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!

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,


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 due to the significant reader response it received. For those who missed it the first time, you can see it here:

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.