Recently I spent the whole day locked in a hotel suite with the Living Spirit team, discussing what feature project we should pursue. So why did we need to got to such extreme lengths as to lock ourselves away to decide?
Editor Simon Reglar commented half way through the day that he could now see my problem. We had 21 very strong projects, at various levels of development. Like dating 21 different but equally intoxicating people at once, the dilemma was which to settle down with and wave goodbye (for now at least) to the others.
I can’t reveal the specifics of the outcome just yet (for a number of commercial and legal reasons) but I can share our process, and the broad outcomes.
The Strategy – the overall plan, problem and solution
- Too much choice equals indecision. Success lies in laser vision on a single project. It’s time to remove those other terrific projects from the consciousness. They will always be there in the future. It’s time to fall head over heels and monogamously in love with a single project.
- Choosing a project came down to a number of factors for us;
a) How much do we love the idea? That love will get us out of bed each morning
b) How fundable / financeable is the film? Can we get the budget covered?
c) What’s the desired outcome? Critical success? Commercial success? Industry regard? Springboard to next film?
d) How do theses three factors interact?
- While there is much guesswork in the process, it’s important to be as honest as you can when assessing factors as it’s easy to fool oneself into choosing a project based on too much love, or a specific funding avenue for a film you care little about etc. It’s a step back to the bigger picture.
- Thought must also go into a career arc too, how does this current film sit with the following film and a perceived career? How you want to be branded as a filmmaker / production company. Industry and investors like to pigeon hole us – don’t fight it, make it an ally.
- By pitching each project to a room or people, then assessing it with our three criteria of ‘love’, ‘fundable’ and ‘outcome’, we can get a pecking order of viability.
- The final metric was, did we consider this to be a 2013 or 2014 film? This was based on current project development state and the scale / ambition / budget level.
- We hired a conference room in a local hotel, locking ourselves in and switching off phones. It gave us a neutral place to think, away from distraction, email, phones etc. It had no windows but was roomy enough to not feel claustrophobic. We also paid for it, which I think subconsciously, made us really use the time.
- Each project was pitched and discussed in depth – the genre, casting, budget level, development stage, viability, market, audience, industry reaction, unique connections (did we have something special related to that project specifically, such as a location, or a relationship with a specific actor etc.)… all these factors and more were discussed.
- Each project was added to the whiteboard so we could see all of them at a glance.
- Pitching the project was an essential part of the process, and surprisingly, after pitching lots of projects, it became apparent that we were not as in love with some projects as much as we thought. This made dropping them easier and faster.
- Once each of the 21 projects was discussed, we began assessing which year they could be made – this year or next? Once that was done, we only needed to consider the films for this year.
- We finally ended with a list of around five projects for 2013, then we discussed at length the merits of each.
- We made our choice based on what we felt was the most extraordinary project, the one with a clear genre, but also the one that had the potential to ‘stop traffic’ – we need to make a film that is remarkable so that it does not disappear in an ocean of indie films.
- Once that choice was made, we knew the genre and tone, and choosing the 2014 project was immediately narrowed down to two specific films. We needed continuity between the 2013 and 2014 projects so that we could be clearly labelled as the people who make ‘that kind of film’. This would make investment easier and increase industry confidence for the next project.
- We also discovered that two projects would be suited to other writers and we will be seeking new talent to develop these scripts with – but we will need to be largely hands off too as we wont have the time. These two projects are classic British feel good movies that could easily find a home at production companies like Working Title.
Of course it was deeply painful to say goodbye (for now) to each of those other nineteen projects, as I love them all passionately. But for me at least, filmmaking is a monogamous relationship, I don’t have enough energy nor am I smart enough to have multiple mistresses.
So the gauntlet is thrown down. Laser goggles are on….
Onwards and upwards!
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These are all valid points….however.
I used to work on just 2/3 projects at a time which resulted in 3 of the 6 films I developed being made, one was even nominated for a BAFTA and won lots of other awards. The big problem was that the income I earned over those 10 years as a producer was not enough to live on and I had huge debts. Had I have had more projects I think, but will never know I would have made a better living as more would have been made.
Now I have, like you had, too many projects, all strong concepts some with money attached. Even though I keep the number of films I distribute down to just a couple each year what with everything else I am doing I can stretch myself too thin at times and projects suffer. I recently lost £500k because I took too long putting the rest of the money together because I was working on other projects especially in distribution and did not devote the time to fund raising as I was earning a bit of money from the other jobs. I might have spend 6 months solely looking for the shortfall finance only to draw a blank. Thus the small amount of money I earned from other things would have also been lost.
It is a dilemma that all self funded independents face in the arts whether it be film or TV or books or theatre etc.