Programs Tue 7.1.2014

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It: A Producer’s Fast Track Experience

Producer Rebecca Green was one of the 21 filmmakers (with 10 projects) invited to Film Independent’s Fast Track film financing market at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Green had gone through our Producing Lab with the film And Then I Go, the same project we invited her to bring to Fast Track. (Producing Lab helps filmmakers develop skills as creative independent producers. We are accepting applications for the 2014 Lab until Monday, July 7. To apply and for more information about the Lab, click here.) We asked Green to share her Fast Track experience and what she learned about surviving—and thriving in—all those pitch meetings. 

I recently had the privilege of participating as a Fellow in Film Independent’s Fast Track program. During the three days, producers and their writer/directors take 60 curated, one-on-one meetings with established financiers, production companies, sales and packaging agents, distributors, attorneys, granting organizations and other film industry professionals who can move their projects forward. Like speed dating for movie producing.

Yep, I said 60. That’s 20 each day. Can you think of the last time you took 20 meetings in one day? I’ll assume never. At first it seemed like no big deal, we talk to people all the time in our business—how hard could it be? However, as we went into our lunch break on day one, after our first 10 meetings, I began to realize what a long three days this was really going to be. I was thrilled to be meeting so many people, each one with the potential to help move my project forward, but I had clearly underestimated the energy needed. While each meeting was important, it was difficult to sustain my energy and enthusiasm regardless of how well—or not well—any individual meeting went.

As my writer/director (Brett Haley) handled the first half of each meeting, pitching the story of our film, my mind wandered. It occurred to me that Fast Track and its intensive format was like running a marathon, a marathon made up of sprints. Going the distance and hitting mile 26 seemed like an apt analogy as I walked into and out of meeting after meeting.

The term ‘fast track’ means to accelerate the development of a project, but as I moved each 15 minutes from one meeting to the next, I could only associate the word ‘track’ with running and how the phrase ‘it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon’ applies to what it takes to sustain a career as an independent filmmaker. I Googled “tips to running a marathon,” and came across an article on by Coach Jenny Hadfield and her words of wisdom for runners are thoughts we should all ponder…

Marathon Tip #1: REVIEW THE COURSE “Develop a visual picture of the start and finish locations, the turns, where the aid stations are located, and the sites you’ll see along the way.”

There is the course for a film and the course for your career. We all know how to review the course for the one film, but we usually ignore the big picture course because we feel sustainability in this business is next to impossible. The mindset is: if this one film doesn’t perform remarkably, then there can be no big picture. We tell ourselves that everything I am and everything I have must go into this moment.  However, a career is not made up of one film, it is made up of the culmination of many, and our involvement in our community.

While I believe the root of why we choose to make a particular film is based in story, I challenge you to evaluate the ancillary aspects of a project and think of each film you take on as if you were applying for a ‘normal’ job. Ask yourself, does the pay match my skill set? What new relationships will I form in making this film? And most importantly, how does my project move my career forward? Look outside the one film you are currently working on and visualize your long term course. Set marks along the route and choose each project strategically to get you to the finish line.

Marathon Tip #2: SET HEALTHY EXPECTATIONS “Even the most seasoned marathoners have no idea what their marathon times will be.”

When asking a filmmaker what the plan is for his or her film, nine times out of 10 they will say ‘to premiere at Sundance.’ (I am guilty of this myself!) However, in 2012, more than 4,040 feature films from around the world were submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. Only 119 were selected.

Assuming your film is amazing, the odds are still against you. Always remember that there are more filmmakers in the world making quality films than you want to admit, all who have the same dream of premiering at a major festival and being bought by a distributor. Because of this, even the top level filmmakers don’t know where the film will end up. The real world of filmmaking is harsh and the unfortunate truth is just because you make a good film doesn’t mean you will find success, but don’t be discouraged by this! Use this as a reminder to be thoughtful in the work you choose to take on, remain humble and don’t assume your film is more special than someone else’s.

Marathon Tip #3: PERFORM HEAD-TO-TOE FORM CHECK “Form can fade as fatigue sets in, and a slower pace and higher levels of effort will follow.”

Often before even wrapping production on the project at hand, a director starts talking about the next project, and just days after wrapping production, wants to see their next script sent out into the world. While I believe in capitalizing on momentum, I also believe in one step at a time and strategizing the next move. There is a lack of patience in our community and a sense of desperation that I feel is stalling our ability to find sustainability. Afraid to miss an opportunity, we race from one project to the next, take on more than we know we have the capacity for, and in turn, are in a constant state of exhaustion that compromises our work.

When you wrap your next project—whether it’s the passion project you’ve been working on for years or a work for hire job to pay the bills—I encourage you to stop and assess your mental and physical state. Instead of ignoring obvious deficiencies, focus on building yourself back up so that you can go into the next endeavor with a sound mind and body.

Marathon Tip #4: CELEBRATE AND RECOVER “Take the time to truly relish in your accomplishment. You trained hard, dedicated your time, and achieved your goal. No matter your time, you’re a marathoner and that is special.”

Aside from having someone to share the workload with, this is by far the best part of having a partnership with someone you not only respect, but enjoy spending time with outside of the workplace. When my producing partner (Laura D. Smith) and I finish a project of any size, we immediately plan what we are going to do to celebrate (even if it’s just a nice dinner out that we can’t afford) and the time we are going to take off (even if it’s just one day at the beach where we require ourselves to leave our cell phones in the car).

We congratulate each other for both the little accomplishments during the day-to-day tasks, as well as the big moments like our most recent trip to Cannes. We recognize when the other person is drained and just needs a day without emails and calls and we don’t punish each other if we don’t get through the day’s to-do list. We know that being able to make a film is a privilege, that we can’t take ourselves too seriously, and that a glass of champagne eases any chaos going on around us and always brings a smile to our face.