How to Make a Movie...and Why Independent Film Takes a Village
I've had friends tell me, "You are so lucky you know what you want to do." I've had people say, "I admire you for following your dream." And I've had others who've said, "I'll get check. You can pay me back later." Because, you see, pursuing a dream -- while it sounds very glamorous -- isn't exactly lucrative, at least not in the beginning...and that 'beginning' can stretch over a number years.
I always wanted to be a filmmaker. At three-years-old, I was watching Hitchcock and the weekend monster matinees mixed in with some musicals and random classics. (Mine were young parents who didn't know any better; I was precocious and it was the 70s.) I fell in love with suspense and how a film could transport you. But, having a creative career was not what my family had in mind. I was strongly "encouraged" to major in business, and so I did. However, when I got to Accounting 202, I knew it was time for a major change. I switched to Marketing and Communications, took a video class, edited my first piece and caught the bug. There was no going back. Much to my family's chagrin, I applied to the California Institute of the Arts and, much to their shock, I got accepted.
The problem with CalArts is that it's just a little expensive. I was putting myself through film school and found that I couldn't afford to make a film. When I brought this to the attention of the faculty, they told me to make a video. "I did not come to film school to make a video!" I replied indignantly. (Clearly, this was in the days before digital.) They just shrugged. To hell with it, I thought. If I couldn't make a movie, I would simply write a script.
And that's how I fell into screenwriting. It was the career equivalent of storming out of a room and slipping on a banana peel. However, it sort of turns out that I have both a love and knack for it.
After working on a few low-budget productions (Pumpkinhead II, anyone?), I left the set and went into the office of a great production company, and then one of the top studios. A few executives and an Academy Award-nominated actress later, I realized that, while I was working with great people and meeting a few of my heros, I was no closer to living my dream. So I left the industry and started typing.
I timed my writing career just perfectly with the Dot-Com bust and the mini-recession that followed. I found random gigs while I tried my hand at a novel, accidentally wrote a "self-help" book, and pumped out a few screenplays. During that time, the spec market collapsed. But, being tenacious (read: stubborn as hell), I stuck with it. Sooner or later, I would see my dream come true.
Having a Baby
Every writer is entitled to having one "baby"; that precious screenplay you love more than life itself. You might imagine one's baby being an epic romance, a soul-churning drama, or a profound historical piece that sheds light on a great injustice, right? Yeah. Mine's a dark comedy. Go figure.
Dark comedies aren't really popular in The Industry. When that dark comedy is set in Hollywood, it becomes even less popular. When it's set to be made by not one but two "first-time" filmmakers, good effing luck at it ever seeing the light of day. Trust me on that. We have been working on getting this sucker funded for just shy of five years. Oh, we've come close a couple of times. But just as we are about to close, a kahuna comes in and questions the foreign sales value. Back to square one.
For the record, at square one, there are a lot of tears, carbs and vodka.
If You Want Something Done...
When I say "we", I'm referring to the film's director as well. Mark is super talented and (here's the best part) he loves my baby as much as I do. He has stuck by the film through thick and thin these past nearly-five years. We both want to make this film so badly we can taste it. Fortunately, it tastes pretty yummy.
Mark has kept busy bringing Thursday night football to you (yes, this "first-timer" does a little something called "live television"), and a slew of shorts for ESPN and the NFL, in which he's directed the likes of Ron Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Vince Vaughn and Justin Timberlake, to name a few. A few weeks ago, he came to me and said, "We have to make this movie." And since we spent the better part of the last 60 months going through the standard channels, and even a few odd ones, we realized we had come up with a way to fund it ourselves.
Mark and I have always believed this film has a built-in audience because, in spite of it being a dark comedy set in Hollywood, it's really about how hellish life can be when you work with a jerk and all of your best efforts to put that crabby co-worker in a better mood, or to find a way to make your day more tolerable, simply blow up in your face.
You've been there, right?
So, we decided to take our film, BLACK COFFEE, to the people.
The Irony of Independent Film
We currently have a campaign going on Indiegogo, where we are raising $1.5 million. Yes, you read that right. We are going after name actors and for a theatrical release. It's a bold proposition, we know. And we hope that you will be bold with us. Because the irony of independent film is that we need the support of our friends and family, and potential audience members.
If you have ever said, "There's nothing for me to see at the theatre," or if you have also asked, Does Hollywood Hate Adults?, this is your chance to change that a little. Cast a vote for something different and greenlight a smart, dark, fun and twisted comedy. Because, come on, who doesn't want to be a movie mogul just once and make that call?
Please stop by our campaign and meet us through our video. Read a little about the film. See what we are trying to achieve. Because how one makes a movie these days is by sheer will...and the support of other tenacious film lovers who are willing to take a chance on something new.
Sandra Ann Miller is the author of A Sassy Little Guide to Getting Over Him and the writer/producer of Black Coffee. She's on Twitter @MsMiller and @BlackCoffeeFilm.