Filmmaking

“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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AT&T Hello Lab

launches @SummerBreak and their Mentorship Program this week.

 

Real-time reality series and original YouTube franchise, @SummerBreak, returns for a fifth season with a diverse cast of Los Angeles high school juniors and seniors ready for a summer fueled by creative passions, friendship, college prep, and endless adventure. The social media-driven reality series follows 12 teens and their dreams, stakes, and heartbreaks.

The new season launches June 25 with episodes every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday through the end of summer.

@SummerBreak is part of AT&T Hello Lab, a collection of original entertainment created by, for and with Millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Fans can expect to follow and engage with more personal and purposeful content than ever before, as the cast is shooting much more of this season themselves. The series will follow a relatable cast with high aspirations and commitment to social good, including:

  • Nastasya Generalova, a gymnast, on her journey as she trains for a spot in the 2020 Olympics;
  • Amindi Frost, a singer/songwriter working on her debut EP, coming off the success of her first single, “Pine & Ginger
  • Harlan Holdman-Belsma, an artist and illustrator looking to focus on his art before heading to college, also the lead singer and guitarist for The Pavement, a Santa Monica local psychedelic, funk, rock band;
  • Isaiah Wood, an out-and-proud junior and advocate for the LGBTQ community

“This demographic is ever changing. Their value systems, their aspirations, their political agendas are all rapidly evolving. And @SummerBreak as a franchise has always intended to reflect youth culture by putting the story in their hands. this year, for the fifth season, we found an engaging and dynamic group who are changing their communities and chasing creative passions in ways that we hope inspire this audience unlike any year before” says Billy Parks, EVP of Otter Media creator and EP of @SummerBreak

Fullscreen is a streaming over-the-top (OTT, or over-the-internet) service of Otter Media, AT&T’s* joint venture with the Chernin Group.

“When AT&T first debuted @SummerBreak five years ago we knew we’d found something special,” said Valerie Vargas, senior vice president- advertising and Creator Lab, AT&T.  “Every year the cast wows us with their openness and authenticity in a way that helps other teens connect with each other and feel like they’re understood.”

Fans can follow the cast in real-time on the @SummerBreak Instagram and Snapchat, as well as on group text platform, Public. The show will also publish regular content on Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Giphy, and as the season progress, Musical.ly.

YouTube and Facebook will continue to be distribution platforms for @SummerBreak, which will also be available on DIRECTV NOW in fall 2017.

Learn more at @ATTHelloLab.

AT&T* Hello Lab, a collection of original entertainment created by, for and with Millennial and Gen Z audiences, has launched its Mentorship Program.  It’s a new initiative that brings together entertainment industry leaders with aspiring filmmakers from diverse backgrounds as they create their signature work. The five filmmakers will debut their short films on DIRECTV NOW in the fourth quarter of 2017.  DIRECTV NOW gives you your favorite premium TV and made-for-digital video content with no annual contracts, set-top boxes or installation.

 

AT&T Hello Lab Announces Diversity-Focused Mentorship Program feat. Academy Award Winning Mentors

The 2017 AT&T Hello Lab mentors include:

  • Academy Award® Winner Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress, The Help, 2012)
  • Academy Award® Winner Common (Best Original Song,Selma, 2014)
  • Rick Famuyiwa (director, Dope, Confirmation)
  • Desiree Akhavan (director/actress, Appropriate Behavior)
  • Nina Yang Bongiovi (producer, Fruitvale Station)

 

In addition, each filmmaker will be supported by a community of industry advisors, including studio and production company executives, agents and attorneys. Each of these mentors have overcome barriers to make important projects that touch on an impressive range of issues and narratives as people of color, LGBTQ community members and women.

 

“There are a lot of film programs out there designed to empower young filmmakers. But the word ’empower’ is a sort of a catch-all, isn’t it? What I love about this program is that it’s tactical. It’s enabling young filmmakers to make actual, physical work. It’s giving them the first crucial part of their reel,” asserts Octavia Spencer, who is mentoring Gabrielle Shepard in tandem with Mike Jackson, who is a partner at John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co.

 

AT&T Hello Lab will help each filmmaker create a high production quality signature film and provide support as they break into the entertainment industry. Advisers and mentors will counsel the filmmakers on pitching their work, managing budgets, and directing character-driven narratives. The shorts will all celebrate young adults and all tell a unique “coming of age” tale.

 

“I wanted to be a part of this program because opportunity is everything.  Connecting with young filmmakers, such as Nefertite Nguvu, is an honor. It’s the young and gifted visionaries who take the arts to levels we haven’t seen. I am blessed to have the career that I do and hope to be able to support and inspire her artistic vision and goals through AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program,” says Common, who is mentoring filmmaker Nefertite Nguvu alongside Shelby Stone, the president of production at his company Freedom Road Productions.

 

“Nurturing the next generation of creative minds is crucial for the entertainment industry,” said Valerie Vargas, senior vice president – advertising and Creator Lab, AT&T. “The AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program gives voice to filmmakers that may otherwise be silenced, and we can’t wait to see the ideas this unique group of creators develop.”

 

“We’re beyond humbled to join arms with these industry leaders who have catalyzed change and believe in the importance of supporting and amplifying new voices. The excitement around the films coming from the teams at AT&T and Fullscreen, as well as the mentors, advisors and mentees, is palpable. There is no doubt that this will lead to exciting, important and powerful work,” says Billy Parks, executive producer and EVP of Otter Media.

 

Fullscreen Media, a next-generation entertainment company, is majority owned by Otter Media, a partnership between AT&T and The Chernin Group.

 

Along with their one-on-one mentors, the mentees will receive meaningful guidance from a group of established industry advisors who include Judy McGrath (Founder & President, Astronauts Wanted), Mike Jackson (Co-Founder, Get Lifted), Cameron Mitchell (Agent, CAA), Bianca Levin (Partner, Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown), Ivana Lombardi (SVP, Film, Chernin Group), Kevin Iwashina (CEO and Founder of Preferred Content), Roberta Marie Munroe (Producer, Director, Writer), Brickson Diamond (Founder, The Blackhouse Foundation), Emily Best (CEO and Founder, Seed&Spark), Damian Pelliccione (CEO and Founder, REVRY) and James Lopez (Head of Motion Pictures, Will Packer Productions).

 

Program mentees include:

  • Neil Paik (filmmaker)
  • Matthew Castellanos (filmmaker)
  • Nefertite Nguvu (filmmaker)
  • Gabrielle Shephard (filmmaker)
  • Sara Shaw (editor/director)

 

More on the filmmakers and their projects:

 

Candid by Gabrielle Shepard (mentored by Octavia Spencer)

 

LoglineFaced with the memory of her late mother, an aspiring street photographer takes a surreal journey through the city as she reconciles her future and the relationship with her father. 

 

Bio: Gabrielle Shepard graduated as an MFA Film and Television Producing Fellow in the Conservatory of Motion Pictures at Chapman University. She has produced films that have been programmed in the Austin Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival and Cannes Short Film Corner. Gabrielle now pursues fresh and dynamic projects to bring to life as a writer, director and producer.  She currently works in the Motion Picture Lit department at William Morris Endeavor.

 

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Yoshua by Matthew Castellanos (mentored byNina Yang Bongiovi)

 

LoglineA group of outcast teens must flee their hometown of South Central to protect their big blue alien friend from a ban against its kind.

 

Bio: Matthew Castellanos is a Mexican-American filmmaker from South Central, Los Angeles. He intends for his stories to start new discussions and shed some light on humanity. For the past two years, he’s produced and directed twelve digital television shows on artist Tyler, the creator’s network GOLF MEDIA. This August, Matthew’s first linear television show NUTS + BOLTS premieres on the network VICELAND, which he’s serving as both executive producer and director.

 

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The Lost by Neil Paik (mentored byRick Famuyiwa)

 

LoglineThe events surrounding a highly publicized protest altercation are played out from three differing points of view.

 

Bio: Neil M. Paik is a filmmaker and artist from Los Angeles. After graduating from the film school at UCLA, where he was editor of the Daily Bruin, he filmed a documentary on the ground in the Middle East analyzing diverse perspectives in the conflict zone. His short fiction films have garnered several awards while playing at festivals nationwide. Over the last three years, he has worked in development and production at Warner Bros., Color Force, and WME and as a director’s assistant.

 

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The Last Two Lovers At The End of The World by Nefertite Nguvu (mentored by Common)

 

LoglineA future-set, New Year’s Eve wild night’s journey that follows two young lovers as they try to outsmart the end of the world.

 

Bio: Nefertite Nguvu is a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, where she obtained a B.F.A in Film. Her thesis project at SVA won the award for outstanding screenplay. Nefertite is an award-winning writer/director and producer whose work includes, several narrative and documentary shorts, a host of web based programming, and a feature film entitled “In The Morning” which is currently available worldwide via Video on Demand.

 

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How to Bury a Hatchet by Sara Shaw (working title) (mentored by Desiree Akhavan)

 

Logline:After their youngest child is diagnosed with terminal cancer, an estranged family reunites and struggles to overcome their dysfunction. 

 

Bio: Sara Shaw is a director and editor. While attending NYU’s graduate film program at the Tisch School of the Arts, her filmBallarat Ghost Town won the Grand Prize and Audience Award at the Fusion Film Festival. She has edited a number of feature films, including Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior (Sundance ’14), Adam Leon’s Tramps (Toronto ’16), Theresa Rebeck’s Trouble (SIFF ’17), and Desiree Akhavan’s forthcoming The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

 

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Disrupting Hollywood

by Sheree L. Ross

Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past.  Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.

The Female Gaze

Thanks to the opportunities created by Peak TV, the once-elusive female gaze is beginning to emerge on the small screen. Below, directors, writers and producers reflect on the female gaze in their work and the challenges of working in a medium in which the male perspective has reigned for so long.

Melissa Rosenberg, creator, “Jessica Jones”

On not writing “female characters:” “It’s not like Jessica is a ‘female detective’; she’s a detective. When it’s a guy, you don’t say ‘male doctor.’ That’s really how I approach this. Certainly, her character is informed by her gender. You go through the world as a woman, you have a different experience, but I never approached it as ‘this is a female character.'”

Rashida Jones, executive producer-director, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On”

On absorbing the male gaze: “We all have this internalized, unconscious bias because we live in a world that has primarily been seen through a male gaze. So we have also inherited a lot of that, and it’s really hard to break that habit. We live in a patriarchy and it’s really hard to escape that.”

Emma Frost, showrunner, “The White Princess”

On the male gaze: “The audience ought to be able to identify with a protagonist of either gender as long as that character is written as a human being. The problem has been, historically, the characters that have been constructed as human have always been the male characters. Female characters have been constructed as man’s other, a problem to be solved, a trophy to be won. Everything is about showing off the male prowess in relation to the woman.”

Jennie Snyder Urman, creator, “Jane the Virgin”

On objectifying men: “If we objectify anyone, we kind of make fun of ourselves for it. The humor is that we’re doing it to the men because it’s so often done to women. If we’re doing a slow-motion shot over [hunky male lead] Rafael’s body, it feels jarring because that’s something you normally see done to a woman. You’re so bombarded with what men think of beauty.”

On hiring women to direct 75% of this season’s episodes: “I always talk to the directors and I say this show goes through Jane. Covering Jane and how she reacts to everyone else is as important as what everyone else is saying because it’s filtered through her. … I hired the people who I felt understood that the most. A lot of them happened to be women.”

Moira Buffini, co-creator, “Harlots”

On sex scenes: “We feel a great responsibility towards actresses — and actors too. It is so intimate and invasive. You’ve got to be really careful and respectful of people. With female directors, we sort of knew without having to have the conversation that they would understand that delicacy.”

Ava DuVernay, creator, “Queen Sugar”

On the right way to think about women behind the camera: ”I can’t say what these women brought based on their gender. I just know that women have not historically had the opportunity to bring anything. The fact that they’re there and they’re bringing it is the story.”

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