End With a Question [Film Friday]

They call it a cliffhanger. End every scene and episode with a question. “What will happen next?” The stronger the question, the more likely you’ll grip your audience and inspire them back for more. “Will she say something?” “Will he find out?” “Will they make it out alive?”

I find it a useful writing exercise to note the question at the end of every scene. With the dramatic tension clearly identified, you can revise your characters and action within the scene to serve the question as dramatically as possible.

On the next Film Friday post, I have big news to announce. What will it be? Tune in next week to find out! How’s that for a cliffhanger?

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Wendy [Film Friday]

Yesterday, my final web series with Alloy Entertainment premiered on YouTube. Titled “Wendy,” this series borrows from the Peter Pan lore to tell the story of a girl looking for more. Overall, “Wendy” is the most ambitious series our company has produced to date. I could say a lot more about it, but I would get in trouble. For now, enjoy!

Regular Programming [Film Friday]

I’ve learned from blogging and observed the same results from others: releasing content daily dramatically increases your chances of attracting new and returning audience members. How do you think television and radio built so much traction in the first place? When audiences can expect to find you at a certain time or place, it lubricates the exhibition of your content and dramatically reduces marketing costs. You build a relationship with your audience over time, and keep them coming back for more.

By committing to releasing content regularly, you also dramatically increase your chances of producing a hit. 5 Second Films have produced so many short films and told so many jokes that the handful of hits they’ve had propelled the group into web virility.

If you cannot produce enough content to release daily, then commit to releasing content “regularly” – and publicly define the recurring time frame through which they should expect new content (weekly, monthly, every third Tuesday, etc.). At least some level of audience expectation makes a huge difference for audience retention.

Random splashes are risky and expensive to promote. Arbitrary releases rarely build traction. Do not bet on it. Consider curating an audience and regular programming instead.

The Economy of Favors [Film Friday]

Especially in low-budget filmmaking, favors can be essential to bringing a vision to life. Favors can help you fill missing pieces, augment talent, cover logistical needs, give you a foothold for success, and so much more. Most of all, favors can inspire long-lasting collaborations. BUT (and it’s a big BUT) – favors must be reciprocated. Promises must be returned. Or you may eventually find yourself without help. You can only last so long on false promises. Your project or company cannot sustain itself on favor poaching.As with all mutual relationships, there must be a give and take. A paycheck isn’t enough. Offer favors, accept favors, and follow through with your promises. Exchange a little, then exchange some more. Favors can make friends.

But make sure you follow through.

Hollywood Is like the Army [Film Friday]

Only without honor and push-ups. There’s a high level of discipline (though not necessarily the same caliber of punishment). There’s a system of rank and rigid hierarchy, especially on set. There’s a delicate network of specialized soldiers – and the brigade is only as strong as its weakest link. But unlike the army, Hollywood uses ego and opinions instead of bullets to survive.

Dry Spells [Film Friday]

People working in Hollywood are looking for work regularly: when a show wraps, it’s time to find a new job. Like all freelancing, entertainment industry folks run the risk of suffering weeks or months between projects. Even people who make as much as $10,000 per week file for unemployment between jobs. It’s crazy. Having had a steady paycheck for the last 14 months, I cannot imagine the day-to-day challenge of finding work. It’s a whole different world. For the people who work regularly, it can be great. For those who don’t, it can be hell. All you can do is get out, enjoy the California sunshine, chase personal projects, and keep busy. Learn to appreciate the dry spells. After all – the second you learn to love them, they’ll end, and you’ll be buried with work again.

Running a Studio vs. Production Company [Film Friday]

Most businessmen and women in Hollywood think they have what it takes to build the next big label. Most producers think they know better than the studios and can do one better. But there are fundamental differences between building a studio and building a production company.

Production companies see life picture to picture and rarely lock their future in place. Some production company heads have long-term goals, but most are contingent on the success of the company’s material slate. That’s true for all content creators, but production companies fall short by investing all eggs in the movie basket.

Studios take a bigger piece of the pie. The difference between production companies and studios? Studios have assets and scope. Successful studios operate more like landlords and parents than artists or producers. They own backlots, prop houses, sound stages, post production facilities, restaurants, libraries, other companies, equipment, hardware, software, websites, networks, satellites, and more. A sizable portion of the sustainable revenue comes from operating and renting out these assets. Furthermore, most studio executives speak in slates and four year periods. They work hard to see into the future and see past the big fat movie release in front of them. Strong studios invest in things other artists use to tell stories, and they also invest in long-term strategy.

Are you in it for the movie game alone? Or are you in it for the big picture? The long haul? Decide what you want to build. Do not lie to yourself about what you care about.