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Archive for the ‘film’ Category

Is USC a Good School for Film Production?

So what will the USC film graduate program in production teach you, and what won’t you learn? Is it a good school and is the tuition worth it?

Courses include writing, directing and producing. You will instantly enter into a group of other people who are also serious about filmmaking studies. There are plenty of mentors to push and guide you as well. This networking aspect is a big part of what your tuition pays for.

But they don’t teach you about the risks you need to take out in the field to actually get a film made. Also, the program is more geared toward larger budgets, even for shorts. So if you just want to make a short film for no or low budget then you don’t really need to go to all the way to southern California for college at USC.

Interview with an alumni of the USC film graduate program:

Film Budget Breakdown

When people refer to film budgeting it means the process by which a unit production manager, filmmaker or a line producer prepares a budget for a motion picture production. Documents could be as much as 150 pages long and it’s used to get financing for the film so the pre-production can begin and eventually the final production.

A draft is usually made of film budget breakdown and many drafts may have to be made before a final one is agreed upon. A budget has four main parts:

Above the line – The creative talent
Below the line – production costs
Post-production – visual effects and editing
Other  Insurance, bonds etc.

Financing for the film is usually secured from a sponsor, investor, film studio, product placement, entertainment company, or from other funds out of pocket.

Deke Simon – author of Film and Video Budgets describes the budgeting process with great insight and humor. His book is the industry “bible’ on budgeting:

Film Budget Breakdown

Story Rights – This is the right to produce a film that is based upon something such as a video game, novel play or other work. It can be a remake of another film or a sequel as well. Screenplays can be as little as fifty thousand up to 10 million or even more.

Screenplay – This is the film on paper. A screenwriter is used to write the film and they can make tons of money to create the screenplay. The script can be worked on afterwards by a script doctor to get the final draft together.

Producer – This person or persons makes and develops the film and they can make bonuses as well as a share of the overall profits of the film. Producers can make multiple millions for a film. Film makers also like to use vacuum sealers to provide healthy fresh food for the actors, click here to find more information on food sealers.

Director – The director directs the action of the stars and makes the story come alive with the talent that is used to make the picture. Good directors can make as much as 10 million for a single film.

Cast – these are the actors and actresses that are a part of the movie. These people can be paid multiple millions per film. The cast also includes extras that have minor roles in the background. They can make about $130.00 per day. On low budget films extras often get nothing for participating in the film.

Production Costs – This includes wages of the crew making the film, the sets, the costumes, food, accommodations, transportation and other costs.

Visual Effects – these are done by computer and happen in post-production. These costs are largely determined by the work that needs to be done. Big budget films with tons of effects can cost up to a hundred million to get the effects onto the screen.

Music – Film composers are needed for the music and sometimes this includes big ticket music stars who command high salaries. An original song from a star could cost one million or more.

Budget Reduction

Many films need budget reduction. One way they do this is to cut out the night scenes which require far too much expensive lighting. Other ways include eliminating filming in famous locations or commercial areas as this costs money to shut down these areas for filming. Sometimes car chase scenes are done on Sunday when traffic is light. To cut costs some films use lesser known actors who need the work and take reduced salaries.

Some films are made in other locations but in the movie the city is different. For example the film might be set in Los Angeles, but the film is actually shot in Vancouver B.C. Some films use non-union crews to reduce the costs of film budgeting as well.

cc photo credits: flickr.com/photos/vancouverfilmschool

Pitching Movie Ideas to Studios

I’m preparing to pitch some film ideas and I am making notes from tips I find online:

• A pitch is a short summary of situation and plot points that convey a strong unique idea called a “high concept”.

• The pitch should be no more than 15 minutes long and cover the main concept, story and the characters.

• Don’t talk too much about dramatic details like character feelings and interactions.

• Pitch the main concept, major plot points, primary characters and any twists, just like a movie trailer would.

• Movie structure in Hollywood generally has three acts within a film, so learn the format and present your pitch accordingly.

• Write the pitch out and then learn it by memory. Make sure you know the complete story behind each of your characters and plot ideas – be prepared to answer in-depth questions!

• Use an industry directory like IMDB to locate production company and film studio contacts. Send them an inquiry letter with a request to pitch them.

• You can also try to register at sites like Moviepitch.com and TVfilmrights.com to pitch written ideas online.

What Does an Executive Producer Do in The Film Industry?

Today I am jotting down some notes I took while researching the role of an “Executive Producer” of movies:

• Overall responsibility for a film but does not actually make it.

• Typically raises the funds to pay for making the film.

• Usually develops or buys the story and screenplay.

• Hires and supervises the Producer and sometimes the Line Producer who actually create the film.

• Representative and liaison to the investors, studio or distributor.

• Ensure the projects stays on budget, on schedule and is being executed as planned.

Hollywood Movie Plot Ideas (and Clichés to Avoid) for Scripts

English: The Hollywood Sign, shot from an airc...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m brainstorming ideas for sub plots in a feature script I am co-writing for my sci fi film Zedic and the Crimson Born. So I am going through some blogs and articles about movie plots and I will make notes of interest.

Of course I know some people are incredibly opposed to writing films based on previously proven plots, so I apologize for that. However, this is my first full length film and I need to learn the basics of what works.

This article The Top Ten Standard Hollywood Movie Plots is funny but true! I realized that for my film I like the plot the author calls “The Twist”. One of the best twist movies I have seen recently is “Salt” starring Angelina Jolie, and this had a huge impact on my vision for my Zedic film. In fact, I would like to have at least 3 twists along the way, like Salt.

The other plots I like in the articles are  the “Epic War” and “Underdog” theme— both of which interestingly enough are present in the Harry Potter series. 5 Movie Plots That Hollywood Has Officially Done To Death also has a some great examples of underdog plots and is just really funny to read! In Guide to Hollywood’s Mainstream Movie Formulas I like the plot idea “Edgy Supernatural Thrillers” which also fits in with the paranormal themes of Zedic.

So those are the three best (or perhaps worst) basic plot lists I found online. Hopefully that might help you with ideas and or show you what may be some common clichés.

If you like this you might be interested in my other posts:

Funding Your Film! Using Film Finance Basics

High Concept Story Plots: How to for Hollywood Screenplays

7 Indie Film Digital Distribution Companies You Can Submit to Online

Other related articles

Funding Your Film! Using Film Finance Basics

I’m looking to raise funds to produce a feature version of my alien sci fi short Zedic and the Crimson Born. So I came across this most excellent video on Film Financing by Dave Basulto from Film School On Demand.

To start Dave explains the basic budget ranges for funding films. At 0-100K you are your own boss and distribution is mainly through festivals and online. 100K-1M films need “name” talent and a sales agent for distribution but you are still your own boss. 1M+ movies require big stars, distributors in place (tv or studio), it takes a long time to raise the money and you have less control.

You must have a budget to get financing. But Dave says this can be easy once you have done the research. You need to include equipment, locations, hard costs like insurance and crew, sound/music, post production (editor) and be sure to add padding, luckily for you there are insurance companies like onesureinsurance.co.uk which are very affordable and they still cover any damage.

Altered version of Nuvola apps aktion.png for ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a minimum you need equipment rental and liability insurance. You want to try to work with free talent as much as possible and use cheap music like mine. Make sure to include post-production in the cost. Also, include a still photographer.

Dave uses Gorilla film finance production management software in this video to enter above the line expenses (key players) and below the line (production crew) expenses. Check it out, this was very informative!

If you like this post you might also like my article High Concept Story Plots – How to for Hollywood Screenplays or 7 Indie Film Digital Distribution Companies You Can Submit to Online.

Related articles

High Concept Story Plots: How to for Hollywood Screenplays

I’m co-writing a feature length alien sci fi screenplay based on my short film Zedic and the Crimson Born. To improve my knowledge of screenwriting I decided to watch a few how to videos. This first video I came across is a guide to coming up with the main story for the movie which can be called its “High Concept”. This concept can then be the summary you use to pitch your film.

The author of this video explains that if you are pitching your screenplay to Hollywood producers and agents, you should stick to a proven high concept—but with an original twist. He says formatting using examples, templates and software can be helpful, but it is not as important as the high level story. The idea is to follow some basic rules, but still be creative. Check out this very informative video!

English: 42, The Answer to the Ultimate Questi...

English: 42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The high concept is essentially the main super cool original idea behind your script. In the video he gives the example that for the movie “The Minority Report” the high concept is the idea that a small group of psychics can see into the future and you can get arrested before you commit the actual crime. Here is a post that discusses the Titanic’s high concept as well.

So one of the ways to come up with a new high concept as a writer, is to take the idea of a previously successful film and put a spin on it. For instance, take the the same idea but use it in a different genre.

I’ll come up with my own example now.  How about the idea behind the Bourne Legacy —a government experiment of creating super spies gone wrong. Well what if you put that story in space and make it funny. So now you have Bourne Identity meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Not bad, I may use that : )

If you like this post you may be interested in my other article “7 Indie Film Digital Distributors You Can Submit to Online“.

Also this week I released a new piano and guitar track called “Come Alive” that is free to use in your film or video.

The Bourne Legacy — Making of and Industry Background

Well I saw the Bourne Legacy and it was pretty good. I thought the story was very interesting so I spent some time looking into the industry background and making of the film. Here is what I found:

The Bourne Legacy was directed by Tony Gilroy (previous films: Michael Clayton and Duplicity) he wrote the screenplays for the other Bourne movies as well.

Robert Ludlum wrote the Bourne series of books that the screenplay was based on. He has written over 23 action thriller novels since 1971! However, the novel the Bourne Legacy was written by Eric Van Lustbader—Ludlum passed in 2001.

It turns out Matt Damon was not in the film because he was basically tired of doing Bourne films! Even the initial director Paul Greengrass bailed!

The film was shot mostly in Manila— the final scene was incredibly beautiful, I want to go there : )

The soundtrack was composed by James Newton Howard who has an incredibly long impressive history of film credits. Most recently he did the Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman. I really enjoyed both of those movies.

So far the The Bourne Legacy has mixed reviews. But I enjoyed the story and Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton are super cool.

Worldwide box office so far is $46 million which surpassed expectations and the film sold a few hundred thousand more tickets on opening weekend, than the The Bourne Identity.

Here is the trailer if you have not seen it yet:

7 Indie Film Digital Distribution Companies You Can Submit to Online

I’m looking for a way to distribute my film Zedic and the Crimson Born for viewing online. I am going to explore 7 options and make notes in this post. I could just put it on YouTube but before I do, I would rather find a distribution solution that could do one of the following:

1. Offer a way for people to donate or pay to see the film. Its a short so I would be happy with $1 per view.

2. Provide a “content locking” solution where a viewer would complete a survey or view an ad to see the film and I am paid by the advertiser. I really do not want to deal with YouTube’s random monetization approval.

3. A distributor that offers the film some exclusivity and privacy. This is really a pilot for a feature, so I’m not looking to open it up to the general public – just people who know me and my music, and maybe some heavy duty sci-fi enthusiasts…

4. Provide an existing user-base of independent film fans and discovery engines where my film could be found by indie scfi-fi buffs.

5. Add it to YouTube if all else fails. Promote it, try to make it rank. Buy YouTube views for it if you have to in order to increase reach.

So here we go, I am going to try each of these and let you know how it goes:


Photo Credit: ShowerHacks.com
IndieFlix is a new media indie film distributor and a community for filmmakers and fans. You can go directly to the film submission page here.

To qualify for submission your film needs to have at least been selected for a festival. You need to submit a DVD screener to them by mail, even if you get accepted through Without a Box.

Status: I submitted my online screener through Without a Box and I will update this post to let you know how it goes.


This service allows filmmakers to distribute through iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Cable VOD. They only accept feature length films.

You need to pay a set up fee for this service but you keep 100% of the revenues.

iTunes: $1295 plus $79 a year

Amazon VOD: $95

Netflix Watch Instantly: $595

Filmmaker Direct (Cable/Satellite/Telco VOD): Submission is $249, $5000 if you film is accepted

Status: These fees are too high for me. But if you have a budget for a feature, I think it is incredible that you can be nationally distributed for under $10K and producers keep all revenue.


Producers can distribute their film for free on Vodo via a network of P2P file sharing sites. Down-loaders watch for free.

Vodo then offers sponsorship opportunities to people who like the film. Vodo also offers a 50/50 split on syndication to cable/satellite TV and streaming services.

Click here for the direct link to sign up as a publisher and submit your film.

Status: I registered and submitted my film for approval. The submission form only asked for film title and a website.

Update: I got rejected because Vodo only accepts shorts 10 minutes and longer so they do not “compete with other file hosting sites”. That makes sense because YouTube does *not* accept videos 10 minutes and longer. 


Focuses on bringing on-demand independent films to fans for free. Advocates of indie filmmakers and active in the film community. Shares ad revenue with producers.

They prefer submission via Without a Box and it is free to submit! Click here to go directly to the submission page. They have minimal acceptance criteria so approval is likely based on the quality of the film.

Status: I submitted via Without a Box.


You embed their player on your facebook page, blog or website. Users can buy a stream or download right from the player. So people see your trailer and they can immediately purchase a view of your film.

It’s free to sign up and add 1 film! Just click here. Then filmmakers earn 70% of all revenues.

Now this sounds cool.

Status: I signed-up and uploaded my trailer. First the trailer was processed and they sent me an email. Next I uploaded the entire short – my 8 minute film took about 30 minutes to upload. After a while it was processed and I set the price at the minimum of $.99 cents. Here is the real live player!!

Updates: I also did a test purchase on the Distrify player. The payment processing and streaming player are both excellent.

I logged in and found that I actually have a few rentals! The Distrify dashboard shows your preview to rental conversion rate and right now it is about 3%.


An embeddable player like Distrify that offers viewer the ability to pay for viewing using PayPal. Its like a YouTube player and you can put it anywhere so there is no software involved.

The DynamoPlayer is also a free to set up solution! Producers keep 70%. I like it, let’s see how it works : )

Status: Bummer, their Java-based up-loader does not work on any of my browsers. I’ll try again later and then send a note to support.


This is another media player type option with a twist. You mail the company your DVD for processing  and a “.Egg” file is created. Then when viewers pay, your .Egg can be streamed or downloaded on the desktop, iPhone or iPad. Read EggUP: A DIY Indie Film Distribution Platform for more info.

The .Egg file is self-contained but secure so you can send it anywhere and you don’t have to be concerned with piracy.

As a final step you would use the EggUp paypal widgets on your website or blog to actually sell the .Egg file.

Status: I’m already set-up with Distrify so I think I’ll pass on sending in a DVD. But this looks like a good alternative used by many filmmakers.


Well obviously Distrify gave me an immediate solution for providing semi-private and secure access to the film. The next step will be creating a marketing plan that actually drives digital streams from the player.

Since this post my film Zedic was screened at the New Filmmakers festival in NYC (which was very exciting) and I discovered that they have a service for private online screening and submission to distributors at NewFilmmakersOnline.com.

I didn’t find any great ad “content-locking” solutions though I did learn that BlamAds is probably one of the best options for that.

Hopefully IndieFlix, Vodo or SnagFilms will work out as a way to offer the film to a community of existing music indie film viewers.

My next step for “Zedic & the Crimson Born” is to package up a proposal for a feature film to pitch to co-producers and investors. For the full length version I will explore a much wider range of distribution deals : )

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