Friday, February 25, 2011

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Investors

Another repost of Ted Hope's blog. This one continues Ted's series on Indie Film Finance....

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Investors
by Ted Hope

Today I continue my series attempting to define the NMOIFFv2011 with a look at the individuals who make the courageous decision to back a film in this current climate. We’ve already determined that it is hard to predict success either here in the US or abroad with an independent film. Will an investor commit without a clear upside—and if so, why the hell will they?!! The answer to this generally dictates whether your film will get made and certainly indicates WHO will finance your film.

When I started this series of posts I thought it would a simple and single one. I have a formula I have been using, that when I am able to follow it, I am confident that I will be able to finance my film. I want to share that with you, but feel I need to provide a little context first. My original post on the New Model Of Indie Film Finance v2011 conveyed that a film needs to make absolute sense. I then addressed foreign value and it’s dictates, and domestic (US) value in hopes of helping to explain what absolute sense was. Examining the market here and abroad makes it clear that one will never be truly secure predicting the value of your film. There will always be risk, right? So what kind of individual or corporate entity will those that assume that risk and put up the equity needed for your film?

I see five types of financiers interested in movies these days:

1) Those that can take advantage of Federal 181 tax provision;
2) Those not only want to do well, but those that want to do good too—these are more than just patrons of the arts—they often look to advance the social issues as well;
3) Those that need a steady supply of product, and hence are generally corporate entities;
4) Those that can gain by association to the film and those involved with the film;
5) Those that are looking for excitement, glamour, and glitz.

I find that investors regardless of their persuasion, have one common attribute. No one wants to look stupid or foolish. They might have different goals, but they need to be able to show their friends why your project offers a clear path to that goal. It is your job to explain it to them. Your ability to do so will greatly enhance your ability to close with them.

Investors in film generally either made their money in another field or inherited it from someone that did. Investors usually believe that the lessons they learned coming to the film biz are applicable to our industry too. Some may well be, but most film investors still marvel at the way we do business, for better and for worse.

To get a movie made often requires profound ego, bullheadness, and outright arrogance—or else when confronted with the realities of the field, most aspirants would surrender. These “gifts” may be useful in getting work made, but they are not particularly helpful when it comes to collaboration.

Investors are filmmakers collaborators and your ability to at least appear to be ready to collaborate is helpful in closing an investment deal. Your ability to actually collaborate is going to determine what kind of experience you will have. The nature of your business relationships will effect the work you make. Understanding both your investors’ wishes, expressed and not expressed, and learning how to work with them is required to close a deal and yield the intended result.

We are half way through an examination of NMIFFv2011.1 now. You have your numbers and you have your investors (or at least know what they will look like when you seem them). But it is not just numbers and willing investors that gets your project funded.

To make your film happen, there are some factors you need to inject into your project if you reasonably want to expect it to happen. Let’s discuss that next, okay?

Peter Brodericks Distribution Bulletins

If you don't already know, my friend Peter Broderick is a film consultant and distribution guru who puts out regular bulletins on some important aspect of distribution. His most recent bulletin is on Crowd Funding - which is relevant to distribution because a: you have nothing to distribute without funding for your film and b: through the crowd funding process you are building fans for the back end of the process...

Check out Peter's latest bulletin here (and sign up to receive your own regular bulletins):

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who The F*%# Am I To Judge What's A Good Film?!!

Good question.

You've heard it before - "Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one."

So does that mean that nobody has the right to judge a film? Or to judge any art? Yet people do it all the time and certain critics are important in helping us filter out the things we choose not to endure. There are also opinions that help us understand our own work - be they from friends, collaborators, programmers, critics, etc. - and what kind of impact we can expect our work to have in the universe of film.

So, who's opinion matters? And how is a consensus of opinions formed? How is it that Andrei Tarkovsky has made these high fallutin' "art" films and is hailed as a genius while Joe Carbunkle has also made high-fallutin' art films and nobody knows or cares who he is. Not even me and I'm the one who made him up.

And then there are filmmakers who are incredibly popular, but not respected for their cinematic art (I won't name names here). People "love" their films, yet their work is generally considered low on the scale of great cinematic works. And then there are films that seem great by consensus at a specific time in history that do not hold up well over time. It all seems so subjective and random, doesn't it? Perhaps that's true, but it is a mistake to think that is the case.

Filmmaking is a creative discipline. And like all creative disciplines, it is a singular avenue of communication....a language, if you will. Spoken language has certain structural properties that make it a language - morphology, phonetics, syntax, symbolism, phonology, semantics, dialect, etc., etc. Filmmaking has it's own unique structural properties - many of them similar to spoken language - that need to be understood on some level. And that takes time, effort and commitment. There are definitely many people - filmmakers as well as appreciators of film - that understand cinematic language on a purely instinctual level. Just like people who pick up spoken foreign languages very easily, these cinema savants quickly grasp the language of cinema intuitively. And just like there are those who make poetry out of slang or in some way subverting classic language structure, there are filmmakers who make poetry out of bending or completely obliterating cinematic conventions. They may do it consciously or intuitively or some combination of the two (as Jean-Luc Godard seems to do in his films), and have managed to expand the boundaries of cinematic language.

But however you come to an understanding of the language of cinema - studying it, intuitively grasping it and/or completely challenging it - it is absolutely NECESSARY as a basis from which to begin to make a meaningful critical analysis of any particular film - including/especially your own. Please know that I am absolutely NOT saying there is some objective standard by which to judge films, merely that there is a language to be, at least, understood, if not completely mastered - especially, if you aspire to have a meaningful opinion about film. And when I say "meaningful opinion", I'm talking about an articulated perspective that has impact on your work as well as any project with which you are involved or expected to assess critically.

Understanding the language doesn't mean you are tied to it and/or can't learn from someone who doesn't speak it. Any art benefits from fresh perspectives. All art needs artists willing to take risks and successfully explode all of our preconceptions about what that particular artistic endeavor needs to be. Similarly, all art needs critical voices that can come in without any structural prejudices and awaken our ability to appreciate a new piece of work that might fall outside of our bounds of understanding - and therefore expand the boundaries of that particular art/language.

However, just as it's clear when someone is articulate, erudite or in other ways displays a solid mastery of the language they speak, it is very clear when a filmmaker displays mastery of cinematic language (or skillfully and/or entertainingly subverts it). We've all listened with rapt attention to colorful storytellers who can make picking up a carton of eggs sound like an hilariously outlandish adventure while others make picking up a carton of eggs sound like...picking up a carton of eggs. Or worse. You're not even sure what they just told you or why they are telling you what they are telling you. There is indeed some criteria that exists in an understanding of the language of cinema by which we can develop a meaningful critical analysis of films.

At our first Filmmakers Alliance meeting of the year, I outlined a new direction for the organization to the members in attendance (I will detail all of that in a subsequent blog). I described the prototype member: Actively working on a project, creatively ambitious and supportive of other filmmakers (with anything from resources to feedback). Of the three, the one, by far, that created the most confusion/trepidation (based on the glazed-over looks I saw staring back at me) was "creatively ambitious". I said that I wanted filmmakers who aspired to make the best possible film they could make. My mistake. "Best" is a very subjective term and leaves open the fear that when I say it, I'm really telling filmmakers they need to make only films I would like if they want to get my support. There's definitely some measure of truth in that. It's a lot easier for me to offer my time and energy to a project I'm passionate about than one I'm not. But luckily, Filmmakers Alliance is structured in such a way that no single member needs to depend on my support when they have the rest of the community from which to draw support.

So, I was not offended when someone came up to me after the meeting and politely asked "Who the f*%#are you to judge what's a good film and what's not?" I calmly responded by acknowledging that critical analysis of films is ALWAYS a subjective endeavor and therefore I'm only qualified to judge what is a good film from my own limited perspective. But I then added that I've worked hard to make sure that perspective is as informed as possible....That I've made a life's work out of understanding the language of cinema. I acknowledged I'm still no expert, nor cinematic poet, but I'm not just a hobbyist, either. He seemed to step back a bit and reflect on that comment, then suddenly looked very puzzled and asked, with sweet sincerity, "How the f*%# does somebody do THAT?" (meaning, how does someone come to understand the language of cinema)....

Here's what I would have told him if I had the time (I actually told him I had to wrap up the meeting and we'd talk more another time): Every great filmmaker and film critic has one thing in common: a powerful, articulate (sometimes wildly creative) grasp of cinematic language. And it is developed in three primary ways (aside from, perhaps, going back to a really good film school):

1. Aggressively pursue an appreciation of the broad spectrum of art: Novels, paintings, photography, poetry, sculpture, theater, architecture and more. This helps develop the much larger, all-encompassing language of art and informs an understanding of cinema in a myriad of ways.

There is another key art form to understand that some peeps simply seem to have an amazing facility for: story-telling. Story-telling is indeed an art and it has been practiced and gained recognition as such through such programs as "This American Life" and organizations like The Moth as well as numerous story-telling projects around the country. Story-telling is an essential aspect of cinema language if you are doing anything beyond the most esoteric, "experiential" art film, but an argument can be made that even those films adhere to a certain kind of story-telling structure.

2. Repeated and massive exposure to great cinema. Again, I use the subjective term "great". I simply mean cinema that is considered great by consensus. Doesn't mean you have to consider it great, you simply have to understand why so many others consider it great. And there are clear "reasons" why films are considered great. Expose yourself to them constantly. Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were film critics for Cahiers Du Cinema, analyzing and writing about dozens and dozens of films before making their own. Martin Scorcese is virtually a cinema historian. Orson Welles watched "Stagecoach" a reported 39 times before devising a visual strategy for "Citizen Kane". All great filmmakers that I know of, have a profound passion for great cinema and all dig very deep to understand what makes great cinema.

3. Compare and Contrast. You can do this without judgement. Simply acknowledge the similarities and differences between works of art. Between one novel and the next. One painting and the next. Between one film, of course, and the next. Between a film and novel...or a painting. Between a sculpture and a novel. See the connections betweens and influences on all works of great (there's that word, again) art and how other works (maybe not so great) stand against them. Most importantly, ask yourself how does your work stand against other works of art. And certainly, films that you admire.

Why is understanding the language of cinema and developing a facility for critical analysis important if you don't plan on being a film critic? For your own filmmaking, of course. To hold your work to your own highest possible standard so that you can create the best possible films. Understanding cinema language and being able to understand what makes a film great - or even good - does not guarantee you will make great films. I've seen many filmmakers, who can speak at length and quite insightfully about great films, go on to make really shitty films. Making that understanding of cinema language intuitive and integrated into the creative process is not automatic and often very challenging. But having that understanding is nonetheless a prerequisite of great filmmaking, based on the history of great filmmaking. You may be asking, "Why do I need to make a great film? Why can't I just make a "fun" film?" Okay. Make a fun film. But why not aspire to make a great fun film? Or, at least, the best possible fun film you can make. My unofficial research indicates that the better a film is, the more it gives back to the filmmaker. There are exceptions, of course. But I'd pretty much wager it all on that conclusion.

Of course, there are exceptions to nearly everything I say, but too many filmmakers consider themselves a product of the exception rather than the rule....until they finish their film and watch it fall flat in the world. You may also be asking yourself if the language of cinema is still relevant given the emergence of new technology projects - 3D, webisodes, virtual reality, transmedia and more. In the glut of product created by those rushing to explore these new modalities of media creation, the projects that will stand out will be no different than the ones that stand out in good old-fashioned cinema - compelling stories, uniquely and compellingly told artfully utilizing what's distinctive about the medium of choice. But despite what many filmmakers want to believe, these things aren't learned by osmosis. It takes energy, effort, ambition and desire....and more. That's why truly great films are rare. But in striving to make something truly great, you may at least make something far better than you ever imagined.

Who the f*%# am I to judge what's a good film?! Nobody special. Just an asshole with an opinion who cares enough to try to understand the difference between a great film and the rest. If you are making and/or watching films, I hope you are one of those assholes, too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Domestic Value & Funding

Here we go again. From Ted Hope's blog. If he keeps posting good stuff, I'll keep re-posting...

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1 Domestic Value & Funding

by Ted Hope

This was once going to be a single post. Today is part three. There will be at least two more to come. Yesterday we tried to determine the factors for accessing foreign value. Today, let’s look stateside.

Until the double whammy of Toronto 2010 & Sundance 2011, it looked like the US acquistion market for feature content had fully collapsed. No reasonable P&L would have shown more than a modest six figures for US acquisitions. Hybrid & DIY models have not been developed yet to consistently deliver returns in excess of this amount (or even at these figures). Perhaps this is now changing, but it would still be foolish for any filmmaker or investor to expect this and we can’t budget for such expectation.

How many of the 7500 films produce in the US annually return 20% of their negative cost from US licenses? Although it puts emerging filmmakers at a great disadvantage, I think the surest determining factor for predicting US acquisition potential is the filmmakers’ track record. If you have found buyers previously, you are well suited to find them again — and even still exceeding that 20% is the exception and not the rule.

When the US market was depressed, I often had sales agents & finance experts challenge me with the claim that the market wasn’t down; it was just that there were no good films. People like to think that good films sell for good prices. If 7000 American films can raise money to fund their works and no films are selling, what are those investors thinking when they fork over their cash? They can’t be thinking that are actually helping their children or nephews and nieces when they give them money only to recognize their failure? They must be thinking that they are making good films, and all 7000 can not be 100% wrong.

Clearly we are at a point in US film culture where the infrastructure is not serving either the investors, the creators, or the audiences. Good films are getting made but not being delivered to their audience. Last year I went to a film investor conference. Several other producers were invited and we all asked to pitch projects. None of us left with funding, but the investors said to me that I was the only one that addressed how we would deal with the reality of not just getting our film to market, but bringing it to the ultimate end-users — the audience. As artists build communities around their projects in advance of actual production, they are developing a plan to give domestic value to their films. It is hard to imagine that any artist will be able to do enough pre-orders to predict 20% of negative costs from the USA — unless they are working on microbudgets — but taking a step forward is still a better plan than surrender to the unknown.

So where are we now in the process of getting your films funded? If you’ve gotten your foreign sales estimates, and you can somehow reasonably anticipate a 20% of Negative Cost US Acquisition License, you are in great shape. That is, you are in great shape if you have foolish investors. The wise ones will still be wondering about how they cover sales fees, sales expenses, and the opportunity costs on the money. Those numbers are still routinely ignored in many business plans for indie film I find. If you are working with semi-literate investors, you will still be scrambling to find another 25% or so of your negative costs.

How will you fund your film if you can not predict full recoupment from the combined US & foreign licenses? Fortunately, if your film is set in America, you can pull in some tax credit relief. Otherwise, I hope you carry a foreign passport, and qualify for foreign subsidies. If you plan on cash flowing any of this soft money, don’t forget to discount them and budget for the additional legal expense. From personal experience, I find it hard to justify the costs of cash flowing soft money on the type of budgets we are talking about – but that’s good news. In the NMOIFFv2011.1 you are wise to treat this soft money as revenue towards the project so that such aforementioned costs will be covered.

If you are fortunate enough to have all of these rare qualities (foreign value, US acquisition potential, strong team with a track record, soft money qualifications, and cash flow partners) inherent to your project, you probably are still wondering where’s the upside. How do we get to profit?

I think we now have a subject for tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1, Foreign Value

Part 2 repost of Ted Hope's blog on Indie Film Finance

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1, Foreign Value

By Ted Hope

Today continues my efforts to try to define the takeaway from the two most recent and robust US acquisition markets of Sundance & Toronto. I (and hopefully we) will try to extrapolate from them where we are today. How can we use our most recent experiences to determine the reality of our filmed dreams today? How can we move to a more realistic model of indie film finance?

Foreign estimates still set the initial value for films, and it is CAST that is the predominate determinator for this value. Before a film is shot, there are three types of actors that mean something to foreign buyers:

  • 1) stars that have been in big hits in the relevant territories;
  • 2) stars that have been in popular television shows in those territories;
  • 3) stars that can be expected to generate a great deal of publicity everywhere.

Other than stars, there are a few other aspects of a film that create foreign value. Stars are another entity altogether from cast or actors — and it is really the stars that determine foreign value.

Are there any other factors that help shape what your project is determined to be worth overseas? Fortunately, yes! The track record of the collaborators have impact on a distributor’s willingness to consider a project. Experienced directors and producers have more foreign value, provided they have made films that have fairly recently been well received, either commercially or critically. Similarly, proven cinematographers, designers, editors, composers, and vfx supervisors can mean something.

When the foreign markets were more hungry for US product, it was partially due to their paid and free television’s appetite for it. Although that has been vastly diminished, if your film will fit well into foreign television programming, you have some security. It is generally thought that comedies and “urban” (i.e. non-white) content doesn’t travel. Nonetheless I have had buyers get excited about an office place comedy precisely because they feel like television but aren’t. Similarly, as new niche channels develop, new audiences aggregate. I still remain confident that as much as hip-hop transcended music to become a global lifestyle, “urban” programming can get some international legs once it gets its foot in the door.

Every international territory struggles with the same challenges of expensive marketing. When a project comes even with the hopes of decreasing some of those costs, buyers perk up. I have seen those results come both from aggregated audience action (i.e. twitter followers, facebook friends, and data lists) and transmedia builds. Although there is not yet the model that can be used to demonstrate success, let alone predict it, these first efforts still increase the appetite for acquisition among buyers, and thus potentially also the value.

For there to be foreign value, you need to have the potential to sell. The things that increase that potential also increase a film’s foreign value. At acquisition markets you see this phenomenon in full play as film’s that appear to be headed to a subsequent (and more major) festival, get snapped up far more readily.

Tomorrow we will look at why a film might hope to get acquired in the USA and where else can funding come from in the states.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1

Another repost from Ted Hope's blog. Awesome, as usual!....

The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1
by Ted Hope

I recently had one of the top sales agents explain to me that the only indie film that gets made or sold these days are those projects that make absolute sense. Okay, granted what he was referring to was only within the mainstream indie business — the type of films that he and his cohorts commission — but it is worthy of our time to delve a bit deeper into this. What indie film project makes absolute sense?

The agent said there was no room for guess work in today’s mainstream indie business. If you want to get your film made, you have to have to make it for a price that all concerned feel it will certainly recoup at. ”Absolute sense” is this regard is a film that will inevitably make back what it cost. ”Absolute sense” can also mean a project that a company feels it has to have, usually due to the people involved or the timeliness of the concept, but those “packages” are frankly even harder to come by than those that seem to be inevitably recoupable. You are looking for the needle in the haystack with either, and need to build it yourself if you want to hope to come close.

My last few projects all were designed to remove any guess work for financiers. Between foreign sales estimates, tax credit rebates, and the undisputed value or attraction of the stars, if you want to be sure your film will get made, your project needs to read that the value of the work will exceed the cost of creating it. Value in this regard, is strictly business related, and not cultural (sorry art-for-art’s-sake fans, this isn’t going to be one of those posts). As much we can understand or even accept, those words though, what is the math that adds up to this formula? And where do the numbers even get their value anyway?

Even with 39 or 40 (and still rising) films selling at Sundance this year, the first take away from it is we probably should keep our budgets below $5 million. Granted the highest sales were the ones that had budgets towards the higher side of the scale, but those were also the ones that had the most to lose. The films at Sundance 2011 were acquired for reasonable amounts with the US acquisition price generally in the low 7 figures or below. No one, even the large corporate distributors, can stomach losing a great deal of money these days, and the business is currently designed around this preventative action of covering one’s ass (no surprise that several of the corporate funded indies are now exploring the micro-budget field).

If the film business remains in an era of risk mitigation (and how in this economy could it not be?), just as acquisition prices will continue to be reigned in, budgets will be kept to a minimum by most investors. Let’s leave the issue of how to attract experienced producers and directors to a project when you can’t afford to offer them a reasonable rate aside, and not worry about how budget effects the quality of the project; instead, let’s try to give some greater understanding to what this principal of risk mitigation looks like in practical terms of getting our movies made.

As foolish as it is, the mainstream indie film industry relies on estimates from foreign sales agents to set the value for the films. It is this “market value” that truly determines the budgets for the films that get made under this system. Forget for the moment that everyone recognizes that those estimates rarely hold water any more these days. Let’s ignore the fact that international sales have been dropping 20-30% annually for several years. Dismiss it as anomaly that certain former major territories no longer license films like they used to. Until we develop the tools and know how to assign valid figures to the other factors that actually determine a film’s success, this is the system we have.

Tomorrow, I will get into how foreign value appears to be determined.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Netflix Distribution For Indies

The following is a re-post of an article in "The Independent".

By Michelle L. Martin and Katie O'Connell

Many filmmakers want to reach Netflix's 16 million subscribers, but submission guidelines and criteria for films without third-party distributors aren't quite clear yet.

This could be your movie. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
This could be your movie. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

If you want tons of exposure for your film, Netflix—the world’s leading internet subscription service for movies and television—is the place to be. Netflix reaches over 16 million members in the United States and Canada. About a year ago they added 300 on-demand streaming indie films to their service. Getting your film distributed by Netflix, however, can be difficult. Even with a well-thought-out marketing plan and as much dedication and passion as you put into the making of your film, Netflix might not pick it up, and the company has yet to announce more specific requirements for independent film submissions.

Steve Swasey, vice president of Netflix corporate communications, says that for independents to get picked up by his company for distribution, they need a mixture of some or all of the following: queue demand, critical appeal, sizeable audience appeal, buzz, and film festival premieres. He says these are in no specific order and declines to give a specific number of requests needed for the Netflix queue. “If your film was profitable and gained plenty of exposure, the film's audience should be there to help support your film on Netflix,” Swasey says. “If your film got folks in their seats at film festivals and you spent time on marketing and building and audience then your chances are slightly higher.”

Swasey agrees that presenting a film to Netflix is akin to presenting a business plan to investors—you need to do your homework and deliver a great package in order to get considered for a Netflix run. You can always consult the company’s guidelines for more information on submissions.

According to the guidelines, they prefer to purchase films from a third-party distributor. If you find a distributor that already has a good relationship with Netflix, that will likely improve your chances. If you aren’t able to find a distributor, or prefer to DIY, they do accept submissions directly from filmmakers, but you must meet their criteria, and take Swasey’s suggestions into mind, before you send it in.

Whether you’re considering submitting to Netflix through a distributor or submitting yourself, marketing and buzz are as important as a script and camera equipment. Anthony Mora, of Anthony Mora Communications Inc., says if you’re hoping to eventually get distribution for a film, producers must develop a public relations strategy before the first day of shooting. “Too many [people] produce a film with no plan in place to market it. If they can afford a publicist, it is money well spent,” says Mora.

Mora recommends creating a basic press kit, both online and in paper form, and launching an online and traditional public relations campaign. Make sure to factor these costs into your overall budget. In other words, you can have the Picasso of films in the can ready to go, but according to Mora, if you can’t spread the word and create buzz, no one will know about it.

As Netflix offers no precise numbers in terms of audience size or queue requests needed for a green light, there is still uncertainty as to what will definitely get you noticed by Netflix. In some situations, they may pursue your film themselves. Randy Mack, producer of Burning Annie, says that his film, released in 2003, got noticed by Netflix while they were still in their festival run. Netflix went so far as to create a web page for the film. “I still have no idea how we got on their radar or why they were so sure we were going to get distribution,” Mack says. Burning Annie is currently available for distribution on Netflix, but isn’t available for streaming. “Our distributor says Netflix didn’t request that and they don’t know why,” says Mack. “This seems a little weird to me, since Netflix is making streaming the forefront of their service.”

Netflix gives filmmakers an opportunity to connect with a huge audience, but the relationship between Netflix and independent filmmakers is still evolving. Regardless if you’re trying to get on the Netflix service or not, marketing your film, creating buzz, and finding an audience will prove useful with or without Netflix, and might even help to secure distribution for your film through another company.

How To Triumph At A Contract Negotiation

Another repost from Ted Hope's Blog!

A concise model of successful contract negotiation from Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Indie Filmmakers And Their Legal Mistakes

An Independent film always begins with good intentions, optimism, and trust... but then it can all go horribly wrong. Check out my good friend Sean Hood's GENRE HACKS blog in which he interviews Entertainment Attorney Jordan Susman about "Indie Filmmakers And Their Legal Mistakes".

"I Am A Nobody Filmmaker."

This is a repost from Ted Hope's blog of a repost from the author's blog. Great insights/attitude for those of us who don't regularly show up on the cover of Filmmaker Magazine.

“I Am A Nobody Filmmaker”
by Christopher J. Boghosian, (FollowMyFilm, Girlfriend 19)

I’m a nobody filmmaker: I don’t have a recognizable name nor a recognizable film. In essence, most of the world couldn’t care less about me nor my movies. This sounds pathetic, I know, but coming to grips with this reality has truly liberated me and provided an invaluable perspective on my work and career.

As a result of the internet, mass media, and proliferation of panel discussions and seminars, beginning filmmakers can now listen in on the conversation between film industry experts. Insider tips and wisdom are readily available, from casting celebrities to negotiating a VOD deal. It’s true: gurus sometimes discuss broad principles and concepts that apply to every level of filmmaking, but more often than not, there is a buried assumption in their discussion: that a filmmaker or their project has a considerable amount of credibility, hype or leverage. As a result, many of these conversations are inapplicable to nobody filmmakers who have no reputable name nor a film with high salability. Nevertheless, in our earnest search for success, us nobodies continue to invest a lot of time, energy and money on experts.

A beginning filmmaker can learn all about financing, film production, marketing and distribution, but if s/he has little or nothing to back it up with, what’s the point? Living in LA, I’ve met countless filmmakers trying to raise thousands of dollars, even millions, with very little to their credit. Who do they think they are? What other business or profession operates like that? Like every other profession, filmmakers must earn the right to ask for thousands of dollars. They must earn the right to mass market and distribute their film. In the end, most of these filmmakers discover that only their friends and family are willing to invest in them, since that is with whom they have earned trust.

The baker bakes, the architect designs, and the filmmaker must continually make films. What baker bakes one loaf of bread and asks for thousands of dollars to open a bakery? What architect designs one home and expects to have thousands of fans on Facebook? None. It’s ludicrous. As a nobody filmmaker, I have come to realize that I need to earn my right to ask people for their time and money. And the way to do that is by consistently making films, plain-and-simple.

In fact, even the desire to make a great film must be earned. An expert baker who has studied and worked for years would scoff at a novice attempting to develop a great loaf of bread. It takes years of trial-and-error, blood, sweat and tears to bake great bread. How is filmmaking any different? Why do so many beginning filmmakers strive to make a great film? It’s presumptuous and disrespectful toward the art and craft of filmmaking.

Coming to grips with my nobody-ness as a filmmaker has set me straight in many ways. Rather than attempt to make a great film and attain thousands of fans, my focus now is to continually make the very best films I can within my means. Additionally, I have come to realize that I am, in fact, a somebody to a few folks out there. Most are friends and family members who watch my films, read my blog, and anticipate my future work. Thus, as I continue to make films and develop my craft, I will, first and foremost, share with them. Rather than create my own Facebook Fan page, I will call and email them, letting them know what I’m up to. And, hopefully, if my films are any good, they’ll spread the word and, maybe, create a Fan page for me!

-Christopher J. Boghosian

Christopher J. Boghosian is an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles, California. His blog,, focuses on the emotional side of filmmaking as well as highlighting the progress of his first feature film, Girlfriend 19.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sundance 2011

No surprise, here, peeps. I made the annual pilgrimage to independent film's one and only true convention - The Sundance Film Festival. In no way do I want to belittle Slamdance by not including them in the title of this blog. Slamdance is a dynamic event in its own right. But it exists as an alternative to Sundance and still exists in its shadow - rather successfully and happily, it seems.

People always ask me why I would bother to go to Sundance without having a film there. And I'm always stunned by this question. Officially, Sundance is, of course, a terrific film festival. Unofficially, Sundance is a film market (although it began to wane in this respect, film buying unexpectedly re-energized this year). Sundance is also a meeting place, a connection point and a deal-making matrix. It's home to a number of whacked out sideshows and a crazy clash of various classes of indie film society. Which, in totality, makes it indie film's only true convention. However, instead of Fez hats, everyone marches up and down Main Street in woolly caps or fur-lined ear muffs.

And like any convention, people go for either business or pleasure…or, most often, both. Both suits me just fine. On the business end, I wanted to connect with a bunch of peeps with whom I have a long history and with whom I'd like to keep the connection alive. That includes filmmakers, producers, actors, festival programmers, vendors, sponsors, consultants, bloggers and more. Since I am in perpetual fundraising mode, I also go to see where the money is. I've met more than one investor or potential investor at Sundance. But I also like to get a feel for where the money is coming from for the films in Sundance and Slamdance - try to get a finger on the film-funding zeitgeist of the moment. I also like to get a sense of what kind of projects filmmakers are putting together and, perhaps more importantly, how they are putting them together - how and where they are developing their stories, assembling crew and cast, utilizing equipment, etc., etc. And, of course, I go to see the films, themselves - although, to my perpetual dismay, I usually end up getting to do this the least of all.

There are many more business reasons I go to Sundance, but the primary reason I go is not really business or social. It's creative. I go for inspiration. Whether it's from seeing a really terrific film (or negative inspiration from seeing a truly disappointing one), or hearing an incredible behind-the-scenes filmmaking story or just being in the energetic mix of wildly talented beings, I never walk away from Park City without some powerful burst of inspiration and recharged enthusiasm for the filmmaking work that lies ahead of me.

That's not to say that Park City, during Sundance, doesn't have more than it's share of Hollywood, and even Vegas-style, yuckiness. But this is almost all on a social front. The carnival-like atmosphere that prevails over the first half of the festival (the first weekend, mostly) threatens to completely overwhelm the festival itself. There are parties every five feet (and/or five minutes) and sometimes a dozen of them happening simultaneously. But it's not all warm and fuzzy. Nearly every party is like an exclusive big-city club literally designed to separate the "in" crowd from the "wish I could get in" crowd.

But that stuff doesn't bother me and, in fact, I totally understand it. There are so many people converging on Park City, every single party could be like a NYC subway at rush hour - creating an endless string of Fire Marshal shutdowns. People must be kept out for safety reasons. Also, let's be honest. Vegas-style yuckiness also includes a pervasive sense of desperation. Obviously, Sundance attracts more than its share of dreamers, schemers, wannabes and never-wills. Many of them so desperately want something they don't already have and channel that energy into getting into parties. It becomes their status symbol and/or symbol of achievement. More power to them. If they are smart and thick-skinned, they will do just fine. Party-givers, however, can be forgiven for not wanting to stuff their joints with hordes of these types. So, yes, the "list" has practical use. I just wish they could handle that stuff sans the attitude and not make everyone feel as if they are trying to sneak into the White House.

So, all that said, how was Sundance this year? Personally, I thought it rocked. I had a blast. Keep in mind you are hearing this from someone who only saw three films out of hundreds. If you were there just for the films, or mostly just for the films, you may have a completely different opinion. But I know many of the Sundance programmers quite well and have complete confidence in their ability to program a fairly broad mix of films - from blatantly commercial to aggressively arty - and always offer up a sizable share of nice cinematic gems. So, I'm just going to assume the festival held up on that end. I know there was an extraordinary amount of sales this year. Not sure what is accounting for that, but my friend and fellow filmmaker Davidson Cole (Design, Sundance 2002) points out that, although there were a lot of sales, most of the films sold were very "safe" films. Meaning, they did little to challenge mainstream preconceptions of what cinema is about. Perhaps more "safe" films were programmed this year than usual. Or more made and therefore less of the other stuff to choose from. Or maybe Sundance programmed the same ratio of "safe" films as always and buyers are simply spreading their budgets - paying less per film, but buying more films. Who knows? I really can't explain with any certainty the surge in film sales. Nor do I feel like trying. I still think making a film with the intent of selling it to a film distributor for a sizable advance is like panning for gold. Good luck with that.

So, I went up this year with Davidson, his friend Ryan Suffren, producer and friend LInda Miller and good friend/biz partner Jim Hoffman. With the help of a couple of air mattresses, we managed to stuff ourselves into a nice one-bedroom condo right down the street from Sundance HQ - the Marriot Hotel. As usual, I set up the parties I was going to go to in advance of the festival, but keeping myself loose for anything that might come up. The others had not, especially Linda, who decided to come along at the last minute. But Linda has produced over 25 features, so she clearly knows the lay of the land and her share of peeps. Same can be said of Davidson and Ryan. And Jim, although not a filmmaker, has been to Sundance many times and is incredibly self-sufficient there. So, everybody had a plan for themselves, but we were fortunate enough to get our individual plans to dovetail enough so that we got to actually enjoy each other's company.

Davidson Cole, Jim Hoffman, me and Ryan Suffren crowding the frame on a chilly Park City Street.

So, without going into a boring play by play, I'll just give a quick overview. I went to 2 features, one shorts program, 1 seminar and 8,950 parties. I connected with dozens of people I already know and were excited to see again and dozens more I already know and was not excited to see again. I also made a number of great new connections. My favorite parties were the Film Independent Party because so many great filmmaking peeps I know were there and the RED STATE (didn't get to see the movie, however) premiere party - which was relatively hospitable and low-key, in a cool space with nice peeps and a kick-ass DJ. It was just plain fun as hell and followed in the wake of Kevin Smith announcing he'd purchased his own movie for $20 to distribute himself. Awesome!! I think people will be watching that process very closely.

The two features I saw were "The Bengali Detective" and "Take Shelter". Both need an editing job, in my opinion, although "Begali Detective" suffered most from that issue. It has compelling characters and really gives a nice portrait of life in Calcutta, but the various story threads are woven together awkwardly and do not maintain dramatic or even comedic tension very effectively. Just my opinion. "Take Shelter" is a mature and gripping piece of work that simply needs a haircut to shave off some of the excess/repetition. But, of course, both were worthwhile films to have seen. Shorts Program ll was very good with only one film that totally missed the mark. But I won't say which one as short filmmakers have enough struggle ahead of them without someone like me kicking dirt on them.

I went to a brief seminar given by my friend Peter Broderick, an eloquent self-distribution guru/lecturer that took place during the IndieGoGo party, which, he pointed out, is kind of a novelty. A party with content. Interesting. But tough to get the partiers to keep quiet. The seminar was, not surprisingly given it was hosted by IndieGoGo, about crowdfunding and Peter succinctly pointed out a lot of key things to consider if you want to create a successful campaign. He also introduced a lot of cool projects that benefitted from this grassroots funding approach. Statistically, you still can't fund a larger indie through IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, but you can definitely get the project rolling or even totally fund a short or microbudget indie.

We also spent some time at Sundance's New Frontier which was in the Miner's Lodge and got to see some very cool multi-media exhibits. Best part of it, however, was running into Lance Weiler, who just happened to be there doing a brief dissertation on "Pandemic" his expansive trans-media project. The amount of work, energy and THOUGHT he puts into his projects is just staggering. He's truly a genius and innovator, but I must confess I am sometimes overwhelmed by the directions his mind and projects take and makes me want to scurry home to a simple, comfortable re-watching of "The Bicycle Thief". But his work is not just entertainment. He devises things through his creative work that is applicable to all kinds of other platforms - including the tracking of all manner of global phenomena. I love that he's out there trailblazing for the rest of us and expanding our ideas of what media is capable of doing.

Finally, we closed out our trip on Tuesday night with a surprise invitation to a thing called "Chefdance". I'd heard of it before, of course, but always dismissed it as one of Sundance's cheesy sideshows - even if it is often attended by various high-rollers. But this particular night was hosted in part by my friends Christo DiMassis and Elana Krausz who sweetly and generously invited me and Davidson to the exclusive nightly meal/event. We wound up having a great time and connecting with a lot of great new and old peeps. The multi-course meal and fine wine were great, of course, but the energy of the room was surprisingly good and I felt like I could genuinely connect with people. Not sure if it's always that way or if that particular night was under Christo and Elana's influence. In any event, it was a blast even if it cut into time at my beloved Short Film Awards Party (which we raced to immediately afterward) and the opportunity to bowl the night away.

Anyway, that's the whole skinny on Sundance 2011. Doesn't sound like much in summation, but it was a LOT, trust me. And that was just my experience. There were literally hundreds of things going on and thousands of people I didn't see/experience. Fish around the web if you want to see some of the stuff I saw….and a lot of the stuff I didn't.

I drove up and back with the gang (except for Linda - who flew back early - and Jim, who flew back east), so got to discuss our various Sundance experiences and spend a bit of time in Vegas. We couldn't help but notice the similarities between Vegas and Park City during Sundance - fortunes made, dreams dashed, beautiful people, desperate people, lots of glitzy over-production, many hidden gems, talent utilized beautifully, lots of talent wasted. But where the fantasy of hitting it rich is stubbornly at the core of Vegas, cinematic greatness clings to the core of Sundance. When all the hoopla fades away, it's still - and will always be - about the movies, about the art of cinema. And that was on all of our minds as we cruised back home to L.A., inspired to take our own filmmaking lives to the next level.