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Filmmakers: First Things First!

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You have a script.  Maybe you’re about to start pitching it to some people with money or maybe you are thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign.  Either way, there are some essential questions that you can answer that will feed your project from this moment all the way to delivery.

You will be asked these same questions in your crew interviews, pitch meetings, festival applications, as well as your final delivery to iTunes.  Learn to love answering these questions because if you have rock solid interesting answers to them it will help your team perform better at every stage of production.  You will all be making the same movie. You will have a foundation upon which to build the world you’re creating together.  Your Q&A’s at festivals will sound more articulate and like you are filmmakers with a purpose.  When you are dead tired from the two year (or longer) process of making the movie, you’ll be able to use the last of your energy to cut and paste from these documents you’ve been building and refining and refining again instead of starting from square one.  Besides, shouldn’t you know what movie you’re making…BEFORE you make it instead of waiting until a festival asks you for a synopsis?

These questions are the basis of your EPK (Electronic Press Kit) which you should start…YESTERDAY.  Seriously, your film will become more and more inevitable the more you answer these questions and start to build an audience and resources around them.  You’ll start to identify who you should be talking to about your film –and very importantly, whose criticism you care about and whose you do not.

Start honing your log line.  Then boil your script down into a mini-synopsis (a sentence or two), a paragraph synopsis and also a longer synopsis (250 words).  When you are crafting these, think about the marketing of your film.

Who is your audience?  After you’ve identified them, what version of your synopsis will speak to what THEY care about?  For example, my team is gearing up to make a coming of age film that families can watch, Miles Underwater, and our initial synopsis called a major incident in the story a “teenager’s near-death experience.”  In refining the synopsis thinking about our audience, my producing partner suggested that we consider changing that to “an unusual event that causes him to take a leap of faith.”  The second one is something as an audience member in that demographic I’m more likely to click on with my ten-year-old because it’s less dark, potentially more hopeful.  By thinking about this now, I am also framing it this way to my designers, actors and cinematographers and reminding them to see the event as more life-changing and less scary.

What are the themes of your film?  What, at its core is your film about?  What are the key scenes that express those themes that you will hang your hat on – these are the scenes that you are most excited about shooting usually, the scenes that make you want to make the movie (and if there aren’t scenes that get you excited like this – then you need to stop now and keep working on the script – sometimes we are excited to make A movie, not THIS movie…trust me, get that script in the kind of shape first that you cannot stop talking about in this thematic way).  Boil it down.  Find the lines of dialogue that voice these themes (and if there aren’t any, consider working them in).  You’ll need these thematic ideas to help with marketing and audience building – these are the quick one-liners you’ll use over and over again on social media as your team builds interest for the project.  It’s these ideas of hope, or love, or injustice that audiences react to – and that will make people want to work on your project, give money to it, or want to see it.  What are the hashtags?

These ideas should help you brainstorm poster art.  They should help you make a list of film stills you will need for marketing and thereby not forget to shoot them when on set.  They will start to help you in creative conversations with your team – choosing locations that represent those themes visually somehow.  It’s amazing how these tiny paragraphs can help the whole team start to really talk about what the movie is at its core.  Anything in the film that isn’t supporting that mission usually will end up on the editing room floor (I’m dating myself…I mean will end up on your desktop trashcan).  This saves you money.

All of this work before you really get started has the added bonus of making your actual movie better!  Now you have a one sheet document to email with your script when you’re trying to crew up or get money or share with your local press to get interest in the production going (which you are also starting to do…YESTERDAY).

Draft a version of these things and send them to your team asking for feedback.  Revise.  Revise again.  Then look at these again after you make the film and make sure they still are true of the film you made.  Revise again.  By the time you are submitting to festivals and distributors, your talking points and audience appeal are so well-honed that it will stand out.

It’s all filmmaking.  Even the document homework.  How you talk about your film is critically important.  Try to love this part too and not see it as merely a chore.

Jen Prince

About Jen Prince

JEN PRINCE (Producer, Director, Editor)- Jen Prince is an independent producer who hails from south Texas, where her love for music, theatre, movies and tableside guacamole began. Jen produced and co-edited the indie feature QUALITY PROBLEMS (Chris Mulkey, Mo Gaffney, Brooke Purdy), available on VOD, winner of Best Independent Spirit Feature at Sedona Film Festival, Best Feature at Women Texas Film Festival and Hell's Half Mile Festival, among other awards and critical acclaim. Jen recently produced the feature AND THEN THERE WAS EVE, (Tania Nolan, Karan Soni, Mary Holland, Rachel Crowl) together with Jhennifer Webberley (Metamorfic Productions), winner of a Jury Award at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival. She produced the micro budget award-winning indie- road feature, EVE OF UNDERSTANDING (Bellamy Young, Rebecca Lowman), distributed through Vanguard Cinema and screened at over twenty festivals worldwide. Jen is currently in pre-production on her feature directorial debut, MILES UNDERWATER (2018), which received a Hometown Heroes grant from the Duplass Brothers/Seed&Spark, teaming up again with the Metamorfic filmmakers who created Quality Problems. She is a graduate of the MFA Film Production Program at USC. She received her BFA in Acting and a BA in Liberal Arts in the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Jen has also worked in post-production television. Credits include the Emmy Awards, The Contender (Mark Burnett Prods), and The Amazing Race (CBS). Jen is a mother of four boys and loves trying to keep up with them and, at times, watching the grass grow.