Episode Eighty-Four: The Union Show

September 14, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

To go union or not to go union. That is the question. Line producer Mark Moran and production coordinator Molly Moran bring their expertise from working on numerous film projects in their 10+ years of being in the film industry to discuss all of the film unions including SAG, IATSE, Teamsters, DGA and the WGA. Their knowledge of working with unions is vast and impressive.

Mark Moran- Line Producer

Mark Moran has helped create a wide range of studio and independent movies, including 96 Minutes (Brittany Snow), Beautiful Boy (Maria Bello), 13 (Jason Statham), Spread (Ashton Kutcher), Pretty Bird (Paul Giamatti), Walk the Talk (Cary Elwes), Bee Season (Richard Gere), Basic (John Travolta), Secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Sweet Home Alabama (Reese Witherspoon), and Novocaine (Steve Martin). He has produced features shooting all over the U.S. as well as in Canada and Eastern Europe.

Mark is a member of the Producer’s Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. He has produced short films, web series, music videos, and commercials, as well as the PBS documentary Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, which won the IDA Award for Best Short Documentary and was short-listed for an Academy Award in 2005.

Prior to all this, Mark started a software company at age 17, launching him on a successful career designing and programming computer games in San Francisco, where he received a patent for a CGI process combining filmed live action with computer animation.

Mark graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in literature & writing.

Mark Moran’s Website

Molly Moran- Production Coordinator and Accountant

Molly Moran is a film production coordinator and accountant. She began her career in 2004 working on indie features in New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. She then spent two years working for famed producer Barbara DeFina, who encouraged her to focus on production office work as the best training for producing. This led to her spending a year working on the Will Smith movie I Am Legend. In 2007, she moved to Los Angeles and has since coordinated features shooting in Georgia, Louisiana, and California.

Q: Do you approach investors first or talent first?

September 12, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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.

Support from Start to Finish: Big Voice

September 8, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Support from Start to Finish

BIG VOICE is a musical feature documentary directed by award winning filmmaker Varda Hardy and produced by Marina Viscun, Deb Love and Karen Lavender. BIG VOICE is a LiveTribe Production. With BIG VOICE, Varda maintains her commitment  to create meaningful work that will both delight and inspire audiences.

This uplifting documentary explores the lives of the top-singing students of the award-winning Santa Monica High School Choir, and its visionary choir director.  At a time when drastic budget cuts endanger both the quality of our public schools and their arts programs, this determined high school music teacher strives to create a thriving vocal music program that ignites in his students a passion for music, a sense of belonging, and the value of working hard to achieve their dreams.

Santa Monica High School’s Jeffe Huls is “larger than life” choir teacher with a passion for teaching and an edgy sense of humor.  His talented students practice diligently to pass the highly competitive auditions, meet daily to learn and sing challenging music, and perform both for their local community and in venues around the world.  But why is Mr. Huls so moved by the power and artistry of the human voice? Why has he dedicated his life to teaching teenagers how to sing? And what does it take for Mr. Huls’ students to rise to his high standards? Why do they dedicate so much of their time and resources to singing? What critical life lessons do they learn and how does singing in the choir affect their artistic and academic dreams as 21st century teenagers?

BIG VOICE will follow Mr. Huls and his teenage students interweaving interviews and concerts with ‘slices of life’ footage. It will explore what it means to be a teenager facing an unknown future, and an accomplished artist creating great art in the context of a public school.  In addition, this visually stunning documentary will include original songs created for and by the students with the assistance of Grammy-winning artists*.

BIG VOICE reveals the challenging journey of an extraordinary teacher who overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to educate and transform students to step into adulthood as powerful contributors to a world that needs them. BIG VOICE will entertain you, touch your soul and uplift your spirit.

To see the BIG VOICE Promo Video and find out more about this musical documentary please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bigvoicemovie/big-voice-dare-to-dream

Varda Hardy- Writer/Director/Producer

I confess. I love making movies. I want to make beautiful, truthful work that will engage and inspire. You may have seen some of my short films…Window starring Louis Gossett Jr. that screened at Cannes and aired on cable networks across the U.S.? Or Race To The Sky which aired during the Grammy Awards? Maybe you caught What Kind Of Planet Are We On? It received the “most innovative” non-profit video on YouTube & went viral with over half a million unique views. Or Ode To Los Angeles which recently won the Grand Prize from NewFilmmkers LA/LA INC? I treasure each of these films and the challenges my crew and I experienced making them. And now we are embarking on another incredible challenge, BIG VOICE! It takes a huge amount of effort to create meaningful films, but it’s worth it. I’m deeply grateful to my family, friends & community for supporting my efforts to use my creativity, skill and filmmaking ability to create good works.

Episode Eighty-Three: Directing with Varda Hardy

September 7, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

As we near the end of the production season we circle back to the topic of directing. Varda Hardy started in this industry as a script supervisor and worked steadily until she made the switch to directing five years ago. Varda recently won $100,000 for her 1 minute film about Los Angeles for the On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project. Varda’s Kickstarter campaign for her new documentary Big Voice is the focus of this month’s Support from Start to Finish feature this month.

Varda Hardy- Writer/Director/Producer

I was born in London, England.  A year after I was born, my parents moved to Israel where my father served in the army.  My mother is South African and my father is Romanian.  He had moved to Israel to escape the communist take-over of his native land. My mother was on holiday in Israel when she fell instantly in love with the young soldier–my father.  I fell in love with “the movies” one summer night in Israel when I caught sight of A Man and A Woman screening at a drive-in theater nearby my window.

Following six years in Israel, my mother brought my older sister and I back to England where we remained for several years until we moved to San Francisco.  It was in San Francisco that I started to make my own 8mm movies with a camera my 8th grade English teacher Mr. Mohan lent to me. He believed that there is different kind of learners and some people learn best by making things…like movies.  He was right about me.  I love to make things, especially movies.  I lose myself in the creative process, the germs of ideas bubbling up like and catching on fire like lava rising from the mysterious inner earth.

Following San Francisco came a short stay in Los Angeles and then we were off to the “big apple”.  I went to High School at Dalton New York City, where I fell in love with dance and theater.  Then I went to Cornell University where I re-discovered my passion for filmmaking under the tutelage of Cultural Anthropology Professor Robert Asher.  Like Mr. Mohan, Prof. Asher believed in alternative forms of learning and expression.  He encouraged me to pick up an old super-8 camera to create a report instead of writing it.  I went to NYU for a semester where a screening of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now got under my skin.  That’s when I knew I would pursue directing.

I studied directing at Cornell University, received my MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, worked as an assistant director and then script supervisor of numerous film projects both for television and theatrical until about five years ago when I shifted into directing.  My husband Patrick S. Bennett and I are enjoying raising two lovely daughters Paloma and Raven, the rest is icing on the cake.

On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project
Varda’s Website
Varda Hardy on Facebook
Live Tribe Productions

When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

September 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

One of the challenges with screenwriting is that it is necessary for your characters to do things. There is a plot to service and so characters are obligated to take various actions. And as humans (or other thinking, feeling entities), your characters will need to puzzle through their decisions, come up with a plan and execute it.

But you know how tedious it is when you’re discussing the pros and cons of the various logistics of your evening with friends? It’s just as tedious to hear characters talking about their logistics as well.

BOB: What should we do for our date tonight?

JANE: Well, we could go to the movies.

BOB: Oh, and then we could get fro yo after that.

JANE: That sounds good. What time will you pick me up?  Or should we meet there?

BOB: Why don’t I pick you up at 8 so that we have time to find parking and get good seats.

JANE: Great, see you then.

I was so bored writing the above passage that I just woke my roommates up with my snoring. We don’t know anything about the characters other than their plans for the evening. While the plot has ostensibly been moved forward, we don’t know what it means in terms of character development. We don’t know whose side we’re on, or if the characters are in danger or if they even like each other.

When your characters are deciding to do something, avoid having them list out the details and instead, have them talk about their feelings so we can see how they’re reacting to the situation.

BOB: I cannot wait to see you tonight!

JANE: I’m not sure we should be doing this.

BOB: We’ve waited two years to have one night together, Jane. We can finally act like a normal couple–go to a movie, maybe get some fro yo.

JANE: Argue over where to sit and how much to tip the valet.

BOB: Exactly.

JANE: You’re right. I can’t wait to see you tonight.

This time, the scene was so excited, I almost peed my pants.

That’s not true. There was no almost about it.

In the second version of the scene, we still get the basic information: Bob and Jane are going on a date, they’re going to the movies and out for yogurt. But we also get so much more. We know that Bob is excited and Jane is nervous. That there’s something in their past that makes this night special. That Bob is able to convince Jane of his point of view and that Jane acquiesces to Bob without much of a fight.  When we do seem them on their date, we will be full of anticipation for them because we’ve been given a description of the stakes of that date.

The second version has plot, character development, tension and movement. The first version does not.

In some genres, heavy and specific logistics are necessary to the storytelling. If you’re writing a procedural, then at some point, the doctor is going to have to explain what she’s doing or the team of detectives is going to have to tell their no-nonsense boss what they’ve found. We can get away with those kinds of moments in procedurals because that information is important and is usually something the audience has been waiting for anyway. But if you’re not writing the next Law and Order: Phoenix/Toronto/Master Bedroom, then make sure that any logistical information your characters talk about tells us more than the next scene’s agenda.

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.

Q: I am in my last year in Film school and am ready to pursue making a feature…

September 1, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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:

  • Synopsis
  • Treatment
  • 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?

August 31, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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?

August 29, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

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.

New to Los Angeles Part Two

August 26, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Mail Bag

I want to do something different for my next two posts.  In the past two weeks, I’ve sat down with several “transplants” new to LA.   I noticed they all had similar questions so I want to point out some things you should know if you are thinking of making the move to Los Angeles to pursue the film business.

Have business cards

Please take this business seriously.  If you owned your own accounting business, it wouldn’t even be a question that you would have business cards.  Show biz is the same way (maybe even more so).  We are networking crazies. I, personally, love it!  I love meeting new people but I tell you what, if they don’t have a business card, part of me thinks a little less of them just because I don’t think they are taking it seriously.  If you are an actor, please have your picture on your card.  It’s the easiest tool for you to use to get jobs out here.

Expect to work for free

The people that work in this business and have been doing it awhile more likely than not, have a group of people they trust, they’ve worked with before and they know can get the job done. If you expect to get into that inner circle, you’re going to have to prove yourself and not many people are willing to take a chance on someone they don’t know unless that person is willing to bust their ass for free to prove they are reliable and worthy of the person’s time.  It’s just a reality of the business out here.  I’m not saying it will be forever, but there is truth to the saying “it’s all who you know”.  You have to be able to do the job when you get it, but getting it is in who you know. So, if you don’t know anyone then you need to mentally and economically prepare to work for free so that they can get to know you.

Don’t put a time limit on it

Honestly, the statistic I’ve heard is that it takes 7 to 10 years to make it as an “over-night” success in Hollywood (so imagine what it takes to just be a “success”.  So, if you’re one of those people who thinks they’re going to come out here for a year and try to make it big and if you don’t then you’ll go home, then I say, please don’t bother.  The highways are crowded enough and it’s an insult to those of us who have busted our asses for years out here.

Don’t give up!

It’s a tough business and you have to be able to find joy in the little parts of it like auditioning, networking, taking classes, reading, studying, all of that.  If you don’t, this town can surely eat you alive.  Most importantly, find a group of people with similar aspirations and support each other.  I often hear people say that LA is “fake” and “dog eat dog”, and it certainly can be.  But, for me, I have never been in a more supportive, understanding and loving environment.  Make sure you surround yourself with good, positive people and enjoy the ride because it can be quite a ride.


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