K.O. I love that. So, this is a tough question… what would you say has been *most key* for you in sustaining a successful career in the film/TV industry navigating the multiple, seismic industry shifts in form and content financing, production, distribution? Do you think it’s industry-specific, or maybe something about who you are as a person, in your personal outlook on life, and work ethic?
D.E. Well I think we’re constantly trying to navigate it, right? I don’t think anyone has it totally figured out because it’s such an evolving art form / business – it’s a combination of so many factors. One factor that won’t change is people love stories, so cinema isn’t going anywhere; we just have to learn to adapt or die, though that doesn’t mean we have to chase whatever fad is going on at the moment either. During the pandemic, many people were saying theaters will die, and streamers would take over for good. I didn’t buy that doomsday scenario, because I don’t care how big your TV/home projector and sound system is, it just can’t replicate the feeling you get watching a great movie with a bunch of friends (or even strangers) in the dark, on a giant movie theater screen. And if China’s post-pandemic box office is any indication, the US domestic box office is going to bounce right back and then some. Sure, cinemas may just stop showing the smaller movies in the future. And sure, certain genres will probably move to the streamers for good. And most definitely, it would be great not to have all the annoying distractions of loud munchers, texters, and that one dude who just cannot get that plastic wrapper open– but it’s all part of movie-going and experiencing a story communally together.
I do feel that even though we like to think of ourselves as artists, it’s important to know how the business-side of the industry works. So I really try to be aware of market shifts and trends, but without getting completely buried in it – the key is to also know when to do things outside-the-norm and take risks. I mean, as I mentioned above, if I didn’t go meet those financiers my dentist introduced me to, who knows what would have happened.
The other thing is to know when to stick to your guns and when to just “let it go”. For me, the attraction of being a filmmaker was never the money. Sure it’s nice once things start working out, but it’s never ever the main reason I wake up in the mornings – it’s all about the storytelling. I’ve been offered projects in the past that I just couldn’t get into. If I can’t get excited about it, like really excited, or don’t have a way to adapt a project to get me to that state of excitement, I’d rather not do it – it’s also why I don’t have a long filmography [laughs]. In no way does this mean projects I turn down suck, it just means they aren’t for me. I figure if I do them for the wrong reasons, it’ll just make me depressed and it’ll end up sucking, which won’t make the financiers/studio happy either. Keep in mind, it’s an almost one-and-a-half-year process going from the moment a script gets green-lit to showing up in theaters, and that’s if you’re lucky to go that fast. That’s a lot of time to have the same thing in your head daily – so you better really like what it is! I’ve been fortunate thus far to not have to go do something I don’t really vibe with, but who knows, sometimes you have to do what you gotta do, either for the paycheck or for the credit or maybe even for the relationships. The great thing with technology now is if you can’t find anyone to fund you, you can go make a movie you really want to make with almost no budget and even get it seen by masses. The only hardware you potentially need is a phone, good mics, and a computer (and maybe a solid crowdfunding page). The tech is there already, you just need a good script and good actors – granted, easier said than done, but my point is – at least it’s not logistically and physically impossible anymore.
K.O. Okay, say the script’s done, the movie’s done – what advice do you have to writers, or writer/directors, navigating getting their work seen by “the right people at the right time”, and/or getting it acquired for financing, production, distribution?
D.E Film festivals are a great way to get seen, but not all films fit the festival circuit model. There are lots of great movies that aren’t for the fests, which means you have to find other ways to get out there. Again, with YouTube or other online platforms, you can almost always get seen – way back or even a decade ago, you’d have to first find out where the exec or agent or whoever was, go make some DVDs, mail it to them, total pain in the ass. Now all you need is a link and the person’s email.
Of course, timing is important too, as is the way you go about getting your work seen. First, try to find people you think would be on the same wave-length or most likely to “get” your script or film. Don’t be that person who just forces their screeners or scripts on random people without getting permission first. Be polite, people are busy, and not everyone has the time or interest in seeing your work. Even if you think it’s the best thing ever – try not to take a rejection personally. Even if it really is the best thing ever, when people are dealing with tons of other projects with people they actually know and want to work with, it might take a minute before they can be persuaded to check out something from a total stranger. Second thing is, it’s important to take suggestions, or take criticism well. Sometimes what people say might be garbage, but other times it might be that they’ve got some very good points. So, learn to listen before deciding what makes sense, and try to be detached by keeping your ego out of it as much as possible. Lastly, definitely, do not show your screenplay or film until you are absolutely confident it’s ready to be seen, because you usually only get one chance.