Q: What type of insurance would I need…?

January 23, 2012 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Q: Producing 10 minute short with filmmakers I met through a friend and wanted to know what type of insurance I would need for shooting in a friends home and/or a nursing home or commercial building. One day shoot with a cast and crew of about 10 people.  I want to make sure my production company, crew and the property are covered.

Huewilly via Film Method Mailbag

That’s a great question and there are plenty of options for this type of project.  Meaning, you can find another company to co-produce with you who has insurance, purchase short-term coverage or, if you plan to make many of these films within a year, you may consider purchasing an annual policy.

I am not an insurance agent so your best bet is to contact an insurance provider for a quote.  Don’t be intimidated, you do not have to purchase right then and there.  It’s like buying car insurance, you want to shop around and get the best coverage at the best rate for your project.  I will say this; most standard insurance companies do not handle film insurance.  It is a specific kind of insurance and if you are renting equipment from a rental house, you will typically need to cover a minimum of a million dollars just to be safe.  If you are not in Los Angeles, or another major filming hub like New York, chances are you are not going to be able to find coverage locally.  You’ll want to look in LA.  To cover everything you want to cover you’ll probably need liability and work comp.  If you are using union actors, you will go through a payroll company and you’ll want to look into their insurance policies as well.  That will all be explained by SAG.

When you call, you’ll need to know your budget (including how much you have to spend on insurance), how many people you need covered, what length of time and there will be a few other questions.  Don’t worry if you don’t know, just so that and research and get back to the person.

It can be complicated at first glance, but once you talk to the right insurance agent, he/she will be able to explain it better than I can.

Congrats on your shoot and I hope it all goes well.

Thanks for listening,

Jenna

Networking in L.A.

December 12, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q: I’m new to LA and everyone is always talking about going to networking parties but I feel uncomfortable.

Billie M, Los Angeles

With the holidays upon us, it’s an opportune time to network as there are parties galore. But, if you are living in Los Angeles (and I’m sure this rings true in other places, just on a smaller scale) there are networking opportunities daily all year around. It’s really important that you get out there and meet people in your industry. It’s an industry built on who you know after all. A few tips to keep in mind:

1. Always have business cards. There is no excuse not to have a business card and if you don’t have them, people may not take you as seriously. If you don’t put what you do on the card, make sure you are able to write on the card so that you or the person you’re talking to can write it down.
2. Don’t be afraid of networking. When I first came to LA, I thought networking was so slimy and impersonal until I realized that it’s really all about getting to meet people. Don’t go into it thinking “what can that person do for me”, go into it thinking “what can I do for them” or “cool, I get meet a new person”. If your intentions are good, you will usually have a good time.
3. If you are bad at meeting and talking to people, practice! It is part of your job to interact with people. You are in a collaborative field after all.
4. Invite a friend along who is good at networking and pay attention.
5. Have Fun! It’s contagious and who doesn’t want to be around someone who is having fun?

I hope you are successful at meeting new people, welcome to LA and Happy Holidays!

On-Set Editing

December 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

The podcast on editing made me think of what’s been happening with on-set digital work-flow and I was wondering if you all had noticed. The possibility of on-set dailies is leading towards on-set editing and for some Indie productions and companies who produce small corporate commercials it is already happening. Editing on-set as shooting is going on is now within reach of the low budget filmmaker.

Craig T.  via Film-Method.com

I have noticed this as well and it can be a dangerous practice to get in to if you haven’t thought it all the way through. For some forms such as commercials, it might be a great thing.  But, for film, it is not a good idea to have your main editor cutting things together on set.

If you do decide it’s a good idea to cut dailies together on set, then I suggest having an assistant or 2nd editor who does that while keeping your main editor away from this part of the process.

This could actually be very helpful because you can make sure that you are getting all the shots you will need in order to cut the film together.  However, if you have done your due diligence in pre-production and you have a competent Director, DP and Script Supervisor then you should be fine.  People are people and mistakes do happen, but they can happen even if you’re editing on set.

It is a great idea to be sending your main editor all the footage as you go (this is what’s called “editing behind camera) so that they can get it all arranged and be working on their first cut while filming is still taking place.  But, it is important to keep the editor clear from any outside influence in regard to the edit.  What I mean by that is; if an editor is on set with you and knows it took 12 hours for you to get that one shot but the shot isn’t serving the film at all in the edit, what’s to keep him from leaving the shot in the edit?

The editor’s only focus should be on telling the story and it is your job as a producer to make sure they are not unduly influenced.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

November 29, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

November 29, 2011

A good producer knows his/her strengths and more importantly, they know their weaknesses.  Why do I think knowing your weaknesses is more important than knowing your strengths?  I don’t if you really think about it, because, knowing your weaknesses is a huge strength.  It allows you to fill in the gaps creating a stronger team and therefore a stronger production.

When I first started, I didn’t know the first thing about giving script notes. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like and was very good at pointing out what I didn’t like. But I was not good at pointing out why I didn’t like something. Because I knew my weaknesses, I was able to find producers who were strong in the area of script notes. Through surrounding myself with others who had that skill set, I was able to learn and develop my own skills at giving script notes. If someone were to come up to me right now and ask me what my weaknesses were, I would be able to list them right now.  But, then I would also be able to tell them who I have surrounded myself with to balance those weaknesses out.

We are all imperfect and no one is good at everything, therefore, it is important for you to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to fill in the gaps.

Q: What’s the best way to get names attached?

October 24, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q:  What’s the best way to get names attached?

Aleisha Gore via facebook

There is no one-way to attach talent and attaching talent can be a daunting task.  The one thing you must have is a good script. It helps if it’s not your director’s first film and if you have some work you can show the agent.

The standard process is to send your script around to agents and have them read it and see if it’s right for their talent.  If you can go through the manager you may have an easier time of it but getting people you don’t know to read your script is a challenge. I know this sounds pretty gloomy, but I just want you to be prepared.  I have sent out scripts from directors that have worked with pretty big names and it’s still a challenge to get a response. There are a couple of things you can do to hedge your bet though.

1.   NETWORK.   You may be thinking “but how do I network with Brad Pitt?” and my answer would be, you probably don’t. But, you might network with his agent or assistant or know someone who knows someone he is close with. You may also know someone who has worked with the talent you’re looking to attach and don’t even know that they struck up a great relationship on set and are now buddies (contrary to popular opinion, people who have the actual relationships with the stars don’t go around bragging about it) so mention your desired talent to everyone you can think of without being obnoxious about it.

2.   BE PROFESSIONAL.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am not just talking about showing up for meetings on time and answering your phone properly (very important things BTW), I am talking about having a well put together script and a well put together plan. Why are you planning to attach this talent? Meaning, are you doing it just because their name is Brad Pitt? Have you put any thought into what the actor might get out of it? If you haven’t, then you should not approach them until you can answer these questions and have a well thought out, professional plan including a script that has been read by people other than your mom or best friends, a script that is well formatted and a script that has been proof read for spelling and grammar.

3.   HAVE THE MONEY.  Using an actor as an attachment in order to raise money is a very common practice in this business.  However, if you have a great script, have done some networking and have a plan you might not need an actor attached to raise the money. Sometimes newer filmmakers make the mistake of attaching talent too soon and/or attaching the wrong talent for the role and project. If you can raise the money before casting it will give you a lot more to work with. If you know how much you are wanting for an actor, you can always raise just that amount and do a pay or play deal with the talent. That means they get the money whether the film is made or not.

4.   CONSULT. Make sure if you are looking to attach talent that you consult with a professional. Someone who works in distribution and knows what “names” are actually worth attaching early on. You would be surprised who actually moves the needle when it comes to sales.  Also, the talent that means something to a US audience might mean very little to a foreign audience and the bulk of your sales money will be foreign.

Whether you attach name talent before hand or during, the most important thing is making sure you cast people who are right for the role and who will benefit the project.

Q: Do you believe everyone has to “make their bones” and work for free?

October 18, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q:  Paying your dues, i.e. Working for free (Copy/Meal/Credit if you’re lucky) is a well established part of getting into the film industry. I’m curious about your thoughts on that practice, specifically in regards to the recent class action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight by Alex Footman and Eric Glatt for their unpaid internships on the film, Black Swan. Do you believe everyone has to “make their bones” and work for free? Do people who are paid work better than those who are there for the experience only? Do Footman and Glatt have any ground to stand on?

Mike J. – Lincoln, NE

Wow, we are getting good questions lately.  I love it!  I love this one in particular because it allows me to warn people ahead of time that when you come to LA (even if you’ve been here before and come back) you are going to have to work for free for a while in order to establish yourself. It’s just a fact of this business.

This business is so intense with the 12+ hour work days, working in close proximity, and the large amounts of money spent in such a short burst of time (even if it seems small on paper, it’s still a large amount of blood, sweat and tears). It makes this business different from a typical company. Because it is so intense, you don’t have the luxury of hiring someone and trying them out only to let them go if it doesn’t work out. Sure, the interning thing is about paying your dues, but it’s really more about filmmakers being able to vet people before getting caught up in a lot of paperwork. There are a lot of people in this business and yet it is a really small community. It’s important to look at it this way, if you were a producer crewing up a project, would you choose to hire and pay for someone that you just met with a bunch of projects on their resume that you don’t know from Adam? Or, would you choose to hire someone who is new, but has worked for you in the past, shown up, been enthusiastic while doing his/her job and is trust worthy and reliable? I’m going to say that you will choose the latter. Since there are so many variables when making a film, you want to be strategic about choosing the most responsible production crew to position yourself for the best possible film shoot. So, expect to work for free and frankly work just as hard if not harder when you’re working for free because your reputation will proceed itself and you will get paid jobs faster than those who are not willing to work for free.

Now on to this lawsuit, to which I say, are you kidding me?  This lawsuit makes me so angry. The plaintiffs in this case have done themselves (and other potential interns) such a disservice by being greedy and taking NO responsibility for their own choices. Now, I don’t know all the details of the lawsuit so if they had it in their contracts that they would get paid if the movie sold, that’s another story. BUT, if it is a straight up internship then they need to take responsibility for the fact that they said YES and CHOSE to do the internship for FREE. Just because the movie did well doesn’t mean that should change.  Besides that, how many people starting out in this business would have died to have a film like BLACK SWAN on their resume? I know I would have. They were a part of a film that people actually know the name of. They could have taken personal responsibility for the fact that they agreed to be non-paid interns on this film and parlayed that into paid work. Instead they are wasting everyone’s time by suing AND making producers nervous about bringing on interns in the future.

To sum it up, you should expect to work for free (think of it as free film school) and do it happily. It will NOT be forever so know when you are at the point of taking the next step to saying no to unpaid work. Learn to network with those you are working with so that you will get brought on to future project. And, most importantly, take responsibility for your choices. If you don’t want to work for free on a particular project, say no. Don’t say yes and then sue them later. That’s just irresponsible.

Q: My big stumbling block at this point is what to do with my short…?

October 11, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

Q:  Film Method has provided me with a lot of great advice over the past few months. I’m gearing up to shoot my first short since film school, and I will say that I think you’d be proud of the pre-production efforts thus far. My big stumbling block at this point is what to do with my short (or anything independent I do in the near future). I want to make my film accessible online to an audience. I have no delusions about making hundreds of cents on this film, but I’m looking for some resources where I could educate myself to the avenues of online marketing and distribution. It seems like every company (createspace, itunes, etc) has a product or platform, but no one can tell me how to decide between them.
Thanks for providing the service that is Film Method.
Pete DAlessandro via Film Method Mailbag

Hi Pete,

Thank you for your kind words.  I am really glad that you are doing so much pre-production. Congratulations on finishing film school and continuing on after. As for distributing your short film after it’s done, there are several avenues.

There is always the film festival route. Which, it doesn’t sound like the route you’re going in but it might be a good idea to at least try to get it into a couple of local film festivals that you can attend. I say this mostly because you are going to miss out on a networking opportunity if you have a finished film that will by pass any public screenings. Just something to thing about.

As for internet distribution, I have always worked with Indie Flix and had a great experience with them. They are able to help navigate the Amazon, iTunes, digital platform world much more efficiently than I could alone. There are several companies that are like Indie Flix and I am sure they are great, I have just always worked with them.

What I have learned from distributing films online is that you should not choose between them, you should try to get your film on as many of them as possible.  The reason is that some of your customers will prefer iTunes while others prefer Amazon so there is no harm in putting your film up on both. I hope that this makes sense. I think you may be beating your head up against a wall for no reason. The more people that see your film the better and because it’s a short, you don’t have to worry as much about a strategic online distribution schedule.

Film Method has done several episodes on distribution that you might want to listen to and we have also had the pleasure of working with Filmmaking Stuff (Jason Brubaker), Think Outside the Box Office (Jon Reiss), and The Film Collaborative (Orly Ravid). These are all companies that you should take a look at as they all provide educational opportunities with their services.

I wish you the best of luck on your project and know that it will find the distribution outlet that is right for it.

Thanks for writing in and for listening.

Q: Any thoughts on asking talent for Letters of Interest?

September 19, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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)

Hi Aydrea,

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: What is your dream job for producing?

September 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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.

Q: How do you interview an AD?

September 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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.

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