Thursday, May 29, 2008

Free Independent Film Financing Seminar (in Los Angeles)

Independent Film Financing 101
Sunday, June 8th at 5:45 p.m.
at Filmmakers Alliance
1030 W. Hillcrest Blvd.
Inglewood, CA 90301

Independent Producer Suzanne Lyons will present perhaps the most valuable single seminar for emerging filmmakers looking to raise financing for their feature films. She will paint a comprehensive, REALISTIC picture of the independent film financing landscape, answering such important questions as:

- What are the typical sources of film financing for emerging filmmakers?
- How do filmmakers find private equity investors and what is the best way to approach them?
- What is the importance of a business plan and what should it include?
- How do filmmakers set up a proper and legal entity for soliciting and receiving film investments?
- Are there people or producers (because they are rarely the same thing) or maybe even agents and lawyers that will raise money for an emerging filmmaker? How do you find them? What kind of deal do you make with them?
- Is it possible for emerging filmmakers to get funding from established production companies or sales agents?

If you are planning a feature and can't (or don't want to) pay for it with your life savings or credit cards and don't have big studios lining up to finance your film, then you MUST attend this seminar.


Suzanne Lyons co-founded Snowfall Films, Inc. and WindChill Films, Inc, and in just seven years has produced or executive produced eight movies. Suzanne has worked with wonderful talent over the years, including Brenda Blethyn, Christopher Walken, Naomi Watts, Alfred Molina, James Caan, Dean Cain, Jennifer Tilly, Jon Lovitz, Asia Argento, Winona Ryder, Peter Fonda, Adrian Paul and more. Her budgets have ranged from the SAG ultra low $200,000 to $7.5 million. Her films have won a gamut of awards and festivals from the prestigious British BAFTA award, a premier at the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, best picture at Shockerfest and acceptance into the Toronto, Berlin and Montreal Film Festivals. Her films have been distributed by Miramax, Screengems and Lionsgate.

What’s next on her slate for WindChill Films is a project called MOST LIKELY TO… and for Snowfall Films Suzanne will be producing her suspense thriller A.K.A. scheduled to shoot in Germany this fall, a Mark Smith thriller HARDCOURT and an animated Christmas special OMARR THE CAMEL.

Suzanne is also co-founder of the Flash Forward Institute and has led hundreds of industry seminars in both the US and Canada to well over 15,000 participants. She is currently leading a workshop on Low Budget Filmmaking and the next workshop is scheduled for this fall on the weekend of October 18th.

To contact Suzanne regarding information on the fall Workshop please call the Snowfall Films’ office: 818-558-5917

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Acting Coaches and Classes

I ain't no damn actor, that's for sure. I don't even like actors, for the most part. Although I admit to finding them consistently entertaining, their all-consuming self-absorption eventually becomes maddening and wearisome even with the most well-adjusted of them.

On a creative level, however, I am constantly in awe of them - amazed by what they do and how they do it. And deeply appreciative of what they bring to a film. So, when I cross paths with a truly talented actor, I treat them like the creative treasures that they are (just as I would a brilliant writer, d.p., editor, etc.). And when I meet actors with all the right raw materials, I am eager to hook them up with acting coaches and/or classes that will help refine their gifts and bring out the best of their raw talent.

I know there are many people who don't believe in acting classes and some who feel, in fact, that they interfere with their own organic process. If those people are brilliant, I agree with them. If not, they are morons. I personally believe, since great acting roles are few and far between for most actors, almost any opportunity for an actor to explore their art/craft is a good one. However, I do agree that there are some acting schools that can do far more damage than good to both an actor's art and their personal mental/emotional health.

But even among acting school proponents, there are many divergent schools of thought around acting - each with their own solar system of acting schools. Of course I have my own specific ideas about acting and they articulated and taught beautifully by two of my favorite acting coaches/classes -given by Shawn Nelson and Deb Lemen.



One of the things I love most about these two is not just what they do for actors, but also what they can do for filmmakers. Both of them work with filmmakers and help them understand what constitutes great acting and how to best bring it out of their actors. They also help filmmakers understand the actor's various processes and dilemmas so that they can COMMUNICATE effectively. Yes, communication is key in working with all of the members of your creative team. But communicating with actors takes a special kind of understanding, insight and skill because what and how you communicate with them can dramatically impact their performance. And although you can mostly hide it when any other crew member isn't bringing their "A" game, it's very tough to hide with actors.

Yes, I took their classes. And yes, I confirmed for myself why I am not an actor and why I would never want to be an actor. It also further put me in awe of what actors are capable of doing and and helped to build a bridge of understanding as to why they are such freaks on a personal level. I am constantly astonished by the seemingly endless emotional well from which actors are able to draw their performances. And in the hands of strong coaches/classes such as Shawn and Deb, they can bring deeply nuanced new levels of complexity, impact and intelligence to even the most minor of roles.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring Cleaning at FA...and beyond...

A couple of weeks ago, we did some Spring Cleaning here at FA. And it feels really good. Stuff we've dragged around for years got moved out - sold, given away, donated to charity or simply thrown out. The psychic/spiritual lifting of burdensome, and even oppressive, energy has naturally lead to embracing this Spring Cleaning as an appropriate metaphor for so much else that needs to happen in my life and mind.

It's amazing what we've been able to dig out of the nooks and crannies of our office. Equally amazing that it ever made it to this office at all given the number of times we've moved. But of course, so much of the stuff has ties to memories that have lead me to the nooks and crannies of my own mind. And in there is definitely a lot of junk there - along with some threads of gold that need to be spun into something creatively fulfilling.

However, it is not as easy to remove the junk from your brain as it is the junk in our office. Once it's is gone from the office, it is gone, never to be seen again. But mental/emotional baggage just goes underground and pops up at the most annoying times and informs your life in, sometimes, the most inconvenient ways.



Nonetheless, buried thoughts and obsessions are some of the best things to mine for story ideas and character detail. The things that lodge in your brain and refuse to leave can torture you personally, but enrich you creatively. And perhaps, that creative process may purge you of this otherwise useless psychological garbage dump. At the very least, it may allow us to shed light on these obsessive thoughts, habits and perceptions and maybe shift the balance of power around them. Meaning, rather than guiding our actions, they are servicing our creativity.

Or not. I've seen some creative types who simply spin deeper into their obsessions when they externalize them creatively. Their filmmaking then becomes fetishistic - which can be really compelling to a point. But real art is not fetishism. Real art, to my mind, has a level of observation, clarity and (for lack of a better word) truth that makes fetishistic creativity seem like passing fancy.

Either way, better to dig into the nooks and crannies of your brain and make use of what's there even if you insist on keeping it and/or fetishizing it. How do we do this? Through simple observation and awareness - which is not so simple for some people. They are plagued with so much self-loathing and self-judgement that they cannot even begin to look at themselves lest they generate all kinds of hateful opinions about what they see. Don't get me wrong, creatives are often as self-loathing as they come, but rather than simply sit with that energy, we are driven to explore it and, often, integrate it into our work - as well as the things that we believe generate that self-loathing.

I, for one, find I have so many odd neuroses and strange thoughts that I most certainly would have been straight-jacketed years ago if I hadn't found a way to make those things a compelling element of my dinner conversations....and, of course, my filmmaking.

In the end, Spring Cleaning literally and metaphorically is less about purging all your junk than it is about simply throwing open all the closets, cabinets, hidden drawers and trap doors and taking stock of what's there. If you occasionally do that with your mind, you will find, like we did at the FA Office, there is much of value hidden away there. The things that once weighed you down psychologically, can lift you up creatively.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Courage and Ego To Be Bad

On Monday, FA is hosting another screening at the Echo Park Film Center. We love the people, purpose and programs of the Center and do 4 to 5 screenings a year there. Often, we show select FA films and other inspired and inspiring works from LA-area filmmakers.

But this Monday, we are offering up a different kind of inspiration. We are calling it "FA's First and Worst". It is a selection of films made during FA's first few years in existence. And believe me, much of this work is excruciatingly bad.

So, what is to be gained by exposing an audience to such abysmal cinema besides self-mocking hilarity? Perhaps nothing. Self-mocking hilarity is pretty fun all by itself. But what I also hope the screening will do is inspire other filmmakers.

Inspire? Where is the inspiration in films that are poorly shot, poorly acted, poorly written, poorly sound-recorded and in all other ways a poor excuse for filmmaking? Well, first of all, they were made when so many potential films simply are not. Of course, there is a strong argument to be made that this is not a good thing. But I argue that any film made is a good thing. Every filmmaker needs to start somewhere. Every filmmaker needs to explore their craft and artistry. And, as I've said elsewhere, in that exploration, they need to be willing to fail. And to actually fail. Often. There is no reward without risk. And there is no risk without failure (unless you are absurdly lucky). Failure, for lack of a better word, is a necessary part of the evolutionary process. The problem isn't in the making of bad films. It is in the showing of them. Which is why we don't often show these films and why we are making no bones about the "quality" of this screening.

The other reason we are showing the films is as a measuring stick of, not just FA's, but each filmmaker's individual growth. A few of us have become fairly accomplished filmmakers - but you might not guess it possible from the work we'll have on display. But how do some filmmakers evolve (while others do not)? How do they find their creative voice and develop the filmmaking skill to make that voice sing?

By having the courage to be bad...and/or the ego. Yes, I say courage. Because it demands exactly that to face the blank page or a surly film crew armed with an idea that is rarely flawless. But where courage fails, ego steps in. Dreams of glory or an over-inflated self-importance can also push us forward, allowing us to take the necessary risks in our own creative evolution. To risk failure.

But that is only half of the equation. The other half is being able to eventually look at the filmic creation you've realized with the cold, objectivity of an IRS accountant (minus the self-loathing bitterness, perhaps, although that is often hard to escape). And from that, learn and grow. This may take some time as the fearless ego that may have helped push you forward, now becomes an emotionally fragile, but psychologically combative resistance fighter - protecting the fantasy you have of your work from the reality of it. Using the ego to push you forward sometimes feels like borrowing money from the mob. It gets you through your immediate difficulty, then presents inextricable difficulties of its own down the road.

But ego is a reality in our process. Let's face it, ALL creative beings have a monstrous ego of some sort. Yes, there can be raw, artistic courage in us, but there is usually a healthy dose of ego, as well. Therefore, managing that ego is key to creative growth. Luckily, you can use one kind of ego against another. Meaning the kind of ego that fuels creative ambition will eventually steamroll over the fragile ego that wants everyone to like your work and , therefore, holds you a prisoner from your creative development.

But the desire to do great work can also be a "calling" that is much more than ego and even something more than courage. I won't even try to explain it other than to say I believe it is what separates truly visionary filmmakers from merely competent ones. But even filmmakers who have been "called" to do great work must go through the evolutionary process. Have you seen any of Scorcese's or Coppola's very first student shorts? Or stuff they did with friends even before that? At some point, the simple desire to make any kind of film and the ego that begged for people to like it was supplanted by something stronger - part ego, part calling - that drove them toward the type of work that distinguishes them as truly great filmmakers.

Now, of course, there are filmmakers who never challenge their own work and continue to make bad films. Luckily, If they are bad enough, they have genius of their own. And there are filmmakers who simply do not have the raw materials and/or artistic perspective to be great filmmakers, and all of their creative ambition will never make them more than competent filmmakers. But is that so bad? All of us will eventually reach the peak of our own potential if we keep making films and, in the process, risk failure, risk making bad films.

But filmmakers don't need to show these films to anyone other than those who will love them unconditionally.

But we do. And we will wear our incompetence like a badge of courage...and hopefully filmmakers will take inspiration from it....and much hilarity.