Jim Cliffe directs Danny Glover in first feature

As a filmmaker, it is essential that you have a crystal clear vision for your movie. From there, you must take the necessary steps to make your imaginings your reality. For first time feature filmmaker Jim Cliffe, this involved working with Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood. In the following filmmaking interview, he shares insight on how he was able to make his dream a reality.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Jim Cliffe
My name’s Jim Cliffe. I am a writer and director in Canada, and just finished my first feature, Donovan’s Echo. It is a supernatural mystery, starring Danny Glover.

Jason Brubaker
Before your feature, how did you get started in filmmaking?

Jim Cliffe
Filmmaking has always been a passion, but it never seemed like an attainable goal growing up. Instead, I funneled my creative love of movies into art which later led to a career. I made a lot of video shorts as a kid, trying to mimic sequences from movies like Indiana Jones, figuring out how they made a scene work.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like a great start. When did you start thinking about filmmaking professionally?

Jim Cliffe
With the indie film boom of the 90’s, it started seeming like it might possible to somehow break in. I studied film in post-secondary, got involved with my community’s independent filmmaking society, went to film festivals, workshops, volunteered on other people’s projects, and when I thought I was ready, I made my first professional short, Tomorrow’s Memoir, for a budget of $2000.

Jason Brubaker
And how was Tomorrow’s Memoir received?

Jim Cliffe
Tomorrow’s Memoir went on to win an award at the San Diego Comic-Con and got some great reviews along the way. From there, I set out to try and make the leap from a short film to a feature, knowing I’d have to write something myself and that it would have to be good enough for people to get behind.

Jason Brubaker
And that was Donovan’s Echo?

Jim Cliffe
Yes. Prior to the Donovan’s Echo, I have had a career as professional artist, mostly comic-style illustration and a little bit of animation. I’ve also done some storyboarding for other film projects.

Jason Brubaker
What inspired you to make Donovan’s Echo?

Jim Cliffe
The idea sparked after a moment of déjà vu. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that there may be an interesting concept to explore – why do we experience déjà vu, what does it mean? I discussed an idea with my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife), Melodie, who is a writer. I asked if she wanted to get involved, and we started fleshing out a story.

Jason Brubaker
What is your story about?

Jim Cliffe
Donovan’s Echo is a story about a man, Donovan (Danny Glover), who returns home 30 years after the tragic death of his family. As the anniversary of that fateful week approaches, he begins to find eerie similarities between current events involving a young neighbor girl (Natasha Calis), and events from his past. He becomes obsessed with trying to understand a pattern within the déjà vu experiences, so he can prevent a similar tragedy.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds mysterious. What about Bruce Greenwood? What role does he play?

Jim Cliffe
Bruce Greenwood’s character is an old friend who questions his sanity. It’s a movie about loss and redemption that takes it’s time to unfold. There are some nice twists and turns, a bit of humor and heart.

Jason Brubaker
With all indie films, getting financing is a challenge. Did budget constraints alter the script at all?

Jim Cliffe
There were minimal changes due to budget. For example, a conversation scene in a coffee shop became a scene on a front porch. But considering we originally wrote the script with a small budget in mind, we really didn’t change too much.

Jason Brubaker
That’s always the trick… To bring production value to the screen.

Jim Cliffe
The story did present logistical challenges as we had so many locations, stunts and time periods, which was pretty ambitious for a film of our size (just under $3M) with a 20-day shooting schedule. But our producers were pretty savvy, and we somehow pulled it off.

Jason Brubaker
Outside of money, what was your biggest challenge?

Jim Cliffe
The biggest challenge was mostly time, which I suppose indirectly ties into money. You can only do so many setups and takes before you have to move on. It means you not only have to hustle, but you’re also not going to get the opportunity to be as creative as you’d like.

Jason Brubaker
What did you do in prep to keep your production efficient?

Jim Cliffe
I had storyboarded the movie and came up with some elaborate sequences, but I just didn’t have the luxury of time. Fortunately, our cinematographer, Bob Aschmann, did a fantastic job maintaining the style and aesthetic I was after. A lot of people think our movie is bigger than it was as a result.

Jason Brubaker
Did Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood let you ‘direct’?

Jim Cliffe
Danny and Bruce were fantastic. They both responded to the material and were willing to take a chance on me as a first-time filmmaker. They both treated me with respect and would listen to my suggestions. But the truth is guys like that don’t require much direction. They bring a lot to the scene as talented professionals.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers who want to do what you’re doing?

Jim Cliffe
Develop a thick skin, and realize you’re going to have way more rejections than those willing to help you get your movie made. It’s a very tough industry to break in, but my advice would be to pay your dues, hone your craft, broaden your network, and don’t rush your good ideas – take the time to nurture them. You only get one chance to pitch an idea or a script, so make sure it’s as fine-tuned as it can be. Ask for constructive feedback, but don’t get defensive. If 3 out of 5 people are bringing up the same points, then maybe you should listen. It’s a long road and there’s no specific path, but where there’s a will, there’s often a way.

– – –

Jim Cliffe is a writer and director based in Canada. He just finished my first feature, Donovan’s Echo. It is a supernatural mystery, starring Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood.

Donovans Echo on Facebook

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  • Get The Inside Scoop On Crowdfunding with Carole Dean
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  • Modern Guerrilla Filmmaking with Gary King
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Modern Moviemaking FAQs

Modern Moviemaking: Frequently Asked Questions

If you are wondering about the future of filmmaking, I can tell you it is not Hollywood. It will be the gazillion filmmakers all over the world who take action, pick up a camera and make the movie they can make with the resources they have.

There are a lot of people fearful of this shift. And this is understandable. I am not one of them. Efficiency, lower production costs and advances in distribution may be new to Hollywood – But just about every other industry in the world has undergone these same paradigm shifts. Smart filmmakers find value in this change.

Here is why I love Modern Moviemaking!

1. Lets say I’m an aspiring filmmaker, living in a small town. Do I still need to move to Hollywood?

– No. In the past, production technology was cost prohibitive and getting distribution for your movie was nearly impossible without Hollywood connections. But these days the only thing an aspiring filmmaker needs is a good camera from the local electronics store and access to the Internet.

2. Describe the traditional middleman in independent filmmaking? Why don’t you need him anymore?

– In the old days as an indie filmmaker, even if you were lucky enough to make your movie, you still had to find a movie distributor so you could access the marketplace. But these days, thanks to Internet based platforms like Hulu, iTunes and Amazon – filmmakers no longer need a middleman to get their movies seen and selling.

3. What the heck is crowdfunding? And why do you suggest all filmmakers set up a crowdfunding campaign?

–  Crowdfunding allows you to reach out to your friends, family and social networks to spread awareness and raise money for your creative project. So let’s say you have an idea for a movie. You can now utilize one of the popular crowdfunding platforms like indiegogo or kickstarter and create crowdfunding campaign. And in exchange for money, you would offer your supporters with perks. A one-dollar donation might get a thank you note. A $500 dollar donation might allow you to play an extra in the movie.

4. What does it mean that film distribution is moving from a physical shelf to a virtual shelf?

– There are kids out there who have never stepped into a music store. And with the demise of big box video rental stores, we are entering into a new era where movies are only one download away. What we are experiencing in the movie world is very similar to what the music industry went through a few years back. It is probably scary for the big studios, but for the independents – this offers an amazing opportunity to make, market and sell movies.

5. What three things can aspiring filmmakers do today to get closer to making, marketing and selling a movie?

– All filmmakers should know their target audience, they should become very social media savvy and they should have access to their own audience list – because without an audience, filmmakers have no business

Happy Filmmaking!


Free Marketing Advice For Filmmakers

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Filmmakers need to source their target audience. Image via Wikipedia

Given the erosion of traditional movie distribution sales channels, as a filmmaker you must now find your target audience wherever they hang out and then get them to know you, know your work, and hopefully pay money to watch your movie.

In the past, filmmakers never had to worry about sourcing an audience because the entire movie industry operated like a big factory. Filmmakers made the product and the distributors sold the product through theatrical and DVD distribution. But as a result of the internet and enhancements to video on demand technology, distribution has been disrupted and the old model has been forever screwed up.

So now, if you want to succeed as a filmmaker, it is not enough to simply get you movie into iTunes. I mean, anybody can do that. What you also need to do is have a killer website, attract your target audience, and then get them to take action.

While it’s nice to believe that all website visitors will automatically buy your movie, the truth is, most visitors will not buy your movie on the first visit. For starters, they don’t know you. And they probably don’t know anything about your movie. So your job is not necessary to focus on the sale, but rather, focus on opting them into your audience list.

There are many ways to create an audience list. But unfortunately, most of the methods are crap. In my career, to save money, I have tried forgoing using a reputable email marketing company, and opted instead for one of the popular social networks. For awhile, this was awesome – even thought it took years, I had 8000 “friends” and one one of the sites… But then that site went out of vogue. As a result, my sourced audience was useless.

To avoid the same fate, I HIGHLY recommend that you use a reputable 3rd party email marketing company to manage your audience list. While there are some great companies out there, over the past three years, I have utilized a service called Aweber. This is a reputable email marketing company… [and yes, they DO pay me to promote – so conduct your own due-diligence.]

But the reason I promote this service over other services is this: Aweber adheres to Spam Laws and requires “double-opt-in.”  This means, after your visitor opts-in, they get an email asking if they’re sure they really want to hear from you.  And because of their business practices, Aweber is respected by email service provides – like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail- which helps avoid spam filters. Additionally, as part of the service, you are able to set up something called a sequential email auto-responder. An auto-responder allows you to pre-write and create multiple emails for your audience.

So let’s say you were trying to sell your Zombie movie. After the opt-in, your first email could tell your audience more about your movie. And over the following weeks, your subsequent emails could then provide more and more value to your prospective customer – the result of which compels your fan to BUY NOW.

Once your prospect makes a purchase, you could automatically migrate this person to your customer list. And once this fan is in your customer list, you could then promote another zombie movie (from another friendly filmmaker). And because you “sourced a zombie audience member,” the odds of getting a second sale are greater.

Most filmmakers don’t get excited about the wonders of sourcing an audience. But again, most filmmakers do not realize we are in a new era of independent filmmaking. The good news is for you is, with a website, some creativity and an email marketing mechanism, you can start sourcing your audience TODAY.

If you would like to find out more about email marketing and how this can help you with your own independent movie business, you can get some FREE information below:

“The Money Is In The List

AWeber proves it to thousands of businesses every day.

Learn how email marketing software
can get you more sales, too.


Happy Filmmaking!

Facebook Streaming Movie Distribution

The old model of independent filmmaking has made many traditional filmmakers into a bunch of wimps. As a result, wimpy filmmakers talk about DIY as if it’s a new concept or a bad word. But step out of the indie world for a bit, and you realize that other (more traditional) businesses do it themselves.

There are many reasons for our wimpy attitudes. As filmmakers, we have been conditioned that there is only one “correct way” to make, market and sell our  independent movies. Much of this mindset can be directly attributed to our never ending addiction for outsourcing distribution.

In other words, the old model of independent filmmaking was predicated on the idea that filmmakers served as research and development specialists, creating expensive prototypes at will – without any discernible idea of what to do if the movie product was not accepted by some (malevolent?) middle-man. The old model dictated that  filmmakers needed to ask permission to make, market and sell movies. And in those dark days, filmmakers were forced to travel the festivals and sales markets, seeking out greedy gatekeepers who held the keys to distribution and, subsequently, an audience.

But things have changed.

With access to non-discriminatory distribution, anybody can make a movie. And anybody can potentially reach a global audience.

As a result, it’s time to wise up. VOD is not the same as DVD. And filmmakers no longer need sales agents or traditional distributors unless these middle-men already have access to a receptive, sourced target audience. This is the ONLY way these folks add value. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with another bottom feeder. And Modern Moviemakers no longer need bottom-feeders.

Think I’m kidding? Facebook just started streaming movies. Now it’s even easier for filmmakers to source an audience without adding another middle man! Welcome to modern moviemaking!

  1. Now, go watch a movie on facebook. Here is the link   >>

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