I received a call a couple of weeks ago from a local actor who is trying to put a film together. His name is Tommy (not his real name) and he’s one of the stars of a local film that’s been wallowing in post production for years. The thing is, I saw a trailer for the film he’s in probably three years ago or more. It looked like they did a very nice job with a limited budget. Shot on the Red camera, it seemed slick and impressive. Of course…the more years that pass, the less impressive it seems it has to be. I recently reached out to the producer. I wanted to know if the film would be done in time for the 2012 American Film Market. I mean, since he missed 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 market, I thought he might be inspired to hit the 5 anniversary show celebrating the wrap of this picture. I also figured, maybe, I could get a look at the film to see if it is something my company could handle. His response was “We’re still working on sound”. Yep, that was the same reason (does “excuse” sound too negative?) I’ve been hearing for years. It probably doesn’t matter to me, because first time filmmakers, be it producers, directors or actors, are living in a fantasy land of sorts. I can say that, because when I was a first time filmmaker I was guilty of exactly the same thing. The reality is, this producer, I’m sure, is still adamant that he’s going to sell his film for more than they have into it. Whether that’s an advance against even more obscene profits the film is sure to bring, or an outright sale putting them comfortably in the black, he is no doubt convinced this is going to be his foray into successful filmmaking and open all kinds of doors. Again, I know, I was there. Now, granted, I haven’t seen the film, but the reality is, I don’t have to. I mean, not really. I know roughly what they have into the film, probably around $200k. And I know what they might, MIGHT get out of a distribution deal. If someone will advance them $50k, they should take the money, but if an offer along those lines comes in early, I assure the producer will hold out a few months until he realized “it aint’ gettin’ any better”. At that point, maybe that deal will still be there, maybe it won’t. Of course, the odds of getting even that $50k deal are slim, but maybe they slowing playing (and I mean REALLY slow playing) a greay indy film. Of course, odds are against that as well. Regardless of the deal, I hope they talk to some people who have been through the process or their contract will ensure they get fucked over as that’s the rule, not the exception in this game. My guess is, egos will prevails and producers will be convinced they’re smart enough to decipher the contract themselves. Good luck with that…
Seems I digressed considerably. The actual reason for the call from the Tommy, was that he’s looking for $200k to make a film and wanted to know if I’d be interested in getting involved since I do, on ocassion, do that kind of thing. Now, since he’s only and actor and not the producer on the other film, I wasn’t able to play the obvious card of “I’m sorry, I only invest in films that are complete in the same decade!” He made his pitch and said that they already had half the money committed. Since the money is always the hardest part, I told him to send along his proposal. Now, here is my piece of wisdom for the day, dear wouldbe filmmakers – the business proposal you send to friends, family, doctors, dentists and ANYONE ELSE NOT in the film business will look drastically different than what you present to people who know filmmaking. It seems every film business plan that comes across my desk from newbies tells me how they have a home room since they can make the film for $200k and they make Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi for less than that! Yes, every 10 years an ultra low budget film breaks through. This is an anamoly. To try to put yourself in that category, at least to me, tells me just how unrealistic you are. But shouldn’t this just be common sense? If I write a young adult book, I’m not going to write a publisher saying “This is the next Harry Potter.” For that matter, I’m not going to say “Look how well the Bible did and my book is WAY easier to read than that!” So, I looked at them material and wasn’t excited about the project. I didn’t even need to read the script at that point…there are plenty of great scripts made into good movies that lose money. I wrote him back (far less harshly than I bear myself to you on this site) with a few notes:
1. If you’re going to people in the film business, craft your business plan to that audience. (see above)
2. On a $200k film, anyone in the business is going to want to see a name. Any name. That does not mean a guy who appeared for a season on an afternoon kids show and got 6th billing 5 years earlier. At that budget, you need to find a way to get a name that most people have heard of. It doesn’t matter if it’s a supporting role. I doesn’t matter if it’s a “declining” actor. In fact, some incredible deals can be had if your timing is right (yes, there’s a circling vulture aspect to indy filmmaking, I’ve learned to live with my carrion qualities).
3. For the love of god, CHANGE THAT TITLE! The title was a Spanish word. Not a Spanish word I’d even heard of. You might be able to get away with “Loco” or “Diablo” in your title, but the title was name of a small city in Mexico. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s a real city or not. We’re not talking “Cabo San Lucas – the movie”. A city name, in Spanish, that possibly doesn’t even exist. THAT is the title. A title that tells nothing about the movie. A title that most Americans can’t even pronounce. And, yes, it is going to be an English language film, so there are no excuses.
Now, again, I relayed these points as honestly and non-douchbaggy as possible. And guess what the response was that I got? You probably already know, don’t you?
Nothing. Not so much as a thanks. Not even a “I think you’re wrong” or “You’ll see!”. Nothing at all. So, sure, I’ll spend an hour with you on the phone and review your material and give you good, solid feedback and what you should do to improve your odds as long as you promise to completely disrespect me and not even take ten seconds to acknowledge my time. Way to burn that bridge, Tommy, because I wasn’t throwing money at your work-in-progress business plan. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…there is no room for ego in this game. Not at the level we’re in this. There’s no excuse for it even at the top and it can only blow up in your face. Even Steven Seagal sent himself down in flames because of ego. If you don’t know the story, he was working with Warner and had been consistently making medium-large hits for them (if you’re my age you remember this era). As the story goes, he was such an asshole that the President of Warner came out in a press conference and said, and I’m paraphrasing here – “Mr. Seagal consistently makes movies for us that make money, but money isn’t everything. He’s just too much of a pain in the ass for us to want to keep working with him.” FUCK! How big of an asshole do you have to be when people won’t put up with you even to make tens of millions of dollars?
So check that ego at the door…or I won’t allow you to bask in my greatness!