On Oct 24, 2013 at 7 p.m., Coffee, Kill Boss, a movie I wrote and co-produced, will premiere in the beautiful Paramount Theater at the Austin Film Festival.
Here is a brief explanation of the development of Coffee, Kill Boss, along with some helpful resources for your own production. Making a movie is certainly a speculative venture. But with a little thrift and creativity, you can improve your prospects at every stage, from script to screen.
A screenplay is a story, but it’s also a business plan. If you write a James Bond-esque script with villains and heroes battling around the globe, you’ll need a Hollywood studio, movie stars, multiple shooting units, and a few months to shoot your $100 million blockbuster. If you write about some crooks in a warehouse after a heist has gone sour, like Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, you’ll have a project that needs just a couple of locations and a few actors to be shot in under a month. With the smaller project, you have independent or self-financing options. Also, you have more distribution avenues to recoup your money, such as a smaller cable television sale or even online self-distribution.
I wrote my script during my last workshop in the UCLA Screenwriting M.F.A. program. I wanted to write something set in a single location that could be shot quickly and inexpensively, without wasting time and money between locations. Coffee, Kill Boss is a dark comedy about ten executives, secretly meeting to sell off their company, who are murdered one by one.
- Books. Screenplay: Writing the Picture, by Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs, is the best book on how to write a screenplay. While most books are full of colorful anecdotes, this book is a comprehensive guide and essential reference manual to keep tightly at your side. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder, is an industry favorite that covers screenplay mechanics with clarity and zeal.
- IMDb. The Internet Movie Database provides detailed information on movies, such as cast and crew listings, as well as industry news. Its best feature is the logline descriptions — i.e., a one-sentence summary of the script — given under each title. Learning to pitch your project in this concise form is an essential aspect to gaining industry support. IMDb’s premium site provides a variety of features to identify, evaluate and connect with actors and talent.
- UCLA – The Professional Program in Screenwriting Online. The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television has the best graduate screenwriting program in the country. If you don’t want to spend all that money or move to Los Angeles, you can enroll in an online workshop, taught by department faculty, through the school’s Professional Programs.
- WGA. Once you’ve written your script, you should register it at The Writer’s Guide of America. When you register your script prior to submitting it to agents, managers, or producers, you document your authorship on a given date should there be unauthorized usage. The WGA also provides an extensive list of resources and links to help you learn and navigate the business of screenwriting.
- United States Copyright Office. Even if you register your script with the WGA, you should still apply for a copyright at the Library of Congress. A copyright is the best way to establish your authorship. Also registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation.
Once you have your script, you’ll need to gather resources to build your project momentum. If you have the blockbuster project, you’ll begin querying managers, agents, and producers with real Hollywood access. If you have a smaller indie project, you may have indirect access to a bankable actor or wealthy potential-investors. Or, you may find some talented actors and host a staged reading.
After I wrote my script, I gave it to Nathan Marshall, an M.F.A. candidate in UCLA’s directing program. He liked the material, as well as the obvious low-cost production advantages. We held a staged reading in Los Angeles, but didn’t generate any financial support. So the momentum fizzled.
A couple of years later, the script did well in the Austin Film Festival’s screenplay competition, and so it had a little momentary heat. Coincidentally, Marshall had some producers interested in his next project. He brought them the script, and the producers brought on casting director Lisa Essary (The Artist). Soon after, we attached Eddie Jemison (Oceans 11-12-13, Hung), Noreen DeWulf (Anger Management) and Robert Forster (The Descendants, Jackie Brown). Once the cast came together, we were ready to move ahead with production.
- Done Deal Pro. Done Deal Pro tracks script, book, treatment, and pitch sales and options made in Hollywood. Subscribers can search its database of over 15,300 feature film deals and 4,800 TV deals. Users can click on the agency, management firm, law firm, and company names for contact information.
- MovieBytes.com. MovieBytes.com is an index site of screenwriting contests. While your goal should be to make a movie, not to win a contest, doing well in a contest is one way to bring attention to your project. In my case, Austin Film Festival’s screenplay competition absolutely caused people to read and consider my script.
- InkTip. InkTip is a site for screenwriters to post their projects for producers, directors, and entertainment professionals. If you have a project and are looking for a producer, InkTip might be a good option for you. Or, InkTip may be a place to find a script to develop.
- Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the largest crowdfunding site. Some of its recent successes in film financing have gotten the attention of Hollywood. Projects by Spike Lee, Zach Braff, and Rob Thomas have collectively raised over $10 million.
Production and Post-production
If you sold your blockbuster to Hollywood, the production shoot is about as far as you’ll go in the process of making the movie. Only recently did the WGA secure set access for writers during feature film shoots; in the past, writers were often kept off the set. If you have the small indie project, you’re probably looking at approximately 20 to 30 days to shoot your movie, and then a post-production process (editing, scoring, visual effects) of anywhere from 3 months to eternity. During the shoot, you’ll be nervous about costs, but it’s post-production that may break you. Traditionally, post-production is where independent filmmakers cash in favors.
Our initial shoot was 13 days, which is amazingly fast and a testament to our director. Bizarrely our central office location was in a working office. The company was running at fifty percent capacity, so the owner was supplementing income by renting out the location. We had three pick-up days for additional shooting, and then approximately nine months of post-production.
We edited the movie on Final Cut Pro, color-timed on DaVinci, and composited on Adobe Premiere.
- Craigslist. Craigslist is the community-moderated classifieds site. Believe it or not, Craigslist is also the place to find the crew you will need to shoot your movie, particularly if you’re in an area with an active film community. Our director, cinematographer and composer all met from jobs posted on Craigslist.
- Dropbox. A cloud storage solution is indispensable when you’re collaborating on a feature. Our primary use with Dropbox was between our director and our composer. With about 70 different music cues in the feature, Dropbox made it easy for the two to work remotely and collaborate in real time.
- Google Docs. To keep track of the roughly 90 scenes, our director and the editor used Google Docs, writing notes for each other to track their collaboration. Certainly, there are more advanced project collaboration apps out there. But for their purposes, a simple Google Doc worked just fine.
- YouTube Private Video. The director and editor craft the rough cut, but at some point they’ll need to share what they’ve done with the producers. This is a perfect use of YouTube’s private video feature.
- Facebook. Post-production can be a long and lethargic period. It’s important to keep the project’s momentum going with social media. A Facebook page is a great place to post behind-the-scenes pictures and fun special features items, such as a Coffee, Kill Boss crossword puzzle.
How you distribute your movie will depend on your initial business plan — the script. If you sell your blockbuster to a studio, you will have nothing to do with distribution, except buying a ticket at the 2,000-screen theatrical opening and maybe writing a sequel. If you have an indie project, traditionally you’ll target film festivals to generate interest with distributors. Or, you may be looking into online distribution sites, like Apple’s iTunes. During this phase, you will want to keep up your social media and PR buzz, which you began during the production phase, if you were able to make the time.
We applied to several film festivals, but decided to premiere at the Austin Film Festival because of the script’s earlier success there, as well as the festival’s eagerness to assist us in getting the word out. In addition to our own Facebook, Twitter, and blogging efforts, we enlisted the help of PPMG, a PR firm that landed us some early attention in Daily Variety. All of this will culminate at our premiere to an audience of ordinary film lovers, along with a few distributors, and sales reps. We may generate a deal for a theatrical release or we may eventually distribute it ourselves, but Coffee, Kill Boss will certainly have one night in a beautiful theater.
- Festivals. Here is a list of the major festivals and markets, including Sundance, Toronto, Venice, Austin, Tribeca, and South by Southwest.
- Online Distribution. If you’re interested in online self-distribution, one option is iTunes, though you might have faster results by applying to one of its approved aggregators. Another option is VODO, a site that brings together creators looking for an effective way to distribute their work with peer-to-peer sites and services willing to help promote it and get it out.