Filmmaker's Health Check Rate Yourself And Plan A Better Career

We get health checks. Why don’t we do a filmmaker’s health check?

Let me explain:

Friends of mine seem to be coming down with a variety of physical ailments. I get text messages and phone calls about the results of the latest blood test, scans and visits to specialists. It’s almost to the point where I’m afraid to check my email.

Sometimes they’re ill – and I mean really ill. Sometimes they have succumbed to a mystery ailment with no known cure. Other times they seem to suffer from hypochondria. And other times they are just plain sick.

Either way, these illnesses, imagined or real, remind me of filmmakers and their careers. Imagine how I get calls and emails from many filmmaker friends of mine worried that their latest creation has (or has not) been selected for a film festival. Sometimes their films play festivals to great acclaim winning awards, and yet the film hasn’t been able to close that elusive distribution deal. Can’t you hear their investors barking at their heels while the filmmaker flirts with a nervous breakdown?

So keeping up my Hippocratic Oath for Filmmakers, I have decided to put together a simple Filmmaker’s Health Check. Take this simple test and see how your film and/or your filmmaking career are standing out.

Filmmaker’s Health Check

As a full-blown medical, so too the filmmaker’s health check contains several key tests.

1. Social Media

When Orin Pelli sold Paranormal Activity to Paramount in 2009 they really bought, not the film, but the successful social media strategy that Orin Pelli had created. Accordingly you must have a social media strategy. And this will help you with festival submissions, with your crowdfunding projects, and with potential distribution deals.

If your combined social media stategy has:

Total Your Score
 <1000  1
 1001 -5000  2
 5001 – 10,000  3
 10,001 – 100,000  4
 100,000 +  5

2. Have you cleared your music rights?

Uncleared music rights is probably the number one reason films do not sell at festivals. When the Russo Brothers played their debut feature Pieces at Raindance in 1997, they hadn’t cleared the music rights which meant their film didn’t sell despite strong interest from distributors. The Russo Brothers have often said that this oversight put an unnecessary eight year wait at the beginning of their career.

How do you rate your music rights? Your Score
 Haven’t cleared  0
 Think you’ve cleared music rights  0
 Cleared music rights and can prove it  5
 I have synchronisation licences for all music  10

3. How’s your genre?

Many screenwriters and filmmakers tell me they are making a drama. The problems with the word ‘drama’ are many. It’s too general.

For example, if you were looking for a new place to live would you tell an estate agent you were looking for a home? All apartments, houses and castles are homes. All stories are dramas. When we look for a new home we focus on numbers of bedrooms, location and budget. In movies we define drama by genre. Typical genres are horror, sci-fi, comedy, myth, detective, crime, thriller and love. What is more, the film industry doesn’t buy single genre films. Hammer House of Horror made single genre horror films here in the UK in the 60’s. Now they seem quite twee. My first intern was Edgar Wright. His first film, Shaun of the Dead, was a combination of love and horror.

Making sure you have the right genre blend is an important element both for your film and for your career.

How are you doing? Can you place the genre of your story in a few words?

Can you name your genre? Your Score
Yes  10
I’m working on it  5
I can clearly state my film’s genre  7.5
No  0
I have a mixed genre film  10

4. Have you prepared marketing materials?

No matter what stage you are at with your movie you will need marketing materials. So even at script stage it is useful to create a one-sheet– a letter-sized poster for your film. It will help with the writing process and it will also become a useful tool for raising money.

Roger Corman was a guest at the festival in 1997. He’s a morning guy. Each morning over coffee he would rip out keywords from newspaper headlines and mash them up. When he saw what would make a good title he would hand-write it out and I would fax it to his office in LA. Late afternoon he’d return and his LA team would send their ideas for the poster with nothing more than the title and a logline. If he liked it, he would rip the paper off the fax, and later that evening would tout it to local distributors. He’d tell me the next morning, if he had enough interest, he would hire a screenwriter to write a script the poster suggested upon his return to LA. Reverse engineering the story.

While you’re at it, have you secured the social media handles for the title of your film?

How are you doing? Your Score
I have social media handles in my film’s title  5
I have a poster 5
I have a one-sheet 5
I have a business plan 10
I have a lookbook 5
I have a mood reel 5
I’ve made a trailer 5
I’ve had feedback from a professional 10

5. How’s your paperwork?

When your script or film is finished you will need to show all the paperwork you have created demonstrating that you have all the rights to the script, the cast and crew. You’ll also need to supply a variety of technical material to the distributor: everything from screening format, to subtitle scripts, M&E tracks and sound cues. You might also need a Harding Test if it is to be screened on television.

Want to get an idea of the paperwork you need?

How are you doing? Your Score
I have no idea what you are talking about?  0
Contracts? What contracts?  0
I have secured legal advice  5
I’ve created a contract with each person I have worked on from script stage  10
I’ve created a drive where third parties can access my contracts  10
I have all the delivery paperwork secured and ready to go  10
I have proper investment contracts with all of my financiers  10

6. Have you a film festival strategy?

Your first port of call with a finished film is a film festival. Here audiences gather to appreciate your film. At festivals you also win awards, get reviewed and interviewed and if you are really fortunate you will start to get real solid interest from potential distributors.

Even at script stage you can start researching the world’s top film festivals, as well as festivals that specialise in shorts or documentaries.

How are you doing? Your Score
I’ve made a hit list of festivals  5
I’ve attended film festivals and introduced myself to programmers  10
I’ve entered film festivals  10
I’ve been reviewed and interviewed  10
I’ve won awards  10


7. How’s your sales strategy?

Making your film is really the first step in the journey. Don’t you want to sell the film and repay your investors?

The type of film you have made will guide you as to the type of sales and distribution strategy you design for your film. Are you going to sign with a sales agent? Or are you going to use your film festival journey as a means to meet distributors yourself? Are you aware of the different types of distribution deals (or not)?

How are you doing? Your Score
Sales strategy? But I’m a filmmaker?  0
I have approached a sales agent  5
I have a database of international distributors interested in my genre  10
I’ve researched self-distribution  5
I have a self-distribtion strategy  10


Your Filmmaker’s Health Check Results

Believe it or not: I have a PhD, which means I can legally call myself Dr. Grove– although I can’t write prescriptions for drugs (sadly). I’m never sure how well I would fare in the filmmaker’s health check myself.

If your score is less than ten

Don’t give up the day job

If your score is 11 – 20

You’re definitely learning, but you need to fill in the gaps

If your score is 21 – 50

You have a pretty good chance of making it. Don’t rest on your laurels

If your score is 50+

Congratulations- you obviously know what you are doing!

Fade out: How are your pitching skills?

The final test in the Filmmaker’s Health Check is testing your pitching skills.

Professional screenwriters and filmmakers really know how to pitch their stories. Consider a good pitching skill as the equivalent of being able to do a power plank in the gym for five minutes. Get some great pitching skills here.

The ulimate test of your pitching skills is Live!Ammunition! – our pitching competition. Not for the faint hearted, but it is the ultimate test!



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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