How To’s

Mastering the 7 Stages of Film Production

A film is a living, breathing thing, and like all living things, from plants to humans, they start from something small before growing into its final form. If you’re struggling to figure out where to begin when making your movie, or what to do after that, or what to do after that, take a breath and look over this basic map of the 7 Stages of Film Production:

Development

The development period belongs to the project producer, who starts gathering the ideas of the film–rights from books, plays etc., if needed–until the final draft of the screenplay is completed. During this time, a first synopsis is done which will help the lead producer sell the idea and raise funds. Often storyboards other visual aids will be drafted to accompany the script and help the producer communicate the essence of the film.

Financing

Networking and making meetings, often in Los Angeles and to a lesser extent New York, is how many producers will meet with possible financiers. Additionally, a lot of producers travel to festivals, both domestic and international to show the project materials to possible investors.

Pre-production

With enough funding in hand, pre-production can begin, starting with the selection of the cast, crew, locations of the shoot, building of sets and props etc. Shot lists and put together and the producer starts working on a schedule for the entire shoot, starting broad and getting more specific as production begins to ramp up.

Production

The assistant director (AD) shines during production as the actual footage is filmed by coordinating all the different teams at once. Actors, possibly after days or weeks of rehearsing, finally shoot their scenes as the production crew–grips, lighting, sound, camera, etc. work hard to make every second count and shot look as great as possible. Writers and producers may be on set but it’s the director who is calling all the shots creatively–with their AD making sure they’re sticking to the schedule and getting the footage they need before it’s time to move on.

Post-production

This where the editor comes into play, and if the budget is big enough, visual effects teams.

In collaboration with the director, editors begin to assemble takes and shots and create a linear film based out hours of footage. For bigger productions, teasers can be done during this time in order to start marketing. A music composer comes in to orchestrate the score of the movie as final cut begins to loom. Sound design and color direction are important elements during this time as well, and culminate in picture lock–the final edit of the film.

Marketing

In the case of a major production company, teasers are already out to promote the release date of the film. In other scenarios, promotional posters, festivals screenings, and social media are best to help generate buzz for the film. If the production is small, the creatives involved with the film may have to wear this hat whether they like it or not, though it’s possible for producers to outsource to small marketing companies that do this for a living.

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Distribution

Theatrical distribution is typically divided between domestic and international and involves agreements with production companies to pay for the film to screen at physical theatres. Previously, producers would also concentrate their efforts on how the films would be made into physical copies of VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray and make deals with video rental chains, but nowadays streaming is king. While smaller filmmakers may try to get on as many platforms as possible–Amazon Video, Hulu, Netflix, etc.–getting an exclusive deal with a single platform may be more lucrative, especially if it comes with promotion on the platform’s end. Hand in hand with marketing, promotion for the film during its release is also key, including press interviews, red carpet premieres, and other launch parties.

After all of this, it’s time to get started on your next film!

How Does a Producer Get Paid?

The film industry is brimming with roles that contribute to the creation of fun, unforgettable experiences. While a typical moviegoer is well aware of what writers, actors, and directors do, if there’s one position that often gets overlooked, it’s that of producer.

Producers are there from start to finish, overseeing the film’s production while usually filling a number of roles. From budgets and schedules to helping to cast the right actors, they are expected to make big decisions during every stage of filmmaking. Producers are also one of the main creative forces in production, often seeing their own vision and ideas come to life on the big screen for many to view.

But with a complex role comes a variety of compensation options that aren’t always as straightforward or risk-free as other jobs in the industry:

Development Fee


A development fee is what a producer might get paid for their pitch and thoughts during the time that the studio is filling other key roles, such as screenwriters, and figuring out if the project is worth greenlighting at all. As mentioned, many
project pitches are abandoned by studios before they can move from development to production, which means producers will need to take their project elsewhere.

Development fees are up to the studio and vary. Where one producer is getting $15,000 for their input during development, another may receive up to $60,000 or more. At the end of the day, the amount of cash a producer makes across an entire film production — starting with this development fee — relies heavily on both the producer’s participation and previous experience.

Production Fee

If a studio does decide to move forward with a film, producers can expect to receive a guaranteed fee. This payment is also up to the studio and thus can also range widely — a normal estimate is somewhere between $100,000 and $400,000. The power a producer has when it comes to negotiating their production fee relies on a number of factors, but perhaps the most important is how impressive their resume is.

The more box office hits and critically acclaimed films a producer has been a part of, the more leverage she or he has for getting a good deal. Also important is how involved the producer plans to be during productions — performing more services means you should get more money. This payment is also not usually given all at once and is instead divided throughout a film’s production. For example, a producer may receive 20% of the total production fee before principal photography, 50% during photography, and then the rest after.

Film Profits

Most producers are also promised a cut of the film’s profits. Again, how high of a percent you get usually depends on your reputation and level of success. The truth is, the average producer doesn’t expect to make a lot of money from profits considering how much of it gets divided up among other players who were involved in the process.

For example, movie theaters usually get to keep about fifty percent of gross revenues. What’s left is often used to repay the costs of making the film in the first place, including added interest since the money was likely borrowed years ago. In short, producers may obtain back-end points (i.e. percentage on profits) on net profits, at the most. However, some post-release profits to look forward to — if the producer has a share in the copyright of the film —  are things like DVD and rights to streaming services like Netflix.

Bridge Between Art & Business

A common misconception in the film industry is seeing producers as these high-stakes gamblers who often bet all their chips on ideas, either earning nothing or become millionaires. The truth is, being a producer is all about using your knowledge and experience to minimize risk and maximize opportunity. As the bridge that connects the artistic vision with the business goals of the film, it’s on you to help foster creativity and build relationships while making sure the project stays on a promising financial course.

If you want a role that requires both imagination and strategic thinking while letting you work closely with people trying to impact audience’s lives with memorable films, look no further. It also doesn’t hurt that you’ll likely make very good money if you know what you’re doing.

Interested in taking classes at the producing school at New York Film Academy? Check out more information here.

5 Ways to Write a Convincing Crowdfunding Pitch for Your Film

By NYFA Guest Contributor Grace Carter

Crowdfunding is a competitive arena; there are a lot of people out there trying to get their film funded by online backers. To stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to believe in your talent and ability to make the project happen — and prove to people that you’re worth their investment.

Here are five tips to help you write a convincing crowdfunding pitch for your film.

Pick the Right Platform

Before you get writing that crowdfunding pitch, you need to decide what platform is best for your campaign. Established sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo will give you the benefit of high visibility, but will charge you higher fees than a smaller site. If you choose Kickstarter, keep in mind that their campaigns are an all-or-nothing deal; if you don’t reach your goal, you will not get any of the funding you raised. Indiegogo allows you to choose between the all-or-nothing deal or a situation where you receive your funds regardless of whether your goal was met.

Write a Compelling Story

This is your pitch: your chance to convince would-be backers why your film is worthy of their money. Answer the important questions of who, what, when, where, and why. People often forget to answer the why question, but don’t make that mistake. Talk about yourself and your story, and why you’re making this film. What is your film about, what is its message? What’s your timeframe for filming, and when do you expect to have it completed and ready for viewing? How will be people be able to view it? It’s great to show some passion, just make sure you can deliver on the expectations you create with that passion. 

Build up some credibility by talking about past filmmaking success and any relevant experience you have. Don’t forget to include your call to action, by directing people in how they can support your work. You’ll get better results if you use words like “receive” and “offer” instead of “help” and “support.” 

You may also want to go the extra mile to make sure your pitch is well written by using professional grammar, proofreading, and editing services. Be sure to check your pitch’s grammar with sites like ViaWriting or Simplegrad.

Use Lots of Visuals

Since you’re trying to fund a film, you’ll want to include as many visuals as you can. If you’ve started filming, consider including a short clip so people can see what you’re doing. Don’t worry if you’re still in pre-production, you can film a short video in which you explain what you’re doing and what your vision is for your film. You can put together a very clever and low-budget video pitch, like the one made by the makers of I am I.

Ideally, your video should only be a few minutes long, and the first 10 seconds are critical. If you don’t grab your viewer’s attention in those first 10 seconds, they’ll lose interest and click away before you can even get into your pitch. The last 10 seconds are just as critical, and it’s important to leave your viewers with a clear takeaway and call to action.

“Be sure to rehearse your script quite a bit before you get on camera, so you don’t look like an amateur. A few awkward pauses or stuttering are all it takes for a would-be backer to lose faith. Spend some time crafting your pitch script and practice, practice, practice,” advises Roland Ainsworth, writer at State of Writing.

Include Some Nice Perks

Backer rewards are bonuses you hand out to people who support your campaign, usually on a scale depending on the level of funding. Some perk ideas for a film crowdfunding campaign include a thank you shoutout on the film website; access to an online production diary; access to an inspirational playlist used and curated by the director; a download of the film pre-release; and a DVD and thank you in film credits.

It’s important not to overcommit. Put some thought into how much you can actually deliver on should you receive a lot of support. It would be a shame to ruin your credibility and anger your backers by being unable to deliver on your backer perk promises.

Promotion

Once you’ve got a solid pitch and some nice rewards planned, it’s time to get the world watching.

“Start by letting your friends and family know. It’s a good strategy to try and get 30 percent of your funding with a soft launch targeted at people your group knows, before going ahead with the hard launch on a platform,” recommends Doris Crawford, editor at UKWritings.

Make sure you put together your mailing list and send private emails and phone calls at least a month prior to launching the crowdfunding campaign. If you don’t raise at least 5-10 percent of your target goal, it is probably best to postpone the launch.

Post regular updates on your film’s social media accounts to remind your community of how things are progressing. You might want to build up some hype before you launch your campaign, just don’t overdo it and turn people off. Reach out to friends of friends, bloggers, and influencers. Over time you’ll get people tweeting and organically promoting your campaign. Email might seem old fashioned, but a targeted email campaign can still be very effective.

Conclusion

Writing a convincing crowdfunding pitch can be tough. You’re competing with a lot of other people and a lot of other films. You need to make yours stand out and is backed by a solid plan. Write a compelling story, for what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Use lots of visuals, giving your backers a taste of your filmmaking talent. Follow these five ways to write a convincing crowdfunding pitch for your film.

Ready to learn more about film and media production? Check out our Producing School programs at the New York Film Academy.

Grace Carter is a writer and storyteller at Essayroo and Boom Essays service. She edits, proofreads, writes various types of papers, and helps the content marketing team. Also, Grace is a tutor at Academized educational website. 

How to Network in the Film Production World

In reference to leaving his day job and surrounding himself with other filmmakers to perfect his craft, the great Tarantino once said, “if you run the hundred-yard dash with people much faster than you, yeah you might come last, but your time will be better than winning against slower competition.” Producing a film is far from a solitary feat and the ability to learn from others is a basic, albeit critical, part of improvement. So, what better way to increase your chances of success in an industry that practically invented the saying “it’s all about who you know”, than networking?

Here are a few tips on how to get started:

Social Media

Just as instinctive as it may be to utilize a dance studio to learn how to dance, one should similarly consider social networking sites for – as the name suggests – networking. When even the most introverted of all introverts is merely a click, swipe, and/or double-tap away from deep-diving into the biggest room full of people: otherwise known as the Internet, ‘tis indeed a great time to be alive.

Sites like LinkedIn are a sure-fire way to get connected to those who share your professional interests, but there are some other lesser-known networking sites specifically catered to professionals in film and media. Sites like Shooting People share similarities with LinkedIn, whereby users’ profiles are more like extensive portfolios; but unlike the latter, they have a strong emphasis on collaboration and allow users to work on one another’s projects. Similarly, Movidiam and Mandy.com cater specifically to those in film and media and also provide a great platform for finding work.

That said, don’t underestimate the connective power of mainstream sites like Facebook. Joining industry-specific groups is key. Not only will these groups give you access to a supportive community of fellow producers and filmmakers to learn from, but once you turn your event notifications on, it’s on!

Events

Social media might allow for reach and immediacy, but there’s a real gravitas in the connection between human beings in the flesh that cannot possibly be translated or outweighed by virtual alternatives. However, using social media to get you these face-to-face meetings is crucial. Once you’re following key industry people and are part of several online communities, invitations to industry events are going to be commonplace. Use this! Do as successful producer Jane Applegate does and “…attend as many mixers and workshops as possible” – something she swears by when prompted on the value of networking.

Intern, Volunteer, and Gain Experience

Find production companies, film festivals, and film shoots that will accept interns or volunteers. Do what you can — run errands, grab coffee, anything. Exposing yourself to every bit of the filmmaking process in live action will only increase your knowledge on producing films in the real world; whilst offering valuable industry connections and great career prospects.

Make Friends

Networking differs from the act of making friends in that its main purpose is to increase your arsenal for career advancement. The act of making friends, however, has a genuine intention behind it and something rarely synonymous with the entertainment industry – longevity. Authentic connections between likeminded people can stand the test of time and be of great benefit to all parties involved. Take advantage of being a student at NYFA where you’re constantly surrounded by others who share your passion for film and reach out to classmates. You never know, the friends you make in class may just be the same ones standing beside you on the stage as you give your Oscars speech.

Listen. Be Humble. Be Kind.

None of the aforementioned strategies will ever be of use to you without practicing these throughout:

Listen – people are most susceptible to giving their best if they feel they’re being heard. Listening to others will only ever open your mind up to more opportunities.

Be humble – as Socrates says, “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Everyone can teach you something if you’re open to it.

Be kind – positivity breeds positivity and people react accordingly. The best way to create an atmosphere you can prosper in is to give what you wish to receive. Plus, it just feels good to be kind!

So, go forth with these in mind and you’re bound for success. Happy networking!

9 Stages of Pre-Production

The first day of shooting on a movie set is never the first day that film is being produced. Days, and sometimes weeks, months, years, or—in the case of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”—decades can go by from the beginning of a film’s inception to when cameras just start rolling. The production and subsequent post-production processes of a movie can be shorter, longer, or about the same, but neither can exist without pre-production—the work that goes into a film before any images are recorded.

Pre-production, like the filmmaking as a process as a whole, is complicated and can be daunting for independent filmmakers. Here are nine stages—each with their own subdivisions of tasks and labor—that should be included in your pre-production process if you want to ensure a steady, fruitful film shoot from day one.

Finalize a Shooting Script

While movies are magical, they don’t come out of thin air. Even before the pre-production process starts, you need an idea, and often a fairly polished screenplay to work off of. But when it’s crunch time, you need to finalize that screenplay and convert it to a shooting script—one that reads for the director, cinematographer, and camera crew as well as it does for the actors. Tweaks and whole scenes may be edited, added, or deleted at anytime (sometimes even in post-production!) but for the most part your shooting script should be ready to shoot by the time the director first calls action.

Storyboards & Shot Lists

Storyboards & shot lists go hand-in-hand with shooting scripts—creating a visual interpretation of the screenplay for the director and cinematographer to reference and prepare for. While some directors know exactly what they want in their hand and can draw it themselves, usually storyboard artists are hired to bring the story to life. Once a film is seen—even in black-and-white sketches—it comes alive in a way that the entire crew can see and gives them a concrete vision to strive for.

Find the Right Crew

While some crew positions might already be attached or recommended for a project, and other positions, like your writer and storyboard artist, could be hired very early in the process—you should work to get the entire team rounded out before pre-production gets too involved. After all, these are the women & men who will be carrying out a lot of these tasks, and the sooner they are involved in the creative process, the more valuable their input will be. All of filmmaking is a collaboration—not just the shooting!

Location Scouting

You may need to tailor your storyboards to your location or vice-versa, so finding them early is key. Many hands-on producers & directors may want to do this themselves, but often the smartest thing to do is hire a professional location scout who already has locales in mind or knows how to find original ones perfect for your script. If you’re shooting in a studio or soundstage, you’ll want to find the right one early and make sure it’s not booked before you can lock it in—treat them as you would reception halls for your own wedding! Finding real world locations early is just as important because you’ll want enough time to process the necessary permits & paperwork.

Create a Proper Budget (and Stick to It!)

By now you should be finalizing your budget, to make sure you can find the gear and afford the locations you want to use. Sometimes this is the professional thing to do; sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do because you’re not working with any credit or financial backers willing to give any more than they already promised. This is never the most fun part of pre-production, but very often it’s the most important.

Choose Your Gear

Are you shooting digitally or going old school with some 16mm film? Or are you saving money and shooting the entire film on your iPhone? Once you have the answers to these questions you can acquire your gear—often from a rental house. After your first film you may establish a relationship with a particular rental house and can negotiate discounts and figure out just exactly what your budget will allow when it comes to peripheral equipment. Maybe you can afford that ultracool fog machine after all!

Clear That Red Tape

Once you know what gear and locations you want, you’re going have to get into the paperwork—namely, permits and insurance. Permits are required from municipal governments to shoot on public property and location agreements are typically needed for use of private homes—especially if you’ll need to move furniture or equipment around or repaint the walls after the shoot, etc. You’ll also need insurance to protect yourself in the event you or one of your crew members accidentally do damage to the location or your rented film equipment. Finally you may need to cover your crew and cast as well—better safe than sorry!

Find the Right Cast

With your dominos falling in place you’re going to need to finally decide on your cast—this could feel impossible, no matter how many actors your audition. You might be frustrated you can’t find the perfect person for the role you envisioned in your head, or maybe you found two equally brilliant performers and you’re pulling your hair out trying to decide between the two. Either way, auditioning early and often and even employing a casting agent to find even more performers, possibly from outside your locality, will go a long way towards giving your movie the perfect cast.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Sometimes finding the perfect cast could make a filmmaker overconfident, leading them to put too much responsibility on their cast to be self-sufficient. Actors need their director just as much as the crew does, and working with them both one-on-one and as an ensemble is a vital part of the pre-production process. Holding table reads and rehearsals weeks before shooting will ensure that when the camera is ready to the roll, your cast will be giving the performance your movie truly needs. This extra time before the shoot also allows the cast to develop a genuine chemistry that will not go unnoticed by your audience.

These are just nine simplified stages of a complex, multifaceted pre-production process. Often these steps will be done simultaneously and in any variety of orders. Just remember that if you’re confident and prepared you can get through any hurdle and tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. New York Film Academy offers courses in production and filmmaking with the overall philosophy of learning by doing—so the best way to get through pre-production is to learn the skills first and then master them with experience and resolve.

Film Producing: How to Cast the Right Actors in Your Film

Being a producer can have its ups and downs–after all, producers play a part in every creative, technical, and financial aspect of a film or television show. Often they help oversee the hiring of writers and the development of the script, as well as supervise the casting, hiring of the crew, and location scouting of a project.

The New York Film Academy teaches students what it truly means to be a producer–simply put, a project doesn’t exist without one. Producers are the most involved, following a project from pre- to post-production and beyond.

A major part of film producing includes having to cast the right actors for your project. But how do you know when you are casting the right people for the part? Here’s some advice for students and aspiring producers to help you pick the perfect cast!

Don’t wear out the material.

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Don’t overuse the script during the audition process. Do you really want to hear 50 people read the same lines over and over again? You may love the scene at the beginning of the audition process, but there’s a good chance you’ll hate it by the end.

Instead, you may consider choosing material from a different project that is spiritually similar and use that during the audition process. You won’t end up tired of your own script, plus you can save the real material for people you are serious about during callbacks.

The chemistry.

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It’s understandable to want an actor who is specifically right for the part, but it’s also important they have chemistry between your leads, as well as chemistry with the director and the cast. Chemistry between actors is often what makes a film successful, because it’s so exciting to watch.

Be specific.

As a producer, it is imperative to have a clear picture of your needs and priorities. It’s important to know what characteristics you want in the actors for your project. Be specific when working with casting directors and you’ll find being upfront about what you want will help them plan and be more strategic in the casting process.

In Film Independent’s article, “’We’re A Family’: Casting Directors on Putting the Right Actor in the Role,” Julie Hutchinson, former 20th Century Fox’s vice president of Feature Casting and senior vice president of Casting at Universal Pictures, said, “We’re a family. We’re all in it together.”

Don’t rush.

Don’t make the rookie producing mistake of rushing through the casting process. It’s not just another part of pre-production you should just check off of your to-do list. Of course the casting process can be frustrating and tedious. Remember, there is almost never a perfect fit for your role. The person auditioning for the part may have the talent, but not the look you want. Or, they may have the look you want, but not the right aura.

It can be a bad idea to bring in an absurdly large group of people for auditions, especially if you haven’t had the time to look at all of their headshots and resumes. Instead, take the time to read over some submissions, select a few actors, and bring them in for auditions. Being selective early on in the process will increase your chances of finding suitable talent for your project.

Remember: don’t settle for actors you’re not happy with, because this could lead to some major issues on set later on down the road when it will be too late (and too expensive) to recast.

Do you have any tips on how to select the right actor for a role? Let us know below!

 

How to Craft the Perfect Movie Pitch

A moving, persuasive pitch can be the difference between seeing your story idea come to life on the big screen or leaving it in your mind to be forgotten. There are few industries as competitive as film, which means your movie pitch needs to impact the listener and stand out from the thousands of others. The following are a number of ways you can bring that pitch of yours as close to perfection as possible.

1. Use the power of emotion.

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Just like every novel ever written or song ever recorded, the purpose of a film is to elicit emotion. People want to play games, watch movies, and read books that will make them feel something that they can’t or normally don’t feel as powerfully in their own lives. Similarly, a successful story pitch is one where you give the listener a positive emotional experience by convincing them that your idea will either be a hit or something they’d enjoy watching. Instead of saying that you’re passionate about the project, let it show in the way you describe your story.

2. Show your personal connection with the film.

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Sometimes even the best ideas can fall flat if those at the helm of the project are driven only by money or fame. Film is arguably one of the most powerful storytelling mediums out there, and some of the most iconic films of all time were made by people with tremendous passion toward the idea or emotion they wanted to share. In other words, a movie pitch is the perfect time to show your personal connection to the story and its themes. Make it clear why this story needs to be told and why you’re the filmmaker destined to help tell it.

3. Make it clear why your film is unique yet bound for success

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While agents and offices do look out for film ideas that are creative and special, it’s not always enough. You have to make sure your unique pitch is also something that will most likely attract diverse groups of people and thus, be a success. A good exercise to prepare you for this is to write down why your film is unique along with a second list of reasons why your film would be a hit in today’s market.

4. Comparisons are OK, but don’t over do it.

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A lot of people are afraid to compare their film idea to similar existing films for fear of sounding unoriginal. However, comparisons can be a powerful way of giving your listener a clearer image of what your movie is all about. The trick is to not overdo it or confuse your listener by saying your film is a mix of “The Fellowship of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” without explaining how or why.

5. Avoid telling your whole story.

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When pitching your idea to an office or agent, you’ll rarely get more than a few minutes of time. A common mistake is to waste most of your time by trying to tell your entire story as quickly as possible from start to finish. For one, trying to do so only leaves you with less time to convey why the idea is good. But more importantly, if your story can actually be told in as little as five minutes then it’s probably not a great story. Do your best to give the important plot points and details without boring the listener while misusing your time.

6. When you think your pitch is done, forget it and come back later.

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A movie pitch isn’t something you prepare in one night. Just like Stephen King would put away a rough draft for weeks before rereading and improving it, you should step away from your pitch for a while to get it out of your head. Coming back to it with a fresh mind will help you trim off the unnecessary while improving the stronger points. There’s nothing wrong with rinsing and repeating this process until you feel satisfied.

7. Happy with your latest pitch? Now record and practice it.

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Recording your own pitch and listening to it is one of the best ways of figuring out what needs to go and what can be said better. It may seem awkward listening to yourself but doing so will give you a good idea of how you’re presenting your idea. Do video recording if you’ll be pitching in person to make sure you have the right expressions and look when convincing the listener to consider your project.

A Quick Guide to Movie Production Incentives

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Sometimes movie producers are encouraged to film their projects in specific areas for reasons that go beyond the gorgeous scenery. To help stimulate economies and create jobs, many places across the globe tempt producers by offering them financial incentives to shoot within their respective territory. The Irish Film Commission, for example, offers a 32% tax credit on local Irish expenditures as long as the production company shoots there.

These incentives can make all the difference for a film with few resources. In fact, offering tax benefits to film producers here in the United States all started in the 1990s when many movie productions began moving their projects to Canada to reduce costs. In an effort to keep film and television production in the U.S., each state began implementing their own incentives to entice and attract productions.

Types of Movie Production Incentives (MPIs) in America

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The following are the five main types of MPIs offered by states here in America. Please note that each state differs in terms of the requirements needed to qualify for the incentives:

Tax Credits

If a production company meets the minimum spending requirements, they are eligible for a tax credit for a portion of the income taxes they owe the state. This is similar to a cash rebate except the production company has to file a state tax return in order to obtain the funds. Companies can do more with less by earning back some of the money they used on local expenditures such as wages and production costs.

Cash Rebates

Many states bring in production companies by offering a cash rebate. The money received is usually a percentage of the company’s qualified expenses. The more the company spends on productions costs, labor, and other services, the more they get back.

Grants

Although uncommon, there are a few states that offer grants to production companies just for filming there. In 2016, the state of Montana provided $500,000 in grants to support the production of 11 films.

Sales Tax and Lodging Exemption

Not having to pay any sales tax on production costs is a huge plus for many production companies, which is why certain states offer sales tax exemptions. A number of of states also allow companies to not have to pay lodging taxes for all their guests— usually the requirement is that they stay for more than 30 days.

No Fee Locations

A small but valuable incentive some states offer is letting production companies film on state-owned property for free.

Proponents and Opposers of MPIs

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Although offering MPIs sounds great, some argue that they actually have no (or a negative) effect on the state’s economy and are, thus, a waste of money. Below are the main arguments for those in favor of production incentives in the film industry and those who oppose them.

Pros: MPIs have a positive impact on local economies.

Since the filmmaking process can require a lot of laborers, services, and resources, having a big-budget movie produced in a certain area can have a positive effect on the local economy. This includes the creation of jobs, infrastructure, and small businesses along with the generation of tax revenue. States also enjoy the increased tourism that comes from people wanting to see where their favorite movies and TV shows were filmed.

To get an idea, consider that the average studio feature takes with them around 100 crew members and then employs another 100 locally. This means the company will spend millions of dollars on wages but also expenditures such as food, lodging, everyday sundry, etc. Local employees are also left with hands-on training by the traveling production crew, increasing the chance of local film production.

Cons: MPIs don’t actually improve the state’s economy in any way.

Some argue that film production incentives don’t actually help create jobs since they’re only temporary. Unless a state has a steady stream of productions, the jobs created by the film and television industry are short-term thus, leave specialized employees with no work once the production wraps.

People who oppose MPIs also point out that many states are overeager to offer incentives based on tailored reports of success from other states. In other words, states rely too much on perceived success in other states failing to properly assess how a major film production will affect their own economies.

 

How to Produce a Super Soundtrack for Your Low-Budget Film

The soundtrack sets the tone of your film, and connects with your viewers on an emotional, if often unconscious, level. But if getting the rights to use a hit song by a major recording artist is beyond your budget — and let’s face it, most independent films don’t have the kind of money necessary to do that — then these tips for creating a super soundtrack for a low-budget film are for you.

Using Covers to Your Advantage

Gaining rights to music has two associated licenses: The Synchronization (sync) License (held by the songwriter or publisher, who may be contacted through the performing rights societies ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) and the Master License (the entity that owns the recording, typically the record company or the (unsigned) artist or production company).

In order to mitigate the high cost associated with master licenses by major recording artists, consider finding a cover of the song recorded by a lessor (or unknown) band. You might also call upon your buddy with a uke to record it.

Find a Rising Star With a Hit in the Making

SoundCloud is an invaluable resource for up-and-coming bands and musicians, and a goldmine for filmmakers with limited budgets. If you are willing to take the time to search and trust your musical judgement, you can use SoundCloud to put you in touch with some talented unsigned musicians with whom you might be able to negotiate directly.

Finding and Licensing the Sound You Want

Sites such as The Orchard, Jingle Punks, and Pump Audio (Getty Image’s music division) exist to connect musicians with filmmakers. As this helpful IFP article suggests, the loose rule of thumb is to allot 10-15 percent of your overall budget for music, and suggests making sure you have a professional on your side. Music licensing is complicated and you don’t want to be hit with a lawsuit just when your film is taking off.

Do It Yourself

If you have some musical talent and/or ideas for a minimal sound, you should consider creating your own soundtrack. As this article points out, it’s easier than ever for those willing to spend a little time learning the software to create professional-sounding musical scores:

Apple’s $199 Logic Pro X is a great value considering what you get: over 10G of MIDI sounds, samples and loops (all free and clear), as well as the ability to record your own music using an audio interface, or sample and manipulate any sound you want. Plus, you can score your film from within the program, watching the picture as you work.”  

Get Scrappy

As with all aspects of low-budget filmmaking, creative thinking and adaptability are necessary to do things without breaking your film’s piggy bank on the one hand or feeling disappointed and giving up on the other. Look at the artists around you and reach out. You might find you have a lifelong artistic relationship waiting to happen!

Ready to learn more about film production? Check out the New York Film Academy’s producing programs to get started.

10 Great Pieces of Advice for Beginner Producers from Filmmaking Veterans

Low budget to blockbuster, getting a film produced is a huge endeavor. As PTA says, “It’s a miracle every time a film gets made.” Whether you are a self producer or are looking to produce the work of others, NYFA has pulled together these 10 great pieces of advice that can help you to become the best producer you can be.

1. Paul Thomas Anderson advises you to beware of fear.

In this great interview, Anderson speaks to the difficulties of getting started with great fear that the opinions of others, especially those in positions of power, are right or worth more than yours. He concludes, “There just should be no fear.”

2. Martin Scorsese tells you to “make your own industry.”

3. Disappointment can fuel you.

And, while addressing a graduating class at his alma mater, Scorsese reflected on two big disappointments early in his career that might have crushed him, but instead made him better and more resilient. “There’s a way that the force of disappointment can be alchemized into something that can paradoxically renew you.”

4. The market is global, you should be too.

earth-earth-at-night-night-lights-41949

As we discussed in this NYFA article, there are experiences that can only be gained by studying abroad. We mentioned the importance of growing your network internationally, and this piece of Filmmaker Magazine advice, culled from a panel discussion at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, concurs: “Form an international collective.”

5. Producing is a group effort.

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The same Filmmaker Magazine article also offers this very important and basic piece of advice for producers: “Learn how to collaborate.”

Werner Herzog has at least 24 pieces of filmmaking (and life) advice. Here are a couple of our favorites:

6. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.

7. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.

8. Read broadly. Be culturally well-informed.

The below video, featuring advice from filmmakers from Quentin Tarantino to Fellini, makes it clear that in order to make great films that are not simply imitations of what you admire, it is important to read, listen to, and look at great works from the past as well as the present. As Herzog puts it, “Read! Read! Read…”

9. Passion is all you need.

As Tarantino puts it in the above video, “If you truly love cinema, with all your heart, and with enough passion, you can’t help but make a good movie.” Similar advice comes from “Dallas Buyers Club” producer Rachel Winter at the 2014 Producers Guild Awards: “Follow your passion. You can’t make anything and you can’t sell anything if you’re not fully, fully committed. If you give it all, other people will give it their all and follow your example.”

10. Just do it!

Though this advice from director Stephanie Joalland is from an Indiewire article about women filmmakers, it works for everyone just starting out: “Don’t listen to the naysayers who say you’re a woman you can’t do it, I think there is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I hear so many women saying ‘I couldn’t make it because I’m a woman,’ There is no excuse, get a RED camera, get a 5G, and make a movie, find actors. Just do it.”

“Just do it” is perhaps the overarching message from famous and successful producers: Don’t talk about being a filmmaker or producer, just get out there and involve yourself in as many projects as possible. This alone will make you better in your own eyes and prove yourself to others.

NYFA offers hands-on classes in filmmaking and producing to get you started.

How To Option The Film Rights For A Book

Spotted a great book which hasn’t been made into a film yet, but really needs to be? Are you the filmmaker or producer for the job who can adapt it into a killer screenplay and execute it well?

If so, today we’re going to discuss a little bit about the process of optioning—i.e. acquiring an exclusive agreement for the potential to buy the film rights—and how to get through the process with the right way and with as little fuss as possible.

But first, a very common question regarding film rights themselves:

Do I Need To Obtain Rights if the Film is Not For Profit?

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Even if you’re making your film solely ‘for the love’—and really, there’s no better reason! – you’ll still be on the wrong side of copyright law regardless of whether or not you make a single dime off your work, or don’t even sell it in the first place. Consider buying a novel, scanning it page by page, and uploading it to a publicly-viewable blog: even if you gain no revenue from doing so, it’s still damaging to the original writer and a poor idea all round.

This all said, you’re extremely unlikely to receive letters from a lawyer if it’s a very low-key film to be seen only by your close circle of friends or peers at filmmaking school, but the risk is still there nonetheless – nine times out of ten, if you politely explain the nature of the project to the rights holder, given that they’re content creators themselves they are likely to freely give you the green light (and peace of mind!)

For anything intended for broadcast from beyond closed doors, here’s how you go about optioning the film rights for a book.

Figuring Out Who Owns the Rights You Want to Option

This is naturally the first step in optioning film rights, and is usually very simple: film and TV rights are nearly always reserved by the author themselves and not the publisher, as is commonly believed (except in very rare cases). As such, a quick call to either the author or their agent will put you on the right path.

Before you reach out to them, however, search the U.S. Copyright Office to verify that the copyright for the book itself is in the system and that the rights you’re looking to obtain haven’t been assigned to someone else already.

If you do happen to find any conflicting entries, that’s sadly the end of the line (short of waiting for the option period to lapse and hoping the holder doesn’t exercise them in the mean time).

But if you’re looking good, it’s time to take things forward!

Approaching the Agent/Author

The first thing you’ll verify here is that A) Yes, you are speaking to the rights holder or an authorized agent on the rights holder’s behalf (never just assume), and that B) The rights you’re after are indeed available.

From that point, it’s up to you to pitch a proposal to them—we’ll get on to price in just a moment, but firstly (and sometimes more importantly) you’ll need to consider how long you’d like the option period to last.

One year is rarely long enough to get your production team and screenplay together and ready to go, so try to organize at least one if not two extension periods of the same length of the original at around the same price as the original…

… and speaking of which:

Setting the Price

The onus will be on you to make them an offer they can’t refuse without breaking the bank.

So, what’s a fair price? Unfortunately, there’s no blanket answer to this.

If you’re after the film rights to J.K Rowling’s next book, you’ll have to have very deep pockets (and great connections) indeed….

But if the book is by a talented yet relatively unknown author, you may be surprised to find that the price tag is $0.

Remember that you’re only paying for the exclusive option to buy the film rights at this point, not buying the rights themselves (that’s another story altogether). As a result of this it may be the case that the author is keen to hitch their cart to your wagon in the hopes that you come through with the cash and hit movie at a later date, though naturally a little bit of money involved is their way of giving you the financial incentive to not let the option period lapse!

Do also bear in mind that the cost of optioning is nearly always deducting from the final rights purchase (though extension payments probably won’t be).

And Once You’ve Got the Option in the Bag…

Congratulations on your new opportunity. It’s now time for the real work to begin.

Do check out the rest of our tutorials and how-to’s over on the main student resources hub if you need any pointers on a particular aspect of the production, but above all, don’t rest on your laurels…

… the clock is ticking, and you’ve got a great movie to make!

Learn more about the School of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Micro-Budget Filmmaking: Are You Making These 5 Mistakes?

A little while back, we covered some of the finest indie movies ever to be produced on a tiny budget—superb features like The Castle and Primer which managed to push boundaries despite not having cash on their side (and you wouldn’t know it to look at them.)

But even still, some of those movies had budgets that, while miniscule by industry standards, had a couple of million to play with. We’re guessing you don’t have that luxury, so today we’ll be looking at:

Super Micro-Budget Filmmaking: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Scheduling Properly

It goes without saying that on every production, no matter how small, scheduling is absolutely paramount… but probably not for the reason you think.

If you’re on a micro-budget, chances are that you and the team are making the film purely for the artistic endeavor. But artistic endeavor doesn’t pay the rent, and everyone involved is probably working jobs on the side in order to get by.

You don’t necessarily have to demand their time, but if you ever want to get the film in the can, it’ll behoove everyone to have a shared spreadsheet where they can list the hours they’ll be free to work on the project… and you can spot those golden windows where all the stars align.

2. Picking a Great – but Impractical – Script

Found an amazing screenplay that will blow everyone’s minds?

Awesome!

Does it feature an outer space sequence that’ll change the face of sci-fi cinema forever, or a prison break scene that’ll have the viewer right on the edge of their seats?

Skip it. Your budget does not allow for such special effects or exotic shot locations; sounds obvious, but a surprising amount of low-budget filmmakers adopt a “we’ll cross that bridge later” attitude and invariably come unstuck halfway through the production.

3. Not Using All Resources Available

Budget filmmaking is two parts talent and one part ingenuity (and maybe even the other way around.) Spotting problems to solve in the first place is a good skill to hone, and the same goes for the financial aspect—if you’re not looking for ways to increase your budget and use it well, you’re selling yourself short.

Seek out every avenue for grants, tax breaks, and subsidies (even if filling out endless applications is a dull task.) Call in every favor you’ve garnered over the course of your entire life. And always see if there’s a way to use equipment for free (or at least cheap) rather than having to purchase it with your limited cash—if you’re in filmmaking school, use the equipment that’s freely available; if you’re in a big city, put a call out on Craigslist asking if anyone can loan you equipment for a small daily fee.

The opportunities are endless once you start looking for them.

4. Putting All Focus on Video Quality

All of the aforementioned examples of micro-budget filmmaking have one thing in common: they’re not stellar by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to video quality, but none of them cut corners when it comes to audio.

As covered in our earlier guide to production essentials, audio quality is the most common thing that amateurs seem to scrimp on… and the one thing that, in turn, is the mark of an amateur.

5. Forgetting to Budget for Marketing


We know. Marketing is the not-so-fun part of filmmaking and can be just as expensive as the production itself, so it can be difficult to reserve cash for the job… but if you don’t, all your hard work will be for naught. After all, there’s no point busting a gut to make a micro-budget movie only to have nobody see it.

And don’t just make the common mistake of plucking a figure out of the air; carefully detail all entry fees for contests and festivals you’ll want to apply for ahead of time, as well as the costs of getting it listed on streaming services.

Got any of your own stories from the field or budgeting warnings to other filmmakers? Share with the group down in the comments below!

How To Get Your Movie Soundtrack Onto iTunes/Spotify

If you’ve got a soundtrack for your movie, chances are you’re looking to distribute it as a separate entity from the film itself.

Even if you’re not expecting to make oodles of extra cash from music sales (and let’s be honest, with Spotify, you won’t) it is still a very worthwhile thing to do from a movie marketing perspective…

… but at the same time, getting your movie soundtrack onto iTunes or Spotify (or both) can be a real head scratcher and has left a fair number of even seasoned producers walking away from the task in frustration.

Let’s demystify the process and explore the steps behind:

How to Upload a Movie Soundtrack to iTunes & Spotify

Now, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to go ahead and assume you own the rights to the music you want to put out there. For more info on producing and publishing your own film music, check out this earlier post which delves into the finer details.

Firstly, let’s start off with:

Uploading to Spotify

The question most people start off wondering is if you need to be signed or get a record label in order to get music onto Spotify. If you’re a movie producer who happens to have ties in this area, you’ll be able to arrange this with a single phone call. But the good news is, you don’t necessarily need a label.

The bad news is there’s no way of uploading music directly.

What you’ll need instead is what is known as an ‘aggregator’—sites that handle all of the revenue, royalties, licensing and distribution; it’s the latter that’ll get you picked up by Spotify itself.

The streaming service has put out a small list of such sites that it works with, but they do all come with fees and/or percentage cuts in exchange for getting you onto Spotify:

Tunecore – $30 per album for a year, then $50 per year thereafter (and you get to keep 100% of the royalty and sales revenues.) Alternatively, you can pay a one-off fee of $75 for unlimited uploads but you only get 90% of the royalties.

CDBaby – A little more pricey than the above at between $59 to $89 per album, but it does not charge annual fees.

EMU Bands – $84.95 per album (of up to 20 tracks.) You keep 100% of the royalties, and there are no annual fees.

Record Union – Between $16 to $25 per album, per year. Packages are customizable depending on which platforms you’d like to upload your movie soundtrack to.

You’ll want to check out the fine print and pricing variations of each of the above to decide what’s right for you, since the range of services—and platforms they upload to—all vary. 

Speaking of which, the above fees usually include not just aggregation to Spotify but also to iTunes (and a whole host of other outlets), so the initial fee might be worth it just to get the entire job done in just a few clicks.

Speaking of which, let’s move on to:

How to Upload Music to iTunes Directly

By this, we’ll assume you’re looking to work directly with Apple in order to get your movie soundtrack onto the iTunes store… but you’ll have to submit an application first and there are quite a few boxes to tick before you’ll be able to do that.

In short, you must have at least 20 albums to your name and own ISRCs (International Standard Recording Codes) for every single track you’re looking to have listed on the iTunes store. If you’re in film producing school or even if you have a few features under your belt, you’re not likely to fit this criteria.

This leaves you with only one option: yep, you guessed it. We’re back to aggregators.

Unlike Spotify, Apple has a massive list of approved aggregators that can get your movie soundtrack up there and the variance of services—as well as prices—is severe, so there’s no blanket answer as to which aggregator is the best.

In summary, if you want to get your movie soundtrack on streaming services and digital stores, your only option is pretty much to sign up with an aggregator. Luckily, it’s a very easy and reasonably inexpensive process… the harder part is trying to spread the word and making people aware of the soundtrack’s existence, but that’s a post for another day.

Had any experiences, good or bad, with a particular aggregation service? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and share with the group!

Producing Movies? Produce Your Own Music, Too

Aside from writing up a comprehensive film business plan, acquiring the rights to music is often the one job that filmmakers dread the most.

And it’s not difficult to understand why. One of the first things you learn in producing school 101 is that you can’t simply throw anything you like on Spotify into the final mix, and that going about rights acquisition can be a lengthy, tedious and not to mention expensive process.

But there is a way to take the sting out of its tail, and even maximize the profit you stand to make from movie production. Today, we’re going to argue the case for becoming your own music publisher – but to put it in context, let’s first look at:

How to Buy Music For Your Film: The Traditional Way

Let’s say you want to use a track from a mid-level rock band in the background of a bar scene. Even if it’s only for half a minute, you still need to seek down and contact the license holder – often an arduous task in and of itself – and negotiate how much it’ll cost.

But not only is the price hugely variable, but the type of license you need is also wide-ranging. If you only purchase the Festival Use License but the movie then takes off and you want to distribute it, you’ll have fun either going back to negotiate for a Master Use License, or else having to re-edit the movie to replace the score.

It can also be fun having the licence holder come back to you asking for more money, because you originally stated the movie would only see low-level US theatre distribution but then ends up going global and selling well on DVD.

Oh, and don’t let the term ‘Master Use’ lull you into a false sense of security. you’ll probably also need the Synchronization Licence, too. All this is done through the music label…

… or the publisher.

Or both.

In most cases, you’ll have to pay two separate entities for the multiple licenses of one track.

How much will this cost? If only there was a standard answer, but expect to pay about $2,000 to $10,000 for every track you want to use (and note that’s the most ballpark-iest of ballpark figures.)

Getting all of this right is as much of a minefield as it sounds, and the penalty for getting it wrong – even through a genuine mistake or via factors outside of your control – can be a near-production killing lawsuit.

All in all, any alternative to the above sounds attractive…

Be Your Own Music Publisher

If you want to cut through the hassle of endlessly negotiating with music publishers, it might be worth considering the old adage “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Instead of pouring exhorbitant amounts of money into limited use licenses, you may find the money better spent in hiring a producer to create original music. The benefits here are numerous:

– Greater creative control over the soundtrack of your movie

– As the publisher, you will retain most if not all of the ownership rights (depending on the deal you strike up with the composer or artists; see below on Composer Agreements)

– Ownership of rights means that you get to license to other people, and that can be immensely lucrative (much in the same way that it can be very expensive on the other side of the fence.)

So although getting started comes with some overheads, it can pay dividends in the long run.

How to Set Up A Music Production Company

Thankfully, this is a lot easier than it might sound: simply give ASCAP a call and they’ll walk you through the process of getting registered.

From there, you can approach artists or composers and seek what’s known as a Composer Agreement – essentially, who ultimately retains ownership over the final score. Usually, you’ll pay the musician an upfront fee as the producer, though if you’re unable to offer a desirable amount it’s not uncommon to trade some proportion of ownership back and forth until a deal  is made.

As you can imagine, starting a production company comes with its own learning curve but for the most part ASCAP will be able to help you put your best foot forward.

More importantly than anything, make sure you start small. Really, you’re in the best position to do this as someone working in film production, not to mention that there are even more benefits for you to reap as a filmmaker in need of compelling music.

Film Production Toolbox – Apps & Gadgets Every Producer Should Own

It’s ll-in weird and wonderful world these days, isn’t it?

From self-driving cars to personal computers so small you can wear them as a watch, we’re just one functional jetpack and a hover skateboard away from truly living in futuristic times. A neat aspect of this explosion of the gadget age is that it’s made producing films a lot more accessible; there is a plethora of apps and tools out there have simplified a lot of aspects to production that were once a bit of a nightmare.

The only problem is, if you’re an amateur filmmaker or still at producing school, we’re guessing you don’t have the budget to buy them all (who does?). As such, here’s our rundown of some of the more essential apps and pieces of kit that you should consider purchasing to make your job as a film producer a little easier.

Top Apps & Gadgets Every Producer Should Own

First up, we’ll cover the best apps for film producing that run across all stages of production. Many of these are not just indispensible for the production team, but are also useful for keeping the entire crew on the same page.

Scriptation

Scriptation is a free script reader and annotation app designed by industry professionals to make the script revision process more efficient and more ecofriendly. The app has been used in hundreds of productions including Stranger Things, The Greatest ShowmanModern Family, The Walking Dead, and Westworld, Silicon Valley, The Greatest Showman, and has been featured in American Cinematographer and Deadline.

Shotlister

iOS
(Free, pro version is $13.99/year)

Created by working filmmaker Zach Lipovsky, Shotlister is an essential app for pre-production and the most eloquent way we’ve seen so far to manage a shooting schedule. Create one-liners in advance, edit or rearrange them with just a few taps, and tick off each shot as you progress through the shooting day. It even works on the Apple Watch!

Videograde

iOS
($5.99)

As we’ve covered previously, a growing number of filmmakers are relying on their camera phones to capture footage. Videograde is a surprisingly powerful color correction tool which comes with an array of easy-to-apply filters and a proper RG&B channel mixer. The app has been completely overhauled recently, so if you owned it previously but haven’t used it in a while, you’ll be in for a treat—the latest updates have been fantastic.

 

Pocket Call Sheet

iOS
($6.99)

Say goodbye to the days when you used to have to print out and distribute call sheets to every crew member by hand. Pocket Call Sheet will save you countless hours even on the smallest of productions.

Let’s move on to some of the smartest gadgets a film producer can hope to own, starting with:

All-in-one iPhone Lens Kit

If you’re one of the pioneering iPhonographers we mentioned above, a lens kit can help get the quality of your footage to the next level. Pictured is the Olloclip kit, which works with all iPhones (from the 4 up) and also the Samsung Galaxy.

Camtrol

One of the most portable, functional and—more importantly—value for money camera stabilization systems out there, and one that will get you through pretty much any shooting scenario. Above is the Camtrol Moose (named for obvious reasons) which retails around $775, but other products in the range run as low as $150.

Camera Beltpack

Although it won’t win you any awards for fashion, a camera operator’s best friend can also be a producer’s given that he or she is likely to be carrying around similar amounts of equipment (and even just things like pens or ibuprofen) when out on location.

Portable Espresso Machine

Does this one even need explaining? A film crew can’t operate without rocket fuel, and when you rock up to the set with a portable espresso maker, you’ll instantly become everyone’s favorite producer!

Becoming a Producer – Tried and Tested Career Paths

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the nature of what a movie production—specifically, how to become a movie producer, which continues to be a difficult role to surmise in just a few lines.

Having explored the job in greater depth, today we’re going to move onto a natural follow-on question:

What’s The Best Career Path to Become a Film Producer?

As with many jobs in film, there’s a degree of interchangeability within the industry—training in one field can often be carried over into different roles, and freelancers who have built up a network of contacts can sometimes find themselves filling in for other members of a production team.

That said, there are some very definite career paths that are well-trodden for those who are looking to become producers (despite the job itself being a mish-mash of responsibilities.) Here’s a break down of some of the best starting points:

Have Money

Okay, this is admittedly a little flippant, but there is a real message here: producing movies is all about cold, hard cash. If you’ve got a lot of it yourself, you can instantly become a film producer the second you commit some of it to your first project.

But this leads onto the main point about producing; assuming you’re not a multi-millionaire with some spare cash lying around, you’ll instead need to convince others that they should give you money and that it’ll be safe in your hands.

For that, you’ll want the most direct career path into film producing, which would be:

Producing School

Formal training at a top producing school is the most efficient way of letting potential investors know that you’re not a rookie, and not as much of a big gamble when it comes to laying down money.

When you come out of producing school, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with intimate knowledge of the business side of filmmaking (as well as key skills such as how to construct and manage a budget, putting together a crew, and negotiating contacts.) It’ll also give you a broader understanding of the industry as a whole—meaning you’re equally as adept at doing work on a TV documentary series as a big feature film—being able to prove you’ve got the chops for it is usually the deciding factor when it comes to landing your first producing job and snowballing your career.

Business School

There’s a reason why movie producers are often referred to as “suits.”

Since film production is remarkably similar to running a business, a slightly less direct career path—but one that is no less effective—is to get a degree in business management or similar before networking your way into the film industry from the outside. A minor in marketing or PR can also help in this regard, both in terms of being able to market your own skills and also to successfully promote any movie you’re in charge of.

Junior Production Positions

Between formal education and on-the-job training, one of the most tried and tested methods of making it in film production is to start off in a junior role and work up.

Seek out work as either an associate or segment producer to get yourself started; the former involves handling day-to-day duties during principal photography, while the latter has a great degree of autonomy over a single part of the script. Both are fairly junior roles and the job market is reasonably open to beginners who have qualifications under their belt, so it’s a good place to start climbing the career ladder and working your way up to more senior positions within a production team.

Jumping From Sideline Post-Production Jobs

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, a lot of skills you’ll learn in the film industry are interchangeable; as such, there are plenty of opportunities to jump across professions.

One career path that can lead you quickly to the lower rungs of the production ladder can be found in post-production. For instance, associate and executive producers are always on the lookout for those who have strong video editing skills or the ability to coordinate a team of sound mixers, so it always pays to network well, develop numerous skills, and think outside the box as to how you can apply them in a production role.

While there are always multiple ways to skin a cat when it comes to advancing in Hollywood, the above should give you some idea of how fluid career progression—particularly in film production—can be. However you achieve your success, we here at the NYFA producing school wish you the very best of luck in what is a tremendously rewarding (in all senses of the word) job in the film industry.

How To Self-Distribute Your Film

Producing and filming an independent movie is laborious work, though not impossible. And while bringing your vision to life outside the studio system might seem difficult, you’ll find it’s exponentially harder to get that vision to the masses. There’s a reason there is a huge industry dedicated entirely to distribution—the dissemination of movies in formats of all types. Doing it on your own is almost impossible.

However, with technological improvements and the decentralization of the Internet, more and more artists have turned to self-distribution. Some have it easier than others. Comics like Louis C.K. and filmmakers like Kevin Smith have found success putting distribution in their own hands, but they also benefitted from built-in audiences and closer sources to financing. If no one has ever heard of you, let alone your movie, you’re in for a serious undertaking. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

1. Get Attention

While streaming and video-on-demand are growing in popularity, booking movie theaters is still vital for most unseen movies to get seen. If you haven’t picked up a distributor after major festival screenings, it’s probably up to you. Your first goal should be to find a talented graphic artist who shares your vision. Make art—posters, flyers, etc.—for your film that catches the eye while also conveying its tone or mood or theme. You’ll also need a skilled editor to craft a movie trailer that will get your movie noticed. Art and trailers aren’t just necessary for social media or buzz, they will also grab attention in theater lobbies and as windows to your film on streaming websites. Most importantly though, they’ll help you raise money.

2. Get Money

Distribution is more expensive than you would probably guess, and depending on your production’s budget, could actually cost more than it did to make the movie. Renting theaters and paying for prints and ad materials rack up big costs. You may also find the need to hire assistance even if you’re distributing on your own. Use platforms like Kickstarter and more traditional grassroots campaigns to raise initial startup cash. Use your sweet trailer and posters to make people want to get involved. Find those interested in what you have to say or patrons of the arts or wealthier citizens who would like to see their name in the credits!

3. Get Ads

You’ve got the art and you’ve got the money to make prints so it’s time to get the word out. Theaters want ad materials well in advance because if people aren’t seeing your movie, it’s costing them money too. Ideally you could keep them in good shape and reuse them if you’re moving from city to city, but it’s hard to keep perishable material safe in the hands of strangers. You’ll probably just have to pay for more copies, so be prepared. And remember to get them early.

4. Get Social

Social media is the best way to gain buzz around your film. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—anything you can get your hands on that will get your story to the masses. Share your trailer and your cool poster. Post photos from the set or from your tour or time at festivals. Post your thoughts, even if unrelated to the film, just to keep your name and the name of your project in the air. Also, use your networks to find your audience. What cities or types of people seem to gravitate towards your project? When you self-distribute your distribution is limited—that makes efficient targeting very important.

5. Set Good Dates

Choosing the right release dates for your theatrical and online releases are key. You want to avoid the Fall and early Winter because the films with awards season buzz are already hogging the spotlight. You’ll also want to avoid sharing dates with major releases that are going to suck up all the audience, or, conversely, release concurrently with a film you think will turn off your potential audience so they’ll see yours instead. Counter-programming is a vital tactic used by distributors—if everyone is seeing the new sci-fi blockbuster, your low key drama would make a great alternative. And don’t forget to think small. If you’re doing one- or two-time screenings, choose Mondays and Tuesdays, days when an audience isn’t likely to be doing something else.

6. Go On Tour

Touring with your film may seem old school—it was originally done to save money on costly film prints, and has fallen out of fashion as digital prints have made distribution cheaper. But it’s a great way to focus resources and meet your audience in person, forging a stronger connection. Use social media and your art to keep locals in the know and go city-by-city, staggering your dates while building word of mouth.

7. Do Q&As

If you’re touring with your film, don’t just make it a series of run-of-the-mill screenings. Organize a Q&A, talking to your audience after the screening. Guest speakers make screenings more exciting and give people more incentive to come out and see it. You can also engage better with your audience and learn from them, increasing your buzz as well as teaching you how to better target a larger crowd

8. Stream

Once you feel your theatrical run has run its course, you should get your film online to stream. You can also make home video releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, though the format is quickly falling out of fashion. Distributing online later in the game is smart because it prevents potential piracy and forces people to come out to the theaters to see your film first. However, once you do go online, you’ll reach a much, much larger audience, especially considering all those who wanted to see your film but weren’t in the cities of your release. You can post on sites like YouTube, which isn’t as discriminating as companies like Netflix or Amazon, though it may give your film a less “professional” demeanor. But it’s a start.

9. Team Up

If you can’t make headway with the big companies like Netflix and Amazon, there are interesting and innovative organizations and companies you might have better luck with. Groups like Indieflix and Createspace back your film with screenings and streaming and help raise awareness of your project. Some, like Indieflix, have models that allow you to get paid for each minute your film is streamed. For self-distributors, organizations like these are becoming a must.

10. Be Prepared to Work

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. You may be physically and emotionally drained after finally getting your project on film or video, but if you’re going to distribute yourself you have to prepare for a great deal more effort. There’s a reason those with cash will pay someone else to do it for them. But if you’re an artist with no other choice, you’ll have to muscle through it. It’s not all bad though—self-distribution allows you to connect with your audience in a way many filmmakers never get to. And what’s making art and movies if not an attempt to connect?

How To Make The Most Of Pre-Production

A producer’s job is never finished, even after their movie has a definitive, final cut. But it does have a start—at the very beginning of pre-production, the work on a film before principal photography. And a smart producer will make sure they are making the most of this crucial time from day one. Especially when dealing with low budgets, every decision and every penny count. Here then are 12 things a producer can do during pre-production to best ensure a smooth, worthwhile film.

1. Start Saving Money

This applies to the producer, the director, and anyone else with a personal stake in the production. In a world where many artists and filmmakers live paycheck to paycheck, saving up a decent sum of money can take a long time, so start as soon as you know you have a project somewhere down the line. By saving up enough to cover at least a few months of rent and bills, you can then focus full time on the project without having to work a day job. You’ll also probably need some start-up cash to get the ball rolling on your project, just to get it to a point where you can start wooing investors.

2. Hire a line producer if you’re not micromanaging the budget

Film budgets, even for low-budget independent films, are both vitally important and incredibly complex. Unless you plan on having total control over the budget yourself, you will most likely need to someone to manage it for you, creating a proper breakdown of all costs and resources to the letter. Not only is this key to keeping track of a complicated film set, but essential to convincing potential investors that you have your head on your shoulders and are running a professional, competent project.

3. Hire a Lawyer

Find a lawyer willing to work within your budget, and willing to work for your budget. Having someone who knows their stuff, legally speaking, will help prevent any unforeseen expensive disasters when it comes to contracts, agreements and other paperwork.

4. Pick your format

Obviously, shooting digital is far cheaper than shooting on film these days. Choosing what you’d like to shoot—HD? 4K? 48fps?—as early as possible will help you start setting your budget sooner and more accurately. Choosing a more outdated format has its advantages as well; many production companies, film schools and individuals have stockpiles of outmoded technology they will be willing to give away at a sizable discount. If you are willing to put up with the extra costs and insist on shooting film, finding supplies of older stock can also save you a lot of money. Older film is typically grainier than fresh stock—but that could be just the look you’re going for.

5. Find your equipment

As with your format, finding equipment at a discount will go a long way toward reducing costs. You may choose what type of camera to use based on what is best available. You can work out a deal with a school you’ve attended or worked at, or go in on rental (or purchased) equipment with another production, or have a business front the money in exchange for producing an industrial or commercial video for them.

6. Find your crew

Obviously you and the director want to find a crew that will best realize the vision of the project. However, sometimes it pays to be practical. A lot of freelancing DPs and sound techs will own their own equipment. If you’re torn between two candidates, it might be smart to go with the one who can save you some money. Negotiating salary is also a key step in this part of pre-production. Even if someone is the best, if they’re asking for money you don’t have, sacrifices might have to be made.

 7. Find your casting director

Casting directors know what they’re doing, and it’ll take a load off your shoulders to have someone doing the grunt work of finding your perfect cast. More importantly, a casting director with a solid reputation will look great when you present your project to investors. (This also applies to finding your DP and crew.)

8. Storyboard!

It might seem odd to focus on storyboarding in the middle of non-creative pre-production work, but storyboarding will help with a lot more than setting the look for the film. Having a strict, detailed sense of what you’ll be shooting will help you get exactly what you require, whether its locations, lights, props, etc., and save you from having to spend money on extraneous elements you may never need. It will also keep you tight on schedule as you move shot to shot during production because producing rule #1 is and will always be Time = Money.

9. Get you insurance and permits out of the way

Acquiring insurance and permits can lead to a lot of red tape; it’s best to get it out of the way early. That way, if you hit any paperwork hiccups, you can have them resolved well before production starts, preventing any delays.

10 Find a caterer

This may seem trivial and silly, but it’s anything but. It’s indicative of an entire part of filmmaking that often gets overlooked—the little things. Finding a person or business to feed your crew may seem like a low priority when dealing with permits, insurance and expensive equipment rentals, but your cast and crew need to be fed, and if you overlook it until the last minute, any number of things can go awry. Giving yourself time to find the right caterer—someone close by, someone with a broad enough menu—will also help you find the best bargain available.

11. Lock your location

Get a great location scout. Get several, if you can. Look everywhere so that you know you didn’t miss the perfect spot that gives you everything you want for the lowest cost. Don’t just take into account how it looks on screen. Keep in mind traffic patterns, noise issues, potential problems with permits and insurance, and importantly, its distance to your crew, equipment, and, of course, your caterer. Travel costs rack up. Lock your location as early as possible so you can work on all of the above steps well before production gets underway.

12. Nail your lookbook

Your lookbook, or investment packet, should be as thrilling and as exciting as your project. Convincing potential investors to risk their own money on your artistic vision is a tough sell, and by hiring a graphic designer and offering as professional a lookbook as possible, you’ll show these investors you mean business. It can’t just look pretty, though—what’s inside counts as well. That’s where talented names—whether it’s your crew, your actor, or your casting director—come into play. And if you have everything else listed above taken care of—if you show your investors you’ve even considered the caterer—they will be much more likely to trust you with their money.

Learn more about production at the New York Film Academy Producing School.

Green Filmmaking: Producing Carbon-Neutral Movies

Historically speaking, the movie industry doesn’t have a fantastic reputation when it comes to creating art in an environmentally friendly manner. 

It probably comes as no surprise that massive blockbusters generate a lot of carbon emissions during production, but the scale of which is nothing short of exasperating. To take 2007’s The Dark Knight as an example, the production team burned through half a million dollars’ worth of gasoline and a full million dollars worth of building materials for props and sets. In addition, many of the 900-strong production team were flown between the US, England, and China in order to film subsidiary scenes there.

To boot, many businesses were urged to leave their lights on so Nolan could make the most of Hong Kong’s night skyline.

There’s a reason why Hollywood is perpetually shrouded in smog; as revealed in a University of California study, movie production generates more pollution in the area than any other major industry (including manufacturing and hospitality). Only fuel refining topped this.

However, with a heightened awareness to global warming and sustainability issues in recent years, filmmaking is beginning to wake up and follow suit. Not only are there more movies and documentaries centered around sustainability as subject matter (think Wall-E, An Inconvenient Truth, Avatar, et al), but filmmakers —both A-list and hobbyist—are beginning to think more consciously about green filmmaking while on set.

Ways to Improve your Green Filmmaking

In a nutshell, green filmmaking involves reducing or offsetting emissions so that the entirety of the production can be deemed “carbon neutral.” Understandably, this isn’t an easy thing to achieve; it was only until 2006’s political thriller Syriana that this goal was realized, and only a few truly carbon neutral movies have followed since: An Inconvenient Truth, The Day After Tomorrow, Sweet Land, and The Day The Earth Stood Still (the remake) are the only titles we’re able to verify.

If you’re in the business and looking to increase your green filmmaking credentials (or even join that tiny list), there are a few easy and financially viable things you can do:

  • Water Bottles. Even on small productions, there are hundreds of the things lined up on tables and in hospitality areas and recycling them all at the end of a shoot doesn’t do much good (they’ll only be recycled into more plastic products before eventually ending up in landfill). There are a few manufacturers who claim to produce 100% carbon-neutral water bottles, but it’s worth asking all crew members to bring in their own reusable bottles since this will also shave a little (or a lot) off the production budget. Biodegradable plates and utensils are also a good idea.
  • Hire a consultant. This can be a little on the pricey side, but having an eco consultant is the most effective—and arguably only—way of getting your production to the magic carbon neutral mark. Having a dedicated consultant to analyze every aspect of the project in great detail also frees you up to focus on your craft with a clear conscience.
  • Do research. If you’re not in a position to bring in a consultant to handle all the sourcing for materials and equipment, do spend a little time doing some research yourself. It doesn’t take long to check out the green credentials of the companies you’re working with and buying from—even a quick Google search will usually tell you everything you need to know.
  • Shop local. Travel can be one of the biggest CO2 contributors in all stages of movie production, so it makes a lot of sense to try and cut down the amount of locations involved and hire as many professionals from that area as possible, rather than have them fly from around the globe.
  • Go hybrid. On the topic of travel, car journeys can cumulatively rack up a lot of spent gasoline over the course of a project, particularly on larger productions. Opt for vehicles that are more economical rather than gas-guzzling SUVs and the like.

Don’t forget that many states provide tax incentives for those practicing green filmmaking, so do look into tax breaks for the areas you’ll be working in. Even if there isn’t a precedent there already, it’s worth reaching out to officials anyway and begin negotiations. After all, they’d rather have you in their state rather than any other.

Get In The Competition!

Helping the planet is its own reward, but adding a little competition doesn’t hurt either. If you’re as green as the freshly grown grass, you may want to consider putting your work up for judgement in one of many festival competitions that exist to celebrate green filmmaking. Some of the more prominent ones to consider include:

More Green Filmmaking Resources

  • Greenshoot – A useful depository of tips on green filmmaking and tales from the field.
  • Green Filmmaking – Although the competition hosted here is solely for Dutch filmmakers, there are plenty of videos and workshops which are universally applicable.
  • Ecorazzi – Blog coverage of LA’s green filmmaking movements and initiatives.
  • The Wild Classroom – Need technical help on going green while choosing equipment and shooting? Hit these guys up.
  • EcoIQ – A list of resources and businesses that can help you make your production more green.

Learn more about how you can reduce your carbon footprint in NYFA’s One-Year Producing Conservatory Program.

Get Your Independent Movie on Streaming Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon: What You Need to Know

Get Your Independent Movie on Streaming Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon: What You Need to Know

Netflix is seen as the golden goose of film distribution these days, and many hold the opinion that if your movie isn’t on Netflix, it’s barely released at all.

This, of course, isn’t strictly true: for one, Netflix isn’t the be all and end all of streaming (iTunes, Hulu, Amazon and even YouTube are equally viable alternatives). Secondly, it’s still entirely possible to eschew video streaming on the major platforms and get your movie to your audience on your terms, but filmmakers choosing this road have a tough uphill battle ahead of them.

While recognizing that getting an independent movie on Netflix isn’t the only goal you should focus on when emerging from your producing MFA with film in hand, it can be a massive factor in your project’s success.

Here are the steps to getting your independent movie on Netflix, and some pitfalls you should be mindful of in the process:

  1. Get your film in the Netflix database
  2. Work with an independent film distribution company
  3. Ask people to request your film in their Netflix queue
  4. Get press coverage of your film

Step 1: It’s All About the Database

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear you can’t just email someone at Netflix and ask them to pop your work on the homepage. Getting your independent movie on Netflix starts with one key step, and unfortunately it’s a step you have very little control of: get on the Netflix database.

The Netflix database can be considered a long list of movies they’re considering for inclusion. How do you get on the Netflix database?

You don’t. They decide.

Step 2: Work with an independent film distributor

Unless you have some serious contacts in and around the Netflix arena, your odds are against you but some third party distributors have inroads. Getting one of these distributors on board, however, presents its own challenges and, somewhat ironically, video streaming itself is killing your chance of getting on Netflix—with DVD sales through the floor, distributors are reluctant to take on independent movies in this market since the returns from Netflix are so low.

Now, that’s the depressing news out of the way. There is an indie distribution company (owned by IndieGoGo) that can help get your independent movie on Netflix and all of the other major streaming services: Distribber.

Distribber does charge a fee of up to $1,600, but you keep all rights to your movie as well as 100% of the revenue it goes on to make.

Step 3: Raise an Army

Assuming you’ve made it onto the Netflix database (congratulations), you’ll need to prove there’s demand for your independent movie. In order to demonstrate this, people will have to request the movie in their Netflix queue (known as the ‘queue demand’).

It’ll behoove you to do a big marketing push and ask literally everyone you know to do this; not only will it improve your chances of getting your independent movie on Netflix, but it’ll also increase the amount you’ll get for it if and when they make you an offer.

How Does the Money Work, Anyway?

Unlike most of the other platforms, Netflix doesn’t pay you per view since it isn’t contingent on ad revenue. Instead, it pays you a one-off fee for a license (usually lasting one or two years) to stream your movie to an unlimited audience.

How much will this be? This is anyone’s guess, since it depends hugely on the demand (see above), but it’s usually less that you’d hoped for. Expect a four figure deal, and praise the stars if you get five figures.

Step 4: Increase Your Chances

While the queue demand appears to be the biggest factor for success in Netflix’s nebulous decision process, there is some evidence to suggest other considerations are made. A legitimate IMDB listing, a great score on Rotten Tomatoes, and wide press coverage may help get your independent movie on Netflix, and should be on your to-do list regardless.

The Bigger Picture

A wise approach to film distribution is to remove any and every barrier to entry between your movie and a potential viewer as possible, and you need a very good reason not to do this.

Don’t focus solely on one streaming service—hit them all.