In this episode Gary and I break down the strategy behind getting this film made. We've mentioned before that we're going to share and share and share until the film is made, but in this episode we get into the nuts and bolts behind the strategy.
The goal: To get Compton: The Antwon Ross story made and in theaters
The method: Share... But share what?
- the story of the film
- myself & why I'm so passionate about making this film
- every step in the process behind getting it made
The strategy is simple..... share, share, share and share and over time both the audience and collaborators will come. This strategy's success, as in all things, lies in its execution.
I got that fancy name from my friend in PR. Assets are the items I've created to help me share. Here's my list.
- The teaser trailer: This was a no a brainer and actually the easiest thing to create. I'm in my comfort zone here... The teaser trailer is based on ideas in the film. My goal was to nail down the mood of the film but not give away the plot.
- Poster: This was a no brainer too... still in my comfort zone.
- Film Website (this one): (comfort zone).
- My thoughts: What? No... (outside of comfort zone) I'm growing in this area. My thoughts are shared here on this blog and especially the podcast... I never know what's going to come out of my mouth until it's too late.
- My body: What? No... (outside of comfort zone) I share myself in person by showing up and making friends... Because this project it so close to who I am and the things I believe... I'm really just showing up, making friends and talking about life, cinema and flying... And it's fun so life is good.
- Progress: Via the podcast. Before every episode we give a breakdown on the weekly progress of this whole effort. (way outside of comfort zone) When you share your progress on a goal there's an automatic accountability between yourself and with whom you shared with. I'm now accountable to the entire world for perpetuity. No pressure. I got this.
Assets are useless unless people see the assets. That's why I need you to share this if you find it interesting. Share it with everyone because I don't know who my eventual collaborators will be and someone you share it with just might break this whole project.
Here are the audiences:
- The public: The audience for the film and the audience who wants to hear the story behind the story.
- Production companies: Because fresh and original content is the their livelihood. They're always looking for projects to produce.
- Film Industry at large: Online press, blogs, trades that report on new projects.
- Talent: Potential cast, crew and other collaborators I'm trying to woo to the project.
Independent vs. Studio
There are two paths this project is simultaneously going down right now. The independent produced path and the studio produced path. At some point in the near future the the path selection will be made for me so I really don't worry about it too much. It's really just going to come down to which opportunity happens first. Here's how effort is split right now:
Studio (prod. company path)
- Currently identifying production companies to cold email
- Pitch meetings are scheduled in Jan
- Currently in preproduction
- Identifying and reaching out to talent
- Scheduling and budgeting
- Shooting aerials
- Location scouting
sharing feeds the soul
There's something satisfying about sharing. I haven't been at this long, so I'm not an expert and this is new territory for me, but I'm already convinced of the power of sharing. So much has happened since I started not caring and sharing everything and it's only been a month and a half. I can't wait to see how it will all happen. I'm sure it will be interesting and unexpected. If you find this journey or this film at all interesting subscribe for updates. Don't miss out on the journey and share it with others!
Let me know what you think.
There's a lot of misinformation, miseducation and myth surrounding the number one film school in the world. In the podcast Gary and I go in depth on what USC is, isn't, and the way USC has and continues to help my filmmaking career. Even with this film. Some of the information in the podcast is repeated here but go listen anyway for the in depth information.
I went to USC to learn how to get more emotion into my films. That was it. Nothing more. I had friends who tried to persuade me against it... stating the cost or the fact it wouldn't do anything for my filmmaking career... etc. etc. The truth is that USC has done a lot for my filmmaking career... here's how:
There was something to learn in every class... but there were four that changed my life.
- script analysis: by far one of the most eye opening classes. In this class we watched a film, then dissected it into modular parts to discover why the film worked. This was way beyond the three act structure which we're all familiar with. We had two books for the class: The Tools of Screenwriting and How to Build A Great Screenplay. I was impacted so much by the class I made a cheatsheet for the modular parts of a film based on what I learned. You can download it here.
- Visual storytelling: In script analysis we learned how to manipulate your mind through the script. In this class we learned how to manipulate your mind and emotions throughout the film using visual elements like color, contrast, line, space, shape etc. This is deep, deep, deep stuff. The book was The Visual Story but the book only scratches the surface on what was taught in class by Bruce.
- All of the directing classes: The classes were intense. We'd have to direct live and the professor would critique our performance.... and then step in and direct our actors and show us where we went wrong. We had books but we never used them so I can't recommend any specifically from USC but On Directing is a fabulous book I found before USC that I can stand behind.
- Critical studies: These classes will get in your head and give you nightmares. There's a range of topics like what is art? Is film art or entertainment? etc. etc. It's all super intellectualized stuff. I don't have a USC book recommendation but if I did... it surely would be based on a book I found before USC called Film: A Psychological Study. This is the book that started film theory written way back in 1916.
The film school has a number of good and bad reputations and there's some truth to all of them. The best and brightest go to USC along with the ones who're convinced they're the best and the brightest.... And it takes about a year for the latter to be humbled. The talent level at the school is seriously off the charts and being there makes you step your game up to the highest heights. Go big or go home... your classmates are going big so what's to loose? In the industry we are known for producing students that know their sh**. It's instant credibility and name recognition with a lot of goodwill associated with it. The force is with the alumni!
This is not a place where the artist is coddled. You are told you suck from day one. It's like boot camp where they have to tear you down so that they can build you up to your potential. They have to do this because of that second group of students I mentioned above. It's the best school so the faculty is in kind. It's not unusual to have famous guest lecturers nor is it uncommon for your professor to give you your first big break in the industry.
The first day in engineering school, the professor said look to your left and then to your right.... Half of these people won't be here at the end of the year... At USC instead of saying half the people wont be here... they said these are the people who will be hiring and firing you for the rest of your career. The USC MAFIA IS REAL. Be nice to your classmates because you're guaranteed to need their help later in your career. I'm five years out and my class is doing big things now. It's amazing and exciting to see it all happen.
Promotion after graduation
I got my first industry meeting because of a USC referral. There's an entire office with like 10 people staffed who are tasked with promoting USC students to industry and to film festivals. I don't know of any of other film school that has this. The school really believes in promoting students and it's no bullshit.
I started at USC with a good idea of about how to make a film. Which is unremarkable because most students do... now that filmmaking has been democratized. There's no real mystery about how films are made anymore... you shoot it, edit it on a laptop, throw in some music and boom... you have a film. But the stuff I learned at USC coupled with the promotion of my career out of the festivals and distribution office... make this university second to none. I am honored to have attended and look forward to the day when I can give back to the university that has given so much to me.
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The thing I cherish the most about my friends/collaborators are the talks we have. We have candid no bullshit talks about everything where we can share what we're working on, our strategies, failures and anything else on our minds. And since this blog is about transparency while living the dream and getting this film made... I've included a recent talk Gary Kleiban and I had.
This talk is really an introduction to who I am, what's my angle... rectangle or triangle and what I'm after.... All of these things and more we touch on in the podcast... and this blog post just focuses on the who am I part but after I've had a chance to sit and think about it.. One of the things I'm learning as I go on this journey is just how much I am the movie. There's simply no separation. All of the interest for the film so far has happened because (1) I talked about the film one on one or (2) someone already knew something about me and then watched the trailer and thought it was hot. I am quickly realizing that the more I talk and put myself out there the more progress this project makes.... I hate that... but I would hate more not seeing this project be everything it could be... So in that spirit this post is about who I am... you can change the channel right now if you want.... Now I can bore you with the facts... where I grew up etc.. etc.. but I'd be boring myself too so here's a different approach... How about we get to who I am by what I believe. So here goes:
I believe that we're all here to create. So create already.... The technical barriers are in your head. You are connected to everyone so find the people you need to make it happen. We're all here to self actualize.... which is a fancy way to say that we strive to live up to our potential. I am a creator of many things and I get the most enjoyment out of creating things that impact emotions. I get off by creating many things but nothing as much as cinema. As a kid growing up in the 80s I was the official videographer for the family. My grandparents had a large over the shoulder VHS camcorder and at every family event I was operating it. That's really how it all started... home videos at Grandmas with the whole family. In High School there was no filmmaking class but I took photography and started writing poetry. Film was just a merger of two at first for me. Then in the early 2000s the computer revolution started and while in undergrad engineering school I started playing around editing in flash, final cut pro and adobe premiere. I made a bunch of films and almost failed engineering school one quarter because I was editing.... then I made like a million bad films...went to film festivals... had industry mentors.... then USC... etc. etc. It's been a long road to get here but the passion to create has driven me through it all.
2. giving back
I believe that we're here to impact and help others. We are social beings and people generally want to help others. We get caught up on our own hang ups and ego but most people feel good when they help others. I try to find a way to achieve this in everything I do and if I can't find a way I just don't do it. For example this film is about a kid from Compton who discovers aviation and it changes his life. The story in itself is uplifting, inspiring and aims to showcase aviation to a new audience. We could've stopped there but there's a couple of non profits we're teaming up with so that after the film is released we could use some of the proceeds to get kids flying. It's a small thing to do that will have a major impact on the community.
I believe in 100% ignorance. It sounds counter intuitive but being ignorant is actually smart. Admitting that you don't know allows for all kinds of opportunities to learn and for people to help you. In addition being ignorant allows you to make mistakes, retool and then try something else... in other words it allows for continuous improvement. This is exactly what scientists do and what democracy is supposed to be about... Assuming ignorance you try an idea and if it doesn't work you try something else. I don't know how everything will work out with this film and I'm ok with that. I'm ok with that because I know that if I try something that doesn't work then I just have to not do that again and try something else. Now that doesn't mean I don't prepare. I'm prepared like a mutha... but I'll admit when I don't know something or need help.
I believe in discipline. To have the courage to stick to it and not give up when things are hard. To have the discipline to do the hard work... the things you don't want to do... because you know there's a reward at the end. I learned this from sports. My parents had me in one sport or another from age 5... football, basketball, soccer etc. It seems silly now... being on the field and the coach yelling at you as if the game were life or death. Or struggling through a work out in order to run faster or jump higher. My track coach had the foresight to tell us that the discipline we were learning also applied in life. He was right. This one is obvious but tough in practice.
5. making mistakes (no one cares anyway)
I believe in making mistakes because I'm going to do it anyways. Trying to be perfect just leads to depression (no one's perfect) and procrastination. Allowing myself to make mistakes really just ties back into all of the other beliefs. This one is important because I am a perfectionist by default and this belief reinforces every other one because it allows me to take action. Action is the most important thing in the world. It is the practice of creation so nothing should get in its way. I married my high school sweetheart and we got divorced. I patronized over the failure of my marriage for years and literarily lost years of my life agonizing over what went wrong and blaming myself. Some of the blaming was well deserved but I was too hard on myself (perfectionism at work)... I was a different person when we were together... that dude was a selfish immature punk and I'm glad he's gone. But I had to go through that to get to this. A guy with healthy relationships because he knows his boundaries and knows what he wants. Therefore he can be at peace and happy with everyone else who's around. Now give him a hug... Failures are the part of life that shape us into who we are meant to be. Both of us are better, fuller and more mature adults because of it... though it was traumatic at the time.
So there it is. The five beliefs that shape who I am. What are yours? How do they shape who you are?
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I always get asked how it all works. Well.... It's different for everyone and every project. I was writing this project for 11 years before I thought it was ready and I've only been sharing it with collaborators for one month. It's exciting to share it! And I can't wait to share the whole vision and process while it's happening! That's what this blog is all about. The uncut rawness and process... The tears... the fears everything. hahaha I laugh because this is precisely the opposite of my comfort zone. I'd prefer to roll in secrecy and then hit the world like Boom... look at this masterpiece I created effortlessly, but that's kinda boring, opaque and too easy. So here's the rawness:
- This film is not done: I made a kick ass trailer just to get collaborators. But that's not remarkable, everyone makes pitch trailers these days because no one reads scripts.
- I have no idea how this will all come together: The truth is no one knows how it all comes together until the end and there are nothing but problems along the way. In this way making a film is no different than producing any professional product. The real genius lies in problem solving and resourcefulness. And of course creativity.
- I already know everyone I need to make this project happen: This is kinda a dumb bullet but I write it more as a reminder to myself that we're all connected and only separated by six degrees. We all should be able to get whatever we need if only people knew and were willing to help. And people do want to help.
- This project is in the development stage: I'm still figuring out who will be in it. Who will shoot it and who will produce it. I have some promising leads so far. More on that later.
American Film Market
I decided to introduce the project to the industry last month at AFM. This is why I made the artwork, website and one sheet. It wasn't in my plan to attend AFM initially so a week before the market I was scrambling to get ready. The one sheet, poster, website were all produced in one week in addition to coming through researching the 100s of production companies attending and emailing the companies I thought may be interested in my film to get a meeting. I literally sent out 117 emails and only got 2 responses and no meetings. AFM works like this... production companies attend to buy and sell completed films. It's like speed dating... every hotel room is a production office and every day of the market is filled with meetings upon meetings. My film is not completed yet but a secondary function of the market is for people like me to pitch their projects in development or production. I was bummed I didn't have any meetings so I decided to crash and go into the offices cold and demand a meeting. I combed through my list again and identified about 30 production companies to visit. I only made it to about 5... lol My time was spent meeting new people randomly in the hotel lobby and at the pool at lunch. I meet new friends, ran into alumni from USC and even an old post productions supervisor who helped me with a telecine on my first short 10 years ago. I ended up pitching my project to whomever would listen and even some that didn't it got a good response. In the end the takeway was two new friends, a few producers interested, a reconnect with a USC alum and a whole lot of practice pitching the project. I also realized that no matter how good my preparations materials were that in the end there was no replacement for me being there. People want to know the "why". The story behind the story... If they are interested in you then they will make the film. The material doesn't do this alone. This reminds me of a book an old coworker gave me called "you are the message" written by Roger Allies. It's basically a book on communication that says always be yourself when communicating. That last sentence sounds trite and simple.... yeah just be yourself... but it's really a good read and I'm not doing it justice by my one sentence summary.
In the end people work with YOU because of who YOU are. And YOU work with them because of who they are. I met people who were interested in my project at AFM who I could tell just by meeting them that I would never work with them. Imagine that... someone wants to make the first time directors film and the director turns him down. It's not arrogance it's intuition. It's a life journey and I have to feel completely comfortable with who I work with. Usually I can figure it out by asking them why? Why are they making films and why they want to make this. I know the perfect team is right around the corner and I can't wait to meet them. This is just the beginning.
I'm writing this frankly to shed some light on what it's like... What it's like to not know and figure it out. This blog is the raw, unfiltered, transparent and all access truth behind the making of this film. It's an exercise in faith. It is the whole journey. The miracles, the tears, the successes, the F-ups... everything. I will share everything... the entire journey... WHY? Because I don't know how it will all come together. I don't know who all my collaborators are. Or have answers to the millions of decisions before me. But no one really does. I don't want to perpetuate the glamorous cinema myth. Filmmaking is stupid hard and I'm not talking about the craft... I'm talking about the journey before you even get on set. The convincing of your collaborators and yourself. Getting out of your own way in the daily grind of navigating the dream. I'm sharing all this because I have a problem sharing what's imperfect... what's dirty. So I'm going to show what's dirty because there's some beauty also. So this is how I go cold turkey but I also hope reading this blog will inspire everyone else with a crazy dream with no clear cut path. Step by step... Let's Go! #TakeFlight