Friday, August 13, 2010

Never Fear the Dark: Nitecrawlers is Alive & Well

It's been quite a while since the last blog post, but that's not to say nothing has happened on the film. The making of an independent movie is an epic task of both physical and mental proportions. And while the heavy lifting comes later, much of the struggle for an indie filmmaker is front-loaded with the psychological hardships that come from trying to convince yourself that it's not an insane, idiotic, foolhardy risk to even attempt to make the thing. And that's where we've been doing all our work.

What's a Career, Anyway?

The mental part of indie filmmaking is like pushing a boulder up a hill. Just when you get it to the top (and many never do), it dips over the edge and begins barreling downhill, out of control, an unstoppable force that drags you along for the ride. Mike and I are still pushing that boulder up our own personal mental hills.

For myself, that push got a whole lot more difficult with the appearance of a full-time job offer in early August. Thing is, I've been freelancing quite successfully for the past year and a half, and it's the perfect lifestyle for making a film. You work three days on, four days off, or work two weeks straight and then have a week to yourself. But the allure of a full-time job is obvious: the financial security, the regular salary, the benefits, it's all there.

A Tough Decision

Having just moved into a new apartment, the job offer came as a welcome safety net to ensure that I could provide for myself and the ones I love. The salary wasn't amazing (when is it ever?), but accepting the offer would have lifted the mental weight of worry that hangs constantly through the ebbs and flows of freelance work. So what did I do?

I turned it down. I won't pretend the decision was unilaterally motivated by Nitecrawlers, but when I forced myself to look into a mirror, I came to terms with who I am, where I want to go, and what I want to do. Simply put, I want to make this film. And I want to make it now. I realized that the responsibilities piling up, all the bills needing to be paid, all the reasons I was using to justify accepting the full-time job offer were actually the best reasons to turn it down and make this film now.

Great Risk, Great Reward

So many people spend their lives looking into the rear view mirror with a burning regret. I don't want to be that person. Independent filmmaking is an immensely challenging discipline that requires a vast wealth of both technical knowledge and business acumen, but at its heart, it's a mental battle of epic proportions. If you can force yourself to take the plunge, only good things will come. As Mike told me during my decision process, there is no great reward without great risk. The great risk is turning down a "safe" job, but the great reward is Nitecrawlers. We're back.

- K

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Silver Linings (The Power of Tax Incentives)

Even in this grim economy, every cloud has its silver lining, including the film industry. During a Film Specific podcast, Suzanne Lyons brought up a wonderful point; if you buy into the conversation of scarcity, your actions will be directly correlated to that mindset, and it will show with investors. How can you attract investors when you paint a bleak picture of an over-saturated market, where nothing is selling?

The truth is, films are still selling; distributors are simply being more selective in their acquisitions, and the bar has been raised for filmmakers to produce original, creative work (Kevin touched on this in his last post.)

More importantly, now is a better time than ever to invest in film. With amazing federal tax rebates and incentives such as Section 181, you can guarantee investors recovery of their money, regardless of distribution, of 50-77 cents on every dollar. Josh Kaplan, a business lawyer at Stahl Cowen uses this example, "If a tax payer is in the thirty-five percent (35%) tax bracket and a qualifying film is shot in Michigan which has a tax credit of up to forty-two percent (42%), an investor will be eligible to recapture seventy seven percent (77%) of his or her investment in a qualifying production."

If you aren't familiar with Section 181, I've assembled some quick facts below to give you an idea of what it entails, as finding information about the bill on the internet seems to be somewhat difficult.

Section 181

• Section 181 is a federal tax incentive designed to combat runaway film and television production.

• This is a significant Federal tax incentive that allows producers of qualifying productions to take an immediate tax deduction for the full or partial costs of a production in the year the cost is incurred (as opposed to having to spread or amortize those costs over a period of years beginning after the film goes to market).

• Section 181, which was first enacted by Congress in 2004, was extended and modified as part of the financial rescue package passed by Congress and enacted into law on October 3, 2008. It was extended for one year for qualified productions that begin the first day of principal photography before January 1, 2010.

• Under H.R. 4213, The American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010, Section 181 is amended by extending it until December 31, 2010’.

HR 3931 seeks to extend Section 181 until the end of 2011. (Referred to committee)

HR 2720 goes well beyond a 2 year extension and looks to make Section 181 a permanent tax incentive for qualified films. (Referred to committee)

• In the case of a film co-produced by multiple investors, the deduction for qualifying expenditures must be allocated among the owners of the film in a manner that reasonably reflects each owner’s proportionate investment and economic interest in the film.

• The proposal applies to the first $15 million in production costs for qualifying film or television productions.

• To qualify, at least 75% of the total compensation expended on the production must be for services performed in the United States.

• There is no specific form to fill out. The IRS temporary regulations require that you declare in a separate statement that you are electing to utilize Section 181. The legislative history also states that: “deducting qualifying costs on the appropriate tax return shall constitute a valid election.” Therefore, deducting the production costs (that would otherwise be capitalized) on your tax return will qualify as electing to take advantage of this incentive.

• If production expenditures are incurred in more than one year, the immediate tax deduction will be taken in more than one year.

• Section 181 refers to “the taxpayer” who makes the election and takes the deduction. The temporary regulations provide that only the owner of the film or television production may elect to deduct production costs under section 181.

• Producers should consult with their professional tax advisor's on any issues related to this new Federal tax incentive.

- Mike

Our New Domain Now Routes to...Here!

Just a quick update on our newly purchased domain, Thanks to Mike's hard work, the domain name now routes right to this blog! That's right...if you want to send your friends to check out our blog, or want to bookmark it for yourself, just use the new URL:

- K

Registering the Domain

It's official...we now own!

But wait, stay here! Don't go there just yet...there's nothing there. As we start to publicize this blog a bit more, we just wanted to park our preferred domain name. Eventually, our hope is that this blog will live on, along with lots of other great content prior to the film's production.

Mike registered the domain name yesterday with Yahoo Domains. $11.94 for 2 years. Not a lot of money, but it's still another drop into the Nitecrawlers hole. With each dollar we spend (on books, on the workshop, on the logo design, and now on the domain registration), Nitecrawlers begins to feel more real. Money will do that.

One idea that Mike and I are toying with is tracking all our expenses on this blog, so that fellow filmmakers can get a real glimpse at the true costs of making an independent film on the same level as ours. We'll be labeling each such post with an "Expenses" label, so if you want to see just those posts, click on the "Expenses" link over to the right to track all our expenditures to date.

We're excited to begin plotting content for the website and hopefully we'll have an update on that in the not-too-distant future.

- K

Monday, March 29, 2010

Creating a "Unique" Script

"When it comes to horror, bring us something unique...something we haven't seen a hundred times before."

Mike already posted a wrap-up of Suzanne Lyons' great indie film producing workshop that we both attended a week ago, so I won't rehash the details. The above quote, however, really stuck with me.

On the second day of the workshop, a film sales agent came by and gave a great guest lecture. Inevitably, someone asked her about the state of the horror market. In her words, horror is still over-saturated with movies about "teens running around in the woods." But all hope is not lost. She stressed the importance of creating a horror film that is fresh and unique; this, above all else, will help your horror film rise above the rest in terms of saleability.

So where did that leave the Nitecrawlers script? From the beginning, Mike and I have always felt that our concept was a strikingly refreshing take on the genre. However, the discussion with the sales agent led me to think more about our script-in-flux, and the inclusion of "bankable" story/set/character elements. Did we have enough to guarantee our film's success? What could I do to add more in the impending second draft?

Being a screenwriter is probably the most freeing of creative inputs of filmmaking. You're not yet locked into a budget, and you're limited only by what your mind can conjure. Being a screenwriter for independent films is a whole different beast entirely. The format's the same, but the approach is completely opposite (at least for me).

For one, you're usually locked into a budget range (whatever's feasible for you to pay out-of-pocket or raise from family and friends). For another, independent filmmakers are constantly bombarded by "insider info" from sales agents, producer's reps, distributors, entertainment lawyers, and hell, even other filmmakers as to what elements will help your completed film sell. In no particular order, the laundry list for horror films goes something like this:

1. Name talent
2. A kill/death scene every 8 minutes
3. Nudity
4. Lots and lots of gore

...and so on.

How much credence does this advice and list have? Well, Plasterhead only had one of the four, and received worldwide distribution, so take that how you will. That being said, the compulsion to include these elements in our second script is, frustratingly, still very real. After all, this list is about as close to a Holy Grail as you're ever going to find. And for filmmakers whose hearts lie in the horror genre, it usually comes down to two choices: stick to the list and hope that the market of teens willing to see another hack-em-up slasher movie keeps going strong, or try something so far off the map and hope to hit the Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity lottery.

I think to write a truly successful script, your approach must land somewhere in the middle. At the $200,000 budget level, a lot of the scripting for Nitecrawlers has been Mike and I coming up with really awesome individual sequences, then slowly and carefully weaving them into the overall thematic fabric of the film's overarching story. For me, writing for a low budget means deliberate selection of specific plot elements that I, as a filmmaker, know will be able to shine on the money we have to execute the ideas on the page.

In a way, Mike and I have our own "list" of elements that we want to include in the film, things that we think will make the film both successful and salable. The trick is in approaching these elements from a truly groundbreaking and fresh perspective. The main problem I have with "The List" above is that it encourages paint-by-numbers screenwriting, and it's a trap I find myself constantly trying to avoid. It seems easy, but the threat is always there.

As I re-read the first draft of Nitecrawlers, I've come across several areas in the script where I've tried to shoehorn in some of the elements from "The List". Problem is, they don't fit with the quirky tone of the rest of the film. Taking them out means that perhaps, in the eyes of some sales agent or producer's rep, our film might not meet all the criteria they're looking for as they fast-forward through the DVD screener that lands on their desk. Leaving them in, however, means that, in the eyes of the sales agent who came to speak at the workshop, our film is not "unique" enough to rise up above all the other Friday the 13th clones being churned out daily. Over the next couple months, then, the creation of our second draft becomes not just a re-writing process, but a re-imagining of the way we look at the horror genre and its preconceived notions about what's "hot" and what's "not."

In the end though, I'm confident that I will always do what's best for the story, "The List" be damned.

- K

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nitecrawlers Timeline

As mentioned previously, Kevin and I have decided to take a step back to better educate ourselves on the producing front, before resuming work on the second draft of the script. This new timeline structure reflects what we've learned in Suzanne's workshop, with our own personal touch. Her workshop helped tremendously, especially after going back and looking at our previous timeline of events. Extremely ass-backwards! We'll begin to fill in sections of our timeline in more detail once we actually hit each phase. But, for now, a few things to note:

First, once we finish our final draft we'll consult with a line producer to help verify that our budget is doable, based upon what we are attempting to accomplish on paper. We'll then amend the script according to his numbers (if need be), until we are absolutely certain we have a $200,000 film.

We've also worked in a Marketing section into our timeline. I wrote previously about the transmedia model, and how we are going to leverage other mediums to help raise awareness for our film, even before cameras start rolling. We are going to establish an on-line presence by launching our website with exclusive content for fans. Our ideas will start to take life, as we brand our film in preparation for soliciting investors.

So, here is our new working timeline. I can now visual what 2012 will look like, and it is rapidly approaching!

Educate / Research / Network
March 2010 – May 2010

· Workshops
· SAG Guidelines
· Legal Contracts
· Distribution Models
· Financing Methods
· Marketing

Develop Final Script
June 2010 – Aug. 2010

· Conceptualize Villain
· Consult with Line Producer

September 2010

· Launch Website
· Develop Marketing Initiatives
· Merchandising
· Fan Club
· Hire Concept Artist
· Write Comic Book series
· Hire Illustrator
· Hire Web Designer
· Social Media (Facebook, Myspace)
· Launch Website

Business Plan
Nov. 2010 – Dec. 2010

· Create Business Plan
· Hire Graphic Designer
· Create Investor Website
· Consult with Sales Agent

Form LLC
January 2011

January-June 2011

· Refine PPM
· Consult with lawyer re: PPM/SEC rules/risk language in packets
· Sales Presentations

Hire Line Producer / Discuss Budget & Schedule
Mid-June 2011

Soft Prep
July-Mid August 2011

Breakdown Services/Casting/Contracts
August 2011

September 2011

Principal Photography
October 1-25 2011 (20 days total)

Nov. 2011 – Jan. 2012

- Mike

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Suzanne Lyons Producer Workshop

The last 10 days have been a complete whirlwind for me. After I spent a week in Ireland visiting friends, I headed straight to California to meet Kevin for Suzanne Lyons' independent producer's workshop. Now, sitting here adjusting to my third time zone in three days, I've got a sleepless night to reflect on how valuable the workshop really was.

Kevin and I were turned on to Suzanne Lyons' workshop through Stacey Parks' website, Film Specific. While Stacey's expertise lies in foreign sales and distribution, Kevin and I were looking for an independent producer to walk us through the proper steps of producing a film under the SAG Ultra-Low Budget Agreement.

Kevin and I were both drawn to the class due to the invaluable resources Suzanne's workshop offered, such as the $15,000 worth of contracts we can later amend for our own use. While it's easy to go out and buy an indie filmmaking book full of generic contracts, nothing can compare to spending two days with an experienced producer, breaking down contracts and having our questions and concerns answered.

By learning from Suzanne's experiences (and costly mistakes), we'll be better prepared to deal with similar situations when they arise during our own production. By acquiring a wealth of information from Suzanne and Stacey, we now have a deep knowledge base we can quickly refer to, when need be. While it's impossible to regurgitate every bit of information we learned throughout the weekend, we will be sure to share what we've learned and how we are applying Suzanne's techniques to our own film, when we cross those bridges.

Another important aspect of the workshop was learning exactly what a producer's role is and what our responsibilities are. For our last film, the answer was simple, everything! This was a big misconception that Suzanne shattered for us; while a producer does have to wear 100 hats, he is not responsible for everything. By delegating responsibility to a trusted line producer, some sanity may actually be retained on our end

Finally, as I've said before, it's very easy to talk about making a film, however, talking doesn't cause a film to materialize, action does. And this is what Suzanne's workshop did for us; it made our project feel a bit more real. By investing in ourselves, we are ultimately investing the first dollars into the film itself.

By attending this workshop, it proves that Kevin and I are both committed to getting this film made. For anyone who knows us, knows we wouldn't throw away $1,200 on a workshop, if we had no intention of making this film. We hate spending money recklessly, both in our personal lives and on the screen, which is ultimately why we took this class; to stretch our dollars as far as we can.

- Mike
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