ScreenCraft Recap: Screenwriting and Producing Outside the Studio System

By December 18, 2013 No Comments

Back in March, ScreenCraft hosted a Q&A session with a few luminaries of the independent film world.

The special guests were:

Cassian Elwes: Producer of such films as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Blue Valentine, and Dallas Buyers Club, among many others
Matt Miller: Producer of the independent films. Accomplished Assistant Director to A-list filmmakers.
Sean Covel: Producer of Napoleon Dynamite among others.
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: Producer of Napoleon Dynamite among others. 
Adam Simon: Writer of The Haunting in Connecticut
Here’s a summary of the question and answer session, along with video links for easy access.

“How to Build Your Film Career:” The panel advises a sci fi screenwriter to aim within his means, as many great sci fi filmmakers started small, like Jon Favreau with Swingers. After a second question, Cassian Elwes says that Sundance doesn’t work for small filmmakers anymore.

“Building Buzz for Your Film:” The panel says that filmmakers need to generate buzz even before their movie is submitted. This needs to be goal-oriented, like building buzz toward a specific film festival. Sales reps and managers can help, but festival programmers are also good at this. Cassian advises people NOT to send DVDs to every single agency out there.
“Do Film Festivals Still Matter?” Cassian says films that don’t get into one of the major festivals are dead in the water. Distributors are still at festivals, but they may not pay as much money as they used to, so budgets need to be smaller.
“Crowdfunding and the Importance of Relationships:” The panel emphasizes the importance of maintaining contacts, since cohorts come up together. Cassian says that crowdfunding is viable at the moment, but could become overused.
“How to Get Your Script Read:” The panel says that great material rises. They again emphasize the importance of relationships. They say that attending film festivals is a good way to make these relationships.
“Is Film Dead?” Cassian says that film is not dead. Several important directors continue to swear by film.
“Cassian Elwes Talks Remakes:” Cassian recalls a terrible movie he made earlier in his career where Burt Reynolds punched the director. Now Jason Statham is remaking it, which Cassian was shocked and delighted to learn.
“The Future of Distribution”: Adam Simon says the film market has contracted for many economic reasons, and that a lot of storytelling has moved to TV. He discusses his upcoming projects.
“Matt Miller Talks Upcoming Projects”: Matt Miller discusses his upcoming film noir project with John Hawkes.

“Cassian Elwes Breaks Down Film Financing”: Cassian talks about borrowing money from banks by leveraging presales. He also goes into equity investors. Doc Wyatt says that equity is a great route for first-time filmmakers.
“The Studio Mentality”: Cassian discusses why intelligent films for adults are harder to make than in the ’70s. It comes down to risk and return on investment.
“Budgeting on the Page”: Adam Simon says that he’s gotten better at thinking about budget in the screenwriting stage.
“Budgeting on the Page Part 2”: Adam goes into specifics on how budgeting affected The Haunting in Connecticut.
“Studio Financing vs. Indie Financing”: Cassian says that indie film financing has become formulized based on how much financiers think they can get for each movie.
“How to Get Soft Money and Tax Credits for Your Film”: The panel discusses how to navigate the world of state tax credits and soft money.

“When Not to Listen to Studios”: Sean Covel and Doc Wyatt discuss how their follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite fell prey to rampant studio notes and regime changes.
“Innovation and Where to Find Material”: The panel discusses how to compete in a world where everyone can make a film at any time. Adam Simon says that there’s no shame in adapting previous material, since almost all great films have been adaptations.

Check back regularly for recaps of more ScreenCraft special events!

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