After my posting last week, I received a comment asking me how I took Justice Is Mind from a short film to feature. The off the cuff response? Not easy! But in all reality it comes down to patience, perseverance and above all planning.
There are a variety of films that go from short to feature. Some on the low budget side, like Justice Is Mind, and some on studio level. One example that comes to mind is the 2004 production of Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. In that example Kerry Conran produced a short film of what he wanted to do (mostly all blue screen) and then through a series of events eventually connected with producer Jon Avnet who brought funding to the feature film.
I bring up the aforementioned example because for any of us that want to produce a feature film, you have to start somewhere. And that usually means self funding your project as a short film and then seeking out private equity, soft financing (tax credits, sponsorship), etc. to bring your larger projects to life.
I’ve produced two short films First World (2007) and Justice Is Mind: Evidence (2011). Both were designed to act as a calling card for my producing and writing but also as a capital raise effort to produce the feature length versions. While First World has screened all over the world and had a few 11th hour “green light” possibilities, the size of the budget ($2 million as independent and more like $30 million for “studio” level) coupled with the global economic crisis that took out a lot of film financing in 2008/9 (including financing for First World), put that project in turnaround.
But Justice Is Mind was designed to be produced for under $30k. After I produced and released the short film version (> $2k), I began what seemed to be endless presentations to producers and investors. It’s an arduous task of perpetual non-responses, to “no’s” to those that will string you along because they know you need the capital. But at the end of the day you have product to show – a short film that probably represents the salient portions of the larger story you want to tell. Having a short film also demonstrates that you are serious about your project and have risked your own money.
There are, however, some very practical things you want to do before you venture into producing a feature film. Do you have a business plan? Is there a distribution strategy? Do you have a target audience for your film? In regards to the latter, if your short film hasn’t generated that much excitement you might want to evaluate the feature. Finally, is your script shored up? Have you had it read by some industry professionals that you trust? In my case, I have about a half dozen people that read my scripts. Some are honest friends who tell me exactly what they think and some of them are industry professionals. They have either produced at a studio/production company or represent writers. And get ready, rewrites are simply part of the process.
If after producing your short film, you are successful in raising the capital to produce the feature there are a few things I would also highly recommend. While it may seem as a no brainer, organization is critical in time, people and budget. This is where I have seen so many projects fall of the track. Just stay true to your beliefs in what’s really needed to bring your vision to life and you should be fine. On the side of the actual producing of your feature, you’ll want to at least work with a crew that you have worked with before. I was fortunate to be able to work with some of the crew from the short for the feature. The level of comfort helps enormously while you settle into new working relationships.
As for pre-production, seriously take the time to get everything as lined up as best you can. Our financing came in late May and I took three months to prep for the feature. Do everything you can to secure your locations on trade in exchange for a credit and public relations support (we only paid $100 to a church). Trust me your budget and investors will be thanking you.
Finally, be sure to communicate regularly with your cast and crew on project status, timelines, etc. There is a final group to also involve in your communications and those are your backers. Without them your dream is on paper rather than on the silver screen.
Location! Location! Location! While that phrase is often used when buying a house or setting up a new business it’s just as true in the world of filmmaking. The challenge of course is to first find a location that reflects your story and then hoping the location owners are interested in working with you and what you can offer in return. The former is easy, it’s the latter that can sometimes prove to be challenging. However my goal from the outset of pre-production was to find locations that were just as excited about filmmaking as I was.
Four Winds Farm in North Oxford, MA was recommended to me by my friend Kim’s mom Joyce. We were going back to Kim’s house to shoot the Miller residence scenes and were going to “Joyce and Joe”’s as the location for Helen Granger’s home (Henri’s kindergarten teacher). It’s one thing asking your best friend and her parents to shoot in their homes, but it’s entirely another to call up a complete stranger and pitch them a movie. But as I learned when I produced First World, someone is either into it or not. I’ll still never forget when the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston gave us their Presidential Suite for a trade in credit!
One phone conversation with Jamie Blash the owner/trainer at Four Winds Farm and I felt good about the prospects. When I arrived at the farm to meet with Jamie it was everything I had dreamed for Justice Is Mind. Beautifully maintained barns and stables, indoor and outdoor riding rings and equestrian training that was the best of the best. As some of you may know, my sister was an equestrian and a damn good one. I’ve always loved the equine world and while I never was part of it formally, like I did in First World, I wanted to showcase this world in Justice as I believe the backdrop brings a great scope to the story. And who doesn’t want to see a horse jump on screen! Suffice to say when Jamie and I met we hit it off like we’ve known each other for years.
I can’t say enough great things about Jamie, her family, customers and the farm itself. Welcoming doesn’t even begin to describe the wonderful reception we received. When a film crew arrives to set, followed by the actors, an army literally takes over. But the key to a successful shoot is really organization and communication. On both sides of the equation everyone wants the best result it’s just a matter of keeping all parties informed on dates, requirements and expectations.
A character my script called for was a horse trainer. One conversation with Jamie and she was it. Simply, I needed someone to not only play this part but to project it with authority. For these types of roles they can’t always be easily cast. It’s not just about delivering the lines, it’s believability. Do you carry yourself correctly? Do you have the right inflection with the dialogue? I’ve always believed in casting those that are trained in real life for the character they are playing in a film.
In this post I present a variety of stills from our days at Four Winds, but as you can appreciate I’ve held back other scenes. I guess we will just all have to wait until the premiere of Justice Is Mind in 2013! But before then, look for more stills, the first official poster, the trailer and maybe an event or two along the way.