Somebody ask me if you need an agent to start your career as a writer. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
The answer is no.
Ask me if you need to submit to screenwriting contests to start your career as a filmmaker.
The answer is no.
Ask me if you need to go to LA to start a career in the business.
The answer is…you got it… no.
I am here to testify as a convert to the new religion: DIY film-making. Nothing new about DIY, many of you will say….
120 years ago Thomas Edison’s assistant filmed Fred Ott’s Sneeze for what today would be called Micro-Budget money. Cassavetes made low-budget movies for the ages. So did Orson Wells, who made wine commercials to fund his low-budget Shakespearean epics. Robert Rodriquez literally wrote the book on the subject. Spike Lee, Fincher, Aronofsky…all started with low-budget films. Watchword there being: Film. This brings us to what is new: the technology. What is new is being able to pick up a Canon 7d and shoot a movie saying exactly what you want to say, maintaining full control of both content and distribution. What is new are digital platforms that didn’t exist even five years ago that have leveled the playing field and democratized the process of movie making.
Here is Hollywood. The true 1%. Behind this gate is a gated community of breathtaking beauty. There are the mansions of the Stars and star-maps, the kidney shaped pools filled with Rainbowfish and Neon Tetras. The $18 dollar hamburgers and chi-chi bottled water and beautiful tanning bed people taking meetings. You watch Entourage, you know what it must be like to be one of these beautiful people. Alas, you are not one of them. You are not of their cloth. Even as you approach this gate they can smell you, can smell your desperation. You want into their country club, badly…
You do what the Old School Gurus tell you to do. You write your query letters and enter screenwriting contests. You put your stuff up on places like Inktip believing that “industry professionals” will read your stuff. You pay gurus to pitch them at pitch conferences, to learn from their rewrite notes and rewrite your script over and over and over again….
You buy their fucking books, take their online seminars with one goal is mind: TO WRITE FOR A LIVING! You want an agent, to take meetings, get sent out on assignment work, work your way into the Writer’s Guild, pump out a few well received movies, and establish a reputation and a rate of pay before you croak—
You want in at the country club. The true 1%. Membership has its privileges. But it won’t be easy. This clip from Dov Simens always cracks me up on this subject:
Don’t go to L.A. until you’re invited.
I know this runs counter to what you read all over the internet. Such sweeping statements are inherently lacking, but I throw it out there as a way to get you to start THINKING…about yourself and what alternatives you have at your disposal. So, what’s the first thing to be done? Know Thyself.
Is L.A. a place where you could actually live? How are you planning on surviving for years– yes, years– it will take before your career takes off doing it the traditional way? Maybe you can make it living from your city. Here in Chicago, for instance, we’ve got four TV shows now shooting on our sound stages. There is great infrastructure in terms of locations, major and Indy movies shoot here all the time: Great tax incentives are provided by a movie-friendly state. Seasoned crews, half a dozen great acting school spawning excellent actors, plenty of money…
There actually isn’t production company money here. Sure, plenty of Indies get made here but it’s impossible to deny that the vast majority of production companies, agencies, and managers are in L.A. The industry is in L.A– has been since the Star System took root almost 100 years ago. So, with the mechanism of Hollywood so entrenched, how the heck can you make it anywhere BUT L.A.?
I’ll say it again: Know Thyself.
CASE STUDY: YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR
Google me. Do it now…
Then scroll 40 pages. Wow, I’m 40 deep at Google! My writing career must truly have amounted to something! But dig a little deeper…bring up my IMDB information. You can find it here.
Jesus, Peditto…after the Calista Flockhart movie JANE DOE you just kinda…fell off the map! All the way until 2008 for a second credit?! What the heck happened?
Holding up skimpy credits to public light, not part of the standard Guru pitch (though in truth most high-profile, self-appointed, pontificating experts, aka gurus, have an IMDB profile with the same or LESS credits than I)…I do this not for kudos or sympathy, but to illustrate a point. It was over a decade between movies for me– so long that when I started making movies again in 2008 IMDB sent a query asking if I was even the same PERSON! The reasons for this are clear to me only now, in hindsight.
I was a poet in a past life and my approach was– write your soul. Write what speaks to you. Write what you must write. I wrote screenplays the same way, writing what was on my mind. In doing this I gave little or no thought to budget, to audience, to how I’d actually get the script made. Arty concept, right-headed for a poet, but a mistaken concept for the screenwriter. The idea of a movie script being more PRODUCT than POEM never occurred to me. Another alien concept was that I might be writing things that cost more than I could pull out of my pocket. Thus, the necessity for OPM—Other People Money. Thus, the need to buy into traditional L.A. System mentality. Trying to go in through the front door of that Gated Community. And, alas, ten years gone. Poor sucker, never had a chance.
In truth I had more opportunities than most and came very close to landing that second movie (see Survival Strategies For The Unknown Screenwriter) with multiple options, high screenwriting contest placings and prodco interest, high-profile agents and managers gained and lost…this too is where the time goes…because in Hollywood they have a way of making you believe you are just this close, when in fact you are not. And you look up and ten years have gotten beyond you.
The way to avoid this is to understand what it is you write, to know thyself. I’ve written on this before in a post called Three Paths To Glory. If you’re thinking of going to L.A. the stuff you’re writing should be in tune with what they buy there. With the well-documented dearth of spec script purchasing it’s more likely they won’t be banging at your door for that deeply felt character driven passion piece about your Uncle’s in-hock Cleveland bowling alley….and much more likely they’ll jump when the concept can be pitched in a matter of two or three words, like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, or Snakes On A Plane. Look over your material…are you writing big concept stuff that a Studio would want? If you’re not, there’s a second possibility…
Indy movie budgets can be debated but it’s safe to say 1 to 10 million would be a common range. Whether it’s 1 or 10 million is important only to the extent of the STARS you can attract. There’s no way you’re getting a movie up in this $ range without name talent to sell on the back end. You then are faced with the eternal Catch-22 of needing the star to get financing, but no star being interested in the project without financing. I’ve known multiple cases of hopeful filmmakers chasing names talent for years, occasionally successfully, more often than not unsuccessfully. Not to mention the time it takes to worm your way into the Hollywood establishment to even get an agent to send your stuff around. This is also how the years go by and the IMDB profile suffers.
Please don’t let this happen to you, Good Reader. It doesn’t have to work out this way. There is the Studio door, and the Indy door, and a Third door too. It’s how after a decade I have started to dig my way out of this rut, and how you by sheer force of will can get yourself on the board.
Stay tuned next week, Good Reader, as we open that third door, and learn a bit more about the church of DIY.