By Susanna Lo
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Back in the nineties, I read a book called Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices
. I didn’t agree with a lot of the book. But it emphasized one very important point - have a vision and use that to make a film that you would want to see.
Today, anyone can make a film thanks to cheap digital cameras and affordable post-production software like Final Cut. A friend of mine, who owned a camera and had the software, made a horror film even though that was the last type of film he wanted to see. What a big surprise he got when he tried to enter a horror film festival and was rejected. There were over 1,000 submissions and the festival was having a hard time finding films they felt qualified to be screened.
If you don’t believe in your vision, why should anybody else?
Manson Girls will be my third feature film and the first one to have a budget that is way beyond the cost of a used car. How do you get this type of budget? There are various elements that add up to money in the film world...
The single most important element is a well-written script. It is the blueprint and foundation of your film. Are there films that are made without scripts or place very little value in a script? Sure. Studios make them all the time. But do you have the money or prestige a studio has to promote a film with an average script? A good script translates into money because it will bring on the other elements that attract money...
What are pre-sales? Usually, something only a studio picture has. It’s the amount of territories in the world that have agreed to buy and distribute your film before it is made. With enough pre-sales, a funder or lender’s money is secured by sales that have already been made. What does it take for an independent film to get pre-sales? It’s virtually impossible for a film that hasn’t been shot yet; unless you have a strong script, a director with vision, an established team, and a project that’s marketable, In the case of Manson Girls, the public interest was built-in. This is a story that does not quit. But, Manson Girls also puts a fresh spin on a timeless tale of sex, drugs, rock-n-roll and murder, and tells it from an angle it has never been told before - the perspective of the girls. This made several pre-sale agents eager to jump on...
On January 24, the Associated Press, after hearing about Manson Girls from the various articles written about the film, is hosting a Press Conference and Launch Event for Manson Girls at The Gibson Guitar Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival. This is the type of press that is invaluable for an independent film. A couple of The Doobie Brothers, Guy Allison and John McFee, heard about this and volunteered to write original music for Manson Girls and perform it at The Gibson Guitar Lodge. Several of the actors in the film, from Eric Balfour to Taryn Manning, want to sing with The Doobies at Sundance. All this will be streaming live to over two million viewers on the AP Live website and the Warner Brothers Music website. Two million viewers hearing about Manson Girls and waiting to see the film when it comes out. That’s the type of publicity that translates to future ticket sales.
My first film, Black & White: A Love Story, was made for $42,000; a 92-minute feature shot in ten days on 35mm film that won several awards and played in theaters from Berlin to Montreal to New York to San Francisco. Would there be any value to my words if I hadn’t made a film that was seen all over the world? Would a pre-sale agent be interested in Manson Girls if I didn’t have a powerful script and a visionary reel? Would the Associated Press give us the time of day if I didn’t have an established team onboard?
Which brings me to the most valuable element on How to Make a Feature Film. There are many talkers in the film biz - people who say they can get your film made, but never deliver; people who charge you money for seminars on how to raise money for a film, but haven’t physically made one from beginning to end on their own. Then there are the doers - people who jump in and actually make a film, including actors who will do a film for $100 a day to cinematographers who can get great camera deals. You want those great people by your side. But, in the end, the most valuable element in making a feature film is to have the persistence to - Just Make It!
Susanna Lo's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing
Susanna Lo is an award-winning director and screenwriter. Her upcoming film, Manson Girls, is scheduled to begin shooting in 2011. Her novel, Alma Of My Heart, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in November, 2010.