IT DEPENDS: The Top Dozen Facts and Fallacies About the Film Business, Part 2

Christopher Schiller breaks down a selection of facts or fallacies in the film business, providing advice on how to navigate the myths floating around Hollywood.


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Continuing our list of the top dozen facts and fallacies about the film business where we left off last time with Part 1, we’re still in the section on business skills. We’ll lead off with one of my favorites.

7) Being good at networking is the key to success.

FACT? or FALLACY?

It’s a FALLACY, at least as networking techniques are usually touted, taught and practiced.

The truth is, you are not judged on how good your handshake is. Now don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of value in the skill set you can gain by following good networking practices, many of which have been touted on these very pages by my fellow contributors. Social and self-marketing skills, preparing and practicing pitching your work using proven techniques, courteous follow up and dogged stick-to-it-iveness are essential when it comes to keeping an interested party interested. But far too many people are overwhelmed by the networking razzle dazzle and key off on the “meet and greet” as an imperative entry into the process. That’s an oversimplification and can damage many a potential long-term relationships.

It is important to be prepared for potential opportunities when you first meet that important person. But it is just as important to make a good impression. Remember earlier in this list we said a good meeting is when you talk the least? Well, consider this a caveat or addendum to that. When you do talk, make sure you are saying the right thing.


10 Tips to Prepare for Opportunities When They Knock


And what may that ‘right thing’ be, you ask? You can take a cue from a paraphrase of what a very famous person (with my last quoting debacle, I’ll not attribute it this time) once said, “The key to meeting people is not what they can do for you, but, what you can do for them.” If you first look to how you can help out that person you want to meet to achieve something important to them, then you’ll be making a great start in establishing your worth as a potential future collaborator. And good collaboration eventually flows both ways. It’s a long game, but well worth playing.

8) Once you learn a fact about the industry, you can always use it to your advantage.

FACT? or FALLACY?

This one seems on the surface legit, but, when you dig deeper it is a FALLACY.

Times are constantly changing. And with it go the whims of Hollywood. Things that were hot a few months ago are stone cold today. You can’t chisel what you know in stone and never review it. It may no longer be valid.

For an obvious example, look to the “hot” genre of the moment. Whatever it is at the time you read this, if you start today writing a script that capitalizes on the number one box-office hit this week, by the time you’ve finished your drafts and are ready to knock on the doors in Hollywood, you’ll likely find that your script seems dated or no longer fresh, since they’ve seen dozens of similar scripts come through their doors and get made that the market gets saturated and they no longer sell. That’s why chasing hot trends is a losing game for a writer. If you’re not already there with one, you’re too late.

And it goes to all the other aspects of this industry. Six month old information may be painfully out of date. Here are some pertinent and time specific scenarios.

Harvey Weinstein is interested in your film. Your reaction?

Six months ago: “What will I wear to the Oscars?”

Today: “Thank you for your time, but, no thanks.”

or

What can a sales agent do for your film?

Six months ago: Sales agents were the go-to way to set up pre-sales in foreign markets.

Today (as of Mid-April 2018): Reports are that many of those same sales agents are now instead seeking producer roles in the early development stages of films. Pre-sales have become too hard to get.

Takeaway: Get current facts about what you’re about to enter into and keep current with new developments.

Section 3 – The Deal

Now we move onto a favorite and/or dreaded section for many in the industry, the Deal.

9) That’s just the way it is. It’s an industry standard.

FACT? or FALLACY?

Although you hear this said so often you’d swear it was on bumper stickers and billboards throughout Hollywood, but, as I tell all my clients, it is a FALLACY.

There is no such thing as an industry standard, there is only current, common practice it if exists at all. Those practices change all the time (see previous section.) Just by the nature of changing times, things that made sense when they were freshly considered in contracts can become nonsensical at the table today. Just read an older contracts stipulations of what deliverables are required for a film distributor if they haven’t revisited those in light of changing technological advances.


Negotiation Tips


Another thing I tell my clients is, “Everything is negotiable. EVERYTHING.” It is just a matter of whether you have the power at the table to change the terms you desire. If you do have the power to negotiate you can change any “standard” deal term. If you don’t have that power, it might as well be a standard. But you still have the power to walk away from the deal.

For those that may doubt this, consider that the industry guilds and unions have “standard” contracts. Why then are those contracts presented as minimum guarantees? If you have the power to negotiate you can always go higher than the minimums or add things to a contract as long as it doesn’t conflict with that base starting point for the job.

Takeaway: Someone insisting on an industry standard term is trying to say, “let’s not negotiate this”. It is up to you and the power you have at the table whether to accept that or not.

10) We don’t need a contract.

FACT? or FALLACY?

You may have already surmised that this is a FALLACY but you might not realize the reason.

For whatever reason, there are wheelers and dealers out there who have an aversion to a formalized contract. You hear stories of the producers who managed their whole career with just a handshake, never needing a piece of paper. You should just trust them like everyone else does. After all, the whole industry is built on trust, right? It’s as if the presence of a piece of paper with “CONTRACT” written on it in large type is a shackle, preventing them from doing their business quickly or at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of business is done with some form of contractual arrangements and obligations in place regardless of any paperwork, nomenclature or belief between the parties. The form of the agreement doesn’t matter that much. If it’s worth agreeing on, then it’s already a contractual relationship.

I’ve dealt with what a contract is in a previous article, but, here’s the shortest, complete definition I can give of one:

A meeting of the minds on a bargained for legal detriment.

Boiling those heavily loaded terms down even further any serious collection of promises and obligations is likely contractual.

The most important purpose served by drawing up and signing a formal contract is for clarity of the already standing agreement between the parties. Who doesn’t want that?

Takeaway: If someone has an aversion to a formal contract clarifying the agreement you are about to enter into, that person probably either doesn’t understand what’s being agreed to, or anticipates they can rely on wiggle room for denial later to get out of what you might be expecting of them. Get it in writing.

11) Everybody wants to tell you “No.”

FACT? or FALLACY?

It may feel like a fact, but, really it is pretty much a FALLACY.

It is actually quite rare to get a hard, “no” answer. But there are a lot of times you probably should be hearing “no” in the answers you do get. I’ve also covered this in my article on the soft no. Very few really wants to be the bad guy. More importantly, as William Goldman once said, “Nobody knows anything.” And therefore no one want to get it wrong. They don’t want to be the one to have to tell their boss that they saw first and rejected that box office blockbuster that a competitor just took to the bank. It is much easier to hedge your bet, string the answer out to something that’s not fully a no, but, still doesn’t commit to a firm yes.

Remember, No one is against getting your film made. They want you to succeed because if you do, they will too. But you have to prove you’re someone worth the risk and this project is the right one to risk a “yes” on.

12) Everybody lies.

FACT? or FALLACY?

It’s a FALLACY, but just barely.

The truth is, very few have an obligation to tell the truth. Some may not even feel a compunction to. Unless there is a legal obligation (i.e. contract) or restriction (i.e. your lawyer and only in their legal capacity to represent your interests– and definitely not the other guy’s attorney) you cannot rely on just what someone tells you is the truth. That’s why knowing all you can before you take the meeting gives you the best chance of understanding the lay of the land going in. And continually assessing and verifying all that is told to you is a way of assuring you’ll be less surprised as things progress. Sure, this business is built on trust, but, not blind trust. Protect yourself from being blindsided.

Oh, and about that dozen facts or fallacies? I lied…

12+) Your goal is to try to sell your story, script or movie to someone.

FACT? or FALLACY?

This too is a FALLACY.

It is easy to get caught up in the nomenclature of trying to option or sell your script or to get someone to invest in your movie. But the truth is that most of the time you are actually trying to go into business with someone.

True, there is the commodity on the table, but, there is something more important there too. They have to look at you as someone they want to spend a significant amount of time working with in order to get a benefit. It has been said that the movie business is really a business of relationships. In most ways that’s its truest expression. Show that you are worth the effort and risk, that you are someone good to work with and pleasant to be around even when the going gets tough and the deal is nearly done.

Remember, the most important thing you bring to the table is…

YOU!

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