Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Great JuntoBox Experiment

When you have a feature film in development, one of the hardest things to do is to find the financing.  Raising money for a short film is no easy feat--when you multiply the running time by a factor of five, the budget can easily balloon to a six or seven figure amount.

Even in this day and age of digital filmmaking, the cost to shoot a feature film of professional quality can get very expensive.  The shooting schedule for a feature is several weeks, and Post Production can also be a lengthy process.  Were it not for the fact that we all have bills to pay, we might be able to pull a feature off with a mirco budget, or for free.  The last time I was able to do that, I was a teenager living at home and didn't have to worry about rent or other expenses that us adults deal with every month.

Conventional wisdom has become topsy-turvy.  In the "old days", if you wanted to make a feature film, you had to approach studios or banks for the financing.  Without being a Hollywood Insider, you had very little chance of getting your movie made.  If you had a talent for writing, you might have been able to sell or option your script to a studio, who would then package it with big name stars, and if you were lucky, the movie would be made.  If you were very lucky, the film might even have become a hit.  But chances are, you would have been bought out by the studio.

Nowadays, it is entirely possible to use crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise 100% of the funding for your film.  Assuming that your budget is low enough, and that you've calculated the cost of providing rewards to your backers, this could be the way to bring your dreams to reality.  But there's a downside...and that's the whole "asking for money" part.  Many film budgets are in the $200K to $2M range, which is very difficult to raise using crowdfunding sources.  Even now, it appears that only production companies and studios have the capital to make a feature film worthy of your local multiplex.

Until now.  Enter JuntoBox Films, a Santa Monica based indie studio started by actor/director Forest Whitaker, with the goal of supporting independent film.  Their method is through their website,  Here, users can register and post their film projects.  In order to be considered by the studio, they need to progress through 4 levels of social interaction and milestones to get to the coveted Level 5, where the JuntoBox chiefs review your project and decide whether or not to option it and try to have it become one of their greenlit films.

There's no asking folks for money.  Instead, you network with other filmmakers on the site, following and supporting each others' projects to rack up the required number of followers and star ratings that help you advance.  In addition, you need to provide the treatment, script, conceptual art, and pitch video to assist in drumming up your supporters.

To me, this is a win-win situation.  Of course, there might be sticking points in the option agreement, and even after reaching Level 5, there are still enough real obstacles that can still prevent your film from being greenlit, but I believe that the only way to really lose, is not to try.

So here's where I'm putting my "money" where my mouth is.  Check out our project "Cyber Fighter" here:  

 Our goal is to get 100 followers and 4-5 star ratings by August 1, 2013.  Unlike many of the other projects featured on JuntoBox Films, "Cyber Fighter" already has a complete script, treatment, and preliminary budget.  This film is further along than a lot of the other films featured on the site, so our goal is entirely realistic.

We've managed to get to Level 2 at the time of this posting, partially by following other projects and getting their creators' support.  But to reach the goal, we need to reach out to all our networks in order to attract followers.  100 followers and 4-5 star ratings will put us well over the minimum requirements set by the site designers and studio chiefs.  Here's where you can help.  We're asking you to do the following:

1. Click on the link above.

2. Register for free on JuntoBox Films.  For those of you in the entertainment industry, it's a great way for you to also network with other filmmakers.  Many projects are actively seeking casts and crew, and by completing your profile, you'll be able to also apply for various positions on other films.

3. Give us at least a 4 star rating.   One of the requirements for Level 4 is to have at least 80 4 star ratings.  I make it my policy to rate other projects I like with 4 stars, that way I'm also supporting my other fellow filmmakers.  I also reciprocate the support given to me by other members with projects.  We're not in competition against each other; ultimately it's JuntoBox that will decide what projects they want to option.  There's no race to the top--I believe that if you have a great concept, an awesome script, and a commercial project, they'll most likely want to option it.

4. Don't forget to also click on the "follow" button.   That way you will become a follower and will be able to track the progress.   We intend on opening up some cast and crew positions for you to be able to apply to in the near future as we refine the project on the site.  Stay tuned as we'll also be shooting a pitch video and perhaps a teaser trailer that will show proof of concept.

So that's it!  Our great JuntoBox Experiment.  Could this be the new paradigm for independent film?  I'm hoping so as it brings a kind of democratic process to the indie film industry.  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Keeping Motivated...

Ever run into a period where it's really hard to stay motivated?  We've all been there, and us creative folks have been there many times.   Sometimes it's difficult to keep our eyes on the prize.  The process of seeing a project from inception to release can be a very very long time.

While it's OK to slack off every once and a while, to prevent burnout, the danger is to let apathy put you into a never-ending holding pattern.  Eventually, you need to snap out of it, and remember why you're in this business in the first place.

Since filmmaking is an entrepreneurial endeavor, you're often your own studio head, boss, producer, etc.  As you're developing your project (on spec, of course), there's no one to hold you accountable for hitting your milestones, unlike a traditional corporate (or studio) structure.

Many years ago, I found myself at a creative crossroads.  I wasn't sure where I was going, and I had no idea how to get to the next level.  I realized that I could keep doing the same thing forever and nothing would ever change.  But I wanted to do so much more, and I didn't know how.

In situations like these, it's important to do something different.  If you're an athlete, you understand the concept of a training plateau.  In weight training, when you hit a plateau, then it's time to change up your workout routine to stimulate progress.  Your body gets used to doing things a certain way, and you won't progress unless you "shock" it into new growth.

The same goes with your mind.  Routine, while a comfort to many, is the enemy of creativity.  Once you find yourself "phoning it in", or working on autopilot, it's time to change things up.  Start a new routine.  For actors, this could be taking a brand new class, or even learning a new language or physical skill.  For writers & filmmakers, it could be introducing a new ritual into your script writing process.

I discovered this book The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron.  I had heard about it for many years; lots of my creative friends mentioned that they had done this course.  It's a book, but it's really a workbook that is designed to jump-start your creativity.  There are groups out there who go through the multi-week program together, but you can also do it alone.  Just make sure that you have the discipline to stick with it, because it's not easy.

 The Artist's Way Morning Pages (Google Affiliate Ad)          The Artist's Way at Work: Ridi (Google Affiliate Ad)

One of the activities that is part of the program is what's know as the Morning Pages.  You are required to write 3 full pages, single spaced, first thing each day.  There's no requirement for subject matter, only that you complete 3 pages...each day.  This is not easy.  Considering how many weeks are in the program, you will definitely have those moments where you don't know what you are going to write about.  But you have to do it!  In order to break through your own mental limitations, you need to push yourself, much like a personal trainer has you squeeze out a few extra reps, when you think you can't.

A funny thing happens when you break through your resistance.  Your mind begins to work on a different level.  You stop thinking and start being.  As an actor, this is best accomplished through Improv and other theater exercises, but for a writer, this is the next best substitute.  While the other activities in the program are very good for infusing your creativity, for me, it was the Morning Pages ritual that really clicked.

If you're so inclined, you might want to check the book out.  It's been around for many years, and they now have a new volume that's also geared towards your chosen career. They also now have a Morning Pages Journal that you can purchase as well.  But my main point is that whenever you hit a plateau, you need to shock yourself to a new level by doing something different.

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting different results.  By changing, we grow.  Find your own new activity or ritual to move you out of your funk and into new levels of creativity!