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Film Finance - Raising Money For A Movie
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CHAPTER 1 - Raising Money For The First Movie
00:00 - SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT Was My Hardest Movie To Finance by Spike Lee
01:38 - How I’ve Financed My First Six Feature Films by Hunter Weeks
02:58 - How I’ve Financed My First Four Feature Films by Brian Jun
03:32 - Advice For Anyone Who Wants To Be A Filmmaker by Jay Duplass
CHAPTER 2 - Money Mentality
04:36 - A Pep Talk To Help You Raise Money For Your Movie by Judy Chaikin
06:52 - How I’ve Been Able To Make So Many Independent Films by Richard Linklater
07:45 - I Bet All The Money I Have Most Of The Time by Kamal Haasan
08:15 - Not Having Money Wasn’t Going To Stop Us From Making Our Movie by Capella Brogden
09:34 - What Filmmakers Need To Know About Financing Their Movies by Spike Lee
13:24 - Advice For Anyone Who Wants To Be A Filmmaker by Jay Duplass
CHAPTER 3 - Pitching Investors
14:54 - How I Got $32 Million For My Movie After Everyone In Hollywood Said ‘No’ by Gary W. Goldstein
19:51 - Advice We Followed That Helped Us Find Financing For Our Movie by Douglas Spain
23:02 - Dealing With Independent Film Investors by Paul Osborne
26:28 - Raising Money For A Movie by Zoe Cassavetes
CHAPTER 4 - Traditional Financing and Crowdfunding
28:06 - Why Raising Money For An Independent Movie Is Different Every Time by Paul Osborne
29:48 - Best Ways To Raise Money For A Documentary by Kevin Knoblock
32:28 - Why We Chose Traditional Financing Over Crowdfunding by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
35:15 - I Would’ve Been Better Off Raising Money Without Crowdfunding by Judy Chaikin
40:09 - How I’ve Financed My First Six Feature Films by Hunter Weeks
41:42 - How I Raised $125,000 On Kickstarter by Ryan Koo
CHAPTER 5 - Credit Cards
43:58 - Why Raising Money For An Independent Movie Is Different Every Time by Paul Osborne
45:20 - It’s A Bad Idea To Finance A Movie On A Credit Card by Jon Reiss
CHAPTER 6 - Each Film Is Different
49:14 - Why Raising Money For An Independent Movie Is Different Every Time by Paul Osborne
52:10 - How I’ve Financed My First Six Feature Films by Hunter Weeks
53:53 - How I’ve Financed My First Four Feature Films by Brian Jun
54:18 - How I’ve Financed My First Six Feature Films by Hunter Weeks
56:13 - How I’ve Financed My First Four Feature Films by Brian Jun
57:20 - How I’ve Financed My First Six Feature Films by Hunter Weeks
CHAPTER 7 - When Things Go Wrong
59:44 - We Lost Financing On Our Movie 48 Hours Before Production by Justin Trevor Winters
1:02:13 - How We Raised Money For Our Documentary Over 8 Years by Judy Chaikin
1:03:58 - COLD TURKEY Fell Apart 18 Times Before We Finally Made It by Will Slocombe
CHAPTER 8 - Who Said It Was Going To Be Easy
1:05:27 - It’s Harder To Raise $1 Million To Make A Movie Than It Is $25 Million by Spike Lee
1:06:21 - Investors Didn’t Want An All Latino Cast For Our Movie by Douglas Spain
1:08:15 - Finally Making A Movie After Having 25 Fall Apart In Development by Alan Howard
1:10:14 - Over 150 Financiers Passed On Our Movie by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
1:13:13 - Raising Money For A Movie by Zoe Cassavetes
1:15:30 - We Lost Financing On Our Movie 48 Hours Before Production by Justin Trevor Winters
1:18:01 - The Six Year Journey Of Raising Money For Our Movie by Dan Mirvish
CHAPTER 9 - Nuts and Bolts
1:27:26 - Best Ways To Raise Money For A Documentary by Kevin Knoblock
1:28:28 - How I Pitched GIRLS IN THE BAND To My First Investor by Judy Chaikin
1:29:49 - Watch This Before You Approach Investors For Your Movie by Amar Sidhu
1:34:18 - Advice We Followed That Helped Us Find Financing For Our Movie by Douglas Spain
1:36:28 - How We Raised Money For Our Documentary Over 8 Years by Judy Chaikin
1:37:43 - A Pep Talk To Help You Raise Money For Your Movie by Judy Chaikin
1:40:13 - The Conversation With An Independent Film Investor
1:43:21 - How I Distributed My Last Two Movies by Blayne Weaver
Ideally, the coverage or assessment that a writer receives concerning a draft screenplay will be both illuminating and inspiring, enough to point out a clear direction as to where the story needs to go in the next draft, Unfortunately, many assessors have boiled down their criticism to a conventional jargon that is inexact enough to create confusion in the minds of some screenwriters.
Often, the would-be assessor is averse to being brutally honest about what doesn’t work in your script, and in their desire to be as helpful as possible, the assessor will indulge in any number of euphemistic judgements and figures of speech that don't quite say what they mean, or at least don't mean as much as the assessor would like to think.
If you don't quite get the meaning of the feedback you've received concerning your script, here are some translations of commonly heard expressions of judgement.
Euphemism: The concept doesn't quite gel.
Your story isn’t about a person who fights through obstacles of increasing difficulty, including his crippling flaw, to get something he can’t live without.
The fix: Nail down your story so it is about someone doing something difficult for a compelling reason.
Euphemism: The dialogue is expository.
Your lines explain what’s going on, who everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The fix: Write dialogue as if it’s the reader’s job to figure all that stuff out. Compose most dialogue to build character instead of reveal plot. Focus on subtext. Readers love subtext.
Euphemism: The stakes are low.
Your plot never establishes why your protagonist needs this thing he needs so much that if he doesn’t get it, it would be a catastrophe.
The fix: Get rid of all his safety nets. Write with an eye to increasing how badly this enterprise can go wrong.
Euphemism: The protagonist is not sympathetic.
You wrote a character the reader doesn’t care about. Your protagonist does not have to be likable, but he has to someone that you can relate to.
The fix: Give your protagonist a deep, authentic flaw and construct his obstacles to challenge him right where he’s weakest.
Euphemism: Low conflict.
You’re much too easy on your protagonist.
The fix: To up your conflict, brainstorm about the worst possible thing that could happen to your protaggonist in his quest. The tallest hurdle. The biggest betrayal. The most devastating setback. Then do that.
Euphemism: The structure is loose.
Every scene does not add something.
The fix: Every scene should complicate matters rather then illuminate them or set them up or resolve them. Go through your scenes and find the ones that don’t throw another wrench into the works. Tighten your structure by lumping them together into scenes that matter, or get rid of them.
Here’s an example of a query letter that got an immediate response. And I mean IMMEDIATE. Within minutes, they emailed me back asking for the script. A few details have been changed. I’ll comment on each section in orange.
(Address it directly to someone. I typically choose someone who is either newest to the company or in the most junior position. If you can’t find a name, then just say “hello”)
RE: literary representation.
(Put this in the subject bar of your e-mail to avoid it being trashed. Other Suggestions: “Query” and the title of your project; if you met them somewhere, put where you met; also, if you have a generic e-mail address, address it to someone specific “ATTN: Emily”)
I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet at the pitchfest. I hope you found it beneficial. As a result of the pitchfest, my feature script, Block Rockin’ Beats, is currently with both Banging Pictures and Fancy Pants Management, who also requested the pilot script for my one-hour drama series, Up The Creek. Up The Creek and my suspense drama No Paddle were both nearly optioned by Another Production Company and helped secure representation with My Big Fat Literary Agency. I would love to send you a writing sample such as Block Rockin’ Beats.
(I mentioned where I got her contact info and that two other places requested my scripts as well as prior success with production companies and agencies so they can see other people in the industry like my work. I didn’t go into training or anything else as industry approval is more legitimate.)
Logline: A D.J. gets busted for playing Rockin’ Beats in a town where only Christian music is allowed.
(I isolated the logline so they know where to find it easily)
(Here I wrote 2 more sentences about the script. I suggest keeping it to no more than a short paragraph. Tell them only what they need to know to want to read your script.)
As a writer of high-concept romantic comedies and cable television dramedies, my style tends to be mainly character-driven, sophisticated verbal comedy, which is better-suited to the US market. I’m looking for a manager with the ability to introduce me to the Los Angeles market and with whom I can continue to grow as an artist.
(I clearly identified my niche so they know how to market me and whether or not I’m suited to their roster. I also outlined specific goals I’d like to achieve with them. Avoid listing more than two, if they want to meet with you, you can get into greater detail then.)
Thank you for taking the time to review my material. I can be reached any time at 555-1546. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
(put your name and contact info here. If you have any relevant credits on IMDB or a website, put your links here.)
I have to mention too that I sent a similar letter to a few others and received no response, so it’s not a guarantee. Obviously, what I’m pitching to them has to be of interest to them.
As a fledgling writer, I got terrible advice and wrote dreadful query letters. I got no responses, which was probably for the best, as looking back, I wasn’t ready to be pitching anyway.
Things NOT to put in query letters:
I think you get the idea. People in Hollywood talk and they share their horror stories. You really don’t want to be among them. Keep it brief, keep it professional.
With thanks for permission to re-print to Write For Hollywood
More and more, agents and producers are asking writers for a one-sheet after hearing an intriguing pitch.
A one-sheet is different things to different people, but for most agents and producers, it is a written pitch on one piece of paper. It is sometimes defined as a "title, premise, and synopsis." It can be formatted in a variety of ways; there are no hard-fast rules. You can use your own letterhead or a blank page; in the latter case, make sure your contact information is on the one-sheet.
In a way, a one-sheet is similar to a query. If you have crafted a great logline or premise ("what if" question) or hook, then lead with that, followed by a wonderfully written summary of your core story. Be careful not to jam so much information into the one-sheet that it looks unattractive to read or too complex to comprehend.
In the movie distribution business, a one-sheet usually refers to the movie poster. The movie poster is designed to sell the movie. A writer's one-sheet is designed to sell the story idea and entice the reader to ask for the screenplay.
A one-sheet is one of the seven selling tools that you may wish to develop as part of an overall marketing campaign for your script. Here are those seven tools.
1. A showcase script.
2. A provocative pitch hook and compelling story summary that can be used in any oral or written pitch (such as a query letter or one-sheet).
3. An awesome oral pitch.
4. A captivating query letter.
5. A scintillating one-sheet.
6. A tantalizing treatment, usually about 3-8 pages. Occasionally, an agent or producer may ask for this prior to asking for the script.
7. A convincing telephone script if you use the phone to make contacts or to follow-up.
To the magnificent seven selling tools listed, let's add an eighth - a positive, professional, and enthusiastic attitude driven by your passion.
CHECK OUT THE PERIODIC TABLE OF STORYTELLING
A producer and entrepreneur I know recently shared her views on film investment at the lower budget end with specific regard to private investment. What’s interesting about this person is that she had an extremely successful career in business before changing gear to enter the film industry
Unlike most filmmakers, she was used to rubbing shoulders with the business elite. That’s her tribe. Now that she's on the hunt for investment opportunities in film and television, and, from a purely business perspective, I asked her to share her thoughts on why any potential investor would consider putting money into a film.
"Most investors aren’t doing it for the money," she replied. "They say they are because they want to look savvy, but they’re not really. Because any investor in his right mind wouldn’t invest in a low budget movie – there’s much better ways to invest your hard earned cash, unless there's something else drawing you toward it.
"So when answering investor’s questions you have to bear in mind: they need to look like they are financially savvy so they can justify their decisions to people who ask them, but a big component of their involvement is for the fun of making a movie. In a sense you have to help them lie to themselves and both of you need to believe and be comfortable with that lie. Which is what fancy dinners, screenings, asking their “opinion” and coming to the set is for."
Assuming you can get into the position where you can credibly pitch your business proposition (that’s your film) she suggests that the top questions private investors will ask, in order of priority, areas follows:
Q – What’s in it for me and can you prove it?
What’s the equity?
What is the structure of the deal on offer and how is it broken down, specifically. What do they actually get for their money?
How much will I make?
In most deals, they are looking for ten times their money back, but most know that they will likely see much less or lose it all – you can offset some risk by offering to protect their investment with Tax Credit schemes. This is very powerful as a good portion of their risk is ‘insured’.
How long will it take me to make it?
Not just the film, but make good on the deal – it’s going to take a minimum of three years to return their investment. There is the potential for a very long tail to investment if your film is successful.
What other movies like this have sold in the last 3 years? What was their budget? Did it have stars or no stars?
They are looking for precedent here, what similar projects with similar budgets and similar ‘set-ups’ are out there? How did they perform? In essence, can you prove you have a good business idea because someone else has already proven it for you? Don’t ‘spin’ too heavily here, remember, deep in their heart they know they are taking a risk. Integrity is essential.
Who bought those films and for how much?
Can you find out who bought those movies and how much they paid? Surprisingly, if you ask around, you start to get a sense of what movies are selling, to whom and for how much. Often you will be left feeling like there is a greater truth that is not being shared by producers and sales agents, but you can often get solid ball parks. You may even get full disclosure as long as it stays confidential (you can often ask if you can share the details with investors, verbally and behind closed doors).
How much did they make?
Again, they are seeking precedent. These are really tough questions, but you would ask them too if it were your money being invested right? You may be able to do some speculative maths and should be able to explain accurately how you came to those conclusions.
Will it be theatrical? Or just DVD, online, TV etc?
Everyone likes a theatrical release. In reality most films fail at the box office. There is an argument that a tactical release in theatres will bolster PR and raise awareness for subsequent DVD/ TV / VOD and foreign sales. But mostly, it’s for the ego and career strategy for all involved.
Will the film company have annual audited accounts, showing any income from sales and royalties?
You need to answer YES to this of course. Better still, hire a collection agent to collect monies from sales and then pay out in accordance with the deal, offering secure and protected channels through which investors money flows back to them. It’s very hard for anyone to get ripped off in this scenario which again, offers comfort to nervous (and rightly so) investors.
How many other investors will I be sharing proceeds with?
Who else has an interest? Is their interest on a level playing field with mine, or are they getting more or less? It’s usually best to give everyone the same deal. It’s fair and no-one feels like they are getting screwed. Watch Dragons Den and you will be reminded about how important it is to save ‘face’. No-one EVER wants to feel like someone else is getting a better deal.
What are projected returns across all of the territories?
Bottom line, how much will your film make? Sales Agents can offer projected sales. While everyone asks for this report, it is in large, a piece of fiction. No-one really knows what your film will be like, who will be in it, who will buy it, what genres will be hot in three years time… yada yada… But they still like to have the piece of paper. So give it to them.
Check! Good so far… let’s continue...
Q – Are you any good at this?
How are you spending my money?
Do you have a detailed budget? They want to know that you have really thought this through. You need to give a sense that you can deliver on time ON BUDGET. No-one ever wants to fork out more to bail out what could be perceived as a sinking ship.
Why is your film different or any more exciting than the next movie?
As ever, they want it to be the same but different – the same so you can show precedent (other successful similar films), but different so it has something unique and ideally better (than other similar successful films). What unique and juicy ‘thing’ do you have that will ‘wow’ people? Can you demonstrate that you are ‘that much’ of a creative genius? Do you have some killer cast in your pocket? Or a never been seen gimmick? And will it make your film more attractive?
Who are you? What else have you done before?
This is where your track record comes in. Previous short films, awards, feature films etc will all play here. It’s often best avoiding talking about how you went to film school, or any film courses you attended. You want to look like a natural and not someone who needed training. Mentioning film school or training will also make you seem inexperienced. You can cut a fabulous reel from your best work and show it to them, or a reel of your secured cast and crew to show their past work.
Paradoxically, you are often at your strongest when all you can show is raw talent, enthusiasm and strong business acumen, but still have no credible track record. If you get to make your film, ensure that you deliver on your promise (it’s great and makes money) or next time you come to financing, this film could be the millstone around your neck that sinks your career. Make sure your film does not prove that you are talentless and have no business head.
What’s it about? Who’s in it? etc
OK… if you have got this far, they may be hooked. They are starting to engage more like a consumer and want to hear you the master story teller. Weave a wonderful tale and deliver your story with passion, wit, mystery and a little show biz. Make no mistake though, investors are NOT consumers who can be blagged by shiny artwork and a great pitch. You MUST have all the other stuff before anyone will take your story pitch seriously. Investors also like to see ‘faces’ in your film, it gives them all a sense of security that this is real. The logic goes, ‘if top acting talent wants in, it must be good, right?’
How are you going to market and sell it?
Investors don’t necessarily understand film sales and how a film monetises, so provide as much data as you can to show how cash flows back to them. Also, be frank about who else takes a slice of your sales pie, from sales agents, to the VAT office. They want to know that you understand and have control of the sales cash flow.
Do you have any strategic partners? Or talent and experience around you?
Does your film have an experienced godfather you can call on? Do you have experience in your crew? Do your actors have a track record? Do you have an experienced accountant? Do you have a sales agent already onboard to sell it? Do you have money from the BBC / Ch4 / a government body / a co-producer etc. And if you do, who are they and can the investors see their track records too? Better still, can they meet them?
Is there likely to be a need for further funding before the film is finally ready?
Again, this is the fear of you coming back, cap in hand for more. Once they are committed they KNOW that they may need to invest further to protect the initial investment (should you go over budget). Of course this is best avoided. If you can prove that you have repeatedly delivered past projects on budget this will help enormously. Past production budgets that were successfully delivered (on budget) are also proof of concept – you can prove X movie cost Y amount?
Who are you again?
If you have got this far, it’s good news. Now they may want a little background to find out what inspired you, where you came from… to get to know you more. Now it’s moving from head to gut. Do they like you?
OK… still going good… let’s continue.
Q – What happens if it all screws up?
How do you protect me if it all goes wrong? (how do I not look stupid?)
What happens in various scenarios? What if you can’t complete? What happens if the film is not very good? How can you protect the investor and what are the risks? Be frank and upfront. You should be able to convince people that you CAN pull it off, you have done all your prep in great detail, you know the market, you have surrounded yourself with talent (both cast and crew), and hopefully you can protect some of their investment via Tax Credits.
OK… so far so good…
So if you have got this far, you have proven that you can do it, and probably do it well. You have also proven that some of their investment is protected, giving them comfort. Now the deciding factors often become about delivering a fun experience.
Q – What’s in it for me at an ego level?
What are the perks?
Can I go to the film set? Can I meet cast and team? Can my daughter be in it, she’s such a good actor etc etc? Do I get a credit? Be creative about your investor perks.
The subtext here is now can I use your name to make me look good? Can I tell my friends about his fun venture?
Great! Almost there… one last step…
And finally… now YOU ask the question. Are you in?
Making a movie is much like backing an expedition to climb Mount Everest. Investors just want to know…
This is of course no definitive list, and EVERY person is different, with varying degrees of interest, required comfort levels and ego.
But I would argue that investors attracted to film will fit this conversation and criteria more comfortably.
COURTESY of PROJECT-ROCKETBOY
Courtesy of Scott Macauley
A Filmmaker reader recently emailed me with a simple question. After going to film school, making some shorts and working conspicuously within his means, he’s now written a script purely from the imagination — not censoring himself by thinking of things like money and production requirements. The resulting project, I take it, is too big for his usual DIY methods. He asked, “What do I do now?”
A tough question, not knowing the filmmaker very well and not having read the script. There are easier-said-than-done answers: “Find a producer! Get an agent!” But just sending out a bunch of PDFs, sitting back and hoping someone else will make your movie (or tell you why they won’t) is only one approach. For those who want to be more proactive, here are 15 things that can be done starting now. (If you’re a GTD junkie, consider these all possible “next steps.”) Keep in mind that this list, which is by no means inclusive, was written with a first-time writer/director in mind, someone who may necessarily be working outside the system to get his or her film made.
1. Proofread your script. Do it yourself, and then have an eagle-eyed friend do it again. Seriously.
2. Get it out for feedback from people you trust. Be patient. It can take people a while to read things. Patiently follow up, and after they do read it, encourage them to give you honest advice. Ask them specific questions about what works for them and what doesn’t. Consider putting together a reading and then soliciting feedback after — both in a Q&A session and through follow-up emails. (I actually hate going to readings, but admit that they can sometimes be helpful.) And, if you’re hoping for industry finance, get it covered. All studios and most production companies hire readers to do coverage — a synopsis, comments, and grid rankings of its various elements (concept, characters, etc.). You can hire these people too. Just ask a contact at a company who their best reader is and if that person would be willing to take on a freelance assignment. And then pay that person to do private coverage for you. For a relatively small amount of money you’ll learn how a more marketplace-attuned person will view their script without risking a pass from a company you may be interested in.
3. Rewrite the script based on the feedback you receive. For your readers, did the story work? Did the characters track emotionally as they progressed through the script? Was the dialogue fresh? Were there formatting or exposition issues that threw people out of the story? Did you write characters actors will want to play? I can’t tell you how many scripts I read that are really just first drafts. It’s clear their writers haven’t drilled down, identified their scripts’ weaknesses, and worked to fix them. Recognize that writing is a skill, and rewriting is a related but separate one. You need to do both.
4. Be social. Friends + family + Kickstarter + grants is the model for many low-budget films today. And in order for your crowd-funding to be effective, you’ll need a social footprint. Whether it’s a Facebook page, a standalone website, a Tumblr account or a Twitter account — or all four — it will help to have a base of followers to seed your news and funding requests to. Start with at least one of the above now and begin refining your “social voice” and attracting followers.
5. Hire the right person to schedule and budget the script. Take particular note of the third and fourth words of the preceding sentence. Whatever you imagine the budget to be, hire a line producer or UPM familiar with that budget range and, if it’s a seven or eight-figure budget, one that’s acceptable to the completion bond company you’ll ultimately need. If you don’t know how to identify this person, ask a producer you do know or even a bond company for a recommendation. If you think your film will be made on a micro budget, hire someone who has actually made a film for that budget. And if you do the latter, don’t just say thanks once you get the budget back. Sit down with that person and find out what you need to do and what connections you’ll have to make to reel in the people and gear budgeted for at below-market rates.
6. If you don’t know someone who can budget it or can’t afford to hire someone, learn to budget it yourself. Two books I can recommend are Film and Video Budgets and Maureen Ryan’s Producer to Producer (not strictly a budgeting book, but with budgets and much useful information).
7. Rewrite the script based on the budget and schedule you receive. Is there a 1/8″ page scene that drives the budget up significantly —— and that you don’t really need? Are the project’s budgetary needs, the marketplace, and the final budget number in alignment? If you’re directing this script, is it appropriately scaled for what you’ll be able to command as attached talent?
8. Make a cast list and/or try to attach a casting director. You may need to raise funds — or commit some of your own — to pay a casting director a retainer or consultancy fee. If you can’t afford that, look for a casting associate or assistant at one of the established casting agencies and see if you can entice them to take on your project — with, you hope, the mentorship of their bosses. If your script is really good, you might be able to get the latter for little or even no money,
9. If you are going the new or non-actor route, find those people. Start doing open calls, work with local casting directors on street casting, and embed yourself in the communities where you’ll find these people.
10. Get it to producers. Or produce it yourself, or maybe find someone young and hungry who wants to be a producer and get to work developing him/her. If you look at the early careers of virtually every successful independent producer you’ll note the beginning project on which some director took a chance on them. For little or no pay, the director got a dedicated person not juggling ten thousand other projects — someone excited to be making a movie. Don’t just to look to the established people; find the up-and-comers. (Alternately, look to established producers who, if they can’t commit fully, can executive produce with someone they approve working as the formal producer.)
11. Start looking for money on your own — don’t wait for someone to do it for you. Finding money is a job like any other. Yes, it can be tough without the social connections. But the only way to start is by building an investment package and then pounding the pavement, asking everyone you know if they or someone they know might be interested in investing in a film. Look for people who might want to support you or who are inspired by the subject of your movie. And when people say no, as many will do, don’t end the conversation without getting from them a lead on someone else to approach. If you think you’ll do a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, decide when to launch. Should you do it now, so you’ll have some money raised to cover development or perhaps even entice a producer? Or later, when you’ll need it in post. If you want to do it early, start putting that crowdfunding campaign together. (Check out this essential post by Zak Forsman on how he made his campaign a success.)
12. Make what’s known as a “mood reel.” I used to dismiss these, but they are increasingly in vogue these days. They can be called other things — “visual look books,” for example — and are short reels of scenes from other films (or perhaps your own test footage) edited to suggest the tone of your movie. In Britain, the funding agencies are beginning to fund these as part of development grants. For an example, check out the one on Ryan Koo’s Kickstarter page.
13. Assemble collaborators. You can’t make a film on your own. Can you get a great d.p. attached, or a fantastic editor? You may not have a name, but you might be able to get to someone who does, and their presence will both add value to your project as well as provide you with the talent you need by your side.
14. Submit it to a development lab or workshop - or a professional support program or a contest. Stoneking Seminars, The Sundance Labs, the IFP Emerging Narrative Program, the Film Independent Labs, Tribeca’s All Access Program — there some of the filmmaker support mechanisms out there that can help you refine your vision, connect with the industry, or both. As an example of how this process can lead to a film being financed, read this old article of mine, “Everyone She Knew,” about how Miranda July endured multiple rejections from the Sundance Labs before finally getting in and then moving her debut feature into production. (Sometimes this process leads to you not directing your film, but that can be okay. Here’s Marc Maurino on his journey after attending IFP Emerging Narrative.) Or, submit your script to a contest, like the Nicholl Fellowships. I produced a film once that received its funding after the director submitted it to a screenwriting contest and one of the judges took a liking to it and climbed on board as producer and financier.
15. If you’re not getting traction on any of the above, ask yourself why. What’s not working? Why aren’t people falling in love with it? And then, put the script down for a month. When those 30 days are over, reread it, think about how to make it better, and get to work.
PLEASE NOTE : If any of the above is helpful and you’d like to read more responses to reader questions on the blog, send your own questions about film-making to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can’t give you an answer, I’ll get it to someone who can and post the response here.
Check for SCRIPT RESOURCES ON OUR LINKS PAGE
If you’re involved with the dark arts of video in any way, there’s a good chance at some point that you’ve created, or at least come across, a demo reel. While traditional demo reels are usually your best video pieces cut to music, how can you really stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way if they’re all pretty much the same? Nora De tackles that very subject and shows off her “remixed” demo reel, talking about how it landed her a job, and how rethinking your reel could help you land your own dream job.
This is a guest post from Nora De.
That demo reel you’re reworking today (or cover letter for that matter) should show off who you are, not just your abilities and “what you shot.” It should be personalized for your prospective employer, it should be short, and it should reflect your personal brand: your personality and what you’re best at doing — for them.
I saw a job posting on Indeed for a videographer at Refinery29, a lifestyle brand based here in NYC. As an avid style/beauty nerd shooting DSLR (that was my brand), I thought, “I’m going to get this job.” How? Well, I’ll make a video of course. But one that goes beyond the traditional “reel.” I’m not cutting film here, so I don’t have to limit myself to a montage. Instead, I’ll focus on showing off my concern for whom I’m targeting, with specific clips tailored to that prospective employer.
Every business, director, and client looking to hire for video or film has their own brand even if they’re unaware of it. As a DSLR shooter, you may even be petitioning a business that is open to suggestions for ways to incorporate video into their growth strategy. A common expectation of cinematographers is that they will create a feeling — a look. Chances are, even as a well-known or respected DP, you’re responding to the need of a director or producer responding to the expectations of a client, responding to the need of a brand. The brand, by extension, IS a feeling and look. Why not address those needs in your reel?
The problem with any reel, or resume, or cover letter, is that your visuals, or abilities, aren’t you. You cannot convey in one montage that you’re great to work with or that you show up on time. This isn’t a new concept in hiring. You can greatly improve your chances of being noticed and getting hired by adding personality and understanding.
What should your video cover letter look like? Well, what does your prospective brand look like? The company I was pitching curates things — from DIY life-hacks to clothing boutiques themselves — with integrated shopping options built into articles. So, I did what they do. I literally curate my own work. I show them I can DIM by creating a stop-motion video akin to their style of their content. I make my name and contact info an integrated “shop” by making it the last thing the viewer sees.
I shot this using my Canon 5D Mark II, on a tripod, with a timer. After storyboarding a bunch of ideas — from photoshopping myself into a series of life events, to animating an homage to the company — I got frustrated and wrote the simplest script I could. What could you say, no holds barred, to the business/person you’re interviewing with? “Hi, I’m Nora. I want to work for Refinery29…”
Once I realized the script was so simple, I knew the visuals should match. I cut a piece of cardboard to mimic a small display — about 20 inches. From there, I presented visuals from projects I worked on in an interesting way. They would be smaller than the screen itself, so the format was different from traditional reels. They would feature my face and hands interacting with them, to show I’m engaged with my own content.
Using the rescaling tool in Final Cut Pro 7 and manually tweaking each frame to be slightly different from the next, it made my holding and exchanging the “frame” for the next video seem real. For the main portion of the clip I steadied it, so the integrity of the motion was preserved. I recorded VO with a Sennheiser G2, and set that over the clips with the pacing of a commercial. “Hi, I’m Nora” should have weight since it’s my handshake. A couple extra seconds went to that part. The hook is showing the company’s name “in lights” as the next visual, so they know I’m thinking only of them. This is the crucially important part, as a traditional reel is general and not specific to a particular business or director/producer.
There are limitations with a traditional demo reel. It isn’t generally used to pitch just one company or individual. You make it, send it to a bunch of people, and hope someone likes your work and hires you. A reel is supposed to be expansive, but also specific to the kind of work you want to be associated with. I decided to make a me-specific reel because I knew that in doing so, I wasn’t just pitching Refinery29, but also anyone I gave the link to. “Hi I’m Nora. (I work in fashion, but I also do other things well.)” From there, I took the job description soft skills (“one who plays nicely with others”) and accented the qualities they were asking for. This formed the script.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just big companies that have brands. Production houses, agencies, director/producer teams, even guilds, are composed of individuals with common values. What are those values? Figure out what theirs are, and recreate your reel to feel like a commercial, not a montage. Explore those ways to visualize yourself and your work.
Also, less Dubstep.
Nora is a new media filmmaker and strategist. She specializes in branding and product, building content strategies for businesses she thinks are unstoppable. She currently works on the marketing initiatives of Modern Guild and Earthsharing, and has created data-informed video content for The Wall Street Journal, Refinery29, and NBC. In past lives she studied and worked in engineering, philosophy, and legal theory.