By Tom Wilton:

Something interesting is happening at the moment - artists are moving onto the second wave of the digital revolution.

When recording studios morphed onto laptops and movie cameras shrunk down to our phones, a lot changed. Granted, there was much lost in the mix - most notably the legacy of learning how the big, industrial equipment worked - but there was just as much value gained. Simply put, anybody - with enough skill and determination of course - could make an album in their bedroom, or shoot a film at the end of their street. A lot of hay was made of it being the democratisation of the arts.

Of course, we're used to it now. And that movement has occurred in lots of other analog industries, from industrial manufacturing being rethought as bespoke 3D printing, or indie games developers putting their wares onto people's iPhones - the maker movement is bigger and healthier than ever.

Now, as I sift through the next phase of the reinvention, especially in the world of indie film, I just wanted to take a pause for a moment. I think I need to address some of the pushbacks I've seen recently against filmmakers who are deemed to want to have it all. 


Lately, I've seen a few sub-ten grand films get a kicking from people claiming that there's no way they could have been shot for what the filmmakers claim. Of course, as a rule, I don't usually give a shit about these sort of things. I've used Reddit. The world is full of jerks, naysayers and attention seekers, and so is the internet. But then, I've also come to realize that there's a lot of people who don't make their own films because they really do believe that they simply can't afford to. 


Sure, some end up bitter and in the comments section of a blog or on Reddit, firing shots at those that seemingly overcame the impossible. Others of course, just invest years and years of their lives and dreams and hours of conversation with patient friends, talking about this killer script they'd make if they could just raise the money.


So I thought to myself, why the fuck are there so many myths and so much mis-information around this stuff? Why do some people think that making a film on sub-$10,000 budgets is impossible?


And then I thought maybe I should just try and debunk some of it. So here goes:


1. You need to pay union rates or you're a dick.


Fuck it, let's start with the most controversial point here - the one that every no-budget filmmaker will come up against when discussing the money.


The thinking goes that, making a film is a job. True. That within that job, you have to pay everyone a living wage. True again. That you have to pay everyone union rates. Ah - no, that's not true.

Sure, you use union, you pay union rates, and abide by any other conditions they stipulate. Cool.


But if you choose to go non-union - as many projects do (both with sizeable budgets and not), you get to pay what the talent (and I mean crew and cast here), will work for. Of course, the point of the unions is to protect workers from exploitation - something that any sane filmmaker would always advocate. 


However - here's the other side of it.


What if you don't have any money? What if you're literally just asking people to film with you. To join your project, no money at all? 


Of course, it gets different if there is some money on the film and you're just choosing to be a dick and exploit people - but you'll get called out, and your film will suck, and people will walk away. At least, I hope they would. Or if it comes to it, there's the internet for them to talk about the shitty experience after the fact. You, of course, can't afford for this to happen, and so for a filmmaker, ethics and reputation go hand in hand.

But what if this is a small passion project, and the actors are friends, just as involved and committed as you are? What if they're working crazy hours on the shoot, over-nighters and long weekends? Is this okay to not pay them?


Let's pause, reframe the question - what if this was a Silicon Valley start-up, bootstrapping it's way through, looking to sell the product to an investor down the line? What's different here?

I'm making no proclamations of course - these questions have to be answered on each individual project by each individual involved. After all, what if there is no 
compensation down the line?

Of course, to go back to the start-up analogy again, you might be getting pizza delivered to the garage where you're hacking out the idea every day, and that might be the sum of your 'living wage'. But this isn't about right now, it's about the backend - about the shares you've got in the business, and sure, they're worth zero right now, but there's a chance - no matter how slim - that they could be worth something life changing down the line. In fact, you're there because you love it, you believe in it and you want to be associated to something that fires your passion. Now change the game to film. This is what happens most often on micro-budget films. This is why most (if not all) are there.


So whether it's them getting paid $100 a day or pizza, nobody's getting rich doing it on the shoot - and of course, that's not the point. If you want to make money in film, become a producer and make $30 million movies and upwards. Otherwise, do it for something else.


Look, to reiterate, to focus on the day-wage and not the (oftentimes bigger) backend deals that the cast and crew should be signing up for is to miss the point. Yes, nobody's paying rent on micro-budget films, but that's why they're not for the fainthearted. Sure, there are always going to be bad apples - people who fuck other artists over for a few hundred dollars that they should have paid them - but that's the business throughout - not only on the micro-budget scale.

The key thing is, everyone signing up makes a choice for themselves on what they will work for and why they will do it. If they're smart, they'll book a healthy number of points on the backend, and the filmmakers will be honest and transparent because they cannot afford the bad rep that comes from being an asshole.


I know this is a utopian idea, but it's more often the truth of no-budget films from my experience.


2. Equipment is expensive.


Horseshit. I've seen this one slung around so much it's unreal. No - it's not. Sure, if you can afford to pay the going rate to rent C-stands and lenses, pay it. Because what that does is keeps the rental houses going and means that they can help some broke filmmaker walking in the store, their stomach doing flips because they worried that they can't afford to even rent a camera body.

But if you are that filmmaker, and you need a favor, ask. The rental houses are used to it, and even if they can't help you there and then, they'll most likely tell you when the best time to rent is (oftentimes weekends and holidays). Sure, it might mean you have to move your dates around, but it means you get to actually make the damn film rather than carry the excuse of a lack of money as a reason not to do it.

Money fixes problems. But so does thinking about them differently. 


3. You need lots of crew.

Again, one thing I've seen people ask over and over is 'But how much did you pay your DP, your ADs, your wardrobe and make-up?' Short answer? Zero. That's because I didn't have any.


Look - a film is something happening in front of a camera. Yes, you can't cheap on certain things - sound being the most obvious of course - but you don't need an AD and a PA on every movie. You don't even need make-up and wardrobe. Sure, if you can afford it, great. But if you can't, don't bring in people that you can't really afford, and leave yourself open to claims of exploitation - it's not worth it. I mean, yes, you might want to bring someone in as an intern in these roles, but don't up-sell, over-sell or mis-sell what you're actually doing. If there's no money available, tell people. Let them decide the terms of coming aboard. Being a fraud means you'll get found out, and actually, having too many crew doesn't make things run smoother - quite the opposite in fact.


Instead, focus on what you need, on who you want to be there, and then work with it. I've worked the camera on more than a few of my own films, sound too. Sure, it's exhausting, but so what? You're making your movie. Yes, you do want to be clear to 'direct', but actually, from my own experience, that phrase is pretty subjective anyways. Oftentimes, it's better to be deep in the mix, listening to the words your actors are saying or watching their expressions through the viewfinder. After all, you'll most likely be the editor, so it's good to know what you're working with before you go into it.


4. Locations equals permits, permits equals money.


This is a big one, and much of this is about where you film and with what equipment. However, shooting guerilla doesn't always mean shooting illegally. Although sometimes, undoubtedly, it does. But don't assume that you always need an expensive permit to shoot someplace. Yes, permits can be costly (especially if they require you to have certain insurances in place as well), but not always. And again, you don't always need them.


I live in NYC, and I've shot here a lot, both for my own micro-budget films and the corporate projects I do. At the time of writing, you don't need a permit to shoot with a camera on a street. Even one on a tripod. You don't need a permit for your sound person to stand next to you, or your actors to walk and talk. You do need a permit if your closing down a street (in which case you'll need a cop and a police car on hand), and you do need permits if you're shooting in parks - always in fact.

Every city is different of course, but they all have film offices, and it's really easy to go onto their websites to check what you do or don't need to clear before you go and film. Again, there are no blanket rules per se, and they do change from time to time or for certain public events, so always check for the dates you're filming.

Restaurants, bars and stores - always check with the owner. Some cities still require you to have a permit also, so again, check. Don't be a jerk and try and guerrilla shoot it - just explain what you're doing, how long you'll be and how many people it'll be. Some say no, but in my experience, most say yes. If it's a bar, buy drinks and a diner, food. And always tip (sounds obvious, but when the budget is slim, it's easy to slip out with your heavy equipment and act forgetful). Budget for it, and be nice and you'll do just fine.


5. You need a distributor after the fact.


This is the one that irks me the most. No, you don't. As I've been saying, and many others like me (including the guys behind Layover), if you shoot on such a small amount, with limited financial commitments after the fact because your cast and crew were tiny, then you've less mouths to feed. Therefore, you don't need to chase a billion dollar return.


Instead, you can afford to handle your own marketing, sales and even distribution, as you don't need to make as much money to break even.

Look, as I started out saying, filmmakers are going through the next wave of a redefined film business. Part of that is owning the chain - making and distributing your own work. One of the drivers of that is obviously creative control - your poster choices, your film's original title (both of which often get changed by a distributor), but the other side is financial. Unless you've sold your movie to a distributor (or tried to at least), it's hard to know what the reality is. But here's two things I've experienced myself, and heard of from others as well; first - the movie doesn't have stars. Films are sold on celebrity. This is too small. And the second part of a distribution deal - should you score one - is that you don't get paid. And I mean, like you don't get paid. Ever. 


People talk a lot of ill-informed bullshit about micro-budget projects and actors and crew not getting paid, and that's fine. Because it definitely happens. But those people need to also bring the filmmakers into the conversation, who don't get paid for the work they did from the distributors they sold their films to. This happens all the time as well.


So the other option is to distribute your own film, directly to the people you know and are your fans, and then take that money and distribute it properly to the actors and crew involved in the film. That's the new ideal.


I get it - this whole business depends on people being honest and forthright all the way through - and sure as there'll be more sequels made than people are asking for, people will get fucked in this business. But if filmmakers can eliminate some of those dishonest people from the food chain, then those who work on film shoots - large and small - will get a better deal.

It's a gamble, but it's also a reason why much of the fuss and fervor about the validity of micro-budget films is gas bagging nonsense versus the reality of just getting a film made and seen. 


So forget the myths and make a movie.



*Photo attribution: Chelsea Marie Hicks - CC 2.0 - https://www.flickr.com/photos/seafaringwoman/7150925297/





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By Tom Wilton:



Back in 2009, I wrote a 30 minute teleplay. A spec script, if you will, it was pieced together as a way for me to try and dig myself out of an awkward set of circumstances, whereby I had found myself rootless with no place to be and hardly a penny to my name.

I had been sleeping on floors for more than a few months at by this point - maybe six or seven at least - a broke filmmaker, disoriented after quitting my day job and moving across the country, bellyful of hope, only for it all to fall apart.


The previous year, my debut feature film had been released in the US, and when I walked out of that job, it was in the belief that I was about to do something amazing. At the time, I was quickly building noise and attention on my next screenplay, Nina Nobody, but of course, that’s another story. Instead, let’s just fast forward to the moment that I found myself laying on my buddy’s floor, staring at the ceiling, wondering how the fuck I had ended up in such a mess. It felt like I’d held the winning lottery ticket, only for it to be snatched up in the wind, never to be seen again.

So there I was thirty years old - hitting success and failure inside of a year. But I was a filmmaker, and if nothing else, I could always write. And it’s around this time that a friend sent me an email, telling me about a television scheme for burgeoning filmmakers, I just had to come up with something for them to consider producing. And so, on a cheap and plasticky netbook, rested precariously on my knees, I furiously tapped out the story of a young man who meets an older woman and the dangerous and noxious relationship they sink into. I called it Jackrabbit, and I think I had it down in about three hours or so.

Of course, it wasn’t easy to put out to the world - much of it was inspired by real life events - and though it burned a little putting the words to the page, it was the story that poured out.

As it was, nothing much came of it, but it stayed with me regardless, and I toyed with making it once or twice since then. And indeed, over those intervening years, I did pick myself back up, and I went on to make a lot more movies as well as relocating from the floors of my friends all over the UK to an apartment out here in New York. A lot can happen in a relatively short period of time, and it still surprises me how close we all skim to the bottom whilst keeping our eyes on the top.

Then, earlier this year, right after we had put the final touches to Let It Go, I found myself thinking about that film again, Jackrabbit, thinking that maybe I could shoot it after all. I mean, the original screenplay, that’s set in London, but now I was out here in NYC, it didn’t have to change completely.

We shot the film in about three days, and it was simple enough. There’s one scene - the last one - that was hard to do, if only for the emotional ragging it does to me every time I watch it since. In fact, let me be clear - this is as far from the humor of Let It Go as I could have gone, maybe it’s the hardest subject matter I’ve covered yet in a film, but it’s one I’m immensely proud of still.

The performances were loosely defined - as in I like to give the actors I work with the freedom to make their own calls.

This was most evidently borne out by the accents of the two older males in the film - Harry and Chris - who are a couple of London boys living illegally in the US. I suppose it’s a hangover from that initial screenplay really, or maybe it’s just the way that Andrew Leland Rogers and Joshua Hawkins chose to embody these literal voices, but having them play London lads - people I’ve generally avoided - does bring an intensity that I wondered might be lost. This is, after all, a small film about troubled people blurring love and control. And I suppose really, the big shout outs must go to Marlon Labovitch - a tremendous young actor dealing with big issues on screen here - and Fiona Graham, showing immense trust and commitment to the piece.

I’ll be honest, putting this film out to the world has been an emotional wrestle, especially on Cinema Zero. After all, I didn’t build this platform for my own films, and yet, I can think of no better place to release it. It’s here that some of the most intelligent and film-literate audiences have coalesced, and of course I want to present my film in a space that I think will (I hope), understand why it was made. Then of course, it’s a personal story, and this is the debut of it, and why in the world would I want to put mix the water with the mud?

But you know what, just as I was a filmmaker on my back, literally with no place to call my home when I conceived this project, now here I am with a space on the net that has become a cinematic home to many. Again, this isn’t the rosiest of tales (am I preloading this too much? Then I’ll stop), but it is one I feel is important.

Check it out, and thank you for letting me literally premiere one of my films on the Cinema Zero platform. Normal service resumes next week… Oh, and I’ll be holding a podcast with the key cast this coming weekend - updates soon on that - so stay tuned.







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By Tom Wilton:

So there you are. You've made the call - you're going to put your film out on your own. You feel that lump in your throat? Yeah. It's real, because you've never done this before. Actually, you sort of hope that this is a one-time-deal, that that you won't have to do it ever again. You hope that you can make a big enough splash with this one that things will happen, that, at the very least, conversations will start.

Let's break it all down for a moment. Let's reassess just why you would even want to put your own film out. The most obvious place to begin is by following the money. As I said in my previous post, you need to think business once the film has wrapped, and that starts with analyzing the financial aspects associated to it all.

Money talks.


Everything costs on a film set. Everything. Even the micro-budget filmmaker will be most likely opening their wallet at least a handful of times just to keep the wheels on the shoot, and so any way at all that you might be able to recoup that cash, you need to apply analytical thinking to the situation.

Firstly, ask yourself - will this thing ever make any money? I'm being serious here when I say that you need to really, truly ask yourself that question with a clear and as detached as possible mindset. Your response needs to be honest. And of course, the reason I'm saying this is because that answer will dictate a lot. So - truthful - is this thing ever going to make money? And if so, how much?

Okay - so I get that when it comes to breaking down the release of your film, every question seems to lead to another three or four right after it, and so trying to answer whether or not your movie will see a return depends on a heap of things. So let's try and frame those as well.

What genre is the film? Horror sells, comedy sells, drama usually doesn't. We may have already answered the question here. But moving on some more; is there anyone famous in it? If that's a yes, awesome - who are their audience? Can you reach them easily? Now, do you have a marketing budget (and by that I mean, any money you can spend?) You see - the more you can get into the specifics of your own film, the more you'll be able to gauge how to answer that principal question - will your film make money.

The follow-up of course is how much money will it make? Again, this is all projected thinking, and it's going to be hard to not let your ambitions get in the way. We all hope our films will make money - lots of of it - but it's important to be realistic, to be honest with yourself. Are you going to make enough money to cover the cost of shooting the film and distributing? Yes or no. Don't ruminate on it too long - the answer should be easy to land on, and if it's not, you need to consider how that money is going to be made.

So as you can see, getting a handle on the money aspect of the film is important before you go in, because it means you're going to be better prepared. And there's good reason for that, especially if you've ever tried to crowdfund a movie.

You see, one of the biggest mistakes that filmmakers make when trying to raise a production budget via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo is not knowing how much money they're likely to raise. This is why so many projects fail - because people focus on how much they think they need, rather the amount their likely to raise via their resources and networks. We all know this - many of us will have been there - trying to raise thousands of dollars to make a film is painful - so now try and do the same by means of selling the film. You need to have a good idea of how successful you're going to be before you get into the muddiness of actually retailing your film, as all this dictates how you spend your time and money in getting to an audience.

Okay - take a beat. Sounds hard right? That's because distributing your own film is. It's long, arduous work (again, similar in many ways to crowdfunding), but really, it's a job, where there may or may not be a salary at the end. And of course, this is why so many filmmakers 'sell' their films to a distributor - because really, who wants to deal with the gears of the distribution system?

Distribution - let's look at this a little more here, and see if we can't shoot some holes in the distribution myths.

If you want to get on to iTunes, it's (usually) a pay-to-play deal. In looking to get Let It Go onto the iTunes store, I followed Apple's advice (buried in their FAQ's here), and I reached out to one of the approved aggregators they work with. Basically, an aggregator takes on multiple films (anywhere between five and 100, dependent on the distributors circumstances), and submits them all at once to Apple. 

Now, from here, the Cupertino company will sift quality check the films and decide which get to make it onto the iTunes listings. The actual approval process (like much of Apple's workings) are opaque, and so even if you go through an aggregate distributor, you're not guaranteed to actually make it onto the iTunes store. 

So knowing this, how do you get one of these approved aggregators to take you on? Well, as I already mentioned, you need to pay them to be your middle-men. And the price I was quoted from one distributor was $1400, of which they only took a stipend if my film were to be rejected by Apple.

Okay - again, that's money you need to spend before you make any. So again, you have to ask, how much are you going to make? Of course, there are some contributing factors here that could make this process worth it - not least of which is that your film will be available on one of the biggest marketplaces globally. That could swing it, right? And the bragging rights, should Apple take the film, would be stellar. However, you still have to ask those fundamental questions - who's in the film and how much will it make? And the reason I'm saying this is because whilst it's impossible to know everything that a company like Apple will consider when you're looking at film, the likely success of the film making money is absolutely going to be a key factor in whether they take it on or not.

Indeed, the money upfront/fee if you're rejected model applies to many aggregate distributors (I talked to several when considering my plans for Let It Go), and so you have to know going in that you're paying either way when you attempt to get your film on the iTunes store. That's just a fact you need to acknowledge if you're going this route. 


It must also be noted that many aggregate distributors will also offer to submit your film to Netflix and Amazon, but let's bear in mind some other key points here also. Firstly, getting your film onto Netflix is harder than ever - especially since the streaming business for the company has become legitimized to the degree it has. Gone are the days when they were desperate for any and all content and were buying content almost blind to quality, just so they had something to offer their customers, and instead, they now ape Apple in the filtering process. In fact it could be argued that getting your film on Netflix (who buy a license for your movie, rather than the 70/30 split of iTunes), is one of the hardest things to do. They have literally built and subsequently owned the online streaming movie business, and they can afford to be choosy in selecting content that for their customers.

Okay, last one in this equation - Amazon Streaming Video. A distributor will absolutely still get you on there, right? Well, yes, they will. Good news, right? In fact, I can almost guarantee that if you pay a distribution company, they'll get you onto the Amazon Instant Video store, and even wrap up a DVD deal for you as well (you know, for those folks that still prefer the discs.) And how do I know this? Because I've seen it pitched time and again by distributors, and they always deliver. For a fee, of course (either a profit split or upfront), but that's okay - your movie is on the very biggest online store in the world. Bigger than iTunes even. And that's all fine, but you could have done it yourself without a distributor. Amazon actually makes it very easy to do via their Createspace platform, and they don't charge you for the privilege - they just take a 50/50 profit split. Which is exactly what they'd take if your film came via a distributor. Basically, to use a distributor to get onto Amazon is giving away money for no reason.


So there we have it - the three big platforms, and of those, the only one a distributor can guarantee you is Amazon, which you can already do on your own.

Look, I should just be clear here; if you really, really don't think you have it in you to deal with your own distribution, do this. Get an aggregate distributor (there are a bunch out there), and let them do all this stuff for you. Sure, you'll either pay an upfront fee, or you'll have to give them a bigger cut of the returns, but you'll only have to expend the minimum amount of effort, and hey, it looks cool on Facebook when you tell everyone you 'have a distributor' for your film.

But this is all a lesson in trying to get a handle on how much you're going to make, and where to spend the money in the build up. For some, $1400 isn't that big of a deal. For the rest of us, it's crippling.

So if you're going to do it on your own - without a distributor - you need to get your head right. Again, at the risk of repeating the sentiment, think and react about this logically. This is a business now. The movie is done, so you can afford to switch the gears into a different mode.


Take a distributor (or rather, a distributor that will take you), and the likelihood is, you won't make any money. Or you might make a little, but that'll be mostly friends and friends of friends and a few family members that buy it. And yeah, you know, you might see a little of the returns, but not enough to make another movie.

Instead, you can think about the money again. Think about this as a career, and realize that, for just a little effort, you can own the whole chain and see a bigger percentage return than using a middle man who is vested in a hits business. For a distributor, they will dragnet in hundred movies, hope that one of them sticks. It might be yours, it might not. They don't care. But you should.

So save your money, and use it to generate more.

Next up - I'll be talking about the fusion of a theatrical and digital release, and just why it's not such a crazy thing to do.





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Writer & director Joshua Caldwell and producer Travis Oberlander join the Cinema Zero podcast to discuss their new film, Layover and the changing landscape of independent film.

Layover has is available now, and you can get the film at layoverfilm.com, and the trailer is available to watch now here

Follow Joshua on Twitter via @Joshua_Caldwell and Travis @tobewan.

Subscribe to the video podcasts on YouTube or the audio feed via iTunes, Stitcher, Pocketcasts, TuneIn or RSS.






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