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.)

Saturday, May 21, 2022


Why did I title this blog post "Slammed?" Because that's how I feel right now -- slammed with work, with with social obligations, with maintaining my lifestyle, with just about everything, Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'd much rather be busy than bored. But I can't say I haven't been dreaming about a little downtime. 2022 has been an exhausting year, both for reasons within and outside of my control, and sometimes it's nice just to vent a little bit. But I admit I'm very blessed, and the following paragraphs are just more proof of it.

First, I thought I'd follow up on the status of some of my projects mentioned in my last blog post from January titled "What's New in '22":

- The script I mentioned rewriting, "The Odd Son," picked up an Honorable Mention from the LA Film Awards in March after ascending through the Quarterfinal, Semifinal and Final rounds. It has continued to rack up additional accolades ever since, including Honorable Mention in the Big Apple Film Festival Screenplay Competition and Finalist in the Santa Barbara International Screenplay Awards.

- I wound up going to North Carolina in late March/early April to produce the pilot for horror series "The Montgomery Murders." Unfortunately, reasons outside of my control led to a total shutdown of production. While I'm disappointed that the pilot didn't get completed, I'm proud of what we shot and what I was able to accomplish despite myriad obstacles and challenges.

- BondIt's coverage of "Worth the Fight" was strong and the producing team -- consisting of me, Jon Keeyes and fellow writer Rocco Palmieri -- have started working with BondIt to package the film, most likely for a late 2022 or early 2023 production start.

- Miramax wound up passing on "American Saviors;" however, I was able to raise $150,000 in private equity through an investor shortly after to help us package a few A-list names. While that might not seem like a lot, a small pay-or-play deposit against a much larger fee can go a long way in getting an actor attached. I will also be working alongside Jon Keeyes on this project, with BondIt as a potential financier.

- Sony Pictures Animation and Warner Bros Animation both wound up passing on "SPACEjunk!", but with all of the other projects I have going on, I'm not sure I'd have time to focus on this one anyway.

- "Take the Night" was picked up by Saban Films and will be given a limited five-city theatrical release this year. The film also picked up the Audience Choice Award at the Phoenix Film Festival and Best Director at Golden Door.

- I continue to work with Franco Sama at Samaco Films to develop and budget film and TV projects. The Minneapolis Lakers film project looks like it might be funded by August, but in the meantime, Franco and I continue to work with that same North Dakota-based producer on numerous other projects as well. We've got a great collaborative vibe.

Now for some new news:

- I recently signed on to produce a new feature film in Oklahoma called "Will to Win" with a minimum budget of $3 million. I am currently working with two other producers and the screenwriter to get the script done. It is based on the book of the same name by Jim Stovall, who wrote "The Ultimate Gift," features Will Rogers as a main character, and is the first feature film to secure the official blessing and support of the Will Rogers Estate. We're also working with the Cherokee Nation, State of Oklahoma and Will Rogers Museum. The story is about a young Cherokee high school girl who joins the boy’s baseball team when softball is cut, drawing the ire of the school board president, who is determined to see her removed. Through the girl's vivid imagination, she enlists the help of Will Rogers himself as her spirit guide, whose wisdom and humor help her to discover the "will to win."

- My client Athena, talented author of the "Pillars of Dawn" book series, will be retaining me to help her develop them into a viable series, shop them to platforms, create new content and consult on her professional career.

- All this while my wife and I plan a trip to Italy later this year! I've always wanted to go, but because of COVID, we've had to delay our plans for the last two years. But we recently booked our flights and hotels, so it's real now! We will be going to Venice, Milan, Florence, Pisa, Cinqueterre, Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Palermo, Sicily. It should be pretty epic between the food and architecture and history and culture. Bravissimo!

See what I mean? Slammed! Again though, I can't complain because I'm doing exactly what God put me here to do. And I love it. But man, that doesn't mean I can't dream of some downtime now and then! More to come soon...

Saturday, January 29, 2022

What's New in '22

We're already wrapping up the first month of 2022! I can hardly believe it. January was like an eye blink. But what a difference a month makes, eh? I feel the pandemic had people locked down for so long, they were just bursting to get out and create again -- and that's all really exploded in the last few months. I've had no shortage of new projects coming my way as well as the advancement of current projects. Here are some of the highlights:

- I just finished a script rewrite for a client in New York, and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. (Hopefully the client feels the same way.) Titled "The Odd Son," the story follows an ex-criminal who gets paroled, but must serve as a caregiver for his autistic younger half brother who he didn't even know he had. He goes searching for the real father in order to get rid of him, but during their time together, begins to love him as his own. It's about what family really means and the journey from selfishness to selflessness.

- I have officially signed on to produce a new TV pilot in North Carolina to shoot in March called "The Montgomery Murders." Created by Jordan Ray Allen, the story follows a prolific black horror writer/actor working in radio during the 1940s who's driven to madness and eventually goes on a killing spree. In present day, a TV writer moves into the guy's old house and starts hearing his voice through the radio. The hope is that the pilot will be good enough for the show to be picked up by a network or streaming service.

- My feature project "Worth the Fight," about a young street fighter recruited into the legit boxing world, is being covered by BondIt right now. I'd be producing with my longtime colleague Jon Keeyes, while Sean McNamara (who currently has "The King's Daughter" in theaters) would direct. If BondIt likes the material, we're hoping they'll back offers to cast with the goal of shooting later this year!

- Another feature project, "American Saviors," with Scott McCullough attached to direct, is being considered by Miramax right now. The story centers on two dim-witted brothers who abscond with $4 million in dirty money, and while they're pursued across the country by criminals who want it back, begin to find their generous side and help out the people they come across.

- The animated feature "SPACEjunk!", which I developed with longtime client Jim Christell, is being considered over at Sony Pictures Animation.

- It appears as though my feature film "Take the Night" will be distributed through Saban Films, a very respected company, with a release to TV and home entertainment platforms later this year.

- I've worked out a new deal with Samaco Films to help develop film and TV projects with the company's clients. Our first project is for a promising young producer out of North Dakota who has a true story script about the miraculous landing of a flight in 1960 containing the entire Minneapolis Lakers basketball team. I'm currently breaking down and budgeting the project.

- Feature thriller "Homestead" continues in post production for a debut later this year.

- I recently gave my website a small facelift. Check out the new look here:

So again, as you can see, a great start to the year. If January is this busy, I can't wait to see what February holds! Sheesh! Thanks for following...

Ciao for now!

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:

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.



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 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!