Where Have All the Film Rights Gone?

Continuing on the topic of producing films from Monday’s post on film budgets, what do you do when you –miracle of miracles– finish the film?

Well, you want to get it distributed, of course!

And, just as I want more than theoretical notions and generalizations for distribution, I want to know who likes to acquire what — and as much of their terms and conditions can be shared.

So over at the site Dear Producer, Liz Manashil and Rebecca Green surveyed a host of distributors and compiled their responses.

The resulting list breaks down not only the types of films dozens of distribution companies acquire, but what festivals they typically attend, what their standard term lengths are, and so on.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the sage advice of knowing your distribution plan before you make your film dozens of time. Well, it’s great to be reminded of that, but then there’s the whole problem of knowing –even within a given market– who the best buyers might be.

Yes, I’ll absolutely research the heck out of the individual companies before approach them, but I find this list is a great way to get some companies to keep in mind (or exclude) from the get-go. I hope that’s the case for many of you as well.

By the way, if you’re already in the mode of learning more about distribution for your indie project, Avril Speaks has a great article about lessons she learned about what to look out for when making your distribution deal.

Reminder: If you’re a fellow filmmaker that wants to chat about this or other fun, wonky producer stuff, I’ll be at the VIP Film and TV Summit in April. I’d love to compare notes.

Film Budgets… Through a Film Lifecycle

One wonky thing I’m endlessly fascinated by is film budgets. When you realize that an hour of modern “prestige” TV can top $10 million, yet the average Hollywood blockbuster is over $100 million, you know certain choices are being made and risks accepted.

And yes, I know traditional theatrical distribution and traditional network and cable distribution have business models that can inform and support these widely disparate budgets. However, I lap up little tidbits from behind-the-scenes features and other clues dropped in media interviews for how crafty producers and production staff save money here and there.

Here’s yet another instance where I have to thank my dad for taking us to see no end of foreign and classic movies growing up (TCM before TCM existed, as I like to say). Among all the other lessons I absorbed was the implicit reinforcement that you can have a damn fine movie for less than a blockbuster budget. Don’t get me wrong, things cost money… and there’s always something that costs more than you’d like. But great locations, sumptuous costumes, and even some visual effects work are absolutely within reach of modest or even “low” budgets.

It still might not be enough money.

But I’m not satisfied with the theoretical. I want to know specific tricks to save time and money. I want to know the ratios to use when estimating this versus that. I want to know the types of risks associated with all the different departments making a film.

And while it doesn’t nail down all of that, Stephen Follows’ article about feature film budgets is a veritable treasure trove of exactly that kind of historical data.

Seriously, if you’ve kept reading up until this point, odds are much higher that you have been obsessing about these things too and Follow’s article goes straight to the kind of planning-based-on-historical-data producers (aka project managers) in any industry live for.

Read deep into the article and you will be able to plan risks and contingency budgets based by department. How cool is that?

This is energizing me for attending the VIP Film and TV summit next month.

Meanwhile, in a Galaxy soon to Not be so Far, Far Away…

Unless you’ve been living under a tauntaun, you know that Disney is adding Star Wars sections to its theme parks. And since it’s Disney, they are going all out.

The sci fi news site, io9, was part of a group of journalists that got the tour the attractions, still feverishly being prepared for later this year (summer for Disneyland (California) and Fall for Disney World (Florida). If you’re the slightest bit a Star Wars fan, you’ll read the article with mounting excitement.

Adding to what already sounds like two very exciting rides, is the fact that they’re making the whole 14-acre section of the park immersive. Visitors will technically still be in a Disney park of course, but like Williamsburg turned up to 11, all the Disney staff will behave as if guests are visiting Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu. All the swag and food and drink will be “in-universe” swag and food and drink. Nerdist.com has an appropriately exhaustive article on the food and drink to expect.

And, as you might expect, the Walt Disney imagineers are trying to top themselves with Star Wars, as seen with their efforts to make the previously entirely animated space pirate Hondo Ohnaka an animatronic reality.

So, I have to admit, though I’ve never been to any of the Disney parks, the temptation force is strong with this one. Now if only I could figure out how to wait in what will doubtless be one of the longest lines in the galaxy without turning to the Dark Side…

“Our desks were never meant to be our altars.” Work as faith in the 21st Century

Coming off my post on Monday about having hobbies as hobbies and nothing more, I stumbled across an article by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic about the reverence that work and “busyness” has in modern American culture.

America has long had a paradoxical status as a Calvinistic Babylon, to reference historian Michael Kammen. To follow along that allegorical thought, if all hobbies ought to be hustles, leisure time itself is suspect. Being unproductive is almost sinful (and I’ll bet a bunch of you just had “the devil makes work for idle hands” pop into your head just now).

Definitely read the article above if that’s the case (or even if not). Do you work to live or live to work… and what do you get out of it? There’s a bunch of great lines in the piece, but one stands out for me:

“Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight.”

Get Creative… Off the Clock

I had the opportunity over Presidents’ Day weekend (aka Washington’s Birthday weekend for OPM sticklers) to do something I can’t remember doing in a long time, if ever: painting miniatures.

The minis are from a game called Stuffed Fables, in case you’re wondering.

Many of my gamer friends have various Warhammer and related armies and I know my efforts are not remotely in their league. They paint minis regularly. In fact, for several, it’s a bona fide hobby. One preditor friend (that’s producer-editor for the uninitiated) has taken to painting miniatures quite expertly since directing a feature where D&D plays a central role. All but a handful of the denizens in her miniature army are used in D&D games: it’s mainly about the painting. In other words, the journey, the act of painting, is the joy. And that’s what I found here. I mean, I’m really hopeful we have plenty of fun with the game, but just the painting was a lot of fun and relaxing — even as I obsessed about details (though as you can see from the picture, not too much).

In part, it’s nice to be practicing what I’ve blog-preached in terms of being creative while not being expert at such things. It was very liberating to be working on something that doesn’t have to be yet another side hustle destined for some marketplace or part of “my brand” (as I mused about last January — I guess I get reflective about such things this time of year).

It’s good to have the opportunity to obsess about something that isn’t going to be a payday. Hey, this whole blog post comes after reading an article in the Harvard Business Review that mentions hobbies are good for jobs. Time off is good. Time off doesn’t mean you’re comatose or asleep. The brain gets to do things. As Richard Jeffries talks about regarding “care and feeding of a writer,” hobbies allows your brain time off from the monetarily-linked activities.

I’ve also long suspected that a significant percentage of many people’s urges to turn hobbies into hustles is to feed the “must-keep-busy” monster. Speaking as someone whose thoughts have turned to that frequently, that monster is forever insatiable. As Molly Conway writes in an article last month, it’s a trap. Go on hikes without being a guide. Learn to be a better baker without selling your wares at a local farmer’s market. Better yet, don’t feel the need to have any wares if you don’t need to. The enjoyment you get from things that don’t bring money can filter into the the things that do.

Or you might just have to enjoy the leisure time without quantifying it. That works too.

Taking Silly Very Seriously

As mentioned earlier this week, I will be appearing at this year’s Escape Velocity on Memorial Day weekend, both presenting a producer’s guide to moviemaking and with Jabberwocky Audio Theater (JAT) doing a live performance.

Last year, JAT did an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds since it was the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast. It was great fun to update a radio adaptation to the present day and set it in and around Washington, DC. Several members of the troupe said they’d like to do something far less serious… which also might be well received by the convention crowd.

This year, we were asked to once again pick a known work (as opposed to something original like Rogue Tyger or Quorum). However, the organizers also said that parody was an option and it’s the 40th anniversary of both the original Alien and the TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Ladies and gentlemen –and assorted aliens– get ready for
Nostromo 2: Electric Alien Boogaloo (featuring Chuck Codgers).

I have all sorts of tropes that I look forward to sending up as well as numerous references to classic works I want to work in. Of course, the trick is to make jokes that are funny in and of themselves, yet have the references add another layer of humor. I can’t guarantee everyone listening will have watched Stargate, Monty Python, and the classic Day the Earth Stood Still, after all. As veteran comedy writers have taught me, one must take ‘silly’ very seriously.

So, I’m still working on the script and last week someone posted a link to the full runthrough to Space Ace, the sci-fi themed sequel to the interactive animated video game Dragon’s Lair.

Beats having to cough up a whole lotta quarters to try and get through it all, right? (Actually, I’ve only done that with one game, and it’s because some brilliant entrepreneur had put a video game arcade in an airport terminal, so people waiting and waiting and waiting for their flight would have something to do).

Anyway, it’s been a fun, silly inspiration as I continue to work on the script. I know we’ll have room for a slide whistle and I’m hoping the O.G. sci-fi instrument, the theremin can make an audio appearance. More details to come as we get closer to May!

Where I’ll Be: Escape Velocity 2019

Last week, I got confirmation that Jabberwocky Audio Theater has a thumbs up to do a live performance at the Museum of Science Fiction‘s annual science-expo-meets-pop-culture-convention, Escape Velocity!

Escape Velocity 2019 Promo from Museum of Science Fiction on Vimeo.

We had a chance to do a live performance of War of the Worlds last year which was well received (and a lot of fun to do as well).

We don’t know the exact date and time of our performance –it’ll be sometime that Memorial Day Weekend– but the whole convention is a lot of fun.

In addition to the live performance, I’ll be joining one of the Museum’s production counsels in going over the legal and practical aspects of making a movie.

If you’re going to be in the Washington, DC area that weekend, please come by National Harbor. We know that tickets are now on sale.

More details as we get closer to the event!

In Case You Want to Misbehave

A lot of my efforts these past few months have been working on building the audience for Jabberwocky Audio Theater. Frankly, a great way to do that is with a giveaway.

As recipients of the JAT Mailing List know, JAT is running a second giveaway during this “pledge drive period” between our seasons.

This time, we’re focusing on Firefly, which more than a few listeners have compared my space opera, Rogue Tyger to. What can I say? Tarnished knight characters make great spaceship captains.

The giveaway runs until tomorrow, February 19th, so there’s still time to enter if that is your aim.

Choose Your Own Theater Adventure

I’ve enjoyed more interactive theater for a long time, whether it’s traditional audience response (applause/boos/hisses) or more modern breaking of the fourth wall or simply the immediacy of staging a show “in the round.”

I’ve often thought about staging a play for our local Fringe festival whose outcome is decided by the audience… perhaps after they’ve weighed in on several decision points.

I thought about those ideas again when I read a piece by Alysia Judge from the Guardian about Felix Barrett and his company Punchdrunk. Their form of theater is often site-specific, non-linear, and immersive. In fact, it sounds kind of like a limited LARP or other character-driven game (board or video) that isn’t completely open-ended.

Resisting the urge to have this be another new project (I have one that’s taking more than enough time, thank you) and remembering that not every interest needs to be another side hustle, I hope to attend a show one of these days. It feels like something that will only grow in popularity.

We’re All Mad Marketers Here

Alice in Wonderland Giveaway
Mondays make perfect unbirthdays!

While this is really more of a Team Jabberwocky thing, specifically Jabberwocky Audio Theater, it’s time to put on my marketing hat which is, by its very nature, mad!

Regular readers may recall that we did a Doctor Who giveaway last year and we’ll do a few more this year: all to help build an audience for Jabberwocky Audio Theater. You may also remember that I’ve occasionally mentioned the work of Russell Nohelty on behalf of indie authors and creators.

Well, one of the best way that I keep finding recommended by Russell and others is for indie creators is to build up one’s own mailing list. It’s an essential part of one’s marketing ecosystem.

Prize Package

What’s a good way to build up one’s mailing list? A giveaway! So to that end, I, thereby Jabberwocky Audio Theater, have teamed up with a bunch of other indie creators to give one lucky person an Alice in Wonderland prize package.

I have to say that picking out the goodies that went with this was tremendous fun… and I’m kind of eyeing that chess set now (see below). So just like Alice trying a few potions, I hope a bunch of you will try for your chance at a few of these impossible things before breakfast. Worse case scenario: you’ll learn about a whole bunch of wacky fantastical creative works. Just don’t be late! The giveaway ends February 8th.

More Alice in Wonderland goodies.