Keep Talking

On our final day of shooting, I received a private message through this blog from a young filmmaker in New York. I have been asked a variety of questions since launching the blog, but something about the timing  and subject of this particular one really caught my attention and landed with me. The "asker" has been kind enough to let me repost some of his message below followed by my response. Seth,

I am an 18 year old aspiring filmmaker in NYC! I just wanted to first say that I truly admire what you are doing. Not only are you embarking on your first feature film that you've probably worked your fingers to the bone for, but you are documenting every step of the process so people like me can learn more about the quest of making an independent feature film!

My question for you is this: Once you've written a script that you are passionate about and believe in, how do you get it off the ground? I am astounded by your success in networking and finding funding, and only hope that the project I have been working on can get off the ground. After reading your posts you seem like a perfect example of someone who is living the young filmmaker's dream!

...I want to thank you for documenting this process, as it is really inspiring for me to watch a young filmmaker like myself out at work.

Can't wait to see "Passing Harold Blumenthal"!

Sam

Hi Sam. Thanks for the kind words and support. It was one of my original hopes for this blog that it might be of some use to other filmmakers out there, and I'm thrilled to have you following the journey. As I'm not technically done with my movie and have no real idea as to whether or not I've done my job well yet, I'll just give you my take on getting to the point I'm at now with the film.

Sam: "Once you've written a script that you are passionate about and believe in, how do you get it off the ground?"

It's a good thing you asked this question now, because I really only realized I had an answer a few days ago. Sitting on set and looking around at all the people, equipment, locations, etc. I thought to myself, why are all these people here? What are they doing? Do they know this is just some stupid story I made up while sitting in my underwear at the computer? Why would anyone agree to do this thing with me? How did I ever get this off the ground?"

I think the simplest answer is to not get hung up on the question of "how". In the "About" sections of the blog (which I reread today for the first time since November), It says it doesn't matter how I do it, but only that I'm doing it. I think that has held up better than I meant it to.

There are a million ways to make a movie. A million ways to finance it, write it, shoot it, edit it, and sell it. None of them are easy or predictable. I have found that simply stating out loud that you are going to do something goes a long way. So long as you don't get hung up or stalled by any of the obstacles of industry standards, you can get your film made. You just have to be prepared to do it regardless of how difficult it might be or how small it might be.

If June would have come and I hadn't raised any money, I was prepared to make this movie for whatever I had in my savings account. It would have been a different movie. It wouldn't have looked as good and would have been a hell of a lot harder and I would have slept even less. Nevertheless, I was ready to do it that way. That was all the empowerment I needed.

If you have a script you love and believe in, pick a date and mark it on your calendar. Give yourself some time, but not too much time. Keep the excitement as fresh as you can. The way you keep yourself excited is to talk about it. Tell everyone what you are doing. Once you've told everyone you know, go and find people you don't know who might be interested. Every time you talk to someone, have them make an introduction to someone else who might listen to you talk about your movie.  Talk talk talk. You never have to beg anyone for anything, because you don't really need them (remember, you are prepared to do it by yourself right?).

The specific path is always different and unpredictable, but so long as you have the constant backup plan of doing the movie with your Canon T2i and shooting in your mom's house, you will speak only with confidence. Once you declare your intentions to make the movie, the train has left the station. Once that happens, people will want to get on the train with you.  Why? Because your making a movie and movies are awesome.

So, Sam, just keep talking and keep doing. If you are truly prepared to do the whole thing alone, I guarantee you that one day you will find yourself sitting on the set of your own movie calling "Action!" and watching your filmmaker dream literally come to life.

Watch Me Now

The past week has ended up being less about Passing Harold Blumenthal and more about Watch Me Make a Movie. As major pieces of the movie-making puzzle fall into place, discussions have already begun as to how this simple blog may grow into something more than just one personal account. While I'm not exactly sure what new form the blog will take or what it may look like, I'm now collaborating with a couple other individuals who will help to steer it as we move forward.

As the film itself progresses, so will Watch Me Make a Movie. So, the more I accomplish as a filmmaker, the more there will be to read about and even watch on this site. It's  sort of a Bastien/Atreyu relationship, if you will. If no one watches me make this movie, no movie will be made! More details to come on that front...

Speed Dating Harold Blumenthal

This past week has been a productive one. I had some great meetings with a few different people, some of whom may or may not become part of Passing Harold Blumenthal down the road. I also established a few new contacts with some producers, executive producers, and production companies. These introductions came from a range of likely and unlikely places, from in-person meetings to strangers reading this blog! As I mentioned in my 'Meetings Abound' post, developing new leads is essential. It has become such a large part of my trajectory in making this movie that I have to make an effort to track it. My initial list of contacts that I sent the screenplay to was about six to eight people. Two weeks later, I am now in touch with over twenty individuals and have had meetings with many of them.

All of them have differing relevance to me, but all are invaluable. The order of events is dizzying and yet fun to track. Kind of like speed dating. For instance, I could meet one filmmaker to get fundraising advice and find no help whatsoever. But that filmmaker may give me the contact info of a producer worth talking to. I'll reach out to that producer who agrees to meet me for coffee. Over coffee, I may learn that the producer doesn't even know the filmmaker that introduced me in the first place! The good news is, we are happy to meet each other and in addition to any relevant advice or feedback on the script, the producer will offer to make two more introductions and request permission to share my screenplay with a few other industry people who may be interested. Hopefully, next week's meetings will be with people who I don't even know about yet. Fresh meat!

Now, it's to be expected that most of these leads may be dead ends in terms of financing. But I have a hunch I will benefit from any and all rabbit holes. Through all these conversations, I'm learning a great deal about how I want to make my film. From logistics to the creative team and artistic vision, I'm becoming more and more certain of how I want this all to come together. I am discovering what kind of key personnel I want to work with, which actors I want on-board, and getting a clearer picture of  what I want this movie to be.

Forgive me for not being more specific on who I am/have been meeting with. As things begin to take shape, I will revisit much of this stage in the moviemaking process and give a thorough breakdown of the journey. For now, suffice it to say that every meeting is worth taking, even when seemingly irrelevant. If nothing else, I am building more followers of Watch Me Make a Movie and, of course, building an eagerly-awaiting audience for my film, Passing Harold Blumenthal.

The Secrets to My Success

It's somewhat strange to shift so suddenly from the writing process to the fundraising/budgeting process. Writing for me is  a cozy, creative process (mostly). Now, I have to move from that solitary world to the reality of getting a film made and all that that entails. For the time being, I am my own producer and working on my own. Consequently, I have begun to think of my film simply as a product and go through all the standard practices of manufacturing that product. I'll try to devote separate posts to all the specific tasks ahead of me, but for now these are the things heaped on the writer/director/PRODUCER's plate. Some of these tasks are behind me, but they are part of an ongoing process.

1. Developing a Business Plan/Pitch- Sell the investment.

2. Forming an Entity - The movie is not the filmmaker.

3. Budget - There may be a few versions of this.

4. Preliminary Casting - Form ideas for talent that will attract others.

There are a wealth of other minutia in there as well. But that's the general idea of what a rude awakening the business part of getting a film made can be. I'm sure this sounds like fun to some more business-inclined people. Personally, I can't wait till I have an opportunity to return to the creative part!

Meetings Abound

The screenplay for my movie, "Passing Harold Blumenthal", is finished. For the moment. After sending out drafts to various parties in pursuit of attaching producers and money to the project, I've begun meeting with any and everyone.

I am quickly learning that whether or not someone is interested in being a part of this project, it is always beneficial to meet in person and talk. If there is any shred relevance, I'll always push someone to meet and chat. Even if I know ahead of time that they are not interested in being a part of the project, there is always something to be gained. Often times, I leave the meeting having learned a great deal not only about the process of producing a film, but about my film in particular.

I have also developed a new policy of advice-seeking and fundraising: Never leave a meeting without a new lead. This is big. It is safe to assume that none of my initial contacts are going to be the answer to my prayers. Filmmaking just ain't that easy. However, I have to believe that at least one of them knows the person who would be the answer to my prayers. Or at the very least, knows the person who knows the person who would be. I am not a skilled fundraiser. But I know people who are. And that should be enough to get started.

The good news is that I have written a script that ensures I can make this movie on my own, if need be. I have developed enough contacts and earned enough favors that if months elapse and I have raised nothing, I can move into production myself with nothing but my camera, some friends, and my dog.

Community Necessity

No man can make a movie on his own. Collaboration with worthwhile people is key to having a successful product. As in any collaborative work environment, surrounding oneself with enthusiasm and creativity greatly benefits the task at hand.

As a young filmmaker, one usually finds their first pool of collaborators in film school. I think that's awesome. I recently helped my friend, Christina Choe, for a couple of days on her thesis, I AM JOHN WAYNE, for Columbia's  film program. I was extremely impressed by the enthusiasm of the whole crew, comprised largely of her peers and classmates. The operation was small yet efficient. It was "shoe-string" yet comprehensive. And, from what I can tell, she got a nice movie out of it.

Having not gone to film school myself, I envy the community that young filmmakers can find there, and not just for the free crew (although that would be awesome). Just having a circle of friends or classmates that share your passion for something can fuel your own creativity and ambition.

I had that same sense of community with actors, having gone to drama school. Surrounding myself with other actors definitely cultivated my journey into an acting career.  I suppose this particular path from actor to filmmaker has brought along its perks, too. I have terrific access to professional actors who have already collaborated with me before and have some level of trust in me. This also gives me the luxury of being able to write roles with specific actors in mind (whom I know I can get). I don't want to underrate the value of this, but the actor's role is something that comes much later in the process, and when they are done, they are done.

As I've progressed in the short film medium, I've gained more and more contacts and colleagues from projects, chance encounters, and most recently, festivals. I greatly value my time with other directors, writers, cinemetographers, etc. My community of friend filmmakers is small, but growing, and I intend to cultivate it further.

This afternoon, I'm actually meeting a with a few such friends in Brooklyn. The common thread with these filmmakers is that we all met at this year's Palm Springs Film Fest. We are an internationally motley crue, and I always enjoy catching up with everyone and hearing what they're working on. Talking about movies with people who like them as much as you do can be a surprisingly nurturing experience.

Today's coffee roundup will include: Iram Haq, Ryan Gould, Christina Choe, and Ryan Young. Each one has already begun to develop their own terrific body of work. Watch out for them. Maybe I'll even recruit them for guest posts for Watch Me Make a Movie...

Help Me Make a Movie?

Money makes the world go round. It also makes movies.

As I mentioned in the previous post, there are a couple different versions of how much my movie might cost. But no matter what the determined scale of this project ends up being, I'm definitely going to need financial backing.

From what I've observed of other filmmakers and from my own past experiences, securing finances for a film tends to be the first major hurdle (and possibly the most daunting). A writer/director spends months falling in love with a story, turning the words around, and dreaming what the film will ultimately look like. The sad part is that most independent films aren't able to secure their budget and never make it to production. They just end where they began,  as a script on some guy's hard drive who thought he had a good idea for a movie. I'm sure there are some pretty amazing movies out there that just need an opportunity to be made.  Although that seems to be the pervading fate here, it is not an option for me as it would make for a very defeatist blog. I promise you will not read a post in two months announcing "In light of my inability to raise a budget for this project, you can no longer watch me make a movie." I suppose I'd have to change the blog title, too.

After tightening the script to my liking, the next step will be to seek out an executive producer. An executive producer is a title most often given to a individual or party responsible for contributing or securing the necessary funds to the project. Naturally, there is always some stake in the movie that goes along with it.

So where do I find an executive producer? How do I sell them this project? I can't really answer this with any certainty because I've never done this before! What I can do is give a candid look at my game plan.

Over the past three years I have written and directed a few projects that have garnered some level of attention at varying degrees and I have been able to make some worthwhile industry contacts.  Whether as an actor, writer, or director, these people and/or companies have expressed interest in some of my work (or maybe even just me). These contacts will be the first people I approach. While never easy, at least these people/companies are relevant professionals who would expect me to approach them and, I hope, be interested to read my feature-length screenplay.

The next round of people to approach are also individuals who have previously expressed interest in my work, but have no real experience investing or producing movies. This type of executive producer is a harder sell simply because I am selling more. With production companies and regular film financiers, the only real sell is the appeal of my story and my directorial abilities. They know how the independent film business works and are mainly looking for content. With non-undustry investors, I'll have to sell the entire investment and endeavor of making a movie even before I try to convince them that mine is one worth making. Then I'll still have to convince them that I'm the guy to make it.

Alas, if everyone I approach over the next couple months turns me down, I will simply reserve the Executive Producer title for myself. That would also mean that I would have to foot the bill myself and seriously modify script and production to accommodate such a low-budget operation. This is where the small-scale version of this movie would come into play. It's not ideal, but I'd make it work. That scenario will be my contingency plan. It wouldn't be pretty, but it would definitely make this blog far more interesting to read.