IFP NARRATIVE LAB RECAP #2: FIRST THOUGHTS FROM MARK HARRIS
Imagine you’re a boxer just starting out. You’ve been given the opportunity to go learn from a group of pros. You’re excited. You feel honored. You might even be a little full of yourself. Yeah, they picked me. I must be the shizzle.
You get to the gym. There are pleasantries, how-are-yous, and the like. Then, the pros tell you to step into the ring. You think “Oh good, they are going to start teaching me some moves right away!”
Then they spend the next week beating the living shit out of you.
By day two you’re questioning things you thought you were pretty certain about.
By day three you wonder where your life went wrong that you wound up here, with a bunch of strangers beating the shit of you.
By day four you want your mommy.
By day five you are a pile of wet, thick pulp. You have no will. You cannot trust your own judgement. You wonder if you’ll ever make another film. If you’ll even want to.
Then you go home and go to sleep. A week later you start to heal, and you marvel that there’s a group of strangers out there who care enough to beat the shit out of you for a week.
This was basically the 2011 IFP Narrative Lab for me.
I’ve been slowing nudging The Lost Children out into the world this year, with a test screening at Cinema Speakeasy, sending it to a few trusted sources here in NYC, and now with the Lab. The Lab was the first exposure to a group of peers. Other filmmakers in the same boat. Many of them were more accomplished. Some producers in the Lab had numerous features under their belts. Some of the movies had name actors. But for the most part, we were all in the same situation. Trying to figure out that transition from making the film to putting the film out into the world.
It’s a dizzying prospect. Do you go for festivals? Which ones? Do you try to sell? Do you distribute the movie yourself? What paperwork do you need to make it all happen. Which new people do you need on your team? Oh, you shouldn’t go into a major festival without a PR team? Shit, that’s more $$ you have to raise. Oh, you need E&O Insurance? Damn. Did you budget for that? It costs how much? Oh, someone wants to buy your film. Great! Now, you just need to spend another $70K to deliver it to them. But wait, the movie only cost $30K. Pray to God they don’t want a 35mm print. Oh, nobody wants to buy your movie but you owe your investors how many hundreds of thousands of dollars? Oh, someone does want to buy your movie, but for how little? And how long do they want the rights for? If you distribute the movie yourself, oh that’s how much more work? Years, you say?
Fortunately for us, this week was largely just to raise questions like this, to make us understand what questions we need to be asking. The IFP has other workshops set up throughout the year to help answer some of these questions. But all of these questions are subservient to the one big question they raised: What is your film? Figure that out and to some degree, the rest will fall into place. Or at least your path will be clear.
One of the things I liked most about the Lab was that they brought us people who’d been successful in just about every path you can think of. Filmmakers who had sold for big bucks at Sundance. Filmmakers who got out and sold their films themselves. Filmmakers who were somewhere in between. And the overall lesson here was that every film has a different path. Based on what your film is. And whatever path your film has, it’s okay. Let it be that path.
It was also helpful to have the curtain pulled back on the N.Y. indie film world. It was oddly encouraging to hear the rather well-known producer recount the film he thought would “run him out of the film business”.
Equally encouraging was the other well-known producer telling us about the time she passed up good deals for her film in favor of a “handshake deal” with the distributor she liked, but when the distributor got back to L.A., his company was not so hot on the deal, and it fell through.
And of course the filmmaker who got all the way to the Tribeca Film Fest, ready to sell his film for the big bucks…but didn’t, and instead went on to pioneer new models in self distribution.
Equally encouraging was the advice from my one-on-one producing mentor. He tapped his chest lightly and said basically: “Make what you feel here.” It’s encouraging because following that philosophy has given him a career almost any filmmaker can envy.
Most encouraging though was the individual edit session on my film. Editor Michael Taylor, Jon Reiss, Rose Vincelli, and some of the other fellows really went after the film. Picking, prodding and tearing it apart. But there was nothing threatening about the session. It never felt like an attack. It felt like a collaboration. They were there to make the film the best it can be.
So at the end of the week, I went home and went to sleep. And now I’m ready to figure out what my film is.