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.

 

Make A Horror Movie

As a filmmaker, you need to start somewhere. I suggest you take action and make a horror movie.

Our first feature was a silly zombie movie. The production value was horrific. But the movie got a write up in Premiere Magazine, Fangoria and about one hundred horror related websites. As a result of this buzz, our crappy horror movie gained a cult following and sold very well.

As a result of popularity, our horror movie was pirated and is now available for free all over the internet. While this is not a filmmaking article focused on the merits of piracy as a marketing strategy – I did want to take a quick moment to remind you that you should probably get off your butt and make something.

Here are three reasons why filmmakers should make a horror movie:

  1. Horror Movies are inexpensive. With a good story, you do not necessarily need “name” actors.
  2. When you make a horror movie, finding your target audience is easy
  3. Even if your horror movie sucks, horror fans love to hate (and talk about) horror movies.

If you want to make a horror movie, my suggestion is to find a great script. Then break your script into a schedule and a budget.

Once you have an initial budget, create a crowdfunding campaign to test your concept. While getting money is a benefit of crowdfunding, the greater objective is to guage audience response and demand in the marketplace. Additionally, your crowdfunding campaign will allow you to test the reach of your social networks.

If successful, your crowdfunding campaign will emphasize the viability of your project in the marketplace. You can detail this in your business plan. Then with the added confidence of social proof, you can confidently enter meetings with prospective investors and demonstrate demand for your title.

Of course, if your crowdfunding campaign fails, all you gotta do is think up a new horror concept and start over.

Here is the trailer for Special Dead, our first feature, a crappy horror movie.

If I can make this type of movie, what is your excuse? Go grab a camera and make a horror movie!

How To Make A Living Filmmaking

Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfeld industr...

Filmmakers can sell their movies on Amazon. Image via Wikipedia

Recently a question posed by filmmaker Ben Rock over at Neptune Salad gave me a good reason to think about (and share) my filmmaking business philosophy in detail.

Here is the question: “Is there a way to make enough money on any kind of self-distribution that a filmmaker can repay investors and eek out a middle-class existence?”

I felt like this question required a detailed response. So for Ben and other folks with similar questions, I broke it into 2 parts. Here we go…

1. Can any form of Self Distribution make you enough money to repay investors?

This depends on two factors. How much investor money did you spend? And how much of your investor money do you have left to reach your targeted audience?

Getting money to fund independent movies has always been a challenge regardless of what technological innovations have taken shape. But the big difference now is more emotional than factual. These days, whenever filmmakers go out to shake the money tree, their confidence is considerably lower. I mean, in the past, you could at least present speculative opportunities to to prospective investors with a measure of excitement: “Look what happened with The Blair Witch Project! Paranormal Activity! My Big Fat Greek!..”

But what do you say now?

“We are going to sell DVDs on Amazon!”

Yippy.

And even funnier is this. Let’s say you get the money, make your movie and get a (more traditional) 3rd party distribution deal – your deal probably won’t involve theatrical distribution. Add the demise of video sales outlets and video stores, and it is a good bet that your movie will end up on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Given these outlets, I now wonder why any filmmaker would even approach a 3rd party distributor. I mean, if filmmakers can simply set up shop and reach those outlets on their own, why pay a middle man? Do filmmakers really need 3rd party validation?

So my suggestion is this: If you’re trying to make a living as a filmmaker, you need to care less about traditional validation and more about your bank account. If the numbers don’t work, you nave NO DEAL!

“Ah… Filmmakers should be MORE excited to approach prospective movie investors!”

Unlike years past, you can finally eliminate much of the speculation from your business plan – and you can finally present a deal built on a measurable framework that YOU control. In other words, as a filmmaker you can now pick and choose your sales outlets and come up with an entire step-by-step system for reaching your target audience and then getting your movie seen and sold. Investors like that. It’s less risky!

From this perspective, you can create a reasonable plan and work backwards.

What? You can’t figure out how to repay 1,000,000 dollars in 5 years? Then you have two choices. Change your plan or change your budget (which may involve changing your screenplay and schedule).

And onto the second part of the question…

2. Can a filmmaker eek out a middle-class existence (with digital self distribution)?

Yeah. But like I was saying, you can not think about distribution in the traditional sense. In the past, filmmakers made a movie, got lucky and ended up with a BIG paycheck with incremental increases on the back end. These days filmmakers need to think about their movies in ways akin to how traditional investors think about dividends from bonds – once you make the investment, it’s a long term game!

In other words, you create your movie product this year, get it selling and then you repeat the process. Conceivably in 10 years, you’ll have a library of 10 movies. And with luck each movie will passively pay you thousands of dollars per month.

Moving forward,  if you want to make movies and make money making movies, your strategy has to include oodles and oodles of cash for marketing. I heard one colleague talk in terms of  applying 3/5ths of the budget for the marketing, 1/5th for “name” talent and 1/5th for your below the line costs. I’m sure there is room for variation – but we can all agree that your marketing (more than movie making) is going to provide you the difference between pocket change and profit.

What are your thoughts?

– – –

This is a huge topic. So I will break it into a series. My next article will pick up where I left off. And we can get into a systematic approach to how to make a living through your filmmaking.

In the meantime, get my filmmaking book FOR FREE. Just follow this link: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

Filmmaking Tools You Can Use Today

If you’re a member of the Filmmaking Stuff newsletter as well as our Facebook group you probably know that we try very hard to answer every moviemaking question you send. Now, granted sometimes we get busy.

So, I wanted to provide you with a list of useful, no-fluff filmmaking tools. (Disclosure: Where possible, I included affiliate links. If you don’t want to buy anything I’m selling that’s totally cool.)

With that said, if I were once again putting together my first feature, this is a loose road map of the filmmaking tools I would utilize to make it happen.

How to Make Your Movie Now!

Before you get started, set up a profile with my friends at Movie Set – I consider this site to be the glue that binds. Well beyond your typical social networking site, this service will help you create community around your movie the whole way from script to screen to your movie marketplace.

Your Script – The First Draft:

This seems obvious. But without a screenplay, it is very difficult to make a movie. Yes, I know some of you are interested in making an “experimental” movie. If that’s you, then ignore the following screenwriting tools. But if you would like to write a screenplay, here are some filmmaking tools that I recommend:

  1. Final Draft – This is industry standard screenwriting software. You can also get Movie Magic Screenwriter. But I never used it. And if money is tight, you can get FREE screenwriting software here: Celtix
  2. The Independent Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scripts That Sell, by Jason Brubaker – Yes, this is THE screenwriting Action Pack that I created. In it, you get a decade of experience, a workbook and MP3 Audio, so you can listen to it anywhere. Call it screenwriting from a producer’s perspective.

BreakDown Your Script

Ok. After you finish your screenplay, you will want to break it down. What is a script breakdown? Basically, you take everything in your script (wardrobe, stunts, locations, characters, props Et AL. . . ) And you put these elements into a schedule. Since this is your “initial breakdown,” you will use this information to determine the ball park budget of your movie. Here are the filmmaking tools I recommend:

  1. Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Course. Peter has been in this game a long, long time. He will show you the fundamentals of script breakdown. These lessons will help you see your movie from a totally different, producer perspective.
  2. There is industry software to help you break down, schedule and budget your movie. One is called Movie Magic Scheduling and Movie Magic Budgeting. If money is tight, you can also grab a copy of Gorilla. These software tools are great because you can put them on your laptop and use them in remote places, even if you don’t have an internet connection!

Get Movie Money

Once your screenplay is broken down, scheduled and budgeted – the next step in the process is getting the money. To do this, you will need to create a movie business plan. After you have your business plan, you’ll want to contact a lawyer to draw up some paperwork and help you establish a corporate entity. And after that, you’ll go out and get your movie money. Here are some great filmmaking tools:

  1. Your Film Business Plan. For this, I recommend a website called Film Proposals. They have created a great business plan kit, which will provide you with a step-by-step approach to all the business stuff you would rather not bother with. Get Your Movie Business Plan Here.
  2. When it comes to entertainment attorneys, one of most accomplished is Gordon Firemark. He runs a website and has very informative podcasts, full of valuable legal tips – And if you need some work beyond that, including legal releases for your movie, Gordon can help. You can check out his site by clicking here. Get on his mailing list. . .
  3. Getting a business plan and putting your legal ducks in a row is only part of the process, the next aspect is getting money for your movie. I recommend “How To Make Rich Friends and Finance Your Movie” by Jason Brubaker. OK. Once again, this another one of my Action Packs. As usual, this is no-fluff. Different from all the other BS out there, you will discover how to seek out and make friends with rich people, even if you don’t know rich people. (Yet) – Access The Independent’s Guide To Financing Your Movie by clicking here.
  4. I can’t forget my friends at Indie GoGo. This site will allow you to set up a profile, promote your movie project, set a financial goal and find folks to sponsor various aspects of your movie. And if you actually raise 100% of your goal, the company will throw in a bonus percentage. To GoGo, Click Here.

Going Into Production

Once you raise the money, get your cast, crew and equipment, locations and craft service, the next step is going into production. In this stage, you’ll find out if all of your planning holds up. This is going to be both adventurous and grueling. But an awesome time you’re sure NEVER to forget.  Here are several filmmaking resources that I recommend:

  1. Rick Schmidt’s Extreme DV. He has a great workshop in the Bay Area where you actually complete a feature film. He is also the writer of one of the most empowering filmmaking books I’ve ever read. To check out the book, click here. To learn more about Rick Schmidt’s filmmaking workshop, follow this link.
  2. Rebel Without A Crew. This is another personal favorite. Perhaps it’s a little dated, but if you can ignore the ancient filmmaking technology mentioned in the book, you will finish your read with a new found appreciation for how difficult the filmmaking process used to be. No more excuses! Get the book here and Make Your Movie Now!
  3. If you’re looking for a longer workshop, I recommend the New York Film Academy as well as the Maine Media Workshops.

Post Production

After you produce your movie, you’ll want to edit it. This is the phase they call post production. And it really is the final rewrite of your movie. In the past, your post production expenses were crazy expensive. But like most things in filmmaking, technology makes your post experience awesomely affordable. Here are some tools:

  1. A decade ago, all the talk and buzz in the world revolved around Avid. Now you’re like Avid who? Seriously. If you have a Mac, get yourself a copy of Final Cut Pro. It’s all but industry standard. It’s powerful and affordable. Enough said.
  2. If you don’t have a Mac, find a friend who does. Re-read the previous step. And if you don’t know how to edit, find a friend who does.

Market and Sell Your Movie

I’m not going to tell you how to find a sales agent or how to make a 3 picture deal. Partially because that stuff is rare. And partly because those deals are old school anyway. I mean, who wants to hire a 3rd party when you can build a following and cash your own checks. I love this arena. I call it Digital Self Distribution. Here is how you market and sell your movie:The Indie Producers Guide To Digital Self Distribution

  1. Create a trailer that actually aims to sell the movie without giving the entire story away. They call this a teaser trailer. Make sure it includes a back link to your website. Once you have the trailer, put the sucka on YouTube and all the other video streaming sites you can think of.
  2. Get a domain name and website hosting. To do this, set up an account with a filmmaker friendly company. I prefer BlueHost. And yes, they pay me to say that. When you set up the site, I prefer to use the name movie in the URL.
  3. Once you have your website hosting, hire a web designer to create a website for you. (Actually, you should have built a website prior to production. But I know your mind was probably focused on actually making the movie. So it’s OK.) If you burnt all your money actually making the movie, then check out this website called http://www.fiverr.com – On this site, you’ll probably find a dozen people who will create an awesome website for a whopping $5 dollars. Seriously. I’ve used it and actually got some great work!
  4. Once you have your trailer and your website, you need to make sure you set up a Facebook page as well as other ways to grab visitor information. This is because most visitors will not buy your movie in their first visit. Having a YouTube page, a Facebook page and a newsletter will allow you to build a relationship with your visitors. If they don’t buy today, maybe they will buy tomorrow.
  5. Get your movie selling online. There are so many outlets for this. But one of the best that I’ve found is the very independent filmmaker friendly site called Distribber. You can learn more about distribber by clicking here. Please tell em’ I sent you.
  6. 5.5. And I almost forgot. Jason Brubaker (that’s me) has another product. It’s called The Independent Producer’s Guide to Digital Self Distribution. You can find out more information by clicking here.

Well that pretty much sums up the movie making process. Hopefully these filmmaking resources will be beneficial to your filmmaking process.