HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 4 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE, TWO, and THREE.

The STUCK! shoot was marvelous.

One of the best parts was the food.  See, when the cast and crew are only a handful of people it is possible to go to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You can eat superior food.  Feeding 42 people on a traditional crew likely means scraps and bulk-made meals.  And there is no intimacy about that kind of thing.  With a set like mine we eat homemade slow-cooked masterpieces every night.  We can sit around the same table.  It becomes a far more rewarding experience.

Like WATCH OUT, the STUCK! shooting days were just as efficient.  We’d work from 9 AM and wrap around 5 or 6 PM.  We worked every day with no days off.  It took less than two weeks to complete.

The reviews were amazing:  Film Threat writes, “Balderson just doesn’t make simple films, and this is no exception. It’s not in the words, or the plot or the story; but it’s in the air, it’s in the beat, it’s in the very soul of the work.” The LA Weekly said it was “Revolutionary.”  And UK Critic MJ Simpson writes, “Steve Balderson is the best-kept secret in American independent cinema. He makes his own films – which are unfailingly brilliant – and the rest of the world very, very gradually catches up with him.”

In February, 2010, the American Cinematheque hosted the LA Premiere of STUCK! at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  The cast was there with me to present the film and do a Q&A after the screening.  One of the people in the audience mentioned that because all the actors were there, talking enthusiastically about this new way of filmmaking, it spoke volumes about the process.

I signed a deal with a sales agent who is selling STUCK! to buyers around the globe.

In the fall of 2010, I put together another top-secret film shoot and produced my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB.  A couple new stars joined the group for this shoot: namely Kevin Richardson (from the Backstreet Boys), Daniela Sea (from the L Word), and acclaimed stage actress Jennifer Grace.  We made the film in Palm Springs in exactly the same way we made STUCK! and WATCH OUT.  The entire experience is captured in director Anthony Pedone’s documentary CAMP CASSEROLE.

The shoot was a lot like summer film camp.  We rented a few vacation homes that would serve as the locations, and also would house all of us.  Staying together in the same place was magical.  Each day we’d gather to film scenes, and if any actors weren’t working, they would lounge by the pool, read a book, and basically turn their time on the set as a vacation.  This aspect of the shoot was the best.  I made sure that we’re doing the work we need to do, but it’s just as important for me to create an atmosphere that is a rewarding experience personally.

Each evening we would have a meal sponsored by one of the cast or crew, or friends and family.  Imagine being at summer camp and coming together over a meal and singing Kumbaya.  That’s exactly what it was like!  Only instead of singing Kumbaya, per se, several people would pull out their guitars and do an impromptu acoustic concert; or, there would be fun short films being made; or, night swimming and gazing up at the stars with a great conversation.

One of my favorite moments filming THE CASSEROLE CLUB came whenever we needed to do some exterior shots around the Palm Springs area.  We’d just jump in my car and drive around until we’d find the greatest place, jump out, film it, then rush back to the car and speed away as if nothing ever happened.  This is the kind of freedom I love work in.  It’s exhilarating.

THE CASSEROLE CLUB premiered at Visionfest`11 in New York City where we were nominated for 9 Independent Vision Awards and won 5: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Kevin Richardson, Best Actress for Susan Traylor, Best Production Design.  And the most overwhelming compliment came in 2012 when the U.S. Library of Congress invited the film to be a part of its permanent collection.

Making films in today’s distribution landscape is drastically different than it was even a few years ago.  It is very important to spend as little money possible to make your films.  If your film cost $200,000 that’s fine.  But maybe you could try to find a way to make two movies for $100,000 instead of putting all your eggs in one basket.

Be realistic when you’re planning your expenses.  Regardless of the storyline, regardless of the actors, stars or location, if you think your project will make $100,000 in sales, your best bet at sustainability is to make sure that project costs less than that.

These are just some of the ways the distribution landscape has changed the way films are made.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 2 of 4

Click here to read PART ONE.

By that point the industry had changed so dramatically I wasn’t sure what was happening.  HD Cameras were becoming technically more advanced.  They were finally beginning to have the look and feel of celluloid.  Shooting on actual film was becoming obsolete.

Then I got an idea to do a documentary on the life of my friend—Los Angeles icon, writer/poet, and punk rock royalty Pleasant Gehman (aka universally celebrated belly dance star Princess Farhana).  Traveling with her, and filming her for a year, really helped put my career path in perspective.  Why was I making movies to begin with?

I didn’t need to have fancy equipment trucks lining the streets so it would “look” like I was making a movie to passers by.  I didn’t want the phony photograph with hoards of crew people posed behind me while I stood nose-to-the-sky next to the 35mm Arriflex (or today’s version: The RED).  I know those kinds of filmmakers and that isn’t the kind I aspire to be.  My desire is about what’s on screen.  What is there for the viewer, regardless of the format.

When a person is watching a movie they can’t see what kinds of snacks are on the craft service table, or if any of the actors had personal make-up trailers.  So why should I waste the money on frivolous stuff that doesn’t enhance the image?  Why worry about it?

I realize that many aspiring filmmakers out there try to mask the fact they don’t know what they’re doing by “playing the part” of Director.  To passers by, so long as they “look like” a director, they will feel like a director.  And the equipment, crew, cash, and drama of the “production” become props in their disguise.  And without those props they would feel amateurish and worthless.  And they will often talk down to the ones who don’t follow in their footsteps.

During this time, I learned David Lynch was planning to downsize from celluloid to video with a project called INLAND EMPIRE.  Getting rid of all the “production” associated with film and moving to digital has tremendous cost savings.  By omitting shooting on celluloid, we filmmakers would omit having to house and feed 42 people.  We also omit the excessive equipment rental costs and several hundred thousand dollars of unneeded expenses associated with a project shot on film.

I started thinking really seriously about the way Kubrick shot his movies.  And the way Cassevetes liked to work.

They preferred a kind of intimate production.  One where the crew was made up of just a few people: they did their own camera work, had just one or two people on the crew (sound, lighting) and a few actors.  Why, it would be no different than a few friends shooting in their backyards like we all did in film school.  It would appear to passers by to be exactly the same.  Amateurish.  Except that each person in that small group would be respecting their craft.  I realized that so long as there is a respect for what you’re doing, the appearance to passers by is totally irrelevant.

There would be no glamorous shoot, no luxuries, nor stylists applying make-up to actors in high-back chairs with their names stenciled on them.  It would be punk rock, baby.  We’d have to do our own work.  Lift our own camera case, do our own make-up and hair, bring our own lunch to the set.  Passers by wouldn’t stop.  They’d keep right on walking, paying us no mind at all.  We would be free of onlookers.  We would also be free of actors or crew people who placed more emphasis on the appearance of the set than they did their actual craft.

That possibility excited me to no end.

(To be continued next week.)

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)

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.

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.

MOVIES & HOUSES

I think it is totally illogical the way movies are sold nowadays.  Sales Agents really need to figure out a new way to do business or soon, what with the coming of VOD into the everyday consumer routine, they will all be out of a job.

When one goes to sell or buy a house, there is a very clear asking price to begin negotiations.  I think movies should be treated the same way.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to mega studio super budget movies that are all done in-house and have nothing to do with the rest of the world.  I’m talking about independently made films looking for distribution.

Say you’ve made a movie for $75,000.  I think it’s best to just say it.  If you try to make it sound like your movie is worth $500,000 you’ll look foolish.  Likewise, if a typical three-bedroom house in Kansas costs one thing and you’re asking five times that, you are likely not going to sell your house.

Of course there are dumb shits in the world who will pay for something that costs more than its worth.  But even though it seems those types have the run of the place, they really are quite rare.  So I suggest finding out what your movie is worth on a realistic level and just tell people that’s what you want for it.

If you say you want $75,000 for worldwide rights, expect an offer for anywhere $50,000 or even lower.  If your selling worldwide rights, that would be the end of the deal.  No royalties, nothing else.  There is a lot of greed out there, naturally, so people would rather “lease” their movie, or “rent it” like they would a residential property.  But, I say, just sell the damn thing and move on.

Of course, location has a lot to do with selling a house.  For instance, a $300,000 house in Kansas would be worth about $3.2million in Los Angeles, or five times that based on square footage in New York City.

Think about your movie in terms of genre and star power.  If you have Julia Roberts in your movie, you’ll likely be able to ask $3.2million for it even if it only cost $200,000 to make.  Do you have a Victorian mansion, or a two-story duplex, or a mid-century modern ranch-style?  Is the home you’re selling sit in a desirable neighborhood, or is it on the wrong side of the tracks?  Is it a horror comedy, coming of age drama, or musical?

You can try and disguise your movie all you want, but at the end of the day, it might help you to understand your movie from a realistic perspective.  Bring in someone to evaluate the worth of your film, and strategize the best way to get it out there.

If you’ve made a movie for $75,000 it might serve you better to release it yourself.  For that amount you only have to sell 4,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  That isn’t a huge ordeal.  But, on the flip-side, if you’ve made a movie for $300,000 you’ll have to sell 15,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  While that’s not out of the question, it’s a lot easier to sell less.  So keep your costs as low as possible.  Or remember that if you’re selling a home, it’s best to get as much as you can and then move to a town where you can get a lot more for less.

WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK? (Part 2 of 2)

Opinions of your film will run all over the place.  You’ll see.  It is important to remember that a person’s opinion isn’t actually communicating to you about your movie, but rather, that person is sharing something about their personal inner self.

If the acting in your film is fantastic, and someone tells you that the acting is horrible, what they’re really telling you is why they didn’t connect to it, or that there’s something about their lives which kept them from liking it.  Maybe it hit too close to home?  Maybe they have a similar history to those characters and those old emotions, buried so deep they can’t even see them anymore, are coming to the surface subconsciously and preventing them from letting those feelings escape.  So they hate the acting.

One person will say they hate the music while another will say they love it.  One person will say the flow of the movie is trance like, while another will say it’s jarring.  One person will say that the writing seems forced, while others will say it feels genuine.

There will be sales agents who say these things too.  It’s pretty common for Hollywood in general to always find something about your movie they hate.  You’ll see.  There will be distribution companies, reps, film festivals, anybody and everybody, who will insist their ideas and opinions are fact—and the funny thing is—they will all contradict each other.

That happens every time I get ready to sell a film or promote it at festivals.  Every time.  And it will likely happen every time for you, too.  So my advice is to somehow learn how to let it bounce off of you.  Keep going.  There will be someone, somewhere, who loves it.  Prepare yourself for an endless barrage of rejection one after the next.  Eventually it’ll all work out.  Keep going until the movie is shared publicly with as many people as possible.

You’ll learn that after gathering everyone’s opinions, you’ll be surprised to see that every element in the entire film will be loved at least once, and also, hated at least once.  For every person who likes this, there will be another who hates the same thing and loves something else, which was hated by the other guy.  This is just how life works.

Learning all that has helped me identify when a project becomes true to my vision and perfect for me.  And that is all I can do.  That’s all anyone can do.

When I share rough cuts of my films with professional editors in Los Angeles and NYC, and other filmmakers, and well-known actors who have worked with some of the greatest directors of our time, their opinions don’t change my own perspective.  I share it with them out of curiosity.  Some people need to hear other people’s points of views in order to help define their own.  I’m not like that.  It could be because I’m more visual, instead of verbal or auditory.  I’m pretty sure it’s all about how the brain works and how each person processes information.

The people who need to hear what other people think so they know what to think are usually the types who hear something negative and try to “fix” it.  But, if they did that every time a new opinion came in, there would be nothing left.  It would be a big black void with some credits playing.  Although, even that could end up gone if someone else didn’t like the font.

Of course, I’m always fascinated in hearing other people’s perspectives of any movie I make.  I’m so proud of a film when I complete it, of course it feels good to feel the pats on the back.  It’s exactly like being a parent.  When your kid makes a good grade or wins a contest, it feels good.  And, likewise, when that kid is bullied, it hurts.  But bullies are out there, and there’s nothing we can do about it as parents.

I’m also aware that, like food, some people may not like the way it tastes.  That’s okay.  Critiques don’t teach me how to be truer to my vision.  They only teach me how to better appeal to the critic.  If I’ve made a risotto with white truffles, and the person eating it doesn’t like Italian food, there’s no way I’ll win them over.  If my objective is to win that person over, I’ll have to make what they like.

If my objective is to have the best Italian restaurant on the block, I need to focus on making the best Italian I can and be true to my vision, instead of worrying about the people who don’t like Italian and would rather eat Chinese.  And, likewise, if my intention is to create a New Wave Italian, classic Italian purists might not like it.

Be true to your own perspective.  And, keep going.

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.

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).