CASE STUDY: The Outliers Of 2015 - Small Movies With Biggest Profits (+ MY TAKEAWAYS)

A snapshot of what these 2015 low-budget films did to make a profit.
Deadline just published a good article with breakdowns of the numbers of 5 "small" films (by Hollywood standards) that had big profits. I was curious to probe a bit more into why these films were able to make a profit and came across a couple of recurring themes which I elaborate on in the FILM STRATEGY TAKEAWAY: their use of the horror genre, that the films are based on a well-known novel or sequel, their exploitation of production incentives, their release on a day with no competition and more. Check it out:

Each year when Deadline runs its film profitability countdown, readers understandably ask about wildly profitable films, usually genre pictures, that don’t merit inclusion on the basis of highest domestic gross. But that doesn’t mean these films don’t tell compelling stories in their own right. So this time, we included snapshots of five overachieving pictures. The final four films in our tournament will roll out Monday, along with every one of the revenue charts.

Fox Searchlight 

The original 2012 film was a spectacularly successful sleeper hit for Fox Searchlight, hitting an adult audience in its sweet spot and grossing $136M worldwide on a $10M budget. The sequel didn’t hit that number, but it held the production budget to the same level, while adding Richard Gere. The global box office was $85M, and the participations to talent were on the low side. The picture turned out a net profit of $10.85M to Fox, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.14. 

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: "Marigold Hotel 2" benefited from a March 6, 2015 release date. The only real competition were Chappie and Unfinished Business. Huh? Exactly. No real competition. Besides Chappie and Unfinished Business were not after the same demo as Marigold Hotel 2 which was the "older moviegoing audience" i.e. aging hippies and retired folks with leisure time. It also benefitted for being the sequel to a sleeper hit which was based on the book These Foolish Things (which was also sold under the title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. So this formula amounts to: release in a slow month for movies + sequel based on a hit + aim for an underserved audience = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)


20th Century Fox 

Paper Towns was Fox and author John Green’s follow-up to the wildly successful YA movie The Fault In Our Stars, which grossed $307M worldwide. Let’s call Paper Towns a single, by comparison. The picture turned in a global box office performance of $85M, on a $12M budget. The outlays to talent were minimal. So the net profit to Fox was $14M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.18. No wonder Green’s books are still in such hot demand as film properties.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This time the movie was based on a YA novel so it had a built-in audience. The writer of the novel, John Green, had optioned the rights to the film in 2008 and the screenwriters involved, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, had success with another adaptation of Green's work, The Fault in Our Stars. Even though the film takes place in Orlando, it was shot in North Carolina to take advantage of generous production incentives. The producers were so eager to use the incentives that they made sure the cast and crew finished filming before December 31, 2014, the date on which certain tax incentives would have expired. The producers decided to use the release date strategically. The film was released on July 24, 2015. Even though it was released in the summer which is prone to blockbusters, Paper Towns had no real competition to threaten attracting its demo (The Vatican Tapes? Samba? Smosh: The Movie? Pixels?). Finally, the soundtrack relied on less mainstream artists that would be familiar with YA audiences such as Twin Shadow, Santigold, Grouplove, HAIM, Vampire Weekend, The Mountain Goats, The War on Drugs, and Galantis. So this formula amounts to: exploit generous production incentives + aim for a YA audience of Green fans + release on a day of no real competition + create a soundtrack of cool non-mainstream artists those YA audiences would like = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)



The Blumhouse genre film launched in April without much fanfare, from Timur Bekmambetov’s Russia-based film factory Bazelevs. The key here is that the makers delivered this movie for a $1M budget, and it reached the mainstream. The picture grossed $64M globally, and participations were minimal. That meant that the net profit on this little but overachieving murder mystery with supernatural elements was a whopping $17.3M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.3.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: First of all the genre is found footage horror which allows for the film to be low-budget AND get away with looking low budget. The producers engaged in an endurance speed-a-thon to finish the film. Production was 16 days total, including six 12-hour days of principal photography, three days of pick-ups and then a few more reshoots. Unfriended then had a slow rollout which it used to build a buzz and test it with audiences. According to Wikipedia, Unfriended initially had its world premiere on July 20, 2014 at the Fantasia Festival and screened on the film festival circuit under the title of "Cybernatural." A generally positive film festival reception and test screenings for the film prompted Universal Pictures to pick up the film rights with the intent to give it a wide theatrical release the following year. The film was screened at Playlist Live on February 6, 2015 (a popular convention for internet celebrities from Vine and YouTube) and premiered at SXSW on March 13, 2015. The film's title was changed from "Cybernatural" to "Unfriended" and the film was theatrically released on April 17, 2015. April 17 did not provide for any major competition with the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Child 44 and Monkey Kingdom being released on the same day. The filmmakers also tried to use social media strategically to organically create interest for the film. 

  • On March 13, 2015, the day of the film's official premiere at SXSW, scenes from the film were uploaded and a chat box appeared, where viewers could talk to Laura. Once she was finished talking, scenes appeared on the screen. 
  • On February 13, 2015, a campaign was launched with Kik Messenger, in which Kik users could have a chat conversation with Laura. This made use of automated responses and pre-scripted responses, while also driving users to a dedicated microsite. 
  • During production, official Facebook and Skype accounts were set up for the characters in the film, and, after the premiere at SXSW, people who attended were "friended" by the official Laura Barns Facebook account. There was also a Twitter account, which tweeted attendees of the after-party. (Wiki)

So this formula amounts to: make a found footage horror film which can be done cheaply and look cheap + generate buzz via film fest screenings + release on a day of little competition + create a virtual world of the film that fans can participate in via social media = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)


Universal Pictures 

Another highly profitable Blumhouse-produced genre film success for Universal, this one with M. Night Shyamalan. The picture cost just $5M to make, and when these babies hit at that budget level, the returns can be scary. The global box office was $98M, and while the participations were higher than on Unfriended, the gross was much higher as well. So the studio’s net profit on The Visit was $43M, for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.61. A smashing result to the studio’s bottom line.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This is another found footage horror film which also allows for low budgets and a low budget look. The film went through multiple editing phases starting out as an art house horror film before becoming a dark comedy to then finding a blend between the two for its release. The film was also shot in PA which has generous production incentives. Finally The Visit was released on 9/11 which is after the official end of summer movies and a date that most studios would prefer not to release a major film on. Plus it was a horror film that was released before all the other horror films competing for Halloween would come out on. So this formula amounts to: make a found footage horror film which can be done cheaply and look cheap + shoot in a state with generous production incentives + release on a day of little competition = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)

Focus Features

The third installment of the fright franchise — and another one from Blumhouse — slipped from the high-water mark of Insidious 2, but it was still great business. The original, made for just $1.5M, grossed $97M worldwide. The sequel carried a $5M budget and brought in a whopping $161M globally. The third installment carried a $10M budget and grossed $112M worldwide. The participations and bonuses reached that budget, but the film was still a profit-maker. The net profit was $44M for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.6.

Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:

THE FILM STRATEGY takeaway: This is the third horror film on this list and one based on a hit series so it already had buzz and credibility with an audience built of fans who recognized the brand. It also used social media to generate anticipation. According to Wikipedia, on October 23, 2014 the same day the teaser trailer came out, director Leigh Whannell invited fans to join him for a live Q&A session on the movie's official Facebook page. A few days later, on October 28, 2014 the same Facebook page reached 4 million fans. On December 17, 2014, fans were invited to connect with Insidious on Kik Messenger for exclusive content. The producers also created events in select cities to great fanfare. On March 16, 2015, Focus Features debuted a teaser for the full official trailer that was eventually released the following day, on March 17, 2015, during a series of launch events in selected cities, including Miami (where lead star Stefanie Scott held a Q&A session), Chicago (with supporting actress Hayley Kiyoko in attendance), and New York City (where Fangoria Magazine hosted a Q&A session with Lin Shaye). Finally, it launched on June 5, 2015 which had no real competition in its genre or in general (Spy and Entourage being the most prominent films released that day). So this formula amounts to: make a horror film which can be done cheaply + base it on a film with brand recognition + release on a day of little competition = profit at the end of the rainbow. (It's a given that part of the formula is a low budget.)

For help in formulating a strategy for your film as well as using production incentives, contact me at

PRODUCTION TIPS: Get Hollywood To Notice By Becoming A YouTube Star

So there is a benefit to becoming famous on Youtube.

Feature-length films starring YouTube stars are getting Hollywood's attention. In their quest to de-risk a film and make a film with a built-in audience and marketing potential at little cost, they have decided to invest in films starring people popular in the digital world. According to THR:
There were about a dozen such "film" projects in 2015 alone, and that number could double this year as major entertainment players look to cash in. These digital-focused films follow a similar, and more inexpensive, formula on their way from concept to completed project. According to numerous industry sources, studios will pay between $500,000 and $1.5 million to produce the movie, and the marketing spend is a fraction of the minimum $20 million that a studio normally would shell out. 
Instead of going to theaters, studios typically distribute the films through iTunes and Vimeo, where viewers can download them for about $10. The studio can then strike deals with subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu; YouTube also has been scooping up rights to projects for its paid service. 
Promoting the films is simple: Bank on the millions of loyal fans the YouTube stars already have on social media. Take Tyler Oakley, who has racked up 8 million YouTube subscribers, 5 million Twitter followers, 6 million Instagram followers and 3 million Facebook fans. He used those channels to promote last year's Snervous, an hour-and-20-minute film about his recent world tour that reached the No. 1 documentary spot on iTunes. 
That devoted fan base makes turning a profit practically a given, according to insiders. Although there are no box-office sales to track, several of these films have topped the iTunes charts, and the most successful can return as much as 10 times the initial investment.
It really comes down to getting the audience's attention:
"In an industry awash with a lot of product, one of the challenges is to cut through the noise to address an audience directly," explains Sam Toles, who heads global content and distribution at Vimeo, which distributed Bad Night, The Chosen and five other titles in 2015. "These films come with a built-in audience. They are ready, hungry and willing to support their favorite creators." 
The moneymaking potential (admittedly only a percentage of what a studio could make on big-budget fare) has digital companies such as AwesomenessTV, owned by DreamWorks Animation and Hearst Corp., and traditional studios including Legendary and Lionsgate investing in the space. 
The digital-star-driven genre began three years ago with Camp Takota, an hour-and-35-minute comedy launched by WME to show off comedians Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart. The agency designed a budget based on projections of how many fans would preorder the film or spend more for bundles that included merchandise. There was no mar­keting spend, but WME partner and head of digital Chris Jacquemin boasts that the movie made a significant profit. "The revenue potential is pretty significant," he says of this model. "Even though we're not talking about hundreds of millions in revenue, that's not the point. For a very small investment, you get a respectable return. And if you can scale a slate of those pro­jects, the odds of repeating that success and having a breakout hit increase significantly." 
There's money to be made for the social media stars, too. Conversations with reps for several top stars reveal that talent regularly take fees below $100,000 in exchange for as much as 15 percent of the backend on a film. In some cases, the talent pool can command as much as half of the movie's profits. 
However, if this is something that you want to do, you better hurry up and get your presence felt online ASAP:
[T]he economics are changing as traditional players expand in the space and deep-pocketed producers step up their budgets and marketing spend. Awesomeness Films, for example, has started scooping up scripts such as the R-rated Shovel Buddies and the rights to popular novels including YA hit Before I Fall. 
And traditional stars are starting to join the casts. Legendary Digital Media's dystopian drama The Thinning teams up Vine star Logan Paul and former Disney Channel star Peyton List (Diary of a Wimpy Kid films). "This script and story were not written for influencers; it was written for great actors," says Greg Siegel, senior vp development and production at Legendary Digital. "We want to make these films as broadly accessible as possible and not make them feel like we're just plugging in YouTube stars." The unspoken reason for the evolution of these projects is the stigma that the movies are lower quality because they feature online talent. Matt Kaplan, a former Lionsgate executive who was tapped to run Awesomeness Films last year, has been acquiring buzzier source material and casting traditional stars as he looks to elevate his slate. And he says he won't rule out theatrical distribution in the future.
Becoming a digital star is not for everyone or every project but starting out on YouTube does not mean you compromise your future dreams and goals at the expense of low-quality stuff. This should be a stepping stone move. And there is an aesthetic provided by DIY low-budget short videos that is its own reward. Still, for most people the whole point of starting out on YouTube is to get noticed so that they can move on to bigger things.

That being said, becoming a YouTube star might not be part of your artistic vision since your work might not fall in the type of work that has been most successful on YouTube (like, comedy and life-skills advice). But if you scratch beneath the surface of this article, you will see that the most important point is that you need to develop and grow an audience for your film even BEFORE you make your film. Doesn't matter what type of film it is. Even if your film is a low-budget indie art film, if you get enough subscribers on YouTube, followers on Twitter / Instagram and fans on Facebook, you best believe your film can recoup its initial investment, make money and get the distributors calling your phone.

If you want more tips on strategies to market yourself or your film on YouTube and how to grow and develop your audience, contact me at danny(AT)djimlaw(DOT)com.

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: What Filmmakers Can Learn From Shirley MacLaine's Adventures in Indie Filmmaking

Even a famous actress like Shirley MacLaine finds making indie films difficult. 

I discovered this in an article she recently wrote about her experiences making the film, Wild Oats.

Despite the difficulties, why making movies is a useful experience:
Making a movie is the most useful experience I’ve found for getting to know more about myself. But you don’t have to be an actor or work in show business to have that experience. We’re all creating our lives every day. We are the actors and writers and directors and producers and financiers of our lives. So I’d say that means that our life itself is an art, one we’ve chosen to take part in. It’s like a movie we’ve chosen to make. Both need financing. Did anyone assure us when we were born that the money would be there?No. Did anyone assure me when I began Wild Oats that the money would be there? No. So why did I do it? Ambition? Adventure? Challenge? Fame? Because they asked me to? I’m not sure the “why” even matters now.
How tax rebates and production incentives affect where and how the film is made:
The original script and story was to be shot in Las Vegas (a place where the women could sow their oats). But when other states and cities started offering tax rebates and so forth to film companies, studios and screenwriters shifted their focus to saving money instead of saving scripts.
That was okay at first, but as time passed, the budget of any movie came to trump the story. Actors realized they would be shooting wherever the biggest rebates were, and so they were always waiting for rewrites reflecting a new location. Thus, the availability of the actors continually shifted.
The Wild Oats script was written and rewritten for Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, New York, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and finally, the Canary Islands.
Why mistakes are costly:
My original costar was Jacki Weaver. Because Jacki finally took work on a television series and had to withdraw, over the next five years we at various times welcomed to the cast Kathy Bates, Jane Fonda, Bette Midler, and finally Jessica Lange. That’s just one part of what went on during the five years it took to get ready to shoot. Thanks to amateur decisions, stupid contracts, and scattered decision making, five hundred thousand dollars had been spent even before we landed in the Canary Islands.
Why you can't be "too proud to beg":
Everyone involved with my “movie team” in Hollywood advised me not to go until all the money was in. I consulted my psychic friends, who were usually right. I got pleading emails and desperate phone calls from the director, Andy Tennant. “Please come. Please. Please. We are here waiting for you; without you all our efforts and financial investments and creative time and energy will mean nothing.” I knew no one else who was cast except for Jessica Lange. I wondered if she knew she would be playing not only Jacki Weaver’s part but also Kathy Bates’s and Bette Midler’s too! I called Jessica and raised my concerns once more and asked what her people were advising her. “They all say don’t go,” she said. “But if it doesn’t work out after I’m there, I told you, I’ll just drink mojitos on the beach. Who’s financing, by the way — any idea?”
Why the film investor's character matters to the film's outcome:
In the course of making the movie, I came to understand that the character of an investor is the most important thing to know about him or her. After sixty years in the business, I’d never realized that the personal character of each investor was as important to the film’s outcome as the characters in the movie. But then, that was what independent filmmaking had become: the art of lining up investors. Everyone wants to be in show business, at least once. That’s where the personal values and character of the investors comes in.
Why choosing a location with generous tax rebates is a good idea if your film requires extensive use of green screen:
Ron Howard had shot In the Heart of the Sea [in the Canary Islands] for months the previous year; with their tax rebates, the islands have become a favorite place to save money on a shoot — particularly if it doesn’t matter exactly what it looks like because your production is going to use a lot of green screen.
Why anything can become "product placement":
I entered the ultra-luxurious lobby wondering who was paying for all this. That’s when I realized the hotel and everything in it would be “product placement” in the film.
For the full article

If you want business and legal advice on how to plan for production incentives and product placement (and avoid sloppy contracts and fake investors), contact me at Danny(AT)djimlaw(DOT)com.

CASE STUDIES: How to Market Your Film to Different Audiences on Facebook like Straight Outta Compton Did

According to Business Insider:
In a panel at South by Southwest, Universal’s EVP of digital marketing, Ed Neil, and Facebook’s entertainment head, Jim Underwood, talked about the customized racial marketing for Straight Outta Compton, the 2015 film that chronicles the rise of gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. 
Neil credited part of this to a specialized Facebook marketing effort led by Universal’s “multicultural team” in conjunction with its Facebook team. They created tailored trailers for different segments of the population. Why? 
The “general population” (non-African American, non-Hispanic) wasn’t familiar with N.W.A., or with the musical catalog of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, according to Neil. They connected to Ice Cube as an actor and Dr. Dre as the face of Beats, he said. The trailer marketed to them on Facebook had no mention of N.W.A., but sold the movie as a story of the rise of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. 
The trailer marketed to African Americans was completely different. Universal assumed this segment of the population had a baseline familiarity with N.W.A. “They put Compton on the map,” Neil said. This trailer opens with the word N.W.A. and continues to lean on it heavily throughout.
As I read this article, the movie's success at the box office underscored the following key points: the importance of knowing your audience and the need for targeting your advertising to different groups of people.

There are many ways to discover who your audience is from doing surveys, conducting detailed marketing research and/or relying on gut instincts. However you do it, at the end of the day you need to know who your audience.

The next step is to take that knowledge and target your advertising for them. Granted, for indie filmmakers like you out there, it's unlikely that Facebook's entertainment head will work closely with you on marketing to different segments of the population on Facebook. But you can still leverage Facebook to your marketing advantage  with groups.

Here's how:

Your solitary movie group page on Facebook is not enough. Create multiple Facebook groups meant to target the different groups in your audience. 

Taking the Straight Outta Compton Facebook marketing campaign as an example, most older and white fans (not into hip hop) only know of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as an actor and the face of Beats, respectively. Therefore, advertising to them would mean promoting the film on Ice Cube's actor fan group and the Beats by Dre group. Advertising would preferably be posted in established groups that have already existed for a while. If they don't exist then the film's marketing team would create them. It would be a good idea to do this well in advance during pre-production, or even development, to have enough time to build the community. The filmmakers would then cut trailers for these Facebook groups that would center around the story of Cube and Dre and display their faces prominently in the the trailers. Meanwhile, for the hip hop fans who already know the history of NWA, posting trailers about everyone in NWA could be done on an existing or newly created NWA group page. 

It's important that these separate groups also cultivate the fan base by establishing relations with brand ambassadors relevant to each group and growing the community with goodies and news that relates to them or benefits them.

If you want more tips on strategies to market your film, conduct surveys and identify your audience, contact me at


The Witch Robert Eggers (dir) | Release date: February 2016 USA | 92 minutes Format: D-Cinema

I finally caught The Witch last night.

It's the kind of horror movie I want to see more of; quiet and disturbing like The Shining and The House of the Devil that builds to a riveting climax. With it's low-budget yet high-end production values, the making of the film yields aesthetic and practical cues to filmmakers trying to make their films with a premium on quality. To get a better understanding of how this movie made the journey from script to screen, check out the following excerpts and links below:

The Scariest Movie at Sundance: How Robert Eggers Made the Horrifying, Historically Accurate ‘The Witch’
"Eggers spent five years researching, developing, and writing the script for The Witch. To forge his authentic colonial setting, the writer-director pored over historical documents at Smithsonian’s Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. According to Taylor-Joy, Eggers absorbed exhaustive tomes and primary source diaries, reaching encyclopedic knowledge levels. Eggers uncovered architectural notes to appropriately construct Ye Olde Cabin in the Woods and taught his crew era-appropriate farming techniques, just in case his characters’ farms ever needed to become fully operational."
On Robert Eggers
[The Witch was p]roduced by Parts and Labor’s Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, the 1630-set The Witch may have had scary production ambitions — not just all that historical detail but child actors, animals, period diction, and “laying down 80 feet of dolly track in the woods several times a day” — but they are all in service to a sincere aesthetic.
The Witch's Wikipedia "Production" entry
"The film was partially based on Eggers' childhood fascination with witches. After unsuccessfully pitching films that were "too weird, too obscure", Eggers realized that he would have to make a more conventional film. He said at a Q&A, "If I'm going to make a genre film, it has to be personal and it has to be good." Eggers wanted to film the picture in New England but the lack of tax incentives meant he had to settle for Canada. This proved to be somewhat of a problem for Eggers, because he could not find the forest environment he was looking for in the country. They had to go "off the map", eventually finding a location (Kiosk, Ontario) that was "extremely remote"; Eggers said that the nearest town "made New Hampshire look like a metropolis". The film was produced in several locations in what is known as Mattawa Voyageur Country."
How Robert Eggers Combined History and Childhood Horrors in 'The Witch'
On wanting to shoot in his native New Hampshire: "It was so frustrating not being able to! New Hampshire doesn’t have tax incentives, and Canada payed for half of this movie. When I was out scouting in Canada for two months, I would see nothing, and then I’d come home and drive through New Hampshire and see these huge white pines and get so frustrated!" 
On shooting on location in the Canadian wilderness: "This film, with the exception of night exteriors, is all natural light and flame. For all of the night interiors, we had special candles with triple wicks that you could get exposure with and we have flame bars off camera. The one shot with the raven, we had an electric bulb that was flickering because the fire would have scared the raven." 
On casting the film and working with children: "I was really really fortunate that when we found investors, they really wanted to make the film that I wanted to make. They let me cast whoever I wanted, so it was about finding people who were appropriate for the roles, but also really good people because I knew the shoot was going to be really tough and we needed people who were going to trust and care about each other." "Also, I was very fortunate, given my budgetary level, to have a week of rehearsals where we really worked together to build this family so there would be love there. That way, we could see this family fall apart. When I was younger, I used to think it was kind of cool to abuse actors mentally, but I really disagree with that now. If you’re going to explore these dark places, you have to be able to climb back out, otherwise you’re damaging people.
‘The Witch’: The Making of the Year’s Scariest Movie
It must be nice that so much recognition is being paid to the attention to detail you had in dressing the set. Did I read that you even flew in a tree to make it look more authentically New England?  
(The movie was filmed in Ontario.) Taylor-Joy: One tree.
Eggers: It was really hard to find a white pine in a hemlock forest, but we didn’t end up flying more in. But the clapboards, the house, and the out buildings, those are a vernacular architectural tradition that doesn’t exist in northern Ontario. And the thatching as well is not part of the traditions, so we had to get people who work on first-period houses and museum re-creations in Massachusetts and Virginia to do that stuff for us. 
When you were insisting on this attention to detail did anyone call you crazy?
Eggers: I mean, yeah. But once I found my investors, they got what I was trying to do so they really supported it. Any line producer who is good at their job is going to push back at every single one of those choices. And they need to. But I had my team supporting me and they understood why it mattered. I will say it wasn’t just like I was being irresponsible. The production designer was so compromising, but let me tell you, we spent so many discussions on how to fake the clapboards. He was looking at all different ways to try and fake it and ultimately you can’t. You can’t fake it. That’s why we did it that way.
How The Witch’s Director Made His Film So Terrifying
“For me, if I really want to transport an audience, I can’t just say ‘This is a cool shot,’” says Eggers, “Everything in the frame really needs to be like I’m articulating my memory of this moment. Like, this was my childhood as a Puritan, and I remember that day my dad took me into the cornfield and what he smelled like. And if you’re going to be articulating a memory, the dust and the stitches on the clothing, they have to be right.” 
When discussing his dogged pursuit of authenticity and what figures inspire him most, Eggers touches on the Dutch Golden Age of art, Flemish painters, “shocks of corn” (when you see those teepee-shaped cones of corn in a field), the Italian director Luchino Visconti, the legality of boned corsets in 1630 (a mildly controversial topic), Stanley Kubrick, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodore Dreyer, Spanish painter Francisco Goya, “Hammer Horror” films, Elizabethan witch pamphlets and more.  
I also ask him about Ingmar Bergman, who Eggers frequently cites as a big aspirational influence on his work. Bergman is a cinema legend so it’s easy to just say, “He really inspires me,” because he sort of inspires every serious Film Person at one point or another. So I ask him to clarify what he admires, specifically, about the Swedish master of stage and screen. “His technique is unseen,” explains Eggers. “Every single frame is filled with so much empathy for the characters in his films that it’s really incredible. You can watch a scene and realize only later, ‘Holy shit! That was one shot that seamlessly moved with three different characters’ subjective experiences of this scene and I had no idea!’”
The Witch director Robert Eggers talks about bringing Puritan fears to a modern world
I've read that you largely shot without make-up, and using natural light and candlelight. What was your process like of developing the film's look while simultaneously raising the difficulty factor like that?  
I knew what I wanted. It's been such a long road that I don't even remember when there were question marks about things. Thank God for Russian silent films and Carl Dreyer, for early on saying, "No make-up!" I mean, there's make-up in the movie, but it's to make people look worse. [Make-up head] Traci Loader did a great job on the grime, and she did stuff to make people look more haggard and so forth, but no foundation or whatever. And natural lighting is something I did with [cinematographer Jarin Blaschke] in all my shorts. Jarin is a real artist — and I don't like saying that about people. He shot all my shorts that are any good, and we worked together on other people's films where I was the designer, so we formed this relationship as we were going throughout the years. We were very united in what the look of the film was. We didn't have to reference a lot of stuff for ourselves. It was just communicating to the crew what is this. Natural light — Jarin said this in an article, so I'll just steal it — What are you going to do, put up a Kino Flo in that farmhouse, with these costumes? It's a joke. You have to use natural light and its complexities to honor what that world would be like. 
But you do still have to have a camera in the middle of that setting. How did you go about selecting a camera that would work with those low-light conditions and give you those deep blacks you wanted?  
We would have shot on film if we could afford it, but we spent too much money on hand-hewn clapboards [for the cabin exterior] and cloth and whatever else, and getting the UK actors to North America, and casting all the kids, searching around Yorkshire for them and all that. So we shot digitally. For Jarin and I, it was like, "Alexa Plus, and that's the end of the story." It did help us out in some of the low-light situations. And because of the native aspect ratio of 4:3, he could shoot anamorphic. The shorts I shot with Jarin are all 1:33, and I really like that aspect ratio. Honestly, if I could shoot everything in 1:33, I would. It's not suitable for every story. But I just fucking love it. A close-up in 1:33 is my favorite thing in the world. I watched Klimov's Come And See yet again a couple of weeks ago, much to my wife's dismay, and I'm just like, "Damnation. God, you just can't get any better than that."
And finally is there going to be a sequel?
Sorry, fans of The Witch. The director behind one of the most original horror movies in years is not interested in rehashing his thriller for a sequel. While most scary movies get a follow-up once they hit big with an audience, it doesn't sound like that is happening here. Despite The Witch becoming somewhat of a phenomenon.

PRODUCTION TIPS: Your March 2016 Calendar for Film Festivals, Screenplay Contests, Fellowships, Labs and Awards

The good people at Script Reader Pro have just made your life easier. 

Why is that you say? 

Because they've made your filmmaking life easier to manage this year with their calendar of all the major upcoming screenwriting contests (orange), awards (blue), festivals (green), fellowships and labs (yellow) in 2016.

Like Yogi Berra says, “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” 

Friday, March 4
 HBO Access Writing Fellowship Submission Period Opens (TBC)
Thursday, March 10
 American Black Film Festival Screenplay Competition Deadline
 Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition Deadline
Friday, March 11
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Saturday, March 12
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Sunday, March 13
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
 Canadian Screen Awards
Monday, March 14
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Tuesday, March 15
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
 Screamfest Horror Competition Deadline
Wednesday, March 16
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Thursday, March 17
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Friday, March 18
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Saturday, March 19
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Sunday, March 20
 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
Friday, March 25
 Canada International Film Festival
Saturday, March 26
 Canada International Film Festival

Stay tuned for the 1st of each month where I'll display that particular month's calendar OR download the whole calendar here.

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