So… you want to be an artist.
Why? For the glamour? The money? To be among celebrities? These are not reasons to have such an ambition. The only way one can pursue a career in the arts is if you will love the medium you will choose like you would a life-partner. You will never achieve the proper state of mind if you don’t. The probability of scratching out a meager living in the arts is slim, at best. If you do achieve fame and fortune, they will be hollow gains, as you will have neglected your art.
Now that you’ve read this site’s “Home” page, and the proceeding paragraph… how does one become a filmmaker? Well, nothing beats good “schooling,” whether it be a institution of learning or an apprenticeship, but “doing” is key. You may wish to consider becoming a production assistant, assistant director (who really reports to the producer,) manual laborer (grip,) gofer, traffic control person, or a background actor/model/stand-in. Make an effort to shoot a short film on digital video, edit it on your computer and show it off on various internet sites and/or enter it into contests and festivals. You have to make an effort to get your work, and your name “out there.”
In addition to “shooting,” I would read. Read about filmmaking and any good story you can come across, from the classics to modern authors who have a buzz to ’em. Learn to write creatively. If you live in the United States, you’ll need to copyright your screenplays with the Library of Congress and register them with the Writers Guild. I’d recommend you join the Independent Feature Project (I.F.P. – ifp.org) and Film/Video Arts (F.V.A. – fva.com.) You might want to purchase a copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory (producers) from hcdonline.com or ifilm.com, or go to everyonewhosanyone.com to find production companies. Buying some books on screenwriting and acting is also a great idea.
Among the earliest books on screenwriting are by Syd Field, and me being a method actor, I would advise you to buy a copy of Edward Dwight Easty’s, “On Method Acting.” The great thing about method acting is, you can use whatever works for you, and ignore the rest. Like an actor once told me, “You should strive to make it YOUR method.” Michael Wiese Productions publishes fine books on a variety of filmmaking subjects (mwp.com.) If you are in the L.A. or NYC areas, be sure to visit the Samuel French bookstores. NYC’s Drama Book Shop and L.A.’s two locations of The Writers Store are must visits.
You have a completed screenplay? Well, you’re going to need an agent, as producers, directors, and actors will not accept unsolicited works. The Writers Guild of America publishes a monthly update of all the signatories of the Writers/Agents Agreement. It costs all of $1.30 or so. Only a few agents will accept unpublished or unproduced authors. Most of these agents are overextended anyway. To avoid the heartache of trying to secure an agent, you should retain an entertainment attorney who will act as your agent. The legwork of convincing production and development companies to read your one sentence to two-page synopsis of your screenplay – falls on your shoulders. If you do not utilize your lawyer (but By ALL means, secure a lawyer) I advise you require ANYONE with whom you discuss your work to sign a ‘Confidentiality Agreement’ and ANY actor you cast to sign a ‘Release Form.’ They can be downloaded from: LawSmart.com.
After contacting a producer, director or an actor, your next obstacle is convincing one of these parties to want to make a film of your screenplay. Even if one of these three vital cogs likes your work, they’ll ask you if you’ve secured money – lots of it – or one or both of the other actual cogs. With money and the three major cogs, your project can and will fall through more than once, for a variety of reasons. Yes, there are several ways to produce a film, including self-producing, but you’ll need to recoup your investment, or else spend the rest of your life paying off your filmmaking debt.
How does one obtain funding (or in the vernacular – “get money”) to filmmake? There’s an old filmmaker’s expression (more than one filmmaker got their start this way): “Where there’s a Will, there’s an inheritance.” You can approach “people with money” and propose a return on their investment (don’t bet on it) and if the film does not bring in a lot of revenue, an opportunity for a tax write-off on a “bad investment.” The chances of your films producing profits are slim until you “make it,” but until then, making and marketing your film will get your name “out there.” Poeple with money can include everyone/everything from business owners who ask you to feature or mention their business in your film, to governments other than that of the US – they have the luxury of being able to give out more funding than the US government.
“Hollywood” producers and executives of the major studios are as sad as you and I with the quality of today’s movies. These individuals were handed the keys to a glorious kingdom: the American motion picture industry. To sustain it in today’s world economies, studios have to look first toward creating a cash flow instead of fine works of art. Films have become much costlier to make and market. For a film to merely “break-even” financially, it needs to rake in nearly twice its production and marketing costs in box office receipts.
What is there to do? Everyone would probably have an opinion to this question. I launched BetterFlicks.com to help producers by providing them with information on what you want to see when you go to the movies. If the eventual end products are films that you, and I’m sure the producers themselves, would want to see – we’ll have succeeded. Speaking of producers, “Hello, He Lied” by Lynda Obst (also made into a television program) offers and excellent insight into what a producer does, as well as “Show (Biz) Business.”
BetterFlicks.com will not work without your help. Thank you for your Emails. We review your Emails every day of the year. Keep sending them to: LGMench@live.com,LGMench@BetterFlicks.com, or use the form on the Contact Us page of this website. Thanks! – Louis Menchise