Sunday, October 8, 2023

Today, I want to share some passing thoughts about the strikes that have hammered our industry this year. Not all of these ideas are going to be the most popular, but they've been weighing on me, and I feel they need to be said. So this might be as much for me to vent as it is for you to read.

- Yes, streaming has significantly changed our industry, and writers and actors deserve a reasonable share of the revenues based on their creative contributions. But blaming all AMPTP companies for obscuring the data that allows for successful decision-making and project greenlighting is unfair considering most studios and networks have been very open throughout their existence about releasing box office figures, program ratings, and other key metrics. In other words, pure streamers like Netflix bare most of the responsibility for obscuring transparency.

- There's something laughable about multi-millionaire actors calling multi-millionaire studio heads "greedy." Just like stars, top execs (like Bob Iger, for instance) are paid enormous sums because of the money they are able to bring in -- their leadership leads to billions of dollars in returns for shareholders, making them worth their high salaries.

- AI is a legitimate issue in the entertainment industry, but overhyped concerns about a Terminator-style coup that will destroy humanity is a page out of Hollywood's fantasy playbook. AI will have its uses if we reign it in and use common sense in its applications. It should be a resource to help humanity do things better, not a replacement for what we already do. Creative work has heart and soul and intangibles like emotional intelligence that the best AI just can't replicate (yet). Plus, courts have already ruled AI can't own intellectual copyright, so the original creator of the source material the AI is using to generate new work is still considered the author for legal purposes, as it should be. AI is not going away, so let's figure out how to use it to our advantage.

- SAG is crying that they need an 11% increase in wages to keep pace with raging inflation. Ironic though how such a rabid "progressive" organization as SAG admits no responsibility for helping create the wretched economy we're all suffering through now by their support of left-wing policies (like printing more money to fund endless spending bills) and their endorsement of Democratic politicians like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer who have caused the inflation we're experiencing in the first place.

- Actors and writers need to make a living wage. But mandating productions hire a certain number of actors or writers for a certain number of weeks is Marxian at its core, playing on the idea that the studios are greedy capitalists who are oppressing the "working man" unless they acquiesce to untenable union demands for minimum guarantees. Of course this is nonsense. Acting and writing are skills, and like any job, only the most skilled will be hired. If too many actors or writers can't find work, perhaps it's because there are TOO MANY actors and writers. Just wanting to be an actor or writer doesn't mean others have to hire you. Studios will hire people for roles based on their needs -- which projects they want to greenlight based on things like audience and budget, and what the staffing needs of those projects are.

- It's easy for multi-millionaire actresses to post videos telling the membership to "stay strong" and "don't give in to the studios" and "keep marching" on those picket lines. Why? Because one of their residual checks is more than most of their colleagues will make in a year. And whether scale rates go up 5% or 11% won't affect a $10-million-per-picture star one iota. It's easy to virtue signal when you have no real skin in the game. But it sure makes you look like a "good guy."

- Strikes certainly have their place. But the fact that the majority of outspoken individuals, publications and organizations have demonized the same studios they count on for their business while heralding the supposedly arduous plight of the unions shows a lack of understanding of both sides of the issue and belies the notion that such people have ever run their own business before, had to make a payroll or had to show their investors a solid ROI.

- The industry is going to face some significant changes as a result of this strike, from how it measures and reports the success of streaming programs to the further consolidation of studios and platforms to the number of people a production will hire (paying significantly higher wages to writers means less writers will get hired). One thing we can all count on, though, is that the end of the strikes don't simply signal that everything has been figured out, but rather that many more changes are coming. And soon. 


Sunday, July 30, 2023

Dear Readers,

I thought it might be a nice time to share some recently published articles that I either wrote or that were written about me and my work.

1) My article "6 Online Resources to Help Get Your Screenplay Seen" was recently published on C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers, a website with 27,000 subscribers that seeks to help writers make money from their craft. Some of you may find it useful...

2) My project "Will to Win," adapted from Jim Stovall's book of the same name, was recently written up in Variety when producer Jhane Myers joined as an EP. Jhane recently produced the hit Hulu movie "Prey." Trying to get this one in production next spring...

3) Those who know my proclivity for the outdoors may also know that I enjoy writing about travel, fitness, hiking and points of interest. In that vein, Outdoor Socal recently published my "glamping guide" for the town of Ojai, a cool little spot about half an hour south of Santa Barbara. Check this one out if you love the outdoors, but still want that touch of "luxury" while you experience it...

More to come soon!


Saturday, June 24, 2023


Thought it was time for a little status update on some of my pet projects in development:

American Saviors: A "dark road trip buddy action comedy" script written by the talented yet undiscovered Jim Christell. We secured a coordinator at WME to help us attach the right director to the project. With the writers' strike going on and a potential actors' strike to follow, we hope to land someone in this position quickly followed by notable cast as we seek to capitalize on a lack of competition in the marketplace. (Side note: Jim has been prolific lately. He also finished his fantasy period drama Between the Stairs and we've started developing a new comedy show called Del Rey Park.)

Worth the Fight: We locked 9-1-1 star Oliver Stark in the lead role. He read the script right away and loved it. Nice validation for the years of development we put into it. We have also secured a coordinator at UTA, who I hope can help us package other stars alongside Oliver. Director is Sean McNamara (of Soul Surfer fame).

Will to Win: This adaptation of a Jim Stovall book of the same name centers on a Native American high school girl who seeks help from her spirit guide, Will Rogers, when she makes the boys' baseball team. Prey producer Jhane Myers just signed on as an EP and is helping us take the project to talent and studios. Here's an article about it that was recently posted in Variety:

The Pillars of Dawn: My very talented writing client, Athena, wrote the TV adaptation of her own novel series, which we have recently been developing with the help of writer/producer Kamran Pasha (Sleeper Cell, Nikita). Numerous actors have expressed interest or attached themselves, too, including Erica Cerra, Arnas Fedaravičius, Benjamin Stone and Phaedra Nielson, with Jane Seymour circling. We put together a sizzle that I think does a great job teasing the story, the tone and the world:

Icon: My newest client, James Jimenez, has been working on his own script about a rock star who goes missing and the wife who seems to be the local sheriff's number one suspect. Our goal is to have this one ready to shop by year's end.

More to come as I work to bring these and other projects to fruition.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Budgeting Your Film -- A Few Tips and Tricks

How do you secure financing for your independent film if you don't really know what it will cost to make? Having an accurate budget is paramount to the fundraising process. You need to have a document you can explain, defend and feel confident about as you enter the pre-production process.

I recently published an article on Medium called "10 Insider Tips for Film Production Budgeting," which provides some useful insights into the film budgeting process that will help you elevate your budgeting game. I'll summarize them here for you, but you should go to the full article for further details on each.

1) Run a breakdown and schedule first so you can base your numbers off of them.

2) Utilize software that can track actuals if you can't afford additional accounting software.

3) In addition to the contingency, always pad up certain areas of your budget for extra protection.

4) Create a "notes" section to help summarize the key elements the budget covers (or doesn't cover).

5) Use "globals" when possible to make future changes easier.

6) Research crew and vendor rates from reliable sources.

7) Know a few key percentage "rules of thumb."

8) Only share the budget top sheet with third parties unless the full budget is requested.

9) Tax incentives have nothing to do with budgeting, so don't confuse them!

10) Learn what is and is not included in a picture's negative cost.

You can read the full article here:

Sunday, December 4, 2022


New filmmakers often come to me with an idea for a film, but no idea how to navigate the development process. My formula is rather simple and straight forward, and I've decided to share the basic steps with you below. These steps assume that you 1) have a story idea but no script and 2) have money to hire me but not yet money to make the film.

Story Development: We need to flesh the story out. We start with a one- to two-page synopsis. Once the broad strokes are there (structure, character, conflict, etc.), we move to a more extensive treatment where we work out specific details of the plot. Breakdowns for the lead and key supporting characters are also helpful to determine their motivations and flaws. From here, we can create a beat-by-beat scene outline for the entire script.

Screenplay: You can now go off for a month or two and write the script based on the outline we created, focusing on details like setting, dialogue and character quirks. We may go through several drafts of the script as I provide notes on the execution, but by the end of the process, we'll have a script you can be proud to share with third parties.

Budgeting: If you're going to shop your project to investors, the first thing you need to know is how much it will cost (the "money in"). We'll tailor a target budget range based on creative considerations, the scope of the project and how much money you think you can raise. From there, I can prep the shooting script, break it down, run a schedule and, with all this information, create a detailed line-item budget that provides a real blueprint for production.

Pitch Deck/Business Plan: We also need to show investors why this is a worthwhile project and how they are going to get their money back (the "money out"). The deck will serve as a useful tool for both. It will detail the filmmaker's creative vision for the project, showcase the players involved, reveal comparison projects, and often includes cast wish lists, revenue projections, ROI scenarios and foreign sales estimates (which I procure through a sales agent based on the desired cast and project type).

Packaging: Most investors want to know who will be directing and starring in the project. With a small amount of development money in hand for deposits, we can approach legitimate, recognizable directors and actors with offers. Typically, we'll approach directors first, as cast usually wants to know who is directing before committing, but this could vary depending on circumstances.

By taking this journey, the idea is that by the end you'll have a solid package to take out to investors so that you can raise the money you need for your project. At that point, you can choose to come back to me (or not) for my help in shepherding the production and post processes.

Saturday, October 8, 2022


I have been asking myself this question in ever greater frequency as the years go by. I truly enjoy working with independent filmmakers, and for a number of reasons: 1) they're eager to learn; 2) it's highly collaborative; 3) there's a lot of creative freedom; and 4) they often have fresh ideas unencumbered by the politics of the studio system. It's a great space, all things considered.

However, more and more, I find myself disillusioned by the physical production process, particularly as a line producer/UPM. I have been doing that work for over two decades, and it feels like much of it has gotten harder rather than easier with time. This could just be me as I get older (and crankier), or it could be something else. There seems to be a lot of ingratitude among crew members nowadays, and I wonder how much of this stems from the overall sense of entitlement and unearned self-esteem we see pervading younger generations. Respect for on-set experience has diminished rather than increased. Basically, everybody's an expert now. And COVID hasn't made things any easier either.

I always said, "If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life." And I still subscribe to that position. But it is possible for what you love to change over time. I find myself gravitating away from an interest in day-to-day production management -- a widow-maker if there ever was one -- and more toward creative development, content strategy, packaging, marketing and high-level producing/consulting. I still love post, too, and don't mind shepherding the occasional project through that phase.

Bottom line, I'm wrestling with the idea that a passion I've had all my life is changing and that the love I used to have for the production process is eroding. I am fortunate, though, that there are many areas of entertainment I still do love, so I'm definitely not thinking of walking away from the business anytime soon. In fact, it's independent filmmakers who haven't yet been jaded by Hollywood that help reinvigorate me, so it's nice that I get to work with new ones all the time. But I'm seriously thinking of turning the reins of physical production management over to others moving forward if for no other reason than to preserve my own sanity and love of the business. And if that means less work, then so be it.

Change is okay, Mark. Just own it.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Raising Financing Sucks, But...

I've made no secret of my distaste for raising financing in the world of film and television. It's quite often thankless, soulless, fruitless, feckless and leaves you feeling like you need a cold shower at the end of each day. I feel fortunate to have cultivated enough other skills as a producer that I don't have to raise money any longer.

However, I do sometimes consult with clients on their fundraising endeavors, and the question I get asked most often is, "What do investors look for?" Now, that question could be answered a dozen different ways by a dozen different investors. Sure, there are those guys who just want to hobnob with stars, see their name in lights or get their niece a role. Some are so rich, they don't care if the film loses money because it's just a tax write-off.

But for the majority of investors, ROI is a genuine concern and they want to make sure they're forking over their funds to someone who's going to get them more in return. That said, I've found that most investors are usually interested in knowing three things:

1) MONEY IN: "How much do you need?"

In order to give a viable answer, the best thing to do is work with a line producer to break down, schedule and budget your script in a way that fits your goals. There are many ways to budget the same script, so the line producer will want to know things like how big you see the film, how wide you see it being distributed, who you see in it and, most importantly, how much you think you can raise.

2) MONEY OUT: "How am I going to get my money back? How much am I going to get back? And how soon am I going to get it back?"

It's up you, the filmmaker, to determine a recoupment scenario that's attractive, including a premium, profit share and waterfall that ensures ROI. It's best to create a pitch deck complete with talent wish lists and then work with a sales agent to determine which combinations of those actors will justify the recoupment scenario you want to propose. Show your investors a viable path to making money.


Suppose an investor has 20 projects on his desk, all with scripts, budgets, pitch decks and sales estimates. Then what? How do you differentiate yourself? What does your project have going for it that the others don't? This might include things like preexisting IP, a director or actor attachment, interest from a distributor, or another piece of financing already in place. Whatever it is, make sure to stand out.

Hopefully this provides some insight and inspiration for your next fundraising endeavor. Now go find that money!
(Better you than me.)