Thursday, April 9, 2009

The First Quarter Of The Year In The Life Of This Filmmaker

I knew it would come to this, and it may get worse, yet. It has gone from "A Day In The Life Of..." to "A Week..." to "A Month..." and now "The First Quarter Of The Year...". Sounds like some kind of business spreadsheet. But I've admitted it before and I'll admit it again, I'm a lousy blogger. At least in terms of consistency. I allow myself to become too distracted by other things. In fact, I've been told I have an addiction to distraction. Probably true. The upside to that is I have absolutely no other addictions or obsessions. Even drug addiction takes a single-mindedness of purpose that my addiction to distraction simply won't allow.

I was a sprinter in high school and it is an apt metaphor for the way I approach work and creativity. I do things in mad, insanely productive bursts of energy. But I spend most of the rest of the time avoiding those bursts, or, at least, distracting myself from the necessity for them. And it drives me crazy about myself. I'm the hare who envies the tortoise. I'm a genius-level procrastinator who believes nothing I do today will be as good as it will be tomorrow (while torturing myself with the knowledge that I'm totally bullshitting myself). Yes, tomorrow! That will be the day everything gets done! Ah, what an exciting, productive day tomorrow will be! Unfortunately, I simply wind up with a lot of unproductive todays and yesterdays. Well,...sorta...

I still manage, somehow, to get things done. A lot of things, actually. How do I do it? Well, that's not what this blog is about. But since I went there, I'll answer the question before I give my First Quarter Report. The key for me to getting things done is first and foremost accepting that I am indeed a procrastinator and distraction addict. To deny those things is to give them subconscious power rather than confine them to conscious power. I can deal with my conscious behavior but I'm helpless against my sub or unconscious behavior. My name is Jacques and I'm a distraction junkie. There, I've acknowledged it. It no longer it exists in my dark shadow free to do whatever it pleases. Now, the addiction must operate in the light of day.


The next step is to manage these impulses/behaviors. Sometimes, it takes just straight up willpower - the old 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration axiom. I don't want to write, or prepare that proposal or make that phone call. But I do it anyway. Or, when it comes to writing, I at least I sit my butt down in front of a computer for a set number of hours whether something comes or not. But I can't always tough it out. I don't like perspiring all the time. And, in fact, it sometimes creates an adverse reaction in me, making the next time I need to write (or whatever I MUST do) more difficult than ever.

So, I chart at my organic energy and rhythms - my "life patterns" (as dysfunctional as they may be) - and manipulate them to the advantage of productivity. Meaning, I know I am more productive in the morning (other people are the exact opposite - they get shit done in the middle of the night), so I wake up early. I am less productive in the middle of the day, so that's when I cut myself slack. I am very social in the evening/night, so that's when I plan stuff that involves other people. I keep my life/schedule fairly flexible so that when I'm in a productive burst or sprint, I can keep running and not have to stop. I know what fuels my creative energy - experiencing others' creative work - so I do that as often as possible. I know what kills my creative energy - excessive drinking - so I do that as little as possible (again, it's just the opposite for other peeps). I'm not saying I don't drink, I just avoid getting shit-faced on a regular basis.

Most importantly, perhaps, I know I am a distraction junkie, so I make sure the things I use to distract myself are productive in themselves. So, I make sure I am juggling many different - and different kinds - of projects. It doesn't help me to juggle several writing projects because writing is writing. And if I don't feel like writing, I won't write anything, period. So, I have writing projects and directorial projects and producing projects and Filmmakers Alliance projects and home repair projects and gardening projects and help-my-friends projects. I also exercise and pay my bills and wash the car and yadda, yadda. The key is not just that I create/pile-up all of these things. I mean, everybody has stuff to do. The key is how I arrange addressing them.

For instance, I know that I need to balance writing with physical activity. So, I work out after I write or do home repair or wash my car or walk my dog or wash my dog. I have to drink after I pay bills so I pay them in the evening and roll into a night of drinking/social activity. After a tough work out and hot shower, I usually have to nap, so I finish my work-outs in middle to late afternoon, when I otherwise normally experience a dip in energy. And I never pressure myself as to how long I do any one thing. As long as I START doing it. Usually, I will continue doing it for awhile before I get distracted. So, I bounce from this to that and that to this in a way that doesn't cause me stress, distress, guilt, tedium or any other corrosive emotional side effect. I use awareness of my issues to my benefit. To some degree, I purposely give into them - just as alcoholics use their addictive personalities to become addicted to sobriety and AA meetings instead of booze. Eventually, I get a lot of shit done.

Now, granted, it is harder to do this if you are married or have kids or both. But it is only harder, not impossible. It simply takes folding these additional elements into your self-strategizing and negotiating a little understanding and support from your family (maybe this is the toughest part). But it can be done and, no matter how good of a procrastinator you are (there are none better than me) or how bad of a distraction junkie you are, you can create/get shit done! And for the rest of your life.....and then you die.


But before I die, I will continue to lead the filmmaker's life. And this first quarter of the year was a busy, transitional one. I did a lot of festival stuff - the Sundance thing in January then off to Berlin in February, both of which I already blogged about. I did Cinequest in March and just got back from the Ashland Independent Film Festival on Tuesday. What was I doing at all of these fests besides regretting that I haven't directed a film in 3 years? Well, I already answered that about Sundance and Berlin. As for the other two, however, I am on the Board of Advisors for the Ashland Independent Film Festival and was a juror for the short documentary section and was therefore invited up for all of the fun and to hand out the award. At Cinequest, I was a juror for the screenwriting competition and was also invited to play/participate. Both of these fests are fun, well-funded (although the organizers may argue that point), well-organized, well-programmed festivals with strong attendance and lots of local support. They are regional fests - not "industry fests" - and in most respects, truly what film festivals are all about. But they are also run by really considerate, smart, creative, lovely people and for me, going back every year is like visiting family. I also, of course, get the opportunity to meet filmmakers and spread the gospel of Filmmakers Alliance. And last but not least, I get to see new films.

I've started writing my new script in earnest - hopefully, my next directorial feature - but, as noted above, it's going slowly. I had written another feature I was excited to do, but then I got divorced. I wrote it expressly for my actress ex-wife and simply can't muster the emotional energy to do it right now - with her or anyone else - since making films with her was a romantic endeavor for me. Also, the money to make it dried up, so I took that as a sign that I simply have to move on. At least, for now.

In general, my creative energy has taken a big hit since the divorce, given that having a talented actress for a wife made it easy to use her as a muse. But I'm slowly starting to recover that energy a bit. I want to make a short, but have been struggling with which of the somewhat mediocre ideas I should pursue. Yes, I admit that the ideas are mediocre, but nothing better is striking me. And I think creativity feeds on itself, so it's best to always be doing something. As Sean Hood says "Creativity is not something you have, it's something you do". I'll look at it as a challenge to take one of these mediocre ideas to the next level through execution.

In the meantime, been juggling producing projects. I've been mostly absent on Kerry Prior's horror-buddy-comedy "The Revenant" since,...oh, I'd say...pre-production. But he handled things well through production with my producing partner Liam Finn's able support. And he's inching through post (lots of comp shots) very capably. I think it's going to be a strong film and do very well out in the world. I like to convince myself that I weigh in at key moments and for key issues. Self-delusion can be so pleasant sometimes, can't it? We're also narrowing in on funding for Babak Shokrian's "The Apology". In fact, I have a conference call with a potential German co-producer in about 15 minutes. Still marginally, involved with artist Lauren Bon's epic "Silver and Water" project for her Metabolic Studio - but more of a participant/consultant than as a producer. It's amazing to see the project slowly take shape and how her sculptor/artist's eye creates beautiful imagery and unexpectedly beautiful and meaningful juxtapositions of those images. Finally, still working on drumming up sales for my old first feature "The Dogwalker" - which just means doing a little internet promotion whenever I can.

My day to day filmmaking life is mostly taken up by Filmmakers Alliance - primarily preparations/planning for our online global launch and the Ultimate Filmmaker Competition, but tons of other stuff, too. Won't bore you with all of those details other than to say that keeping a community like FA vibrant demands a lot of,...well,...vibrancy. Meaning, we have to kick up a lot of dust and keep kicking it up day in and day out - screenings, labs, script reads, discussion forums, seminars, meetings, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah, scooby-do, scooby-do... I hate to sound so tired and cynical because I truly love all of this stuff. But they're all far more exciting to do than to talk about. Finally, there's absolutely nothing exciting about raising money (except when you get it), but it is also something I need to push forward every day. Got something on the horizon with a new investor prospect that will support both FA and individual projects. Can't talk about it now, of course, but I'll know more in a week. Don't worry, I'll keep you all posted.

In the meantime, gotta do this conference call about "The Apology". Then do more work on my script. Then scratch up some breakfast. Then have another conference call about the new FA website. Then exercise my dog. Then do more FA work. Then wash my car. Then work out. Then nap and/or make some work/fundraising phone calls. Then write some proposals and do some work promoting the Ultimate Filmmaker Competition. Then roll into the night before sleeping then starting all over again....Ah, the life....And I'm getting shit done before I die. That's important.....isn't it?

Saturday, April 4, 2009


If you're a Cali filmmaker or thinking of shooting here in CA, you should check this out below. And if you aren't shooting here, you should check out the incentives in your own state/town/region/country/etc.

More info on incentives/resources for filming in CA can be found here:


On February 20, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation creating tax credits for film and television productions as part of an economic stimulus provision in the new state budget. The California Film Commission is currently developing program guidelines and application procedures. Applications will be available on June 1, 2009. Applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis beginning on July 1, 2009.

How the Tax Credit Works

Qualified taxpayers are allowed a credit against income and/or sales and use taxes, based on qualified expenditures, for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2011. Credits applied to income tax liability are not refundable. Only tax credits issued to an “independent film” may be transferred or sold to an unrelated party. Other qualified taxpayers may carryover tax credits for 5 years and transfer tax credits to an affiliate.

How much was allocated to the program?

  • $100 million annually beginning fiscal year 2009/2010 through fiscal year 2013/2014
  • $10 million of the annual funding shall be set aside for independent films
  • Any unused funds carryover to the next fiscal year

How are the funds allocated?

Tax Credits will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, as long as funds are available within each fiscal year. On each day that applications are received, they will be selected at random via a daily lottery.
Each approved project will receive a credit allocation “reservation” pending the project’s continued eligibility and final documentation.
The final credit allocation will be the lesser of: 1) the estimated reservation amount or 2) an amount based on final qualified spend.

What Types of Productions Qualify for the Program?

To apply for the California Film and Television Incentive Program, a “qualified motion picture” must be one of the following:

(Eligible for 20% Tax Credit):

  • Feature Films ($1 million minimum - $75 million maximum production budget)
  • Movies of the week or miniseries ($500,000 minimum production budget)
  • New television series licensed for original distribution on basic cable ($1 million minimum budget; one-half hour shows and other exclusions apply)

(Eligible for 25% Tax Credit):

  • A television series, without regard to episode length, that filmed all of its prior seasons outside of California.
  • An "independent film" ($1 million − $10 million budget that is produced by a company that is not publicly traded and that publicly traded companies do not own more than 25% of the producing company.)
A "qualified motion picture" must also meet the following conditions:
  • 75% test (production days or total production budget) in California
  • Application must be submitted at least 30 days prior to principal photography
  • Once application is approved, principal photography must begin within 180 days and post production must be completed within 30 months

What expenditures qualify?

"Qualified expenditures" are amounts paid or incurred for the purchase or lease of tangible personal property and qualified wages for services performed in California.

The following costs are not qualified expenditures:

  • Any costs incurred prior to application approval will not qualify for credits.
  • Wages paid to writers, directors, music directors, music composers, music supervisors, producers and performers, other than background actors with no scripted lines.
  • Expenses, including wages, related to new use, reuse, clip use, licensing, secondary markets, residual compensation or the creation of any ancillary produced including but not limited to, a soundtrack album, toy, game, trailer or teaser.
  • Expenses related to acquisition, development, turnaround or any rights thereto; financing, overhead, marketing, promotion, or distribution of a qualified motion picture.
  • State and Federal Income taxes.
  • Audit expenses; Completion bond.

What types of productions are not eligible for the incentive program?

Commercials; music videos; TV pilots; news programs; current events or public affairs programs; talk shows; game shows; sporting events; ½ hour (airtime) episodic TV shows; awards shows; productions that solicit funds; reality programs; student films; industrial films; clip based programming where more than 50% of content is comprised of licensed footage; documentaries; variety programs; daytime dramas; strip shows; pornography.

Application Procedures

The California Film Commission is developing application procedures. Once established, applications will be accepted on a first come first served basis beginning on July 1, 2009 as long as funds are available within each fiscal year.

  • The open application period will be announced by the CFC prior to each new fiscal year for the duration of the program.
  • Applications will be accepted on a first come first served basis. This process will be run as a daily lottery each business day.
  • Applications must be submitted at least thirty (30) calendar days prior to the start of principal photography.
  • Applications that meet program criteria will be accepted and credits will be assigned (reserved) until the annual allocation is exhausted.
  • Within 10 business days of receiving the requested supporting materials, the CFC will notify the applicant of accepted or rejected status. Credit will be assigned (reserved) to all accepted applicants until the annual allocation is exhausted.
  • If the application meets the criteria and is approved, the production must begin principal photography no later than 180 days from approval date which is the date the allocation reservation letter is issued. (If the production does not begin filming prior to the 180 day deadline, the reservation of credits will be forfeited and the applicant will be placed back in the queue. There will be no guarantee that additional credits will be available once placed in the queue.)
  • Once a qualified television series has been approved and accepted into the program, that series will be placed at the top of the queue for lottery numbering (based on order received) for each successive year in the life of that series whenever credits are assigned within a fiscal year.
  • Once an application is accepted, the primary producer, UPM and production accountant or other appropriate personnel will be required to attend an orientation meeting with the CFC.