Friday, November 20, 2015

INDIE FILM DISTRIBUTION LESSONS WE LEARNED THE HARD WAY (AND LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT) - PART THREE

A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.
(see the original three part series here)

IN A LAND FAR FAR AWAY...

Most filmmakers fantasize about seeing their film on the big silver screen in their hometown. If you're smart, that's something you can accomplish on your own. We rented out a theater at AMC Pacific Place for our backers, cast and crew, but we didn't make a dime off that screening. We spent a lot, but didn't get anything back. So how do you get it to a screen near you? The answer: you may not.
You may never see your film distributed in your home country. We accepted that after many tears and bottles of whiskey. Sometimes, you simply can't sell what you have made in that market.
The truth for all films is that foreign distribution is where they can ultimately make the bulk of their money back. We're talking studio films, so let's get back to indie film. Every territory is broken down by region and sometimes territory.
Run. Hide. Die.
Run. Hide. Die.
The UK is its own territory. Germany is its own territory. Taiwan is its own, Japan is its own, Brazil is its own. But then there is the "whole of South America" which doesn't include Mexico. Confused yet? These are all potential places you can sell your film, and I bet that wasn't something that even crossed your mind yet if you're in the market. Each market has a different buyer and a different set of rules. Germany for example must have a dubbing, but France, Japan and South America can use subtitles.
Horror film, which again, is a very specific type of product, is super popular in European markets. And the more abstract your film is, the better. The first territories we secured were the UK and Germany. But as I mentioned just moments ago, we had to have it dubbed into German. Which means an additional cost that was taken out of our initial return. The distribution company paid for it, leaving our payment to be much less than initially estimated. Then, if Germany likes it, they can renew the contract and maybe next time around we will actually see something out of it.
Your foreign territory is every it as important as your domestic audience. Neglecting them means neglecting any potential your film can achieve. It may not be millions, it may be only thousands, or hundreds, at a time. But the next time you go to pitch yourself as a filmmaker, how much more seriously do you think people will take you when you can say you have a feature film in distribution? The answer is very.
Two critical tips for preparing your film for foreign distribution:
1. Have the music and effect tracks (also known as M&E tracks) separated from dialogue. It is incredibly difficult to dub a film in German if the music track is attached to the English dialogue.
2. Have a script that is verbatim what you cut into the film. If you reworked a scene so the word order is flipped, the script must reflect. This is all to ensure that the dubbing and subtitle team are translating exactly what happens on screen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

INDIE FILM DISTRIBUTION LESSONS WE LEARNED THE HARD WAY (AND LIVED TO TELL ABOUT IT) - PART TWO

A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.

(see the original three part series here)

AGENTS ARE YOUR FAIRY GODMOTHER

It's a well-known fact that actors of a certain caliber have agents. Writers have agents. Directors, and even producers often have agents. But a movie? That's just weird, right? Wrong. We knew so very little when we went to our first AFM in 2013. We were barely out of post-production and had just screened at our first festival. We decided that rather than spend thousands of dollars on the gamble that festivals can be, we'd skip that step and move directly past go to collect our $200. Boy, were we in for a hard lesson.
We went down to the largest North American Film Market around with no badges, no experience and no idea what we were doing. We were very lucky and still managed to snag several meetings with distributors, including After Dark Films. They all listened to our pitches and every last one of them took the one-sheet and DVD copy we had of the film. Some of the people we met with were actually sales agents, though they often heralded under a company name that sounded a lot like a distribution entity. The major difference here is the role each plays.
An agent is the liaison between the filmmaker and the distribution company. The distribution company is the team that actually puts your film in front of viewers either as a DVD, VOD or theatrical release. We did not meet our agent that we would soon sign with at AFM. We met some great ones, but they were all looking for something very specific. On the tail end of the success of Gravity, the thing we were asked most often was, "Do you have any sci-fi?" They didn't even know what sci-fi was, they just knew that it made a lot of money and was about to win a few Oscars. Suffice to say, we weren't quite what they needed.
Rather than get discouraged, we came back to Seattle and hit the drawing board. We started looking at other films that had been released, even in small form on VOD platforms. We compared them to our film to see if we would be a good match and then our director cold-called all of them. Some considered us, some never returned the call. In the end, Ultimately Ruthless Pictures (our agent) picked us up.
It took our agent two years to get the distribution agency to really consider our film, leading to the principal reason as to why your agent is your fairy godmother: they will do anything for you as long as your contract is valid. Your agent doesn't get paid until you do, so much like an actor's agent, they need to sell you. If your film doesn't suit the distributors' needs, they shelve it or dump it because they don't have the time or the money to stick with you. Our agent stuck by us through all of this and found new ways to pitch the same movie to thesame distributor. Every pitch was different until he found the one that finally worked.

TRAILERS ARE A FILM'S BEST FRIEND

Screenshot (39).png
Have you ever gone to see a movie based entirely on the trailer? Me too! Pretty much everyone I know has. It was our trailer and poster that got our agent's attention. He saw something in what we created originally. He saw that we had done our homework and that we had a project he could work with. Other indie filmmakers who saw it at festivals got pumped to see the film. You know who didn't? Distributors. They yawned and passed.
We had spent a lot of time on our trailer and spent $500 on a poster design from a specialist who crafts hand painted posters specific to vintage '80s horror. It broke our hearts when the agent said he was going to cut a new trailer and make a new poster. The first poster we had was awesome. The second one he gave us was meh. The new one, well... I know if I was searching on iTunes for a horror movie for Halloween, it would stand out and at least make me watch the trailer.
Think about that for a moment. How do you choose a film, especially one you've never heard of before? Your first impression is the poster. Then you base your judgement on the trailer.
Our original trailer with music from our composer was radically different from the one our agent cut (seen below), which featured music from one of the 17 bands we signed for our soundtrack. The major difference between the two is the energy. The trailer our agent put together simply moves. It moves like a horror trailer - it moves like a movie trailer. It hits every beat that you expect a trailer to hit and it makes you want to see the movie. Which is the entire purpose behind the trailer and poster magic combo: get people to watch your product, I mean, film.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Indie Film Distribution... Lessons We Learned- the Hard Way - PT 1

A sample of content originally written as guest content for Smarthouse Creative.
(see the original three part series here)

There is a unicorn in independent film: distribution. Actually, believe it or not, that little unicorn is precious to all filmmakers. Because even George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also considered "indie" filmmakers (that's a whole 'nother post) that sometimes find themselves on a challenging road to distribution. Sometimes it seems like a fairy godmother descends in an opalescent magic bubble to bestow upon the lucky few a magic deal that leads to a fulfilling career in independent film. Sadly, as the industry makes a massive shift in how films are acquired and distributed, the yellow brick road is more than a little jagged - not mention playing hell on our ruby slippers.
While I consider myself and my partner among the lucky few who have managed to get our film into distribution, the road has been long, difficult and not without a few shed tears. More than once our whole team was ready to throw in the towel. Our sales agent was our best friend during that time. He coached us through it, holding our hands when necessary. He also ignored us wen we got a little to needy, making sure to bring us back in when the situation demanded it. We made a whole lot of mistakes, but fortunately for us we learn quickly. While I could write a whole novel, there are a few things we learned that I feel many of my fellow filmmakers are under-prepared to face when they get ready to market and distribute their film without the help of a studio.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

I'll tell you one thing: Titles = Marketing. Selecting the perfect title that encompasses everything about your film is as delicate and personal as selecting the name of our first-born child.

Just don't get attached to it.

From beginning concept to the distributed film, our feature has gone through three title changes. One, right before we ran our Kickstarter campaign, and another when the distribution company didn't think they could sell our current title, The Anniversary. They gave us a list of titles, all of which made us roll our eyes.

Then it dawned on me what these new titles were. Search Engine Optimized, or SEO in digital shorthand. In marketing terms that means our title is likely to come up in a Google search based off of the gambit of things a potential viewer (customer) might be looking for. We made a horror film. The chance that the words run, hide or die may be part of your search are incredibly high. Ergo, the new title: Run. Hide. Die. No seriously, that is the new title. That's what they decided best fit the film, and you know what? Go ahead and Google it. See what comes up.






Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Are You Not Entertained?!

Jurassic World is sexy. Weird, I know, but that might just be the most appropriate thing to say about it. It hits on all the marks it is supposed to as a film: be entertaining, give us something we haven't seen before, give us a good story with relatable (read:believable) characters, make us feel something.  It's pretty hard for every film out there to manage this, but Jurassic World did.

Jurassic World brought in $82 million on it's opening day domestically, double what Mad Max: Fury Road was able to achieve.  With the absolute catastrophes at the box office over the last year, those numbers signal that people are seeing this film in high numbers- and it's looks like it will be continuing that trend.

One of the reasons that previous box office smashes like Spiderman (the original please don't bother me about the new one) Slumdog Millionaire and My Big Fat Greek Wedding did so well is because people went to see them more than once. I was a teenager when the first Spiderman came out and our local theater had it on 6 screens at once playing every hour on the hour. You do that math.

And yet, with all these successful movies following a similar set of rules, people were both surprised at the success of Jurassic World and enraged. I hear the haters crying about it. The GCI isn't real enough.  Or Theres too much nostalgic throw back for me. My personal favorite: Colin Trevorrow ruined my childhood. To that I say, unless you're Tim Murphy, QUIT YOUR BITCHING.

As of this writing, Jurassic World has raked in over $208 Million. So either you haters are full of it, or you actually did enjoy the movie and paid to see it multiple times. In a theater.

I know I did. I know my husband did, and our friends did. This movie was a blast to watch, the poster is on our favorites wall and I plan on getting it for my husband for Christmas.  Just remember something the next time a blockbuster comes out and is hugely successful (or an epic failure), ask yourself the Gladiator question: Are you not entertained?


UPDATE: 9/28/15 We are approaching the four month mark. FOUR. MONTHS. $1.6 BILLION World Wide. You haters are something else.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Brilliant #Hastag and a Facial

Like most of my friends, I love a good deal. I love test driving new products, especially for free. When a social media colleague of mine shared the hashtag #skoahfirstfacial  all I could think of was- YES PLEASE! I shared the links, booked my appointment and settled in to be pampered.

Skoah is not a new product, but it's fairly new to us, literally, as the US is a new territory for the Canadian skincare line. They have lovely little boutiques in Seattle, Boston and Canada that are quite easy to overlook because they appear to be just another skincare store if you're window shopping. I'm sure someone on their marketing team realized this when their return numbers were lower than expected. A hashtag and free facial (an $85 value) seemed like an excellent way to attract new customers and generate talk about the product.

It worked.

Dozens of my friends were posting photos of their gifts and the notes that their esthetician had left for them. Before and after photos were popping up in my newsfeed every day. It took me almost a week to book my appointment and when I finally did they said I was lucky, they had an opening but were currently booked through the end of June.

While I was being pampered, my "personal trainer for your skin" very gently described to me the products she was using and why. I wasn't just being sold, it was more simply a conversation. She asked me real questions about my lifestyle and offered practical advice on ways to improve my skin routine without really changing much of day to day life. As a mom of a 2 year old who often skips my own self care, less is more was a win for me.

It was lasted about 45 minutes, plenty of time to get a recharge on a stressful week but not enough to steal time away from my responsibilities. And now, I had been educated about some pretty cool products too.

When she finished, she reviewed the products she used and why, then recommended a few for my home use. There was no pressure to buy, it was incredibly gentle both for a facial and a sales pitch. Who doesn't want to be pampered while listening to a sales pitch? It's like taking your medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

Well played Skoah, I will be back.

#skoahfirstfacial

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Celebrity vs Integrity: Why Genre Films Need Fresh Blood

It goes like this: When creating a new world and/or universe as it relates specifically to a film, it is better suited to utilize lesser-known actors than A-list talent.It might be helpful to break down the primary genres of films before we break down my theory. The four umbrella genres, as I like to call them, are Action-Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Documentary and Western. Every film ever made falls into one of these categories.  Then we add the sub-genres, which are so varied that filmmakers add sub-genres to the sub-genre until it so convoluted no one knows what defines a films genre. So for the sake of this article I'm going to eliminate a few and focus on the most common sub-genres: horror, racing and sci-fi.

Well, Hollywood is at it again. They canceled yet another long anticipated film because a completely unrelated film tanked at the box office.  While the poor performance of Tomorrowland has absolutely no correlation what so ever on the fan favorite Tron, the latest installment of the popular franchise has been canceled.  

Ok, looking at this simple box office comparison it’s easy to see why studios pulled the plug.  I get it. CHAPPiE- another robot sci-fi with a hastily built world- hasn’t made it’s budget back- yet.  Tomorrowland was Disney’s big bet to compliment their futuristic theme park exhibits and compete with, well itself, considering six films being released this year belong to the Mouse or its subsidiaries. Forbes breaks down a financial hypothesis that makes it easy to guess the probable future for Tomorrowland that does not look promising.

I have not yet seen Tomorrowland (or CHAPPiE), so I cannot comment on their quality. I can compare them to another recent sci-fi flop- Jupiter Ascending. Tomorrowland and Jupiter Ascending have A - list  Oscar winning talent, bulging budgets and horrific ROI for their studios. CHAPPiE managed to score a modest budget for a studio film, but unless it kills it overseas, the return future looks grim. 

Three sci-fi flicks, three new worlds heralded by celebrity talent- three major “flops” in less than year. If I were a studio suit, I’d look at the films on my roster and start slashing too. 

But I have this theory.


You see, genre films tend to have a very rabid fan base. Those fans have certain expectations, and their expectations are very different than the suits sitting behind a green light at a studio. There are elements unrelated to the caliber (read celebrity) of talent in the film that fans expect and demand. These expectations have everything to do with world building and story, and rarely rely on the talent in the roles. And by talent, I mean celebrity (they still want them to have some chops). This reality crosses genres. It is true for horror films, westerns, sci-fi, and racing.



Lets start with horror. Even if you’re not a fan, it is probable that you've seen at least one. The one you've seen is also probably one of the most popular. The Birds, for example, remains one of the most classic horror films in history. Tippi Hedren had exactly one film under her belt before she landed the iconic role. Jamie Lee-Curtis only a handful of side roles and forgotten characters before Halloween.  The 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street was Johnny Depp's first role. Maybe you want a new one? Ok, Cabin in the Woods. Sure, Thor is in it. But he wasn't Thor when he made it. In fact the scheduled release was AFTER Thor hit theaters and Chris Hemseworth became an “overnight” sensation. On the flip side, Bradley Cooper had ten years and The Hangover under his belt while Renée Zellweger had an Oscar in hand by the time they did Case 39. And nobody cared.

Racing movies. Oh, racing movies. These also fall under action-adventure, and almost always involve and actual race of some sort. They are enormously popular because racing is hugely popular. One of the most lucrative is the Fast & Furious franchise. No one could have guessed it would spawn a series, but it did. It also turned three of its cast members into stars, two into mega stars. Paul Walker had shown up previously in two films and even managed to grace the poster art. Pretty as he was, he was still second fiddle to Joshua Jackson in Skulls and James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues. Vin Diesel had a minor role in Saving Private Ryan, and voice work on Iron Giant before he became known world wide as the brooding anti-hero Domenic Torreto in the Fast & Furious chain.



The Mad Max franchise sits on some critic lists as a horror film, but is resolutely aimed a gearheads and action fans. The current installment has two established and known actors who can command a small audience on their own, both with an average box office draw of only $40 million or less on average. That tells you something about the appeal of the universe it sits in when as of this writing, it has pulled in $239 million. The original Mad Max… well it was America’s introduction to Mel Gibson and what became one of the most lucrative action film careers of the 80’s and 90’s. What’s interesting is that the Mad Max’s universe of a world gone to hell apocalypse, also classifies it as a sci-fi.

Sci-fi, or science-fiction if you’ve been living under a rock, is probably the broadest spectrum of genre films out there. Studios only think in terms of the last successful sci-fi they’ve had or wished they had, so their definition depends on the year. Fans on the other hand know what sort of sci-fi they like and tend to be ruthlessly loyal to it.  

Traditionally, it means space travel and aliens (Star Wars, Star Trek TV series, Aliens). Sometimes it refers to experiments gone wrong (Weird Science, The Fly). On occasion it embraces technological evolution where machines become smarter than we are (The Matrix, War Games). Harrison Ford, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Sigourney Weaver, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Goldblum, Gina Davis, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Matthew Broderick are just a few of todays Hollywood elite and were virtually unknown before they were in the films mentioned above.

Then along comes Tomorrowland. It falls squarely in the sci-fi category- but fails the audience’s expectations to be transported to Oz, er- I mean Tomorrowland. The resounding response of critics and fans alike is that Brad Bird’s latest film is more a lack luster climate-change piece than a thrilling sci-fi adventure into a brave new world.

Sci-fi fans expect to see inside the Matrix, they expect to travel to the galactic core and visit Tataouine. The fans/audience expect these worlds to be specific, fully developed and integral to the story. Earth and Asgard are uniquely tied, but Chris Hemsworth was not Thor before Asgard was built.

In the 1982 Tron, the audience was zapped right onto the Grid. Computer graphics were new to film, and if it had failed to make the audience believe they could be transported into a computer system, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It did work and it changed the game for movies.  

Nearly 30 years later, we zap right back to the new and improved “bio-digital-jazz” of the Grid.  Both Jeff Bridges and Garret Hedlund  had a handful of films under the belts previously, but were still relatively unknown when they took their roles in Tron (Bridges) and then Tron: Legacy (Hedlund). Their star power had little sway over the universe that was built. Subsequently, the success of the films was built on the fans love of Tron and the grid. If the studio understood that, they might not have been so quick to pull the plug on a film that made 25% gross profit.

This is why the absence of a star or celebrity is actually beneficial to a genre-film attempting to establish a new world. Clooney is a popular and talented actor. Its almost impossible to see him as anyone other than Clooney with the exception, possibly, of Daniel Ocean (they're basically the same person, right?).

It’s like high school, the same five kids in the leads, you stop seeing the characters or the play. You only see the actor so that is what you focus on. If they can’t carry the material, you notice. When the actor is unknown, you focus on the character, the story and the world surrounding them. If it’s done right, we experience one of those rare moments where you get to be completely immersed in the film from beginning to end. And if it's good on top of that, well... It could just be the star making vehicle audiences have come to know and love: read, successful ROI.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hero of Fury Road

There is probably very little I can say that is different from the enormous amount of ink that trails after the Mad Max exhaust streak. I also wont bore you with comparisons to the original, which also seems to hound after the film.

The general consensus is that Fury Road is an achievement in cinema that pushes boundaries- some accidentally. Now that my heart rate has returned to normal and I’ve been able to absorb some of what I saw, I’d like to discuss what I think might be a controversial point of view.

There is a lot to appreciate about this film. The fact that it forces the audience to experience the film rather than passively consume is arguably one of it’s greatest achievements. I counted only two actual moments in the film where the audience took a collective breath and sighed relief, only to be shoved right back into the adrenaline rush. That goes without saying in a film such as this.

But who is the hero? Notice I did not ask who’s story it is.

We obviously have the two leads and an antagonist, along with an assortment of colorful characters to round out the roster. It is easy to debate which character is actually the lead, as our narrator is Max but the clear catalyst for events is Furiosa. While both of these circumstance-hardened individuals pack a powerful punch, I don’t think either of them are the actual heroes of the story. In fact I think the hero is one of the colorful subordinates Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult.



Now calm down a minute. Max and Furiosa are both formidable characters that go on their own journey, redemption being their mission. While they both achieve their goals, neither of them has to go through a serious transition or do any self-reflection to hit their mark. Simply put, these ass-kicking individuals whose prime directive is to survive are limited in their growth by their line of sight. Often their goal is to make it to tomorrow, or in the case of this film to the end of road.

When we meet Nax, he is dying. He is kept alive by a grotesque “blood-bag”, a line of injection tied directly to Max. When the War Boys head out to hunt Furiosa, Nax insists on going hoping to die with his boots on so to speak. While it may come from a point of cult like fervor that possess all the War Boys, it’s still a noble sentiment that is often attributed to the hero or lead: live or die fighting.

After an intense chase that barrels both Nux, his blood bag Max, Furiosa and the rest into a tornado of fire and ash ends in a violent attempt to sacrifice himself to stop Furiosa, we get our first moment to breathe. Max is alive. Furiosa and the wives are alive. Nux is, amazingly,  alive. Hero by classical definition is a person of god like prowess or a warrior  possessing special strength or courage. I think it’s safe to say that a man on his death bead who survives a crash like that possesses a certain element of strength and courage.

The road gets more complicated when our assortment of crazy and desperate are all thrown into the same war machine. Nux is abandoned not once, not twice, but three times. Yet he still manages to crawl back to the central plot, and when he does he finally has a revelation and a change of heart. He’s the only one who does a real 180 from the path he’d been following from the beginning- help the people he’d once been hunting.

When the road runs out, the one who stays behind to make the sacrifice so that others may live, is Nux. You might say it’s been his purpose since the beginning. Only now, instead of dying in vain for a warmongering tyrant parading as a demi-God, it’s for freedom and hope.

So yeah, Max and Furiosa are brave. They are our (sometimes reluctant) leaders who bark orders and kick ass. It’s in their DNA to do so. Nux, not so much. Still, he somehow manages to stay along for the ride, undergo an enormous change in perspective AND throw down the sacrifice card to seal the deal. If you either live a hero or die trying, that is the foundation of his journey. 


Nux might be an anti-hero, but still a hero.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Long Distance Vision

When I sit on a panel at the Seattle Film Summit or any film festival, I often feel like I’m talking at the air. Hopefully something I say has weight and sticks. I mean I really hope someone in the audience will glean useful tips towards making their own films. This week I spoke to 9th graders in Walla Walla, WA, a place largely untouched by the film community. If teaching teenagers is difficult on a regular day, trying to impress upon them how every classes they’re currently in can relate to film was a challenge.  But the take away, for them and for us, is the long-term investment.

For kids in high school, their goals are simple: take enough classes to graduate, get marks high enough to get into the college of their choice, begin the steps towards a career in something that interests them. I guarantee none of them think of their day to day like that. And even fewer filmmakers do. But that’s exactly what I have learned over our last five years as an independent filmmaker.

I cannot tell you how many green filmmakers come to us with an “idea”.  It’s usually a grand idea for them, and often very personal. It’s also not a very interesting story to a wider audience. Two people in a coffee shop is super easy to film, it’s also super boring. My husband and I partnered in film about five years ago. Since then, we’ve seen dozens of shorts and one feature through. We made a pact that we would only make films we wanted to see. So when a filmmaker comes to us with a dull story the first thing we ask them is “why do you want to tell this story?” If they can’t answer that question, we pass. If their answer is blasé, we pass.  If they have no intention of putting in any of the work to make it happen, you guessed it, we pass.

Filmmaking is not a quick turn around. Often there are long hard hours in development, pre-production and post can drag on for months or even years. The production- actually filming- is probably the most exciting phase but it’s also the shortest. For our first feature we were in development and fundraising for five months, shot for 18 days and post for a year. Three years later and a lot of tough-love-learning as we went, we have a UK and US distributor and are finally seeing fruit of our labor. 


Think about that for a minute. Over a year and a half to actually MAKE the movie. Another year and a half to see the film into distribution. That’s the equivalent of spending the whole of your high school or college years with a single goal in mind.  If you are not interested in the film your making, or it’s a dull story, can you imagine pouring 3 years of your life into it? My guess is no.

We also never stopped. Even though our feature was in post, we kept going. We made three more shorts and a music video to follow up. My husband snagged a feature and a short film in post and we both worked on a couple dozen commercials. All while continuing to pursue a course for our first feature. It’s paid off. This fall we will see our first feature film in distribution, and have the road paved for our next feature.

There were three points we left our students with and I’ll share them with you here.

1. Learn Everything You Can.  Every class you take can relate to a career in film. It’s impossible to tell a student whose favorite class is gym that they have a career in film, but they do. Ever seen a Marvel movie? Able-bodied individuals with a passion for athleticism are going to have healthy careers making movies. I reexamined my US History courses writing my last screenplay and I am constantly in needed of people who excel in math to help me budget our films. The student with a passion for cooking is able to cater my film and the student who really only cares about computers can program my special FX.  I’m constantly reading books and blogs from those who have gone before and I learn something new from all of them. Never stop learning, and always embrace the little things. You never know when you might need that course you once took on geometry to measure the distance and angle from your camera to your subject.

2.  Define Your Success.  The allure of the red carpet and an Academy Award is difficult to resist. It’s also not the truth for the majority of filmmakers. But success can be. I’m reading a book currently by a filmmaker you’ve never heard of, who earns a comfortable living making and selling films.  There’s a documentary on Netflix titled I Know That Voice about actors whom you probably know but couldn’t pick out of a line up.  Filmmakers in my hometown have screened their films at Sundance and Toronto and Cannes. They’ve sold those same films to Netflix or you can watch them on any of your digital devices. I know them- but you probably do not. My husband and I are full time filmmakers, and it’s probably this is the first time you’ve heard of me.  What we all have in common is that we work as filmmakers, and have done so for several years.  Success is not defined by how famous you are. It is defined by the quality of work you have created that allows you to continue providing for yourself and your future.

3. The Long Road. We were very naïve as filmmakers when we set out. We made a single short film our first year. The second year we made 3. The next? Eight shorts and one feature. It took time to plan them all. It took time to see them finished. It took time to see any sort of return on them. But we kept working, kept pushing and continued to follow through to the end of each goal.  It’s been a three year process to get our first feature into distribution. The short films all ended up online, and we’ve made some money off of all of them.  It took patience and perseverance to follow through. If you give up after the first rejection letter or the first project that falls through, you’ll never see the end of the road. The writer/director of The Fifth Element had that script for fifteen years before it became a reality.  Now he has 56 writing credits and 21 directing credits. Kathryn Bigelow directed for thirty years (some pretty amazing films) before the Academy recognized her work.

The same thing I told those 9th graders is what I’d like to leave you with.  Find your passion, find your voice and keep going. The future belongs to those who move forward.