Winning at the game of filmmaking is something like winning the lottery. The odds are only slightly better.
The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to improve the odds significantly in your favor. I don’t like to waste my time, or that of my team, my investors or anyone else, so I like to stack the deck in my favor before ever pitching a project. By ‘stacking the deck’ I mean lining up all the resources before you talk to your first investor about your film project.
The following is a list of five things that you can do to greatly increase your chance of success:
1. Get advice from the smartest people that you know in show business. Talk to film distributors and foreign sales agents first about your concept before you even write the script. Once you have gotten all of their input on the genre, characters, location and plot, then go talk to other producers, casting, production veterans, screenwriters, and actors before completing your first version of the script. If you already have a script you need to go through the same process to vet the premise and allow others to shoot holes in your grand design. Avoid getting feedback from friends and family members who will only tell you what you want to hear.
Making movies that people want to watch starts with talking to experts.
2. Once you have vetted your script and polished it to a shine, now build your team. Unfortunately, most producers pick team members that will (A) Work for free (insert % here), (B) Will not challenge them in the room, and (C) Agree that they (the producer) is, if not God Himself, very near to him. So what you have ends up looking more like a personality cult than a production company. Don’t do that. Choose the most powerful, dynamic and connected people that you can find. If you have money pay them, if you don’t, elevate them to the same status that you enjoy… and give them the respect that they deserve. Remember – you, and your project, are only as good as your team.
3. Bring gravitas to your picture. Gravitas could be in the form of Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Mark Cuban, Sandra Bullock, Spike Lee, or His Holiness the Dalai Lama – but it better be someone who brings some serious weight to your project. Because without gravitas you are just another wannabe producer with a script. Remember – the title of this article is Winning Before You Show Up, not Show Up And Pray For the Best. Bring enough gravitas to your picture and it gets made. No one in our business ever turned down a meeting with JJ Abrams, Stephen Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey or Catherine Zeta Jones.
The more power you bring to the project the higher your chance of success.
4. Line up your distribution early. Wouldn’t you agree that producers with studio output deals get their films green-lit and into production faster than those who do not? Producers with a domestic (North American) distribution partner, plus P&A money committed to their project also tend to get their movies made. Producers who have strong foreign sales relationships and can get their films pre-sold at Cannes, AFM, Sundance, Toronto, and EFM/Berlin get their movies financed and into production. Producers who have none of these things mostly sit around and talk about how they want to make movies. Distribution deals get movies financed and made.
5. Have a reputation for taking care of your investors, your cast, your crew and your distributor. If your film projects are not getting funded then maybe it is time to look in the mirror and ask if you are a good investment. A bad reputation in the film industry follows someone around like stink on a skunk. If making your next movie ever becomes more important than taking care of the people who helped you get here, and believed in you in the past, then maybe it is time to get out of the business and go open a restaurant.
Take care of people on the way up and they will be there for you now.
Winning Before You Show Up is all about knowing your business, having the right team, bringing gravitas to your project, lining up distribution, and lastly… being the kind of person that others will trust with their money, their time and their talent.