Author Archives: Scott W. Smith
“If you ever want to know who’s running the world, look and see who’s hiring the artists, because then you’ll know who’s in power.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Inside the Actors Studio
Today starts a new category here called E-Filmmakers. And the first entrepreneurial filmmaker that came to my mind was Francis Ford Coppola. He is one of the oldest of the New Hollywood filmmakers that emerged in the 1960s.
Born in 1939 in Detroit, Michigan at Henry Ford Hospital, his middle was in honor to Henry Ford—the entrepreneur par excellence.
Coppola’s father where his father was in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra., and after he landed a gig with the NBC Symphony Orchestra he moved his family to Queens where Francis spent the rest of his youth.
After Coppola received his undergraduate degree in theater from Hofstra University, he began to do graduate work in cinema at UCLA and eventually began working on low-budget films for Roger Corman.
Coppola worked his way up the low-budget ladder until Corman allowed him to write and direct Dementia 13, Coppola’s first feature and shot in nine days and completed on a $40,000. Budget.
Coppola continued to be a UCLA student and eventually earned his MFA and in 1969 his feature The Rain People set the tone for him to start Zoetrope in the Bay area.
When funding didn’t quite materialize the way he had intended, he co-wrote the script (with Edmund H. North) for Patton, which would earn him and Academy Award.
The success of Patton allowed him to make The Godfather in 1972. Though one studio executive objected saying, “Francis who?”
“The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job.”
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather won six Academy Awards including three for Coppola (Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture and Best Director).Today the film is considered one of the greatest films ever made.
In the decades that followed Coppola made some terrific film and also lost a lot of money. He was an early pioneer of experimenting with videotape. According to Yahoo! Movies he spent much of the 80s trying to pay back his debts leading Zoetrope Studios to final for bankruptcy in 1990. The spirit of the studio lives online at American Zoetrope where you can find out about their screenwriting contest and workshops, and Coppola’s other non-film related entrepreneurial endeavors.
He continued to direct films in the 90s, but he would also start a wine company that would grow into quite a moneymaker for Coppola. In 2007, after more than a decade removed from directing a feature film, Coppola released Youth With Out Youth and two years later Tetro.
Perhaps Coppola never quite became the Independent studio mogul he desired to become, but along with his colossal failures he had some off the chart successes. And some major behind the scene influences many today may be unfamilar with; Hiring George Lucas as an assistant on one of his films and helping him get American Graffitti get made, raising a daughter (Sophia) who would go on to become an Academy Award-winning screenwriter herself, and of course having a major part in launching the careers of Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane in his 1983 film The Outsiders.
One wonders what a 25-year-old Coppola would look like today running around with an HD-DSLR camera. What kind of films would he be making? And whether they acknowledge it not, Coppola’s influence is alive and well in the independent spirit that is sweeping the world. Though Coppola may not be fond of the brand of entrepreneurialship that Henry Ford ushered in in the age of industrialism—Coppola the E-Filmmaker (and wine-maker) has lived up to his middle name.
Of course, 50 years from now, Coppola may be best known for his “little fat girl in Ohio” comment:
An interesting 1982 interview of Francis Ford Coppola by David Letterman:
“A Hare one day ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the Tortoise…”
Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare
“We’re all just one step ahead of the tax man.”
Photographer/Filmmaker Chase Jarvis
Have you ever wanted to make a million dollars working in film or video production? I might be able to help.
I always wanted to be my own boss. Today I am my own boss.
I always wanted my own company. Today I have my own company. (RiverRun.tv with three other partners.)
I always wanted a red Ferrari. Today I drive a seven year old, navy Dodge Durango with 124,000 miles and almost as many interior scratches from lugging production equipment around over the years.
As Mick Jagger sings, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” So I can’t help you with the red Ferrari, but if you want to make a million dollars—that’s much more practical. Seriously. The formula is actually pretty simple and will probably let you down.
All you have to do is average making $33,334. for 30 years. That’s a total of $1,000,020. Of course, that won’t be your take home pay, but you will have made over a million dollars.
The problem is most people dream of making $1 million in a fairly short time. Selling a screenplay or hitting the film distribution jackpot. Of course, that can happen—but it’s not typical. In 2011, The WGA Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) for an Original Screenplay, Excluding Treatment is $87,879. (Unless the budget is under $5 million, then the fee drops to $44,665.)
Granted it’s not uncommon in Hollywood to hear terms of a script sales to be in the $300,000. to $600,000. range, but as the saying goes, “A number without a reference is meaningless.” Often times built into those kinds of deals are stipulations that the full amount will be paid if the picture gets made and the original writer stays on the project for its duration.
Yes, there are screenwriters who make a million dollars (and more) for the sale of a single script. Those are the few people at the top of the pyramid. Fifty percent of WGA writers have no income from writing in a given year.
Of course, if you watch the credits at the end of any film you’ll see that there are a massive amount of jobs on any film. And even though many are high paying positions, one report listed the average working salary in the film and TV business at $74,400. That’s in part due to the transient nature of the business.
A union gaffer may have a solid day rate and make great overtime on a film, but what if he only works on one or two features averaging 6-8 weeks of work in a given year?
Back to making a million dollars. Union gigs on feature films and TV work are just a small portion of ways you can make money in production. There are entrepreneurial filmmakers all over the world doing all kinds of productions. Everything from producing local commercials, to corporate and industrial videos, to non-profit documentaries, to wedding stories.
Some making more than $33,334 and some making less. But if your goal is to make a million dollars, then that’s what you have to average for 30 years. $33,334.
In my career, there have been times when I made less than half of that amount, and times when I’ve made double that. (Heck, my first media related job when I was 19-years-old and working for a small town newspaper that, if I recall correctly, paid ten cents a word and five dollars a published photo.)
And while $33,334. may not seem like much to some, there are plenty of production people making less than that today (even in New York and L.A.). There are plenty of other career choices that will get you to a making a million dollars quicker. (Of course, Jagger probably makes a million dollars per concert—that’s quick, but Legendary Rock Star is a tough gig to land.)
I believe a dental hygienist with a two-year degree starts at $50,000 with benefits. (And just a 40 hour week which is a wee-bit harder to find in the production world.) If making money is the bottom line for you, there are easier ways to make it than in film and video production. What they don’t teach in film school is, for whatever reason, only a small percentage of the estimated 40,000+ film & TV school grads every year have lasting careers in media production.
Now if you really want a red Ferrari, take a look at getting an MBA from Stanford University. (Average post-MBA salary of $125,000.) And having an MBA from anywhere sure wouldn’t hurt you if you want to be an entrepreneurial filmmaker. Plus you’re bound to have a classmate or two who go on to be rock star multi-millionaire venture capitalists.
But the Durango makes a much better production vehicle than a Ferrari, especially when you drive through snow and flood waters—and use it for as an occationial tri-pod.
Related post: How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
“We only win in the long run by getting out there and bloodied in the short run.”
This blog is an example of rapid prototyping.
One week ago this blog did not exist except for a few ideas in my head so I thought it would be helpful to show how I went from step one to launch for very little time and money.
Now I own about 25 film books to every business book I have, but I think I first learned about rapid prototyping from Tom Peters. Some have called Thomas Edison “the father of prototyping,” but I imagine it goes back to a time closer to starting the first fire or inventing the wheel.
What is rapid prototyping? In filmmaking terms, it’s Edward Burns having a meeting at the end of 2010 with the Tribeca Film Festival people and coming up with an idea that he should make a feature to show for the festival’s 10th year and a few months later the film is written, cast, shot, edited and premiered. In an industry where the typical film can be in development for 3 to 5 years before it gets produced (or dies in development) Burns’ Newlyweds is definitely prototyping. Sylvester Stallone writing Rocky in six days is an example of rapid prototyping.
In the manufacturing world, a team of people may be put in charge of a project to design a widget quickly to meet a need in the marketplace. Rapid prototyping is messy business as it tends to follow the motto “fail early, fail often.” Because in the failing is where breakthroughs happen—like Edison inventing the light bulb;
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Attributed to Edison
Rapid prototyping is the answer to the too often heard corporate motto: “How many meetings does it take to kill a great idea?”
So in the spirit of rapid prototyping here is the quick over view of how E-Filmmaking came to be and how it cost less than $20 to launch.
Day 1 (June 30, 2011): Purchase domain name http://www.ENTREPRENEURIALFILMMAKING.com from GoDaddy.com for $8.57
Day 2: Realize while ENTREPRENEURIAL FILMMAKING may help with search engine no one will actually ever type www.ENTREPRENEURIALFILMMAKING.com so look for shorter version. Efilmmaking.com is taken so decide to roll with http://www.E-Filmmaking.com and purchase domain name for $8.57 from GoDaddy.com
Day 3: Sign in to WordPress.com and grab for free efilmamking.wordpress.com. Go to Twitter and for free sign up for @E_Filmmaking. (Again efilmmaking is taken. Don’t like that the brand three days old doesn’t have uniformity, but that’s some of the messy parts of rapid prototyping.
Day 4: Begin writing first blog. Realize that an Independence theme would make an excellent theme and Independence Day would be a great launch date. Scroll through the free blog templates at WordPress and finally pick on.
Day 5: (July 4, 2011) Just after midnight I launch efilmmaking.wordpress.com. Use my established blog of Screenwriting from Iowa to help promote the blog and use my more established Twitter account @scottwsmith_com to Tweet about new blog. Filmmaker Edward Burns re-tweets my tweet and gives E-Filmmaking a little boost out of the gate.
Day 6: Read some blogging and WordPress books trying to figure out the next step for E-Filmmaking.
Day 7: Link my www.ENTREPRENEURIALFILMMAKING.com and http://www.E-FILMMMAKING.com domain names in GoDaddy to efilmmaking.wordpress.com. And write second post.
So that’s the process that happend in just under 7 days and for a total of $17.14. Total physical time was probably around 6-8 hours. Of course, it is one of those things that was decades in the making. I was 19-years old when I first heard the word entrepreneur and I’ve had my share of successes and failures. (In fact, the unofficial definition of entrepreneur is something like “a rollercoaster of a life full of successes and failures.” Because not all rapid prototyping will fly.)
But there are valuable lessons to learn in all rapid prototyping. It’s part of the process—part of the 10,000 rule that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers.
One advantage that filmmakers in the early days of film had was they needed to make a lot of films to feed the audiences appetite. There was no internet, TV or video games. In fact, one of the reasons that so many great films were made in the 30s and early 40s was simply because so many films were made. It was not uncommon for a film to be shot in three weeks. It’s how some filmmakers back in the day directed 50 to 100 or more films. In fact, before John Ford directed his classic Stagecoach, he had made more than 90 film over a 2o years—most of which are unknown to today’s audiences.
So don’t look for every sub-two week film Edward Burns makes—or you make yourself—to be a classic. But know that by rapid prototyping you are partaking in the tradition of giants like Edison and Ford. And just maybe some day you will capture the magic. You’ll make your Stagecoach.
So that’s the short history of E-Filmmaking. It’s not perfect, but it’s out there. (There may not be blood, but there will be typos.) It’s a good feeling to watch the train leave the station. Best wishes on your own rapid prototyping.
©2011 Scott W. Smith
“Never in the history of the movie business has there been a better time for the Independents to be entrepreneurial.”
Los Angeles Film Festival keynote speech
“Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”
Benjamin Franklin, Entrepreneur
(And one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence)
This blog, E-Filmmaking, stands for Entrepreneurial Filmmaking. Something that has been a part of filmmaking since its inception when inventor Thomas A. Edison and his assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson began working on the first motion picture camera. Edison wrote in 1888, “I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in motion .”
Edison’s kinetograph was a success. And through the years the battle has raged on as businessmen and filmmakers have tried to find that gentle balance between art and commerce. Fortunes and been won and lost and many a great movie has emerged over the decades.
Over 100 years after the invention of the motion picture camera the entrepreneurial filmmaking spirit is alive and well as this blog launches on July 4, 2011. (Even if the concept of “film” itself is being redefined.)
American filmmaker Edward Burns earlier this year premiered his film Newlyweds the closing night of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Burns and his film represent entrepreneurial filmmaking. The indie film was shot with a small digital camera in 12 days for $9,000. Burns used social networking as part of the creative and marketing process and is his own film distributor using VOD, iTunes, and selling DVDs on his website.
If you want to put a face to entrepreneurial filmmaking than the actor/writer/producer/director Burns is a good start. After all in the past year, he’s made two feature films for a total of $34,000. “I decided not to mourn the death of the theatrical release and embrace the new digital platforms. I really think this might be the future of indie film distribution,” Burns told Forbes magazine. (You can follow Burns on Twitter @edward_burns.)
“I never thought I’d say this, but Ed Burns is a genius.”
But I also take a broader view of entrepreneurial filmmakers as I watch photographers becoming filmmakers with the advent HDSLR cameras, and have witnessed an explosion of creativity mixed with entrepreneurial zeal in fields as diverse as wedding storytellers and internet producers around the world.
So on a weekly basis this blog will explore global trends in e-filmmaking and serve as a compliment to the daily posts on Screenwriting from Iowa…And Other Unusual Places.
Graham Taylor, WME
“Money Talks & Art Matters”
So here we are 235 years after the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence for the United States celebrating part of the fruits of that freedom, entrepreneurial filmmaking…or e-filmmaking as we call it here (because “entrepreneurial filmmaking” is a mouthful and you need spellchecker for entrepreneurial).
Articles coming up this month will be “What is Entrepreneurial Filmmaking?,” “Rapid Prototyping,” and “How to Make a Million Dollars (in Production).”
And lastly you’ll be able to use e-filmmaking.com (link not live yet) and the Twitter address is @E_Filmmaking
Filmmaking Quote #15 (Edward Burns)