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November 30 at 2:15pm

Why The Indie Film Industry Needs Producers

Time and time again, I get the impression that the “Film Industry” generally does not value producers. I suppose I shouldn’t deduce that The Studios’ abandonment of Producer Overhead First Look Deals means that the business doesn’t value Producers, and just that The Studios need to control costs or that they have other ways of accessing content, but…

Well, it’s hard not to feel that it’s just that Producers aren’t respected. I suppose that financiers willingness to under pay Producers should not lead me to think that they don’t know how much a Producer does. Maybe they are just trying to get a good deal. I suppose that I could take it as flattering that experienced folks in the business, assume that my overhead is covered, that my assistant’s salary is taken care of.
So what is it that Producers do for the Film Industry at large?
  1. Producers bring new investors into the business, both in terms of sourcing them, and structuring deals that make sense from an investors’ perspective
  2. Producers look out for investors’ needs (substantially more than distributors do), as Producers think long term and need private equity to stay in the game.
  3. Producers provide development supervision to get the scripts right — and they usually get a lot more writing done without additional costs — because the authors know they are doing it to get the best movie made, and not just to justify their jobs.
  4. Producers inspire talent to embrace work for affordable yet just rates — because everyone knows that the producer is doing also for the love but for a whole lot longer.
  5. Producers counter-balance industry pressure to increase costs and keep movies’ budgets at levels that make sense — which is good for the industry.
  6. Producers innovate — be it in the search to deliver a better film or to control costs, innovation is in their blood.
  7. Producers develop talent and take the chances on emerging artists.
  8. Producers keep in touch with the audience, weighing where their tastes and habits are.
  9. Producers bring content, talent, technology, audiences, investors together.
  10. Producers help show the business and the culture where they might aspire to be going.


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November 25 at 12:19pm

Jon Reiss on The New Way To Think Of Theatrical

I wasn’t at DIY Days. If I had been, perhaps I could have saved some time that I just spent brainstorming and writing it all down. Dang.

Jon puts a lot of good stuff out there. With most of the new crop of Sundance films having gotten their golden tickets this week, their makers would do well to listen up to the words that Mr. Reiss speaks. Is that you?
And if you look at the list of To Dos that I served up on that last post, you would do wise to heed his advice and fire your DP and hire a Producer of Distribution & Marketing. Open your ears:

And here’s a nice round up of Jon’s talk from Sheri Candler.

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November 23 at 1:45pm

The Twenty New Rules: What we all MUST TRY to do prior to shooting

I am prepping a new film with the shortest amount of time I have ever had to prep a movie. It is also one of the more ambitious projects I have been involved in. There is so much to do I can’t afford to squander any time (luckily I have been prepping some blog posts in advance, so this doesn’t take time — it expands time!). The short prep is also unfortunate because now is a time that the producer has to do even more than ever before.

My To Do List may be more of a Wish List these days. Instead of doing everything I think I should be doing, I have to focus first on what absolutely needs to be done to get the film in the can.

Now is the time we should be doing things differently; yet given the opportunity to make the film I want, with the cast I want, even at a fraction of the budget that I want — how can I let that opportunity go by?
Having more options and better tools, doesn’t solve everything by any means.
These times are tough indeed. Everyone knows it is hard out there for an indie filmmaker, particularly for a truly free filmmaker. Most would acknowledge that it is harder now than it has ever been before. Few have revealed (or admitted) how the current situation will change their behavior. I think right now, with reality staring me in the face, I can only speak about what I wish I could do. There is still a big gulf between thought and expression. How does the present alter what we all wish to do on our films?
Personally speaking, I would say we need to evolve the definition of what it means to be ready to shoot a film. Granted, more can always be done on the creative level and that is certainly worthy of discussion, but here — on TrulyFreeFilm — we are discussing the apparatus, the infrastructure, the practices that can lead to a more diverse output, robust appreciation, business model, and sustainable practice of ambitious cinema. So, what would I do if I really had my shit together? I have been trying to answer this and share my thoughts along the way.
Today’s version:
  1. Recognize it is about audience aggregation: Collect 5000 fans prior to seeking financing. Act to gain 500 fans/month during prep, prod., post processes.
  2. Determine how you will engage & collect audiences all throughout the process. Consider some portion to be crowd-funded — not so much for the money but for the engagement it will create.
  3. Create enough additional content to keep your audience involved throughout the process and later to bridge them to your next work.
  4. Develop an audience outreach schedule clarifying what is done when — both before and after the first public screening.
  5. Curate work you admire. Spread the word on what you love. Not only will people understand you further, but who knows, maybe someone will return the good deed.
  6. Be prepared to “produce the distribution”. Meet with potential collaborators from marketing, promotion, distribution, social network, bookers, exhibitors, widget manufacturers, charitable partners, to whatever else you can imagine.
  7. Brainstorm transmedia/cross-platform content to be associated with the film.
  8. Study at least five similar films in terms of what their release strategy & audience engagement strategy was and how you can improve upon them.
  9. Build a website that utilizes e-commerce, audience engagement, & data retrieval. Have it ready no later than 1 month prior to first public screening.
  10. Determine & manufacture at least five additional products you will sell other than DVDs.
  11. Determine content for multiple versions of your DVD.
  12. Design several versions of your poster. Track how your image campaign evolves through the process.
  13. Do a paper cut of what two versions of your trailer might be. Track how this changes throughout the process.
  14. Determine a list of the top 100 people to promote your film (critics, bloggers, filmmakers,etc)
  15. Determine where & how to utilize a more participatory process in the creation, promotion, exhibition, & appreciation process. Does it make sense for your project to embrace this?
  16. How will this project be more than a movie? Is there a live component? An ARG? An ongoing element?
  17. How can you reward those who refer others to you? How do you incentivize involvement? What are you going to give back?
  18. What will you do next and how can you move your audience from this to that? How will younot have to reinvent the wheel next time?
  19. What are you doing differently than everyone else? How will people understand this? Discover this?
  20. How are you going to share what you’ve learned on this project with others?
As I’ve said, I know I am not doing all of these yet on my current production, but that leaves me something to strive for the one following. The goal is to keep getting better, after all. But man, I wish I could be doing more!
The desire to do more is so huge, but time and resources limit me, limit us. Sometimes it feels like an accomplishment to at least get the film financed. Still though, I can’t claim to be doing my job (producing) well if I am not doing all of these. I have to do better. I know it is even harder on smaller jobs. Still though, as much as our job descriptions keep expanding as our salary level decreases, this list is what we must accomplish. Or at least it is the list I think we need to accomplish right now.
I am going to shut up now and get to work. There’s too much to be done.


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November 13 at 2:14pm

15 Ways To Show Your Collaborators You Appreciate Them

As an indie film producer, what can you do to show appreciation for all those that are helping you make your film?

  1. Do your job well. Make a film everyone is proud of. Give the team memories that they were lead well.
  2. Provide timely information and decisive actions, as clearly as possible. Don’t try to hide anything. Don’t sugar coat; speak truthfully about the situation — reality may not be pretty, but presenting it clarifies your mutual trust.
  3. Recognize how well your collaborators do their jobs and show how much you appreciate them. Show respect. You can’t make this film without them; they chose to join you and you are fortunate to have them.
  4. Learn everyone’s name. Learn something about them. Take interest in their lives. Remember & celebrate their birthdays. Thank them for their work.
  5. Demonstrate that you are concerned for your crew’s health. Provide vitamins and sun screen. Can you provide flu shots on set? When someone is sick, send them home.
  6. Have a true commitment to safety. If working long hours on location, provide overnight accommodations. Don’t let people drive when they are over tired. Really have a safety meeting each day.
  7. Good food is quickest route to someone’s heart. Provide thoughtful craft service: healthy food, fun food, new food, fresh food. Work with your caterer to make sure people are getting what they want.
  8. Provide a constructive work environment. Keep the workplace clean and orderly. Don’t joke around camera. Don’t let people read in view of others. Give everyone access to information.
  9. Don’t contribute to a bad world. Help your team recycle. Don’t force them to waste due to their work situation. Use less paper.
  10. Bring some fun into their world. Provide entertainment or education at lunch breaks. Do “dollar days” at the end of the week.
  11. Let them help the world at large. Organize a blood drive at lunch during production, a toy drive, or coat drive during the winter months. Get absentee ballots when they will be working during election periods.
  12. Adopt and post/display strong anti-discrimination, anti-sexual harassment policies.
  13. Help them enjoy themselves. On location, provide an extensive entertainment list for all visiting crew and cast, including restaurants, theaters, medical, specialty stores, massage, and directions. Organize some group outings during non-working hours.
  14. Go that extra distance to make things better for the team. On location, provide laundry service. In booking travel, always enter everyone’s Frequent Flyer miles. Provide direction books in all vehicles.
  15. Recognize everyone as a key part of the process. Get them the tools they need to do their work well. Screen dailies and invite everyone. Create a blooper reel to screen for crew. Give them posters, DVDs, t-shirts. Inform them as to the progress of the production. Allow them to comment on the website.
When I have asked for some of these things from past production teams, I have occasionally met with some resistance. “I am a production manager, not a camp counselor!” “These people are adults; they should be able to take care of themselves!”.
 
I don’t agree. Everyone works hard. We need to show that we appreciate it. It’s funny though, when I put this question out there to the Facebook & Twitter worlds, I think people mostly recommended alcohol and backend points. Money and booze, maybe that’s all it takes…
 
Special thanks to all of you who contributed to this. This was a crowdsourced post.


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November 7 at 12:05pm

Good-looking* Films Shot On The Red Camera

Of course, not being on this list does not mean, the film is not good-looking. The only criteria here was that I harvested the suggestions from my twitter and facebook feeds, and I knew of the movie (*not actually that I saw the movie).

I needed this list and really appreciate everyone putting it together (so damn quickly too). I place it here assuming others too will need it.
Antichrist
Bronson
Butterfly Effect 3
Che
Crooked Lane
District 9
Easier With Practice
The Exploding Girl
The Girlfriend Experience
The Informant!
The Knowing
Life During Wartime
The Red Riding Trilogy 1983*
The Social Network
Van Diemen’s Land
It’s sort of interesting how widely diverse the films are both in terms of content and in terms of budget.


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November 2 at 1:14pm

Ten* Filmmakers I Would Crowd Fund*

In celebration of Arin Crumley & Keiran Masterton‘s success using Kickstarter to fund development of OpenIndie.com, I thought I would launch my annual grants. Or rather my annual promise of grants. Money! $ For Films! Free!*

If any of the following filmmakers had a crowd funding page for their next film (provided the film was $300K neg.cost or less), I would donate some money to get it made. And I would encourage others to do so.
Who would you fund?
I know there are more than ten* I could have listed, but I thought this was a good start, and you have to draw the line somewhere. Plus, being an indie film producer in a land that does not demonstrate that it values what I do, I don’t have enough cash to go beyond this list! And even still, my contribution would not be significant financially; it would be more of a vote of support in hopes that others would be encourage to support the culture they want. I would give in order to become part of their team, to hear what they are up to, to get updates.
I listed artists who have are all early in their careers — but have already directed a feature. I listed filmmakers whom I was confident could deliver a whole lot for a little. I listed filmmakers whom I am not already involved with.
Yet before I gave to any of these filmmakers, I would want to see a commitment to building audiences PRIOR to filming — say a pledge to not commence until they had collected 5000 unique fans. I would want to know that they had a plan to market and release their film that went beyond bringing it to festivals and hoping for the best. I would want to know that they would set up an e-commerce site on their websites — and that they had a website (which they refreshed with regular content). And of course I wouldn’t transfer the money until they had reached their goal in pledges. Then I would gladly give money to them to get that next film made (and not ask for anything in return other than the satisfaction of having helped).


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