As technology advances, the options for independent filmmakers increase significantly, which can make picking a camera or a digital release platform very difficult and overwhelming. Filmmaker Andrew Robinson joins us to talk about everything from selecting the right camera for your project to working with Hulu as a release platform and home theater technology.
Andrew Robinson- Director
Andrew Robinson’s career in Hollywood began eight years ago creating advertising and marketing campaigns for some of the industry’s biggest films and television shows. Upon graduating from The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California Robinson took a job at BLT & Associates working for clients such as ABC, TNT and CNN. Robinson left BLT and went to work for Shoolery Design and their primary client CBS, helping with the launch of the hugely successful CSI: Miami for Jerry Bruckheimer.
Following his time at Shoolery, Robinson worked for Crew Creative Advertising in their theatrical advertising department. During his first three years at Crew Creative, Robinson worked on various hit films, including Harry Potter, Superman, Jarhead, The Island, Rambo 4, Happy Feet, Dodgeball and The Dukes of Hazzard to name a few.
Robinson returned to television advertising as co-creative director of the newly formed Network Department at Crew Creative. While serving as the department’s co-creative director, Robinson oversaw the launch of TNT’s The Closer, Tyler Perry’s House of Pain, A&E’s Mad Men, and FX’s Dirt and Rescue Me, among others.
Robinson’s advertising and film work has been seen all over the world and has been covered by The Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, LA Times, CNN, Fox, KTLA and more.
During his five years at Crew Creative, Robinson found time to write and direct the feature film, April Showers starring Kelly Blatz (Disney’s Aaron Stone), Daryl Sabara (Spy Kids), Illeana Douglas (To Die For) and Tom Arnold (True Lies). April Showers was released by Warner Brothers in the spring of 2011.
Currently, Robinson is hard at work on his next film Love in Training, which will begin production in 2012.
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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.
Many people have lofty dreams of making their own film “masterpiece”. It’s a nobel pursuit to throw caution to the wind, forget all the naysayers, and make your movie the way you want to do it. That is of course unless you have investors that are expecting to be paid back. Join us as we talk to ex-sales agent and founder of The Film Collaborative, Orly Ravid, to hear about her experience that led her to create this fabulous organization whose tag line is “Filmmakers First”.
Orly Ravid- Founder of The Film Collaborative (TFC)
Orly is a 12-year industry veteran whose experience in film ranges from festival programming to acquisitions & domestic licensing and distribution, as well as business affairs, foreign sales, and digital distribution. In 1998, Orly joined veteran boutique foreign sales company Amazing Movies & Highland Crest Pictures and launched the company’s Art House domestic distribution label.
Orly then joined Maxmedia, producers of Chen Kaige’s Cannes Selection Emperor and the Assassin and the Miramax/Dimension release The Others starring Nicole Kidman. At Maxmedia Ravid worked in production and development and created FilmFixx, the company’s domestic distribution arm that launched with the highly controversial film Baise Moi. Orly subsequently consulted for various independent distributors and filmmakers under her own label, Ravid Film Consulting. In 2004 Orly launched Wolfe Releasing’s foreign sales, theatrical, and digital distribution arms and handled its acquisitions and business affairs.
In 2010 Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit organization devoted to the distribution-education and the distribution of art house and documentary cinema. The Film Collaborative since its launch has worked with over 100 filmmakers. It has consulted on distribution for films such as Sundance Winners GasLand and Contracorriente (Undertow), Revenge of the Electric Car (Tribeca), SXSW Winner Weekend, to name just a few. TFC specializes in splitting rights and helping filmmakers navigate digital distribution, and it created the first ever Digital Distribution Guide (TM) utilized by filmmakers and industry alike. TFC was commissioned to write a report on the topic for uniFRANCE to help its sales agents to navigate new media and has advised Sundance on its new “artists services” digital distribution initiative. TFC is releasing a book about distribution entitled Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that will be available in multiple digital formats and in paperback as of September 19, 2011.
From 2007 -2009 Orly served as VP of Acquisitions and Distribution of publicly traded Berlin-based Senator Entertainment. Orly regularly moderates or speaks on panels at Sundance and other film festivals regarding new technology and digital distribution. Orly served as a Programming Associate for documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival and as Programming Consultant for Palm Springs International. Orly has served on the Board of Directors of Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival. Orly earned a B.A in English Literature and Film Studies at Columbia University and graduated with honors.
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Q: How does one go about getting film production insurance and what are the costs to consider when budgeting for an indie film?
Ferdinand via twitter @filmmethod
There are several places to go for film production insurance. The thing you have to make sure you understand is that production insurance is a very specific type of insurance and most insurance companies don’t carry it. So, if you are filming something outside of a state that is used to having films there, they probably won’t have it. You can get it from a state outside of the one you are shooting in and it will cover it.
I recommend talking to filmmakers who have gotten insurance before and see who they like and contact that agency. Don’t be afraid to ask for a quote during the budgeting process, in fact, that is the best way to do it. I would get a quote while budgeting from a few different companies, for budgeting purposes, pick the highest quote and then add a little more money to that line item just to make sure you can cover yourself incase the prices change between the time of budgeting and filming. Also, production insurance is not the same as work comp so be aware of that. If you go through a payroll company, they will usually have work comp that you can get through them for a percentage.
You are going to need (at minimum) a policy that covers up to a million dollars on equipment and locations. Most equipment rental companies will expect that and so will most locations. You also need to make sure you understand that most insurance claims have a deductable per claim. For example, if you break a light and you damage someone’s property at the same time, that’s two separate claims. Therefore, the deductable will need to be paid twice. So, budget in there for a few claims just in case. Also, some of these policies don’t cover auto. So, if you need to rent a grip truck, be aware of this.
When you do find the insurance company with the best policy for your shoot you should be prepared to show them your script and fill out a form that may seem a little strange to you. They do this so that you can’t lie when applying for insurance. For example, if you have animals, guns, stunts (even if it’s just one person falling down), etc., that will change your policy quote. Don’t lie on your application just to save a few bucks because it’s not worth it. Because if they find out you did have a dog on set and you didn’t tell them, they can legally deny your claim because it voids your policy.
Oh and don’t forget about E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance while you’re budgeting. This is an insurance that you will need to get once the film is completed. You can get quotes on that in the budgeting process as well.
Don’t be afraid of the insurance process, it is there to protect you. Your best bet is to get the quotes early so you have budgeted enough to cover what you need.
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.
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? 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.
When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.
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.
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? 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.