Starting from Zero as a Film Producer
From one film producer to the next.
As we move toward the new year, many of us are asking the question, “How do we make this one better?” Well, for starters, it’s no longer 2020, so that should be a good first step… But let me digress.
Like every new year, it should be about change, and action for the film producer. Nothing can ever come from only dreaming, but dreams can become tangible things once you put a plan of action in place, no matter how small they are. Movement is the only way things change, and movement is derived from action. So let’s explore a few thoughts you can chew on as you prepare for the new year.
- Start small as a film producer. The Japanese have a saying “Kaizen” meaning change for the better. This process includes working at the things that you desire incrementally and steadily throughout the course of a long period of time. In western society we over burden ourselves with big goals, and we demand massive progress in short amounts of time. This is reflected so poignantly in corporate America. Shareholders demand more growth year after year, and have little appetite for slow progress. This way of society, which is so ingrained in our lives, creates unnecessary stress and stifles creativity. So allow me to suggest, instead of going the “extra mile” like that motivational poster says at the office, take super-small baby steps each day. Do no more. Do no less. If your goal is to write that script, set a small word count each day. Do not go over that word count! Stay tasked with being small and steady. Think of the Hare and the Tortoise story you learned as a kid.
- Don’t get distracted by the snobbery. In the movie business there are a ton of film producer elitists and snobs out there. Start-up filmmakers are often discouraged because they don’t think they fit in. But I say, “YAY! I’m glad I don’t fit in.” Forget the turtle-neck-wearing, latte-drinking, hard-cover book-reading snobs and make your movie. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting your movie on the Arri Alexa or an iphone. Who cares?! What matters is if you can start making your movie. I know this one is tough, but if you can shut out the urgency to fit into one of these “cinema-circles” the better off you will be in the long-run. Be the underdog film producer as long as you can!
- Don’t make a movie around your idea, find a movie structure you can insert your idea into. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and this is especially true when making movies. The only difference between what we consider a “masterpiece” and a b-film is how it’s set-dressed. Now, of course, I’m NOT speaking of the literal sense of set-dressing, I’m talking about how a movie is made; the cinematography, acting, lighting, sound, editing. But underneath all of those things is a story and rhythm. If you take time to study and emulate the rhythm of the successful movies and shows, you can create a plan of action for your script and production that is derived from the best. Take time to break down classic movies, or shows. See how they introduce characters, when they leave scenes and progress the story forward. If you can do that, your screenplay will be much stronger, easier to write and more consistent with what audiences expect.
- Save money. Wow! This will probably get me the most flack, but I’ll say it anyway, and it’s not intended to be ignorant or indifferent to the hardships many Americans and others in the world are facing economically… BUT… if you want to make a movie, you need money. Period! Sometimes you need a lot and sometimes you need very little, but you need money. I remember back in my early twenties, I had a day job framing pictures at an art store. I made about $8.50 per hour and barely had enough money to feed myself. After rent, gas money and utilities, I had less than $20 in my bank for food and entertainment each week. Times were tough, and I had little to save, but somehow I managed to. I would take between $50 and $75 each month from my check and stash it away for my “production savings.” Over a year, I had enough money to feed a crew, get permits and offer my cast gas money to set. I drove the same rundown Hyundai for years while making my first two movies. I worked extra, cut my overhead, and moved in with buddies, all to invest in my fledgling movie enterprise. When I look back, I realized that I probably saved as much as most people did on hanging out at clubs or partying. Take some time to review your economy and see if there are ways you can save up for your movie endeavours. And even though many people are unemployed due to this pandemic, there are ways we can create savings in our lives to make up the difference.
As I close out, I want to stress to the readers that I understand this is not easy. It is always difficult, even for the big kids making movies at the Hollywood level. But be certain that if you desire to make a movie, or be a film producer, you can do so only by creating your own opportunities. If you wait for doors to open, you will be standing outside forever. Knocking on doors is not enough either. You have to create your own doors to walk through.
With that I leave you. I wish you the happiest of new years and celebrate all of you in my heart. Thank you for helping me through one of the toughest years of our generation.
For more information on the topic of filmmaker, check out these books on Amazon: