Most filmmakers complain about not having enough money. But having too much money can cause what I call ‘deadly wealth wounds’. And the wounds filmmakers suffer have absolutely nothing to do with the often misquoted Biblical verses about wealth and the love of money:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom
– Mathew 19:24
Becasue the wealth wounds filmmakers suffer from are the kind that turn simple things into really complex problems.
The 3 wealth wounds filmmakers suffer from
Take writing a screenplay for example.
Too many writers spend way too much time developing a story with too many characters and too many expensive-to-shoot worlds. This renders their movie script nearly impossible to sell.
Further, screenwriters often embark onto a script without the faintest idea of how the movie is made. Not understanding the filmmaking process casues even more pain. For if, by chance, a director gets involved, the script will have to bend and fit into a production schedule and budget. This will certainly cause an enormous amount of stress to the screenwriter. Unless of course, the writer is used to the collaborative process that is filmmaking, and is aware of the production process itself.
And of course, it’s continually surprises me how many aspiring screenwriters don’t read screenplays. Or watch movies.
2. Film directing
Take directing a film, for example.
Too many people think directing a film involves dressing in black, wearing a cool pair of dark sunglasses and hanging around with glamorous types on the red carpet. Like at the British Independent Film Awards.
Fun as it may be, walking the red carpet does not make you a good film director. And no matter how much you’ve paid for that red carpet outfit, you still need to get back to basics.
It’s so surprising to me how many wannabe film directors don’t read screenplays. Or watch movies.
You need to learn the basics – the grammar of film directing. In the same way writers need to learn grammar. And screenwriters need to learn how to write for a movie.
Too many filmmakers spend thousands, and even tens of thousands, hiring a production manager to make their movie. When things start to go wrong they can’t figure out how to make changes without another hefty bill, either from the production manager or the post-production house.
There are two simple solutions to this:
It’s called: get some real life experience. Research and learn how others have solved problems.
It’s true I make money every time someone buys a book. It’s about 90 cents. And I spent over 2,000 writing this book, and it’s sold 10,000 copies. Do the aritmetic and you’ll see this book hasn’t generated me wealth!
How to avoid wealth wounds filmmakers suffer from
If you really want to make movies or write screenplays you need a strategy. And in your strategy you need only ONE thing: A needle-mover. And here is a very simple needle-mover. A very simple solution: start at the end of the production process.
Here is where everyone goes wrong. They take all their wealth and try to ram a script into production. Why not take a small fraction of your resources and start at the very end of the process: the sales and marketing of your film?
I learned this simple game plan from the iconic and prolific filmmaker Roger Corman. Roger was the special guest at Raindance for an entire week in 1996. He complained it was a bad year – he was only making 38 films!
He told me that his movies always start with a poster. And that’s because film distributors buy posters, and not the movie. Because, he said, people respond to the poster when they are deciding which movie to see.
Here is a clip of the sales hall at the Marche du Film in Cannes. Note the posters, and then the huddles of film buyers (distributors) huddled with film sales agents. They will be shown a trailer of the films they have selected from the posters displayed by the thousand.
I would meet Roger each morning at my old office on Berwick Street. He’s a morning guy. He would walk in with all the British morning newspapers. Over a coffee he woud rip out key words from that morning’s newspaper headlines and mash them up on the coffee table. When he saw a good title for a movie he would hand write it down. I would fax it to his office in LA. This is how he came up with titles to some of his 500 + movies: The Fast and the Furious, Death Race 2000, Little Shop of Horrors, Grand Theft Auto and The Trip (which we showed as part of a retrospective that year).
After I’d sent the fax, Roger would leave my office returning at six. LA was now open. Through my fax machine would come mono posters with the title and a tagline. Roger would take the lo-res poster around that evening to all the film events in town. The next morning he would tell me that if enough film buyers liked the poster, on his return to LA in a fortnight, he would hire a screenwriter to write the movie the poster suggested. Because he knew he could sell it.
Reverse engineering avoids the wounds filmmakers suffer
You need ONE thing. ONE needle-mover.
As a screenwriter or filmmaker that means the poster – the campaign image combined with a really good title and a logline. Remember that the movie business is a business. A business that combines art and commerce.
Where would you be a year from now if you had a half-dozen well-crafted posters?
Finally, remember these wise words from Roger:
Ordinary pictures don’t make money.
– Roger Corman
Let’s make movies.