There comes a time in every project’s life when it looks as if it may be better served to rest in peace. Whether financing falls through, a bankable actor bolts, or the script gets stuck in development hell, every project, even ones that go on to earn hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, suffers through a moment in time when the light at the end of the tunnel fades to black. However, before the proverbial towel gets thrown in and accountants are hired to assess its value as a tax write off, here are some key moves that may help salvage, re-energize and reinvent the film as a financially and socially viable product.
Get “Real” Coverage
By “real” coverage, I mean you need to get notes from people who aren’t emotionally connected to you. In other words, you need to completely disregard notes from your friends, loved ones and colleagues, and focus on remarks originating from studios, agencies, production companies and financing entities. Find out why your project is getting rejected, and if there is anything you can alter that may turn a red light green. Remember, your film may seem perfect in your eyes, but your eyes aren’t the ones that matter.
Reassess Your Budget
Quite a few film financing deals fall apart in the eleventh hour because the budget doesn’t support the projects projected potential. While there are some exceptions, the theatrical and DVD grosses of most films fall within a projected range that’s devised before the film gets funded. This earnings projection is based on the performance of previously released films in the same genre, actor quality and budget. Therefore, no matter how much a financial entity loves your project, they may pull the plug, simply because the numbers don’t make sense. The way to combat this situation is to find out if there is a budget amount the investor/investment entity will say yes to.
For example, if you have a $3.1 million dollar project that falls apart, ask the financiers what they feel the investment is worth. If they say they will fund it “if you can make it for $1.68 million,” it then becomes your job to carve the budget down.
One manner, in which you can achieve this, is to reduce your own pay. Taking less money will show your investors that you are sacrificing comfort and financial stability to make the project happen. Since all investors, no matter how wealthy they are, feel they are sacrificing financial stability every time they invest in an independent film, taking less money for yourself will help the investors feel like you are suffering alongside them. This is a good thing, since misery loves company!
Another way to deflate your budget is to ask your actors, above-the-line players and crewmembers to take less money up front, in exchange for a much higher payout once the film gets distributed. Since most films never achieve a profit, these payouts can be constructed as on “off-the-top” expense from the first money that comes in from any form of distribution. An easier way to explain this tactic is to say the deferred payments are paid back before the investors recoup any money. While some investors may frown at this structure, most will accept it because it will allow them to invest far less money up front, making their investment far less risky.
Increase The Scope Of Your Film
By “scope,” I mean how big your idea feels, not necessarily how big the budget is. Some films, regardless of budget, just feel bigger than others. For example, The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) both felt far bigger than their micro-budgets, because they dealt with large scope topics that millions of viewers are interested in. Thus, finding a large scope idea that can be made in a small scope budget is a recipe that most investors will cook with.
Do A Page One Rewrite And Then Re-Title The Script
Mind you I’m suggesting a re-title of the script after you spend several months (not days) rewriting. Merely retitling the script and passing it off as something new and different won’t work, because a turd by any other name is still a smelly turd. However, changing your script enough to convince potential investors that your are offering them a “new and improved” investment, may just be the potion you need to get funded.
Engage Your Disgruntled Actor In Your “Project Makeover”
In the event your actor bolted in the eleventh hour, ask him or her (more likely ask their representation) what changes you can make to have them recommit. Aside from increasing their payout, which you probably won’t be able to accommodate on an indie film budget, find out what elements they need to be implemented in the film in order to come back. Since often times the actors attached will be the major reason investors will invest in your project, keeping those actors happy and engaged in your vision is crucial.
Side Note – Only make this move if the actor in question is big enough to make a difference in the box office. If they can’t get you significantly more publicity, press and “butts in seats,” then don’t waste your energy trying to get them back.
Consider Social Factors That May Hinder Your Success
Back in early September of 2001, a writer acquaintance of mine was days away from going out with a comedy spec script about a terrorist. Then, a few days later, “9/11” happened. Suddenly, what may have been funny on September 10th 2001 was no longer funny 24 hours later. Obviously, the writer’s “terrorist comedy” was never to be seen or heard from again.
Unforeseen tragedies can change the fate of films overnight, as can scandals and topics that induce a social outcry. Thus, you should be sensitive to what’s going on in the world, what the media is focusing on, and what society is accepting or rejecting, in order to assess if getting your film made during the current social climate is a good idea. Remember, “timing is everything,” so shelving your project for a year or two, or a decade or two as in the case of The Unforgiven (1992) or Avatar (2009), may be a better move for your project.
Let A Dead Project Rest In Peace
Some projects, for whatever reason, will never get made. If you deem your project to be better off dead after years of trying to get it made, let it die and rest peacefully in development hell. Don’t worry, you can always brush it off again when the social or film industry climate changes in favor of films like yours. Of course, you can also turn yourself into an “A” list filmmaker and force the studios to make your “dead script” in exchange for doing a film they want you to do. Either way, if a film is meant to get made, it will, so don’t worry if it seemingly dies.
That’s what I’ve got for you this week. As always, I thank everyone for lending me their eyes, and I’d be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday!