Monthly Archives: May 2012

Film budgets and schedules, so easy a Gorilla can do it!

OK, so lots of film people are now trickling back from Cannes, enthused with new ideas and vigor. The less fortunate people will be coming back after having some really bad meetings. The reason for a lot of these, less than fruitful meetings, will be bad preparation or ignorance.

Mi Experience here in Hollywood has taught me that when you pitch an independent film project you need to know that project, not just how it will look, but also what it will cost. This is where a lot, and I mean a lot, of film makers come undone. So often a film budget is a figure plucked out of the air that sounds right and fits in with an idea of what the film ‘can’ cost or what the genre will tolerate. But here’s the thing, your flimsy financial model will crumble after a few simple questions (see my ‘3 Strikes Rule‘). You have just burned a potential funding option and slipped further down the credibility scale.

So, the usual route is to bring a producer or production manager on board to create a budget breakdown and schedule. Here in LA that means paying  $1500-$5000 to a third party, who in some cases will breakdown your script and not read it.

So what are your options? You can buy your own software, attend some seminars and produce your own breakdowns. For most people that software was Entertainment Partners film software Movie Magic, often, if not always, hailed as the ‘industry standard’. The investment is around $1000 (plus updates) and until a few years ago there was nothing else, so the industry standard was more of a Hobson’s Choice.

In 2007 I discovered an alternative film budget and scheduling package called Gorilla made by Jungle Software  – I have been a fan ever since. I met with the CEO of Jungle Aaton Cohen Sitt, last year. After learning the company was rolling out a new version of the software, I agreed to join the beta testing of the new version 5. Having attended the seminars at the Movie Magic HQ, I can honestly say Gorilla is without doubt the industry standard for independent filmmakers. Why? Watch the video!

As an independent filmmaker you have to wear a lot of hats. Gorilla 5 offers complete control of your project, all the information you need is in one place and easily accessible. So no matter what questions people have, you always have an answer. Now, people may choose to disagree with your figures/dates, but when you have a budget and schedule to show, you are far more in charge of your projects direction. That is very important in a business “where nobody knows anything” (William Goldman – Adventures in the Screen trade).

Mi personal feeling is “things are only right until they’re proved wrong”. Example’s:

  1. [Anecdote] “No one wants sci-fi right now”.  George Lucas heard this from all the studios while pitching Star Wars
  2. [Filmmaking Rule] POV in movies doesn’t work. Please see Cloverfield, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activities/s
  3. [Perception] Digital will never replace film. Take your pick of any recent successful digital movie

As an independent film maker you are constantly trying to get credibility. If you can toss a top-sheet budget and a schedule on the table when asked your credibility as a filmmaker increases. That has to be work $400 of anyone’s money.

I’ll be putting together some budget and scheduling pointers in future postings, till then feel free to contact me with questions.

Happy filmmaking.

The Guvnor


Film Festivals – In the Cannes

Film Festivals come in all shapes and sizes: The AFM is all business, Edinburgh is wonderfully down to earth for such a great event, and the jewel in the crown has to be The Cannes Film Festival. I’m pretty sure that 50% of the film people reading this are preparing to head off to the south of France just as soon as they are finished with this post.

But is it worth it? Is the deal for your next film just an EasyJet flight away? Perhaps, but you will have to apply a few rules to your unbridled creative enthusiasm if you really want to get the most out of the trip. As usual, these are mi thoughts based on mi experience, they are not a complete guide or definitive. So accept them in the spirit they’re given, and hopefully you’ll avoid wasting your precious time and money.

At this point, I am going to assume you have your accreditation sorted; your flight, accommodation and car hire rental is printed and ready to go. If not, then your mini break in Cannes will be short lived. But don’t worry, Monaco is really nice at this time of year.

Now, lets get back those of you who have your business trip planned. If it’s your first time, this document by the Marche du Film people has some helpful tips. If it’s not your first time, then this page is also helpful.

Here are my 2 cents:

1)   Be Prepared.

Before you go make sure you have:

  • Laptop or iPad – So you can show off your budgets (top sheet/schedules and any other presentations if needed)
  • A mobile, which will work abroad. Tell your provider, or they can freeze your account if your bill suddenly sky-rockets. If your phone is unlocked, you can buy a Sim card locally, which can save money.
  • Business cards – No, these don’t go out of fashion.
  • A flash drive – you can always print items at one of the many business centres.

Don’t carry loads of scripts and DVDs, they generally get lost or binned by the people you give them to. Concentrate on making good contacts and you can email/post stuff to them later.

2)  It’s called the film ‘Business’.

Despite what it looks like, Cannes is business. Distribution companies are there to show and sell their films; they will also be taking meetings, but in mi experience buyers will always take precedence over sellers. So don’t be offended if your meeting gets pushed back or bumped completely. In reality, for most smaller and independent companies, the best meetings take place outside of work time anyway. I’ve spent hours shlepping up and down the Croisette, in useless meetings, then stopped by the Petite Majestic in the evening and connected with some really good people.

3)   Meeting people socially – The 3 strikes rule.

Cannes takes many facets of the film business and distills them down into a small town in the South of France. For almost two weeks the town is the most target rich film environment on the planet. Even here in LA, it’s noticeably quieter during the two weeks of the festival. But in addition to the actual film people, there will be many more “Producers,” “Directors,” “Movers and Shakers” – many of whom couldn’t give you the time if you gave them a watch.

From mi own experience:

  • A “Producer” who didn’t know what a completion bond was, OR why he needed one for the late (then 85 year old) Norman Wisdom
  • A “Director” who thought scripts were overrated, and “his vision” for a $20M film (“…A-list cast attached but I can’t say who”) was purely improvised
  • A “Mover and Shaker” at Fox “…working on the Simpsons,” who, after a little detective work, turned out to work in HR

These are but a few of many examples…

So you have to prepare yourself to weed out the imposters quickly and efficiently. To that end, let me introduce you to ‘The Three Questions’.

Me: Hello, I’m Mark A. Todd

Producer: Hi, I’m Seymour Clearly.


Me: It’s busy here this year. Are you showing a film?

Producer: No, I’m looking for a deal on my project.


Me: Nice. What type of film is it?

Producer: It’s not really a genre film; we’re pitching it as “Mrs. Doubtfire” (Rom/Com) meets “Alien” (horror). The budget’s $20 mil.


Me: Fantastic, it sounds like a really interesting project. Any cast attached yet?

Producer: Bruce Willis is my wishlist lead. We’re pitching the idea to Troma tomorrow.

Now at this point you make your exit (or not, if you still fancy a laugh) because this person knows so little about the business they claim to be part of. If you don’t know what genre your film is, it’s impossible to target the right distributor, cast or budget. The big budget sounds enticing, but it’s time to move on…if you kiss enough frogs, eventually you’ll find a prince.

The Three Questions can be anything you want, but try and steer them towards topics you have some knowledge in, so you can tell if this person is talking horse s##t.

4)   Timing.

Finally, unless you need to, don’t plan to stay for the whole festival. I had to stay for 10 days (2001) and it nearly killed me. It’s why you can’t get anyone after the festival…they all take a break to recover! Keep your sanity and money by targeting the companies you want to meet and scheduling meetings in blocks.  Also, use Cannes to meet people you can’t get hold of normally. If you live in London, why go all the way to France to meet a company based out of London? David Garret at Summit told me this is a no no for him, and he generally won’t take the meeting.

So, there you have it. I hope you have a good and fruitful trip. Your Cannes experience will teach you a lot in a very short time. Then you can write a blog about it!

Stay creative.

The Guvnor

Actors and Auditions – First Impressions Count

I recently held an audition, here in LA, for a new web series, which my company is producing. I didn’t know at the time, but it would be the last audition I would hold under the *two union system (AFTRA and SAG). Not that it affected me directly; my production, like a growing percentage, is non-union.

While I agree some union influence is important, independent producers embarking on a SAG affiliated shoot (despite what the glossy SAG Indie adverts claim) will see a hike in their budget which will not be reflected on the screen. However, as with most union encounters, I’m getting away from the actual point.

Let me introduce you to a concept: Auditions are a two way street. There are two parties at the table and you, as the producer, are being tested as much as the talent across the way. As a TV and film puppeteer for 15 years, and a producer for many more, I’ve sat on both sides of the table. Let me tell you, in “mi” experience, if the production company can’t run the auditions, then the shoot will be a nightmare too!

In reality, auditions are your first opportunity to do some good company PR and build trust. Handle the auditions well and the 50 people you see in your tiny rented audition space will leave with a positive memory of your company. Get it wrong and you’ll be part of the talent’s next conversation that goes something like, “Oh my god, I auditioned for them and they didn’t have a clue…blah blah…My audition was late..blah blah… they didn’t even know my name when I went in.” And so on and so on.

Conversely, for any actors reading, real producers understand you want to work (and even get paid) and you might stretch the truth on your resume/CV to get in the room, BUT stretch the truth too far (“Oh yes I have flown a fighter plane before”) and you’ll screw the pooch. I will always read your resume and I will always pick you up on something tucked away in the ‘other skills’ section [you know, the place where you claim you can juggle or speak Russian].

So everyone is on the same page vis a vis expectations when it comes to auditions, here are a few home truths loosely based on some of “mi” experiences:

The script says the lead character is a fiery Irish lass with red hair-

  • Actors…the producer wants a red head. It doesn’t matter how hard you sell yourself, they won’t cast a blonde (even if you are cute), because it’s important to the story…and no, they won’t rewrite the script for you, either.
  • Film makers…No, the blonde won’t have her hair dyed and cut at her own expense, especially as the project is “deferred payment.”

The script says the lead man can ride a horse:

  • Actors…This means the actor can ALREADY RIDE. Yes, I know Keanu Reeves spent 3 months (on Joel Silver’s dime) learning Kung Fu, but this is not the Matrix.
  • Producers…No, the man will not supply his own horse, feed, water it, care for it and transport it for free during the shoot.

The auditions are to be held in LA:

  • Actors…no you can’t ask me to pay your airfare from New York to LA because “You’re the best man for the job” and “I need to see you.”
  • Producers…If someone has to travel a long way to your audition, you need to ask if you really want to see them or offer some traveling expenses. Alternatively, consider video auditions as a way to bridge the gap for a first audition.

For me, auditions are all about chemistry and finding out if you can work together. It’s a challenge for both sides that is not limited to “can the actor learn the words?” If you use auditions correctly, they are exhausting and frustrating, but also ultimately rewarding. I would advise every actor to sit in on an audition panel at least once – it will change your view on the whole process.

I hope “mi” thoughts help and, as usual, please feel free to agree or disagree with what I’ve said.

The Guvnor

* On March 30th SAG merged with AFTRA throwing the whole casting community into panic and flux. Sets like True Blood were bombarded by actors, usually paid 64/8 ($64 for an 8hr day) looking to get paid the SAG rate of $142. While I’m sure the rushed decision makes sense to some people, right now it’s causing a lot of casting problems in a town that in many respects is still getting over the Actors’ and Writers’ strikes of 2009.

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