A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Five
A few years ago I tried to make a feature film, and as a result, I lost about $10,000 in the process. The $10,000 was a mixture of money I had raised, money I had borrowed and money that was just plain mine. It went towards website design, business plans, financial analysis, visual guides for investors, lawyer fees, the overall costs of running what ended up being a small business (LLC), and finally, consultant fees.
Now, while it might seem as though I’ve been going on a tangent with this feature film business, I assure you, this is all still related to screenwriting. Here’s how:
1) Many of you will fall into the same trap I did. Someone will tell you (or you’ll tell yourself) that it’ll be a piece of cake to make your (feature) script yourself. I was convinced I could make the film for a “cheap” $100,000. Problem is, investors usually want to jump onto a project where they can put in a lot, and as a result, get back a lot. A $100,000 indie film doesn’t really entice many of your typical investors. So people will tell you to push the budget up, and next thing you know you’ll be walking around, pitching a 5 million dollar indie film, wondering what you need that extra 4.9 million for anyway. You’ll try to bring on talent, but real talent won’t want to sign on unless there’s money involved. And the money won’t come without the talent. So…you’re stuck.
Note: When I tried doing this, the whole Kickstarter feature film movement hadn’t become a thing yet, so the idea of raising my initial “low” budget seemed foolish. It probably still is, honestly. (I raised money for development, but not for the film budget itself.) Joe Dante, a man with name recognition and a proven track record, had problems raising a similar amount for his last film, and he’s Joe Dante. No one knows who I am. And odds are, they don’t know who you are either. This is not me trying to be a cynical pessimistic ass, out to crush your dreams. This is me being someone who’s been there, trying to get you to think things through before you start going to friends and family, telling of your grand plans to make a feature film. Friends and family remember. I still get the question “Hey, what happened with (insert film here)?” five years later. And it still hurts every – single – time.
2) Consultants. I’ve run into many consultants both while trying to become a writer and while trying to make my film. Sometimes they’ll call themselves “producers” to jazz it up a bit, but it’s always the same deal. It’s someone with “connections” or a filmography that looks impressive, but upon closer inspection has some suspicious holes in it. For example, they’ll have produced (or had some vague part in) some films in the 80’s or 90’s, but then have absolutely nothing up to present day. Eddie Kritzer, the agent (who doubled as a consultant) that I talked about in Part I, talked up his involvement on Kids Say the Darndest Things, and proudly displayed a picture he had taken with Bill Cosby on his front page. They’ll also boast about all the films they have “in development”. One producer/consultant who contacted me had 6 films in development all by her lonesome. Eventually you start to wonder: why aren’t any of these getting made?
Most importantly, they’ll want to be paid for their “services”. They’ll talk about what they “bring to the table”, and how their time is important and they’ll name drop like crazy. One producer had a small credit on a Danny DeVito film from over two decades ago. It was her only credit, and she boldly told me “I think we could get Danny DeVito for this. I’ve worked with him before.” She then, of course, went on to tell me her fee was $2,000 up front. I like Danny DeVito and all, but not enough to drop $2,000 for the off-chance he’d look at my script.
I’d like to say that I’ve never given a consultant my money, but unfortunately that simply isn’t the case. For this project, as a last resort, I was duped into giving a fast-talking consultant a couple thousand dollars. Now, I didn’t just blindly hand it over to him either. I’m a very skeptical person, and I vetted this person like crazy: references, Better Business Bureau, and personal assurances from people I trusted. In the end, my money literally got me nothing, save for renewed skepticism towards trusting anyone.
My co-producer on the film later talked with a top executive at Alcon Entertainment about our dealings with the consultant. After hearing the story he laughed, saying “Never pay someone to make your movie.”He paused and raised a finger. “Unless they know Bill Cosby. That guy’s hilarious.”
(Ok, only half of that is true.)
**One more part to go, then all this money business will be over!**
About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew? Email PJ at firstname.lastname@example.org. New to P.J. readership? Click here for more articles!