I am working on two wildly different projects at the moment – each with their own incredibly different budget scenarios – and we have to think – step-by-step – all the way through not just post – but on through to distribution and marketing – which brings us right back around to further script development at every stage of the game.
No part of the process can be ignored or overlooked or “sketched out ball park to get to later” ’cause A) there’s never time later and B) poor planning in ANY arena can bring the whole project to a screeching halt or down into a complete nightmare and possibly impossible but most likely poorly resolvable bottleneck “later.”
#1) 21 Hours
A terrorist race car thriller.
Speed meets NASCAR. If United 93 occurred in your car. Con Air with an “Everyman” rookie at the wheel. You get the idea.
It COULD make $100M at the box office.
We all know the ridiculous odds and insane unknowns.
Given all that, I co-wrote a big action script intentionally as cheaply as a movie like this could be made – out in the middle of nowhere, anywhere – an exciting cross country race against time – that could essentially be shot about 85% in a sound stage (a ton is green screen in the car) with about one week of B-Roll that we could adjust to whatever states have the best tax incentives or whatever locations are the most scenic (or that we can get).
I am soliciting product placement from car manufacturers and joint ventures with video game developers and publishers whereby we MIGHT be able to make what looks like a $30M film for $5M, $10M, $15M…with maybe our combined “cash” or private equity investment in the project limited to $5M – safely protected by risk mitigating factors all over at every phase.
Can we pull it off? Who knows. We’ll see.
But a HUGE part of this process is figuring out not only how to BEST DO the CGI, VFX and green screen scenes…but who pays for it? And who gets what out of it? Deliverables, rights, access, ancillary product, promotional opportunities, etc.
Can we get one of the three major video game manufacturers or top thirty independent developers worldwide to commit to doing the three CGI scenes for us in exchange for the IP license to this feature and the sequel, our HD footage and location shots of every angle we visit at our expense and contribute to their cause as well as the auto CAD designs of all the cars, etc.? And could we possibly time it all right? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe we’ll have to just limit ourselves to mobile and social media games (an iPhone, Android and FaceBook) on this one and pray for a AAA game for the sequel on a by-then, hopefully, proven commodity. Who knows.
Can we get a major car manufacturer to fund this as a 90-minute commercial for their car that is the HERO of our movie and on camera literally 90% of the time? Maybe. Maybe not.
But ALL of these things go into the package.
What – and to what level of detail and disclosure – depends on who’s getting the package.
#2) Queen of Harts
A micro-budgeted, gay-themed romantic dramedy: a drag queen mid-life crisis / high school football coming out story.
This project, obviously, has very different goals: raise the profile of the filmmakers, make a highly-promoted splash on the indie film festival circuit, solicit critical acclaim for a job well done – and hopefully: not lose our shirts.
It’s not all about the money. It never is for me. Though I have a profound respect for it – and the more you respect it, the more it comes – but truthfully, the same can be said for the heart and soul of the project.
Case in point IN my case in point 😉 we’ve prudently already turned down the coveted 25% gross distribution deal because of the “not a nickel without the pickle” clause: we don’t want to sully our sweet, charming P-13 feature with full frontal male nudity just to narrow our market for a DVD deal.
Maybe that’s a foolhardy fiscal choice – but its not all about the money – its about what this project wants – and deserves to be. And I think if you honor that, you might make ten times more than that deal would’ve ever brought in.
Tiny as it is, our project hopes to provide laughing solace and a comforting salve to stem the seeming epidemic of high school sexual-orientation-related bullying and suicides. And if we get an R-rating, we completely exclude half our target audience and dilute the impact and meaning of the feature. Just to make it a gay date night movie rental because. I hope that we are making the best decision here that serves both the creative goals of the project as well as the bottom-line.
Our extensive and exhaustive research has shown that best-case scenario, we release in two to maybe 17 theaters, if we’re lucky. Best guess formulas show we stand to make $1.2M. So why on earth would we go raise $2.5M to make this movie and knowingly go into it losing our – or other people’s shirts? Why would we do that when we can accomplish all our same primary goals with a $50K 15-minute short – and maybe that’s what we ought to do. Or maybe, we can take a risk – and try to make some money in the process – and make a brilliant film for $200K – $600K, hit a nerve – and we hit the $5M mark – and everyone is thrilled – and shocked!
So that leaves us with choices. Do we shoot to make the very best $262,500 feature? Or can we raise $625K to make this “look like a million dollars.” Every decision affects your choice of camera, the size of each department, the length of set up and thus the number of days in your shoot schedule. Your locations will affect the number of extras you can accommodate – and thus your food costs. Can we shoot in a football stadium when school’s out? Or get access to shoot an actual game and intercut staged scenes in crowded bleachers? Or do we shoot a football practice instead of a game to get the same scene point across? Ditto a high school prom? Can we get establishing shots then replicate? Or do we keep them over by the punch bowl? What’s the caliber of cast we can get? (Sample Character Breakdowns)
Each one of these decisions affects your schedule dramatically; each location affects everything from Kraft Services to the number of bathrooms you’ll need to provide. You’re like the General of a moving Army. You have to take care of the troops. Well.
You cannot be so myopically focused on the bottom-line or the special effects or soundtrack or video game that you shunt good writing and empathetic and root-worthy character development to the side. Not to mention, you have to leave time and space for the poor actors trying to ply their craft in the midst of all the tech teams thinking they’re in the way of the shot!
It’s a collaborative process.