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Pulp Diction from SONNYBOO

Indie Film Cliche

by Peter John Ross



Here's a story that will probably sound familiar.

You hear about an audition. Someone posted a flyer that said something about a short that's in the Sundance Film Festival. This sounds interesting.

You, the actors & aspiring actors go to a cattle call for a no budget DV short. You wait in line, although the people sitting around at the public library is hardly organized enough to be called a "line". After you get asked to read sides and this first time director doesn't know what a "slate" is, and he isn't taping the auditions anyway. You leave wondering what kind of movie this could possibly be given that you read a fragment of a script that had dialogue as interesting as an Insurance Actuarial Table. After your call back a week or two later, you read the lines again, and talk about other stuff with the director and any cronies they have about your dreams an aspirations.

At this point, they tell you the game plan for this incredible movie. It's a 10-20 minute opus about an everyman that is in some kind of struggle and it's completely original. The goal is to shoot the movie on DV, send it to film festivals, and then get the money to reshoot it on film. Of course there's no pay. We can't afford it. But this is a Unique Opportunity because the script and idea are just that good. You ask about distribution and you are assured that after the film plays at several festivals, it will have a distribution deal. At that point, everyone will get paid. They say this with such conviction that you buy into it.

You work on your weekends for 12-13 hour days, this first time director is giving you line readings and there is barely any craft services to munch on while everyone stands around. Eventually you finish, and you wait to see the movie. Over the next few months you try calling, then emailing the director and get a status report. It's still being edited. Eventually you may or may not ever see a finished product, but waiting for that film festival screening seems to be as likely as finding weapons of mass destruction in the filmmakers basement.

If this has happened to you more than 5 times, then you are an ideal candidate to attend an Amway meeting with me. I have just the right opportunity for you.

And now for the flipside...

You rent movies all the time. You go to the movies all the time. You have always loved movies, and you just saw the latest Steven Seagal movie that went direct to video on Showtime at 3:30AM, and you say to yourself "I can do better than this piece of garbage!" and you have this idea that has been brewing for at least 5-10 minutes. You download the latest freeware plug in for screenwriting for Word and start banging away. The story unfolds and the dialogue sounds really good in your head.

Now what?

I read about Soderberg and George Lucas using home camcorders to make their movies, so all I need is a Sony Handicam and I can become the next Kevin Smith ! Because it's a camcorder, all I need to do is point & shoot. No need to know anything about lighting or cameras. I remember seeing something about Kevin Smith and the Sundance Film Festival, so when I finish the movie, I'll just send it there, it will be accepted, and I'll get signed to my 3 picture deal at that point. Should take about 2-3 months.

Now I need to get people to be in the movie, my masterpiece. I can hold a casting session !

Casting Notice reads "Actors Needed - Short Film for Sundance Film Festival"

I can't believe these people want to be in my movie. Look at all of them. I want to savor this moment. See each actor one at a time. She looks really good, so screw first come first serve, jet that girl Jennifer in here NOW. I want someone here to look and act exactly as I pictured the movie in my head. With 14-16 people waiting to see me, at least 5 of them should be perfect.

Why isn't anyone exactly as I pictured in my head ? That Jennifer was really good looking, and she really seemed to like me. Should I cast her solely based on looks ? She can't act her way out of a paper bag.

Nothing is as good as I thought it would be. The actors aren't doing exactly what I want and I even tell them how to deliver the lines. I know I wanted to do more camera angles, but we were running late. Everybody is mad at me, and we can't seem to get it right. I can fix this in editing. I can't afford to buy another pizza, so whoever is late, is just out of luck. No food for you.

THE EDIT (day 2)
This is fantastic, this is great. I mean, there are warts, but the core of this - the idea, it's so good. I can't believe I made a movie !

THE EDIT (day 30)
I don't feel like editing today. I just worked a full shift at the store, and I'm tired. Let's see which rerun of Seinfeld is on.

THE EDIT (day 66)
Finally finished. I can't believe I edited the whole thing myself on a home PC with my bootleg copy of Adobe Premiere. Every word of my script is here and it's perfect. Let's show it to my friends and family and maybe the cast. They'll tell me if anything's wrong because they are completely unbiased.

I can't believe it ! My mom, my best friend, and the lead actor loved the movie ! I was right ! This IS a masterpiece. I wonder what time the limo will be here to pick me up. Hollywood can just somehow smell talent, and they'll find me. When they do, I'll hire all my friends and all these actors to work with me and Tom Cruise as we make Mission Impossible 4.

It's been almost 2 weeks, and still no limo. Maybe they people who smell talent have a head cold, or there was a flight delay in Chicago for the connecting flight.

I got an email today from one of the bit part actors, what's-her-name, and she had the gall to ask me if I had submitted to any film festivals yet. She doesn't understand that I am an artist and I have a day job too. I’ll et on this soon.

I looked into submitting to Sundance and it costs $25 ! Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, all of these film festivals want money. What kind of sick bastards charge filmmakers money to submit their movies ? How many submissions can they possibly have ? I can only afford two, so I will definitely send to Sundance, because that's the big one. For some reason I was under the assumption that either the film festivals were free or that the entry fees wouldn't apply to me. I guess I should have done the math ($25x18 film festivals = $450 - that's more than my Sony Handicam Camcorder !).

REJECTION DAY (late November every year)
I got a letter in the mail today. I can't believe they didn't pick my movie. I went to the Sundance page and looked at the movies that did make it. Why would they pick movies directed by Matthew Modine, Danny Glover, or What’s THIS ? Kevin Smith got in too ? I thought these people were already famous. Why are they premiering these Hollywood movies ? Why didn't hey pick my mediocre movie with no stars shot on DV ? I better avoid all contact with any associated the movie. I'd rather them not know than have to tell them.

I guess I won't be able to make another movie....


How to avoid this very common scenario....

ACTORS - When you audition, ask about the plan and distribution. If they can't afford to pay you, but plan on sending to several film festivals.... then something is wrong. Do the math. Each film festival costs $25-50 whether the movie makes it in or not, and because of simple odds (thousands of submissions, tens of slots....) the movie won't get into a lot of film festivals. If the filmmakers can't afford to pay for decent meals, how in the hell can they afford to submit to film festivals ?

Now I'm not saying you shouldn't do the movie. That's not my point at all. I guess my point is just BE REALISTIC. Know that you are doing it for the experience. There are pearl's in the clams occasionally, and you won't find them if you don't look. There are some good movies and good directors, but it may take time and a few movies before this first time filmmaker becomes one.

There are other options that can make the experience and work worthwhile. Don't be afraid to suggest :

DIRECTORS - Plan for the entire movie. Budget for the entire movie. That includes money to MARKET the movie. There is this common mistake that you spend all of your money MAKING the movie, and then it sits & collects dust because you find out that everything costs more than you thought. Plan for it. Whatever you THINK it will cost, have double the money. Did you really think that because you shot your "film" on Digital Video that it would be that much cheaper ? That's insane.

Be Realistic. The chances of getting INTO Sundance are slim, and winning anything or getting distribution is a pipe dream. First of all, DV shorts with no stars are generally as valuable as rat feces. There is no real distribution and short films, even with stars, have very few outlets for display - and even more rare are places that pay for them.

Film Festivals are great, but they are expensive. Plan ahead for the money you will spend on submitting to film festivals, and know that you may not get in. They don't refund your money when you don't get in. And also as an FYI - audiences at a regular film festival average about 12-75 people, most of them the other filmmakers and casts and crews who got their movie accepted. Unless your movie is about filmmaking, this may not be the best audience or judge for your work.

Make movies for the experience to start. Don't be delusional. Want to help yourself, your movies, and the actors who starred in it ? Get some exposure. Get your work seen by as many people as possible. Put your shorts on the Internet, Public Access TV, or anywhere you can. Get your actors seen by as many people as possible. That's the least you can do.

You have to ask yourself why you made the movie or got involved with a movie.

Was it to get famous or make money ?
HA ! You're better off buying lottery tickets. You'll have better odds in a casino.

Did you make your movie to tell a story ?
GREAT, now share it with people, in as many venues as possible. Film Festivals are good, but expensive. Have options.

- Peter John Ross


About award winning filmmaker Peter John Ross & Sonnyboo Productions – Founded in 1999, Sonnyboo short films have played on 3 continents and at over 50 film festivals world wide. Projects directed by Peter John Ross have appeared on Tech TV, National Lampoon Networks, Movieola the short film channel, The “U” Network, and Vegas Indies TV. Sonnyboo films have been noted in such publications as RES Magazine, Ain’t It Cool News, Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, Film & Video Magazine, LA Weekly, Film Threat, the Village Voice, & Internet Video Magazine.


Now Available, a 244 page book by Peter John Ross, called TALES FROM THE FRONT LINE OF INDIE FILMMAKING. It features cautionary tales and tips for the Camcorder Kubricks and Backyard Spielbergs. CLICK HERE to purchase - only $14.99 (or CLICK HERE for a 9 page sample in Adobe Acrobat format)


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