OK, take all this with a grain of salt. After all, I haven’t made it big yet, either. Still, I have learned the following hard lessons:
RULE #1: ANY PRODUCER WHO WON’T SPRING FOR LUNCH IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
If this guy can raise five million dollars to make your movie, then why the hell can’t he spring $12.99 for your tuna melt?
RULE #2: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT “PALETTE” IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
For those of us who haven’t been to film school, a film’s “palette” is the combination of dominant colors that is used in a film. It’s also the favored conversation topic of anyone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, since you can never be wrong. “I feel red is so precious don’t you? And Blue is so overused. I do like Green, however. But Burnt Umber would have been a stronger choice.”
If any wannabe director starts talking palette to you, run away.
EXCEPTION: Production designers, who are supposed to worry about this sort of thing.
RULE #3: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT WHO THEY KNOW IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
If they’re name dropping, then they’re trying to impress you. And if they really are important enough to know Tom Cruise and Michael Eisner, then why the hell are they trying to impress some peon like you?
RULE #4: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT THEIR CREDITS FOR MORE THAN THIRTY SECONDS IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
People with a real resume can condense it into one sentence. “I’m the guy who did STAR WARS. Maybe you’ve seen it?”
If it takes them more than thirty seconds to explain who they are, then they aren’t.
RULE #5: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT CREDITS YOU CAN’T CHECK IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
The following credits can be easily checked in a few seconds on the Internet Movie Database, IMBD.com.
“I am the guy who directed…”
“I am the guy who wrote…”
“I starred in….”
On the other hand, the following credits are completely unverifiable, and a sure sign that the guy delivering them is a Big Fat Phony (BFP). “I’m the guy who gave so-and-so the idea for…” “I originally set up the deal for…” “I’m the guy who introduced so-and-so to what’s-his-name.” “I’m the guy who came up with that line from….” “I’m the guy who gave what’s-his-name his big break”
RULE #6: DON’T WAIT FOR YOUR BIG BREAK
Instead, go ahead and make your own little breaks. Want to shoot a movie? Don’t wait for someone to hand you a hundred million dollar budget. Instead, scrape together a friend with a video camera, some actors, an i-mac for editing, and shoot a five minute film.
RULE #7: HANG OUT WITH DOERS, NOT TALKERS
If your friends are always talking about that great movie that they’re going to shoot someday, the important book that they’re going to write, or the hit song that they’re going to sing– dump them. Find friends who are actually shooting short movies, writing stories, and singing in a band. In doing this, be sure to observe RULES 8-12.
RULE #8: DO A GOOD TURN WHEN YOU CAN
Because Lord knows, you’re going to be calling in favors from all your friends down the road. Need someone to recommend a screenplay to an agent, do makeup on your film, or just move heavy lighting equipment? It helps if you already took care of their cat, gave them CPR, and moved their refrigerator.
This rule can be also be substituted against RULE #10, and must be balanced against RULE #11.
RULE #10: NO MONEY? TRY FOOD!
If you don’t have enough money to pay people, at least try to show your appreciation with food. Buying your DP lunch while you work on the shot list is a cheap way to say “thank you”. Similarly, good food on the set is a MUST. If you’ve got actors giving you their time for free, then the least you can do is feed them well.
RULE #11: IT ONLY TAKES ONE PERSON TO FUCK UP A MOVIE
So don’t cast your best friend, just because he thinks he can act, or let your sister DP just because she thinks she knows how to hold a camera. That kind of favor can fuck up a film, and worse, ruin the hard work that everyone else puts into it. Which means that the talented and smart people from the crew won’t work with you in the future.
RULE #12: 90% OF EVERYONE OUT HERE IS AN INCOMPETENT BOOB
So when someone tells you that he/she is a great DP/Writer/Actor/Musician, DON’T BELIEVE THEM. Ask to see a demo reel or script. And even then, make sure that it’s actually theirs.
A corollary to this is RULE #13.
RULE #13: FIND A WAY TO PROVE YOU CAN DO IT
Write a script, direct a short, compose a score. Whatever it is that you want to do, prove that you can do it on a small scale so that people will believe you can do it on a big one.
(See RULE #6.)
RULE #14: BE NICE, SMILE AT EVERYONE.
I know, the odds are good that the person you’re facing is either a phony (see RULES #1-5), an idiot (see RULE #12), or a hopeless talker (see RULE # 7). However, he just might be a kindred spirit that will make your life out here a lot less unbearable. And you never know. That guy you’re throwing attitude at might just be an agent.
RULE #15: ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY DO:
People like to talk about themselves. So stop bragging about yourself long enough to ask the other person what they do for a living, and what their hopes and dreams are. You might find out that you can help each other, or that they’re a fun person who will make your life more interesting.
RULE #16: LIFE IS SHORT, YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE. TREAT IT SO.
Don’t waste your own time, and don’t let anybody else waste it for you.
RULE #17: FREE OPTIONS: BAD IDEA
Really. I’m not kidding. I know someone out there is telling you, “I really love this script, and I can get it made if you’ll just give me a free option…”
Stop right there. If this guy really has any chance of raising $3-5 million dollars to make your movie, then why won’t he spend $10K now to secure the rights?
When someone asks for a free option, what they are really saying is “I have so much faith in my ability to get this movie made, that I am unwilling to risk A SINGLE DOLLAR of my own money on it.” Think about that, and don’t let your desperation get the better of you.
You can’t get your work in front of the right people if it’s tied up with the wrong ones.
RULE #18: AGENTS DON’T READ SCRIPTS:
It’s one of the weird facts of life out here. Your agent will never read any of your scripts. Yes, they will give you notes on your scripts. Yes, they will tell the studios how great your scripts are, and how each one is easily worth a million bucks. But they will never actually read one.
At best, they will read a one paragraph summary written by some underpaid wanna-be rockstar that they pulled off the street.