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The Short and Long of It

Toula Coin as the reporter in the feature length version of Justice Is Mind.

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.

Toula Coin in the same scene from the short film Evidence. This scene was shot inside the above garage against green screen.

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.

Vernon Aldershoff (Henri) and Robin Rapoport (Margaret) in a scene from Evidence.

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.

The same scene in the feature film at Four Winds Farm.

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.

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