One thing that constantly surprises me about the Austin Entertainment Business Meetups at the Speakeasy, each final Thursday of the month, is the depth and the quality of both the presenters and the attendees.
The presenters are curated by our fearless and awesome organizer Jen Hutchins, and everyone who attends is privvy to inside information about the landscape of the entertainment business. The attendees range from the absolute creative types you would want dedicating their time to making your project better to the absolute business types who can make a film thrive in all parts of the complicated mechanism known as the entertainment industry.
To gather all of these bright minds in one place is incredibly encouraging to the forward movement of the entertainment culture in Austin.
This month's presenters were both fantastic. The first was Terence Michael, a producer credited with over 20 movies, 30 tv shows, and he even manages to find time to do podcasts! He had some fantastic ideas for writers looking to get into the business. As with most people who are established in the industry, he wasted no time speaking about the importance of having a better game plan than other writers and producers. He mentioned that writing a spec episode for TV and getting that in the right hands is a far better way to get your name out there than simply writing a script and hoping that it gets in a bidding war.
The other thing he talked about that I enjoyed hearing was that he said that he looks for projects as a producer that already have some of his job done for him. Not only that, he wants to see that in the subject line of the email. This is really important. It's long been known that the subject line of the email is the most important section. To take that to the next level, openly communicating what things you have already taken care of as a director, aka the things that a producer would typically have taken care of for a more established director, is a sure-fire way to get the producer's attention and may get you a meeting. In other words, if you beg and plead for your idea without trying to make the producer's job easier before they get involved, you're dead in the water! Terrence mentioned that you could make your email more memorable by mentioning perhaps a famous actor you got to act in the movie, or how much money you have put together and will dedicate to the project. There are tons of ways to get a producer's attention, but creating a compelling subject line will get you there faster, and if you're looking to work with Terence, make sure to make your subject line sing and soar above all the others.
The second presenter was equally fantastic in a different area: Distribution.
I can imagine how difficult it must be for a new filmmaker to have a finished movie and try to get any distribution deal possible. It is this situation where you are most vulnerable, according to Jerome Courshon, a producer who is incredibly knowledgeable about distribution and making good distribution deals. His feeling is that picking the right producer is important because not only are you relying upon this person to make a project happen, you are also relying on this person to find the best possible distribution deal. This, sincerely, requires cunning!
First, you want to be sure that a producer has experience with negotiating distribution deals and knows that part of the business incredibly well. Second, you do not want to sign any contract without having a lawyer who absolutely specializes in distribution deals on your side. I think just these two steps will mitigate 80% of the problems any filmmaker would have in distribution.
The people who offer distribution deals to less experienced producers might not be the most trustworthy (shocker, right?). He specifically mentioned recoupable expenses. To make it really simple, he said that you never want to agree to more than around $15k-$20k in recoupable expenses, and it's best if that number is a a big fat 0. If you agree to a high recoupable expense and you're a firt-time filmmaker, chances are very high that you'll never see a dime! That's a tough thing for a first-time filmmaker to hear, but it's the truth and you can't really argue with it. It's part of the industry. Reality.
Why This Meetup Matters... Why You Need To Come!
Both Terrence and Jerome were fantastic presenters. Even as a composer, I know that understanding all of the sides of the industry is important. In truth, I've not suffered too much for being a bit wiser about difficulties that I might face. At this meetup, I can't possible emphasize how incredible it feels to be around working professionals who make it look easy, who share their knowledge, and who seem like really decent people.
I want to do another quick shout-out for Jen Hutchins again who, on top of organizing a community of incredible thinkers and Texas-based industry folks, has managed to bring together some of the most potent and informative presentations of the media landscape in both Austin and abroad (ha ha ha. I'll do anything for a quick chuckle.) The Austin Entertain Business Meetup is one of the most important meetups in Austin for film industry people. It's both necessary and vital. It's my hope that this humble little blog post can help build this fantastic community of people.