.

First, remember that you are hiring a Sales Agent.  They aren’t hiring you.  Their egos are sometimes a problem.  To keep their egos well fed, they will often treat you badly so you think you need them, when in all honesty, to keep in business, they need you.  If they don’t have your film on their roster, they’ll have to find someone else’s film.  They cannot afford to remain in business if they aren’t selling as many movies as they can.  So if you took your film to the next sales agent, they’ll be the ones in a loss.

The second lesson is to BEWARE of Sales Agents’ so-called “marketing expenses.”  I’ve been to the Cannes.  I know for a fact it doesn’t cost several hundred thousand dollars to be there.

Most Sales Agents will pad their “marketing expenses” so they can fly First Class, put themselves up at the Carlton, or Hotel du Cap (well over $1,000 a night) and dine at the “in” places, with tasting menus featuring 20 courses, wine pairings, and more.  Yes.  That’s what they spend their money on.  Or, your money, rather.  They don’t use it to sell your movie.  They think they should be treated like Sharon Stone.  Or Madonna.  And somehow they will try and convince you they should be.

Sales Agents will sometimes pay you an advance when they acquire your movie, but then as they sell it to different buyers, they keep all the money that comes in until they recoup their “marketing expenses.”  Unless you’ve read the fine print and capped their expenses, you may never see another cent beyond the advance.

I prefer not getting an advance in exchange for the Sales Agent taking a commission on all sales, and giving me my shares from the first dollars in.  When you’re signing an agreement with a Sales Agent, be sure to discuss this aspect openly.

LOVE THE HATERS

If someone hates your movie, it’s a blessing.  Here’s how to tell.

If you love it or hate it, you have a strong emotion.  Most people believe they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, in a line like this:

love-hate_1

But the truth is, that the emotions for LOVE and HATE exist very close together.  It takes very similar amount of effort to feel one or the other.  The complete opposite of that feeling is indifference.  Nothingness.  So, the reality is, this is what the spectrum looks like:

love-hate_2

So the next time you get a review and someone’s bashing your movie because they absolutely HATE it, give yourself a pat on the back.  Because that person has no idea how much emotion you caused them to feel, and how that alone is an accomplishment.

Embrace the haters.  Because you know that the only real bad review is when someone has no emotion at all.

THE “INDEPENDENT” SPIRIT AWARDS

Did you know that the word “independent” as used by the media, Hollywood, and most filmmakers has actually nothing to do with the true definition of the word?  Did you know that the term “independent” is actually used by those people as a description for a new genre?

If there were any doubt in your mind, you can now rest easy.  Here’s proof.

Your “independent” film is eligible for consideration at the “Independent” Spirit Awards if your film cost less than $20 million.  That’s right.  TWENTY Million Dollars.  (I laughed out loud when I read that.  Literally.  Beyond LOL.)

If Film Independent had any real interest in celebrating the art of true independent filmmaking, they would limit the budget ceiling at $250,000 including post work.  A film made for anything greater than that amount should never be considered.  On that note, they should have a special prize for films made for less than $50,000.  (Currently the ‘no budget’ film category considers any film made for less than $500,000.)

Film Independent does not define “independent” solely on financial terms.  I bet you didn’t know that Film Independent considers a big-budget studio-made film an indie “if the subject matter is original and provocative.”

That means the word Independent is just like Comedy, Drama, or Thriller.  It’s now a genre.

[In terms of financing, Film Independent looks for “economy of means” and “percentage of financing from independent sources.”]

Uh huh.  I bet.

[The film needs to be American, which means it has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in at least two of the following categories: director, writer or producer.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry “Wadjda,” with a Spirit nomination for best first feature, is an American co-production, while the directors of Danish-British-Norwegian docu “The Act of Killing” are U.S. citizens.  Alternately, a film can be considered American if it is set primarily in the U.S. and at least 70% financed by U.S.-based companies.  Everything else is considered international.]

That seems okay to me.  Although, I’d open it up to the International market to be fair.

[To be eligible for the Film Independent “Independent” Spirit Awards, a film needs a commercial run in the calendar year or to have screened in one of these six designated festivals: Los Angeles Film Fest, New Directors/New Films, New York Fest, Sundance, Telluride or Toronto.]

[Nominations for the Spirit Awards are made by committees for three areas: American narrative films, international narratives and documentaries.  The committees include filmmakers (directors, producers, actors, etc.), film programmers and critics, past nominees and members of the board of directors.  The final awards are voted on by the entire Film Independent membership.  In 2013, there were 43 committee members looking at 325 entries.]

So there you have it.  The word “independent” as it relates to movies has been totally redefined.  It no longer means what it says in the dictionary.

Tale of the Emerald Digger

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it! I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. GREEN.”

“Well, yes, it’s an emerald.”

“But nobody has an emerald!  Nobody wants an emerald.  People love diamonds.  They’re used to seeing diamonds.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes, that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s cut different.  It’s square.  It’s green.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it’s round, or marquee shaped, and cut this way, and, well, clear…”

“Oh, you mean – like a diamond?”

“Yes.”

The man with the most exquisite emerald has a choice: Sell the emerald to the diamond buyer for next to nothing – or go to the emerald specialty house.

The digger goes across town to the Jeweler who specializes in emeralds.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says, unwrapping the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. TOO BIG.”

“Well, yes, it’s the largest emerald on earth.  It would make a great necklace.”

“But nobody has an emerald this big!  Nobody wants an emerald necklace.  People love really small and short emeralds.  They love emerald earrings.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s too big, and too heavy.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it was small, tiny even, and cut this way, and, well, not so large…”

“Oh, you mean – like earrings?”

“Yes.”

So the digger takes a good look at his emerald.  It probably once belonged to the Pharaohs of Egypt.  It is the largest most amazing emerald the world has ever seen – or will ever see.  But he’s grown tired of walking all over town.  He’s getting hungry and worn-out.  He needs the money to pay for dinner.  So he goes home to think it over.

Late that night, the distraught digger goes deep into the middle of town to have a secret meeting with an old jewelry cutter.  The digger has one last look at the emerald, admiring its magnificence.  And he hands it over.  The emerald is cut in half, and half again, ending up in dozens of smaller, tiny pieces – cut exactly like the jeweler mentioned.

The next day, the digger returns to the emerald specialty Jeweler.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s exactly what you want.  You’ve seen this every day. There’s nothing shocking here.  It’s usual, typical.  Traditional.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the cloth and dozens and dozens of tiny emeralds spill out into a lovely green pile.

“Oh.  They’re… They’re so small… No, this isn’t at all what I had in mind.”

“Well, but you said people want earrings.  You said people want short and small emeralds.”

“Yes, but we’re going out of business.  The diamond jeweler down the street has been taking all our clients.  Everyone wants a diamond.  So we’re getting rid of our inventory and stocking up on diamonds.  Do you have any diamonds to sell me?”

“No.  I’m an emerald digger.  I hunt for emeralds.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“I see.”

“Come back to see me when you’ve got a diamond.  Or better yet – where is that huge emerald you brought in the other day?”

“Well, I cut it up, to make it perfect for you, so you’d buy it.”

“You idiot!  You idiot!  You didn’t cut up that big emerald to make these smaller stones!  Did you?  We just got a call from the finest museum in the world.  They want to pay big bucks for an emerald like that one.  Because emeralds are going extinct!  It was one of the last remaining on earth!  What with all this diamond craze happening, it would’ve been the finest emerald anybody ever saw!  Oh, that’s too bad.  What a pity.  We really could have made a splash with that one.”

The End.

DESIGNING MOVIE POSTERS

When it comes to design, there are no rules.  But there is such a thing as bad taste.  Bad taste on purpose can be a great way to communicate your product—especially if it’s a campy satire.  But if you’ve made a gothic horror or character drama, you don’t want to have crappy looking artwork.

There’s a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that looks like the latest hit.  There’s also a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that is totally misleading, just so that company can make a buck when the film is released.

My film FIRECRACKER could be cataloged as a Gothic horror.  But it is far from a horror film.  But the distribution company had the idea of marketing it as a horror film, with blood dripping off the letters and so forth.  That was a horrible idea.  I fought them, and got them to release the film with the Key Art I had designed, which communicated more honestly about the atmosphere and tone of the film.

My film CASSEROLE CLUB could be cataloged as a drama, or character study.  It has some campy moments (it takes place in 1969, so the costumes and art direction lend itself to looking campy even if the subject matter isn’t funny at all), and might have some sexual situations, but there really isn’t anything “sexy” about it.  The distributors for that film wanted to market the film as a “sexy” and titillating soft-core exposé.  I thought that would be a horrible mistake as well because the people expecting to see a sexy and soft-core movie would be totally disappointed.  But why did they want to market it that way?  Because sex sells.  That’s why.

My thinking is: if you want me to make and then sell you “Babes & Bikini Bingo: Summer Camp” or “Haunted Carnival, Part 3” I’m happy to do so, but don’t do something dishonest by marketing a movie that isn’t the movie.

When you design your movie poster, it’s important to remember that although different fonts can sometimes look cool, they do not look cool when you place them all together at the same time.  I always cringe when I see a design that features more than two or three different fonts.  It’s a dead giveaway that the designer just discovered Photoshop when you get the sense they had an urge to use EVERY font they could find.

I try and keep fonts simple and usually only use two.  One font is used for the main title, and another for actors names, blurbs, and other copy.  I try and make sure that the font I use for the main title is not used anywhere else in the design.  Using it more than once diminishes the impact of the main title.  So I always find a complementary font to use for everything else.  Remember: less is more.

With regards to the image or visual art, think about a memorable moment in the film and use it.  Before someone sees your movie, they don’t know what that image means, but after they see your movie, next time they see the artwork, it’ll remind them of your movie.  I try and avoid showing something if it’s giving too much away.  Like, if your movie is a murder mystery you probably wouldn’t want to show the killer on the cover holding a knife, because it would ruin the viewing experience.  But maybe if you wanted to throw off the viewer, you would show each character holding a weapon—then the viewer won’t know whodunit.

Saul Bass was a great designer of movie posters.  You might want to look him up.  His designs were far from the traditional Key Art you see today.  But, in this world of the Black Market Punk Rock Film Distribution, Key Art that is actual Artwork might be the perfect idea.