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July 30th DFA Student Screening!

July 30th turned out another series of exciting, diverse short films from DFA students at New York City’s Anthology Film Archives!

Patricia Olivera and Silvan Friedman in The Dawn.
Patricia Olivera and Silvan Friedman in The Dawn.

First up was The Dawn, a film written and directed by yours truly. Despite his very sheltered point of view, the five-year-old protagonist pieces together the fact that his beloved mother has killed his father. The biggest challenge of making this short was working with such a young child, although hopefully his youth and innocence serve to create that much more of an impact once you realize his life will never be the same.

Ananya Sundararajan
Ananya Sundararajan

Next there was In the Bedroom, a short by Ananya Sudararajan, who also co-wrote and acted as DP for another short film in the line-up, Jam. In the Bedroom was more experimental than the other offerings. The camera remained in one position the entire time: at the foot of the bed of a couple whose relationship is on the rocks. This served to make the viewer feel almost as if they’re spying on a real couple from a hiding place, rather than watching a short film. After the male lead fails to perform in bed, he takes his anger and frustration out on his girlfriend; however, she’s the one who gets the last laugh.

Filmmaker Pauline Gefin (right).
Filmmaker Pauline Gefin (right).

Next up was The Potluck, from frequent screening contributor Pauline Gefin (and Jam’s sound recordist!). In the course of 9 minutes, the audience sees a very strained relationship between three former friends, and how catty two of the girls are toward the third, Victoria. However, when the hostess, Ashley, begins choking, she’ll find out who she can really count on. The short packs a great visual punch at the end, when Ashley puts a photograph of her and Victoria in a place of pride on her shelf.

Kaylyn Scardefield and Joseph Ernest in Jam.
Kaylyn Scardefield and Joseph Ernest in Jam.

Jam, the fourth short, came from Nacho Diaz-Guerra. This piece served to keep viewers guessing as different details were revealed. The three characters meet when young Alice buys back her grandfather’s watch from a pawnbroker and his friend. It’s clear that both Alice and the pawnbroker’s friend, Luke, have strained relationships with their father figures. In Alice’s case, we hear one side of a tense phone call; as for Luke, we witness his older friend’s constant badgering. In the end, Alice and Luke form a bond – and take a small revenge on society.

African masks.
African masks.

The last film of the evening, Thousands: Sonnets of the Sun, was also the longest at close to 29 minutes. This film, from Lucas D. Oliveira, was ambitious not just in terms of length but in subject matter. A true coming-of-age story, viewers were treated to an intimate look inside the mind of a young boy, Tolo, as he struggles to understand nothing less than the meaning of life and his place in it. His father, an African mask carver, has taught him the stories behind the masks, and how masks would be used in special ceremonies where children became adults. Of course, these ceremonies aren’t common in Brooklyn, where Tolo lives – but that doesn’t stop him from exploring their power and doing what he feels he needs to to get to the next level in his life.

Congratulations to everyone who screened! I’m looking forward to what’s next to come from this group of my fellow filmmakers.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain.

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Student Focus July 2014: Danesha Holmes

Before coming to the Digital Film Academy, Danesha Holmes tried many different career paths. She always knew she wanted to work in entertainment, but didn’t know in what capacity. As a result, in addition to trying acting and stand-up comedy, Holmes spent time in retail, in customer service, as a personal trainer, and even as an EKG technician.

Finally, she came to grips with the fact that TV was what she truly loved, and decided to do what she had to to make it her career. Before she knew it, she was googling film schools in the New York area. When she discovered the Digital Film Academy, she knew it fit the bill.

Times Square, home of the DFA.
Times Square, home of the DFA.

“The DFA was the best of all available choices, and it got my foot in the door,” Holmes says. Their one-year program was a good fit for her and, most importantly, she was able to receive financial aid. “I got a scholarship, and that really made the difference. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to go.”

Part of Holmes’ financial aid package involved working off her tuition both by blogging for the school and by working as a receptionist. You can check out her blog posts here, under her pen name, Harley Page.

Most importantly, though, her experience with the DFA helped Holmes decide exactly which job in entertainment was right for her.

Editing raw footage from hit shows like Monk in class helped Holmes find her career path.
Editing raw footage from hit shows like Monk in class helped Holmes find her career path.

“By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to be a video editor,” she says. “I enjoy that environment, enjoy seeing the final product come together, and the creativity and the work that goes into it.”

Throughout her DFA courses, Holmes was given the opportunity to work with rough footage from hit TV shows like Monk and Hell’s Kitchen. She got to put together cuts from multiple cameras to create a finished product. She also completed a co-thesis with another student, Jazmin Young – a web series called Sabotage. The trailer and logo can be viewed below.

She now works for Leftfield Entertainment, transcribing and logging shows such as Pawn Stars, ESPN 30-30, Blood, Sweat, and Heels, and United States of Stuff. She recently interviewed for a promotion to assistant editor.

leftfield

But her long-term goal? “To be a video editor and to own my own business,” Holmes says with confidence.

“The DFA changed my life completely,” she says. “It helped me choose my career path. I’m definitely going for the stars now. Thank you guys!”

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Opening this Weekend: Boyhood

Rarely is an indie movie’s premiere considered an ‘event’; at least, not compared to premieres of major studio blockbusters released amidst massive marketing campaigns and publicity. But Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, opening this weekend, is an exception to this rule.

The film has received rave reviews since showing at Sundance this year and is currently 100% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes after 94 reviews. If those facts alone aren’t enough to peak your interest, though, perhaps the concept is.

boyhood fam
Patricia Arquette with Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater in Boyhood.

Boyhood is a film that chronicles one young man’s journey from ages 6 to 18. That’s not too unique, but the approach to filming the story was: the movie was shot over the course of 12 years, filming 3 or 4 days each year.

The result has been astounding critics and audiences: the viewer gets to actually watch this family of four age and repeat the same cycles at different stages of their lives. Nothing quite like it has ever been done before, the closest attempt being Michael Apted’s 7 Up documentary series that re-visited the same subjects every seven years starting in 1964, documenting their progression from hopeful children to somewhat dreary adults. Boyhood, however, is no documentary; it’s pure cinema.

Ellar Coltrane, the film's star: ages 6 and 18.
Ellar Coltrane, the film’s star: ages 6 and 18.

The effect of seeing time pass in this way can be as unsettling as it is epic. After watching Boyhood, some reviewers remarked upon how it feels to see someone age before your very eyes – reminding everyone that we’re “here today, gone tomorrow.” The film is a surprising 165 minutes long – however, in keeping with the theme of time slipping away, viewers seem to unanimously agree that those 2 hours and 45 minutes fly by.

All this interest surrounding Boyhood suggests it will do quite well at the box office. Only opening in 5 theaters this weekend (Lincoln Plaza, IFC Center, and BAM in NYC and Arclight and Landmark in LA), the film is expected to sell out at every showing, averaging a $50,000 intake for each theater. This is well above the $35,000 ceiling most indie films hit when it comes to theatrical releases. That’s great news for the film’s distributor, Jonathan Sehring of IFC Films, who has amazingly bankrolled the project from its start in 2002.

Left to right: Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Richard Linklater.
Left to right: Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Richard Linklater.

The film stars Ellar Coltrane as the central character, Mason, and Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter, as his slightly older sister, Samantha. Ethan Hawke, who has notably worked with Linklater on the highly acclaimed Before trilogy, stars as Mason’s unreliable father, and Patricia Arquette rounds out the central cast playing Mason’s mother.

What do you think? Will Boyhood’s realism catapult it to further greatness this year? Or will it fail to live up to all the hype?

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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The 2014 Emmy Nominations!

It’s Emmy Season, and this morning’s announcement of the 2014 nominees got everyone talking!

Several factors combined to make the 66th Primetime Emmy race one of the most exciting in recent history. For starters, we’re seeing more and more shows from ‘alternative’ platforms snag nominations, such as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Amy Poehler’s quip at the January Golden Globes about how “… (Netflix won’t) be feeling so smug in a couple of years when Snapchat is up here accepting Best Drama” carries a ring of truth.

Netflix's has two hit series racking up nominations.
Netflix has two hit series racking up nominations.

Additionally, HBO’s hugely successful True Detective surprised many when it became clear that they would vie for nominations in the drama category, instead of the mini-series/movie category as originally expected. This puts them into direct competition with long-time favorite Breaking Bad, which has been sweeping all other awards this year since its series finale in 2013. It’ll be fascinating to see which (if either) of these heavy hitters takes home the most coveted statues for best drama or best acting.

Will Bryan Cranston lose his Emmy to Matthew McConnaughey or Woody Harrelson?
Will Bryan Cranston lose his Emmy to Matthew McConnaughey or Woody Harrelson?

The show with the most recognition, however, is HBO’s ever-shocking Game of Thrones, with 19 nominations. Fargo follows close behind with 18 nominations in the miniseries/movie category. Orange is the New Black holds the most nominations for a comedy with 12.

The show with the most nominations... and swords.
The show with the most nominations… and swords.

Of course, with each category being so competitive, there are bound to be a few snubs. Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara, usually a favorite, was left off the list of noms for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (although co-star Julie Bowen grabbed a spot.) The absence of Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany from the nominations also infuriated fans. Finally, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star Andy Samberg took home this year’s Golden Globes for Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy, yet were conspicuously denied any love from the Emmys.

Any other snubs you can think of? Leave them in our comments!

The Emmy Awards will air on August 25, 2014, on NBC. Until then, let us know – who do you think deserves to go home with an Emmy?

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By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Digital vs. Celluloid: Tarantino, Nolan, Abrams, and DiRenna Weigh In!

If you’re a fan of indie filmmaking, you’ve probably heard about the digital vs. celluloid debate.

Digital cameras have made filmmaking accessible to everyone; now anyone who wants to can be a filmmaker.

However, purists – and most notably great directors from the previous generation – still believe the only true way to make a great, atmospheric film is by using 35mm.

There’s something to this. The natural grain of 35mm film creates what many still consider to be the look of a true “film.” However, as digital cameras advance, their image quality is also constantly improving.

Can you tell which photo was taken on film or digital? Click the image to go the photographer's blog and find out!
Can you tell which photo was taken on film vs. digital? Click the image to go the photographer’s blog and find out!

A recent article on phys.org highlights both sides of the debate, with insights from Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, and the Digital Film Academy’s own Patrick DiRenna.

DiRenna observes that “The only thing that’s lacking (with digital) at this point is a slight level of picture quality, but that will change and in exchange we have a democratisation with artists who are now really able to do their work.” This democratization owes itself to the fact that studios and artists can complete films on digital for a mere fraction of the cost of working with celluloid.

In the same article, Alain Rolleau, whose family runs the famed Studio 28 theater in Paris, seconds this opinion. The first time they screened a film shot on digital, he says he felt like crying, the images were so “icy.” Since then, though, he’s seen steady improvement with the images coming out of digital filmmaking – and it’s now rare that he screens a 35mm film.

Studio 28 - Paris' oldest theater, in business since 1948.
Studio 28 – Paris’ oldest theater, in business since 1948.

Rolleau also points out how 35mm film can face problems after being screened a few times, while digital film maintains the same perfect image over time.

However, Nolan, Abrams, and Tarantino come down on the side of 35mm. Tarantino is the most vocal on this point, saying that “digital filmmaking is the death of cinema as I know it.” During his recent appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of Pulp Fiction’s Palm D’Or win, he compared digital filmmaking to “television in public.”

Tarantino discussing digital at a press conference in Cannes.
Tarantino discussing digital at a press conference in Cannes.

“Great artists like Quentin Tarantino are generally uncomfortable when they come across something new,” says Patrick DiRenna. “Charlie Chaplin’s discomfort with talkies is a perfect example — but when he finally made the adjustment, he turned around and made the ‘The Great Dictator’ and his mastery showed through again.”

What do you think? Is digital filmmaking the best thing to happen since sliced bread? Or does it mean that cinema as we know it is lost?

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Read the full article here!

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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DFA Grad Writing Screenplay for Ridley Scott!

Alexander Felix took a long road to Hollywood, but on the way, he kept his focus on his end goal: to write amazing screenplays.

He credits his writing success to his real-life experiences and his filmmaking background. A graduate of the Digital Film Academy, he recalls his time there as extremely important because it taught him to see things visually. Being able to “visualize what the end product needs to look like” is more important in the world of screenwriting than people realize. It’s certainly helped garner Felix much-deserved attention.

On set at the DFA.
Setting the scene at the DFA.

Felix also notes that the DFA is not a super-expensive school, but one that has “a solid curriculum and (where) everything is very hands-on.” His experiences with directing and cinematography while in the program were inspirational, and he remains open to one day directing his own work.

After his time in NYC and with the DFA, Felix felt ready to make the move to LA and pursue his writing – but fate had other plans. On a cross-country drive, his car broke down in Michigan, prompting an extended stay in Detroit. It wasn’t what he’d planned, but it wound up being a blessing in disguise: while there, he finished writing the Detroit-based Where Angels Die. Being in Detroit, he was inspired by his surroundings and able to location-scout as the script took shape.

Screenwriter Alexander Felix
Screenwriter Alexander Felix

Angels was his seventh feature script – and the one that brought him enough attention to propel his career to the next level. It garnered a rave review from Script Shadow,  and before he knew it, Felix was talking with some heavy hitting agents and managers. He soon signed with two CAA agents, no small feat. A great two-part interview with Script Shadow gives more detail on this experience here.

Now, Felix is truly about to enter the big-time. He’s been officially brought on to adapt Vicious, a V.E. Schwab novel about two pre-med students who discover how people can develop superpowers, with intense consequences. Scott Free, Ridley Scott’s production company, and Story Mining & Supply Co. bought the rights to the book last December and, among others, Ridley Scott will be producing.

Cover for Vicious
Cover for Vicious

This may be the film to help turn Felix from a promising newcomer to a Hollywood VIP. Stay tuned!

To read more about the deal, click here.

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Actor Advice, Part Two: 4 Tips for Nailing an Audition

Hopefully you’ve read Part One of ‘Actor’s Advice’ – and maybe it even helped you get an audition. Now, here are a few tips for nailing your audition once you’re in the door.

1. Go back and re-read the breakdown.

Read it carefully.
Carefully.

Wherever you applied, there must have been at least a basic description of the character. Chances are, though, you apply for multiple auditions each day and these descriptions blur together. So to avoid confusion – go back and re-read the break-down for the character! The words used to describe this person are key words for what you should convey in your audition. Read them over and over, and take them to heart.

2. If you get the sides in advance – know them! 

Make this much progress in a week.
Make this much progress in a week.

If you’re doing a ‘cold read’ – seeing the pages for the first time – it’s one thing. If you’ve had the pages for days, it’s another.

Not only will studying in advance keep you from burying your face in the pages as you audition, which is bad for multiple reasons (the camera won’t get a good shot of your face if you’re being filmed, it’ll be harder to act natural, etc.), but it tells casting you come prepared. It’s good to keep your pages in hand, but really, they should practically be memorized.

To hammer this home, let me say there’s nothing more annoying than an actor who is clearly reading sides they got in advance for the first time. Recently, I was auditioning actresses for a short. An actress came in and she looked and sounded the part. I was already putting stars next to her name. Then, she read. She’d had her sides for two weeks – and couldn’t get through one line without stumbling. We had to start over FIVE times. This wouldn’t have happened if she’d prepared. Her name went from being starred to being crossed out.

Likewise, IF you screw up, keep going. You won’t be grudged one flubbed line if you’re truly right for the part – but flubbing EVERY line and having to start over will over-shadow any talent you might have.

3. Hit the basics.

One thing at a time...
One thing at a time…

There is a brief list of things to do when you first arrive to show you’re professional.

Being friendly when you come through the door is a must. If the character’s hostile, don’t come in brimming with hostility – save it for the audition. Introduce yourself first and foremost as a person who’s great to work with.

Also, if you have a REAL question about the part that will help your audition, don’t be afraid to ask. It shows you’re giving this thought. (But don’t pull a pretentious question out of thin air for no reason! Example: “Can you tell me any background for why the character feels so strongly about X?” FINE. “Is it safe to assume that the character’s feelings are strongly rooted in an existentialist training not mentioned here?” NO.)

Pretentious: Not a good look on you.
Pretentious: Not a good look on you.

Then, once things are really ready to roll, remember to do the following:

If it’s being taped, ask “How am I framed?” This gives everyone confidence you know their language and how to play to a camera. Also, knowing how you’re framed will help you figure out some basics: for example, how much should you be moving? If you’re in close-up, the answer is: not at all.

Next, make sure to slate. Slating means looking into the camera and saying your name before you start.

4. Take direction!

Go left. LEFT!
Go left. LEFT!

How well you take direction is often the deciding factor in whether you’ll be cast. Your first reading might have been great – but typically, you’ll be given a few notes and asked to do it again. This is either because the notes are genuine or because the powers that be want to see how well you adapt.

Feel free to ask questions when given notes. Brush up on improv or do whatever you have to to get good at applying notes quickly. One thing’s for sure – if an actor’s given notes, then proceeds to do the scene in the same exact way they did originally, their chances of success are drastically cut.

What other things do you do in auditions that you think are important? Please share in the comments below!

Bonus resource: http://mightytripod.com/actor-tips-how-to-nail-your-next-on-camera-audition/

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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Actor Advice, Part One: 3 Tips for Getting the Audition

Acting is probably the hardest field to break into in the already very hard world of film.

This really hit home for me when I posted a casting call for just two characters (unpaid) and got over 450 applicants. With numbers like those, anything you can do to get (and improve) an audition is well worth it!

This is Part One of a two-part series. Below are some helpful tips for getting an audition. Granted, for well-know actors, this isn’t a problem. But for anyone just starting out? You need all the help you can get!

Learn from this flower and stand out.
Learn from this flower and stand out.

1. Have a reel.

450 actors. Let that number sink in. 450. I was able to audition 20. So I needed a way to cut that 450 down to its most promising 20, ASAP.

The easiest way for me to do this was to cut anybody who didn’t have a reel. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Of the 450, maybe 200 had reels, and watching their reels gave me at least some idea of what they could and couldn’t do. Why would I opt to audition one of the 250 people who didn’t have a reel and who only sent generic headshots and resumes listing obscure credits which, for the most part, meant nothing to me? Not only did not having a reel indicate that they were less experienced, but I had no way of telling whether or not they could act their way out of a paper bag.

Little help?
Little help?

Just starting out and don’t have any footage to put a reel together? That shouldn’t be a problem. Find local film schools or recruit your film-loving friends to help you. Chances are you’ll find people to help on the cheap, or even for free.

Make sure you include a wide range of emotions in your reel. Pick  dramatic scenes, comedic scenes, scenes with tears, scenes with laughter, laid back scenes, etc. That way, no matter what part you want, you can point the casting folks to the right moment on your reel. (Yes, literally – tell them to go to minute 2:55 on the reel to see you cry if what they need is someone crying. They don’t need to see the first 2 minutes and 55 seconds of you singing or dancing or doing handstands or whatever if it’s not relevant to their needs.)

This stamp comes out fast.
This stamp comes out fast.

2. Write a real cover letter.

Ok, you might have to weigh the pros and cons of doing this one. I’ve done most of my casting through sites like mandy.com and I understand that it’s common practice to send a pre-written form letter to tons of potential jobs at once, to up your chances that a few reply back.  From the perspective of the casting people, though, this can be really annoying.

They wade through hundreds of letters from ‘interested people’ who clearly didn’t even glance at their casting notice. Actors will talk about being great comedic actors when applying for a drama. They’ll talk about their rates when the notice already said the role is unpaid. They’ll be 25 years old when the role is for someone who’s 75. You get the idea. (An extension of this rule is that you should only apply for roles that are right for you.)

Not the right shot to include if you're applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.
Not the right shot to include if you’re applying for the role of a carefree babysitter.

This wastes people’s time. (Remember, they have about 450 applications to get through.) For that reason, stuff like this leads to an instant delete.

What does impress? Someone expressing a clear interest in a role. And these letters don’t have to be long and daunting – just a few lines will do it.

Last fall, I was looking for a hard-partying, tough-as-nails, blue-collar woman in her 30s. A woman in her 30s applied and wrote: “I love playing gritty, blue-collar roles and this one sounds amazing.” She was in for an audition, and ultimately got the part. She had a genuine interest in THAT character.

Make sure your pictures have... pictures.
Make sure your pictures have… pictures.

3. Pictures.

This is one that I don’t see many people doing, but it is helpful. Every actor has (or should have) a basic headshot. But the basic headshot is usually a ‘blank slate.’ The actor’s expression is a faint smile or totally blank, and that’s it.

It’s good to also have pictures of yourself expressing a wide range of emotions. That way, depending on the part, you can attach the one that best suits the character.

Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot... now, just in case this picture's helpful...
Hope you enjoyed my air-brushed headshot… now, just in case this sobbing picture’s helpful…

Attach your headshot too – but right next to it, attach a photo that lets the casting person ‘see you’ in the part. As these pictures usually appear in the body of the application email, they are the first thing casting people see before clicking to view a reel or looking at a resume. And it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as Dawson sobbing above – but just one innocent-looking/dangerous-looking/capable-looking photo can help.

Overwhelmed by the number of applicants, there were definitely actors that got shut out of my casting process because, at a glance, they just looked wrong for the parts they were applying for. Having these extra photos can help solve that problem.

There you have it – what I think are the top three rules for getting an audition. Apply these, and I promise you that your chances of landing an audition will greatly improve.

Share what you done that helped you get auditions down in the comments!

And stay tuned for Part 2: Nailing the Audition

 By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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4 Things Screenwriters Should Know About Selling Their Screenplays

I recently sold a screenplay. I’d previously done paid writing assignments, been hired to write scripts based off other people’s ideas … but this was the first time I sold one of my absolutely original, written-for-myself, feature-length scripts.

So I want to impart some words of wisdom to other screenwriters about making a deal.

price
Choose wisely…
  1. PRICE ACCORDINGLY. Most people believe if you sell a screenplay, you’re getting a huge cash pay-out all at once. Not true. (Even worse are the people who convince you that you SHOULD be getting a ton of money even if you’re a beginner, and talk you into turning down a deal that could help your career move forward.) There are a whole lot of ways to sell a screenplay – and selling to a major studio (the least likely) is the only way that pays a huge amount of upfront cash.

Don’t be discouraged! At the start of your career, focus on making sales happen and racking up credits on IMDB. There are tons of small indie production companies far more willing to read spec scripts than studios, and more likely to stick with your original vision. But – being small and indie – their budgets aren’t studio budgets, and the 2-5% that goes to the writer won’t add up to a six figure deal.

They may also need to pay you according to a broken-out schedule. Or pay you via equity in the film.

Whatever their constraints, don’t give up if you’re not met with the pay day you’d envisioned. Work out a reasonable payment plan keeping in mind that the main goal is to get them to MAKE THIS MOVIE and make it well… which won’t happen if you bleed them dry.

Proceed with caution...
Proceed with caution…
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES. My former screenwriting professor told me a terrible story. He wrote a script based on his father’s real-life experience in a poker tournament on a ship returning home after World War II. The pot was over $1 million (imagine that in 1945!) There was backstabbing, cheating, and violence. Every man was desperate to win and live out the American dream.

Sounds like a great movie, right?

A major studio thought so and bought the rights. But then… they wondered… would it resonate with a modern audience? Before my professor knew what happened, instead of a ship, they wanted a space ship, and instead of poker, they wanted the Ultimate X-Games.

You get the idea. Once you sell your script, the new owners have the right to ask for whatever changes they want – and there will ALWAYS be changes. Even when they say they love it as it is, just wait… after getting feedback from other sources (especially investors), they will want you to make changes.

And you will. With a smile. Because that’s your job. And if you can take whatever notes you’re given and turn over a new draft – writing will stay in your future.

And to be fair, sometimes their changes will be for the better. But other times… your World War II drama will get sent to outer space. Be ready for blast off.

What's going on?
What’s going on?
  1. THERE WILL BE CHANGES YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH. The changes you’ll be asked to make are one thing. What’s harder is when changes get made without anyone telling you, which will also happen. Again, you have to stay positive. This is a collaborative art form, after all, and in film, unlike theatre and TV, the writer’s say is much less important than that of directors, producers, etc. If you want control, become a director – not a screenwriter.

One related piece of advice: when possible, be on the set. At least that way, the first time you see these changes won’t be at the premiere.

Be their number one cheerleader!
Be their number one cheerleader!
  1. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. No matter how it turns out, or what got changed, or what you pictured differently – always, always show support for the film. This was put together by people doing their best to make something great and who put their faith and money into something you brought them in the first place. Help promote it on social media, attend events when you can, give glowing interviews to the press if that’s an issue… Be proud of what was made.

Then do it all over again with the next one.

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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3 Ways for Indie Filmmakers to Learn from the Numbers at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival, one of the top festivals in the world, took place in January. Now the numbers (how many films were submitted, which got distribution, and which turned a profit) are in, and there’s a lot for independent filmmakers to learn.

The main lesson is for indie filmmakers (and investors) to be more selective and frugal with their projects. In this day and age when anyone can make a film, anyone will – but that doesn’t mean the films they make should cost around $1 million, which most of them do. My opinion?

Cutting your budget - literally.
Cutting your budget – literally.

1. LEARN HOW TO DO MORE WITH LESS.

This mantra should already be tattooed on the brains of indie filmmakers, but given the numbers, I’m not so sure. The budget for the independent film industry, as a whole, comes to about $3 BILLION a year. This means all of indie film combined spends about as much as major studios – but these films do not get major studio marketing to help recoup that money.

The killer: of that $3 billion, only about 2% is ever earned back. Abysmal. Indie filmmakers need to reduce their budgets drastically.

I know – most people will feel cutting budget means cutting quality – and, after all, the budget for an indie movie is already so much less than for a studio feature. But smart filmmaking, at a fraction of that budget, with a polished story and thought-out marketing and distribution plan, greatly reduce the risk of loss and put you on the road to greater professional success.

Speaking of which…

Proceed with care...
Proceed with care…

2. BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHERE YOUR EARLY FILMS BELONG.

All indie filmmakers want to get into Sundance, not to mention the other big festivals. But with a total of about 12,000 films submitted each year, with only 200 getting in, be honest with yourself – is submitting to Sundance the best use of your time and money when you’re just getting started?

Yes, some folks at Sundance are ‘first-time filmmakers’… but in reality, this probably means they’ve worked on films for years in different capacities. ‘First-time filmmaker’ does not necessarily mean that their Sundance film was the first time they ever picked up a camera.

Chances are, the first few shorts you EVER make aren’t going to be able to get in – and that doesn’t mean they aren’t great films! A better strategy is to submit those great films to a variety of smaller festivals where you have a high chance of getting in and scoring prizes. This leads to more recognition, more experience, more connections – and a better chance of being able to put together something Sundance might be interested in once you reach the top of your game. (Not while you’re still learning.)

Finally, even if you are one of the talented and lucky people to make it into a festival like Sundance:

All your eggs. One Basket. Disaster.
All your eggs. One Basket. Disaster.

3. DON’T LET YOUR ENTIRE DISTRIBUTION STRATEGY HINGE ON FINDING DISTRIBUTION AT A FESTIVAL.

About half of the films at Sundance got distribution… but for a lot of them, their distribution deals equalled NO upfront money, since online digital distributors were the only ones biting. If you spend $1 million dollars (or even $10, for that matter) with absolutely no plan of how to get the film to the public – chances are you’ll never make your money back.

Again, it’s important to keep your costs low. Figure out how to make your film on a small budget and monetize it afterwards with different forms of non-exclusive distribution (worked out ahead of time if possible.) Work your magic with various press outlets to get the word out and drive people to your screenings or online store. Also consider organizations like Tugg.com, who can help put on limited showings of your film in major theaters for a fraction of the cost of a large release. Then, when you also get into a big festival and score major distribution, it’ll just be icing on the cake.

Don’t agree? Take a look at the below infographics , courtesy of www.culturalweekly.com – and let me know what you think in the comments below!

sundance infographic

 

 

By Digital Film Academy Blog Manager Sara McDermott Jain

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