Friday, June 4, 2010

The Hyphenate

I am a hyphenate. And a triple threat. And a somewhat dubious "renaissance man". What does all that mean to those readers who aren't in the industry?

It means I can do three jobs at the same time.

What three jobs you ask? Writer-Director-Producer. In other words I can write a screenplay, produce and co-produce the movie and also direct it. I have done all three only once, Ghostkeeper and I have written and co-produced one, Target.

And to make it more complicated I could shoot and edit it if it came to that. I wouldn't be Haskell Wexler or Walter Murch but then who is. This comes from starting at the bottom in the mailroom. I was a bonafide newscrew soundman (forgot that I can do sound too) and eventually a street news cameraman.

But right now I am developing (a nice word for not having the full budget raised... yet.), three projects. One is Travel Day (the original reason for this blog) which I wrote and will co-produce, the 2nd is Emperor of Mars, which I wrote and hope to direct and co-produce.

And finally there's Casualties of Love, a no-budget "dramedy" and I will not only write, produce and direct, I'll probably make lunch and a dozen other jobs.

Hyphenate is an industry saying, I think. I'm in good company, Warren Beatty is an actor/writer/director/producer. Clint Eastwood is an actor/director/producer (he doesn't write). You get the drift.

Does that mean I get paid for all those jobs?

I wish. Usually one has to be the breadwinner, usually the script. Even big timers sometimes drop a fee in order to get the movie made. Clint Eastwood allegedly directed his first feature, Play Misty for Me for no salary in order to get his first feature under his belt.

The curse of being a hyphenate is that they usually ask you to drop one of those fees, usually the producer fee as they have no union. I wrote Target and got paid WGA scale for the script and didn't take a fee for co-producer.

What does it take to do all three jobs. For me it takes 40 years of being in the business, give or take a year (I do tend to change it as it suits the occasion. Like when I'm talking to someone under 30 who has no history going back that far).

As far as writing, I think you've heard enough about that in the last few months. It's a given that: a) I know how to write, b)I had movies made, c) I got paid for what I did and d) I was reasonably good enough that most asked me back (most, but not all).

About directing; I directed Ghostkeeper and 2 straight-to-video TV movies. In addition I directed way too many TV commercials, I usually say around 500 but it was probably more. Some were done for $500, some for $125,000 and everything inbetween.

But after that many, you sort of get the hang of the job.

Producing? Again, Ghostkeeper was produced by my company, Badland Pictures and I signed all the checks. What do you have to know to be a producer? Simple. You have to know where to find the money. That's why it's the hardest job of all three. And I know this from doing all three.

As my director friend says, you need someone who's part saint, part thief, part accountant and a big risk taker. Maybe that's why I'm not great at it. But the alternative is to seek and wait for a producer who wants to find money for me. And frankly I'm not that much in demand and don't want to wait around for phone calls that never come. I raised money once for a movie, and maybe I can do it again.

Not to mention that it's pretty tough out there on the streets when looking for money. But somehow, some way, the good ones always do.

There's also the other part of producing; the nuts and bolts, making a budget, contacting the cast and crew, arranging the categories and looking for some money to develop the project. This money is usually for an office, maybe a secretary, some travel money, option money on the script and maybe some talent and a hundred other things.

You have to know complicated software like Entertainment Partners Budgeting and Scheduling. You have to know how much you can pay the actor and how much you pay the gaffer in overtime and what a camera package costs and everything else down to the donuts.

Producers in the years past knew all this but today, fewer producers are real producers, rather they are executives or actors or writers who have "honorary status" as producers. They hand the grunt work (the budgeting and scheduling) to "Line Producers" who actually are Production Managers, the Sergeants of the movie production.

And as for me, I have my home office, no secretary and just what money I can afford to spend on necessities. I bought EP Budgeting 20 years ago and have recently learned Scheduling and actually I enjoy doing that work, as tedious and complicated it is. My first budget was done on a typewriter and a calculator by my side. EP Budgeting was a miracle when I first saw it. Almost like a computer compared to an IBM Selectric, (typewriter to those under 40).

Then there's the proposal an independent producer has to make if they are looking for money outside the studio system. Rather than tell you, you can see my work, along with Shirley's in our proposal for Travel Day, it's on the left of the screen under "Materials".

And the truth is, that once any of the projects get going, I hire the best "Line Producer" I can for the money available and give them everything because they, like the cameraperson and the editor, will make me look better than I am.

It's fun being a hyphenate although I like the term "filmmaker" better. And ultimately all that counts is finding the money regardless of what I call myself.

(Next Tues: Dividing the projects)