Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What I Would Have Done Differently

Someone asked me what I would have done differently if I were to make "In Montauk" all over again.  The answer is everything and nothing.  I'm not trying to be coy, but many of the things I would have done differently, I'm not sure I could have learned without doing first.  Distribution for instance.  It's kind of like picking a school for your child before you ever have children.  You can look at schools, you can get an idea for which one's are good and which you should avoid, but until you have the actual child, with their own likes and personality, it's nearly impossible to pick the right school.  I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying that you may not be ready to think about distribution until you've actually made the film.  At least I wasn't.  It's counter to all the advice that's being given right now, but I found it hard to focus on distribution, when just getting the film made is monumental enough.  That being said, it would be smart to have an idea of who your audience is and even better to have some ideas about how to reach them.  So, with the caveat that a first-time feature director probably has enough on his or her plate just getting the film made, here are some things that I would have done differently (and will do on my next project):

1. Script, script, script.  I wish I had spent more time on my script before going into production.  And that I would have listened to more of the feedback that I got.  Because when I made the first cut of the film, the things that didn't work in the script, still weren't working in the film.  That being said, I was going to lose the location and being on a deadline helped me focus on re-writes.

2. Given more thought to the audience.  While I have made a film for women, it doesn't fit into any of the "women's" categories that are being programmed at festivals.  It's not a social-issue doc.  It doesn't pass the Bechdel test. It is a film about a woman who doesn't fit into a stereotypical role of Madonna or whore.  The main character is an imperfect woman making imperfect choices.  Although a lot of women relate to it (and artists in general), it's not easy to describe why.  I may have gone for a genre film or a social issue film had I known all this, but then again, maybe not.

3. Worked harder for support for the film in the script stage.  In my vast experience (insert eye-roll), it seems that the top tier festivals are unlikely to play your film unless they've already heard of it and been tracking it.  How do they hear of it?  Through producers they know.  Through the various labs (Sundance, IFP, San Francisco Film Society, Film Independent).  Through the top graduate film programs.  Through various prestigious granting organizations.

4. Talked to sales agents before I started submitting my film to the festival circuit.  Not just any, but sales agents who'd been recommended.  Or perhaps this should be a broader statement: I wish I'd taken advice earlier on from anyone who was willing to give it, be it a cast member who'd seen another film succeed, an agent who had producing experience, or anyone willing to help.  This is in here because I got a lead to a terrific sales agent who told me that if I'd submitted to him before going on the circuit, he may have been able to get my film at better festivals.  (See #3.)  That being said, I also had a distributor ask to see my film, then tell me to stop submitting to festivals, only to never watch the film.

The one thing that I wouldn't change is that I did it.  I went into it without high expectations (except that my film would beat the odds and get into a top tier fest), had a terrific cast and crew, a wonderful editor, composer and lots of love and support.  I am very proud of the film that I made and will hopefully take my own advice next time out.

If you want to see "In Montauk" it will be playing Tuesday, June 25 at Anthology Film Archives in New York City as part of NYWIFT Member Screening Series along with an unsung short that I worked on, "That's What She Told Me."  After that, you'll have to sign up for my e-mail list for an announcement about digital distribution.