2014: Overrated and Underappreciated

aobff_group One of the highlights of the year for us: screening at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, where we won Best Feature Film!

Now that the Oscars are over, and March is nearly upon us, I figured it was time (finally) to talk about the overrated and underappreciated movies I saw in 2014. It was a great year for films, of all kinds and genres.

Keep in mind that this list represents neither the best nor worst films I saw. I just felt that the overrated ones (while sometimes great) got more praise than they deserved, while the underappreciated ones (while sometimes not great) didn’t get the recognition for what they did right.

The Overrated

Birdman and Interstellar: WHAT? Are you nuts? Well, look, I loved Birdman, but at the same time felt that Fellini covered this all with 8 1/2, and Kubrick set the bar with 2001. In other words, what looks brand new and fresh at first glance is really an extremely well-done version of what came before. Also, while I felt completely plugged into Birdman while I was watching it, I wasn’t sure it had the deeper resonance it was searching for. I think films about filmmaking (yes, I know it was a play, but the film was a tribute to Andre Bazin’s film theory) may be an exhausted trope. I would have to see it again, though.

Likewise, Interstellar was a great experience, but I was very put off by Hans Zimmer’s saccharine and overblown score (sometimes obscuring the dialog), the weird American heartland nostalgia trip, and the constant let’s-say-the-subtext-’cause-otherwise-people-might-not-get-the-point-of-the-scene. I felt the same way about Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s forgotten the economy of show-vs-tell.

Gone Girl: Also well-crafted, interesting to watch, but forgettable. Fincher can do work that’s very engaging, but I wasn’t really at all interested in anyone in this film. Which is not a crime, but if you’re making a thriller you should be hoping things turn out well for someone.

Divergent: This was an interesting film, with good performances, and clear direction, but I felt it dragged a bit, and I’m not sure we need another dystopian YA film. But I’m willing to give the sequel a chance.

Noah: This could have been a truly horrid movie. The fact that it scored big with everyone (critics and fans, for the most part) should make me happy. But there was a part of me that would have loved to have seen the whole movie made in the tone of the second half of the film – as a somewhat naturalistic family drama, about the limits of blind religious faith and duty, humanism vs. theism, family vs. society, etc. But at the same time, I can see that perhaps the triumph of the second half wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘bombasticity’ of the first half.

Special mention goes to Words and Pictures: such great talent, and such potential for something interesting about art, language, love, learning… but I felt like the script had been sifted through the ‘development’ gears too many times until everything ran far too smoothly. It’s a further shame because the director (Fred Schepisi) has given us some really good films in the past (Last Orders is terrific, and Empire Falls isn’t bad) that have something to say.


Enemy: What a fantastic, criminally under-seen film. Written and directed by the writer of Prisoners, this is a mind-twisty thriller/drama/political/sci-fi/wtf story that seems, at first, terribly artificial and maybe even bad. Until you think about it for a few days, and then you get whacked by its awesomeness. How many movies can you say that about?

The One I Love: This did get some real love from the critics, but it should have gotten a bigger release. A great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, dysfunctional couplehood, romance… it’s all there.

Noah: Yes, it’s on here twice. What many people didn’t appreciate about the film were the deeper themes lurking underneath the effects. There were some great performances here as well. And as much as I liked the second, “quieter” half of the film more, I also appreciate the audacity of the first half. So I guess I feel that Noah is both underappreciated AND overrated.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier got snubbed at the Oscars. A complex movie about the NSA, the role of the U.S. in world security, the influence of patriotism and the haunting of the present by the past; not to mention kick-ass fight scenes, great effects, terrific performances… and it took time to develop its characters, which was refreshing.

Edge of Tomorrow: Also screwed at the Oscars. Great performances, story, editing… the marketing folks just didn’t get this film.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: This film took a deeper look at the cost of civil war, the problematic nature of revolutionary movements, the creation of heroes, and stayed away from the action of the first two. The lack of big action set pieces was its strength, rather than a weakness.

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!

We Have Distribution For The Film!

Found In Time

First, the great news: Found In Time has been picked up for domestic DVD/digital distribution, by Green Apple Entertainment! Many thanks to our producer’s rep, Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films, for working so hard and never giving up in the film.

Second, it’s time to take stock a bit and figure out what, if anything, we learned about distribution during the past year of trying to chase it down. This will be an ongoing process, since the actual distribution phase of the film has just started, but here are some initial thoughts.


When my girlfriend heard that the film had gotten a distributor, her first reaction was “that’s great.” Her second was, “so that means you can move on, right?” For better or worse, no.

Unless you’re one of the lucky contestants who win the jackpot – a decent all-rights deal with an actual advance – distribution is really the third act of the very long (melo-)drama that is the making of your film. Distributors want to make money. You probably want money too, but you also want other things – fans for your next film, a sustainable filmmaking career (whatever that means these days), and some exposure for your work. Sometimes exposure runs counter to income (as anyone traveling the festival circuit knows).

Once you have a distributor, you now have to put together your deliverables.


The last few deliverables contracts that we’ve seen (both for our film and others’) have specified that the projection master be delivered via QuickTime. Tape delivery (on HDCAM-SR, DigiBeta or other formats) has mostly gone by the wayside. This is great news, in that at least you don’t have to shell out for dubs at the point where you can least afford them.

On the other hand, it may mean that the distributor is fronting those costs through post house deals they have, which also means that they’re going add them to their list of expenses. Which means you may have to wait even longer to see any money. Find out if that’s what’s going on. Perhaps your post contacts can even outbid theirs?

Artwork is key. If you have a poster, postcard, DVD sleeve, etc. artwork, then make sure to provide them to the distributor, preferably as layered Photoshop (PSD) file. Don’t forget to include font files for any custom fonts you’ve used.

Make sure you get good stills, or know how to intelligently grab still frames from your film and resample them properly for print. Learn the difference between web-friendly and print-friendly graphics! If you don’t know this stuff and don’t have time to learn or just don’t feel confident that the results will be any good, find someone (and pay them something) to do it for you.

Get a music cue sheet from your composer! This is nothing more or less than a list of all the music cues in your film, named, with the beginning/end timecode of each. Didn’t get it from the composer? Track done your sound post folks. Is neither an option? Then it’s time to watch your film in your NLE and write down cues!

A timed dialog list is very helpful to have. That’s a list of every line of dialog as it was uttered by your actors (you’d be surprised how different it is from what you wrote), along with the timecode start/stop points. You also want to include title cards, written words on screen (like on someone’s phone), voice-overs/off-screen dialog, and even “human sounds” (laughter, grunts, etc).

This list will be used to create subtitles and dubs of your film, if you happen to get foreign distribution. It’s incredibly tedious to make these, but if you can stand to do it yourself you’ll save some bucks. Here’s an Excel template with some example lines from Found In Time to show you what one looks like.


Found In Time will be distributed on DVD and digitally. There’s no guarantee of what exact shape that distribution will take, or how long it will take to get the film out there. While that’s happening, we want to publicize the fact that it’s getting distribution, so that more people will still be interested in buying it when it’s finally available.

The best ways to do that:

  • Taking it to festivals
  • Four-walling it
  • Sending it to film critics (though this can work against you if you don’t have a “critic-friendly” film)
  • Using social media and your friends to evangelize
  • Connecting to fans
  • Personal connections (to the cast, crew, vendors, mentors, helpers, friends)

We’ve taken the film to festivals and critics, and have used Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and our monthly e-blast to get the word out. We could be doing more with social media, but honestly there aren’t enough hours in the day.

We’ve also sent out personal emails to people we know and love, letting them know about the film, and offering quid pro quo if they’ll get the word out. So if they have something going on they’d like us to publicize, we’ll be happy to do it. Not only is this good networking, it’s also a decent way to be.

One of the things we’re considering right now is whether to do some kind of limited theatrical distribution. We could use an intermediary, who will charge a service fee; or use a company like Tugg, that does ‘event-type’ screenings and doesn’t cost very much up front; or do something non-traditional. We’re considering the latter option right now. Since we made a sci-fi film, we’re reaching out to sci-fi conventions to see if they’d screen it as part of their film sidebar (if they have one).


Our strategy is evolving, and we’re still learning, about this amazing (and sometimes frustrating) game. But we’ll post more details – and of course, the street date for the DVD and streaming – soon. Until then!

Being Smart About Money

I’ve seen this happen. Genius starts a business. He’s got a great product (or film), a lot of goodwill and interest from people, and a loyal team.

What’s the first thing he does? Gets himself in hock buying or renting a LOT of stuff. Spending money (either his or his investors) on “publicity parties,” glossy packages, and a really really impressive desk. He rents an office space.

Everything’s going great, until the bottom falls out of the market, or Genius B comes out with the same product only cheaper, or your investor decides to shut the faucet off. Then Genius is left with a set of awful choices: close up shop, plow whatever’s left into finishing the film/product, change horses and make something else, lay everyone off and try to go it alone, ask everyone to take pay cuts, and so on…

In the BEST-CASE scenario, the movie gets made, the software comes on the market, the appliance ships. It does reasonably well and the company skates by, but Genius has now burned pretty much everyone around him (usually including his spouse/significant other), is in personal debt up to his eyeballs, and may have to close up and go back to work for someone else for a few years before getting another chance at-bat.

I witnessed this behavior first as a computer consultant, then as a line producer. At this point I’ve been around long enough to watch small businesses in just about every sector fail. In trying to keep my own business afloat, I’ve had to learn (sometimes the really, really hard way) how to be smart about my (and my investors’) money. This is a WAY-TOO-SHORT list of things to think about in this regard.

Limit Your Overhead
This should be obvious, but for some reason it’s not. To start making a film you need (a) a cellphone, (b) a computer, (c) a printer, (d) your brains. [obviously you need more than that as time goes on] If you need to get away from the house because it’s too distracting, find a cafe/bar/library/someplace, preferably free. Or make or buy a cheap desk and stick it in a corner of your room. Likewise, hiring people before you’re ready to use them, buying lots of gadgets (more on that below), throwing launch parties, buying expensive desks… not good uses of money.

Get Good Tools
This seems to contradict to what I just said, but not really. You will need a smartphone, a computer, a printer, and probably some piece of furniture to put them on. Fortunately, good tools aren’t always expensive. Almost any machine you buy from HP, Apple, or Dell will give you decent horsepower and all come with good warranty options. You’ll need a laser printer (but not an expensive one) if you want to print bulk copies of scripts and business plans (it’ll be cheaper than Staples or an inkjet). Most cellular plans come with decent promos for smartphones. A desk can be put together for about $50-60 in lumber or a trip to Ikea, or by salvaging a door and some filing cabinets (one of my favorite methods). A decent office chair (or better, a stool) can be gotten from Staples or Quill for cheap.

The price of buying bad tools that break or underperform is high – lost productivity due to tech support calls, cash spent on replacing items that are just out of warranty. Investors also take stock of your tools when you meet them (just as they do your clothes and hair). Appearing somewhat thrifty is good; appearing too cheap suggests that you don’t have a good gauge on when to spend money.

Renting Gadgets vs. Buying Them
If you’re a DP, a sound mixer, an editor or compositor, then your livelihood depends on having good tools (see above) and being able to use them when you want/need to. Purchasing a camera, lights, an editing system and/or DDR may make sense. But if you’re a producer, buying gadgets usually doesn’t make sense, and here’s why:

* Unless your business model includes working for hire and bringing the gear along (for a fee), or renting the camera out to other people, then your gadget will never make back its cost. When I bought a Mac to edit my first film with, I also used it as my main computer for four years; between web programming gigs, line producing and the occasional editing spot, I’m sure I was able to pay back the cost of the machine. Can you say the same thing?

* If you rent something and it breaks down, you call the rental house and they replace it – on their dime. If you buy something and it breaks down, it’s your responsibility to fix it. As a computer geek, buying a computer (vs. leasing) made sense because I could fix most problems myself. But if you’re on set and your camera dies, you’d better have a backup unit or a good relationship with a rental house.

* Are you looking at the real cost of ownership, or just the basic model price? If you’re buying a camera, did you include the tripod, carrying case, cables, spare batteries, and additional cards?

* Today’s gadget is tomorrow’s doorstop. Make sure you aren’t buying something that’s going to be outdated in a year when the next model comes along – then you won’t even be able to rent it out as frequently.

It’s often more cost-effective in the long run to rent gear when you need it. An important exception to this is documentaries, where you may have to pick up and go on a moment’s notice, or if you’re shooting somewhere way far away from a rental house for months on end (then you might as well buy, and just take really good care of your gear).

Take The Cost of Living Into Account
The cost of living – due to real or artificial inflation – goes up roughly 3% or more per year. It’s hard to measure exactly, because some goods stay the same in price while others rise.

But most people don’t take this into account. If you have a savings account that’s earning below the cost of living increase, you’re essentially losing money every year (less than if you put the money under your mattress, but still). Likewise if you go without a raise for a couple of years at your day job, you’re effectively taking a pay cut. This is also why you can’t use a budget from a film made more than a few years ago as the basis for your own (which you shouldn’t be doing anyway). El Mariachi and Blair Witch would still cost more if made today, even if NOTHING in the way they were filmed changed.

Credit Card Debt Vs. Savings
Most of the time, saving is better than spending. HOWEVER, there are exceptions. Right now, CDs are offering less interest than the rate of inflation (see above). Credit card interest, on the other hand, has not come down as much, and credit card companies are constantly finding new ways to stick it to us – late fees, interest rate jumps, new ways of calculating interest, membership fees, “rewards program” or “fraud protection” fees, etc…

If you’re putting money into a savings account (or IRA or 401K) but are also carrying credit card debt, STOP saving and pay down your debt first. Start with the highest-interest cards first, and “snowball” your payments (as you pay one card off, apply the payment to the next card).

Don’t pay your taxes on your credit card. The IRS will take monthly payments, and the interest and penalties charged are usually far less than the credit card companies will charge you in interest.

Don’t put staple goods on your credit card – food, gas, etc. – unless you can pay it off every month or you’re using a debit card. If you can’t pay for your food in cash, that’s a sign that you’re living above your means.

Don’t buy into fraud protection insurance or any of the other crappy insurance programs offered by credit cards. They add very little value to the protection built into your account (and enforced by law). Likewise, be wary of rewards programs – they tend to encourage spending.

I’m all for having a little rainy-day fund in case you get laid off. But nothing will eat into that fund faster than debt, so I still think it’s better to pay the debt off first and save later.

Get Organized
If your car ashtray or shoebox is your bookkeeping system, you need to upgrade to something better. If you have investors, they will sometimes ask you how things are going with their money, and you’d better be able to answer.

I recommend learning QuickBooks. It’s hard to get a reliable, good bookkeeper for what you can probably afford to pay (which is usually next to nothing). It’s not an easy program to learn, but once you do you’ll be working with the industry standard. You can budget and track expenses, add credit cards as well as bank accounts, and generate statements and invoices.

Keep Your Money Separate…
… from your investors’. It’s VERY tempting to use investor money for personal use. Maybe you think you deserved a dinner on the company’s dime because you worked late. Or you think you should lease a car. Or have the company pay part of the rent on your apartment (since it’s the production office anyway).

There is a legitimate case to be made for each situation. If you’re in preproduction and you’re saving money because you didn’t have to hire a PA to collate all those scripts, then having dinner makes sense. If you’re in production and your shitbox isn’t big or reliable enough to transport your actors and crew, you should rent a vehicle. If your production office is your apartment, you may need to reimburse yourself a little (at least to cover bumps in utilities, furniture breakage, and/or spousal irritation).

But if you’re in development or postproduction, these arguments don’t really hold up as well. If you’re in development you should be saving as much money as possible; if you’re in post you’re probably coming close to running out of it. Your investors may or may not scrutinize these expenses. If they think you’re using their money as a “free ride” they may not be as generous the next time around. Or they might want some of it back.

Auto Pay Is The Way
Especially when you’re in production, you really don’t have time to keep track of your personal finances. Many of us (myself included) hate doing it in the first place. So I get the bank to some of it for me – I have my bank account automatically pay all my bills. I have an overdraft on the checking account so I’m not worried about a bounced check. Since doing this my late payment fees have dropped to about $15 per year; also, my interest rate increases (due to late payments) have disappeared. The few times I’ve had a shortfall – when a payment has come out of the overdraft because my paycheck hadn’t cleared – the charge was nominal. At the very least, turn this option on during production.

Don’t Let Out Of Pocket Expenses Accumulate
Your first instinct will probably be to let the crew pay for their expenses, then reimburse them after they submit receipts. After all, there’s always the chance that if you hand them their money, they’ll just walk away with it, right?

The truth is that most people won’t do that. They want to work again. The short-term gain is too small. They have pride in their work.

The solutions are to give them floats, give them credit cards with specific limits, and/or pay for certain expenses directly. Review their spending on a weekly basis and stay on top of things (or hire a line producer to do it).

If you give your department heads piles of cash and say “that’s all you’re getting,” they will spend that pile. If you tell them you’ll reimburse them later, they’ll spend more than that pile, and be upset if you say that you won’t reimburse them for everything. This is not evil on their part – they’re just trying to help you make your movie, and are often going above and beyond to do that. But people don’t tend to keep as close track of their own spending, or they just assume that you’ll cover it anyway, or maybe they’re a little pissed because they’re going out of pocket… for a variety of reasons, you’ll end up spending more.

Think Opposite The Herd
When everyone sells, that’s when it’s time to buy. When everyone’s buying, that’s when it’s time to sell. That’s the best way to survive in the world of investing.

This principle applies to filmmaking in general, however. Make a film in the winter (when no one is working), shoot in a town where no one else goes, pick atypical locations, cast under-utilized actors… you get the idea. If everyone is shooting a romantic comedy, maybe you should put yours on the shelf and take down that horror film – otherwise, you’ll end up with just one more low budget romantic comedy, aiming for the same jackpot your competitors are.

Student Loan Consolidation? Think Carefully…
Consolidating your student loans may lower your immediate overhead, but it will usually cost you more in the long run. The consolidated interest rate can often be higher than at least some of the individual loans. And of course you’ll end up paying more in interest over the long haul (sometimes three times as much). Some of your loans (particularly certain types of Federal loans) aren’t “consolidatable” in any case.

Hire Good Professionals
You’ll need a good lawyer and a good tax accountant (unless you’re skilled in either of these areas). Build their services into the film’s budget. I’ve seen far too many people get into trouble because they wrote their own (badly worded) contract, or filed the wrong LLC forms at tax time or when forming the corporation.

Pay Yourself Last
Yes, everyone says “pay yourself first,” but if you’re making a low-budget film, your crew really aren’t going to understand why they’re working deferred or at a low rate if you’re getting a better deal. If you want people to be loyal to you, it’s better to forgo some perks (a fancier desk, a better salary, early-day Fridays) and work your ass off.

People Are Your Best Resource
You don’t have to suck up or even be particularly nice to the people working for you, but you do have to publicly acknowledge that their contribution is valuable. This doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money – sometimes a sincere “thank you” or a drink, or hiring them on your next better-paying job, are sufficient. You can’t buy people’s loyalty and trust, you have to earn it through your deeds.

Well, that’s it – really truly. Time to get back to rewriting.

Get Your Production Company Together

First, a little bit of news: we’ve put some more goodies up on our IndieGogo page – our business plan, topsheet budget, and some more concept art are now online and available for download.

In our last post, we covered the first steps you’ll want to take in starting up the production company for your film. Now we’ll slow down a little and go over a few more steps, and then talk about some longer-term issues.

Getting A Credit Card: It’s important to get a credit card early on, and pay any initial expenses with it (while of course paying it off every month). This will help you establish a credit rating for the company, which may come in handy later, should you need to apply for a loan or a second card. I recommend getting three cards, actually:
— an AMEX card that gives you cash back or miles (you may need the miles to fly actors in)
— A regular business credit card
— A debit card attached to your bank account

It’s a pretty sure bet that the credit card companies will be looking at YOUR credit score when you apply, so now would be a good time to get a credit report via creditreport.com or one of the other services (your bank should also have a credit reporting service).

Figure Out How You’re Going to Pay The SAG Bond and Any Deposits: Chances are, unless you’re film is really, really tiny, you’re going to be dealing with the Screen Actors Guild. And they’re going to want a deposit equivalent to a percentage of the actors’ salaries (there’s a formula but it varies). They’ll want this deposit in certified check or money order form. They will refund the bond once the film is shot and all the paperwork is complete. Of course, this process can drag on, especially if the SAG rep loses your paperwork (always make copies!)

You can lower it somewhat by agreeing to put the actors’ salaries in an escrow account run by their agents, prior to the shoot. But this won’t eliminate the bond altogether. So start thinking about how you’re going to float the money (cash advance, loan, line of credit with your bank, etc.) Don’t wait until the last minute to figure this out.

Likewise, you’ll also want to sort out how you’ll deal with any equipment deposits (which can sometimes be quite large) or credit card holds. Putting that stuff on your production account debit card is a bad idea, especially the holds. And some places don’t take AMEX.

Separate Your Books: It’s important to separate the day-to-day development expenses that are NOT associated with your movie, from the preproduction expenses that are. This is hard to do at first – at the beginning, you may be making a call that could serve as both a development call (hey, look at all my projects) or as a financing call for the current film (hey, look at this one script). But it’s critical to separate as much as possible, for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s honest. If you want your investors to come back again, it pays to make sure they’re not inadvertently paying for calls to your spouse, or a new fancy desk or lamp that isn’t needed on the shoot.

Secondly, it will give you a sense of how fast you’re actually spending the money, whether you need to slow down or not (you don’t want to spend out the budget before you start shooting), and (worst case) whether you should be raising more dough.

Find A Lawyer/Get Your Legal Documents Together: The film business is not known for its plethora of honest, easygoing people. A good entertainment attorney can help you cut through the chaff of wanna-be’s and protect you from the predators. In fact, your attorney may be the most important member of your team. So choose your attorney wisely.

You want someone who’s a clear communicator, has an enthusiasm for their work, and specializes in entertainment law – which encompasses securities, copyright, contracts, labor, intellectual property, and other domains. Look for someone who you can form a long-term relationship with. Ideally, your attorney will work with you all the way through the sale of this film and the next one as well.

Get Your Attorney Working on Offering Documents: This is very important. Anytime you have someone giving you money you can bet they’ll want some kind of contract. For most films you’ll need three documents:
— The Private Placement Memorandum, which lays out the nature of the investment, summarizes the risks, and covers liability, company dissolution, and breach of contract.
— The Operating Agreement, which lays out how the LLC actually… operates, the relationship between the investors and managers, and what rights each party has. You give these two documents to prospective investors. Hopefully they return them to you signed along with a nice big check (that clears).
— A Joint Venture Agreement, which covers you and whoever else you’re producing the film with (if you’re the writer/director, this covers your relationship with the producer; if you and your partner are both producers, this covers both of you… you get the idea). Good contracts make good partners. I can’t tell you how many films I’ve seen burn to the ground because two friends decided to make a movie together, broke up over something at some point during post, then – because there was no contract in place – couldn’t agree on who “owned” the film.

Your investors will breathe easier, knowing that the people in charge have an agreement between them as well.

Okay, that’s about as much business stuff as I can deal with for one blog. Next time we’ll get to some more fun stuff, such as concept art, script analysis, or (hopefully) some big news about the film. Until then, have a good one!