Film Production Horror Story

One of my earliest gigs in New York was a disaster. I am not kidding. At the time, I was renting the corner of some kitchen, where I slept on an inflatable air mattress. I thought there was honor in being a starving filmmaker. That sentiment, combined with a dwindling bank account meant I would take any gig I could get.

This gig paid fifty dollars, I think. It also involved filling a kiddie pool with Jello. Our set was located in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in Brooklyn during one of the coldest days in February.

I showed up, eager to be the best coffee fetching production assistant in Gotham. But something wasn’t right. Minutes into the gig, the production manager quit. The 1st Assistant director told me not to worry. She told me she had it handled. But she lied…

As a result, we quickly fell behind schedule. Actors showed up for their call times and waited hours. Many simply quit and walked off set. Meals were missed. People got irritable.

As the shoot spiraled out of control, we ran out of kerosene for the heater.  As a result, the Jello-filled kiddie pool dropped to near-freezing temperatures. We know this because the actor presently submerged in the Jello complained his hands were numb.

Despite this Hell, I distinctly remember looking around the room and feeling elation to see so many dedicated professionals… That was the good part. But my momentary bliss was shattered when everybody started yelling at each other in frustration.

Did I mention there was an actor soaked in Jello?

I was too inexperienced to realize this shoot was not only unprofessional, but borderline criminal. I would love to tell you the movie sucked as a result, but the final cut actually got accepted to Sundance. The director went on to do good things.

The lesson here is simple. If your actor agrees to jump in a pool of freezing Jello, stop yelling.

What is your film production horror story?


Back From Sundance

I’m back from Sundance. This was one of those trips that you don’t plan. But when you get a call from someone in Utah asking if you would like to participate in a panel on crowd funding and modern movie distribution (at Sundance) you have to go!

So picture this. My bags are packed, I’m loading my car – and then I get a call from the airline. My flight has been canceled! UGH. Thanks United Airlines…

Never one to let obstacles get in my way, I pretended I didn’t know my flight was canceled and I drove the airport. I parked my car in one of the many airport parking lots, boarded the shuttle and proceeded to the United terminal.

Turns out whenever you have fog in San Francisco, (and San Francisco is your connecting flight to Utah) it becomes very difficult for airplanes to land. It also turns out that whenever San Francisco is shut down, you will have an airport with more than fifty displaced passengers presently looking for alternate flights.

At this point, you realize there is nothing special about you. And even though you may think of a gazillion reasons why you should get more of a privilege over the forty-nine other passengers in line (like wanting to attend some cool Sundance parties), you also realize that nobody cares. It is at this point when you fantasize about things you can say to get some leverage. For example, I thought about telling the ticket agent I was friends with the CEO of United Airlines – I didn’t actually tell her this. But you get my point…

While waiting for your chance to chat with ticket judge, the only real asset you have is kindness and the unyielding hope that the ticketing agent is in a good mood. When I got to the agent, she seemed to be OK with me… But she also told me that all alternate United flights were booked. So she suggested that I stay in LA for the night and come back the following day.

Had I agreed, I would have missed the Filmmaking panel at Sundance. Heck, I would have missed Sundance.

If this happens to you, I suggest you act as though you don’t hear the word no. Because sometimes persistence pays off and the universe really does provide. Ask the following question: “Are you sure you can’t do anything?” Then SHUT UP! Don’t say another word. Let the pressure of the silence build tension… Until…

“Well, we could try to get you on another Airline. What if we put you on a Delta flight to Salt Lake City?”

Bingo! Thank you United for the rare customer service!

After a two minute flight from LA to San Diego (not kidding. It really was like two minutes) and a short lay over and two White Russians – I hopped on my final flight and arrived in Utah – instantly blasted with a cold air I haven’t felt since my days living in New York City.

I’m pretty sure the airport was filled with a gazillion other filmmaker types wandering around. Maybe it was my imagination. But in some strange way, I felt at home. This feeling was further amplified when an attractive young woman smiled at me and asked if my name was Jason. I thought she was hitting on me. Turns out…

“Yes. Do I know you?”
“No. But I read your newsletter.”

And as I would soon learn, she wasn’t the only one at Sundance who reads these words. Which is surreal. I mean who are you people? Really?

Anyway, I really wish I could have stayed at Sundance for like all week. But the short notice prevented me from really planning a proper trip. So let’s focus on making a successful Sundance plan for next year.  And in this regard, in your next filmmaking article, I’m going to share the top 10 tips you need to know about a successful trip to Sundance film Festival.

In the meantime, if you feel like introducing yourself – please feel free to drop a comment below…

Are You Making These Mistakes In Filmmaking?

Independent moviemaking has changed forever. If you are still holding out for the Sundance dream, you are wasting your time. What is the Sundance dream? It’s the thought that you’ll make a movie, get into Sundance and garner a gazillion dollars.

While I encourage you to think big, if you are basing your movie business on the Sundance dream, you are making a BIG mistake in filmmaking.

To help you, I got together with a few other cutting edge modern moviemakers. Together we created a book entitled the Modern MovieMaking Movement  – We think it is a valuable filmmaking resource. And because we are giving it away for free, there is no reason not to grab YOUR copy.

As of today, the Modern Moviemaking Movement has been downloaded around 10,000 times. That is a lot of filmmakers! So I am raising the bar. With your help, I would like to get the book into the hands of 30,000 filmmakers.

But I can’t do it alone. If you would like to help spread the Modern Moviemaking Movement, could you kindly tweet or email or post the following link to every filmmaker you know? >>

Thanks for being a Modern Moviemaker!


Keven Smith talks Movie Distribution

Kevin Smith at the 2008 Toronto International ...

Image via Wikipedia

I love Kevin Smith’s attitude towards modern movie distribution. If you’re like most independent filmmakers, what Kevin was able to accomplish from his days of Clerks has been amazing. Back then, he not only dreamed the Sundance Dream, but he realized the dream.

The Sundance dream is the idea that you will make your movie, get into Sundance, sell your movie and live happily ever after. As I have been telling you all along, the demise of DVD sales channels, replaced by ever evolving VOD marketplaces are impacting Filmmakers everywhere.

These days, if you are going to make movies and profit, you must now view your independent movie business in ways akin to how any business owner handles their business. You must source and grow your own audience list.

In the following video Kevin Smith shares his perspective on modern movie distribution and how the brave new world is impacting indie filmmakers.

Please feel free to comment.

Modern Filmmaking Business Plan

Figure1. Cognitive channel preferences of targ...

Image via Wikipedia

Most filmmaking business plans are stupid. Why? Because most filmmakers have no idea how to project a possible return on investment.

Don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault.

Until five years ago, distribution was discriminatory, abusive and monopolistic. As a result, the old business model for indie filmmaking relied heavily on some 3rd party, middle-man distribution strategy. “If we are really lucky we will get into Sundance and get rich.”

These days, relying on a 3rd party middleman to buy your movie is like waiting for the Tooth Fairy. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not solid business. Instead, I recommend you answer these questions before you go into any production:

  1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
  2. How Large Is Your Target Audience?
  3. How Will You Reach Your Audience?
  4. What Is Your Marketing Strategy?
  5. How Many VOD Sales to Break Even?

After you answer these questions, then make sure you incorporate your marketing costs into your initial budget.

You might ask: “What if I just want to make movies and sell my movie?”
My response: “1995 called and they want their dumb distribution plan back.”

Like it or not, the world of filmmaking has changed.

If you hate asking permission to become successful in your own moviemaking business, then make sure you sign up for the filmmaking stuff newsletter.