Secrets of Successful Indie Filmmakers: Don’t Give Up

One thing that’s true for all indie filmmakers is this: Sometimes life sucks.

Movie deals fall apart. Investors bail out. People don’t come through and they let you down. And sometimes what you thought was a sure-thing becomes a no-thing…

While nobody wants to experience pain and heartache, it is equally important to know that these challenges are part of the journey. And what I just described are the same realities and the same circumstances that all successful indie filmmakers face.

The difference? Successful indie filmmakers don’t give up.

But that probably doesn’t make you feel much better. And if you’re in the midst of a shaky project or an uncertain life circumstance, I can sympathize. When I was in NYC, we were going into production on a 1.5 million dollar movie.

I can remember feeling pretty excited about the whole process. I was finally working in the movie business. I felt awesome. . .

(Note: If you’re reading my emails, look for the one titled “The First Time I Got Fired.”)

Then all-a-sudden the entire project fell apart. Something about the investors getting scared… Something about the actor’s mom… Dunno. The reason the project fell apart does not matter. But what I know is this – I suddenly found myself in New York with no job and no money.

Imagine going from a feeling of awesomeness to a feeling of heartache in a single day.

That experience truly sucked.

indie filmmakers

Secrets of Indie Filmmakers: Don’t Give Up

I remember calling my friend and mentor Joe on the phone. I thought he would be encouraging. Maybe even say something nice to me. Instead he said something I never forgot… He said, “Get UP!”

ME: What?

JOE: Get UP! You just experienced your first bloody nose. Welcome to the world. At this point, you have two choices. You can quit – or you can get up, wipe your bloody nose and push forward.

I chose to push forward. I had no other choice. It wasn’t easy. For a time, I had to leave New York and move back to my parent’s house. And while this was humiliating, I forced myself to think of each challenge as a rite of passage for any serious indie filmmakers. How bad did I want it? Okay. Prove it!

This belief got me through my darkest times…

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…”

Eventually I found a job, saved money for a few months, packed my car and moved to California. Once there, I got some stuff in motion and was finally able to produce my first feature.

While I’m proud of that accomplishment, I can tell you that my challenges have only gotten more complicated. Since that time, I have been fired from several jobs, dumped, heart broken, broke and fired again. In the years since, I have had more than a dozen projects, job offers and awesome opportunities come and go. Poof!

And while failed opportunity still sucks, all of it has somehow become less sucky, I now understand a solid, fundamental truth. And it is the reason I can sleep soundly most nights. Are you ready?

Uncertainty is the price of success.

There will be good times and bad times. There will be red and black. You will win and you will lose.

And while I’m not here to tell you every day is going to be fun. (It won’t. Every setback sucks.) But if you let your challenges steel your resolve instead of stealing your soul, I guarantee one day you will wake up happy. The sun will shine. The stress will dissolve. And you will be excited for whatever life has to offer.

I look forward to watching your movies.

If you would like more tips like this, click here to grab your filmmaker checklist.

 

The Secret To Filmmaking Success

If I could go back and talk to myself ten years ago… And if I could only share one filmmaking success tip, what would I say?

In two words: Cold Calling.

I know this may sound unrelated to filmmaking. But I can tell you that success is not created in a vacuum. It is created with the help and support of other people, including mentors and customers.

And while it is true that some people stumble upon contacts and get lucky, I would venture to say that over 90 percent of self-made successful people got what they wanted in life by utilizing some variation of the following three success tips:

First: They knew what they wanted.

Second: They made a plan to get what they wanted.

Third: They picked up the phone and cold called people who could help make their plan a reality.

Think about it. Could you go to “networking events” and try to find folks to help introduce you to the appropriate contact? Yes. But just as easily you could pick up the phone, call your prospective contact’s place of business and try to get him or her on the phone to make your pitch.

Will you get through? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you had a list of 100 prospects and you called all the people on that list, odds are good you would find someone willing to sit down with you.

Why is this important to your filmmaking? Because unless you ASK for what you want, how is anybody in life going to know how to find you?

If you would like to find out more about networking, success strategies and most importantly – how to find prospective investors for your next movie, you might want to check out the independent producer’s guide to getting movie money. You can find out more by clicking here  >>

Writing a screenplay-hold that template!

Today’s Filmmaking Stuff guest article comes from veteran screenwriter Jurgen Wolff. I find Jurgen’s approach to movie script writing to be very useful. In the following article, he expresses his thoughts on The Hero’s Journey and other screenwriting templates.

Writing a screenplay-hold that template!

I had an email from someone asking whether I’m really against the use of templates and formulas for writing a screenplay and, if so, how can I explain the fact that most screenplay stories do fall into a three-act structure?

Just to be clear, my belief is that templates and structures are better tools of analysis than of creation. During the rewriting phase, we often realize that what we’ve written is kind of chaotic, that we have things happening later in the story that we need to set up earlier, that a secondary character takes up too much space in the story or would add more to the story if we have her more space, and so on.

That’s a good time to use some of the traditional structures for clues as to where we could change things to make them work better. For instance, the hero’s journey includes the appearance of a mentor. If I realize that my protagonist would be clearer to the reader or viewer if he had somebody to talk to, a mentor kind of figure is one option. (This is more important in films than in novels, since generally in a movie you don’t get to hear the character’s thoughts.)

Or it may be that in the middle of my script things drag along too slowly–a common problem of first drafts. In that case, reminding myself that the traditional story model calls for escalating conflict can lead to better consideration of how I can add incidents that ramp up the tension and drama.

You can already do this assessment and repair work during the outline stage. That will save a lot of revision later. Some people like to write brief outlines, some write outlines so extensive that turning them into a novel or script is not a huge step. You have to experiment to see what works best for you.

What I’m against is relying on these formulas too soon–before you’ve decided what story you really want to tell.

Jurgen Wolff is a screenwriterFor instance, let’s say I’m fascinated by a character who could have saved his father from dying in a fire, but was too scared to run into the burning house. My interest is in how a person lives with that kind of guilt or “if only” thought.

If I immediately go to a standard story formula, I would ask myself what he wants. Hmm, redemption!

Maybe I opt for the hero’s journey template. What sets him off on his journey? Maybe a memorial service for the father a year after his death–my guy has buried his guilt, but now it comes out.

What’s his quest? To prove to himself that he’s not a coward. A friend accepts a job with a private security company that works in Iraq and invites my protagonist to sign up as well. He does.

During the training for this job, he begins to doubt his commitment (resist the call to action).

But a mentor appears–an old-time security guard who has been on half a dozen tours of duty over there and takes him under his wing.

And so on.

It could lead to a viable story, but I’m letting the template lead me rather than letting the character lead me.

I think it works better to live with your character for a while. No writing yet, just thinking about him and taking notes on whatever occurs to you about his life. What are his fears? His hopes? What impact does that have on his life? Maybe his marriage broke up because he was afraid that the incident with his father showed that he couldn’t protect someone he loves. Does he have kids? What does he fear they think? What do they really think? What caused the fire? Does he find out it was arson and set out to investigate?

My point is that the story could go in a hundred different directions. When you try to nail it down too quickly, the odds are that you’ll take it in a more conventional direction than you need to. It’s like any kind of brainstorming–the first ideas generally are derivative. I believe that trying to force the story into a formula or template has the same effect. Let your story be king. Let templates and formulas be the story’s servant–if needed.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of TV, several TV movies, the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz” starring Kelsey Grammer, and has been a script doctor on films starring Eddie Murphy, Kim Catrall, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and others. His plays have been produced in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles. He is the author of 9 books including “Your Writing Coach” and “Creativity Now.” If you would like to find out more about “The Seven Things That Are Stopping You From Writing And How To Overcome Them,” check out Jurgen’s screenwriting website: www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com

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Filmmaking Training From a Mentor

Mentors are role models who take a vested interest in your success. Sometimes, you meet your mentor when least expected, and they will help guide your filmmaking career.

A mentor will provide insight and will often direct you toward a successful outcome. This doesn’t necessary mean your mentor will enter into a business relationship with you, but he or she may offer necessary encouragement, advice and influence which will help you get closer to your goal. Your mentor will be there to answer questions.

Have you ever heard the phrase: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear?” Even though this sounds mystical, for me, finding a mentor has always happened without planning.

When I graduated college, one of my most influential mentors appeared in my life. After sending a resume and cover letter to every film and video company I could think of (and getting no response), I finally landed an interview with a guy named Joe Surges. Joe gave me my first job in the motion picture industry.

It didn’t pay very well, but Joe was willing to teach me everything he knew. He coached me through the easy times and pushed me through the tough times with unrelenting encouragement. When I planned my move to New York City, Joe made some phone calls.

Joe connected me with a friend who then connected me to another friend who offered me my first job.

Later, I was working on a feature. When our project completely fell apart, I found myself stuck in New York with no money and rising bills. I thought it was the end of my movie making world. Heck, I even thought it was the end of my apartment. But at that time, it was Joe who told me to quit complaining and get back to work.

His advice was the best.

Then, a year later, prior to his passing, Joe told me something that’s been rolling over and over in my mind ever since. He said, “You never know which ripple will hit the shore first.”

Since that time, whenever I’m hit with a new challenge, I play those words over and over in my mind. And through this practice, I’ve conditioned myself to find the opportunity in every obstacle.

While Joe taught me a lot about writing, directing and producing, it was his values, his life standard and his expectations which influenced me to create a higher standard in everything I do.

If it wasn’t for Joe’s mentoring, I would have never gone to NYC, would have never made a movie and would have never fell on my financial face—and recovered. Consequently, I would have never made the move to California, produced features or written these words.

Mentors have been there. They reach out and help you grow as a person. And I believe mentors are essential for our success.