Lights, Camera, Action!

So last night finished up a directing class that I’ve been taking at a local community college.  We got together and had a screening where we got to watch our work and, afterward, a guest speaker, who is a local production coordinator, talked about budgeting.

During the course of the class each of us had to choose a scene from a script, break it down, create a shot list, and storyboard it.  Let me tell you, I couldn’t draw if my life depended upon it, so it was stick figures for me!  We learned about casting calls, but I missed the day they talked about acting and working with actors. 

Then each of us got to play director and shoot our chosen scenes.  We were running short on time so I opted out of directing my scene.  I don’t have any plans to be a director, but my classmates do so I figured they would need the experience more than me.

But, low and behold, we were short on actors, so guess who got recruited into the job?  Now, the only thing I’ve ever done in front of an audience is public speaking and dancing.  Acting was a totally new experience for me.  But it was interesting to get a small taste of what an actor does:  memorizing lines, repeating the same lines and actions over and over again for each take, taking direction from the director, keeping my movements smaller for closeups.  Actually, when I think about it, there are some similarities to public speaking and dancing.  So would I ever want to be an actor?  Heck, no.  Even though I got compliments on my acting, it was downright painful watching myself at that screening last night.  Nope, no acting for me.  I’ll do the world a favor and remain behind the scenes.

Getting past the pain of watching myself, it was a good learning experience to watch the scenes that we shot.  The teacher pointed out mistakes that are typical for a beginner director.  A few that I can remember off the top of my head are: 

  • In one shot the framing was off and there was too much air space above the actors’ heads.
  • Another time, the actors weren’t blocked properly and it looked like the actress was on the head of one of the actors.  Also, there was no continuity and sometimes the actress was in the shot and sometimes she wasn’t.  It not only looked strange, but the whole reason for the shot lost its meaning without her.
  • The funniest was seeing the fuzzy fur-covered microphone at the top of the shot and one of the lights over to the side.  Oops…another framing mistake.

So maybe by now you’re wondering why I took a directing class even though I have no plans to be a director.  Well, producers have been described as generalists.  They need to know a little about each job, but they don’t have to be experts in those jobs.  But they need to know enough to be able to hire the right people and budget for those jobs. 

So far I’ve taken classes in scriptwriting, lighting and cinematography, directing, film production, and early film history, among others.  Since I’m new to this, I’ve got the double job of keeping the project moving forward while I keep my education moving forward.  I’m always in the middle of reading of a book or two and when one class finishes, I start looking for my next class.  Fortunately for me, I love learning, and this is a job where the learning never stops. 

Do Lower Ratings Equal Greater Profits?

So I received a phone call the other night from a young woman doing an opinion poll for the Dove Foundation.  Never heard of it.  And why am I receiving this call when I’m on the National Do Not Call Registry?  Oh, they’re a non-profit organization and thus excempt. 

Now, usually, I try to get off the phone as quickly as possible with telemarketers, which is why I joined the Do Not Call Registry in the first place.  Duh.  But then I heard words such as “Hollywood” and “movies” coming out of my phone.  Okay, now that caught my interest.  So I endured listening to questions that were obviously scripted, read in a monotone voice, and sounded as if they had been repeated hundreds of times…they probably had been.  (Maybe if they gave telemarketers acting or public speaking lessons, it wouldn’t be so painful to listen to them drone on.) 

Anyway, I was asked questions such as:  Do you believe that offensive material in TV, Movies and the Internet is on the rise?  Do you want to see more wholesome family entertainment made?  And others along the same vein of thought.  I answered her questions, and asked a couple of my own.  Her explanation seemed to imply that they were creating a new way of distributing family-friendly movies directly to the customer and bypassing the traditional Hollywood distribution system.  Huh?  Non-profit?  That didn’t add up. 

In order to learn more I had to agree to have another person call me back with more info.  Well, I guess they haven’t trained their telemarketers on what to do when they call someone who is trying to make films themselves, because she quickly hung up on me when she found out. 

Still curious about this group, I did a quick search and found their website. Turns out that the Dove Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family enterainment.”  They plan to let Hollywood filmmakers know the desires of the public by presenting their findings to studio heads, as well as the media, with the hope of influencing Hollywood to clean up its act.  So I’m not sure what that young woman was talking about because there is nothing on their website (that I could find) about a new distribution system. 

What was really interesting, though, was their Profitability Study of MPAA-Rated Movies.  According to their study, “during the last four years, the average G-rated movie was 11 times more profitable than an R-rated movie.”  They also claim that G-rated films “produced an average rate of return on investment (ROI) three times greater than R-rated films.”

This raised the question, how do they calculate ROI when many costs incurred in making a movie are usually not disclosed by studios?  According to the report, this was done by subtracting negative costs, P&A (prints and advertising), and video manufacturing costs from worldwide box office, TV, and video gross revenue.  While using this method doesn’t give us the actual profit, it does give us a relative assessment of a film’s ROI, which is viable because the same formula is applied equally across-the-board to all the films. 

Now, I’m not going to go into moral issues or artistic/creative reasons that may or may not influence the content of a film and thus its rating.  I do have a personal opinion on this subject and if I’m fortunate enough to be able to make a career out of producing films, my viewpoint will become apparent in the types of films I choose to do.  But considering this from a strictly business perspective, the study makes some good points. 

Just because G-rated movies tend to be more profitable doesn’t mean that audiences are looking for an endless bombardment of kiddie flicks.  However, according to the study, just lowering an R-rating to a PG-13 or a PG-13 to a PG can increase the audience and thus the potential profitability of a movie.

Whether the findings of the Dove Foundation have any impact on what we see at theaters remains to be seen.  Hollywood, with its deep pockets, can get away with producing fare that doesn’t always make a profit; but independent filmmakers rarely have that luxury.  A producer who hopes to make a living from making films and an investor who hopes to see a return on his/her investment should give serious thought to whether the project being developed/backed is reaching as big an audience as possible.

How Fans Can Help

First of all, let me say that it is a pleasure to have Mike McCafferty join this blog as a contributing author.  Without Mike and that conversation we had last year, I would have never been able to take on a project such as this one.  But Mike helped me realize that collaboration between a cast and fans is very possible.  It just takes willingness on the part of both parties to work together and get it done.  We’re definitely going into new territory here.  Already, old rules are being broken and new ones are being created.

In his post, Mike asked for your help to promote this project.  Now you may be thinking, “Of course, I will help!  As soon as that movie is released, I’m going to tell everyone I know about it.”  And that’s great.  But instead of waiting until the movie is released, how about start now?  Seems kind of early, doesn’t it?  Well, bear with me and let me explain.

It’s going to take some time to build buzz (which the dictionary defines as “excited interest or attention”) and there are fewer of us now than there was before, so the earlier we start the better.  Not only can buzz help increase the audience for the movie, but it can also help to get it made.  How is that? 

There are two big hurdles to jump over in getting this movie made:  financing and distribution. 

Let’s talk about financing first.  I mention on the About Page that I have had some preliminary interest from a funding source, and that’s true.  But at this point in time it’s not guaranteed.  That funding source might come through for us and provide all the money needed to get this movie made.  On the other hand, it could also fall through for a variety of reasons:  from simply losing interest in the project, to having resources already tied up in other ventures, to thinking that this isn’t a good investment.  Having funding fall through is actually a fairly common occurance in filmmaking and anyone who wants to be a producer has to be prepared to deal with that fact.  I’ve been told to not just wait until the check is in the bank, but wait until the check actually clears. 

People who invest in movies know that it is a risky investment, but they also know that the payoff can be big if the movie turns out to be hit.  There are several factors that they look at when considering whether or not to invest in a film venture, but I’m going to only cover a couple right now:  audience and distribution.

Having a built-in audience is not something that every film has, but producers often try to minimize the risks and make the film more appealing to financiers by getting a “name” star or two in their film.  It doesn’t always work and we could probably all cite examples when a known star was in a film that flopped.  But many times it does work.  How many of you have gone to see a movie just because Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or Angelina Jolie was starring in it?  These actors are considered bankable, which is why if producers can get a name actor interested in their movie, they have a better chance of getting their film funded.

We happen to be very fortunate.  We have a very talented cast from an awesome little TV show for our film.  But the show has been off the air for a few years in the U.S. (though it is still airing in a few other countries), so investors are going to want to know if there is still a worldwide audience that wants to see this cast come together again. 

Another thing that investors consider is distribution.  While investors sometimes fund films without any kind of distribution deal in place, having a distribution deal already in place makes for a stronger case.  As a producer, I owe it to the investors to get the best distribution deal possible. To do otherwise is unconscionable.  After all, they are the ones who are putting their money on the line.

So do distributors consider the audience when deciding what films to promote and distribute/air?  Yes, that’s definitely one of the factors they take into account.  Like investors, they too are putting their money on the line.  A film that already has a built-in audience can definitely be more attractive to them.

Now, I’m going to work my you-know-what off for this film and try to make it as good as I can with the resources I acquire.  And, if you, the audience, are willing to support that and show that there is an audience for our I-Man cast, our chances for success will be that much greater. I know we can create something special of which we can all be proud.

Now you may be wondering just what is it that you can do to help, so I’ve taken Mike’s suggestions and added a couple of my own.  These ideas are easy to do and don’t cost anything.

  • Tell a friend–Do you have a friend that is a fan of The Invisible Man or its cast?  Do you know someone who enjoys quality TV and movies?  Tell them about this project and website!  And tell them to tell their friends.  Spread the word!
  • Bulletin Boards–Do you visit any online bulletin boards?  As long as it doesn’t violate the board’s rules or policies, how about posting a blurb about this exciting project?  And don’t forget to include a link to this website. 
  • Blogs and Websites–Do you have a blog or website?  Please consider putting up a link to Shoom Zone Productions.  Links help in a couple of ways:  1)  They help drive visitors to this site, and 2)  They help increase our search engine rankings.  Once you have a link up, please contact me via the Contact Form or leave a comment and let me know that you’ve linked to this site.  Don’t forget to include a link to your website or blog because I want to be sure to reciprocate by adding your website or blog to a new link category I’ve created called Friends & Supporters.  The idea is to grow the list of friends and supporters as large as possible.  When I give presentations to investors and distributors, I want to be able to show them all the people who support this project!  And I want it to be impressive!
  • MySpace–Do you have a MySpace page?  So does Shoom Zone Productions!  It’s located at  Please add Shoom Zone Productions to your MySpace friends list.  The goal is to spread the news and grow the friends list.  Let’s make it huge!  Let’s impress those investors and distributors! 

Those are just a few things that you can do right now to help out.  For your convenience, I’ve posted them on a new page called How Fans Can Help.  This list is by no means comprehensive, so if anybody has any ideas that I can add to this list, please let me know.

Thank you for your support.  Let’s get our cast together again!