How To Avoid Your Biggest Filmmaking Mistake

The biggest filmmaking mistake you can make is waiting for someone else to give you permission make movies.

Believe me. I’m speaking from experience.

After college, I was like a lot of people. I wanted to make movies, but I had no idea how to get started. As a result, I took the conventional route. I spent a whole lot of time sending out resumes to production companies.

I know what you’re thinking – Sending resumes to Hollywood from rural Pennsylvania was a huge filmmaking mistake. . .

Back then, I actually thought the only way I could be taken seriously as a filmmaker was to work for a major studio like Warner Brothers. And the problem was, none of the studios had heard of me. Nor were they willing to see value in my lack of experience.

Filmmaking_Mistake

Your Biggest Filmmaking Mistake

Back then, it was easy to make excuses. I mean, do you blame me?

Nobody in my small, rural, farm oriented hometown knew anybody in the movie industry. And every time I sent a resume to New York or Los Angeles, I was ignored.

I could have quit.

It would have been easy to get a job selling insurance. (But that would have been a blunder of a filmmaking mistake.)

And in retrospect, I realize my experience is like a lot of filmmakers.

Does this sound familiar?  You have the passion to make movies, but you have no idea how to get started. You don’t have a camera. You don’t have a Hollywood network. You don’t have money.

These excuses will stop you if you let them.

To be perfectly frank with you, these excuses almost stopped me. But one day I heard this quote from the famed success guru Brian Tracy. He said: “You can have anything you want in life if you are willing to pay the price.”

Quitting would have been a filmmaking mistake.

I wasn’t sure what it meant to pay the price. Again, like you, I didn’t have much money.

But what I had was time and the willingness to do whatever it took to get what I wanted. For me, that meant finding a local video production company. Since I didn’t have a business relationship, I cold called them. I got the owner on the phone – He said they didn’t have any availability. They were not looking to hire.

But that didn’t stop me.

Through sheer determination and boldness, I talked the owner into meeting me.

During our meeting, we hit it off. While they didn’t have the budget for a new production assistant, the owner offered to let me work as a janitor.

Imagine coming out of college and working as a janitor.

I could have rejected this job. Many filmmakers would be insulted at the prospect. Many would pass up the job. But that would have been a major filmmaking mistake.

I took the job because I saw it as opportunity. Cleaning the office got me in the room. And once in the room, I made friends with the production team.

In the weeks that followed, I started getting invited to set and was able to participate in productions. Months later, the owner of the company put me in touch with a former intern, turned New York producer.

This producer eventually hired me for my first job in New York.

From there, I made friends with a new production crew. Those connections led to an indie producer. I became his assistant and learned how to make movies. In the process, I learned how to stop asking permission. I learned how to make things happen. I stopped making excuses.

And that made all the difference.

It would have been a major filmmaking mistake to quit. And while nobody enjoys mopping floors and cleaning toilets – I found that if your vision is strong enough, nothing can stop you. The crappy jobs are stepping stones. There is no shame in doing them. The only shame is giving up. And giving up is your biggest filmmaking mistake.

If you’re ready to stop making excuses and start making movies, I invite you to explore these professional filmmaking resources.

Sedona The Movie

Tommy Stovall is an independent filmmaker who has produced two feature films and is gaining notoriety in the indie film scene. His current project Sedona has just entered the marketplace to growing fanfare and buzz. But aside from getting his movie made, what makes Tommy’s story interesting is why he passed on a distribution offer from Warner Brothers.

Instead of going the traditional distribution route for Sedona the movie, Tommy embraced DIY distribution.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to ask Tommy to share some tips on indie filmmaking, film finance and how to navigate the new world of self-distribution.

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started in filmmaking?

Tommy Stovall
I started making movies for fun in the 80s when I was in high school. I would shoot on a clunky VHS camcorder and edit between the camcorder and a VCR. I would get my younger brother and a bunch of friends together and we’d make mostly horror movies, more or less parodies of “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween.”

Jason Brubaker
When did you decide to become a professional filmmaker?

Tommy Stovall
During college I discovered I could actually make money doing videos, so I started my own production company where I did weddings, corporate videos and anything else people would pay me to do. I decided to change my major half-way through college and ended up with a degree in Radio-TV-Film.

Jason Brubaker
What did you do before making Sedona?

Tommy Stovall
I made my first film, “Hate Crime” in 2004 and spent a good 3 solid years on the distribution phase of it, with a year of festivals, then doing our own theatrical release and eventually going to DVD.

Jason Brubaker
What was your budget for Sedona?

Tommy Stovall
For Sedona, it was under $1 Million.

Jason Brubaker
What approach did you take for raising the money?

Tommy Stovall
We formed a Limited Partnership and got private investors, which included ourselves – me and my partner Marc Sterling, who was also a producer.

Jason Brubaker
How long did the fundraising take?

Tommy Stovall
We worked on the fundraising for about two years, but didn’t raise anything significant until we were actually scheduled to start production.

Jason Brubaker
What did you discover in the process?

Tommy Stovall
I discovered that people are much more likely to invest when they’re sure the project is happening, when they know there’s a start date and they see cast and crew officially coming together. So we raised most of the money in the few months leading up to production… Most of it right before.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like you probably had a few sleepless nights.

Tommy Stovall
Obviously, it’s not the best way to do things, but for us it was necessary [Laugh].

Jason Brubaker
What hurdles did you overcome to get the movie made?

Tommy Stovall
Most of the hurdles were just the typical challenges a low budget presents in limiting your time and resources.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to find any help in the community?

Tommy Stovall
Because this movie is titled “Sedona,” after the town we actually shot it in, we were able to make the project a community effort and get people excited about it. We relied on help and participation from locals who wanted to be a part of it understood the positive benefits the movie could have for everyone here.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to get resources in exchange for publicity?

Tommy Stovall
Yes. Local businesses were generous in offering us discounted or donated items and services, so we were able to get more bang for the buck in some aspects.

Jason Brubaker
What camera did you use?

Tommy Stovall
The Canon 5D Mark II

Jason Brubaker
What was your initial distribution strategy?

Tommy Stovall
I had been leaning toward a DIY strategy very early on. But we initially tried the traditional route, which now feels like a big waste of time.

Jason Brubaker
Did you screen at any film festivals?

Tommy Stovall
We entered some of the big marquis festivals, which we didn’t get into. We did a lot of smaller festivals, then we got a producer’s rep for six months.

Jason Brubaker
Was your producer’s rep able to get any traction?

Tommy Stovall
Having a producer’s rep didn’t result in anything. But it wasn’t surprising. I learned some hard lessons with my first film in selling rights and giving up control, so this time around I was much less trusting and more leery and careful with everything.

Jason Brubaker
How did this strategy change after the festivals?

Tommy Stovall
We actually got some distribution offers that I turned down. One was from Warner Brothers for our digital rights.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds exciting.

Tommy Stovall
Of course it sounds exciting when you hear the name of a big studio. But you really have to realize what you’d be giving up.

Jason Brubaker
So you decided to pass the deal and go in a different direction?

Tommy Stovall
I had been doing a lot of research on all the new ways to get movies out into the world and the bottom line was this: Why would I “sell” my movie to WB in order to get it on Cable and Satellite VOD, iTunes, Hulu when I can still get it onto all those platforms with Distribber?

Jason Brubaker
Tommy – I need to remind the readers that I actually get paid to promote Distribber. But the reason I promote them is for the exact reasons you mention.

Tommy Stovall
Plus I get to keep my rights AND make a higher percentage of the sales. It was really a no-brainer.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers who want to make, market and sell movies?

Tommy Stovall
In a perfect world, filmmakers could make a movie and recoup their money by just turning it over to someone else to market and sell. But that’s just not reality for most of us.

Jason Brubaker
There is something exciting about the prospect of our movies being distributed by Hollywood.

Tommy Stovall
But even if you find distribution, chances are you won’t see much in the way of a return, and you will probably get screwed. This is sad, but true.

Jason Brubaker
Heartbreaking… so many filmmakers sign away their rights, in exchange for the validation of saying, “our movie got picked up!” The problem is, getting picked up doesn’t always pay the bills.

Tommy Stovall
The good news is, it’s a different world now, with countless opportunities to get our films out there on our own, directly to our audience.

Jason Brubaker
Having access to the popular marketplace is liberating. Yet there are a lot of old school distributors who are just looking to grab any movie, throw it against a wall and see what sticks. Where is the value in that?

Tommy Stovall
The fact is, nobody is going to care about, understand, or know how to market your movie better than you. And no distributor is going to work harder than you. Period. The new world of DIY distribution is constantly changing and evolving, so it takes a lot of trial and error and just figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It it not easy, but at the end of the day, you will still be in control regardless of what happens.

Jason Brubaker
Thank you for stopping by Filmmaking Stuff.

Tommy Stovall
Thanks for having me.

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President of Pasidg Productions, Tommy Stovall has a degree in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas and started out in the early 1990’s with his own video production company. His longtime goal of becoming an independent filmmaker began with his first film, the award-winning Hate Crime, released in 2005. His second feature film, called Sedona, has just been released on DVD, Blu-ray and several video-on-demand platforms. For more information, please visit www.SedonaMovie.com.