Selling A Short Film

Many filmmakers start out making short films. With all the new distribution tools available, one question I get a lot involves selling a short film. A filmmaker named John asked the following question:

“Is selling a short film possible? Would you do it the same way you would sell a feature? If not, what is the best way to market your short film and get an audience? Would you suggest YouTube?”

My Answer: Selling a short film can involve any number of strategies.

Selling A Short Film

Selling A Short Film

Unlike selling features, selling a short in the traditional marketplace is rare. This is because there are very few buyers looking to pick up short content. But don’t get discouraged. As a result of the internet, you no longer need permission to reach your audience!

So let’s start at the start. What are your goals? Are you looking to make a quick dollar or grow your audience?

Many filmmakers enjoy putting their work on YouTube and building an audience over time. These filmmakers make money by placing YouTube advertisements on their videos. Other filmmakers would rather put their stuff on a transactional platform and then drive people to their content.

In both instances, the one metric that matters is your subscriber list.

The filmmaker who has the audience rules.

Thinking long term, building your audience is the most important objective. (And for this reason, growing an audience most challenging.) What does it mean to grown an audience? What I’m talking about here is your email mailing list. How large is your list? What are you doing to migrate subscribers onto your mailing list?

One strategy for building an audience would be to continually create good short films – Then allow people to view them for free. Then build subscribers.

For case studies, check out some of the popular YouTubers and find out how to incorporate successful aspects of their model. How often do they create content?  How did they get started?

One interesting documentary related to YouTubers is Please Subscribe by filmmaker Dan Dobi. In the movie, Dobi profiles several popular YouTubers who candidly share their success stories. Many of these YouTubers have built million dollar businesses from their apartments. Here is the trailer:

Selling a short film is challenging. But if you take a long term perspective on your career, you may soon realize that it’s OK to make several dozen short films for YouTube. The benefit is you will have more experience than most filmmakers. And you won’t stress about the festivals. As an ancillary benefit, once you have 10,000 raving fans – you can virtually write your own ticket.

Short Film Ideas

 

Rae Dawn Chong and The Celebrant

Rae Dawn Chong is an actor, writer and producer. As the eldest daughter of comedian Tommy Chong, she started acting at age 12 appearing in Disney’s “Whiz Kids of Riverton.” Years later she is still making movies appearing in the Duplass brothers film “Jeff who lives at home” which also starred Susan Sarandon and Jason Segal.

She is currently awaiting an edit on a teaser for a pilot she wrote called”The Celebrant” which she is crowd funding on Indiegogo.

She stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some of the filmmaking tips she is learning with her current project, The Celebrant.

Jason Brubaker
Who are you?

Rae Dawn Chong
Rae Dawn Chong last I checked.

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started in filmmaking?

Rae Dawn Chong
I directed and wrote a film in 2000 called “Cursed pt 3″ it wasn’t very good but I was hooked. a year later I directed a short film soon after called “Mary’s stigmata “which won a contest for crazy 8’s. I have been writing since 1993.my first script that was produced was called “Boulevard” it was a love story. I just wrote it and suffered the fate of all writers we are as a rule treated so badly it was like a polish joke. Meanwhile I have kept at writing and finally have quite a nice collection of good pilot scripts so the first to be produced is “The Celebrant” I will star in this…the other will not have me in them but I will be all over them in other ways…

Jason Brubaker
You’ve done some acting in the past…

Rae Dawn Chong
I started acting at 11 background in a Robert Downey sr film and then my first speaking role the role where I was made to be in SAG was a Disney film for TV. From there it has been a glorious journey. behind the camera officially started in 93. The motivation was to help my then boyfriend become a bonafide DP and we were successful. Funnily enough the DP and Director benefited more doing my first film than I did. I am getting a little bit better about that.

Jason Brubaker
What did you do before making The Celebrant?

Rae Dawn Chong
I sat and waited for a call to auditions far and few between and sad…really sad.

Jason Brubaker
What inspired you to make The Celebrant?

Rae Dawn Chong
I wanted to work on a series that was deep and complicated and fresh…different real yet not reality tv.

Jason Brubaker
What is your story about?

Rae Dawn Chong
A woman who is escaping a bad marriage who settles in the Seacoast. Xila is her name it is a fish out of water story showing the human condition Xila (Sheelah) whose job in New England is as a Celebrant in essence as a witness. Someone who helps people create ceremony and maybe together get closer to the Divine.

Jason Brubaker
Why did you choose crowdfunding to raise the money?

Rae Dawn Chong
I wanted to shoot the pilot it was my only alternative.

Jason Brubaker
What have you learned about crowdfunding?

Rae Dawn Chong
A lot…it is onerous and complex and satisfying and wonderful and you do lose sleep during the campaign and I have met great new friends. Also I have fulfilled some of my perks already and that was a hoot. I am very very happy with this opportunity and am looking forward to launching more. I also think weirdly it makes me want to work very hard to make a fabulous pilot. Money is energy and people have given me their love and energy and I feel touched by that in a way that is new and motivating. Crowdfunding is a lot harder than it looks.

Jason Brubaker
What are your next steps after your crowdfunding campaign?

Rae Dawn Chong
Crewing up and deciding our production schedule…in some ways the hardest part is making sure we get the very best for no money up front. But my intention is to defer payment and make a staggeringly successful show so that I can cycle back and pay my peeps all of them their rate or at least close to their rate. I will have transparency because i want to keep making shows and will need the love and support and LOYALTY of my cast and crew.;

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

Rae Dawn Chong
Crewing up both below and above the line…attracting the very best. So far we have been blessed but it is delicate the politics and I am now in the midst ask me when I have made my first distribution deal for the show to go on a network. I am certain if by some miracle I get that far I will have a longer list of what is hard. Oh and finally I wish I were cuter! LOL sometimes it is hard to look at myself…tough.

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

Rae Dawn Chong
Get a great script surround yourself with smart people who are motivated and talented and who may be difficult but they have the goods and never give up…Yes it sucks but everything sucks until it doesn’t…just head down, sleeves rolled up and get to work!

– – – –
Rae Dawn Chong is excited about the prospect of filming and living in her adopted home state of New Hampshire. She has lived in the granite state for 7 years and calls it home. She is currently on the board of the New Hampshire Film Festival which begins Oct. 16 thru 20th The film festival is held in downtown Portsmouth. She has acted in numerous feature films and starred in two television series “Mysterious Ways” on NBC/PAX and Wild Card on Lifetime television. She has also guest starred in numerous TV shows.

She hopes to continue her success with writing and producing she has 4 more pilot scripts waiting in the wings to produce and she is excited to see how successful her crowdfunding will be…the future looks bright!

Writing and making a short film?

Writing and making a short film? Less is more (unless it’s too much less)
By Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

I’ve seen a lot of short films over the years. Frequently I’ve been impressed by the visuals, the level of the acting, sometimes the innovative use of a mix of media. Can you guess what most often is the weakest link?

It’s the script. Or sometimes the lack of one.

In one case, the filmmaker has decided that a short film can’t really tell a story, it can only create a mood. Then we suffer through long, long shots of the sun going down, the blinds casting interesting shadows on the wooden floor, and the smoke spiraling into the air as the protagonist smokes his French cigarette.

Don’t make us suffer. We want a story. Even when we watch a 30-second commercial, we want a story. If the moody shots serve the story, then use them (in moderation), but they’re not a substitute for a plot.

At the other end of the spectrum are short films that try to be feature films, 90 minutes of story struggling to fit into ten or twenty minutes. The result is that we, the audience, are confused or things go by so fast that we don’t have a chance to engage emotionally with the characters and what’s happening to them.

Feature films and novels often are about the transformation of the protagonist in some way, for instance from selfish to caring about other people, or from fearful to bold. Those are big changes and a challenge to make credible even with 90 to 120 minutes at your disposal. You can’t cover them adequately in ten.

It’s useful to think of a short film as being like a short story. It can capture a moment in time, a phase of a transformation. It can hint at what went before or what goes after, but not reveal those at length.

For instance, let’s say that in a feature film we were doing the story of a man who is totally absorbed in work and neglects his family but assumes they’re fine and happy.

He loses his job and can’t find another one.

Now that he’s spending so much time at home, he realizes two things–his kids don’t actually like him very much and things are really screwed up–his wife is sleeping with the neighbor, his daughter is cutting herself, and his son is selling drugs.

Maybe at first he lashes out at them, blaming everything on them, but then something happens that wakes him up to the fact that he’s responsible for a lot of this (I don’t know what wakes him up, but let’s assume we’ll come up with something brilliant).

He starts working hard on changing, winning his kids over, learning how to be humble…

Then he gets an amazing job offer–one he’s always wanted–but it would mean going back to his rat-race lifestyle.

If it’s an American film he takes the job but on his first day, as he puts a picture of his family on his desk, he realizes he’s made a mistake. He tells the powerful head of the company that he can’t take the job because he’s got more important things to do. He races to his daughter’s school and arrives just in time for her ballet performance.

If it’s a European film (and especially if it’s a European film about Americans) he takes the job, convincing himself that he can handle both.  When he comes home from his first day at his new job the house is empty. Maybe they burned it down before they left.

In a short film you could show one part, but imply a lot of the other things. Here are three ways you could treat the same story:

  • You could start with his workaholic lifestyle, then show him getting fired and, at the end, show his horrible growing realization that his family doesn’t love him.
  • You could start the story where he’s trying hard to change (his former self is implied), but then the amazing job offer comes. Maybe you give a hint as to what he’ll do but you don’t show it or the consequences.
  • You could start at the end–the smoking ruin of the house. As he sifts through the ashes there are flashbacks to moments that, when you put them together, let you understand what happened.

A really good short film makes the audience do a bit of work to put everything together and leaves them with something to think about.

If you’re a writer, instead of trying to make a short film something that it’s not, embrace its qualities and make them work for you instead of against you.

Here’s an opportunity if you want to write a short film: on Sunday, April 15, I’m hosting an online Massive Action Day (I call them MADs). Why not use the MAD to write your short film? If you have questions along the way, I’ll be online to help. Want to check how a title goes over or test a few lines of dialogue? Put it in our chat window and our friendly group will give you instant feedback. It’s fun, supportive, and I give away prizes every hour.

I’ve given Jason 10 free passes to give to his Filmmaking Stuff fans.  If you don’t manage to wangle one of those, you can still join us for the very reasonable fee of $23.25—or a lot less if you buy a subscription of ten. All the information is here: http://massiveactionday.com/new-annual-mad-sign-up-page/

 

Short Film Ideas

Gary King Talks Filmmaking

Christina Rose in "How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song"

Jason Brubaker
Tell me about your background in filmmaking. When did you start making features?

Gary King
I didn’t attend any formal film school. So to learn the craft, I just dove in and made my first short film in 2003.  I hired a film student graduate to help me produce the film and I basically job shadowed her to experience the various stages of production.

Jason Brubaker
So you were gaining experience…

Gary King
Yeah. I learned a lot from that first short – including the fact that I wanted to pursue filmmaking full time. By 2006, I had made a second short and felt I was ready to take the leap and make a feature film. So I quit my day job, packed up and moved from the Bay Area (Northern California) to New York as I felt like I’d benefit from the change of scenery as well as as a larger community of artists.

Jason Brubaker
How long did it take to get established in New York?

Gary King
After two years of living in New York, I’d built up a nice community of filmmaking and acting friends who were interested in helping out with my first feature film — which became “New York Lately“.  The entire process was such a thrill that I knew it was only the first of many to come.

Jason Brubaker
I see you have a production company and also have a nice martial arts zombie movie. Do you primarily stick to one genre, or do you bounce around?

Gary King
Ah yes, “Death of the Dead” was a for-hire gig and was blast to make.  How many chances to you get to make a ninja zombie film with a hot female lead kicking ass at every turn?

Jason Brubaker
Do you do a lot of work for-hire?

Gary King
I’ve been extremely lucky so far to have a “one for me – one for them” type career.  As of now, my own production company (Kitchen Table Films) has created more dramatic arthouse fare while my “for-hire” gigs have allowed me to delve into more genre type films.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like you figured out how to make a living doing what you love.

Gary King
I have the best of both worlds as I love doing various films and not being pigeon-holed into one type of film.It’s creatively satisfying to be able to move around from genre to genre as I’m still finding myself as an artist. And honestly, I just love a good story so I try to let that dictate the type of film I’ll do regardless of the setting.

Jason Brubaker
So what’s next for you in terms of genre specific ideas?

Gary King
There are definitely other genres on my list that I’d like to tackle (or revisit) before it’s all said and done so I’m developing them in hopes to make them in the coming years.

Jason Brubaker
What are your thoughts on traditional distribution?

Gary King
Hey, I’d fully embrace a $50 million marketing machine to help pimp one of films out there. With the right product, “traditional” theatrical distribution can still be the way to go if that means opening wide on 1000-3000 screens, then hitting the other platforms afterwards. At times, and not always, the studio system can work wonders.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. I always say if the deal is a good deal, take the deal! But that doesn’t happen for everybody.

Gary King
Being realistic and thinking about the ever-changing distribution channels, I know that traditional distribution is something that doesn’t make sense for the majority of indie films. With other types of film it could be disastrous to think a theatrical release is the primary market or source of revenue.

Jason Brubaker
A lot of folks describe film distribution as the wild west.

Gary King
It’s a tough market now… I am definitely keeping my finger on the pulse and paying attention to all that’s going around.This honestly wasn’t my primary concern (or goal) with my two previous films (NEW YORK LATELY, WHAT’S UP LOVELY) as I was concentrating more on creating them to learn the craft and grow as an artist.

Jason Brubaker
You made those movies more for the experience?

Gary King
They were my film school. So selling them would have been icing on the cake. I did have a few small domestic DVD offers but certainly nothing substantial where it was worth signing over the exclusive rights to them for over seven years.

Jason Brubaker
I noticed you use Christina Rose in a lot of your projects – where did you meet her?

Gary King
We’ve done 2 films together now with a few more in the works. I enjoy collaborating with people I get along with. If you look closely, you’ll actually see a lot of familiar faces in my films.

Jason Brubaker
So do you write roles for actors you know?

Gary King
Yes. I enjoy writing challenging roles for people I know. I met Christina Rose when we cast her for the lead of “Wanda” in DEATH OF THE DEAD“. We hit it off so well on the first day of the shoot that I knew I had to write something for her in one of my projects. We barely knew each other at the time…and yet it was so uncanny how we’d finish each other’s thoughts. During that time, I was working on the first draft of SCHERMANN SONG and when I told her about it she mentioned to me that she’d been on Broadway in GREASE.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like it was meant to be.

Gary King
I had no clue she could sing and dance! So I quickly tailored the role of “Evey” for her. I’m very proud of her work in the film and I believe she’s going to get a lot of notice after the musical comes out.

Jason Brubaker
Let’s talk about that… Where did the idea for “How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song” come from?

Gary King
I’ve always loved musicals since growing up – so naturally I wanted to take a stab at the genre at some point in my career. I just was waiting for the right person whose music could match the type of film I had in mind – which was about the artist’s struggle to make it in the world against many odds (both internal and external).

Gary King and Christina Rose reviewing footage

Jason Brubaker
Then you met Joe Schermann.

Gary King
Yes. When I met Joe Schermann, his songs spoke to me and had that “it” factor I was looking for… So we quickly moved forward with the project together.

Jason Brubaker
How did the story evolve from your initial idea?

Gary King
Originally I had pitched to Joe that the film would be more about the anonymity of a talented person until the single “chance moment” of public discovery where one’s life could literally change overnight. I wanted to explore the notion that there are millions of uber talented artists in New York all there trying to “make it” and yet only a few would.

Jason Brubaker
I thought the final story was a little more about personal relationships than the “making it” objective.

Gary King
As the script took shape, it evolved into being more about artists dealing with personal relationships and how couples (both partners) can mutually strain an individual’s journey for success.

Jason Brubaker
The other thing I wondered about was, I didn’t know if Schermann was an actual composer or an actor or what? It wasn’t until later that I realized that he’s a real person. What made you decide to interweave fact with fiction?

Gary King
A lot of people get the name of the film title wrong (the best one I’ve heard is “How Do You Write a Joel Schumacher Song” haha!), but once they see the film it makes sense. It’s the name of a song that Joe had written a few years ago and it’s the one that inspired me with the storyline.

Jason Brubaker
Still, using Joe’s real name as his character was an interesting choice.

Gary King
I had always planned on changing the “Joe Schermann” in the title to another name, but once everything got rolling I just couldn’t find another one that was appropriate. So I kept it. Also, I felt would give another sense of realism to the project. At least it would make people wonder who the character is, and if he’s a real person or not.

Jason Brubaker
It got me talking!

Gary King
Blurring the lines I feel could possibly generate a nice discussion.

Jason Brubaker
What sorts of themes were you trying to explore?

Gary King
I don’t wish to go into too much detail because I think different viewers will bring their own experiences to the film and relate with the certain themes that come about. But we have seen audiences mention identifying with artist themes such as: sacrifice, compromise, passion, and collaboration.

Jason Brubaker
With all the dancing and high production value, what made you think you could pull it off?

Joe Schermann In "How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song"

Gary King
With several films under my belt I had a strong understanding of what I could and couldn’t do based on our strengths and limitations. We had a tiny crew of four (me, an all-purpose gaffer/grip, sound recordist, production manager).

Jason Brubaker
Small crew… Enormous undertaking! What was your planning like?

Gary King
I had to plan the day and shots accordingly. A lot of our locations were in-kind courtesy of my amazing production/location manager Daryl Ray Carliles (who also plays “Danny Boy” in the film). Luckily my leads Christina Rose (“Evey”) and Mark DiConzo (“Gunther”) also served as the choreographers which was a blessing.

Jason Brubaker
You would have had to keep the energy and enthusiasm high.

Gary King
I think passion was the common denominator. Everyone involved was in it to make a musical unlike anything done at this budget level.  I couldn’t have made the film without my friends believing in it…and that I could pull it off.

Jason Brubaker
You also incorporated a successful crowdfunding campaign. What did you do to succeed?

Gary King
I tried to involve the backers and keep them posted on our progress. That way they didn’t feel that we were just taking their money and forgetting about them.

Jason Brubaker
So you took a very personal approach?

Gary King
Crowdfunding a hard endeavor to take on as the internet is flooded every day with more and more campaigns so we wanted to show our passion and appreciation. Ideally we hope it was our personal touches (videos messages and songs) that expressed to people that we cared and were thankful for their support. We did not take it lightly that people were willing to donate to us.

Jason Brubaker
As a modern moviemaker, how important is sourcing your own fan base?

Gary King
It’s very important! I see Kevin Smith as the guru who is able to take his fan base and monetize it in a way that makes sense and doesn’t make anyone feel ripped off. We’ve also seen the recent success of comedian Louie C.K. and his comedy special that he sold exclusively and independently online which grossed over a million dollars.

Jason Brubaker
Agree. I thought that was pretty cool.

Gary King
Amazing right? It’s something I see as vital in sustaining a career if one wants to stay in the indie game. Having said that, I think it’s also extremely important to eventually have some type of mechanism beyond the filmmaker to really perpetuate his or her work out there to a broader market.

Jason Brubaker
What do you mean?

Gary King
Well, Kevin Smith had his previous films distributed globally before RED STATE… And Louie C.K. has a television show. For me it would be doing more for-hire work or some type of project where the marketing wasn’t just me.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. That makes sense. So you leverage other people’s projects for further recognition.

Gary King
The word has to come from somewhere else (ideally from a lot of different sources). To me that’s the way to really foster a fan base. But it’s all theory as I’m not at that level yet so I clearly don’t have all the answers.

Jason Brubaker
What are your plans for distribution?

Gary King
We’re starting SCHERMANN SONG at the festival circuit to generate some awareness and ideally grow a fanbase. Christina Rose and I (along with select cast and crew) plan to tour with it at every festival that programs it so we can personally screen it. Ideally, we want to make connections with the audience who want to see our film.

Jason Brubaker
What is the feedback on your movie thus far?

Gary King
We’ve heard from industry people who’ve seen it that it’s a crowd-pleaser so everyone involved with the film is super excited to finally get it out there. We also plan to release our soundtrack which is an added source of revenue we’re excited about.

Jason Brubaker
So all of these strategies help you get the word out.

Gary King
We’d like to build a demand to see it and explore all various platforms (VOD/cable, limited theatrical, DVD, digital/streaming, whatever else is new) to see what makes sense at the end of the day.

Jason Brubaker
What is your philosophy on filmmaking? It seems like you don’t wait for permission to make your movies.  What advice do you have for any filmmakers who have not yet made their first feature?

Gary King
I’ve been asked many times and people are probably tired of hearing me say: just go do it. Try it out to see if you really like it. There’s the perception that some people have of what filmmaking is and then there’s the reality of it. Once you try it you may love it and wish to do it for the rest of your life… Or not.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. There are a lot of people who would love to make a feature, but they have a lot of challenges, like money.

Gary King
My first feature film (“New York Lately“) was made because I cashed out my 401K. I knew I was responsible for getting my career started because no one else was going to hand me the golden key.

Jason Brubaker
Yeah. It was as if you decided your movie was your start-up company and you were willing to do whatever it took.

Gary King
I’ve realized that to keep moving I can’t wait for people to say “yes”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing and a blessing when they do say it, and I’ve been lucky enough to have that happen a few times… But if I only waited around for others to give me the opportunity then I can honestly say I’d most likely still have one feature film under my belt instead of five. I like five. Six would be better!

Jason Brubaker
Thanks for stopping by Filmmaking Stuff.

Gary King
Thanks for having me.

About Gary King: Gary King is a contemporary American filmmaker whose work is known for powerful performances with an emphasis on a strong, visual style. He has written, directed and produced several critically acclaimed feature films. Find Gary King on Twitter @grking

My Second Short Film

Ok. About 12 years ago, I produced and directed my second short film. And earlier tonight, after drinking some wine, I came up with the brilliant idea to post it here.

So here you go. Remember, I did this 12 years ago. So despite the fact that I’m cringing – I post it as inspiration… If someone who makes movies like this can go on to produce features – then there is hope for us all. What the heck are you waiting for? Go make a movie!

101shortfilm175x175If you are looking to make a short film, but you have no idea how to get started, you might want to check out 101 Short Film Ideas