Insight for Filmmakers – how to persevere

If you’ve read my blog, you’ve heard me rave about Eric Sherman, his knowledge and skill on filmmaking, so I won’t belabor that here.

This article, comes to me at an interesting point in time, where although I’m not done with a feature (even though I have several written and waiting for funding) I am working on slowly releasing what I’ve shot of my Austin-Texas-based sci-fi webseries, 7 Shades of Lenity, and am structuring my marketing strategy as we speak… er, write and read.

This article couldn’t have been more timely, and with a city full of fellow filmmakers, I gotta share this gem. So, if you haven’t subscribed to his blog, I highly recommend you do, and if you are about to produce your own film, I highly recommend you get in touch with him and take some consulting services, ‘cos this man knows what he’s talking about!

Read on:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sophomore Jinx – Part Two

Here are some steps you can take, in no particular order, toward achieving that full-blown moviemaking career:

1. Prepare your marketing plan. One of the biggest flaws of all beginning filmmakers is an unwillingness to recognize that when you’re done making your movie, you now enter a marketing phase where the result of all your creative drive, energy and money is no longer considered a work of art, but a commodity to market.

Therefore, as part of your movie’s development process, consider how to access a target audience appropriate for your movie. Is your picture more likely to appeal to college or rural; fans of a particular genre; audiences who live in a certain geographic area; should it be a spring or fall release (the two seasons you’re most likely to get screen space), etc?

Of the hundreds of U.S. and foreign festivals, which ones – based on past screeening lists – would be most interested in your subject matter and style? Women in Film and Variety print guide lists of all the film fesstivals.  There is also Chris Gore’s excellent book, THE ULTIMATE FILM FESTIVAL SURVIVAL GUIDE.

When you make a list of all these elements, you’ll begin to have a marketing schedule which is just as rigorous as your production schedule, and when your picture rolls out of the lab, you’ve already laid the groundwork for a systematic festival routine.

2. Raise the money for your marketing plan at the same time as your raise the money for your production. Now that you know what it will cost to market your film, make sure to include a line item for it in your budeget.  Though many filmmakers try to keep their financial needs as low as possible in order to demonstrate their frugality to investors, remember that the business people to whom you’re going for your production funds will be impressed rather than turned off that you’re showing foresight.

3. Make the keynote of your marketing plan be to “stay in view.”  For most artists of any stripe, one of the toughest challenges is to continue to assert the value of their work, even after the world hasn’t handed you a fortune and/or rave reviews and/or a big award.  In the film world, one of the answers is to pace out your film festival entries and hoped-for paticipations.  Most filmmakers put all their time and attention on production, and virtually none on marketing, until they’re done with the picture.  Then with no money and very little patience, they try to blitz Sundance and a few other festivals every week in the U.S. alone.  It makes sense to research the dates and selection criteria in advance so that you have a steady stream of potential showings. Not only will that keep your own hopes alive, but it gives you something to say to investors each time they call to find out “what’s up?” You’ll have real news for them, and it could last for a year or more.

In addition to the festival circuit, the press offers opportunities for exploitation of you and your film. For example, your hometown paper will probably want to know that you made a movie; same for your college and/or high school paper; even your local radio station. Contact them. Let them know what you’ve done, and the odds you faced and dealt with. Remember, of course, that the press responds to controversy. Next time you read your local paper or listen to your local entertainment industry report, notice how nearly every item has something controversial associated with it. What can you find about you and your work that stirs emotions?

For instance, are you the member of some minority group; are you older/ younger than the norm; is your topic out of the mainstream; did you have an unusual hurdle to leap; what special demons did you conquer?

4.  Prepare a “pressbook” and keep it alive and growing. Start with a biography and your own press release about your movie. If you have to, interview yourself, edit it, and include it in your p.r. package. You must know someone in a Chamber of Commerce, a Lion’s Club, a Rotary, a Kiwanis. Get them to invite you to speak. Have photos taken of yourself with a business person.  EVERYONE has the “director pointing” photo. How many have the director talking to a local business leader?

Every time something is written about you or your movie, photocopy it onto your movie’s letterhead and organize them into your pressbook by date (most recent on top) or perceived prestige of the item and journal.  When you get too many mentions to include them all, start preparing “clip compilations sheets” where you pull out key quotes and display them in an appealing array.

5.  Recognize that you’re a moviemaker, not someone who just happened to make a movie. You’re a potential source of continuing product, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Business people and prospective investors (not to mention distributors and exhibitors) respond to the sense of continuity – the sense that “there’s more where that came from.” This element might even cause you to receive your royalty checks from the distributor more quickly!

6. Contact agents and managers. Prepare a letter of introduction to appropriate agents and managers. The Hollywood Creative Directory provides an excellent list of both.  Don’t “paper” the whole lot of them, but instead pick 20-30 key groups, probably those that you’ve seen mentioned in Variety or other industry journals. All of these firms respond to “buzz,” so don’t just say, “I’m a great filmmaker and you should represent me.” Much better to say, “Hello, I’m Joe. My recent picture just showed at the (Name the City) festival, where the local Gazette said, “The audience loved it.”  Let the prospective agent or manager know that you’ve got three more scripts ready to go (or at least “in development”), and that you’re seeking representation. Then – key point – make sure to send a follow-up letter when you have a new festival or article to mention. Make each contact with the agency show that you’re taking pro-active steps to develop your own career. Remember that an agency is not in business to get you work, at least at first.  They’re in business to get you a better deal when you create the work.

7. Stay in regular touch with your investors. A periodic newsletter about your promotional activities will impress them with your professionalism and ambition.

8. Stay in touch with your cast and crew. Most low-budget cast and crew never hear again from their producers and directors after the picture is shot.  They’ll be shocked to hear from you, and even more surprised that you care and that you’re grateful for their services.  A friendly acknowledgement can go a long way to ensure that you’ll have willing participants next time around.

9. Stay future-oriented.  Most indies get stuck on the first picture, primarily to make sure it gets seen and properly lauded.  That can easily take a year or two, and by the time you’ve ended the cycle, it can take you another year or two to get another picture going, at which time you’re yesterday’s news.  It may be much easier to get the second one going right on the heels of the first.  It provides a signal to the industry that you’re here to stay, and your first picture becomes all the more valuable.

10. Remember that it’s all a game. The film business and your place in it can start seeming mighty serious.  In fact, it can become downright overwhelming. But your purpose (which we’ll presume, as Warner Bros. founder Harry Warner said, is to educate, entertain and enlighten) is senior to any barriers you’ll encounter.  When you‘re feeling low and nearly hopeless, recognize that decisions and energies which got you there in the first place will get you there again.