It’s a movie, now what?
In Part 4 in our Micro-Budget series we’ll assume the movie is shot and you’re in Post-Production or the marketing phase.
We’ve been using the movie I wrote/produced, Chat, as a case-study. Before we get to Sales Agents and Distributors, some life lessons for the writer as your flick hits the edit room. Unless you directed or financed it, it’s doubtful you’ll be in the edit room making final decisions. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Your writer-head needs to be in the right place to surrender control. The whole purpose of Micro, you thought, was keeping control. So that if the movie fails at least it’s your movie that fails.
But let’s stay positive and say you did direct or produce it and will have at least some say on Final Cut. The only thing that matters at this point is what you got in the can. The script is still important, but much more to the point is the footage you got. For instance…
I mentioned in the previous posts how our Director, Boris Wexler, got permission to shoot in the Board Of Trade offices where he worked. It looked nothing like the sleazy XXX-chat office I’d first imagined.
INT. SYD’S OFFICE- CONTINUOUS
Falcon timidly, stranger in a strange land, stands before SYD, 48, a toad. As Syd searches the messy office for paperwork. Falcon scans the room…
Because we shot at Boris’ Board of Trade offices, this scene was moved from Syd’s office to the Conference Room. More spectacular visuals than a simple office scene, really opened things up and gave us a new take on the seedy backrooms you’d expect from an adult chat cam operation.
EXT. FALCON’S APARTMENT- LATER
Falcon emerges, holding a large wreath, staring up at the sun. He places powerful protective sunglasses over the contacts, stepping into light.
EXT. STREET- CONTINUOUS
Alien landscape, cars and people move very fast, dizzying. A crying child, a jackhammer at a construction site, the screaming of an EMT van passing with cherry lights blazing. All these exaggerated, hypersensitive for Falcon, who walks with wreath toward…
EXT. CEMETERY- LATER
Falcon bends, laying the wreath again a newly dug stone. He stands back to observe the wreath, the stone, the empty cemetery.
EXT. CHAT OFFICE BUILDING- LATER
Falcon looks up at a piece of paper with scrawled writing, then at a nondescript commercial building. He moves inside.
All were filmed as written. Nothing wrong with these scenes in and of themselves, but in front of a test audience we learned that the pacing of the movie’s open was slow. Top and bottom trims were made to each of these and some were outright cut. In the edit room it’s not about what was in the script any more. It’s about maximizing what you SHOT.
INT. CHAT OFFICE HALLWAY- CONTINUOUS
Falcon walks the fluorescent corridor. Still wearing protective sunglasses, he drifts past door after door. Partial glimpses inside… CHAT MODELS in various states of undress, typing on keyboards or chatting into computer cameras, office cubicles made to look like bedrooms. This is an Adult Chat studio complex and business is very good indeed. Falcon’s sunglasses hide his eyes, but the fluorescence still brings pain.
We shifted this scene to after he screens the video of his daughter doing sex chat for the first time, weeping upon seeing her.
Thus, we accomplished (I hope!) the four keys to the first 5 pages: 1-PROTAGONIST established 2-TONE established 3-WORLD established 4-CONFLICT established.
- MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION (ONE STEP BACK, ONE FORWARD…)
Lotta micros (like ours) trying make it into A-level film fests with no name actors and limited marketing funds. Sundance had over 12,000 submissions last year– an all-time record. Might be the ex-craps dealer in me but the mathematics of making Sundance ain’t great.
But so what? You’ve got options like never before to get your film out there, maybe even make enough $$$ back to make your next film, and the next, and get noticed. That’s how Ryan Coogler goes from low-budget Fruitvale Station to Creed.
Your marketing approach should be personal and right for you. You might not want to give up control to a distribution company. You might choose to 4-wall it (where you pay to screen it, fill the house via social media, and take a piece of the door) in a handful of cities hoping to draw critical buzz. Maybe you’ll choose to keep 100% control, promote it yourself and put it out on a place like Seed & Spark. Maybe you’ll try to get into major film festival or go the B and C-level or not bother with the film fest circuit at all. Be a student of how small-budget movies emerge from the pack. Be original — like never-seen-before original– like Tangerine, a movie about transvestite prostitutes shot on an iPhone for low, low money.
So what happened with Chat? Anything to learn from that? I believe it happened in this order…
*Showcase Entertainment signed on in late summer 2014 as Sales Agent. Yes!
*Sundance rejection. Boo!
*10 other A-level Fest rejections in 2015. Boo! But…
*Summer 2015 Gravitas Ventures agrees to distribute Chat! North American Cable and VOD. (75%-AVOD, SVOD, TVOD revenue retained indicates we’ll at least be able to start paying investors back with an outside shot of fully paying them back. The gold standard: Breaking even.) Yay!
*Armed with Gravitas deal Showcase actively sells this movie at AFM in New York, foreign markets, and DVD distributors. Nice! But…
*Trailer needs reworking—cost is 5,000$, right off the top. Boo!
*First check back in 2016 from all digital platforms indicates the obvious: Don’t quit your day job, Peditto. Rrrr….
So what’s all this amount to for you? How should you handle distribution? It’s a personal choice, as I mentioned. It’s nice my movie is selling on a dozen online platforms. Without stars and Sundance-less, we had no illusions about making it into theaters for a theatrical run, though we did get two nights at Siskel Center-Chicago this Spring…
The key is realistic expectations in a crowded marketplace. Lotta product out there. The decisions are many: Film fest submission or no? Name actor in a cameo to help with sales later or no? Self-distribution or give away a piece and hook on with a company like Gravitas Ventures? How much will you get up front to give away pieces of domestic, foreign and digital rights? Will you make anything without major festival cache? Imaging you’re making this micro-budget movie to make big $$$ is surely a prescription for Zoloft. Better to keep it realistic.
- “YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION FOR ANYTHING”- JOHN LYDON
Read Spike Lee’s journal of the making of She’s Got To Have It. He struggled to make rent, hit his mother up for money, annoyed and pissed his friends off with money requests, anything to get his first movie made.
David Lynch took years to make the sub $30,000 Eraserhead. He had a paper route and grabbed unused sound and film stock from dumpsters.
Cassavetes made other people’s movies to get the cash to make his own low-budget films.
Orson Wells made wine commercials.
Robert Rodriguez sold himself for medical experiments.
Pillars and icons of filmmaking, all. They didn’t have the technological advantages you do today. But they made it happen.
Hollywood. Home of the true 1%.
Behind this gated community are the impeccable hedge rows, million-dollar mansions, and Lamborghini excess. The Country Club of which you are most definitely not a member. You cannot apply to this club. The gatekeepers know you are not of their cloth.
They can smell you, folks. You are the Unwashed. They can smell your wanting, your desperation to join them on the inside. They have set up impenetrable motes and ramparts to stop you.
How will you scale these walls?
Write and MAKE a quality micro-budget movie.
The church of D.I.Y. is upon us. The church of Micro-Budget, and all the digital miracles therein. In 1996, Jane Doe cost $225,000 to make in 18 days on Super 16 film.
In 2014 Chat cost $44,000 to shoot in 18 days with a Canon 5D Mark III.
This is what micro-budget has done. Enabled a freedom never before allowed. The freedom to pull all these projects out of the realm of needing millions from other people, needing bankable stars, needing to make artistic compromises, and moving it… into the realm of possibility.
Remember those 12,000+ submissions to Sundance last year? Record number. The D.I.Y. “revolution” is tied into digital technologies and easy access to those technologies. Meaning the availability of great cameras, advanced software programs available for home use.
Then add social media, crowdfunding, and digital distribution options through VOD(Video-On-Demand) platforms. Lower production budgets freeing movie makers from traditional barriers of entry.
This is a very good time to be making movies, and a very good time to be writing them.
Micro-Budget movies are not a panacea for world hunger. This is a world filled with no-name actors, microscopic production budget limitations, drama upon drama and the stress that comes from never having enough money when you make the movie.
But, the point is…. you’re making the movie!
It all starts with the script.
For so many years it was just a dream—getting your movie made.
You’ve talked and talked about it. With Digital technology, it’s there to be had. There’s no better time to write a micro-budget screenplay.
So let’s go…write the damn thing!