Occasionally I get asked for advice on the best way make a film. This is a tough question. What has become my favorite non-answer is that there is no right way to make a movie. This may sound flippant, but I assure you, it is only meant to inspire limitless possibility. I have discussed this with other filmmakers and we all generally agree, if someone tells you you have to do something a certain way, never listen to them again. No two films come together the same way. Ever. The only thing a film must do to become a film is to get moving images on a screen. It may or may not be good, but at the end of the day “good” is just a matter of taste. You can’t teach that.
That said, there are many things we have learned through the process of making “The Waterhole” and now that we are fortunate enough to have a distribution deal I wanted to share some things we would have done differently. In a nutshell, we really thought that if we made a good movie the rest of the process would take care of itself. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Things to consider as you make your film:
1. Audience Building: I had no idea what Facebook was until after we finished shooting. I didn’t join Twitter until the week of our world premiere. I still am not sure what I am doing with either or what ultimate effect they have on getting the word out about the film, but I can tell you this, they help. Help in ways I would have never imagined. At the very least they have led me to meet many terrific filmmakers and film supporters that are eager to discuss film and share experiences. These are not the only tools we should have been utilizing. I will always wonder what might have happened if I had used Facebook and Twitter, in conjunction with an active and interactive website with production updates and an active blog (seriously, I started writing on this blog almost three years after pre-production). I can tell you one thing, it would not have hurt. It takes a lot of time and energy, but if you see a film as your baby, it deserves that kind of time and energy.
2. Budget for Marketing/Distribution: This idea is becoming more common place to the point where soon it will be simply accepted fact. You can not rely on the hope that anyone else will buy your film and sink any amount of money into getting it out to the world. We have a very fair distribution deal, but it does not include theatrical or much marketing. We have no money left to effectively get the film into even a limited amount of theaters which, combined with a modest amount of marketing could mean a more-than-likely increase in DVD sales and thus money back in our pockets. Instead we are scrambling to hustle whatever interest we can in whatever manner we can. This money need not be anything great, but something – something done right – is better than nothing. We are unfortunately are not in a position to find out.
3. Have A Festival Strategy: If you read my first blog entry, you know I think the festival system in general is broken. The sad fact is that our rejections had less to do with the system and more to do with us not having a strategy. Our fault. We really thought if we submitted our film “cold” we would have the same chance of getting accepted as anyone else. Cue the laugh track. You have to apply to the top five or so festivals, but any fest you apply to must be done utilizing every possible resource to make sure that the film is viewed by the people who make decisions. This is not an easy task, but it has to be attempted and the earlier the better. Personally, I would have started this process well before the film was finished. With a plan like this in place I would then greatly reduce the number of festivals I would apply for. After a certain point, it is just money down a wishing well. If you don’t get into few good festivals early, you are better off making your own screening events with the money you would spend hopelessly applying to small regional festivals.
4. Hire a Music Supervisor For many independent filmmakers this may be a luxury. For our film we needed a lot of music, a lot of music in addition to the score. Most of the songs we got were for free, but the few we didn’t were an unbelievable pain to secure and pay for. Music companies are much more willing to deal these days, because something is better than nothing, and you would be surprised what songs you can get relatively inexpensively. To do this, you will need a lot of time and tenacity or someone that knows the right people and how to get the paperwork in order. In my opinion it is worth its weight in gold to hire a person with this knowledge, and it might even save you a chunk of money in the long run.
At the end of the day we made the film we wanted. Barely. It was a high wire act that was constantly one mistake away from falling apart, but we got there. The problem is, there is nothing worse than reaching your destination and not knowing what to do next. My co-producer mentioned that there were things he might have done differently, such as hire a known star or work the script over with potential distributors in advance and I know where he is coming from, but at the end of the day we have film we are proud of. I just wish we had been ready to for what came next.
Note: My Co-producer and our sole investor, Daniel Menahem, has agreed to share in greater detail his thoughts from an investment perspective. Check back for his post. In addition, I will try and update this post as I think of new things. Questions welcome.