Jenna Edwards will answer all your questions about filmmaking including pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenna began her film career in the late 1990s as an actor. She has worked in many areas in film including; acting, talent representation, crew and made the move to producing in 2008. Where, on her first feature film (April Showers) as a producer she learned not only the ins and outs of producing, but also distribution and marketing. She has since produced several more features and is a producing teacher at New York Film Academy. She is grateful for the opportunity to share her experiences and answer young filmmaker's questions through the Film Method Mailbag.
Q: What are some ways I can maximize my educational opportunity, and what should constantly be on my mind as I develop my own voice as a filmmaker?
Summer Anderson via Film Method Mailbag
I love this question! It is so important to understand what an amazing opportunity it is to be amongst other filmmakers in such a tight space with access to equipment. My advice to you is to network your butt off (as you should be doing anywhere) with your fellow students. Work in every crew position so you understand what you will be asking of people when you are in charge. Shoot as much as possible in the correct way, meaning using real pre-production as much as possible. Utilize the equipment that is offered to you. If you are in a class that is not allowed access to certain equipment, then help the upper classmen with their shoots. Intern as much as you can. Really use this time to find your favorite aspects of filmmaking. Are you a producer, director, writer, editor, or do you just love the grip department (it can happen)? Do you love art films, action films, television, commercials? Once you figure this out, tell everyone! You never know who someone is looking for or what projects they have in the works. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS! Ask questions of the teachers, the staff, your fellow students. You should be so exhausted when you go to film school that you need a little vacation when you get out because you’ve worked on so many films. Obviously, you need to take care of yourself, but you should never be bored. Get out there, meet your fellow filmmakers and find the ones that you fit together with like a puzzle piece. Your goal should be to come out of film school with a pretty solid idea of what you want to do when you get out and a handful of short films that show your desired area. You will have many that you did just for practice that you won’t want to show anyone, but you should have a handful that you are proud to show people saying, yeah, I did ___________ on this.
Q: Any thoughts on asking talent, etc. for Letters of Interest? They’re non-binding, right? It seems like they can allow both you and the talent to test the waters a bit, while having something interesting to tell investors about. Thoughts?
Aydrea (via the comments section on the Film Method Mailbag)
Thanks for reading my September 12th post, “Do you approach investors first or talent first?” In regard to getting letters of interest, I need to first differentiate. A letter of interest is not the same as a letter of attachment. Many filmmakers use the two terms as if they are the same. They are not. One means they are interested in the film for any number of reasons, but are not formally “attached” to the project. The other means they are attached to the project which means they have a contract in place stating they will receive X once the funds are raised. Because so many filmmakers do not understand the difference, agents, managers and talent are hesitant to do letters of interest. A letter of interest is non-binding, yes. But, the talent knows that you will be using their name to raise capital and therefore, some feel they should be compensated for that. In addition, the non-binding part can come back and bite them in the butt because the filmmaker could use their name to gain interest but then not actually use them in the film (rare but it happens) and then they don’t see a dime and their name gets somewhat watered down. Also, for filmmakers you want to think long and hard about who you are going to get these letters from because if you go out and get a letter from a lesser known actor/actress and that person is the reason the investor wants to put money in then along comes Brad Pitt or someone bigger, you may not be legally bound to the original talent, but you are going to be bound through the expectations you have set up with your investor.
Like with any aspect of the filmmaking process, there are pros and cons. You as, an intelligent and responsible producer or filmmaker need to be able to weigh those pros and cons before you get yourself into a situation that isn’t all that peachy.
Q: Do you approach investors first or talent first? That is, if you have a script that is fully developed, what is the first phone call you make?
Kelsey (via the Film Method mail bag)
That’s a good question because it can be a bit of a catch 22. It really depends on the topic of the script. For example, the first feature I made was written and directed by a survivor of the Columbine High School shootings. Because of the topic and the fact that a survivor was directing, we didn’t need actors attached in order to secure funding. The writer/director played that role for us in a way.
If you are going to make a movie that is a bit more typical, it might be about the same topic, but you don’t have a direct relationship to the subject, then you will most likely need talent attached. This can be really challenging because in order to attach talent, they will require funding most of the time. You see where the catch 22 comes in. This is why it is so important for you as a producer or filmmaker to network and create the relationships within the film community. It can take years to cultivate the types of relationships you need to get someone of name attached to your project, so you should start now. But, I will say this, you NEVER know what an actor or manager is looking for so put your project out there. Start to contact agents at the same time as investors. If it’s your first film, try to find someone who has done it before so that they can help you navigate the waters.
I wish I could tell you specifically which to go to, but like most things in this process, there is no one-way to do it. The most important thing is to have a solid business plan, a solid script, passion and perseverance. It will take a while and it will be bumpy at parts so if you are not 100% thrilled and passionate about the project, not only will the people you’re talking to be able to tell, but there will be nothing to get you through those rough patches.
Q: What is your dream job for producing?
Deloris H., Buena Vista Florida
Wow, it’s so nice of you to ask. Honestly, my dream project tends to change from time to time. I will say this, though, my dream project regardless of the content or the medium would be to have a cast and crew that are excited about the project. To have a filmmaker that is honest and realistic about what the project is (i.e., they know that it’s not going to win an academy award if it’s a slasher film…which I don’t want to do anyway). To have a group of people that love what they do, realize it’s not brain surgery, and are having fun. To have a crew that really likes each other, respects each other and knows what each other’s job is. I just like to make people smile, whether it’s through the process of actually making the film/TV show or by making a comedy that makes people laugh while watching it.
Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate it.
Producer Jenna Edwards answers all your questions about filmmaking including pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. Send your questions to email@example.com.
Jenna Edwards’ Bio
Jenna began her film career in the late 1990s as an actor. She has worked in many areas in film including acting, talent representation, crew and made the move to producing in 2008 where on her first feature film as a producer (April Showers) she learned not only the ins and outs of producing, but also distribution and marketing. Jenna has since produced several more features and is a producing teacher at New York Film Academy. She is grateful for the opportunity to share her experiences and answer filmmaker’s questions through the Film Method Mailbag.
Q: How do you interview an AD? How do you know he/she is worth the chance as so much is riding on his/her capability to handle chaos and remain calm?
Jake H. Wahoo Nebraska
It’s interesting because I just did a consultation with one of my students at NYFA the other day about how to choose the right DP for their shoot. So, I am going to make this a general how to interview someone post because I feel that each role on the set is important. Yes, the AD is a super high pressure job and it may seem more important that you get the right AD than getting the right grip or PA, but the truth of the matter is, one person that does not fit within the team could equal disaster for a production.
The key is to know how the producer and director work. So much of being good at these two jobs in particular, is knowing who you are as a person. You need to know this so that you can fill in the holes and make sure to get a balanced crew. You must know what each crew members job in general is so that you can ask for a sample schedule and ask how long it takes them to do a schedule, but the most important question is…how do you like to work. If you know that you like to have a meeting right before the shoot, then after lunch, then at the end of the day and the person you’re interviewing really doesn’t find it necessary and in fact thinks it’s stupid, then they are probably not the right person for you to work with. The thing is, there is not right or wrong way to do the things it takes to make a movie (as long as you’re being ethical) so it’s not a “bad” thing for you to hire people that work the way you do. If you like to laugh and have a lot of fun on set and you are interviewing an AD or DP or anyone for that matter who is sitting across the table from you for like 20 minutes and hasn’t cracked a smile, do you think this person is a good fit for your production? They may be super qualified and really good at their job, but you are going to have to spend a lot of time with them so they may not be the right fit.
If you’re the producer and you know that your director is very internal with his process, it’s probably not a good idea to hire an AD that is an introvert. On the flip side, you know your director is very A.D.D., be honest (and respectful of the director) when you are talking to the AD and tell them what the director is like and ask them how they would handle that. Part of your job as a producer is to be able to see who will work well together and who won’t.
One particular thing to remember when interviewing an AD though, is that their job can be VERY stressful, so make sure that they have a calm demeanor and that they are respectful enough to ask the crew how long it will take to set the shot and that they trust the crew to do their job, but can get them to work efficiently. Above all, TRUST is the word you need to remember when hiring key crew members. Do you trust them to do the job well? Do they trust you to do yours? Do they trust the crew to do theirs?
It can be a tricky process. One last thing I will say on this and it’s a really hard one for new producers and that is, you may have to fire someone. It’s OK as long as it’s because the project or the crew is suffering because this person is on the project. It’s really not a personal thing or an ego thing so make sure that you remember that. One bad apple on set can poison the entire shoot so you’ve got to be able to do what it takes to make sure the process is smooth.
Q: With being on the forefront of online distribution, has SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) or any other unions dealt with the possibility of trying to control their investments online? Do the Unions have anything set up now for online distribution deals such as pay per click?
Andy H., Lincoln Nebraska
Most unions have created contracts that work with productions specific for online distribution. They are each different and can be a bit confusing or non-solid, if you will. Meaning, the online distribution world is so new and so much like the wild-wild west that everyone is still just trying to figure it out. They are continuing to update the contracts as they go so if you are going to shoot something with the union for online distribution, make sure you do your research, talk to as many people as you can and be as educated on the process as possible. Each union has a website so make sure to check those out.
As for the unions having deals where they make money from online distribution, that is not the unions’ purpose. The union is there to protect their members be it actors, directors, crew members. So, they are not allowed to be a part of the distribution process other than to make sure their members are getting their share of the residual income from the distribution deals the studios and producers set up.
Q: I am in my last year in Film school and am ready to pursue making a feature. I know I need some sort of business plan or from what I recall you saying on the FILM METHOD PODCAST, a summary, to show accountants in order to prepare a professional business plan. Do you have any advice or any contacts to steer me in the right direction? Also, what should I tell lawyers when I approach them with a business plan or questions on how to approach this endeavor? How do I attract investors? and how do I know which ones mean business?
Sherif R. , New York New York
Congratulations on almost being done with film school. There are a lot of questions so let me break it down.
First, the accountant is not the person who typically prepares a business plan. That is up to the producers or executive producers. An accountant MAY help you with a budget, but even that is rare. Lawyers can prepare what’s called an offering (Jon Cones is amazing at this http://www.johncones.com/index.html) and it is always a good idea to speak with an attorney about your business plan in general and get them to look it over before sending it out.
Some things you might consider putting in a business plan (for film, TV is different) are:
- Budget Top Sheet
- Bios of the key players (only put bios that are helpful for investments. If your cousin is acting in it and not someone who will bring money or fans to the table then leave them out)
- Any talent attachments that you have (again, if they mean money)
- Return on Investment tables
- Any artwork/storyboards/location photos (that bring value to the project, if you are filming in your friends apartment then don’t put photos of it unless it is dynamic)
- Your plan (if you are going to film in the town you grew up in because your father is the mayor so you can get everything for free, then tell them. Basically, how are you going to make this film for the budget you have laid out? Don’t reveal your entire plan, this section should be about a page. Also, what is your plan for distribution? Make sure you mention something about where you would like the film to go after it’s completed. How are you going to complete the film? These are the types of things that should be in this section.)
These are some things to consider, but every business plan is a little different. There are some great books on the subject of raising money for film and one of my favorites is by Louise Levison (http://www.moviemoney.com/) and of course Jon Cones (mentioned above).
The last three questions you have cannot be answered without specific knowledge of the process. Each film is different; therefore, each business plan is different. The investors are going to be different so how you attract them will be different. Some key advice for every project you do is…1. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to get an answer that makes sense to you. 2. Be passionate, but not pushy. 3. Be prepared. This is not a quick process. It’s cliché, but you only have one shot to make a good first impression. Your business plan is your first impression. Make sure it reflects you, your project, your passion and your professionalism. You are going to be asking people to fork over their hard earned cash. Respect that by giving them a plan that is well thought out and well put together.
As for knowing who is for real, that’s a tough one. I think most people think they can raise money when talking to you about it, but it is a challenging process. Don’t give up and above all, trust your gut.
Q: How do you make a budget?
Carla M., Gainesville Florida
I always say, “the budget is the script for a producer”. Meaning, without a budget the producer cannot do their job effectively. Making a budget is a very creative process. It’s kind of like writing a script. When you first start to make budgets there will be a lot of research involved. You will need to make phone calls and look online for quotes and the cost of certain things in the budget. Once you’ve done a few budgets, you have less research, but there is always some research involved. Then when you get those quotes, you will need to use those numbers to fill the budget in. Like writing a script, the process of making a budget is different for everyone. You need to know the parameters: How much money can likely be raised? How many shoot days? What SAG agreement do you fall under? What level of crew can we afford? Are you making a movie with friends and neighbors? Where are you shooting? How many locations, cast members, scripts days, etc? For me, once I know these parameters and I’ve filled in the budget for the first time, I tend to need to process it. It is usually well over what I want it to be so I then go back and start dwindling it down. Sometimes, I need to leave it alone for a day and just let it sit in my head and I’ll come up with a creative solution to the budgeting issues I’m having. The thing to remember is that the budget is an ever-changing thing. For example; you will find that someone on the production team knows someone who can get something in the art department’s wish-list for free that you had budgeted at $100 but that the grip equipment you thought was going to cost you $50 is actually $150 and so you move the money for the art department into the grip department. The budget is constantly changing so remember that it’s a guide and don’t get too stuck on where you put the money initially. You must be able to see the big picture and stay within your total budget cost while being flexible within those parameters. Measure twice and cut once as they say. Make sure you’ve done enough research that you can confidently say you can make the film for the amount in the budget. There’s nothing worse than not being able to finish because of budgeting incorrectly.
Q: You talk about pre-production all the time. What is it and why is it important?
Sarah V., Richmond Virginia
Pre-Production is the time before principal photography starts. It is the time when you get to plan and prepare for the chaos of the shoot. It is, arguably, the most important part of the process because if done correctly, you can spot issues with the script, the budget, the shot list, the locations, the equipment, transportation and pretty much everything you will encounter on set. Now, you must know that there will always be unforeseen challenges, but there are a number of “standard” challenges that every film faces. If you do a proper pre-production, those challenges can be dealt with before everyone is sitting on set and time is ticking away. Because, on set is where time is the most expensive. Also, if you are working in the low-budget world you don’t have money to throw at problems. More likely than not, you will be asking to borrow equipment, locations, furniture, etc. and if you can allow for more planning time to get those things lined up the shoot will go much more smoothly. So, please, I implore you to do as much pre-production as you possibly can on your films without becoming obsessed with pre-production to the point of avoiding the shoot.