By Chris Hood
The question I get asked most as a filmmaker is: "How do I get into the business?" Scratch that. Actually the question I get asked most is "Do you get to sleep with a lot of hot chicks?" The former I'll answer because it might actually benefit someone. Although addressing the second may inspire, it's never lack of inspiration that seems to be what's missing in this business. The enthusiasm amongst first time filmmakers is akin to childlike rapture. After all, what can really compete? Christmas morning excitement when you're 10? Nope, first time filmmaker wins. 15-year-old kid scoring a PS4? Not even close, first time filmmaker trumps it. Grown man from Detroit learning the Tigers are in the Super Bowl? Nope…okay, maybe, but I think you have a better chance of winning the Sundance Film Festival than the Lions seeing a Super Bowl in this lifetime, so that's probably not a fair analogy.
What's so complicated about "getting into film" is that there are a dozen different definitions for what that means. If the crux of the question is actually "How do I sell my script to Spielberg?" or "How can I get my audition tape to Martin Scorsese?" or "I've directed four plays at my school and I think I'm ready to work for the studios. What do you suggest?" then I don't have the answer. If someone wants to know about how to make a livable income from making movies, I can give you the tools to pursue that end. And it's a cool place to be.
I've been working in the film business for over two decades now and I've learned a lot of what to do and what not to do. For the majority of that time, I wasn't making a living as a filmmaker, I was doing what I had to do to pay the bills while pursuing the dream. Many more of those years were spent in unrelated fields while still following that passion in my spare time. I spent many years as a blackjack dealer at the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas, writing scripts on my breaks, waiting for something to pop. I even felt a bit on the fringe on the business when dealing to Hollywood celebrities like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bryan Singer and Kevin Smith, many of whom gave me advice while I was taking their money.
And the advice I got most often was "Just go do it." No one starts with a big studio film. Test the waters. Get your feet wet. Show the world that you can make a film. Show the world that you can make a film that makes money and guess what? You'll get to make another film. It's that easy. Par it down to the most basic elements and it's like any other business. If you make money at it, you're a success. Lose money and you're a failure. I've been on both sides and being a success is always way better…unless you're trying to reach level 80 in World of Warcraft…for your sake and for the sake of the people who pretend to love you, I hope you fail.
We're in a very interesting time. There are opportunities that weren't available even 10 years ago. The prospect of making a film for $50,000 or even $100,000 a generation ago didn't exist. Technology has been the greatest possible boon for the aspiring filmmaker. My distribution company represents a few films with five-figure budgets and a couple have done quite well because they were done "right." A film can be shot on an $800 HD consumer camera, edited with free software and incorporate a few thousand dollars' worth of FX and have a finished film for less than you would have had to spend buying just the raw film not that long ago. The downside is that this means a lot of people are doing it. The upside is that most of them are doing it wrong. You're not competing with the 99 guys who get it wrong, you're just competing with the 1 who's doing it right. Realize that and it's not nearly as daunting a prospect. With some brains, some planning, some common sense and perhaps a little help from me, you can land in that 1% and start on your journey to success.
I won't say I've had my "big break" yet, but I'm making and selling movies that turn a profit. Last year I was producer on a film called Counterpunch that I sold to Lionsgate. I'm currently in post-production on a 3D film called Dirty Dealing and have still another feature shooting later this year. I'm finally at a point where I'm writing, producing and directing films and making money at it. These aren't studio films and the money is good, but I'm not big time. Medium time. That's where I'm hanging out. Not living the dream exactly, but living the pre-dream. I may not be the King, but I'm a noble landholder who can exert my evil will and oppress his serfs… You get the idea.
This is to be an ongoing series giving you the broad strokes of what you need to know if you're going to venture down this road. We'll be tackling the entire filmmaking process and I'll be sharing more than two decades of experience and lessons learned, in many cases the hard way. The important thing to realize is that in this business, there are far more ways to fail than too succeed. The cause may be something as simple as not handling money properly, not having the right team, not understanding how to market your film….or hiring Corey Feldman.
The first part of the process is "Development" and what we'll be focusing on in Part Two. This is the stage of making a movie when all the preliminary pieces are put together. This is also the time when you do everything you can to start gearing up before for any real money is spent and preparation is often the difference between success and failure in this business. The very first decision to make, the first question you have to ask yourself is – "What movie am I going to make?" So think about that, tuck it away, and be prepared to pull it out for the next article. So if I run in to you somewhere and ask "Is that a movie idea in your pocket or are you just happy to see me," you'll have the right answer.
Chris Hood is a writer, producer and director of such films as "Counterpunch" starring Danny Trejo and "Dirty Dealing 3D" with Michael Madsen and C. Thomas Howell. He is also owner of Robin Hood Films (RobinHoodFilms.com), a Las Vegas-based distribution company representing English language films around the world and operates a film blog at MovieIndustry.com. He's also dead sexy. (Mr. Hood denies any involvement in the creation of this mini-bio.)