Thursday, December 02, 2010

So now you're in.....

So, you were accepted into Sundance. Congratulations! Now what?

Here's some Sundance advice that you won't hear much from others. It applies to those who will get into Slamdance in a few days as well. This is not for the established filmmaker with a lot of experience, but for those new to the scene: 1) don't rush things, and 2) look out for yourself.

If you aren't one of the films that comes to Sundance with a professional team behind you already - ace producer, top attorney, producers rep, agent, publicist, etc. - then you've probably just started getting emails and calls from all of the above. You've probably heard something about how happy they are for you, how they've been following your trajectory for years and now they want to help you find success in the marketplace of Sundance.

It is flattering. It will make you feel great.

It will also make you forget any business sense you ever had before and make you more vulnerable to exploitation than ever before.

Odds are good that their interns are robo-calling everyone else accepted as well, telling them all pretty much the same feel-good story. So, beware. There are great producer's reps, publicists, agents, consultants...insert job title here....out there. You may end up hiring some of them. Your primary concern, however, should be you, your career, your film and getting your film in front of its audience. Now is the time to slow down a bit and analyze your situation.

Whatever you do, don't sign up with whoever calls you first. Talk to them. Have them tell you about other films they worked with. Ask them how they work. How many films will they be representing? What will their strategy be for your film? Can they send you references from other filmmakers? How do they handle expenses? Do they fly first class or coach (if they bill expenses to you)? There's more questions to ask, but the point is - you are the hot property here, not them. Don't let them make you feel lucky to be speaking to them - they should be lucky to help your film. Some will walk away, huffing that you are too much trouble for them - good riddance.

They likely haven't seen your film, so make sure they see it and then ask them what they thought about it. Listen to their voice. Did they love it? Or do they just see it as something to sell, represent, publicize? Sure, a good, talented person can sell/pitch/market anything, but even these will work harder for you when they love your film. (A quick side note - Generally speaking, you don't want to show your film to distributors at this point, but that's another post). Very few filmmakers ask this. It is uncomfortable. Ask them what their favorite aspect was and listen to their voice (or if you meet in person, look directly in their eyes). Working with someone who loves your film will be much easier than someone who just sees it as business.

Take a read of your gut. Consult with other filmmakers and friends (for free) and also shop around - there are many people to work with, and even those people who everyone tells you is the best ____ in the business has some competitors who are less well known and who are equally talented. Who you pick to work with you is one of the more important decisions you will make. It is tempting to say yes, scream for joy that so and so hot stuff wants to work on your film, here comes success! But don't. That success likely won't come, but it surely won't come if you don't strategize your next steps as much as you planned all the ones leading up to now.

You did plan all of this, right? No? Here's some quick advice - 

1. Define your goals. Think about your goals for the film. There can be many, but you need to decide what is important to you. You need to think about what will be the best strategy for your film. As a filmmaker you have more options than ever before, and as Jon Reiss argues today, you don't need to think about the old paradigm(s) for success in today's marketplace. There is not one single answer here, so my hope would be you've already thought about this, but you likely haven't. So, you need to....

2. Read. A lot. Quickly. Sure, you can pay someone to help you build a plan, but you can also learn most of what you need to know by reading free stuff online. I could mention lots of resources, but here's just three: Look at the sidebar of Ted Hope's blog. He links to numerous online, free resources. Read a few of them quickly. Second, buy and quickly skim read Jon Reiss' Think Outside the Box Office. Even if you don't decide to follow his lead in the DIY mode, he mentions just about everything you need to know. Pull an all-nighter with this one. Can't pull an all-nighter? Here's a quicker read: Eugene Hernandez's two year old but still largely accurate advice about festivals, whether you got into Sundance or not.

3. Talk. Speak with other filmmakers who have been there before. Get their advice.

4. Build your Plan A. Whatever you end up doing, it's better to have options. Determine what you are capable of doing on your own. What can you do on your own - given your resources in time and money? Plot out what that would look like. You now have a Plan A. Pick any potential team mates (publicist, etc) based on this plan, but go in with an open mind. If you do get an offer, it is Plan B. If Plan B is better than your Plan A, then you might take it. You also now have something to negotiate against - if they aren't going to do something you can do on your own....carve out those rights. You can only do this, however, if you actually have a plan.

5. Take a deep breath. Consider all of those phone calls seriously, and then ....

6. Make an informed decision. Trust me, whatever happens to your film from here on out, you'll feel much better about it if you've taken the time to make the best possible decision for you and your film.

Now that you've eaten your vegetables, feel free to resume your celebration!

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