Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They Make Movies

During the introductions at this year's orientation meeting, I was struck by the number of times a group called We Make Movies was mentioned. In these days of impossible funding and cutthroat competition, I made a mental note to get to know who these folks are and what they're doing to be so successful.

Turns out, two of the founders, Sam Mestman and Joe Leondard, are Dances With Films alumni with their 2009 film How I Got Lost. That same year, they got together with actress Tara Samuel to form We Make Movies. Recently, I got in touch with all three of them to tell us more about their group.

DWF: Let's get the plug out of the way right up front. How many movies do you guys have in this year's festival, what are they and when do they screen?

WMM is very excited to have 5 films featured at this year's DWF. Two of them, All Roads Lead To Paradise (Sat. 12:30) and Empty (Monday 5pm), are WMM Original Productions making their Festival Premiere at DWF. We also have a feature, 3 Days of Normal (Sat. 930), that was workshopped through the WMM workshop, as well as as another feature Disorientation (Sat. 11:45) and the short Strange Date (Sat. 12:30) that feature WMM community members. We're also looking to have a large presence at the 2 Minute 2 Step.

DWF: That's quite a wide range, with the common thread that they are all top shelf in every department - Writing, Direction, Acting, Art, Production.  I can't wait to see what kind of party shows up for the midnight screening of Disorientation!  What makes these WMM films?

All movies funded by the WMM community are considered WMM Originals.

Any piece of writing that comes through one of our weekly workshop nights we support and endorse as a WMM film. Additionally, when active members of our community go out and make their stuff, we actively support their efforts in any way we can.

Basically, our interest is in supporting everyone who is active at our workshops and events, and doing our best to give our community members the largest possible platform for their work.

DWF: Explain what WMM is, how it works. You know, the sales pitch.

Pretty much, it's summed up by our tagline, which is that We Make Movies is dedicated to making the movie industry not suck. We Make Movies is a place in L.A. to come and make your films happen. All are welcome. Free to attend. Bottom line: We want you to make your films, and for that you need help. WMM is made up of other writers, directors, producers, actors, cinematographers, designers, composers - even some lawyers - all of whom want to help. Most important: Make the movie you want to see, make it fun while you do it, and use WMM to find some really cool people to help you make it happen..

DWF: I'm constantly telling actors that they need to get to know writers. Writers who are not also directors, need to know directors. Writer/directors who aren't cinematographers need to find a few of those, etc. How does WMM help with that?

Show up. That's it. WMM attracts to its membership (you become a "member" by attending) - the kind of people who will go out on a limb for each other. When anyone attends a WMM workshop, they will invariably meet other writers, directors, cinematographers, and more. Come with the desire to help, and you will be met with the desire to help.

DWF: But all of those people need to find managers, agents, distributors, and other people with MBAs and law degrees. Is that something WMM gets into?

Definitely... and there's getting to be more and more of that as we expand. They are either already attending, speaking at our "How We Make Movies" night, or they are a part of our greater WMM business plan in the works. Pretty much, finding all these people and this information is much easier when you become involved, and you never know who's in the audience at our events... hell, we don't even know half the time, and the place is filled with people who know people if you know how to ask in the right way. Longer term, though, we want WMM to be a place where all of these people are coming to discover, fund, and promote new talent. As we continue to grow, our aim is to collectively create a platform for our community to distribute its work and create a better way for it to be seen, discovered, and monetized, which is unfortunately incredibly hard to do for most independent filmmakers.

DWF:  Ah, yes, the money.  Eventually, independent filmmaking comes down to finding the money – which is where a lot of the Kumbayah togetherness gets tossed for a game of tackle the financier with the ball. Do you guys help with finding funds?

Yes - we have already raised funds for two slates of short films - fifteen short films in total - via Kickstarter, all funded completely by members of the WMM community, most of whom had no active stake in the films, or direct tie to the filmmakers. We're well aware that money talks and the Kumbayah thing only goes so far, and It is definitely our desire to help filmmakers find financing and be able to get their films made and seen. However, I think the biggest thing a lot of filmmakers haven't learned is that it can't be all about them, and just their film. If you never help anyone else make their movie, how can you ever expect anyone to care about your movie. What we've found is that the more we help our community get things done, the easier it becomes for us to get the things we want to get done. Think there's a Beatles song about it or something. Anyway, longer term, we're putting some things into place now that we feel are going to really help us turn the corner into becoming a real way for our community get their work made and actually make some money doing it.

DWF: Is it too late to get in on the ground floor of WMM?

It's never to late. Come to a workshop. Meet us. Meet everyone. Then go make your movie.

DWF: Looking back on How I Got Lost, what do you take away from that experience most? What did you do right? What mistakes did you make?

Well, we'll start with what we did right which was going out and making that movie without fear. We never would have gotten through it if it weren't for the fact that we planted the flag and said we were going to do it no matter what. We did it, and for the most part, the movie turned out great and we were able to get it out there and get it distributed. We learned how to hustle with How I Got Lost.

As far as some of the mistakes, well, we made some of those, too. The largest of which is the whole reason that WMM exists in the first place, which is that when we were done with the movie, we just sort of thought the rest would take care of itself. We thought, and it's a common problem with indie filmmakers, that we'd just be able to take it to festivals, have distributors get really excited, and sell it for a ton of money. It was a rude awakening to experience firsthand the underbelly of the distribution pipeline and how rigged it really is against indie filmmakers.

DWF: Dances With Films was formed pretty much the same way for the same reason, but that was before my time. 

Really, the biggest mistake we made was just not budgeting enough for the endgame, and not actively building an audience around the film throughout the production. The biggest thing a filmmaker can do for themselves in this day and age is really work backwards and figure out how they're going to get their movie out into the world once it's finished.

Here's a deeper zen parable about this: If you make a movie in your garage, and there's no one there to see it, does it ever make money?

DWF: And, of course, for those uber-indie filmmakers who think making money equals selling out, a big reason you want your current movie to make money is so you have a chance to make another one.  What advice do you have for this year's crop of Dances With Films filmmakers?

Our advice to filmmakers is don't just make it about your film. See and support as many other films as you can. And stay in touch with the people you meet. Grab a couple other filmmakers you like, and promote together. Do some things for other people with no expectation of any return... you'll be surprised how much more effective that form of publicity is. Don't be a part of the shark tank. The sharks in there are much larger than you are, anyway, and you'll just get eaten. Oh yeah, and come hang out with us ( at the fest!

DWF:  I know I'm going to drop by!  Any last words?

Only a reiteration: The movie you have in your head: Go Make It. And don't stop until you're screening it. Start now. There are people waiting to help you.

DWF: Words to live by.  Thank you all so much for your time.  I'll buy you a drink at the Filmmakers Lounge ... because, you know, they're free.

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