Tag Archives: Production

Maken’ Movies

This week I kinda’ had it in my head to get moving forward on an indi project I have been rolling around for ages.

Some stuff surfaced on the Canon EOS 7D sooting HD video, even better than its predecessor the Canon EOS 5D. I shared what I found with some filmmaker friends, which started some conversations, leading to more thoughts and conversations, bringing about some research, and so on an so forth. Before I knew it, Bob’s your uncle and I’m digging up old materials from all over the place. Suddenly I’m hip deep in scripts.

Okay, I wasn’t literally hip deep in scripts, in truth, not even ankle deep. It sounded good though didn’t it? I did feel like I was swimming in scrips. I’ve been thinking about doing an online radio-drama series for a long time but the idea of writing 13 or more episodes at this particular place in time seemed a little too much for me to embark on; to be even more truthful, I have been leaning more toward the video route and I know I’m not ready to write 13 plus screenplays for an episodic or 13 plus original shorts.

Turns out I had a stack of old 1940s radio show scripts, some of which, fit the noir/detective genre I have been wanting to do. One of them struck me as very visual, so I decided to try and hammer out a feature adaptation for screen, big or small. The original was a 40 minute radio play, I started off by transcribing the original into SceneWriter as a rough draft for easy editing. Next up, the first draft edit of the rough. Got a time bump of a few minutes, but more importantly, it feels right; the script feels right, the edits feel like they are working, the visuals are clear, the juices are really flowing on this one. I finished the first draft and moved on to the second.

Re-writes are a constant. Every time a script is written it will be re-written over and over again, three, four, five, seven, ten times if needed, so I am told. I’ve finished my first re-write, I now have a one hour screen play, not polished by any means, but a one hour screen play with several new scenes. The new scenes need fleshing out, they are pretty soft right now, but they are workable. I figure with fleshing out those scenes and a few more writing/re-writing sessions I should easily reach 90 minutes or better; a full length feature.

What does it all mean? For me, I think after a another re-write this will be ready to go into preproduction. Script breakdown, characters, shots, props, locations, and all of the schedule development stuff. Of course the re-writes will continue as the project progresses. After breakdown begins I guess I will have to start looking for some cast & crew. Interns, I need interns… I think I am going to hire myself to direct.

Look ma, I’m a triple threat: Writer, Producer, Director.

😉

Digital Media Revolution: Disparate Infrastructure Is The Enemy

I was scanning my Twitter feed and came across this tweet from @AllenChou;

“40% of broadband households watch full-length TV shows over Internet yet TV/Film Distribs not making $”

So I checked out the article Allen linked to. In part it says…

DIGITAL: Study shows industry needs to find better business model By Susanne Ault — Video Business, 11/11/2009

“NOV. 11 | DIGITAL: U.S. broadband households watching TV shows and movies online has doubled over 2008, according to a Parks Associates study.

More than 25 million U.S. households regularly watch full-length TV shows online, and more than 20 million watch movies. Parks singled out free, ad-supported online video-on-demand site Hulu.com as driving people to watch such programming on the Web…”

DigitalDelemaWhile this article focuses on distributor’s need to modify their business model to better monetize internet distribution, it brings something more to the table in my eyes.

At a time when media content is produced for many distribution mediums, the question has been how to distribute across platforms. The solution is not more, it is less. The aging infrastructure in America has become a collection of disparate distribution platforms; broadcast television and radio, cable, satellite, internet, and telephone. All of them use different protocols and systems, but they don’t have to.

In the last decade some of the large communications conglomerates have made some headway in providing multiple services over their primary medium. The problem is that all of them are continuing to provide services to the end user on the same disparate and aging infrastructure they started with. Making it even more interesting, all of them use the same data between distribution points, the disparity is in the head-end to user segment.

The answers to monetizing media exists in a wide range of solutions via the internet, pay-per-view, subscription, and more. The best way to get to greater profit margins is to kill off the antiquated mediums and eliminate the expenses in using them. IP based distribution of broadcast television, radio, cable, satellite, and telephone is available via the internet. What needs to happen is a standardization of infrastructure. The user end is simple: provide an Ethernet connection and all of the services are available with little or no changes on the consumer’s end. By choosing a unified and standardized infrastructure media producers/distributors can focus on making the media available and increasing margins.

A simple example is HBO or Showtime. They don’t need cable TV or satellite providers to get their media to market. A simple login to a subscription-based service can grant access to all the media. The advantage to the consumer is lower prices and the ability to select exactly what media they want access to. No intermediate contract obligations to keep the consumer tied to “licensed channels” on a carrier and the benefits of time shifted media; see what you want, when you want it. Media producers have significant advantages, too. The inherent demographic and statistical data, active and accurate viewership data. Quantifiable data for advertisers.

Another example is broadcast media. If a TV station stopped broadcasting its outbound only signal and focused its resources on providing free WiFi for an area, distributed its media via the internet, its programing made available world wide, it would be a greater value to its viewers and its advertisers. It would also reduce its own operating costs and free up the radio frequency spectrum.

Main stream media and large media producers hold the key. It is up to them to make things happen. It requires them to change the way they look at their content, it requires thinking in an Open Source mindset. The larger the number of potential viewers the better. Things like DRM don’t help protect your media, it makes the media less accessible. Likewise proprietary viewers or binding to specific players make your media less accessible, and thereby less attractive to consumers. I purchased the movie UP with the “Digital Copy” disk from Disney. I don’t have an iPod or iPhone, I have a BlackBerry. Because the iTunes/Windows Media Player is only options for viewing the DRM’d movie, it is completely useless to me. So why would I buy a DVD with this “bonus?”

There is nothing wrong with charging for your content and the public recognizes that. If HBO stopped selling its programing to cable and satellite and distributed consumer direct via internet only the content they produce would reach more viewers and provide them with more feedback and data from their viewers with no intermediaries. How would they fare financially? With the die-hard fans of many HBO programs, I think they would exceed current margins in 2 years or less and recoup any costs of the change in business model in less than 5 years.

These kinds of changes would also create new distribution channels for independent media producers. Without the constraints of programing time slots and the possibility of infinite catalogs, channels could purchase or license indi productions directly. It even provides the opportunity to list the property and pay content producers on a residual basis. The possibilities are endless.

Overall, a high quality broadband internet connection should be freely available to everyone, a network of regulated free WiFi and hard line solutions, provided by a consortium of fed, state, and local governments, service providers, media providers, and businesses. Contributors to the national WiFi network get a tax break for being a part of the infrastructure. It’s green, it reduces consumer cost, it reduces provider cost, and it enhances viable infrastructure while removing old disparate technologies. It really is a win win for everyone, but it starts with content providers and infrastructure.

If a cell phone can connect, you should be able to get it all.

Building A Production Team

Howdy all!

This is going to be a short post today, I am totally wiped out tonight but I wanted to get this out right away. I will be refining this post and building a Team Search page later but for now I will get to the guts of the matter.

FlyBoyJon is building a creative team. I have a couple of projects in early development and I need to get them moving forward, so I am looking for some pre-production development talent to start building that creative team. I am looking for… Director, Director of Photography, Editor, Production Designer, Visual Effects Supervisor, and Writer. This is not an exclusive list however, anyone in production is welcome to contact me.

In the interest of clarity I wanted to be sure to let you know that this is not an open job listing. I am looking to connect with more of my fellow production people. If something comes from connecting, fantastic. If not, we will have exchanged some information and maybe be able to work with, or help each other out in the future. This is an open invitation to network with fellow production people.

If you are interested, feel free to send me an email or you can leave a message for me by using the Call Me button up on top of the page. Please remember to send/leave your name, contact information, what you do, and any other information you think relevant or important. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

I am also looking to meet up with fellow producers in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area so please feel free to drop me a line or email anytime.

Where is he going with this?

Taking NoteA fair question, indeed.

When I started this iteration of the website as a blog in March of 2008, the idea was to use it as a personal site only. Later it migrated to an idea of a purely commercial/organizational site, and has morphed into several variations since. In the most recent morph, I closed down a couple of other sites, redirected them to this site and cross-posted the entries from those sites here. Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it? I spent a lot of time on this site planing and preparing for this grand Aviation Adventure program (which I have not given up on, by the way) that was to become my primary focus professionally. Due to many circumstances, that plan has not born any fruit.

This post is a “clear the air” article, more for me than anyone else, though it may contain tidbits useful to others. I wanted to put the new plans out there for the universe to see, and to be a personal motivator and reference point.

Shortcomings in personality have much to do with the lack of forward motion on several plans for the site. I am a born puppeteer leader. I lead from the wings, not on stage. Getting things done is much easier for me if there is a “face man” to motivate the masses and sell the product. I am a skilled sales person and I do have the interpersonal skills to get the job done, I just don’t like to be the face man. I can do the jobs of a good sized team in the background; just don’t throw me out on stage and things will work out fine. This is my biggest hurdle in getting projects moving forward. This is also a contributing factor in this most recent change of direction.

The last few posts have been about me, not just in the subject sense but in the personal sense, and this is part of the new direction I am moving to with this site. It is a change of perspective and attitude, to view the adventures more the way I see them. The plan then is to do the adventure stuff but approach it from the back stage perspective. Go through the planing, plotting and set up, then into the training phase, on to the execution, and the grand finale, the post production documentation phase. With this perspective I will be able to do and share all of the things I love, the planing, training, adventure, and production.

As much as I would love to start building that Nieuport right away, that just aint gonna happen. As a kid I was never in shape; I was an active person, I was just an active fat person. Over the years, I have abused my body with long hours, little sleep and lots of burst activities. The kinds of things that put high strain on the body. Now, as I reach for middle age, I realize there are a lot of things I miss doing that are adventures in and of themselves. I want to get myself in better physical condition to do some of the more infrequently done adventures. One thing I have wanted to do most of my life is fly around the world as pilot in command (PIC). To do that I need to be in good physical condition, certainly better condition than I am now.

So, this is where the adventures begin. I am embarking on a physical fitness program, still in development, that is my first adventure. This change in direction began with the 5k my wife and I participated in a week ago, and moved forward in the preparation of yesterdays article on shoes. Last night I plotted out a 5k through my neighborhood and that is my new training ground, until I bump it up to a 10k.

This is the beginning of my basic fitness program. As I put together more of a program I will put up a Basic Fitness page to elaborate on what I am doing in that arena. At present, the first Adventure, with a capital A, will most likely be the Skyline To The Sea trail, from Skyline down into Big Basin State Park. As soon as I get more on the planing of that trip I will start the Adventure page. As I accumulate more Adventures, I will sort them out a bit, but the blog will contain posts about all.

Monetization is where the biggest change in plan for the site takes place. I had always planned for the site to be monetized, it was originally intended to be very early in the game. Now that element is taking a back seat. I plan on acquiring sponsors and selling advertising at some point. For now that is an incidental, not a driving factor. This is a huge shift in the sites initial concept. Where it was originally money driven, it is now a personal thing. Don’t get me wrong, I will be pimping the site in short order, it just wont be the driving force. I think that this change in attitude about the site will help to over come my personal obstacles about being the face man.

Making Media Magic

reels-bl-2 copyIn the media producing world these days, it seems as though there are only the two extremes of thought. “Art for Art’s sake” or “be as creative as you want, as long as it makes money”, kind of like Henry Ford’s “You can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black”.

An Art Zealot I am not, a money grubbing fiend… maybe a little, but no. I do want to produce something I am proud of artistically and at the same time have it be commercially successful.

The measure of pride in an artistic endeavor is relatively easy for the artist to gauge, ether you are satisfied or you are not. Defining “commercially successful” on the other hand can be a difficult task.

In the “professional” production world, commercial success is all about having a good profit margin. If it cost you $1,500 to produce the media, you want to be paid at least $3,000. Let’s face it, we don’t work for free right? A 100% margin is, in business parlance, an acceptable margin. Anything below 25%, and its more like a hobby, at least from a business perspective.

As an artist, paying the bills to produce the project, getting by personally, and having a little extra to fund the next project is usually sufficient to consider your self commercially successful. This is of course the typical “art for arts sake” artist and not the person employed to make a living on there artistic skills; who is by the way no less the artist. Frequently the two coexist within the same person; the daily trudge side and the high art side. Producing TV spots by day and personal projects by night.

I believe most people who make a living from there artistic talents, have an idealistic streak within themselves that wants to do nothing more than their art and just not have to worry about the day to day needs for subsistence. I know I certainly do. The freedom to make movies when the creative iron is hot, having all of the hardware and technology needed for production at hand all of the time, it would be a wonderful thing. But for most of us that is not the case.

For me, the goal is a balancing of the two extremes, produce something that I am artistically satisfied with that also keeps the bill collectors away, and provides for a growing collection of the equipment, materials, and technology to keep moving my art to new levels. Along the way it would be nice to help others on the same path.

So where’s the magic? The magic is when you can achieve artistic and commercial success in one project. Regardless of who the media is produced for, a TV spot, a documentary, a slasher film, a corporate piece. If you the producer is satisfied internally with the work, and you actually made a dime, you have made media magic.

I guess after all of that, it comes down to this…
Only you can make your art magic.

~FBJ

Low-Budget Motion Picture Studio Development

reels-bl-2 copyThis entry is a paper on micro-production companies I wrote a few months ago. I know of a few people who follow this blog who are participating in low budget film making and though this might be of interest.

~FBJ

Contents

•    Introduction
•    Low-Budget Motion Picture Production
•    Making movies cheaper
•    The keys to the kingdom
•    What makes a motion picture commercially viable?
•    What makes a script commercially viable?
•    Start selling early
•    Getting started
•    Return on investment
•    Mitigation of risk
•    Elements to successful production
•    Keeping the talent pool fresh
•    Summary

Introduction

A new course is being charted in motion picture production. Sextant MPS has been building a catalog of properties since 2004, its founders have been developing properties individually since the early 1970’s, and as a collaborative are in position to produce any one of its many motion picture properties.

With the development of new technologies and the falling prices of equipment and software there has never been a better time to enter the motion picture industry. When cameras cost $50,000 or more it is difficult to justify purchasing new ones frequently; when they cost $500 you can easily keep up with the Jones’s as new breakthroughs occur.

Low-Budget Motion Picture Production

Low-Budget does not have to mean cheap or crap. There have been many commercially successful low-budget films in the general distribution market place. Some have been cheesy, presumably on purpose (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, cost $90K, spurred 3 sequels, video games in a franchise grossing hundreds of millions of dollars), some have been cult classics (Blair Witch Project, cost $60K, grossed over $240M), and others have been serious entries into the general market (Chasing Amy, cost $250K, grossed $12M).

The Screen Actors Guild calls anything under $2.5M a low budget film. The Hollywood industrial standard is anything under $25M. Independent filmmaking is generally under $250K.

Previously mentioned examples of low-budget films all could be done today for less than they cost when they were made. Technological landscapes have changed a great deal in the last five years. High Definition video and extremely versatile Non-Linier Editing systems (NLE’s) have come down in price so fast that it is now possible to buy a good quality, pro-sumer camera and an NLE for less than $10,000 combined. These advances in technology make it possible for new companies to enter the market fresh, and upgrade with the technological advances frequently without breaking the bank.

Making movies cheaper

Many motion pictures are still being shot on film. Shooting on film adds a lot of cost to the project. A project using 16mm film can expect to pay $100 per minute of film. A project shot on 35mm could expect the cost to be $1,000 per minute. This cost is on film used to shoot, not your projects run time. The average production has a 5:1 shoot ratio or higher, this means, for every minute in your scripted project you will shoot 5 minutes to get that 1 minute needed. The average project shot with 35mm film costs over $505,000 just in film stock and daily processing. This does not take into account scenes that are shot and cut in post-production. Shoot digital, and you just saved half a million dollars.

The keys to the kingdom

The keys to making low-budget commercially successful motion pictures are making movies that are fresh, entertaining and commercially viable. Independent filmmaking has been very successful with respect to making motion pictures on a small budget, it has however, been traditionally unsuccessful in making motion pictures that are commercially viable.

What makes a motion picture commercially viable?

Many, independent filmmakers produce motion pictures with the mantra “art for art’s sake”. Although there have been commercially successful films produced under this edict, they are few and far between. The saving grace of independent film is its tenacious ability to produce motion pictures on a very low budget. The motion picture industry as a whole has operated on its own edict that it takes big money to get big money. This has been proven incorrect by several filmmakers within the traditional motion picture industry, Clint Eastwood is a master at producing low-budget (by Hollywood standards) films that are commercially successful. On the fringe of the established industry, Robert Rodriguez has also produced a number of commercially successful films on low budgets. Both filmmakers understand the key concepts to making low-budget, commercially viable films.

Commercial success can be achieved in low-budget by the selection of an appropriate script, writing and editing that script with the intent of linking it to a marketing plan, and the judicious use of the independent filmmaker spirit

What makes a script commercially viable?

Key elements of a commercially viable script are a unique story, or in the very least a unique retelling of the story, and development of the screenplay with an eye toward product placement and ancillary commercial opportunities; including merchandising, book sales, sequels, and unique marketing opportunities such as membership websites, organizations, societies, or movements.

Start selling early

Viral marketing of a motion picture property requires careful integration with key elements of the story, dynamic content and ease of distribution. The most successful example of viral marketing in a low-budget motion picture that made lots of money is the Blair Witch Project. The story of Blair Witch Project is weak at best, the production quality is also weak, however, due to the nature of the story, and in light of the enormous viral marketing campaign surrounding the project and it became a very strong property for the distribution company and the studio. Together the viral marketing campaign and the extremely low budget for production of the film where responsible for its financial success.

Getting started

Although the definition of low-budget is the subject of debate by various organizations, the disparity is based on whose industry standards are being cited. A budget of $250,000 is quite sufficient for the production of commercially viable film. Within this budgetary range, preproduction funding for the development of a property can be between $10,000 and $25,000 up-front, depending on the complexity of the film and technical requirements it may have.  In its most simple terms, a low-budget studio could feasibly produce seven to ten motion pictures in one year for under $5M. Up-front capital for an independent, low-budget studio to produce these films would be in the range of $500K -$750K.

Return on investment

Turnaround times on low-budget films, though shorter than major studio motion pictures, still run between one and two years.

Preproduction development times run from 3 to 10 months depending on the complexity of the motion picture. (median time in months; 6)

Most low-budget motion pictures can complete the preproduction phase between 3 and 6 months.  (4)

Post-production, like the other phases, is dependent on the complexity and technical requirements of the motion picture.  Post can run anywhere from 2 to 10 months. (5)

If distribution has already been arranged, the motion picture should go directly to theaters or consumer direct channels. If distribution has not been secured in advance, it becomes necessary to present the motion picture within the film festival circuit. Playing the circuit could add 18 months or more to secure a distribution contract. (6)

Assuming a run in the film festival circuit before a distribution contract is negotiated; this brings our median time in around 21 months before revenues are generated on the motion picture. This is of course assuming that the property is picked up by distribution. This is not always the case.

It is the responsibility of the producers to provide their best efforts at securing distribution for any motion picture from its inception. There are however, elements well outside the producers’ control that may prevent the film from obtaining distribution.

Mitigation of risk

The business of making movies has always been a risky venture. There are no absolutes in the industry guaranteeing distribution or the profitability of a motion picture. A producer can mitigate risk by ensuring the property is developed as a commercially viable project, and by securing product placement contracts and distribution contracts during the development phase of the motion picture. Elements that can reduce risk of loss include completion insurance and preventative measures against stock asset material destruction and curtailing proprietary information exchange

Elements to successful production

Filming in digital formats, thorough preproduction planning, extensive storyboarding and shot lists, and the early involvement of editing staff can reduce back end expenses and time a great deal. Spending a little extra time in the preproduction phase can smooth out the bumps in the road before you get to them.

Keeping production elements in the house whenever possible may cost slightly more initially, however, the flexibility and oversight it allows outweigh the slight cost increase quickly. Development of regular crew list keeps the set environment familiar and allows the crew to flow smoothly from one project to the next. Frequent reanalysis of the production paradigm provides regular feedback on the flow of the production, more importantly it provides the producers with information that can streamline the flow of production and provide continued cost reduction information from one project to the next.

Continual development of industrial relationships such as distribution companies, vendors, and talent, along with regular scouting of new crew, talent and locations provides the studio with ready resources going into the next project.

Keeping the talent pool fresh

Experimental filmmaking with regular cast and crew in between projects by making short subject films, though not usually commercially viable, presents many opportunities for the development of new techniques, equipment, and expanding crew skill sets. This kind of intermediary project also provides an opportunity to audition new crew and talent in a professional environment, without commercial loss. Furthering the growth and development of regular crew and talent affects the bottom line positively.

Summary

Maintaining a top-of-mind awareness, a studio can develop a reputation for its ability to develop fresh properties and get them to market quickly while maintaining a high quality product.

Combining the independent filmmaker spirit with big-picture management, a small studio can produce a high volume of commercially viable motion pictures annually while incurring very low cost-per-project expenses and a minimal studio overhead cost.

Busy Bee Buzzing Blissfully

desktopSo much going on. Over the weekend, Thursday the 22nd through Monday the 26th, I was fi/fantasy/media/costume convention and actually did stuff. This year was also a year of firsts, I was not working the con, I paid to attend, I was a contestant in the masquerade costume contest (in a group), the group I was in, WON Best in Show for Presentation!

There was drama within the group that caused stress for a week now, but I think that is over with. I do love costuming and theatrical presentations. I always have fun.

On other fronts, the SteamFaire project is moving along nicely. I was able to do a great deal of meet and greet at BayCon and had nothing but positive responses from everyone. With over 40 registered users on the SteamFaire.com website I am moving forward… wait for it… full steam ahead. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

I have called for a meeting on June 8th to move the planning to an open forum for discussion and input. I expect there will be a great deal of creative and interesting things brought up at the meeting.

Tomorrow, back to the gristmill. I have to something about that.

~FBJ

A Book Project

topsheetMotion Picture Budget Book and
Motion Picture Budget Workbook

This is a set of books I have been working on for some time now. The books are intended to help film students and new producers understand the budget process and provide a foundation for budget development. The Workbook is available here in its preliminary format for your perusal.

Even if you are not involved in production this workbook will give you an idea as to what goes into making a major motion picture.

Please feel free to post any comments you may have on this project.

~FBJ

Artistic vs. Commercial

What makes good media?

Snow Ball microphone from Blue
Snow Ball microphone from Blue

When asking this question you can expect the answer to fall along party lines. In media development, the Party System is divided in 2 Major Parties. Creative and Distribution with fringe parties like Product Placement and Trend Watchers confusing the issue just enough to keep things interesting.

If you ask a creative, they will fall to there idealistic mantra du jour, that their skill set plays to. If you ask Distribution a pipsqueak, that gets paid way too much, will materialize and begin flipping through charts of data telling you what elements are essential, statistically, for the presented genre.

Where in lies the truth?

Sadly it is closer to the Distribution, but not necessarily in the way you may think. The distributors are a wealth of knowledge on what has been successful in the past. So, unless you have a first run package like Blair Witch, you might want to pay attention to the bean counters.

On the creative edge, making formula look good is truly an art. Consider: most theatrical writing is based on a fairly strict formula. Theatrical productions that stray too far from this tried and true path have little chance of succeeding. So it is important to “follow the rules” but that doesn’t mean through out creativity.

If you look at the rules as a frame work to drape your art over, it will be easier to work with. This goes for things like product placement and sponsors as well. If you know up front what you need to incorporate into the project, it makes it easier to build/work around those elements.

Conclusion…

If you are a creative, don’t despair. Take what you have and what you are given, look at them both closely and find that creative middle ground that lets your art shine through and be seen by the masses.

Distribution, relax, your risking a heart attack with all of that stress. The Creatives are not out do destroy you. Take the time to present where the money is coming from and what is unnecessary to generate the support to get the project to market. Don’t make creative decisions without involving the Creatives, even if only make them feel better.

Reduce the stress level on both sides and everyone wins.

~FBJ