PRODUCTION TIPS: A Plan for Managing Film Funds in a Joint Account

“People who want to make a million borrow a million first”
― Sophie Kinsella, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan  

“Money often costs too much.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Money is both the lifeblood and the bane of film; we need it to express our visions on celluloid (or digital) but getting it is a struggle.  And getting the money is not only hard to get but also hard to keep.  Now, although most directors and producers (and sentient earthlings) would prefer to have the problems associated with money than be broke, it is still important to remember that keeping the money can be even more problematic than getting it.  That point was made vividly clear to me by a case I read recently and a question I came across on a Facebook group page. 

Essentially, they dealt with the strategy and consequences of handling money with a business partner and setting up a joint bank account for the purposes of a production. The case I read  dealt with the misappropriated funds of a movie named Shadow People (previously titled The Door and picked up at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 by Anchor Bay):
The director-writer Matthew Arnold was teaching at the New York Film Academy when he met Sun Jee Yoo, a student who expressed interest in raising money for his film project.  Together, they came to an agreement, put in writing, where Yoo was to use her best efforts to raise $4.5 million. She leveraged her connections back home in Korea and was able to raise the funds...
Most of the money went to the film's account but about a $1 million came later.  Instead of transferring it to the film production's account, Yoo put it in her personal account and used it as leverage to try to force Arnold to give up the rest of the money or the rights to the film.  To avoid further problems, he reduced the budget and gave her a portion of the money to return to investors.  Too bad she transferred the money to her own personal account instead.  At this point, Arnold's only recourse was to sue her, which he did and eventually won.  Read about the case here and the full ruling here

Around the same time I read this case, I came across a Facebook user in a film group who wanted help in setting up a joint bank account for a production.  Thinking about both the case and the question made me reflect on what a filmmaker can do to protect themselves from a potential thieving or negligent partner.  As you rise up the production ladder, you will do business with multiple partners or with investors who need assurances that you are doing the right thing with the money they give you.  Plus, you might want certain people in your crew to have access to production funds so that they can rent or buy the things necessary for the production.  And for all these reasons, you can easily find yourself having to set up a joint bank account.  

Although there is no perfect preventative system, there are things you can do to ensure that your funds will be used solely for production purposes.  Remember your last recourse is to go to court -- which you want to do the most to avoid.  (A caveat: Discuss your plan with a lawyer, accountant, bank, producer and/or consultant before setting up an account.)  Until then, here are some guidelines:
  1. First and foremost, ask yourself questions about the partner: Do you really TRUST this person?  How long have you known this person? What do your instincts tell you? What projects have they produced?  Are they more concerned with using the funds for the picture then for themselves i.e. what do they talk about more - the future movie or the future profits? Constant "future-profit talkers" would seem suspect in my book.
  2. Create a budget.  You need to know what you need the money for before you get it.  Even if it's mostly tentative, try to be as low-budget but as accurate as possible.  Include a contingency amount.
  3. Create your schedule.  Anticipate daily expenses.
  4. Discuss the use of funds and what your proper procedures for bookkeeping and withdrawals will be.  What will be the limit for daily withdrawals, if any? Who has access to the account? -- Issues like that.
  5. You need a pact.  Whatever you orally agree to, have your lawyer, consultant and/or accountant verify and approve your procedures. Then prepare a written agreement.  
  6. Preferably, set up one account under your name, assuming your partner will let you.  If not, choose a bank together that allows for joint bank accounts, then go to the bank together (if possible), discuss your concerns and procedures with your bank rep and open the bank account together.
  7. Once the funds are in, limit the daily withdrawals to what is needed based on the budget and schedule.  Put a cap on overall withdrawals.
  8. You will delegate certain jobs during the production but managing the money shouldn't be one of them.  All of the partners with power in the account should be proactive in keeping tabs on the money. At a minimum, you can set up a system where one partner pays the bills and the other reviews receipts.
  9. Check the account balance daily.
  10. One thing to consider with your bank is whether or not to institute a requirement of two signatures for account transactions.  Not all banks require this so if it's a concern for you then find a bank that allows two signatures.  Also, two signatures is a good system to have if any crew member is empowered to draw and sign checks.
  11. See if your bank provides online alerts that let you monitor account activity.  If so, use it.
  12. You might want someone in the crew like a PM or an Associate Producer to be able to draw and sign checks with autonomy.  If so, consider transferring money from the main account to another account that your crewmember can access without being able to dip into the main account.
  13. Require approvals of all the main partners in the agreement if you need to withdraw beyond any agreed-upon caps.
  14. In the end, if sh!t hits the fan and you ARE dealing with a dirty, rotten scoundrel, be proactive and have money set aside to go to court.  Just in case.

Overall, with this plan and good trustworthy people who believe in the movie (over profits), perform with diligent oversight, and are experienced in production, you should be fine sharing an account with them.  Personally, I like to believe people who work in film really want to do it for the future film and their future credit.  Thus, most people will think twice before potentially ruining their reputation to engage in criminal behavior. But because you're a professional, you know it's better to be safe than sorry.  

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 7.31.13

Captain's Log.
Star Date - 7.31.2013

It's the midweek hump and you're almost to Friday.  Even though it's early I'm pretty sure you're having a better day than English writer Daniel Defoe did today in 1703 when he was placed in a pillory for seditious libel after publishing a pamphlet politically satirising the High Church Tories.  And unlike back in 1703, you have access to information and knowledge at the click of a link.  The 21st century, ya gotta love it.

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 7.29.13

Captain's Log.
Star Date - 7.29.2013

Start your day with tips, articles, interviews and a mindblowing video. Btw, here's a clue to the video... the "creators" were born today in 1958 when U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, establishing a new federal non-military space agency known as NASA.

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Behind the scenes on 3 dope music videos

Some people don't like to know how a magician pulls off his tricks on stage to avoid spoiling their suspension of disbelief.  I'm not one of those people; I want to know and I appreciate any opportunity to see how it's done.  Besides, the technical trick itself is just one of the many elements to enjoy in a good show, there's also the banter, the misdirection, sleight of hand, etc. So knowing how it's done doesn't detract from the overall experience for me. Creating illusions as well, the filmmaker is also like a magician and for those of us making a living making films and videos we have to constantly pierce the veil on how things are done.  With this knowledge, we learn how great videos are made and then use that knowledge to replicate or, even better, improve upon what's been done.  Then if we're good enough, the next filmmaker will take what we've done and build upon that. And so on, until cinema is no more.

Being a big fan of music videos, I was happy to find behind-the-scenes videos of 3 songs I really, really like.  For the songs and the visuals, equally.

1. M.I.A. "Bad Girls"

Making "Bad Girls"

2. M83 "Wait"


Making "Wait"

3.  Twin Shadows "Tyrant Destroyed"


Making "Tyrant Destroyed"

CASE STUDY for Love Never Dies (a short based on a Stephen King story)

LOVE NEVER DIES... Sometimes it kills!

One could say that we make films because we are so haunted by the movies we saw in our past that we feel compelled to create new ones. That might explain why director/producer Peter Szabo has been wanting to make films ever since Jaws scared the wits out of him as a little boy.  It also hints at the haunted protagonist at the heart of Peter's latest short, Love Never Dies.  Thematically, Peter is attracted to dark and tragic tales so it's no surprise that he adapted "Nona" by Stephen King for Love Never Dies after acquiring the non-commercial adaptation rights through the Dollar Baby Scheme.

TITLE: Love Never Dies
GENRE: horror/thriller short (35 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Peter Szabo
PRODUCERS: Peter Szabo and Reese Eveneshen
BUDGET: $10,000
FINANCING FROM: In-kind donations and Self-financing
PRODUCTION DATES: March 13 through April 3, 2011
POST PRODUCTION DATES: April 2011 through November 2012
CAMERA: Canon 7D
SHOOTING FORMAT: Digital 23.98 fps
SCREENING FORMAT: DVD, Blu-ray, and HD QuickTime file
SYNOPSIS: Based on the short story, NONA, by acclaimed Master of Horror fiction, Stephen King, LOVE NEVER DIES follows a drifter who wanders the night, seeking to escape his tormented past. One night, he meets the mysterious and seductive Nona, a woman cast from his darkest fantasies, who lures him on a deadly chase to uncover the horrifying truth he so desperately wants to avoid. Inspired by the creepy corners of King’s imagination, LOVE NEVER DIES explores the razor-thin line that separates the allure of love from the romance of murder.


Development and Financing

1. ACQUIRE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THAT IS A WELL-KNOWN COMMODITY OR PARTNER WITH A FAMOUS PERSON TO GET AUDIENCES INTERESTED.  On April 2010, Peter obtained permission from Stephen King to adapt one of the available shorts through the Dollar Baby Scheme King has set up.  From May through November 2010, Peter wrote and revised and rewrote the script adaptation.  Aside from enjoying the short story, Peter reasoned that adapting a Stephen King story would attract attention from within and without the horror genre and further his career as a filmmaker. 

2. IT'S OK TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE ORIGINAL SOURCE AND SACRIFICE SPECIAL EFFECTS IF IT SERVES THE NEEDS OF THE STORY.  Part of what led Peter to revise the script numerous times is that he was aware of his budget and he wanted to ensure he would not be like the typical filmmaker unable to complete the project.  Therefore, he decided to eliminate or reduce some special effects that would be needed to transform the original story directly to screen. Thinking low budget was actually helpful too since it allowed him to rethink scenes, as he states, "I was unsatisfied with the logistical need for the biggest effects sequences and was happy to rethink the scenes for more practical story and production purposes."  Peter then financed the short with his own funds and paid the cast and crew with discounted fees, credits and viable experiences in a film with potential.

Flexibility was key in having a short story meant to be read be appealing in a medium meant to be watched and heard.  In adapting the story, Peter clarified with Stephen King’s office his need to take liberties with certain story elements and even the title, to focus more on the psychological aspects of the horror rather than the supernatural horror elements in the story. For example, he thought the original story title, Nona, didn’t give any sense of what the genre of the film might be and could be confused with an aunt or grandmother, to whom the term Nona is applied in other languages.  Hence, NONA became LOVE NEVER DIES.

3. ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP LOCATION. Locations are crucial to every film production and filmmakers go through extraordinary lengths to acquire rights to use them (or even 'steal' them).  But hard-fought locations can disappear at a moment's notice that's why it pays to have an alternate location.  As Peter recalls, "I had been told that a critical location (the cemetery) would be donated by the city, but when it came time to sign agreements, a higher management staff member demanded thousands of dollars for the location expense. I declined the demand for a location fee and quickly found an alternate cemetery that was donated to the production at no cost."  Although the first cemetery was ideal with a chapel-mausoleum suitable for exteriors and interiors, Peter had to be creative with his options once he lost it. "When I was unable to acquire an ideal location with access to the interior of a chapel or mausoleum, I ended up using a cemetery and chapel only for the exteriors, and then had to change the script to have the characters enter the basement of the chapel, so that I used the basement of an old home for the interior."


4. DON'T RUSH GATHERING YOUR CAST AND CREW, THE EXHAUSTIVE SEARCH IS WORTH IT EVEN IF YOU FIND WHAT YOU NEED CLOSE TO HOME.  With the help of Reese Eveneshen, Peter was in preproduction from December 2010 to March 2011, arranging for a cast, crew, locations, props and other items required during this phase.  He rented a Canon 7D camera, 3 "redhead" 1000K lights with stands, plus some light panels and a Lowel Pro light kit. For audio, he rented a Sennheiser Shotgun mic and Sennheiser Wireless Lapel Mic kit of 4 mics. All on-set audio was recorded with a Edirol R-44 digital recorder. He also secured a 2nd 7D as an in-kind donation from a camera assistant who brought his own camera and donated it and his talents for 2nd camera setups on some shots. Using DSLR cameras simplified production in terms of not needing to load tape or film, and being able to shoot up to 45 minutes of footage on one SD card.  Fortunately, all locations were in-kind donations and even city permits were free.  Key crew members were carefully selected and paid discounted fees by Peter.  Via word-of-mouth, Peter found volunteers who could work as production assistant.  Peter conducted open casting auditions in Toronto and Guelph, Ontario to find the main roles and ended casting close to home; Erin Stuart, the woman handling wardrobe and makeup--knocked it out of the park and was exactly what he was looking for in the lead female, Nona.Then on top of that, Erin did her audition with her boyfriend and one of the film’s producer, Reese Eveneshen, who did such an amazing job in the lead role of Steve that he ended up being casted, as well.  Without a wide net casted over many potential actors, Peter could not have determined that the principal roles should be played by people close to the production. Key crew members like the DP, AC,1st and 2nd ADs were paid discounted fees. Principal roles were paid $50 per day.  All minor cast and crew members were volunteers.


5. GO SLOW TO GIVE YOU TIME AND MONEY TO COMPLETE THE SHOOT.   "Spacing out the shoot days was actually a boon. Although we spread out the 11 shooting days over 5 weeks because we had to work days jobs, it did offer us the advantage to meet between shoot days and improve our planning and on-set production efforts."  Shooting was slated for weekends during the period of March 13 through April 3. Aside from discussing the script and rehearsing, he prepared the 2 leads by taking them on a tour of all the locations in the same sequence they would appear in the finished film, so that they could experience the journey of their characters.  Then during the shoot he would have brief discussions, one-on-one, on set before and between set-ups.  Like a consummate professional, Peter conducted several face-to-face preproduction meetings with the crew.  He continued having follow-up meeting through the weeks of shooting with weekly face-to-face production meetings between the shoot dates. He was organized and kept cast and crew up-to-date with an email exchange for call sheets and important details. 

6. YOU NEED AN A.D. AND/OR PRODUCTION MANAGER YOU CAN DEPEND ON.  "A good 1st AD or Production Manager to lead the crew in arranging all aspects of equipment and set up is a MUST. You need to have regular meetings with them between shooting days to discuss what worked and what needs improvement. It's very important that I as director and producer can delegate the coordination of the crew and equipment to the 1st AD and Production Manager, so that I can show up on set and everything’s ready for me to start preparing shots."   With the help of the AD and the Production Manager, he stored schedules, release forms, production plans, scripts, and any other production documents in a shared Google Drive folder, for all to access.  Gas, supplies, and transportation expenses were reimbursed.  When weather conditions forced them to postpone the shoot 3 times, Peter was able to rely on his AD and Production Manager to figure out better weather days, rearrange logistics and reschedule the entire cast and crew for an alternate shoot.

7. ASSUME PROBLEMS WILL ARISE BECAUSE THEY WILL BUT AT LEAST ANTICIPATION WILL PREPARE YOU TO DEAL WITH THEM.  Despite the diligent preparation, "Murphy's law" couldn't be denied and the shoot faced a couple of on-set challenges.  The first one occurred when a lighting rig blew over in the wind on an exterior set, causing an hour delay.  The crew jumped into action replacing the broken light bulb.  Then the 2nd AD stood and braced the lighting rig with his body during the rest of the shooting time which was about 2 hours.  The second caught the filmmakers by surprise when one street location which seemed remote and quiet at night during their location scouting turned out to get busy during certain intervals. This was due to a local factory with multiple shift workers letting their people out during times that coincided exactly with the shoot.  This caused repeated delays due to traffic control issues. To resolve the traffic issue, the filmmakers were forced to grab short shots between the waves of passing cars. The third challenge occurred when the fog machine effects technician jumped into a ditch to avoid being in a shot; he twisted his knee and tore his ACL.   Fortunately, there was a nurse watching the film shoot from the sidelines, who examined and diagnosed the injury as non-criticalA P.A. drove the technician home and shooting resumed.  As a result, Peter realized the importance of having someone with first-aid training around.  (I recommend at least having a first aid book and kit handy on the set. ~~ danny indio) "Overall," says Peter, "Everyone worked incredibly well together and there were no complaints--only smiles and appreciation for the opportunity to contribute."


8. THE BEST SPECIAL FX ARE NOT ALWAYS THE MOST EXPENSIVE ONES BUT THE ONES THAT ADD TO THE MOOD AND ATMOSPHERE AND SHOCK THE AUDIENCE WITHOUT TAKING THEM OUT OF THE STORY.  Soon after shooting ended, Peter jumped into action.  He already knew what he wanted for visual FX and the score since it was planned in advance. But the rough cut had to to come first.  "I did the first rough edit. Then I passed the first edit to producer and lead actor, Reese Eveneshen, for an editing polish. He sent me newly edited complete versions of film... I made notes, we met and discussed changes, and they were implemented."  From the get-go with the script, Peter had dramatically reduced the number of special effects from the original story to use the most effective ones that could be transmitted effectively with his budget.  During his edits, Peter experimented with video filters in Final Cut Pro which he used to add distinct effects to the internal, fantasy sequences that marked them as mental visions and not actual events.  After visual effects were complete and inserted, a colorist corrected the entire film.  

9. SKIMP ON GETTING GOOD SOUND ON THE SET AND YOU WILL PAY A STEEP PRICE IN POST.  The one thing that Peter overlooked was getting a topnotch soundman; this is a typical problem for filmmakers more concerned with the look or the acting than the sound.  Unfortunately for Peter, much of the on-set audio was unusable due to generator noise, restaurant fans, and other weather elements but the sound recordist was determined to correct the problems.  He committed to doing post-production work such as audio fx, Foley, and sound mix to correct the bad audio.  During the shoot, Peter had foreseen the possibility of some audio problems and informed the sound recordist to tell him of any problems while recording on the set.  The sound recordist was upfront and let Peter know about the problems so that he could fix it in post. "We had to do ADR for about half of the dialog." He also paid two writers for the score and one song according to his original plans.  He considered paying for sync and master rights to one background song but, after many emails and phone calls, he learned that "just the sync rights for a song I wanted in the background of a bar scene, would be $500. I would then have to pay another few hundred for the master recording license." That went beyond his budget.  Instead, Peter hired a songwriter to write an song with a similar mood and rhythm for the background song.   

10.  DO A TEST SCREENING BEFORE SENDING TO FILM FESTIVALS.  After a final audio mix was delivered, Peter screened the film in a theater and discovered many issues where dialog wasn’t in sync with lips, audio levels were too high or low, etc. The audio engineer completed another mix, using the notes we compiled from the theater screening, and the next audio mix was excellent.  After getting audience feedback and ensuring any sound quality issues were taken care of, Peter locked picture and was ready for festivals and distribution.


WORLD PREMIERE:   Short Chills and Thrills Film Festival, Guelph, Ontario, Canada - Oct. 28, 2012. 

AWARDS: None so far

Since the film was shot in full HD (1920 x 1080) and he wanted it to play well on a cinema screen, Peter had to export the file and burn Blu-ray copies.  "Unfortunately, no one that I knew in Guelph had a Blu-ray burner, so I had to ship a hard drive to Toronto and pay for Blu-ray authoring and burning. By the time of our second festival screening, we had re-mixed the audio and I couldn’t afford the time or money to have it authored in Toronto. Fortunately, I discovered that a filmmaking colleague had a Blu-ray burner so I was able to burn new copies for free."

11. MAKE AN EVENT OUT OF YOUR TEST SCREENINGS TO BUILD BUZZ AND RAISE FUNDS FOR YOUR PRODUCTION OR A CAUSE.  Peter had his press releases printed in local papers. He then arranged a screening at the repertory  theater using Facebook and direct invitations to friends, family, cast, and crew.  The gala screening event was sold out to 130 people and also served as a fundraiser for a local media arts organization.  Overall, his initial strategy to reach local audiences was effective.  

12. DON'T BE DISHEARTENED WHEN THINGS DON'T PAN OUT EXACTLY AS YOU PLANNED, YOUR FILM WILL STILL FIND SUCCESS IN UNEXPECTED WAYS ONCE YOU PUT IT IN THE FILM FESTIVAL PIPELINE.  The next phase of his plan involved selecting 10-12 2nd and 3rd tier festivals with mainly genre focuses on horror, supernatural, thriller.  This phase of the plan has not been completely successful so far since the film has been rejected from about 5 festivals.  However he is still waiting to hear from 5 more regarding acceptance.   "Part of my calculation was that I thought the Stephen King name would attract attention and improve my odds of acceptance at festivals.  It's still too early to know for sure how much his name has improved my odds.  This strategy has worked at festivals that screen King Dollar Babies exclusively.  As a result, Love Never Dies was invited to screen in The Netherlands and Argentina at King Festivals this Fall 2013.  I also sent a Blu-ray copy to Stephen King but I’ve not yet heard from him on whether he watched it and if so, what he thought of it." 

After the premiere in Guelph, a Toronto horror film festival organizer contacted me and asked to screen Love Never DIes as an official selection at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Independent Horror Film Festival, Dec. 2, 2012. Press and social media helped successfully spread the word about the film for a well-received screening in Toronto, Canada.


As of July 24, 2013, Love Never Dies is an official selection in the Macabre Faire Film Festival in Pennsylvania, scheduled for Sept. 6-8. 2013.  The film is still pending notice of acceptance in about 5 other film festivals.  Peter will also be applying to more festivals over the next 6 - 12 months, as notices of acceptance come in and based on a limited festival submission budget.  

Peter Szabo's personal tips:
  • "It bears repeating here (and elsewhere): Ensure you have a qualified sound recordist for all production shoots, even if you have to pay a little extra. You will likely need to pay even more in post-production for flawed audio.  So make damn sure audio is recorded well. Listen to playback of audio recordings either on set or after the shoot and before the next shoot day, so that corrections can be made for subsequent on-set shoots." 
  • "When shooting exteriors, know the weather conditions down to the hour.  And because the weather is finicky, be prepared for rain, cold, and even snow when you least expect it by having the proper gear to deal with it or an alternate schedule."
  • "For your key cast and crew, make sure everyone is committed to doing their best, is enthusiastic about filmmaking in all aspects, has no ego invested in shining brighter than other players, and is committed to all production days in advance. In no- to low-budget filmmaking, integrity, accountability, creativity, and passion are the keys to a successful project."

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Midweek Morning Mixer - 7/24/13

Captain's Log. 
Star Date 07.24.13

Lots to read and think about if you're a producer or a director, so let's just jump right into it.
  • Variety's latest article makes me think of the following: In the aftermath of some horrible box office numbers for tentpole films, will the studios still prefer spending $250 million on a single movie and letting more quirky or personal films migrate to video-on-demand?  With big- budget event movies cannibalizing each other, will the overseas market grow fast enough to make up for the collateral damage?  Instead of throwing money at a film or an actor and hoping for the best, is there a better, more analytic way to determine beforehand if a film is worth making, and at what specific dollar value?
  • According to Henry Selick, animation also seems to be infected with the condition of "big blockbuster bloatedness" too.  Are creative diversity and online streaming the answer?
  • 6 Lessons from the new digital distribution universe that begins by giving Harmony Korine props for being one of the first to use tweens with a big social media following in what Anthony Kaufman predicts will be a trend.
  • And, since we're talking about Korine, let's read about Korine in an interview with the Spring Breakers director.
  • Spike Lee is now the most prestigious director to join the Kickstarter free-for-all.  He gets support from Steven Soderbergh.
  • A dissection of Michelangelo Antonioni's memorable opening to L'eclisse and how it sets the tone and themes for what's to follow.
  • BBC and the Arts Council of England's youtube video - Storytelling: How to make a short for online audiences.
  • Good overview advice on writing a grant proposal.  Documentary filmmakers start taking notes.
  • Special Effects Unit Director Ray Tintori for Beasts of the Southern Wild talks us through the film's visual effects, and how they had to navigate shots around the tragic Louisiana oil spill.
  • The Movie Set app: Using your iPhone you can set up and record movie clips and upload them to a cloud storage system while also using a back end server for device co-ordination. Up to 10 iPhones can record simultaneously and it's FREE.
    Leaders from all corners of the TV business will be at NYC Television Week, including industry management, programmers, technologists, engineers and talent, as well as those who want to reach TV advertisers and sponsors. - See more at:
    Conferences, award presentations, networking events and seminars are planned - See more at:
    Conferences, award presentations, networking events and seminars are planned - See more at:
    Conferences, award presentations, networking events and seminars are planned - See more at:
    Conferences, award presentations, networking events and seminars are planned - See more at:

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Monday Morning Mixer - 7/22/13

Captain's Log. Star Date 07.22.13
The cycle continues.  A new day begins a new week to learn more about producing, directing, lighting and editing, read about what Hollywood cares about nowadays (hint: s_perh_roes) or get inspired by the rules of a master and the vision of a photographer (who was himself inspired by early films).  You see the cycle continues...
  1. San Diego Comic Con 2013 news roundup on all the movies and tv shows discussed, mentioned, poured over, screamed for, drooled about, hollered at and high-fived.
  2. Ted Hope and Christine Vachon's FREE 4-hour filmmaking masterclass seminar. Did I mention it was FREE*. (hat tip to nofilmschool)
  3. Wim Wenders' nifty 50 rules of filmmaking. (hat tip to Roger Duck)
  4. Pulp Art Book: a multimedia project by Los Angeles based artist Neil Krug in a creative collaboration with Joni Harbeck, wherein his photography can be seen in limited edition prints, books and films. Check out some pieces from Pulp Art Book: Vol. 2 inspired by Poliziotteschi films, a sub-genre of crime and action film that emerged in Italy in the late 1960s and reached the height of their popularity in the 1970s.
  5. Master-critic David Bordwell's video essay on constructive editing.
  6. Interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn on Only God Forgives and his moviemaking career.
  7. Shoot your documentary with your iPhone.  Yeah... it's still a viable method.
  8. Music video cinematographer, Matthias Koenigswieser, talks about the craft and art of shooting and lighting videos. 
  9. An opportunity for an IFP-member producer with a feature film under her belt to attend the Rio Market on October 1-4, 2013. (hat tip to Vanessa Erazo)

*Seriously, it's free. You do have to register but that's free too.

PRODUCTION TIPS: What is your BRAND as a filmmaker or crew member?

One drawback of making shooting and editing technology accessible to the masses is that the field gets crowded with more filmmakers vying for the limited attention of audiences and clients.  And while technology has made the field more democratic, it hasn't leveled the pyramidic structure of the movie industry.  At the top of the movie industry are the titans like Spielberg, Lucas, Scorcese, Malick, Nolan and all the other A-list Hollywood filmmakers.  Below them are the top indie filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Jared Hess, Neill Blomkamp, Shane Carruth (you could also add the top directors in television, music videos, commercials and documentaries here). Below them are the filmmakers who have had their films appear in the top film festivals, at least once, and are in a good position to move up the pyramid with their next project.  Below them are the filmmakers who have a very good track record overall; a combination of lots of festival screenings, financiers willing to fund their projects and/or steady clients in the advertising/corporate/music/fashion world.  Below them are the ones starting to break through in festivals, are getting clients and building buzz.  Below that are the ones just starting out. And below that are the wannabes who talk your ear off about the awesome movie they're going to make but never get around to making it.

How do the ones in the lower levels of the pyramid hope to compete and make it to the coveted A-list?  One plus of working in film is that you can skyrocket up to the top out of obscurity in a short amount of time with a great script and film.  But while it's a possibility, it's not a given. More realistically it will take hard work, building relationships and making good films over a period of time. And aside from talent and tenacity, you need a brand identity to stand out.  Corporate buzzwords like "brand identity" are anathema to artists.  I had a similar conviction before until I accepted a truth you already know deep down in your core: FILM IS AS MUCH A BUSINESS AS IT IS AN ART NOWADAYS, PROBABLY MORESO (and maybe it's always been that way since the silent era).  Knowing that doesn't mean you have to sell out your convictions but it does mean that you need to understand how to attract the lifeline of filmmaking: money.  And to attract money, it helps to use some of the business principles that others are using to attract and make money.  Being an artist is no longer an excuse to remain ignorant of the business of such an expensive artform.

First of all, while we see works of art and art making when we think of film and filmmaking, many others simply see products and services. So for the terms of brand building, let's consider film and filmmaking (whether you're the producer/director or a crew member) as products and services, respectively.  Second of all, products and services now overlap because services are more and more defined by their products and products are defined by their services. For example, when you think of high fashion or luxury cars or a top writer you presume that the quality and craftsmanship is high and that belief is not shaken unless your experience with it convinces you it's crap. On the contrary, low quality products like things made in China bear the stigma of cheapness and it's hard to overcome that stigma once it's burned in.  This relates to film too and, for better or for worse, filmmakers and others in the filmmaking industry (actors, writers, crew members, etc.) are branded as high or low quality types. Note, that it's ok to be low quality in the sense of making B-movie films, for example, IF that's what you're aiming for.  (The point is to know that THAT'S what you're aiming for) Finally, while you don't have to be stuck as one type forever since the process of filmmaking allows you to work in different styles, stories and genres, the world still judges you by your products and services and how they are perceived. Thus, YOU can take extensive steps to brand yourself in the manner you want.  And it's best that YOU do it so that you can stand out from all the other filmmakers and production companies and, also, avoid being branded as something you don't want to be.

So how do you differentiate yourself from other filmmakers and production companies?  By developing your brand in the tv/film industry, now and for as long as you work in film/tv.  For the purposes of your film career, your brand is not just your company's name/your individual birth name/nickname/alterego, logo, reel, website, and/or tagline, it's also the sum of your reputation coupled with people's expectations, knowledge, memories and relationships that taken together account for a client's/employer's/audience's decision to choose your services or product over another.  If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a client, an employer, a crew member or an audience) doesn’t hire you, donate to your crowdfunding campaign, choose your movie, work on your crew or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. (hat tip to Seth Godin) YOUR BRAND STRATEGY MUST CLARIFY AND SPECIFY WHO YOU ARE TO MAXIMIZE YOUR SUCCESS WITH THE CONSUMER. You can do this without compromising your artistic ideals because it's not about subjecting your vision to some Hollywood formula.  Instead it's about thinking of your individual's or company's unique value and figuring out ways to make the consumer want it again and again.

Your brand should project 4 ideas:
  1. who you are,
  2. what you do,
  3. how you do it, and
  4. where you want to go.
Generate an exhaustive list of nouns, verbs and adjectives from the 4 ideas your brand should project. Then out of that list, pick out at least 3 things you want your brand to represent.  These could form the substance of your tagline or the core of your company statement if you're doing a business plan. In addition, out of that list identify at least 3 values you want your brand to be associated with on a consistent basis when you work with clients, work on the set, and/or engage with your crew/employees.  They could also represent the themes of your scripts and movies. This works especially well with genre filmmakers who make horror, action, comedy, etc. and want to establish a niche they want to be known for or corner the market with their brand of films. Under this rubric, the most successful genre filmmaker IMO opinion is Walt Disney; we all know what his brand stands for without thinking twice. 

Once you've chosen your ideas, nouns, verbs, adjectives, things and values, know that your identity manifests itself through 4 main vectors in the film industry:
  1. products and services - your films, work ethic and talent,
  2. environments - the film set, film festivals, workshops, panels, social media and other places where you sell and perform your services or make and present your products,
  3. communications - your website, business cards, networking style, email etiquette, social media and other ways you talk about your products or services,
  4. behavior - how you behave to and with your crew, peers, clients and the world in person, on the phone and online.
So make it a point to make everything you or your company does project a clear idea of what it is as a brand and what your goals are within the 4 main vectors in the film industry. Consistency is the key.

  • Think long term.
  • Know what aspect of your company predominates within the 4 main vectors and use that to your advantage.  Also consider working on your weaker aspects so that your strong aspects are not negated.
  • Rethink your current logo, tagline, reel, website, reputation, personal stories, and name(s) in light of the 4 ideas you are projecting in the 4 environments.  How you can improve each of those items or spread their influence to strengthen your overall brand.
  • Think about your audience and how they will react to your brand.  Your audience consists of two types: the immediate people and the sought-after people.  The immediate people are the people who hire you and/or work for you, under you or with you during every phase of production from development to marketing (paid or deferred). The sought-after people are the people all filmmakers search for after they have made their films; the critics, the festival judges, the general moviewatching audience, the film buyers, etc.  Since you as a filmmaker will most likely provide both products and services you will be catering to the immediate people AND the sought-after people.  Do not undervalue or throw the immediate people under the bus in your quest for the sought-after people.  The immediate people are just as important, if not more important, than the sought-after types because they believe in you before the film gets made and you will need them or their peers again for your next film.
  • Remember CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY.  Your brand is determined by your ongoing behavior, whether you're working for a company full time or on a production for a limited time.
  • When you work for a company, consider that you will be representing your company's brand and identity as well as your own when you work for them.  Can you do so or does it conflict with your ideas, goals and values?  If it does conflict, then does working for the company serve your long term needs? 
Building your brand is an ongoing project which you should do in conjunction with working in film or making film.  Your brand is one of the key elements in your strategy to make it to the top in the film industry because to stand out you first need to know what you stand for. ~~Danny Indio

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist

The COVID-19 “Get Back to Filmmaking” Checklist A 40-point checklist from development to post-production   by Danny Jiminian