Monday, February 14, 2011

So you don't write but want to make a movie

A friend of mine recently asked this question; he wanted to make a movie but isn't a screenwriter like I am, and thus, was unsure about how to go about finding a screenplay that might be suitable. I offered him my catalog of 35 spec screenplays of course, but he didn't want any of them.

I am an anomaly in terms of my screenwriter status. I have a long record of screenplays, both produced and unproduced however I am not your average writer. Not that it's a bad thing being an average writer. 

Among my abilities I am a cameraman having started out in TV news and even filmed an award winning short, I also worked as an editor in TV and still edit little documentaries  on Final Cut Pro, mostly things I film as well.

I've also produced films and work on Movie Magic Budgeting, the industry standard for making film budgets. Also work on MM Scheduling as well, making shooting schedules for my own films and sometimes for others.

And of course I have directed a few hundred commercials, albeit more than 30 years ago as well as 2 video features and of course, Ghostkeeper in 1980. So that makes me a hyphenate, as we call it. Someone with abilities in almost all the crafts of making film. I forgot, I also worked as a soundman for 2 years.

And I realized, that unlike my friend, I can make a movie all by myself, although I would be a lousy actor. But all of this was due to the fact I could never afford to hire someone in the beginning, so I just learned all of those jobs over the years and accumulated a hell of a lot of knowledge.

Why tell you all this now?

Because there might be readers out there who don't really have all those abilities. But the great thing here is this --

You don't need to be.

In fact you don't need to know very much about filmmaking. That's the beauty of this business. You just want to need to make a movie.

Going to film school is nice and you learn a lot of things but, as stated in a recent article in a film trade magazine called P3 Update, film school isn't all that helpful a lot of times.

To quote them "for the most part a degree in film doesn't mean much to most production companies and the cost of film school around $60,000 is more than most graduates will ever have a chance to make in the business."

How's that for all those parents out there who sent their kids to film schools? I actually met a woman who graduated from NYU and owed $125,000 in student and family loans for her education. And she was anxious to get hired as a director.

You know what her chances are?  I won't even mention it.

And I've said this often, I and my friend Phil both failed film school back in the 70's, not only that but the instructor took us aside to suggest we don't even try. Needless to say we did "try" and we were the only students from that class who ever had a career in film.

Because we  wanted to make films. And nobody was going to stop us.

And as for those hundreds, maybe thousands of film students, it would almost be worth it to go out and make a film for $60,000 or $125,000. You'll learn really quick how to make a movie and if you have the talent or even the ability to do it.

And I mean that.

Paranormal Activity was made in the area of $15,000 albeit by an experienced commercial director but his first feature, and it grossed over $100 million and an entry into Hollywood. There are a lot of examples of this and most of them not making a dime BUT getting an invitation into the industry.

A lot of the little indie films you see now are just that, people who somehow had to find a way to make a movie. Too many film students don't have that passion (I know, that word is so 10 minutes ago) and rather than focus on something, they wait to be discovered.

It's gonna be a long wait.

Okay, so you are focused and ready, you want to make a movie and you're ready to not make any money for one year, that's right, no jobs. Your job is to find a screenplay, find actors, find a director or maybe that's you. And you have to find a crew; that's pretty easy in LA, just post an ad in craigslist and you will be flooded with every type of crewperson and actor there is.

But the hardest one is a screenplay, but it's not what  you think. What I mean is finding a relatively good screenplay. One that works on good characters and a story that people will want to watch for 90 minutes or so. If you don't know what kind of script that is, look until you find something that you would really be proud of.

And that can be anything. Comedy, drama, mystery, whatever. It must be something you can put up with for a year or longer and never want to give up on.

Screenplays are the easiest thing to find; there are several websites that post screenplays from amateurs and pros. Take InkTip which is arguably the best in terms of that I know even experienced professionals lurk there with some of their unsold screenplays.

I've done that several times with people who don't have the ability to pay big money. Right now I am going to option a screenplay to a young company under the WGA low budget plan which basically means I'm giving them the script for a token option fee, nowhere near the real script fee. But if they sell it, then they have to pay me full WGA scale.

Making a movie is like that cliched snowball rolling down the hill, just get one thing first, the screenplay and then work like hell to get the rest.

(Thurs; Ghostkeeper progress)