PRODUCTION JOURNAL: The Film Strategy 5 with Cindy Cowan, Producer

THE FILM STRATEGY 5 with Cindy Cowan

Sad to say, but even in 2016, there are simply not enough women in Hollywood running things behind the scenes. While women do represent significantly on the silver screen[1], they are underrepresented as decision-makers behind the silver screen.  Studies abound that demonstrate the dearth of women as directors, producers and executives in film and television. As one who craves perspectives beyond the ones we have been fed for years, I hope that these revelations will eventually make a difference. Until then, we should applaud the trailblazing women who have been able to make their mark, despite the odds against them.

Cindy Cowan is one of these trailblazing women. A woman who began her career producing and writing for a CBS News affiliate in Miami, Florida, she then co-founded Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) in the 90s during the heyday of the indie film era. Under her leadership, IEG projects were nominated for two Emmys, Golden Globes, and a People’s Choice awards. She also worked with legendary auteur, Robert Altman, to produce Dr. T and the Women. With the Michael Douglas and Benecio Del Toro starring Traffic, she achieved a pinnacle of Hollywood success with an Academy Award.

After selling her stake in IEG, Cindy started a new production company, Cindy Cowan Entertainment (CCE). And she has continued making her mark. CCE is currently juggling a slate of horror, drama and action films, TV shows in development and a library of motion picture assets. Currently, she is in post-production with Miracle on 42nd St., a documentary starring Alicia Keyes, Terrence Howard and Samuel Jackson, in pre-production on a big action film with Millennium Films, a bio-pic with Amazon, a small thriller with Insurgent Media, her first television animated show and her first television mini-series.

With years of experience and credits under her belt, I knew Cindy was someone with valuable insight so I reached out to Cindy for wisdom she could share with Film Strategy readers.  Without a moment’s hesitation, Cindy graciously dropped some knowledge useful to filmmakers at every stage of production.

Promo poster for Red Lights, one of many CCE productions.

DEVELOPMENT: in your opinion what makes a script worth your time and money to shoot? 

A good story that moves you in some way. The story has to be relatable; meaning that the characters “pop” and have an arc so that talent will want to attach themselves. Relatable also means that “you” as the audience are engaged, that the script has a definitive beginning, middle and end, and that it goes after what ever audience you are targeting.

PRE-PRODUCTION: experienced filmmakers acknowledge that the pre-production phase is the most important stage in filmmaking, can you share a couple of things you do to ensure a successful pre-production? 
(1) Make sure you have an experienced line producer that has knowledge of whatever area or country you are shooting in.
(2) Try to limit the amount of location moves if you can.
(3) Make sure you have enough money for post (people often times do not leave enough money here and this is one of the most important places in your film).
(4) Have enough money for music, guilds, bank and bond fees.
(5) Plan out your days as much as you can.
(6) Lock in your locations and draft your storyboard.
(7) Finally, plan, plan , plan...each day has to be thought out way in advance with your director, LP and DP.

PRODUCTION: how do you stay on schedule and on budget when you shoot while still maintaining aesthetic integrity?
So much depends on a successful preproduction, that I would reiterate what I said above. If everyone is on the same page as the director from the onset and the days are really planned out, you should not have a problem (or if you do, you’ll be better able to address them). During production, a very experienced director of photography is like gold. If he is good and fast, he will help keep your director happy and on time. I would recommend that a producer make sure all questions from the actors and the director are answered before the start of each day, to avoid wasting time once the work day officially begins and the camera rolls. This is a function of a good director and production manager but I can’t stress enough that talent should know exactly what is being shot before the day begins. That’s why I strongly believe that rehearsals always help!

MARKETING: how involved are you in the marketing of your films and what do you find to be the most effective forms of marketing for your films? 
My films are usually studio released so my exact involvement is more limited than some of the smaller self released films. For those who play a more active role in the marketing of their films, I would say that your one-sheet and, if possible, billboard/ad needs to be right on spot with the target audience in a unique eye-catching way. Too many good films have such bad marketing behind them that they never get a chance to get or grow the audience they deserve. It is very important to have TV, Theatre and web spots but those are dependent on how much money you have. Therefore, whether you are a big or small production, truly maximize the word-of-mouth marketing whether you are using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, web ads and the conventional methods of TV/film trailers and TV promotional appearances. Remember, you have only a few minutes to let an audience know what your film is about which is why you must get a good editor and make sure your trailer targets your audience with whatever emotion you think will best hook them in to see your picture.

DISTRIBUTION: what is important to you when you negotiate your distribution deals?
Most importantly, I need to know who the distributor is and whether they are the best ones for my picture. To that end, I have 10 questions I like to ask to help me figure that out:
(1) Is the person negotiating my distribution deals in the top 7 sales agencies?
(2) Can they get the best numbers per country?
(3) Can they actually collect what they say they have sold?
(4) Have they been in business for a while?
(5) What is their distribution fee?
(6) How much are they charging me in costs for the various markets?
(7) What is their track record? 
(8) Are they trying to package my film with others?
(9) What does their marketing of the film look like? and
(10) Who will actually be selling my film?

To learn more about Cindy Cowan and her slate of films and TV shows, go to

[1] Although salary disparities are a real thing, they'll be a subject for another day.


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