GOING GLOBAL

I grew up in a small Kansas town, and when I returned home from film school it seemed the most logical place to begin making films.  Of course, people on the coasts thought I was nuts, but where else can you close down an entire street without having to worry about the police or any passers-by bothering you?

My first three features were filmed in Kansas.  It was only when I traveled to Macon, Georgia, for a film festival there, that I felt so comfortable in the town, I could see how easily it would be to make a film there.  So I did.  It felt like I’d graduated to the next level somehow.

After shooting in Macon, I decided to venture even further from the roost and shoot something in Palm Springs.  It was an exhilarating shoot.  Partly because it’s allegedly against the law to film anything inside Palm Springs city limits without having permission from the Powers That Be, permits, insurance, and all that.  So we just didn’t tell anyone, and made our movie anyway.

The next year, when we were headed to the Raindance Film Festival in London, I thought, well, if we’re all going to be there we might as well make a movie at the same time.  It was an absolute thrill.  Much like with the California shoot, London is beyond strict when it comes to permits, insurance, and permission from the Powers That Be, and so forth.  And, like our prior escapade, I decided to do it stealth and not say a word to anyone.  We got away with it.

I don’t do drugs.  And the rush that came with filming guerrilla style, essentially illegally, became so addictive I couldn’t stop!  After stealing London and Paris (for a quick scene at the Eiffel Tower), I set my sights on Hong Kong.  We filmed a week in LA and then flew to Hong Kong where we filmed an additional three weeks.  Hong Kong was more relaxed, and filmmaker-friendly than all the other cities, but it was still under-the-radar and more than once we filmed someplace we weren’t supposed to be.

How does one accomplish these things?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Google Earth and Google Maps makes it possible to “walk around” the streets and find locations, restaurants to eat in for lunch, alleyways to hold a staging area, and directions for subway travel times and so forth.  We didn’t need to hire any location scout or send someone to take pictures.  Google had already done all that for us!

It was pretty easy to post casting calls in both the UK and in Hong Kong, and all auditions were held via Skype, or on password protected YouTube or Vimeo pages.

In both places I had great help “on the ground” from the actors who would appear in the film.  We took advantage of shooting in areas they knew about, or perhaps places they lived.  In Hong Kong, our local producer even arranged for us to film the climactic fight sequence in a penthouse with terraces and more!

It might seem daunting at first to go to a far flung destination and shoot a movie without ever having been there before, but I’m here to say it can be done.  And, it is highly recommended.  The pure joy you’ll have coming home, knowing you made a movie in a foreign land… It’s something you can treasure forever.

FESTIVAL PREMIERES: What Do They mean?

One of my consulting clients recently asked me to help her clarify the difference between the various types of film festival premieres, and help her analyze her film festival strategy.

She asked, “What are World Premieres as compared to, say, Regional and/or Local Premieres?  More specifically, can I have a local premiere or a U.S. Premiere before the World Premiere, or is there a specific one that is supposed to happen first?”

Filmmakers and the media throw the word “premiere” around so often in the film world, I can understand how it can sometimes be confusing.  For the purpose of this article, we’re talking about various types of film festival premieres.  Or premieres that independent filmmakers should be concerned with.  We’re not talking about the red carpet “premieres” that Hollywood might have in London, New York, or Los Angeles that have nothing to do with a film festival.  Those types of “premieres” are usually held for publicity purposes to kick off a global theatrical release.

At film festivals, when you have a World Premiere, that means it’s the first time your movie will screen publicly in the world.  Some film festivals only accept films with World Premiere status, such as Sundance.  If you have already screened at another festival prior you could be disqualified from participation.  Some film festivals do not require a World Premiere status; so it’s important know their rules before you submit your movie.  I advise people to submit to the festivals that require a World Premiere first, because you can always submit to the other festivals later.

Likewise, there are festivals that require a country or regional kind of Premiere Status.  A US Premiere is the first time the film screens publicly in the US, and a NYC Premiere means its the first time the film is screened in NYC, and so forth.

My consulting client continued, “A Chicago festival that runs in mid-October is where I want to be the official Premiere of my short film…but…an L.A. festival that I also want to submit to is hosting their event during the first week of October and their notifications of acceptances/rejections are released two months before the Chicago notifications.  If I get into both festivals, can I still designate the Chicago one as a ‘World’ premiere even if I already screened at the L.A. one a few days prior?  Also, does any of this premiere lingo (world, U.S., International, Regional, LA, NY, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, etc.) used at festivals, to distinguish one premiere from another premiere, really matter?”

I always suggest entering as many festivals as you can.  Sometimes one is limited by funding (if you entered all of them you’d spend thousands on submission fees).  If you get accepted into two or more festivals that each require a World Premiere, you always have the option to decline being in the less desirable.  In this case, I suggested if she gets into both the LA and Chicago fests, to screen in both.  I don’t see the trouble in saying your World Premiere is in Chicago—especially if the LA screening date was just within a few days of the Chicago date.

The use of the word “premiere” in various fests is just used to promote the fest itself.  If they can tell their regional newspapers that they have movies that have never before been seen in St Louis, for example, then it could draw more of a crowd because it sends the signal if someone wants to see your movie, they better come see it because they may not get another chance.

When my movie CASSEROLE CLUB got into Raindance, we had to promise it would be a UK Premiere, but they didn’t care whether or not the film previously screened in the US, etc.  But, when it was time to see if we could get into Berlinale, Berlin said we couldn’t be considered because we’d already screened at Raindance.  They wanted a World Premiere (or at least a European Premiere).  Now, had I been accepted to both Raindance and Berlinale, and had their dates been closer, I might not even mention Raindance, and if Berlin found out, I could have told Berlin that the Raindance screening was an unfinished test screening, or “Sneak Peek” and that the “finished” movie would show at Berlin for the first time, making it a World Premiere.  (I haven’t tried that kind of scenario yet, so I’m not sure if it would even work, but it seems plausible to me and Berlin might buy that).

Lastly, I think any “premiere” lingo is really about marketing and festivals just want to make sure they have ticket-buying customers.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 3 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE and TWO.

We began doing research on the best equipment to invest in, best sound package, and best HD camera (we judged each camera based on the level of color captured, best sound captured, and overall user experience).  Months later, we had the whole set up.

I was ready to make my next narrative feature.  And I wouldn’t need so much money after all.  By owning my own equipment, omitting unnecessary personnel and expenses, and keeping costs as low as possible, it would be possible to make a feature film for little more than the price of a used Toyota.

This also appealed to investors.  Distribution has changed significantly since the glory days of the million-dollar buys at Film Festivals.  That simply wasn’t happening any more.  A top sales rep told me, “no company is buying low-budget independently made films for more than $50,000 up front.  And if you get that much you’d be one of the lucky ones.”

The first project to test if my new renegade style of filmmaking would even work or not, was an adaptation of Joseph Suglia’s dazzling novel WATCH OUT.  Could I really make a feature-length movie using only two people on my crew, with me doing all the camerawork, and still make it high-quality art?

The answer was a big loud YES.

WATCH OUT, which became my third feature film, was shot in two weeks.  Our working days were incredibly light.  We’d start shooting at 9 AM and on a few days we were done by 4 PM.  It felt like summer camp and everyone had a ball.

The film was highly praised by critics as “One of the great cult films of all time, (MJ Simpson).”  WATCH OUT also premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London to sold-out crowds, where it was nominated for Best International Feature.

A review in Film Threat wrote, “(Balderson) makes movies that are so gorgeous that it’s not unreasonable to say that, cinematographically at least; he’s the equal of an Argento or Kubrick in their prime. Some people have perfect vocal pitch, Steve has perfect visual composition.”

I repeated the road-show tour concept we did for FIRECRACKER and released WATCH OUT theatrically in 2008 to sold-out audiences in the “Stop Turning Me On” world tour, to promote the self-distributed DVD release several months later, where it debuted at #24 on Amazon.com’s Top 100.

The third and final installment of the WAMEGO TRILOGY on DIY Filmmaking (WAMEGO: ULTIMATUM) chronicles how we did it.

Once I knew we could do it, I decided to raise the bar a bit more and experiment with a cast of all well-known actors.  The production would cost and be the same = the film would be shot in my new renegade style, without permits and in a secretive manner.  There would be no equipment trucks lining the street, no craft service table, no excessive lighting or camera gear, no substantial crews, or anything to attract attention.  The cast and crew would resemble tourists, which would give the production the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

With no make-up or costume person the cast would be required to do their own make-up, take care of their own costumes.  We’d all be staying in people’s homes, not hotels, and would have to accept there would be no cash per diem.

I approached several stars, some I’d worked with before, and others I hadn’t, and to my astonishment, they all agreed.

That project, my fourth film, became STUCK!

When I called SAG to ask them if they had special deals for projects under $50,000 they laughed at me and said, “It’s impossible to make a feature-length film for less than $50,000.”  They also said I “needed to seek professional help.”  Actual words.

But, they were wrong.  I had just proven it was possible with WATCH OUT.  I thought about telling them, but decided that they were just like those insecure filmmakers who needed all that phony “stuff” for passers-by.  Trying to educate SAG on the reality of the world was going to be a waste of time.

(To be continued next week)

IN WITH THE NEW

Each New Year’s Eve I try and be in bed as early as possible.  My favorite thing is to celebrate by having a great dinner and having a really nice sleep.  That way, I can wake up feeling refreshed and focused, ready to start the first day of the New Year in clarity.  It’s also quiet—no calls or emails to answer—because most everyone else stayed awake waiting for midnight to roll around, and are likely still asleep.  It’s really a wonderful way to start the year.

2013 was a wild ride, to say the least.

In January I produced and directed my 13th feature film – a romantic comedy from Jim Lair Beard’s acclaimed screenplay OCCUPYING ED.  It was a welcome diversion from the pain of being blind-sided, betrayed and abandoned by my partner of 14 years two months earlier.  I was dreading the new year, but with the help of a new film and some great new friends, I managed to repair the broken heart, keep my spirits up and navigate into a new future.

While I was producing the new film, I completed my previous movie, FAR FLUNG STAR, which was filmed in Hong Kong.  Critic Richard Uhlig calls it, “a Visually-stunning gem, a NORTH BY NORTHWEST for the digital age.  This caper film doesn’t let you rest for a second.”  What a compliment!  You can watch the film here: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/farflungstar

FAR FLUNG STAR premiered at London’s Raindance Film Festival in September, where I met up with my mom’s cousins Karen and James Lowther.  Karen is an author (her amazing new book THE PERFECT CAPITAL is out now), and James is co-founder of M&C Saatchi, one of the world’s largest ad agencies.  The Lowthers invited me to stay at their country house called Holdenby.  It was magical.

While in London I also taught my first Masterclass on Maverick Filmmaking to actors and aspiring filmmakers.  Teaching is an inspirational experience and I’m looking forward to doing it more frequently.

I also traveled to Santa Barbara, the wilds of Maine, Paris France, and even down to Texas (where I spent a surreal weekend at a festival with my friend Jane Wiedlin, her man Travis, and Rutger Hauer and his wife).

2013 also brought the passing of my dear friend, the legendary Hollywood actress Karen Black.  Karen starred in several of my films and became a dear friend to me over the years.  While losing her to a rare cancer was heartbreaking, reflecting on her amazing life and career and the fun we had together has been inspiring.  Karen planned her own funeral, and it was the first funeral I’ve attended that was actually fun!  Sure, everyone was moved and in tears, but the stories we all shared were hilarious and everyone was laughing out loud.  To have known Karen, and to have had the privilege of being one of her “insider” friends, has made my life immeasurably richer.  Though I will miss her, the support and encouragement she gave me will live with me forever.

I come to the end of 2013 feeling renewed and invigorated.  What started off fairly depressing has ended with much hope for the future.  Between several new film projects, some commercial work with 502 Media Group, the new teaching gigs and a new editing suite featuring the latest in technology, I’m raring to hit the new year with gusto and with creativity cooking on all the burners.

Join me!  There is no better time to finally put that pen to paper and write that script you’ve always wanted to.  Start a new project!  Travel and see something magical and expand your horizons!  Eat a wonderful meal with friends and dare to dream the impossible.  There is proof all around you that those seemingly impossible things are just within reach.  So grab them.