You just ordered the Sizzle: The Steak costs extra.

Actor: Free, Costume Designer: Free, Costume: $400

At the entry level of film-making, you will find yourself begging, borrowing and occasionally returning-for-refund everything you can. There are still two things in movie-making you can not cheap out on: Performance and Sound. You need those two things just to tell a story. To be competitive with an average filmmaker? You need pretty pictures with shallow depth of field, appropriate lighting, and decent art design. Something that says I didn’t shoot this in a cream-colored walled apartment with no decorations.

Now I am actually a very pragmatic guy who tries to make his way through the world with as much honor and integrity as possible. I do not like a hard sale, and I try not to perpetrate them on anyone. I’d rather be able to look you in the eye and say “we’re going to do the best work we possibly can, and work to get this film seen and recognized for all of our efforts.” I would be ecstatic if that and a handshake were all I needed to attract talented people; however, I’m not seeing this as a very successful method.

For example: I was reading a casting call for a short film that was looking for help this summer. In the first paragraph, they began with their accolades, Lead Faculty at a (checkbook) Film School, a Pro-Football Player who has sold several un-produced screenplays on spec, and a writer who will be making this his directorial debut (on this project) to demonstrate his ability to direct a feature-length film. He wrote a movie, $25 million budget, $27 million Domestic Gross released earlier this year. All three are represented by a Top 5 Hollywood Talent Agency.

You have 30 seconds to pitch me, son.

They claim, “the short film is already ‘scheduled’ to be
pitched upon completion to several influential persons in Hollywood. This will be used as a sizzle reel piece to shop a feature to be shot here in Denver. It will be marketed as the feature film that will help bring film incentives to Colorado.”

Interestingly, they get to the pitch in the third paragraph. The pay
will be low, most of the crew are working on it for exposure, and it’s touted
as a great opportunity for actors to be seen and/or be recognized when this film gets marketed to studios for feature funding.

Most of this is possible, but realize this posting is from Colorado – a state without any viable incentives. Colorado voters do not want to fund their K-12 schools, let alone subsidize the movie industry. The reality of this posting is that people, employing film students as free crew and looking for free talent, are hoping to get a bigger better deal for themselves via their already established contacts. Fair enough – they are selling an opportunity to be seen in passing, but there were a lot of shiny lights before they got to it.

Somewhere in here is a balance between professionalism and
opportunism. It reminded me of the article by Seth Godin, Rockstar to the Modern Man, and his article on Hope and the Magic Lottery.

Seth states, “you deserve better than the dashed hopes of a magic lottery ticket. Magic lottery hope is a damaging psychological force for people who are taking risks, and that hard work is the ultimate path to success. Hard work isn’t sexy or
glamorous.”

Lets face facts. You need some sizzle to sell your piece even if you tend to use the above board/honest approach. It seems that if all things are equal, actors and/or crew will go with the more sparkly option, the one that overtly offers a chance at the Magic Lottery Ticket. Even if you are adept at transferring your enthusiasm to your prospective volunteer, they have to see something in it for them.

So I ask you fellow filmmakers, how much do you play on people’s hopes
to inspire them to get on board your projects? Is it possible to do it
otherwise- with people you do not have a relationship with?

4 thoughts on “You just ordered the Sizzle: The Steak costs extra.”

  1. The only hope that I play on is the hope that the project that they are signing up for is a good, worthwhile project with integrity. That’s what I promise and that’s what I deliver. There ate two bottom lines here: #1 if an actor wants exposure from working on a small project then they need to work their ass off marketing it and promoting it and building awareness for it just like they expect of the director/producer. #2 Nobody can promise exposure from a piece. That is virtually out of the control of the dirctor/producer. Sure you can send DVDs to every studio in town but whether anyone actually watches them is out of your control.

    My final point is that nobody ever got breakout exposure from starring in a short. If you’re an actor do the work because it’s a good piece and you want to do good work. You want to get good experience. And you want to use it as a showcase piece down the road. Period. (also it’s good if you want to get in good with the director/producer to work on that feature version coming up)

  2. Thanks for a great post chuklz.

    I appreciate your statement about integrity and honestly:

    I’d rather be able to look you in the eye and say “we’re going to do the best work we possibly can, and work to get this film seen and recognized for all of our efforts.”

    As an actor I value this type of approach so much. We all have talents and we’re all at different stages of our development. I don’t want to take advantage of anyone and ask the same of whomever I have been asked to work with on a project.

    Film is a collaborative endeavor and it will thrive if new blood work well together. In my experiences that has been truest when parties involved are open about their intentions.

    There is no need to be power hungry, we all want the project to be a success.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

    My best to you and your future projects. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter @garyploski . It’d be great to talk about projects, the industry, and all that falls in between.

  3. I agree with a lot of points, and I’m actually in the same boat as the ‘feature film’ guys you mentioned. I’m not even as remotely successful as them, but I have a good business/creative project that I hope will be good exposure for me and my crew.

    The distinction between selling and being honest is always when you actually follow through on what you promise your cast/crew. I never over-sell someone, because I don’t want anyone on the project that I know I will be letting down. For instance, my project is a long shot, but it could very well be used to sell a feature. I tell this to everyone who I approach to work on it, and I intend to not just use it as a vehicle of my own success, but I want to surround myself with smart people, and give them a good chance too.

    My stance on film in general is that it is, and always will be, a group effort. My filmmaking is a reflection of this, all the way from writing, to filming, to post. I always accept other people’s advice, and try to give them all the credit that I can. We can’t make blockbuster, or indie, films without the minimum of 2-5 people it takes to make something.

    I will be promising my cast/crew that I will try to bring them along if I make it, because I feel like I, as a director, will have never gone or done anything without a good cast and crew behind me. I believe everyone should hold this point of view, because Hollywood doesn’t need more egotistical, selfish people running good film into the ground. I will always fight for people around me to go where I’m going, and I hope they do the same when I give them support.

    I guess to answer your question, I try to be honest with everyone involved. I don’t want people’s hopes to go out of control, because if they are aiming for the stars, but you logically need to just take one step ahead, then you’re already not on the same page. I hate being dishonest, which is why I probably won’t make it in Hollywood 😉

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