How I Made My First Feature Film
CHAPTER SIX - Raising the Money
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had accidentally created what is known in the “biz” as a feature film “package.” A package is what you present to investors or a distributor and is composed of various “elements.” Usually, the elements include a well-known star, a successful director or producer, and a good script with an easily exploitable story line. Sure, there are exceptions. This week’s “hot” director may not need a star at all. The guards will wave you right on to the studio lot if you’ve got a Nora Ephron or Paddy Chayfsky script tucked under your arm.
Never underestimate the value of a good title. Remember, “My Dinner With Andre”? Or, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” How about one of my all-time favorites, “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” A good title is a wonderful “hook.” Heck, the best thing about some films is their title! Just think about this for a moment: it costs you nothing to come up with that one, GREAT, title. Start today by writing down alternative, catchy and incredibly interesting titles for your film. Ask your friends to help you with this. Come up with 50-75 possibilities. Then, go to an extensive database like IMDB.com and see if they’re available. Now, narrow your list down to a couple of dozen of your favorites. Tell everyone you know just a little about the story and ask them to pick out the titles they like the best. Remember that you may be too close to the story to remain completely objective. As your audience, their opinion is most important. To a distributor or investor, first impressions really count.
Knowing when you’ve got a marketable package is hard to determine. When are your project’s elements strong enough to make people stand up and notice? My best advice is to look at the big picture and keep your options open. Be flexible! Maybe an Oscar-nominated music composer, a great script and half the budget in the bank is enough? Ultimately, if you’re persistent and lucky enough, your project will begin to generate interest among investors and distributors. As the driving force behind your project, one of the most important things you can do is carefully control the perception others have about what you’re doing. Whether true or not, you must make sure everyone believes your film’s momentum is strong and purposeful. You should give everyone you talk to the impression that your film production IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Imagine your feature project as a train gathering steam and leaving the station - nobody wants to be left behind.
Mainly due to my own inexperience, even Timothy Bottoms couldn’t get the attention of the major studios. The story was considered too narrowly focused and un-commercial (figures!). Most of all, a 200K budget was unthinkable to a major studio. But I did get the undivided attention of all the “other,” non-major studio distributors. Want to contact them? They’re all members of the Independent Film and Television Alliance, ("IFTA"). They used to be called the AFM, (American Film Marketing Assn.). Here's their website: (http://www.ifta-online.org). Fact is, none of them are really film distributors. Although they may have the word distributor in their name, they are more properly called, “sales agents.” These are the sometimes shady middlemen of the energetic “B” movie world. They don’t distribute films in the customary sense, but they do sell films (completed or not), to actual distributors. It’s their job to be on a first name basis with every small to medium theater chain owner and every video and cable distributor in the world. You’d be foolish to try and do their job by yourself. Like any business, there are good ones and bad ones. If the agents and entertainment lawyers are the Great White Sharks of Hollywood, the foreign sales agents are never far behind in the food chain. In either case, you’ll probably have to deal with these people. Of course, I had to pick one of the really bad ones.
How bad was this guy? The man who ran the company was so disreputable that he later did time in a federal prison for endorsing producer’s checks and depositing them in his own bank account! And although he never gave me a nickel, he did introduce me to various investors who did. How I first met this convicted swindler is an interesting story in itself. It was in Cannes, France...
Next Article: How I Made My First Feature Film - Chapter Seven (The Cannes Film Festival)
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