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3.22.2016

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.

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