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A First Time Writer/Director’s Trial by Fire, Part #4: Unhealthy Obsessive Persistence
By Craig Abell-Champion
Welcome to the game that everyone trying to make a movie wish they would never have to play but do: Unhealthy Obsessive Persistence and Unlikely Approval! (Applause) What do we have for our contestant behind Door #1… wait, Door #1 is locked? Then what’s behind Door #2? A brick wall you say? What about Door #3? It just revolves back to point A. Congratulations! You don’t win! (Audience moans) Adding insult to injury, I have to pay for my own craft service.
At times, working to get a project noticed appears to dip into pointlessness, but all who play and remain convinced of their success never stop fantasizing about what’s behind some of those doors. Innumerable approaches to open them have been tried. Even if one finally works luck and timing seem instrumental in making it to the bonus round, when showcasing a unique set of tools and talent will be required to win.
My repeated snafus and moderate successes are thrown into sharp relief the more I play, like oil in water. Now, I drink the water, pick out the successes and apply them to a very obvious and simple two-part strategy: Open the door and Make the bonus round. Like I said earlier, “innumerable approaches”. This one is mine, imperfect and in continual refinement. I use the oil to keep it well lubed and working fairly effectively.
1. OPEN THE DOOR:
- GENUINE RESPECT – I’m always adding to my list of people who might be interested in my story as well as MY story. And because one-sided relationships are boring and depressing, I take responsibility to learn as much as I can about their stories. You know the warm fuzzy feeling when a “friend” who’s been absent for months calls or texts out of the blue, until you realize they just want you to do them a “solid” and ask borrow your car to go on a date with someone they met on Tinder. I make it a policy to not represent myself or my work like that. This includes (especially) assistants, who can be your best friends or worst enemies. I remember my thankless and emotionally exhausting assistant days. A little empathy and compassion goes a long way.
- KNOCK SOFTLY – I’m the one-billionth-something person to say it, “persistence is key” but I think restraint is an equally powerful tool. I don’t want to be a stalker; it’s so unbecoming. I also don’t want to be the seventh grader too scared to follow up with the pretty girl. I stay consistently on task but spread it out and exercise some patience, until I hear or sense an obvious no, that I then try to put a positive spin on by telling myself it was “almost” a yes.
- HELP THEM RECOGNIZE YOU – Anyone you want representing you or your project probably uses social media religiously. If not, reevaluate. Not long ago I learned social media could be handy for things other than igniting political arguments and posting pictures. It can be an effective audience builder. By orchestrating the different platforms I can take part and contribute to larger topics and conversations within circles of those I’m trying to contact and usually learn a hell of a lot about this business in the process. It’s a slippery slope between contributing intelligently and self-promotion. It’s about making myself familiar rather than forcing an agenda. I’m careful to never just push an agenda. Doing this gets you pushed out the door.
Moving on, The Bonus Round! What is the bonus round? For me it’s when attention is piqued and I’ve been invited through the door. Then I go to work to stay in the room. How? Beyond the script and my charm, I’ll stack my deck with a great package!
2. MAKE THE BONUS ROUND:
- THE PACKAGE – In addition to the script, opinions vary about what a package should contain. To keep it simple, a very respected and prominent indie film producer shared with me two pieces of advice that really stuck. One, present tools that make your project seem inevitable. Two, use anything that can start a conversation. Things he suggested a package have to anchor that sense of inevitability:
- Look book.
- Short synopsis.
- Director’s statement.
- Audience building strategy and research.
- Business plan (Sales/Distribution strategies).
- Casting ideas.
- Music inspiration.
Many of the ins and outs of things on this list I know jack-all about, so I found people who did – good people. This way, when the door containing the elusive prize opens, I will do more than just jump up and down underneath the confetti. I will have plenty to talk about and feel confident doing it. Most likely they will want to tweak or change it all anyway. I think the point is to show that I have considered my project beyond the page. I’m showing my awareness of the creative and economic inevitabilities that back up my vision, hopefully instilling confidence. If not, the door slams, I hit the craft service table (home) and the game drags on when I wake up to play tomorrow.
R.I.P. Mike Nichols, a true master.
Craig Abell-Champion: An unusual kid who grew up on a sheep farm in Oregon. When I reached legal adulthood I was gone and never looked back. I earned a BFA in photography and spent several years shooting pictures around the world. A cinema lover, I moved to Los Angeles in 1998. Directing TV commercials was my film school. Today, I have left the realm of thirty seconds for a longer narrative road. A first time writer/director, my project Recess is in the packaging phase seeking financing.