There’s a pressure to take the “Y” in “DIY Filmmaking” a bit
too seriously and bear the burden of producing, promoting and distributing your
film all by yourself. There’s a ton of advice out there about how to “cut out the middle man,” but in my experience, the middle man (or woman or person or thing) is your greatest ally.
The middle man in this case is whoever or whatever it is
that is the almighty link between you and your next step towards making your
project the best it can be, building a support team and strengthening your “package” (bear with me as I use some cringey industry vocabulary such as “package” – I live in Los Angeles now and I don’t know a better way).
Your middle persons/things should have three important
1. They PASSIONATELY LOVE your project.
2. They LEGITIMIZE your project.
3. They have ACCESS to someone or something that could
strengthen the project.
I want to emphasize the importance of the passion factor here. Generating excitement is the greatest force
you have, especially early in your career. And you must be honest with yourself about how people are responding to
This is an e-mail from someone who loves your project… :Jane,
I just read your script. It’a PHENOMENAL!!! Seriously, I have chills. I’m
turning down a high-paying job to work on this because I know this is going to be an incredible
film and I want to be a part of it. Did I mention I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to
work on this!??! What do you think about Joe Pesci for the Baker? When can you
get on the phone to talk more about it?” This person will continue to build the
momentum you need when things get rough.
This is an e-mail from someone who does not love your
project… “Jane! Great great work! I really like the part with the dogs and
the dialogue flows really well. The Baker is so funny! I’d love to work on it.
Only hitch is that I have some work coming up that may conflict with this
project. Can I get back to you next week? I hope this can work out! – Sent from
my iPhone” This person does not like your movie and also doesn’t want to hurt
your feelings, which is quite kind of her. She’s a good person, she just
doesn’t connect to your script. That’s okay! Find someone else.
Now – Let’s say you’ve written the perfect script and there’s a
life-changing role for a very lucky actress. I’m gonna go ahead and use Lisa
Kudrow as an example because this is my cinematic fantasy piece.
Here’s your strategy: You send a non-BCC’d e-mail blast to your
network that reads something like “Hey beautiful people, does anyone know Lisa Kudrow or have
her contact? I have an opportunity for her. Hit me up! – Sent from my iPhone: I
hope you know I’m kidding. No one on your e-mail blast list is a good middle
man because they don’t give a hoot about your project.
Here’s a more realistic plan of action: Hire a middle person.
In this case, a Casting Director who truly
loves your project (see e-mail mock
up above). Casting Directors are highly effective middle people who have
relationships with agents and managers and a strategy for approaching actors at
all stages in their careers. The mere fact that you have a casting director on
your project tricks actors into thinking you have your production in order,
therefore legitimizing your package.
So the casting director has access to
Lisa Kudrow’s agent or manager (another important middle person) who will then
take a look at the script, LOVE IT, and pass it along to Lisa (Kudrow) who will
cry out, “FINALLY!” – You never know, there really is a chance she’ll say yes!
But not without the middle people. Lisa trusts her agent who trusts the casting
director who trusts you. Even if your script is great, Lisa does not trust you.
Without these critical in-between steps you are Lisa’s worst nightmare.
You do this again and again with producers, creatives and crew.
So now let’s imagine you’ve shot and edited this flawless
movie. But who wants to take a risk and distribute a film made by little old
You move on to yet another middle man by submitting to SXSW
Film Festival (my personal favorite middle person/thing) because the programmers
are searching for the best “emerging talent” out there and they’re willing to
spend millions of hours watching films by people no one has ever heard of in
the hopes of finding something special. So when SXSW sifts through all their
submissions and selects your film for their line-up they serve as the ultimate
middle person who loves and legitimizes your film and has access to even more middle people who
trust SXSW’s ability to identify “new talent.”
When our film “Fort Tilden” got into SXSW, the festival
introduced us to a publicist, a lawyer and a sales rep. Once we got to the
festival we premiered the film to a full house, met with press, signed with an
agent and with the help of all the passionate, professional middle people who
added value to our product along the way, we sold our film.
I never could have walked up to our distributors or any of the
incredible people who worked on the film and said, “Hey, my name is
Sarah-Violet and I have this film I just know you’re gonna love…” It takes
one incredible middle person after another to say, “Hey – this woman is the
real deal. It’s worth putting in the time to watch her film.”
If you’d like SXSW to be a “middle man” for you or your film, consider submitting your ideas to PanelPicker, SXSW’s open proposal and voting process. Keep in mind that submissions close on July 24, 2015.
Meanwhile, SXSW Film Festival March (11 – 20, 2016 ) will accept Feature Film, Short Film & Music Video Submissions from June 29 – November 3, 2015. Submit early for the early bird rate, and for more information visit www.sxsw.com/film/festival/submit.
Sarah-Violet Bliss is a writer/director from Brooklyn, New York. Her first feature film “Fort Tilden,” co-written and co-directed with Charles Rogers, received a number of awards including the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival.
Bliss’ most recent credits include staff writer on the Netflix Original Series “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” and staff writer on Season Two of Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle.” She also directed the episode “Stevie” of the highly acclaimed web series “High Maintenance.”