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8.08.2015

CASE STUDY: Six 2 Six (an indie feature film)


Six 2 Six | Cassandra “Cass” Riddick (dir) | Release date: October or November 2015 USA | 90 minutes (est.) Format: 2.5K (Blackmagic)

The entertainment industry is a tough business that chews people up with the consistency of a meat grinder. It's no wonder that the shelf-life for many filmmakers is short. But for a brave few, filmmaking is a passion that can't be ignored. Through sheer willpower and creative talent, these brave few make their dreams come true and keep on making it. Cassandra Riddick is one of the brave few. She has that perfect combination of artistic creativity, business savvy, managerial instinct and charming personality that I would argue are the main reasons to her success. She is also someone who takes what she has learned in her past productions to be better and more efficient in her future productions.  And through it all she treats her co-producers, crew, cast and everyone else in her circle with love and respect because they are like her extended family.

Her latest film is Six 2 Six, a film she co-wrote, co-produced and directed this year. The film, currently in post-production and set to be released later this year, is cast with familiar R&B and hip hop faces such as Grammy award winner and R&B diva Syleena Johnson, the ol skool legend Chief Rocker Busy Bee, golden age era rapper Treach from Naughty By Nature, DJ Squirrel Wyde from 92.Q (a local Baltimore Radio Station) and DJ Cutt.  

For filmmakers out there, Cass was gracious enough to share her advice and experience in the latest Film Strategy case study. Read the whole piece; she offers gems of good advice that I am sure all of you making movies will find extremely helpful. (Disclaimer: I worked on the Six 2 Six production as legal counsel.)

TITLE: Six 2 Six
GENRE: Drama, Urban
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: (alphabetical order) Gabriel Abato, Rassan Hammond, Kevin Scott Loma, Cassandra Riddick
DP: Jimmy Powell
EDITOR: Jimmy Powell
MUSIC: Mark Lavelle Powell
BUDGET: $50,000 (estimated final)
FINANCING FROM: 
  • Donations: recording studio location 
  • In-Kind Donations: lighting equipment, lens kit and services 
  • Self-Financing  
  • Equity Financing  
  • Crowdfunding ($10,500 indiegogo campaign).
PRODUCTION DATES: June 6, 2015 - June 27, 2015
POST-PRODUCTION DATES: as of August 5, 2015, still in post production
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes (est.)
SHOOTING FORMAT: Digital 2.5k (Blackmagic)
SCREENING FORMAT: 1080i

SYNOPSIS: Monte Vincent and Damien Jones, both from Baltimore City, spend an entire 24 hour period mirroring each other until their destined meeting point. Throughout the day, they continously cross each other's path and begin to get suspicious of one another. In the end, they both make choices that will change their lives forever.


DEVELOPMENT AND FINANCING
  • What were the development dates? December 1, 2014 through March 2015.
  • Tell me a little about your background as a filmmaker? I shot my first film, a short film for the BET/Kaiser Permanente Rap-It-Up HIV AIDS Short Film Competition. I was one of the Top Ten Winners in 2006. I didn’t win first place but someone saw my short and thought I should make it into a feature film. I did and I have been working on my film career for the last 8 ½ years ever since. The picture I was working with before this one is called Charm City Blues and it is currently making its festival run right now.

  • Why were you attracted to Six 2 Six as a concept? I liked the original script. I thought it was different than the urban dramas out today and I loved the way the main characters moved throughout the story. Sort of a six degrees of separation type of set up. Gabriel Abato who plays one of the lead characters is also owner and rapper of a label called Six 2 Six Records.  Six 2 Six is loosely based on his journey as an artist and entrepreneur and his fellow artists' lives. Once I got involved I flipped the script he and Janine wrote and gave it a little more punch and I scaled the story to fit the budget I had in mind.
  • During the budgeting phase what were your concerns? My concerns were when you have more than two to three locations you need a little more crew, locations of course, food for everyone, props, set dressing if necessary. We were blessed to have resources in place to curb most of those costs.
  • What was your strategy to finance the picture? I knew from the onset that I could get the financing from amongst my colleagues/partners in Baltimore. Gabriel Abato is one of the initial investors because it is his concept/story and he told me about a couple of his colleagues whom he felt would also put up some of the funding.
  • What challenges did you face at this stage? None at all. They understood my plan and we made it work.
  • How did you finance throughout the making of the picture? Gabriel Abato, Hassan Hammond and Kevin Scott Loma put up the equity funding. I also paid for additional administrative, lodging, food and production meetings before and during filming. 
ADVICE FOR FILMMAKERS AT THE FINANCING STAGE

My advice is to create a proposal/business plan for the film first. I think of how to make the “shoe fit the foot” as I budget for the project. That means you try your best to create a great story that you know you can shoot with the resources available and a budget you can raise. This does not mean you have to sacrifice any technical aspects of the film or comprise the integrity of the story. You may not be able to afford the most expensive camera but a good camera and creativity will make a good quality picture.

I also suggest to have a variety of ways to obtain funding. You can self-finance, offer equity shares, crowd fund, get grants and find other creative ways to meet your budget goals. Pre-sales is very hard to obtain for low-budget independent films with a name cast and almost impossible with a no-name cast. Pre-sales aren’t exactly big in Hollywood these days as well. Pre-sales deals are based on selling the right to distribute a film in different territories before the film is completed. To get one of those rare deals you need a really good script and a star cast.

My research has shown me that there are four main methods of financing the production of a film. 
  • government grants;
  • tax incentives and shelters;
  •  crowdfunding; and
  • financing (debt or equity).
My advice is to research and learn each aspect of these methods to be able to pitch your project to potential investors, obtain grants, etc.

PRE-PRODUCTION
  • What were the pre-production dates? March through May 2015
  • What equipment did you use? Black Magic 2.5 K camera, Boom, separate recording, LED lights, and background lights, colored bulbs, lenses, filters, sliders, steady cam,
  • Why did you shoot with the particular equipment you shot with? This is our second project where we used the Black Magic. It shoots in low light and we like the particular style and look it gives to close-up shots. We wanted to do more handheld work and we as a production move pretty fast to get through pages of script and at least two locations a day.
  • How did you choose the look of your locations or your cast outfits? Jimmy Powell, my DP, and I have a love of texture and color. We are both are fine artists as well and we see everything in color. We also like to work in wide open spaces for movement so the use of depth of field is important to us. Mike Winfield, my costume designer, and I had the actors write about their characters. Mike read the script and come up with outfits, colors and ideas for the simplest things he thinks an actor should wear or use for their characters. He collaborates with the actors and I trust his talent so he just brings the goods.
  • How did you get your cast and/or the crew? Most of the crew are people I have worked together with before and the cast came from announcements via social media and actors and indie filmmaker groups. We were blessed to get such an amazing cast. We were also blessed to get a few known names in the project. like Syleena Johnson, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Treach, DJ Squirrel Wyde and DJ Cutt.
  • How did you overcome any challenges at this phase? I worked with the local talent for the Baltimore/DC/Virginia area. I knew the budget I had to secure the name actors. I didn’t have many challenges because the actors loved the project so that was half the battle. I also worked with a few of the actors before on my last project. I like to work with the same crew and we keep our family of actors working on all our projects as much as possible.
(from l. to r.) Elliot Lyles, Syleena Johnson and Gabriel "M.I." Abato

ADVICE FOR FILMMAKERS IN THE PRE-PRODUCTION STAGE

My advice is to hire the best crew you can even if they lack experience as long as they are motivated BECAUSE MOTIVATION CAN GO A LONG WAY. Stay focused and organize all of your work. If dealing with SAG keep your paperwork in order. Reach out to your SAG representative if you need assistance. From the start, if you can afford to put in legal work in the budget hire the best lawyer you can afford. It is a plus if your lawyer is familiar with filmmaking and can give you advice.

Please allow yourself ample amount of time to get the best locations possible that you envision. I try to get all of my locations for free. One of the things that can eat into your budget is location cost. We were blessed to have to pay little to nothing for a couple of our locations. As an independent filmmaker my greatest advice to my fellow filmmakers is to plan and keep great records. Communication is key and it is not just a cliché, it is the single most important thing you can do to have a successful shoot.

PRODUCTION
  • What challenges did you face on the set? We didn’t face too many challenges. One concern about the Black Magic camera is that it can get very hot. We knew this from last year’s production so we planned accordingly. Having a small crew also can bring challenges. I do a lot of prepping in pre-production so there isn’t any problem during production or post. I do know though that it may take a little longer for set up and shooting with one camera.
  • How did you resolve the challenges? We built into the schedule time to wait until the camera cooled off before we would resume shooting. We prepared shot lists before we shot. Also, my crew and I have several meetings to talk about how we will work at the beginning and end of each shoot day. Also, we split up teams on our heaviest days. We would send my Assistant and a couple of PA’s to get ready for the second location, order lunch or pick up actors. We discussed it during our meetings and it worked out very well.
  • How did you work with your cast? I have been told I am OCD with organizing my projects. I first have to put on my Producer’s hat to make sure everything is on point with cast and crew. I then put on my Director’s hat and I email my cast to make certain their availability is set. I make sure they talk to my costume designer, my assistants for their paperwork and then we discuss their characters. When it comes to directing actors, I am very much a Robert Altman-type director. I trust the actors and give them creative space and shelter for them do what they do best - act.
  • Any challenges on the set? Time constraints on location were sometimes challenging but nothing major. Sometimes, we couldn't quite get started on time. But since I don’t like to overstay my welcome, we moved at a pace that some may not be quite use to on a set. I do a lot of apologizing to my cast and crew if we are running over time and I am known for working at the speed of light.
ADVICE TO FILMMAKERS DURING THE PRODUCTION STAGE

My advice is to make sure you do a checklist of items that are taken care of during the development and pre-production stages. As I said before, it helps to be prepared and organized. During production make sure everyone is on the same page. Have your production book ( the "Bible") with all of your production forms, contracts, pics, etc. in the book within arms reach so that if you need anything you have it on hand.

On location, anything can happen and you have to be able to adjust and keep moving to complete the film. You should have your DP dump the dailies so they can be viewed to make notes that night. Prepare a shot list during Pre-Production with your DP. As I said earlier stated, communicate consistently and have 3-5 extra scripts on the set.
Cass checks the shot with One Way or Another Productions producer, Princeton Holt
POSTPRODUCTION
  • What is your plan for post? During post, I am working with Jimmy Powell as my main editor. We have worked together for about six years now. Since he is also the DP, he is already very familiar with the story and its flow but I make sure he has his edit logs to review, if necessary. I also gave him the updated script and any changes that occurred on set. He sends me 1/4 of the film at a time so that I can make notes and send changes when necessary. He also provides footage to our composers and everyone involved in the sound mixing, etc.
  • What challenges do you foresee? None that are serious at this time. However, I do know continuity can be challenging because I like to think outside of the box and make changes on set as we film. But I have an agile crew and I'm organized so I am able to make it work. Plus, I found a great supportive partner in Gabriel with this project so I feel like we covered ourselves in making sure everything makes sense in the script and in the budget (at least I hope).
  • How will you resolve continuity issues? If I have any continuity problems then I will shoot some pick up scenes and have Jimmy shoot anything we may need to make it work.
  • What is your plan for the use of music? We will have the title track play throughout the film. It's produced and rapped by Gabriel (M.I.) and Wiz. I also have Mark Collins and LaVelle Powell producing the score. It will be a collaborative effort of all the musicians in our family of artists. We are using both royalty-free and paid music.
ADVICE TO FILMMAKERS DURING POST-PRODUCTION STAGE

My advice is to please make sure that the script supervisor takes great notes. Please make sure the 1st AD keeps the edit log sheet for your editor. The one thing I learned when working in television and I use it for film is keep great edit logs because this helps to create a great workflow for editing. I also advise my fellow filmmakers to make sure your editor has an assistant to dump footage to every day so he can begin his process of just putting the timeline together.

We plan our scheduling according to timelines. We know in advance that we want to do a quick promo trailer and at least two other trailers, one of which will be the official trailer for the release of the film. We plan post according to festival deadlines and my strategy meetings with my marketing and PR consultants.

Plan your work and work your plan may be the most cliché statement ever but it is true and it will save you money and headaches.
Treach of Naughty By Nature
FESTIVAL/DISTRIBUTION
  • How do you plan to market this film? We are looking to market to the young adult audiences who can relate to our two main characters. We plan to use traditional, nontraditional, new media and technology platforms. We will submit to some top festivals and other regional festivals to build a buzz for the film.
  • What are your distribution goals? Our goals are to distribute the film via all digital platforms. We want to work with a distributor who can also shop the film directly to network channels for licensing. We plan on negotiating the right to sale DVD’s via our own website as well as allowing a distributor to place us nationally in the big retail and wholesales outlets. We want to be able to sell our foreign rights to individual markets that are interested. We hope this film legs last about 3-5 years on the market or more.

CURRENT STATUS OF THE FILM
We currently released a sneak peek promo via social media. It is being edited and the first cut should be available for our watch/wrap party on September 25, 2015. A second special screening is scheduled for September 26, 2015. We hope to have a pickup before the end of the year or by early 2016.

FINAL LAST WORDS FROM CASS

I encourage all filmmakers especially those who are cutting their teeth for the first time to be very organized. Take care of everything you can in each of the four stages. If you do not focus and give yourself enough prep time during development to post you may not be able to fix any problems that may arise.

Also, the best thing to do is to work with individuals with the same energy, goals and passion you have for the art. Filmmaking is a true collaboration and the only thing important is the art. I encourage everyone to leave all egos at the door. As a producer/director everyone’s opinion is important to me because I want what’s best for the project not for Cass.

Please stay focused and as you complete each project use them to learn to perfect your craft. Watch as many films as you can AND read as many scripts so you can study everything from lighting, dialogue, use of color, wardrobe, movement, angles, shots etc. I am a fan of the medium and I get inspired by the way an artist/filmmaker brings forth his or her vision.

Most importantly, never give up on your dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Do not let lack of financing get in the way. Yes, it is and can be a very drawn out process. But I keep one quote in my mind all the time. Spike Lee said a while ago when technology was changing the game. “If you call yourself a filmmaker and you haven’t made one film with all the new technology and platforms available to exhibit your film, you are not a filmmaker.”