Kim Production Diary: 5 Steps to Writing a Business Plan

Kim Production Diary

We’ve finished writing our business plan for Kim, the last step before we can seriously begin fundraising. It was an interesting process, and it forced us to think through 5 basic aspects of our production.

The first was figuring out how to define the film, and how to talk about it in a way that is both true to our vision and compelling enough to get people as excited about it as we are.

Practicing the “elevator pitch” with anyone willing to listen was really important, until the pitch was refined to a point where most people react to it with an enthusiastic “that sounds like a great film!”

The best bits of advice we found for this were: “describe in one sentence your story, and the twist that makes it different,” and “when you touch their hearts, they’ll open their checkbook.” We had to learn to describe our film succinctly in a way that is emotionally moving.

The second thing we had to work through for the business plan was a thorough and realistic budget for the film. To talk about that in detail would probably take a few blog posts, much more space than I have here today.

The third thing was to look at other similar films and see how they did financially. We looked at low-budget psychological science fiction films, that played down action and violence, as well as films that were more artistically oriented and films that played with the conflict of reality and fantasy. While this can’t give us any guarantee how Kim will perform, it can at least show us how it might do.

Fourth was to research and understand film marketing, and all the opportunities and challenges facing independent filmmakers today. We worked to identify our films assets – its strengths and the things that make it unique, then how to identify audiences that value those assets, and then how to contact and communicate with those audiences.

And fifth, was to look at the distribution options available for independent films. This proved the trickiest part, because it’s the thing most likely to change in the 12-18 months between now and when post-production is finished. We made an inventory of all the current distribution options, everything from VHX to Vimeo-on-Demand to iTunes to Tugg, to traditional theatrical distributors. We’ll have to continue monitoring and researching all options over the next year so we’ll be prepared when the film is finished and ready for release.

I hope you found this quick overview of our process for writing a business plan interesting, and helpful if you’re working on your own film. For us, it’s on to raising the money to make Kim, More on that as the process proceeds.



Rebel Seed’s Film Insights Podcast

I just found a great podcast for independent filmmakers: Rebel Seed.

Their Film Insights series features really amazing advice on marketing, fundraising, and distribution for indie films. It’s all very specific and very practical. I’m finding these podcasts extremely useful as we ramp up for production on Kim. Knowledge is power.

http://www.rebelseedfilms.com/rebelseedpodcast/



Kim Production Diary: Making a Budget, Fundraising and Business Plans

Kim Production Diary

Been crunching numbers lately, but before I go on, I’ll define a few terms for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of film production.

Pre-production is the time spent preparing the film before the actual shoot, this includes writing the script, hiring the crew, auditioning, casting, and rehearsing the actors, finding locations, rasing money, and whatever preparations we need for the camera crew and the art, props and sets.

Production is the time when the cameras are rolling and we’re shooting the picture.

Post-Production is everything that happens after the shoot. Editing, composing the music, doing the sound design and sound editing, festival submissions, marketing, and distribution of the final film, etc.

At this stage of Pre-production, Leeah and I have been working to finalize our Budget, Fundraising Plan and Business Plan, three essentials for proceeding with the production. With these three key components, we’re trying to answer these questions:

The Fundraising Plan: how are we going to raise the money for Kim?

The Budget: How are we going to spend the money once we get it?

The Business Plan: How are we planning to make the money back once the film is made?

Investors and funders will certainly want to see the Budget and Business Plans before they contribute money, but they’ll probably also be interested in seeing the Fundraising plan to make sure that our plans are solid and we’ll be able to raise the rest of the money for the production.

As we finish up the Budget, some of the issues we’re facing are trying to nail down the locations and the costs for the locations, deciding the size of the crew we’ll need on set as well as the length of the shoot, and deciding how many paid pre-production days we’ll have for the actors, the art department, and camera crew. We also need to include money in the busget for post-production or be forced into a second round of funding after the film is shot, as well as a little extra contingency money for unforeseen emergencies (usually about 10% of the budget).

Our Production Consultant, Jenna Payne, has been invaluable to the process, providing us much needed insight and guidance as we nail down the numbers. With her experience and expertise, she’s helped us cut expenses and helped us stay realistic in terms of what things will actually cost.



Filmmaking Resources Update

I haven’t updated the site for a while with any new resources for Independent Filmmakers. Here are some interesting sites and articles I’ve come across recently.

First off, here’s any amazing interview with Morrie Warshawski, author of Shaking the Money Tree: How to Get Grants and Donations for Film and Video, on raising money for the arts, with a focus on independent films. It’s a little dated on internet stuff, but solid on the timeless aspects of fundraising.

Interview with Morrie Warshawski

Here’s some great advice on how to find name actors for low budget films.

13 Ways to Cast A-list Actors in Mcrobudget Films

Next up, is Film Freeway, a site filmmakers can use to submit to film Festivals. Created as an alternative to Without a Box, Film Freeway is always free for filmmakers (no added fees added to the festival submissions fee) and it has HD online screeners, unlike Without A Box whose online screeners look terrible.

Film Freeway

I linked to this in an earlier post, but it’s worth repeating. It’s an article detailing how Tangerine, a hit at Sundance this year, was shot on the iPhone 5s. It’s essential that independent filmmakers start thinking creatively about how to save money and use their resources wisely.

How One of the Best Films at Sundance was Shot Using and iPhone 5s

Finally, here are some great tips from Mark and Jay Duplass for low budget filmmakers. I love their emphasis on the 250K film, both to retain control and to make sure your money is being used wisely.

This Is How You Do It: 10 Filmmaking Tips from Mark and Jay Duplass



Kim Production Diary 1

Kim Production DiaryAn ongoing series chronicling the production (pre, shoot, and post) of our new movie Kim.

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing diary of the production of our new movie, Kim, from pre-production, through the shoot and post-production.

We’re very much at the beginning of the pre-production stage right now, so it’s a perfect time to start a production journal. We’ve got our script, an 80-page feature. We’ve assembled a great team: myself (Bob) as Writer/Director, Producer Leeah Odom, Composer Lenny Gonzalez, Cinematographer Matthew Boyd, and Production Designer Elle Kunnos de Voss.

We have a website for the film that we will continue to develop as the production evolves.

Producer Leeah Odom and I are having weekly meetings either by phone or in person to discuss the film, review the previous week’s accomplishments, and set goals for the next week,

At this point, we’ve identified four key areas that we need to focus on.

1. Finalizing our budget and business plan, so we can start up our fundraising push.

2. Finding a location for the shoot.

3. Beginning to search for and audition the cast.

4. Create awareness and buzz about the project.

More on each of these as the weeks go by. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these insights and behind the scenes peek at the nuts and bolts of film production.



A Nonprofit Model for Independent Films?

Nick Toti has an interesting article over at Indiewire.com suggesting that independent filmmakers should start using a nonprofit model to raise money for their projects. When I first transitioned from experimental dance-theater to filmmaking, I was struck how films had developed a different funding model from the other arts. Whereas most arts groups fund themselves as Nonprofit Organizations (501(c)(3) status under the IRS code), films have historically been funded as for-profit ventures.

This has a lot to do with the expense of making films, of course. It takes millions of dollars to fund and market even a low budget production, whereas a few thousand dollars may go a long way toward funding a performance of a small dance company. So films have developed a system where studios fund their massive budgets from investors looking for a return on their investments and where the massive hit film can help fund the market misses.

Also, of course, the immense payback potential for a hit movie has made films an attractive prospect for many investors. And the historical predominance of films as America’s premier popular entertainment medium has also contributed to relegating most films to commercial, for-profit ventures, thought of as commerce first, and art second.

But as film production costs and marketing costs have soared, the big studios have become less and less interested in funding small, risky films that don’t have the chance of a big payoff. They’re more interested in tent pole pictures and franchises that have a bigger likelihood of being a financial success.

And having a for-profit model for filmmaking has meant that individual filmmkakers generally can’t sustain a career if they don’t consistently make a profit in the market place with their films, a burden that nonprofit arts groups don’t necessarily face. Very few Performance Arts groups could survive if they had to rely on ticket sales for income (including such mainstream civic bulwarks as world-class symphonies, ballet, and opera companies in major cities). Tax-exempt donations have been crucial to the survival of arts in the U.S.

What will it take to allow filmmakers to successfully move to non-profit model? Even with the inexpensiveness of digital production, it can still take a couple of hundred thousand dollars to produce even a micro-budget feature film, still a daunting amount of money to raise.

I’ve long been an advocate of re-thinking our aesthetics to move away from the mainstream Hollywood aesthetics of films, to produce movies that are both less expensive to make and more personal. For those growing up now with an iPhone in their pocket, this is happening quite naturally. This is a very exciting time to be a filmmaker, but we must rise to the challenge of seeing art and the world in new ways, and not simply repeating tired (and expensive) styles, genres and working models.

If we can do that, the time might be right for some filmmakers, like most other artists in our culture, to turn to Nonprofit Organizations for funding. This could mean an individual forming a Nonprofit for his or her own work, but more likely a production company setting itself up as a Nonprofit. Alternatively, films productions could raise money through another Nonprofit that acts as an umbrella agency, (called Fiscal Sponsorship). Currently, Fractured Atlas offers that service for filmmakers.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the need for hard work, dedication, and perseverance. That will always be necessary.

Why Nonprofits are the Future of Indie Film

Film As Cheap As a Pencil and Paper

How One of the Best Films at Sundance was Shot Using and iPhone 5s

The Feature Film That Blew Everyone Away at Sundance Was Shot on an iPhone 5s

Fractured Atlas



Startup Film School Podcast

I’ve come across a wonderful new podcast series presented by Stacey Parks, whose website Independent Film Blog I mentioned in an earlier post.

It’s called Startup Film School, and it’s basically a primer on film financing, distribution, and marketing. These podcasts are simply amazing! All independent filmmakers should listen to them.

The podcasts teach through interviews with independent filmmakers, so you get to see actual success stories and learn what works in the real world. It covers everything from developing a business plan, to how filmmakers use The American Film Market, to how one filmmaker made a feature film for $500.

Stacey’s main focus is encouraging independent filmmakers to make movies that make money, so they can have sustained careers. One episode covers in depth the “5 Steps to Getting Your Script Market Ready.” Here’s she’s not talking about making the most commercial movie ever, but how to make your film attractive to people who might actually finance it. She covers these steps in an interview with filmmaker Brooks Elms so you can see how it works in an actual film in production.

5 Steps to Getting Your Script Market Ready

1. Do Your Research. Find out how similar films have done financially so you can have a realistic idea of what your film can do in the market place.

2. Develop a Budget and a Business Plan. How much will your film cost to make and how do you plan to make that money back (knowing, of course, that all filmmaking is a risky venture)?

3. Put a Team Together. If you approach investors as a writer/director working alone your project is not going to be that attractive. But if you put together a team with an experienced Producer, DP, Casting Director, etc. you’re going to make your project more attractive.

4. Put Together a Cast with some Marketable Talent.

5. Develop a Pitch, with Compelling, Professional Visuals.

The podcast goes into much more detail about all of these steps. Check it out, and the rest of Stacey’s podcasts, right now!

Startup Film School.



Screenwriting 101: 14 Tips For Writing a Great Screenplay

In a previous post, I explained how striving toward a goal against obstacles is the heart of drama. Here’s more tips for writing a great screenplay.

1. Trust Your Inspiration.

Something got you excited about your story. Was it a single image? A character that grew in your imagination and fascination? A scene you can’t stop thinking about? A theme that you want to explore?

Trust that inspiration. If it got you excited – and you do the hard turn it into a great screenplay – it will get others excited to.

2. Don’t Rush.

Give your ideas time to gel, to grow into living, vivid stories. Let your unconscious do it’s work. Let the ideas mull inside you, turn them around in your mind. You’ll know when it’s time to write.

This doesn’t mean procrastinating. If you find you’re never finishing anything, you have different problems than rushing.

3. Make Your Film About Something.

Why is this story important to you? Why would it be important to anyone else? What are you trying to explore about life?

A great film is more than just a good plot, interesting characters, and witty dialogue. What do you have to say that is unique? I’m not talking about a message film. Art should explore questions rather than give definitive answers. But a good film is about something important, something meaningful.

Even comedies can be about something. Look at Groundhog’s Day. It’s not just about someone stuck in an absurd situation. It’s asking “What does it mean (and what does it take) for a selfish, jaded man to become a better person?” And it doesn’t go for an easy, pat answer. The film shows that it’s hard work.

But don’t settle on your on your approach too quickly. Discover it in the writing process. Write with compassion and empathy for other people.

4. Don’t Settle For Easy Solutions

Writing a great script is the most difficult part of the filmmaking process. Any writer who says otherwise is not doing the hard work and is settling for the clichéd and the obvious instead of new and surprising.

A few years ago a meme was going around the internet called Pixar’s 22 Rules of Good Storytelling. This was the most important of them: “Discount the first thing that comes to mind, and the second, third, fourth, fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.”

5. Be Truthful.

Be truthful about the way you see the world. If, for example, you think violence is never a good solution to problems, are you going to present a world in which heroes commit violent actions without consequences?

Be truthful about human behavior. Rigorously. Far too often in bad scripts characters don’t behave like real people, but only act for the convenience of the plot. Ask, would someone really do that? Then, would your character really do that?

This needs to be a constant effort. It’s so easy to fall into clichés and formulaic ideas about situations and people without even realizing it. It’s so easy just to push a character where you want the plot to go. If something doesn’t feel right, recognize it, identify why, and fix it.

6. Think About How Scenes Will Be Shot.

You’re not just writing a story, you’re making the blueprint for a film that will need to be shot. Is what you’re writing shootable? Will it be as clear onscreen as it is on the page? Are the things you are putting down in words able to be shown visually?

Learn a little about film production, so you will know what it takes to shoot a scene. Learn a little about editing, so you’ll know what it takes to tell a clear story.

7. Don’t Overwrite Dialogue.

A look, a line inflection, can convey what you may be tempted to go on for paragraphs about on the page. Think about how a line will be performed. One parenthetical can sometimes replace many lines of dialogue.

A simple action description like “He pauses for a moment, then gives her one last, aching look” can replace too on-the-spot dialogue like “I don’t really want to do this, but it’s important to you, so, yes, I’ll do it. because I love you.”

People don’t always say what they really mean. People aren’t always able to express themselves articulately. Honor that in your script.

8. Read Your Dialogue Out Loud.

Make sure your dialogue is actable. Sometimes things sound good in your head, but not on your tongue

9. Give Supporting Characters Their Own Needs And Desires.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in poorly written screenplays is having every single word, thought, and action of every supporting character revolve around the protagonist’s story.

In real life, every person is the star of his or her own movie, and you need to have some sense of this in your script or the supporting characters become ciphers, plot devices that have no agency, and ultimately are boring to watch. What are your supporting characters doing when they’re not in the film? What’s going on in their lives right now? What are their goals and obstacles?

10. Develop Subplots.

Subplots are a crucial tool in writing a great screenplay. They expand the world and make it seem more real. They make the film seem less self-indulgent. They allow you to explore themes more deeply and can serve as a counter-point to the arc of the main protagonist. They make the world seem rich, nuanced and alive.

11. Think In Terms Of Sequences, Not Scenes.

In my previous post on screenwriting, I talked about the importance of having goals and obstacles for your protagonists. But as I pointed out then, you shouldn’t just think about overarching, movie-long goals. You can also think about smaller goals that cross over scenes to create little sequences inside your movie. This helps give your screenplay structure. It also helps punctuate your film with focal points that create rhythm, dynamics and tension.

12. Don’t Over-Rationalize Everything

Life is messy. Art is messy. There’s a fine line between a great work of art where every aspect is necessary and important, and an overly-determined story where everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.

People act irrationally. They mess up and don’t always do what’s best for themselves. Life isn’t always fair and a random accident can change someone’s life forever. Respect life’s chaos.

13. Re-write!

Good writing is re-writing. I’m not the first one to say this, but it’s absolutely true. Don’t settle for just okay. Anything that isn’t great, that you don’t love, revise it or get rid of it.

14. Know the History of Film.

What’s in vogue now is just what’s in vogue now, and it will be passé next year. The more you know, the more tools you’ll have when you need them.



New Networking Sites for Filmmakers

There are two new networking sites for filmmakers, both geared toward matching up filmmakers looking for crew with talent looking for work.

Cast and Crew Call is a simple site where freelancers create profiles describing their skills (actor, cinematographer, editor, etc). Freelancers can post videos portfolios and specify whether they’re willing to work unpaid gigs or only paying ones. People looking for talent in their area contact them through the site.

Creative District is a more ambitious site, geared toward creating a community of filmmakers. Filmmakers create profiles and list projects they are working on and what positions they are trying to fill. Other members can apply for the jobs. You can also “follow” specific filmmakers. The site is new and has room for improvement (for example there is as of this writing no clear way to contact a member other than applying for a job they’re offering), but the site is updating with improvements fairly regularly. They are also currently offering monthly $5000 grants to worthwhile film projects.

They’re both new sites, and it remains to be seen whether they take off or whither away, but let’s hope they succeed as much-needed alternatives to Craigslist.

Cast and Crew Call

Creative District



Production 101: 5 Tips For Getting Good Sound

I thought I’d write a couple of blog posts offering tips to filmmakers from the perspective of an editor.

Today I want to talk about the importance of good sound recording.

Great sound is just as important as great cinematography. Actually, I might go further and say that great sound is more important than great cinematography.

This may seem counter-intuitive, since we’re always told film is a visual medium, but, trust me, nothing will ruin the audience’s experience faster than bad sound. If voices are muddy and conversations are hard to follow, if the sound isn’t natural and clear, the movie will seem amateurish and pull the audience out of the story.

The thing is it’s not that hard or expensive to get the sound right. Great sound recording is a lot cheaper than great cinematography, but low-budget films often skimp on even the little cost it takes to make sure the sound is done right.

1. Hire a Professional Sound Recorder

Hire someone who knows how to monitor the sound, how to set lavaliers and booms, someone who will have the confidence and experience to stop a shot if there is unwanted background noise, a plane in the distance, the beeping of a truck backing up.

2. Hire a Separate Person to Work the Boom.

Operating the boom and monitoring the recording is a two-person job. The boom operator doesn’t need to be a super-experienced professional, but does need to be someone on the ball and engaged in the work, someone who can work with your professional recorder to make sure you are getting clean dialogue recording.

It’s far more expensive to go into a studio and do ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) in post than to pay a PA to operate the boom. It’s even more expensive to have the entire budget of the film wasted because bad sound has irreparably damaged the film.

3. Always Use Lavaliers on Noisy Locations.

You’d think this would be a given, but many low-budget productions don’t follow this absolutely essential rule. It can be very difficult, even impossible, to filter out unwanted background noise in post without the actor’s voices sounding very artificial and processed. If you are recording in a noisy location, a windy day outside, a city street, indeed anyplace except a sound stage where you have absolute control over the sonic environment, make sure you use lavaliers (body mics) if at all possible, in addition to boom mics. Don’t rely on just one or the other. Use both.

4. Don’t Record MOS (Without Sound).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on projects where footage was shot without sound because the director was sure on-set sound wouldn’t be needed, maybe because it was going to be part of a montage, or there would voiceover narration over it, or it would be part of a musical sequence. But you can’t always anticipate what your needs in the edit will be, and I often find myself having to fake on-set sound with foley and sound effects. A good rule of thumb is: if the camera is running, record sound too, if at all possible.

5. Don’t Forget to Record Room Tone.

Room tone is the background, ambient noise of the location: machine hums, wind in the trees, traffic from outside, whatever is going on there. It’s very important to record this for 30-60 seconds on every location. Make sure the cast and crew are quiet when recording.

Room tone can be essential in post to patch inadvertent problems in the recording. If there is unwanted background noise during the shot or some dialogue that needs to be cut, it’s easy to do if you have room tone. I’ve been in unfortunate situations where I had to manually loop a second or two or room tone taken from brief gaps between lines of dialogue because there no one recorded room tone on set. These short loops can sound very artificial and create real problems that take time and money to work out.

Realizing the importance of good sound and taking a little care and consideration for it in production can make all the difference in both the ease of post-production and the final quality of the film.



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