20 SCRIPT TREATMENTS

24 QUERY LETTERS

28 UNUSUAL SUSPECTS

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eople always ask me, “How do you get your movies made? And how do you get such great actors?” I simply state: It was the script. No matter the budget, no matter the cast. Your story is the true star. It will be what ultimately shines the brightest, no matter how big the celebrities embodying it. Your story is what will attract financiers, a great cast and everything else that comes with making a movie. Sometimes the “true star”—your story—can be overshadowed by a celebrity, because your financiers want to protect their investment. So getting your movie made becomes about chasing some shooting star. We all know how that goes. The bottom line for moviemakers is that it’s all about attracting an audience to your story and, understandably, A-list actors help with that. But I’ve always felt that if your primary focus is seeking stars, your financier is basically pulling insurance policies in case the

16 WRITING A SCREENPLAY THAT SELLS

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SCREENWRITING
“YOUR STORY IS WHAT WILL ATTRACT FINANCIERS, A GREAT CAST AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT COMES WITH MAKING A MOVIE.”
movie turns out to be a complete disaster. It’s unfortunate that some investors spend more time worrying about how they’re going to recoup their investment with a C-List actor who co-stars on a WB TV show. I understand it, though. With so many moving parts, many independent films quickly become fractured, and it becomes a matter of slapping disjointed scenes together in post. It becomes Frankenstein, a messed-up monster that grunts and groans. Unless you’re making a monster movie, it’s best to avoid the above. And the best insurance policy, in reality, is a bulletproof script. Concentrate on making your story shine, and many of the heartaches and headaches that come with moviemaking will become manageable. A great cast will come naturally. I can’t stress this enough: It’s all about your story and the way you tell it. A story that shines is an original story written with an original voice. An audience wants to see something they haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean you should focus on the “wow factor.” Originality has little to do with throwing millions of dollars on the screen or dressing up a story with 3-D or special effects. Originality is truth—and only you know that truth. You also know what feels false. One thing you can bet on is that the audience hasn’t heard your story as told by you—so why try and imitate some other storyteller? No one speaks exactly like you. Trust your voice. Don’t be scared. You’re not being asked to sing, you’re being asked to tell a story. So why not tell the truth? —MARK POLISH

18 CREATE A COMPELLING OPENING SCENE

44 CASTING SUCCESS

46 UNIQUE FINANCING

48 CROWDFUNDING

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re-production is where you figure out how to execute what’s on paper. You can never be too prepared for the unknown. Two things are certain: You’re never going to have enough money and you’re never going to have enough time. Planning how you will utilize these limited resources is a must. It begins with finding team players; from the cast to the crew, you want to work with people who want to be there and who will embark on this journey with you, fully aware of the conditions that they’re going to face. There’s nothing romantic about making a film. That’s not to say it’s without joy, but it’s always a brutal process. You’re dealing with so many problems—all of which have to be solved simultaneously—that the joy has to come as a result of the hard work you put in to make your dream a reality.

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40 CHOOSING A CAMERA

DEVELOPMENT & PRE-PRODUCTION
On my first production, I wanted to surround myself with people who were smarter than me and who had more on-set experience. If there was going to be someone who didn’t know what he was doing, it was going to be me. When I had a few productions behind me, I found I wanted people who would have my back in this primary battle between time and money. If you find the right people, your team will bond together and won’t bitch under the extreme circumstances Before you go into battle, sit and talk with your key crew. Make sure you’re on the same page and that you share the same vision. Don’t assume anything. Communication is key throughout production, as no one can read your mind. Treat everyone—regardless of their position—with equal amounts of kindness and respect, and you will receive the same in return. The same goes for the talent on the other side of the camera. I find out more about my actors’ abilities by having conversations with them off the set than by discussing the script. Their acting skills are inherent—it’s why they’re in the room to begin with—so what I want to know is who I am getting in between the lines of dialogue. Are the actors here to service the material or themselves? The more you know about your cast off-screen, the more it helps when directing their performances onscreen. —MICHAEL POLISH

34 PERFECT PITCH

36 PRE-PRODUCTION BASICS

“YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO PREPARED FOR THE UNKNOWN.”
of production. Granted, the long hours and lack of nutrition can get to the best of us, but the right group of people will bond together where the wrong group fractures.

MOVIEMAKER.COM

60 MAKING WEB MOVIES

64 DP TIPS

68 SHORT SECRETS

71 SHORTS ARE IMPORTANT

PRODUCTION

56 EXTREME SHOOTING

54 FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR TRICKS

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he reality of creating make-believe is that there are unforeseen compromises awaiting you. Initially, I hadn’t anticipated this and was therefore unprepared. In preproduction, the moviemaker is off-the-clock, making hundreds of decisions in advance. When you’re on the set, what’s being shot is actually what has been marinating in your head for a long time. In most cases, when you are sitting in the front row and watching the monitor, you’re seeing something slightly different from what you had imagined—some of it better, some of it worse. Your vision for your film will quickly go from 20/20 to 20/40. Even though you planned your shots, rehearsed with your actors,

collaborated with wardrobe and walked through all of the locations, for whatever reason something happens that alters what you had pictured. When it’s better than you anticipated, take it in for a moment. But often, something just doesn’t feel right and a scene is not working. Who knows why? There’s just no lightning to bottle at this very moment. There’s usually not much time to sit around and figure it out. Don’t let the gloom of the moment take over your mind. Rather than worry about the big picture, you must focus on the immediate frame in front of you. It’s always good to remember that it’s only what’s within the frame that exists. Create cutaways to get you out of moments that are not working. In other words, create options. Do this by covering the

“FOCUS ON THE IMMEDIATE FRAME IN FRONT OF YOU.”
environment; shoot a coffee mug, for example. It’s a simple shot that relates to the environment. That way you have the ability to cut away from what’s not working—if only for a mere second—and then return to the part that is working. What you’re shooting in each setup is, nine times out of 10, less than a minute on the screen. Reduce your problem to that minute. Figure out how to win that minute, even if you have to manipulate the image with the cutaway options you created on the fly. —MARK POLISH

82 SPECIAL EFFECTS

86 CHOOSING MUSIC

POST-PRODUCTION

78 EDITING MISMATCHES

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76 FACING THE FOOTAGE

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ost-production is your third and final opportunity to tell your story the way you intended. A good editor will have assembled a cut of your movie that showcases more of the days you won than the days you lost. There are going to be scenes you love and scenes you cannot bear to watch. There are going to be surprises, both good and bad. Most mistakes can be cut around but, as with screenwriting, all is (mostly) forgiven if the story is compelling. Engage the audience in your story and never allow their focus to waver. An audience wants to be artfully manipulated into suspending their disbelief, so keep them guessing about what’s going to happen next. Don’t spell it out and risk losing their attention.

Most audiences already think they know it all. Entertainment is about surprising them, so stay one step ahead of their expectations. You’re the leader; they’re following you. It’s your duty to lead the audience along a path they haven’t been down before. The new and undiscovered will always keep the mind alert.

“MOST AUDIENCES ALREADY THINK THEY KNOW IT ALL… SO STAY ONE STEP AHEAD OF THEIR EXPECTATIONS.”
Don’t just think visually. Sound design, score and sound effects are

wonderful tools to help keep the audience emotionally connected, too. The right music can fill a gap caused by a lack of performance. Audio is an element that can be utilized to help build a sonic world. Close your eyes and hear your scenes. Can you isolate a certain sound to emphasize a particular mood? Sound itself is very powerful when you understand that you’re dealing with a timeline of vibrations that are always present while watching a movie. You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears. You’re literally affecting people more consistently with the sound of your film than you are with the projected picture. If both your sound and picture are equally good, then you have a one-two punch that can really knock your audience out. —MICHAEL POLISH

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92 SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT A MIDDLEMAN

94 MAKING MONEY ON THE WEB

90 DISTRIBUTION PATHS

EXHIBITION & PROMOTION

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t’s all at your fingertips now. Literally. There was a time, not too long ago, when you needed a tremendous amount of time and energy to get your work seen by an audience. That is simply not the case

An independent movie can live on great word-of-mouth alone—no big billboards or expensive marketing campaigns needed. Sure, there has never been more content to compete with, but they’re all using the same methods, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.

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today. The growth of the Internet and social networking sites has made it possible for more independent moviemakers to not only reach domestic audiences, but to target audiences on a global scale as well. Every country has its own group of independent film followers and, as a collective unit, that adds up to one substantial audience. There’s no more waiting for months for other parts of the world to see your movie, unless that is the rollout strategy you desire. Because of this new ease of access, word-of-mouth has never been more powerful.

“AN INDEPENDENT MOVIE CAN LIVE ON GREAT WORD-OFMOUTH ALONE.”
Use these social outlets to promote your movie. The best part is that they are free. The only thing you’re spending is your time. There is no middleman; you have direct contact with your audience before and after they watch your

movie. I continually have dialogue—similar to a Q&A session— with people through my Twitter account. Movie watchers from all over the world ask me wonderful questions about my films, past and present. Both new fans and those who have followed my films for years have a place to gather and discuss my work. They are listened to, which makes them feel like a part of my career itself. Your fans are your shareholders; they share your passion for your work. As cutting-edge as streaming movies and social networking are, it’s really the old adage that applies: You get what you give. So give it. Come out from behind the silver screen and engage with your audience. There is next to nowhere to hide these days anyway, so embrace the exposure and use it to promote your films. —MARK POLISH

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