Finally producing your first movie is very exciting. You’ve nailed the script (which can take years), you’ve secured financing, and you’re ready to finally (finally!) shoot and sell it. You’ve crossed many difficult hurdles to make it this far. So why do so many first-time filmmakers fail? Read my tips below to avoid common first-time filmmaking mistakes that will help set you up for success.
1. Your movie is the wrong length to sell internationally.
The first question you might be asking yourself is: Why do I need to sell my movie internationally? With the evolution of movie-making technology at our fingertips, independent films are more numerous than they’ve ever been. The playing field is crowded, so selling your film in other territories is often necessary to recoup the capital it took to make it and pay your investors back. This is why you must consider how the length of your film will be perceived internationally.
Movies must be between89 and 105 minutes long to sell in most territories. Some territories consider an 83-minute film to be far too short, while others won’t release a movie that’s longer than two hours. Don’t close yourself off to lucrative international sales by missing the mark on your film’s total running time when it’s easy to avoid if you know your target.
2. Your film looks like it was made on a micro budget.
The one thing you can’t skimp on is how your movie looks on screen. Even on a shoestring budget, gorgeous locations and architecturally sophisticated interiors can make all the difference. No matter how much your film actually costs, it needs to look top of the line. Whether you like it or not, your film will be competing with other projects from major studios. The good news? It’s possible to increase the production value of your movie with ingenuity, calling in favors, and thinking outside the box. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, the original MAD MAX, and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT were all huge successes made on small budgets.
3. You enter every festival on the planet.
Entering too many festivals cheapens the prestige of your debut. Instead of desperately applying to every single festival, go after the most sought-after ones first, like Cannes, Sundance, or the Toronto International Film Festival. Winning these festivals can put you and your film in an international spotlight and are notorious for launching the careers of up-and-coming writers and directors. After applying to the major festivals, work your way down to smaller ones only if you need to. Investors will be more interested in a film with select, impressive laurels on its poster.
4. You haven’t attached the right talent.
It’s going to be very hard to sell your movie if you don’t have notable cast members. Even if these actors are a “name” (like Seth Green), it doesn’t mean their notoriety translates to different territories. To attract higher-level talent that is more internationally known, hire a casting director to help you find a marketable actor, like a series regular on a hit television show. You can offer them a producer credit and part of the back end to make their deal more attractive. This is a nearly impossible task when you don’t know anyone, but if the script is blazing hot and you can get it into the hands of talent gate keepers, it’s possible. Wes Anderson was still an up-and-coming independent film director when he got Bill Murray to star in RUSHMORE.
5. Your subject matter isn’t entertaining enough or is too heavy.
A tragic story line with a depressing ending will not make a film distributor eager to show it in their territory. A movie where every scene is a tragedy or leaves the viewer feeling depressed and hopeless after a disturbing ending will have a hard time selling. There are very few exceptions to this rule, so even if you’re passionate about the subject matter, keep the marketability of your finished product in mind as you develop the script.
What lessons have you learned while producing your first movie? Tweet me @CaroleKirsch!