Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Packaging Your Spec

I just read the latest draft of one of my producing projects and it was fantastic. I can't tell you how happy I am. The writer took the last round of notes I gave him on the project, incorporated them and then went one better by rethinking his approach to each and every scene to incorporate all of the structural and thematic discussions we've been having. Now, the other half of my producing work can begin.

The homework for my writer is: take the scenes that I've marked for him and find actors to workshop with him. The scenes I've chosen are ones that I think define the film, the characters, explain the thematic or are in some way pivotal to the audiences understanding or enjoyment of the film. The reason I want him to workshop these scenes (there are about 5-7 of them) is because he absolutely has to understand how these scenes work -- what his characters want, their strategies, his approach to the material and the workshopping will give him a chance to really define the film before he has to sit in meetings with actors and DPs, etc. and talk about what he wants to do with the material.

My homework is to give the script to a casting friend of mine and start chasing down one or two actors through their managers and agents, as that is going on, I'll talk to friends who work in finance and acquisitions, and also figure out if there are any studios that might want to purchase material like what I'm developing. I know that this film is not a studio film -- it's a small, dark, tragedy. It's a great read, but not an easy sell. I can't wait to hit the bricks looking for money!! Joking. :-)

The act of attaching talent to a script is called "packaging" and it's how most scripts get turned into movies. It's also the way most people get screwed out of their credits and money in this business. Just like any other type of investment the first person in is usually the one who gets the worst deal. In this case, that's me and my producing partner. Since we have no cash invested in the project, we will have to negotiate our best deal possible while keeping in mind that every yahoo with $2 million wants a producing credit. Sigh.

Anyway, the casting director is a key piece of this. Some charge fees (up to $30,000 but around $2500-5000 is reasonable) to contact people on behalf of a filmmaker who has absolutely no contacts in the business, and some will demand a producing credit (best to avoid those folks unless they can set you up on face-to-face meetings with the folks you want to cast). The casting director we plan to use is a good friend, will work for deferred pay (meaning we will find out the her quote and agree to pay it when we start production), and has excellent contacts with talent (as opposed to managers and agents). I can't wait. This is the exciting part. It is fraught with danger and definitely time intensive, but a properly packaged film is irresistible to studios and distributors because it reduces their risk factors.

For the novice filmmaker packaging can be a confusing and emotional process. Just remember, the idea is to make movies and even for beginning screenwriters, directors and producers a film in the can is infinitely more valuable than a thousand workshops under the belt.

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