Film is a Business

In film financing no one gives you money to lose it, or finance some imagined lifestyle you’ve convinced yourself you’re entitled to.

Money equals trust.

Earn money and you earn more trust, even the trust of strangers.

Lose money and you lose trust, even the trust of strangers.

If you don’t know the business of film making—indeed, any industry—you won’t be in it long.

Take your time and figure it out.   Use the Internet, just ignore about 70% of what you learn on it.  Get a lawyer, build the best team you can and square your accounts.

No matter how long it takes, pay what you owe. Write nothing off. I don’t care if it takes years:  pay your debts.

Finally, get a camera and start using it.  Figure your style out—what works and what doesn’t.

Practice all day, every day.

The proof of desire is pursuit.

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Elucidation

One of the most difficult things for the writer and director (and sometimes actors) is to translate something new into something familiar.

You’ve heard it so many times that me repeating it weakens my resolve to get out of bed, but it’s true:

Some fresh, bold vision of filmmaking hits the market, charms the audience and makes hundreds of millions of dollars, and in the case of James Cameron’s Avatar, for example, billions of dollars.

It is not the next week before everyone else—even the ones who scoffed and sneered at the originality and daring of the example film—will be scrambling to imitate it.

And what’s the perennial lesson?  You might be able to imitate style or cinematography or special effects, but you cannot imitate vision, or heart.

So, the battle lies in the translation.  How do you convince your investors and financiers that your unique vision—you know, the one that doesn’t look or feel like anyone else’s—actually has a place in the modern film market?

If they are not literate or creative enough to understand the novelty of your work—and honestly, there is nothing entirely wrong with ‘not getting it’; they are money guys, that’s why they are investing in you and your imagination—then you have to knead them with passion and hit them with as much documentation and preparation as you can to assuage their fear that this new idea can be profitable.

Here’s the problem: most financiers, investors and studio executives don’t understand the very thing they are in charge of approving.   This is why you always hear “filmmaking is such a risk” and “nobody knows what going to be a hit”—there is a kernel of truth to this, but it is not broad, overarching reality so many people want it to be.

Let’s put it in perspective.

If you were entrusted with approving or disapproving something you knew absolutely nothing about—say, a peculiar alloy used in space travel—what would you do?  Same thing studio executives do: look at a bunch graphs and charts that follow the use, manufacture and sale of such peculiar alloys in the space industry.  Hoping the charts were accurate and up to date, you would make a decision from the opinions of others.

Now, if you were the guy who invented the metal and had intimate knowledge of the metallurgical demands of any given space project, you wouldn’t need charts or graphs—because you have intimate knowledge of your own invention.  You know what it can handle, even if the pie chart says it can’t.

Well, there you go.

Now, moving on to the storytelling side of things…

Don’t translate everything.

Something has to be new.  It is okay if something is inexplicable or mystical or odd, as long as it is couched in a fairly comprehensible cradle of recognizable drama.

Otherwise, put something new on the audience’s plate.  If they want to ignore it, pick at it or swallow it whole, that’s their prerogative.

Just make sure it has the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

If not, add parsley.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com

Making it Personal

Without fail some well-intentioned but thematically illiterate individual suggests that the main bad guy is somehow responsible for the good guy heroic cord—his long-seeded grief or rage, his transformation into the hero, sense of justice.

Something.

There are many times when this cause and effect chain is fine.

But there are just as many times when it is artificial, when it has been arbitrarily imposed on a story to make the hero’s journey “personal.”

Like anything else, if you are just tacking it on then it is a mistake.  A big one.

Why is it a mistake? Well, like most bad decisions it is never thought past the first impulse.  This is the same incongruity that cripples most philosophies, world views and false religions.

People will embrace something up to the point of discomfort, and simply intellectually and emotional detach from the remaining consequences of what the feebly claim to believe.

Back to film…

If your character is driven by an egalitarian sense of justice, when you make it personal you weaken his motive because it can be argued that his sense of justice, in this case and maybe others, is underpinned by a mote of revenge.

It is the guy who is totally removed from the injustice, the guy who has never been harmed by the villain, who has the nobler ethic of pursuing the villain.

Didn’t we all learn this in grade school?

How many movies have we seen where the hero is the direct result of actions by the villain, usually in the past? 

I’ve heard it so many times in round tables and meetings:  “how do we make it personal?”

Trust me:  you do your job as a storyteller and it will be very personal by the time the good guy and the bad guy square off.

It is less where you start from and more about where you end up.

Here’s the secret:  bad guys understand revenge, they operate in it all the time.  What they don’t understand are moralists who, having never been injured by the villain, nonetheless feel compelled to risk their own lives to stop him and save strangers.

That is the true hem of heroism.

Everyone should already know that.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com

Boldness…Always Boldness

One of my favorite quotes is “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.”

So, don’t be afraid.

I know: easier said than done, but let me offer whatever encouragement I can.

Get up and go.  And when you get knocked down—get up and go again.

And when you get knocked down…

That’s right—get up and go again.

You’re going to get bruised, cut, disappointed, betrayed, let down, deceived, misled, and abandoned.

Well, not entirely abandoned.

Boldness — Always boldness!

Get up and go again.

Stand the hazard. 

Keep the watch.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com

Expanding the Frontiers

Among his many laudable qualities, I think that which I respect the most about James Cameron is he seems adamantly resistant to the idea of just hitting the “good enough to make my money back” mark.

How many movies have we all watched where you knew they pared back the special effects to “just good enough?”

“After all, there’s no reason to spend millions of more dollars to make these special effects look as good as they can.  I mean, these are good enough for opening weekend and DVD.”

You know it’s true and so do I.

Not with James Cameron.  He’s going to push the boundaries until it breaks, deliver the goods, stun audiences around the world, and make billions.

And I promise you, James Cameron, despite his huge success with Titanic 1997, probably had to sell skeptical investors and studio executives on the idea Avatar could be profitable.

I have no doubt his financiers probably looked at the tall, slender Na’vi in pre-production and blinked, completely bewildered.

Now here is the part that will demoralize the weaker filmmaker’s soul, but endure it, or better yet deflect it.

Even in Avatar breaks $2 billion world-wide, becomes an unmatched cinema milestone, and catapults the filmmaking industry headlong into the revolutionary 3D experience, James Cameron will probably still have to argue and convince his investors to give him his next budget.

I need to go look this up, but has James Cameron ever lost money on a film he directed? Given his track record, they are still completely governed by fear.  Is that not non-refundably amazing?

Say what you will about his various movie-making skills—and I have—James Cameron is absolutely committed to creating masterpieces for the audience, and himself.

And that is refreshing.

Make it the absolute best it can be.  Be that guy everyone can trust to be the best.

Every time.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com

Archetypes, Stereotypes & Clichés

They are not all the same thing.

Learn the difference, or you might end up using one when you thought you were using the others.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com

Internal Logic

It is your movie.

They are your rules.

Follow them.

Nothing devalues a film or movie faster than incoherent or inconsistent internal logic.

Set up your rules, strictly obey them.

If you don’t  the audience will not forgive you.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
www.ghostsofsaarke.com | www.studio930.com | www.jetrefilm.com