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By Hammad Zaidi | December 31, 2013

Welcome to Going Bionic, #192, otherwise known as the 2013 Year-In-Review. Since today is the last day of the year, I thought it would be appropriate to go over some key topics that we covered during the year. While the year yielded several business related, state-of-the-industry articles filled with facts, figures and very big numbers, the articles I have chosen to highlight today are the ones that most affect you, the filmmaker. After all, I write this column for indie filmmakers, so it only makes sense that my year-end wrap-up is littered with strategies and key insights that are designed to help your career. I’ve not only listed links to the articles, but I have also included excerpts from the articles we are highlighting.

Before we dive into our review, I’d like to tell you what I was up to in 2013, and share some of my favorite films from the year.

I had an amazing year in 2013. For starters, I became a partner at Industry Corporation, the video game and multimedia company I wrote about in the fall of 2012. Luckily, my relationship with Industry Corp grew, as I also became one of the founders of two new entertainment based technology companies; one of which is focusing on domestic and international video game and related entertainment sales and the other that is focused on revolutionizing the credit card experience. In addition, I also executive produced a feature film, which is currently in post and I wrote a spec script that I just started packaging. The crazy thing is, 2014 is going to be at least 10 times as busy – which will give me a lot more to write about.

As for my favorite flicks of 2013, here are seven films that I will remember 20 years from now, which is how I personally judge how good a motion picture is.

1)   Her

2)   12 Years A Slave

3)   Nebraska

4)   Before Midnight

5)   American Hustle

6)   The Trials Of Muhammad Ali

7)   Gravity

For me, those seven pictures defined the best that 2013 had to offer. I’d love to hear your top films. Should you like to share them with me, please email me!

Now let’s get into our 2013 Year-In-Review. As stated earlier, I chose to highlight the following articles because they are most directly related to helping your career. So, without further ado, here’s a glimpse back at our bionic 2013.


(Almost) Criminal Contract Clauses- Part 1  – January 8.
Licensor will advance five hundred ($500.00) dollars against expenses. Licensor agrees to pay the first one thousand seven hundred fifty ($1,750.00) dollars U.S. of Licensor’s portion of gross revenue as reimbursement for legal and marketing expenses; and thereafter twenty-five (25%) percent on Licensor’s share of its gross revenue from licenses made by. If a sub-agent is used, Licensor agrees to pay no more than an additional five (5%) percent on Licensor’s share of its gross revenue from licenses made by the distributor.

You should never pay any distributor/sales representative up front. If they need $500 from you to cover their “expenses,” then they aren’t that successful, and shouldn’t be representing your film. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with distributors charging fees. However, a smart move on your part would be to negotiate a total fee amount, and then tell your distributor/sales representative to take their fees as an off-the-top expense on sales they create for your film. The 30% sales fee seems a bit high, (my company charges 20%) but 30% isn’t criminally outrageous if, and only if, your distributor/sales representative is blanketing the earth (in person) trying to sell your film.


Incredibly Delicious Mauritius – February 12.
How Much Has To Be Spent To Get The 30% Rebate
The cool thing about this rebate program is that each type of project has a different minimum spend to execute the rebate. Based on the current exchange rate of $1 USD = 29.7 Mauritius Rupees, here are the current minimum spend limits:

Feature Film: $202,000 USD

TV Movie or Single Episode: $76,000 USD

Documentary: $76,000 USD

TV Commercials: $50,500 USD

As you can see, Mauritius makes it very easy to qualify for their rebate, so there’s no reason for you not to consider it.


Indie Filmmaker, Meet China. China, Meet Indie Filmmaker – March 19.
Tailor Your Pitch To Respect Their Business Culture
Lighting-quick paced, hard-selling pitches injected with overzealous financial projections and a relentless desire to close the deal immediately, are not going to work in most cases. In fact, being in a hurry is only going to slow down the process, not speed it up. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a high-energy pitch, I am saying your “need for speed” in closing the deal, should be shifted to a lower gear. Remember, once you get a “yes,” that is a “yes” to start your collaboration, not to closing a deal and shooting your film in ten weeks.


How Second Weekends Tell The Real Story – April 23.
Acceptable Drop From The First Weekend To The Second Weekend

Based on industry standard, having a drop off of less than 40% from weekend one to two, still gives your film a shot as being successful. Of course, a 30% drop is far better, than 40%, and if your film loses less than 20%, you have a sure-fire hit.


Reinvigorating Your Creative Juices – May 3.
Vacation Inspires Imagination
If your story is burning to a crisp in story development hell, it may be time to take a break and go do something fun. If you can take a vacation, take it. If not, take a “day-cation.” The amount of time away from your story doesn’t matter. What matters is that you plant yourself in an environment that’s new and different, so your creative juices can soak up new experiences. Only then will your mind find fresh, new creative paths to solve your story issues. Don’t worry; your project, and all of the stress that comes along with it, will still be there when you get back. So will your (probably) small, but (definitely) mighty core of supporters. Remember, new environments create new life experiences, and life experience is every creator’s best friend.

Reinvigorating Your Creative Juices, The Sequel – May 10.
Choose Your Epicenter of Creativity
My most recent epicenter of creativity was The Hard Days Night Hotel, which is an incredibly posh, beautifully conceived work of art that’s more of a Beatles museum with comfortable rooms to sleep in, than it is a typical hotel. In fact, nothing is typical about the Hard Days Night. The rooms grace Beatles artwork, the lights above the registration desk in the lobby have Beatles sheet music dangling from them, and even the “do not disturb” signs feature Beatles song titles to describe your request (the “do not disturb” side of the sign reads, “Let it be,” while the “please clean my room” side of the sign reads, “I Need You”).  The Hard Days Night Hotel also happens to be the only Beatles themed hotel on the planet. Since I’ve been a Beatles fan since before I could ride a bike (I learned that at the age of five), The Hard Days Night Hotel felt like home.


Five Things Filmmakers Need To Know Before Approaching Investors – June 4.
Don’t Include Your Script in Your Investment Package
Since 99% of investors a) have never read a script, b) have no interest in reading a script or c) have no idea how to read a script, it only spells doom by including your script in the package. Besides, the last thing you want to do is to confuse or frustrate your investors if they try to read a format they’ve never laid eyes on before. Remember, they won’t call you back and admit they didn’t know how to read your gem, they’ll just call back and say, “your investment is not for them.”

Five Things Filmmakers Need To Know About Getting An Agent – June 18.
Find Out How They Want to Guide Your Career
Once you land that coveted meeting with the agent, whether it’s on the phone or in person, you need to perk your ears open and listen to how the agent wants to guide your career. Mind you, I didn’t say you should spend this time telling the agent what you want to do, (i.e. write, direct and produce), I’m saying you should spend it listening closely to how they may want to represent you. What I mean is that more often than not, even agents who are interested in representing you will be very specific about how they position you (i.e. as a writer only vs. as a writer, director, producer, etc.). Thus, you need to make sure that both you and your potential agent are on the same page about your career direction, because if you are not, there’s no reason to work together.


Choosing Your Alpha Dog – July 2.
It’s Not About You; It’s About Your Career
While this statement may be a touch confusing, the truth is what’s good for you may not be what is good for your career. For example, you may someday write a game-changing screenplay that an army of A-list actors and directors wake up their agents past midnight to try to attach themselves to, but in most cases, those members of Hollywood’s upper crust will not want you to direct the film, and they usually will want one of their trusted writers to rewrite your stellar screenplay. While you could stick to your guns and demand you direct your own film, doing so will most likely kill your deal. Thus, should you find yourself in the envious position of having Hollywood’s elite knock on your door with their checkbook in hand, you might want to consider their buyout offer very closely. While selling off your “baby” will mark the end of your involvement (outside of the contractual rewrites), it will also sharply increase your value as a creator and writer. Thus, if you care more about career longevity than you do about satisfying your immediate desire to direct, then take a look the big picture and realize that securing one “above the line” credit on a studio release is worth far more than ten credits on a smaller picture.


The Art of Submission, Part 1 – August 20.
There Are Good Days and There Are Bad Days 
You should refrain from attempting to submit your screenplay to a major studio or production company on Monday. This is because, like The Boomtown Rats’ 1979 song, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” studios and major production companies don’t like getting bothered by hearing new ideas from new writers (assuming you’re not a major studio writer) on the first day of the workweek.  The powers that be spend Mondays recapping their weekend reads and strategizing their goals for the week. Thus, the ideal days to make “first contact” regarding your submission are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. As you can imagine, Fridays are as bad as Mondays as far as submissions are concerned. This is because most executives prefer not to consider a new project right before the weekend.


Just Say No – September 17.
No Automatic Contract Extensions Without Performance
When going over your distribution offer, one key point to look for are any extensions mentioned in your license term. Many distributors will try to sneak in extension verbiage somewhere in your contract, which will be heavily beneficial toward them.  Of course, it’s your job as the filmmaker to protect your own interests, i.e. the interests of your film.

Here is what to look out for:

Your contract with your sales agent/distributor calls for five years, but due to an “automatic extension” clause, embedded somewhere in the contract, you could be signing your film away for 20 years or more, without even knowing it. They say “ignorance is bliss,” for a reason; meaning if you failed to read your contract thoroughly, or have it read by an entertainment attorney, then it’s your fault for not catching the distributor’s slight of hand when it comes to sneaking an automatic extension clause. I know how that must sound, but it’s true. It is never the distributor’s fault for trying to include contract clauses that are favorable to them. Our industry is flooded with shrewd negotiators who will always take as much as they can get. But, it is your fault for not knowing a) those clauses exists, and b) how they impact the financial future of your film.

Furthermore, if you complain after-the-fact about not being aware of the contract extension clause, then your distributor will just respond with, “you should have known, because the clause was in your contract and you signed the contract.”

Of course, it’s always smart to include a performance-based extension clause based on the amount of sales your distributor/sales agent generates.


Reading Between The Lines – October 15.
It’s Not in Our Wheelhouse
Situation: When you submit a script, packed film that needs either all or part of their financing, or a completed film.

I love this term, because it’s a kinder and gentler way of letting you know they didn’t like your project. What’s funny to me is that if your project wasn’t in their “wheelhouse,” then why did they accept your submission in the first place? With every company having very direct mandates, i.e. being clear on what they will or will not develop, finance or distribute, this term often times signals non-interest in your project and or you.

The best way to combat hearing this is:
When you hear the fateful words, “it’s not in our wheelhouse,” don’t try to convince them to reconsider, because if they’re not 110% behind your project from the very beginning, they are not a place your project will thrive at. Instead, ask them what is in their wheelhouse, and if they’d be interested in developing a like-minded project with you to that effect. Should they shy away from wanting to work with you on a project other than the one you submitted, they probably don’t want to work with you. However, if they are open to the idea of crafting a new project with you, then you should jump at that opportunity.

Another way to combat “It’s not in our wheelhouse.”
In the event you’re dealing with a major studio or otherwise monstrous multi-billion dollar company, ask the person you submitted your project to if there is any other person at the studio who may respond more favorably. In other words, large corporations have multiple wheelhouses, and so your project may make sense for a person or division other than the one you submitted to. However, if they refuse to pass your project on to someone else, then they really didn’t like your project.


2013 End Of Year Navigation Strategies – November 12.
Ask About Their Holiday Schedule
Rather than guessing, it’s probably a very good idea to find out when the person(s) you submitted are going to be away during the holiday season. Once you ask, they’ll most likely offer you a timeframe as to when they’ll get back to you about your project. While two weeks from the date of submission is the normal time you should wait before you check in on your project for the first time, that window has been known to slip to several weeks during the holiday season. Thus, if your project has been “under review” for north of two months, you should ask when you can expect to get some feedback.

What you want to accomplish here is to find out where you stand, somewhere between the week after Thanksgiving and the free weeks between Hanukkah and Christmas. This year, Hanukkah begins on November 27 and runs through December 5, so you should seek to get your feedback between Monday, December 9 and Friday, December 20, if not earlier.


Looking Back At Your Career In 2013, Looking Ahead To 2014 – December 24.
Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
It truly amazes me how many filmmakers arrest their own career progression because they’re afraid to fail. Whether it’s hesitating to contact the representation for some A list actor you want, calling that agent or producer that could change your tax bracket overnight, or having coffee with your mega-rich family friend, who just may finance your first film, many filmmakers are hesitant to dive into the deep end of their career pool to see what happens.

The funny this is, failing is the single most important element of success. Without failing, you won’t know how to succeed, or how to handle your success. Thus, instead of running away from situations where you could fail, you should run toward them and embrace the opportunity you’ve been given. Remember, it’s always better to have tried and failed, rather than to have never tried. This is because failing gives you an opportunity to correct your mistakes in the future, while there is no future in never having tried to do something great.

That’s what I’ve had for you in 2013. I can’t express to you how much I appreciate you lending me your eyes, week after week and year after year, and I’d be honored to borrow your eyes again next year. I wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year, as well as prosperity, happiness and an abundance of luck!  Have a wonderful New Years Eve tonight, and I look forward to delivering you an even more bionic 2014! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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