Month: November 2017

“Yikes! I think I’m in over my head.” Or…making your first movie.

Camera and Laptop

by

Sheree L. Ross @womenfilmofcolr

Sheree L. Ross

November 14, 2017

So you we wake up one morning from a fevered dream with what seems like a brilliant idea, “I want to make a movie”. And then miracle of miracles, somehow every day you move forward on it. It actually starts to take shape as you call in favors from friends, even the ones from first grade. Everyday it looks more and more like you are really going to make this movie. You do all of the steps, which include writing the most brilliant script ever written. How do you know? Because all of your friends and family who you let read it, say so. You even go one step further and actually let people who know what they are talking about (because you found a writing group in your town) read it and they give you feedback that is sometimes painful (yeah, you cried once…maybe more than once), but you listen, do the adjustments, write a few more drafts – and now you have a solid working script.

And even though you’ve never directed anything before in your life you decide that you are going to be the director. You want to be an Auteur and this film will be your first shot across the bow. But one thing you didn’t know about yourself is that you’re not much for the tiny details and after two days of doing the stuff good producers can do in their sleep you put an ad on Craigslist and take the first person that will call you back.

At this point, of course, you don’t have any money but somehow they’re willing to work with you and wait until you’re able to raise some. And for the first month or so they’re completely on board and you get through most of pre-production. You get casting done, you find locations, and you put together a pretty solid crew. You are feeling great. Now you are three weeks out before you shoot and suddenly the producer gets a gig that will actually pay them their rate and they quit. But hell, you’ve got this. You’ve got everything in place…who needs a producer anyway? You can just add this as another feather in your cap. You’re sure now that you can direct and produce this script better than anybody because you know it better than anybody. You still don’t have enough money but you are moving forward as if you do as…Thanksgiving approaches. And what luck, your favorite aunt – who loves movies – overhears that you are doing a film and says she’ll give you the rest of the money. What a relief! But a week out you call her and she doesn’t remember the promise, blaming it on the several glasses of wine she had before dinner was served.

Now you’re a week out and everybody wants something. The art department is calling you to try to figure out how to do your sets, the wardrobe and prop people need to start shopping. And you get a text from one of your actors asking about rehearsals and blocking. It’s too late to crowdfund, you didn’t even know you should do a rehearsal, and one of the locations that you were promised just fell through. The next night you wake from another fevered dream with a thought that could possibly get you disowned. You have a savings that your parents set up for you with just enough to get the movie shot and you’ll have to edit it yourself. After thinking about the pros and cons of this conversation at Christmas next week, you decide to go ahead and do it.

Yay! You are making your first movie, congratulations! Now this is just one example of how crazy this process can be, and this should in no way stop you from making your first film. If you are in the middle of this process I hope this makes you feel better about what you may be going through right now. If you’ve already finished your first film (web series, short, etc) I hope it made you smile. Filmmaking is not for the faint of heart, and many filmmakers struggle their first time out (and even the second and third time before they find a rhythm). There is no right or wrong way to make a film, web series, or short, etc. If you think you’re in over your head but you keep moving forward and you keep focused on your idea, as well as communicate with everybody as often as possible…more times than not, no matter how crappy things might get, the people that you have brought on board to help you will do their best to help you see your vision come true. People are more forgiving and flexible than you might think, as long as you are honest with them.

The other advice I’d offer is don’t lie about paying people. If you intend to pay people and then your money falls through, be honest about it. You may lose half of your cast and crew (maybe all!) but you’ll maintain your reputation and this industry is smaller than you might imagine. Another bit of advice is that though it is not impossible to produce, direct, and act in your first movie (in fact it might be wise to do so for your first project, you will learn a whole bunch) don’t spend a lot of money on the project. Let this be an experiment that you can share with your family and friends, and maybe put up on YouTube. But the chances that you will be able to sell it or make your money back might be very low so let it be an opportunity to learn. Ultimately, if you’re new to this make a short film. Something that doesn’t cost you over $1000. Maybe you can engage some of your friends over the weekend and feed them for pay. Bill Murray once said (highly paraphrased) that no matter how crappy the movie is, the fact that it has made it into some form of watchable content is a miracle and should be appreciated as such because it takes so many people to make a movie. It can sometimes feels like you’re drowning (you’re not). It’s a lot of balls to keep up in the air no matter how much money you have (or don’t). So learn from your mistakes, learn from your successes, and be proud of whatever you create. And most of all, please have fun. Why do it otherwise? Because it’s just a step in a long line of many steps that will culminate into being your career.

 

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Women’s Voices Heard at AFM

Women’s Voices Heard At American Film Market

Geena Davis
“The Future Is Female” session sparks lively discussion, cites problems, points to progress; Overall AFM shows gains in attendance, exhibitors

Known for drumming up business, the recently concluded American Film Market & Conferences also generated food for thought, particularly during an AFM session presented in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. Titled “The Future Is Female,” the panel discussion identified problems in the marketplace as well as signs of progress–both of which were touched upon, for example, by Jennifer Warren, chairperson and founder of the Alliance of Women Directors, in her introductory remarks.

Warren noted that 94 percent of feature films are directed by men. This lack of parity in the workplace is detrimental to society, she affirmed, citing the importance “for women and girls growing up to have role models and to see things from a woman’s point of view.”

She added that striving for hiring parity is good business, as proven by FX which instituted a program to get women to direct half of its content. Last year, said Warren, FX attained that 50-50 balance and saw its ratings go up 15 percent. Contending that a woman’s POV offered a fresh perspective to storylines and characters, helping to boost Nielsen numbers, Warren then turned the stage over to discussion moderator Wendy Calhoun, a Writers Guild Award nominee (and producer) for Nashville and Justified, and four panelists: Geena Davis, an Oscar-winning actress (The Accidental Tourist), who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; director Jen McGowan (Kelly & Cal, the upcoming Rust Creek); and Catherine Hand and Jim Whitaker, producers of A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney feature slated for release in March 2018. Based on the novel of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time is the first feature with a budget of $100 million-plus to be directed by a woman of color, with that historic achievement being made by Ava DuVernay. A Wrinkle in Time features a cast which includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Chris Pine.

Davis noted that the launch of the research institute bearing her name was sparked in part by her noticing that children’s programming seemed to feature a disproportionate number of male characters. She saw the need for delving more deeply into this from a research standpoint, confirming that “there are profoundly more male characters than female characters in the content we are showing our kids. Female characters don’t take up half the space, aren’t doing interesting things, aren’t leaders, are more hypersexualized…The worst  ratio of male to female characters is in what’s aimed at kids 11 years old and under. We are training kids from the beginning to have unconscious gender bias.”

Feature films also don’t have much to boast of when it comes to casting diversity. According to Davis, “The ratio of male to female characters in film has been exactly the same since 1946.” She noted that most think the percentages have gotten better when there have been certain turning points over the years such as Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise, featuring two strong female characters, including Davis’ Oscar-nominated performance as Thelma. “You think that this [breakthroughs like Thelma & Louise] changes everything but nothing has changed,” said Davis.

Still she thinks that exposing gender bias and its negative impact on casting and society has resulted in more people proactively looking to improve the situation–but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to those who have the power to hire directors. “Directing is a completely different problem that I don’t think is unconscious. People who are creating content that is gender biased are horrified to find out and immediately want to do better. The fact that there are no women directors is not a secret and hasn’t been for decades yet no one is making the change.”

Technology is also advancing to help the Davis Institute in its endeavors. “We have a brand new tool that never existed before to do our research with–Google gave a grant to develop the software that uses face and voice recognition to tell us how many female and male characters are in film and television, but also how much screen time they have and how many lines they have, down to the millisecond. It is very revealing and horrifying; far fewer characters are female and the ones that are, are on-screen less and talk less.”

On the casting front, Davis shared several other insights with AFM attendees. “In movies with female leads, the male supporting character is onscreen an equal amount, however if there is a male lead, the female counterpart is only on-screen 25 percent of the time.”

Davis continued, “When women are talking, they are onscreen less than when men are talking (the shot is cutting to something else), so now we need to talk to the editors! Unconscious bias is happening on every possible level.”

Moderator Calhoun, who’s currently working on a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, said that re-writing certain characters to be female instead of male in TV and features, can help to address the situation.

Director McGowan said she  makes it clear on her projects that diversity is a must. “I do not want to see an all white, all straight, all male crew.”

Sadly, coming up the commercialmaking ranks, McGowan witnessed a profound lack of women. “For 20 years I worked in commercials; I never worked with a female first AV, grip department, electrical, and only three female directors (and only one who worked regularly). Those are all union and really high paying jobs, jobs that filmmakers use to supplement creative careers, and those are completely shut off to women.”

McGowan has set up Film Powered, a networking and skill sharing tool for female professionals in the industry. It is a free, membership based community of over 1,300 vetted women offering classes, social events and job postings designed to increase the skills and strengthen the contacts of and relationships between its members in an effort towards gender parity in the business. She advised AFM session attendees to check out her filmpowered.com site.

A Wrinkle in Time
Producers Hand and Whitaker discussed A Wrinkle in Time, a film which has been a lifelong dream for Hand whose storied career includes collaborating over the years with iconic TV series creator Norman Lear.

“When I was a little girl,” recalled Hand, “I read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and I thought it would make a great movie so I wrote a letter to Walt Disney to say he should make the film and that I wanted to play Meg. I never sent the letter and on December 15, 1966, when he passed away, I cried because I felt so guilty for not sending it, because no one else would make that movie. That day I promised myself I was going to grow up and find someone to make it. That was 50 years ago.”

It was worth the wait as Hand and Whitaker both said they treasured the experience of working with DuVernay. Hand said that DuVernay make it a point to seek out female and minority talent for her crew. For industry vet Whitaker, DuVernay was the first woman director with whom he’s collaborated. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he assessed–so much so that Whitaker is gearing up for a feature which too will have a female director. He provided some backstory for the pending project which he wasn’t yet at liberty to publicly discuss in full detail.

Whitaker, shared, “Most of my other films, candidly, were male driven films; can’t say that was by design; it comes down to the stories, finding stories that have, for me, an emotionality and hopefulness. I’m working on a story now that is all female…and an incredible true story; I would say influenced by the experience on Wrinkle, we made a contractual necessity that a female director make the film. It’s important for stories to be told from female perspective in general, not just for female-driven stories.”

Hand sees cause for optimism. “I think that the world is changing and we are in a really wonderful time. Women are in more powerful positions and have the pocketbook more than ever before.” She added, “Middle aged women are a market; when they start to realize we matter, they start to make product for us.”

Hand offered aspiring women filmmakers a simple piece of advice. “Don’t give up.” Alluding to the ability to post work and find audiences online, Hand affirmed, “In today’s world, you have so many opportunities to be heard.”

Increased attendance
Exhibitor and attendee numbers were up at the overall AFM. In total, 7,415 participants visited the event’s prime venue, the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica, as attendance rose by 6%. The market also saw 1,476 buyers arrive from 71 countries with China and Taiwan each seeing growth of 35% more buyers.

Overall exhibitor participation was up 18% with 445 registered exhibiting companies, with the largest number of exhibitors arriving from the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, and China, after the U.S.

AFM Conferences drew an international audience of more than 700 each day listening closely to advice and insights from the likes of Cassian Elwes (Producer/Agent), Jesse Sisgold, (Skydance Media), Adrian Alperovich (OddLot Entertainment), Tobin Armbrust (Virgin Produced),  Rebecca Cammarata (Stay Gold Features), Brian O’Shea (The Exchange), Alison Thompson (Cornerstone Films) and Sam Brown (STXfilms).

In addition to “The Future Is Female,” AFM Roundtables included sessions on Documentaries, Faith & Family films and LGBTQ representation in cinema.

The newly introduced Writer’s Workshop also proved to be a highly popular addition to the AFM experience with instructors from USC and UCLA teaching audiences of 400.

The AFM Campus was busier than ever as attendees took in screenings of 337 films (40 more than last year), including 264 market premieres and 61 world premieres. An additional 78 films screened on demand.

The American Film Market & Conferences is produced by the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

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HOW TO COMMUNICATE YOUR AUTHENTIC VOICE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Sheree L. Ross @womenfilmofcolr.jpg

by Sheree L. Ross

Nov. 10, 2017

As a creative I find it difficult sometimes to always know how to communicate my authentic voice through social media, and I see other creators struggling with the same thing. There are so many different platforms to post on, not to mention the time I need to dedicate to my own work, and then there is the fact that I don’t want to come across as just trying to sell my wares. The whole social media game can be quite daunting, and yet in this day and age we all have to take the time to figure out how to convey what we create in a way that communicates it to our potential clients or customers. That is, if we want to do what we love to do all day and pay the bills. What we offer on these platforms needs to stay authentic to us as well as tell a story about us. It is no longer just about selling somebody something. It is no longer about just getting on the right or current social media platform, or sending out emails. Today’s artists are entrepreneurs and we need to start thinking about building long-term relationships with our audiences. But how? Who’s got time to create and think of ways to market and brand themselves, particularly since most artists don’t like boxes that are so easily recognized and commodified. But, if we want to create a sustainable career for ourselves, we need to start allowing ourselves to think this way.

One of the first ways to do this is to understand what the larger population is trained to ask – what promise are you making to us as an artist? Consumers (our audience and clients) are programmed to think this way after decades of being marketed to and the smartest way in, sometimes, is to use tools that are easily recognized. Since most of us create in more than one medium it’s okay to let each project speak for itself. Each project is created with its own promise or problem to present or solve. Asking these kinds of questions gives you a way to speak to a larger audience in a clear and focused manner. Use the answers to find communities of like minded people to tell your story. It will also help give you a clearer idea of ways to market your projects in all areas, with intentions of connecting people to your work.

Most creative people I know don’t like to think of themselves as a brand unless they have elevated themselves to the realms of a Beyoncé or Rihanna. But even these creatives craft what we consume of their art and selves. Most creatives are not at that level, many don’t want to be, and for those who do it is a strategic climb to get there. As an creative entrepreneur one must always be true to oneself. Thinking about how much money a project is going to make from the outset will more often than not dilute the impact that it will have. The next step is sometimes the hardest. It is about putting your authentic, vulnerable self out into the world as you create. If you are speaking your truth through your art then you are putting little bits of yourself into the world through your social media and marketing. Social media has made it cheap and easy for anyone around the globe to have access to your work. Being shy about your work, waiting for perfection, or procrastinating will not serve your bank account, or your ability to continue doing what you love with maximum freedom. It takes time to build an audience, so if you haven’t started, if you are not on any social media, or haven’t posted in a month or so, it is time to start, with regularity. If you are a creative just starting out you must build your audiences in real ways that connect you in person as well as build a following on social media. If you are a seasoned creative then it is about giving the audience you already have a place to enjoy your new creations, build a community, as well as provide a place for your followers to get in on the conversation and feel like a part of your larger community (as well as buy your creations).

No matter what, you have to start. Building a following is key. What about you is unique and authentic to you? It is important that creatives utilize these inexpensive platforms to impact the world and get their message out into the world. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself. Start with one platform and do it well. Find the social media platform that will work best for what you create and who you are as a person. Twitter works great for my business of supporting women filmmakers of color (@womenfilmofcolr), but for my personal business of being a filmmaker and writer – creating a Facebook page has worked better for me. Don’t be discouraged, have fun with it, be consistent, and let social media be another part of how you connect and communicate your artistry to the world.