Finding the Right Location

Selecting the right location is the first step on the road to a successful shoot.

We've all had that unforgettably disastrous shoot, where the SD card filled up or the battery died at exactly the wrong moment, and we vowed never to let it happen again. But there's one kind of readiness you might not have thought of, and it's as essential as spare SD cards and batteries. We're talking about scouting locations, a vital pre-production step that will help you meet almost any challenge when you shoot video in the field. Here are several tips that will help you as you scope out potential video shooting locations.

1. Know your script. Choose a site that matches the setting of your story. This is the first rule of location scouting. As you set out to evaluate locations, you'll likely face countless possibilities: natural areas, historic sites, distinctive buildings, urban landscapes and waterfront settings, to name a few. Remember, above all, that you have a story to tell. Choose a location that lends itself to the story you want to produce. You should never be bound by your locations. Locations are simply raw materials. You need to know what the script demands before you can select a suitable location.

2. Scout at the right time. Be aware that locations can change. It's wise to check your spot on the day of the week and the time of day that you'll be taping: these factors can produce surprisingly large changes on the suitability of a location.

Automobile traffic and noise, visitors to recreation and entertainment spots, and tourists at scenic or historic areas (to name just a few examples) all come in waves that vary dramatically based on the time of day, the day of the week and the season.

3. Look at light. Churches, ballrooms, restaurants, auditoriums and homes generally feature low amounts of available lighting. Check light levels by shooting a few seconds of test footage with your camcorder.

Solutions for poor lighting might be as simple as scouting out window blinds and curtains that can be opened to add daylight. In some cases you may wish to bring in lights or ask permission to replace the bulbs in accessible light fixtures with brighter-burning units.

4. Follow the sun. Outdoor lighting conditions can be as challenging as those indoors; exterior illumination changes all day long. As you're scouting locations, pay attention to whether a given spot is in full sun, partial sun or full shade. Bright sun can be harsh on people's faces, and light-colored surfaces can blow out in full sunlight, causing automatic camcorder lenses to underexpose shots. Partial sun can be tricky, as well; today's camcorders, though sophisticated, can have trouble handling the high contrast in this situation. Ultimately, you may find that fully shaded locations or overcast days produce the most consistent results.

5. Check for power supplies. Many outdoor locations are far from power sources and even some indoor locations can pose AC challenges, so multiple camera batteries are always a good idea. But you'll still need to evaluate your power options at any location.

How will you power your lights? What if you do end up draining all your batteries? Is there anywhere to plug in the charger? Is the spot remote enough to make a car-lighter AC adapter a good idea? In a location that does have power, you may be able to plug in, but you'll still need to think about the system's pre-existing load and whether or not you can get to the fuse (breaker) box in case something blows.

6. Listen. Clean, high-quality sound is critical in making a video that rises above the ordinary, and it's silence that ensures you get the location sound that you came for.

The whooshing of traffic, the white noise of moving water, and the echoes of voices and movements can all get in the way of high-quality audio. As you scout a location, check for any of these conditions by listening to your camcorder's microphone pickup through headphones. Test your wireless mike at the site as well, listening closely for any type of interference.

7. Examine the elements. Sun, rain, wind, snow, heat, cold -- all can help or hurt, depending on what you're hoping to capture on film. So, it's critical to check the forecast as you're scouting.

Video cameras don't like rain, salty beach air or moisture from waterfalls. Smeared lenses and water or salt inside the card reader can spell disaster. Bright, hot locations with lots of sunlight can also be a problem: black and gray camcorder bodies absorb the sun's rays and can cause overheating when left exposed. A beach or patio umbrella can help protect your gear from the elements in both sun and rain.

Cold temperatures can drain batteries and make you and your helpers uncomfortable very quickly. Plan to keep equipment warm by storing it inside a coat or car until you're ready to shoot, and by wrapping it in a spare scarf or jacket while taping. And watch out when bringing cameras back into warm interiors from the frigid outdoors: this can cause significant amounts of moisture to condense inside both optics and electronics.

8. Decide where to set up. Make sure that there's adequate space for you to set up all of your gear, so that you're able to get the shots you have in mind. A small shed may seem like the perfect location for a shoot, until you realize that there isn't enough room to position your gear. You may have plenty of room in a large space like a church or an auditorium, but you may not be able to roam freely. As you scout your locations, verify that you can physically get to the spots you intend to shoot from.

9. Get permission. Be aware that you'll need to secure permits and other legal permissions to shoot at certain locations. As you're looking at a location, do a legal reality check.

Have you chosen a street or sidewalk location that will impede traffic? Do you plan to shoot on someone else's property? Cemeteries, malls, grocery stores, corporations and businesses are all private property. Many owners will be happy to accommodate you if you ask, but if not, you'll need to choose another location. It's better to get permission in advance than to have a shoot interrupted by the authorities.

10. Evaluate the area. Check on communications: Is there cell phone reception in the area you've chosen to shoot? How about a nearby pay phone? If you're driving a long way, have you planned for a breakdown?

Search the area for quick food stops to satisfy you and your crew in the midst of a busy schedule and double-check the address of a local electronics store, just in case you need to replace a cable or adapter.

One day, something will go wrong; it's inevitable. But when you've scouted out the backup possibilities at a location, you can take most obstacles in stride.

11. And finally, take notes! When you sit down to evaluate a location after a day of exploring, you'll be glad you have scouting reports to refer to. In your scouting expeditions for a shoot, in your daily travels, on your family vacations, and in your mind's eye, you'll come across countless locations and changing conditions, each of which will be unique and potentially important to you.

Write them down, take still photos or shoot a little video with a running audio commentary. Note the time of day, the quality of the light, the sounds in the air, and the things you felt. One day you might return.

 

Ten Tips for Pitching Your Film Successfully

To help you get ready for the 2014 American Film Market & Conferences coming in November, we thought this some advice on pitching would help producers and filmmakers alike.  We hope you enjoy this from Good in a Room’s Stephanie Palmer.

TEN TIPS FOR PITCHING YOUR FILM SUCCESSFULLY

Are you ready to walk “into the room” and pitch to a decision-maker such as an agent, financier, producer, distributor or studio executive? Here are the top ten pitching tips to help you in a high-stakes situation.  There are 5 Do's and 5 Don'ts:

1.  Do prepare for the five stages of the meeting.  If you do not know what the five stages are, you can acquaint yourself here.

2.  Do not talk about who has been attached, was considering, or has been interested in the project.  This is equivalent to saying, “Here is a list of people who have already passed.”

3.  Do not “get down to business.”  Instead, take the time to make small-talk and get to know the decision-maker first.  Remember, business is personal.

4.  Do not “wing” your pitch.  Consider preparation techniques such as writing your pitch out by hand, pitching on video and then watching your performance, and taking a practice meeting with a friend.

5.  Do lead with genre.  Specifically, the first few words of your pitch should be something like, “This project is a (GENRE)….”

6.  Do not refer to more than three characters by name.  If other characters need to be mentioned, do so by how they relate to the main characters, e.g., Karin’s best friend, Ryan’s evil twin.

7.  Do prepare for likely questions.  Prepare answers for the most common questions in advance such as, "How did you come up with this idea?" and "What project is this most like?"

8.  Do not argue the point.  If you get a note you don’t like from a decision-maker in an initial meeting, don’t argue.  Instead, just say, “Thanks, let me think about that.”

9.  Do write down the names of the decision-makers you meet.  That way, you won’t suffer the fate of, “I had a great meeting, but I can’t remember his or her name….”

10.  Do adapt to patterns of feedback.  Consider all of the notes you are receiving, look for patterns, and discover ways to improve your pitch, your project, or both.

Stephanie Palmer, a former MGM Pictures executive and best-selling author of Good in a Room, has been featured by NBC, ABC, CBS, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Variety and many more. To connect with Stephanie: goodinaroom.com, @goodinaroom, facebook.com/goodinaroom

How To Raise Money For Your Film

Every film is financed in it’s own unique way…there are an infinite amount of options available. Before getting into your financing possibilities, let’s first address some key creative elements that you’ll need to have in place before you look for money.

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Development & Pre-Production

There are literally an infinite amount of ways that you could go about financing your film, but the vast majority of these options (at least the most feasible of them) begin with a really strong development process. The idea here is to package your upcoming film in a way that will make it irresistible to investors, no matter which particular type of investor or platform you’re going after. And the entire process really begins with the basic seed of your idea – the story.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to start out with a story that is marketable and relatable to the general public, because if you don’t have a story that interests people on a basic level, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of your development process goes. No one will invest.

This may sound basic, but we’ve all fallen into the trap of falling in love with an idea that isn’t marketable and realizing only when it’s too late that we should have tested it or refined it at a much earlier stage. So nip any story issues in the bud, and make sure you have an amazing, original idea and a tightly constructed log line to go along with it.

Once you have a rock solid story, you will of course need to flesh it out into a screenplay. And just like when you were developing your story, you’ll want to test the screenplay thoroughly and get lots of feedback before you sign off on a draft that you’re ready to submit.

While a lot of the other tasks you need to execute on during the development stage can happen in tandem, it’s important that you get the story and script just right before you move on. In other words, don’t do anything but focus on getting your story and screenplay to the best possible point, because without it you’re going to waste a lot of time developing an idea that isn’t optimal.

With your story and script in place, you now need to take a realistic look at your project and decide what you want out of it. What are your goals?

Is your goal to create a micro-budget film with 2 actors in a single location?

Do you aspire to make a epic with a dozen locations and some name talent?

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but the key is to be truthful to the project, which will in turn help to guide your development and pre-production strategy. You only have so much time to develop your film if you don’t want to lose momentum, so make sure you use it wisely. For example if you are developing a found footage film, you might be better served by not wasting time trying to hire name talent, as your film might work better with no-name actors given the genre.

Know what you’re after early on and develop a budget that you can show to potential investors, because you’re going to need it!

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Raising The Funds

So you have your story down, a great version of the script and have taken the necessary development steps to keep the momentum going strong. The next step is of course putting the money together.

Many filmmakers look for investors before having fleshed out their development process (as described above) and while this method may work on occasion, it is the exception, not the rule. Generally whoever you are pitching your project to will feel a lot more confident knowing that they are getting on board with a moving train that has a track record of putting in the necessary time needed to develop a story worth investing in.

Here are three different basic strategies for raising funding, broken down by the type of film you are producing:

No-Budget

By no-budget I really mean no budget…or at the most a budget of $10k or under. First off, to actually pull off a great no-budget film you need an idea that works without a budget and doesn’t feel cheap. That said, no-budget doesn’t mean you don’t need investors – it just means that your investors aren’t giving you their money, they are giving you their time. For example, if you have a budget of $0, you are essentially asking your crew, talent, and locations to volunteer their time for your project.

The best way to think of this arrangement though, is not that they are volunteering, but rather that you are pitching them on investing their time. This might not be the answer you’re looking for, but I can tell you from experience that approaching crew members this way (and giving them back end points if you need to) will always give you better results in the end. You’ll wind up finding people that genuinely care about your project and are willing to go the extra mile when it counts.

The difference between having a crew that believes in your project and crew that doesn’t can make or break your film, so don’t underestimate the value of getting investment from your crew in the form of their time.

Micro-Budget

Everyone has a different dollar value for what ‘Micro-Budget’ really entails, but for the sake of this article let’s limit it at $40,000. Like the no-budget scenario above, if you are dealing with a micro-budget film you are going to be relying (at least to some degree) on invested time by your crew and location owners. However you have likely fallen into this category because there are some unavoidable costs that prevent you from going no-budget. You may need some critical location permits, that require you to have better insurance, or you may need to do some traveling and rent specialty gear for your shoot.

Whatever it may be though, my advice regarding your approach to raising the funds won’t really change. The idea here is that you primarily do your fundraising within your own extended network. Experienced film investors are rarely, if ever interested in investing in projects that are this small, so don’t waste time approaching the big guys (we’ll get to that in the next section). Rather, focus your energy on putting together smaller pieces of funding through your existing network. This means approaching family, friends, using crowd funding, and maybe even putting in some of your own money.

It may seem like $40,000 is a lot to get to, but raising $15,000 on Kickstarter is by no means unattainable if you have a good campaign. Filling in the rest from small investments of $1k to $5k will be easier than you think – especially if you have a really great package. The one caveat to this though, is I would recommend launching your Kickstarter toward the end of this process. Don’t do it too early on, or a lot of your family/friend investors will simply invest in the Kickstarter campaign to help you get going, and really your crowdfunding platform should be used to attract small investors that you wouldn’t normally be able to approach right off the bat.

Low-Budget

Again we need to set what a ‘Low Budget’ film really is, so for this article we’re going to assume that it means a budget of under $250,000. If you’re reading this article, this is probably the section you’re looking for as you may have already attempted to raise funds or look for volunteer crew as the above examples described.

When it comes down to raising a budget of this size though, you’re going to need to go to more experienced investors. You have the choice of either partnering up with a producer that can get it to the right people or going solo on it. I would highly recommend using a producer to help you raise the funds as you will save a lot of time and legwork this way.

To find the right producer, the key is all in the research. Sift through IMDbPro and look for films in the genre/budget range that yours falls into. Then contact their producers with your pitch package. You may very well get some interest early on. This is especially the case if you’ve managed to attach some name talent to your project.

You might feel like you can’t book talent without money (which is true), but you can at least get talent interested in the project. You just need to have a really good script and think creatively about how to get them on board. For example, you are probably better off approaching talent through their PR rep than you would be going through their agent. The PR rep isn’t only thinking about how much money the actor will make on this one project (as the agent is) but also about what is best for the clients career. Maybe doing your film will lead to another project that they had their mind set on. Point being, if you’re armed with a fantastic script you can attract talent – especially if you’re willing to do the grunt work. And if you have talent you will be able to attract a producer with access to more talent, financing, and other resources that will help you throughout the process.

If you’re going solo on this and want to raise the funds without another producer on board, you also have the option of sending packages to various film financing companies, private investors, and grant programs. There are far too many companies/programs to list here, but do some homework and research on this, and you are bound to find lots of approachable investors and investment companies that are worth pursuing with your package. From there, it’s up to them to decide whether or not they want to commit to your film, so hopefully you followed my advice early on and created a great package.

Summary

No matter what the size of your project is, the most critical step is the first – getting a perfect story and script ready. It’s the first thing you’ll be asked for when approaching anyone from a volunteer crew member to an established producer, so make sure you get it right.

Once you have your script in great shape you can realistically assess which budget range your film falls into. If it can be done on no-budget, then go for it by all means. But make sure you still think of your crew as investors and even create a phantom budget of what you should have spent if they had all charged their normal rates.

If your project is micro-budget in size you don’t need to waste time going after larger scale investors, as they unfortunately won’t likely see value in a project of this scale. Go after people in your inner circle and use crow funding to your advantage.

And if you need some real money to make your low-budget film happen, then do everything in your power to attract name talent to the project and leverage that for a deal with a producer or investor/investment company.

You have plenty of options and there is no direct path to securing funding, but if you’re willing to pound the pavement and be honest with yourself about what your project needs, then the sky is the limit.


How to Get Your Script/Video to Production Companies

We often hear writers and producers bemoaning the fact that production companies won't consider unsolicited material. Why is that? Although we're honored you want us to look at your script or film there are reasons why we can't.

First off are the legal ramifications. In today's litigious media world, production companies fear being sued because you sent them a screenplay about sharks in a tornado, completely unaware they already had a similar movie in development. You assumed they stole your idea - which they didn't.  

There are also professional reasons whey sending unsolicited material is a bad idea. When you send a script or film against a company policy you have just proven you can't (or won't) follow directions. What that says is "I don't have to follow your rules or listen to you." That's not the sort of person ANY production company wants to work with. Continuing emailing or calling for an update just makes it worse. Communication stops and the material is either returned to the sender unread or gets thrown in the trash. 

So how do you get companies to look at your work? Know the right approach.

Producers and agents by their basic nature are too busy to read anything they don't have to. But they're all afraid of missing THE NEXT BIG THING.

You need to persuade them that you're THE NEXT BIG THING.

Although it requires some upfront work, it's easier than you think. Start with:

  1. Develop your online persona. Have profiles on all the major social media sites with plenty of posts showing your subject matter expertise.
  2. Meet heads of production companies, producers and agents in 'real life' at conferences, film festivals and screenwriter events.
  3. Make sure you can deliver your log line (not your tagline) conversationally. If you can't explain you project in 60 seconds you have a problem.
  4. Ask your contacts if they'd be interested in reading a One Page Treatment, rather than a script. For producers and agents, reading one page is a shorter time investment than scanning a script or watching a rough cut.
  5. If they decline, ask them if you can touch base in 3 months or son. If they say "Yes," follow up in 3 months and see if they'd be willing to look at your One Pager now.
  6. If they say "Yes" to the One Pager, send it and let some time pass. Don't hassle them. Wait 4-6 weeks before following up.
  7. If they write back and say they are interested in your project, send it. If they say it's not for them, thank them and move on. 

Repeat the steps, build up your contacts and your name. Remember, you're playing the long game. No one ever "makes it" overnight. Even those who appear to have come out of nowhere have been toiling behind the scenes.

Good luck!