As I talked with a friend this morning, we were discussing the trial and errors of independent film making, particularly the trial and errors of our own journey with producing The Final Round, a period boxing film based on my book of the same name.
Five years ago, we bravely, and ignorantly declared that we were going to make The Final Round. We had big plans, but we didn’t have a script. I wrote the script. Then I rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and… Well, you get the idea. Eventually, we ended up with not just a satisfactory screenplay, but a great one (Toot! Toot!).
We had meetings with money, executives, agents, producers, actors, more producers, directors, even more producers, investment firms, millionaires, billionaires, groups of millionaires, production companies, and studios. We attended conferences, had readings, I thought about jumping off a bridge, made changes to the script, had more readings, made even more changes to the script. We met with big talkers, liars, thieves, crazy people, has-beens, wannabes, mystery men, shady characters, and people with strange accents.
We hired producers and fired producers. People threatened lawsuits and we threatened lawsuits right back. Men in three-piece suits offered custom fittings for cement shoes. We had “A” list stars on board, “B” list stars, “C”, “D”, back to “A”, and back on down the line again.
To say that this job has its ups and downs is putting it mildly.
Anyway, we’re on an up and were talking about how naive and egocentric we were five years ago. I admit, I’m still a little naive and my ego has not taken any major blows. It rarely does. I’m confident and patient, a deadly combination and one many should aspire to having. See?
My friend then made the comparison to the movie A Christmas Story. You know the one where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun.
He said that we were like Ralphie with his essay on why he wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun. It was a masterpiece and he had visions of praise pouring from his teacher and fellow students. Then he received a low grade and the note, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Ralphie was bummed and I laughed at the comparison, because my friend was right. But it started me thinking.
A Christmas Story is a perfect analogy for the film business.
Film makers have one goal and one goal only: We want to get our movies made. It’s that simple. We will do anything to get it done. Some have gone as far as doing everything to get it done. That’s gross. However, one thing that we all have in common is that our lives revolve around getting our project done.
We talk about it constantly, always on the lookout for who’s who. We work every angle, search every crack in the wall, get brave and make that cold call and spend an hour talking on the phone with a legendary producer, only to have a great story to tell at parties, but still no money for the film.
It’s the same thing poor Ralphie did in A Christmas Story.
Ralphie wanted nothing else for Christmas other than that Red Ryder BB Gun. He would stop at nothing to get it. He dropped subtle hints to his mom and the Old Man. He wrote an essay to get his teacher on his side. He fantasized about what he would do once he had the gun, the heroism, the glory. Eventually, Ralphie grew desperate and decided to take it up with a legend – Santa. But that jolly elf was of no help. Everywhere Ralphie turned, he was met with rejection. Yet, he still held onto hope.
Then, as it usually goes in the film business, on Christmas morning his dream came true via someone close to him – the Old Man. It was everything that Ralphie thought it would be and he couldn’t wait to try out his shiny, new gun. If you saw the movie, you know what happened next.
He shot his eye out!
So, what’s the lesson of A Christmas Story? There are a few.
- Never give up – You have a dream. It’s your film and your film only. No one else will make it for you. Keep the dream alive.
- Work every angle – Never leave a door unopened. Knock on every one of them. Open a window if you have to. The point is, get inside no matter what!
- Don’t burn bridges - You never know what may happen down the line. A rejection can come for many reasons. Most of the time, it’s because the story wasn’t good enough or you didn’t have a sound business plan or you’re too inexperienced. Other times, it’s just not the right moment, but moments can change in a flash in Hollywood. Keep everyone close.
- Sometimes, it’s exactly as everyone said it would be – Yes, you just might shoot your eye out. Your movie might stink, the studio might fire you, they’ll rewrite it, or it will never see distribution. It happens. It will hurt. You may even cry.
- Never admit failure – So you shot your eye out. Big deal. Take the spotlight off your failure and point it in another direction. Try not to throw anyone under the bus, but hey, you have to look out for numero uno, pal. The important thing is that you get to shoot your gun again.
That’s it. Thanks for reading. What are some lessons you’ve learned in film making?