I am prepping a new film with the shortest amount of time I have ever had to prep a movie. It is also one of the more ambitious projects I have been involved in. There is so much to do I can't afford to squander any time. The short prep is also unfortunate because now is a time that the producer has to do even more than ever before.
My to-do list may be more of a Wish List these days. Instead of doing everything I think I should be doing, I have to focus first on what absolutely needs to be done to get the film in the can.
Now is the time we should be doing things differently; yet given the opportunity to make the film I want, with the cast I want, even at a fraction of the budget that I want—how can I let that opportunity go by?
Having more options and better tools doesn't solve everything, by any means.
These times are tough indeed. Everyone knows it is hard out there for an indie filmmaker, particularly for a truly free filmmaker. Most would acknowledge that it is harder now than it has ever been before. Few have revealed (or admitted) how the current situation will change their behavior. I think right now, with reality staring me in the face, I can only speak about what I wish I could do. There is still a big gulf between thought and expression. How does the present alter what we all wish to do on our films?
Personally speaking, I would say we need to evolve the definition of what it means to be ready to shoot a film. Granted, more can always be done on the creative level, and that is certainly worthy of discussion, but here we are discussing the apparatus, the infrastructure, the practices that can lead to a more diverse output, robust appreciation, and sustainable practice of ambitious cinema. So, what would I do if I really had my shit together? I have been trying to answer this and share my thoughts along the way.
1. Recognize it is about audience aggregation: collect 5000 fans prior to seeking financing. Act to gain 500 fans/month during prep, production, and post processes.
2. Determine how you will engage and collect audiences all throughout the process. Consider some portion to be crowd-funded—not so much for the money, but for the engagement it will create.
3. Create enough additional content to keep your audience involved throughout the process and later, to bridge them to your next work.
4. Develop an audience outreach schedule clarifying what is done when—both before and after the first public screening.
5. Curate work you admire. Spread the word on what you love. Not only will people understand you further, but who knows, maybe someone will return the good deed.
6. Be prepared to "produce the distribution." Meet with potential collaborators from marketing, promotion, distribution, social networks, bookers, exhibitors, widget manufacturers, charitable partners, to whatever else you can imagine.
7. Brainstorm transmedia/cross-platform content to be associated with the film.
8. Study at least five similar films in terms of what their release strategy and audience engagement strategy was and how you can improve upon them.
9. Build a website that utilizes e-commerce, audience engagement, and data retrieval. Have it ready no later than one month prior to the first public screening.
10. Determine and manufacture at least five additional products you will sell, other than DVDs.
11. Determine content for multiple versions of your DVD.
12. Design several versions of your poster. Track how your image campaign evolves through the process.
13. Do a paper cut of what two versions of your trailer might be. Track how this changes throughout the process.
14. Determine a list of the top 100 people to promote your film (critics, bloggers, filmmakers, etc.).
15. Determine where and how to utilize a more participatory process in the creation, promotion, exhibition, and appreciation process. Does it make sense for your project to embrace this?
16. How will this project be more than a movie? Is there a live component? An ARG (alternative reality game)? An ongoing element?
17. How can you reward those who refer others to you? How do you incentivize involvement? What are you going to give back?
18. What will you do next and how can you move your audience from this to that? How will you not have to reinvent the wheel next time?
19. What are you doing differently than everyone else? How will people understand this? Discover this?
20. How are you going to share what you've learned on this project with others?
As I've said, I know I am not doing all of these yet on my current production, but that leaves me something to strive for on the one following. The goal is to keep getting better, after all. But man, I wish I could be doing more!
The desire to do more is so huge, but time and resources limit me, limit us. Sometimes it feels like an accomplishment to at least get the film financed. Still though, I can't claim to be doing my job (producing) well if I am not doing all of these. I have to do better. I know it is even harder on smaller jobs. Still though, as much as our job descriptions keep expanding as our salary level decreases, this list is what we must accomplish. Or at least it is the list I think we need to accomplish right now.
I am going to shut up now and get to work. There's too much to be done.
21 Grams, American Splendor, Happiness, In the Bedroom—Ted Hope, co-founder of This is that and Good Machine, has produced close to sixty films, including three Sundance Grand Prize winners and the first features of Ang Lee, Hal Hartley, Nicole Holofcener, Michel Gondry, and Alan Ball. Ted most recently produced Adventureland by Greg Mottola, now on DVD. Ted actively blogs on TrulyFreeFilm and is co-founder of HammerToNail, the indie film review website.