Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

In case you haven’t noticed, filmmaking is changing. And the future of filmmaking is now.

In years past, if you wanted to make a movie, you had to raise enough money to not only cover the film and equipment, but you paid for your DP, your camera operator, someone to pull focus, someone to load the film, someone to lay dolly track and someone else to push your dolly.

If you wanted to create an awesome movie on a budget, you shot Super 16mm. Once the film was in the can, you paid to get the film processed, color corrected, transferred to video, edited “off line” and later blown up to 35mm. And all these steps were considered an affordable option!

Then you crossed your fingers, hoping to land an awesome distribution deal. Can you imagine trying to make movies like that? It’s easy to understand why most would-be filmmakers never took action.

Future Of Filmmaking

Photo © Dmytro Tolokonov / Dollar Photo Club

Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

With the emergence of awesomely inexpensive production technology, making a movie is getting easier. And everything has changed.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve heard anybody in the filmmaking community seriously consider shooting their first feature on film. And why would they? These days, if you want to make a great looking movie, you grab your $2,000 DSLR camera and you start shooting.

That’s it. No film stock. No silly processing costs. And no transfers to video.

You simply take your camera out of the bag, point and shoot. Then you edit on your computer and upload to several of the video on demand websites. And you can start selling your work to the world.

This is an AMAZING time to make movies, right?

Or is it?

For the first time in history, filmmakers are experiencing what happens in other industries when robots start producing comparable goods for less and less money. You get an overwhelming supply of inexpensive product in the marketplace, which devalues the market as a whole. Couple this with the demise of traditional DVD distribution, and you can understand why it’s difficult land a killer payday.

Considering these unfavorable odds, why would any filmmaker risk millions on a budget when there are less opportunities to make the money back? This is our new paradox as filmmakers.

Producing product is not the problem. It is easy to make a backyard indie.

The real challenge is keeping budgets low enough to increase the odds of recouping, while at the same time creating movies that people actually want to see.

This seems obvious.

While there are no guarantees in this or any business, aside from making an awesome movie, here are three things you can do to increase your odds of success:

  1. Know your target audience.
  2. Have a plan for reaching your target audience.
  3. Cast actors who have a large social media following.

Having spent the last half-decade working in marketing and distribution, I can tell you that most filmmakers completely ignore these steps. Most never take time to sketch out a marketing, sales and distribution strategy for their movies. And as a result, most movies end up dying in digital obscurity.

Don’t do that.

5 Ways To Succeed As a Modern Filmmaker

The other day it occurred to me that I’ve been living in Los Angeles for nearly a decade.

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about Hollywood. I have also realized there are distinct differences between filmmakers who make a movie and the would-be filmmakers who do not.

Since most people in LA are involved in some aspect of the movie industry, most conversations revolve around some aspect of getting a movie made.

That said, what is surprising to me are the vast numbers of people I meet who report spending years searching for ways to hand their movie projects off to someone else – someone who will magically do all the “business stuff” and make a movie appear.

Sometimes I think filmmakers do things just because they believe it’s the way things HAVE to be done.

That doesn’t necessary make it right. And admittedly, I’m not always right. But how I conduct my movie business works for me. And if you’re reading this, I assume you’re looking for some perspective just a little left of center. So here we go.

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5 Ways To Succeed as A Modern Filmmaker

  1. Quit asking permission. It’s a waste of time.
  2. Create your own business plan and budget.
  3. Create the movie you can make this year, not next.
  4. Learn money. (Know the difference between cash flow and capital gains!)
  5. Similar to #1, quit making excuses. Grab a camera and push “record.”

As an added bonus – because I’ve been meeting a lot of actors lately – if you’re an actor, stop handing out headshots and start producing! Then cast yourself in your own projects.

If any of these filmmaking tips sound useful, feel free to download this filmmaker checklist.

Screenwriting Agents Do Not Have Time To Read Your Script

Somewhere in the world someone has just finished the first draft of her first screenplay – ever.

Full of enthusiasm, the unknown screenwriter breaks out a hammer and puts the final touches on the two brass brads that hold the 90-120 pages together. It is at this point when this writer asks himself the obvious question:

“How do I get my movie script produced?”

This is the point when things get confusing. Should the unknown screenwriter send his screenplay to contests, to screenwriting agents, to the family friend attorney who is willing to pose as the “entertainment attorney” and hopefully shepherd the script through the guarded gates of Hollywood?

Or should the first time screenwriter decide instead to send the work to producers? And what if somebody steals the idea? And why don’t producers accept unsolicited screenplays? UGH!

Screenwriting Agents

Screenwriting agents

One of the reasons I am excited you’re reading these words is because I can help you avoid my early mistakes. What I just described was me a decade ago.

I was still living in Pennsylvania. I had just finished the first draft of my first screenplay.  And frankly, I thought I was brilliant. I thought my story was awesome. And I actually thought Hollywood would just knock down my door. Of course it didn’t happen like that.

After I wrote my script, email was the new thing. So I started sending email query letters to various production companies and screenwriting agents. And surprisingly, a few folks did respond to me. But after I sent out my script, it wasn’t long until I either got a rejection letter or heard nothing.

Back then, I still had a lot to learn. . .

“Would you like me to tell you the secrets of getting your work produced?”

I don’t have all the secrets.

The truth is, if you have an amazing script that is totally polished, marketed towards your intended audience of producer types (or screenwriting agents) who have a history of producing your type of work – and you have a way of accessing them and getting your brilliant work read, then your success is (a little more) probable.

But for the rest of us, taking that route is an eroded path and (in my humble opinion) requires that you ask too many people for permission. I mean, doesn’t it make you feel a little whorish to ask so many people for validation?

“Please read my screenplay, it’s great!”

UGH. I hate asking for permission.

And screenwriting agents? Forget that route. At least right now. Yes, you can send out query letters and market the heck out of yourself. But if you’re an unknown screenwriter living outside of LA, the odds of getting your work read by legitimate screenwriting agents are slim to none.

Remember, screenwriting agents make a living getting material sold. And chances are, those folks already have a dozen clients. They don’t have time to take notice of your material unless your work already has buzz.

So how do you break through?

Here are some screenwriting tips… But I don’t think you’ll like them.

  1. Quit asking permission. Production is less expensive. Start producing.
  2. Start with genres that sell. Horror. Women in peril. Girl with a horse story.
  3. Relationships are everything. Not in LA? Then attend major film festivals.
  4. There are contests. Most suck. Some are good. At lease you get read.
  5. Cold call filmmakers. You will be surprised how accessible they are.

If you start thinking and acting like an entrepreneurial screenwriter, you will be amazed how many people will start to take you seriously. Of course, a large majority of screenwriters will think these ideas are bonkers. And if you think I’m bonkers, then please ignore me and keep writing query letters to screenwriting agents.

But if you’re willing to go the distance, then do whatever it takes to get your work on the screen. If this means you grab a camera and make a dozen, 2 minute movies for YouTube – At least you’re doing something. And in my very humble opinion, it is far more valuable to get small projects produced than to put your work in a dark drawer, only to never be seen.

If you’d like more information on getting your screenplay finished, check out the Indie Producer’s Guide To Writing Movie Scrips that Sell.

How Do Filmmakers Compete?

The inside of an 8-track cartridge. The black ...

DVDs are going the way of the 8-Track Image via Wikipedia

With video on demand distribution and the emergence of several new VOD aggregators, independent movie distribution has become non-discriminatory. This means ALL filmmakers can access the marketplace without asking permission.

While this is exciting, it now means the market is flooded with content. Couple this paradigm shift with the demise of DVD sales channels, and you’ll find many traditional distributors are now offering VOD deals to unsuspecting filmmakers, in the hopes something sticks. While these deals hardly every include any upfront cash advances, filmmakers are usually attracted to the silly promise that these distributors will get their titles into iTunes.

But you don’t need those people. With companies like distribber YOU can get your movie onto iTunes without the middel-man.

And as my friend Jared says, anybody with a HDSRL camera can make a back yard barbeque look cinematic. Granted, this technology doesn’t automatically create good cinema – but it does flood the market with competing product.

What this shift represents to filmmakers is in ways akin to what happens when widget factory owners suddenly find themselves in the market, competing with sweat shop labor and cheaply produced goods of a comparable quality.

As a result, the widget that once sold for $100 dollars can no longer compete. And taking this a step further, if your widget company cannot make enough sales to be profitable – my question is:

What happens to the widget factory workers? Do they get pay raises or do they get laid off?

The good news is competition, technological innovations and change has impacted most every other industry since the beginning of capitalism. And despite these challenges, history is full of entrepreneurial innovation – stories of people who have rode the waves of change and prospered.

I believe independent filmmakers can do the same.

What we are facing as filmmakers is no different than any other business. In fact, I would say that we have just stepped into the era of the mini-studio. Filmmaking has become the next small business.

So how do we compete?

Write A Crappy First Draft

Example of screenplay formatting. Writing is o...

Image via Wikipedia

Unless you’re an experimental filmmaker, you rely heavily on having a great screenplay. And if you’re like a lot of people I’ve met, you probably have a gazillion ideas for movie projects – but you might not have any completed screenplays.

If this is you, you’re not alone.

Since producing my first feature, I have received about a gazillion emails from writer-producer types with great ideas for movies… The problem is, after having these types of conversations, I realize that very few “writers” have actually written anything.

The sad part is, over the past decade, I’ve realized that everybody has an idea for a movie. But few people have ever actually sent me a finished screenplay. In fact, can you guess how many people actually followed through with sending me a script?

A. One Person?
B. Two People?
C. Six People?
D. None of the Above.

If you chose “B” you are correct. Two people in ten years.

How about you? If you were given the opportunity to get your material read by a working Hollywood producer, would you be ready to go?

If not, that’s OK. I think one of the biggest challenges writers face in a first draft is an unrealistic standard of perfection. And as a result, it’s easier to talk about writing than actually writing. So let me offer you a strategy – don’t be afraid to write a crappy first draft. And second to that, don’t be afraid to suck.

Because even if you write something this year and you think it’s brilliant – I guarantee that your brilliance will dim in a few years when you look back on your work. So if your present work is going to suck in the future anyway, why not accept sucking as part of the creative process?

I’m writing this very late at night. Hopefully what I’m saying makes sense.

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