The Director’s Chair Issue #130 – May 6, 2012 (10 Tricks and Traps of Producing)
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Welcome to Issue #130 of The Director’s Chair May 6, 2012
1. Feature Article – The feature article this month is called:
10 Tricks & Traps of Producing by Elliot Grove. Producing
Feature Films is an occupation fraught with danger, mishaps
and misfortune. As Shakespeare said: many a slip twixt cup and
lip. Here are the ten areas where new producers trip up. (Read
full article below.)
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4. Feature Article: 10 Tricks & Traps of Producing – Elliot Grove
Producing Feature Films is an occupation fraught with danger,
mishaps and misfortune. As Shakespeare said: many a slip twixt
cup and lip. Here are the ten areas where new producers trip
Here are some observations I have made during my 20 years of
running the Raindance Film Festival.
1. Measure Success by More Than a Theatrical Release
The times are a-changin’. The costs and associated risk factor
of releasing a film theatrically are so onerous that it is
becoming virtually impossible to secure a theatrical release
for independent films. Your film might not be right for a
theatrical release. Astute producers in the 21st century
explore other avenues of distribution including
self-distribution, ancillary markets, VOD, IPTV, television
and home video. Another drawback with traditional theatrical
distribution is the fact that financial and creative control
of your movie can easily pass to the distributor, who can
often treat a filmmaker as a necessary evil in their business.
Raindance has been campaigning for an alternative distribution
strategy since 1999. We worked for a time with the British
auteur Mike Figgis. By wresting control of exhibition from
traditional cinemas and exhibitors, Figgis hoped to bring
cinema to a new audience, and to keep control of the film with
the filmmaker. His approach, championing alternative
exhibition venues and creating a new cinematic tradition
following the model of fringe theatre or comedy clubs is an
exciting new opportunity for producers.
2. Learn How to Use Agents
New producers treat agents poorly. The common tactic new
producers use is to expect assistance from an agent who
represents the talent whom they are pursuing for their poorly
paid project. Simply firing off an email to an agent whose
name you got from a website, and without any proper
preparation is a surefire way to be ignored.
The film industry is a people industry. Develop personal
relationships with agents who control access to talent you are
pursuing. When they start to discover what you are doing they
will be much more receptive to offers, even with low financial
Be sure you do your homework before you approach an agent.
Find out who they represent and what sort of material their
clients are looking for.
If you want to approach an agent with a minimal budget, they
are working for you for free and need to see what other
benefits you can bring. For example, you may have a part for
their client that shows off a new skill: a comedy actor
playing the tragic or evil character. By taking this role,
even for a token payment, the actor may expand their
repertoire and/or develop their acting skills.
The unusual casting may also help to get your film noticed
later on. If you approach an agent professionally, with a
clearly thought out plan are far more likely to be taken
seriously and treated with the same respect that is reserved
for established producers. Remember that if an agent is
unhelpful or treats you with disrespect it most likely has
nothing to do with them and everything to do with your
Once the Golden Goose of independents, pre-sales are a thing
of the past and are virtually impossible to secure for a new
producer without a proven delivery record or a major name
Learn to do without on your first project. Make your film,
sell it and then use that film record for your next
financial model and to enhance your pedigree.
4. New Money vs Old Money
Established industry investors are a conservative lot and will
try to exercise creative as well as financial control over
It is true that they have systems in place: application forms
you can use, a clearly defined evaluation procedure and enough
production savvy to know what can happen during the rigours of
production. But they are deluged with material from
established producers whom they have already worked with and
whom they trust.
Keep your eyes open for the new players in town, and pursue
them with the attitude that you are willing to take a risk
with them if they are willing to take a risk with you.
Remember that you cannot skimp on legal representation at this
point. Engage the services of an experienced entertainment
attorney who will have the expertise to close the deals while
protecting your interests.
Private investors new to the industry are less likely to
involve themselves creatively, and may have other agendas
prompting them to invest in your film. Try to find out what
ancillary services you can offer to your investors (while
maintaining your integrity).
5. Festivals Besides Toronto, Cannes and Sundance
Most filmmakers argue that unless they are accepted into one
of the major festivals they will be unable to secure
distribution. This is possibly true. But films like Girls
Don’t Cry, Broken Vessels and Amores Perros didn’t preview at
There is no doubt that many films entered into the big three
do get distribution, but the odds are stacked against getting
into these festivals. Very often films programmed at these
festivals are included because the festival programmers are
pressured by sponsors or by big Hollywood studios offering
to fly in their big Hollywood stars as a way of gaining extra
publicity. The programmers’ decisions often bear no relation
to the quality of the film.
Distributors are turning to film festivals as a way of
breaking ground in the treacherous run up to a release date.
Bering this in mind, along with the fact that festivals
increasingly pride themselves as becoming essential fare for
distributors could mean that your film could garner more
publicity than if entered into a large one.
It is also worth bearing in mind the promotional machinery
behind many of the films at these festivals. Increasingly,
films screened at Sundance already have distribution and the
festival is merely used as a launch for the ensuing
pre-release publicity drive. You may get more coverage at a
smaller festival where your film has more chance to stand out.
It is also a fact that many of the supposed hot films at these
festivals die an anguished box office death. Although a place
at Toronto, Cannes or Sundance is a wonderful thing,
investigate other launch possibilities and develop a strategy
to accompany them. Festivals also wane and emerge. Keep an eye
out for the next hot festival like a SWSX, Raindance or
6. Sales Agents do Not Advance Money
Assume that you will not get a financial advance from a sales
agent who is taking your film to a market. Instead of focusing
on the advance, ask yourself if the company you have chosen
produces good marketing materials. A good sales agent is
capable of supporting a European and American festival tour.
It is more important that they understand your film and are in
tune with your creative objectives than that they advance you
cash. If a sales agent advances you cash, you can run the risk
of incurring vast and onerous interest and penalty payments as
they recoup. All this before you see another cent.
7. Big Sale vs Big Career
Sales agents sometimes pay a big advance for a hot film. In
order to keep costs down they bundle this film with several
others and dump them on distributors as a package deal, along
the lines of a supermarket food deal such as ‘Buy one, get
one free’. Although you have the kudos of landing a big deal,
you lose the one-on-one relationship with foreign
Hal Hartley is an example of a filmmaker who has managed his
career successfully by developing individual personal
relationships with small European distributors who understand
him and his films thus giving him the attention his films
require in order to succeed.
8. Success is Relative
Holding out for the big deal at the expense of time can be a
fatal error. Better a small deal now, than one in two or three
years’ time when all of the efforts behind your festival and
film market strategy has evaporated. Always look at the year
ahead and determine where you want to be.
9. Get a Sales Agent Early on
The sooner you find a sales agent the better. Sales agents do
more than sales negotiators. They offer excellent advice on
how to position films at festivals and markets. They also give
invaluable assistance to build profile for the film and for
you and then maximize exposure.
In many ways, both the sales agent’s and your own career
benefit equally from the success of the film. If you wait
until the big festival premiere, you are reducing the time
available for a sales agent to do their job. You also are
gambling on whether or not you are accepted into a festival,
and whether or not your film is properly promoted at it.
10. If it ain’t on the Page it ain’t on the Stage
The screenplay is everything. Successful producers read, read,
read. They read galley proofs of novels and short stories,
spec screenplays, and stage plays. They go to the theatre
looking for material and new acting talent and they watch
movies, movies and more movies. A good producer always has
several scripts in development, and is always on the lookout
for a hot new writer and a great new script.
Make absolutely certain that the script you want to produce
has that one impossibly bold, fresh, original, dynamic idea
that nobody else has but which everyone wants. If you have
this you will finance your movie.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Torontonian Elliot Grove moved to London in
the mid 80’s and founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the
British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in
He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He
has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in
pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 was shot on
35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers
and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America.
He presented his signature Saturday Film School class to over
7,500 attendees in Toronto, London and New York last year, and
is considered one of the film industry’s most knowledgeable
and inspiring speakers.
He has written three books which have become industry
standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press
2008), RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2004) and 130
PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). He was
awarded a PhD in 2009 for services to film education. His
first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next
Raindance Film Festival Submissions
This year sees the 20th edition of the Raindance Film Festival
in the heart of London. Accepting films from around the world
of all styles and lengths we focus heavily on independent and
new filmmakers, nurturing talent. The proof of this? Nicolas
Winding Refn and Christopher Nolan both screened early
features at the festival.
This year we are proud to announce that our shorts programme
has become Oscar-eligible. More information is available on
the website http://www.raindance.co.uk/site/festival.
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My Name Is Sorrow Premieres in Bristol UK, on Saturday 9th
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Follow us on Twitter: @MyNameIsSorrow
6. Filmmaking Links of Interest
1) 6 Filmmaking Tips From Stanley Kubrick
2) The History and Future of Hollywood Film Music
3) How Digital Technology Is Changing Cinema’s Game
4) Is Crossmedia Film’s Next Wave?
5) Indie Filmmakers to Greenlight Themselves
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