Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The System - part 1

Recently, someone asked me how the system works. What they were referring to is how Hollywood and the entertainment industry functions. To narrow it down further, how do I get a job in the business? How do I get my movie made? And how do I get a distribution deal? Those are basic questions that everyone trying to break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry struggles with. Is there a system? If I know the system, will it lead to my success in the industry?

First of all, there is no one-stop place that can tell you how the system works or how the entertainment system functions. But, thanks to the internet, blogs and social networking, there is an abundance of information available. It just means that you might have to dig in order to find useful information that’s applicable to your situation. Here are five things that I have learned about the entertainment industry and Hollywood throughout the last few years.

First, Hollywood and filmmaking are businesses. Second, Hollywood is about marketing. Third, first make the film then make the deal. Fourth, you have to start at the bottom. Fifth, talent is not a guarantee of success.

Let’s start with filmmaking is a business. I’m sure this is not a revolutionary concept to most of you. That’s why they call it show business. There’s no show without the business. To understand the system is to understand how movies are made, financed and distributed. One of the best resources I have found for practical information is a book written by Dov S-S Simens, From Reel to Deal. Simens’ book is worth its weight in gold. It’s primarily written for anybody who is interested in learning what it takes to create a successful independent film. You won’t find a lot of creative, artistic or cinematic concepts in this book, but you will a find common sense approach to filmmaking. Simens is a Hollywood insider who understands how the system works.

Second, Hollywood is about marketing. For every dollar Hollywood spends on producing a movie, they will spend 51 to 57 cents to market the film. What that should tell you is that a significant amount of the people who work in the entertainment industry do not make movies, but they are involved in the business and marketing side of filmmaking and media making. So if you want to understand how the system works, you must first understand how films are marketed. That requires you to read the trades such as The Hollywood Reporter and Box-Office Mojo. These are good resources that analyze box-office results and trends that are occurring in the industry. Know what’s hot and what’s not. If you want to find out how the system works, you will have to do your homework. The more you do your research, the clearer the patterns become visible.

Third, first make the film then make the deal. I used to think that Hollywood worked like this: Make the deal or, in other words, get your distribution lined up. Find your money and then make the film. Guess what? The system does not work that way. Most want-to-be filmmakers never make their film because they are trying to make the deal first. Dov S-S Simens’ book goes into great detail about how to make the film first and what’s required for first-time filmmakers to make the deal.

Fourth, you have to start at the bottom. Once in a while, you will hear about an incredible success story in which a recent film school graduate gets a three-picture development deal from a major studio. Sure, somebody does win the Lotto. But it’s usually a one in a billion shot. Nobody gets to make a $30 million film in their first outing. Here’s the truth about the system. Make a $20,000 digital feature, then make a $200,000 low-budget movie, and then make a $2 million art house film. And, if you have been successful in these projects, perhaps you will get the opportunity to make a studio feature. Start at the bottom and work your way up. In order to get to the next level, you must at least break even or return a profit to your investors. Otherwise, they will not continue to finance your next project. In reality, most filmmakers make their first film by raising money from their friends and family. But that can take you only so far. At some point, you have to be successful in returning an investment. That’s how the system works.

A few months back, I had a first-time filmmaker send me a script and perspective for an $800,000 budget feature. I seriously doubt they have any hope of ever raising that kind of money. It’s a simple formula. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

Recently, a friend completed a full-length feature with only a $2,000 budget. He shot his film in eight days with limited locations, actors and resources. He was able to get all of the equipment, crew and talent to donate their services. If he had to pay for everything out-of-pocket, his expenses would have been $50,000 to $75,000. But, thanks to his entrepreneur spirit and ingenuity, he found a way to get it done.

Here’s how it works. Most people write a script and then try to raise the money necessary to turn the screenplay into a movie. But the smart money is to start with what you have. If you have $2,000 or $5,000 or $100,000, write a story that fits your budget. That’s exactly what my friend did. I have a post on my blog about low-budget filmmaking concepts. You can find the formula that explains this concept and how it works. ://

Fifth, talent is not a guarantee of success. Most people in Hollywood are extremely talented. Likewise, most people in Hollywood are extremely unemployed. Talent can take you only so far. It might get you in the door, but it’s no guarantee it will keep you there. I have written an article on my blog on what it takes to work in this industry. The article will provide you with the insight and formula that can help guide you in your career development.

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