Category Archives: Filmmakers

The Festivus Film Festival: A Reaction

Well, hello!  This is Daniel Menahem, producer of THE WATERHOLE, with my first KR7 Productions blog post.  While Nathan (as chief writer and creative director) has been in charge of our blog, I plan on relieving him of writing duties for a few updates strictly from a producer’s perspective.

I want to share my filmmaking experience in more depth in the near future, but seeing as we have just screened THE WATERHOLE at the Festivus Film Festival (www.festivusfilmfestival.com), I thought I’d share with the readers the rollercoaster ride that was presenting our vision to the paying Denver public. Ok, rollercoaster ride maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but as most of you reading this who have created and then presented to an audience know, there is a certain high (and low) that comes with the experience.

First, a word about Festivus Film Festival (aka FFF). I cannot speak highly enough about the job that Jonathan, Tim and the FFF crew have done in creating a vibrant, eclectic festival catering equally to filmmakers and the audience.  While all of our festival screening experiences have been great, this is the first festival that I had been intimately involved with.  The 2011 edition of FFF offered a variety of categories (comedy, docs, music videos etc) all populated by quality films.  In today’s market we are all competing for limited screen space, however it was refreshing to see such filmmaking talent that will definitely keep our KR7 Production humbled and inspired as we try and decide what project to bring to the screen next.

As far as the screening itself goes, well, I’m glad to report it was a surprisingly pleasant experience. Being that Denver is currently my hometown, I had many friends and colleagues in attendance, which always adds a new level of nervousness.  As in past screenings, I made a point of not watching the film in the months leading to the screening, so to try and get as “fresh” of a look as possible (as fresh as possible after 200+ viewings.)  The film is a character and dialogue-driven story with a very simple plot and there always exists the fear that the audience may not relate and grow restless.  It was great to see and hear the reaction throughout the movie.  People laughed and gasped in the “right” places, and the film definitely held their attention throughout.

The screening was held at the fantastic The Bug Theatre. A quaint and cozy little independent theater that one could have imagined had been there for many decades and many great films.  It even had a bar inside, which always helps any screening, especially one with a film about a bar.  We are always a bit nervous about the turn out, but the crowd steadily filled up all but a handful of seats.  Per usual ritual, I stayed through the first couple of scenes until nerves got the best of me and I bailed to Patsy’s “the Oldest Italian Bar in Denver,” checking the time every few seconds until I felt safe enough for my return.

The Q&A can always be a dicey proposition, but that night we were treated to a stream of compliments and thoughtful observations about the story, the characters and the ramifications within the themes. There is nothing better than hearing “the characters felt so real, like people you actually know.” One female audience member stated that she loved the idea that this was a relationship movie from a guy’s perspective.  I always take pride that every Q&A that we’ve had so far has gone over the time limit – people do get excited to discuss their thoughts and feelings. It’s nice to know that we’ve made a thought-provoking film.

There are many choices you need to make when making a film and while there are still many things we might have done different given a second chance, I think both Nathan and I are comfortable with what we’ve created.  Our screening at the Festivus Film Festival in Denver certainly served to validate our creation.  Now it’s on to the next project

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I am not an Indepedent Filmmaker

Recently, I was invited by the great folks at Film Courage to write an article for their website.  The resulting piece – which you can read here:  http://filmcourage.com/content/can-indie-filmmakers-unite-create-brand – are the thoughts I had pondering why there are not more known “brands” associated with consistently good  film in this business.  The article was not meant to be a call to action or a business plan, it was just hypothetical fantasizing.  It did create discussion and I greatly thank anyone who would take the time to read anything I write (including you reading this), let alone share their own perspective.  Funnily enough, as I read the comments something else that struck me was what the readers seemed to think of “indie” film.

What is an independent film?  I had wrestled with this a few months ago when filmmaker Michael Barnard had asked his readers to participate in a survey that’s objective was to define what classified indie film. ( http://michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/just-what-the-hell-is-an-%E2%80%9Cindie-film%E2%80%9D/ )  As I read through the questions I found myself unsure.  Is it budget?  Is it attitude?  The more I thought about it, the less I cared.  Then something struck me:

I am not an independent filmmaker.

I made what most would consider a very independent film.  That film faced and continues to face very unique challenges by being an independent film.  A great number of the films I love could easily be defined as being independent.

But, I am not an independent filmmaker.  I am a filmmaker.

If a studio gave me one hundred million dollars to make a dream project, I would do it.  I would feel no remorse, no betrayal to a set of values. (I would, however, be scared shitless.)  If I had a great story that I could make in my backyard for free.  I would make that.  Right this minute.  I have neither of those options.  It doesn’t matter.  The struggles that must be faced to get any film of merit written and produced will always exist.  I need no additional labels.  I need no additional associations.  I will always support fellow filmmakers regardless of what they are making.  I will always strive to tell stories that I think are original and bring them to life with as many resources as possible to ensure they look and feel the way I think they deserve.

When I was younger I would have been more attached to the idea of independent film as something unique and special.  I would have known down to my core what an independent film was, what it stood for and how much better it was than a mainstream film.  In the last few years most of the truly great films I have seen could not, in a business-sense, be called independent and on the other side of the coin recently I have seen far more bad independent films than good ones, many that actually got into festivals like Sundance.  Maybe it would be suffice to say that I have an independent spirit,  but after reading the nominees for the actual Independent Spirit Awards, I’m not sure how much that would even matter.

I will always love the romantic notion of independent film, but at the end of the day the film is what matters, not how you made it.

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Become a Successful Filmmaker in One Difficult Step

Every day I read dozens of new articles, blogs and tweets piling on to the mountain of advice on how to build a career as a filmmaker.  Some of these posts have proven very valuable, some have spawn heated debates in the comment section, and others seem to beg the question as to why they were written at all.  It’s a lot to sift through.

Given all this information on film making I think it is helpful to remind those that aspire to make a film, are currently making films or even those that have successfully made films to the point where driving their Bentleys off a Malibu cliff side is a weekly occurrence of one simple fact.  You need to make the best film you can.  Duh, right?  I guess another way to put it is if you have an idea that you would like to spend years of your life getting made into a movie, you had better be clear with yourself as to the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.  This must be the driving force behind everything you do to subsequently get the film before audiences.

If you cannot do this you are setting yourself up for failure.  Anyone can make a film, the trick is to make a good one.  If you have a good project that you have a complete vision for it will help you tremendously in making the decisions to get it made.  It will also help draw those who can help you get it made and made well into your fray.  I truly believe that talent rises.  Your work will be your best advocate, your best marketing tool.  Never forget that.

Nobody wants to make bad movies and yet so many bad films get made.  Hollywood tries to second-guess audiences or re-heats past successes but even after decades of experience they still make more flops than hits.  As indie filmmakers we are just as susceptible to these trappings.   If you think of all the greatest independent films what was the one thing they have in common?  They are made by artists that were true to their vision.  Artists that saw something new and exciting and fought for it.  This is why independent film found an audience to embrace it and this is what me must continue to do.

There is no “right” way to make a film.  When I was lucky enough to chat with filmmaker Gary King he shared the same sentiment and I instantly liked him for it.   I love this philosophy, a more constructive take on William Goldman’s famous statement about Hollywood that “Nobody knows anything.”  It is true.  The final product is the only thing that matters and the only tool you truly have to get to that point is your idea and the will to do whatever you can to see it through to the finish.  Depending on how you eventually decide to make your film, you will have to wear many hats.  If you get too bogged down with all the other things that can occupy your time it is easy to lose sight of the original goal.  If you spend too much time obsessing about technology or money or marketing or audience – although they are all important factors – the film will suffer.

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Twitter and the Independent Filmmaker

Filmmakers, how many times have you either been asked or asked yourself this question: do I need to move to Los Angeles (or New York etc.)?  My smart ass response is always “No, there are already too many people here.”  There are lots of great reasons for a filmmaker to live in L.A., but the reason I would answer “yes” is that in order to be able to fully accomplish your filmmaking goals you will need to know the right people.  People with special skills, people that can teach you, people that can give you support or even money, or people that can get you in touch with these people.  The saying “it’s all who you know” is never more true than in the business of making a film, but it is getting easier every day to know the right people without committing to a life of traffic, earthquakes and punching paparazzi.

We were days away from our world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival when I started using Twitter.  My brother-in-law suggested that it might be helpful in getting the word out about our screening.   The only advice he gave me was that everyone in the world could read it, so not to write anything I didn’t want everyone to be able to see.   I started my account and began sending out short messages into the void of cyberspace, not sure if anyone was reading them.   Actually, pretty sure no one was reading them.  I made a few contacts with other filmmakers that were going to be in the festival, but nothing significant, and at the end of the day I wasn’t really sure it was worth the effort.

I stuck with it.  At first following anyone and everyone but slowly starting to get a sense of those out there that I found interesting, as well as those interested in what we were doing.  It took a long time and a lot of feeling around in the dark, but eventually I could see a community taking shape.  I found a tremendous amount of filmmakers and film supporters that were engaged in an open forum discussion addressing all the issues I had been dealing with practically alone.   What at first I thought was just a platform to promote the film turned out to be something much more valuable.  This was social networking at it purest.

Yet my experience on Twitter has not just been confined to a computer interface.  Two of our non-festival screenings (Film Courage Interactive in Los Angeles and The Pretentious Film Society in Annapolis) would not have occurred had I not started that account.  Three of our most positive reviews came from bloggers (Film Snobbery, Movie Cynics, and Rogue Cinema) that I met or read about from other filmmakers.  Plus, there all the great filmmakers I have had the privilege to meet in person, see their films and pick their brains.

Although there are folks out there that are much better adept at Twitter (looking at you @kingisafink) I thought I would share some tidbits of advice.  Take ’em or leave ’em.

1. Be interesting –  This isn’t easy.  Try and share thoughts, ideas and information that are pertinent to the people following you.  Converse with people, don’t just promote.  In fact, your best promotion is to make sure people want to read your tweets so try and make each one count.  Your comments will be available for anyone to read, but you don’t want to be so cautious that you become bland. Your personality must come through.  My personal guideline is never make statements unrelated to our film or the film industry.  Everything within that realm is fair game.  Find your voice and stick to it, be respectful, and if you can, be very fucking funny.

2. Don’t feel like you have to follow everyone –  Try to follow people that you would want to talk to in real life.  There are thousands of filmmakers and film writers out there and they alone will give you more tweets than you can keep up with.  If someone follows you it is a courtesy to follow them back, but not mandatory.  If they seem like someone you are interested in knowing more about or if you think they may be a fan follow back for sure, if their description seems like an odd fit, it probably is, don’t fill your feed with stuff you won’t read.

3. Don’t feel like you need everyone to follow you – Think quality over quantity.  Don’t waste time chasing new followers.  If you follow advice #1 and are patient they will come to you.  Having five million followers is meaningless if they don’t care about what you tweet or pay to see your movie.  [Editor’s Note: weak Ashton Kutcher joke was removed here.]

3. Engage and Re-Tweet – I am shy in real life.  I hate talking to people I don’t know.  Twitter makes it easy.  If someone says something you find interesting or have a comment about, let them know, or share it by re-tweeting it. Re-tweeting is simply re-posting what another user has already written.  When you re-tweet, try and add your own thoughts, always have a voice associated with anything you send out.  Be gracious when someone re-tweets your tweet, they are helping you by getting your name out there to their followers, so thank them.

4. Do not use Twitter.com – There are many wonderful and free desktop applications you can download (I use tweetdeck) that allow you keep different columns, which you can tailor to meet your needs.  For instance, my first column is all tweets from my list of film people am most interested in.  The next are my “mentions” – every tweet where my user name gets mentioned.  You can also set up columns for particular searches or “hash tags.” (hash tags are a way of marking certain topics  with a “#” sign.  For instance, two good ones to keep an eye on are #scriptchat and #infdist.)  Do whatever you can to help manage the time you spend on Twitter, because once you get sucked in it can quickly take over.  I’ve check twitter 50 time writing this.

5. Have only one account – I have two.  One for the film and one for me.  One withers and the other thrives.  Sometimes I get them mixed up.  If I could do it over I would have stuck to a personal account.  More flexibility, more personal and it still could be used to promote the film.  Again, make life easy for yourself.

I recently had lunch with an old friend that had just finished principle photography on his first feature film.  I shared with him my Twitter experiences and he was interested but unconvinced.  His argument is that filmmakers need to focus on making the film, which as anyone knows takes a tremendous amount of work to accomplish, and much more energy, insight, talent and luck to do well.  I can’t really argue with him, but I can say that if you manage your time and have a smart plan of attack, the effort you put into your Twitter account will become a tremendous asset, and you just might make a few friends along the way.

You can follow my tweets @waterholemovie.  Do it now, because regardless of what I wrote above,  I really want over 1000 followers.

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Filed under Film Marketing, Filmmakers, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Social Networking

What We Would Do Differently

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.

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If You Like Film, You Must Like “Inception”

**No real spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the film I advise going into knowing as little as possible**

I would guess that if you are a film fan the one summer movie that fired up your anticipation in a sea of otherwise tired re-makes and franchise pictures was “Inception.”  I would also guess that the bulk of this interest rested I’m sure on the fact that it is Christopher Nolan’s latest film.  The trailers and viral campaign were intriguing, but the true curiosity for many must have rested on the knowledge that, whether or not you like the final product, Nolan makes films worth seeing.  His films share a few traits: they are original, ambitious, intelligent, and above all, creative.  If that doesn’t make a person want to see a movie, I don’t know what does.

People go to the movies for a lot of reasons and many different types of films are made to try and satisfy different audiences.  No single film will be liked by everyone.  When writing our film “The Waterhole” I had to accept early on that there were going to be a lot of movie-goers that did not want to see a film about a twenty something man, unsure what to do with his life, drinking too much and acting like a jackass.  My goal in writing such a story had to be to make it as original as possible so that even if conceptually the film wasn’t interesting to a viewer,  the characters and their personal journeys might be.   I may not have succeeded on a level I would have liked to, but at our recent screening for the Pretentious Film Society of Annapolis it was very reassuring to have an elderly woman come up after the screening, shake my hand and tell how much she loved the movie.

Inception succeeds in making the material fresh in a big way.  If you take it at face value it is a essentially a one-last-heist-for-redemption story.  What the film does that is so remarkable is it turns that story upside down and then continues to twist it, creating an audacious world within, constantly raising the stakes on the audience visually, and within the narrative.   All film is illusion.  A bad film will suck you out of it and you know you are watching a movie.  A good film can grab you by the heart, play with your emotions, make you fidget in your seat or lean back in awe.  The bulk of the third act of “Inception” is so well crafted that watching it you are completely at its mercy.  It is a high wire act constructed on bold ideas and ambitious set pieces.  Yet, if I were to try and describe it to you, you would think it sounded like the dumbest thing ever.  The film becomes an experience.

There will be those that complain of plot holes or that the film is too complicated or too clinical or even that the action scenes were flat.  Fine.  If you are a person who loves film you have to appreciate all the craft that went into “Inception.”  The amazing design work, the ingenious script the clever editing… it is all there.  In an age when so many films feel stale, like they were written to mirror something that already exists, “Inception” really pushes the art form to new limits and as a film lover you have to appreciate that.  Modern filmmakers have a unique challenge to take this medium of storytelling that has been around for a century and create something fresh and  original, not to mention find an audience for it.  It is no small feat.  Even if they don’t always succeed I will always appreciate the effort by modern filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson,  The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese to name a few.  I think Christopher Nolan fits comfortably in that esteemed company.

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