Film Independent hosted last month's Filmmaker Forum at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles, an annual event spotlighting the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. As part of the weekend program, FIND published case studies of various projects, giving an insiders view on what worked or didn't quite so. "Go For It!" is the third of five Indiewire will publish this week, taking a look at what decisions the filmmakers took to bring their project from the idea stage to screen. IW thanks the filmmakers and FIND for sharing their insight with Indiewire readers.
Director Carmen Marron raised the funds for "Go For It!" on her own by working as a pharmaceutical sales representative. The film follows a 19-year-old first-generation Mexican-American student in Chicago who must balance her parents' expectations and her true passion: dance. In this case study, learn how Marron brought her film to festivals and secured a release through Lionsgate.
Writer/Director: Carmen Marron
Producer: Carmen Marron
Budget: SAG ULTRA LOW Contract
Shooting Format: RED camera
Screening Format: 35mm, DCP
World Premiere: Dances With Films Festival 2010
Awards: Audience Awards: Dances With Films 2010, San Antonio Film Fest 2010, LALIFF 2010, Cine Las Americas 2011
Development & Financing
While Carmen Marron was working as a guidance counselor with inner city youth in south Phoenix, AZ she noticed that many of the young girls idolized pop stars and celebrities, changing their clothing and hair styles to resemble Hollywood starlets like Britney Spears, while simultaneously showing very little respect for the people in their own community. Marron realized that these troubled teens had no role models in the media who looked like them, so she decided to write a screenplay that would portray inner city youth in a positive light: “I wanted them to see characters that would mirror their lives and also represent their struggles in a realistic way, and hopefully inspire them to do something about it….make them feel like they had more options in their lives.”
Marron had a first draft complete within a few months, and she then moved to Los Angeles, aiming to produce the film herself. She had no experience in filmmaking, and very quickly she realized that she was not the only one in LA shopping a script around town. For the next two years, from 2003-2005, Marron tried to raise the financing for "Go For It!". During this time she watched Ken Loach’s film "Bread and Roses" about a janitorial strike in Los Angeles. Marron was so inspired by the film that she emailed Ken Loach’s office in England, asking the famed social-issues filmmaker to direct her script. Two weeks later she was awakened by a phone call; it was Ken Loach’s assistant, who spent over half an hour on the phone with Marron telling her that Loach was touched by her letter, and that it was clear from her passion and enthusiasm that no one else could make "Go For It!"—Carmen should direct the film herself. Loach’s assistant spent the rest of the call offering tips, and encouragement, ensuring her that the hardest part would be raising the money, but that once she’d achieved this, everything else would fall into place.
After the phone call with Ken Loach’s office, Marron was newly inspired: “I remember getting off the phone with him and deciding, I’m gonna make my film for $50,000, Robert Rodriguez-style…I’m going to save the money myself, and I’m going to direct it and do everything.”
Marron became a pharmaceutical rep, knowing that she could make good money in that field and save as much of it as possible to put towards the film. She and her husband spent the next five years saving money from their jobs and investing it in high-interest-bearing money market accounts. During this period, Marron spent as much of her spare time as possible educating herself on the business of filmmaking; she attended many Film Independent events, and spoke to many panelists and attendees when she had the chance. Some read her script and offered great feedback and advice, including a line producer who did a breakdown, and advised Marron that she wouldn’t be able to make her ambitious hip-hop dance film for $50,000—she would need a minimum of $100K if she shot entirely in Chicago.
Marron had set "Go For It!" in Chicago, and she felt very strongly about not changing the location. To keep costs down, she would only be able to shoot the exteriors in Chicago and all the interiors in Los Angeles. While still working and saving money, Marron would also keep her eyes open for potential locations in L.A., asking permission from the owners to come back in a few years when she had all the money in place. She kept track of the all owners who’d said, “Sure!”
By early 2008, Marron had enough money raised to start pre-production. She spent the next six months casting the film, securing lead Aimee Garcia (who had been a regular on "The George Lopez Show") early on, in the spring of 2008. Marron held casting sessions at Film Independent and found many great actors through Actors’ Access and LA Casting, before putting the project on breakdowns. Marron found the casting period extremely helpful—watching and listening to actors working on scenes [during auditions] became her pre-rehearsal period, helping her fine-tune the script and become better prepared for the shoot itself.
Marron also locked down her locations—she returned to the places she’d scouted years earlier, introducing herself with a friendly, “Remember me?”
"Go For It!" shot in October and November 2008, in Chicago (nine days) and Los Angeles (ten days). It was a non-union shoot, shot under the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement. Because she was saving money everywhere she could, Marron hired many first timers for the crew who worked for $100/day, but it was very challenging: “It was hard to stay on schedule, and they lost shots in Chicago that she had to quickly revise the script to make them up in LA. Marron had her costume designer buy the material for the dance costumes at the warehouse district in LA and make them inexpensively. She also had the actors wear their own clothes when they could. Marron knew it would be a very physically demanding shoot for the actors, and she was wise to save all the dance scenes until the very end of the schedule.
Festival Preparation and Strategy
Marron spent 2009 in post, cutting on Final Cut Pro in her home, and working with an assistant editor who worked on the project two or three days a week. Marron points out that working with the RED camera really paid off in post: “[The RED] was so user friendly, we really didn’t have any problems… in fact, the RED saved some of my scenes many times because I didn’t have enough coverage; the RED allowed me to zoom in [and crop the shot] and get an extreme close-up which I wasn’t able to get during filming.”
Before the casting period, Marron had spent many months researching music for the soundtrack for "Go For It!". She scoured music and band pages on MySpace and visited local clubs, searching for songs she liked by lesser known, unsigned indie bands and approached them directly with offers to use their songs in her film. In total, Marron licensed 18 songs in this way for "Go For It!", each for $200—for all rights. During this search she found her composer too—one of the band members whose song she was licensing. (Using Film Independent’s member resources she was able to find a great lawyer who helped with the contracts for all the music clearances.)
As she was completing post, Marron began to submit "Go For It!" to film festivals. She didn’t really have a strategy in place, instead making random submissions to festivals that were accepting applications at the time. It was during this process that she discovered that premieres are very important to festivals, and many wouldn’t even consider the film if it had already played locally at another fest. In retrospect, she would recommend that filmmakers have a plan with respect to festival premieres. (As a general rule, the large, prestigious festivals try to program world – or U.S. – premieres where possible; smaller regional festivals like to have as many local premieres as possible—i.e., a West Coast premiere, a state premiere or, at the very least, a city premiere.)
In total, "Go For It!" was accepted into about a dozen film festivals, with an unfinished cut premiering at the Boston International Film Festival in April 2010. After seeing the audience response and how the film looked on screen, Marron finished the cut to then premiere at Dances with Films in June 2010 in Los Angeles. It played to a sold-out crowd, winning the Audience Award, and caught the eye of acquisition executives from Paramount who requested that the film screen for their bosses. Marron held off as she wanted to get more buyer interest in the hopes of improving any sales bids she was offered. Other distributors also expressed interest, but they only wanted to buy the DVD rights, and Marron decided to hold out for an offer that included a theatrical release.
Marron continued to tour the festival circuit with the film, using Facebook, dance websites and YouTube to reach out to its target audience and build a buzz that ensured that the festival screenings were sold out. Where possible, she offered to sit on festival panels as another way of highlighting her work. "Go For It!" played the San Antonio Film Festival (garnering another Audience Award), the NY Latino Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. It was at LALIFF in August 2010 that she was again approached by buyers: Paramount execs had returned to see the film again, and during the film’s sold-out screening at LALIFF, Marron received a text from Lionsgate expressing their interest in the film. Unsure of how the distributor had got a hold of her cell phone number, she assumed the text was a hoax at first.
Working without a sales rep (the few she’d approached had passed on repping the film), Marron met and screened "Go For It!" for the Lionsgate executives who were interested in acquiring it. They explained they were launching a new division, Pantelion Films that would be releasing mainstream films for the Latino market, and that "Go For It!" was perfect for that demographic. Lionsgate made an official offer in November 2010. Marron negotiated with the distributor over the next few months, aided by her lawyer. “Never go into negotiations with a distributor without a good attorney!” notes Marron.
The Lionsgate/Pantelion deal was signed in January 2011. The distributor bought North American rights (including DVD, VOD and TV) for undisclosed terms. During the negotiations, the distributor needed guarantees that all rights had been cleared, particularly when it came to the music throughout the film. The list of deliverables they required was 16 pages in length, but they were open to negotiation on all the expenses.
Shortly after the Lionsgate sale, Marron secured Australia-based sales company Odin’s Eye to rep foreign sales in select territories. They have since sold Germany, France, Jamaica, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, and are working on other territories, including South America.
"Go For It!" was released theatrically in May 2011 in the top 20 markets (in 216 theaters) throughout the U.S. Lionsgate flew Marron to Austin, Chicago, and Washington DC to do publicity for local markets, and since the film has a strong pro-education/anti-violence message, Lionsgate also did some outreach to select inner-city communities, setting up sneak preview screenings to help build buzz.
Although Lionsgate was hoping that "Go For It!" would be great programming for their partnership with the Univision audience, their limited marketing budget couldn’t compete with the summer blockbusters and the film got lost among the big titles hogging the multiplexes.
Final box office was just under $200K.
"Go For It!" was released on DVD on September 27, 2011, and is gaining word of mouth. Marron hopes that the film will now finally reach its teen and inner-city audience.
Marron now has an agent and is working on projects in both TV and film, including finishing her next screenplay. She’s forged a good relationship with Lionsgate and is looking forward to making another film with them that will reach the growing Hispanic audience.
Advice from the Filmmaker
“Try to make your movie for as little money as possible. The cheaper you make your film, the more options you have when selling it. And try to make a film with at least one name talent for international markets.”