How to convince everyone you own a film studio

Or what I learned from the TIFF Industry Conference

Maybe I’m just naïve. Wait that’s a terrible way to start this. Let me start over.

I am naïve. When I first signed up for the Toronto International Film Festival Industry Conference, I assumed everyone there would be realistic about what they were working on, looking for insight into the troubles of producing indie films in our modern times. We’d talk about the art, and technical mastery. We’d share war stories and cry softly as we held each other. We’d talk about truth and all its trappings. We’d be friends forever. Like I said, I am pretty naïve.

You know when they say, “A lot of this is common sense.” Well THEY are right. Nothing new was put forward by the speakers, who too readily vaunted their own self images. Even the networking component with my peers was skewed by a blatant disregard for the truth. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

What else is new? Those that have made it live in a bubble, while those trying to make it will say anything to get there. It’s a story as old as time. So what did I learn from this experience.

#1) Micro-budgets are under 3 million dollars

I can’t even write this with a straight face. That was the subject of one of the talks. In my world micro-budgets are under $300,000. At the August Project, we only fund up to $50,000. That’s so we can do more films. Spread the wealth, so to speak. Imagine what we can spread for 3 million.

#2) Do the work during the filming

Now not all of the conferences were nonsense. I’d say only a third of what I went to gave me no useable intel. There was always a grain of something from each talk. I just had to know how to distill it for my independent film mindset.

One speaker talked about getting production notes and stills while filming. It’s something that is mostly forgotten. The stills can be used for promotion, getting a distributor or simply building your web site (or for that matter a crowdfunding site). Production notes are a value when trying to create a marketing narrative. And while you’re at it get some interviews with key crew and talent. You’ll never get them to be as candid and passionate as they are during filming. Behind the scenes videos build your film’s profile. Plus, you’ll need something to show your grandkids.

#3) Have something to talk about

The key here is to have something to talk about that is valid. I guess what I am saying is don’t exaggerate. One guy who we talked to at a networking party — he looked no more than 18 years old — actually said he was the head of a studio. The kicker, his partner is located in London (I asked Ontario, he said England).

The second you choose to aggrandize yourself (even in the film industry) people will turn off. No one can take you seriously after you title yourself CEO and/or president. There is nothing wrong with just having a small production company, being a short filmmaker or an actor with little to no credits. Wow them with your passion. Authenticity always comes through.

#4) Work with shit people

Now I can’t remember who said this. It could have been a speaker or someone I met while schmoozing one night. It could have come to me in a dream. I just love the truth of it. Work with shit people. How are you supposed to know what’s good or what you would like on your production if you haven’t seen other people work. I know this can be subjective. One person’s shit is another person’s genius (M. Night Shyamalan anyone). The idea is for you to go out and volunteer on a lot of other productions before you think about putting together your own. Isn’t it better to work out the kinks on another person’s dime.

Image provided by Hamza Ullah on