Producer’s Corner: So, You Wanna Be a Filmmaker

So you want to make a film.  What do you do?  Gather friends and strangers together and just do it?  Well, what if someone fell and cut their leg?   What if an actor broke their arm? Did you have contracts to protect yourself?  Did you get the insurance needed? Did you sign a contract protecting the business or home owner from such accidents?  Uh oh, do you even have a business license?

Oh sure, there are websites telling you that in four easy steps, you can become a filmmaker.  Yep.  It looks glamorous does it not?  Who doesn’t want to be an actor or a filmmaker?  It is easy work right?  Hmm.  Let’s take a look at what you really need to become a filmmaker.

This information is the difference between professional and doing a film as a hobby just for fun – and there is nothing wrong with that but, you really should protect your hobby too.  A car collector still has insurance and owns the title of his valuable cars – you should too for your films. So you hobby filmmakers should sit back and read too.

BUSINESS LICENSE

The first step you need to take is getting a business license from your state.  For Washington filmmakers: http://bls.dor.wa.gov.  The site will seem hard, but it really is not.  Just take your time and answer the questions – it sometimes helps if you know someone who has done it before.  You can take it one step further and make your business an LLC (Limited Liability Company – click on link to read up).  Huray!  You’re now on your way to being a business person!  After this – having a business plan is all up to you – another time, another blog.

TAXES – DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE

Be wise.  Be smart.  Here’s a load of information on the Washington Filmworks page about the Department of Revenue.

WASHINGTON STATE MOTION COMPETITIVENESS PROGRAM (TAX INCENTIVE)

It’s going to be easier to send you to Washington Filmworks website to follow up with and learn about the incentive.  You ARE going to need this information if you start making films with a budget.

With one of the industry’s most competitive incentive programs, Washington Filmworks provides funding assistance of up to 30% of in-state qualified expenditures (including Washington-based labor and talent). And we’ll cut you a check within 30 days. We’ve got millions in incentive funds to give away this year, offering you the opportunity to significantly cut costs without sacrificing production quality.

To qualify for our 30% return in 30 days incentive program, your production company must meet the following in-state spending thresholds:

  • $500,000 Motion Pictures
  • $300,000 Television (per episode)
  • $150,000 Commercial

CONTRACTS & OTHER FORMS

Alrighty!  So you have a script and you are in the big Producer/Director chair for your own film.  Now you want to hire crew and actors – or you might need a contract to buy a script from a Writer. Well, you need to come up with a contract that protects you, the actors, the crew, and the location you are filming in.  So – here is a list of BASIC contracts.  There are more websites out there showing basic contracts if you do an internet search. You can modify them but remember, it may still be a good idea to get an attorney to review it.
By the way – include Non-disclosure forms and a bunch of others into this category.  Yes, all the more reason to hire a person who knows how to do things – that person is called a Producer.

PRODUCER

What in tarnation is a Producer? Well, in short – they are the face and voice of your film.  Here’s a link to a blog I did – “What is a Producer?”  The Producer must have excellent and genuine customer service, marketing, administrative and business skills and knowledge. Without these skills, one will look disorganized, unprofessional, and will cause your film to be canceled, delayed or worse.  Hire a good Producer.

INSURANCE

This isn’t secret squirrel knowledge.  You can contact ANY insurance agency.  If they don’t have it, they will refer you to an agency that does.  You are looking for film insurance and a quote.  Shop around – it’s like car insurance, you want the best you can get for a good rate.  They will give you different options and you choose what’s best.

PERMITS

Unfortunately, we do need film permits and for all sorts of things.  Yes, you can swear all you want at “big brother” but it won’t get your film going any faster.  Please be professional and courteous with those who you’re submitting the permit to.  Here is a great link for Washington State Film (Washington Filmworks) to find what kind of permit you need.  For permits within Seattle, you can get them at the Seattle Office of Film & Music.  From the words of Seattle Producer/Director Kris Boustedt:  “I also want to add, re: permits. To any prospective readers/filmmakers: don’t be afraid of them (especially in Seattle). 🙂:-) The Seattle Office of Film and Music makes the process really simple and painless. They rule.”

COMMUNITY GUIDELINES

Yeah, it helps being professional at all times.  You are a contracted business and you are hiring people to work for you – even if it’s for pro bono.  Oh and just a note – don’t BS people by saying they get an IMDB credit for their work.  That only happens if you submit the (short) film to festivals and it gets accepted. Don’t say that.  So if it is pro bono (free) work – they are doing it for their own experience, to help you out (and you better return the favor), credit on the DVD and they get lunch/dinner.  That’s it.  Anyhow, here is a good guideline from Washington Filmworks about Filming Guidelines.  I also wrote a blog about safety for new crew/cast to film.

WASHINGTON STATE – CODE OF CONDUCT

I want to make sure you all understand The Code Of Conduct should be attached to the filming notification and distributed to the neighborhood.  I can’t say it any better than this:  “You are guests and should treat this location, as well as the public, with courtesy.  If we do not all work toward building a good relationship with the local communities in which we work, we will see less production, resulting in fewer jobs for us all.  Please adhere to the following guidelines.”

WASHINGTON STATE – LABOR AND INDUSTRIES             

I want to make sure that everyone understands that you are NOT exempt from City, State, or Federal laws just because you are a “filmmaker.”  Sexual harassment can happen anywhere.  Unfair treatment can happen anywhere.  Here is a list of Workplace Rights – know them.  Hiring children under 18, there are specific laws about it.  Read it.  Know it.

OSHA, WISHA, and DOSH – OH MY!

How do OSHAWISHA, and DOSH relate? What about RCWs and WACs?  I’m going to just let your read up on it all.  Safety, safety and more safety – by law, you are required to follow the rules and provide safety to cast/crew and yourself.
OSHA – federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration
WISHA – Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973
DOSH – Division of Occupational Safety and Health
I’m going to also point to my safety blog.

FIRST-AID KIT & EMERGENGY

Do you know what to do in an emergency?  Did you know you are by law to have a medical kit on set?  OSHA standard 1910.151 (b) also states an employer must have “adequate first aid supplies…readily available,” although specific first aid supplies are not listed.  Here’s a great emergency list to check out and follow.  I’m going to also point to my safety blog.

NOT A DATING SERVICE

Sorry to step on some toes here but film is not a dating service and if you’re using it as such, please read this.  For actors – You don’t need to do anything to get ahead other than audition.  Harassment in the Workplace – know it too.  The Washington State Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) also prohibits sex discrimination in employment, which includes sexual harassment.  Under this law, individuals may file a lawsuit in state court or file a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission.  Do not call someone hun, honey, baby, or other cute terms.  They are your colleagues and again, just because you’re not at Microsoft, doesn’t mean your exempt from the law.  Protect YOURSELF.

SAG-AFTRA

Do you even know what that means?  Lol  Don’t panic!  A lot of people don’t know this when they start making films.  Here’s your chance to learn and look them up on your own time.  Whatever you do, don’t ever feel pressure from anyone to know everything all the time.  SAG-Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA is American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.  I know, I know, a long title.  It represents over 150,000 film and television principal and background performers worldwide.  So – here’s the website to review them a bit more.  When you hire UNION actors, you will be going through SAG-AFTRA.

FI-CORE

Financial Core is the bastard child that no one wants to talk about.  Because I firmly believe that everyone should be given all information to make their own decisions – I’m posting this information.  FYI – by posting this, it does not mean I am anti-union.  In fact, I am vested in a union already.  I will not post anything about this – leaving you to read and decide ON YOUR OWN.  Do NOT let anyone intimidate or manipulate you one way or another.  Actors like Jon Voight, Gary Graham, Dennis Hopper and more are/were Fi-Core.   Both John Voight and Gary Graham explain why they chose this route as actors.  By the way – it’s not just actors who can go Fi-Core – Directors and Writers can too.

•Here’s what SAG has to say: http://www.sag.org/getthefacts/ficore2.html
•Here’s a great pro-fi-core article: http://www.coalminecanary.com/SAG.html

Now you are well informed as you should be.

PRODUCTION NAME

Make it something that is identifiable and don’t rip someone else off – for Google’s sake, make it professional.  Two Dogs Humping Productions is NOT going to get you jobs by the vast majority.

INVESTMENT FUNDING

This is where you will have to do a lot of research on your own.  Do NOT trust just anyone who says they are going to invest in your film.  Do NOT fly to meet with this person if they do not have a legit website, email address, phone number and can talk the language of finances.  There is no magic wand that will make money appear before your eyes to get your (hopefully) feature film.  Short films – either you all just do this for experience or if you feel the need, go to all the crowd funding sites and raise some disposable cash. That’s all short films are = disposable cash.  You will never make money from them but you can get funding for your future feature films if they show some good quality work.

You will have to work for this – unless you hire a Producer.  Here’s another thing – do not expect anyone to just hand over their investor contacts.  No one will and once you’re up and running – you shouldn’t either.  Yep – I’m telling you to protect your work, your investors, yourself, your crew and your cast in this whole entire blog.  I will warn you this – Investors know bullshit.  Don’t try to bullshit them or you will be out the door.

COMMUNITY – COMPETITOR

In every city, there are filmmakers just like you wanting to make money and build a great community.  The one piece of advice is to remember that while you’re building great relationships – never give out your project information.  Why?  Well it can be many things: a) you tell someone something, they forget it and six months later they have the same project because you put it in their subconscious b) they deliberately beat you to the chase and ripped you off c) it’s just not wise.  Don’t mentor.  Oh sure, you can do it, but once everyone has picked your brain to death, you’re left standing like a Zombie. Never give out what studio job you have sent your resume to.  Why?  Your community is your competitor too.  They want the same job because they want to be paid as well.  It’s not wrong – it’s business.

OFTEN COPIED – NEVER DUPLICATED

If you’re someone who’s really sharp and on the ball, be prepared for the copy-cat syndrome.  Just remember that you can be copied but never duplicated.  Smile with that.  This is another reason to keep a lid on your projects.  Yeah, yeah – they are going to watch you and do what you do.  People see through it.  What works naturally for you will not work for them.  Be thankful that you are in touch with yourself.  Look, no one can be you or repeat what you have done with your production company, your films or your acting style.  There is one Peter Jackson, Brad Pitt, and Sigourney Weaver. Heck, there’s even just one Megan Fox.

SHINY NEW TOY

A person on the move is a person that many will see as a shiny new toy.  Some of you will rise very fast and some a little slower and more calculated.  While it is great to network, socialize and all that pretty stuff – just be cautious who you let into your production. You’re going to have sycophants around you and that’s up to you to decide who they are.  You’ll be told how awesome you are and you won’t know that the last shiny new toy was told the exact same words six months and two projects earlier.  Just remember this – you’re not in this business to gain more “family” members, you’re here to make film and either do it as a career or to do it as a hobby.  This happens in any town or city, so don’t feel you need to move from Atlanta to LA or Austin to Seattle.  It just happens.  People want to get ahead at any cost.

COMMUNICATION

I’ll just send you over to this blog about communication.  Read it. Communication is a huge problem.  I repeat – Communication is a huge problem.

CREW/CAST RESPECT

Again – sending you to another blog about respect.  You better know it and do it because word gets around fast.

RESPONSIBILITY & CONSEQUENCES

Responsibility:  You are responsible for the safety and well-being of all your crew/cast that you hire along with the business and homes you use.  Professionalism is the best practice.  Always be courteous and helpful.  If it is too much for you, hire a Producer that can be a voice for your film.  While we are on “Responsibility”, if you screw up, step up and take responsibility for it.  Running away and hiding won’t build you any peace bridges any time soon.  It’s about being professional.
Consequences:  If someone is injured on set and you do not have insurance, you are running the risk of being sued. If you treat people badly, you run the risk of burning your own bridge with your local film community.

HOLY CRAP

I know what you’re thinking by now.  “Holy crap Gina, I don’t know if I want to make films after all – there seems to be so many laws and guidelines.  I just wanted to make a movie.”  Well, the answer is this – it’s called show business for a reason.  It really is a business and accountants, attorneys, auditors, tech editors, etc are all involved eventually.  It is a great industry to be in but you also have to treat it as a job and be responsible as well.  Just remember, you are representing yourself as a business.

MAKING A MOVIE

Go forth and make a movie.  Don’t forget about hiring crew/cast and that can mean pro bono as well.  Make sure the script is good, you have great lighting and actors.  You are now on your way to being a filmmaker!!!

OTHER RESOURCES RIGHT OFF THE WASHINGTON FILMMORKS SITE:

Resource Downloads
Business Seeking Work in Film Industry

Community Filming Guidelines

Excemption Certificate

Funding and Grant Resources

Guidelines for Private Property Owners

History of Film-TV in WA

Market Your Community to the Film Industry

Statute 6423

Statute 6558

Talent + Extras Cautions and Guidelines

Things to Consider when Location Scouting

WA State Code of Conduct

 WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION

Well as stated above, you can get the information from Washington Filmworks and Seattle Office of Film & Music.

I am no expert but I take the time to read up and I have fantastic mentors of years in Hollywood, Vancouver, New York, London, Washington DC, and those that fly back home to Seattle. If anyone would like me to add anything more to this – email me at:  officialginalockhart@gmail.com

Cheers.

Gina Lockhart
Producer/Director/Writer

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