Seven important things I learned about film, from producing film.

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Hey cats.  Happy Tuesday.

First things first. If you are a filmmaker — then most, if not all, of these items on this list, you already know. You have read them in a book or something somewhere, once upon a time, perhaps long before you shot your first scene. While none of the following should qualify as a revelation, I want to point out that there is a profound difference between reading a principle or fact in a book and being able to pay it lip service, repeat it word for word on a test, for example … and truly “knowing” that fact or principle to be true, deep inside, after you have learned it through personal experience … a triumph or a disaster, as the case may be. Life imitating art imitating art imitating life. Imitating life. Or something like that.

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are 7 things I think I know.

(1)  Sound is far more important than you think it is.  On a motion picture, the sound design, and your sound mix, is not window dressing, an after-thought. The fact is, your sound effects and sound mix have the ability to put an audience “in” your movie.  Or not.  An audience will forgive a shot that is not lit enough, or one that is out of focus. But if your film has bad sound, forget it. Your film is dead. D-E-A-D.  Dead.  The audience will not even know “why” they didn’t get “into” your film. Your sound must be of high quality to fully engage an audience in a theater, to bring them into the world you created … suspension of disbelief, and all that jazz.

(2)  Film cast drives the market value of a film – TV cast does not. It is important to appreciate that to the international marketplace, US television stars are not movie stars. At all. It is Apples vs. Oranges. Baseball vs. Football. The reason is not talent, it’s economic – Audiences typically do not turn out to the cinema in droves to see a television star appear in a movie. You can not easily create a valuable film by packing it with television talent and have no film star – I have seen this strategy tried and failed over and over and over, including one picture that cost over a million to produce, and resulted in zero revenue.

(3)   Cast drives the market value of a film in International Sales. There are a limited number of actors who can sell a film internationally. Accordingly, if you have to tell someone about your lead actor cast by saying “He/She is on that show, you know X…” Then your actor, is not on the list, and from an international sales standpoint, your efforts will likely fail.

(4) The 90% Rule.  90% of everybody who says they can or will bring in financing to a film, do not have the ability to do so, and have never done so. If that statistic is wrong, it’s too low. Remember this rule, check references.

(5) Don’t Start with a War.  On any given film, there is usually one person who causes a ton of problems before they will sign a contract, and/or they suddenly go into a harsh unfriendly business mode, maybe bring in a tough lawyer to fight over punctuation and pennies, when they should be focused on the business relationship and/or movie. Well, after 20 years of entertainment law, let me state a fact — for whatever karmic reason, the filmmaker or musician or actor who starts a new relationship with a contract battle usually does not last until the end of the movie.  And it’s always a different reason — these people tend to quit or be fired, and they tend not to work with the team ever again. Please understand, this has nothing to do with counsel — the slate is clean when negotiations are done, the contract gets signed.  This is a simple observation of the beginning of the contract process, and a consistent end result that I have seen over the last two decades. Novice filmmakers tend to overestimate the value of the paperwork, and underestimate the value of the personal relationship. And yes, a lawyer just said that.

(6) Never, ever, ever, ever show anyone outside your team your film or script, until it’s 150% done and ready.  Period. Novice filmmakers and writers tend to send out 517 versions of the same script or film, thinking people will have the same level of interest and engagement in watching another slightly better version, and/or read your script for the 17th time to appreciate how brilliantly the B and C characters have been fleshed out.  FYI, I was the President of this stupid club until a year ago, as both a writer and filmmaker, I have made this mistake more times than I can count. Not anymore.

(7) Seven.  In appreciation of the foregoing infinite wisdom, or silly mindless nonsense, whatever the case may be — please visit the FB page to our film Fleur, and “like” it. This will help us achieve world domination with this film faster.

Thank you.

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– Lee Rudnicki

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