By Zak Forsman, January 25th, 2011

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Posted in creative collaboration

Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”

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By Zak Forsman, January 22nd, 2011

Transmedia is a buzz term but what does it really mean to those wishing to tell their stories in a world where audiences are more connected then every before. Writer / Director Lance Weiler talks about breaking the 4th wall and how he’s expanding the stories he tells beyond a screen.

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Posted in transmedia

Zak Forsman is an artist-entrepreneur whose emotionally-charged motion pictures are known for highly authentic performances and beautiful compositions. They have been praised by Ain’t It Cool News as “Brilliant” and “Absolutely Gorgeous” and by Filmmaker Magazine as “Very Accomplished, Amazing.”

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By Saskia Wilson-Brown, January 19th, 2011

This is a series of posts delving into the gory details of what it takes to produce an independent film. Covering the entire process — from development to fundraising, production, distribution, online strategies and beyond — they will be written in real time, from first hand experience, as I go through the process of producing a feature-length documentary.

WTF IS A FILM PACKAGE, AND HOW DO I MAKE ONE?

A few weeks ago I posted about some legal issues and paperwork that you needed to get going for your production. That’s all well and good, but there’s no use in having all your legal stuff worked out if you don’t have a story, and — of course — a really good film package.

What follows is all information I’ve gleaned from various sources- including the internet, several lawyers, and my colleagues and friends in the industry. Most important is, however, to do your homework. There are a million ways to skin a cat, what works for me may not work for you and etc.

First and foremost, it’s important to clarify to yourself what the purpose of your film package is. Usually this purpose is quite simple: To sell the film to investors during the development and fundraising process.

For me, the package also has a secondary purpose: To serve as the repository for a topline production strategy- a strategy I will refer to over and over as the production intensifies. Call it psychological support.

Since the document then functions as a strategy AND as a sales document, writing it becomes quite the art. It needs to be snappy yet thorough, exciting yet substantial, sexy yet functional. Mainly it needs to be able to appeal to a broad variety of personalities and levels of professionalism. Big investors – if you can persuade them to look at your little project in the first place – will be looking for researched information and thought-out storylines combined with something with SOME level of marketability, and will quickly sniff bullshit if you haven’t done your due diligence. Conversely, if you are going a DIY route, your micro-funders on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo will most likely be more into the vision and the context rather than the research and marketing- the art and originality of it, as it were.

Your package will seed every fundraising effort you make, and given the diverse personalities and interests it will be sent to, it may be tempting to produce different packages for different people. I’ve found, however, that it’s best to make one master document, and just pick and choose what information you want to send out – but always from the same source.

One more word of advice: I once heard the gore horror film director Herschell Gordon Lewis say that – in fundraising and marketing – you sell what people want to see, but you make what you want them to see. In other words, compromise a bit and throw in a few nods to the larger world (and even to their questionable taste), but never forget your core vision. That’s what the film will be about, in the end, no matter how you spin it in your package.

Without further ado, here are the most important elements to include:

Some sort of snappy image: This can be something that inspired the film, or, better yet, preliminary key art. This will be the cover of your package, so it needs to be eye-catching. If you don’t have key art yet, use a nice image but do yourself a favor and ask a designer friend to quickly look the first page over- and then take their advice. Film is a visual medium, and your package should look good.

**On that note: Be sure to put a little attention into your formatting and typefaces. Keep it classic, simple, and for the love of god use a typeface that people want to look at for 40 pages.

Title: ‘But my title will change’, you say. Well, yes, it will, but it’s very important to give the people you are reaching out to some way to refer to the project, even if it’s something clunky ‘Untitled Carina Nebula Documentary’.

Logline: Something lively and terse that manages to define your film in a nutshell, for quick reference. There is conflicting information on the length of the logline, but I tend to keep it at about a sentence (or two). Most importantly, it should somehow manage to speak to the premise, as well as the main plot point of your film. Think of how you would explain the project if you were yelling out your window to that distribution exec from Paramount that is stuck at the same red light as you.

For inspiration: Look at http://www.writersstore.com/writing-loglines-that-sell for examples, or try your hand at the random logline generator (which produces really shitty loglines, but is sort of fun nonetheless).

Synopsis (250 word version, 500 word version): Most grant applications will request a synopsis between 250 and 500 words. To be safe, and although people disagree with this, I have found that it’s a good idea to write both a short and a long synopsis.

The short should cover the main plot points, introduce the primary characters, and get to the heart of the story points for your film- including the ending. If you’re working within a three act structure, your synopsis should reflect the main points of each act, giving about a paragraph per act.

The long version can be peppered with a little more context giving stuff- the things that make your project beautiful or unique or different, from a story point of view. The long one is the one you should aim to use the most.

Here are some more links to information written by some better informed people on the topic: ‘How to Write a Synopsis‘ by Nathan Bransford; A breakdown of a synopsis by Rachel Shirley; and a page on the WGA site that lists a series of links for screenwriters.

Project Background (400 words):  Give a little history of how this project came about. Your history with the subject, for instance, or the genesis of the formation of the core team on the project. This section can serve to elucidate the passion of the filmmakers, and sell the reader on the commitment you have shown to the project thus far.

Treatment (3 pages): This is the scene-by-scene breakdown of your film, and is almost impossible to do to satisfaction with a documentary, given how many unknowns there are. Nonetheless, you should have a good idea of how your film would look in a perfect world, and this treatment can reflect that blue-sky vision. It’s also an excellent exercise in trying to firm up the structure of your story, and ideally would be a scene-by-scene breakdown of the film in its entirety.

This is also the place where you can include a paragraph (or two) speaking to the style you intend to shoot in. A quick-cut Guy Ritchie approach? Or a long and lingering meditation? Verite? Black and white, or saturated colors? This is a good opportunity to get the reader’s visual imagination flowing. Here’s a link to a very informed article by Marilyn Horowitz on the topic.

Transmedia (as long as needed, if needed): How deep you want to get into shoring up a transmedia strategy for your film? And what would be this strategy’s primary purpose? Is your transmedia campaign designed to complement and further the storyline? Or is it just a fancy euphemism for creative marketing (in which case just put a little ‘transmedia’ section in your marketing segment and call it a day)? What sort of other media are you capable of using?

These are relevant questions, and this segment will be huge, tiny, or not exist at all depending on what you want to do with this. Just remember: A t-shirt line or a marketing-heavy comic book does not a (good) transmedia campaign make. Look at the work of Lance Weiler, the writings of Mark Harris on Workbook Project, Zenith the film, or The Cosmonaut project for inspiration.

Target Audience (250 words): Research your target audience, and be as specific as possible. Don’t write things like “This is a film that will appeal to women.” What kind of women? Urban, white, latte-drinking, art museum membership-holding social butterflies? Rural Native American truck-driving family-loving social workers? Age, location, interests, professional levels, etc. all play a part in potential audiences. Truth? Chances are that the people who will be interested in your film are the people most like you, so start there. Define who you are, exactly, and expand outwards.

In the US, I like to refer to the PRIZM Segmentation system, that divides people into insanely accurate classification segments like ‘Bohemian Mix’, ‘Money and Brains, and ‘Young Digerati’ It’s not as available online as it once was, but you can get a taste of their subcategories by typing in your zip code at this website, and looking at the types of people in your immediate neighborhood. In the UK the ACORN system is widely used to define social groups.

Topline Distribution Strategy (2 to 3 pages): Just what it sounds like. People who invest in your film will want to guarantee one of three things: that it’ll get made (your micro-funders or your family), that it’ll make money (an investor who expects a return), or that it’ll get seen by as many people as possible (a corporate sponsor whose logo is plastered across your credits).

Thus, you need a strategy for distribution, beyond ‘get into Sundance and sell film for five million bucks’, that at least sets a realistic plan for how to attempt to meet all three of these goals. Also, be sure to include DIY strategies so that you have a back-up plan that you can implement on your own with a lot of elbow grease. Refer to any of the articles on workbookproject.com for reference.

Marketing Strategy (2 to 3 pages): As above. How do you plan to present and sell your film? How do you plan to harness audiences? The marketing strategy will, perforce, tie into the distribution plan. For instance, if you are going a DIY route, marketing must start early and be geared towards engagement and a sense of investment. However, if you are doing television distribution (and have the pre-sales to guarantee it), the marketing will be mostly covered by the TV execs who bought your film, and can be kept to a minimum (but, in my opinion, never ignored completely).

In my experience, there are so many excellent films out there, that it’s increasingly hard to get people’s attention. The more you do by way of engaging your potential audience the better off you are (short of bombarding your long-sufferingTwitter followers with constant updates on a project that is not even close to completion). This is an art, it needs to be effective without being heavy handed, and it needs, crucially, to reach beyond your immediate social circles. So – again – do your research, and branch outwards: Don’t market your project to other indie filmmakers. They’ll be there to support you, but there aren’t enough of us to sustain a deeper success.

Fundraising Strategy, with deadlines (2 pages): Yikes, the belly of the beast, or the crux of the problem of filmmaking. This strategy will, of course, change all the time. Start this section off with your goal and deadlines in one sentence: “Goal: Raise $XXX,XXX.XX over the course of the next XX months, broken down into X deadlines.” Then, simply write out your deadlines, how much you wish to have raised by the relevant dates, and how you plan to raise it. Simple. Ha.

Be sure to include both DIY and other fundraising methods (such as regional pre-sales, government subsidies, corporate sponsorship, private investors and whatever else you can attain). I’ll be writing a big post on this next month, so will leave it at that, but in the meantime, read this very informative article by Edward Jay Epstein on Hope For Film.

Projected Production Timetable (1 page): The four sections of a production should be represented here: Development, Pre-production, Production, Post-Production. If you are doing a concerted transmedia phase to your project, add that in as a fifth phase of production, probably between development and pre-production. Write down the deadlines for each phase, and the periods you are allotting to each phase of production, as well as what you will accomplish in each phase.

Key Personnel: No more than a 250 word bio for each person, including the director (if one is assigned to the project already), the producer(s), the art director/production designer, the cinematographer, and the bios of any key subjects or actors who have already committed to the film. Basically, the core creative and business team.

Advisor Bios: Keep this short, if you include it at all, but if you have made one film or less, definitely consider having a team of advisors. I try to build a team of advisors with each project- because I am young and ‘emerging’ (to put it kindly) and I know that I don’t know everything and need help. There’s no shame in it, and anyone looking to support your project will be happy to know that you are supported by the benefit and learning of more experienced people.

Budget Summary (1 page): A topline budget summary – broken down into categories. Read Christine Vachon’s excellent book ‘Shooting to Kill’ for a fantastically detailed breakdown of a budget.

Legalese (more pages than you will ever care to read): Your attorney will want to get a lot of info in your package—mostly surrounding disclaimers and not guaranteeing anything and etc. This is something you must include if you are trying to be serious about raising a lot of cash, and it’s in your best interest to protect yourself and qualify the expectations.

OK, that’s it. Easy right? Bear in mind that different entities require different elements when considering potentially funding your film. But if you have all the above written out, you should be pretty much covered with whatever you try for.

As a final aside: Regarding the written part of the film. If you have developed the film, written the treatment, the script or even just the synopsis… I strongly encourage you to register it either with the WGA (costs $20 for non-members) or the Copyright office (costs $35).

And finally, here’s a link to another online article about writing a film package, that I found to be a pretty good read. Good luck!

Next post: Fundraising strategies for the money-illiterate (who hate sales).

Read my last 2 posts in this series: ‘DEFINING ROLES’ and GETTING YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW PART 1: LEGAL AND PAPERWORK’

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Posted in education production journal

Saskia Wilson-Brown has a background in fine art, curation, film festivals, TV and production design. She works as a producer, strategist and advocate; supporting initiatives such as DIY Days and Slamdance Film Festival (among others) while running a guerilla screening series called Cinema Speakeasy. She is currently in production on her first feature doc.

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By Saskia Wilson-Brown, December 15th, 2010

This is a series of posts delving into the gory details of what it takes to produce an independent film. Covering the entire process — from development to fundraising, production, distribution, online strategies and beyond — they will be written in real time, from first hand experience, as I go through the process of producing a feature-length documentary.

You can read the last post, ‘DEFINING ROLES’ here.

GETTING YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW: LEGAL & PAPERWORK

This three-part post will consist of a step-by-step plan to get you ready to start further development and pre-production on your film.

Today I am posting about production development, specifically, about the legal issues and paperwork you should have as you start development. This is a phase called ‘production development’, and for a producer, it is almost as important as the creative development process.

A note that this is all information I’ve gleaned from various sources- including the internet, several lawyers, and my colleagues. Most important is for you to do your homework, and MOST important: Consult a lawyer.

The first goal of the production development phase is to be sure you are all set from a legal standpoint to start fundraising. This phase, of course, would be happening concurrently or perhaps slightly after the creative development phase, as there is no point in creating the paperwork for a film with no story.

Thus, step one, of course, is to obtain the services of a lawyer. Ideally, the lawyer will be open to working pro-bono until you have your first round of funding in, but if not, pay for one. It is worth it – at this stage – and will save you headaches later on.

I. LLC:

An LLC for your film, through which you can take money and pay money out, and locking in the core production partners in an operating agreement (which will elucidate who is primarily responsible for what, and who is contributing what- this can include intellectual property such as a script or an idea, money, time).

An LLC will also provide you with an EIN (Employee Identification Number) and allow you to track your expenses for the IRS.

Please note that there are potential issues with an LLC if you intend to crowdsource some of your funds. It is too complicated to try to explain here, but be sure to mention this potential fundraising strategy to your lawyer, and she can look into it for you.

II. CONTRACTS:

Contracts or deal memos for your existing partners, elucidating deal points and revenue share, as well as intended title in credits. This includes the core team of people and any peripheral people you have milling around the idea – including yourself!

If you do not have time to create these contracts or deal memos, and your partners are chomping at the bit to start hustling, either tell them they have to wait, or BE SURE to — at the very least– write out the deal points in the interim. It also helps acknowledge at this point what they have brought to the film thus far, as well as to set expectations for what you hope they will bring to the film in the future.

Below are some examples of some deal points you may or may not want to include, that I have come up with. Please remember that I am not a lawyer, and it is a WAY better idea to consult your lawyer than just to copy these. I, for one, am consulting mine.

In the meantime, these are some things you can look into offering.

Commission: X% of monies raised

It is important to note that – in most cases – this should not include a percentage of in-kind donations or services that do not result in cash in your bank account. This is because it will be impossible, for instance, to pay off X% of a free camera rig valued at $20,000 if you have $0 in the bank.

Equity: X points in film (thereby X% of profit made as a result of distribution and merchandising, just distribution, just online distribution, or however you want to divvy it up)

Points are typically percentages of NET profit of the film AFTER everyone has recouped their costs. Read here for more information: http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/17/867840 or http://www.indietalk.com/showthread.php?t=10545

Payment: Salary of $XX,000.00 contingent upon the production receiving its full budget of $XXX,000.00

Be sure to note what happens if the production doesn’t meet the full budget. For instance you could offer a percentage deal: If the production brings in 70% of the full budget, the production will pay out 70% of the salary amount, and so on.

Title/Credit: For example, an ‘Associate Producer’ Credit in the titles

Be sure to note that this title will be contingent on the meeting of an expectation, so you don’t get into the typical indie trap of people claiming titles they’ve done nothing for. Conversely, you can set higher expectations with the potential of a ‘better’ title, so if the individual over-performs, they are duly recognized.

For instance, you could specify that a given title is contingent on such things as:

- Successful raising of a certain amount of money
- Providing goods and services equivalent to a certain amount of money, such as equipment, core team members, facilities, etc.
- Staying with the project for a duration of XX months, with an expected contribution of (name contribution here, typically goods, money or services)

Acknowledging existing and future contributions:

As part of this process, be sure to take the time to set expectations for the people whose involvement you are considering for the film. These can be anything from art direction to distribution consulting. But, be specific – and yet remain open to things shifting as people’s involvements shift. It’s good to have a escape clause, too, something that gives you an out if they do not lift a finger, or gives them an out if they hate the direction the film is taking.

As part of this expectations-setting process, it could also be helpful to craft a little email in anticipation of the contracting process—if only to clarify what someone has felt that they have already given to the production. It saves people feeling unacknowledged, and saves you – as the producer – from any lack of clarity as to what people are thinking.

In other words, better to discuss it now than to suffer acrimony, later.

Here’s a little exercise that you can do with everybody involved in the film to make sure you are all on the same page. It feels corporate as hell, but it’s helpful nonetheless.

Have them all fill out the following three sections:

- What you have contributed thus far
- What you intend to contribute later
- What you expect from the production.

For instance, for my role in the project I am working on, some things that I feel that I have given thus far include:

- Strategies Expertise, specifically: Marketing, distribution and fundraising
- Expertise in the form of authored documents, specifically: Film package and budget, grant applications and related authored documents
- Story genesis and co-development
- Providing human contacts that have led to these successes and developments).

Things I intend to contribute further include:

- Fundraising
- Overseeing all facets of the film including: Scheduling, staff, financial, locations, etc
- Overseeing marketing and distribution strategies for the finished film

My expectations from the film are:

- Profit share through a percentage of the total net income, as a result of merchandising, distribution, etc.
- ‘Producer’ title, ‘Story By’ title
- Creative/ Marketing and Distribution control, split as per negotiations

III. NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS

In this time of intellectual property, and if you are at all attached to making the idea you have developed, this is crucial. The signed NDAs will serve as a record of who has heard the idea, and can help you track its dissemination in the world. Make sure your partners also understand this, and provide them with copies to have the people they pitch the film to sign.

And of course, use your common sense. Don’t be draconian, but be vigilant.

Next, I will post about CONSTRUCTING THE FILM PACKAGE. Stay tuned.

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Posted in education production journal

Saskia Wilson-Brown has a background in fine art, curation, film festivals, TV and production design. She works as a producer, strategist and advocate; supporting initiatives such as DIY Days and Slamdance Film Festival (among others) while running a guerilla screening series called Cinema Speakeasy. She is currently in production on her first feature doc.

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By Zeke Zelker, December 14th, 2010

As an indie filmmaker, to SAG or not to SAG has always been an issue when casting films. The paperwork, the fees, the obstacles that they place in front of you can be daunting. Having to work with them, not they trying to work with you. In the new world of cinema where creators are attempting to engage their audiences over a myriad of portals/devices in many innovative ways, the old actors guard have not embraced this new way of entertaining, in fact it is even more challenging to work with them. I have experienced a new dilemma with the professional actors union, how to explain my upcoming project in their “contract” terms and attempting to not break their rules.

My latest project Billboard an Uncommon Contest for Common People! has many moving parts, we are engaging and entertaining audiences in a plethora of ways. In the first phase of the project we have an opportunity for everyday people to get involved with the project as well as SAG actors. In fact some of the movie cast I need for this phases, happens to be based on around a website. RED FLAG, RED FLAG! What do you mean you want to use SAG actors for a website along with unprofessional actors? In an attempt to work with SAG I need to break the project into two different projects, one for the New Media side of the project and the other for the movie.

Okay, I understand. Got it. I will break the film up into two different projects under a bigger umbrella. Now I want to cast name talent who we will need to be in both projects. RED FLAG! RED FLAG! Try to have your casting director explain this to agents. WTF! I am trying to play by SAG’s rules, now agents think I’m trying to pull a fast one, confusing the process. No I really am trying to work with the old actors guard. Agents aren’t having it. I even offered to present my project to the agencies so they get what I’m trying to do, my casting director doesn’t feel they will be receptive, “do you really think a group of agents, at an agency will take the time to listen to you explain your project so you can hire their actors”. I’m willing to do anything for people to understand what I’m trying to do. CAA, WME, ICM, UTA call me, 610.597.7189, I would love to work with you! Maybe we can package the project with your talent?

This is only half of my challenge. The other half is working within SAG’s rules when it comes to narrowing down what budget contract we fall under. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about; what you pay SAG actors is based on your budget. Each budget limit has a contract with a different set of rules. After reading SAG contract after contract and trying to figure which one worked best for my project I determined the Ultra Low budget would work best for us, it’s the most flexible. You can work with SAG and nonSAG actors, you don’t have to use SAG extras, you only have to pay the actors $100/day (although I have budgeted more than that for my name talent) and the budget cap is $200k, although we will have more money than that. The real reason is the ability to work with anyone I would like to. My daughter is not SAG, do I really need to Taft-Hartley her?

I made this business decision and I am willing to work within SAG’s rules. Now I would really, really like to work with Actor/Actress X. My casting director pitches the project to their agent. Agent’s response, “no way in hell will I let my Actor/Actress work on an ultra low budget project.” They won’t let her explain further. We have our reasons, we have a ground breaking project, we have money to pay more than $100/day, we are only trying to play by the old actors guard’s rules. I cut my hair short so I can’t pull it out.

I have thought about scrapping SAG all together but I really want to work with some particular actors. Working with these actors will also make the project more marketable when we distribute the movie. Thus I need to and am willing to work with SAG, but will they work with me? Will agents take the time to understand what we are doing? We have a way that our key actors will be compensated handsomely for taking the risk with us. Risk reward right?

I can’t wait until we unleash Weiler’s transmedia project at Sundance, maybe the industry will understand what we are trying to do more easily. Sundance has embraced us and this new form of entertainment, Academy Award nominee Guillermo del Toro just announced his new transmedia studio in Marina del Rey, CA and the marketing execs of brands get it. When will SAG? Agents? I guess time will tell, but I’m on a schedule.
Maybe I should reach out and partner with a Hollywood established production company who have embraced technology to help tell their stories. Maybe that will make this casting situation easier. Anyone have any suggestions?

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Posted in INDIE FILM CAPITALSIM biz casting transmedia

Zeke Zelker – an award winning filmmaker, blends art and commerce in all that he does. His latest film InSearchOf is not only creating buzz about the content of the story line but also for his business techniques. Always creating new revenue streams by blending traditional distribution outlets, adapting others to suit his film’s needs, and pioneering some of his own Zeke has been forging a pathway to profitability. He is currently developing on a transmedia project that will begin unraveling 2010.

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