Sujet: 3 choses que l'on ne vous enseigne pas
A: ici on parle ciné...
Date: 19/04/02 06:13:28
3 choses que l'on ne vous enseigne pas dans les écoles de
par Bruce Cook
THE SET UP: Film school is a great place to talk about
cinema. ( I know; I went to USC and UCLA and I have been
teaching film for 22 years.) You can endlessly plan that
piece of film art that you just burn to make. And itís so
easy to get positive feedback from your cronies.
Then you graduate. And you sweat and struggle to get
together the money to make your first feature. Although
itís an uphill task, you carry on, inspired by your
memories of Eraserhead and everything that you ever heard
about Roger Corman. Against all odds you actually raise
enough money to shoot your film. You show the rough cut to
the backers and they cough up the extra dough to mix the
soundtrack and actually produce an answer print.
You breathe a sigh of relief . . . you werenít sure that
you would ever get the thing finished. Proudly you schedule
the world premiere. One of the backers calls you on the
phone and wonders aloud if it wouldnít be a good idea to
invite someone to the premiere who might actually be
interested in buying the movie . . . you know, a
Though the very thought strikes terror into your heart, you
decide to do the right thing. You will add a crassly
commercial aspect to the night of your cinematic
beatification. A dozen phone calls to the major studios
reveals that they are too busy to go to your screening, but
if you will send over the print (or better yet, a
videocassette), someone in acquisitionswill be happy to
take a look. You are a little surprised that Universal and
Paramount donít want to share your joy, so you put in
another dozen phone calls to the major independent
distributors . . . with much the same results. A snotty
secretary suggests that you forward a videocassette of your
opus for review by the sales staff. In a fit of righteous
indignation you remind her that is a 35mm feature
film . . . not a video movie and that it should be seen in
the proper format, size, brightness. . . The snotty
secretary disconnects you. There is a touch of desperation
as you place calls to twenty mid-size distributors. One or
two say that theyíll show up. In near panic, you call every
no-name distributor in the directory. Half a dozen promise
to attend, although they all ask to see a videocassette if
THE PROBLEM: The screening goes well. A couple of sales
types oil their way over to you afterwards. Theyíd love to
have you come to their office and talk about distribution.
This sounds good to you. If two distributors want your
picture, then you can just let them bid against each other
to get the biggest advance.
In a brilliant series of dissolves (smiling filmmaker,
lunch at a greasy spoon, empty wallet, calendar leaves
blowing in the wind, slack-jawed filmmaker), we leap
forward cinematically to next week . . . after the meeting
with the distributors. It is now time to face the truth. No
distributor is going to give you an advance. Whereas you
thought you would skillfully negotiate higher bucks up
front, you end up clutching frantically at the lowest
distribution fee . . . 30%, not 40%. Oh, and donít forget,
distribution expenses are to be recouped before disbursing
income to the filmmaker.
Welcome to DISTRIBUTION HELL. Remember that your chosen
field is called the motion picture
business. Distributors may love film . . . or they may
regard it as just one more commodity to be sold . . . like
shoes or radios. Adopt their viewpoint for a minute and you
will discover why they will not advance you any money
against future earnings of the film.
Suppose somebody brought you a really great pair of shoes,
and asked you to sell as many pairs as you could. And by
the way, they would like an advance against the profits
that are sure to follow. No, actually they havenít
advertised anywhere and made the public aware that the
shoes exist. And no, they donít have funds for the
advertising campaign. No, they donít even have any
advertising artwork mocked-up, much less ready for
printing. No, there arenít several sample pairs of the
shoes ready to go to trade shows. And no, they havenít made
preparations to duplicate the shoes.
Are you getting the picture yet? All the distributor sees
is that this film will require several steps (taking days,
weeks or months) and thousands of dollars of expense to get
into the marketplace. Once that is done, his sales force
will negotiate sales prices, contracts, delivery dates, and
collection procedures with buyers so that money actually
comes back to the distributor. Worse still, he is not
actually selling copies of the film (in most cases), but
the right to exhibit the film in a certain market.
Therefore he has to calculate (read "guess") how much money
the exhibitor will take in from showing your film and
decide what a fair price might be. Since the film
distributor will bear the costs listed above, he must be
able to project that the income from this film will be
enough to cover the expenses. And all this before he even
considers sending a penny back to you.
THE SOLUTION: Here are the three things they didnít tell
you in film school. (Yes, I know Iíve already told you
eighteen things that you didnít learn and still donít want
to know. Thatís show biz.)
The necessary strategy is to supply the most needed items
to the distributor yourself. That accomplishes several
goals simultaneously: a) it reduces the distributorís
outlay of cash; b) it diminishes the need for the
distributor to think about how to sell your film; c) it
cuts the amount of time between signing the deal and
getting the film into the market; d) it slashes the cost to
you of the items produced; and e) it puts control of the
sales tactics back in your hands.
Please note that the following comments have nothing to do
with the content of your project. They are concerned with
the format of selling your project so that the greatest
number of people see it . . . and, therefore, that you will
garner the monetary returns to pay back your
investors . . . and retain enough profit to make your next
1. TAKE STILLS THROUGHOUT PRODUCTION. Have some
photographically talented friend get shots in black and
white, as well as color. Do not count on blowing up frames
from the finished film, or negatives from out takes.
Remember that the exposure time of one frame is about
1/50th of a second at 24 frames per second. This will not
freeze action. On top of that, the negative area of a 35mm
motion picture frame is only half the size of a still shot
on 35mm. Worse yet (if you shot in 16mm), the negative area
of a 16mm frame is 1/8th the size of a 35mm still. You
simply cannot get decent quality stills by enlarging frames
of your picture. (Of course, it is even better to use
medium format still cameras, if you have access to them.)
Take them to an inexpensive photo finishing place and
either have proof sheets made up, or the cheapest 3" x 5"
Do not bother with stills of the crew, or actors being made
up, or pictures of the starís girl friend. These are
useless to the distributor. He needs photos that look as if
they are taken from the most dramatic moments of the film,
especially if they freeze some remarkable action,
replicating the image size and angle that the
cinematographer sees. It is often best to take these during
the last rehearsal before shooting, when all the lighting
has been tweaked.
The other items the distributor needs (and so do you) are
good head shots of all of the characters, in costume and
makeup, against a white (or blue) background. These will be
used in publicity packets. You may also need them for the
2. CREATE A POSTER. As a film artist you are probably well
acquainted with graphic artists in your area. Offer to pay
for materials and discuss the poster design in detail.
Original artwork should be done 16" x 20" or larger.
Ultimately, it must be capable of being enlarged to 28" x
41." (Note the ratio of height to width is 3:2.)
Add lettering on clear acetate, that lies over the artwork.
Obtain it either from a professional typesetter or by using
rub-on transfers, or by original hand lettering. Now you
have created a sandwich of lettering on a clear acetate
over artwork. Take it to a professional photo studio and
have an 8" x 10" transparency made. (Cost is about $30.) At
the same time have the 8" x 10" negative made. (Similar
cost.) Have a couple of proof 8" x 10" prints made, at
about $10 each.
If your film is going to a festival or a market, get a
single huge photo blowup made from your negative, 28" x
41." This will cost about $120. Add $20 to have it mounted
on foam core and another $20 to add a clear protective film
over the photo. Now you have a full size poster for less
than $200. The distributor would have charged from $1,000
to $5,000 for the same thing . . . and then told you to get
multiples printed at a cost of $3 a poster . . . with a
minimum print run of 1,000.
"But wait!" I can hear you scream. "What if the distributor
doesnít like my poster design?" Who knows best what your
film is about? Who has spent three years thinking about the
film every waking moment? Who desperately wants it to be
seen by the largest number of people? You, thatís who.
Now donít be stupid. Make sure that your poster is a good
representative of your film. Donít make it so dark no one
can tell what the image is. Donít execute it amateurishly.
Donít make the print portion so small it is illegible or so
long that the crowds gather to read your manifesto. Make
your poster pithy and to the point.
Presuming you have followed my advice, will the distributor
be overjoyed? No. He sees his chance to overcharge you for
the poster (by having his brother-in-law do the artwork)
going down the drain. He doesnít have the chance to give
you the benefit of his "creative" thinking about what your
poster should be. He will launch into a tirade about
amateurs trying to do the job that he hires professionals
(read "relatives") to do. He will point out that your
poster is just like the poster of the last movie he
represented that went belly up. He will criticize the art
work . . . the lettering . . . the tag line. Reluctantly,
he will take it off your hands, protesting that it will
have to be totally changed to be any good at all. Six weeks
later you will see his masterful revision. You will be
awestruck with the distributorís sagacity . . . because you
will behold your original poster without a single change,
except that it now bears the distributorís logo.
3. WRITE A SYNOPSIS YOURSELF. Confronted with a copy of
your film and/or the script, most distributors will not
have a clue what to say about it. Eventually they will turn
out a pitiful page of prose that seems to be about some
other movie they saw in another life. You will only be able
to recognize this as a synopsis of your film because it has
the same title (albeit slightly misspelled).
The synopsis should be from one half to one page in length.
It can be single spaced. It should be cogent and accurately
portray not only the general story elements, but the tone
of your film. In other words, if you have made a comedy,
one would expect the synopsis to be funny. Carefully
proofread your synopsis for typos, spelling errors and
grammar errors . . . any that you make will be faithfully
transmitted into every single copy ever reproduced. If you
are not strong in the proofreading skills required, then
get a compulsive English major to do it for you.
This synopsis is one of the primary sales tools for your
film. The distributor will use it in press releases, as the
printed material on the reverse of a flyer, and as a guide
to film reviewers. Therefore give the synopsis due
attention. Choose action-filled vocabulary, avoid the
passive voice, and subtly guide the reader into the proper
emotional response to your project.
Next write a ONE PARAGRAPH DESCRIPTION of your film. This
is similar to the tiny blurb found in the TV Guide
describing a program. Make it powerful and active. This is
not the same thing as an ad line you may have used on your
poster, but that may provide you with a clue for the best
way to capsulize your story line.
THATíS NOT ALL FOLKS: I have tried to give you a quick
glimpse into the murky world of "What happens to my film
after the premier?" In truth, there are approximately two
dozen items that are requisite to the delivery of a feature
length motion picture to a distributor. In every case, if
you do not already have these items, the distributor can
create them . . . usually at several times the cost if you
had created them as you produced the film. Because the
distributor sees that those costs will come out of his
pocket before he can begin to sell your film, their absence
may make the difference between a successful distribution
experience and not being able to find any distributor
willing to take your film at all.