Sunday, November 21, 2021

Surviving Tennessee

Dear Friends,

I recently returned from Knoxville, Tennessee after completing principal photography on my latest feature film, Homestead. I can honestly say it was one of the most challenging experiences of my professional career -- for both reasons inside and outside of our control. But hey, they say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? (Well, that's what they say anyway.) While I'm happy to be done with that excruciating part of the process, I'm very proud of the quality footage we got. Now, it's all about turning those beautiful images into a worthwhile movie. Our goal is to first attend a top-tier festival like South by Southwest and drum up interest. With the quality of the set design, cinematography, script and cast, I think we have a shot. Leven Rambin, Shane West, Jake McLaughlin, Dee Wallace and Sohvi Rodriguez all turned in fantastic performances.

On another front, I was pleasantly surprised to see a feature film I produced in 2020 called Take the Night (formerly The Inheritance) finally emerge from its long slog through post production and make an appearance at the American Film Market courtesy of sales agent Motion Picture Exchange. With any luck, you'll be seeing that film on your TV screens in the next couple months. I dig the poster...

Moreover, both films received a good amount of publicity over the last month. Here are just a few articles that were written about them in prime publications like Deadline and Screen Daily:

https://deadline.com/2021/10/homestead-leven-rambin-jake-mclaughlin-shane-west-to-topline-thriller-1234862098/?fbclid=IwAR1kdbalZl6iOhhTFGrncwgCvx6J7kSR0tCFbfsj7reQ_5KuU-uz5xJieKU

https://deadline.com/2021/10/motion-picture-exchange-afm-title-homeless-youth-la-fellowship-program-electric-brain-incessant-rain-deal-global-briefs-1234862552/?fbclid=IwAR17CVluY3x1NrS9CVcMzM0d5VZENZGDOqkt_J7Xyw2SIqz5vesxU9iLzqI

https://www.screendaily.com/news/completed-films-the-possessed-take-the-night-among-mpx-afm-slate-exclusive/5164695.article?fbclid=IwAR0clt6s_PS_jgALC7H8G9Le8pb8l3B2jV1DLdCmRbgHsF-2ITbE_k_boTA

So, what's next? I've really managed to expand my client base and have been developing a number of projects with filmmakers around the country, from New York to Oregon to North Carolina. I'm honored that so many entrust me with their creative "babies." It's a true honor. A couple of the most promising projects include NYC-set boxing drama Worth the Fight with Sean McNamara attached to direct as well as action-comedy The TacoMan, set in Tacoma, Washington. While I don't expect I'll be filming anything else in 2021, short of maybe a last-second commercial or two, I do believe 2022 is teed up to be a real winner, both in terms of brand new productions and those that are facing release.

Thanks for following. More to come.

Cheers,

Mark




Sunday, September 5, 2021

Indie Insights

I've been spending a lot of time preparing my latest motion picture for production. The dramatic thriller, titled "Homestead," starts principal photography in Knoxville, Tennessee on Monday, September 21st. And while this film has been taking up most of my time, I still found a small window to crank out an article I thought might provide insight to many of the new up-and-coming filmmakers out there. For those who don't have a Medium.com account, I've pasted the piece below for your reading pleasure!

10 Habits of Highly Effective Indie Film Producers

I’ve been producing independent film and television content for well over 20 years, and that has afforded me many opportunities to make mistakes, fail, try again, learn from those mistakes and do better. Indie producers have to be ready for failure — it’s going to happen — but that’s how we grow and improve. Making movies is hard. For anyone. Just getting a finished picture in the can is an achievement you can be proud of. It doesn’t haven’t to be Oscar-worthy as long as you stayed true to yourself and the story you wanted to tell. That said, I’m going to share below 10 things you can do as an indie producer to better position yourself for success. In other words, I’m going to help you learn from some of my early mistakes so you don’t make the same ones!

It Starts with a Script

Rushing a picture into production before the script is ready is a recipe for failure. You can make a so-so movie from a great script, but it’s nearly impossible to make a great movie from a so-so script. Take the time to do development the right way. Writing is rewriting, so don’t be afraid to share notes with the writer (or get notes if you’re also the writer) that will improve the script. Get unbiased, third-party opinions through writers’ groups or contests. The script will literally be read hundreds of times by cast, crew and the like before the film gets finished, so make it something people actually want to spend weeks (or months) of their lives on.

Get the Movie Made

I can’t count how many times in my career I had a chance to get a project greenlit, but had to accept terms and conditions that weren’t ideal. This could have been script changes, budget limitations, additional producers, whatever. Early on, I was often stubborn and felt like my vision was the only true pathway to success. Not only did I occasionally earn a reputation for being difficult, but it hindered me from getting pictures made. Bottom line, raising money is hard no matter the budget. If you have a real chance at a greenlight, but the terms are not ideal, consider the ultimate goal — getting the movie made! — and really weight what you can live with and without.

Realize that Not All Money is Good Money

After harping about getting your picture made, this might sound like a contradiction, but I promise you it’s not. Just because you have an offer for financing doesn’t mean you should take it. Offers oftentimes come with untenable strings attached — perhaps loss of ownership, involvement or profit-sharing. It may come from less-than-scrupulous people. It may come at the expense of you or your story’s integrity. It may cause you to ultimately sacrifice something greater, like another more stable funding source. Weigh the costs carefully. Use an attorney if need be. Make sure you fully understand the consequences of accepting funding and your responsibilities to that financier.

Conduct the Orchestra, Don’t Play

When people ask me to describe the role of a producer, I usually tell them I’m like the conductor of an orchestra. I may not know how to play the viola or the French horn or the timpani drum, but I know how to find the musicians, put them together and make them play. I know how it should sound. And I know just enough about each instrument that if something’s out of tune, I can find it and fix it. But I don’t play. I tell my crew, “Look, you’re better at what you do than I am. That’s why I hired you.” I tell them what to play and then I let them play. It’s key to trust your team members and empower them to do their jobs without significant micromanagement. If you don’t trust them, you either haven’t found the right people or you need to look inward.

Be Clear About Results

While trusting your team is key, so is managing expectations. There are three things you need to be clear about right from the beginning: 1) the result you want; 2) when you expect that result by; and 3) what resources (i.e., money, crew, equipment, etc.) you’re giving them to get you that result. If they assure you they can deliver, let them go do it. You’re there to supervise and troubleshoot issues, but I promise you the clearer you are about the results you expect, the less likely that troubleshooting will even be necessary.

Learn to Wear Many Hats

Very rarely does an indie producer get to sit back and just be a producer. Quite often, we have to be line producers, UPMs, post supers, development execs, attorneys, accountants, coordinators, even set PAs! I once had a budget so tight, I had to stand at the catering table and personally dish out portions of food to crew members just to ensure we had enough for everyone! The more skills you learn, the more knowledgeable you will become, and therefore the more valuable you will be to financiers, writers, directors and other producers. Moreover, it may allow you to save areas of your budget that could otherwise prove costly, making you worth your weight in gold. (For example, if you become adept at drafting and reading contracts, that may be less time you have to pay a pricey outside attorney.)

Put It on the Screen

If you’re the kind of producer who can make dimes look like dollars on screen, you’ll become more desirable to other filmmakers because they’ll want you to work your magic on their projects as well. Analyze what areas of your budget will really show up on screen and prioritize them. Maybe it’s something tangible and direct like a cool picture car or camera toy or special effect (as long as you can afford it), but it may also be something intangible like a good meal for your crew that keeps them happy, energized and working hard to get the shots you need.

Accept Trade-offs

Being a good producer is not just being a conductor, but also a circus performer. That’s because you’re always walking a tightrope between the financier and the production. On the one hand, you have to protect the money and make sure it gets spent appropriately; on the other hand, you have to give your director and below-the-line team the resources they need to bring value to the screen. The best way to achieve this balancing act is to accept the nature of trade-offs and get your people to do the same. Even if you can’t fully appease one side or the other, analyze options thoroughly so that you can present them with a choice. Maybe the director can have that crane shot, but he’ll have to settle for a cheaper and less desirable location.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “I Don’t Know”

Whether it’s ego, fear or the pressure of providing a quick answer, too many producers are reticent to say those three little words: “I. Don’t. Know.” Of course, the follow-up to that should be, “But I’ll find out.” Remember those multiple hats we have to wear? Sometimes that includes “researcher.” Better to measure twice and cut once. No one will think less of you for not having all the answers upfront. In fact, they’ll probably respect you more for your honesty, directness and due diligence.

Be Prepared to Climb Back Down the Mountain

Now you’re thinking, what, I have to be a conductor, circus performer and mountain climber? Yeah, kind of. Many filmmakers understand what a climb it is to get their indie film made. It’s like scaling Everest! But what they don’t realize is that when they reach the peak, they’re only halfway done. They still need to get back down! And that’s a whole other journey! That part of the journey involves what you do with your finished film — attending festivals, generating publicity, marketing efforts, securing distribution and foreign sales, creating additional deliverables, paying residuals and backend participants, paying back financiers, and so forth. All in all, producing a picture is a multi-year endeavor that requires the tenacity to keep going until you finally find your audience — an audience that is willing to hand over their hard-earned dollars in exchange for the promise that you can keep them entertained for 90 minutes.

Now that you’ve learned from some of the mistakes I once made, go out there and make a few of your own! Happy producing!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Latest Project Updates

 Dear Friends,

A lot has happened since my last post in March. Here are the highlights:

Getting Punchy

My $6M feature film Worth the Fight has inched closer to the starting line with the attachment of my friend and colleague Sean McNamara as director. Sean's past work includes films like Soul Surfer, The Miracle Season and The King's Daughter as well as the upcoming Reagan biopic starring Dennis Quaid. With Sean's involvement, I'm confident we'll be able to attract the kind of cast that will secure a greenlight from our financier.

Cartoon Casting

I managed to attach some great names to the animated feature I'm packaging for client FreeWill Films. Titled SPACEjunk!, the kid-friendly adventure now features the voices of Ed Asner (Up), Mischa Barton (The OC) and Robert Patrick (T2: Judgment Day). The next step is to set the project up with an animation studio. (I've already got a few in mind.)

Back On Set

I just completed shooting my first full production since the onset of COVID, a commercial through Butcher Bird Studios for an aerial technology solutions company. The two-day shoot went extremely smooth, with one day on a green cyc and another at the famous Blue Cloud Ranch where we got to play with all sorts of fun toys, from drones to Hummers to bomb-sniffing robots. Looking forward to seeing the final content, which will likely include multiple spots.

Electric Pics

I also oversaw a multi-site photo shoot for electric vehicle infrastructure company EVCS, which has been responsible for the installation of over half of all non-Tesla EV chargers in Los Angeles since 2020. The stills will be used in cross-platform marketing campaigns such as print, digital and web.

Inheriting an Audience

My latest feature film, The Inheritance, recently completed post production and is in the process of securing distribution. My hope is that it will see a release to streaming and home video platforms later this year.

What Else?

I've been working with numerous clients on several new development projects -- mostly features -- which would shoot in various states across the country if financed, including Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Washington. My work has included script development, budgeting and business plans aimed at preparing the material for investor pitches. I've also been approached by a past client for some more commercial work and a new client for a review of her novels, so this looks to be a busy summer.

On a Personal Note

My wife and I have enjoyed seeing long-time friends and attending social events as the world slowly wakes back up from the lockdowns. We've already planned our latest vacation, too. This year, we'll be traversing the Midwest starting in St. Louis, Missouri and traveling through Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; Indiana and Ohio. After this trip, I will have visited 37 states in this great country of ours, with the others soon to come! Life is good :)

Looking forward to seeing what else 2021 has in store. Because one thing is for certain: you never know what the cosmos has planned for you. Just take things one day at a time and be grateful for every day you get to do what you love!

Ciao for now,

Mark



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Spring Is Upon Us...


Spring means many things -- prosperity, rebirth, new life, new beginnings, an end to the dreary coldness of winter. And as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID, we see that, like spring, our country is gradually finding new life as we get back to doing those things that we love.

I have largely stayed away from physical film production over the course of the last year, largely because the increased budgets and draconian rules for dealing with COVID on set made the prospect of producing new indie content a bit onerous.

However, I'm starting to see gradual signs that the industry is reviving from the pandemic-induced quixotism that all but destroyed low-budget filmmaking since March of 2020. Testing is easier, cheaper and less formal. Social distancing rules are more relaxed. Smaller films are getting through principal photography without being shut down.

This gives me some hope that by autumn of this year, I'll be able to wade back into the cool waters of film production with few COVID-related obstacles to hinder my creative process. And just in time, too, as I have several new clients with promising projects that are at least partially financed and looking for a 2021 production start -- many of which could be shooting in a wide range of locales including Texas, New York, Oklahoma and Washington State.

In the meantime, I'm content to keep helping up-and-comers develop their material, run budgets and create pitch decks and business plans. I'm also keen to see the release of my latest feature called The Inheritance (working title: Dailo) -- we completed principal photography two weeks before everything shut down last year! I'll leave you with a teaser trailer the director cut together:

"The Inheritance" Teaser Trailer

And while post isn't quite done yet, I'm hopeful the finished film will find a healthy, prosperous life on various OTT, streaming and home entertainment platforms very soon. A new beginning so to speak. After all, that's what spring's all about, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2021

2021: A Whole New Year or Just 2020 Continued?

I find it humorous that people think simply because the calendar has rolled over from '20 to '21, we should suddenly find ourselves in a new era free from the dramatic horrors of lockdowns, viruses, riots, social division, murder bees and everything else that's been ailing this country. The positivity inherent in our existence isn't based on the magic of a particular calendar year, but on the acts and decisions of men and women, individually and collectively, and the effects those decisions have on society. In other words, if there are no changes in the way we act as a people, we'll see no change in the world, no matter what the calendar on the wall says.

That said, while 2020 (as of mid March) was a fairly slow year for me as a film producer, with just one major production in the can, 2021 has already started off with much promise. Perhaps that has something to do with my decision to change some of my approaches to filmmaking -- whether that be experimenting with new mediums like streaming episodic and animation or seeking out new ways to parlay my skills during a time when COVID has changed the way the industry operates or donating more of my time and resources to help others.

In particular, I continue to find more ways to share my knowledge with other filmmakers in order to help them find success. One example is my article, "The Effects of Prosumer Technology on Content Creation," which I self-published on this blog a year and a half ago and have since republished on Medium.com due to the significant reader response it received. For those who missed it the first time, you can see it here:

https://mhfilmz.medium.com/the-effects-of-prosumer-technology-on-content-creation-11fb5ca80e06

The info therein is just as relevant today as it was when it first appeared and will hopefully give insight and inspiration to up-and-coming filmmakers yearning to create quality content. More importantly, I hope that the small changes I make within myself, particularly in terms of my generosity toward others, will ultimately radiate outward into the world and give me a renewed sense of purpose, even if that purpose is solely to propagate the success of others. At the end of the day, I figure if I want to see a positive 2021, I might as well start right here at home.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Interview with "Been to the Movies"

I recently came across this interview I did a little while back with "Been To The Movies." It was quick, fun and allowed me to share some insights that had been bouncing around in my head for a while. For those who might not have caught it, I thought I'd share it here. You can also find it on the "BTTM" site here: http://www.beentothemovies.com/2018/04/interview-with-mark-heidelberger.html

Interview with Mark Heidelberger



Prolific producer Mark Heidelberger fills us in on his profession, his past, present and upcoming films, and what he feels is the most important job a producer can have.


Mark, do you have a preferred genre you like to work in?

You know, I’ve never been constrained by genre. Good material transcends genre. All a genre really is, is a set of conventions that allow an audience to identify what type of picture it is and, therefore, whether they want to see it. But a good story is a good story is a good story, regardless of the genre, and that’s what I look for. Is the story good and is there an audience for it? Working in different genres simply allows me to explore good storytelling within the framework of varying conventional norms, which makes the endeavor a little more exciting than working in the same genre over and over. After all, that excitement of doing something new, of not waking up and going to the same job every day, is what attracts a lot of us to the business.


Do you surround yourself with the same team on most films?

There are certainly filmmakers who I really enjoy collaborating with. Writer-director Nathan Ives and I have done, maybe, four films together since 2008, and we’re talking about doing another one sometime later this year. There are also crew members I like to hire time and again because I know the quality of their work. But as a freelancer, I don’t have permanent partners or team members or even a company that follows me from production to production.

When I left Treasure Entertainment – the company I co-founded – I decided to operate solely as an individual producer-for-hire, where clients could bring me on to their projects while reducing the costs that come with a large-scale production company, like producing partners and overhead and company mark-ups. Not having these things allows me to pass savings on to the clients who hire me. Basically, I’ve made myself accessible to those who have source material and funding and need the right expertise to turn that into a motion picture. As such, the indie film market is my bread and butter. More information about me and what I do is pretty well spelled out on my website: www.markheidelberger.com


How do you decide which projects to tackle – and do they came to you, or do you come to them?

This is a word-of-mouth business, so most projects come to me by referral. A few are the result of networking or just past clients calling me up. But since I work for hire and I don’t raise money, the first thing I always need to know is: Is it financed? That weeds out a whole lot projects. If a project is financed, the script has to be at least halfway decent. I’m not saying it has to be Schindler’s List or anything, and my standards are a bit lower out of the gate than if I was looking to option or buy a script with my own money, but it has to have some potential. It has to be something I think I could get passionate about as we worked on it. And the writer or executive producer or whoever the client is has to be open to the creative development process, as I may have ideas for making the story better. From there, I have to run a budget and make sure I can do the picture for the amount of money they have. Since making dimes look like dollars has become almost a specialty of mine at this point, it’s rare that I can’t make it work.


You’ve worked with some great talent. Can you tell us about some of the highlights?

Absolutely. I got to work with Christian Bale and Eva Longoria on Harsh Times, which was the directorial debut of David Ayer. I actually produced the first thing Dave ever directed – a music video for a band called Dumfinger, and now he’s out doing huge films like Fury and Suicide Squad. It’s been awesome seeing his talent rewarded. I also really enjoyed working with Vivica Fox, Joelle Carter, Ross McCall and the rest of the ensemble cast on It’s Not You, It’s Me. That was just a super fun shoot. There’s almost too many to count. I’ve been really blessed. Ernie Reyes, Jr., Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa and the rest of the cast on Ninja Apocalypse. Malcolm McDowell and Luke Goss on Mississippi Murder. Jane Seymour, Missi Pyle and Paul Rodriguez on Pray for Rain. Web stars Chris Dinh and Julie Zhan on Comfort. Mischa Barton on The Basement, which comes out later this year. Right now, I’m working with Ed Asner on packaging a great script called Walking on Palmettos about the true-life story of convicted smuggler Myles Richards. Working with great talent is certainly one of the key ways to elevate yourself as a producer.


What is the most important job you have as a producer?

In my opinion, the answer is two-fold. You need to protect the money and you need to shepherd the creative vision of the film from script to screen. And not necessarily in that order. Balancing those two things is at the heart and soul of producing a motion picture.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Five Ways COVID Has Changed Professional Screenwriting

Dear Friends,

2020 has certainly posed its share of obstacles. That's putting it mildly, isn't it? Sometimes I have a gift for understatement. Put another way, this year is probably the biggest f@#*ing dumpster fire I've ever seen. Of course that doesn't mean there aren't silver linings to those storm clouds. There absolutely are if you know where to look.

COVID has naturally been a subject that's on the minds and lips of billions of people around the world, and many of us are wondering how and when it will finally subside. The pandemic has affected the entertainment industry far more dramatically than many other industries in part because large crowds work in such close proximity and that employees like actors or crew members are so transient (jumping from one show to the next).

But it's also affected those working more behind the scenes. Recently, I crafted a piece for Funds for Writers about ways the COVID reality has affected professional film and television writers specifically, which was just published this past Friday (9/25). You can find the article here:

https://fundsforwriters.com/five-ways-covid-has-changed-professional-screenwriting/

But I've also pasted it below for your convenience, as always! :)

For writers who haven't had to deal with this new normal yet, it may be a bit of an eye-opener. But note that the news is not all bad. Some of it's good. Some just different. But anything that can help you prepare is a good thing, right? Because as long as the dumpster fire is raging, you might as well toast some marshmallows.

Enjoy!

MH


Five Ways COVID Has Changed Professional Screenwriting

Mark Heidelberger / 2020-09-25

I know, I know. We’re all sick of talking about COVID. It’s the pandemic that just won’t go away. Unfortunately, that may be doubly true for the world of professional screenwriting. The impact of COVID has, for better or worse, changed much of Hollywood’s old reality, and many of those changes look to be with us, if not permanently, for a very long time. As a writer who plans to work in the industry for the foreseeable future, you’ll find it beneficial to understand how those changes – whether good, bad or ugly – affect you so that you can adapt.

A Virtual World

Hollywood was already slowly moving toward a new norm of virtual meetings and collaborations, but the pandemic accelerated a change that would have taken years into one that took weeks. Almost overnight, Zoom became the de facto choice for story pitches and development meetings. Recent screenwriting software like Final Draft 11, Fade In and WriterDuet began boasting quarantine-defying features like real-time collaboration, which allow multiple writers to edit the same script simultaneously from two different places. Some software, like Celtx, is completely cloud-based, allowing access no matter where you’re sheltering. And we’re not talking just on the development side. Many major film markets, from AFM to Cannes, have been holding virtual events that allow writers to “attend” without having to travel.

Representative Storylines

Executives are hungering for scripts that take our “new normal” into account. That’s not to say you should rush out a fresh screenplay centered on the pandemic. Rather it means incorporating elements like mask-wearing, social distancing or sheltering into storylines that may otherwise have nothing to do with the pandemic. Why? First, it makes the material feel timely and relevant. Second, it makes for more production-friendly content because it reduces crowd scenes, better protects on-camera talent (who can now wear masks on set), and otherwise creates safer, more contained filming environments.

The Cost of Insurance

Production insurance is not something a writer typically thinks about when crafting a screenplay, but right now, it should be. The cost of insuring a production against this new wave of liabilities has become prohibitively expensive for independent productions, meaning many of them cannot afford to start up. (Good luck producing anything without insurance!) Instead, big companies like Netflix, Amazon or Disney that can afford the increased cost or that can self-insure are the ones shooting now. By creating bigger budget, mainstream content that will appeal to them, you give yourself a better shot at getting something made.

Pilot Season’s Death Knell

Traditionally, TV pilot/staffing season occurred between February and April when networks filmed new shows that they wanted to try out during the fall. However, the advent of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, which release new shows throughout the year, made the concept of pilot season feel antiquated. Then, the onslaught of COVID shut down production worldwide, and with no new shows for fall, the pilot season playbook was tossed altogether. Now, with major networks creating their own streaming platforms and adhering to old norms less and less, the pilot season looks to be on its last legs. What does that mean? New content will be in demand no matter the season, so pilots will get picked up all year round, giving writers more opportunities to sell.

New Safety Protocols

If you’re lucky enough to sell a script, be prepared for the new on-set safety protocols established by a consortium of studio, guild, and union committees. These rules include tri-weekly COVID testing prior to visiting the set, daily questionnaires and temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing (especially around vulnerable populations like actors who may not be able to wear them), and monitors spaced out around the set rather than the traditional “video village” set-up. In addition, your production may be required to shut down should three or more individuals test positive for COVID within 14 days. Such delays in shooting may require script rewrites to address new budget concerns, lost locations and the like.

Resources

https://kb.finaldraft.com/s/article/Does-Final-Draft-offer-real-time-collaboration
https://www.fadeinpro.com/kb/content/1/117/en/how-does-realtime-collaboration-work.html
https://www.writerduet.com/
https://www.celtx.com/index.html