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December 1 at 8:28am

Ten Ways To Stand Out In This Crazy “Film” Biz

By Ted Hope

Okay, granted there are the givens that help one stand out: talent, taste, connections, money, good looks — but what if it was a level playing field?

Are there things that you can put into practice that will help positively separate you from the pack of other hungry artists trying to cement a place for yourself in the field that you love?  Since all of you have helped me with your conversation, appreciation, and general involvement, I wanted to do something that might aid you to get to where you want to go.

The following are some quick thoughts as to what things might quickly make others take notice of you, remember you, or give you some deserved respect.  I am eager to hear other suggestions too.  There are probably one hundred ideas like these, and I think it’s time we all started sharing.

  1. Know what you like.  That is, know what you like beyond the stuff that you like just because you made it, or want to make it, or think you can make it.  Understand what you appreciate and why you appreciate it. It is a lot of work to become articulate about creative endeavors, but those communication skills are prized and praised — and surprisingly rare.  I am still waiting for someone to provide me with their alternative to my list 32 Qualities Of Better Film.  Get to it!
  2. Know your story.  That is, know not just the story you want to tell, or help tell, but know the story of you and how to tell it.  In order to get work done, people need to want to work with you, and they need to explain to others why they should also want to work with you.  Mastering your story or stories should be a goal.  To keep your story evolving is one of the practices I recommend most.
  3. Be heavily engaged in social media.  I know I sound a bit like a broken record on this point, but…  We have not yet even seen the true impact of being part of a large, vibrant, and heavily engaged social media community will have on a work, but when we do, those that are part of it, will be years ahead of those who haven’t joined up beyond a Facebook page.  In terms of the film industry, social media is in such infancy, that anyone can become a leader in the field at this point.  The powerful effects of connectivity will benefit you regardless of the role you take on a project — and it will benefit the project too.  SUPER, which I produced (with Miranda Bailey) partially owes it’s discovery, financing, and sale, to the participants’ heavy engagement in social media.  What more needs to be said?  In determining whom to hire or collaborate with I look at their talent, their attitude, their personality, and their social media involvement; but that’s just me!  I remain amazed — and depressed — by how few people in the creative arts have blogs or websites.  Our ability to put good work before the eyes of the best audience is hampered by our lack of involvement in social media.
  4. Don’t insist on being the sole author of work.  Be confident that you are the best person to shoot your material AND then give it to others to also shoot. You’ve seen fan fiction, yes? “Sweded” films, right? They are always of well known work, but what would happen if work in “homage” was made before anyone saw some footage. I would love the opportunity to see how others interpret the material when it is produced in a void (ie. before the core work).   I am confident that someone that did this would get numerous opportunities to tell the story about it, which in turn should increase the audience for their own work.
  5. Be truly collaborative. People remember those that help them. Ben Franklin said that when you wanted something from someone, you should loan them a book. That may be a bit over strategic for my tastes, but people do get inspired to help others the more you help them.  Even more importantly, things do get better when we work together.  Being part of team that made something good will have far more impact than being the author of a mediocre work.  Use your labor for things you believe in; don’t undervalue it, even when others do.
  6. Take risks.  Be forward thinking and don’t rely on the old ways.  Security is a trap that enhances the status quo. Everything has already changed.  We are living in a world that has already changed to the point our reactions will soon be recognized as absurd.  And although this does not require throwing it all away, it does encourage you to think beyond what has already been written.  The lack of a current economic model for film production encourages experimentation.  The lack of aesthetic approach that recognizes audiences desire to both participate, and be led, to share, spread, and mutate, encourages experimentation.  So get out there, do it, and share your experiences.  We want to hear about them.  We need to hear about them.
  7. Think of cinema in the broadest of ways; don’t limit yourself to the confines of development and production.  Have both your creative and outreach plan include discovery, participation, presentation, and appreciation.  Adopt a cross-platform, transmedia approach from the get-go.  As Lance Weiler tends to say, “bake it into your project’s DNA”.  We all must extend our and our project’s reach.
  8. Be recognizable. We all meet too many people to remember the ones we should. I have always liked the idea that I could fade into the background, but coming up with both James Schamus and Christine Vachon, both who had and still have signature looks, I could not help but notice the utility in being known as the guy with the bow tie or the woman in the black rain rain coat.  How do you expect people to remember you?  Why not give them a hand?
  9. Okay, this one only will work if you are among the first to do it, and it is of a much different sort than what I have been listing here but… Localize each edition of your work.  Customize your script so that the characters’ names are changed to those of the individuals of the entity you are submitting to.  Imagine the shock and surprise when the reader finds their boss’ name or that of their friends.  It’s “Being John Malkovich” taken to the next level.  You can extend this other editions of your work, crowdsourcing local elements to drop in for each screening, and utilizing the digital aspects of present day work.  I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.
  10. Don’t look to be discovered.  The film industry encourages a plantation or corporate hierarchy way of thinking, which again only benefits the status quo.  This is most represented by the old way of bringing a film to market upon completion.  The filmmakers who design their projects to take directly to their audiences will demonstrate a forward and practical way of thinking — and one that does not negate a later adoption of old methods (if someone wants to dump a pot of gold on you that is).  Abandon the belief that all you have to do is make a good film and the rest will work out — it’s akin to a slave mentality.  Why do you need someone to discover you?  What you need is to find a way to keep producing new work.

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  1. Joetrip / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    I would also elaborate on #7 and say that your film could start out as a video game, a book, website, even a SMS. And, in the future, even a new actual DNA strand. Nanotech should not be limited to scientists only :)

  2. chrisdorr / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Great piece Ted. Every point was right on. I especially liked number 3 on social media. It is puzzling to me how few people in film engage with social media, which with their engagement could further accelerate the growth of film as a part of people's lives. This will lead to revenue in some shape or form.

  3. Princess Scribe / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Nice post. Excellent points; straight on.

    I might also add:
    Be nice. Manners are woefully rare these days. Especially manners on the 'net.
    Be willing to work. Work hard. Excellent work ethic also seems to be running short.
    Insist on your work being the best that it can be. Demand excellence of self. Refuse to settle for less.

    The signature look suggestion is brilliant… a few months ago, there was a gent on the Today show who hosted a terrific segment on one's “brand” in terms of image, and how important that is to break into any business. Three cheers!

  4. Jason / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Filmmaking tip number #10 has been the secret to my success. Why wait for anybody to give you permission to be successful? Make your movie now!

    Jason Brubaker

  5. Jon / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    You lost me with “…but what if it was a level playing field?”

  6. Mike / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    so basically what you are saying is that filmmakers nowadays must become develop personalities akin to a cult leader if they want to be successful.

    #3 fails to address the problem of apathy and A.D.D. it takes super human powers to get strangers to care about something, let alone pay attention to it. if kevin smith can't use social media to fully support his career as a filmmaker, then why should someone like myself believe i could use social media to my advantage? i'm not a cult leader.

    ted, how many of the 7000+ followers you have on twitter would you say are REAL fans of your work, meaning they would do anything you tell them to? i would guess less than 5%. plus, you are really well known in the film world and have worked with many great artists and you ONLY have 7000+ twitter followers. clearly, this social media thing is a lot of hype and not very practical in the real world.

    regarding #5, how do you collaborate if you live in a city that's full of egotistical douchebags that you don't want to collaborate with?

    in response to your first line, money and connections are the only things that matter for people behind the camera. talent is overrated. you don't need talent when you can buy nice equipment and surround yourself with people that make you look better than you are.

  7. Mike / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    so few people engage in it b/c it's not practical for most filmmakers. show me examples of where #3 has worked for a relatively unknown filmmaker. and i'm not talking about one-hit-wonders that got lucky and caught lightning in a bottle with one movie. the only filmmakers that do it consistently that i can think of are ones that make political movies like robert greenwald and alex jones.

    this whole idea of using social media to build a community around your movie is just hyperbole and platitudes. it's not practical unless there is already a built-in community for your movie, like a documentary such as Trekkies.

  8. FollowMyFilm / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    I understand Mike's frustrations regarding #3 – social media. What Mike is talking about is what I call “Nobody Filmmaking.” In essence, nobody cares about a nobody, so when a nobody is told to embrace social media, it's frustrating.

    I'm a nobody filmmaker and it's been incredibly difficult to get folks to support my blog via share tools. And I don't just write mindless posts. I sometimes spend hours working on my blog posts, which are barely ever shared, tweeted, commented on, etc..

    I'm not complaining!!!! :) See, I'm smiling. I'm simply saying that telling us nobodies to social network, hire a PMD, etc., is simply not very encouraging anymore. Many of us have been working hard at it and are beginning to get tired of our own echoes.

    But I will continue to do so because I love it! Those who make films, post them and share them for affirmation, validation, fame, etc., will quickly burn out….

    Thank you for your continued support and passion toward the independent film community, Ted!!!

    -Christopher J. Boghosian

  9. doghouse / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Ted is grand to point out that the American movie business, indie or otherwise, has no structural interest in change or meritocracy. And small wonder: according to James Schamus, a third of GDP goes into consumer advertising. Combine that with the 25% share of the finance industry, and we consign 68% of the American economy to producing nothing of value, beyond creating wealth for the top .1% of the population.

    This is not an economy which seeks excellence. And with 68% of GDP already disposed of, it follows that there *is* no other world (in the U.S.) — and certainly no refuge of High Art and an honest living in the arts in the U.S. Suggestions 1-10 would seem to be either delusional or deceptive (in effect, if not intention).

    What *should* be obvious by now is that indie film is less a productive activity than a marketing strategy – part of the 33% of GDP devoted to bamboozling the American public. If you feel like a neglected genius, rest assured that nobody of consequence cares whether the would-be indie filmmakers of America are schmoes or geniuses, because what's being sold is not movies. What's being sold is the desire to make movies. It really doesn't matter who's making them — if you had a famous or well-connected father, you might have become some version of Sophia Coppola or Nick Casavettes, even forgetting all the Hollywood brats and movie stars who have made good as directors. Or, with better luck, better connections or fewer anxiety attacks, any number of failures in this world might have had the careers of Hal Hartley, Kevin Smith, Todd Soldandz, Cary Fujiyama, Ang Lee, Ed Burns or Todd Haynes (pick you poison).

    But, in the end, it doesn't really matter, because it's not the content of the films which are being sold. Excellence, when it occurs, will be an unintended consequence on which no one will rush to profit, because excellence can't be understood in marketing terms.

    Is it all perfectly clear now :) ?

  10. Mike / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    doghouse, yes, that makes it perfectly clear. you have put words to feelings that i could not express. thank you!

    where did you get those numbers? adding to it, i would guess that 97% of the entire film industry produces nothing of value.

    speaking of Coppolas, look up Christopher Coppola, he's the clown of the Coppola family. his brother nic cage doesn't talk to him. he has tried making independent movies, but they are horrible. he's part of a filmmaking family dynasty and even he can't make it as a filmmaker so he has to use his last name and pretend to be charitable. now he's selling the desire to make movies all under the guise of giving people access to hollywood with his non profit org Project Accessible Hollywood. the funny thing is that he hasn't helped one person gain access into hollywood. christopher coppola is this biz in a nutshell.

  11. Mike / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    it's not just “nobody” filmmakers that people don't care about. most people just don't care about any filmmaker unless they are told to by advertisers. look at michel gondry, he only has 2100 twitter followers. he's one of the greatest filmmakers ever and made one of the best films ever and no one knows who he is or cares.

  12. Jeremy Campbell / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Incredible article, loved every word of it! I'm a huge evangelist in the power of collaboration for film, I think we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg right now. Global collaboration is only now just being fully discovered and utilized. Exciting times ahead for the film industry, be there!

  13. Jeremy Campbell / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Incredible article, loved every word of it! I'm a huge evangelist in the power of collaboration for film, I think we are only seeing the tip of the ice berg right now. Global collaboration is only now just being fully discovered and utilized. Exciting times ahead for the film industry, be there!

  14. MARK / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Couldn't agree with Ted more on ALL of this.
    In the world today and the future…the audience is global and diversified.
    Outside of the big studio projects, where stars — here today, gone tomorrow — hope to bring theatrical audiences in, the audience will simply pick what they want.
    And no amount of big studio p.r. is going to change that.
    Do your own honest and real thing…and do it with hard work and passion and put it out there.
    On your own terms. Believe me, the audiences will hook on it. And no big agents or
    studio heads will be able to stop you. Only you can stop yourself.
    Write on, right on.


  15. crc / Dec 1 at 8:28am

    Thanks, Mike. Keep trying, you'll get there.

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