This is a cautionary note to all beginning filmmakers out there.
Recently while trying to get the funding package in place for my own forthcoming feature film “Forever and a Night” I’ve had the chance to speak to a few interesting people in person and on twitter and I wanted to share what i’ve learned.
First was an tweet from Stacey Parks (@filmspecific) who mentions that the big buzz from this year’s AFM was that there was plenty of film finance available but that there was a complete dearth of quality film packages to invest in. (to recap for those who don’t know, a film package is the script, synopsis, attached cast + crew and business plan for the film.)
Second was a conversation I had with an independent sales agent in BAFTA London. The first part was his background, having worked for people like Sony and New Line Cinema. Pretty impressive stuff and happy to pass on his knowledge. He told me about the script vetting process that goes on which in a nutshell involves two rounds of script reading with a 98% attrition rate for each reading. That effectively boils down 300 scripts a week to maybe three good scripts a month!
The obvious conclusions to draw from this are :-
1) There are so many scripts out there, yours WILL get buried in the avalanche of projects out there.
2) 99% of those scripts are complete *EXPLETIVE DELETED*.
3) If you get your script to someone who reads it on a Friday afternoon, it’s going to be rejected no matter how good 🙂 (let’s face it, who likes working Fridays?)
I can also guarantee that a producer like myself is swamped with unsolicited scripts. (and frankly speaking I’m still attempting a first feature!) That’s until I made the only real way to contact me was an e-mail form on my website. If you ever wondered why that was becoming popular on websites (or no contact details provided at all!) now you know why.
Even so with all that said, your film is NOT special.
Now here’s why. Sadly it goes back my point no.2 earlier and it’s the same mistake I see a lot of people make. It’s also the same mistake I made a lot earlier in my career: I’d knock out a very quick treatment or plot synopsis then knock out a quick couple of drafts and pronounce it done. Sadly doing that is just plain wrong. Just because John Hughes famously knocked out completed scripts in six days doesn’t mean you can and I already know I can’t!
It’s easy to get overconfident and lose perspective. Just because you love it doesn’t mean your friends or family will, and if your trusted friends and family don’t then what chance does an audience have?
Spend time on that script, especially if it’s your first! Work a day job or even a series of day jobs if you have to. I’m not ashamed to admit that myself and my business partner did the initial development work on one of his two days off per week (and that varied thanks to his shift patterns). We escalated that up to three to four days a week when we both ended up unemployed. (I should point out we incorporated a company to produce the script once it was complete so we were technically legal here).
Even if you do that, your film still isn’t special … to anyone else at least. If you’ve sweated time and effort for the better part of a year as we did then you personally have every right to feel proud. Your script is still competing against all the others out there, especially if you have no dreams of being a producer.
Hollywood is effectively one gigantic burger factory. They make one reasonably cooked slightly chewy product that appeals to a mass market, then it’s onto the next one. And the next one etc. Indie film as financed by indie film investment groups aren’t quite as bad as that but it isn’t far off.
Fact is there are hundreds if not thousands of films being made every year and yours (and mine) will be one lone voice among them. So make them stand out! If you get that script right where non film friends will gladly read it and refuse to stop until they’ve finished, you’re finally good to go. You’ve removed the major obstacle but there’s still plenty to go.
This is why we have the oft quoted statistic that for every ten films made, eight tank without trace, one breaks even eventually and the last is a huge hit. What they don’t say is that the first eight tank because they’re uniformly awful.
This brings me back to the conversation I had with the sales agent, who as it turns out specialises in selling films that have failed to gain distribution anywhere else. (He’s pretty busy still after AFM so I can’t name drop!). Now he was telling me about some completed films that an associate of mine in L.A. was involved with and he pretty much told me that what he’s got is unmarketable .. and these are films that gained multi million dollar financing deals! Financing of any sort, be it crowd funding or indie equity based funding or even studio funding doesn’t equal success of any sort.
You can be let down at ANY point by ANY link in the chain. I’ve learnt that in my current situation I have a lot of my package utterly correct BUT we’re still being let down by the business plan/sales documentation.
That’s why i’m going to be spending time at my accountant’s office going through it all with a fine tooth comb to fix things. I’m looking forward to that like a hole in the head but it utterly has to be done … and that applies to everything pre-production. You just can’t skimp on anything! Don’t be afraid to crack the whip if people aren’t performing as they should. I didn’t and that’s why i’m still not financed yet.
I guess my entire point is don’t lose the faith and don’t get complacent, but take the time to get it right the first time or you’ll get an unsuccessful project which will either end up stillborn or dead on arrival. Baking analogy here: taking the cake out of the oven too soon causes it to collapse. Skipping ingredients leads to something not pleasant either. Certainly not a cake or anything people would want to eat.
And remember you’re trying to get investors and audiences to “bite into” your creation. So good luck! It’s a tough business and we all need it out there!
Also, be sure to catch Richard Purves as he co-hosts on Film Courage podcast episode #101 with Andrea Shreeman.
Richard Purves (@n0nsensefactory)
Richard was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the late 1970′s. He was first taken to see Disney’s Peter Pan at age four and was transfixed with the wonder of the big screen, so much so that went to the cinema as often as he could in his teenage years.
From there he had a brief career in I.T. and decided to do something more creatively fulfilling. As a result, he graduated from Newcastle College’s HND Media programme in 2002 and has been proud to be part of various short films in varying crew positions. These include Richard Reay’s “Roulette,“ Chris Jones’ “Gone Fishing,” and others.
In 2007 he felt ready to co-write and direct his debut short film “Mayfly“. He self funded the film through three years of working as a contract I.T. engineer. This paid off and the film had it’s World Premiere at the Burbank International Film Festival as well as win a Gold Award at the 2009 Houston WorldFest.