Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Old Stuff: Scaling Your Film

I don't know about you, but my imagination resists any and all attempts to be reigned in by the practical realities of getting a film made and out into the world. So it is difficult for me to consider "scaling" my film to the realities of my ability to make and market it. But scaling is a key idea in successfully realizing a film, especially if you are a first-time filmmaker. Scaling means taking your existing film project or creating a new one (if the existing one simply can't be modified without compromising it) and reworking it and the budget to fit the demands of an ACCESSIBLE budget and its REALISTIC ability to generate financial return. In other words, be encouraged to make an experimental documentary about the true length of time it takes paint to dry, but scale the project to your ability to raise funds and to the film's need and/or ability to generate meaningful - or at least realistic - financial return.

The fact is, most first films are financed by friends, family members and acquaintances. Hell, so are many second and third films. Budgets approaching a million dollars are pretty much prohibitive. Budgets approaching $25,000 are often prohibitive. But I see huge budgets all the time from first-time feature filmmakers. And they are usually budgets for films that don't have a snowball's chance in hell of making that money back, or even a fraction of it, for their investors. Investors are not stupid. At least, not about money. They can see the disparity even if they are neophytes to filmmaking. This is not important at the back end if its your own money to lose or you are funded by grants, public tv or some other funding entity that demands no financial return - or can afford to lose it. But it is always important at the front end - in relation to your ability to raise the funds necessary to get a film made.

The key to successful scaling is not to look at it as a business/practical decision, but rather, to approach it as a creative problem. Both Tarkovsky and Kieslowski worked under oppressive regimes that censored their work - creating many interesting creative challenges for them that they overcame brilliantly. Many Iranian filmmakers do the same thing today. We did it here in America during the imposition of the Hays Code. Don't think of your creativity and imagination as being reigned in - think of it as being sharply focused. What you can create within defined financial/practical parameters can often be infinitely more compelling than what you can create given unlimited budget and scope. Have confidence that you can do brilliant work at any level. True creativity can be found for a lot less than most filmmakers dare to imagine. As expensive as filmmaking can be, great films are about ideas and imagination - not money. So embrace scaling as a creative opportunity that can realistically bring you to your goal of making, finishing and successfully selling your film.

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