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1. Write the Feature. 2. Make a Short. 3. Get the Feature Made. (Coming Soon: a MANCHILD Short)

UPDATE: In response to some of the (heated! opinionated!) questions and comments on this post, we did a long video Q&A as well.

I wrote recently about finishing the screenplay for my feature MANCHILD (for now… ), but it’s been a while since I talked about what else is going on in the trenches of first-time feature filmmaking. The title of the post gives it away: we’re making a short. Why are we doing this? And why do I think this strategy makes a lot of sense for other first-time feature directors? Because there are millions of people with a screenplay, all trying to figure out how to get from here (words on a page) to there (actual finished movie). If your goal seems impossibly far off, that’s when it’s time to bite off a smaller chunk and show what you’re capable of.

“What have you directed lately?”

When someone likes your script, the next logical question you’re going to be asked as a writer-director is, “what have you directed lately?” If you’ve never directed before… you’re probably going to have a hard time getting your feature made. If you have directed before but your material is of a different genre than your feature script, if it’s in a different style, if it’s dated technologically, if it was of a different (or non-existent) budget level… you’re also probably going to have a hard time getting your feature made. I’m in all of the latter situations, as my no-budget, black-and-white, stylized “urban western” web series I co-directed with Zack Lieberman, The West Side — which I shot myself in 2007-2008 in standard-definition black-and-white — is still what I”m known for today (the only other thing I might throw on a reel is my RED SCARLET camera test, and that was done under even more limited conditions than TWS — except we had a better camera).1

So, despite the script for MANCHILD garnering some prestigious grants and other selections:

A good script is not enough

Put yourself in the shoes of a talented actor. For your next project you have dozens of scripts from which to choose, from big-budget studio films all the way down to no-budget student projects. Some of them have financing attached, some of them are shooting soon, some of them have other (possibly star) actors attached, and some of them are just at the script stage with no firm attachments or schedule. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to move the ones that are “just a script” to the top of the pile.

Therefore our goal as directors is to get as many elements in place on a project — producers, talent, crew, schedule, financing, locations — to make the film as real as possible, in order to help bring talent on board. But it’s a catch-22 — you might need talent attached to raise the financing, and you might need financing attached to get the talent. What’s a filmmaker to do?

“This is going to be good.”

That’s what you want a producer/actor/agent/etc. to think when they read your script or hear your pitch. Not “this could be good.” Every script is execution dependent, and there are plenty of projects out there that could be good. You want to put together a package that makes someone think, “this is going to be good with or without me. I want to be a part of it.”

With that in mind, in addition to the MANCHILD screenplay, I’ve put together a mood reel (we’ve looked at the sizzle reels of several other directors as well), director’s statement, hypothetical cast list, potential budget, and I’m putting together a marketing plan now as well. But while these materials are nice to have, they are more likely to help someone see how the project could work — they’re less likely to convince them that it’s going to be good. To really show something, it’s time to:

Make a short

Mood/sizzle reels are nice, but they generally consist of materials made by someone else. To really demonstrate your vision for the feature, the best approach may be to bite off a smaller chunk of the full-length story and make a short out of it. It could be an actual sequence from the feature script, it could explore a minor character or incident from the feature in greater depth, or it could be an entirely new prequel/sequel/tangential storyline. The end goal is to make something that demonstrates your abilities and helps potential producers/talent/investors better see the finished feature film in their heads. Thus the steps are, to reiterate:

  1. Write the Feature.
  2. Make a Short.
  3. Get the Feature Made.

MANCHILD and raising additional financing

One reason to make a short is to help raise financing to make the feature. Of course, I already ran a Kickstarter campaign for MANCHILD, so why make a short if the financing is already in place? Let’s take a look at what I wrote on the MANCHILD Kickstarter page:

Movies are really expensive; Hollywood spends $100 million on making a single movie all the time. So believe me when I say it’s going to be a challenge to make this for “only” $115k! Especially because it’s a sports movie — it’s not one guy in a room talking, it’s a lot of people running through carefully choreographed actions in a gymnasium in front of a crowd of spectators. I drew up the budget below myself, but note that I am NOT a producer. Once there’s a producer attached, they will come up with their own budget, which will undoubtedly be higher than mine, and then we’ll have to raise more money or make tough decisions about what we WANT in the film versus what we absolutely NEED.

From meeting with a number of experienced producers — indeed, one of my Kickstarter updates was titled Fifty Meetings Later — that last sentence has proved to be the case. The producer I’ve been working with is Chip Hourihan, whose (much more extensive) bio begins with:

Chip Hourihan has produced fifteen independent films in the past ten years. Frozen River, which he produced and line produced, received the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and was nominated for two 2009 Academy Awards.

Chip has been great to work with, and he obviously brings a lot of experience to the table. He and the other producers I’ve met with have all felt the same way — that there is really no way to make this feature as written with JUST the Kickstarter funds. Could we get something in the can? Absolutely — but we’d have to cut out a lot, and I haven’t worked so hard to get to this point only to make half of a movie. The best films are greater than the sum of their parts, and if we start pulling out components, the movie as a whole will surely be a lesser work.

Shooting with a larger budget is not a matter of having luxuries on set or affording star actors. It’s a matter of doing the story justice: being able to give us enough time on set to get convincing performances, being able to capture the basketball as written (the sports scenes are a vital part of the piece as a whole), and being able to include the sub-plots, minor characters, themes, and arcs that I’ve constructed very carefully over the past two years.

This section isn’t easy to write, because I can hear this hypothetical comment ahead of time: “Wait, you got us all to give you money so you could make your movie and now you say you need MORE money?” Sure, but I’m not asking for more money on Kickstarter; we’re looking to raise more financing to make MANCHILD by augmenting the Kickstarter funds with traditional independent film financing. Most Kickstarter campaigns only cover part of a film’s production, not the entirety of it, and this one is no different.

Any working filmmaker understands — when it comes down to it, you’re chiefly concerned with doing what’s best for your film. You can’t get caught up in thinking about what people are going to say, how it’s going to look to outsiders, and whether you’re going to get someone’s goat.2 If you have goats, believe me, I’m not trying to get them. Unless you have a lot of them, in which case we could maybe sell them and finance the rest of the movie. So let us know if you have a lot of goats!

Three great examples of shorts that led to features

Making a short to help get a feature made isn’t a new approach by any means; I’m not claiming any credit for it. Here are three great examples.

Five Feet High and Rising –> Raising Victor Vargas

Five Feet High and Rising received the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance in 2000 and the resulting feature Raising Victor Vargas was selected for the 2002 Cannes film festival as well as the 2003 Sundance film festival.

From producer Ted Hope, in a post fittingly titled First The Feature (Script), Then The Short:

[Anna Boden] and Ryan Fleck had been inspired by Peter Sollet’s RAISING VICTOR VARGAS and the prize-winning short that preceded it 5 FEET HIGH & RISING. They had written the HALF NELSON script and in trying to figure out how to do a short that could help get the feature made they decided to shift the focus away from the focus on the teacher (later played by Ryan Gosling in the feature) and put in on Shareeka Epps the student (and who stars in each the short and feature).

Here’s the resulting short, Gowanus, Brooklyn, which helped Boden and Fleck get Half Nelson made:

Gowanus, Brooklyn –> Half Nelson

Similar to Five Feet/Victor Vargas, Gowanus, Brooklyn premiered at the 2004 Sundance film festival and took home the Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking; Half Nelson premiered at the 2006 Sundance film festival, was a box-office success (grossing $4.6 million worldwide versus a reported $700,000 budget), and took home several Independent Spirit Awards; lead Ryan Gosling was also nominated for an Oscar.

Compared to the example of Gowanus/Nelson, I’m attempting to do the opposite with MANCHILD as far as the characters are concerned — whereas the short focuses on the kid and the feature is about the adult, my short is about an adult and the feature is about the kid. I didn’t actually realize how closely I’m hewing to these past approaches until writing this post, because while it just so happens that both of these shorts are portraits of urban youth (one even holding a basketball!), the example that first came to my mind when I was planning a short was in fact Sean Durkin’s Mary Last Seen, a short that played Sundance and helped get the Ted Hope-produced Martha Marcy May Marlene off the ground. Here’s a brief trailer for Mary Last Seen:

Mary Last Seen –> Martha Marcy May Marlene

However, the short isn’t available online (it can be seen on the MMMM DVD/Blu-ray). Which brings us to a topic we’ve talked about before here on NFS:

Festival vs. Online Distribution (for shorts)

While we riffed on it here, I highly recommend Short of the Week’s full case study on the topic of releasing a short online versus playing at festival(s). The topic gets a bit more specific if you’re making a short with the goal of getting a feature made; in this situation, there are a few approaches you could take with a short to garner maximum interest and/or exposure:

  1. Show it privately to prospective producers, financiers, and talent
  2. Premiere at a (preferably well-known) film festival and leverage the prestige
  3. Release it online and try to get it in front of as many people as possible

These options are not mutually exclusive. For example, you could premiere at a festival for the laurels (and the chance to potentially pick up an award), and then after that show it privately to prospective investors. Or you could premiere at a festival (or three) and then after that move on to widespread online distribution.

But there’s another consideration: your production timeline. Submitting to a festival brings with it a delay of a few months while you wait to see if you got in; furthermore, the festival you think is right for your short may have already come and gone, or it may remain several months off. During this waiting period, you can’t show it online — most festivals will not allow your film to play online before it premieres at their festival (understandable). So depending on when you’re looking to shoot your feature, it may not make sense to wait months before you can show your short anywhere.

In the case of MANCHILD, the feature is almost certainly a summer shoot because that’s when kids are out of school; if we want to shoot during the school year, we would have to hire tutors and provide schooling for the duration of the shoot, and that could add significantly/prohibitively to our budget. I’d like to shoot MANCHILD this coming summer, as opposed to next. And that means we’re on a tight timeline with the short, which means film festivals don’t make sense. For example, the Tribeca Film Festival is one of the top film festivals here in New York; it even has an ESPN Sports Film Festival component, which makes a lot of sense for MANCHILD. It would be great to have the short play at Tribeca, especially in light of the fact that MANCHILD received a grant from Tribeca! But the deadline to apply to the festival was in November, and the festival itself is in mid-April. So as much as I’d love to play there — assuming the short got in, no easy feat — we would’ve needed a finished short by November, which was when I was just starting to write it. Therefore:

Coming Soon: a MANCHILD Short

I’ve already written the script. We’re casting as we speak. We’ll be shooting in a couple of weeks and I’m going to put some long hours in the edit room to fast-track post-production so we can get it out there — online, available for anyone to see and share — ASAP.

The reason to make this short is not only to help raise financing. It’s to make everything about the project better: to help with talent attachments, to gain credibility in the basketball world, to launch the MANCHILD website (there isn’t one at present), to hone my own on-set chops on a shooting pace similar to that of the feature, to find potential collaborators for the feature, and to generally raise the profile of the project. If you’re thinking about putting together a short that ties into a feature, many of these reasons will likely be similar for you as well!

In response to the comments below, I did a follow-up Q&A as well.

  1. This lack of director’s reel material is due to two main things: one, launching and growing this site over the last three years equated to a full-time job much of the time, and two, working on a number of screenplays (MANCHILD in 2011-2012, 3rd Rail in 2009-2010, and a few other incomplete scripts along the way) also equated to a full-time job… sometimes at the same time as the full-time job of growing NFS. I wouldn’t change anything about my approach and decisions over the past few years — I learned a lot of valuable lessons and have grown a lot as a screenwriter — but everything comes with inherent sacrifices and the casualty in this case was my director’s reel of recent work. []
  2. Speaking of getting someone’s goat: this should go without saying, but all of the Kickstarter money is still in the bank, untouched (except what I had to pay in taxes, which is another issue that deserves its own post… coming soon). So it turns out that the minor controversy over me buying a camera would’ve been moot even if I HAD used the Kickstarter funds — which, again, I didn’t — since, by virtue of sub-renting the camera through a rental house, the SCARLET is now paid off. By the time we’re shooting the feature I’ll have hopefully spent negative money on the SCARLET, which makes it hard to argue with that purchasing decision! []

Related Posts

  1. My Entire Life Has Been Leading Up to This. Will You Help Me Make My First Feature Film?
  2. Leaving It All on the Court with 24 Hours Left: Everything I've Done to Promote #Manchild
  3. Coming Soon: a RED SCARLET Micro-Short


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 123 COMMENTS

  • Another fun short -> feature… Peluca -> Napoleon Dynamite.

  • Ryan – Congrats. It sounds like you have many avenues in front of you. I look forward to seeing the short, (whenever you get around to letting the average Joe see it). Quick question? What rental house did you sub rent the Scarlet through? I am interested in upgrading camera and curious as to how that can affect this as a financial plan. Thanks so much. Feel free to contact me through my website or email if you are wary of posting this info publically, for some reason or other.

  • Great plan, as a funder of Manchild I support this message.

  • Cashback was a great short film that went to Cannes and secured funding to be developed into a feature. They actually used the 20+ minutes that they filmed for the short as the start of the short and filmed the rest as an extension of that. Was a great film, IMO.

    Does Kickstarter have a limit within which the project must start, before they take the money back? Are you in any kind of deadline on that front?

    • There is no deadline per se; I put “August 2013″ for estimated delivery date, and hopefully we’ll have it in the can by then. We’re behind as far as when the film would be out and available on DVD, but… I think the pressure on a film project is less than if, say, you bought a watch and wanted to wear that watch around (I never got one that I bought on Kickstarter). I would hope that the majority of backers want to see a better film that takes longer.

  • Always liked the write feature > make short > get feature made strategy. It’s a logical solution that makes sense regardless of how technology or distribution change. The concept of a demo reel is great for even jobs at a news station: decide what you want to do, go do that on your own but on a small scale, then show it to the people who hire for jobs or finance projects. Thanks Ryan for giving this model some new life!

  • Hey Ryan, this sounds like an awesome plan. I hadn’t considered something like this before. I’m curious what you’re thinking about doing with the short; will you do a couple of scenes from the script, or a shortened version of the script? Or maybe a prequel, like you mentioned?

    It seems like shortening the script and doing the whole story might take the piss out of the longer version, but just doing a couple of scenes might not get the full idea across. What’s your thinking at this point?

    • Thanks Matthew — we’re taking a minor character from the feature and making him the protagonist of the short. It’s a separate script (I wrote it in November-December) but it leads directly into the feature.

  • it is really good to hear news from the project, Have to say that nofilmschool is the website that got me interested into filmmaking, since I discovered it I moved from Paris to London to study animation and film.

  • Uno de los primos –> Primos
    (one of the best Spanish comedies in recent times) (subtitled here; also: I think this scene -it’s the beginning of the movie- was shot with 7D and Nikon vintage primes)

  • Congrats Ryan – this is not just a smart approach, it is even smarter because you’ve thought it through and can see how it will help you in the long term. Good luck on the short, I can’t wait to see it and will help spread the word.

  • john jeffreys on 02.4.13 @ 8:22PM

    now that we are on the topic of short films—-> features, which was a very 90′s indie method of doing things

  • Koo, Great Update! I participated in the Kickstarter just because of this Website that you created. I never imagined when I donated to Kickstarter that my donation would be anything more than it was, a simple small gift. But I was wrong. It has become a gift that is paying dividends in allowing us a behind-the-pain view of much of the inner workings as you build toward your dream project. Thanks for including us all in. And Super thanks for the humble self reporting.

  • Adrian Centoni on 02.4.13 @ 10:35PM

    Any information on casting or crew help? I’d love to be involved in some way.

  • Hi

    I did something similar five years ago, before shooting my first feature. I wanted to test out the camera and the editing, finishing, etc before I dived into it head first.

    I was glad I did, not only did I learn a lot of stuff that would have made life hell later on, but I was also able to learn first hand which team members would be able to deliver. Of course, my budget was only about $10,000 (I ended up spending $30K or so).

    I think you’re making a wise decision my first practicing with a short film. All the best!

    Sareesh Sudhakaran

  • Robert Hardy on 02.5.13 @ 2:17AM

    As a backer of Man-Child, I’m stoked that you’re taking this route. Anything that will ultimately lead to a better film is totally cool by me.

    Plus, I’m really excited to see the short. I think it will be a fantastic first look into what you’re planning to do with the feature. Exciting stuff.

  • Fresno Bob on 02.5.13 @ 4:38AM

    Sounds sensible. Having a visual aid to refer to in those meetings is going to be a very big help.

  • Ewan Thomas on 02.5.13 @ 4:51AM

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for another excellent post, and a great update to your project. I’m in two minds about your approach,I can totally see the value in making a short, practice and honing your directing skills, checking out cast and crew members and seeking extra funds with a decent representation of your work.

    My only worry is that with Kickstarter especially there have been a few projects that have been backed where people haven’t delivered their films on time, or have changed the goal posts about what will be delivered and when. I’m not suggesting you’ve done this, but I guess it is a possibility and my fear is will people be turned off crowdfunding if this keeps happening? Possibily not. Just throwing it out there.

    Also my final point, I know it’s a big sports movie, and you want it to be the best it possibly can be, but is there not just an argument for getting on and making it with what you have? Cutting budgetary corners where possible. After all surely the best way to represent yourself as a feature director is to make a feature. And the quickest way to make that is to say lets go! All the best with whatever you do!

    • It’s a good question Ewan — and there’s no way to know the best answer. But believe me, if I had a way of getting it made for the budget we had I’d be underway already. Not a single person I’ve met with has said, “yes, we can do it for that,” and remember — I’m not a producer. I definitely appreciate the potential backlash of a delayed Kickstarter project — of the 100+ projects I’ve backed, most have been delayed substantially — but in the original campaign I estimated the delivery date at 2 years. If it ends up being 3, that’s not as bad as if I’d said we were going to shoot right away and then it ended up being 5… That’s my thinking at least!

      • I’m mostly in the latter camp—surely a quality, first film with this premise can be made with the dough on hand.

        TWS was sweet and made with no dough. Do you have any hard evidence that potential backers are ready to sign a check and the only thing holding them back is a question of your visual acuity?

        You don’t need investors. You have freedom. Use it.

  • what became PTA’s first feature, Sydney & don’t forget Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket

  • I love reading about filmmakers at the first act of their journey towards making a career in filmmaking. I’ve been following Nofilmschool mostly due to posts like these. You go into the smallest details, which I find are usually kept out, in most stories of these types, yet they seem more important than anything else, to me.

    I’ll honestly say that thanks to this site, I have made my latest short and am very proud of it. So thanks for that. It’s quite a journey to take, and I wish you all the luck with it and Man Child. I’ll keep on reading as long as you keep writing.

  • Great post! Though what I’m about to add argues the contrary, I too will be using this tactic for ONE of my next films. But if I may stir the pot…

    I’ve been fortunate enough to find some early success in my own career by NOT making a short for my first feature film. I simply jumped into the fire. So, in the spirit of sharing my own experiences for the benefit of my fellow peers, here’s some points to consider when NOT doing a short is your chosen path:

    1. Many cited examples (PTA being my favourite – as posted in the comments) were preceded by bodies of work that are often feature length. In PTA’s case, The Dirk Diggler Story. Other well known cases are Aranofsky’s “Pi”, Chris Nolan’s “Following”, Rodriguez’ “Mariachi”, Tarantino’s “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, Kubrick’s “Fear and Desire”, Shane Caruth’s “Primer” and… well, the list kinda’ goes on and on. ALSO, note that many of these success stories have hidden narratives behind them and may not be as simple as they seems.

    2. Shorts shows you can make shorts. Features shows you can make features. Not to devalue the importance of a short, but though the mechanics are the same – and they very much are on a smaller scale – they are two different beasts. I know plenty of producers that overlook these ‘pitch-shorts’ as they tell them only one things, ‘the director can direct a short.’ This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course, but be aware that many people hold this viewpoint.

    3. Shorts don’t sell. Okay, well, sometimes they do. But it ain’t much and certainly not enough to justify outlandish costs that go into them. 50k for a short film? GAWL!

    4. Nothing attracts producers like a feature they can sell. It’s their jobs. They crave it. They’ll be moths to your flame if you make even an ‘okay’ film.

    NOW, I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression – short films have their place and I think everyone should make them at some point. They’re practice for ‘the real thing’ and rewarding in the lessons they will provide. But, as director Michael Rymer of Battlestar Galactica told me over a cocktail party, “You write? Yeah? Good… good… Features?… Shorts?! You can’t sell those mate. Concentrate on features if you want a career.” Okay, sort of off topic as he was referring to shorts as a career choice and not a PITCH choice… But nevertheless I carried those words to my micro-micro-budget film and now its sold to one of the big mini-major distributors. Now producers and production companies are calling asking, “What else ya’ got?”

    My advice:
    -Again, in my own experience I’ve found there are two filmmakers; those that do it and those that don’t. In the time you wait to make ‘the perfect’ approach to your film you could very well have finished it earlier with less only to realize your next idea (that is often much better than the first) has suddenly got people interested because you’ve already made a feature.
    -Don’t be afraid to work with what you have. The right tools (be it money, actors and resources) will find their way to you. Waiting for the ‘right’ idea, camera, script, actor, dollar, location, producer, etc, may just cost you more than you know.

    Good luck!

    • Hell yeah to this post!

      Especially number two (2).

    • Great advice..yeah a short doesn’t do much unless
      it’s something totally out of ordinary…and has future
      stars…like Napoleon D. and Bottle Rocket.
      A basketball short is just what it is…No matter how
      good..hard to set world on fire with it..

      Brock how much was your sale for…did you
      break even at least..

      • Yes we did! And then some, haha.

        Keep in mind this wasn’t a 7 figure sale with limited/wide theatrical release. Small movies often get bought for small prices (small being relative to the BIG sales at Sundance you hear). I’m not at liberty to give hard numbers, but hypothetically speaking, a $0 -> 80,000 dollar film stands to earn within the ball park of 80,000 to 140,000 dollars for a typical sale. There are exceptions, as always, but it’s a rarity and the numbers fluctuate when you factor in (and there are TONS of factors) what type of deal it is. VOD, Cable, Theatrical, etc… all will affect purchase prices. P&A costs alone will MURDER your returns, so be very careful when you factor in your distribution window.

        Believe me, this sh*t is all Greek to me and I’m being put through the process with my producers who are much more experienced than I. No two deals are ever alike.

        Needless to say I funded the film out of my own pocket… and I’m not rolling in the dough nor do I have a trust fund OR wealthy relatives, so to turn a profit was quite easy after the sale. Which brings me to another nugget of advice:

        MONEY DOES NOT EQUAL QUALITY… but it does make things easier. As the old saying goes, “Fast, Cheap or Good… you can only choose 2″. In my case I chose cheap and good at the cost of time. With keeping production costs to a minimal, script creative yet achievable with borrowed locations, free labor (I suggest high school students with their summers off!) and knowledge in the roles I had to fill (cinematographer, director, writer, producer, color timer, editor, sound editor, 1st Ad, Focus puller, etc…) I was able to make it on the cheap and turning a profit was much more achievable.

  • PPS. Apologies on the atrocious grammar. Writing on an android is no fun.

  • Agree with Brock.

    Ryan. Feels like a lot of excuses to not get started. Sorry.

    Good idea to do some screen tests, but start your film. There will be never ideal time or perfect cast. If you want to turn camera on film rehearsals and cut them.

    Be realistic about how good first film will be, it will only be so good as first time director, next one will be better and next. Also if planning to shoot this summer you need to be in pre-production now.

    Get through whole process as soon as you can. You will learn so much with first film. Just do the work and move on to the next.

    You have what most people don’t, money. $150,000 is enough plus you have no camera rental charge. All the best with your film.

    • I think Ryan’s thoughts/plans are of food intent, not so much excuses. Or, they’re born from having to choose a path and being concerned with the outcome. That’s just part of the process that is becoming a doer, versus a talker. Went through the same thing, and it is not an easy choice.

      However, I agree with you on the rest of your points, especially being realistic about your first feature. Also, 150K… I wish I had that kind of money going into my first feature. We managed to Kickstart 17K and we were excited about that… 150K?

      You need good money to make a GOOD movie, but I would take a 150K budget in a heartbeat for my second project. Especially considering that it doesn’t have to be paid back (I recognize that there are perks that have to be delivered on… that’s nothing like worrying about paying back someone’s cash.)

      I’m stressing about having to recoup less than 35K… sheesh.

      The point raised about Kickstarter backlash is a good one. I feel bad because we’re two years in and are just about to go into printing DVDs for the backers, but glad that we are going to be able to deliver on what we started.

  • I’d be very surprised if the short makes a difference in whether you are able to get financing or not. Every single short film out there has a filmmaker behind it that is ready to turn it into a feature if someone gives them the money. Getting more on set experience is fine, but you really have to cherry pick short films that were interesting enough to get feature film financing. If I were in your shoes I would go with the El Mariachi -> Desperado approach (micro-micro feature you can remake later). At least then you have something to sell at a film market and can show investors that you can get them a return on their money.

    I guess this is moot if you wrote a 7 figure script: if you need to fill basketball stadiums full of extras and have 20 minutes reel time of multi-angle basketball action, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Or sell the script to a studio that can do it justice.

  • Thanks for the update, Koo. It’s interesting that so many people disagree with your decision even though it was clearly made with a lot of thought on your behalf and insight from producers & other industry pros who most likely have a lot more experience & knowledge then anyone commenting on this site. I guess everyone has their own opinion though. I backed the project due to The West Side, this site & the film’s concept, and I’m excited to see what you produce and to read about the journey you take to get there. I like the fact that you’re working so hard to make the best film possible and staying true to your vision without a ton of compromise. Best of luck with the short!

  • I’m sorry Ryan Koo, no disrespect, but I have seen and been apart of Bollywood movies made on a budget of $100k and they look like a million bucks. It’s all about talent. A little goes a long way. It’s hard work working on a lower budget but I honestly think you need to put in some more work into where you can cut costs.

    • Just want to add that those Bollywood movies were shot all around the world, including London and New York. I too find it weird that US movies made in the 100k budget look like crap compared to Bollywood movies made in the same budget. Comparatively, the biggest budget epics in Bollywood are in the region of 10-11 million.

  • I guess I was kind of hoping for more comments along the lines of:

    “You’ve been working hard on this and I’m glad to see that you’re established a relationship with a producer that brings experience and credibility to the table. I know it took a lot to get to this point. You don’t have a movie to sell right now and you’re not fundraising for anything, so I appreciate the time it took to explain why you’re taking this approach and how it’s been successful for other films — and how it could be successful for my own.”

    Instead, I’m seeing a lot of comments to the extent of:

    “You’re going about this wrong, what you should do is ________.”


    Okay, so I’ll explain a little more in regard to some of these points.

    I want to refute every point where someone says the word “ideal” and “perfect,” as if that’s the situation I’m waiting for. Those are YOUR words, not mine — nowhere in this post and never in my approach to this film have I said, “you know what would be ideal/perfect? This thing. I’m going to wait for that.” It’s not like I’ve been sitting around with my dick in my hand waiting for the perfect situation. I’ve been revising the script for a year, and now it’s much better. I didn’t realize how far I had to go or how long it was going to take, but there has been no “waiting for the perfect situation.” Instead there was a lot of “working hard on the script.”

    “$150,000 is enough.” I have $150,000? That’s news to me! Let’s see, $125k minus 5% to Kickstarter, 3% to Amazon Payments, another 2% of failed credit card charges, and another 15% in TAXES — and yes, that’s another long post for another day, as normally I’d be paying double that in taxes, so think about how much worse this final figure could be — is $93k. If you think I can make this movie for $93k… feel free to do the budget breakdown. Because I’ve done a few, even though I’m not a producer (file under: trying to find every way possible to make this movie). And when you do, ask yourself — is there a prize for making a movie for the cheapest budget possible? The only prize in that situation is that you don’t pay anyone, you cut a lot of scenes, and you hurry through takes. Why would I want to make it harder than it already is? I’m trying to make the best movie possible. And I have no idea how someone can argue against that point. I’m not saying that I want a budget big enough to do David Fincher takes. But I have directed before and I know how many pages a day is reasonable.

    “Shorts shows you can make shorts. Features shows you can make features.” You’re definitely stirring the pot when you use that point to argue against a short that is being made WITH A FEATURE SCRIPT ALREADY WRITTEN. I’m not making some unrelated short and moving on to a feature, they are part of one and the same storyworld. A more accurate statement would be “Shorts show you can direct [actors, cameras]. A feature script shows you can write [features].” There, I’ve just proven I can direct AND that I can write, which is the point I’m making with this entire post.

    “Be realistic about how good first film will be [sic], it will only be so good as first time director [sic?].” Actually I see a lot of great films made by first time directors every year. Why would we want to “be realistic?” Fuck that. And if we fall short of our goals of making a great movie, fine. But I’m not spending years of my life to try to make something that’s “pretty good.” “Reach for the stars, even if you fail you’ll end up with the moon,” the saying goes. If “pretty good” was all we are after then we should have chosen a more comfortable, attainable profession than independent filmmaking.

    “TWS was sweet and made with no dough.” I know, I made it. How many speaking roles were in TWS? How many locations? How many scenes requiring a lot of extras? Other than streets, the only real locations in that series were apartments (our own), rooftops (which are free), and a bar (which we lied to get). We also did that with no insurance and got really fucking lucky that no one got hurt. We clambered across rooftops. We had guys in the street holding guns with no permits (until the end). We broke into a crack house. Sorry, but my breaking into crack houses days are over. Especially when I’m making a movie starring a bunch of kids. Kids and crack houses are not a good combination.

    “I guess this is moot if you wrote a 7 figure script.” I’m not trying to raise millions, we’re looking at a six figure budget either way. People seem to think I’m trying to turn this into a $20 million Hollywood film or something.

    “I’d be very surprised if the short makes a difference in whether you are able to get financing or not.” Well then, I hope to surprise you. Not entirely sure why you would doubt this approach when there are several great examples above, unless you have doubts about my directing ability. Which is fine. But it’s hard to argue with the evidence above as far as how shorts help features get made.

    When it comes down to it, there are a million ways to get a movie made. One of the hard things about making one publicly is everyone will tell you how you should be doing it differently. But in raising more financing — and *SIGH* I still can’t believe I’m defending that — I could give a shit about luxuries, what I’m saying is with this post is:


    I’m trying to make a better movie. That’s all.

    • Success doesn’t come out of echo chambers. These comments are nothing compared to what investors will drill you with. React like this when big money is on the line and you will be in trouble. Good luck with manchild.

      • “Success doesn’t come out of echo chambers,” he says to the guy who ran the largest narrative film Kickstarter campaign in history at the time, thanks to a website he built himself that now does 2 million pageviews a month.

        That sounds like the opposite of an echo chamber to me, Ed. And investors will care a lot more about that audience-building than whatever you’re spouting off about. What do you mean with “react like that,” anyway? They wouldn’t want me to explain myself? Strange.

        • Audience building is important, but if you’re banking on that, you will not go far. Consider that, as you say, you run an incredibly popular website with millions of pageviews a month and had the best kickstarter campaign at the time. Despite this, it yielded ~2000 people willing to pony up to make your movie happen. Do you think there’s much more water in that well? And those people (less the 150 that just gave you $5) have already paid to see the movie! They might pay again to see it in a theater if it’s showing near them, but that’s probably very unlikely. Maybe you convert the 600 people who paid for digital downloads to also pay for a DVD or blu-ray, but this is also unlikely.

          Again, audience building is important, but it takes a backseat to diplomacy and a cool head. In another comment you erroneously attribute the value of making a feature film as simply that you can write a feature film script. This is not correct: the stress and adversity you face on a feature film is just a different creature. Your responses here to people bring in to question how you would react under that pressure.

          Please understand that I’m a complete stranger who has no investment in you or your film. I’m a fellow filmmaker, but there are so many of us now that this distinction is quickly losing any fraternal sense. I don’t know why other posters here are walking on eggshells or feeling the need to qualify every criticism they level at you.

          • Your math is supporting an utterly specious argument, but let’s run some numbers for argument’s sake. 2% of the unique visitors to my website backed my Kickstarter campaign during the month I ran it. This website is now FOUR TIMES as large as it was when I ran that campaign 16 months ago (investors care about growth, right?). By the time the film is finished how large do you think our audience will be? “Do you think there’s much more water in that well?” What do you think? By the time the film comes out, a fraction of a percent of our visitors will have originally backed my campaign. Damn, that well sure is dry, if only I’d run your numbers, I would’ve known that!

            Plus, most people want to watch a good movie, not back someone’s Kickstarter campaign.

            All of this is missing the point, however. Yes, NFS is a component of it, but audience-building in general is a skill. That skill applies to building an audience elsewhere as well (oh, say, in the basketball world). Investors should care about audience building. Not everyone at NFS cares anything for basketball. But a lot of people elsewhere do. Do you think that’s a target market? Do you think I’ll be able to reach them?

            “Your responses here to people bring in to question how you would react under that pressure.” It’s true, I crack under pressure, Ed. Because I take people to task in a comment box on my website. Speaking of specious arguments…

    • Ewan Thomas on 02.6.13 @ 5:52AM

      Hey Ryan

      Surely the point of the comments is to raise different opinions and different approaches? While we might be presenting different points of view of what we might do differently I don’t see anything wrong with that. After all it is a filmmaking community you’ve helped foster here.

      Perhaps had you said in your post that you didn’t intend for Manchild to be just another Nolan / Aronofsky first feature, a lower budget effort that gets you recognised and on the agent track (like a lot of us are aiming for) then we might not have been of the opinion that you do things differently. You’re trying to make a bigger film than that, and I respect that it’ll cost more money.

      I think people often have a tendency to say “you’re wrong” when what they really mean is, if it were me I’d do this.

      But try not to take it personally, I’m sure everyone who’s posted would like you to succeed however you go about it. And I for one look forward to seeing the short you make!

      • Thanks Ewan — yes, that is the point of comments, to talk about different approaches and opinions. When I disagree with something someone is saying about my approach… that is also the point of comments. :)

  • Few things from me on that note:

    - What Brock meant was completing a feature has no baring what so ever on one’s ability to handle a feature length film. Not a script, but a feature. They are not the same thing.

    - Good movies definitely require a lot of money, and a lot of people that know what they’re doing. You’re right about that. As I posted, I didn’t consider anything as an excuse, just trying to find a path.

    - My GF and I backed Man Child, I assumed wrong that this post was more about the conversation of your approach less “this is what I’m doing by the way.” My fault, feel free to nix anything I said! I would, but the option doesn’t exist.

  • To make myself clearer, as not to come off as, “That negative guy that doesn’t believe in x,y,z………”

    I never said any particular way is doing it the wrong way. There’s a million ways to make a film. Some are less difficult but all are difficult nonetheless.

    I never claimed any dicks were held and no hard work was done. These are subjective interpretations of what my post was trying to convey. If I can sum up my point: “For those of you looking to the alternative of making a short film to get money for a feature, here are some words of advice…” I was not condemning any method as much as I was providing the flip side of the coin. As I stated at the head of my post, I PLAN ON USING THE SHORT FILM METHOD FOR ONE OF MY OWN FILMS (note that I specificed, ONE, of my films, as I feel it’s a project I’ll have to demonstrate to properly to achieve support). IT IS A PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE APPROACH, BUT KNOW THAT THERE ARE THOSE THAT FEEL DIFFERENT.

    If I can exercise my own personal opinion, 93K is MORE than enough. It’s 90k more than *cough cough* this guy I knew had… It’s also more than, Neil Labute, Darren Aranofsky, Chris Nolan and – wait, ALL of the filmmakers I mentioned above had. They just DID IT. I hope I’m not coming off as ‘he who spouts idealistic rhetoric’, but if I can do it ANYONE can do it. And, before people say, “WELL THAT’S BECAUSE THEY’RE CHRIS NOLAN, ARANOFSKY AND _______”… Well they weren’t the names we all revere today when they were in their mid to late 20’s. They were all like us; aspiring filmmakers with a dream.

    If you have trouble making 93k work on your budget I recommend letting go of ‘what you think you have to have’… I’m not being poetic or flippant when I say this, but a movie made ‘cheaply’ (or, NOT AS GOOD AS IT “COULD” BE) is better than a fantastic dream of getting what you think you need or what your budget says you should have. It may never come… or it may, you really don’t know (but we can all attest to the former being true… unless everyone here has got 100k+ for a film and their not sharing their secrets…)

    My first budget clocked me at 80k for my ‘micro-micro-budget’. And my film is not ‘one location, few actors, etc… But that approach is worthy of its own thread… In film school they teach you that you need AT LEAST half a million dollars to make a ‘real movie’….. seriously…. You’ll need a gaffer, DP, grip, continuity, doorway dollies, etc… And the facts are YOU DON’T. It took me a while to unlearn what I have learned). If you can’t make a movie with 93k you’re either too ambitious in your script or you’re not forcing yourself to hack/slash/think/work to make it work. And if that’s ‘making the project less than it could be’ (ie. compromising), then welcome to filmmaking, because even the big boys compromise. Might I add that EVERY SINGLE FILMMAKER I’ve met at festivals who have sold their first films did so on a budget less than 50k. All of them. No word of a lie. If that doesn’t make everyone on this site a little more enthusiastic about their capabilities then I don’t know what will!

    Just out of curiosity, how many pages is reasonable in a day? 1.5? 2? 3? I shot 11 on our first 24hr day (television shows often shoot 6-10 in a day) because I was an idiot in scheduling the days – a mistake that I would never repeat, but nevertheless taught me what I was capable of. If a producer tells me ‘this is how many pages can be shot in a day’ I say, “Most definitely… if we’re shooting with a full crew…” There’s a moment when you have to ask if you’re REALLY trying to make this movie at all costs or trying to make this movie how other people tell you or at a standard you deem ‘acceptable.’ For indie filmmakers with no access to 6 figure funds – as, I assume, most of NoFilmSchool readers are – there is no luxury for said standard, only a ‘do it at any cost’ mentality. If you feel you’re ‘beyond that’ then that may be where your money problem lies.

    With the utmost respect – and I truly, truly mean that – I think the budget you’ve garnered (be it 115 k or 93k) is commendable, impressive and bewildering. Getting these funds with no promise of monetary returns (beyond perks, that is), without ‘proof’ (of your past work in the feature realm) and without a completed script (it was unwritten at the time of the campaign, as I understand) is nothing short of shocking. Anyone who can do that is doing something right. Your disbelief that some people have expressed contrary views on your approach and the ‘need’ (or however it may be phrased) for more money is surprising.

    If you don’t want to accept that people – many of which are working professionals, ie. producers – feel contrary to the ‘make a short before the feature’ approach them that’s your call. I believe people should know that they have options and that there are more perspectives to one approach for making/funding a film. As I said before, there are MORE OPTIONS to make a film and yes, making a short first is one of them… and so is making a feature first. That’s really what I’m saying here.

    That aside, I wish you all the luck in Manchild and whatever funds you’re trying to raise with this or any other approach. I hope I’m not ‘that asshole’ but instead ‘that guy that shared another way of making my first feature film’…


    • Thanks Brock, I totally understand where you’re coming from and you make good points.

      However, yes I had written a script… The revisions have taken a year. Writing is rewriting.

      And two, despite not having made a feature, I’m not coming to this as the guy who’s “just happy to make a feature.” I already made a Web series that won the Best Drama Webby and got us in Filmmaker Magazine, got us an agent, etc. So this is not just a feature to get my foot in the door like it may be for many first time feature directors. Maybe it should be, but that wasn’t the story I ended up with and so I’m trying to do this story justice as it’s the best one I have.

      • That’s awesome to hear! And if anything deserves ‘more time’ it’s the writing. Money, or lack there of, can be dealt with creatively and on the fly if needed… but if a script is in bad shape I’d never suggest ‘getting on with it’ until it’s lock tight.

        I think you’re heads in the right place when you say ‘do the story justice’. Story is, and always will be, king. I hope you find what you need and – if you don’t – make it work nonetheless.

  • Whenever you end up finishing your film, are you planning on the festival route, to sell the film outright, or possibly self-distributing?

    • That’s a good question Chase — I think we will definitely want to go the festival route, but that is a big question in and of itself. Which festival? If you get in, do you hope for a distributor to pick it up, do you want to use the festival as a launching pad for self-distribution, or is there a happy medium between the two? For me, I’m doing a ton of work online and definitely think this will be a film that finds an audience online. So if it’s a hybrid approach there are definitely digital rights I’d like to retain. All of these things are in the category of “cross that bridge when we come to it,” but I’m hoping that will be a journey worth sharing/discussing as well…

      • Very cool to hear, I look forward to seeing what you make of it all once it comes to that time. I remember in the past you’ve mentioned an interest in starting a company for self-distribution, among other things. If that was a path you were thinking of taking with the completion of your first feature, or that being a distant (if still applicable) possibility, that would be interesting to see. As for you mentioning a hybrid path that would ideally allow you to keep digital rights to your film, well…to be honest, I’d like to chat with you sometime about that possibility, and a service that you may have interest in, for multiple reasons, if you were inclined. If not, no worries, it will be fun to follow along on NoFilmSchool the progress that you make during this whole process.


  • It’s great to hear more Man-child updates. I thoroughly agree with “a script is not enough” bit, especially when casting actors and looking for a producer and crew members. In fact I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the Man-child “look book” and pitch video and put a lot of time into creating my own for when I finally send the script out for my next short. I’ve found that the personality and capability of the director is an essential consideration for people looking to take part in a film.

  • seth.iamfilms on 02.6.13 @ 12:19PM

    Awesome post. I’m actually working on a documentary/BTS for a film right now that is about just this. Its for the movie “Jug Face” . The script won Slamdance’s Grand Prize for Screenplay. The writer/director wanted to direct, TONS of companies wanted the script but he held his ground, EVERYONE asked what he had directed. SO he shot a short, sent it out, and he was able to direct his screenplay, and it premiered this year at Slamdance. It’s an awesome story, and a win for all of us when this occurs.

    The short should be online at some point in the near future.

    I also got to cut the trailer which was a blast.

    • That is a super creepy trailer, Seth. Great to hear about (another) short that helped get the feature made. And good luck with the film — let us know when it’s out there.

      • Notice he says “TONS” of companies wanted to buy the script for money.
        There was already money interest just based on words on paper.
        So combination of a known script and a capable short = Money

        People and companies were already interested.
        It’s not like he just made a short and threw it out there.

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