Friday, January 8, 2010

The Way In

If you are reading my Blog, chances are you are interested in filmmaking. You may even be considering going to film school or perhaps you have a film degree. It is also very possible that you are struggling with the idea of how to combine your passion for filmmaking with your compassion for Christ. The problem is you can’t find a way into the film and media industry. And you are not alone.

By now you have probably discovered that this is a tough business. There is really no real pathway or predictable strategy that you can follow. Recently I talked to a working media professional who lives in LA. He told me that only a handful of his classmates from film school are currently working in the entertainment, media and film industries. That sounds like depressing news. But that’s not surprising. Film schools as well as Christian schools that offer film programs really don’t prepare you for the real world. They teach you film theory and lofty cinematic concepts as if you are going to be making $30 million pictures. But that’s not reality.
What you should know is what they don’t teach you—low-budget filmmaking and guerilla filmmaking. That’s what is hot today. And it’s the best opportunity for Christians to get into the business quickly.

Let’s take a look at “Paranormal Activity” shot for only $15,000. It was a HUGE success at the box office. With today’s technology and digital filmmaking, you can get into the game quicker. There is a huge appetite for films. Over 700 movies each year received some type of distribution. And the majority are not big studio pictures. Paramount recently announced that they are planning on releasing 10 micro-budget, $150,000 features. Just like “Paranormal Activity”, a $15,000 feature can turn into a mega hit.

Here’s five points to consider if you are planning on tackling a low-budget feature:

1. Find the right story. This is the real key. You need a screenplay that can follow the right format. For low-budget filmmaking to work, you need to shoot your feature within a 3-week time span. Essentially, your story needs to be a “dressed-up” stage play. Trust me, everybody is using this format from Tyler Perry movies to movies like “Death at a Funeral”.
The key to low-budget filmmaking is the ability to move fast. You have to shoot 5 pages a day with the ability to handle 25 – 35 setups per day-- no more than a 6 to 1 shooting ratio. Locations have to be limited to no more than three, with 80% of your film shot in one location. To keep the budget down, have no more than a handful of characters. If you can find a story that meets that criteria, you are in the game. But remember the story has to be solid and have entertainment value.

2. Low-budget is low-budget. Low budget for you is not $1 million. If you want to make a second film, your first film needs to break even or make money. In order to do that it needs to be “low-budget”. Your rock bottom number has to be less than $150,000.
Recently, someone sent me a script with an $800,000 budget. It was their first film. They have got to be insane. There is no way they are going to raise $800,000. That’s why a lot of film students are not working. They want to start at the top. You have to start at the bottom and prove that you can make a $10,000 feature, then a $50,000 feature first. That’s the way the system works.

3. Become an entrepreneur. You’re going to be waiting a long time if you think somebody is going to call you to make your movie. You’re going to have to go out and raise the money. Plus, you will probably have to direct and produce it as well. Most people who make their first movie are able to get the money from their family and friends. However, that won’t work for the second movie. That’s why you have to make Rule Number 2 work for you. If you can build a financial model, you can find investors for your next film as long as you keep the costs low.

4. Make the movie first, then the deal. No one is going to give you a distribution deal without a finished product. Sorry, a script is not enough. For years I read and believed that you get the distribution deal first. It doesn’t work that way. The distributors want you to take all the risks first.

5. Get help. There are plenty of resources available. On our website for free you can check out our guerilla code, guerilla principles and our guerilla guide. There are also lots of resources on line. Just be careful that they are not rip-offs. Buyer beware.

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