5 First Steps To Take Before Making Your Film

Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.
Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.

A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.

The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?

There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.

Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.

As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.

Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.

But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.

1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.

I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.

I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.

There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.

If you still can’t help yourself…

2. Have a system of self-care in place

Once or twice a year, I go to the woods.
Once or twice a year, I go to the woods and find a big stick.

I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.

I’m still working on this part.

The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.

Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.

Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.

It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.

Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.

We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.

It will be hard.

Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).

But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.

3. Have a reason

For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.
For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.

This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).

But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.

In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?

4. Have a plan

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
There’s a reason this image serves at the backdrop for the Coffee with Creatives logo.

Hang with me here, for a second.

Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.

Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.

What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.

To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.

Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.

At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.

You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.

5. Be willing to be patient

It will take years -- but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.
It will take years — but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.

This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.

The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.

Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.

If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.

If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.

On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.

Conclusion

Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.

If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.

Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

How to Decide What to Make Next

daily-quotes

 

For the past few months, I have been working hard on a script for a new film I’d like to make. In recent weeks, I hit a bit of wall with it.

To sum the main issue(s) up simply — the concept and story represent quite the tall order, in terms of development. It’s not that I don’t feel up to the task, it’s that I don’t know if I’m up to the task right now.

Maybe I’m just learning something all filmmakers begin to learn, once the first feature is out of the way.

I have the general framework of the next re-write built. When I think about moving forward, though, I get tired. I don’t know that I have what I need in the tank, right now, or enough space in my brain from day to day, to tackle a project that’s a bit heady and which, as a scifi piece, is going to require quite a bit of ground-up creative detail.

This has upset me a bit. But I believe I am starting to accept the circumstance.

Nothing prevents me from proceeding with this project at my own pace. At the same time, it could just be that it’s not “next”, as I had imagined or hoped it might be. Is there a chance that might change? Of course. But, in the meantime, we must keep moving.

I started tossing around another idea, for what to make next. It didn’t seem to quite fit, but I let the general parameters behind it ride, from day to day. I kept them in the back of my brain.

And then it happened — I ended up starting in on a new script. It’s different than the original new idea. It feels, as the one before, like it might be next. Again — that could of course change.

What doesn’t change is that I can still take my time. Independent filmmakers hold few advantages. Time can be one of them. How might I be feeling now if large sums of money were already committed to the first script I brought up in this discussion? Might I have tried to force it to work?

Perhaps. Then again, also, when there is money there tends to be more room to do things fully and steadily. I look forward to that day.

On the other hand, a lack of deadlines or resources can quickly lead to making excuses. I don’t worry about such stasis nearly as often as I used to — and I tend to think it’s a useful concern, these days — but I do think that it’s important to keep making work and to keep getting it out there, especially in today’s artistic/economic climate.

I wanted to share all this because I think I would have been feeling much more anxious if I hadn’t attempted patience, and instead of forcing the issue — tried to listen and to let go. That’s what allowed a new possibility to bloom.

I have to constantly remind myself of this. My long history with this sort of existential/career tension came up in the most recent episode of Coffee With Creatives.

I am not the steward of any one story. I’m a storyteller.

This is part eighteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

 

Go for It: Director Joshua Caldwell

C300_MK2_Before_You_Go_09.jpg

Director Joshua Caldwell got tired of waiting for permission to make his first feature film and decided instead to gather what resources he could — including his past experiences as a filmmaker — and then he and his team just went for it.

When I first “met” Josh on Twitter, we were already on a similar path with The Videoblogs, however I was impressed right away by the quality (and sheer existence) of his $6,000 feature film, Layover, which was shot a few years ago but would soon lay the groundwork for the next stage of his career.

As we talk about in this episode, it’s no small task to complete a feature film at all, never mind doing it successfully on a barebones budget.

But taking a big career step takes more than just the desire and the means. It especially takes more when those means are limited. In this episode, we also touch upon:

  • Joshua_CaldwellHow and why directing can be an all-encompassing art
  • Why Josh turns more often to books, than movies and TV, for inspiration
  • Navigating Hollywood when there is no real, specific path to success
  • The importance of moving on to the next thing
  • What filmmaking is about more than anything else — “actors performing in front of the camera”
  • How writing down your vision can help you move forward over time

This talk should be of great help to aspiring or early-career filmmakers, or really anyone who’s ready (or wants to be ready) to take on his/her first big project. Feel free to ask follow-up questions in the comments or on Twitter (Josh, me).

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Hiring: Assistant PMD, The Videoblogs

After the lab, we will set our sights on completing the film and gearing up for next steps.

Team #VideoblogsFilm is on the lookout for an Assistant Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD) to join marketing and distribution efforts for our independent film about mental health in today’s busy, tech-enabled environment.

Do you…

  • Feel strongly about advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America?
  • Have experience and a great interest in independent film, or a comparable art form?
  • Have room in your schedule to commit to performing specific administrative and research tasks, on a weekly basis, beginning ASAP and continuing through May 2016 (possibly beyond)?
  • Want to gain experience in the marketing and distribution of a truly independent film?
  • Want to establish a working relationship with hard-working producers who release a film at least once per year?
  • Live in the NYC area?

If so, please review the job responsibilities below. Apply via the instructions at the bottom of this post if interested in the position.

Responsibilities

  • Maintain and update project calendar, keep core team on track with deadlines
  • Set meetings, take notes, work with core team to update business plan(s) as appropriate
  • Under direction of Producer of Marketing and Distribution (PMD), research and catalog list of potential partner organizations, on national and local (US city) level
  • Under direction of Creative Producer, assist in research and outreach tasks related to The Videoblogs Dialogue
  • Help coordinate screenings in several cities
  • Assist PMD with digital release strategy implementation
  • Other administrative tasks

Compensation and Timeline

  • $250/wk, from start to May 2016
  • Flexible hours, mostly remote work
  • Potential for continued employment with this project
  • With good performance, strong consideration for larger role in next project produced by same core team

This position is project-based. The weekly amount of hours it will take to perform will depend largely on how long it takes to effectively and efficiently meet deadlines. The Assistant PMD will not be expected to work full-time, but will need to be able to perform tasks on a weekly basis and respond to emails and calls in a timely manner.

Application Instructions

  • Please send a brief cover letter to mdibiasio [at] outlook [dot] com, summarizing relevant experience, your interest in the position, and what your goals would be in performing the role of Assistant PMD.
  • Attach a resume (in PDF form only).
  • Also, at the end of your cover letter, please identify the last great book you read, and include a one-sentence reason why you loved it. Alternatively, you may also tell us about the last great meal you ate (and why you loved it).

Applications that do not follow these instructions will be sugar-shamed and then deleted. We look forward to reviewing your applications!

 

 

Recap: Sundance ShortsLab 2013 at BAM

While the event itself took place last weekend, I wanted to take some time this week to recap the great experience I had at the Sundance ShortsLab at BAM in Brooklyn.

Some of you may have seen me tweeting about it here and there while the lab was proceeding. I had planned to do more of that but ended up just listening. It seemed counter-intuitive to obsess over pulling quotes (though there were plenty to pull) and risk looking the next great piece of information coming from the programmers and industry panelists.

And that’s really what I want to talk about, in case any of you out there might be interested in attending either the LA session of the ShortsLab on August 10th, or another session, wherever, next year. The Lab, more than anything else, provided me and others with a glut of very useful information. And a bit more of something else, that is arguably even more crucial in the long struggle to make it as an indie filmmaker.

I’m going to be up front about this – when I heard Sundance was going to be in my backyard in Brooklyn, I was interested but unsure as to whether the Lab itself was going to be for me. The reason was simple, if flimsy. I’ve made, or helped to make, four shorts (technically three, since Multiverse is still in post) and have produced countless other short form projects that aren’t quite the same thing and yet not completely different either. The entrance fee seemed reasonable, insofar as any monetary amount can seem reasonable to an indie filmmaker, but I (like a few others, probably) still didn’t just have the money laying around.

I’m so glad I went anyway.

First, it was a little arrogant of me (and I’ll briefly continue the pattern of self-absorption by patting myself on the back for knowing I was wrong) to assume that years of making shorts qualified me to say that I didn’t need Sundance. That’s not exactly what was happening – I just didn’t want to waste money that could go towards plugging other holes – but at the end of the day a decision not to attend might as well have been based on this fallacy. As it turned out, it would have been a mistake to pass up on the opportunity.

Enter reason number one why any filmmaker, who hasn’t already made his or her first feature (and this may even still apply to a few who have – I’ve made half a feature), should attend the ShortsLab in the future. The program wasn’t just money well-spent. It was money incredibly well-spent. Further, it wasn’t even about money or time. Not fundamentally.

It’s easy to forget, when we are always struggling for funds, for opportunities – when we are simply always struggling – that there is a reason for the struggle. That there is passion beneath this compulsion towards “success” that becomes a leech on the remainder of our lives.

More than any other film-related event I can remember attending (though my festival attendance to this point has been limited), the ShortsLab felt abuzz with a genuine passion for the medium of film and a distinct and pure hunger for information and access.

A lot of the time, you walk into an “industry event” – any industry event, really – and the experience is a mix of opportunism and genuine interest. This is, of course, understandable. However, invariably, even in the arena of the arts, programmers and crowds seem to lose sight of the natural order of these two factors. To be clearer: more people are there, more specifically, to get what they need and that only. The urgency of, and the desire for, the “prize”…it overcomes and outstrips the reason for the journey.

Quite simply: the Sundance Shorts Lab programmers put the more appropriate and more crucial reverse relationship into practice – from the start. Passion for art first, business of film second. The day started, smartly, with an hour of Q&A, which allowed Sundance to dispense with the anxious “need to know” on the part of the crowd  — which can be boiled down to: how do I get my film into the festival. Then they got to the important stuff.

What was the important stuff?

While I am tempted to go into further detail on what I believe was an expertly planned and executed program (especially considering it took place over one long day), the crux of it is this: we were there to learn. To absorb the information that the festival, mostly via its invited industry guests, was delivering.

After the initial talk about the ins and outs of the shorts program itself, the majority of the rest of the day was about an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of getting films made and made well, and positioning yourself for future (artistic and career) success. This information came from people who knew what they were talking about, and were actively interested in “paying it forward”. Which is what made it the right decision for me to go.

I learned quite a bit. I did come out of the day feeling good about how Multiverse is going. I also feel, after talking with some of the panelists, that I am on the right track with Sophia. These were admittedly priority hopes of mine for the day. But, more than anything else, I gained valuable insight into the professional process that I have not always been able to gain working on my own and teaching myself.

A few films does not an expert make. I’ve known this for a few years. Still, I wanted to provide a record of this mistake so that others might realize it as well. The ShortsLab was about shorts, yes. But it also took a long-view about filmmaking and a career in independent film. Maybe that seems an obvious natural progression out of the arena of shorts – few filmmakers make shorts with the idea of doing it perpetually – but, in my naiveté, I wasn’t completely expecting to get quite as much out of the experience as I did.

Sometimes I worry that, for an increasing number of us, who are stubborn, who are afraid, who are sensitive, who are limited and intimidated by a lack of resources and time – I worry that the struggle to learn to make films, and to excel at making them, forces us to retreat into ourselves. We condition ourselves (with a great degree of help from an increasingly callous world) to believe that the pursuit of our passion must be an impossible and solitary endeavor.

A single day on set, when it comes around to production time, always lays waste to this flimsy belief, perhaps.

But what of the intervening time and space?

At the end of the day, we are all artists – if we are at all doing it right. I don’t care what you do, what you want to do, what you are forced to do. We as humans are fundamentally creative beings. We create as a compulsion of our condition, regardless of whether we do this towards a positive end or with awareness.

And specific to those of us who pursue a more directly artistic calling – we live largely in our minds, a fact that can be a danger as much as it is an inherent necessity as we go about pursuing our particular compulsion in our medium of choice.

But film – film in particular – is about community. We, as filmmakers, cannot succeed without our mentors, our peers, and most importantly our supporters and audience. This is part of the mysterious bargain of art.

What impressed me most about the Shorts Lab was my sense that everyone there, from the programmers and the guest panelists to the majority of the audience, was there to celebrate the creation of film.

Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising. I understand that Sundance, being Sundance, can afford to maintain a hold on this more correctly ordered dichotomy between art and careerism more easily than most. But in my experience in this industry so far, more people are more interested in credit and careerism and attention than the purity of film narrative. Perhaps this is a result of our over-capitalized society. Probably it’s more complicated than that (though perhaps not much more complicated). Either way, it’s refreshing to see an organization with the recognition and the power to keep things ordered as they should be, exert their influence in support of storytelling first, in an arena (short films) where the overwhelming majority of us get our start.

I’ve been working hard, perhaps too hard, to simply “learn the ropes” – for a very long time. Again, my festival experience as an attendee has been limited. I also didn’t go to film school. Honestly, this has mostly been because of a dearth of time and resources. When you are truly fighting the fight, few opportunities arrive, in the current economic climate, to put yourself physically in the same place as “the business”. I can’t go out to Sundance. I’m too broke and too busy making films. But I could spend a Sunday in Brooklyn doing the next best thing.

What I’m trying to say is that I was grateful to have an opportunity, despite these facts, to get together with like-minded people, to learn, and to feel at least in some small way that I was where I belonged.

Other filmmakers in a similar position as me, in any of the above terms, would do well to attend a session in the future.

A Small Crash In The Night

Well, Furious Faithful — where to go from here?

As established by last week’s post, things have changed around here. No more weekly links. I have put on the blinders.

There is only The Mission, from here on out, until the day Sophia The Great is loosed upon the world — because Sophia The Great is my greater contribution to the task of doing what I feel needs to be done, saying what I feel needs to be said, here and now. To make the damaged world we live in a little more recognizable. So we can start to talk about it, together, with a little more honesty.

That sounds dramatic. It should. I’m about to spend the next few years of my life working to shepherd the creation of a story forged in fury, fear and sadness. The script feels done, which is always the hardest part, until the next one comes along.

Now, we begin to work on strategy. Planning. We begin to seek help, we pursue collaborators — we do everything possible to provide the story with what it needs.

So, where to go from here? What happens to this space? Can it persist, without all the links, that lead to the latest news of American social dysfunction? Can our relationship persevere, without the complementary links that shine a narrow light on small beacons of hope?

At what point does it all become a distraction? At what point do we ask ourselves — why all the chatter? Why don’t we just fucking do something about this already?

Well, it’s not as simple as that, unfortunately.

We live in strange times. We live — a few steps outside of life, don’t we? What do we experience more viscerally than our entertainment? What is more important to us than our television shows, our music, our celebrity culture, our businesses, our devices? Is it our families? Our friends and lovers? Do we even experience ourselves, on average, in a direct way?

I don’t know. I feel often as if it’s a chore, to live a life kept in one piece. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I feel compelled to craft a story about a podcaster — about a lonely, disaffected young American who turns to a medium where you speak out alone, or with a few friends, to an unseen audience of other lonely disaffected souls wandering in the dark along their own fractured timelines. I think we arrived at this pre-condition through a series of civil failings. The individual in America, in my opinion, is in certain ways more alone than he or she has been in a long time, tracing back through our history.

We are so often…so very isolated by our divided lives. I do not know that we are yet completely capable of mounting the sort of action that is needed to change those things that so desperately need changing in our country, in order to rescue the present and future from the iron grip of the past and those who own it.

But I think it’s worth noting that I, and I think a few of you as well, believe it’s possible. I think it’s worth recognizing that there is a desire for a better world out there, here in America and throughout the globe.

Power is power, and to fight those who wield it unjustly, we must foster an equivalent power of our own. This cannot be achieved without community action, and community action cannot be adequately empowered without enough empathy and enough courage and trust to render obsolete the divisiveness that keeps us, in so many different ways, split from each other — at the same time that our plight is for all purposes the same.

We need to talk. If we must start dumbly, then we must start dumbly. If we must proceed carefully, because we are afraid and because there are real consequences to revolt — then we must proceed carefully. Fear diminishes with time and distance. It becomes less grave when shared.

I’ll go first. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I’m not strong enough or smart enough or lucky enough to see my contribution through. I’m afraid I’m wrong, or crazy.

But I’m fucking going for it anyway. Because they want us to be afraid. It allows them to hold onto the power. It allows them to keep shouting down the truth, smothering it with money and lies. And that pisses me the fuck off. Life needs breath. If we smother it — or allow it to be smothered, consciously or unconsciously — with so many blankets of falseness…well, what happens then? What happens to the animus of life? How do we move freely and without fear when weighed down, and suffocated? How do we adequately reach out to each other for help?

By calling out in the dark. By feeling around for a hand to grasp.

Where to go from here? Anywhere. Wherever. Just not here. Or backwards. The Furious Romantic isn’t going away. Never again.

I’m making Sophia The Great because I want to talk. I want us all to talk. On a large level, about large, uncomfortable, difficult and delicate subjects. I want to talk to you. I want to help you. I want and need your help.

I suspect, if we succeed even a little, that something special will happen. I don’t have particularly high ideas of what that might mean. The film may end up nothing more than a small crashing sound, heard in the distance in the black of night. So be it. At least they’ll know — on all sides, in some small way — that we’re here.

Revolutions have been started with less.

Perhaps that last part is a little dramatic. What can I say? I’m a dramatist.

Thanks for reading. I love you for it. Have a great week.

What I Liked This Week: 4/27/13 (aka Remember The Mission)

Furious Faithful. It’s been a long week. The script for Sophia The Great, as well as several supplemental materials about our general production plan, went out to several fellowships and contests and support programs over the last few days.

As some of you may have read on The Facebook or The Twitter, this was a surprisingly delightful experience for me. I wasn’t entirely prepared for that to happen. Again, I think partially it happened because I’m in a much better place this days, in terms of coping with (and channeling) The Fury, but I also think it’s also another indication that this project is The One.

I want to be able to temper my excitement so that I don’t become disappointed — but this assumes that I would become disappointed, say, if Sophia puts a goose egg on the scoreboard in terms of the aforementioned applications. I can’t say this wouldn’t happen, if a goose egg were to drop, but I also don’t think I would entirely care. Sophia is happening, whether we get major help from Deciders or not.

The last thing an independent filmmaker should do is wait for permission. Waiting doesn’t help make films. This isn’t to say it’s always a good idea to just vault ahead and produce something — which is why the next step is to draft a clear and clever, studied and concrete plan for producing Sophia soon and on the cheap — but it still feels good to know that all the “paperwork” I filled out this week…I filled out because I truly believe in what we’re doing, and am merely trying to convince a few influential deciders to help the cause.

Perhaps this is why it was so comparatively easy to fill out all the applications this time around. I’ve completed most of them a few times before, when I was similarly convinced I was ready to make The Leap, with other projects. I wasn’t.

I think I am now, and part of the reason why is because of all the previous work I’ve put in to past projects. But…it’s also…again…something about Sophia feels special. I believe I’ve earned her, but as some of you may know I am also a big believer in the mysticism of creativity, in the idea that a story is more a living thing that is born out of an intersection between circumstance and the labor of the creator…than something that is merely crafted. I said it in one of the applications — at this point, I feel like Sophia’s servant.

I don’t think this is at all a bad thing. In fact, as if this outpouring of words weren’t enough to convince you — this feeling is the first and biggest thing I liked this week.

I’ll keep the rest as short and as sweet as I can. Perhaps not always sweet. Life is sometimes very bitter — just ask David Simon:

  • I liked this blog post by David Simon, wherein The Wire creator condemns Your American Congress, following the failure of said Congress to pass new gun control legislation. Simon more eloquently and more expertly eviscerates our Reprehensible Representatives in his post than I did in mine (but you can still read mine).
  • Similarly, I liked this article by Josh Barro at Bloomberg News, illustrating a perfect example of the core injustice of our bifurcated society. The short of it: one particular symptom of the sequestration forced into existence by the inability of our Do-Nothing Congress to come to a compromise on all sorts of political and economic issues — because Republicans in Congress in particular refuse to compromise on anything, because they don’t give half a shit about anyone who isn’t rich — was dealt with swiftly and effectively this week. Congress did something! Do you know what they did? They passed legislation offsetting the effects sequestration had on aviation. Do you know why they did this? Because politicians (and other rich people) fly a lot, and so the flight delays caused by the forced budget cuts were having a negative impact on their lives. None of the cuts that affect those of us who aren’t rich — those of us whose lives are more seriously affected by such cuts — were addressed. And they won’t be. Because our government no longer operates for The People, at all.
  • On a lighter note, I liked Nametag Day, which is just what it sounds like. It’s a initiative based solely on the goal of putting name tags on as many New Yorkers as possible on June 1st. As I said on Twitter, I think this is a simple, actionable thing to do to help build community. Check out the site if you are an NYCer and volunteer to help if you can. Follow Nametag Day on Twitter here.
  • I like The 4-Hour Body. I had been interested in experimenting with Tim Ferriss’s “body re-composition” cookbook since listening to this episode of WTF with Marc Maron (which you can check out for free if you want to get an idea about what it’s all about). I finally got around to implementing a majority of the “small changes” in diet and behavior Ferriss advocates, after adopting only a few to great effect, initially. It works. I’ve lost weight (mostly fat), my energy level is up, and I feel great. Some of what The Four Hour Body suggests you do is a little strange, and/or seems tough (like cold showers!) but…again…it works.
  • I like the new original Netflix series Hemlock Grove. The first episode is very confusing, but engaging nonetheless. From there, the show gets better. It has a sort of Twin Peaks, B-movie vibe that it — importantly — embraces responsibly and smartly rather than resorting to irony or lazy homage to its numerous influences. The show has its imperfections, but it’s well-thought-out, and the storytelling is not lazy. The look and tone appear similarly cultivated (and contribute greatly to the success of the series), the writing is at many times extremely “fresh” — oftentimes adopting and exploiting established tropes before cleverly subverting them in pursuit of its own ends — and most of the performances are impressive. Rebecca and I had little knowledge of the show beforehand, and no expectations, but we’ve watched almost all of the first season by now and are enjoying it immensely.

So there’s the list for this week. Except for one last thing.

Again and as always, I liked you this week. The Furious Romantic Returns eclipsed 500 visits and 1,000 page views recently, at the same time that a small group of new readers wandered over from Twitter — and I’m sincerely grateful. It makes the fight easier to know that you’re out there with me, and it gives me hope for the future. We need hope as much as we need to “get angry and speak up” — we need to know that there are others who want more and better things for themselves and their neighbors than what we are currently getting from the here and now.

Have a good week, Furious Friends. This last one wasn’t the easiest for me, despite all of the above (it’s stressful emailing a snapshot of your soul to strangers), but it helps me remember the mission when I talk to all of you, and see that you’re reading.

So, yeah. Thanks.

Ravaged Heads for Everyone, or, The Alchemy of Expectations

The live-reading of Sophia The Great went extremely well. Much like our experience producing Multiverse, the end-result exceeded expectations. I could get used to this.

Before I move on to sharing some notes about the experience, a word (or a thousand) about this same topic: expectation.

Historically, I have had an unhealthy relationship with expectation. Even still now, I periodically need a metaphorical slap in the face (self-inflicted, or inflicted by Rebecca) when it comes to tempering my expectations for…a certain project, a certain phase of a certain project, a certain step towards a certain phase of a certain project. I go into so much detail because…I believe the relationship between action and expectation has a particular sort of significance for an artist — though the lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) about maintaining a healthy balance, in these terms, probably translate to matters of day-to-day life as well.

To be clearer: I think my work has started to sometimes exceed my expectations because…I’ve lowered my expectations. To a degree.

To anyone waiting to pounce on such an idea (pounce away, ideas don’t feel pain, idiot) this may seem a sign of weakness. To such a person, lowered expectations might mean compromise. A lessening of The Vision. What I’m describing…it may sound like acquiescence.

And it is. I have begun to more regularly acquiesce to that voice I’ve made reference to before, that says: “You can’t do it.” Because that voice is right. None of us will ever be able to “do it” in quite the way we imagined. A lot of people are okay with this (as they should be). Too many people, probably, are too okay with this (they could try a little harder to form better expectations for themselves). But all of us, to a degree, struggle to reconcile our part in such daily transactions — between what we expect for ourselves and what we are able to realistically do. It may even be a particularly American problem, or an acutely generational one, in the terms I’m so far using. When we expect the reality of The Screen, and instead get reality itself (which, worse than failing to be clean and/or glamorous, is plagued by manmade unfairness and these days seems often arrested in a state of depressed, perpetual stasis)…the loser, in the end, is us.

Obviously, I’ve walked this road. Seemingly, I’ve decided to abandon it. So. Why and how?

Again, it’s a delicate dance. Especially for an artist. As a filmmaker in particular, I need my lofty expectations. They drive two of the most basic tools a filmmaker/artist needs in order to succeed. They provide you with enough Crazy to think that it makes sense to struggle for years for the right to enlist others to help create and/or spread your vision — that this is a reasonable idea (most times, it’s not). Additionally, high expectations can push you at times when nothing or no one else can. In independent film, especially at the level I’m at, this is almost all the time. But the idea becomes more tactile as you progress through a production, for instance — all the way to the end of the finished product, which in my case is a film. I expect this essentially false, moving snapshot I’ve created with the help of all these people — to momentarily replace reality in the minds of the audience. It’s a contradictory notion, in terms of expectation. Because for this to happen, everything needs to be perfect.

And that’s the trouble spot, when it comes to expectations. That’s where we come back around to the necessity of responsibly dealing with the inevitable letdown that comes from riding them as far as they’ll take us before we inevitably get bucked. Expectations always represent a losing hand. It’s part of the deal. Expectations aren’t human, they never tire, they rarely stop. We are human, we do tire, and we must stop — occasionally. All we can do, in the face of these truths, is learn to know our limits (after we’ve found them) and keep showing patience, as we work “tirelessly,” “endlessly,” in pursuit of a finish line we can always see, always feel, but never reach.

So, there it is. That’s where I’m at lately. To succeed in any way, we have to first admit defeat. It will never go as perfectly as you imagined.

And as long as this realization isn’t repurposed as an excuse (don’t do that), the knowledge can become liberating. I don’t know that it’s something that can really be taught, so much as understood, perhaps after a series of “failures,” but I thought this was worth mentioning. Because it’s important to me that readers understand what I also have to continually force myself to accept — that when I say my expectations were exceeded because they were lower, what I really mean to say is that my expectation that everything would go perfectly, right away, was lowered to a more healthy (but still appropriately crazy) expectation that everything go extremely well, and land in a satisfactorily elevated place, as I chase perfection during any one step, of any one phase, of any one production. Eventually. When and where it ultimately counts.

One more important point to all this is the importance of asking for and getting help. From family, friends, co-conspirators, collaborators — whoever.

The formula for an expectation, when broken down in its simplest form, is comprised of some admixture of elements from within yourself, combined chemically by you only in the abstract. To be made energetic, it must necessarily be broken back down into the stuff that makes up your expectation, so that these elements may be distributed through the world around you that are seeking to affect (whatever size that world may be). This requires you to take measure of that world, so that you know exactly how much energy to exert and how to appropriately handle it and when.

To do this, you need help. In externalizing our expectations, if we ever do, we are opened up. The aforementioned process necessitates this vulnerability, just as the unbearable complexity and exhaustiveness of it necessitates assistance.

The alchemy of creating an external event that elicits an emotional response (I’m still speaking mostly in artistic terms, so let’s say we’re talking about a shot, a scene, a film) is too monumental a task for an individual. Distributing its parts, after the idea has been formed within you, so that they may be turned tactile and enter the world, assembling those parts once this is accomplished — all of this represents an overwhelmingly heavy and complex set of tasks. It’s too much for one person, or a handful of people, to accomplish on their own. Not to mention the fact that an expectation is built from ideas, which have a habit of acting less like puzzle pieces and more like viruses once they’re passed around — if they’re strong ideas. Strong ideas breed more (sometimes loftier) expectations. This is how it should be.

Finally, to “complete” the process, you must recombine the ideas that formed the expectation that spawned more ideas that together became The Task. I’ve tried handling this step (mostly) alone before. It doesn’t work. I tried it, and it unhinged me. For years. The work also suffered. Which made the failure all the more devastating.

Bringing the discussion back onto the ground level, I’d like to thank Rebecca, for co-producing the reading of Sophia The Great in her spare time, at the same time that she was taking Sophia as a character very seriously in preparation for the event itself (and Sophia The Character is not a wee little bunny). I’d like to thank all the actors and audience members who donated their time to help us pursue perfection with this script and project. Perhaps you had no idea that the aforementioned process had already ravaged my head. That we were taking it so very seriously. Or perhaps a similar process was ravaging your head. I hope so. This is why we do it. The goal is more ravaged heads. Ravaged heads for everyone.

So, finally, the important question. What did we learn?

  • I learned that I am better at receiving notes and taking feedback than I have ever been in my entire life. I pat myself on the back for this. Not only was I able to listen to critiques of certain aspects/elements of the script, I was able to parse such feedback in such a way as to separate notes into three piles: 1) THANK YOU, BUT THAT IS GOING TO STAY THE SAME, 2) YOU’RE RIGHT, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION, 3) YOU’RE NOT RIGHT, BUT YOU’RE NOT WRONG, THAT NEEDS ATTENTION. From what I can tell from the testimony of other professional writers: this is crucial. Glad to have finally gotten to this point. “It was not easy,” says my ego. Then my ego goes back to his whiskey corner. Or he doesn’t get any supper.
  • I learned that my fears about how the content of the script might be received, were exaggerated by my head and at least partially unfounded. Of course, we only had a small crowd. Counting the actors (who always give useful feedback, in the questions they ask while attempting to get into character, and then frequently after the fact as audience members as well) and the number of invited audience members who showed up, I think we had about 20 people in attendance. I was pretty focused on the actors for most of the reading, but there were more than a few moments when I felt like everyone was paying Very Close Attention. We also got quite a few laughs, which was encouraging. It’s not that I don’t think parts of the script are funny, it’s just that they come from the side of funny that lives on the border of Sad Town. Not only did all this feel great, because many parts of the script seemed to be working, but it was great seeing the actors make the words their own. Something I didn’t anticipate happening (because I was too busy in the leading weeks to think about it) was that, unlike on a shoot (where I am responsible for everything, for every second of every day), at the reading, once it all started — I was able to sit back and be a part of the audience. Valuable stuff.
  • I need help. We (Rebecca and I) need help. As indicated by the paragraphs above, we have learned this lesson already. Still, in the indie game, especially after you’ve been doing it awhile, and more so because of the urgency tasks take on when you’re juggling them between day jobs and regular life — it gets easy to forget. That we all need help. That it’s okay, and often necessary, to ask for help. Suffice to say, it was a little exhausting getting the reading set up. It was exhausting because we’re still working on Multiverse. It was exhausting because we’re also in the early stages of figuring out how to get Sophia The Production kicked off at the same time. It was exhausting because it took writing this post to remind me that everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above…that these lessons need to be constantly considered and learned from…not just recognized on one happy occasion and put away in a drawer. So this becomes our next and newest task, on a couple of fronts. I will be going it alone for a bit longer, with some help from Rebecca, while we prep the next draft of the script. Then we call for help. Oh, but if you have some help laying around, let us know.
  • I learned that I am on the right track. Artistically. More work needs to be done, much more work. But, as I mentioned, there were a few moments during the reading where our actors took over The Words and gave them life and then…the room went still. Quiet. We were arrested — me along with everyone else. There’s no greater feeling in the world. I’ve only ever felt it a few times before, for a few beautiful moments, when Sex and Justice was playing on the big screen and The Drama was coming and people were still and attentive and they cared. Again…this is why we do it.
  • I learned, with stunning clarity and finality, what I have long suspected but could never quite fully believe until now — that I can’t do anything but this. Months upon years of expectation, hard work, collaboration, alchemy. For the privilege of a just a few transcendent moments. That is what we’re chasing. This, as crazy as that sounds, is how it has to be.

This is why we do it.

Why Filmmakers Need To Stop Freaking Out About The Veronica Mars Movie

On all sides of life, people often make the decision — however consciously — to ignore certain parts of reality, in order to better serve their anger and provide themselves with fuel for rationalizing their fears. This statement can be applied broadly to huge swaths of our population at the moment, unfortunately, but for today I want to focus a particular discussion, that starts from this place, on myself and my fellow band of merry misfits. All of this comes with the caveat that I’ve Been There.

So.

Dear Other Filmmakers:

Please do not freak out (or stop freaking out) about the existence/success of The Veronica Mars Movie on Kickstarter. You’re making yourselves, and our profession, look bad. I will explain.

– The Furious Romantic

First, before I say anything else about the subject, I want to make it clear that I understand your frustration and your reservations. It’s hard, seeing people you perceive as “already successful” leveraging an innovative new platform to accomplish something that, on the surface of things, they “should have done” within the parameters that are already established for all other “already successful” people who want to make movies, especially those that include studio involvement. Add to this, the uncomfortable fact that can’t be argued with at the end of the day — that, in this case, a film is being funded By The People despite the fact that it will continue to be owned by The Man (a major studio), in perpetuity, and that all profits (except perhaps for some backend points and typical union contract revenue-sharing that will go to the filmmakers and talent) will also go to said studio  — and you have more than a few good reasons for being upset. The Furious Romantic will never tell you not to be upset by a perceived injustice. Feel your feelings, angry people, but them come back to the ground and…stop freaking out.

I will leave the task of providing a measured, reasonable perspective on this topic to Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects, who succinctly stated almost all of the same “defenses” of the project that I poured into a Facebook conversation yesterday. Here are his main talking points, copied verbatim, for the sake of argument:

  1.  Veronica Mars is an ultra rare phenomenon. It’s a cult television show whose passionate fans persisted despite low ratings. They’ve called out for its return for years, and its creator has had countless phone calls and meetings trying to make something happen again. With Arrested Development taken care of by Netflix, you can count on one hand the properties that match Mars on these fronts, and even though studios are taking notice this morning, it’s highly unlikely that there’ll be a massive flood of studio projects hitting Kickstarter tomorrow.
  2. Even if there are, even if we reach a point where studios are collectively putting up dozens of big movies on Kickstarter, the market will absolutely take care of itself. There will be a bigger backlash against the practice if it gets out of hand, and if there isn’t, who is any single person to tell fans what they should give their money to? If someone has waited a decade for a new Firefly series, isn’t $35 for a t-shirt and digital download a steal at twice the price?
  3. It’s also pretty ridiculous to think that Veronica Mars‘ success is taking away anything demonstrable from any of the indie projects on the site. No one was on the cusp of donating $10 to a promising video artist’s stop-motion project when their Twitter feed lit up with the news.
  4. And, if anything, there’s a higher probability that the high profile and larger buzz brought more attention to what Kickstarter is doing, which is a win for everyone.
  5. Speaking of which, it’s a good time to remember that Kickstarter is a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s not like the service has been fundamentally altered simply because a giant company discovered a use for it. They’re not making it exclusive to studio use or anything.
  6. Oh, and if you’re still concerned about how the fabric of indie filmmaking has been altered here, you certainly don’t have to donate anything.

Item 1 summarizes the main point of all this (which many other reasonable people have noted as well). If you asked 100 Veronica Mars fans if they wanted this movie, 120 would say yes. Because this is 2013, and in the time you took to answer the question 20 of those fans turned their friends/partners/spouses/etc. onto Veronica Mars on Netflix streaming. Because it’s a good television show that “died” young. That HAS to be the very first takeaway from this debate. A film will now exist that people wanted but that otherwise would not be getting if not for this Kickstarter campaign.

Item 2 looks at The Worse Case Scenario and confirms the likely truth: It won’t be that bad.

One of the biggest recent takeaways I’ve gotten in listening to the Scriptnotes podcast by John August and Craig Mazin, is that there’s a disconnect within the film industry that has perhaps “always been there” but is right now worse than ever before. In John’s expert opinion (paraphrasing) studios are not investing enough in Research and Development these days. Which is to say, they aren’t taking enough smart, calculated risks, by developing fresh material or identifying material that people want, choosing instead to play it safe, and/or play to the mean rather than risk too much of a loss on their investment. The result has been too many movies that are too mediocre, amidst a smattering of successful tent pole blockbusters from known commodities (big name writers and/or directors), and too few dollars and hours spent vetting and developing projects that people might want to see but studios are afraid to make. Craig, similarly (I hope I’m remembering this right, or he might get mad), has reflected on the increasing difficulty of getting projects made in the Hollywood low-budget range that I am going to inexpertly determine (or inaccurately remember) lands between $15 million and $35 million. Again, studios aren’t rolling the dice on slates of projects at this budget level. They’d rather just be certain that known commodities (adaptations and other properties with built-in brand recognition) can be made to deliver a substantial ROI if enough money is spent making those commodities into something big and broad and loud and then marketing them like crazy. On top of all this, the small independent labels that knew how to make and market films at the budget level of The Veronica Mars Movie…are mostly all gone, having been swallowed up by DVD shrinking revenues, the recession, deliberate contraction, etc.

So, my further question, reflecting on the second item on Scott’s list, is: Why should we be mad that a studio is not saying no to allowing a $2 million movie with a rabid, yearning fan base to get made? When they weren’t going to do it before — because it’s not big enough of an establish commodity?

Well, there are a few reasons, which need to be discussed before we move on to the rest of the reasons why overall, I think this development is good for all of us. They revolve around the budget. John August confirmed on Twitter last night that he and Mazin will be discussing this situation on Scriptnotes next week. I figured as much. I have some ideas about what I think/hope they’re going to talk about (aforementioned issues of R&D, smaller budget studio productions, etc.). One of the things I’m wondering is how they’re going to react…not to the existence of the Kickstarter campaign itself, or even the studio’s involvement in the whole affair, but the budget. The question of budget, in the case of this project, brings up a couple of concerns that I think need to be vetted before filmmakers decide if We Should Be Angry.

I’ve already established that I believe it’s a legitimate concern, upon first glance, to worry about what a studio-backed film, financed by an audience that assumes “all the risk” might mean for the industry. However, again, most of these fears aren’t (entirely) founded. Apart from the fact that all of the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign depends on that audience’s existence in the first place (Rob Thomas and Kristen bell aren’t crowd-raising $2 million for a movie without their track record and their prior-work already behind them), it seems a lot of people “in the industry” are failing to take a step back and look at this from the top level.

Here’s how I see it, as a filmmaker. Excuse the reductiveness of what’s about to follow. But…okay. I want to make a film. I have a script, and I know I have the expertise and the ability and the work ethic to pull it off (these are important points, remember them for later). To make the film, though, I need money. I need money because a film is a product, that takes time and money to craft, and, related to that, I need money to pay people because making film is also a job. So there’s (basically) two ways to go. Some entity (a studio) can give me money in exchange for the right to recoup that investment and a return (otherwise they are not going to give me money) by distributing the film to as large an audience as possible, or I figure out how to get the money myself and then hope to sell the right to distribute my film to a widespread audience to another entity (let’s say a studio, again, to keep it simple). In each way, ideally, everyone gets what they want. I make my film, my audience gets to see a film they like, the studio gets money. Everyone’s happy.

Obviously, things don’t always work out this way. All sorts of factors screw with the balance and/or the successful implementation of this simple formula. A film’s a product, but it’s also a piece of art, and a piece of art that’s uniquely dependent on hoards of people working in imperfect unison towards the impossible goal of achieving a perfect vision that, at the end of the day, exists in some guy or gal’s head (even if others work to stuff toilet paper into that head along the way). Also, the film industry as a whole is in flux. Not only are we navigating the studio-level issues outlined by above, and not only have mid-range “independent” films disappeared, but the true, low-budget independent sphere “tasked” with leading the way in terms of innovative funding strategies in a depressed market…we’re just starting to figure out how things like crowd-funding and audience building work and what these things mean for the future of production and distribution.

At first glance, it’s easy for the independent filmmaker to get pissed off about the success of the Veronica Mars campaign. Here comes a bunch of successful people, and a studio that could come up with $2 million dollars by passing a hat during an executive lunch meeting, and now they’re creeping in on Our Salvation Platform and raising the full coupla mill in one day and THEY’RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING. From the point of view of established working artists, though, this is a different question. I have to prognosticate a little, because I am not established, but…back to the budget issue.

Two million dollars is not a lot of money to make a feature film, especially not of the scope that this film would have to be, at minimum. Thomas has to spend around what he used to spend for two episodes of the show, let’s say, adjusted for inflation. They also no longer have a production office, and would have to set up and staff that. They also have to go at least “a little big” because the movie is always bigger and sleeker than the TV show. Also, fans have been waiting. Expectations are going to be high. No matter where the money comes from, or how quickly it comes together, by my rough estimates, this budget it seems a fairly legitimate minimum amount. This seems like a true independent production. Just because these people used to have a TV show (which was backed by a studio, which isn’t helping with production this time), and just because they’re more successful than most of the rest of us who turn to Kickstarter and other sites, just because they have to go through the studio in some way (because of a prior and valid legal agreement) if they want to make the film at all…doesn’t make this untrue.

I know it’s a lot of money, taken at face value. I know it’s a lot of money to most filmmakers who have turned to crowd-funding. I’m developing my first feature right now, and would love to have a quarter of what the Veronica Mars team raised (I’d take an eighth). But I haven’t earned that amount (not yet), and most likely, unless you’re a slumming showrunner or established industry vet reading this, neither have you.

The last flick I shot (and am still editing) is about 8 mins long, and it cost about $8,000 to make. Except that almost everyone worked for free or for vastly reduced rates (as is often the case), plus we were lucky enough to get some key locations for free, plus now, in post, people continue to work for free. All things told, that film’s end cost should be (I’m spit-balling) about $20,000 to $30,000. Still, we never would have been able to make it without that $8,000 (much of it obtained through crowd-funding), because some costs (food, travel, insurance) can’t be ignored. The feature I’m developing now? Ideally, we’ll be able to get at least a few hundred grand, to make it right. If we have to, we’ll find a way to make it for a fraction of that cost. My point is that I could look at that $2 million dollar amount and get angry. I could get angry that people I perceive as successful and monied (in particular, the studio) have taken money from The People that they should have got from their money trees instead. And I could get angry that they took the platform that was there for me to get money and…oh. They just used it the way it’s meant to be used.

Scott Beggs is right about Item 3 on his list. The success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign isn’t taking money or anything else away from independents. As he notes in Items 4 and 5, if anything, it’s giving money to us. It’s further legitimizing a growing means of funding films outside of the studio system. Aside from the source of the production money, there’s no difference between The Veronica Mars Movie, and any other independently financed $2 million movie with name talent and pre-arranged distribution. Yes, the difference is that the studio can see a return on an investment we made for them, but this is a special, different situation.

First, it’s different because — to finish off Scott’s list — we could have chosen not to donate. I didn’t, because as much of a fan I am of the show, I’d rather let everyone else pay for it and then catch Veronica once she hits Netflix or iTunes (thanks, suckas). But people donated. In droves. Because they wanted this movie and because they could. And this movie was only going to exist, because the studio was not going to hand the rights back to Thomas, if he and Bell decided to go small with it (including taking pay cuts, probably down to scale) and could prove interest (which they have emphatically done). Lost in all this though, is the symbolism of that sacrifice. What does it mean, in the larger context of the industry?

This is where I am curious to hear how the conversation plays out in next week’s Scriptnotes. August and Mazin always provide a thoughtful perspective to the business side of the industry. A lot of times, because they’re smart and experienced and open, their insights expand beyond the scope of the writer’s sole perspective. I’d like to hear what they think about the studio’s involvement in this affair, and what the success of the Veronica Mars campaign may or may not mean for the studio system and the industry as a whole. Beyond that, I’d like to hear their perspective on the budget, and whether or not this development is another bad sign in terms of shrinking budgets and tougher environments for getting things made (and in terms of artists getting their fair share of wages and/or revenue). Specifically, is it worrisome that a studio is going to potentially profit from a project where the budget is being artificially depressed by “necessity” in the first place (because of their refusal to invest their own millions and/or hand over the rights), and then replaced by the donations of Regular Citizens, who won’t see any return other than the joy of seeing the film they wanted made? Or does it not matter, because of the unique case of this particular project, and because, in donating, we (you) accepted the terms of the arrangement? Are we being played, on the consumer side? Are we playing ourselves, on the filmmaker side?

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth:

  1. I think the issue of the studio benefiting from the return on The People’s Investment, in this case, is okay. First, I think it’s okay because they are going to allow the film to happen, whereas they weren’t before. Call me an idealist, but that looks more like a shaft of light to me than a warning shot. I think The People’s ROI, in this case, is the life of the film. Further, while I would have handled it a bit differently (tilting the exchange more favorably towards the consumer), most people who donated to the Veronica Mars campaign had the option of choosing to receive a copy of the movie. That’s product for your money, which you would have handed over anyway if the studio had financed it. Supposing, on the basis of Thomas’s track record, that there won’t be a huge quality loss in moving from the TV series to the film, when all is said and done, the barter exchange that usually occurs when a film is made and distributed remains intact in this case, even if parts of the process were reshuffled. On the side of the producers, I would have included a way to view the film at any/all price points. On the consumer side, since they didn’t — I would have only donated at a level where I could make that happen.
  2. I think this can be looked at in another way. I think this shows studios, in some small way, that The People Mean Business. Regardless of what you think about the rest of the situation, a film that was clamored for was finally offered, and we showed we wanted it and had the power to get it. That can be thrilling and a good sign, if you allow yourself to look at it that way (at least initially).
  3. Most important, out of everything, this provides a mass-incentive to push for equity crowd-funding. Basically, what this means is, if you’re upset about the studio-ROI issue with this project, aim that ire where it belongs: in the face of legislators who aren’t prioritizing equity crowd-funding laws that would allow The People to invest in a movie, and see ROI from that investment  through an equity stake if there are returns. I’m not completely read-up on this yet, but I learned what I learned from Michael Barnard’s excellent (and exhaustive) post on this and other funding topics.
  4. Studios will not begin pushing investment risk on consumers in any major or significant way because of this project. First, again, $2 million dollars is lunch-time pass-the-hat change to them. While we in the independent sphere or in the outer circles of the industry obsess over What It All Means, they’re shrugging and saying, “Hmmph. I guess we’ll keep an eye on that,” while stroking their evil cat and drinking caviar martinis. Which, to me, is a good thing. A better thing than no thing. Because they weren’t keeping an eye on that before. Assuming we stay vigilant in terms of our concerns, and/or continue to support innovation and legislation that’s fairer for artists and consumers, perhaps something like this could help hasten a return, if not to that $15-35 million “small budget” range of films…something that’s close enough for now (and better than nothing). Further, those same lessons being learned, and those same protections being assumed, maybe it’s a new way for studios (if they notice the shaft of light and are willing to invest in at least the cost of a hammer to make the hole a bit bigger) to return to a place where they do more Research and Development. Finally, studios depend on their large, high-risk investments. It’s the source of much of their leverage in the industry. Apart from the fact that Kickstarter campaigns won’t work for many other studio-owned properties, because the budgets for those properties would be too large to crowd-fund without equity investments added to the equation. It’s just not going to happen.
  5. From the indie perspective, I think Scott Beggs is right. The Mars project not only brings more eyeballs to Kickstarter (which helps us), it brings added legitimacy to the site and to crowd-funding as well. At the end of the day, all of these campaigns come down to the same thing: audience size and content. But bringing a studio into the equation makes things more interesting. They can learn from us, and we can sure learn from them. Again, I don’t expect studios to rush to the crowd-funding table, but neither should we pretend there isn’t something to be gained from cooperating with studios, especially in terms of distribution. It has to be done carefully, to protect the films, but doesn’t something like this give us more credibility in that area? Doesn’t it open up the possibility that, down the line, we might gain some of the leverage we lost, from situations like this? Wouldn’t things seem more balanced if The Veronica Mars Movie succeeds, Thomas and Bell come up with another idea in a few years, and they return to Kickstarter for another $1 million and the full rights to distribute the film, to leverage as they please? What possibilities does that open up? What happens after that project? Does an impressed studio begin warming up again, to the idea of giving someone like Thomas $15 million, for a chance to “do it the old fashioned way”?
  6. The Veronica Mars campaign erred in a few significant, but (obviously) not damning ways. First, they could/should have paid more attention to the issue of the studio’s involvement. I don’t pretend to know the details of why they came to which decisions and how, in terms of engineering the campaign, but two “errors” stand out for me. I would have made it more of a straight shot in terms of “donate and you get the movie.” This treats the transaction more like the pre-sale that it is, and it’s what Rebecca and I did/are doing for our crowd-funded short (every donation, from $5 and up, gets you preview access to the flick before anyone else). In the defense of the producers, they’re not distributors, and aren’t used to being distributors, and…further…the scale of the endeavor complicates things quite a bit. Still, I think a standalone DVD reward at the price point of a DVD, and a standalone digital download reward at the price point of a digital download — would have been a better idea. I guess they can still do this. Additionally, I think more transparency about their budget, and/or more information on the story of their budget, would have helped. Not that the vocal minority of detractors on Twitter or Facebook is anything to worry about in this case, but people would have less to complain or worry about if more information were available (even via a link buried somewhere on the campaign page) on why some of the talent (Kristen Bell) isn’t executive producing (I’m not judging) and just how much of that budget represents minimums that professionals are taking for a chance to make something they believe in and that The People want.

Lastly — and then, I swear, I’m done — I think a lot of the criticism and anger is coming from the usual place: outright jealousy and bitterness. This happened. It might happen again. Get over it. Focus on the good. Take note of the bad, and do something about it if it’s so important to you and such a threat to the industry and your present or future place within it. Stop complaining. Get to work making movies. If you’re an indie, or simply on the outside looking in, make a $5,000 film and make it look like a $10,000 film, by pursuing the task with ingenuity, hard work, and patience. Crowd-fund if you need or want to, but work at it, and do not waste time comparing yourself to a team of people who worked successfully together for years building a product that spawned a passionate fan base. If you have a film with a bigger budget that you want to make, try to make it if that’s what you feel you need to do. But if you can’t, make a smaller one first. Do it again and again, if you’re serious. If you aren’t serious, stop trying to bring down people who are trying to make things happen. Stop poisoning the discourse.

Take it from a former Angry Person, and a fan of Veronica Mars. Again, as many others have said — it’s good that this movie exists now. This wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. Whatever you think about the situation, start from there. Change is rising. It’s a good thing.

Introducing: Sophia The Great

It’s sort of a special feeling, knowing something must be done. At least, it’s special when you’re able to look at it that way. Remind me that I said this when I’m crying alone in the corner of a darkened room several months from now, because…well, that’s what indie film does to you sometimes. I think? Am I doing this wrong?!

Hah. Enough evasion. I said it a few weeks ago, and now, since I said it, I have to back it up. Though Multiverse is still in post, and despite the fact that just exactly how we’re going to do this (and do it right) is still unknown at this point  — Rebecca and I have started developing our next project. It’s called Sophia The Great, it’s a feature, and we’re making it in an effort to push back at all the things I’ve been throwing in front of The Fury, over the past two months on this site, and probably also over the past several years of my life as well.

So, the obvious question: What’s it about? Well, the script continues to evolve (more on this later), however it’s plenty far enough along for me to at least share the current logline.

A depressed underground blogger, fresh off a bad breakup and increasingly frustrated by a mundane day job, bands together with her friends and starts a podcast in her living room with the goal of identifying and discussing the seven deadly sins of modern American life.

So, the next question: How are we going to do this? Well, we’re working on Multiverse, and hope to be able to gain entrance to a few film festivals once it’s done, and we’ll have Sophia with us in case anyone becomes interested in taking a look at her. We’re also already in the process of seeking additional support in the eventual production of the film, at the same time that we’re working on a plan for getting it made at the micro-budget level if that becomes necessary.

Why are we announcing Sophia The Great now? When all we have is a script and Our Resolve? Well, first, it’s because this is how it starts. All kidding aside, and in full recognition of the fact that much more will be needed in the coming months and years — I believe it has to start here. That’s how it’s worked for me, up till now, at least. I’ve had a very good reason for choosing to make every film I’ve made. I have had good reasons for not making many others. The reasons I have for making this one seem to me the best and biggest yet.

Also, in the spirit of Reaching Out Through The Screen, I want to embrace the power of the internet (where I learned half of what I learned about filmmaking), and of social networks and crowd-sourcing sites in particular, while developing and growing Sophia The Great.

In so many words, I’d like to use this forum (which will remain dedicated primarily to an ongoing discussion of our culture, even if this discussion incrementally overlaps with a discussion of my filmmaking) as an occasional means of communicating our progress and interacting with you (our tiny, foundational audience) as we proceed to serve Sophia. Also, until we have the time and money to give Sophia her own forum, The Furious Romantic Returns will be the place to go to for information on say, the live-reading of the script that we’re going to be conducting in a few weeks.

Hah! So! Here’s the deal. We’re conducting a live-reading in a few weeks. The primary reason for this is to see how our (talky) script plays out when performed by professional actors. The (perhaps obvious) ancillary goal is to see if there’s anything that’s not working quite right, so that any lingering issues can be ironed out before we start sharing the script in any major way. Also, we’re interested in getting some feedback, and a reading is an easy way to do that.

I will be sure to check in on this again after the smoke has cleared, if for no other reason than to report in on the results and the experience so that others may learn from it as well.

Additionally! I have had a wonderful time interacting with other writers and filmmakers on The Twitter over these past several months. It’s been so wonderful, that I would like to officially invite any NYC-area writers and filmmakers who follow me on The Twitter, to send me a DM if you’re interested in attending the reading (it’s on March 10th in Manhattan).

We’ll be holding a few spots open for this purpose. Depending on the level of interest and/or availability, we’ll add more spots if we’re able. Please feel free get in touch if you’re curious about the story, have a fair amount of experience in writing/directing/producing, and don’t mind providing feedback.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Hit me up anytime with questions or comments, and…wish us luck.