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by Indiewire Staff
October 17, 2011 9:06 AM
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Here Are the First Two Winners for Christine Vachon and Ted Hope's Masterclass

The first winners for tickets to Christine Vachon and Ted Hope's first-ever stateside masterclass in producing, Killer/Hope Masterclass: Get Your Movie Made, Make It Well, Make It Great, Get It Seen & Survive to Do It All Over Again, have been selected.

iW readers selected Tomris Laffly's answer as their favorite, while Vachon and Hope chose Adam Collis'. (See below for their answers.)

Want to win your own pass? Here's how it works.

• Ted and Christine pose a series of questions about your filmmaking experiences.
• You post your answer in the comments.
• They select their favorite answer from the responses.
• The answer’s author gets a free ticket to their class.

The class will be held at Cantor Film Center in New York on November 5 from 10a-4p. Tickets are available for $150.

The next question is:

What will you do differently on your next film?

Tell us your answers in the comments. And here's the winning answers to the question, "If you could change one truly changeable thing about the film industry, what would that be?"

Tomris Laffly
Empower/educate/motivate filmmakers to start thinking about who their target audience is in the early stages of development. There is always a ‘mystery’ element of course, however once you can draw some rough lines around who MIGHT or WILL see your film, that will help guide 1) How much you can realistically afford to spend on it 2) What distribution method is best suited for this target. As obvious as this might sound, it baffles me to notice how many good films suffer from a lack of plan in place early on; unfortunately don’t get noticed by the crowd they were meant for (or over-spend due to misguided or unrealistic expectations) and don’t go past the festival circuit. True; film is an art form and filmmakers are artists who should first and foremost be concerned about the artistic integrity of their project. However, the times we live in require filmmakers to have a marketing sensibility as well. Definition of success for a film is no longer about winning the weekend box office. It’s winning the crowd you should be going after; and hoping that crowd will be the champions of your film loud enough that will eventually open up your film to other targets. As much as I would love/prefer to see a film in theaters on big screen and experience it collectively in a crowd; the sooner we ‘fully’ accept and ‘completely’ embrace not just theatrical, but other methods of distribution (on-demand, online/viral, social-media, etc..), be inventive about how to best utilize these methods and the sooner we identify the preferences of our target about HOW they would want to see our film, the more chance films will survive by surpassing their goals and new talent will have a shot to exist sustainably and grow from there.


Adam Collis
FILMMAKERS/PRODUCERS NEED TO START THINKING LIKE REAL BUSINESS PEOPLE AND MAKE INDIE FILM WORK FOR THE INVESTOR CLASS or be straight up with their investors and tell them that, even if they have a huge hit film, they’ll be lucky if they break even on their investment.

My preference would be the former because a satisfied investor class would be, in my opinion, the single best thing that could happen to independent cinema. It would mean more movies, more diversity of films, and a more stable industry. I’ll explain what I believe to be the simplest way to accomplish this below.

But first, here’s a way of looking at the problem. In 1998, Andreas Bechtolsheim wrote a $100,000 check to two young guys named Sergey and Larry who were working on this crazy Internet idea called Google. Eventually, that $100,000 became worth over $1.5 billion dollars. As a way of gauging the risk-reward profile of this investment, consider that there were about 3500 start-ups in Silicon Valley at that time. Bechtolsheim picked the 1 in 3500 shot and won the Derby. He took on a lot of risk, but when his pick flourished, he was rewarded handsomely for taking on that risk - or, more accurately, he was given a reward that was COMMENSURATE with his risk.

Now consider that over the past few years, Sundance received about 3500 submissions to its festival. (That’s to say nothing of the films that weren’t submitted, but let’s forget about those for the time being.) Of those 3500 films, generally a little over 100 were accepted into the festival. And of those, maybe 15 - 25 got picked up for distribution. And of those, only a handful generated any significant box office revenue. And of those, there is only the occasional Little Miss Sunshine, Reservoir Dogs, Thank You for Smoking, Napoleon Dynamite, etc.

Yet, some investor put their money on those films. Just like Bechtolsheim, they put their money on a 3500 to 1 shot. But sources familiar with these deals indicate that the investors of such indie movies rarely do better than making back their initial investment - and that’s not even factoring in the time value of money. That’s a far cry from a $1.5 billion return - even though you could argue that the risk involved in the film investment was about the same as the Google investment, if not more.

I admit, you could poke holes through the Google analogy. But the fact remains that investors who put their money into indie films practically NEVER receive a reward that is commensurate with their risk. But I suspect most film producers do not present the reality of this situation when they pitch investors. They probably find a way to get ahold of some ultimates for Juno or some other indie breakouts and say: “This is what Juno made! This is what we could make!” But I doubt most producers are completely upfront about the fact that the investors will likely end up with some variation of a profit-participation acquisition deal that will likely never get into profit because the studios will continue to apply various costs against the films (most of which are marketing costs).

When an incredible producer like Saul Zaentz has to sue the studio to get his fair share, (as he did recently for The English Patient) what chance does some younger producer have of protecting his investor and delivering a fair return?

So before you get too depressed, I want to propose a solution. It goes hand in hand with my suggestion above that filmmakers/producers need to think like real business people. What that means in this instance is that PRODUCERS NEED TO RAISE THEIR OWN MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION MONEY.

As best as I can tell, the primary rationale the studios have for justifying the lopsided profit participation deals they offer is that they are the ones taking the most the risk because they are the ones ponying up the cost of marketing and distribution. That seems fair, but even if it doesn’t, it’s precedent and precedent is everything in negotiation. They take on the large marketing and distribution expense, then they get the lion’s share of the revenues. But take away that risk from the distributors, take it on yourself with your investor, and then you have every right to the lion’s share of the gross.

I’m not suggesting self-distribution. I think filmmakers/producers need partnerships with experienced distribution companies who have built their distribution footprint. That’s a huge value add. I am suggesting reducing their risk, while still structuring a deal that keeps them incentivized to perform.

My understanding is that this is occasionally done in what are called “Service Deals” with mini-majors or with “Rent-a-Studios” like Freestyle. But I don’t think it’s done nearly enough. And I recognize that it would need to be done the right way. I’m sure your investors could end up very unsatisfied if their marketing and distribution dollars aren’t being spent in the right way. That’s where getting a distribution/marketing expert on your team is essential, or as Jon Reiss calls it, your Producer of Marketing and Distribution.

A real business person thinks through production, marketing and distribution of their project. They have a plan to deliver a fair return (i.e. reward commensurate with risk) to their investor, in the case that the project takes off. That plan includes the costs of not just getting the project through production, but also the costs of marketing and distribution.

Here’s what is NOT a business plan: Hello Mr. Investor, We have a great film that we know you will like. Give us your money to make it, and we hope we will sell it at Sundance. And by the way, it might be Juno!

In my experience, investors don’t mind taking on risk. They know that picking a great film is very hard to do and that they will likely lose their all their money. They just want to be rewarded for their risk taking if they pick a winner. If producers start delivering rewards that are commensurate with the risk film investors take, I believe you will see a seismic shift in our industry, and what I hope and predict will be great variety of films, greater creative risk taking, and a more stable indie film industry overall.

But they key is to raise money beyond production expense. BECOME REAL BUSINESS PEOPLE. FINANCE AND CONTROL YOUR MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION AND WATCH THE INDUSTRY CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.


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12 Comments

  • PsychoNappy | October 22, 2011 5:01 AMReply

    - What will you do differently on your next film? -

    Get Ted Hope to produce it.

  • Kenton Bartlett | October 19, 2011 8:58 AMReply

    On our next film we are looking to secure a proper budget. Making a film on a shoestring was too hard (and continues to pose challenges finding distribution without money). Even though the budget we are looking for is still 'shoestring' compared to our goals for the new film, having the money to work with a proper producer (and not have to grovel to get everything for free) would be a dream. Definitely won't be making another movie without a producer or a budget - if that means never making a movie again. Cheers for filmmaking!

  • Joe | October 19, 2011 5:41 AMReply

    Clarification: That's LA as in Louisiana where you get 30% back on all dollars spent locally, and an additional 5% on local hires (not L.A.). Sorry about that.

  • Joe | October 19, 2011 5:10 AMReply

    On my next film I will be working with people I know and trust. With some experience under my belt I feel like I know better what to look for in new collaborators as well. It is an intensive, all consuming experience and my next project has been gestating for years. I’m making it now with a creative producer who knows the business and has my back. I’m finally also collaborating with a great friend who works in finance but is a serious movie lover. He’s found my equity investor and we’re moving forward with a project that we believe in artistically, as a piece of entertainment and we’re working to make it as solid of a business venture as is possible in indie film production. We’re looking for a production company with a track record who is willing to kick in half of the budget. We want to make a character driven, gritty thriller that actually benefits from being made at a low budget. We'll make it a serious film but don't want it to look glossy and slick. Of course we’ll be shooting with a DSLR camera (probably the red). I can’t wait to one day do a 35mm feature but today that is not responsible, realistic or necessary. Especially when we can get such a great image without it. To amp up the production value we’re going to do a mix of practical fx and I am fortunate to also have a good friend from college who has a visual fx company in Minneapolis, MN. He does a lot of commercial work and is excited to do the limited fx work my movie needs.

    The plan is for the entire budget to be a little upwards of $500,000. We are confident we can make a movie that looks like it cost a few million. The value always has to be greater than the budget. I wanted to shoot around my hometown in Nebraska but they’ve really failed there to provide incentives for micro-budget filmmakers. Hopefully one day that will change. On the contrary in LA you can sell your tax credits back to the state for 85 cents on the dollar, and get it back "immediately.” This is actually a pretty good deal, as most outside companies will give you .87-.89 cents on the dollar, and it can take anywhere from 6 - 18 months. Going to the state directly gets you the money back in about 6 weeks...which means you could put it towards post or marketing. Plus there's a decent base of people in Shreveport, so we’ll hire AD's, grips and such locally.

    I’m looking forward to doing a movie that is well planned and based on a script I believe in. My last movie was the epitome of run and gun. I would not feel comfortable spending someone else’s money in that situation. I’m also reserving a good portion of my budget for post. Aside from the vfx I’m looking for a package deal on sound design, color correction, ADR, etc.from a post house. These are the things that finish a film and make it sellable. You can wait until a distributor picks you up and hope they want to pour some money into it but that’s a gamble. Better to put the best product out there from the beginning. We’re also planning a guerilla marketing campaign. I’m not just going to submit to festivals and keep my fingers crossed. I want my movie to be as attractive to that audience as possible but also make it commercially viable. Film can be art but never forget it’s also a business. Every time an indie film succeeds commercially it makes it easier for the next one to get made.

  • Shawn R | October 19, 2011 4:12 AMReply

    This is a timely question as we prepare for our next film. We just finished a project that was very large in scope on a micro budget. It was a great challenge and we're very proud of what was accomplished, but now we want to do something much smaller.

    Here are a few things that we're going to do differently from our last film.

    1- Collaborate more with the actors - going to use the Mike Leigh approach. This new project will have four lead characters. We've got a 20 page beat sheet, plus 70 pages of dialog -- but we want to work with the actors and see what they want to bring to the characters in terms of back story, conflicts, dialog, etc.

    2- Line up a strong Post Production team before shooting. Our last film, we finished shooting before thinking about a post production plan. This time around we want to have an Editor cutting as we shoot, and a composer working on a score at the same time. In addition, have a Sound Designer and Post House collaborate with us ahead of time.

    3- Have more fun. The last film was great, but because it was so stressful we were not able to fully enjoy the process. This time around - Stress Less & Enjoy The Journey.



    .

  • T.R. | October 18, 2011 11:54 AMReply

    At the risk of being dramatic... EVERYTHING! I’m coming off a filmmaking experience where the main take away is, “Well, at least we learned what not to do.” For this response I’ll narrow it down to THE RIGHT BUDGET, ADEQUATE SUPPORT, MARKETING/KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and IT ALL STARTS WITH THE SCRIPT.

    I co-directed a micro-budget feature that made money back for its investors but had things been done differently it could have done so much more. A writer/producer approached us about being directors for hire (back-end only) on a “found footage" movie that would boast a big cast and multiple, enormous locations. He convinced a production company in LA to co-produce and be an equal investment partner (they are also an international sales agent). The total budget was $60,000 so they didn't have much to lose.

    Our financing fell through in the fall of ‘08 for a project we'd invested a lot of time in. The opportunity to direct again overruled all rational thought. To stay on budget we did not pay our tiny crew. The sound mixer and special fx make-up artist got an equipment/kit rental. Our amazing DP was a good friend whom we’d collaborated with on our 1st feature. He provided his Canon 5D. The rest of the crew were unpaid assistants. We broke up multiple shoots by location, always needing time regroup. After the first shoot we cut a teaser that the producers brought to AFM. We sold multiple foreign territories before production was complete. The footage looked amazing. This was going to pay off! Now my cautionary tale gets scarier than our scary movie. Another teaser playing at AFM had the exact same premise as ours! We wanted our teaser on Youtube but were told whoever picks it up will control how it's marketed. Our producers have experience selling movies. Our previous directing credit was a family drama that barely played at fests plus many years experience working on reputable films (2 Killer Films and my partner worked on an HBO movie produced by Ted Hope). We lost the Youtube fight. Our competitors posted their teaser and now have a million plus hits. We went on to complete 3 mini shoots with just a 5 person crew including ourselves. We weren't done when a major US fest invited us to screen our unfinished film. The producers turned them down. That festival then invited our competition to screen instead. They got a US distribution deal and you can find their movie playing VOD in time for Halloween! Our original teaser was put on Youtube late this summer. We get more rip-off comments than anything else. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATING AN ONLINE PRESENCE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE SO YOU CAN CONNECT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE.

    KNOWING YOUR SCRIPT and its AUDIENCE is just as crucial. Our producers wanted a horror film because they had experience there and it’s a safer bet with no budget and unknown cast. The NY producer who sold the idea planned to write while we prepped. It took four months to get a 1st draft. We pushed forward even though the pages we were getting were rough and truth be told, not very scary. Telling distributors it’s horror helped sell the movie but eventually you want an audience to embrace it. This is especially true for a small movie where the best case scenario is a platform release. The script was completed so late there was no time to amp up the scares, improve the dialogue and make sure it all made sense! Now it’s opened abroad and surprise, horror fans are let down. The poster promises one thing and they get something else. I’m biased but I think we delivered an eerie, supernatural thriller with some fun, impressive performances and great photography. With a strong script and directors who can dedicate more time to directing we could have had a success.

    We're back to financing our own project starting with a script that has undergone countless tweaks and rewrites. A thriller that has challenging characters we hope will attract some great talent. We're shooting in a state with great tax incentives (instead of where the story takes place). It will be a micro budget but we’re raising enough to pay our crew a living wage including us. You can't be deep in prep and shooting while holding down another job to pay the bills. Get support, collaboration is vital. Even though you can just point and shoot with today's technology, pay attention to lighting and composition. You'll have a product that looks much more valuable than what was put into it. We're building the website for our next feature now even though the project is in development. Something we regret not doing last time is documenting behind the scenes (a blog or post BTS webisodes). This time we'll make sure it happens. We love the whole process which is why we do it. Now in control we'll do it right.

  • Mike Shields | October 18, 2011 11:42 AMReply

    Last film I directed and produced, and it was a finalist in The 168 Film Festival for 2011. At the encouragement of others, this next time I'll write and star as well. Should net me some awards....

  • Phillip L | October 18, 2011 10:41 AMReply

    What would I change on my next film?

    1) Prepare, prepare, prepare. Can't tell you how much of a life saver that is, from a tight story, to camera coverage, etc.

    2) Get a good producer...a hard worker (just like you)...not someone that can run to Kino's and print a business card for $5 and call himself/herself one. Good producers are very very very hard to find. And hard working ones... even harder. Oh..and as a P.S.... if you do make it as a filmmaker, don't be an asshole and leave that producer behind for some other one. Take him with you. It's a ride,

    3) Get better actors. Period. No matter what you do, as an indie filmmaker, if you don't have good acting, your editing will be crap and you're going to have to sacrifice some parts of the story. Not all actors are appropriate for the role, even if they are stars or names. I know the name makes the sale, but if the movie is good.... there's no argument. It's up the the producer to negotiate better terms. (hence why you need a good producer)
    [And for D-I-Y filmmakers... no, your girlfriend is not an actress or the girl that you try to impress is not that either]. (joking, of course). :-)

  • Ryan Davy | October 18, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    After 2 feature films and several documentaries under my belt

    The next film I make will not be an original adaptation. It's too risky to find the niche that will suit an increasingly dynamic knowledgeable audience and it will most likely be something that I am either interested in or have experience in, which means I would fall back into the trap of getting too close.
    What I would do is find a book that has sold relatively well, some topic that I have had nothing to do with so that it becomes purely a commodity. Find a book from a fairly new author who would only be too happy to know his/her book is being made into a feature film, WOW, exciting stuff, they would tell all their readers (Cough!... marketing) Ye so it would require some serious research and serious reading, but probably still be able to do it allot quicker than writing a screenplay, unless you one of those who can write a screenplay in 3 months, I on the other hand, take at least a year!
    Right, you've found your book, get a screenwriter to base the screenplay on the book, If I didn't have budget for talent and an attachment to the project then the book would act as the attachment... it's a name. I think we all know our industry well enough not to have to cover the technical elements of how the film is made or who to hire, that is taboo, however getting to the point where the film gets made is what's important... the one thing that film making boils down to as we all know is Story Story Story. A book that has sold fairly well could probably be affordable as far as copy-write is concerned and all the elements of the emotional time scale would have been planned out. The characters are already developed, story structure is already in place, locations have already been decided, your story has boundaries, you know who's story it is and why you making it and you can start casting almost immediately, artwork is also in place and guess what, you have a title, often my worst part, naming the bloody thing!
    It would be easier to find equity funding if the book is known and did well on the shelf and judging by the type of story you could probably get some soft funding as well, maybe it's humanitarian based or one with an AIDS element (Cough cough!... marketing).
    All it takes is some nifty writing from an affordable screenplay writer to turn 300 pages into 93 and you're off to the races. Now your poster will read, 'From the the novel of a best seller comes a film... blah blah blah' better than reading, 'Winner of the outback indie film festival' which no-one knows about and most likely only exhibited 3 films. I think as a buyer, that would catch my eye.

    Just a thought

    Ryan

  • Paola | October 18, 2011 4:08 AMReply

    For my next feature I will definitely do two things differently:


    - Definitely hire a Producer of Marketing and Distribution right away (the position was not 'in existence' in 2008) and budget the cost right away. Everybody knows about this now but if you haven't made a film without it you might not realize the huge mistake you could make by not having one on board.This is vital, I believe. Work with him/her on at least a basic plan for possible, basic, self-distribution (four-walling a film by pre-selling tickets through social media networks is not too crazy an idea if the audience is built enough in advance and it will give you the chance of being reviewed by the NY Times if the film screens for a week).

    - This is very personal: hire a better assistant director. Crew is so important and some positions especially. Don't try to save money where it is vital to have people who know what they're doing or you'll end up spending more money later. My producer was so important that the film would not have been made if it weren't for her constant presence, rapid decision-making and immense professionalism. On the other hand, hiring a better ad would have saved us so many headaches. Bottom line: key positions in the crew are, well, key!

  • mya stark | October 18, 2011 4:00 AMReply

    I would keep my rights and self-distribute on a live tour with the band that did the soundtrack. Concurrently, I would design a rich and community oriented online presence for the film, including gaming, and make available branded mercandise on an on-demand (threadless) model. I would prodce a vinyl disc of the score and a VHS of the film, both beautifully and imaginatively packaged. Posters interpreting the world of the film by artists with their own followings. In general, I would think of the film as a portal to a world that people can then inhabit imaginatively, and monetized through in-person experience and truly desireable physical objects. I tend to work in artsploitationy sci-fi though, not sure if this would work for your average drama.

  • Armak | October 18, 2011 3:11 AMReply

    I'm personally quite surprised that CV and TH chose "greater transparency between producers and investors" out of their many options. "Greater transparency between producers and distributors" would've been less of a surprise. Wasn't aware of a private equity backlash.

    Looking at the poll, I see 11 votes total and a three-way tie for first. Maybe it's not telling me what it seems to be, being facebook and all?