Release Forms, Credits, Contracts – take time for TCB

Greenspoke is getting close to done. I’m happy with the edit, still tweaking the sound, color, sub-titles and effects. Now the paper chase begins. It’s one thing to finish a film but you still need to get it out where someone will actually see it. While film festivals usually won’t get on your case asking for release forms and such, they do expect you to have them and when you enter you assume responsibility for having them (read those rules next time).

Getting worldwide distribution for last year’s  two julias from Ouat! Media in Toronto taught me all kinds of lessons as I scrambled to get the paperwork they required. Save yourself some headaches:

  1. Edit with music you actually have a chance of getting licensed for ALL media (not just festival licensing) without taking out a second or third mortgage.
  2. Get all the cast, crew and music release forms up front – BEFORE you pay them.
  3. Be prepared to do a dialogue list which notes each line and the time code in which it occurs in the film. This is deadly boring but absolutely necessary. You want your film to be shown in non-English speaking markets don’t you? Sub-titles and/or the dreaded dubbing are a part of being in a worldwide film market. You may be able to find a nice film intern to do it for you.
  4. Be prepared with GOOD production stills – avoid the urge to hand a PA a crappy digital still camera and hire a good photographer.
  5. Watch for non-music clearance issues (logos, recognizable locations, artwork visible in the frame). You can get a film school intern to help with this.
  6. Learn the difference between a license and distribution. A simple way to think of it is that a license is a one-off, whereas distribution can be multiple licenses for different media (theatrical, DVD, internet, etc). If you’re lucky enough to get an offer for your film, read the agreement and get professional advice if anything is unclear. An entertainment lawyer will run $200 an hour and up, but there are groups that offer low cost advice to artists like Washington Lawyers for the Arts.

Some other things to think about:

  1. Self-publish your short on DVD if you want to make it easily available. Print-on-demand services like createspace.com are great but you won’t make much money. Your title will show up on amazon.com if you use createspace, but they take yet another chunk o’ change. If you want to handle shipping and ordering stock, you’ll make more but it is more hassle. Createspace does have a pretty good deal  when you order your stock so you can combine both options there. If your distributor wants to do their own DVD, you can always take it down. And you already have artwork they may want to use. Another interesting option is IndieFlix – your film can be available for download or as a DVD.
  2. Don’t be passive. Take control of your career in as many ways as you can and don’t give up because one festival or one agent doesn’t want you.
  3. You’re trying to set up a business. Yes you are, you starving artist you. Treat it like a business. Make a budget and stick to it. Find reliable, knowledgeable people to help. This can happen through networking with other filmmakers but also through small business support organizations like SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives), the Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Centers.
  4. Consider going under a nonprofit status. This can be extremely helpful in fundraising because your donors can deduct their donations from their taxes. Rich people love that. Not so rich people love it too. I’m in the process of doing the paperwork (yes there is more paperwork) to be considered by a local organization called Shunpike that is focused on fiscal sponsorships and helping artists better manage the business of art.
  5. Don’t get discouraged. Most of you aren’t doing this because you are trying to get rich. That would be nice, but you do it because you love filmmaking. It speaks to you on a level that no other activity reaches. Take care of business and you’ll be able to keep doing this thing you love so much.
  6. Make a kickass product regardless of your budget. Creative choices can turn limitations into strengths. Be flexible without diluting the strength of your product. Watch the project evolve into something entirely fresh because you never imagined casting this amazing actor who didn’t fit your initial visual concept but is working on deferred comp, or setting the piece in the 1940s because you scored access to the costumes from a WWII-era version of Othello.

Just a note in closing – I’m struggling here as much as the next filmmaker. I’d love to hear your ideas, comments and constructive criticism.

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