What I Learned This Year

No matter what obstacles life throws in front of you, it’s important to keep persevering.  This past year has been an incredibly frustrating and stressful year for me.  My auto accident back in February kept me sidelined most of the year and I was unable to make any real progress on the film project.  Then my cat got sick and died.  When I finally got back to the project and decided to hold the NAME THE MOVIE CHARACTERS CONTEST, it took far longer than I anticipated to get the contest started due to circumstances out of my control.  I look back on the year and wonder what the heck I accomplished and it, unfortunately, wasn’t much.  This year has really tested my patience.  But I learned that I can get through those tough times and keep going.  I’m as determined as ever to get our wonderful cast together again and I look forward to actually making progress in the new year!

It’s important to start audience building as early as possible.  This past summer I attended a Jon Reiss workshop, sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society, entitled Think Outside the Box Office.  This workshop was named after Jon’s book of the same name.  While I had always thought that it’s important to build an audience early, Jon’s workshop was the first time I had ever heard anyone else say it.  Jon advocates starting to think about the distributing and marketing of one’s film from as early as inception.  A vital part of this is reaching out and growing the audience. 

It may seem counterintuitive to start at inception, especially when, traditionally, most filmmakers wait until after they finish the film to think about distribution and marketing.  But it really makes a lot of sense if you think about it.  Independent filmmakers don’t have the huge marketing budgets that the studios have to reach their audience, so anything indies can do reach and build an audience as early as possible will only help down the road when it comes time to market and distribute the film. 

Many of you have followed me from The Invisible Man Online website over here to Shoom Zone.  If there is anyone who wants to see our beloved cast together again, I know it will be I-Man fans!  So far, a small group averaging about 1,000 readers a month visit this site; and so many of you have been openly supportive and encouraging.  I can’t thank you enough for hanging in here after all this time.  But I, also, can’t assume that all of the audience of 10 million people around the world who watched I-Man will easily find out about this project or even be interested in it.  I’ve got my work cut out for me to reach all those fans and to even try to extend the audience to the general sci-fi/superhero audience.  I need to prove to investors and distributors that there is a big enough audience to justify the cost of making this movie.  But I can’t do it alone.  I’ll need your help to spread the word about this project.  In the future, I’ll be expounding more about ways you can help, but for now please check out the How Fans Can Help page for some ideas you can do that are absolutely free.  I recently updated it with new ways you can help out. 

Interviewing is a great way to learn about subjects.  I’ve already done one interview for the United Filmmakers Association and will be starting an interview series in the near future on distribution companies for them.  Prepping for the interviews is forcing me to start learning about the distribution process (a good thing) and then getting my questions answered means learning about the distribution companies.  It’s a fantastic education!

I already have my first interview lined up.  I’m just waiting to resolve some computer issues right now which are preventing me from downloading video.  Yes, I said video.  I recently bought myself a little Flip video camera which will allow me to shoot the interview.  So look forward to seeing more video in the future!  Now I need to learn to edit!

Don’t compromise on quality.  I’m a huge admirer of Pixar and was privileged to be able to visit the studio this past summer.  So what is it about this studio that makes them so successful?  I think the answer is in this quote I recently found:

“There is a crucial rule: no compromises. No compromises on quality – regardless of production constraints, cost constraints, or a deadline. If you get a better idea, and this means that you have to start again from scratch, then that’s what you have to do.” — John Lasseter, Pixar

A good thing to keep in mind as I develop this project!

Acting Workshop with Paul Ben-Victor

Attention actors!  Paul Ben-Victor will be teaching his second acting workshop held by the International Academy of Film and Television.  The workshop is entitled Character/Chameleon and it will be held this Saturday, July 17, in Venice, California, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  It’s $99 for this workshop, and $89 for students.  Well worth it, if you ask me, because you’re learning from one of the best.

To reserve your place, call 310-593-4444 or visit http://www.filmschool.ph/LAworkshops/character.php.  A year’s subscription to Moviemaker Magazine is included with the price.

Filmmaking Co-ops

If I seem to be a bit quiet lately, it’s for good reason.  Last month I was in a seven-car pileup on the freeway.  Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, but I did end up with a mild case of whiplash.  I can only imagine how painful a serious case of whiplash must be, but I can tell you that a mild case isn’t much fun either.  Sleeping, or I should say trying to get sleep, has been a challenge because I wake up several times a night with something hurting and then I have to try to find a position that is more comfortable, which isn’t always possible.   The past month have been filled with numerous visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist.  Happily, the treatments are paying off because I am in pain less frequently than before and I’m not waking up quite as much in the middle of the night.

All of this has, of course, effected the film project because I haven’t had the time or energy to work on it.  The reference guide is still sitting there waiting to be finished, but I am hoping to get back to working on it soon.  Recently, however, I did manage to attend a couple of events and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.  

Making Movies Throughout the Bay Area (MMTB)

Saturday before last, I spent the day at Goal Line Productions’ studio.  Goal Line is owned by football legend John Madden and operated by his son Joe.  The filmmaking event was put on by a filmmaking co-op group called Making Movies Throughout the Bay Area (MMTB). 

If you’re not familiar with filmmaking co-ops, let me explain what they are.  Briefly, they are groups of people interested in filmmaking who come together and share their time, talent, equipment, ideas, etc. to make short films.  For people who are interested in filmmaking but never had a chance to go to film school, this is a great low-cost way to get involved in filmmaking and learn how it is done guerrilla style.  For those who have or are currently going to film school, co-ops help you to get that much needed practice.  Here is where you can learn and practice the art without worrying about mistakes derailing your career.  People aren’t expecting perfection at this point in the game.  That comes later.

MMTB is a very new co-op.  This was only the second meeting.  They have a few bugs to work out yet in how they operate, but I’m sure they will iron those out over time and turn into a smoother running organization.  What I like about MMTB is the low time commitment and cost of joining.  Joining is basically free.  Just go to their Facebook page and join the group.  If you want to attend one of their filmmaking events, however, there is a small fee that is reduced if you bring  a food or drink item for the potluck lunch.  Events are one day per month and they run the entire day.  By the end of the day each group has finished shooting a short film and can take it with them for editing.  Edited films are due by a certain date and shown at the next event where everyone who attends gets to vote on which film they like best.  This is the film that won this month.

Perfect?  No, but can you believe they only had two hours to come up with that concept and write and shoot it?  Not bad considering the constraints.  MMTB rules require directors to have their own camera equipment.  If you’re a director, you’re a team leader.  There are two boxes filled with slips of paper.  One contains the names of the writers in the group, the other contains the names of the actors.  The director chooses one writer and two actors.  It’s the luck of the draw and you have no idea which group you’ll be assigned to until your name is drawn.  At that point it’s a mad dash to come up with a concept that fits your group and get it shot within the allotted time.  This month the teams were given four hours to shoot their films.

As a producer, I wasn’t sure what exactly I could contribute to an event such as this so I joined a sort of miscellaneous group that makes the behind-the-scenes video.  I was assigned to watch the various groups and take notes for the video.  I can’t say I was very successful at first.  It wasn’t until I was able to watch the video for last month’s gathering that I was really able to understand what they were looking for.  My note taking then improved a little bit, although I can’t say it was near as clever as what had been done before.  But it was fun to watch the various filmmaking teams in action.  Most of the teams did “talking heads” stories, although I did see one group shooting an action film.  One advantage of shooting at a studio is getting to use some of the equipment that they have.  One team was able to use some of the studio’s green screen for their indoor scenes.  I’m curious as to what those scenes will look like.

For a producer, the main reason to attend an event such as this is for the contacts.  You just never know if you’ll find local talent that you may wish to hire or collaborate with later.  I was able to find a few contacts that day that could be promising. 

Scary Cow Productions

Monday before last, I took a class on location management that was hosted by another film co-op called Scary Cow Productions.  Their motto is “Make Movies.  Be Scary.”  If MMTB is for those who want to dip their toe into filmmaking, Scary Cow is taking it to the next level.  There’s a bit more of a commitment involved to become a Scary Cow member.  The membership fee is $50 per month.  Participants are given four months to complete their projects, which gives them more control over the creative elements of their projects.  It works like this:  Once every four months members meet together for a pitching meeting.  Anybody can pitch an idea.  Members decide which projects will go forward by choosing the project they want to work on.  At the end of the four months, films are screened in a theater which has been rented for the occasion.  Members and a panel of judges vote for the best films.  The winners receive a budget for their next film.

Scary Cow also hires professionals to teach classes for its members.  Occasionally, they open their classes to the general public.  I’ve had the privilege of taking two of their classes already.  Back in December I took a casting class taught by a local casting agent; and last Monday I took a class in location management taught by a local location scout.  Both were excellent classes that gave me a real feel for what their job entails; and I was able to make contact with two local professionals in their respective fields that may come in useful down the road.

Acting Master Class With Paul Ben-Victor

Paul Ben-Victor

Attention any actors or aspiring actors!  Paul Ben-Victor will be teaching an acting master class workshop this Saturday, November 21, 2009, from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles, California. 

Here’s a chance to learn from someone who has worked consistently in TV and film for over 20 years.  Currently, Paul appears in the hit TV series In Plain Sight, but his career boasts a long list of roles in various films and TV series including our own beloved The Invisible Man for which he won an audience award for his role as Bobby Hobbes.  Paul has had the kind of career that many actors only dream about, so it would behoove you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from one of the best! 

This workshop is sponsored by the International Academy of Film and Television.  The cost is $179 or $49 to audit.   Click on the link below to reserve your place in the class. Space is limited!

Acting Class Master Workshop

“The Invisible Man” Gets its Own Chapter

A couple of years ago I was approached by author/journalist Mark Phillips who, along with his writing partner Frank Garcia, was writing the second in a series of books on science fiction TV series.  Their first book, Science Fiction Television Series, was published in 2006 and covered TV series from 1959 to 1989.  Their second book was to cover series from 1990 to 2004.  So guess which series that we all know and love fits into that date range?  Yep, The Invisible Man.

When Mark approached me asking for help on an Invisible Man chapter that he was writing for the book, I was happy to help.  Hey, I’m a fan.  How could I resist?  So I provided information about the show and helped edit the chapter, as well as arranged interviews with Vince and Paul

Now, after all this time, the book has finally been published!  Mark did a really nice job with the chapter.  There are maybe one or two errors that crept into the chapter, but for the most part, it’s pretty accurate.

Mark starts out with a quote from writer Leslie Stevens who said, “Invisibility sucks.”  Leslie wasn’t referring to the power of invisibility but, instead, was complaining about the difficulty in creating a successful series about invisibility.  Is it any wonder?  Virtually every invisible man series created before our invisible man series has performed poorly.  But when you consider that film is a visual medium and invisibility is, well, invisible, you can begin to see the difficulties that filmmakers have making invisibility work.

This makes me appreciate the brilliance of Matt Greenberg even more.  Not only did he not skimp on the invisibility aspects, but he created a way to do invisibility that we hadn’t seen before, what with the gland and Quicksilver.  However, he wisely didn’t put the focus on the invisibility.  Instead, he created fun, flawed, and fascinating characters that we could fall in love with and care about.  In fact, it was the “show’s emphasis on characterization” that attracted Vince to the part of Darien.

Mark writes about several of the episodes such as the pilot (good choice), “Catevari,” and “Legends.”  In hindsight, I probably should have suggested that he include something about a few of the stronger episodes.  I would have liked to have seen something in the chapter about “Flowers for Hobbes,” “Brother’s Keeper,” or “The Other Invisible Man.”


Subjects Mark writes about in the chapter include the casting process, the chemistry between Vince and Paul, the visual effects, the addition of agent Alex Monroe, and the cancellation.  There’s some interesting stuff there that you may or may not know about.

The book is definitely a must have for I-Man fans, as well as lovers of science fiction TV shows.  You can purchase a copy for yourself by clicking on the link below.  That will take you to a website filled with all kinds of information about both books as well as ordering info.  (I bought my copy from Amazon.) 

Note:  I’m not making any money plugging this book.  My only rewards have been being able to help with promoting I-Man to more people and getting a very nice acknowledgment in the Acknowledgments section of the book.

 Science Fiction Television Series

“The Reel Deal” Workshop

This coming weekend I’m looking forward to spending both days in San Francisco at an IIFF workshop entitled “The Reel Deal – Getting Your Indie Film Financed, Produced & Distributed Without Getting Ripped Off.”  The workshop will be given by Jeffrey Brandstetter, an entertainment attorney, financier, producer, and distributor.  

I first met Jeffrey about a year ago.  We attended the same seminar given by a venture capitalist.  I blogged about it in a post I wrote last March entitled Film Financing From a VC’s Perspective.  For the afternoon group assignment, Jeffrey was on the same team as I was.  It was great to have someone with his experience on our team.  We ended up beating all the other teams with our project.

Jeffrey makes the best argument I’ve ever heard for why films are not necessarily the poor investment that they are commonly painted to be.  Yes, he admits that most films don’t recoup the investor’s initial investment.  However, when you compare films to the typical Silicon Valley startup, there are some noteworthy differences.  Many startups have nothing to show after 18 to 24 months and, if they fail, the most that an investor can often get is whatever the fixtures sell for at auction.  In other words, pretty much nothing.  However, when it comes to films, if you are able to raise the full production budget, which will enable you to complete the film and get it in the can, you now have a real asset…something that is worth far more than used furniture.  If the film is a big hit, there can be big rewards; but at the very least, an investor will receive back a significant portion of his or her investment.  There won’t be fire sale.  That can’t be said for most Silicon Valley startups.  Following that line of reasoning, this makes film an investment that is very worthy of consideration. 

If the business of filmmaking interests you, you might want to take the time to watch the following 41 minute preview video.  In it, Jeffrey gives us small taste of his upcoming workshop.

IIFF & WonderCon

IIFF Meeting

A little over a week ago I was in San Francisco twice.  Thursday night it was for the monthly IIFF (Institute for International Film Financing) meeting held at the Academy of Art University

For anyone interested in learning about film financing, I highly recommend IIFF’s meetings as well as their workshops.  If you’re not near the Bay Area, meetings are occasionally held in other areas.  Just keep an eye on the IIFF website.

I knew four out of the five speakers Thursday night:  an executive producer through whom I hired one of my story analysts; a lawyer who is also a distributor, producer, and investor; the director of IIFF; and my own lawyer.  The fifth speaker was an accomplished screenwriter (has sold over 20 features), novelist, and producer, and I made a point of briefly talking to him and getting his contact info.

To give you an idea of the kind of information you can expect from IIFF meetings, the program was as follows:

  1. BLENDING ART & COMMERCE: Crafting Movie Deals That
    Really Work
  2. THE REEL DEAL: Getting Your Indie Financed, Produced &
    Distributed Without Getting Ripped Off
  3. FILM BUDGETING & SCHEDULING: Key to Success for
    Filmmakers & Financiers
  4. STARTING ON THE RIGHT FOOT: Legal Documents Any Film
    Entrepreneur Needs
  5. HOLLYWOOD PROFITS: Quantitative Drivers of Motion
    Picture Profitability

Some of the information I’ve heard before, but I usually pick up some new tidbits at every meeting I attend and I consider them well worth my time.

Have you ever been in the embarrassing situation of walking right by someone you know and not even recognizing them?  Well, that’s what happened to me at the IIFF meeting.  I smiled and walked right by a bearded man in the hallway and it wasn’t until I heard my name and recognized the voice that I realized the man was my lawyer.   You would think I would know my own lawyer if I saw him, right?  Well, I haven’t seen him since last May.  We communicate primarily by email and phone.  So even though I knew he would be speaking that night, I had no idea that he had grown a beard and I didn’t recognize him.  Amazing how much a beard can change some people’s appearance.


Last weekend was WonderCon.  WonderCon is the smaller sister convention to Comic-Con and is run by the same organization.  At 29,000 attendees, one would hardly call it small.  In fact, it is the second largest comics convention on the West Coast.  But when you compare it to Comic-Con’s 125,000+ attendees, it is dwarfed by comparison. 

By the way, if you are planning on attending Comic-Con this July, you’ll want to hurry and get your tickets.  It’s only March, but can you believe the four-day passes are almost sold out already?

WonderCon was held at Moscone Center South, just south of Market Street, in San Francisco.  If the con ever grows to the size of Comic-Con, there’s plenty of room to expand as Moscone Center North wasn’t even used.  I knew I was getting close to the convention center when I saw a storm trooper standing on a busy street corner…not your everyday sight in San Francisco.  By the way, crowd control into the convention center was done by Darth Vader and some storm troopers.  I found it rather amusing when a storm trooper told us to “move along.”   

WonderCon is only three days long compared to Comic-Con’s four days plus preview night, but it has a lot of what you would find at the bigger convention.  The big panels are there, although not as many.  This year they had panels for Watchmen, Star Trek, Terminator Salvation, Chuck, and Terminator:  The Sarah Connor Chronicles, among others. 

I was there for only one day (Saturday), so I didn’t attend any of the big panels.  I came close to attending the Star Trek panel, but then decided against waiting in the long line and decided to check out the exhibition hall instead.  It’s a big room filled with row after row of exhibitors’ booths, much like Comic-Con.  The biggest difference was the noticable lack of big studio booths.  I think Capcom had the biggest booth and it was pretty tame compared to the ones you find at Comic-Con.

I walked right by a booth where Adam Baldwin was signing autographs, but I didn’t get in line to meet him.  The line to meet Mark Hamill was even longer and there were so many people crowding the booth, I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of him.  However, I did get to chat briefly with Charlott Stewart, who I remember from Little House on the Prairie…a really nice woman.  I, also, could have sworn that I walked right by big-time producer Jeffrey Katzenberg in the crowd.  He was wearing a baseball cap, but it sure looked like him.

I attended a few smaller panels that were more industry oriented.  One was a special effects makeup panel that was pretty cool.  The special effects makeup artist gave some interesting demonstrations using some victims…er, volunteers.  By the time he was done one girl had a bloody hole in her neck with raw flesh hanging down and the rest had a various assortment of smaller scars.  Pretty gross, but fun to watch it being done. 

I also attended a writing workshop by David Gerrold.  He writes primarily science fiction, but, really, his advice could work for most other genres.  One tip he gave that really stuck with me is that if you want to make your characters likeable, make them fun.

I ended up walking out of the last panel.  It was supposed to be about how to do full-time creative work on a part-time schedule…something I’m all too familiar with.  I figured I could pick up some tips, but the panel turned out to be more of an advertisement for the company’s website than truly instructional.  It was poorly put together and very unprofessional.  I wasn’t the only one who walked out.  They were starting to have a serious leakage of audience members.

There was one area where WonderCon beat Comic-Con and that was with the food.  It was just as ridiculously overpriced as it was at Comic-Con, but it was much better.  I had the pizza and, wow, what a difference from the cardboard stuff they try to pass off as pizza at Comic-Con.

Now, I’ve attended comics/popular arts conventions as a regular attendee and as an exhibitor, but this was the first time I’ve attended one as a professional.  I was able to get my paperwork together in time to qualify as one.  What’s cool about attending as a professional is that you get in absolutely free.  Can’t beat that price!  Also, there’s no waiting in those long lines that everyone else has to wait in…just had to pick up my badge at the professional registration booth and I was good to go.  For some reason WonderCon publishes a list of attending professionals on its website.  I don’t remember giving permission to have my name published, but somehow I ended up on the list.  Not sure that really means much because, seriously, does anyone know who all those people are? 

I didn’t take pictures because I still have pictures from last year’s visit to Comic-Con in my camera that I need to download.  My bad.  I apologize for not sharing those with you yet.  I’ve really got to try to get those up soon.

Coming Up for Air

Well, folks, I apologize for being away so long.  My screenwriting class sucked up all my time and I was forced to put my nose to the grindstone to catch up and get my homework and outline done.  The good news is that I now have a complete first draft of my outline done!  I also got an A in the class.

In addition to the outline, I have the first 15 pages written.  The teacher had us outline one act of the story and then write a few pages of the script each week (starting with week four).  So an unexpected bonus is to have a first draft of the first 15 pages done.  I found that alternating between writing the outline and the script is a great way to develop a story.  They feed off each other and it really helps the process.  And the cool thing is that if this is the story we end up developing, I can just hand over the pages I’ve already written to the writer and she can take it from there.

I was interested to see what kind of reactions I would get from people who had no idea that I was writing for a specific cast and project.  Nope, I didn’t divulge that info to them.  I just went in as a student with a story I wanted to get outlined.  I wanted to see if the story would stand on its own terms.  The story is still a bit rough, but the overall response I got was good.  One classmate in particular was very enthusiastic about it.

So I’m feeling pretty good about the story.  However, it’s only the first draft.  I need to continue working on it, but I’m going to take a break from it for now and tend to other pressing matters. 

I’m still negotiating an agreement with the writer.  Yep, still.  We would have been finished with it by now if her lawyer hadn’t been called to jury duty and then immediately following that took off on vacation.  But we’re back working on it and it looks like we’re getting close to wrapping it up.  In addition, I have unanswered emails that are piling up.  If you’re reading this and I haven’t answered your email yet, I apologize.  I’m working my way through them and hope to get caught up soon.  I also have story submissions from two other writers that I really need to give feedback on.  And now I can finally get back to blogging regularly.  I’ve got a bunch of news that is piling up.

Stay tuned.