Tag Archives: producers

Question from a student… Is low budget filmmaking worth it?

Low budget does not have to mean bad. Just in the way that high budget does not necessarily mean good.

Everything is based on an idea, an emotion, and finally, a superb screenplay. If you don’t have a killer script, you have nothing. Beginning filmmakers get a draft done and think they are finished. Or ten drafts. You are never finished until you reach the day when you have to give the script to the actors to memorize. That’s when you’re done.

When you’re working on a low budget script, you have all the time in the world and your time is free. You can use that time to improve the script. Once you give the script to someone and it gets covered, especially in Hollywood, you can’t change it and you can’t improve it and you can’t fix its reputation.

To specifically answer your question, yes you can make money with a low budget movie but you have to have a good script and then you have to be careful with everything. You also have to have a sales plan built in from the get-go. A lot of beginning filmmakers finish their movie, have a DVD, and then say, “Gosharootie, how do I sell this thing?” If you don’t think about it long, long, long before the end of the production process, you are lost.

The more you learn about the market. The more you learn about finance. The more you will understand about how to get a movie made.

If you don’t make money, you don’t stay in business.

Even with no money, if you’re fun and professional, you can get a good crew. You can get a good script. It does not take an enormous amount of money to rent gear. Someone may own the gear. You can pare down expenses to basically these two: sound and food. On a low budget movie, you still have to pay the location sound recordist and the caterer. The caterer is for your crew to be happy. The sound is so you won’t have crappy sound and have to spend a fortune in post fixing the mess you made. I tell this to students and they don’t listen.

Sound is the most difficult aspect of the low-budget film. Perhaps because it is invisible. I don’t know.

As Kelley Baker says, you need three things to make a good low-budget film. Good script. Good sound. Good actors. If you don’t have all three of those, there is no point in proceeding with the production.

If you do, you have a shot at making money.

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Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, The Business, Writing Process

Write A Movie You Can MAKE!

I’m headed to Vermont tomorrow to my annual teaching convention. All the film production teachers in the U.S. crammed in one room! One of the speeches I am giving is about why writers should be producers.

Writers should be producers. It gives them control and power and a hyphen.

To that end, writers should write stuff that they can actually raise the money and get produced. Don’t write STAR WARS. Write SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE or BOUND or BRICK. Something you can squeeze money out of dentists and actually get PRODUCED. That way, you’re a writer-producer, not a schmuck.

Here’s a list of movies that would fit that bill… Imagine making a story like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD today. You need a couple of houses on a street and a courthouse and some really good actors. That’s the key… great actors, no special effects, very few locations, just people in a room. Like twelve guys in ONE room… TWELVE ANGRY MEN.

THESE COULD BE LOW BUDGET FILMS
assuming they were shot in present day… (i.e. tell the CHINATOWN story today)

American:

BADLANDS
BLUE VELVET
TAXI DRIVER
CHINATOWN
SHAMPOO
MANHATTAN
FIVE EASY PIECES
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
THE EXORCIST
CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
THE CONVERSATION
THE KILLER
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
CARNAL KNOWLEDGE
DO THE RIGHT THING
RISKY BUSINESS
BEING THERE
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS
RESERVOIR DOGS
DAZED AND CONFUSED
GROUNDHOG DAY
RAISING ARIZONA
MEAN STREETS
DIRTY HARRY
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK
COOL HAND LUKE
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE
DELIVERANCE
RUMBLEFISH
STRAW DOGS
THE RIVER’S EDGE
BOUND
THE MAN FROM EARTH
GERRY
PANIC ROOM
12 ANGRY MEN
TAPE
HARD CANDY
BRICK
EVERYBODY’S FINE
CUTTER’S WAY
LIFEBOAT
SLEUTH
TETRO
THE STRANGERS
PRIMER
WAIT UNTIL DARK
GRACE
HENRY, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
PONTYPOOL
TEETH
FRAILTY
THE RAPTURE
SALVAGE

Foreign:

NAKED
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
DON’T LOOK NOW
BLUE
BAD TIMING
PIXOTE
DIVA
HIGH AND LOW
SID AND NANCY
TRAINSPOTTING
THE ART OF NEGATIVE THINKING
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
A HOLE IN MY HEART
AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
CACHE
ELLING
INSOMNIA
SAUNA
THE DINNER GAME
TASTE OF CHERRY
NABOER

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Filed under Screenwriting, The Business

Don’t Write For Anybody But Yourself!!!

If he writes, he does it for himself!

Ever.

It’s a waste of emotion and time and can flip you into a cesspool or worse, a quicksand snakepit, should such a thing exist.

I have a friend who wrote AN ENTIRE BOOK so she could hand it to her father and he’d be proud of her and he’d hug her and tell her how wonderful it was that she’d done this fantastic thing and she’d cry and it’d be amaaaaazing. She got her book published and the great day came and she handed the book to her father and the fucker he didn’t even open it to see what she’d inscribed. He tossed it on the counter and said, “Maybe I’ll get around to reading it.” Shot down and shredded, she collapsed into therapy for half a decade. She’d spent every single day of the entire two years it took to write it, hoping for his approval and didn’t get it. Ewwwww.

Pattie Boyd wrote a book about her life with George Harrison and Eric Clapton (he famously wrote “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” about her… probably paying her zilch for being his muse…) and Clapton NEVER called her or sent a congratulatory note or anything. Nothing. Zero. When she was interviewed and asked what Clapton said about the book, she covered what had to have been a shattering hurt by saying he must be terribly busy…

As Sgt. Rock would say: “ARGGGGGHHHH!”

Write for yourself. Please yourself. If you write for someone else’s approval, what happens if you don’t get it?

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Filed under Writing Process

My Gift To You

Next time you meet a celebrity or agent or producer, here’s something to say other than, “Please, oh please, oh won’t you please read my screenplay?”

Here’s a joke. You tell it beautifully, you’ll get a laugh.

Vacuum cleaner salesman, at the end of a long day at the end of a long week. He’s staring up the hill at a long, long driveway, wondering if he should even try going up it… but he knows he’ll never sell a vacuum cleaner if he doesn’t…

He goes up, and knocks on the door. Nothing happens. He waits and then knocks again. Finally, the door opens. A ten year old boy is standing there in high heels, women’s underwear and a bra, smoking a cigarette.

The salesman has NO idea what to say. Finally, he says, “Sonny, is your mom at home?”

The kid takes a deep drag on the cigarette [put your fingers to your mouth and inhale like hell — then flick the “cigarette” right at the guy you’re talking to] and says, “What the fuck do YOU think?”

Chances are, they’ll ask to read your script.

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Filed under The Business

Producers…Why Make Them Hate You?

In hopes of getting a nibble, a bite, or, dare I say, landing a production deal, you are probably sending your material to an independent producer. I’m sure you conjured an image of a gleamingly efficient office, a cadre of identically uniformed interns neatly cataloguing incoming treatments and screenplays (most of which are horrible, except yours) and (foremost in your mind) the producer finishing reading the most recent crappy script just as yours is handed to him by his gleamingly gorgeous assistant.

You write it, you send it, they read it, they buy it. A process that takes, at most, a week, on the outside.

Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Most producers don’t have assistants or development deals. Some do, but most scratch and scrape to get by, just like all of us. If they did have an assistant, they fired him recently to save money.

Producers’ offices are crammed to the gunwales with heaps and piles and stacks of books and scripts and treatments, lobbed at them by agents, friends, and hopeful writers who waylaid them at conferences. Their offices are a disordered mess. A Matterhorn of submitted screenplays. Most of which they don’t want to read because they don’t have time and because they already know they’re mostly crap anyway.

They read this stuff because they have to.

I was with a producer recently, at his home office, and that visit served as the genesis for this little missive. Please keep the producer in mind when you write and when you submit. They are massively overworked and massively underpaid and have very very very little time for you or your script.

“I’ll get to that at Christmas when I have a little more time.” This he said about a screenplay submitted in June. You need to know it takes eons for them to plow through other people’s material before they get to yours.

Keeping in mind that they have ZERO free time, why are you going to send them a piece of material (think “time bomb” that might go off in their face) that will make them furious when they read it? I hate to sound arrogant, well I don’t hate it that much, but if you are a beginning writer and have not done the checklist in my book, you don’t have a prayer with producers or readers… or as my grandfather would say, “You stand about as much chance as a flea fart in a hurricane.”

This producer was picking up submitted screenplays, opening to any page, reading aloud horrible expositional dialogue, laughing to me about spelling mistakes, format errors, his irritation over “its vs. it’s, blue vs. blew, their vs. there” and getting really pissed off that someone would dare to waste his time by sending a script that WASN’T READY.

You must understand the producer has spent the last twenty years of his life working VERY hard to make movies. If you send something that is unprofessional because you have not taken the time to get it right, they will laugh at you at best, or more likely, despise you.

The producer hating you is not, I repeat, not a recipe for success.

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Filed under The Business