This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 018: An Interview With Writer Director Nathan Ives.
Welcome to episode 18 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger, over at Selling Your Screenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be interviewing writer, director, and good friend Nathan Ives. Nathan recently directed his first feature film, It’s Not You, It’s Me, starring Vivica Fox, Joelle Carter, and Ross McCall. In today’s interview, Nathan tells us everything he did to get his movie made and ultimately get it out into the world. It’s really a soup to nuts description about how to go about making an independent film. So stay tuned, that’s coming up.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes. The iTunes reviews really do help me out tremendously, as more five star reviews and comments, the higher up I seem to go on the search results when someone types in words like “screenplay” or “screenwriter.” So if you’re getting some value out of these podcasts, please do head over to iTunes and give me a review and some stars. Or if you’re watching this on YouTube, please give it a like and leave a comment. I want to improve this podcast, so some honest, constructive feedback is very much appreciated. Please also share these podcast episodes with anyone who you think could get some value out of them. If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, just give it a like or give it a re-tweet. It is very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes: any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode, in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts. Just look for episode 18. Also, if you want my free guide, How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. You just put in your email address, and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line and query letter, how to find agents and managers and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Again, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few words about what I’m working on. As I mentioned on the last episode, I just have done a blast for my recently completed limited location horror thriller screenplay. One of the first responses I got from this fax and email blast is from one of the distributors of a film that I recently wrote called Ninja Apocalypse. His company distributes independent films, but also they produce some films too. He liked the work I’d done on Ninja Apocalypse, so while he had no interest in reading my current screenplay, he did want to meet me and talk about some of the projects that they have in the pipeline. This is a prime example how networking works. It wasn’t the fact that I wrote Ninja Apocalypse, and he liked it, and it also wasn’t the fact that I just sent him a query letter. It was the combination of the two, the query letter, his inbox, and he knew who I was, and he liked what I’d written, so I got a meeting with him. He never would have contacted me on his own, even though he did like Ninja Apocalypse. In any event, I met with him and his partner, had a nice long chat about what they were looking to do. They do some really low budget films, but they do get them done, so it seemed like a good opportunity. They seemed to like me too, so this may turn into something in the future, we’ll just have to see.
If you’d like to learn more about these email and fax blasts, just check out sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. If you join SYS Select, I will review your log line and query letter, and then you can purchase the email and fax blasts. I really do think this is the best screenwriting and marketing tool out there, and I think my results speak for themselves. Pretty much all of the success I’ve had lately has been as a result of these blasts.
Also, last week I was on a panel at the Writers Guild of America, speaking to writers who were unrepresented. One of the most interesting questions that I’ve got asked was something to the effect of, how can I differentiate myself with other writers? The panelists were myself, Franklin Leonard from The Black List, who I interviewed a couple of weeks ago on this podcast, Jerrol LeBaron from InkTip, and David Zuckerman from Virtual Pitchfest. What was interesting was there was no one in the room using all four of the services, except for myself, so just being aggressive with your marketing and trying a bunch of things is a quick and easy way to differentiate yourself from the pack. I have no doubt that many of these writers are much better writers than me, but because I’m so aggressive on the marketing front, I’m getting stuff optioned and sold. Anyway, they did record the panel, so if they post it online, I’ll let folks know through my blog and podcast.
So now, let’s get into the main segment. As I mentioned, this interview is with writer/director Nathan Ives. Nathan was actually the first person I met at college. We became good friends in college and ended up moving out to Los Angeles together in the mid 1990s. The first script I ever sold and optioned was a script called Dish Dogs, and it was co-written with Nathan. What really has inspired me about this story is that at some point, he really decided to go out there and raise the money for his film, and he did it, and he got it produced. Neither Nathan and I really have a background in film production, but that didn’t matter. Once he was able to raise the money, he was able to hire good people who did know how to do the physical production. That’s an important lesson to realize. Everything he did, you can do too. It really is just a matter of raising the money. Everything else will fall into place, once you have the money. Anyway, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Nathan. Coming onto Selling Your Screenplay podcast, I really appreciate your taking the time to come on and talk with me today.
Nathan: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So the first thing I thought we could talk about, you just completed your first feature film as a writer/director, and I get a lot of emails from people who are maybe thinking about writing, producing, and directing their feature film. I thought it might be interesting to sort of go through your process and explain how you did it, and maybe that can help other people do the same thing.
Nathan: Sure, I’d be glad to.
Ashley: So let’s start at the very beginning, just basically how you got involved with the script, how you came up with the idea, how you developed the script and ultimately got to the point where you were able to shoot and produce the movie.
Nathan: Sure. I mean really starting, the idea came to me, as a lot of writers, just taking a walk, and the idea came to me. I’m part of a writers’ group, a really great group of other writers. I came up with the idea and sort of work shopped it through this writers’ group and came to a script that I felt very good about. And another of the writers in the group had done some producing, and she came to me and said, look, I really think this has a lot of potential. We could produce it together. I was very, very glad to have the help. After literally writing and writing, and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing, we got the script to a point where we felt like, ok, we’re close to sending out the talent and so forth. I can’t emphasize enough, when you’re working in low budget, indie world, and you’re going to go out to talent, be sure the script is as tight as it can be, because if you’re not offering people a lot of money, they have to really like the material.
Ashley: And let’s just talk about that. What is that process like? How many re-writes did you do? How long did it take you to complete the script from start to finish? And making it as good as you can make it, what’s the process so that you can make the script as good as you can make it?
Nathan: If memory serves, I think the first draft took me probably four, five months complete, ninety page script; four or five months to complete. But I literally probably did twenty to twenty five re-writes all the way through the script. And the first of those re-writes were major. The first five or so were major structural changes, adding or taking out characters or story lines. As the re-writes got down the road a little bit, they got less and less. And by the last re-write, it was really just very small dialog polishes, is this funny, is this not, those kinds of things. Writing and re-writing, as I’ve always said. Re-writing is the most important part. So many writers, including myself in the past, we bring our pig to market, if you will, before it’s full grown. We’re bringing these scripts out that really haven’t been re-written enough, really aren’t quite good enough compared to what else is out there, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to take the time to re-write many, many times.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So now you have a script that you feel comfortable taking out. What was the first step to taking it out, and who did you take it to? At this point, it sounds like you and your producing partner had the idea that hey, we can produce this ourselves, correct?
Nathan: Yeah, that’s correct. And that was always something I really wanted to do. I’d sold a script or two in the past, and I had produced a couple of very small indies myself. I had some experience in that, and so this year, I felt comfortable producing this, I’d had a little experience. Really the next step was finding a casting director. I found a casting director through a friend, they recommended. Another casting director we went to said you know, I’m too busy, but my friend is a great casting director, go to them. Finding a casting director is much a calling a friend, or calling me, or emailing around and saying hey, can anybody recommend a casting director. There’s a ton in LA and New York, I’m sure, and other places as well.
So interview two or three and talk to them about your project and about the process, and let them know exactly what the budget is, what you’re looking to do. Again, if memory serves, I think we paid the casting director about a thousand dollars for the initial, getting the couple of two or three lead roles in the film. And we were very fortunate. We used Dream Big Casting, here in LA, and Sherrie and Dan at Dream Big, and they were great, and they pretty quickly got the script to Vivica Fox, through a relationship they had. Luckily, she read the script and said yes, I’ll do it. Then we said how much we had to offer. So in these early stages, if you have somebody you can offer what’s called a pay or play – pay or play means that you as a producer are offering this role to this actor and saying, look, we’re going to give you a pay or play of ten thousand dollars. Whether we make the film or not, you’re going to get this money. That legitimizes the project to a certain level. Also when the casting directors are going out, agents are much more likely to look at a script and have their clients read a script that’s a pay or play deal, instead of just, oh, we’d love for you to do this. It will get your script read a lot faster, it will get your project done a lot faster. If you have some seed money, five thousand, ten thousand, whatever the number is, that your casting director can go out with as a pay or play, it’s a really great thing to have. If not, it can still be done, but I really recommend that.
From there, the casting director takes your script, and they give you a list of possible leads, for your two leads. These are possible actors, given the budget we have, here’s ten of them. And you go through those ten and sort of rank them, artistically, what you like best. And from there they go out, and they send me off [inaudible], and it’s a big waiting game. You go out, your script goes to them, and you wait a week or so. They’ll put a deadline on it. The casting director says, ok mister agent, here’s the script, your client has a week to read it and get back to us. So it happens relatively quickly.
Ashley: So just to kind of dig into that a little bit, at this point you haven’t mentioned going out and trying to raise any money. So the casting directing is going to Vivica Fox, now is taking out to other actors and actresses, is the casting director going out and saying yes, this is potentially a pay or play offer? Or at that point are you just trying to get some feelers out there to see who might be interested?
Nathan: I kind of did jump ahead. At this point, I had raised about twenty thousand dollars. And the way that I raised that first money was, I did hire the casting director first, and when I hired the casting director, I had to make a list of possible actors for the top three or four roles. And once I had that, I then put a full business plan together. Actually Marie and I, my producing partner, put a full business plan together, and what I consider a business plan, it was, you know, from the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to produce the film to how we’re going to market the film to possible – it’s a very glossy, the business plan – pictures of the possible, these are people we think we can probably get, given our budget. We had a full budget, in the business plan. It was a lot that went into it. I highly recommend looking at a business plan for any business, and it’s the same thing. Film is just a business. I put that business plan together, and then I went to a bunch of people and finally found someone. It took me about, I would say three or four months to find someone who said, yeah, I’ll give you a little seed money. From there we were able to go out with the pay or play.
Ashley: And do you have any advice for people? How do you bridge that gap because obviously, unless it’s just your dad or your mom who is basically just giving you that seed money, talk about a risky investment. Basically, if you don’t raise the rest of the money, that investor is going to lose their money. How do you approach that with an investor?
Nathan: What I found, and every situation is different, I did have a pretty solid business plan. I felt like, from front to back, it was very clear that I spent a lot of time on this business plan, on thinking about the project, on the script, and it’s really a numbers game. I literally, when I was raising money, if you get within five feet of me, I was going to pitch you this project. And even if I knew you didn’t have the money, I thought, well maybe you know somebody who has the money. I am sending out fifty to sixty business plans for the first phase to people, just saying hey, would you pass these. And then probably five I met with for lunch.
I was extremely passionate about the project and extremely passionate about what I was doing. The guy who gave me the first twenty thousand dollars, I think, the person you need to find is a person who has a lot of money, and they’re willing to take pretty big risks, because without question, indie film is a very big risk; but also seeing the passion. This gentleman was probably, he’s probably sixty, sixty two. Twenty thousand dollars is not a lot of money to him. I think what he saw in me was, hey, you’re somebody who’s really trying to do something and is very passionate, and also is very organized and has a good business plan and isn’t just flying by the seat of his pants. I think you really have to present yourself very professionally, and you’ve done your homework, you’ve got this together, and be very, very passionate about the project. And I think, with those two things, if you talk to enough people, you’ll eventually find somebody who says, yeah, I’ll help you, or I’ll give you some portion of the budget. It’s not easy, it’s a ton of work and a ton of let downs and frustration, but if you keep at it, it will happen.
Ashley: So let’s take a step back and dig into that. As far as the actual raising of the money, what is your initial way that you went out? Who were the first people you contacted, who were the last people you contacted? How did that sort of transpire?
Nathan: Sure, really I made a list of, ok, here’s all of my family, here’s all of my friends. I put a star beside anybody who I knew had money. And then everybody else who didn’t, I just wouldn’t put a star beside. But I went out to everybody, and I would send a very nice personal email to each person saying, hey, how’re you doing? Not a blast mail or anything like that, but really very personal to them. How are the kids, that kind of thing. And then I would say, hey I’m doing this project. Is this something I could meet with you and talk to you about? Or do you know anybody who might be interested in investing in something like this? And again, you make a list of everybody you know, Facebook, everything like that. Put it out there. Let people know. My person who invested in my film initially was a friend and somebody I knew. Honestly, he was a friend, but I would say more of a casual acquaintance, if you will. But again, those casual acquaintances, add them to the list.
Ashley: Yeah. Ok, so then you get the seed money, and you’re basically off to the races at that point. The casting directors are doing their working, trying to get the cast and sign the agreements. I sort of remember, as this was going on, you telling me that there was definitely some problem, there was some hesitation where you started to raise the money, but the actors didn’t necessarily want to sign a contract, because it was too far off in advance, and they didn’t want to get tied down, in case a bigger project comes along. So maybe get into some of the logistics of actually getting those actors signed on the dot of the line. And then, the other flip side of that is, how much did that impact getting more investment? Because I think that’s kind of a myth, that people think once they get sort of some key cast, things are going to become very, very easy, and raising the money is going to be very easy once they have this key cast in place.
Nathan: Yeah, for sure. It definitely got harder, not easier. I thought the same thing, I thought once I have Vivica, this will be easy to raise the remaining budget. It absolutely was not. But we got the seed money, and then the casting director went to Vivica with the pay or play offer, and she agreed. Now your point is well taken.
One of the problems in the indie world, there are a lot, but one of them, the struggle in casting is that actors tend not to want to book themselves three or four months out on a very small film, because if they happen to get a bigger film, and they happen to get a TV pilot, something like that, they don’t want to be locked into anything. So literally one of our leads, we got three days before we started shooting. It’s a tough thing, again, in the indie world, because you need a little ramp up time to raise the rest of the money and get everything together, but at the same time, you’ve got actors who don’t necessarily want to be tied down. So that will be a frustration. We were lucky to get Vivica, and she looked at her schedule, and three months out was ok, and I guess she took as much time as she could have. But yeah, that’s definitely a big part of it. Once I had Vivica, we obviously changed the business plan and said, look, we’ve got Vivica Fox, who is going to be in the movie, and to be quite frank, I would argue that having Vivica really didn’t help me raise the money. I’d say, at the end of the day, the biggest part of me being able to raise money for the film was just hard work and passion.
I mean, I don’t know how else to say it. I just wouldn’t give up. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant in any way, but I just wouldn’t give up. It didn’t hurt to have Vivica, it certainly legitimized the project and ok, this is that, but I don’t think, of the people who wrote my checks, I don’t think anybody wrote me a check because Vivica Fox is in it. I think they wrote me a check because they believed in me and the project. I think it’s important to have a good, solid cast, but I think it’s not entirely necessary that it be a name.
Ashley: Yeah. So you’re going along, you’re raising the money. Maybe you could just give us a kind of an overview of who ultimately some of these people are, because I think that will be enlightening for people to hear. Exactly who were some of these investors, and how close did you know them? Really just some specifics on that I think will be enlightening to people.
Nathan: At the end of the day, I think our budget was around one hundred eighty thousand. It’s a very small budget, but for me one hundred eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money. I would say, when we were done, we had about nine investors. I would say, I think three of those were family members of mine, and the other six, I would say two of those I know very well. They were close friends. And I would say four were more acquaintances, but I’ll say this: the four who were more acquaintances actually made up the bulk of the budget. The family was just kind of smaller pieces. Believe me, every bit, I was very, very grateful for. But I would say that the four who were acquaintances were the folks who made up a bigger piece of the pie, for sure.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Ok, so then you’re starting to raise the money, you’re getting close to production. Maybe you can give us some sort of ideas about how you got your production team in place and the logistics of actually shooting and that kind of thing.
Nathan: Once we started the casting process, and we got Vivica on board, we started going out to other actors. We set a shoot date, ok, we’re going to shoot in March, that’s what we’re doing. Once you have the shooting date set, the next thing you’ve got to do right away is go find a really good line producer. A line producer is basically the person who runs the production, if you will. They’re doing everything from hiring your crew, renting the trailers, they’re making the deals with vendors, they’re a really big, key part of your team. Finding one is like finding a casting director. I know a really good one who I used, Mark Heidelberger is really great and did a fantastic job. Again, asking friends, asking people in the industry, interview a few. But there’s a lot of them out there, and you just want to somebody who’s really,
I’d say the two most important assets a line producer can have are being really organized, good with paperwork, and being really good with making deals with vendors, are the three really important parts, to keep you on budget. And we found Mark, and he immediately dove in and started hiring crew and going out, looking at locations with us, and it’s a big… When you decide on a shoot date, you’re three months out of something, it’s a really busy three months of everything from finding locations, to finding theaters, everything else. You’re working alongside the line producer, but they usually are responsible for handling that.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So this was the first thing, at least the first major, maybe you had done some shorts and stuff, but it was certainly your first feature film as a director. What did you do to prepare for that, and were you a little bit nervous about working with some pretty well known, experienced actors?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean I was definitely nervous. I didn’t sleep well probably for two weeks before it was shot. Here’s the biggest thing as a director that I learned. I’ve got a few friends who are directors, and I kind of chatted with them. I did some story boarding, meaning going through your script and drawing – my story boards are stick figures, they’re really bad – but really drawing exactly, ok, here’s the first scene, and here’s where the actors are standing. And you have your next drawing, they’re standing over here. And your next drawing, they’re here. It just gives you ideas visually of how you’re going to tell your story.
But what I found was if you go into your shooting with the attitude of, hey look, I’m a first time director, I could really use your help. My biggest piece of advice as a director, as a first time director, is hire a really good director of photography, and hire a really good second AD. A director of photography can really help you with lighting of shots, just kind of help you visually with what you’re doing, somebody seasoned. And your assistant director can really let you know how things are going to cut together. They keep the shoot on schedule. Two really key hires, your DP and your assistant director. But what I found was that if you go into it sort of humbly and say look, I’m doing this for the first time, the seasoned members of your cast, your DP, your actors, they’ll sort of get around you and guide you and help you. The best thing to do as a first time director is be open to other people’s comments and ready to make the decisions. Take in people’s thoughts and ideas, stuff like that, but really, very quickly – you have to very quickly on an indie set, because you’re shooting so fast – make a decision. But if an actor says hey, what about changing the plot, take a minute, think about it and say, yeah, that’s a great idea, or you know, I think I’m going to keep it like it is. Or, maybe we’ll shoot it both ways. But really be open to making it a collaborative effort. I think that really helps on the set, to make people feel like they’re part of a process, and it’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier.
Ashley: Yeah. Ok, so now you’ve raised the money, you’ve cast it, you’ve shot it. What was sort of the next step, once you got done with your shoot, just maybe again, some tips on the technical stuff? How did you find your editor? How did you find your post production people?
Nathan: I’m going to come back quick and just tell a real quick story. When we shot, I had raised enough money, or so I thought, to shoot the film. About halfway through production, we were over budget, and money was needed, and I needed about fifteen thousand dollars literally to finish shooting. So here I am, first time director, halfway through the shoot. I’ve got all the pressure of directing a film, and I’m thinking, where in the world am I going to get fifteen thousand dollars?
And we had that day off in shooting. I had a dentists’ appointment that day, funny enough. And so I went to the dentist, and I’d been to this dentist one other time. I go to the dentist, and we start chatting, and I pitch him the film. And I say, we’re doing this film, it’s with Vivica Fox, we’re shooting, we’d love to have you come down to the set, la di da di. Would you be interested in investing in the film? The next day, he came down to set and gave me a check for fifteen thousand dollars. That’s really the spirit of how I raised the money. Literally anybody you think might be interested, talk to them about it. Get an idea of where they are with it. You never know.
Ashley: By the seat of your pants.
Nathan: It was, absolutely. That’s just the way it happened. For post- production, while we were shooting, we were interviewing editors. So literally, we had like five editors come down to set and liked the casting director, liked the line producer, you know, through word of mouth. And once you’re kind at this point, you’ve got so many crew on your movie that people know people. People are like, oh I know this great editor, I know this great sound guy, or whatever. So we interviewed about five editors. And there’s a whole lot in post- production that as an indie filmmaker you may or may not be aware of. Doesn’t matter the level of film you’re doing, but at the level we were at, we were doing everything from color correcting. When you’re done, your editor edits the film. I guess it took about four weeks for sort of a rough cut of that was just the editor taking all the raw footage, building a rough cut of the movie. And there was probably another three to four weeks of myself and Marie, my producing partner, sitting in the room and making edits, making corrections, tightening it down, getting people’s thoughts, making notes.
But after that, there’s also a ton of work that goes on with color correction, so that when you’re shooting all over the place, the colors are a little different here and there, so you have to have a post house go through it, color correct the film, kind of get the look that you want, and to make cuts, smooth things out, if you will. You’ve got to do all the sound. You use very little sound that you actually record on set, except for the dialog. All the sound in the film, whether it be setting a wine glass on a table, or a door closing, those are all actually put in after the film is shot. So it’s just a lot, a lot of work to be done there. A lot of the time your line producer will do [inaudible] shooting. Mark Heidelberger actually came on as our post production supervisor as well, and he was great at that. So your line producer may have experience with that, they may not. But when you’re heading towards your post production, get a really good post supervisor. And that person will just oversee: they’ll hire the vendors, they’ll make the deals, they’ll know exactly what needs to be done to get the film ready to take to the market.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s one thing I think we should make clear. I mean you’re tossing around a lot of technical terms, and most of your experience in the entertainment business was writing, not necessarily directing or being on a technical front. And so, before you directed and produced this movie, correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of this stuff was foreign to you as well, and you’ve learned it by going through this process.
Nathan: Yeah, without question. I knew virtually nothing about shooting a film. I’d been on some sets, I had some sense of what that was like. But yeah, nothing…
Ashley: Yeah, because I don’t want people to be scared off. You’re talking around these technical terms and all this stuff that you understand now, but going into it, a lot of it was new to you as well.
Nathan: Yeah, for sure. I was completely, I knew nothing about post production process. And that’s again where I’ll just say, if you find a good line producer and a good post production supervisor, they’ll walk you through it. They’re going to hold your hand through all of it. And, I tell you, it’s a wonderful, wonderful learning process. Of course, it’s like anything you do the first time, there’s a hundred things I would do differently, but I have now learned the process. And I still don’t know the in depth, how this works or that works. I have a pretty good overview of how to get a film from script to the end of it. I think part of it is just taking a breath, going into it even though you don’t know much about it, relying on other people to help you through it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Ok, so now you’ve got your film completed. What was the next step after that? You enter some film festivals and took it on the road. Maybe you can give us some details about that.
Nathan: When I got done, I think as indie filmmakers, we all have this idea that we’re going to make our indie film, it’s going to get into Sundance, it’s going to win Sundance, and then Weinstein’s going to buy it for ten times our budget, our career’s going to take off. And that’s not a marketing plan, that’s a shot in the dark, it’s a lottery ticket. I unfortunately had that sort of attitude, and when I got done with the film, we didn’t get into Sundance. So forget awards, we didn’t even get in. So there it was a matter of going to distributors and getting out there. There’s a huge oversaturation of indie films I the market right now, because the cost of indie filmmaking has come down so much with digital, the advancement of digital. There is just a huge oversaturation. How you get your film out there and get it seen, the typical deal these days with the distributor is ten year contract, ten year full rights, there’s a fifty thousand dollar marketing fee they have to recoup before anything else is seen. I just have too many friends who have gone out there, found a distributor and just never saw a dime of the money back. And we went out, and we actually had a sales agent we signed on, and a sales agent takes the film to markets and does that. That sales agent wound up going out of business. So, in my opinion, indie filmmakers, not always, but ninety-nine percent of the time, are wasting their time going to a sales agent or to a distributor, unless the distributor really loved the film and can give you a very, very clear picture of how they intend to market it. There are other ways marketing money can be spent, I just think it’s a bad idea.
Now that said, while I think it’s a bad idea to sign with a distributor as a small indie filmmaker, I also think the flip side of that is, then what do you do with your film? That’s a big hole in the market right now, I think a lot of filmmakers are struggling to figure out, how can I make this a sustainable model? What I decided to do was take the film on the road, and I really sort of copied the rock band model of, you know, I’m on tour. And so I went out on the road in my truck, and I would rent small indie theaters around the country and do three or four screenings a week, and I was really doing a grass roots approach and meeting people and getting an email list together, selling DVDs and meeting people, they’d shake your hand and take pictures. Thus far, my hope was that by doing that, I would be driving VOD sales, or iTunes, Amazon up. Once you have the film done, you decide you want to put your film up on Amazon or iTunes, Hulu, any of the VOD markets, you go through what’s called an aggregator to do that.
Again, there’s lots of aggregators around, they have to be verified by iTunes. But here in LA, you can send them the film, and the get it all ready, and they put it up on iTunes or Amazon for you. So we went up on iTunes and Amazon, and my thought was that the tour I was doing would drive VOD sales. That hasn’t really happened, but I think it’s helped some, but just to be fair, we got maybe five to eight hundred dollars a month coming from the VOD, and that number has been going down, I would say, a little bit each month. So we’re losing money. So the VOD market I think is a big way to make the money, but again, you’ve got to be careful with it. I talked to the distributor who said, you know look, if you make ten thousand dollars in VOD in the life of the film, you’ve done very well, that’s a real success.
Ashley: Do you think all this touring has helped the VOD sales? Can you find any correlation between the screenings and sales and stuff?
Nathan: Unfortunately, I don’t have enough numbers now. We just got them back in October of last year. I know that seems like a long time, but there’s a pretty significant lag in reporting from iTunes, particularly from Amazon. Once they have the first quarter of numbers from 2014, I’m actually going to do another blog post and just talk a bit about the reality of the VOD market. I think it’s helping some, the touring, but it’s certainly not a sustainable model. I know for a fact that the money I was spending touring with the film is not generating enough revenue in VOD sales to make up for the cost.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So then, what’s your plan going forward? How much longer will you continue to tour with the film and then ultimately, what’s the plan for the film?
Nathan: Good question. I am going to continue touring with the film. One thing I have been very lucky with is people really respond to the film and have liked the film very much. And I’ve emailed two hundred bloggers, I’ve gotten it out there in the blogging world. And people always talk about the life of the film being two years for sales, stuff like that, and I don’t disagree, I think in TV sales and that kind of thing, which we weren’t able to get. I think there’s certainly something to that. But also, I think, by holding onto all the rights to my film at this point, I am getting the VOD money. I can continue to tool with it. I’ve been tweaking my model, and I’ve actually been able to make a little money from some of these screenings.
First I was not able to do that, but now I’ve sort of gotten better at it. I know how to rent theaters, I know about this stuff. And I’ve been able to make a little bit of money doing that. I’m kind of looking at it as a long term prospect, looking at it as, ok, I still have all the rights to the film, people are getting it on VOD. I’m going to put it up on some more VOD outlets, I’m going to continue to tool with the film. I did do, through your service, a blast to distributors, and I’ve got a good lead for somebody in Paris who wants to buy, just outright buy all of the European rights. And that, depending on what the offer is, that could be a possibility as well. But I think the biggest thing with this, I’ve got a lot of friends who are filmmakers, they make their first film, and they don’t get a distributor, and you’re just so tired and exhausted and annoyed that you didn’t win Sundance, I think a lot of people just kind of give up on it. And I think really the key is, if you’ve got a good product, and people are responding to it, and they’re coming in, genuinely saying, boy, I really liked your film, keep going with it. Because what’s going to happen is, while I’m not making a ton of money out of VOD, I met a guy who, while I was touring, he saw my film in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he hired me to direct some corporate videos for him, so I made a good bit of money there. I met another guy who looks like he’ll invest in the next film.
There’s a lot of benefits to continuing to get your film out there and meeting people, and while you may not make the money back on the film, you can have a big impact on your next project. You just need a lot of people. Filmmaking is a long, long process, not a short one, so when you make your film, it might take you from the time you write the script, it might take you a year, or two, or three, or five to get the film made. It might take you that long to market your film as well. And not for every film, some films are going to win Sundance. Most aren’t. So get ready for that really long haul.
Ashley: In addition to meeting these people too, you’ve talked to me about building your Twitter following, building your Facebook following, building your email list and that kind of stuff too.
Nathan: Yeah, and that’s a big thing. I’ll say this. Social media, I definitely stay on social media, I tweet out daily and get on Facebook at least every couple of days. I’ve found that my email list is my most powerful tool. When I do a screening, I pass the clipboard, and people sign up for my email list. I use e-mail very much. And I send an email out about every two weeks. It’s a very personal email. It’s got pictures from the road, it’s got pictures from tours, I talk about future projects. I don’t make it super long. I keep it pretty concise. But I try to make it very personal and very interesting. And I found, I’ve got about a forty to fifty percent consistent average of people opening them and reading my email. What I found is, with social media, if I go out and I say, hey guys, can you please leave a review on iTunes for me, I get very, very little response from that. But when I go to my email list and I say, hey guys, would you leave an iTunes review for me, I get a much higher response. So I found that the email list is really your biggest asset, and it’s what will help you crowd fund later. When you go to make your next film, you want to crowd fund some portion of it or all of it. If you’ve got an email list of say, a thousand people who, they’re opening your email consistently, there’s a good chance you can raise a good bit of money through crowd funding with that.
Ashley: So let’s take a step back and talk about some of the details. I think that there probably will be some filmmakers that might be interested in hearing exactly what this tour is, and even the logistics. How do you book the theaters, and what can you expect, and how have you marketed these screenings after you’ve booked the theaters?
Nathan: Booking the theaters is tough, I don’t know how else to say it. You basically go, I’ll do a Google search for a city, and what I’ve found is, when I first started touring I thought, oh college towns will be great, this kind of thing. And they’re really not. There’s just not a big enough population. So what I’ve found, through my touring, is always hit big cities, or I said big cities six hundred thousand plus, is what I consider to be a big city. And as far as renting the theaters, you find your city, and then you go to Google, and you do a Google search for independent movie theaters, or just movie theaters. And you go through, and you just start calling. And the big chains, they are just too expensive. They want you to buy out the theater, let’s say a thousand, eight hundred dollars.
A lot of the smaller, truly independent theaters, you know you can get between there and five hundred dollars for a night. And that’s what I found, if you can get it down to three hundred, it’s great, sometimes you’ve got to pay five. And then once I’ve booked it, about three weeks out, I’ll start contacting all the media outlets in that city, newspapers, bloggers, television stations, radio stations. I haven’t found that I’ve gotten a ton of traction from that, but what I have gotten is, they are interested in the tour, and so I’ve gotten a lot of articles, that kind of thing. I haven’t gotten much television, but I’ve gotten some really good radio interviewers and some really good newspaper stuff. They’re not as interested in the film as they are with the tour. When you’re pitching media outlets, pitch a good story. Don’t pitch, hey, I made an independent film. That’s not a great story for them. They’re looking for good stories. Hey, I made an independent film, and I’m traveling across the country with it in my pick up truck. That’s an interesting story to them. Really pitch the most interesting story.
The biggest thing I’ve found as far as getting people in theaters is meetup.com. What I’ve done is, I’ll book my theater, hit the media outlets, and then again about three weeks out, I’ll do a search from meetup.com for that city for movies and film groups, and then you can email the leader of that group and say, hey, I’m doing this tour, I’ve got this film, here’s the trailer. I would love to have you sponsor a meetup for it. If you can make it out, I’d love to give you a free DVD, a small thank you for bringing your group out. You’ll email a bunch of them, and only a few will get back to you, but these are typically groups from a hundred to a thousand people. And that has by far been by biggest way to get people out, my biggest marketing tool for getting people to the theater.
Ashley: Huh. Yeah, that’s a great tip. Tell me, who exactly do you call at a radio station or TV station or newspaper? Is there someone, a specific job title? Do you email them first, you just pick up the phone and cold call them? How does that process work?
Nathan: I’ll go online, and if you do a Google search for a radio station, it’ll actually come up on the list for all the radio stations in that area, with their websites. So I would just go to the radio station websites. And I would go, literally I would email everybody who I thought would be interested, if that makes any sense. Like, ok yes, they’re the head of programming, I think maybe they would be interested. Or they’re the evening disc jockey who goes from twelve am to six am. You have something they might be interested in. I would email four or five people at each media outlet, and yeah, sometimes people are like, you email the other person, but nobody really cares. They kind of got it, you were just trying to get your story out there.
My recommendation is internet, newspaper, radio, TV, go to the website and start emailing, and if there happens to be a phone number there, call them, and just say, hey, here’s what I’m doing, who should I talk to about that?
Ashley: And what kind of percentage do you get? If you send out, let’s just use an example, I know you went to Charlotte, North Carolina. There’s maybe what, three radio stations and two TV stations. How many of these do you have to contact before somebody actually responds and says, yeah sure, we’ll have you on?
Nathan: The radio stations, actually there’s a lot of radio stations, because you’ve got to consider, there’s the little outside of Charlotte little country station, the little NPR, that kind of thing. I would say, if I was lucky enough to be able to contact twenty stations, one or two would get back to me.
Ashley: I see, I see. Ok.
Nathan: It’s pretty low odds.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Ok, well, I think you’ve been very generous with your time, and given us some great tips. Is there anything coming up, is there some good place for people to contact you and that kind of thing?
Nathan: Yeah, please. Please go to itsnotyouitsmefilm.com, and you can look at the trailer for the film I did, It’s Not You, It’s Me. We’re working on another project called First Comes Marriage. I’m sort of in the process of raising money for that. I’ve got a lot of neat stuff going on. Mulefilms.com, you can look at my website there. And sign up for the email list. About every couple of weeks I send out an email, just, again, stories from the road, as well as information about new projects. I’d love to have you sign up for the email list. If you’re inspired and want to help out, I’d love for you to go to iTunes or Amazon and just look up It’s Not You, It’s Me, and I’d love for you to check out the film and give us a rating. It’s a big help in driving VOD sales.
Ashley: Perfect, yeah. And I can link to all of that stuff in the show notes, so if you were not able to write it down, you can just check out the show notes, and I’ll direct links to all that stuff.
Ashley: Perfect, Nathan. Well I really appreciate your coming on the show. As I said, it’s been inspiring, and I think you’ve left us with some really good, actionable advice.
Nathan: Great. And I’m always happy to answer emails. If anybody has questions for me, please feel free to drop me an email.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you for coming on.
Nathan: Great. Thanks so much.
Ashley: Just wanted to take a quick moment to mention, some of the other services that I offer through sellingyourscreenplay.com. Last month I ran a class, How to Make the Opening Pages of Your Screenplay Awesome. All the classes that I run through SYS are recorded and saved in the SYS forum, so if you’d like to check it out, just join SYS Select. At this point, that was the seventh class, so we now have seven classes in the library of classes. By joining SYS Select, you also get all the new live classes and monthly conference calls that I run. The next class is going to be about how to write a killer first act for your screenplay. It will be held on May 31st, at 10 am, Pacific Standard Time. To learn more about SYS Select, just go to sellingyourscreenplayselect.com, and to learn more about the specifics of this upcoming class, go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/classes.
In this week’s Writing Words section, I wanted to reflect on a few things that Nathan talked about. The one big take away for me, as I watched Nathan go through this process, was how much control we really have over our destinies. Lots and lots of people say they want to be a writer or a director or an actor, but very few people are really willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Listen closely to what Nate did when trying to raise the money. He literally pitched his dentist during an appointment and got him to invest. Believe me when I say this sort of salesmanship isn’t my style either, but the bottom line is, that’s what keeps many people from achieving their dreams. It’s not that the industry is stacked against them, it’s that people won’t do the hard work that could really get them a shot at succeeding. Yes, it’s often brutal hard work that no one wants to do, but being willing to do these undesirable things is what will separate you from the crowd. As I mentioned, I was on a WGA panel this past week, and I was amazed at how many people in the room weren’t using any of the services that were being talked about. And I just have to ask myself, what are these people doing to advance their careers? These are all experienced WGA writers. I assume that they’re writing hard and working on their craft, but they’re literally spending no time actually doing marketing. Don’t let that be you. I’ll end this podcast with a baseball metaphor. The only way to hit a home run is by getting up to bat, and really that means getting up to bat as often as possible to improve your odds to get that one lucky hit. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.