Monday, June 28, 2010

The End is No End

So you finally finished your movie. Congratulations! Many, many people have set out to make a film, and they haven’t gotten as far as this. But I have some sobering news for you, my weary artistic cinephile: you’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.

Because movies, like all artistic creations, are meant to be seen. To do that, you have to get them in front of a paying audience. These days, that can mean any number of things: theatrical, Video on Demand, Netflix, Redbox, YouTube, iTunes – the list is enormous. There are even filmmakers who do it themselves, selling DVDs of their films directly through their website.

But if you want a bigger audience, you need to go to a bona-fide film distributor. A company who knows the business, the sales outlets, the contracts, the marketing, etc. We literally finished our movie four weeks ago, and we’ve already been approached by sales agents, producer’s reps, and distributors. They all want to see “Fugue,” and if they like it, they all want to be involved with the selling of it to an audience.

This can mean any number of things. Right now, the film distribution market is like the Wild West: there are no rules, there’s not a lot of money, and there’s plenty of crooks trying to take advantage.

We haven’t signed any deals yet, so we can’t mention specifics, but we have developed a methodology that seems to be worthwhile. Here it is:

DO A BACKGROUND CHECK. If someone wants to get into business with you, the first thing you should do is check out their website. Does it look reputable? Do any of the films look familiar? Where are they based? No matter what, DO NOT send a copy of your movie until you’re satisfied they won’t plaster it all over the Internet.
If everything seems above board, then you can move to Step 2:

TAKE A MEETING. In person is best, but phone is a good back-up if you’re not in the same state. It’s a lot like a first date – you’re trying to get a sense if the two of you work together. You don’t have to be best friends, but you want to make sure the people you’re working with are honest, they understand the market, and they have sufficient experience/contacts. Ask them about recent, similar films they’ve worked on. Definitely ask them for references. Remember, they are working for you. Without your product, they have nothing to sell.
Once you get a good feeling from them, and a sense of what they will do with your movie, you can go to Step 3:

GET A SECOND (AND THIRD, AND FOURTH) OPINION. Call other filmmakers the company or rep has worked with. Ask them if they were satisfied with the relationship. How long did they take to get a callback? How timely were their payment disbursements? Do this enough times, and you should get a good sense of who the people are you’ll be dealing with.
If you decide to sign with them, you move on to:

READ YOUR CONTRACT. There’s a reason it’s called the film business. There are contracts for everything. It’s all in extremely boring, dense legalese, but read every line. The difference between 24 months and in perpetuity is literally infinite. If there’s something you don’t understand, have the company or an entertainment lawyer explain it to you. Realize that everything in the contract is negotiable. If there’s a bit of language you don’t like, ask to take it out or change it.
This process may take weeks, even months, but it’s okay to:

TAKE YOUR TIME. You’ve been working on this movie how long – two years? Three? The last thing you want to do is rush things at the end. Because once you sign that deal, you are locked in for a long time. At the very least, you want to be satisfied that you exhausted all your possibilities. Even if you don’t end up with the best deal, you’ll know it was the best you could do.
Finally, throughout all of these steps, remember:

BE PROFESSIONAL. Return emails and phone calls, be polite, deliver stuff on time. If you act like a pro, then hopefully the people you’re working with will do the same. And if they don’t, you will be well within your rights to call them on it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lessons from the Red Carpet

We had a great time premiering “Fugue” at Dances with Films. Our screening was nearly sold out, we got a lot of great comments about the movie, and we met a ton of nice filmmakers.

It was also a major learning experience. While Barbara has been to plenty of festivals, this was my first time showing a movie in a festival setting. For those of you heading to your first fest, or anyone who wants to prepare, here are some lessons we learned from the red carpet:

LOOK YOUR BEST. Everything at a film festival is up for documentation. There are photographers, journalists, EPK interviewers. At any moment, you could be in a picture. Think about how you want to be remembered, and how you want other people to see you on the Internet. The photos of myself on Facebook nearly doubled from the week I spent at Dances With Films, and not all of them are the next cover of Entertainment Weekly.

If, like me, you’re uncomfortable in front of cameras, do some tests. Find a relaxed look or smile that works for you, and use it. In terms of dress, fancy-casual seems to be the key. Suits are unnecessary, but a nice shirt and pants work well for guys. Dresses a step below cocktail are nice for girls.

BE FRIENDLY & ATTENTIVE. You’re going to meet a lot of new people at the festival, and it helps to be polite. Remember, this festival isn’t just about you and your masterpiece. Dances With Films is relatively small, and there were still 100 films there. Ask where other filmmakers are from, what their movie’s about, what else have they seen or made. Give them five minutes of your attention, and be interested. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a conversation with someone who’s constantly looking over your shoulder for someone “cooler.” You never know what you might get from those five minutes, so make them count.

BRAND YOURSELF. There are several ways to go about this – develop a certain look, wear an over-the-top costume from your film, or make clothing items with your movie’s title on them. But you absolutely must have some way for people to identify you. Again, there are at least 100 movies at a festival – how will people remember who are? By connecting you with a certain film.

One of the filmmakers at DWF wore a cheerleading outfit for days (his movie was about a serial killer who attacks a cheerleader camp). You certainly don’t need to go this far, but it was memorable. We found that simply attaching our postcard to our festival badge was enough. Because we had a recognizable poster, people started remembering who we were. After the screening, we even had people come up to us and say they liked the movie, which they could do because we were wearing the poster.

GO TO AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. You’re at a film festival, and you’ve worked on your movie for years. Take a few days to relax and enjoy yourself. See some movies, meet other filmmakers, go to the talks, have drinks with people. You never know where it will lead. We went to the DWF Happy Hour one night, had a half hour conversation with a couple of people, and they turned out to be distributors. They requested a screener of our movie a couple days later. Which leads to another big lesson --

TAKE IT EASY. You’ve worked really hard to get here, but don’t let the stress and social pressure get to you. Chill. There’s nothing worse than a hard sell, as anyone who’s been in a used car lot will tell you. Be friendly, introduce yourself, but don’t launch immediately into asking how much someone wants to buy your film for, or how you need representation, or finishing funds, or investors for the next project. Talk to people, be nice, get numbers – but don’t launch into business unless they take it there. Then, once you get back from the festival, you can do the final lesson –

FOLLOW UP. Whomever you met, be they filmmakers, crew people, or distributors, make sure to touch base once the festival is over. Like many things in this business, you have no idea where the relationship could go. Maybe nowhere. Or maybe they’ll fund your next project. You’ll never know unless you actually stay in touch with them.

Think of it like dating. If you get someone’s number, you’re not gonna call them that night. You’ll wait a few days, then move it along slowly. If you don’t hear back from them immediately, give it a few days before you check in. Otherwise, you’re a creepy stalker. You don’t want to be like Jon Favreau:

Finally, DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH. This is your time to kick back, but it’s also work. You’re here to sell your film, not prove how good your table-top dancing is. Liquor abounds at festivals, so I recommend the Alternate Method: for every glass of booze, have a glass of water. It’s easier on the pocket book, prevents hangovers, and helps you pace yourself.