Hey Film folk!
Now that we’ve got our teeth fully into 2015 with some awesome interviews and interesting client work, let’s launch the first Monday Prescription of the year.
Today, we focus on the subject of ‘selling out’….starting with some awkward adages…
OK, so we’re going to try and break through the mixed messages often given out by film school lecturers, one day courses and industry folk only speaking from their own experience. Mantras and mottos sure do roll off the tongue nicely (‘Nobody knows anything’, ‘Fake it ’til you make it’) but are frustratingly vague, empty, and destined for misinterpretation across the board.
They all make sense within a wider context (read Bill Goldman’s ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ for the real meaning of ‘Nobody knows anything’) but not as a slogan.
Take them on face value at your peril!
Write/Produce What You Know vs. Write/Produce For the Market
The main two conflicting statements made by creatives, producers and agents are ‘write/produce/direct what you know’ vs. ‘write/direct/produce for the market’.
Great. Two pieces of advice that both make perfectly good sense as standalones but really are at odds with each other.
What if what you know doesn’t have a market and you don’t know it?
What if making something for the market is disingenuous and more likely to wind up creating a genre movie with so little heart or interest that its attempts at being ‘sellable’ actually makes it so empty that it is a commercial failure? Or doesn’t even get distributed?
‘Making something I don’t like to make a sale is selling out, right?’ one of you cries.
‘Wait! I’ve been creating for the market all this time instead of ‘what I know’ but I’m not getting much interest either” another of you screams.
Let’s rip this up and restore order and faith in the filmmaking Universe.
What/How Should I Create Things
We’ll push the (MAJOR) issue of script/film quality to one side to begin with. We’ll say you know what good writing, what good characterisation, plot and dialogue. We’ll say you know how scenes should be lit and recorded, what a solid performance looks like and how to shoot for an edit.
We’re solely focusing on SALES and DISTRIBUTION here! But there’s something clearly not right, content-wise, that’s holding you back.
Check out our points below:
1. Your film tastes are not necessarily the films you should be making.
Most writers, directors and other creatives watch and enjoy a wide variety of different films and TV shows. However, in the rare case of those who create films/shows that feature a blend of different styles, they usually stick to one ‘brand’ of movie. Sure there’s room to branch out later on but the name was made in one genre/style. See the Duplass brothers early work or Woody Allen’s starter comedies or Kubrick’s earlier crime features (same with Nolan and Tarantino – first few were crime).
What kind of projects are you creating? Do they really play to your ultimate strengths? Are you creating within a genre that you can’t live without?
2. Take what you read/hear with a pinch of salt AND/OR read/listen WIDELY.
Accomplished folk (and we mean distributed and still filmmaking!) who say they just ‘did what they loved and succeeded’ were just lucky enough to have tastes that happened to be marketable. It won’t work for everybody.
Those who had the versatility to be able to channel their creativity into a marketable project even though their filmmaking tastes lay elsewhere had 2 things going for them. They studied/knew about the market and they wanted ‘it’ enough to make changes despite their inclinations. This may not mean wanting to make some introverted, melancholic, 70s-style drama and switching to a popcorn, gore-fest slasher or a bouncy, bubblegum, ball-joke comedy. It just means that they took a difficult sell (drama, arthouse) and gave it a slightly genre edge, whether through writing or filming style. Perhaps it became more ominous and thrilling or lighter and more comedic.
Don’t hang your hopes on other’s stories. There’s probably more to it than meets the eye. Look within yourself, what you have and what’s going on out there. Where do you fit in? Do it now! Write down 10 films (made in the last 2 years) that are most similar to yours. Be realistic about what yours REALLY is.
3. Identify your weakness (according to what you want to achieve).
So, what’s missing?? Are you writing for a taste that isn’t selling?? Or are you straying a little too far from your head/heart in a way that just doesn’t sit right inside?? What do you want to achieve in the long run, anyway? Fringe festivals? Studio movies? Do you want full control? Or are you happy jobbing?
You need to answer these questions carefully and wholeheartedly.
Some of you may not need to change what is in your glass, but just need to dilute it a little with some commerce syrup! Some of you may have strayed too far towards the bright lights and cash register ‘kerchings’ only to find it was an evil mirage, keeping you from your true path and real money!
You know you the best – and if you don’t, then introduce yourself!
4. Keep Going!
Just because you haven’t made a sale, option or been distributed yet does NOT mean that all of the above applies. There are famous stories of films with big actors in that struggled for distribution for a couple of years. Or of screenplays that were rejected or went into turnaround for decades until they were produced.
YOU will know where you are with everything. We can’t! We’re just saying evaluate your projects and yourself against what is out there on a regular basis. Don’t walk down the streets of deluded-ville!
You will know in your soul while reading this whether ‘it’s only a matter of time’ or whether there’s some serious mirror-staring to do!
Mind the Market
However you are now, and whichever way you have to swing to help yourself – study the market. We’re not saying copy the market, we’re not saying cut your mind, heart and soul from you work. We’re just saying take a look at it. Properly. Read the trades. Spend a day on IMDB. See what gets made, how it got made, if it led to more getting made, what gets distributed and by who.
That’ll give you an idea of where you and your work will fit in.
The market and the business is so very rarely taught in film schools and can’t be learned through watching films (except perhaps the odd DVD extra). You must take it into your own hands if you’re following a directing, producing or writing path.
‘Selling out’, by the way, is just a pretentious label given by pseudo-intellects who want the artist/entertainer to do what they want them to do. Knowing the market doesn’t make you any less of an artist. It’s another tool in your arsenal to help you succeed.
Don’t even give that label a second thought. Not when given by other people and certainly not yourself. Only you know your tastes, your circumstances and your desires. You set them, you change them and you implement them. Now go get ’em.