From the Trenches: Filmmaking and Marketing for Dummies
by, 01-19-2012 at 12:39 PM (17501 Views)
Once upon a time, being an independent filmmaker meant that a writer, producer or director made films outside the Hollywood studio system. From Ed Wood to George Romero to Kevin Smith, independent filmmakers have provided fresh films which eschewed tried and true formulas. Yes, I said Ed Wood; his films aren't nearly as bad as some I've seen, and that Angora loving auteur kept trying.
Today, being an “independent filmmaker” often means that someone dropped a few grand on a pro-sumer camera and posted the trailer for his micro-budget film online long before the film was finished…if it ever was finished. Digital filmmaking may have “democratized” films, but social networking has enabled aspiring filmmakers to make fools of themselves and crash and burn in a spectacular fashion that taints everyone else involved with their projects.
Here are ten lessons I hope all aspiring filmmakers will take to heart before unleashing their films – and their personalities – on an unsuspecting world:
10. If you love a low budget film that somehow broke through the distribution wall and became a success, chances are that other people loved it too – and they will know that you plagiarized your script wholesale from it. Stealing ideas, scenes, characters and special effects gags from other movies and mixing them together in a blender called Final Cut Pro doesn’t make your theft any less offensive, or your project any more original. It’s one thing to be influenced by your favorite films, TV shows, and comic books, another to autopsy them and harvest thir organs.
9. When seeking funding for your film, it’s best to assemble a written package for potential investors. Ideally, an entertainment attorney or experienced producer will create this package for you if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s always smart to advise potential investors that filmmaking is a risky venture, and that potential investors stand to lose their entire investment, and should not invest in your project unless they can afford to lose their entire investment. It’s not only stupid and unprofessional to promise any return on an investment, it’s highly unethical. And if you promise your investors a high return on their investment, you’re not just unethical, you’re either delusional or a dirt bag; most of the dirt bags who survive in this business (and there are plenty) are those who actually make money for their investors...or deal drugs on the side.
8. If you think it’s a good marketing plan for your film and your investors to start flame wars with other filmmakers, your marketing skills leave a lot to be desired and you should consider seeing a therapist, preferably one who can prescribe medication for you. The world of no-budget filmmaking is filled with raging egos coupled with raging insecurities, but the writers and editors of websites and magazines that might otherwise wish to cover your project, not to mention actors and crew members who might want to work with you in the future, witness such behavior and quickly determine that you are someone to avoid. Professional decorum is your friend!
7. If you promise the world that your low budget film is going to be “THE BIGGEST FRANCHISE SINCE SAW,” you’re asking for a fall; a big one. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put your reputation back together again. Few people realize it, but Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf we’re once aspiring filmmakers, and look what happened to their careers. Also, many of the people who were abused by Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf got together, shared stories, private emails and documents, and waited and cheered for their inevitable failure.
6. The person who says on set, “I know more about filmmaking than any of you!” probably knows the least.
5. If the filmmaker who boasts, “I’m living the life you only dream of living!” is telling the truth, he would be getting paid to make movies instead of posting his wishful thoughts online.
4. If people volunteer their time to work on your project, you owe it to them to finish that project, market it, and to do everything in your power to get it seen before you move on to the next one. It’s the least you can do. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the finished film. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything except some pretty pictures on Facebook.
3. Do not pay your editor in advance to complete your film if you know he likes to smoke rock, and if you do, make sure you have backup copies of all of your footage before you turn it over to him. As Whitney Houston said, "Crack is whack!"
2. It’s one thing to boast or lie about your project online or to your friends, it’s another to boast or lie about your project in a press release which you send out to websites. Actually, it’s not okay to boast or lie about your project to your friends or online, it makes you seem like a douche bag – but better to seem like a douche bag to your friends than to the editors of various sites that can cover your future projects or bury them. If you're work is any good, you won't have to lie about it.
1. Publicly arguing with your critics is the most obvious example that you just aren’t ready for prime time. Every review you get builds awareness for your film; if a reviewer throws a jab, take it on the chin. If not, your next film had better be as good as THE GODFATHER, because people will remember your infantile behavior and will refuse to give you another chance.
BONUS POINTER: Lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas; kiss a dog’s ass, catch a disease; stroke the ego of a rabid dog, and get what you deserve. I see it all the time: people work with unethical filmmakers because they think it will somehow be good for their careers, or think it that doing so can’t possibly hurt whatever reputation they have in whatever filmmaking community they belong to; they’re wrong. Rotten eggs produce foul odors which stink up resumes. We can’t all be good people all the time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Happy New Year!
If you recognize germs of truth in the above ramblings, and if you want an honest, no-bullshit look at the current state of micro-budget filmmaking and the distribution of such films, please check out my book CHEAP SCARES: Low Budget Filmmakers Share Their Secrets. It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, it's 100,000 words long (double the length of similar books), and it's "chock full" of rare stills. The book is available as both an oversize trade paperback and as a more affordable e-book:
For another comprehensive look at low budget filmmaking, please check out FILMING THE UNDEAD: HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN ZOMBIE MOVIE, written by Rod Durick, who supervised the special make-up effects on my film SLIME CITY MASSACRE and others. This is a gorgeously produced book, which you can get for the same prices as my e-book: