Being honest about your motives is the first step toward a clear path to a successful film production and distribution. And it’s a healthy habit for anyone entering a new life-consuming project; starting a new company, getting married, or in this case, shooting a film.
Do you want your film to change the world? Do you want to make money so you can make your next film? Do you have something to prove to yourself? An honest answer in the early stages can do wonders for a filmmaker in finding a workable distribution path, uncovering a forthright story, and figuring out an appropriate amount of money and energy to expend on the project. (Please note: An answer like “I am creative and want to express myself” misses the scope. This is a reflective question for professionals or budding professionals who live in the reality of scarce resources and time who will express themselves creatively regardless of their path)
Human beings are motivated by different factors, but when I was only 19 years young, a drunk man who I was serving steak to explained to me that motivation could be broken down into the ‘4 Fs’.
The guy seemed like a good tipper, so I let another table’s diet coke die at the service bar. He told me, “Son, if you remember anything in business remember the four F’s…everyone is motivated by one of ‘em and when you figure out which one, you can get them to work for ya…” “Fortune, Fame, Familiarity, and Fear” he said. This lonely, mouse-nosed gentleman was speaking a little more on negotiations or employee motivation I think, but here I am going to examine the 4 F’s in relation to filmmaking…Again, it is understood that your underlying motive is to tell a story that can touch people, but that in itself is not enough reason to make the movie you want, and surely is not enough information for you to know how to distribute this story. Motivation: Fortune Suggested Path: Use all available connections & extensive market research to build a choice business plan, then start making (many) movies. If you can’t raise money: Network further, design a new business plan, & repeat til movies and money are made. To make money is typically not the first-time filmmakers motivation, but it can become so quickly for those that want to continue to make films. I have a friend who is a part of a company that started with two feature films from a slate of 10 films. Both flics caught some critical acclaim but lost money. The CEO realized that he was not in this business to get a pat on the back from someone he didn’t know or care about: he gained clarity of his motives and scrapped the rest of the film slate. He realized that his motive was, and had to be, to make a profit. This sounds extremely cold and capitalistic for an ‘artist’, but in truth he just loved making movies so he knew he had to make money in order to keep doing it. He wanted to put out good films of course, but the perfection of the product was not as important as the pleasure of the process, and there was no shame in that especially if he could make select audiences happy while profiting. The company gained some important foreign sales and TV contacts through the first films, so decided to start making low budget films on advances and eventually started producing films for TV. The company is flourishing now and the partners are happily making a few pretty good films each year because they were honest about motives. Motivation: Fame (Recognition) Suggested path: Varies depending on from whom you’d like recognition. Everyday fame is becoming a more fleeting enterprise. There are numerous niche pockets of fame that develop and disappear on a daily basis, so we will go with ‘Recognition’. The term recognition is even quite broad, but I think this is where most will fall into when thinking of approaching a new film. And no matter how selfless the product, there is still some ideal recognition that will follow if all your goals are reached. If you can figure out where your film would be ideally recognized before embarking on the filmmaking journey, you will have a more reasonable time creating the story and finding that story’s distribution path. For example, maybe your film aims to bring awareness to world hunger through glaring statistics and a precise plan of action. Of course the best reward would be the end of world hunger, but if your film had a huge hand in this, of course you will be recognized...so maybe your ideal recognition might be from Action Against Hunger. How can you create your story and distribute your film in order to directly make that type of impact? Maybe you need to adjust your million dollar budget and forget the Oscar qualifying theatrical push- cut production down to 100k and allot 900k to pay ninjas to deliver the heartbreaking film at night to the 100 richest men in the world. Or maybe when you realize that the end of world hunger is your true motive, you decide that a film might not even be your most effective route to effect change. Maybe you remember you have a connection high up at a fast food giant who would be turned off by your biased film, but might actually help you get a meeting to make a proposal to change some of their processes in order to cut waste and feed the hungry. Be honest about what you want to change, what you have at your disposal, and then figure out if and how you can make the best film to tell the stories that will make that change. Getting your film shown on the big screen might feel good to you, but is it the best way to get your film to the desired audience? Motivation: Familiarity Suggested path: Don’t make the film. Individuals that are motivated by familiarity, in my opinion, should not make films. These humans make wonderful programmers, mechanics, general store owners, and a slew of other jobs that are helpful to the community. Likewise, filmmakers that have made films and are motivated to continue to do so because they are comfortable should not continue to make films…it is one of the reasons that Hollywood puts out a significant amount of crap. If you have no passion about making a film and are just going through the motions, please find something else you are passionate about. Executives need to find the balls to recognize this complacency in directors and producers and take risks on fresh, risk taking talent. Maybe then we would start to see some change in story, technique, and overall product innovation in Hollywood. Motivation: Fear Suggested Path: Make an inexpensive but passionate film about, for, or in dedication to your family. This is the hardest motivating factor to be honest about, because it is most primal and it is probably true that we are all motivated in part by this type of fear: the fear of being forgotten. You have amazing thoughts and stories in your brain and what happens if it is never published or put into a film? There are hundreds of thousands of films being made that will not achieve any type of timelessness, but if you create an amazing film for your family, yours will. If you can be honest with yourself and say that this is a main reason that you want to make the film, then congratulations on your honesty. The path is simple, you need to create a micro budget film with the utmost passion, care, and relevance to your own family and your/their story. Who cares if it takes years to perfect, it will be there for generations. Put your love and passion and every ounce of storytelling brilliance you can muster into it, and then distribute it to your family. You will never be forgotten by the people that matter the most: your family & their descendants. They may even send it to others and with that much genuine attention it surely has a chance of becoming loved by outsiders too. Even if it is just a 5 minute long, but genuinely crafted story that is a message from you to your wife (or son who passed, or brother who went to the marines, or…) your family will pass that down forever just to show the type of love and support that your family was built on years prior. There all types of viable reasons to do things, but if more people who created Indie films laced their films with the candid fear of being forgotten and the resolve of a letter to family descendants, then even if Indie became more specific, the world of film would be a far better place. Indie Street is still searching for these authentic filmmakers to round off our group of award winning storytellers. Be honest about your motivation, create a film & goals that best fit, then put all of yourself into it. Looking forward, Jay Webb