Producing Is As Producing Does

Life is funny.  Sometimes it’s haha funny, sometimes it’s holy shit funny and sometimes it’s of the “what just happened” variety.  It’s the latter that I sometimes reflect on because producing wasn’t really on my Things To Do During Middle Age list.  It was never in any of the literature AARP started sending me when I was still south of 40.

Then again, I wonder what I’d be doing with myself if I hadn’t stumble into it almost by accident.  I got tired of the endless stream of no, no, no that writers encounter when they’re trying to get their scripts made into films. Or worse yet, hearing nothing at all.  It’s a miracle to get anyone at a production company or studio to even take the time to read and that waiting game is excruciating.

Having teamed up with some super cool creative and trustworthy people with way more experience under their collective belts, producing an independent feature has been a really eye-opening experience.  Rather than be intimidated by it, I found it very fulfilling on many levels.  Here are a few of them:

  • The For-The-Love-Of-Pete-Just-Do-It level. Yes, I kinda sharked the Nike tag line but sometimes there’s no choice because that simple phrase is just so goddamn pure and appropriate in pretty much any circumstance. In my own defense, I did try to mix it up a bit by adding Pete, whoever he is.
  • The I-Feel-Free level. I’ve said it before; there’s no better time to be a content creator than now, now, now! If you have the time, energy and determination, you can bring your creation to some kind of satisfying fruition in some form or fashion.  That kind of freedom makes one want to run naked through a field of California poppies! [Doesn’t it?? … kind of??]
  • The I’m-Not-Too-Old-To-Learn-Something-New level. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve finally made something of myself and it only took fifty-six years!
  • The No-Manual-Needed level. I’m sure there are books like Film Producing for The Clueless Hausfrau but I have to tell ya’, the best way to learn is to hook your wagon to honest filmmakers who know a thing or two about it and be willing to do anything and everything to gain knowledge.

And lastly, my favorite pearl of wisdom I acquired by being put through the spanking machine known as the film business:

  • The Know-Who-You’re-Dealing-With level. Trust me when I tell you, I’ve learned the hard way how not to be a pushover as it relates to the film biz. Trusting no one until they prove otherwise has become a mantra. There are lots of con artists in them there hills and they just LOVE starry-eyed film worshippers. I’m convinced this is the basis for the horror film The Hollywood Hills Have Eyes but that’s another post all together.  I have a healthy appreciation for the hard-earned knowledge about who to attach myself to and who to run screaming from. I’ve learned to never take for granted the incredible gift that trust and honesty can bring. Without those, one is just waiting to get stripped of money, time, energy and probably the Jimmy Choos right off one’s unsuspecting little feet.

As a way for me to break down some of the more important aspects of producing, I’ve come up with my own Top 5 Things To Know About Indie Producing.  Mind you, it comes from a neophyte and I’m okay admitting that because I’ll be one for a while.

#1. Know your market and choose good material because you’ll be responsible for your project from script through distribution and beyond, so aim for the best cast you can afford and the highest production value you can muster.  In other words, make your $100K budget look like $1MM.

#2. Set realistic goals. Regardless of whether you’re a writer, director or Indian Chief, this is a business and there’s money involved.  If it’s yours, you’ll be cautious by default. It it’s not, you better understand what “fiduciary duty”   means.

#3. LEARN your shit!! That means learning everything you can about every aspect of pre-production, physical production, legal contracts, unions, post production and what a good and bad distribution deal looks like.

#4. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people and leave your ego at the door because nobody knows everything and everybody started somewhere.

#5. The buck stops with you, the producer, so be PRESENT through every step of the process because at some point, you WILL find your boobie/pee pee in a wringer over something you may or may not have had control over.  But guess what?  YOU’LL be the one who has to fix it. [Put a big star by this one!]

Cheers and Happy Producing!

Sincerely,

The Clueless Hausfrau

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Filmmaking: Where’s The Cavalry?

A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of attending the SXSW festival in Austin, TX.  It’s a conglomeration of film, interactive media and music that takes place in mid-March every year.   It’s kind of the mack-daddy of independent everything, in my view, and a very exhilarating festival to attend, especially if you’re an indie-minded individual.

As a new-to-the-industry producer, the pioneering veterans who have walked the very crooked sidewalk known as independent filmmaking inspire me. In my humble opinion, Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass not only represent the true spirit of indie filmmaking, they put their actions where their mouths are by lifting up others who are struggling to bring their creations to life.

Stop and think about that for a minute.  These brothers, now quite successful, champion others on their way up; the very antithesis of the Hollywood Buzzsaw that cuts newcomers to shreds and sends them packing, bloody and limbless, back to Omaha where they came from.  That’s some good karma right there, so filmmakers take note!

The year I attended, Mark Duplass gave the keynote speech at SXSW.  If I went to ANY event during that week, it was going to be his speech. I think I actually waited in line for quite a while that morning. Very unusual for someone like me, who has the attention span of the camera flash but it was well worth it.

His speech was entitled, The Cavalry Is Not Coming

You can read it here

Or watch it here….

At first glance the title sounds like the speech will be a real downer, as if he’s going to say something like, “Give up the dream before it kills you, brothers and sisters!  There’s still time to take up underwater basket-weaving because nobody wants to see your shitty indie drivel.” But, hallelujah, it was the opposite. It was the most genuine and inspiring speech I’d ever heard and I normally don’t gush, so pardon the fan-girl tone.

In a nutshell, the foundation of his speech was to build your body of work organically by using what you have, reaching out to your fellow content creators and artists and just doing it.  So often we stew and stress over how on earth we’re going to get the crazy characters, scenarios and environments we’ve created in our minds puked out into the world before they devour our subconscious.  Who’s going to help us??  I’m reminded of the opening sequence of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus show I used to watch on PBS as a kid.  In one of the intros, a man’s noggin pops open and a motley crew of characters come spewing out.  I mean, who opened that dude’s balding dome and let all the characters out? I suspect it was not the cavalry.

(Sorry. As usual, I got sidetracked.  Suffice it to say, I hope nobody ever cracks open the melon-of-controversy I call my brain. Not sure what would come flying out.)

Getting back to Mark Duplass…the title of that speech has echoed in my head since 2015. It’s become an inspirational mantra for me, something that lifts me up when I find myself slipping dangerously close to pessimism.

As I often do, I Googled the phrase “The Cavalry Isn’t Coming” and found an article from Psychology Today.  Here’s an excerpt:

“In old Hollywood Westerns the action started when a disheveled old Gabby Hayes character would ride into camp and announce “The cavalry isn’t coming”. This cliché marked the onset of intense fighting…Put in the charm of our modern milieu – we keep our head down and take what’s coming to us, look for an opportunity to move on or escape, or decide to creatively engage the conflict that transforms us…That is, we reject the push of events and embrace the pull of our destiny.”

That may be a high-brow-psycho-speak explanation but I think it’s scientific evidence supporting the epiphany I felt after hearing Mark’s speech.

“I get it! WE are the cavalry.”

 

 

Indie Film Producing 101

You’ll need some hats…as in, more than one.

Unfortunately, I don’t look good in hats. But I had to buck up and stuff my ego into the dark recesses of my psyche if I wanted to become a film producer, albeit a Bambi producer who’s struggling to learn the ropes.

Here’s a partial shopping list compiled from trial-by-fire knowledge:

  • The I’m-just-learning hat: It should be something whimsical and not too serious so people know you haven’t become jaded and cynical like the producers who’ve graduated to “studio” films.  Think of something like a colorful beanie with a plastic propeller on top for when you ask a stupid question like “What’s B-roll?”

After you get a film or two under you belt, you can graduate to:

  • The I-Know-Just-Enough-to-Impress–My-Non-Producer-Friends hat: This can be your average run o’ the mill baseball cap worn properly and NOT backwards, which comes later.  You can wear this one once you know what it means when someone says “We’ll fix it in post” yet still Bambi enough not to understand how much it’s going to cost.

Once you’ve learned some of the jargon and have a production or two under your belt, you can consider moving up to this:

  • The I’m-a-Member-of-the-Tribe hat: You’re getting comfortable on set. You know when to keep your trap shut, when to tell someone there’s a boom mic in the shot but still not cocky enough to shirk the menial crap like fetching a low-foam, half-caff,  double-shot latte with unsweetened almond milk for the talent who just can’t get through the day without it.  A nice fedora style could work, so you look quasi hip when you go to Starbucks for the fourteenth time.

Here’s where the fledgling Indie Film Producer turns a proverbial corner:

  • The I’ve-Earned-It hat: You’ve gained a modicum of respect and a decent amount of knowledge.  This is when you can wear your baseball hat backwards on set and not look like the dork who wears it this way but hasn’t earned it and everyone knows it.

This next step sounds like a giant leap for womankind. It certainly can be, but don’t let it go to your head.  The world of Indie Producing is humbling and very hard work.

  • The I’m-an-Executive-Producer hat: This doesn’t actually require a hat. It requires knowledge and/or money or both. If you’ve been passionate and diligent enough to earn the titles of both Producer AND Executive Producer, it shows you’ve done the hard work. In this case, you’re allowed to go hatless.  Yay!

Just remember, this is  just a partial list of hats you’ll be wearing if you’ve taken the plunge into the wild and woolly world of independent film production.   If you’re working on ultra-low-budget films (or less!!) you’re going to do everything from cooking breakfast, taping cables to the floor, making coffee,  waking up before the sun knows it’s tomorrow, schlepping equipment until you’re ready to drop, watching the budget…and most importantly, loving every minute of it!

By the way, the end of the shoot isn’t the end of your job as a producer so don’t give those hats a Viking burial just yet.  You’ll need them until the film is ready for distribution and beyond so be prepared to learn just how much “fixing it in post” really does cost.

Oh, wait. There’s one more hat I forgot to mention:

  • The Holy-Shit-I-Really-Fucked-Up dunce hat: It’s tall, black and pointy and not at all stylish. But trust me, you’ll need it at some point. Everyone does.  But don’t despair, newbies.  Own the fuck up, put on the hat, sit in the corner with your nose to the wall…until somebody needs a latte and you’re once again…golden.

Godspeed, Bambis!