Question: Should Filmmakers Move To Hollywood?

Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?

That’s the question I asked myself as I packed everything I could into my car.

I had spent the previous year grinding towards filmmaking success in New York City, while sleeping on an inflatable air mattress. And after burning through my bank account, I was looking for a change.

Hollywood seemed like a much more exciting alternative.

It took me 10 days to drive the country. Two of the days were spent in the never ending Texas highway. (Seriously, if you never drove across Texas alone, don’t!)

Should Filmmakers Move To Hollywood?

Little did I know, but Hollywood is full of guys like me. In fact, year after year thousands of Hollywood hopefuls answer the “Should filmmakers move to Hollywood” question with a definitive YES.

And I understand that you know this.

But you don’t really know this until you’re here. Within the first week, you will see your doppelganger, a lot. You will overhear conversations too. Literally everywhere you go, someone is talking movies or “the industry.”

And even though you sort of suspect that the odds of your filmmaking success is greater than the next guy, deep down you know you’re just a small fish in a big pond.

But you can’t deny it.

No matter where you are in the world, Hollywood represents a much bigger game.

And the only thing that differentiates you from the gazillion other Hollywood hopefuls is the work. Nothing matters more than actually picking up a camera and making something – Anything.

Filmmakers_Move_To_Hollywood

Should Filmmakers Move To Hollywood?

I guess my experiences in New York served me well. When I arrived, I immediately met up with some equally ambitious filmmakers and together, we produced, marketed and sold our first feature.  It was a silly zombie movie.

The movie went viral. It opened the door for a few of us.  My buddy Jared wrote it. He got an agent. And I ended up working professionally in video on demand distribution.

In the years since, I have consulted with well over 300 filmmakers on their distribution strategy. And if I learned anything, it’s the fact that everything has changed in filmmaking.

Since making our first feature, there have been some serious developments in production technology. And once again, this forces us to confront the age old question.

In fact one of our Filmmaking Stuff newsletter readers named Jake asked the following question:

“My filmmaking friend in LA told me NOT to make anything in my small town because I would just be wasting my time. He told me no one in the industry will take me seriously if I make my 1st feature outside of Hollywood. So instead of making what I CAN make right now, I’ve been working to move to LA to start doing something… My question is this: is he right?”

So dear reader – Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?

. . . my response to this question is a big fat NO!

Unless you plan on working for a major studio, you no longer need Hollywood.

If you are a filmmaker with an idea and the passion to create a feature film, you can do it from anywhere on earth.

Here are a few reasons why:

Getting Money In Hollywood Sucks

Everybody in Los Angeles is competing to find someone (or some studio) willing to back their movie project.

Can you imagine a town where your waiter is an aspiring actor, your cable guy is an aspiring screenwriter and your taxi driver is an aspiring producer?

Hollywood is saturated with an over-supply of willing, talented, aspiring workers.

And they are all waiting for their big break.

Even if you do raise the money to make your movie, you’ll have to raise a lot more to shoot in LA, because everything (locations, equipment, props, and permits) makes making movies in LA cost prohibitive and a royal pain in the butt.

What a mess!

On the other-hand, if you live in small town and you have good material and ambition, you’re in luck.

If you can get past the fact that all your non-filmmaker friends think you’re crazy, you can build a team, find cheap locations (and other resources, including free food) and you can take action.

Heck, you might even make the nightly news  – When this happens, just make sure you advertise your movie website and start building your audience list!

And. . .

Unlike trying to get a meeting with a busy, semi famous studio executive who never heard of you – If you call up the local rich guy to make a pitch, your odds of getting a lunch meeting are pretty high.

As I detail extensively in my film financing program, getting meetings does not guarantee success.

But it’s a start!

And let’s pretend for a moment that your town has no rich people. Well, thanks to crowdfunding sites like indieGoGo and Kickstarter you can now reach an entire global audience of people who may be interested in sponsoring your work.

Filmmaking Equipment is Now Cheap

When I was getting my start, I saved up an entire summer to buy a used Arri BL 16mm Camera. I shot a short film over a weekend. And then I spent the entire winter saving up enough money to process and transfer the film to video.

That sucked.

Times have changed.

These days, if you want to create cinematic quality content all you have to do is go to your local electronics store and pick up an HDSLR camera and start producing your backyard indie. As long as you take time to understand lighting and camera angles, your end result will look pretty amazing.

Distribution Changes Everything

Read this part carefully.

Everyday I am amazed that more filmmakers are not getting naked and running into the streets cheering (Ok. I’m kidding.) But here is the deal…

The biggest, most awesome change in cinematic HISTORY is distribution. And modern movie distribution changes EVERYTHING!

Thanks to all these platforms found at  Distribber  (yes, they are back and they pay me to promote) – Anyway,  you can now get your movie into sites like Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and other VOD outlets – Without giving away all of your rights (for life) to some distributor who will likely never pay you what they promised.

What does this mean for Modern MovieMakers?

This means that instead of raising money and crossing your fingers for a dream distribution deal, you can now create a marketing plan within the context of your movie business plan.

This is important and liberating.

Non-discriminatory distribution allows filmmakers to treat their movie business like any other business. You do not need to ask permission to create a product, access a marketplace and make sales!

In other-words, as long as you have a camera and internet access, you can now make, market and sell your movies without asking permission. (Ok, if you really want to get naked and run into the streets, I won’t stop you.)

A few words about marketing.

Whenever I put on my  film distribution talks, invariably someone will ask me about marketing. And it’s a good point. Because distribution is now part of your movie making business, you will need someone on your team who can market.

Here is the big disconnect.

Hollywood (and traditional sales agents and distributors) will tell you to leave distribution to the experts. They will tell you to give up the rights to your movie because their company has been in business for a gazillion years.

But this kind of talk is crap. I mean, obviously if these guys offer you a huge cash advance, it might make sense.

But if there is no money involved, what value are they giving you? The promise of getting your movie seen and selling on iTunes and Hulu? You can just as easily access iTunes and Hulu too.

My point is, unless these old-timers know how to source the appropriate target audience (and they openly share their marketing budget with you and are fully transparent with each marketing step) then there is no value to give away your rights in exchange for validation. Validation and a crappy distribution deal does not pay the bills!

Should Filmmakers Move To Hollywood?

Wow. I intended to write a quick reply to this BIG question and I totally blasted you with my filmmaking passion.

Instead of asking: “Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?”

Consider a better question:

“Given the resources that I have now, what is the movie that I can make this year?”

Hopefully you are now inspired to make, market and sell your movie from anywhere on earth. If that’s the case, I’d love to read your comments below.

One last thing…

After reading articles like this, I get a lot of emails from filmmakers who need some additional help. So if you would like to find out more about filmmaking process, you might just want to check out some of these professional filmmaking tools.

 

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?
By, Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

Because I’ve written a few books about screenwriting I sometimes get questions from people just starting out on their careers. One query that has started coming up more often recently is whether it’s better to chase the Hollywood dream or get involved with indie films, including ones made for the web.

Well, as Socrates once said, “That depends.”

Hollywood is hard to crack. At any given time, people tend to say it has never been harder, but maybe that’s actually true as far as mainstream feature films are concerned these days. It won’t have escaped your attention that the trend is toward movies with huge budgets. Knowing that a picture is going to cost $200 million or more makes decision makers prefer to go with writers and directors with a track record.

Sometimes they do gamble. For instance, they got a guy who’d never directed live action to direct “John Carter.” The outcome of that one probably set back the cause of risk-taking for a few years. On the other hand, maybe that was offset by the success of “The Artist.”

Of course hiring a name director is no guarantee of success, but it gives the decision makers more of an excuse: “His last three were big hits, how could I know this one wouldn’t be?”

The upside of screenwriting for Hollywood

If you do break into that small circle of (mainly) guys who are tapped to write the big summer action pictures, the financial rewards are considerable. The smaller the pool of A-list writers, the more they get paid. It also gives you power. If you write a couple of hits and want to direct, you’ll get the chance. If you want to make a small picture that nobody think will make any money, if they want you badly enough for a big script assignment, you’ll get that, too.

You will also find entities like HBO and Showtime will be interested in hearing your ideas, if you decide at some point you’d like to do a series.

The downside of Hollywood

The power I referred to lasts only as long as your projects are a success. There can be a lot of reasons for a movie to fail other than a bad script. The first time it happens they’ll cut you some slack. If it happens again, the phone calls will slow down. Three strikes and you’ll wonder if your cell phone is broken.

Also, your power doesn’t extend to having final say on what happens with the script. Even the hot writers get rewritten. How’s your tolerance for seeing other people make those decisions without you? Once you’ve turned in your draft, generally they don’t want to have you around any more. As a courtesy (actually, to satisfy the Writers Guild agreements) you’ll get a copy of the script after everybody else has finished messing around with it. A few of those experiences and you may get into the habit of pouring yourself a stiff drink before you turn to page one.

The upside of indie films

The definition of independent cinema has always been a bit vague, and now that people are starting to make films directly for distribution on the web and having success with documentaries and a variety of harder to categorize formats it’s getting even more blurred. For the sake of this discussion, though, let’s assume that we’re talking about anything from no- to micro- to-low budget, and distribution via DVD (not for much longer), or Netflix, or other means via the web.

The upside is that you can write a story that doesn’t have to bring out the teen audience in massive numbers on opening weekend. The breadth of the subjects you can deal with, the pacing options, the opportunity to experiment are all huge advantages.

You’re much more likely to remain involved in the later stages of production, too. Generally indie producers and directors are happy to have the writer around to make adjustments that may be needed during the shoot. It’s much more likely to end up being the story you wanted to tell.

When it comes time to promote the film you’ll probably be asked to help with that, too, because there’s no big star involved who sucks up all the media attention.

There’s also a new model emerging of raising finance through crowdfunding, which Jason has written about on this site a number of times. The idea that you don’t need to convince a banker or manager of an investment fund of the viability of your story, that you can pitch it to your final customers, is exciting and this method of financing is only going to grow.

The downside of indie films

Money, lack of. Starving for your art can be romantic for a while, but eventually you do want to eat something other than peanut butter sandwiches. You may want to start a family, buy a place of your own, take a nice vacation once in a while. All the stuff that sounds hopelessly middle-class when you’re 20 seems a lot more attractive when you hit 35. Of course some indie films break out and make a lot of money, but it’s far from the norm.

The low budget can also impact the quality of the final product. Even if nobody changes your words, the limitations in terms of the cast, the sets, the number of shooting days, and so on can mean the film isn’t as polished as you’d like.

Above I mentioned that you’ll be more involved all the way along, from raising the money to helping to market the film, and I classed those as positives. It’s actually a mixed bag because all that takes time. It can eat up a lot of time you could be spending writing.

What’s the bottom line?

I think it comes down to what you value and your temperament. If you’re a good team player and can separate your ego from the process, and you are excited by the lifestyle that comes with earning a lot of money, then Hollywood may be your best bet. That’s especially true if you like the kinds of films they’re making.  If you think they’re crap, don’t kid yourself that you can fake it. Never works.

Even though you’ll have to be able to put your ego aside, you’d better have a strong one to start with. Confidence is a prerequisite. Even arrogance is rewarded in Hollywood more often than it’s punished—assuming you have the writing chops to back it up.

If your primary drive is to tell stories and your values are not heavily weighted toward material things, the indie route is more your thing. There are a number of indie filmmakers whose definition of success is that they make enough money on their last film to be able to make the next one.

If I were starting out today, I’d go for the indie route.  But, hey, maybe that’s because I love peanut butter.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com