Hello you beautiful people!
Yesterday, during brunch with the CastingAbout guys (you know them, right? The guys who’ll give you a free week to check out their massively helpful tool for all your Self-Management for Actors targeting homework), I mentioned the old Hollywood Happy Hour Yahoo Group.
How many of you remember it? OMG, it was such a blast having email-based listserv-style convos with creatives all over the world starting WAY before Facebook, before MySpace, before Friendster. Loved it. And yeah, even though there was sometimes drama, there was so much VALUE to that regular exchange of info!
Now, of course there are some really spectacular convos going on in our Facebook group today. And yeah, sometimes, I have to boot some randos who are hell-bent on proving they’re definitely in the wrong group, too. So… it’s a part of running a large and thriving community. It’s gonna have lots of personalities and lots of creativity and lots of brilliance if you know where to look for it.
Today, I’m so inspired by a post the luminous Erin Zapcic started on Sunday. Here’s a link to the post if you want to see it for yourself. LOTS of comments, and they’re really rich, so be ready to take notes or screengrabs or both!
In this post, Erin asked two straightforward questions of the experienced content creators in the group: “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from creating your own content,” and, “What will you do differently on your NEXT self-produced project?”
I strongly recommend you go read the post and take notes (I know, I already said that) but I also rounded up a quick list of the top 11 lessons from the thread since I know many of us are living a Facebookless life these days (highly recommended, BTW).
Here’s your master list of takeaways, so maybe you don’t have to learn any of this the hard way as you next head out to create some content to showcase your gifts to those well-targeted buyers out there.
1. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. If you aren’t clear on where you most need support so you can also shine the most, you risk falling prey to the island syndrome. You don’t impress anyone by being ALL THE THINGS. Be what you’re best at being. Delegate everything else.
2. Understand your big why. If you haven’t gotten clear on why this story needs to be told, what your goals are with the material you’re putting together, how this footage fits into your big plan for marketing yourself, etc., your work has no guiding force for all the little decisions that have to be made every moment of a shoot. Note: If your answer was, “This story needs to be told because it’s the most important story of my life. This is my life’s work. This is why I’m on this planet,” stop right there. Scrap this idea (for now). Make your first pancake. You do NOT want to make first-time filmmaker mistakes on your precious baby.
3. Consider targeting. Yes, really. Even filmmakers target. They consider where they want the film to go. What festivals? What distribution entities? At which studios do they hope to sign a deal after someone falls in love with this first little indie? What festivals are the right fit for where you want to show up, speaking on panels and schmoozing at networking events about your baby? If you’re just shooting something for your reel, whose eyeballs are you hoping to attract? Factor this in as you plan from here.
4. Prep around locations you already have. There’s nothing worse than writing a killer script and then having no clue how to shoot the damn thing because you set it in space or added in this awesome helicopter chase or put the leads in a casino in Vegas. Make a list of all the places you’re already sure you can shoot. Create your shot list around that. Keep it simple.
5. Be ready for time to lose all meaning. Everything will take at least twice as long as you think it will take. You’ll lose light a lot faster than you thought was possible. Someone’s schedule will get wonky with no notice. Time management is the superpower you really want to lean into here and for content creators, this means having a phenomenal line producer and first AD. Pay experienced ones. You’ll never regret it.
6. Budget for everything to go wrong. No, not everything will, but having no money to get out of a jam is no fun and as a first-time filmmaker, you’re going to get into a jam. In addition to paying your line producer and first AD, spend good money on sound and crafty. All else is forgivable. But if your sound sucks, you’re sunk and if your food on set sucks, no one is happy which means you’re on a miserable set and that’s gonna show in every frame.
7. Pros are not afraid of paperwork. Get your contracts in order with SAG-AFTRA, with your actors, with your fellow producers, with your crew, with location reps, with clearance departments, with insurers… again, that experienced line producer I told you to hire up there? Worth! It!
8. Surround yourself with a team of people you trust… and then trust them! No one likes to be micromanaged. If you’ve done a great job of vetting people for the positions in your cast and crew, you’re fully supported in ways that will benefit you not just on this project but on many more to come. This investment in the right people can be a thing of beauty. Don’t be afraid to say NO to the wrong people. Be aware when YOU are the wrong person for a job you thought you could handle (see #1, again).
9. Know when to cut bait. Look, sometimes you’re going to have made the wrong choice. And you’re not going to know it ’til you’re in the thick of things, losing light, hemorrhaging money, and seriously stressed over how this is all going to shit. There is no benefit to throwing good money after bad. You saw the Fyre Festival documentaries, right? You’ve got nothing to prove by pretending everything’s good long after you know it’s spinning out. Be willing to hit pause, collect your thoughts, and admit when it’s time to make a change for the good of the project… and your mental health.
10. Remember the 5 ways people get paid for working on passion projects like this. You’re paid in brand reinforcement, relationship building, great footage for your reel, money, or FUN! Rarely are we paid in all five ways at once. Make sure you’re paying people for being a part of your project — even if you have no money — by revisiting this list and amping up things like the awesomeosity of the footage they’ll get, the fun they’ll have being a part of your project, and the relationship benefits that will last a lifetime thanks to this early investment.
11. Launch at 85%. You’re never gonna feel ready. No one ever does. It takes loads of experience to finally feel like, “Yeah. I got this!” about everything going smoothly and even then, there’s a moment when you’ve just gotta make it happen. 85% is that point. You’re ready enough. Perfectionism be damned. Get to set. Make magic!
Visit the whole incredible thread here — thank the amazing members of the SMFA ninja community who brought together so much wisdom — and add to the thread with your own experiences or questions!
Feeling inspired? Let’s see you make some magic!
I cannot wait for the invitation to your next screening! 🙂
Much ninja love,