Where do you go to find the right team of collaborators for something that’s never exactly been done before? Who’s your Dream Team for the Unseen? What are their roles and responsibilities? Here’s the situation: I’m a writer/director/producer of a transmedia documentary called “Get It All Out” that is now in its 4th year of development, with a goal of a feature-length film, an eBook for iPad and Android devices, a new 12+ member orchestra (playing and recording songs that haven’t been heard in nearly 30 years – this summer in NYC), and a remix contest – as just 4 of the elements of my project. After much reading and thought, here’s a list of both people I’m currently working with, and people I’m looking to collaborate with, and why (not necessarily in order of importance):
1) Interaction Designer
2) Art Director
3) Editorial Director
4) Music Director
5) Director of Photography
While we have located 4 and 5, the first three roles remain to be filled. To fill these “vacancies” in the team, I will attempt to describe the who and why of these titles.
1) Interaction Designer – With a background in information architecture (IA) and user experience (UX) design – the Interaction Designer is responsible for engaging and placing the audience in the story, regardless of interface. I would define the person in this role as a deep, yet motivated thinker – someone who breaks down the director/producers assertions of what the storyworld is thought to be, and puts them back together in elegant and compelling ways. I think this role will only increase in importance to producers as the workflows and processes of cross/ transmedia continue to be defined.
2) Art Director – In 1992, I had the privilege of seeing 2 designers set the direction, logo and tone of the design of what would become Wired Magazine. John Plunkett and Barbara Kuhr of Plunkett+Kuhr were the team behind the look of a magazine that generated strong reactions in most everyone who saw it (both positive and negative). Art Directors should bring a powerful toolkit, language and sensibility to a project worthy of their time, and my hope is to frame my story in a way to attract that caliber of individual. Part of their role is authentically conveying the story behind the documentary’s “brand” – but it so much more than just branding. A holistic mental model of how navigation, print, online, apps, signage, merch and more all play a role in the meaning-making process.
3) Editorial Director – Is your narrative a 360° experience? I’m not simply talking about the devices it appears on, but the way in which it unfolds, reveals itself, hangs together – complementing each manifestation with integrity and thematic resonance. Here’s where the curation responsibility gets real. Right now, we’re looking for an Editorial Director to take a collection of poems, papers, photos, lyrics, video clips, illustrations mp3’s and sheet music into a suite of artifacts for the creation of an eBook to compliment our documentary. In fact, it’s an essential part of the documentary – and the creation of the eBook will be referenced in the film and be published before the film debuts at a festival. It’s a skill-set that blurs disciplines and boundaries – and we’re looking for an exceptional generalist – someone who knows the value of richly textured multimedia object, but wants to keep Story (capital “S”) at the heart of the experience, wherever and however it’s told.
Keeping story at the center - Music as DNA
4) Music Director – Another translator, the role of the Music Director in this instance is more about orchestrating the live instantiations of the song story DNA, and less the traditional soundtrack music supervisor of feature films. David Terhune wears that hat in the SAS Orchestra, and I chose him for his many years of helping re-animate the songbooks of a host of pop and rock icons during his night job of helping lead the Loser’s Lounge in NYC. For some cross/transmedia producers, it’s likely that there is nothing more central to their narratives than getting the game mechanics right. For me, it the expression of the musical DNA that is at the core of Get It All Out. I’ve used the word “re-hydration” to describe our process, and it’s truly apropos – as music is like water – fluid, connecting and giving life to the spirit of the tale. These songs were basically desiccated and orphaned, and their ongoing recapitulation is both a meaning-making process and a music-revivifying process to find them new homes.
5) Director of Photography – When I started down this path in 2008, not knowing anyone in my immediate circle of friends who was either A) a documentary filmmaker with time on their hands, or B) crazy enough to believe that this particular story was worth a multi-year journey for – I did what anyone in my position would do: I placed the obligatory ad on Craigslist. One persistent person who saw (and evidently liked) my ad kept emailing me, and it’s a good thing. My DP and co-director Chris Schuessler produces news and documentaries for ARTE TV of France, and teaches young people how to tell their own personal narratives with video for NYC’s City Parks Productions. His role has been traditional in a doc filmmaking sense, but invaluable in consistently getting the best possible interviews on camera.
Each of these team members come from different production cultures and exercise varied production models. “Mono-medium production cultures” (Dena) exist because individuals rightly want to master their chosen creative fields and that takes time (maybe not Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” – but years of work). My role as a producer is to both translate the different languages/dialects they all excel at into a common tongue and to orchestrate their work to align with the vision of the story.
That said – nothing can be orchestrated without collaboration. The efficacy of which may in fact be proportional to the producer’s level of transparency and quality of articulation re: the subjective merits (artistic/cultural/political) of the work/storyworld. The Catch 22 resides in the writer/producer’s vision needing a development team constituency from across disciplines to make it concrete – to give all the envisioned connected manifestations of the story life – and given the nature of the wrangling and coordination of talent that must take place, improvisational management and leadership becomes both the catalyst and the glue for progress. So, in some ways – this dispatch (like the music when it was first created) is also an improvisation. And in the spirit of transparency, I hope to improvise further updates here as our team grows and our story develops.
More about the documentary Get It All Out can be found here at getitalloutmovie.com. More about the SAS Orchestra can be found here
Posted in creative collaboration doc production journal transmedia
Off the top of my skull, even reading the title immediately makes me think “Yeah right.” I think it’s a fitting (if controversial) title for the topic that’s to be talked about here. Before I begin, please, allow me to post a disclaimer:
None of this is fact, nor is it gospel. This is what my experience is at the current time of writing.
I want to share a few thoughts about what I’m trying to do with my first feature film and the reasons why I lightly heeded the warnings of a wall of Caution Tape and ducked under it to attempt to walk right into the front door. It’s a very ambitious project, the aspirations of which can be summed up with the pitch.
It’s superbad with super powers, or Harold and Kumar go High(er) concept.
To go a slight bit further, Avery and Pete: Superseeds is a gamer-generation adventure soaked in the batter that 90’s Saturday Morning cartoons were poured from. Set in Los Angeles, following slacker best-friends on a mission to stop their buddies–and enemies–from using their newfound superpowers for bad.
Right away, we’re talking about some very key elements here but, primarily, visual effects. So, not only did I have to juggle fifteen or so key cast members, ten locations that I can count off of the top of my head, and everything else that comes with the territory of a nano budget production I now have to deal with getting believable post visual effects done, something that’s worth seeing on a big screen at the very least.
I’ve failed to mention the budget, but the Kickstarter for Superseeds (which can be easily found by a google search–it was successful) reflects more than half of it, so now we’re talking sheer lunacy.
I’m literally moving away from the traditional nano budget motto, where it’s mostly one location, two to three people, a dramatic situation, etc.
I’ll spare everyone the details on production itself until a later episode, and go into the mentality behind it in bullet points:
A. There are too many nano budgets that take place in one location, with a few actors (some are good, some are not), relying on horror gimmicks or other very similar (even though well done) storylines. And, I swore I would never make a feature that opens with someone tied to a chair and bloody, no matter how easy it was.
B. I wanted to make my first one count for something serious. It needed to at least smell like I tried to play a big boys game, and competently. Aside from getting lost in the sea, it was a test for myself to see if I was worth the criticism I dished out to big Hollywood features. I’ve walked away with a newfound respect for a lot of directors and movies I hammered, regardless of if they are bad or not.
C. Even at this nano-budget, with the five years of experience here in Los Angeles, I knew I could pull it off. And, by knew, it was a gut feeling that I could make this happen one way or another. Thankfully, a lot of the key elements began to fall into place the second I made the decision to not wait for hundreds of thousands of dollars and just do it.
D. I wanted to make sure that it was worthwhile for everyone involved, from cast to crew. Form the onset, it was destined to be a small crew, a skeleton crew. The skeleton of a badger. I was going to shoot in tight spaces with a big camera(s), there was enough money to either feed a lot of people bad food or a few people decent food, and with the crew being so small I wanted each person to get a very prominent credit.
The actors needed to benefit too, and they will regardless of if I move forward. They’ll have footage on their reel of themselves as tasteful superheroes (no spandex suits here), and the production quality was going to look several hundreds of thousands times more than what the budget really was.
People needed to benefit as much as I wanted to myself, take care of everyone. This is why, after this first article, the I becomes we
E. And, most importantly, I wanted to at least break even. I didn’t hear enough stories of nano budgets getting advances,didn’t see enough of them getting into the trades like Gareth’s did or Lena’s Tiny Furniture. When I began to look at them, I noticed what the trend was.
It wasn’t necessarily that they had no star power, they just lacked a certain entertainment cog that a mass audience is looking for. Or, better yet, pays for. Production quality AND value ride along with this as well. Not a lot of people were attempting to compete with Hollywood on their own ground, with a fraction of the money. Probably for very good reason, as well. So, there is no fault or blame, I know why and I respect why.
But, I’m going to go where fewer fish school.
Rest assured, though, it doesn’t mean that it was any easier or harder for me. I am sure I experienced a lot of the blood bath that other filmmakers have, do, will. It’s just another path I wanted to take.
With the investment that’s been made (Kickstarter, My own pocket–I’m so broke right now it’s a crime, and through the gracious dollars of private investors), I knew that if it didn’t happen with a distribution deal, there was a world of self distro opening up that I could recoup the small dividends with and then open up a profit as well. Again, this goes back to having content that’s at least competently “mimicking” what Hollywood tends to churn out.
This post isn’t to tell you that I’ve been successful by doing it, it’s to bring some awareness to the project. A Case Study of something that’s not exactly mumblecore (I respect it, trust me), definitely not a star vehicle, absolutely not well-budgeted enough for what’s going on, hopefully something that inspires the other Little Macs who are afraid to jump in the ring with the Bald Bulls and Sodapopinski’s of the Film World. Ten points if you get the classic 8-bit video game reference.
Stay tuned to the New Breed for updates on progress of Avery and Pete: Superseeds. I’ll spoon-feed you info from my experience at simply trying to entertain the way the Big H-Wood does, successful or not, and what I plan to do with the property beyond simply creating a single feature film.
Posted in audience crowdfunding distribution production journal
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’
Posted in education production journal
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
Posted in education production journal
Taking some more hiatus from the software side of things, I wanted to continue talking about some filmmaking techniques.
THE LOST CHILDREN is a pretty ambitious story to attempt on a low budget. It has aliens and hidden lairs and a massacre. These things are not easily accomplished on a budget as low as ours. It’s only due to the dedication of my cast and crew, and the help from some friends, that this film is possible at all.
Lessons in art direction
I am blessed to have an Art Director who is an artist in his own right. He’s a perfectionist, not because he’s well paid, but because he takes pride in his work. This film could not have been done without him. We learned a while back that art direction is often the most critical piece left out of micro-budget films. So this post is to encourage everyone to think about it.
Lesson 1: Location, location, location
When you’re able to get hold of good locations, your art direction is handled for you. And in ways you could never ever accomplish on a small budget. We needed an abandoned insane asylum from the 19th Century. We would never be able to fake this. So we had to find one. We wound up using an abandoned prison in Philadelphia.
- Prison Cell
All of this stuff was in the place when we got there. The only art direction we added were props specific to our story. But when we got in and saw the location, we realized nothing else would need to be done. We got miles and miles of production value for free. Or I should say, included in the location fee.
Likewise with the location below. Clearly we would never be able to fake or build an observatory. But again, miles of production value built in.
- Josh at the Observatory
Sub-Lesson 1.1: Cinematography is 50% art direction
Many in the low-budget film community obsess over cameras. They should be obsessed with art direction. If you have budget for either a RED and a so-so art director, or an AF-100 and a good art director, always, always, always, always choose the latter. What you point the camera at in the first place buys you a lot of cinematography. Again, on micro-budget productions this is a way to get more production value out of your budget.
Sub-Lesson 1.2: The city is already art directed
If you are lucky enough to be living and working in NYC, you have the world’s greatest backlot at your fingertips. Permits are free. You can shoot all over the place. On a low budget, you get a lot of production value for next to nothing:
- Bklyn Heights shot from an early short
The same lesson can be applied to any city you live in. I know in Ohio where my mom lives, many small towns have some great main-streets, old factories, barns. Use them.
Lesson 2: Be specific
Just as in scripts and acting, and everything else, the choices you make in art direction should be specific to the story. On our set, you could walk into Jared’s office, examine the things on his shelves and desk, and never know it was a movie. Each and every thing in this set has meaning to the character and story.
This symbol is very specifically designed, each element having a meaning:
- K’Taan Symbol
And this is becoming more important than ever, as your movie may move beyond the screen into other media. There might be some little thing on screen that winds up playing out more in shorts, the website, etc. So you have to know exactly what that thing is. Take the time to make every detail very specific.
Lesson 3: Smoke it up!
A little fog goes a long way. We’ve been using this for a long time. Now fog machines can be purchased at any halloween store. Hell, I got mine at a $.99 store in Brooklyn. They can also be purchased at places like Guitar World. They go for about $40 now, and they will come in sooooo handy.
- El Cheapo fog machine from $.99 store
Professionals use something called a hazer, which more evenly spreads the smoke. So when you crank up your el-cheapo smoke machine, make sure you have a big piece of cardboard around to waft it into an even pattern.
Now, you can use this fog for a couple of things. First off, it can help make your location look creepy as hell. But it can also be used like the Hollywood people use it, to diffuse light and give depth and atmosphere to a location:
- Blade Runner Master of Haze
Blade Runner is of course an extreme example, but I just saw the hazer used on the HBO show “Bored to Death”. In the Old Town bar. Once you know about it, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. And it’s an effect you can apply yourself for very little money.
Or you can use it just to make yourself look like a bad-ass:
- Bad-ass Mark
Makin’ guts: Practical effects on set
One scene in THE LOST CHILDREN involves a massacre. This means blood and goop and guts. The fun stuff. These things can be composited in after the fact, and I have seen some low budget films do that. But I don’t really have that skillset in house, so it would raise the budget. It was much more cost effective to do these EFX on set.
I had researched a bunch of tutorials on the web, and you can find them too with Google. But the technique I settled on for making our entrails, is this:
1) Get some skin-colored liquid latex and paper towels. This latex can be had from Halloween shops, or of course professional make-up suppliers. But these days, it seems like Halloween shops have nearly everything you need for a film.
- Ben Nye Liquid Latex
2) Get a paint brush and some pretty smooth surface. I’ve seen plexi-glass recommended, but I used a shelf from Ikea. It’s laminated, so will not soak up the liquid latex, yet allows for some imperfections. In all things guts, imperfections are your friends. Paint the liquid latex over your surface. It can be pretty thin. Don’t sweat trying to make it smooth and perfect, just get a good membrane laid down.
3) Then get a hair dryer and blow that stuff dry. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there all day.
4) When it’s dry it will look like rubber. It might seem like it got transparent, but don’t worry about that, it’s all good. Take the paper towels and roll them up into sort of thin sausages. The length can vary. Again, not perfect is perfect.
5) Once you have the paper towel sausages, put them on one edge of the latex and roll the latex over them, as if the latex is the sausage casing. Roll it up until your paper towels are contained in the latex casing. Use several paper towel sausages so that you get some intersect points, as illustrated in the photo below.
6) Repeat until you have all the guts you need. This can be time consuming, even with the hair-dryer, so make sure to give yourself enough time. I think I spent about 8 hrs making the guts I needed for…2 people. But you can re-use them in several shots, I think. I don’t know how they keep, because we only needed them for one shoot-day.
You can add more layers of latex, if you like. I think we did two per entrail. But the end result looks like this. See how it looks like there are three sections? That’s due to three paper towel sausages.
- Latex guts
Now, add some blood mixture, tear open a shirt, and Voila! Actually, I had made a sort of…plastic-bag-bed-gut-holder under the actor’s shirt, so he wouldn’t have to sit there with it on his skin. It also made clean-up easier, which saves time on set. Reads great on camera and gives people a jump. Even on set, people walking into the room would jump when they saw this.
Skulls: Everyone has one, but how often do you get to play with it?
One of our shots involves a pile of skulls. This is one department where Halloween stores will not save you. If they do have skulls real enough to pass muster, they will cost you an arm and a leg. Okay, bad joke. Instead, I found a great website: http://www.skeleton-factory.com. You want bones, they got ‘em. And cheap. Here you can buy skulls of many qualities at various prices. I chose the cheapest, knowing that the fog and the muck, etc would cover up any imperfections. These run $8.95 each. I got 10 for our shoot.
- Insert Yorick joke here.
Rip all the hardware off. You will need to sandpaper some ridges, maybe putty up some cracks, spray paint them. depending on how they will be seen. But if you don’t mind putting in a little elbow grease, these are a fantastic solution for the micro-budget filmmaker. Here’s how they came out in the film:
- Skulls in shot
Okay, that’s it for now. Send questions if you have them. I am talking to my art director about writing something as well, detailing some more of his processes.
Posted in The Lost Children creative collaboration production journal