It was nearly a month ago when I received the email through my website. A production company wanted to interview me for an upcoming documentary. The subject? The Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding debacle that started on January 6, 1994 when Nancy was attacked backstage at the National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan. My first reaction at the moment was what Nancy said all over national television at the time, “Why me?” At the time of this “incident” I had recently launched what would become the world’s largest figure skating magazine. Suffice to say I knew quite a bit about the sport and I’ve known Nancy for years. Some of you may remember that I served as a judge on FOX’s Skating with Celebrities and Nancy was one of the contestants with her skating partner Dave Coulier (that was a fun time!).
After a bit more of an internal debate, I decided to do the interview. Not because I have any lasting love affair with a sport that is a shadow of its former self (that’s a story for another day), but because it was through these types of interviews that I became acquainted with production work and learned some pretty valuable tricks of the trade that I have brought to my present day career as a filmmaker.
First and foremost, I learned how to speak on camera working with some of the most excellent producers and directors of the time. I’ve never paid for an on camera class because my work was my classroom. Oh sure, not all those interviews have gone according to plan, but that’s the chance you take when you put yourself out there… publicly. You know what they say, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Thank you, I’ll stand at the stove. Personally, I discovered during my work at the 2002 Winter Olympics that I enjoyed live broadcasting the most. When a director is speaking in your ear while you are live on air, damn you learn how to focus.
Secondly, was the behind the scenes aspect. I started paying attention to the camera operators, sound, lights and the varying equipment. On set you see the producers, directors and everyone else work harmoniously together. Ask anyone that works in this business and organization is everything. And, call me vain, you also learn about having on camera makeup. Yes, that’s right…makeup. Damn, I’ve had it all. From my face literally being spray painted to sittings with no makeup. Dear lord I hope those interviews never surface they could be a horror show! My special thanks to Monique Mercogliano for her wonderful makeup services last week. I met Monique in 2011 when I was in a feature film and brought her outstanding work to serve as makeup supervisor on both Evidence and Justice Is Mind. Even better, she’s now a good friend and I enjoyed giving her a sneak peak of Justice Is Mind at dinner after we wrapped.
And so it was during all those years that I started to gain insight and more importantly experience. It gave me a solid foundation in which to build and that’s why I did this interview this past week. You can always learn something new. I remember how terrified I was during my first TV appearance on The Montel Williams Show in 1994. I could barely speak. But this past week? I was on camera for 2.5 hours just firing off the answers. I had the opportunity to work with a great director who has produced a variety of films and TV programming and meet additional local crew. Yes folks it’s all about networking.
So look for me this November on ESPN’s Films 30 for 30 series about this sport changing event back in 1994. I don’t know how much of me they’ll use, but it was fun visiting another time, but with a good face!
In closing I go off topic for a moment. A special thank you to the first responders, police departments, intelligence agencies, governor, the public and our president for the outstanding work to bring to a close the tragic events of the Boston Marathon bombing. We can’t bring back the victims of this tragedy or return those gravely wounded in the attack to the world they lived in before last Monday, but we can honor them with the efforts and bravery of so many.
The power of the camera.
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.