Actionable Books recently did up a near-39 minute interview with Twist Image’s headman, Mitch Joel, about the makeup of the 21st-century employee-entrepreneur, members of – not X, not Y, not G but — “Generation Flux.”
The Joel interview is suited for those seriously marketing-oriented members of my community, not for the punters, so there, it’s curated. Armed as I usually am with my trusty notebook, I was taking notes during the playback and a statement Mitch made about “the analogy of the duck” struck me as particularly a propos for indie filmmakers, one I thought I’d share today.
Ever seen a duck pass through water? All calm on top, legs flapping frantically below the water’s surface as it propels itself forward towards that next charitable breadcrumb? You can’t see those webbed feet because the duck’s “chassis” obscures it all, casting a spell of utter placid calm. No aggressive exhaling. No pushing people out of the way. An illusion.
The duck metaphor is a superb one for indie filmmakers because it’s the daily reality indies face the moment they dream up their stories. With fingers nestled in so many pies, crew and cast bombarded by so many competing strains of influence, indies’ legs often threaten to run one way while their torsos want to head in another. With the monstrous mass of responsibilities our segment of the industry typically deals with, it’s hard to maintain that all-important aura that everything is totally copasetic, that Im Westen nichts Neues.
Point is, kids, that 2012’s indie filmmaker-director must always maintain a calm exterior. Banish the word frazzled to the hinterlands, only to be uttered in private to confidants, away from the prying ears of your direct reports (hrm, like your 1st A.D.?). All that chaos transpiring on the ground? Nuh-uh, the aspiring indie general can’t be observed to be profoundly affected by this. We’re talking about more than just a loss of face, Captain…
But what I see happening too often with the filmmakers I’ve worked with is the sheer overwhelm from the volume of duties they’re responsible for. Their awareness of this seeps into creative, marring their sensitive relationships with both cast and crew and oftentimes their families too. It leads to outbursts, aggressive behavior – both of the overt and passive variety – missed opportunities, health issues, and a humungous disturbance to the Zen-like atmosphere which must otherwise reign supreme on the indie film set, already beset by problems beyond your control.
Duck analogy again: yes, those webby feet will paddle madly beneath the surface, but a good plan and a reliable schedule are vital.
And breathe. Financial buffers built firmly into place from inception are also called for (aka “Jon Reiss’ New 50/50”). Breathe some more. Set aside at least a half-hour daily for exercise and do nothing during those intervals. Just permit your mind to settle.
Here are a handful of things you can put into play today so that when things get louder – so much louder, in fact that you can’t hear yourself think – you won’t get thrown off the rails:
- Start socking away your contingency budget: we practitioners of the indie craft repeat this so often we almost seem like caricatures, but it’s true: set aside several thousands of dollars and deposit it somewhere you can’t see it, smell it, or touch it. Welcome to your “rainy day” fund…you’ll be using it strictly for emergencies and/or for marketing and distribution (P&A/M&D) once your film is in the can. If you have this bundle at your immediate disposal you will 99% most likely squander it, trust me, because there are always quality improvements you can make to your existing production. The lure of doing it will be so great that you won’t be able to resist the enticement.
- Get your legal documents in order now: That means: release forms, waivers, crew agreements, rental contracts for gear, E&O insurance, other insurance(s), and any other document that – in not having it — could put the mega-kibosh on your film’s chain of title and future. Nothing frightens away would-be distributors more than a lame response to: “Who owns this?” When the crescendo rises and scant time remains to organize these, you’ll go through your bookmarks on this post and smile.
- Collect all receipts for all expenses incurred during development: often overlooked in the budgeting for indies is the considerable sums spent during the long incubation period before formal production kicks off. These are amounts which can often run to tens of thousands of dollars, and these need to be recouped during the fundraising process. Indies need to document every outgoing cash flow so that when budgeting comes around this figure can be penciled into its own line item.
- Begin chronicling the film’s odyssey already during development: how many indies regret not having a camera on hand to document the their particular project’s genesis? “If only I’d have recorded this stuff earlier,” they lament. “It would have been awesome to show that to an audience! Evidence!” If you’re not in the habit of keeping a diary, reconsider it. You might not see the benefit now, but preparatory work has the potential to become tremendously viral later. Your film’s target niche might be curious to know how you arrived at a certain decision and your scrawls, clippings, notes, or reference materials compiled over the weeks bear witness to how you reached your ultimate creative decisions. Think of these as potential DVD Bonus Features, crowdfunding/crowdsourcing perqs, behind-the-scenes add-ons, or unique freebies in exchange for various sorts of audience commitments, like: email newsletter signups, foisting over an email addresses at film festivals, referring friends, liking Facebook Fan Pages, attending live events, or accumulating loyalty points.
- Shoot enough material for a kickass teaser/trailer which simulates an actual production run: I like this for a couple of reasons. First, it allows filmmakers to see whether there’s actual on-set professional simpatico. No? Then consider this a landmine waiting to detonate at the worst possible opportunity: just when production starts! With this short run under your belt, trim any potentially-divisive colleagues from the production roster or reconsider shooting the film in its present form. Also, if you’re seeking equity (read: investment bucks), what may very well emerge from your mini-shoot is a demonstration what the picture’s production values look like to your potential backers. It also showcases a director’s artistic sensibilities and her/his ability to actually handle potentially-challenging material.
- Test gear out during your pre-run, not production: technical rehearsals are for pre-production. Test different formats and get the gearheads working out equipment kinks long before you have your cast and crew champing at the bit in the days leading up to production. Don’t leave this for last-minute, because it will sink you. So much for that rainy-day fund…
Success at being a duck is vouchsafed by meticulous planning during development, not in the all-too-common “so what now?” days following post-.
Things aren’t meant to be fixed in post-. Plan like Hitchcock for tomorrow to prevent being caught off-guard today.
Don’t shoot things on the “fast and loose,” because this will cost you more to repair later. Happens 9 times out of 10.
Don’t just shoot a film with gonzo gear and your friends, then plan distribute it for a mint. “Great” films aren’t being bought today, so what does that say about the merely good ones?
Don’t raise money while shooting your movie, because it will give you a heart attack. A real live myocardial infarction. Want one?
Don’t shoot your movie in a vacuum. Watch a lot of movies and research what’s good and then you’ll know how to improve yours.
Okay, I think I’ve said enough for today…
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Marketing and Distribution Services for Indie Films and Documentaries
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