I’m Out of Their League
First published here on J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review on April 7, 2010.
I just sent out an email to a producer in which I took a pass on submitting my materials to potential investors in my next project.
Neil, are you crazy, or just retiring?
Last Friday, when I returned home from a week in California, I played back a message on my home telephone’s voice mail, left three days earlier. It was from someone I didn’t know, but the message said these magic words, “I want to talk to you about a project.”
That was enough for me to open up my subscription to IMDb Pro and look up various spellings of the caller’s last name.
When that didn’t pin it down I Googled the phone number left by the caller. That did the trick: it provided me with the correct name for what turned out to be a line producer whose credits I could look up. It showed him as line producer on a project in pre-production, with a budget of $8 million.
You need to understand at this point how things work.
A film listed as being in “pre-production” means that it’s supposed to be a go project — financed and with a start date for principal photography. IMDb Pro is often enough inaccurate about such things, but if a project is actually in pre-production, the line producer would be the guy who’s hiring the crew.
I have a lot of credits on Lady Magdalene’s beyond the ones I usually front-load — writer, producer, director. I acted in it. I wrote songs for it. I did a lot of post-production work with various job titles. These are all jobs I have experience doing and can do for someone else. So if a line producer is calling me when he’s listed on IMDb Pro as having a multi-million dollar movie in pre-production, that sounds to me like a possible job offer, and it’s a call I’m going to return.
Being Easter weekend, it wasn’t until Monday that I was able to get this line producer on the phone. And it quickly became apparent that the call I was returning wasn’t for a job offer. He was someone who didn’t know me beyond seeing my name in a discussion on film financing on LinkedIn, and he was pitching himself to me as someone who could put me in touch with sales agents for Lady Magdalene’s, or put me in touch with investors for my next project.
The guy has real producing credits listed on IMDb. But he said all the wrong things.
The first thing was that he didn’t know my credits. He wasn’t aware I’d written for The Twilight Zone. He didn’t know I’d written, produced, and directed a completed indie feature film. He didn’t know me as an author. He didn’t know I’d won awards and accolades for my work over the past four decades.
Then he told me that he had gotten distribution for hard-to-sell indie features. I guess Lady Magdalene’s is one of these because it hasn’t sold to a distributor yet. “There probably wouldn’t be money up front,” he told me, “but these guys go to all the film markets — including AFM!”
Er, I’ve been to the American Film Market, myself. Lots of times. I can go through the book and see who’s there and buying indie features as well as anyone else. Someone who does that for a film producer isn’t a distributor — he’s a sales agent. He can no more put my movie into theaters or displayed in Walmart than I can. And if “there’s no money up front” then someone is asking me to tie up the rights to my ready-to-show movie with no money put up to show me that someone is matching my risk in having produced it.
Wrong answers again when he started telling me which stars could get a movie financed and which couldn’t. He knew — like everyone in the business knows — the low-end-budget films without any stars that have been huge box-office successes: The Blair Witch Project, Napoleon Dynamite, Juno, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Paranormal Activity. “Those are the exceptions,” he told me. “The investors I know won’t put money into a movie unless there are certain stars attached.”
I know this list. It’s the list of the flavor of the month — whichever actor was in a movie that did well recently. It doesn’t matter if the actor can’t put a coherent sentence together and how hard it would be for a director to get a performance out of him or her. And most important from the investor’s standpoint, the attachment of an A-list star to a movie is not in the slightest an accurate predictor about whether the movie will be successful enough to earn back the investment. The list of A-list-driven box-office flops is endless.
Then the kicker. He wanted me to print out and snail mail him synopses of my scripts, because “My investors won’t read a script without reading a synopsis first.”
And they want to see the movie poster for a film seeking distribution.
I actually agreed to send this guy a DVD of Lady Magdalene’s along with synopses of several of my scripts before I hung up.
Then I woke up today as if from a nightmare, practically screaming.
I don’t want these illiterates getting anywhere near any of my projects.
I don’t want these ignoramuses anywhere near the movie business.
If I was in the Mafia, I’d be putting out contracts on them.
These clowns — and I have no idea who they are — are not qualified to invest in movies. If they want to put money into films, it’s easy to watch movies then pay attention to the credits, to find out whose work it is that they like. It’s easy to attend film festivals to get in on the ground floor of new talent. It’s easy to read books and watch plays and decide which ones would make a good movie.
I’ve spent a lifetime doing work that has got me a reputation, that has built a fan base. If you’re looking to invest with me, I make it exceedingly easy to find out who I am and what I’ve done.
My credits and resume are on IMDb and LinkedIn.
My books are on Amazon.com and linked from my official website, listing reviews and awards.
There’s a Wikipedia article about me.
A Google search on me links to thousands of pages.
It costs all of $2.99 to watch Lady Magdalene’s on Amazon.com Video on Demand.
A fan of the Twilight Zone episode I wrote, “Profile in Silver,” put it on YouTube.
I have serialized one of my novels on my blog, and another of them has been a free download — with over 80,000 downloads already — since last June.
Any film producer can get in touch with my manager or agent — or me, directly — and ask to read any of my scripts. They’ll have a download link for the script’s PDF in their email box within minutes.
And if you’re too lazy to do any of this, kindly go sell cleaning products. It’s philistines like you that are producing unwatchable dreck that’s robbing people like me who love movies and have paid our dues from the opportunity of getting our handmade-with-love movies in front of audiences who might love them.
Now let me tell you the right answers.
There’s nothing that I, as a creative artist, like more than someone who “gets” me. Art is communication, and if there’s nobody out there who can receive and understand the communication, it’s a tree falling in a forest … and in this particular case there really is no sound.
Ayn Rand could talk all she liked about how the work itself is everything, but please note that she was fooling nobody except, possibly, herself.
Barbara Branden tells us in The Passion of Ayn Rand that when, upon its first publication, Atlas Shrugged was panned by the book critics — when Ayn Rand felt that no literary figure of major consequence stood up to defend the masterpiece she’d spent a decade sweating bullets to write — she went into a deep depression.
Because she felt she had failed to communicate to an audience that meant something to her, Ayn Rand never wrote another word of original fiction for the remaining quarter century of her life.
We are all so much the poorer for it.
A creative artist — writer, painter, composer — often enough works in solitary, and has to contemplate a future audience to be able to work. That’s what Ayn Rand meant about the work coming first. The artist has to be the first audience for the art. But it’s a tragedy when the audience for art only shows up when the artist can no longer hear the applause.
An investor who appreciates my work enough to finance its distribution is a jewel beyond ordinary price to me.
But that’s a job title to be earned, just like any other.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been in this business long enough to know what I do, and do well. I’m going to hold a damn strict job interview for anyone who wants to invest in one of my projects.
But speaking on behalf of all artists looking for distribution to their audience, finding someone who exists in both the circle of “dedicated fan” and the circle of “investor” is a hell of a Venn diagram to fill out.
Owning a checkbook doesn’t make you a qualified investor any more than owning a guitar makes you Eric Clapton.
Capitalism is also an art. The art of capitalism fails when talent is missing … and all that’s left is stupid money.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!