May, 2007

There's a line in my short "The Big Thing" that I gave Lucifer: "You know, there's the right way to do something, and then there's every other way".  In short filmmaking there is only one right way, but it's different for every short film.  It all depends on what you want out of it.  

Do you want to use the short to help make your next film?  

Do you want the short to bring you awards and nominations?  

Do you want to go to film festivals to network with the short?  

Each question you answer 'yes' to is going to cost you more money, because you have to spend cash on these three points separately.

If you want to make another film you should try to find a cast and crew that you will be able to work with again.  Treating people well includes feeding them properly and giving the big-respect.  This costs money and time.  When picking your people don't think of them for your short film--think of them for a number of films into the future--they are investments.  Can you work with this person for a year--two?  If not, find someone else.

Respect yourself.  Just because you're not a professional film director yet doesn't mean you shouldn't be working with professionals on your crew and cast.  In fact, the quickest way to shoot yourself in the foot is to hire neophytes to do the job only a trained and experienced professional can do.  If, for whatever reason, you can't work with professionals, make sure your screenplay is simple enough, the job idiot-proof, and put-off finding the 'right' person until the next production gives you the need.  Good people matter more than what they function as on your crew or cast.  Bad people, no matter how good they are at their jobs, will destroy you and your film.  Try to avoid them.

Don't trust that people who say they will help with your film actually will.  It's in our nature as human beings to want to help, but we're lazy too.  Always have several back-ups to your key suppliers.  "The Big Thing" took more than a year longer to finish than it should have because of the dalliance of a supplier I eventually didn't even need--I just learned how to do what they were going to do for me and did it myself--it took six months, but that was still less than half the time I had to wait for them to do nothing.

If you want awards (and lots of them) you have to submit to many festivals.  Even if you get into the festivals you think are shoe-ins it's no guarantee you'll win them even if it's evident you should.  Like Telefilm, everything's political.  Thus, it's a numbers game.

Because I needed awards, my release strategy for my short was the 'shotgun' approach--submit to everything possible.  "The Big Thing" went to 50 film festivals in 2005, but I submitted to about 200, making that a one-in-four chance.  The film won ten awards, making it a one-in-five per festival acceptance per award.  Each festival application cost 40 bucks on average, thus each award cost me $200.  Going to each film festival costs thousands (at least 2 on average)--I managed to afford to go to five outside of Montreal.  The Genie submission costs around $300.  It's an expensive way to release a short film (at least $15000 for distribution costs not including film prints if you want to know), but it does get some results.  If you know which festivals you want to 'hit' and you don't care about the others you can save lots of money.  

Beware of distributors for short films--they tend to do nothing for your film that you can't, take longer to do it--and then they take 80% of the few cheques that your film generates.  I'm sure I'll get in trouble for saying this, but my allegiance is to filmmakers, not distributors (as distributor's allegiances are to money, not us).

Here's a reality check: Telefilm Canada doesn't care about shorts.  In fact, nobody really does.  Counter-intuitively, it's nearly impossible to get financial support to go to a film festival with your short film unless it's on Telefilm's very short and very weird list of festivals they support.  The festivals that really matter to your directing career are the ones Telefilm doesn't support--you'll have to pay the way.

Not-so-funny-fact:  If it's a feature--they'll fly you & put you up.  If it's a short--bend over, open your wallet, and close your eyes.  

Know in advance: if you want your short to matter, you have to make it matter to other people--not just yourself.  If you're like me, you don't have a degree in marketing.  This shouldn't stop you from selling the shit out of your film.  Practice your pitch, not just for your next project, but for the film you have too.

Some final thoughts:

A film is like a stereo system.  It's as good as its weakest link.  If you're not a professional writer, at least hire an established story editor to check your work.  If you don't really know how to shoot--either ask or task a DOP for your film and work your shot list out with them before you get to set.  Check all the way down the line of jobs to do and make sure there's no better way that you haven't thought of yet.  If you don't know how to do something find someone who does.  Simple, but you'd be surprised how many would-be filmmakers just let details slide--and end up with their films sliding too.

Play to your strengths.  If you're a great editor, make a film where editing really counts--maybe some 'action' thing.  In other words, make sure that you can do as much as possible to make the film a success yourself.  It's no good if you have to rely completely on other people--because you can't.

Screwing up on a short and having to make another one to take things to the next 'stage' isn't the end of the world--but it's close.  Try to anticipate how long it will take to mount your next production, and your next...  How many attempts do you want to make before you make a film that you can RELEASE?


--Carl out.

PS: one last note.  Use the internet.  Facebook is great for finding crew, possibly cast, but most of all building a core group of people that you can ask for advice and contacts for specific things you might need.  I've been using facebook's group function for my feature "Sheltered Life" to raise awareness about the production.  It's already come in handy!

"Sheltered Life" facebook page:

Laudan's imdb page:

Cinman Film's website:


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