INFP filmmakers: Top Ten Strategies to Lead your Team

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Some of the most creative minds on the planet – now and in the past – have been INFP on the Myers Briggs personality index. Artists and philosophers like Bjork, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Kurt Cobain, Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, George Orwell and even William Shakespeare are reputed to be our fellow INFPs. We are, by many reports, a rare type – around 2% of the population at large (although some stats show us at more like 4%) and are alternately described as “dreamers,” “visionaries,” “healers,” and “imaginative idealists.”

By contrast, the classic “CEO” personality type is widely considered to be ESTJ. Yep, that is pretty much the polar opposite of the INFP type.

So that begs the question…INFPs may have vision and insight and empathy…but can we lead?

As a feature film director of Guys Reading Poems, I’ve found that the answer is “yes.” However, we INFPs are by nature a different kind of leader than other types. Here are some steps I suggest for maximizing your potential as a team leader. After all, sometimes having a dream is not enough. You have to rally others to executive your vision!

"I could never work with a team member who questioned my decision to shoot the film in black-and-white," says Hunter Lee Hughes. Luke Judy as The Boy. Photo by Michael Marius Pessah

“I could never work with a team member who questioned my decision to shoot the film in black-and-white,” says Hunter Lee Hughes. Luke Judy as The Boy. Photo by Michael Marius Pessah

1. Select the right team. This is more important for INFPs than for any other type, I would argue. We are focused internally through feeling so if someone on the team simply does not agree with our values for the project – or at least respect them – conflict is inevitable. Avoiding these sorts of power struggles is imperative because it takes more energy for INFPs than other types to deal with conflict. So making sure you hire folks who respect your vision and values is the most important way you will set yourself up for success as a team leader. (I would be remiss not to acknowledge that I had the most wonderful cast and creative team on this film that I could possibly imagine. Truly. )

2. Use your intuition to spot potential. One of the best ways to shore up an alliance is to spot someone’s hidden potential and nurture it. INFPs are good at encouraging and nurturing and, as a team leader, that asset can be used for the benefit of the project by bringing out untapped potential in your team members. The rewards for you and the project will be better work and greater loyalty down the line.

3. Lead by example as much as humanly possible. INFPs are not the type that gets a thrill out of barking orders at people. But we are perfectionists by nature so use this to your advantage. Put in the long hours and make sure that your team is impressed with your output and presentations to the group. Even without being told to work harder and longer, you may spark the competitive spirit in them and find that they work a little harder to make sure their work stands up to your own.

4. Accept that not everyone will be as passionate and perfectionistic about the project as you. INFPs are known for being internally motivated and highly perfectionistic. But you have to accept that not everyone on the team is like that. Others may need a different kind of motivation that might not occur naturally to you. Maybe it’s time to take members of your team out to dinner or a beer. Or highlight them on your social media feed so they have some bragging rights. Or make an introduction that might help their career. And of course, some people see their job as just a job and financial motivation is far and away the biggest for them. As INFP leaders, it’s highly likely that you will care more about your project than anyone else. If you start getting angry with others on the team that they don’t feel as passionately about it as you do, that will spell disaster. Instead, remember that you are working with a number of different personality types and it’s perfectly normal that they may need some additional forms of motivation!

5. Compliment with feeling. You are a natural empathizer and know when someone went the extra mile to accomplish something for the project. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge a team member with your feelings behind it. If you are moved by their effort, acknowledge that to the team with feeling! Sometimes, it seems like “feeling” has no place in business. But, after all, people feel great about themselves when their work is received warmly, especially if that warmth is genuine and deeply felt, as is often the case with us INFPs. The only downside to this is sometimes you may get carried away complimenting one person on the team and don’t do the same for another. But keep an eye on this and over time, things will even out. People love to feel valued and it makes their commitment and work on the project better!

In the film, Christos Vasilopoulos plays 'The Director.' But how are INFPs at leading projects?

In the film, Christos Vasilopoulos plays ‘The Director.’ But how are INFPs at leading projects? Photo by Michael Marius Pessah.

6. Try to articulate the things about your project that are not negotiable. Because we are quiet leaders who are capable of listening well, some on the team may think everything is negotiable with an INFP leader. This would never be assumed with a more traditional CEO-type like an ESTJ and it is not true for an INFP leader either. INFPs are perceivers rather than judgers and can be very open to the stories and experiences of others. This makes it doubly confounding for your team when suddenly they find you extremely inflexible about certain aspects of the work. We know as INFPs that our intrinsic values and feelings will not be crossed without a serious fight, but other personality types may not understand why a certain value of the project is not negotiable while other aspects of the project are open for collaboration. As a leader, you have to be honest with yourself and your team about the areas where you are not flexible….or at least give them subtle clues. If necessary, you may have to remind the team of the core values of the project and stand firm on those. You may get pushback at first, but it’s important that you stand up for yourself and, more importantly, the project!

7. Communicate through email and google documents. INFPs are naturally strong at writing and can be more clear and precise with our observations through writing than in person communication. Take advantage of this by sometimes articulating your positions in email rather than in person. We are quiet leaders. The power of personality is sometimes with another person in the room. However, just because someone else may speak the best or the loudest on an issue does not mean they are correct. Articulating your thoughts through writing them down may bring out the merit in your ideas that might go missing in a meeting.

8. Empower the extroverts on your team as ambassadors. Once you feel secure that you’ve hired a team that understands and appreciates your vision of the project, empower the extroverts as ambassadors for the project. Encourage them in their own communication style (which is probably better than yours anyway!). Strategic alliances are important and to be valued. As INFPs, we often are most comfortable working alone or with a small group of people we already know. So it’s important to empower those who naturally reach out to others to make sure your project has the broad base of support and skill sets it needs.

9. Don’t be afraid of the words….’I have decided.’ As perceivers and empathizers, we find it relatively easy to understand another’s point of view or feelings on a matter, even when we completely disagree. It’s an asset that others feel understood with you. But, after all, you are the leader and know the variables of the project the best so don’t be afraid of the words, “I have decided…” after you’ve had a chance to listen to all the input and make a decision. Chances are, it will be a good one knowing how much you wrestle with any decision!

10. Reserve the most passion and empathy for the project, not any one person. As INFPs, we can easily begin to identify with the feelings and problems of others. This can be helpful as a leader if you need to step in and solve a problem that relates to interpersonal issues. However, let’s be honest, it can also be a distraction. There’s work to be done after all! This is why I advise fellow INFP leaders to put their most passion and empathy towards the project itself rather than any one individual. Think of the project as a human being with whom you empathize. Yes, the people working on the project are all important. But if getting wrapped up in the whirlwind of one person’s drama will distract you from taking care of the project, you need to check yourself.

OK, so are there any other INFP leaders out there with thoughts on effective team building, project management and such? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Hunter Lee Hughes wrote and directed the upcoming feature film ‘Guys Reading Poems.’ He founded Fatelink Productions in 2004 and its creative consulting division StoryAtlas in 2013. He is the proud father of a pug – Romeo.

 

Hunter Lee Hughes with Romeo. Photo credit: Obvious selfie.

Hunter Lee Hughes with Romeo. Photo credit: Obvious selfie.

Remember: Your film is someone’s first job…

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For years, you’ve been struggling. Rewriting your script between jobs. Drawing up a business plan. Raising money. Meeting actors. Shotlisting. Rewriting your script again. The list is seemingly endless, but you finally get your first feature film off the ground. You’re on set, feeling proud if somewhat overwhelmed. You look around. Spot a production assistant. You realize that although you’ve paid years worth of dues that your film is someone else’s very first day on the job. And that realization helps you remember why you’re on set in the first place.

photo (1)In my case, that somebody was Sergio Cardenas. He’s originally from Peru, studied music at Shepherd University. His long-term goals include producing films and also composing music for movies. After the shoot, we caught up and traded notes about our experience.

Hunter: How many film sets had you worked on before Guys Reading Poems?

Sergio: Guys Reading Poems was my first experience…and I was so nervous because I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

Hunter: What was it like to be on set?

Sergio: Really nice. Personally, I really like it a lot. One thing that I enjoyed from Guys Reading Poems was that a lot of people knew each other before, so you were able to see that there was a nice flow, a good working environment, but also creative because you have to do things on the spot sometimes. People were really considerate of other people’s feelings and situations. I mean, sometimes there were problems but people worked to make things go smoothly. Just the fact of being on the set, watching the camera, seeing how the crew moved, the rhythm. One thing that surprised me a lot was that you have to be there for like 12 hours. I was like, “What?!?!” And it started on Sunday until Friday and we had Saturday off. In Peru, my schedule was different. You start on Monday and end on Friday, you start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. In that way, it was a change.

Hunter: What did you learn from working on a movie set?

Sergio: Many things. For example, the first thing is teamwork. The whole thing is a result of each department – the people who are doing the electricity, the lighting, the set, the camera, the costumes – it’s amazing. All that has to work on time because there are time limits. You have to finish in one day a certain amount of the script. If you go beyond that, you’re done. You understand that being nice with people makes things smoother than being a douchebag, you know? Just be nice with people and communicate. Listen. That’s very important. There is a lot of trust, which is important. I’m getting to work on Guys Reading Poems and none of you know me at all. But the people who don’t know you at all give you the trust to have the keys to their car, give you the money to go to the store or whatever. Coming from where I come from, in South America, it’s a jungle. But in a different way. It’s hard to trust people because people cheat a lot.

american flagAlso, I like how efficient Americans are. They are super efficient, but they’re not like the Germans. Efficient but not robotic. Not rigid. They also chill out, but doing their thing good and responsible. I really like that. People come, do their thing, do it good and it’s like, “Wow.”

Hunter: What made you decide to try to work in the movie business?

Sergio: At the beginning, it was kind of unconscious. I was not aware of what I was doing. I always liked movies so I found these posts looking for production assistants for making a film and then I said, “Why not?” Let’s discover the process. To that post, I got contacted through Jason [Fracaro]. He wrote me back and called me and asked me some questions and after all that process he said, “Welcome to the club” and that’s how it started.

Hunter: There are a lot of people out there curious to work in the movie business who haven’t quite made the plunge yet. What would you say to them?

Sergio: Try it. Try. Definitely. We grow in a society that is always telling you, “Don’t do this. Do that,” for whatever the reason but the only way if you will know if something resonates with you is if you really try it. You have to experiment. I wouldn’t tell that person try it only once. What if the first time was a bad experience? In that way, I’m lucky because my first time was a good experience. But what if your first experience was bad? You have to give it a few shots and then depending on how you feel and what you think, you take your own decision.

Hunter: What was your favorite moment on set?

Sergio: Many things. The magic when you would say “action” and the silence would come and the actors would start to take life. It’s a movie. It’s not real life anymore. Watching Patricia [Velasquez] and all of a sudden we hear, “Action” and she’s so intense. The movie is coming alive and it’s so intense. I like it a lot.

Hunter: What’s next for you and how will you take the lessons you learned on Guys Reading Poems and apply it to future jobs?

Sergio: For me, keep doing what I’m doing. Working on sets. Knowing people because this is teamwork, so you can’t do it all by yourself. You need a lot of collaboration. Getting more clear on what types of movies I would like to do and finding a way to make it. I still don’t have – “This is the path.” I have a general idea and I’m working how to achieve all that. That’s the stage I’m in now.

Sergio Cardenas

Sergio Cardenas

Talking with Sergio is a good reminder for all of us as filmmakers: if your film is someone’s first job, do you care how they remember it? How it shapes them?

Sergio is a proud freelancer and can be contacted for production work at: universusxxi@gmail.com

Crowdfunding: Prep and Execution

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Probably the most common question I receive from fellow independent filmmakers is, ‘How do we make crowdfunding work for our project?’

I had the same question for my first feature film, Guys Reading Poems, and – luckily – I was able to ask Leah Cevoli, an expert in the field. She helped us navigate strategy and effective execution within the crowdfunding space and gave practical pointers to maximize our chances. Ultimately, we were successful in our raise, which has made all the difference in the life of our film. So since so many folks have questions about crowdfunding for their films, I thought I’d return to Ms. Cevoli and see what she had to say!

Leah Cevoli

Leah Cevoli

Hunter: So Leah, I consulted with you on Guys Reading Poems Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. I can honestly say that without your help, we would have died on the vine. So thank you for that. Crowdfunding is probably the number one topic that filmmakers bring up when they speak to me. They recognize its potential value to their lives, but are sometimes a little lost and overwhelmed with it. And sometimes I see that look in their eyes that says – FREE MONEY!!!! – and I worry. What would you say is the biggest misperception people have about crowdfunding for webseries, short films and feature films?

Leah: You’re welcome.  I was truly impressed with how you absorbed all of the information I gave you AND put it into action for such a strong finish! Congrats!

The biggest misperception is that most filmmakers, inventors, etc think that if you have a great concept, you can put it up on a crowdfunding platform and it will get funded.  The second biggest misperception is that if you have a great concept, cool rewards, and a great video you can place it on a crowdfunding platform and people will just find it and fund it.

Hunter: You mention inventors. Some people have expressed that – going forward – crowdfunding will be more effective for new consumer products and apps rather than filmed entertainment. I guess the theory is that people are essentially pre-buying items they can use rather than sort of angel gifting for an artist. Do you agree with this theory? How can films continue to expand in the crowdfunding space?

Leah: I do think that we will see more and more products, inventions if you will. Crowdfunding gives so many people that otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to fund the next chia pet, snuggies, or pet rock a platform to get their idea out there.   However, I don’t see it dying down for filmed entertainment either.  If anything, it gives the consumer a better and more varied option of the entertainment choices they can view.  And in effect, it’s a pre-buy for the film’s dvd, poster etc.  Speaking of pre-buys, I believe if musicians paid more attention to crowdfunding, they could take much of the power back into their hands that was lost with the breakdown of record labels and online file sharing.

Hunter: That makes sense. And musicians have tour tickets to offer as well! If you had to narrow it down to a couple variables, what are the biggest differences between a campaign that is successful and a campaign that is unsuccessful?

Leah: Preparation, outreach to their personal friends and family, backer communications, and non-stop social media content.

Hunter: Very true. In our campaign, although it may’ve seemed like it was taking place ‘online’ I was making lots of personal phone calls to colleagues, friends and family members, lobbying them to back us. We held Kickstarter fundraisers – large and small. We arranged for potential substantial backers to tour our office and view some of our creative work. Online crowdfunding doesn’t take away your responsibility as a filmmaker to ask people for money in person or on the phone. You have to do it, in my opinion. So knowing that crowdfunding campaigns are sometimes more than meets the eye…what kind of prep time do you suggest for campaigns? Does that change depending on the amount of money being raised?

Leah: It depends on the team.  Not so much the goal amount, but more so the size of their social networks, and the number of team members that are fully vested. It also depends on the skill-sets of the team; do they need to hire a video editor, a graphics person, a social media assistant? On average, I would say at least a month prep time, but in reality it’s probably more like three months.

Hunter: Where do you lean – Kickstarter or IndieGogo or another option?
Leah: I prefer Kickstarter for a number of reasons; the urgency of all or nothing is appealing to me and to most others, and the back-end is much more user friendly when communicating with backers. I do like IndieGogo, and have coached a dozen or so campaigns over there, but I prefer Kickstarter.

Hunter: What has been your happiest moment on a crowdfunding campaign?

Leah: Aw man, this is a tough one.  I’ve had ecstatic moments on so many campaigns. I’ve appeared on the 11:00 news with the team of the feature film Blood Kiss. I’ve pulled all-nighters with clients. I’ve had major A-list celebs and magazines mention clients.  There are a lot of happy moments. In a nutshell, every win has been a happy moment.

Hunter: Finally, you are a woman of many talents, including acting. How is your acting going? Does your expertise in crowdfunding help you in your acting or does it cause others to think you are “less serious” as an actress? Many of our readers have more than one talent and sometimes one is related to “business” and the other to “creative.” How do you balance the two in terms of your life and how you present yourself to others?

Leah: Thank you!  I’ve got some really great projects coming out this year.  I recently voiced two characters for the feature film The Grid Zombie: Outlet Maul, shot a lead role in the horror flick Killcast, and will soon be voicing a character in The Sultana Documentary, executive produced by Jim Michaels and Sean Astin. I’m also attached in various acting and producing capacities to quite a few projects who are scheduled to shoot in 2015.

I’ve been a member of SAG (now SAG-AFTRA) since 2005.  I launched my crowdfunding business in 2013.  I’ve been acting a lot longer, and have built up a name for myself, with some really great credits on my resume, yet I absolutely have struggled with the fear of not being seen as an actor if people see me as a crowdfunding manager. As artists, we never want people to associate us with anything but our artistic career, no one ever wants to talk about their waitress job, for fear of not seeming like a talented actor.  For most of this time, crowdfunding has been my “waitress” job, and I didn’t really want to talk about. My clients have all been word of mouth, referrals and I’ve been happy with that.  This year, 2015, I’m structuring it more like a business, speaking at more events and workshops, and boldly talking about my business outside of acting. I’m making it work for me, and to be honest, the majority of projects I’ve been cast in this year have been in some way related to crowdfunding. I’m leveraging my skills at raising funds, to align with better projects and teams. I think it’s becoming much more acceptable and frankly necessary, to have multiple streams of income based on your skillsets. Yes, I’m a damn good actress, but I’m also a wiz at crowdfunding and I’m embracing that, as should anyone else who’s reading this and concerned that one of their skills may diminish another.  It’s just not true anymore.

Hunter: Agree with you 100%. Becoming a more savvy businessperson does not mean you are less of an artist. In fact, it’s empowering and that can help bring additional solidity to the creative side that’s then more free to experiment and take risks. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, Leah! And thanks for helping us with Guys Reading Poems. If we decide to crowdfund for Inside-Out, Outside-In, you’ll be hearing from me again…

For those of you interested in working with Leah, she has generously offered a 10% discount to readers of this blog. Let her know that you’re from InsideOut film blog and she will apply the discount!

Crowdfunding Contact Info:
www.leahcevoli.com/crowdfunding-packages

Leah Cevoli

Leah Cevoli

Also, you may be able to glean more gratis info from Leah on crowdfunding by connecting to her social media networks…

Social Media Info:                               www.twitter.com/Leah_Cevoli            www.facebook.com/LeahCevoli                    www.imdb.me/LeahCevoli

 

Top 10 Inspiring Performances (You May’ve Missed) in 2014

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One of the parts of my job as a filmmaker that I love the most is discovering new work that inspires me….or even makes me curious. And I must admit, the burgeoning film snob in me loves to appreciate work that has not yet appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly or People magazine.

So here are 10 incredible performances that may have slipped under your radar this yet. If you’re curious, check out the trailers, then do a little legwork to figure out how to see them…

1. Juliette Binoche – Clouds of Sils Maria. Binoche gives a master class in acting as an aging actress challenged to play “against type” as a victimized, closeted lesbian opposite a much younger and much more “industry relevant” rising star. Binoche’s character Maria Enders initially shies away from the role, but eventually can’t turn down the challenge to play a character as downtrodden and burdened as Enders is celebrated and free-spirited. Perhaps as she fears, exploring this new creative terrain brings up unwelcome truths and unresolved conflicts in Maria’s life. Binoche got plaudits at Cannes and AFI Film Festival for her role, but somehow the film has not gotten traction Stateside. That’s too bad – it’s an incredible film anchored by Bionche’s layered, dare-I-say flawless portrayal of Maria.

2. Pierre Deladonchamps – Stranger by the Lake. Mr. Deladonchamps gives a haunting performance of a young man drawn not only to a cruise-y, secluded beach but to its most dangerous, seductive visitors. His palpable sexual desire, vulnerability and drive to align himself with a power player in the community of sorts are all well-drawn and deeply realized. At moments, you want to scream at the character that he’s acting against his own best interests, but Deladonchamps’ embodiment of youthful sexuality that’s progressed from blossoming to all-consuming makes you understand…and relate.

3. Valeria Golino – Like the Wind. Collaborating with the visually innovative director Marco Puccioni, Golino delivers a realistic, satisfying portrayal of an Italian prison warden. The exhaustion of her responsibilities and their toll on personal relationships meets Golino’s inherent resilience for a worthy exploration of the human spirit under duress.

4. Jeremie Renier – Waste Land. Renier has already made his mark in international cinema with a role in Olivier Assayas’ brilliant and understated Summer Hours and returns to top form as a somewhat masochistic detective in Waste Land. Renier bulked up for the role, but his masculine appearance is interestingly commingled with a self-cutting habit when his character Leo struggles to solve a homicide while at the same time convincing his pregnant girlfriend not to abort their baby.

5. Zhong Lu – Red Amnesia (Chaung ru Zhe). Perhaps it’s fitting that we have to turn to China to find the most layered portrayal of an elderly person in cinema in 2014. So often, the depiction of older folks on screen in the United States relies on either a half-baked sentimentality or our own Western culture’s terror of the aging process. But in Red Amnesia, Zhong Lu brings to life an aging woman who wants to resolve her own moral culpability before it’s too late, only there’s a problem. She can’t shake her own inherent survival instinct, which may be threatened if she truly admits to herself and others the scope and breadth of the damage she’s caused. A brilliant and totally underrated contribution to film acting.

6. Oscar Isaac – A Most Violent Year. There’s clearly a reason why Lucas and Co. have turned to Mr. Isaac for the next Star Wars iteration. He’s a purist example of an actor inhabiting a role without judging the character he’s playing, so much so that it’s very hard for the audience to reject his character Abel Morales, despite questionable behavior.

7. Raphael Personnaz – The Gate. In 1970s Cambodia, the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge sweeps up a French researcher into their prison camp, with a suspicion that he’s supplying information to the enemy. Personnaz’s character Bizot benefits from an unlikely friendship with his prison camp’s leader Douch (Phoeung Kompheak), who prides himself on administering the Khmer Rouge form of justice even-handedly (no matter how warped that system operates or how many it kills). Bizot is bewildered by his special treatment by Douch and has his life to thank for it, but many others are not so lucky.

8. Scarlett Johansson – Under the Skin. Obviously, Ms. Johansson needs no introduction. She’s spooky good here.

9. Julianne Cote – Tu Dors Nicole. If the movie industry operated out of Quebec, Julianne Cote might just be in Shailine Woodley’s shoes. She’s great in this coming of age film.

10. Leila Hatami – What’s the Time in Your World? Hatami gained a lot of fans with her work in the Academy Award-winning film, “A Separation.” What’s the Time in Your World? is a much lighter film that nevertheless allows Ms. Hatami to act as a stand-in to Persian audiences who are open-minded, curious and nervous to reconnect with their roots. She’s delightful.

Inspiring Performances 2014 – Supporting Roles

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It’s about that time of the year – the time when lists come out that describe the greatest performances and films of the year. I don’t feel comfortable declaring the great performances of the year from on high, but I can with some confidence describe the performances that inspired me. As a filmmaker, I think it’s useful to identify these sorts of things because it helps one understand and refine a personal taste in the craft of screen acting. So I suggest it as a great exercise for everyone making films, whether as a director, actor, screenwriter or producer.  If you’re so inclined, leave your own Top Ten Supporting Performances in the Comments section and let’s get the discussion going!

These actors played supporting roles in films this year. I thought about splitting up the lists in terms of gender but then thought….why? The Hollywood awards season splitting up “contestants” in terms of their gender has puzzled me for a while now. This is not track & field, where it makes sense that males would be unfair competition to females (maybe, in acting, it’s us males who are scared….hmmmm).

Another caveat: No, I haven’t seen every single “important” film to hit theaters in 2014, but this is a blog. So I reserve the right to tinker with this list as the final films of the season come out.

Most Inspiring Supporting Performances of 2014 (to Hunter at least….)

1. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer. Full disclosure: I’ve seen a LOT of Tilda Swinton films in my time. And I’ve ALWAYS respected her. But this performance…when it was over…I tilda - snowthought, “Wow. I didn’t know Tilda had it in her….” She makes a radical physical transformation, takes a lot of risks on her character choices (to the point that she’s almost unrecognizable), yet somehow manages to also retain emotional authenticity in a VERY high stakes environment. Not easy to do AT ALL and she pulled it off.

2. Adam Pearson – Under the Skin. If Tilda Swinton inspired me by physically transforming into a character, Adam Pearson inspired me by bravely revealing his own disfigurement – and the emotional cost of same – on the screen. Pearson suffers from neurofibromatosis, something everyone who sees the young man can’t help but notice within milliseconds of meeting him. In the film, Pearson’s picked up by Scarlett Johansson’s character, but quickly becomes skeptical of her seductive posturing towards him. On the one hand, he’s clearly always wanted sexual attention, but the years of constant ridicule for his appearance causes him to seriously doubt the advances of a mysterious and beautiful woman. It’s a great example of the internal “push and pull” that causes the audience to become totally in sync with the character they’re watching. Pearson bore his soul for this role and the results are searing, unforgettable, heartbreaking. You’re inspired by him too? You can check out his Twitter feed here: @adam_pearson

3. Emma Stone – Birdman. Most lived-in 80-year olds aren’t as grounded as the 26-year old Emma Stone in Birdman. Her character’s speech questioning her father’s extraordinary privilege was just flawless. It’s the rare 26-year old who’ll make you believe that her desire for sobriety was not only hard-earned, but also sincere.

4. Kristin Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria. Who can more than hold their own against Jodie Foster and now Juliette Binoche? Judging by the placement of this sentence on this list, Kristin Stewart in "Clouds of Sils Maria"I’m guessing you know the answer. I loved that Ms. Stewart filled in every moment of her performance with subtext that hinted at the complicated, passionate relationship at hand and the power game threatening to psychologically upend both women.

5. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood. A lot of the buzz on this film is about Patricia Arquette’s work, but I found Hawke to be at a career best here. I related to his character, torn between his duty as a father and his drive to live authentically with limited means. We see the young protagonist grow from six to 18 during the film, but it’s Hawke’s character who struck me as the one who does the most growing up.

6. Riz Ahmed – Nightcrawler. It’s hard to describe the merits of Riz Ahmed’s performance without giving away spoilers of a totally awesome film. But, in his final scene, Ahmed reminds me of William Hurt’s hopelessly outmatched character in Body Heat. It’s a great example of a character who legitimately has a revelation before our eyes.

7. Kang-Ho Song – Snowpiercer. Okay, if there is a sentimental choice on my list, maybe it’s Mr. Kang-Ho Song. He’s one of the unsung heroes of modern film acting who’s Kang-Ho Song in Snowpiercerdelivered one master class after another with Memories of Murder, The Host and more. In Snowpiercer, he continues his streak of somehow being endlessly entertaining while never striking a false note.

8. Natalya Surkova – The Fool. In a film that is the Eastern bloc’s counterpart to A Most Violent Year, this Russian actress made me fully believe that her corrupt character not only did what she had to do to survive (and make herself rich) but also had enough obstacles along the way that she legitimately felt badly about it (sometimes). Many times, actors forget to layer both the drive and their obstacles into the performance, but not Ms. Surkova.

9. Babetida Sadjo – Waste Land. When I see actors in their 20s, I’m impressed if I see an authentic drive for their goal, along with some emotional depth. What I don’t normally expect from young actors is extraordinary range – that usually comes with Babetida Sadjotime, life experience and confidence. That’s why I was absolutely blown away by Babetida Sadjo in Waste Land. She’s seductive and vulnerable in some moments, enraged in others. She’s victimized horribly but also is herself manipulative at times. Her grief and loneliness expose themselves not only in moments where we see her sadness, but in her childlike experimentation with the power she holds as a beautiful woman.

10. Lars Eidinger – Clouds of Sils Maria. His performance is so good that it’s hard to realize that his character Klaus Diesterweg is the wizard behind the curtain because Eidinger has the confidence to never fully reveal his character. But watch closely…and the game is there. A very underrated performance in one of the best films of the year. A must-see for actors.

There were so many amazing supporting performances this year that I’m not sure listing only ten feels complete, so I also want to mention the following performers whose work I found to be excellent: Edward Norton as a respected, unhinged Broadway actor in Birdman, JK Simmons as an intimidating jazz teacher in Whiplash, Agata Kulesza as a Jewish holocaust survivor dismayed that her niece is about to take vows as a nun in Ida, Rene Russo as a morally bankrupt news producer in Nightcrawler, Jessica Chastain as a mobster’s daughter in A Most Violent Year, Keira Knightley as Alan Turing’s fellow codebreaker and quasi-romantic interest in The Imitation Game, Carrie Coon as a thorough detective in Gone Girl and Marc-Andre Grondin as a slacker musician with a personality problem in Tu Dors Nicole.

Thanksgiving 2014: Time for Some Gratitude from Indie Filmmakers…

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Sometimes, I get all “Midnight in Paris” and wish I was making movies back in the 1990s when indie filmmakers could actually make a decent living. Or if time travel was affordable, safe and legal, maybe I’d wander back and shoot character-driven films on 35mm film back in the 1970s. Or perhaps direct silent films in the early 1920s before burdensome sound equipment and studio executives with provincial taste.

But, you know, it’s Thanksgiving and I’m in 2014 Los Angeles where we develop our spiritual practice and live in the moment and all. So here’s my shot to articulate the top ten things that indie filmmakers should be grateful for right here, right now.

1. Laptops – Can you imagine how boring it was to write screenplays at home or in the office on a personal computer (or even more cumbersome, a typewriter…)? Lame. That’s right motherf$#$ker, I am sipping a latte with my sunglasses on while writing this synopsis at Intelligentsia. In the 90s, if you wanted to go out for coffee, you were taking paper and retyping that shit later. Or your ass was at home, bored and decaffeinated.

2. Better actors – Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were some amazing actors in the 1930s. There were also some pretty arch, fake-ass performers back then, too. So let’s break it down – for the most part, actors are much better trained now than they were in the past. There’s so much more competition in the field of acting that actors have been forced to improve to continue to book jobs. Even big stars have the humility to coach with svengali’s in our field, oftentimes with good results. And it’s not just the stars who are talented, dedicated and skilled. Working actors across the board have gotten better to the point that I think it’s pretty rare that you see a laughably bad performance in a major film, which used to happen with more regularity. Before people blow up leaving comments refuting this, EXCEPTIONS EXIST. But most of the times when I see a bad performance these days, I blame the director. Either he/she doesn’t know how to get a performance out of an actor or has incredibly bad taste to either choose a bad actor or choose a bad take from a good actor. I also believe that – per capita – there are more good looking actors now than in the past. Admittedly, this is not a scientific study, but it seems like it. A lot more six-pack abs, etc.

3. Google – Imagine the wealth of information available to you that filmmakers in the 1950s had to learn by trial and error, by finding a mentor, by moving to Los Angeles or New York and hearing what was going on in the business. Everything from writing tips to video content to technology how-to’s to film theory to primers on the film festival circuit is far more accessible than it was to previous generations who minimally had to get to a bookstore, local cinema or library (now the problem becomes sorting through too much information but that’s a topic for another day). If you want to learn about filmmaking, there’s really no financial or access-based excuse not to make progress.

4. Come on, you really CAN make a feature film for less than $200,000 – Making a film is a huge undertaking that can take years and the work of dozens of people. I realize that making a quality film is never inexpensive in terms of resources or time. But, in this era, digital cameras and online editing technology make it possible to make a feature film for less than $200,000. Most Americans still believe they can earn enough money to buy a condo, townhouse or home, many of which are valued at far greater than $200,000. So instead of a home, if you’re willing to work and save, you can put your money towards a movie. When films shot on 35mm and had to go through a telecine process and then spit out prints, those numbers were a lot higher.

5. There’s an app for that – Scheduling used to be done by cutting little strips of paper and arranging them on a board. Ledgers were once used to track the complicated accounts created by the varied expenses involved in filmmaking. Polaroids were taken for continuity pictures. Wow, things have changed. Now there are programs that let you snap a picture with your smart phone and attach it to all the scenes in which it applies. You can enter in this same program how much the costume costs to rent and keep track of how many days and which days you’ll need it. All in the same program. That’s pretty incredible.

6. You don’t have to only make films about straight, white people – In the 1940s, if you wanted to create an interesting role for an ethnic or religious minority or someone in the LGBT community, good luck! Now, at least you have a chance to develop interesting characters from a much broader spectrum.

7. On-set selfies – Come on, you know you do it.

8. YOURNAMEHERE.com – It’ll probably cost you around the same amount of money to register YOURFILMNAMEHERE.com as it cost NBC to register NBC.com. And if you take some wordpress classes, I bet you can make your site look almost as good or even better. This is a huge competitive advantage for the “little guys” of filmmaking compared to the control over the means of distribution and promotion that the “big guys” had in the past.

9. Social media – so many people talk about how annoying it is and yet…so many people discover content they want to see through a tweet, post or blog article. And you don’t have to spend a fortune on it (although it helps if you do….).

10. Kombucha – maybe it existed before, but it’s only had its positive effects on sets all over Los Angeles in recent times.

Frida, Food & Fun: A Lesson from Co-Producer Sammy Kusler

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Sammy Kusler came on board the producing team of “Guys Reading Poems” the first time I pitched the project to him. He’s one of those unforgettable personalities on the set that knows when to say something spiritual to calm you down, but also knows when to just quietly slip a blended mocha frappucino in your hand and walk away. He was much beloved on our production and offers his experience and wisdom to other filmmakers on their journey.

Sammy Kusler with Florenca Perona (costumes) on the set of "Guys Reading Poems."

Sammy Kusler with Florenca Perona (costumes) on the set of “Guys Reading Poems.”

Hunter: Sammy, a lot of our readers are prepping their first or second film, whether it’s a short or feature film. “Guys Reading Poems” was your first film working as a co-producer. What general advice can you give to folks starting out?

Sammy: If you have a dream, go for it. I don’t care how old you are, or how broke you are. I don’t care about your excuses –just allow yourself to follow your passion.

Hunter: You have an incredible talent for making people feel good. This is not to be underestimated as an important task on a set where people are working very hard and for long hours. What are some strategies that you had to make the cast and crew feel comfortable?

Sammy: Just basic understanding of human nature. We all want to be loved. We all perform better when we feel like we’re loved. The trick is to know the balance of giving and receiving love and just basically being honest with your emotions. If you have honest emotions, people aren’t afraid that you’re hiding something.

Hunter: What was something about the project that was harder than expected and what was easier than expected?

Co-producer Sammy Kusler with "Guys Reading Poems" stars Gopal Divan, Blake Sheldon and Rex Lee.

Co-producer Sammy Kusler with “Guys Reading Poems” stars Gopal Divan, Blake Sheldon and Rex Lee.

Sammy: I definitely expected there to be more competition and more stress between people but I found the team that we had was so giving and caring. There was just this great flow between the actors, the crew, the production team. I didn’t expect it to be so easy and wonderful. What was harder than expected…the grueling hours, very long hours. The hours really took a bigger toll than I expected.

Hunter: Food is a big part of your life. You’re such an incredible chef – you often cook for your friends – and you brought that same sense of caring about the food to craft services on the film. It’s such an important area of the set. Any tips for producing teams on how to keep the cast and crew happy with regards to food?

Sammy: Armies move on their stomachs. That’s it. I think that’s basic. The happy time during “Guys Reading Poems” was around the craft services table. That’s where people went to relieve stress and there was good, healthy stuff to help them relieve it.

Hunter: I hope this doesn’t sound too hokey, but you have a shamanistic thing going, too. I remember standing at the dining room table with Patricia [Velasquez] and you pulled out that original Frida Kahlo pendant. I remember in that moment feeling like you were one of the spiritual guides to the film and Patricia just fell in love with you. Do you think there’s some kind of spirituality that comes with making a film? Or am I off-base?

Sammy: What I’ll call it is a deep connection to spirituality. Everything in my life is connected to some deeper pool of spirituality that we all share. It’s all connected. We’re all connected. That’s what I’ve learned, anyway. And it pours out in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of magic moments. That piece of jewelry is one of the greatest treasures of my life because I was born the minute that Frida Kahlo died so it is to me like a talisman to this intense spirit world that I don’t understand…but I feel it.

An original piece of jewelry by Frida Kahlo.

An original piece of jewelry by Frida Kahlo.

Hunter: What made you pull it out and show it to Patricia and myself? Since she plays a successful artist in the film, I thought it was just the right thing to do.

Sammy: I didn’t make a decision to do anything at that moment. It was just the next right thing to do. When you listen and you’re connected to the spiritual world like that, things like just happen and magic just appears. [He laughs]. I hope that’s not too corny, but we’re allowed to be corny.

Hunter: Filmmaking is a multi-generational operation. We had some very young people on set from Luke Judy, who is 7, to Blake Sheldon, who was 21 when we started. And Debbie Vandermeulen’s mother showed up to be an extra and I believe she’s 90 or 91. I found that to be very refreshing about our set. Can you talk about that a little?

Sammy: I grew up in a tribal situation, a tribal society and old people were not to be thrown away. They were to be listened to and their stories are what guided our lives. They weren’t some old creepy thing that you bring a present to on Christmas or whatever. They were really our guides. That’s how I feel about older people. And younger people – they are a window to our innocence. Nature combines us and society separates us so it was a natural flow that brought us together on set.

Hunter: I love that you did not allow what some might consider to be “a later start” to deter you from diving into filmmaking. What would you say to others who might want to start at 40, 50, 60, even 70?

Sammy: The cliché is true in this case – just do it! If it comes out, let it happen. Cut through the but’s – ‘but, but, but’ – and the what if’s. If you have a passion, follow it.

Hunter: You’ve seen me in action making a film, warts and all. What could I do better? Or what advice would you give me for “Inside-Out, Outside-In” after observing the process for “Guys Reading Poems”?

Sammy: Don’t overdo it. Delegate.

Hunter: What has been your happiest memory associated with “Guys Reading Poems” so far?

Sammy: My happiest memories are just watching the actors go from being the actor to being the character and that process. Some of them stayed in character the whole time. Some of them dropped the character the minute they walked off the set. And just working with the people on the team – the producers, the director, the crew, the extras. Just the people. It was such a joyous collection.

Sammy Kusler as "Moses" with star Blake Sheldon the last day of our shoot - fun is important on a movie set!

Sammy Kusler as “Moses” with star Blake Sheldon the last day of our shoot – fun is important on a movie set!

Running your set: time and money-saving tips from our line producer

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Bradley Bernstein is not just a dear friend and my manager (through his company Fast Track Management). He’s been nominated for a Tony award and won an Olivier award for producing theatre and has a lot of experience producing television programming here in Los Angeles. When I told Bradley about “Guys Reading Poems” and our idea to transform its original concept from a new media piece to a feature film and how we were in over our heads, Bradley GENEROUSLY stepped on board to help – as our line producer. He worked tirelessly and went WAY beyond the call of duty. We couldn’t have done it without him. Here’s what he had to say about his function on our film. Some of his tips will doubtless save you time, money and headaches.

Hunter: So Bradley, you did a fantastic job line producing “Guys Reading Poems.” Thank you. I’m trying now to make sure I learn as much as possible as we prep the second feature. So looking back at “Guys Reading Poems” from a line producing perspective, what would you say was harder than anticipated and what would you say was easier than anticipated?

Bradley: Thank you, Hunter.  I would say it was a bit more difficult merging the new media project that was filmed a year earlier with the ultra low budget shoot.*  I think because no one really had any experience with that type of merger we just had to figure it out as we went.  I think the wardrobe ended up being easier for me than I anticipated.  We had a LOT of costumes considering our budget.  I mean a lot of costumes.  But our wardrobe department really came through and I did not feel the pressure at the end of the day that I thought I was going to feel.

Hunter: We spent a good chunk of our budget on soundstage rental. A lot of low budget indies shoot on location, so this was a big decision for us. From your perspective, was it worth it? Do you think indie films should consider soundstages even if it sounds like sticker shock at first?

A photo of TTS Studios, the soundstage where we shot "Guys Reading Poems"

A photo of TTS Studios, the soundstage where we shot “Guys Reading Poems”

Bradley: The soundstage approach was the perfect choice for us!  In retrospect, I would have negotiated the deal for the stage a bit different but I would not have changed my mind about shooting at one.  We saved so much money at the end of the day for our particular film.  I think each project has its own needs so there are no specific rules in this regards.  I would say keep an open mind.

Hunter: The SAG-AFTRA ULB contract allowed us to work with both union and non-union actors. Did this present any challenges? Any notes for other filmmaking teams here?

Bradley: This did not present any challenges in regards to the actors themselves.  You do have to remember there are different types of paperwork to fill out.  Educate yourself!!!  Make sure you ask your SAG rep lots of questions!!  A line producer has a lot of responsibilities and you don’t want to be wasting your time filling out paperwork multiple times because you used the wrong form!!!

Hunter: We had a number of scheduling challenges with GRP, especially with our child actor and all the regulations surrounding that. Do you have any general advice to other filmmakers regarding scheduling? Any advice specifically about scheduling with child actors?

Bradley: OK child actors LOL.  This was the first film where I had the opportunity to work with a child actor.  I have to say I was a bit nervous.  There are a LOT of state rules and union rules!  But don’t be scared!!!  Everyone I worked with from the child

Luke Judy in "Guys Reading Poems" photo by Michael Marius Pessah

Luke Judy in “Guys Reading Poems” photo by Michael Marius Pessah

actor’s agent and manager to the on-set teacher were great.  They were happy to walk me through the regulations.  No one wants to see you violate and no one is there to take advantage.  So don’t worry! You just need to understand the rules in advance so you can schedule your shoot appropriately.  Kids need breaks on set differently than adults.  Also, you need to watch them – make sure they are not getting tired.  Yes, there are rules to protect them but you should protect them beyond the rules and account for that in your schedule.  We had a 7 year old.  He was GREAT.  But if I saw him getting tired or a bit antsy I pulled him from set for a 20 minute leg stretch.  Know that you will need to do this.  It is good for the kid and good for the production.  Also – have toys on set (ask the parents what their kid likes)!!!

Hunter: I noticed you switched from one budgeting software to a different program midway through the process. Can you tell us your preferred budgeting software and why? Any tips on using this sort of software?

Bradley: Yeah, this was a time killer.  I am not sure I want to name the first software product we used.  It was not one I was familiar with.  We used it because it was the system my predecessor on the project had used so we felt it would be more efficient to stick with the same program.  WRONG!  It was buggy!  I mean really buggy!  Also, stick with what you know.  What works for you!  Movie Magic works for me!!!  I like the program!  I understand the program!!!  If there is a better one out there, I am happy to take the time to learn it, but right now that is the one that works for me. Here is my tip.  There are great online vids that teach you how to use the software. WATCH THEM!  Also – Save, Save, Save your changes!!

Hunter: Oftentimes, you served as a liason between the department heads and rest of the producing team. Can you talk a little bit about working with people and the strategies of dealing with the various departments?

Bradley: In my opinion the line producer is the hub for all the department heads.  As such, there should be a constant flow of communication between the line producer and all the departments.  I like to make sure when in production I am visiting all the departments on a regular basis.  Make sure all the heads and their entire staffs are happy.  Even more than just being happy, I want to make sure everyone knows they can come to me with problems.  I cannot fix something if I don’t know it is broken. There are a LOT of personalities on a film set.  Most of the time people don’t know each other before coming to set.  So there is potential to make new friends, but there is also the potential to not get along.  I am not just running the budget on a show.  I am making sure that the wheels and cogs of a set are running smoothly.  So if people don’t get along, I need to know and be there to help!

Always stay calm!  As a line producer, try never to take sides in disagreements! Listen to what everyone has to say.  In the end, you have to decide not was is necessarily good for an individual, but what is good for the entire production.  You will not always be popular, but you have a job to do – to make sure the production stays on budget and stays on schedule.  Keeping that in mind, you accomplish this goal by continually checking in with your departments and making sure you are informed!  You are not only judge, but you are jury and you have to take that very seriously!  Most people think the director is the leader on a set but that is not entirely true.  The director is the leader of the creative vision and with his/her team runs the set while the camera is rolling, etc.  But the director is not running the action off the set and nor should he/she.  Part of my job is to keep any/all problems away from the director (as much as I can) so he/she can stay focused on the creative vision of the film.

Hunter: To advise newer line producers, what one line item are they probably underestimating the most and what line item might they be overestimating?

Bradley: To new line producers:  You are always underestimating your entire budget! (LOL) but apparently I am supposed to pick a single line item.  Geez that is hard.  I would say FOOD!  Never every skimp on food!  Feed the machine and the machine will work!  I find that a lot of line producers overestimate how much they are going to pay on cameras/lightening/electrical.  That just comes from experience.

Hunter: Some of our readers might be newer to dealing with agents and managers. Any tips on the courtesies or strategies involved in communicating with an actor’s team, especially if they are to be cc’d on information relevant to the line producer?

Bradley: Agents and managers are people too!  Don’t be afraid of them!  There is really not a lot of interaction between a line producer and a talent rep, to be honest. But on a smaller film, a line producer tends to handle a lot more, so I would not be surprised if you end up having to contact a rep.  Just explain who you are and what you need.  Most reps are more than happy to take care of you.  If the rep asks you something outside of your area, just politely explain that it is not your purview and redirect them to the correct person.  Never answer a question that you don’t know the answer to!

Hunter: What has been your happiest memory working on “Guys Reading Poems” so far?

Bradley: My happiest moment was the move in day at our sound stage.  I love move in days!  All our crew get to meet each other (if they have not already).  We get to settle in to our areas (me included).  It is like the first day of camp.  Finding our way.  I love producing film and tv shows.  So the first day is the start of the adventure.  The last day is the saddest.  I want to be a far away from the sad day as possible.  I also really enjoy the by myself time during the development process when I first start building a budget.  That is my zen time!

Hunter and Bradley talk on a daily basis, occasionally order in pizza from Lucifer’s and are in the process of developing new material for both film and television, including Inside-Out, Outside-In.

*Editor’s note: Some footage was shot and originally registered as a new media project with SAG-AFTRA for “Guys Reading Poems.” We never released that footage because we decided to incorporate it into a larger piece – a feature film. We then obtained permission from SAG-AFTRA to change our contract from New Media to SAG ULB, but with that change caused some practical and paperwork challenges.

 

Financing your indie feature – options

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When people find out that I recently directed a feature film, my L.A. acquaintances are quick to offer congratulations. Once those niceties are behind us, the curious hipster oftentimes takes a breath and asks (or wants to ask), “How did you pay for it?”

In the case of “Guys Reading Poems” we used a combination of private investors and crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to make the film.

But now that I’m back in the saddle to produce “Inside-Out, Outside-In,” I face the same question: How will we pay for it?

The way I see it, there are eight options for raising money for feature films. I’m sure there are more. But this is a start.

1. Private Equity Investors – Private equity investors are people who provide capital for a film in exchange for a percentage of ownership of the film or its profits.

Upside – Private investors are great because oftentimes you get more than just the capital. Because they’re motivated for you to win back a return on their investment, they often open up their rolodex and make introductions on your behalf that might be uber helpful to the film. This can lead to even more private investors or other relevant industry contacts. A lot of investors have tremendous business savvy to have achieved the sort of wealth needed for film investment and some of that business savvy might rub off on you.

Downside – It can take time to raise money from private individuals. It can be difficult to find the first investor to take the plunge as it is generally less risky to invest in a film the closer it is to being finished. Unlike crowdfunding, you are obligated to share the success of the film in a significant way with your investors (but hey, it’s only fair…).

2. Crowdfunding – Filmmakers use Kickstarter or IndieGogo or another site to pitch the projects to family, friends and fans, hoping for financial pledges in exchange for rewards related to the film or filmmakers.Kickstarter Congrats

Upside – With crowdfunding, you are not only winning backers, but rallying the front line of your fan base for your film. Although you must provide the rewards promised to your backers, the pledge amount is not money that will need to be paid back once the film starts generating income, a big advantage for your bottom line.

Downside – Take it from me, crowdfunding is a FULL-TIME job. For the weeks of your campaign, you will need to spend at least 40 hours a week working solely on the crowdfunding. Also, if you are too shy to ask people for money DIRECTLY (and yes, I mean making phone calls – personal emails don’t cut it much less just sharing on social media), it will be very difficult for you to crowdfund effectively. Filmmakers are now also facing crowdfunding fatigue as social media is flush with opportunities to back creative projects. You also need to budget to make sure you deliver the rewards promised.

More on the opportunities and challenges of crowdfunding in a future post…

3. Slated – Full disclosure, I have never used Slated.com to finance a film. BUT it’s the most interesting option emerging for the upcoming “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” So if I get any of the particulars wrong, forgive me and go check out their site yourselves. Basically, Slated is a curated community of investors, filmmakers and film professionals that facilitates introductions between parties. You build a portfolio showcasing your project and they go out and verify that you’re telling the truth! This is awesome because it prevents shady people claiming that Jodie Foster is attached to their film, when she’s not. They also ask questions about who has put together your proposal and their level of experience in the business. Then, based on all the information available, they assign you a risk rating in terms of investment potential and you are tasked with building a network, including investors, as you improve your project’s prospects with new attachments and more capital raised.

Upside – Slated is a reputable site where qualified investors and filmmakers intersect. Both parties WANT to be there, unlike those Kickstarter and IndieGogo posts which can become tiresome in your feed. Also, as investors, these people will be rewarded if the movie is a success and can open up not just wallets, but doors, if they choose. All the benefits of the private equity investor apply here as Slated investors often fit that mold – you are just reaching them in an innovative way.

Downside – You don’t personally pick and choose every single person that has access to your ideas and pre-production details. Filmmakers can be guarded about the concept of a film or potential key art. When you are raising money through private investors, it’s always YOUR CHOICE whether you get a good vibe to pitch to any one individual and want to show them your one-sheet or share your data and materials. With Slated, investors have more liberty to view your materials, which might influence their own projects.

4. Find a Studio or production company to back you – Maybe a senior VP will fall in love with your project and the rest is history (it happens!).

Upside – You don’t have to raise the money to pay for it. You may get additional resources and more experienced hands on deck to help complete your film.

Downside – You also may get pressure to step aside in favor of a more experienced director who’s made a film for studios before. There’s also the problem of limited access. A lot of filmmakers would love a studio to back their film, but a lot fewer have the access and connections to make that happen. Even if you get your foot in the door, you may have to make artistic compromises that dilute your vision and don’t serve your long-term career goals. It can take years and years to get the fabled “green light” to move a project forward so patience is needed. You also will likely not share in as many of the profits if your project turns into a studio project (although you will likely be paid more upfront).

5. Grants – This is money given by organizations to artists and filmmakers who embody their taste and values.

My favorite grant program so far is Creative Capital. I’ve attended their application information session and they seem legit.

Upside – The money is free – sort of (your project will have to adhere to the grant’s mission in some way or another). Also, the process of winning a grant includes networking with some very smart people that may help your project in all sorts of other ways.

Downside – Getting a grant is a labor-intensive process that can take a long time. Also, even if you are successful in winning a grant, it might not be enough to complete your whole project. It is more difficult to win a grant for a project that is for-profit than non-profit. Documentarians raising funds for a not-for-profit film probably have a much better chance here than narrative feature filmmakers, in my opinion.

6. Loans – I have personally never worked on a project where bank loans or loans from institutions were used to finance a film (maybe there was a time when I borrowed ten bucks from my cousin for lemonade for our crew but that’s another story….). However, from my limited understanding, loans are the best option if you’ve almost completed a film that needs a little more capital to reach the marketplace and that film has a demonstrable value. I don’t think independent filmmakers can get a loan to make a movie from scratch but maybe some project out there will prove me wrong.

Upside – Hey, you have money that you need to finish your film. And if the film is incredibly successful, you are only obligated to pay back the loan with interest, not a percentage of the film in perpetuity.

Downside – Investors may be resentful if your loan arrangement requires that the loan is paid back before the investors start being repaid. Specific deals with investors may prevent such an arrangement.

7. Pre-Sales – Truthfully, this is not an area of independent film with which I’m terribly familiar. We did receive one offer for a pre-sales for one territory for “Guys Reading Poems” about five weeks before we went into production, but our producer thought the amount was too low and we declined the offer.

Upside – You are getting money in advance of the film being made where you might get none at all. If the movie comes out, there is no guarantee anyone will buy it.

Downside – Our situation is not unique. The people buying your film upfront will want to pay less if they are giving you money before the film is complete because there is a lot more risk for them. What if the film turns out differently than what they were expecting? That could mean gaining in the short term but losing in the long term.

8. Self-finance – It goes without saying that if you have enough cash in the bank, you can finance your own film. Technically, this is actually an outgrowth of option one. It’s just that now, you are your own private equity investor.

Upside – The upside of this arrangement is that if you have the money in the bank, it’s easy to get the capital and you have control of it.

Downside – It seemed like a good idea until you have no more money to live and pay rent. Also, if you’re not careful, using your own money can get messy. An attitude of “it’s my money and I’ll spend it how I want” might lead to sloppy record-keeping (there’s no motivation to keep great books like an outside investor that forces you to justify costs). You as a private equity investor deserve that same clarity and spending control just as if it were another investor’s money. This can often put you-as-investor in conflict with you-as-filmmaker, a weird psychic conflict. Plus, you still have obligations to keep track of what is spent and earned for taxes, etc., even if you’re the only investor.

Some filmmakers may be in that frame of mind where they say, “Screw this!” and decide to charge the entire film to their credit card or multiple credit cards. I can say – with some inside scoop – that some quality directors made their first film that way and succeeded. So I do not judge anyone who decides on that path. However, I do think that you owe it to yourself to try some of these other methods of fundraising for at least six months to a year before you take the plastic plunge, as unsecured debt is almost universally despised as a terrible move financially.

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This film is not dead: The revival of “Inside-Out, Outside-In”

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Several years ago, I started this blog to chronicle the progress of “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” I was determined to direct my first feature film and wanted to share the ups and downs of the journey with like-minded creative types. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the set….

One-sheet - "Guys Reading Poems"  designed by Chris Friend

One-sheet – “Guys Reading Poems”
designed by Chris Friend

Turns out, I achieved my dream to direct my first feature film. Only, to my great surprise, that film turned out to be a completely different project than “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” “Guys Reading Poems” – a neo-noir, black-and-white feature – consumed my time and energy to the point that I wasn’t able to continue to blog here. However, now that the film is safely into post-production, I am returning to my original mission to get “Inside-Out, Outside-In” off the ground. But now the conversation is a little different. Instead of how to get a first feature film off the ground, I’m dealing with the (ever-so-slightly) better problem of how to get a second feature funded and produced. (ok so yeah, I’m bragging a little….I can’t help it.)

Let me explain.

In the beginning of 2013, I was taking meetings and pitching “Inside-Out, Outside-In” but having great difficulty raising the kind of capital needed to fund a story that takes place in both modern day Los Angeles and ancient India. I came up with an idea – almost on a whim – to combine classic poetry with an all-male secret society narrative and shot some footage relatively cheaply. The results were so good that many trusted friends and advisors suggested I continue developing “Guys Reading Poems” as a feature film. And so I did. Relatively quickly, private equity investors rallied around “Guys Reading Poems” and we were also able to crowdfund more than $40,000 to raise enough money to transform the original project into a feature. Casting also fell into place relatively quickly (actors love black-and-white, apparently, especially when the cinematographer is someone as talented as ours – Michael Marius Pessah). Patricia Velasquez (“The Mummy”, “Arrested Development”) agreed to play the female lead role and Alexander Dreymon (“American Horror Story”) – a former acting student of mine – signed on to play the male lead. Lydia Hearst (“The Face”) also liked the script and agreed to play a key supporting role and so did Rex Lee (“Entourage”) and Christos Vasilopoulos (“Banshee”). The rest of the cast was populated with talented up-and-comers Jerod Meagher (“ABCs of Death 2”), Jason Fracaro and Vincent Montuel (all of whom also took my acting class at StoryAtlas) and also Blake Sheldon (“Age of Reason”), Justin Schwan (“Cutback”), Daniel Berilla (“Kissing Darkness”), Megan Sousa and Gopal Divan. Of the entire cast, only Blake and Lydia were brand new to my life. The rest were either friends or colleagues from previous encounters on projects or in acting classes. In the case of Rex, well, he’s one of my very best friends in the world.

What can I say? I got lucky…but in a way that I could not have predicted.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if there was some divine guidance that brought “Guys Reading Poems” up to bat first. Like I mentioned, the budgetary requirements are less than those required for “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” There’s a great tradition of directors starting their careers in black-and-white and the neo-noir feel needed for “Guys Reading Poems” allows me to knock on the door of that club. “Guys Reading Poems” is more daring in terms of its form, whereas “Inside-Out, Outside-In” is a much more traditional narrative. There’s nothing wrong with traditional narratives (in fact, I love them) but one could argue that a more experimental approach is more likely to convince festival programmers and audiences to give a first-time director a chance. Also, since 90% of the cast were personal friends or longstanding colleagues, there was enough trust on both sides to build the type performances I admire – where the dark side of the psyche and its vulnerabilities combine with human need towards a quixotic goal or dream. As a first time director, I needed personal access to the hearts and minds of the talent and “Guys Reading Poems” offered that sort of opportunity. Along the way, I developed relationships that are crucial for my future success not only with acting talent but also investors, fellow producers, department heads, creative collaborators and crew (and yes, Shpetim Zero did the costumes for “Guys Reading Poems” as well, see below).

But now, it’s time to finish what I started with “Inside-Out, Outside-In” so you’ll be hearing from me a lot more! Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to condense some of the lessons of “Guys Reading Poems” and how I feel they might set up “Inside-Out, Outside-In” for success. Then, I’ll move into chronicling the next stages of the project.

I planned for “Inside-Out, Outside-In” to take two years to finish and start hitting the festival circuit relatively soon. Sometimes, plans don’t work out…yet, somehow, strangely, even mysteriously, dreams do.

Jason Fracaro in "Guys Reading Poems"  photo by Michael Marius Pessah

Jason Fracaro in “Guys Reading Poems”
photo by Michael Marius Pessah

 

 

 

 

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