CRASH COURSE IN MOVIEMAKING
By Si Dunn
"I'm the nicest person
you'll meet in Hollywood," snarls Dov S-S Simens.
On a stormy day in May, "Mr. Hollywood" is opening another session of
his world-famous "2-Day Film School Crash Course."
Dozens of new and
would-be filmmakers have crowded into a spacious sound stage in Dallas
to learn, at a rapid-fire pace, from "America's #1 film instructor."
Simens has described
his classes as "two days of a guy screaming at you." Actually, he uses
a much wider range of approaches, including gentle cajoling, affable humor,
overhead projections--and drill-sergeant yelling. It's all designed
to get and hold students' attention, so he can impart filmmaking information
as quickly as possible.
Day one of his Hollywood
Film Institute crash course focuses on how to produce and direct a 35mm
feature film, at budgets ranging from $5 million down to $5,000. "A film
that is doable is nowhere nearly as expensive as you may think. But it
still won't be cheap," Simens says. He covers camera packages, working
with unions, contracting talent, and other aspects of a successful production.
Day two is spent stepping
through the tough business of marketing and distributing a movie. This
includes learning how to make a "popcorn deal" in the lobby after a film-festival
screening, as well as how to publicize your film and go for video and
cable deals and foreign sales.
"Here is the way
to start your filmmaking career," Simens bluntly counsels. "Shut up and
GET THE SCRIPT!"
have a screenplay you actually can shoot, he points out, you are all talk
and no action. "Write it, option it or hire it done. But get the script."
Again and again
throughout the two-day "boot camp," Simens hammers home the importance
of learning more about "the business" of moviemaking and movie distribution.
"I believe with all of my heart that somebody should tell you the real
stuff, based on real, street experience writing the checks," he says.
You may struggle for
months or years to get a screenplay shot and in the can. Once you have
staged the wrap party and struggled through post-production, you may even
feel that your work, at long last, is almost over. In many ways, it has
just begun, Simens warns.
"In the eyes of Hollywood,
when you finish your first film, what are you'" He shifts into drill instructor
mode again. "You're NOBODY! You have NO marquee value'and you're BROKE!"
To deal with Hollywood,
he emphasizes, you must be able to deal with accountants and lawyers.
"We're a marketing industry, and you'd better have a good product. There
are thousands of feature films made every year, and we can pick and choose
who we want to make a star."
NOW, SELL LATER
He encourages new
filmmakers to "start selling your feature film while you are making it
and keep selling it after you have made it." Yes, you may grow weary of
the first-project ordeal and get antsy to move on to new ideas. But a
film seldom sells itself. You have to keep pushing it, promoting it, showing
it at film festivals and seeking out other opportunities to have it seen
by the right people.
"Film festivals are
test screenings for your movie," he points out. "Plus, you can win awards
and start the buzz."
Just be sure that
you, too, are "seen" whenever opportunities arise for publicity. Counsels
Simens: "Take off the baseball cap and lose the shades," especially when
having pictures made for a publication or for your movie's press kit.
He describes how to
assemble an inexpensive but effective movie press kit. And he emphasizes
that the most effective destinations for press kits usually are not
local newspapers and magazines left stacked up and unattended in "media
rooms" at events such as South By Southwest.
Instead, many of the
press kits should go straight to the people you most are trying to reach:
film distributors. "Target the acquisition executives. Target the buyers,"
You may be determined
to approach filmmaking as a high and noble art. But at its bottom line,
"it's a business, and you'll make your film by writing checks," Simens
He spells out 38 different
line items for which you can expect to write at least one check during
pre-production, production or post-production. And the vast majority of
those checks'at least 33'will be for below-the-line costs such as film
stock, film processing, wardrobe items, publicity, food, post-production
sound improvements and, at long last, getting the answer print.
What if you can only
raise a fraction of the money you think you need' Or what if your funding
shrinks because an investor suddenly drops out'
"There's nothing simple
about making a film budget," Simens cautions. But he shows where costs
can be slashed'and slashed again, if necessary'to keep a production on
track or still within the realm of possibility. He shows how to make a
"million-dollar feature" for under $500,000 and how to shoot a feature
for as little as $5,000.
Once news of your
production hits the trades and word starts getting around, you may receive
some phone calls from distributors. Don't be too anxious to make a deal
until after you have shot the movie, says Simens. "If it has merits
and gets out there, then you can make a deal."
Is it really possible,
in two days and for about 300 bucks, to learn everything you need to know
about the complex process of making and selling a movie' After all, many
people now spend four years, or more, and up to $80,000, or more, to earn
filmmaking degrees from elite universities.
It can be helpful
to have at least a little background in, and understanding of, "the business"
before taking the Hollywood Film Institute sessions. But Dov S-S Simens
does hit much of what you need to know, and he gives quick, insightful
glimpses into each area. You can measure what you already know against
what you don't know and more easily determine where you need to do more
The sessions also
provide students with opportunities to network with, and learn from, each
other, and this has led some of them to team up on movie projects. Ultimately,
how far you take the new knowledge and opportunities is up to you.
As an HFI graduate,
however, you won't be in shabby company. Famous filmmakers who
have taken the 2-Day Film School include Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.
Some new notables include: Phillipa Braithwaite (producer of Sliding
Doors), Steve Norrington (director of Blade), and Kirk Jones
(director of Waking Ned Devine).
Mr. Hollywood also
has one more ' LOUD ' word of advice for new filmmakers: "DON'T come to
Hollywood! Don't waste the money. Make your movie right here."
Texas screenwriter Si Dunn is a contributing writer for Indie Slate,
ComputerUser, Texas Technology, The Dallas Morning News, and
THE COMPLETE PROCESS IN THE
Anyone - yes, anyone - can produce or direct
a feature film if given the basic information. This intensive program
is designed for both neophytes and established professionals alike.
Why wait? Come learn about both the process of moviemaking, and
the all important marketing/dealmaking aspects.
What You'll Learn:
Financing & Funding - negative
pickups, pre-sells, foreign sales, international co-productions, limited
partnerships, SEC, venture capital.
Producers - seven keys to success,
differences between executive, associate, and line producers.
Guilds & Unions - SAG, WGA, IATSE,
NABET, which to work with, low-budget provisions.
Scripts - the 2 musts, the proven
low-budget formula, correct format and plot points, protecting yourself
Film Stocks - the 6 to choose from,
buying wholesale, 35mm, 16mm.
Film Labs - which to use, best prices
for a one-light or video/dv to film blowup, answer prints
Cameras - which to use, the best
deals, using Digital Video cameras
Rental Equipment - professional sound
/ light / grip / dolly packages
Crew - who to hire, the 4 key personnel,
what to pay, what to expect
Directing - finding a director, how
to direct, shooting ratios, blocking, coverage, on time & on budget
Permits & Insurance - costs,
which to get, E&O, completion bonds, guerrilla filmmaking
Budgeting - which Guilds & Unions
you can afford, reverse budgeting tactics, planning the no-budget feature,
the $100,000 feature to a $3-5 million film
Scheduling - preparing a script breakdown,
production boards, planning an efficient shooting schedule
Shooting - expectations, scheduling,
credit card financing
Music - securing rights, original
scores, rates, working with a composer
Editing - the 8 final steps, securing
the best cut, the costs
Post Sound - 6 musts for excellent
sound, ADR, foley & mix costs
Lab Work - negative cutting, timing,
securing your final answer print
Distributors - the majors, the independents,
studios vs. indies, selling to acquisition execs
Distribution Deals - up-front dollars,
gross participation, net deals, P&A money, crosscollateralizing, getting
Film Festivals - Cannes, the route,
which to attend, how to win
Film Markets - the major 3, selling
foreign rights, marketing around the world, pre-sells
Cable - the three areas to sell,
foreign rights, marketing worldwide, pre-sells
Home Video - buyers, VOD, VSDA &
NAVD, how much money to expect
Publicitiy - preparing press kits,
photos, getting reviewed, hiring a publicist, becomming a cult classic
"Took the course while at NYU. It was
the best two days of film education I have ever had," Spike Lee, producer-director
*******INDIES BY THE NUMBERS******
She's Gotta Have It shot for $60,000
- grossed over $20 million
The Blair Witch Project shot for
- grossed over $150 mil
Sliding Doors produced for $2 mil
- grossed over $50 mil
In the Company of Men shot for $25,000
- grossed over $30 mil
Pi shot for $60,000
- grossed over $10 mil
Reservoir Dogs made for $1 mil
- grossed over $70 mil
Five out of these six credit
HFI's 2-Day course for their success.