On this week’s episode, I interview two amazing filmmakers – Hannah Black and Megan Petersen – who are in post-production for their $50K micro-budget feature Drought. Having never made a feature before, they were able to write an incredible script, raise $25K in crowdfunding through Seed & Spark, and an additional $25K through the Duplass Brothers who are Executive Producers on the project.
Over the course of the interview we cover their entire process from A to Z – From the development of their first screenplay draft to shooting the movie in 18 days, and pushing through post-production with their sights set on a festival run – Not letting anything stop them along the way, including a massive hurricane that hit in the middle of production!
Check out Episode 64: The Making Of A $50,000 Feature Film, Executive Produced By The Duplass Bros
It wasn’t long ago that self-distribution was an extremely difficult avenue to pursue, and was simply a last resort for filmmakers who couldn’t secure traditional distribution… But in the last few years, that’s all changed.
For many filmmakers, self-distribution has not only become a viable option, but the single best option out there. As I outlined in this blog post last year, many traditional distributors simply don’t offer enough value to independent filmmakers, especially those working in the micro-budget realm. So more filmmakers every year are making the choice to self-distribute to retain control over the sales, marketing, and exposure of their work.
For a small fee (or in some cases for nothing at all), you can upload your movie to your choice of TVOD, SVOD, or AVOD platforms and make it immediately available to millions of people. Add to the mix a creative PR campaign and some social media ads, and an ultra-low budget movie can compete with a multi-million dollar blockbuster.
I don’t mean to oversimplify the process – just like the craft of filmmaking itself, distributing and marketing your movie is complex and requires a lot of specialized knowledge. But if you can learn the skills to make a movie, you can learn the skills to market one. You just have to be willing to take that path.
When I decided to self-distribute my feature film Shadows On The Road, I knew there would be a steep learning curve… I had never distributed a movie before, but I was willing to learn and willing to fail, and that mentality gave me the freedom to take some risks.
Throughout the process I worked with two different aggregators, ran multiple paid and organic campaigns, and released the film on half a dozen platforms – my favorite of which has been Amazon (more on that later).
For a bit of context, Shadows On The Road was released exclusively on iTunes upon launch. This was intentional, as I wanted to create an “iTunes window”, where it would not be available on any other platform for at least 2 months. This way, all initial sales would be directed to iTunes, helping the movie climb the charts faster than it would if it were also available on other VOD services.
I promoted the iTunes release through my blog, social media, newsletter and podcast, but didn’t spend any more on paid ads during this time.
This strategy worked fairly well – within 2 days of launching on iTunes we broke way into the top 100 pre-orders for all of iTunes, and stayed there for weeks. To my surprise, we were beating out some major films (at least in terms of pre-orders), and that was pretty exciting.
By the time the film was available to stream, I had already started shooting my next feature (White Crow), so I put my organic marketing efforts on hold. I thought I would sit back and see what happened over the next couple of months, and then re-assess once I was wrapped on production.
As the months passed, sales began to plateau as I was no longer actively promoting the film… So the next logical step was to experiment with paid ads.
I started by running multiple Facebook ad campaigns targeted at several different demographics. Some of these ads were purely text and image based, and other ads used videos, such as our theatrical trailer or this 15 second social media teaser.
Around this same time, I also released the film on Vimeo On Demand so it would be available for international audiences too (currently the feature is only on the US and Canadian iTunes stores).
The ads I ran promoted both the iTunes and Vimeo On Demand links, and were most effective when directing users to this very basic landing page.
As more people bought the movie, I would re-invest that revenue into more advertising on social media. So in a way, the ads were really paying for themselves. I wasn’t making gigantic profits (my margins were pretty slim), but it was working. People who didn’t know me in any way (personally or through my website) were being exposed to the movie and choosing to buy it. That was pretty cool.
Because the film was made for such a low budget, it didn’t take long before I was able to recoup costs. And at that point, my primary goal shifted. It was no longer about profit, but rather exposure.
With that in mind, I decided to release the film on several more platforms.
I had previously used Distribber to release the film on iTunes, but this time around I used FilmHub to release it on several other platforms. FilmHub is interesting in that they don’t charge you anything to distribute your film to any platform, but they take 20% of your profits. In comparison, Distribber (like most aggregators) takes none of your profits, but charges a fee (about $1500) to list your movie.
Filmhub was the natural choice to distribute to platforms where I was unlikely to make a ton of revenue, but could still get some added exposure (like TubiTV, for instance). That said, I specifically requested that they did not provide any services for delivering the film to Amazon.
Amazon is unlike most other VOD platforms in that they allow you to upload your movie directly to Prime without using an aggregator. This is something that is just not possible on iTunes, and for micro-budget filmmakers who are squeezing every last dollar, saving that $1500 is pretty amazing. Anyone can upload their movie through Prime Video Direct. And that’s exactly what I did.
It cost me exactly $0 to make the film instantly available to millions of their subscribers, who can now buy the film outright or stream it for free with their Prime membership. This means I can generate revenue from Amazon as both a TVOD and SVOD provider with the same upload.
The reality is, there is not much money in SVOD, at least not for a micro-budget indie. You get paid per minute of viewing, and the rate is quite low… But the real value for filmmakers is in the added viewership.
When I first uploaded Shadows On The Road to Prime, I assumed it would get little to no traffic until I started promoting it with paid ads. To my shock though, after checking the Amazon stats on a whim, I found an incredibly high volume of streams. It was clear that Amazon was able to do something no other platform could – Get massive amounts of people to watch the movie without requiring that I run organic or paid campaigns.
Over the past few weeks, the film has been streamed thousands of times, and has been viewed more on Amazon Prime than any other platform. Part of this is due to the fact that it is available on SVOD (and it’s easier to get someone to watch when they aren’t paying per view). But the other huge variable – or so I think – is how Amazon promotes movies to its users, which is seemingly more effective than what any of their competitors are capable of.
Take iTunes for instance – When I browse the iTunes Store looking for something to watch, I genuinely find it hard to discover anything relevant to my tastes. I’m always bombarded by the same “Top Movies”, which seem to just be shuffled around and placed into different sub categories throughout the store. Yes, you can dig really deep and find the titles you are looking for, but it takes work…
I watch a ton of foreign films, but they virtually never show up on my iTunes homepage. It just promotes the same movies to me as it does to everyone else. It’s not customized for my taste, and therefore makes it harder for me to discover movies I would really want to see.
Amazon on the other hand, seems to tailor it’s recommendations far more effectively. For better or worse, they know their users behavior; What they watch, when they watch, and how they use their platform for things outside of movies (like shopping or purchasing books). They have a tremendous amount of data on their users, and can (in theory) suggest titles to them that are actually relevant.
I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Amazon’s system/algorithm, or how it decides which films to promote to which subscribers. But I can say that whatever they are doing seems to be extremely effective. They are able to suggest titles that are far more relevant to users, and make them visible in multiple ways on their interface.
Not everyone is going to want to watch a $12,000 micro-budget road movie like Shadows On The Road. That goes without saying… But there are people out there that watch this type of content, and Amazon seems to know exactly where to find them. They of course will still highlight their flagship movies on their homepage just like any other VOD provider, but it doesn’t end there…
Above all else, Amazon seems hell bent on serving their customers. And if those customers happen to like micro-budget indies, that’s exactly what they will offer them.
A lot of thought and strategy needs to go into the release of any film – big or small. So I am by no means suggesting Amazon (and Amazon alone) is the only option for DIY filmmakers. What I am saying however, is they are definitely worth considering as a major part of your release strategy.
Turning a profit with your film is a matter of how you effectively know how to market. Amazon can’t do that for you, but they can make it easier for your movie to be found by people who would actually want to see it. And for many independent filmmakers, the #1 goal above all else is not to simply turn a profit, but also to find an audience.
In this episode, I sit down with Matteo Bertoli – the incredibly talented DP who shot my latest feature film White Crow. Despite working under tremendous time constraints, Matteo, myself, and the rest of our team were able to shoot nearly 90 pages of script in only 9 days. Over the course of our chat, we explain how we pulled it off without sacrificing quality.
Other topics covered include: Camera choice, shooting minimal coverage, the importance of prep, developing a visual style, finding synergy on set, workflow issues, handling creative problems in production, and much more. This is a great listen for any director or DP working in the micro-budget realm.
Listen to Episode 63: Generating Passive Income As a Filmmaker To Increase Time & Revenue
I was recently interviewed by Alex Ferrari for his incredible filmmaking podcast Indie Film Hustle. Over the course of the interview, Alex asked me all about my experience making and releasing my feature film Shadows On The Road, which was made for $12,000 with a crew of 4.
We covered a lot of ground, discussed every phase of the process, and got into some of the intense challenges that arose along the way. It’s a great listen for anyone planning to make a micro-budget narrative film.
In the future, I plan to release an article all about my distribution strategy. I’ll outline exactly how the film was self-distributed, and how we utilized targeted social media ads to generate sales on multiple VOD platforms. More on that front soon, so stay tuned…
Many filmmakers fall into the freelancing trap – They develop a relatively specialized skill, get great at their craft, gain lots of clients, but inevitably find themselves buried in work. Ultimately, this leaves them unable to focus on their passion projects (such as original feature films or new business ventures), as they are anchored to their client work day in and day out. Some people find themselves stuck in this situation for their entire careers, but all of us have the ability to choose a different path.
In this episode, I outline how you can use passively generated income to avoid this problem entirely, by becoming far less reliant on a single revenue stream. The goal is to stop trading your time for money.
Putting systems in place that will ultimately make money while you sleep is not easy, but it is possible. And once that goal is achieved, you will have infinitely more flexibility with how you spend your time. This means more time spent being creative, working on the projects you want to be working on, or developing new business ideas – a situation we should all be striving for.
Listen to Episode 62: Generating Passive Income As a Filmmaker To Increase Time & Revenue
Two years ago I decided to start sharing some of my personal color grading LUTs with other creatives through this blog. The LUTs were engineered to help filmmakers achieve superior results while grading, while also reducing post-production time. The goal was better results, faster.
When I initially launched the first set of LUTs, I never could have imagined the overwhelming response. They were downloaded by thousands of you, and have been put to use day in & day out on countless film & television projects. It has truly been a humbling experience to see them in the hands of such great artists…
And not just filmmakers either – photographers too – Many of whom learned about the LUTs through word of mouth, and used them to add a cinematic quality to their stills work.
As things continued to grow and evolve in many ways, it became clear that I would need to launch a new platform specifically designed to house all of my cinematic LUTs.
The new website offers a far better experience. The LUTs are easier to access, there are loads of sample images, before and after shots, and new bundle discounts – Including an option to bulk purchase all 144 current LUTs!
And now, every pack not only includes the standard .cube files that many of us use in post-software like DaVinci Resolve, FCP X, or Premiere Pro, but it includes .xmp files too. These are just like .cube files, but they work in Adobe Lightroom, making it easier than ever to achieve consistent looks, whether you’re working on a video or stills project.
Along with the launch of CINECOLOR, I am also releasing 3 brand new Cinematic LUT Packs today – The CITIES COLLECTION. This new collection is inspired by three iconic cities, known for their artistic communities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris.
CITIES COLLECTION MASTER PACK – 36 x LUTs
Los Angeles – 12 x LUTs
New York – 12 x LUTs
Paris – 12 x LUTs
This new set contains some of my favorite LUTs I’ve created to date. Here are a few sample images from the set –
You can check out the full collection on CINECOLOR.IO, which features many more sample images and a creative description of what to expect in each single pack.
Thank you all for your continued interest in my LUTs, and I can’t wait to see how you all put them to use.
This past October, my feature film Shadows On The Road launched on the iTunes Store, where we broke the top 100 pre-orders almost immediately. All our initial success was thanks to word of mouth and a few mentions here on my blog, podcast, and newsletter.
Originally, I had planned to roll out paid video advertisements for the film immediately after it launched, but in the end it couldn’t happen due to scheduling issues. Pre-production on my next feature (White Crow) began the exact day Shadows On The Road went live on iTunes, so I had a lot on my plate at the time… I wanted to give White Crow my 100% undivided attention, so I put a pin in my plans to advertise Shadows on social media until now.
But as of yesterday, I jumped back into marketing seat and started experimenting with different types of paid social media ads. As I measure the results over the coming weeks, I will definitely share details on exactly what worked, what didn’t, and what kind of profit margins we saw as a result. This is a topic I know many of you have been asking to hear more about, so I’ll be sure to cover it as soon as I can.
In the mean time though, I thought I would talk about (and share) our first 15 second social media trailer, which rolled out today…
This was the first time I had actually edited a social media ad for any of my work, and it called for an entirely different process. Every editorial decision was made based on what would be optimal for advertising on social media (in particular Facebook), not just what would tell the story best.
For example, it was cut in a 1:1 (square) aspect ratio, despite the feature film being framed in 2.39:1 (widescreen). Square videos perform far better on social media (as they take up a much larger portion of the user’s screen), so naturally I wanted to take advantage of that.
The downside of working in 1:1 of course is you have to crop your image, and that doesn’t always work aesthetically… But no one really cares about that except for me and you, and a handful of other cinephiles. The average person on social media probably won’t notice how cropped your image is, and in my opinion it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
What the audience will notice however, is whether or not they are hooked – which is why the first 5 seconds of your edit are so important.
For our social trailer, I decided to open it with some aggressive flashback shots, rather than easing into slowly as I would have with a theatrical style trailer. And since we would inevitably be using title cards, I made sure to drop one in before the 5 second mark as well, to orient the viewer right away.
Text is a huge consideration with social media trailers, since the majority of people watching them will have their sound off. Whether you do subtitles or tease the story with a series of title cards, you have to make that trailer fully watchable, even on mute… Especially on mute!
I went so far as to work in a muted editing session with the sound permanently off, and didn’t turn it on until the very end of the process once the picture was locked. Only then did I drop in a 15 second music piece (pulled from the old trailer), and reposition a couple of clips to land on beat. This way, it would play well with sound on or off.
I also added one last call to action title card at the very end of the video. You need to leave your viewers with that little reminder to click over to your iTunes/Amazon/Vimeo page, otherwise many will just keep scrolling. It’s amazing how much of an effect having a call to action can have when it comes to online sales. That can be the make or break factor in some cases, so if you’re doing any sort of social media ad, it’s a must.
Below is the trailer we’re testing right now with our Facebook ad campaign. It is currently running with a few different captions, and being marketed to a few different audiences. Once the campaigns run for a while, we’ll look at the data and decide how to optimize our ad spend.
If you want to check out the film, you can access it using the links below. It’s currently available in US/Canada on iTunes and Worldwide on Vimeo on Demand. It will roll out on other platforms (including Amazon) in the coming weeks as well.
Over the years, I’ve learned that having too much time to work on any creative project can be a bad thing, but that having too little time can actually be helpful in some ways… So naturally, when it came time to edit my latest feature film (White Crow) I decided to give myself only 3 weeks to edit down a 23+ hour mountain of footage into a 90 minute assembly. While it may seem counter-intuitive to work this quickly, in my case it was actually a huge asset to the process.
In this episode, I outline exactly how I used aggressive deadlines and other self-imposed time constraints to tap into my gut instincts, and turn around a great first cut in record time. I also touch on applying these principles to our work consciously, to reach an ideal state of creative flow every time we sit down to work.
Check out Episode 61: How I Used Intense Time Constraints To Edit My Feature Film In 3 Weeks
I’ve always looked for ways to use aggressive deadlines to enhance my creative productivity. Having too long to work on something, or not feeling any sense of urgency can be a total creativity killer – for me, at least. Whether I’m writing a script, directing on set, or making decisions in the editing room, speed is my friend.
This is why, when it came time to edit the first cut of my upcoming feature White Crow, I committed to turning around a first assembly cut in record time.
It’s not that I wanted to rush through the edit (I love editing and wish I had all the time in the world for it), but I’ve learned over the years that being too relaxed with creative work will yield poor results. Too much time on your hands generally leads to overanalyzing your work, and once perfectionism becomes part of the equation, you can wind up spending ten times longer to create a lesser final product.
Working quickly isn’t about cutting corners, or avoiding important detail oriented decisions – it’s about using your instinct. Focusing on the right details, the ones that will truly make your work shine, and not getting bogged down in menial work that may not matter in the grand scheme of things.
Achieving great results in the edit is as much about having an open mind as it is about having technical skills. Great editors see their footage as pieces of a puzzle that have to fit together without a complete set of instructions. They may have a blueprint in the screenplay, but in a sense they are “writing” the movie all over again, using raw footage in place of words.
And in that sense, editors can get editors block just like writers can get writers block. If stuck, a short two-minute scene might take an editor a week to get through, when it could have easily been completed in a day. They get stuck on the coverage, are indecisive about editorial decisions, can’t find a good pace/rhythm, or have any number of other issues that prevent them from moving ahead. And when they do finally finish, their work often comes across as overthought, as it has been beaten to death.
I’ve experienced these issues first hand, as I’m sure we all have, but I’ve also learned that they can be avoided entirely, simply by choosing a more intuitive path. It took years of working as a filmmaker to truly grasp this concept, but when it comes to the creative process, instinct is the only thing you can rely on. No amount of extra time or effort can make up for the wrong instinctual choices.
It’s not about the amount of time you spend on something, it’s the quality of time. The headspace you’re in, the ideas you have, the work you create… All of which can be negatively affected if you are overly critical of your work too early on. And you are most prone to do this when you have too much time on your hands… When you are too comfortable. For that reason, I always work off of challenging delivery schedules.
On my latest feature, not only did I write the screenplay in record time, but I edited the entire movie (with a 90 minute runtime), in under 3 weeks. I decided on a 3 week timeline as it was least possible amount of time I would need to compile an assembly, with zero wiggle room in the schedule except for some planned days off.
And while you might imagine that I was having to work like crazy over that three week period, it was quite the opposite. My editing sessions were not at all intense or laborious – they were enjoyable, fun, exciting.
I had many days off in that period, and often finished my edit sessions early. My average “working” day was no more than 5 hours, not because I didn’t have more time to work, but because I was in the right flow and was able to work at record speed.
Now that the assembly is done, I will take a similar approach to the fine cut and the picture lock, as well as the finishing stages. The full festival cut will be completed by March 1st, just in time for some of the big Spring festival deadlines.
While I could have easily given myself until the summer (or even the fall) to get the film finished, why would I? By simply breaking down the schedule and setting tight deadlines, I had no choice but to get to the finish line solely relying on instinct.
Not to mention, when I really broke down the amount of work I had to do, it wasn’t unreasonable to cut the movie in 3 weeks by any stretch. It just took some simple math to get there.
I divided the amount of days I wanted to spend editing by the estimated length of the movie, and that told me how many minutes of the film I had to cut each day. This equated to an average of 4-5 minutes per day, with multiple days off sporadically in the 3 week period.
So each day, I would sit down at my computer and not stop until I edited at least 4 minutes of the movie. Some days I was flying, and would cut as many as 15 minutes in a single session. Other days, I only cut one or two minutes if I was short on time. But no matter what, I kept moving.
What I did not do, was watch through every single piece of footage, pull selects, audition different ideas, and cut multiple versions of every scene. I allowed myself to make decisions from my gut, and to put myself in the position of an audience member.
From the opening shot, I asked myself – What would I want to see first? What would grab me? What do I picture when I close my eyes? And I used that intuition to guide my decisions.
Weighing every variable would have been too scientific. This is an artistic process – there had to be spontaneity to it, otherwise it would feel dead.
I never thought about what I “should” do in any given scene. I never worried about cutting anything “important” just because we bothered to shoot it. All I focused on was what the movie needed, and in effect I allowed the movie to edit itself. I got out of the way and all of the decisions became very clear to me. I didn’t feel like I had to debate with myself about which take to use or musical cue to temp in. All I had to do was ensure that I remained as open to new creative ideas as possible, and that I would ignore any over-analyzing.
Being open to creative possibilities strengthened the edit in so many ways. I wasn’t married to the screenplay in the slightest. Some scenes were re-worked from the ground up… One in particular was muted and set entirely to music. In another I omitted every piece of coverage we shot except for a single close-up. So many new ideas emerged, just because I allowed them to. With more time, I’m not sure I would have.
When I was through editing any given scene I would never go back to re-work it or experiment further. I simply moved from one scene to the next, committing to the decisions I had already made. That’s a technique I’ve learned from screenwriting, but it works wonders during the editing process too.
If you don’t allow yourself to take any steps backward, you have no choice but to move forward.
On a quick technical aside, I streamlined my workflow to be as simple as possible too, to avoid getting slowed down during the picture edit…
We shot in ProResHQ (not RAW) on the Arri Alexa Classic in 2K,and I edited everything in FCP X. The combination of the 2K ProRes HQ files and Final Cut’s interface worked like a charm. I’ve edited on just about every software out there, and see all of their strengths… But for projects like this, FCP X is truly hard to beat. It is just so fast, easy to experiment with, and gets out of the way of the creative process. I’m sure I could have achieved similar results in the same time with another NLE, but I doubt it would have been as smooth of a process…
I did hit some snags during the 3 week assembly, and I certainly needed to do some real problem solving at times – but that was totally fine. I was solving important creative problems (not made up ones), and the solutions to those problems resulted in amazing new creative ideas.
My next step is to move on to revisions, which means I will need to become more analytical again. This is the time for that, as I am not sitting in the editing room trying to make creative decisions, I am making critical decisions about an existing piece of work.
There is a time to be creative and a time to be analytical. Doing both at the same time won’t work, but focusing on them each individually absolutely will. So take off your creative hat when it’s time to scrutinize your own work, and check your analytical mind at the door when it’s time to create.
I will be sharing lots more content on my blog about both sides of the editing process over the coming months. If there is anything you want to hear more about, please ask in the comments below!
Last week Cinema 5D posted an interview with myself and DP Matteo Bertoli, about our process shooting my latest feature film – WHITE CROW. This interview covered a lot of new ground and touched on some really interesting aspects of our production – including our crew setup, shooting schedule, camera/lens choices, lighting techniques, and achieving a high end aesthetic on a budget.
Here’s a quick excerpt from the interview:
One of the first things to consider when deciding on a camera and on-set workflow for a particular project is all the practicalities of the production. What is the shooting schedule like? How many locations are there? How many setups in a day? Size of crew, lighting plan. This all comes down to time and resource management.
Tell us a little bit about the White Crow production. What was the schedule like? Crew size? Locations?
White Crow was designed to be shot with minimal cast, crew, and locations, and the screenplay was very much written with practicality in mind. Half the film takes place in one location (the protagonist’s home) and the other half takes place in the antagonist’s house, which made scheduling really easy. We shot everything in only 9 days with a crew of 9 – 10, depending on the day. Normally, when you shoot close to 10 pages per day, you have to work so fast that shots get sacrificed or overall quality goes down, but we really managed to avoid those issues – mainly because we weren’t shooting a lot of coverage, and had actors who were unbelievably prepared. So while we didn’t go for quantity (in terms of shots or coverage), we did achieve quality by taking our time and not rushing through key creative decisions.
The schedule was in theory very, very tight – we shot 81 pages in 9 days with one camera and a very small crew. The crew was composed of: director, 1st AD, DP, producer, 1st AC, gaffer, makeup artist, production designer and wardrobe. In the camera department we were pretty much 3 people! We shot in 2 locations (two houses) and a couple of shots outside. I think the reason why we were able to pull off a feature film in only 9 days is because Noam had a very clear idea of how to shoot the film. Very little, if close to zero coverage, zoom lenses, a lot of one shot, long takes. It’s definitely a very artistic movie and it was shot in a very unique and different way, I love it!