Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mumblecore - Part 2 The Story of The Zone

I’ve never let the lack of money stop me. In 1999, I had a meeting with the general manager of WCPO Channel in Cincinnati, Ohio. I pitched a new program concept at that meeting. A faith-based television show that would compete with Saturday Night Live. I was prepared, had done my homework, and brought my demo reel. After conferring with his program director, he decided to put the show on the schedule. I would have six months to deliver the first program. After that, we would have to air 23 consecutive new programs. It sounds challenging, even under the best circumstances. If you know anything about television, most of the experts told me that at the very minimum I would need $250,000 to make this possible.

Here’s what the general manager didn’t know. I had no professional video equipment, no broadcast quality cameras, no staff, no studio, no lighting or audio equipment, no budget and few prospects. What was I thinking? I’m either a fool or completely insane. Which is it? But I took a huge leap of faith. If they agreed to broadcast it, I would find a way to get it produced. Just like most low-budget independent filmmakers, you have to take one step at a time.

I believed it’s what God called me to do. I prayed about it and sought guidance. I allowed the Holy Spirit to direct and guide me. What else could I do? I didn’t have $250,000. In fact, I was living off of my savings. Like so many artists, I was unemployed.

So how did I do it? First, my story will not be your story. God has a unique story for you. But I can share some of the details. The most crucial need was finding cameras and an editing system. I met a gentleman a few weeks prior who had moved from California back to the Midwest. He had worked in the industry as an editor and was extremely knowledgeable. He had taken a position at a local church as an assistant pastor and media director. The church that he worked for had bought a top-of-line Avid, non-linear editing system. You can probable count on one hand in 1999 the number of Avid systems that were in our city.

I made a bold move. I arranged to meet with him and pitched the show. Would the church be willing to edit the show and provide the cameras? And, of course, I needed this all to be for free. That’s a tall order. The only thing I could offer them was full credit as the production company and one 30-second promotional spot which would air in the program.

If you are going to be a filmmaker, especially a no-budget filmmaker, you have to become a deal maker and a negotiator. That puts you on the road to becoming a producer. How do you get people to do things at no or little cost? Are you a good horse trader? Remember the second rule of low-budget filmmaking is never pay retail. After a second meeting with the senior pastor, the church agreed that they would produce the first eight shows and grant usage of all of their video production equipment. That was God!. Let’s face it. This was the deal of the century.

Now I had a shot. I had made an opportunity. The next things you have to do as a low-budget producer is to get people involved in your project. Can you articulate your vision? Can you find people who will volunteer their time? Any good low-budget producer will tell you that you have to give people a reason to want to be part of your film, TV or media project. For some people, it is an opportunity to get into the business, for others it’s experience or working on your film can be good for your demo real. That’s a message you have to sell to volunteers.

Here’s one example that has worked for me. Say you’re looking for a director of photography. But you have found a confident and capable camera operator who one day desires to be a DP. Your project could be his or her ticket into fulfilling a dream. Everybody wants to move up. Your task is to evaluate their gifts, talents, and ability to see if their can do the job. It’s how I built my team, by using volunteers who were usually one or two levels below the job they wanted to do.

Because I had already been producing for a number of years, I had already built a contact list of potential crew members. So finding people who wanted to work on the new television show wasn’t that difficult. If the show was a success, there was the prospect that they could be hired part-time or full-time.

Because the money wasn’t there during the first season, our crew had to volunteer their time. It wasn’t until the second season that paid positions became available. As I said, if God is in it, and it is his will, things work out.

Part 3 - Friday

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