Corporate Expatriates: From Money to Movie
Written by Garret C. Maynard | Posted by: NewEnglandFilm.com
Now that you’ve got the money (see part I), you’re wondering what is the best way to organize pre-production, production, and post-production so you have enough left over for promotion. If you’re like most filmmakers, you already know how to put a film together. But a partnership with a corporate expat brings slightly different expectations.
Your partner is a business professional and is used to standard business protocols. He or she will see this venture in a project management mindset and will feel best if you organize yourself accordingly: you need to be highly organized and need to surround yourself with smart, dedicated people who don’t need to be micromanaged.
Make sure you establish an LLC. You’ll need a lawyer for this and to help you find production and liability insurance. You can offer compensation in a flat fee rather than at an hourly rate, this will save you money over the duration of the production. Expect to spend about $2,000 to $2,500. Also, the lawyer will help you and your partner draft a contract that spells out your responsibilities and how you will be credited for tasks performed. Assign yourself a 50 percent share in the profit. You can command this because your contribution in talent and sweat equity is equal to or greater than your partner’s cash equivalent. Assign yourself creative control. Your partner may know business but you know filmmaking and are the director. Require a flat fee stipend; I suggest $5,000-8,000 for your camera, directing, and editing services. You’ need about $2,000-3,000 for a composer. Beyond that, pay everybody a flat fee of $200-300 a week with no profit sharing or deferred payments.
Casting is almost as important as having a dedicated producing team. If the actors are not dedicated and willing to sacrifice, then that failing may show up on the screen and be more noticeable than bad sound or out of focus shots. We did well with our casting for Film Camp because we acted like HR contractors. We were highly organized and very respectful of those who auditioned. If you show that you are orderly and do what you say, it will establish a strong work ethic for when production begins. Also, word-of-mouth will reverberate that you are serious. Schedule a full read-through with all the cast and later break down into smaller groups and make the rounds to coach them on how you see each performance. You won’t have time for rehearsals on set so you need to drive home the idea that the actors have to know their lines.
Don’t use borrowed equipment, rent it from a well know rental house. If their equipment breaks down your rental agreement will allow for an on-the-spot replacement. This and the purchase of liability insurance are especially important. Let’s say someone gets hurts or an even greater possibility — you break something, like a piece of equipment or you damage a car on location — production liability insurance protects you and your partner from any personal liability. You may not have much to lose but the average expat has accumulated a wealth of assets that he/she wants to protect. The LLC partnership that I recommended earlier limits your personal liability; i.e., plaintiff’s can only sue the corporation and not you.
Make the first day on set an easy one so you don’t shock your partner. Don’t set unreasonable hours. Work eight-hour days for three weeks maximum and take weekends off. Expats have families and so do you. There’s no need to punish everybody by over extending yourself. Expats will see the guerilla filmmaking mentality as unprofessional.
But expats are used to catered affairs and highly organized events. You will have to prepare them for the inevitable problems that will arise. In order to lessen the no-shows, walkouts and personality conflicts, lobby with your partner to spend money on great food. It’s the best way to make the actors and the crew happy. Have a healthful breakfast available and a really good lunch. Make sure you take an hour break and as you wrap for the day, serve fruit. Keep lots of water on hand; take it easy on the soda and caffeinated drinks.
With such a tight shooting schedule and working under non-guerilla conditions there’ll be no time for rehearsals or time for the set-up and use of a tripod. Your partner may find this unorthodox and question your methods. To defend methods all you have to do is say the word “duh.” Assure him/her that unorthodox methods are the best way. Ninety percent of Film Camp was shot handheld. Luckily, I had a steady hand and the camera had an excellent image stabilizer so it translated well to the big screen. Another unorthodox method that may shock your partner is that you will keep the lighting scheme to a minimum. You won’t have the time to do precise lighting so scout out the locations before hand to see if you can take advantage of available light.
More surprises for your partner will be that you’ll have no time for blocking. Rehearsal time for the actors on set will be limited and for you, don’t bother with storyboards since these conditions require maximum flexibility. Draft a simple shot list and you’ll be good to go.
Make sure you have a really organized assistant director who knows how important his or her job is to the production. Expats are great at finding effective people so let them do that.
Once the actors know what to do and say, grab two or three takes and move on. But make sure you get the shot unless you want to spend many, many hours in an ADR session or pay a high-end post house to fix bad sound or poor color. Also, make sure you understand the complexity of production sound issues. Be aware of the aural environment and make sure to get wild sound for every scene and don’t forget to color balance for each shot. Make sure you have your time code in order but if that becomes a problem like it did with our production, you can always stripe (add time code) to the blank stock before shooting (or later in a tape-to-tape transfer process).
As mentioned earlier you will you need to tell you partner about the inconsistencies in the filmmaking process. The best way to explain this is to say that film production will mimic chaos at worst, and at best, a grade school playground. But tell them that this is a natural. Tell them that Orson Welles worked this way and he made films that are classics. It’s natural since it’s a creative environment and a certain amount of spontaneity will be a great pressure release. So tell your expat to expect the obligatory meltdown, blowup, and equipment failure but always keep the focus on moving forward.
Once you wrap production have a wrap party and screen some selected takes so the actors will feel as if they accomplished something. It will leave everybody with a good feeling. Tell them thanks and that you’ll see them at the screening in about 18-24 months. Expats will warm to this since they will get a boost from seeing some of their work realized and that will carry them for the next two years as you go into post-production.
Now comes the fun part! Editing is the most challenging aspect of production and is highly underestimated by those not in know — so that means you will have to take charge. Remember, you have the experience so you are the obvious one to manage creative control. Based on that here are some workflow protocols.
Include your partner in selective aspects of the process. For example, teach your partner about the benefits of making really good footage logs. You can let your partner watch the footage and select the best takes but don’t let him/her make any permanent decisions or you’ll be drawn into a debate about which shots to use later.
Do not edit with your partner. Do a rough cut and screen it for him or her. Take notes on what they like and don’t like in your first cut and if you agree, make the changes. If you don’t agree, leave it alone for now and move on. It’s best to be flexible but if you believe you are correct stick to your decision and make sure you are able to fully explain your decision-making process, so it is about more than artistic preference.
In time, you will find that opinions and ideas in the editing process are transient. The film is constantly changing in post so don’t burden yourself with disagreement. The best part of this process is that you will relearn that filmmaking is a collaborative effort in which the teacher can be taught by the novice and that there is no one way to do things.
In finding a composer, your expat partner can be helpful since he/she may know music or be musical. However, to maintain the pace of workflow, choose a technology-savvy composer. You will more than likely send the composer the entire locked picture on DVD. You’ll receive frame accurate compositions, scene by scene via e-mail, so you can make comments remotely. My partner, the composer, and I worked this way without ever having to meet during the scoring process.
Promotion is when you may want to yield control, especially if your partner knows more about the intricacies of promotion than you do. However, this is where your partnership will be tested in that you both have an equal stake in the outcome. Therefore, if all has gone well previously, you will be able to by default or design, represent your film with one voice. A unified front shows that you can collaborate with members of the business community and your partner can work with members of the creative community. This bodes well for both of you since you may want to continue the collaboration on a second film.
Your first screening should be for the cast and crew. They will be your best audience so make sure you invite the press to take advantage of their enthusiasm to inspire positive reviews. Don’t charge them as a courtesy for the work they put into the film. Don’t offer copies until after you establish a deal with a distributor since pirating is a possibility. You can offer a screener with the word “screener” across the image for ten seconds every five minutes of the film. Get as many reviews as possible to help sell your film. At the same time enter specific film festivals. Without A Box can help you sift through the many festivals and offer a service that submits to festivals with one universal application. If you don’t make it into Sundance (we missed it this year), then continue to search for a distributor. You can hold sneak previews of the film if you want, charge five or six dollars, and eventually, if you get a distributor, you can negotiate to keep theatrical rights and make a tidy sum traveling around your home state or the country screening your film. Make sure you get errors and omission insurance if you decide to go on the road with your film; this will help cover you from any infringement liability.
Finally, be careful whom you choose as a distributor since you may end up in an archive with thousands of other titles. We’re looking into pay-per-view on the Internet, which keeps duplication and advertising costs down. Also, we get to keep the majority of the box office!
Our first screening (on December 1st) was a big success. We had more than 300 people at the Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT and it was a riotous crowd. We got the local papers to do reviews beforehand, which drove curiosity and created a nice buzz, resulting in a promotion spot on regional cable TV (for us it’s Cablevision). As a result, we are planning more screenings.
An audience member asked if it was worth the three years it took to make the film and I said, “YES!” It was something I’ll never forget. My partner was thrilled and believed it was the best money she had ever spent, better than a new kitchen anyway.
Related Media: FilmCamp Trailer
Nutmeg Pictures will offer a sneak-preview of Film Camp at the Stratford Theatre in Stratford, CT on Jan 12th at 1 pm and 4 pm. Tickets are $6 and can be reserved by calling (203) 345-6167. Garret C. Maynard hosts a one-day seminar on how to make a film on February 16th at Norwalk Community College from 1-3 pm.