A filmmaker wrote me a few days ago. The producer (a first-timer, I’m sure) emailed me with an inquiry in regards to her film which was just completed. I followed the link to the website to learn a bit more about the project.
The site looked slick, sharp and professionally done. Always a good start. It’s amazing how many filmmakers fuck this up right out of the gate. It shouldn’t be hard to fathom that most people are going to equate “shitty website = shitty film”. Most websites suck and were put together by a filmmaker with no graphic artist skills who spent a few hours reading up on Wed Design 101 – and it shows. Last week another producer wrote me about another film. His site was set up like a novel where you click to flip through the pages. Each page (actually 2 since it was like a book) was accompanied by the sound effect of pages turning and a sound byte from the movie. Very annoying actually and not easily navigatable. The visitor had to view the pages in the order the web designer set them up whether he wanted to or not. The problem…it was a 52 page “book”. I didn’t even make it half way. Why does your film need 52 pages to get a distributor hooked? I don’t want to see 300 stills from the film.
This latest filmmaker had a nice looking site, so their first check was in the positive box. Their first BIG negative was their title. As I’m always careful not to throw people under the bus, I won’t tell you the actual name of the film, but there was a equal sign and a squared sign in the title. Yes, in the fucking title. As an example (not the actual title), it was something like Lovers = (Friends)2… I don’t even know how to type a squared symbol in my blog program!
A distributor sees something like this and it screams – “I’m clueless about how to make a sellable movie!” Is it clever? Maybe. Is it smart or marketable? Absolutely not! Do I really need to tell you this?
The next step was to look at the trailer. As you might expect from the title, it’s an art film…okay, give me a second to remove the virtual hot poker from my eye that I feel every time someone tries to get me to sell their art film. You shouldn’t be making art films to sell. You make them to show your friends and family and take around to film festivals so other pretentious people can pat you on the back and tell you why your film is so much “better” than the crap Hollywood is churning out. The problem is, neither the filmmaker not festival fan grasps that Hollywood does’t want “better” they want more “crap”…”crap that sells”, but it’s still crap.
So I watched the trailer and the film has two HUGE obstacles to overcome. Obviously, the art film genre is like hacking one of the testicles off the giant penis of marketability. The fact that there were no recognizable names lopped off the other. So this ball-less project is pretty much doomed, but it did seem to have very good production value and some neat visual effects which, I presumed from the trailer, where put in to highlight the love story. It felt kind of like it was trying to be 500 Days of Summer.
Since the film did seem to be possibly put together well, I decided I’d take a look at it, though I was almost positive I’d never pick it up for the company. I wrote the producer and explained right out of the gate that the genre and lack of stars was a big drawback, however I’d be willing to take a look. And I asked for a screener.
Now, this is how the business works. You, the filmmaker, inquire about distribution. I, the distributor, look over your material, check out your trailer, decide you’re not a totally moron, and agree to watch the film (or as much as I can take without slashing my wrists). You mail me a DVD. It’s becoming a bit more common for the producer to make their movie available online with (I hope), some kind of password protection and a disclaimer printed on the screen so no one can download and steal it. DVDs are still by far the most common, but either is good.
The producer quickly wrote me back explaining they can’t send out screeners at this time. WHAT THE HELL? She wouldn’t send me a screener, but she could arrange for a private screening of the film for me. Do I really need to explain this? If you haven’t already figured out why this is a problem, that’s fine, just promise me you’ll never be a producer. Stick to the creative side of things. I’m sure the producer is concerned about controlling the product and where it goes. Of course, there is NOTHING to be concerned about if the DVD has a disclaimer since I can’t steal a film that has “FOR SCREENING PURPOSES ONLY” printed across the bottom of the frame! I’d love to send out inquiries for my novel and when a publisher asks to read it, I’ll respond with “No, I can’t send you a copy, but if you want to come by my house, you can read it here.”
Surprisingly, I took the time to write to the producer and explain why I had no interest in attending a private screening.
1. My time is valuable…at least in my mind. Why would I invest the extra time to drive to God-knows-where in L.A. instead of popping in a DVD at home? Even if I lived and worked in L.A., I wouldn’t consider it for an indy film with no stars.
2. You schedule a screening for me, I’m on a clock. I have to make a point to be there at a certain time instead of being able to watch the film when it’s convenient for me. Something better might come up…and your project just isn’t that important to me based on a 60 second teaser I saw online. I might fall in love with your film, but no one falls in love with a trailer.
3. And this is the big one…this is the reason I won’t come to a private screening you offer to set up for me – I can’t walk out after 5 minutes it if sucks…and it probably does! The vast majority of movies being made are terrible. And I use the word “terrible” because I can’t think of anything more derogatory to properly encapsulate just how dreadful they actually are. More than 90% are unwatchable, and by “unwatchable” I actually mean gray matter will leak from your ears and the movie police will confiscate all DVD players and computers in your home for your offense to the business in watching it to completion. Very few screeners we get in are watched to the end. Most don’t make it to the halfway point. That may sound harsh when you’re the person who has invested hundreds or thousands of hours into the movie and asks why I can’t give you 2 hours to respect the effort you put into it. The answer is – the effort that you put into it was woefully incompetent and I would be wasting hundreds of hours a year I could be spending on more productive endeavors…like popping pimples on my girlfriend’s back. About half the time, after just 5 minutes (literally) we’re able to ascertain a film is unsellable. That’s the reality. Now, maybe I’m too nice a guy (though you probably would never guess that from this blog), but if I make a point to attend a private screening you’ve set up for me, I’m not going to be able to walk out after 5 minutes. The first 5 minutes could be a guy mowing his law, and I don’t think I’d be heartless enough to get up and walk out. It could be someone reading the terms and conditions to their credit card agreement. I’d have a hard time walking out early at all. It’s hard to walk out of a screening or premiere when you know the filmmaker is in the theatre…even if there are 300 people in the room. I know, I’ve been there. Even when The Casino Job had our premiere and I saw unknowing, unexpecting octogenarians walking in and KNEW they’d walk out in the first ten minutes during the full frontal skinny dipping scene, I still kind of hoped they wouldn’t. They did. Of course they did. And if they hadn’t walked out in that scene, it would have happened during the rape scene or the strip club scene (though I’d guess the dirty old man secretly wanted to stay, but the frigid old bag of bones he’d been married to for 60 years wouldn’t let him!). The movie wasn’t made for them and I knew that. The audience that movie was made for watched it. Some liked it, some didn’t, but the movie was made with an audience in mind and it was a large audience…not a wrinkled audience. The movie made money…but I do remember the handful of people that walked out of the premiere because they were “offended” by the nudity. Now, if they had been the ONLY people in the theatre, it would have been devastating, obviously.
So I explained to the producer why a private screening didn’t interest me…and probably wouldn’t interest any distributor she was contacting. To her credit, she seemed to understand, thanked me for the feedback, and promised to get me off a DVD as soon as she could. We’ll see if that happens.
I’m sure I’ll still give the film a look if and when the producer finally gets around to sending me a DVD…if I have an extra 5 minutes and a razor blade close by….