How To Set Up An Independent Movie For Success
After my failed attempt to create and launch a feature animated film several years ago, the following strategy is one I would implement if I were to start the process today. When we look at the movie-making industry, we saw several studios organically stumbling upon this strategy, and now numerous ones embracing it, including comic book movies, Star Wars, & James Cameron's Avatar.
Before considering using this strategy, it is important to understand the context of where this strategy comes from. In creating this strategy, know the aim of it is to maximize the chances of success, minimize our risk of failure, increase our leverage, follow an enjoyable process, and to be content should our end result (making a film) never actually happen.
There are examples of those who have successfully skipped the process by making powerful viral videos or short films, but we must not look at these as the rule. Instead, it is important to look at these are the exceptions. When it comes to success, we must realize there is no silver bullet, magic wand or holy grail. If we chase these things, we will likely be disappointed.
We want to go through a journey where we value every step we take. If we are purely focused on our end result, we will be less likely to achieve it and if we were to succeed, we would be less likely to enjoy it. The following is an outline of how we will approach making our movie successful.
- Phase One - Anchor Our Motivations
- Phase Two - Find and Create a Story We Love
- Phase Three - Share Our Story From The Inside Out
- Phase Four - Connect With Our Audience
- Critical Considerations For The Process
Phase One - Anchor Our Motivations
Before trekking on this journey, it is extremely important for us to know what is driving us. Why do we want to share stories? Why do we want to share this story? Why do we want to make movies? Why do we want to share this story through the medium of film?
Knowing our "why" will empower us in being intentional with our efforts, and will cause us to be far more impacting in our filmmaking efforts.
When reflecting on my desire to make films, being a part of a larger narrative and sharing the story is very meaningful. Storytelling is in my DNA, and I do it organically all the time with people I am with. Sharing stories in various ways has shown me how powerful narratives can be in impacting peoples lives. Even Jesus Christ continually used stories to communicate! Stories can be very powerful.When it comes to making films and reflecting on my efforts to do so, I also realized how much I loved bringing people together and collaborating with them. This collaboration,
When it comes to making films and reflecting on my efforts to do so, I also realized how much I loved bringing people together and collaborating with them. This collaboration, tension, and conflict help mold our stories into much better ones. When we isolate ourselves, like we saw with George Lucas, we tend to create poor quality stories and movies.
In addition to the collaboration, I also love solving problems and when it comes to making movies, we are presented with one problem after the next. Our job as the director is to help guide our team in solving these problems. We equip and empower them to do their job and to grow as people.On the downside, there are also negative motivations which have driven my desire to make movies. One, for example, was my need to control and create my own world. In other words, creating movies was a form of escape. It allowed me to live out my life in a dream world while avoiding some of the hard realities of life. It is in this place where the story or movie itself becomes elevated above people. When we get to this point, I find we are more likely to hurt others and get hurt in the pursuit of our dream.
On the downside, there are also negative motivations which have driven my desire to make movies. One, for example, was my need to control and create my own world. In other words, creating movies was a form of escape. It allowed me to live out my life in a dream world while avoiding some of the hard realities of life. It is in this place where the story or movie itself becomes elevated above people. When we get to this point, I find we are more likely to hurt others and get hurt in the pursuit of our dream.
In understanding the positive and negative drivers to make movies, I realized living out my desires in my daily life was most important to me. Sharing stories, collaborating with others, and solving problems could be lived out in my life, my marriage, my family and my community without the need to make movies. This found freedom best equips us to do the very thing we love.
To provide us with more direction in anchoring our motivations, check out this video by Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why.
What We Believe Matters
Phase Two - Find and Create a Story We Love.
For us to execute this strategy, we need to have a story we love, and a story we could be involved with for many years. Our strategy has us in this for the long run, so like marriage, let's plan on meeting a story we can commit to for the long term. The tension of a long-term commitment is one which will become a great catalyst for ensuring a high-quality story.
In this phase, we want to begin writing down our ideas and developing the best ones. Work with several stories, and see where they go. Look at other's stories and see what inspires you. When you find compelling stories, ask yourself, why does it inspire me? What about it compels me?
Imagine we are pouring our ideas into a funnel knowing only the best will come out. We want to filter our ideas and develop the best ideas. Once we have a handful of good ideas, we can decide on the idea we love the most to move forward with. At this point, having the story in our head without much more is all we need. Now it's time to share our story with others.
Phase Three - Share Our Story From The Inside Out
With our story in hand or mind, our next step is to meet with 10-20 friends and share the story with them. After you share it with them you will find we learn and discover new ideas as well as changes we want to make. In addition, we want to ask our friends for feedback and new ideas for the story. I was surprised how much better our story got by adapting ideas and concepts given from this approach. This process was a huge catalyst for making one of our stories exponentially more compelling and relatable. Keep in mind, even if you start out with a solid story, there will likely be several of your friends who will not get it, and may think the story is bad. This is expected, and I would encourage you to keep going even when you feel discouraged. When our story is compelling by verbally sharing it with people we know, we can be confident it can translate into other mediums.
An additional way to anchor the story deeper, and get further validation, is to share the story in a group. New dynamics are created and we also see new ideas, feedback, and insights by doing this. At this point, I would suggest creating a Keynote/Powerpoint presentation with some visuals to aid our storytelling. This too will help us communicate our story in a different way and allow us to pull in visuals to convey our message.
Phase Four - Connect Our Story & Audience
Once we have our story validated and we are creating a story with more depth and meaning, I would suggest this is a good time to begin progressing the story into various mediums to share it with others. With our great story in hand, now it is time brainstorm ideas on how we could start to bring this story to the world.
Our goal is to take a progressive approach, where we build on each step. Here is an example plan I would consider using.
First, we would create an online comic of the characters. This would allow us to slowly develop the characters while simultaneously building a fan-base for them. We could explore storylines in the main story, or stories which may never be in a final film. Think of it as building the extended universe of Star Wars or The Silmarillion of the Lord of the Rings. The difference being, we are publicly sharing our work. As each comic series ended, we would compile them into a comic book. New readers could catch up by checking out the books while fans could have a way to own the stories they love.
Next, we would begin writing stories on a blog. These blog posts would take concepts, which the comic is too short or limited, and expand on them. If we were posting weekly, we would compile a month of posts into a short ebook. Over the course of a year, we could compose the story into a full-length ebook.
With a regular comic series running and a book in progress, our next step may be to begin storytelling in a video format. Our first step down this road would likely be narrated animatic sequences. Animatics are essentially animated comic books. The visuals in the video move, but it is the step before actually animating characters. With an animatic series humming by we could begin working on our next evolution of our storytelling.
At this point, we hopefully have an audience built up with our story gaining great traction online. With the resources at hand, we would want to begin creating short animated videos. This would allow us to bring our characters to life in a new and exciting way. It would also progress the way we are communicating our stories. From the animated sequence, we could explore live action short films as another advancement in our effort to tell the story.
At this point, we would continue to develop the story in these mediums while likely exploring other options such as games, independent films, and others. The key is to develop small and inexpensively and progress based on our story, our resources, and our audience.
This plan allows us to practice our storytelling craft, learn how to manage a team, and establish a community around our story. These are all critical elements for creating and launching a successful film project. Over time, our platform will allow us to run a successful Kickstarter campaign or attract a studio to fund the project. In either situation, our foundation gives us great leverage in whatever road we find ourselves on.
There Is No Silver Bullet
Now you may be wondering, why we don't start with this last step of making an animated and/or live action short film. There are talented individuals who make great short films and quickly get noticed by Hollywood. The first reason is that creating a short film and expecting to be noticed by Hollywood is like buying a lottery ticket. Yes, some win but most do not. Also, in the event we do get noticed by Hollywood, we will have a lot less leverage to develop our story the way we want. If we have spent a few years developing a story and an audience, we are less risky and more attractive to the entertainment industry. In fact, if I was an executive in the entertainment industry, I would begin incubating young storytellers to follow the methodology communicated here. It is a long-term approach, but over time the fruit can be well worth it.
Working in the publishing arena, there is much I have learned which can be applied to filmmaking. There was an author I became friends with shortly after he self-published a book. As a self-published author, he ended up selling 10,000 books on his own as he went around the country speaking. Eventually, an agent reached out to him, helped him get the book cleaned up and connected him with a large publisher. When making the deal, the agent was able to get great terms because he had established demand and an audience.
It Does Not Need To Be Perfect
Our stories change, evolve, grow and mature and it is ok if they are not perfect. Hopefully, we iron out inconsistencies, issues, and non-compelling content but overall we want the spirit of our story to come out and if we did it correctly, the suspension of disbelief will take care of any details we may have missed. The other beautiful part of this strategy is we can perfect our stories over time in various mediums. If and when we get to make our movie, we will have a higher quality story to share.