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The Next Chapter: Money

So how does one go about making a movie?

When I was younger, it was as easy as grabbing a camera, some friends, an idea, and a free afternoon. Back in high school my friends and I would check out the VHS (?) camera from the computer lab and create any number of projects. If there was a class assignment where it was possible to make a video instead of writing a report, we would always choose to become junior Spielbergs and DeMilles and Welles. By the time I graduated I had shot period pieces on Vietnam, cooking show parodies in Spanish, and many more.

College brought more opportunities to put stuff on video, be it sketch comedy ideas to artsy supplements for live theater pieces. While most people zoned out on the quad or “planned” for their “future”, I spent a good portion of my second semester senior year sitting in a VHS (?) edit bay, cutting together a live version of a musical I co-directed culled from three stationary cameras.

After college, the stakes got higher. I wrote and directed two short films (shot on FILM) on limited budgets I scraped together myself. I directed a feature film written by and starring some talented friends on an extremely limited budget (I believe the final cost was just north of $20,000). All of these projects were labors of love, where people participated without any guarantee of financial compensation. In all cases, the script comes first. Chronologically, the idea comes first, then the script. In fact, as I mentioned in a previous post, I have two scripts that I am considering. While very different, I feel both scripts are compelling and can be shot on a low budget. Do I have to decide today? No, but the time is coming soon. There is one element that must be considering before progressing too far in the process: Money.

I have experience in coming up with a budget, but for smaller projects it’s a lot easier. Film (or videotape). Equipment. Insurance. And, of course, craft service. The last cannot be underestimated. If you are not paying people what they deserve, then you better feed them. And feed them well. But this is a big undertaking. Shooting a feature film, even on the smallest scale, involves months of pre-production and at least a month of shooting. There’s payroll. And contracts. And rental facilities. And insurance. And locations. Even though these two scripts involve either limited or confined locations, they still have to be found. And it all starts with money. I will have to become an expert on the financial side, or at least find people who are experts on the financial side. Before I even think about raising money, I need to know how I’m going to wisely spend the money, and emerge on the other side with a finished product AND money left over to market the movie.

My manager has set me up to meet with an experienced indie film producer with dozens of films to his credit. He has years of experience as a producer, a post-production supervisor, and a line producer (who handles the money once production is under way). His movies have gone to Sundance. His TV shows have found homes on HBO and other networks. He will be a great resource in helping me determine exactly what it will take to make one of these scripts.

As it tends to be in the indie world, our first meeting was at a Starbucks in the San Fernando Valley. He is an energetic, passionate man who loves film; of course, that energy may be directly related to us being in a Starbucks. We sat for 90 minutes and discussed everything BUT my scripts: politics, books, current events, other movies. After 90 minutes he had to leave for an edit session, and while we did not actually get down to business, I felt it was a successful meeting. Part of networking is to connect. If we are going to consider working together (and I still have no idea at this time whether or not he is interested or just going to offer advice) we need to see if our personalities match, and we understand each other’s drive and passions. I have been on many sets where the energy was toxic due to vastly differing personalities.

We got along well enough to have a second meeting, and at that meeting we got down to the nitty gritty. Yes, he might be interested in getting involved. He had some questions about the script, which I was fortunately able to answer to his satisfaction. He says he wants to hear a reading of the script, but based on my desire to get it made on the cheap, and knowing that I wrote it deliberately with budget in mind, he feels it can be made for $250,000.

So there it is. Simple, right? All I need is a quarter of a million dollars. Easy! Tune in next time when I hopefully learn how to get $250,000. Maybe I left it in my other pants.

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