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What do I look for in an online release deal?

by on Jul.05, 2010, under Distribution, Questions

Hi Doug.  Your site is kick-ass.  When I grow up I’m going to have one just like it.  My question for your wise counsel: my independent film, which was mostly shunned by festival programmers for being “too light,” and then was handled briefly by a sales rep who went belly up in the latest financial meltdown, has attracted the interest of an online distributor that is one of the top two most reputable such organizations.  They are asking for a six month exclusive window, are promising a nice launch with splash promos, and tie-ins with a major market, where they are a presence.  Please give me your thoughts about what you would look for in any deal of this kind, I know you’ve been through this circus ride a couple of times.

Yeah, I know that circus ride well.  My feature Entry Level was considered “too light” by some festival programmers.  Often, I think that’s indie film code for, “a film that audiences will actually enjoy.”

Before I mention what I’d look for in an online release deal, I want to mention that there are probably three routes open to a filmmaker at your stage of the game.  Depending on your film, these are the options you could consider:

Go big

If you’re burdened with a lot of extra money, you could remedy the situation pretty easily by hiring a publicist and/or film rep to try to give your film a higher profile.  I’ve seen a number of indie films that garnered the acceptance and publicity they needed largely because someone had the funds to buy some attention early on in the game. (continue reading…)

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How important is formal structure for television projects?

by on Mar.11, 2010, under Questions

How important is formal structure (either beat points or acts) to a TV series set of scripts? In the ‘old days’ when we had ads predictably every 15min you had four very clear parts. Then this was changed of course to allow more regular TV advertising.  I’m working on a spec series and I’m wondering how much should we be looking to more formal structure?  It’s very difficult to obtain copies of scripts developed in Australia. So, I can’t even work back from the product and assess from that direction.
– Sue, Sydney

Television is probably the most rigorously structured narrative form after Kabuki. Structure is of paramount importance on any television project (both acts and beat points) whether comedy or drama, narrative or “reality” programming.  Feature films aim for a certain length, but the screen doesn’t usually go black if they go over by a few minutes or seconds.  In television, there are well defined segment breaks where the commercials need to go.  If they don’t get planned in the writing stage, they’ll be crammed in during the editing stage for certain.

Any given television series has very distinct structures that incorporate various interwoven storylines (A-, B-, C-stories etc.), characters, and running bits.  If you were to watch a season’s worth of episodes from a single show those tropes and patterns would leap out at you.  I’ve actually been doing exactly this all week for an interesting adaptation project (actually two seasons-worth) and I have a sneaking suspicion I could load up a few episodes to play simultaneously, and they would be in an uncanny sync throughout.  When I was writing on a network pilot recently, the segment breaks were dictated to us by the frame.  Of course those are segment lengths, not the structure of stuff that goes within each segment, but it reflects how very tight television tolerances are. (continue reading…)

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What to Wear: Director’s Edition

by on Feb.18, 2010, under Questions

Here’s a question I made up because I’ve never seen this issue covered:

Hey Douglas,

Amazing site!  Here’s my question:  Everybody talks about how to direct, but no one addresses the really important stuff, like what a director should wear.  Any advice?

– D.H.

Wow, what an amazingly insightful question!

For an indie director, what you wear matters, because you’re going to be in it all day.  (And possibly all night when you collapse in a stupor at the end of the day.)  It’s important to be comfortable all day long…and it’s a long day we’re talking about, especially on location shoots.  (Isn’t every independent film a location shoot?)  What I walk out the door wearing is probably what’s going to be on me all day long.  I’ve found that anything I take off during the day usually ends up lost or borrowed.  While making smart choices about what you wear on set may not seem all that crucial the first day or two of your shoot, by day 17, little choices can translate to big differences in your ability to push ahead without your body going into revolt. (continue reading…)

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Is the Entry Level soundtrack available?

by on Jan.27, 2010, under Questions

“I just finished watching Entry Level and loved every minute of it.  Is there a soundtrack available?  If not, do you have a list of the songs and artists from the film?  I’d love to have it.”

– Chris

Thanks, Chris.  Making Entry Level was a labor of love for me and a lot of other people, so I always like hearing from people who enjoy it.

I get asked about the soundtrack a lot.  (Possibly my #2 question in film fest Q&As…right after requests for the Pear Tartlet recipie.)  Personally, I love the music from the film and feel very lucky that we got to use it.  Amine Ramer and Alexandra Matisse, the music supervisors, found around 60 truly amazing songs from independent artists for me to choose from to help create the mood of the film.  The proposed songs for the movie are still one of my favorite playlists on my iPod.   (continue reading…)

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Bringing out the best in an inexperienced actor?

by on Jan.25, 2010, under Questions

“I just read an interview you gave some years ago.  I wish I’d read it before I started making my own movie!  I’m turning a short play into a film.  It takes place in two rooms with five actors and we’re making it on a shoestring.

My question is this — What can I do to bring out the best in one of my actors who has less training/experience (…and it’s obvious)?  I cast him too hastily, on someone’s recommendation, and now I’m not sleeping well.  There is no turning back on my shooting schedule–my DP and lead are already committed to other projects.  I know, stop whining and be glad I have the opportunity, right?  Any ideas on what I can do to make the best out of this situation?”

– (name withheld by request)

Thanks for your question.  I wish you the very best with your film.  I know what you mean about getting a lot of people to come together on a shoestring (or no string at all) to make a film.  I’ve been there.  Many great films have been made that way, so you’re in good company.

One thing I’ve learned is that two elements make or break any film: script and performance.  Just about everything else we do as filmmakers is about maximizing these.  So if you know you’re going in that an actor in your cast really isn’t up to snuff, then you really aren’t serving your film by keeping him in it.  Your best option is to recast the part immediately.  I suspect that deep down, you know this is true but it’s hard to actually do.  Tough!  It’s your film–the hard decisions fall on you.

(continue reading…)

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