The Big Push!

Our investor campaign 2.0 is in full swing. We sent out emails, made phone calls, and would be willing to tap dance for dollars if it makes a difference.

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And investors have responded. As of this morning we have received over half our goal amount. Even better, we are over 75% towards our goal of having enough money to crowd source the rest. And as you read this, over a dozen investors and producers are mulling over their participation, and at what level.

Keep on dancing, keep on dancing.

It has been an interesting and exciting challenge to fund raise. Sure, I have a mailing list for my writing career (nearly 800 people!) and there are all of you who read this blog (nearly 8 people!), but I had to stretch my circle of contacts further.

Facebook!

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I scrolled through all of my Facebook friends to see if there was anyone who might be a match for this project. Who did I find?

  • Out of work actor
  • Unemployed writer
  • Underemployed actor
  • High school teacher
  • Improv instructor
  • Financial planner
  • Waiter (a.k.a. unemployed actor)
  • Dog trainer
  • Doctor
  • Blogger

Wait. Back up. That’s it!

Nope, the improv instructor doesn’t have any extra funds right now. And that dog walker started a GoFundMe for rent. But wait, hold on… financial planner? Doctor?

Should I reach out to these people? One is someone I haven’t spoken to SINCE HIGH SCHOOL. And for those of you who don’t know me personally, that was OVER EIGHT YEARS ago. And the doctor? Wait, a relative is doing very well. I kept scrolling, and found others who were doing well financially, or at least appeared to be doing well on Facebook.

But why would they want to hear from me about money? Won’t they be offended? Am I good enough to ask for money? Is this project worth it? Aren’t there bigger issues in the world today? Who do I think I am?

And then a voice spoke to me:

“Just ask them, dummy.”

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“Who you callin’ dummy?”

There’s no harm in asking! People can say no. People can be offended.

But I’m not getting anywhere unless I ask. And so I did.

And do you know what happened?

I got a lot of rejections.

But I reconnected with a lot of people and caught up with them. One friend and his wife are gearing up to adopt. Another friend was in a serious accident and is on the long slow road to recovery, but is recovering. Another friend is making a movie of his own and can’t fund anyone else’s movie. It felt very good to reconnect with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. And human contact, albeit electronically, is vital and important.

But it won’t pay for my movie.

But there are a few people who pledged money! And a few others who are considering it. So it was worth it.

If we get greenlit (WHEN we get greenlit!) there will be a lot of uncomfortable moments in the coming months. I have to embrace them. And embrace pushing myself to new and scary places.

This was a good step.

Oh, and if I didn’t connect with you and you want to find out about investing, reach out to me! At the very least, I would LOVE the opportunity to strike up a conversation with you and see how you are doing.

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R.I.P. Cheyenne

So how can we make our movie cheaper? As I detailed in the previous post, we set a modest budget, just north of $500,000. We would shoot for three weeks, have a modest crew, and everyone would be paid. Seems like a lot of money, but I guarantee it wasn’t extravagant: we wouldn’t be catered by Tom Colicchio, we weren’t hiring limos for everyone, Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t “on board,” and we weren’t putting the cast and crew up at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons. It was pretty low key: just get in, make the movie, and get out at the end of the day with a decent paycheck for everyone else involved.

However, we only were able to raise about 15% of our budget via investors. So now what? Well, I suppose quitting is an option. But I’m not very good at quitting.

Our next step is to cut the budget. And I’m not talking a cosmetic nip and tuck. I’m talking major surgery. It’s time to cut, cut, cut. What can we lose, without sacrificing the story or the movie I want to make? To do this, I don’t need to be a script doctor, I need to be a script surgeon.

First off, there are some minor characters that can go. A few are only in one scene, and maybe with a few lines. So why cut them? That’s an extra paycheck, an additional meal, and more hassle. Is the character needed? Not necessarily. Do they have information important to the story that can be revealed in another way? Probably.

So I took out my trusty writer’s scalpel and killed off five characters. Five souls, all serving a purpose, albeit briefly, in the movie. (And five actors who will now not get cast.) As a tribute to the souls who no longer exist, in their memory here is a list of those characters who didn’t make the cut (cue the sad tribute music):

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“Did you ever know that you’re my hero…”

Lost Baggage Clerk
Bartender
Dog Owner
Receptionist
Cheyenne

Yes, EVEN Cheyenne. Who was Cheyenne? She was the server at a wine bar who arrogantly told our hero about her favorite wines, describing the Marcassin as “like a wet stone,” and at the same time providing crucial plot information to our hero. Alas, our hero will now get the necessary information another way. So let’s pour out that pricey Marcassin onto the floor, one for my homeys.

With death comes a new birth. I had to add two characters to make things flow, so it’s a net loss of three characters. Also, a net loss of three locations, which also saves money. Fewer locations mean fewer permits, fewer company moves, fewer extras. No significant sacrifice to the story.

Okay! Making progress. But slowly. What else can go?

My salary, for one. I’m making this film because I want to make movies, and sometimes I have to invest in myself. I had already waived my salary as the screenwriter, but now I’ll take the cut as the director as well. Sure, I’ll have points in profit sharing, but that’s WAY down the road. Fortunately, I have enough money saved to take a few weeks off from my other writing gigs. Our producer Beau did the same with his salary: slash it to zero, and gamble on some money coming in at the end.

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On my own project, at least. For someone else, you gotta pay me.

A bigger change: the shooting schedule. Initially we were planning on three six-day weeks. However, since many scenes involve just our lead character, it’s possible to have entire days dedicated to working with her. Which means we only need a stripped down crew. So we adjusted the schedule to two six-day weeks, with pickup days at the end for our lead actress and a skeleton crew. Cutting the crew time by 1/3 saves money. Also, as a parent of a two-year-old and with my wife starring in the movie, two weeks of figuring out constant child care is far easier to stomach than three weeks.

We’ve made a lot of ground. But we’re still not at our goal. More cuts to come this week.

The prognosis is good. At the end of the surgery, I promise the body will be healthy and vibrant. Albeit, just a little trimmer.

But this IS Los Angeles, so trim is good.

Concluding a Campaign

About six weeks ago we launched a campaign to raise money for Closure, as detailed in the post M Day. Our goal was to raise the funds and immediately go into pre-production. If we remained on schedule we would start shooting on January 9th and shoot for three six-day weeks.

The good news: we were able to get commitments from nine different investors, who pledged a total of $54,000 to making the movie. This is very flattering that so many people had faith in me and this project, and were willing to back up that faith with cold hard cash.

The bad news: while $54,000 is a lot of money, it is less than 20% of our budget. This means that there is no way we can make the movie the way we want to make it, which included paying our actors the union scale rate under a professional contract, having a full crew and support staff, and securing the multiple locations in the script. The amount of money we still need would be extremely difficult to raise via crowdsourcing, and even if we could we wouldn’t have time to get it all before our projected shoot date.

So what does this mean? To put it simply: we failed.

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One word says it all

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. We set a goal, and didn’t come close to reaching it. We wrote numerous emails and made a number of phone calls, but at the end of our campaign we came up way short. Some of the people who turned us down were very positive, offering to connect us with other potential investors and producing partners. Others turned us down outright. Others never responded to our query. All responses (or lack of responses) were to be expected.

But I’m not depressed about it. We’ve heard it all before. “Failure is part of the path to success.” “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And my favorite, from the Book of Curly: “If at first you don’t succeed…” Well, check it out for yourself.

Okay, so maybe I’m a little depressed about it. I wanted to spend the month of December buried in pre-production, then kick of the year by shooting a movie. A challenging but successful three weeks, then a few months editing, some placement in big film festivals, then world domination.

So what now? Crawl under a rock until the holidays are over? Bury myself in other work? Write a new script?

Yes to all of these, but this doesn’t mean abandon Closure. In fact, Beau, Catia and I have a new plan and a timeline to make it happen:

Step one: Revise the budget and script. Beau will create a lower budget version, which will involve fewer crew members, lower pay for the actors (with a lower budget, we can utilize a contract with SAG/AFTRA that allows for lower pay), and fewer shoot days. To help get the budget down, I will attack the script with a sharp scalpel, cutting out characters that may only have a few lines, and assign the important details those characters provide to larger characters. Also, I will cut out locations that may be too expensive (do I really need that restaurant scene?) and generally make this script easier to shoot from a production standpoint.  When: December 2016

Step two: Reach out to investors again. If our investors were willing to be on board with a  larger budget, surely they will come on board with a much smaller budget. There are certainly advantages (and a few disadvantages) to this type of investment. Hopefully they will come through with the same amount, or maybe slightly more. When: First week of January 2017.

Step three: Launch crowdfunding campaign. Hopefully we can get all we need from investors, but if we need to bridge the gap we are prepared to crowdsource. I have never actually created a crowdsourcing campaign, so hopefully people out there will respond positively. The hard part is that crowdfunding is a big job. Many hours a day go into a successful campaign, and it will be a challenge to find the time between production work on the movie, my other projects, and… well, raising a two-year old. When: Launch last week of January 2017.

Step four: Make the movie! With funding in place, all that’s left to do is finalize every detail before we shoot. Locations, casting, crew hires, props, set, wardrobe, lighting, sound, etc… all this need to be done in advance of the shoot. But we feel we can get everything done prior to shooting. When: Start shooting mid-March, for two weeks.

Ambitious? Certainly. Possible? Definitely. The best way to overcome failure is to not let failure stop you. Keep going. And so we will.

Until then, thanks for reading this blog, have a very happy holidays with those close to you, and stay tuned for more success regarding Closure in 2017.

 

 

Chasing the Money

 

Last post I wrote a little bit about directing, and Natalie Portman. Mostly about Natalie Portman. And I wrote about the many different hats one has to wear when making a film, or creating any kind of art, really. I wrote the script and I will be directing the movie.

But none of that happens without money.

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Let’s get this party started.

This entire journey so far has been hypothetical. Yes, there’s a script. There have been readings with actors. There is a producer on board (and more to come). We’ve even set a date. But it’s all one big “what if.” To go from the hypothetical to concrete plans takes cold hard cash. And while I’m wearing my directing hat and my writing monocle, I also need to put on my producer codpiece.

Right now producer Beau is working on a budget. Two, actually. The first is our practical budget. This is one where everyone gets paid, all the unions are involved and happy, and we have enough crew to make sure no one person becomes a pack mule of equipment. Even I will draw a salary as writer and director. We will shoot for two to three weeks. I can’t go into specifics right now, but this budget will likely involve five zeros after the first number.

The second budget is the “we’re making a movie no matter what” budget. We can’t the money we need, so this is the bare bones way of making a movie. Actors work on deferred pay. Crew gets not much more than that. I will also work for nothing up front other than bagels and Twix bars. We will squeeze the shoot into two weeks with a day off in the middle. This budget will probably only involve four zeros after the first number. And that first number better be smaller than seven.

So where do we get the money? There are a number of ways to get a budget raised and secured for a film:

  1. Be Independently Wealthy

This is the best way to get anything done, for that matter. Take the money from whatever startup you sold to Google, or inheritance from Great Grandpappy  Rockefeller, and write a big ol’ check.

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Alas, number one does not apply to me. If this applies to you, then tell the person you hired to read you this blog out loud while another person prepares your lobster dinner to give me a call and send me a check!

2. Be a Celebrity

Being a celebrity is a great way to get a movie made! People who invest in movies with celebrities get to be producers and HANG OUT ON SET with celebrities! You can even pretend to tell them what to do, and they will smile, showing gleaming white teeth, and say “that’s a great idea. We’ll try it out on set” and then open another bottle of prosecco.

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Invest in their next movie and they will totally take you to lunch.

This also works if you are the child of a celebrity, although it is a little harder. Confidential message to the 17 people who read my blog regularly: I am not a celebrity or even a child of a celebrity. My parents chose the totally un-famous careers as an attorney and public school principal. Why couldn’t one of them have been Kato Kaelin?!?

3. Know Someone at a Major Studio who has Produced your Work Previously

I know OF someone at a major studio. That works, right? Right? Hello? I had a pitch meeting on the Paramount lot once. Still waiting for my big check…

4. Develop Relationships Over Time with Investors

Ah hah! This is a legitimate option. I’ve been a creator of D.I.Y. theater and film for nearly two decades now, and because I strive to create great projects, I have been lucky to meet people with financial means greater than my own who have invested in my projects in the past. Sometimes they come close to breaking even (and sometimes nowhere near close) but they are always involved in the project, and usually take pleasure in helping bring it to fruition.

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The MVPs of Independent Filmmaking

Once we have a budget, we will likely reach out to the angels we know and see how close we can get.

5. Crowdsourcing

We all know about this one. Projects funded by the most important people out there: you! Everyone you know (and some strangers) kick in what they can, from a buck to $5 to $100 to even more. On the surface, it’s simple: pick a platform (like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or Seed and Spark), set your goal amount, set rewards for various levels of donation, then make videos, Tweet, Facebook and email your hands off to reach the promised land. Simple, but definitely not easy. Most people who have succeeded in hitting their budget goals via crowdsourcing say that it’s a full time job.

To be honest, any of these options are full time jobs. Making this movie is my job for the coming months. Which hopefully leads to more jobs and opportunities.

But I can’t think of that now. First, the budget. Once we have the numbers we will figure out which approach is best for this project. Then we chase the money.

 

 

 

On Directing

I’ve spent years working on the script for the movie Closure, but so far mostly as a writer. While the writing never stops (and I mean NEVER, I could spend the rest of my days and the next two lifetimes rewriting all my plays, screenplays and TV scripts) it is time to shift focus. Put on another hat:

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“This is the best hat in America.”

Not that hat, sillies! Although he does look super sharp in it.

No, I’m talking about my DIRECTING hat.

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A little on the nose, but you get it.

I’ve been so focused on writing I can’t forget the big picture. Is that a pun? I’ve spent so much time writing, rewriting, revising and tweaking that I haven’t thought as much as I should about how the movie will look. I certainly have a vision for the style and tone of the script, but I haven’t worked enough on translating that vision into a language that actors, the director of photography, and all the departments can understand. Fortunately, I have some time to develop that language and learn more. A lot more.

Directing is hard. It helps that I’ve done it before, directing a number of short films, industrials, and even a feature that was seen by approximately thirty five people. Having this experience helps, as I can learn from past mistakes and hopefully anticipate most of the new mistakes I will make… and there will be plenty of mistakes. Daily.

But even with the experience. Directing is hard. Very hard. How hard? Let me give you an example: Natalie Portman.

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This photo is from the recent New York Times Style Magazine. Inside, she has a conversation about filmmaking. Last year Natalie directed her first feature, A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is a loosely biographical drama about the last days of Mandatory Palestine and the beginning of Israel. Portman directed the movie and starred in it. It took her EIGHT years to find funding and write the script, which she insisted remain in Hebrew instead of being translated in English. For her performance, she worked with a vocal coach to eliminate any hint of her American accent in her Hebrew.

So to recap, she raised funds, adapted the script, shot the movie in a different language…

…and if you look at this photo again, she did it all in her underwear. That’s right, the ad promoting a conversation between her and Jonathan Safran Foer (who, presumably, got to keep his pants on) features the director in her underwear!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Natalie Portman has had quite a career so far. She has starred in the blockbuster series Thor and Star Wars (okay, not the good ones), worked with esteemed directors Woody Allen, Tim Burton, Mike Nichols, Anthony Minghella, Terrence Malick, Milos Forman, and Wes Anderson among others,  and has won an Oscar for Black Swan. She is definitely A-list.

And here she is, promoting her directing debut in her underwear. Let’s get past two obvious points: 1) she is a beautiful woman and looks great in whatever she chooses to wear, and 2)this is the style section, not the front page.

But yes, this is a HUGE double standard. No male directors have ever been asked to pose in their underwear, that I know of. Maybe Terrence Malick has been BEGGING to pose in his underwear, but no one has taken him up on his offer. But unlikely.

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“You want me to… do what?”

But here’s my takeaway: a director will do what it takes to get more exposure (heh heh) for their project, and their craft. Would Ms. Portman be on the cover in her underwear to promote Thor 14: A Thor in my Side? Doubtful. She did it to bring more attention to her other career.

This means while I’m preparing to get behind the camera, I need to make sure all the resources are lined up. And that will involve hustling: many emails, phone calls, and meetings to make sure we are ready to go. And if I need to get in my underwear on the cover of the NY Times Style Magazine, I’ll be ready… after a few more crunches.

 

 

Overcoming Fear

After I published my previous post announcing the date we go into production, a strange thing happened: I stopped sleeping.

No, not all the time. And since my son was born nearly two years ago, my sleep has been, shall we say, consistently inconsistent. I want to be clear that I’m not blaming the boy; he sleeps very well (thanks, Dr. Ferber!). I routinely wake up, and fall back to sleep. We all do, actually.

But now, when I wake up sometime between 2:30 and 4am, it takes me longer to fall back to sleep. My mind races: where did I go wrong? What have I done with my life? I should have gone to grad school. I should have taken the advice from every fortune cookie, rather than callously throwing them away. And after a few nights in a row of 60-90 minutes of blinking up at the ceiling, I figured out the cause:

I’m anxious about making this movie.

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Not pictured in this stock photo: me. I also have a digital alarm clock because, you know, it’s not 1953. But this guy does have nicer hair than me, I’ll give him that.

Now that we’ve set a date, and told you good people about it, there is more pressure. What if it doesn’t happen? When will I be satisfied with the script? Where will we get the money? And why is that bird happily chirping when dawn is still two hours away? Go to sleep, bird!

Fear of failure. That’s what it is. In fact, if I really want to psychoanalyze myself, what I think is fear of failure is actually fear of success. By doing nothing, or by doing something half-assed, I’m already failing. In fact, by not having made this movie yet, even though the blog about making this movie is already three years old, I’m actually successful at failing. I’ve spent three years of my free time writing the script, and most of that time has been taken up with revisions, readings, feedback sessions, and more revisions. All of this is busywork (important gestational work, sure) but too much of it may result in jogging in place, treading water, Moonwalking in circles (I just made that one up, like it?) and is delaying forward progress.

This past weekend my wife, son and I went to a gathering at a child-friendly brewery/bar – to those of you without kids, child-friendly bars exist, and they are wonderful. Sure, most of the time I’m on the move, beer in hand, following my toddler and screaming “that’s not your purse, put it down!” But there are a few moments of zen. At one point, I drank my 329 Lager along with my friend Michael, an actor who has been involved in the development of this script from the beginning, while watching my kid play with an enormous Connect Four board.

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Not pictured in this stock photo: my actual child, or the bar.

“Hey, I read your blog. Congrats on setting a date” Michael said.
“Thanks, I’m getting excited.”
“So where is the money coming from?”
“You know, I’m not completely sure yet. We have someone who’s going to work on it, but…” I trailed off, drinking my beer.
“So nothing concrete?”
“Nope.” I sweated more. It was a hot day in The Valley, right?
“Well don’t you think you should be doing something?”

And that is the crux of it. I should be doing something. The more I do, the harder I work, the better I sleep. All of us know the joy of our head hitting the pillow and instantly falling asleep due to the exhaustion of hard day’s work.

It’s time to work hard. And while making the film is the ultimate end result victory, I need to focus on the day to day grind. I just need to recognize that hard work, in itself, is success. The positive results will come later.

So now that I’ve acknowledged that I’m a success at failure, maybe it’s worth risking being a failure at success.

And if this movie thing doesn’t work out, maybe I can become a freelance fortune cookie writer.

Setting the Date

This blog has chronicled the process of making a movie. So far, it’s all been hypothetical. Well, a script has been written, rewritten, read aloud, read aloud in front of an audience, found a producer, and submitted to a variety of places. But it still only exists on the page. And in this blog. And in my brain.

But no more.

It’s time to step on the railing of the balcony, stretch my arms, and see if this movie can fly.

It’s time to set a date. So here it comes… are you sitting down? Good. Because:

Closure will begin principal photography in January 2017.

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You read that correctly.

I now open the floor to questions. Yes you, in the back.

Is the script finalized?
Hardly. I am still adjusting beats, adding scenes, honing characters, and a wide variety of other changes.

Do you have money yet?
Nope.

Like, no money?
Well, I do have $18.51 in my pocket RIGHT NOW. Both otherwise, no money. Yet. But we are working on it. We have a plan. More to come soon.

Have you set the cast?
Not yet. A lot depends on availability. Shooting in January will work to our benefit. Most productions are shut down, and it’s not pilot season yet, so most actors are either at Sundance or staring at cracks on the ceiling, waiting for the phone to ring. And while I have actors in mind for many of the roles, there may be some interesting names thrown into the hat.

So the script isn’t locked. You don’t have any money. Or a cast.
That is correct.

Are you crazy?
(Adjusting tin foil helmet). Sorry, what was the question? (Notices a cat). Woof woof!

So how do you expect to pull everything off by January?
Because deadlines mean everything!

January isn’t an arbitrary dart toss to the calendar. Beau the producer is available then. Our star is working until mid-December and only then becomes available. Does that give us enough time to get everything done? I hope so.

But what’s important here is that with a deadline, everything escalates. The stakes are higher. Every filmmaker strives for perfection, but we all know that doesn’t exist. When I started this blog over three years ago chronicling this project, I thought things will move quicker. But they only move at the speed I set.

So let’s pick up the speed, shall we?

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Hang on!