Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Passion Project

"Really, Dr. McCoy, you  must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing."
-The Wisdom of Spock (Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan)

Sometimes doing budgets is just work, with not a lot of concern for whether the projects get made. Other times, I become attached to projects.

Years ago, I read a script by Dan Lauria (probably best known for his work as the dad on "The Wonder Years," though he has done other cool work.) I won't say what it was about (hopefully he gets it made one day), but it was written for an famous actor friend of his, and it was brilliant. I did the budget for this script, and really wanted to see it made; alas, it was not. Years later, when I met him, I had the pleasure of telling him how much I enjoyed the script.

Much like foster parents, it is probably better when I do not become too attached to projects that I budget, but, inevitably, if the people making it are nice, I do. I hate to see the pain and heart-ache that goes with putting years of your life into getting a project you believe in made, and paying people like me to help get the funds raised, and then not seeing it ever get to the screen.

My skills are in knowing how to make the best use of the dollars you raise, and how to get that money on screen. As I stated in the last post, raising the money has never been a strong point for me.

Four of the budgets I am currently working on are from filmmakers coming back with the project for a second time. To be clear, I do not charge folks for slight alterations - these are people who have rewritten and rethought their project - often more than once, and often at different budget levels.

One paid me to put one of three different potential budgets for him in a completely different template, even after I tried to discourage him (from having to do it, and from paying me to do so), because, well, it needed to be done for a specific investor.  Anyone who has dealt with budgets knows how tedious and exasperating this can be; on one budget, for instance, craft service might be under "set  operations," on another, under "location." Matching all of these up is tedious; hence my need to charge again.

Two of the scripts are based on true, heart-breaking stories.

It's probably why I get annoyed when I see folks doing no-budgets say their project is a "passion project," and thus, somehow more worthy, and professionals should work on it for free.

These folks who are trying to raise money for their films are every bit as passionate about their project, let me assure you. The project my partners and I did took years of us setting money aside from mind-numbingly boring projects to fund, and we took two years to develop the script.

Folks who were dear friends of mine spent almost five years before they got to see their dream project done,  spending the money he made from editing to continue in development. When it finally got done, it was re-thought for a smaller budget than we originally planned but, as with the film my partners and I produced, everyone we brought aboard was paid.

When I see the sacrifices made by people at all levels to get their project made - including a director who was ready to mortgage his house to finish a film - I take offense at folks who are ready to shoot their film the second they type FADE OUT and expect other professionals to donate their time and sometimes equipment to make it happen.

Let me be clear: you want to make your film with your buddies and your collective equipment, go for it. You want to spend time collecting resources such as locations, trading favors, etc., I wish you the best and will even offer free advice.

What bothers me is the tone of those who choose to use the term "passion project", the suggestion that because you are willing to not make a profit on the project, complete strangers who you solicit online should jump on-board.

Your script is special? As I said, I have read incredible scripts that did not make it to the screen, some with name attachments. Note that none of the folks I am talking about were shooting for the stars - the budgets ranged from the very high at $16M, to the low at $200K. Most fell in the range of the SAG LOW or Modified Low, $625K and up, so these folks were not poised to get rich on these films.

Lack of budget does not suggest more passion; Plaster was only one project I did where an inexperienced director on a low-budget project was not willing to put the work necessary into doing the job right. The opposite is also true; just because you have a lot of resources, it doesn't suggest a lack of passion. Coppolla's decades dedicated to the Apocalypse Now story certainly was not motivated by money. I knew some people who worked on Redux, and they said his determination to get the story told "right" bordered on manic.

Look, I know there are people who go into this business to get rich, but, for the most part, they fall by the wayside. At every level, making movies is hard work, and, at the financial level, unless you have a cushy studio job, your "success" is only as real as your last box office.

This is not to suggest that you don't require passion from the folks you bring on board. With any of the "Key Creatives (there are certainly other creative crew people)" - DP, production design, costume design, editor - I want to know on a low-budget project that they really feel they can bring something special to the project, that it speaks to them in some way that will hopefully translate on screen.

Beyond that, I find that most other below-the-line  crew bring a passion as well. While the Best Boy Grip might not be excited about your script (most likely he didn't read it, and he doesn't need to), those who toil in these positions bring a different passion - pride in their work. I've seen that passion on the face of a grip who successfully levels track over difficult terrain, or an AC who nails a focus pull.

Most of us bring passion to our work; especially on the low-budget indie level, no one in their right mind is just doing this for the money, so when you say your project is a passion project, truly, I have no idea what you mean.

Any project worth doing has passion. I have no idea of knowing what karma you may or may not have accumulated, and I don't know what the Universe owes you, but I am pretty sure it does not owe you a movie, just as I'm pretty sure it doesn't owe me a movie. What is good advice for directors and screenwriters is also good advice in looking for collaborators; don't tell me about your passion, show me.

1 comment:

Phillip Jackson said...

Thanks for this post. I didn't even know I wanted to hear that be said but I was nodding in agreement the whole read.