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):

Unknown.jpeg

“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.

Unknown-1.jpeg

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.

M Day

Tomorrow is “M Day.” The first big moment of truth in this process. The hurdle which, if we jump it without falling on our faces, will take us a huge step closer to making Closure.

Tomorrow is the day we ask for money.

moment-of-truth

Readers of this blog know that this script has been developed over the years, readings have taken place, and I’ve distracted myself with thoughts on random movies. The script is in great shape. We have a budget. We have a timetable. We are ready to go.

So how did we get here? Beau crafted a budget. A modest budget, but one where everyone gets paid, where we can rent all our equipment, and our cast and crew can eat real food that I won’t have to steal from a dumpster between set ups.

Next, I drafted a pitch document. This is a shiny email-able PDF with pictures and charts and words, all talking about how awesome this movie will be, and how amazing Catia, Beau and I are. Did I lay it on thick? You betcha! If I can’t sell myself and this script, I don’t deserve to be the captain of this ship.

Finally, the three of us compiled a list of possible investors. They range from investors from previous projects, family members, supporters of the arts, industry veterans, wealthy-ish friends, and basically anyone we know who may have an interest in what we are doing. And an interest in becoming a movie producer. And that is the carrot we are dangling.

8329497_orig.jpg

For the right amount, your butt can sit in this very seat!

At increasing levels of financial support, the credit potential gets greater: Associate Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Producer, it all depends on how much someone is willing to invest.

How much are we looking to raise? You’ll find out down the road. But to get on board, we are looking for minimum investments of $5,000. Are YOU interested in getting on board? Drop me a line and let me know. Happy to send you a shiny pitch doc and take you out to lunch.

So here goes nothing. And here goes everything. Stay tuned, and hopefully soon we’ll give ourselves the green light. And like Tom and Cuba said…

200_s.gif

 

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.

giphy.gif

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.

rich moneybags.png

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.

Clooney and Pitt.jpeg

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.

financial Angels.jpeg

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.

 

 

 

Chasing the Money

Funny story about $250,000

Dollar-bills-pile

Many years ago, back in New York City, my comic play I’m in Love with Your Wife premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. It was a fast-paced, 80 minute modern sex farce and was a hit at the festival, in part aided by the casting of a very popular 1970s sitcom star.

The very affable and big soul Ron Palillo (R.I.P.)

R.I.P. Ron Palillo, a generous man with a huge heart.

We sold out every performance (which sounds more impressive if I don’t mention it was a 44-seat house) and then sold out the additional shows added. When the festival closed, we were nominated for six best of the fest awards, winning Best Supporting Actress and Outstanding Playwriting of a New Play. The good buzz and great reviews led to meetings with a few off-Broadway producers, who felt that this play could be a hit off Broadway.

One producer went further. He had his own 165-seat theater space, which more than qualifies it for off-Broadway, and agreed to budget the play. One afternoon we sat down and figured out what it would take to make it happen. After figuring in actors salaries (on the bare minimum union scale), salaries and fees for director and designers, plus set contraction, insurance, and a healthy chunk for marketing, he had a number that would keep the show open for two months. Presumably, good press, word of mouth and a 70% attendance rate would keep the show running indefinitely. And this producer told me that number: $250,000.

I was shocked. The budget to do the show off-off-Broadway, in the festival, was just under $10,000. And we hustled to get that money, holding a live fundraiser (this was before online crowdsourcing existed) and we cut corners where we could. Even after all that, a little money came out of my pocket, not counting the hundreds of hours I worked for free.

As we looked through the quarter mil budget, that number made sense and was clearly not arbitrary. But that’s a lot of money to raise for something not permanent. One of the joys of the art of theater is that it exists only in that moment in time that you witness it. Once the line is spoken, once the lights go down, the moment is over forever… until the next night. But eventually, the show will close. This becomes daunting when I realized I needed to spearhead a campaign to raise a quarter of a million dollars for something that might be all gone in a few months.

And as I walked out of that meeting, I had a thought:

“For $250,000, I should make a movie.”

This story does not go down the road of me abandoning theater to pursue film and TV. Hardly. I will always love theater. Since that experience I have had three more plays fully produced, a few more written, and numerous productions of full length and short plays across the country. But never for a budget remotely close to $250,000. And this thought always stayed in the back of my mind: should I spend a lot of time hustling and fundraising for something that could conceivably be gone in four months? Or should I put that energy towards something more permanent?

So imagine my surprise when the same number was not-so-casually presented as a budget for Closure. My ten-year younger self would be smiling at me (and possibly wondering what happened to my hair). It seems appropriate that the same number estimated to launch my off-Broadway career be the same to launch my first feature film endeavor as both writer and director. Makes me want to play the lottery.

That’s it! I’m going to take my savings and buy lottery tickets, and use the winnings to fund this movie.

Or maybe I’ll listen to what the producer suggests first. One step at a time.

COMING UP NEXT: Hearing the script again… but this time, in front of an audience.

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.