Posts Tagged ‘SXSW’

“What can you do when you’re absolutely nowhere but feel like you are full of magic and ideas?”
Filmmaker Mark Duplass

“There’s one thing that keeps coming up to me over and over in my career–this very simple phrase—and I’m going to take a note from motivational speaker Tony Robbins for a second—and were going to have something to really focus in on and that is the simple words,  ‘The cavalry isn’t coming.’ And I’m looking around like Tony, and let it sit. Then Tony repeats it, ‘The cavalry is not coming.’ And I say this because we’ve all heard that amazing tale abut this 21-year-old kid who had a script and his cousin worked in the mail room at Warner Brothers and he gave it to him and the script got up to the head of Warner Brothers they loved it and bought it for a million dollars and got it made. That’s an exciting story, but a super dangerous one, because I don’t know anyone who that’s happened to —maybe that’s happened once—but I had a very different career trajectory.”
Producer/Director/Actor Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, The Mindy Project)
2015 SXSW Keynote talk

Somewhere between starting out as a filmmaker with little assets and selling the golden goose screenplay, Mark Duplass offered these points from his 2015 South by Southwest talk:

1) The $3 Film—One scene, two actors, five minutes in length. Aim for comedic because  film festivals are looking for humorous short-shorts. Shoot it on whatever camera you can get your hands on—including an iPhone. Don’t just make one, make one ever weekend. Don’t worry if the first ones suck, you’ll get better and find your voice.

Note: Mark and his brother Jay made the short This is John in one 20-minute take that they edited down to 7 minutes. The little experiment was the first film they made that was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.

2) Once your short-short plays in some festivals and wins some awards an agent will approach you and tell you “The cavalry is coming”—but it’s not.

3) But you will have a handful of friends you’ve met along the way who will help you make a $1,000 feature film. (As in one thousand dollars.)  Between time at your day job, your 5-8 person crew put together a feature film that you may or may not have a script for using whatever’s available to use in your town. It takes you a year or two to finish this film but you get it into film festivals where you’ve made inroads with your short films.

A agent tells you the cavalry is coming—but it’s not.

4) You make another $1,000 film, but this time you have a rich but sad name TV actor who wants to do something creative with his talent and teams up with you because you are a rising indie filmmaker. You will sell this film to a video on demand (VOD) group for between $50,000-$100,000. You’ll finally pay your crew some money.

An agent will tell you “The cavalry is coming”—and they may be right if that means you will take meetings in Hollywood for the next year but nothing will come of it. You might even sell a TV pitch that will end up in turn around, which at least puts money in your pockets.

5) But instead you decide to take you name TV actor (and perhaps a second TV actor) and you shoot two episodes of a two-hander TV show and license it (and the season you’re going to produce) to a cable or online group for $500,000. Now you’re finally making money.

And an agent tells you, “The  cavalry is coming.” And they may be right, but as you look at the offers coming your way you realize that you may not want to be a part of that cavalry. You realize you are your own cavalry. You are your own studio. Your creating projects that you own and that are finding distribution.

6) You then help others became their own  cavalry, by investing in their $1,000 films.

So the bad and good news of Duplass’ talk is the cavalry is not coming, and you are the  cavalry.

Related posts:
Who cares if it’s garbage?—Edward Burns
The Ten Film Commandments of Edwards Burns
How to Shoot a Feature in Ten Days
It’s a Good Time to Be a Filmmaker
Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood’
Freedom of Limitations

Scott W. Smith





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“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
Francis Ford Coppola (older filmmaker based in Napa Valley)

“I think every filmmaker needs to make 20 awful films before they can make one good one. And I made my share of totally awful films with my friends.”
Bradley Jackson (younger filmmaker based in Austin)
Interview with Ron Dawson

Screenwriter John August has a post on his blog titled Writing for Hollywood without living there where he has a first person account written by 26-year-old writer/director Bradley Jackson from Austin, Texas. Jackson recently earned more than $100,000 by winning The Doorpost Film Project (best film, best director, best script) and optioning a screenplay.

What separates Jackson from the traditional way of thinking about a career in production is he has no intentions of moving to Los Angeles. His plan right now is to stay in Austin where he has friends and family and to commute to L.A. as needed.

August’s readers made various comments on whether this is a wise thing to do and speculated if Jackson can really pull off a career writing and making films in Austin. Because my focus is encouraging writers and filmmakers who live in unusual places (and that includes some places even within the 30 mile zone in LA) three thoughts quickly came to mind;

1) It’s not like Bradley Jackson lives in a small town in Iowa. He lives in Austin, Texas which is one of the most interesting places in the United States. It’s a giant college town, has a solid tech and political base, and an intense creative culture. It’s home to the Austin Film Festival, SXSW and the last time I was in Austin I was told there are more live musical acts in a given night in Austin than any city in the USA. (Yes, that includes NY, LA and Chicago.)

2) Most people writing screenplays and making films make no money writing screenplays and making films. (Heck, even a good chunk of writers in the WGA, make little or no money in a given year.) Jackson just made over $100,000 in just the first two months of 2011 by winning The Doorpost Film Project and optioning a script. I’m not sure if that money is his, but whatever he takes home will go a lot further in Austin that it would in Los Angeles.

Jackson represents a new breed of filmmakers. He’s been making films since high school and by his own admission spent several years making bad films before he learned what he was doing. He got a film degree from UT—Austin where he was mentored by filmmaker/teacher Scott Rice.  He’s surrounded himself with other talented filmmakers in Austin and became Kickstarter savvy which helped him fund his recent film. He’s busting his butt, writing scripts, and willing to fly in to L.A. as needed.

3) Robert Rodriguez. While screenwriters and filmmakers have traditionally moved to Hollywood after they’ve gotten their first break, Rodriguez is the poster child for bucking that trend. Here’s part of what Austin-based Rodriguez told a group of filmmakers in LA back in 2003:

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”

As I’ve said before, when I was in film school many years ago students were encouraged to not be a jack-of-all trade, and a master-of-none. But the new kind of filmmakers coming up (who may be in  middle school or retirement homes—and everywhere in between) are jack-of-all trades. And some of them are on their way to becoming master-of-all trades.

They  can not only write, but they know their way around cameras and non-linear editing systems, they are aware of various fundraising methods, they devour DVDs directors commentaries & online tutorials at lynda.com,  and they are keeping on track of new distribution trends and get exciting about the success that Edward Burns has had  self-distributing his films and the things that Kevin Smith said at Sundance ’11:

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”

These new kind of filmmakers are reminiscent of those rebel filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola who back in their youth were embracing new technologies and pursuing a life beyond LA.

Today this new kind of filmmaker is going where the puck isn’t and they’re not afraid to make a bad film or two in their quest to make good films.

And, of course, they read Screenwriting from Iowa daily.

To view Jackson’s winning short film go to the film’s website, TheManWhoNeverCried.com

Related posts:

One of the Benefits of Being Outside of Hollywood

Screenwriting from Texas

The 10-Minute Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Ten parts)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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