Filmmaker Alexandra Boylan has gone from a homeless struggling actor to an award-winning film producer. She’s produced, wrote and starred in numerous films that have been distributed through Netflix, Universal Home Studios Entertainment, Pure Flicks and Image Entertainment. Additionally, her films have been on the shelves of Walmart and Redbox.
She joins us here today on Filmmaking Stuff to discuss her new and very awesome book titled, Create Your Own Career in Hollywood, Advice from a Struggling Actress who became a Successful Producer.
Jason Brubaker: What inspired you to publish the book?
Alexandra Boylan: I’ve created three feature films (from conception to completion) and sold them all to major distribution companies. So you can imagine a lot of people write to me asking, “can I take you to coffee and pick your brain,” or “how did you go from nothing and create so much success?”
Jason Brubaker: How were you able to manage that?
Alexandra Boylan: I actually did take people to coffee and tried to help. Then I just got too busy. So publishing the book really tells everybody the story of how I got from point A, all the way to point Z. Now when people ask, “can I take you to coffee?” I’m like, “No. But here’s my book.”
How To Create Your Own Career In Hollywood by Alexandra Boylan
Jason Brubaker: You know what’s interesting? You’ve made three feature films. And you’ve decided to self-distribute the latest one, At Your Own Risk. What pointed you in that direction?
Alexandra Boylan: Both Home Sweet Home and Catching Face sold to Image Entertainment. Wish for Christmas sold to Pure Flicks and Universal. And I have learned that the filmmaker is at the bottom of the waterfall for the finances. So the distribution companies can make a lot of money off your film, and you don’t necessarily make that money.
Jason Brubaker: Do you think this is because the world of distribution is changing?
Alexandra Boylan: Well DVDs are on their way out. Everyone is moving to VOD. So you don’t really need the distribution company anymore if you’re going to go straight to iTunes and Amazon… And even getting your own deal at Netflix can happen. So we made At Your Own Risk with $800. We made it to test the self-distribution market, because we can connect directly to our audience. Then we recoup the money that we make. Everybody needs to make money, you know?
Jason Brubaker: So do you think of yourself more as an artist or more of an entrepreneur?
Alexandra Boylan: I am an artist. But you also have to be an entrepreneur in this business. It is about art, but at the end of the day you have to sell something. And you have to sell something to the masses. I think that makes you an entrepreneur.
Jason Brubaker: What do filmmakers need to know about selling something to the masses?
Alexandra Boylan: You have to ask, what does an audience want? What is an audience going to buy? When you’re selling a movie to a distribution company, you have to sell something that will make the distributor money.
Jason Brubaker: What would you say to a filmmaker with a passion project?
Alexandra Boylan: A lot of people tell me they have a passion project. And then they tell me what their film is about, and I’m like: “That’s really great. But that might only be your passion. That might not sell to the masses.” In this business you have to make a lot of money, (especially when going through a distribution company) in order for you to see any money.
Jason Brubaker: You teach classes on how to get the attention of a distribution company. With this latest project, you’re going to follow the self-distribution route. Do you find that both approaches follow the same principles?
Alexandra Boylan: What you need to attract a distribution company is the same thing that you need for self-distribution. In fact, you need those marketing materials more when your self-distributing. When you’re pitching your movie to a distribution company, you’re presenting them with ways they will make money off your film. You’re showing them the perfect poster, the perfect trailer and the perfect concept for a film. Whatever they’re looking at is exactly what your audience is looking at to choose if they’re going to buy your movie.
Jason Brubaker: Your promotional material is the first thing people will see to decide if they are interested in the movie.
Alexandra Boylan: That’s the same thing a distribution company is looking at. So you need to have the most amazing poster. It needs to stand out against everybody else because it’s the link between you and your audience. And if you don’t have Brad Pitt on your poster, you better have the most amazing concept that grabs your audience.
Jason Brubaker: I always use Brad Pitt in my examples too. So what do you recommend for getting your film noticed?
Alexandra Boylan: With our film Home Sweet Home, the poster is a girl with an axe walking to a house. We sold thirty thousand DVD’s the first month. Every time we went into a video store, they were like “your movie is constantly sold out.” Men want to see it because it’s a girl with an axe. An the girls want to see it because it’s a girl with an axe. And couples want to rent it together. You need to understand your audience and grab them with an image…
Jason Brubaker: Films that get the best distribution deals, don’t necessarily need a distributor. Since you’ve taken time do do all the distribution homework, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get a few distribution offers.
Alexandra Boylan: We already got offers, just off of our poster (that’s on IMDB) and our press releases. And we’re actually turning them down right now. We want to self-distribute. We want to use Distribber. We want to try to have just an aggregator that directly puts us in contact with iTunes and Amazon.
Jason Brubaker: Because you know how traditional distribution works…
Alexandra Boylan: Yeah. I already know how it works with distribution companies. I already know how the finances work. I’ve already been down that road. I know a distribution company is not going to offer me the money that I want for the film anyway. And you know, maybe five years from now the movie will do amazing on iTunes. I want to collect all that money. I don’t want the distribution company to hold it forever…
Jason Brubaker: You’ve worked as a writer, a producer, an actor. You don’t need more validation. This is an actual business for you. Sounds like you runng a mini-motion picture studio…
Alexandra Boylan: That is exactly what we do. We write the scripts. We produce the scripts. Then we follow through for post-production and then go on to sell it.
Jason Brubaker: There is no need to ask for permission.
Alexandra Boylan: I started making my own films because I was an actor who could not find work. So I stopped waiting for other people to choose me. I decided to choose myself. I was going to write and put myself in the lead, in my own project.
Jason Brubaker: And you did!
Alexandra Boylan: What’s interesting is… I’ve now written and produced my own films, and acting is not my focus anymore. I love acting. But when I’m on set producing, I can’t really be on set as an actor. I’m in front of the camera and getting text messages from the production office. And there’s a huge production problem that I need to go deal with…
Jason Brubaker Yeah. That’s the only downside. It’s hard to be in two places at once.
Alexandra Boylan: Writing and producing the films is actually so much more rewarding. It’s like you make these little babies, and then you put them out into the world. We’ve got messages from a woman in South Africa in a village who said our faith based film, Catching Faith changed her life. I was like, nothing can be more valuable than finding out from somebody from South Africa that my movie changed their life. I want to keep telling stories that change people’s lives for the better.
Jason Brubaker: You’ve made many films that cross many different genres. So horror, thriller and also faith-based films? What do you focus on next?
Alexandra Boylan: I’d really love to write and make a Western. I lived in New Mexico for three years. I could get locations and that would be a dream of mine. I’ve written a few faith based family films. And I love the faith based family market because our films are definitely trying to share good messages, not just for faith based people.
Jason Brubaker: And you aren’t afraid to approach issues in our society. You won an award for Switched, which has to do with school bullying.
Alexandra Boylan: Yeah. We won the movie guide awards for best screenplay for our script, Switched. It’s about two girls in high school. One’s the bully and one’s the girl that she bullies. The girl that she bullies prays that the other girl would know what it’s like to walk a day in her shoes. They wake up switched, and then they find compassion and understanding for each other. I feel like there could not be a better time right now to put out a movie that shows kids how to love each other.
Jason Brubaker: Although I’m sure you’re having fun, it sounds like you’re in tune with the social commentary out there. And through your films, it sounds like you’re doing your best to make this world a better place.
Alexandra Boylan: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. What movie do I want to spend three years of my life working on? So you really have to think about what story you want to tell and what legacy you want to leave behind.
Jason Brubaker: And still be open to opportunity to jump from horror to family films?
Alexandra Boylan: We made a horror thriller and our sales rep asked us if we would do a faith based family film. Originally I didn’t think I would make faith based family films. That wasn’t on my radar. But I was able to find a way to put my passion into a marketable film.
Jason Brubaker: Is there a big market for faith-based films?
Alexandra Boylan: There’s a huge market. It’s like horror movies. There’s a tapped in audience for them. So it’s like finding a way to make sure that you put your passion into any genre. It’s telling a story from a different perspective, whether it’s a drama, a comedy, a horror, a Sci-Fi… You can find a way to make sure that you feel passion about the story that you’re creating.
Jason Brubaker: There’s a lot of people that come to Los Angeles with the similar passions and similar dreams. What advice would you give for someone who wants to move out here?
Alexandra Boylan: My biggest advice to actors is to find people who are not actors. Find someone who wants to be a director. Find a cinematographer. Find a gaffer. Meet people who want to make an independent film with you… But people who want to do a different job than you. Because you don’t want to compete for an acting job with an actor, you know?
Jason Brubaker: That makes sense.
Alexandra Boylan: That’s how I found my director, my cinematographer and my gaffer. We all got together and made Home Sweet Home. And find a passionate group that looks at the long run. We all made Home Sweet Home for nothing, but it really did propel our careers into the next plateau. It’s finding people that are willing to take an initial hit of not making money, but seeing that there’s a future if you keep working hard.
Jason Brubaker: Alexandra, thank you so much for sharing your experience. And for all filmmakers, as always take action and make your movie now.
Alexandra Boylan: That’s right, don’t wait!