May 22, 2006

Studio vets write cautionary primer for filmmakers

By Gregg Kilday

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - Thanks to intense press
coverage of film festivals ranging from snowy Sundance to sunny
Cannes, a popular myth has developed: Given enough innate
talent, all an aspiring filmmaker has to do is bet everything
on his first film -- loading up credit cards, mortgaging his
parents' home -- because he will then be magically invited into
a high-profile festival, where his movie will be
enthusiastically embraced by critics while free-spending
distributors fight for the right to release it to the public.

But for every Quentin Tarantino -- who made his name at the
first public showing of "Reservoir Dogs" at 1992's Sundance --
there are thousands of filmmakers who bet the house, quite
literally, in hopes of breaking into the limelight, only to
find themselves left out in the cold.

To prevent that from happening, veteran film critic John
Anderson and longtime indie film publicist Laura Kim have
teamed to pen "I Wake Up Screening: What to Do Once You've Made
That Movie." An informative nuts-and-bolts primer on how to
bring a film to market, it serves as a cautionary tale as well.

In their opening pages, the authors quote legendary
producers rep Jeff Dowd, who observes: "A general estimation is
that there are about 5,000 films out there right now that are
not going to get a release of any kind, whatsoever. They're not
going to get theatrical. They're not going to get video.
They're not even going to get on cable." With each project
representing a $100,000 investment, that comes to $5 billion
that will never see the light of a public viewing.

"I always wanted to create Xerox handouts I could give to
people (to explain the system)," says Kim -- exec vp marketing
and publicity at Warner Independent Pictures -- of her
motivation for entering the advice business.

Adds Anderson, "In a sense, it was the small-d democrat in
both of us" that led to the book. "We just saw so many films
that with a little guidance, a little expertise -- which was
available to the filmmakers, even if they weren't aware of it
-- could have found more success."

Although the book is designed to take filmmakers who have
completed a movie through the subsequent hurdles, Anderson says
that as he and Kim interviewed the indie-world sources they
spoke with, "One of the recurring themes was the advantage of
having your script in proper shape even before you shoot."

The authors offer plenty of specific and useful
suggestions. A chapter on legal matters looks at the
complicated process of securing rights clearances for things
like music. In the first flush of excitement, it's just the
sort of issue that many a novice filmmaker overlooks, only to
have it come back to haunt him when a potential distributor
rules the licensing fees for the songs selected are
prohibitively expensive.

Anderson and Kim also recount plenty of the stratagems that
have been used in the past to sell a film. For example,
producer Ted Hope tells of the dilemma faced by director Ed
Burns when his first film, "The Brothers McMullen," was invited
to Sundance. The problem was that Burns had already accepted a
screening date at the IFP's Independents Nights series in New
York. The film still needed editing, and the screening would
have endangered the Sundance invite. Rather than antagonize IFP
by rescinding, the filmmaker went ahead with the screening but
arranged for a "technical difficulty" that would stop the movie
after just 20 minutes. The movie got great buzz, made it into
Sundance and, indeed, turned Burns into one of those
mythological come-from-nowhere filmmakers.

"I Wake Up Screening" was published by Watson-Guptill
Publishing, a division of VNU Business Media, the parent of The
Hollywood Reporter.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter