2013 – What a Year!

Happy Holidays and New Year!

Happy new year to everyone! The year kicked off with a couple of great pieces of news: first, Found In Time had its New York City festival premiere at the Anthology Film Archives, as part of their ongoing NewFilmmakers NY program, on January 2nd. The attendance was a little sparse, but pretty damn good considering it was just after the new year and we were in the beginning stages of a really crummy winter storm.

Secondly, Preparing For Takeoff got a really nice review in Pro Video Coalition (PVC). Head over and read it if you get a chance.. PVC is a really terrific site, and features reviews, articles, tips, and news about the film and video world. It’s a great resource for indie filmmakers.


2013 was a pretty amazing year, by and large. It was a bit overwhelming at times. Found In Time played at nine festivals and got picked up for distribution. Along the way we created a seemingly endless amount of key artwork, for the poster, flyer, postcard, DVD slipcase, DVD cover, online ad, etc. Preparing For Takeoff, my book on preproduction, was also published in 2013. Promoting it to bookstores, conventions, review sites, indie filmmakers, and colleges took a while but was very rewarding. Somewhere in there I rewrote an older spec script, and started working on some new projects. Oh, and I started teaching a course on production management, something I’d never really done before.

One of the casualties of all this newness was the downtime I had two years ago when Found In Time was wending its way through post. It’s been harder to find time to reflect, exercize, and meet with colleagues and friends. I find that I miss it, and so one of my 2014 resolutions has been to carve out more downtime. It’s the only way to recharge and come up with new ideas.


The good and bad news is that filmmakers are finally waking up to what’s going on in their field, namely that they’re getting pushed into the same position that musicians found themselves in about ten years ago, and writers have been in for even longer. The demand for media of all types is rising, but the payoff for the media creators is getting smaller each year. That would be acceptable if the cost of living was manageable, but it really isn’t anymore. Education, healthcare, rent, food costs – pretty much all the necessities of life have become insanely expensive, even more so in the big cities that are often meccas for creative people.

The good news is that film folk are individually and collectively trying to do something about this. I’ve noticed a lot of camaraderie among filmmakers, and less competition. There’s been a growing awareness on the part of writer/directors of the critical role of the producer. I’ve seen crowdfunding take off in a really big way. Filmmakers have embraced (for better or worse) the idea that they have to think about distribution from the get-go.

The bad news is that marketing and promotion are difficult enough to do when it’s your sole job. When you’re also responsible for creating the thing you’re marketing, it becomes difficult if not impossible. To run your art as a business, you have to dedicate time to the following:

  • Working on new projects
  • Making and following up with contacts
  • Distributing projects that are “finished”
  • Marketing and promoting projects (both new and old)
  • Taking care of the office (paying bills, ordering supplies)
  • Bringing in/chasing after money

Each of these requires a different skill set, and a different type of concentration. The soft underbelly of all this is the art itself. After you’ve done all your social media work, fired off emails to friends, put together a little pitch document for your latest project, put the artwork together for your film’s postcard, and done some paying work (that’s hopefully film-related), how much energy/time/concentration do you have left to sit down and write your next script? Or even read your next script? And yet, people are doing it, often by forming small teams. I saw a lot of three and four-person “families” at the festivals this past year, and it’s a good sign.


This past year marks the first in many where I think I spent more hours watching TV shows than I did actually going to the movies. I usually watch one show at a time, because that’s all I can budget for. This past year, however, I watched Game Of Thrones, Orphan Black, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, and too many specials and webisodes to mention. This is a great time for television!

This was also the first year I saw more consistently awesome films at festivals than in theaters. I was terribly disappointed by most of the studio movies I saw in theaters, and even many of the so-called indie movies were just rehashes of various formulas with an “alternative” soundtrack. On the other hand, the films I saw at festivals – both shorts and features – were captivating, surprising, engaging, and entertaining, and managed to be all those things on shoestring budgets. Most of these films are going straight to DVD and digital.

This, frankly, sucks. The big screen still has a place in our culture, and it shouldn’t be reserved for high-budget dreck like Star Trek: Into Dumbness, or even enjoyable rides like Pacific Rim. Have we have become too enamored of spectacle, and identify it with the big screen too much? Can’t we still appreciate how wonderful it is to see a truly indie movie in a theater with strangers laughing, crying, clapping and oohing all around you? I remember seeing Francois Truffaut’s Small Change in an arthouse theater in upstate New York as a kid. It was as momentous to me as seeing Star Wars in the theater in the Bronx a few years earlier. There’s still a place for a theatrical release for really small films, but we may have to fight a bit to make it work.


Found In Time will be released this year by Green Apple Entertainment. Beyond that it’s hard to say what’s going to happen. We’re still looking at festivals, sci-fi conventions, and alternative theatrical venues for the film, and are contemplating a trip to the Cannes Marketplace to get acquainted with the woolly world of foreign sales agents. The future can be guaranteed to bring more change, at a more rapid clip that was thought possible. Here’s to a great year ahead. Let the adventure continue!

Further Lessons On Distribution


First up: we’re going to Buffalo next week! Found In Time will make its New York State premiere at the Buffalo Dreams Film Festival!
WHERE: Dipson Theaters, Amherst I-III, 3500 Main St., Buffalo NY
WHEN: Tuesday, November 12th @ 4:30pm
TIX: Hit up the official website for tickets and schedule info.

So you’ve finished your film! That’s great. Got distribution! Awesome! Are you done? Nope. Not by a long shot. In today’s world, it’s incumbent on the filmmaker, not the distributor, to pull the audience in. Not that distributors have stopped doing that, exactly… rather, it’s that they really don’t have much incentive to do so for your film. They’re working with the old models, of “how do I push this onto an audience.” Their tools are casting and/or genre. The new model is “how do I pull the audience toward the film.” This is more exciting in some ways – we can, maybe, finally, kinda, sorta, get beyond the “star” mentality which, as Ted Hope predicted (back in 1995) would wreck the indie film world. But it also puts more pressure on filmmakers, many of whom (myself included) got into this field because we didn’t want to “buy, sell or process anything” but rather MAKE things that other people more skilled than us would then buy and sell and process.

This is part of the dilemma of making films in today’s world. You have to keep working on them after you’re “done.” The past year or so has been one of non-stop anxiety for me, as I’ve waited for each festival, sales agent, and distributor acceptance/rejection email. The hours that I’ve spent adding reviews to the website, updating the key art, burning screener DVDs, keeping the Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn feeds alive, and reaching out to schools, theaters, conventions, festivals, review sites, etc. is all time that I could have put toward my next project. And before you say “get an intern to do it,” what, exactly would keep an intern working on this for more than a week? While I have an overall strategy I’m still making this up as I go. I’d still have to do the research before I told said intern who/what to contact. I’d have to approve the line art. So what’s the time savings?

Also, I think it’s actually good to see a project through this stage. For one thing, you’ll learn how to reach out to audiences, how the distribution game works, and whether the film even fits where you initially thought it did. I initially thought I had a fantasy/indie art-house film on my hands, but it’s found it’s greatest success among sci-fi/horror fans and sci-fi-related film festivals. So I’m steered away from calling it a fantasy and emphasized the sci-fi aspects of the film. I’m also starting to target sci-fi conventions, meetup groups, and clubs – they’re my fan base, and I’m trying to reach out to them through event screenings and special Q&As.

I’m also building tools for the next project – an intake procedure for the dozens of business cards I end up with after each festival; a distribution/promotion database that will cut down on the time spent writing cover letters and make tracking screeners and phone calls easier; a more efficient method for producing “behind-the-scenes” clips and interviews; a tool for generating eblasts without having to hand-code everything; and so on. If you can leverage your experience on one film, then the next one will, in theory, go smoother.


A few things I’ve learned during this process:

  • It’s never too early to put your deliverables together. I should have cut the last two behind-the-scenes interviews and the DVD commentary together long before the distribution deal came through. Ditto with revising the DVD sleeve art. On the other hand, the poster art, stills, trailer, and almost everything else was just about ready to go.
  • Reach out to your peeps. Once you have a distribution deal (and it’s okay to announce it), drop an email to the folks at the festivals you played at. Let them know what’s going on. Do the same with the cast and crew. Once you have a street date, send another one. If the festivals have an email blast, ask if you can advertise in it, so people can go and buy your DVD/stream your film when it comes out.
  • Don’t wait to figure out your e-commerce site. I’m still experimenting with the right WordPress plug-in but I feel like I’ve got it down to one of three. These take time to set up and experiment with so don’t wait until after you get your first sell-through DVD shipment. People will want to buy your film right away if they can.

Well, that’s it for now. By next month, we will hopefully have a street date for Found In Time!

Good News, And Sustaining Your Career


First, some good news! Found In Time has been selected to screen at the upcoming GenCon Indy Festival! That’s right, the oldest and largest gaming convention in the world also runs an independent film festival, and has selected us to screen there. Some details:

WHERE: GenCon Indy Festival, Indianapolis, IN
WHEN: Thursday, August 15- Sunday, August 18th (screening times to be announced)
MORE INFO/TICKETS: www.gencon.com



I’ve been promising an article on rolling your own DCP package for a while now, but the first draft came in at a whopping 6000 words, so obviously I need to do some trimming or I’m going to bore everyone to death. In the meantime, I’ve been preparing an English dialog list for the film (and writing an article on that as well), updating all the promotional material, and working on a secret new project.

So in the meantime, I figured I’d write about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – sustainability. Specifically, sustaining a career as an independent writer/director/producer-type in this environment.

A couple of years ago, it seemed like the bitchfest would never stop – every panel, interview, article, and workshop I went to/read about focused on how much the independent film world sucked to make a living in. To some extent it’s never been easy, but with rising staples prices (housing, food, gas), wages that have been frozen in time for the last 15-20 years, lower budgets, the quest for “stars” that would eat up what budget was left, and the increasing crappiness of distribution deals, it seemed like a hopeless cause.

But in the last two years, while we were posting Found In Time and then sending it out, something happened. More avenues of cheap direct distribution have come along – Tugg.com (for limited theatrical), Amazon direct (for digital), smaller-scale aggregators, the Film Collaborative (digital and VOD). If you make it cheaply enough, you might be able to make ends meet, or at least not go completely broke. Even Ted Hope sounds positive – which is saying a lot (love you Ted, don’t ever change).

The problem is how to get past this stage of Ramen noodle filmmaking to where you can pay your rent with it. How many first films can you make? I’ve made two so far, for approximately the same budget. I can make another one in a few years, if I’m lucky. But that’s not a career – that’s a very expensive crack habit. Here are some solutions I’ve been thinking about, talking about, and reading up on. Thank you to Ted Hope, Steven Soderbergh, the Filmmakers Collaborative, Stacey Parks, Jon Reiss, Francis Ford Coppola, Filmmaker Magazine, and as always my friends and collaborators Bob Seigel, Ben Wolf, Adam Nadler, Dan Loewenthal, Quentin Chiappetta, and others who’ve listened and offered suggestions on this).

Make Films Cheaper

With production costs going down, one strategy is to keep making films cheaper, and make them more often. This is the turtle method – lay a thousand eggs, and hope that a few won’t get eaten by predators. If you produce enough films, you can get some paying work. The Mumblecore folks embraced this method, and while I can’t say I enjoyed most of their early efforts, by the time they got to Cyrus the Duplass Brothers definitely knew how to direct, simply because they’d done it so often.

Make One Bigger Film

The other method is to carefully nurture the $1 Million film, package it, and find the money. This can take a lot longer, and you’ll have to play it safe a little bit, but it’s still doable. This is the method advocated by Stacey Parks at Film Specific, and it’s closer to the mammalian model – have fewer kids and take better care of them. You can get most of your expenses covered and even take home a small salary, so you don’t have to try and work a day job while making your film.

But in both cases, how do you pay the bills while you’re developing these films? Well, theres…

Work On Other Films

I did this (and still do, to a limited extent). I worked on a line producer on many first features. It was great fun, even when I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I learned a LOT about filmmaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The only problem is that it’s insanely difficult to develop your own projects while working on others’, unless you’re working on a really low rung. So perhaps you should…


Find some folks who want to work on films also. Then you all make films together. With everyone taking turns supporting each other, at least one project will take off. This makes a lot of sense, and a lot of successful production companies have started this way. The danger here is getting through the first film to the second, without going through all your cash/favors/patience. I’ve seen a lot of partnerships go down in flames because everyone burned through their resources, contacts, friendships, and favors on the first film, leaving nothing left for number 2.


When things were slow on the line producing front, I worked as a payroll accountant. I’ve also worked as a web production coordinator at a festival, as a post supervisor, and as a production manager on music videos, shorts, and other projects. I’ve gone back to computer programming a few times. I wrote the nonfiction book. I teach. I write spec scripts. Most of my artist friends do multiple jobs, some of them related to their field, others less so. If you take the right attitude, none of these is a waste of time (though some days it’s really, really hard not to feel like your life essence is draining into a puddle at the bottom of your cubicle).

The Present and Future

We may have to come to grips with the idea that television (either online or over cable) has eclipsed independent film as a medium in terms of diversity, depth and flexibility. What really exciting, well-written, character-driven stories have I been watching? They’ve been produced by NetFlix, Amazon, HBO, AMC, or other cable companies. They’ve decided that owning the whole pipe – from creation through distribution – is the way to go. They then hire us filmmakers to work on their projects.

So should we all start making web series as a calling card intro? I’m not sure about that either, but compared to creating a feature the costs are lower (somewhat), and the emphasis is not on production value so much as on good writing and acting. It may not be a way to make a living but it’s possible to put together a good web series without breaking your bank, and having it actually reach a sizable audience. And you get practice, which is very important.

I don’t have an answer, and there probably isn’t a single one. You’ll probably have to combine all these techniques to make it work. I do know that if you’re starting your professional life in film, you have to think about how you’re going to sustain it in the long-term. Sounds like a big duh, but it does require a large headset adjustment.

Here’s a picture of my cat to cheer you up. Good luck!



Waiting Gracefully

Stop thinking about it

Actors are the only people I know who talk about this much, but everyone who works in film production has to deal with it. It’s the silent killer of hope, the thing that keeps us up all night, and makes us into smokers, coffee drinkers, and sometimes alcoholics. I’m talking, of course, about waiting.

Once you’ve finished writing a script; once you’ve sent your feature out to festivals; once you’ve wrapped up your last gig and recovered from the wrap party; once you’ve auditioned… you’re in the horrible position of waiting. There’s always plenty to do, but it’s hard to muster up any energy. You socialize for a bit, catch up with all the people you’ve been neglecting, try (for the latest time) to make things up to your spouse/sweetheart/squeeze. You write the next script, scan the want ads, prepare for the next batch of festivals. But some part of your day is spent thinking about the call or email you haven’t gotten yet. If the waiting goes on long enough, the mental black hole that it creates grows.

A few years ago I finished a spec script, and did the usual thing of sending out query letters. A production company whose films I much admired wrote me back asking for it. I sent it off the next day, then spent about three months in various states of agony. I really tried to forget that I’d sent it away, and succeeded to some extent. But the nagging feeling of unfinished business was always there, especially at the end of the day when I was trying to go to sleep. I was almost relieved when I finally got the rejection slip.

The process of sending out Found In Time to festivals and agents is bringing back similar feelings, but I think I’m dealing with them better. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
It’s pointless to ignore your feelings… so you might as well admit that you’re unhappy waiting for a response. Then try and get back to work.
Focus on specific tasks with measurable goals. We all need something to occupy our minds. It might as well be something that we can gain some sense of accomplishment from.
Commiserate with your friends but don’t bitch. There’s a fine line and I’m not really sure where it is. But if you keep circling around a topic with your other film friends over and over again and it makes you feel worse, chances are you’ve crossed it.
It’s not personal. This is the tough one. When you receive a rejection notice you feel like crap, but you can always say that they didn’t like the script/performance/resume because of a difference in taste (which it often is). When you have haven’t heard anything, you start to feel like a loser. Once I worked on four back-to-back features in seven months as a UPM or line producer, but then didn’t work for two months. By the end of that stretch I felt like hell. Of course, this was at the beginning of the recession. While it was pretty obvious to everyone around me that the whole ship was on fire, I just thought I sucked.
Use the tension. The anxiety can be put to some use. When I’m waiting, my workouts tend to be harder and my writing a little sharper. If I can’t sleep, I’ll try to do something productive with my newly-found time. This doesn’t always work, of course.
Don’t give in to depression. Depression is like a warm grey blanket. It’s a great way to keep from feeling anything, and it is useful sometimes (particularly when the emotions involved are too painful to really process). But it’s very easy to live in it every day. Rituals and structures often help. When I was out of work I still woke up in the morning, showered, and changed clothes. Even though I could sit around in my bathrobe all day I found it kept my mind fresh to change. My actor friends take classes – acting, dance, continuing education, anything to keep their minds sharp.

The best thing to do is to find another project to work on. I’m starting my next script, in part so I don’t think too much about the festivals. I don’t want to lose sight of my long-term objective – to get Found In Time sold – but I do want to keep from obsessing over that which I have no control.

How do you handle waiting? How do you keep it from interfering with your life? Do you accept it, fight it, or keep it out of your mind altogether?