World Class Free Film School – Lesson 1 – Sign Zee Papers!

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Welcome to World Class Free Film School!

In the following series of articles of we will impart the hard-won knowledge that we have gained as successful independent digital filmmakers. And (drumroll puh-leaze!) we will do this for FREE!

Now, why would we do such a thing for free? Well, because we’re sweethearts. Because we love you and want you to succeed in this sometimes tricky and crazy thing called The Film Industry.

Now, there are many fine filmmaking schools in this big old world. Places where an aspiring director or producer can attend to learn many of the skills necessary to make a film.

There are also many excellent books out there that you can read that will give you all of the essentials to make a film. Unfortunately, for the poor huddled masses, these film schools and books will cost an initial investment of time and money. This amount you end up spending may be in the thousands of dollars. Now, there is nothing wrong with you spending money to educate you. Perhaps some film schools may actually help improve your chances of getting a job in the industry too, however…

Almost without exception, the graduates of these film schools will go on to find out that making their first few films as Directors will end up costing them several thousands of dollars more. They’ll learn the hard way that precious few filmmakers ever see any kind of return on the money they’ve put up for funding their first few films.

That has been the reality of the situation for the independent filmmaker, up until now. There have been way too many stories told of those starry-eyed wannabe directors who begged, borrowed, or stole to produce their first few flops. At the end those sad stories, the tragedy is they never actually finished their first film. Maybe they never got started. Maybe they ran out of patience or time. Or maybe they ran over-budget, found themselves financially in the hole, bereft of family and friends for favors they could not repay. End result? Oh, I don’t know, maybe you end up a bitter ex-filmmaker, working a crappy day job, nursing a sore ego while feeling like a huge failure after spending so much dang money on film school.

Are you ready for a paradigm shift? This is where World Class Free Film School is different! Here, you can learn all of the technical information for producing an independent film while NOT breaking the bank! In this free on-line film school, you will learn the basic principles of pre-production, production, and post. You will walk the path of a successful independent filmmaker and discover a self sustaining business model that I’ve followed from day one in the business.

You’ll gain the perspective of the lessons that I’ve won and follow me step by step as I explain to you how I wrote, directed, and produced my first money-making film and went on using that as seed money to grow an income generating film library. You’ll learn the tips and tricks of creating film revenue streams while satisfying that creative spirit which brought you to this page in the first place. These revenue streams will allow you build your filmmaking equipment arsenal, fund, produce and self-distribute more of the same revenue streams, and, yes, allow you the financial freedom to produce the occasional non-commercial short film, without giving a fig about where the funding will come from!

Interested? Good! Check back frequently! This is a work in progress, and it will evolve as we go happily skipping down the danger-strewn yellow brick road together in this crazy thing called show-biz. I’m looking forward to sharing and giving back some of the knowledge and experiences that have allowed me to proclaim myself a successful filmmaker. Yes indeed, sometimes I puff out my chest and shout my barbaric yawp; “I am a successful FILMMAKER, dammit!” I admit that I do get some funny looks sometimes too.

That being said, I honestly believe that at the end of this course, if you follow the tasty advice that I dish out for you, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to shout the same barbaric yawp!

So, c’mon, jump in head first and follow me! You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and you might learn something.

Best part is; it’s all FREE!

Lesson 1 – Sign Zee Papers!

Ok, so you’ve decided that you want to make a film and you’re not going let anything stop you. It’s time to make like Nike, and just do it. You’ve got your crew all picked out and they said they would work for free (or almost free and a credit). They’re all totally happy with the fact that you’re making promises about what they can expect on the back-end profits. Everyone is confident that this film is a sure-fire win at Sundance, it’s going to get picked up by a major distributor and everyone is going to get rich, right?

WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!

One of the biggest downers in this crazy business (and don’t kid yourself, it is a business), is that it can make ordinarily nice people turn into totally greedy, insufferably egotistical, and absolutely insane monsters. This is no joke.

I don’t know what it is, but one day you’re buddy-buddy with someone who came on to your project two months ago to help collaborate, everything is fine and dandy, you’re cruising toward that Sundance Award, then the next day, BLAMMO! It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This previously “normal guy” has been replaced with an alien who grew out a pod last night while he was sleeping. Maybe you hired him to shoot some of your footage and he still has the tapes. He was supposed to start editing them, but now he says he wants a gazillion dollar advance, he wants 50% royalty on all sales, he wants complete creative control, and… Wait for it…he wants DIRECTOR credit on the film that was initially your idea two years ago.

OK, this is one of the most important tips that I am going to give you. Before you do anything else; get it in writing! Step one; when you finish the script, get it copyrighted. You can do this easily by logging on to copyright.gov, paying $35 bucks, and following their directions. Step two: when you bring someone on to your film to collaborate, use a contract! Spell everything out completely and make sure you don’t give up certain things, like ownership. Make the terms as favorable for yourself as possible. Remember, it’s your concept, your project, your business! As a business person, think of collaborators as employees. Employees whom you appreciate, take care of, and share with, but still; employees. To drive a film to completion, someone has to be the boss. If they want to be the boss, guess what? They can make their own frickin’ movie! Even if they are working for free (or almost free), you need to be able to fire them if, say, they turn into pod-people. Don’t be afraid to terminate someone if you need to.

Make the contracts as iron-clad as possible. Spell out what you are offering them and what rights you will retain. Personally, I would prefer to pay someone up front on a daily rate, rather than to have them work for free (or for some pie-in-the-sky by and by). It’s much cleaner. Pie eating contests can get messy. Pay the cameraman a reasonable fee and have him give you the tapes immediately after each shoot, if you’re doing the editing yourself. Or, if that’s not feasible, go with him to his studio, wait while he captures the footage to hard-drive, then take the raw footage with you while he does the editing. When it comes down to it, he who has the raw footage in his possession, owns it. Doesn’t matter if you paid him or not. He shot it and it belongs to him his until he hands it over. All this is a very good reason to learn how to do everything yourself, if you can.

It’s hard to shoot, edit, and act in your own film all at the same time. You will probably need some kind of actors in your movie. This can be expensive unless you’re shooting a documentary. That’s why I like making docs. The talent tends to be free. Even then, you should still take care of the people who volunteer to be in your film. Feeding them is nice. Credits are a must. A complimentary copy of the film on DVD should be de rigueur. I like to give the folks in my documentaries the opportunity to buy extra DVDs from me, at production cost (50%) and let them hand-sell them for profit at the set retail price. It’s actually a good self-marketing technique. You end up with a huge marketing team this way. They make 50% profit and you make 50%. But regardless of whether you decide to share the wealth, or not, be considerate!

One thing about getting people to work for free, please respect their time! If you say that a shoot will start at a certain time, be there. Nothing makes an unpaid volunteer more upset than taking time out of a valuable day and be left cooling their heels for a tardy director. If you’re producing a narrative, you will need actors. Key words: be professional.

Try to keep it clean and simple. If you’re able to, use SagIndie for talent. I know that it’s not always feasible, but if you can, do it. It’s only a hundred bucks a day and you will get quality performances. You can learn a lot working with professionals too. Maybe you won’t need to do so many takes. And usually you will get better results than if you use your Aunt Mimi as the leading lady.

Either way, make sure you get talent and location owner’s to sign a release form. Make sure that you make the release as broad as possible so that you don’t get caught in a “aha, gotcha!” somewhere down that yellow brick road. No bigger buzz-kill than squabbling over something that is supposed to be fun. Remember, that altadefinizione film gratis  is our definition of “success”? Having FUN? Well, follow the advice in this lesson and have everyone sign zee papers. Then have fun!

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