"Focus on brilliance in the basics."
- Amanda Paige Young, Director, Producer
In our chat with Amanda, she mentioned that one of the greatest pieces of advice she's heard is from the military philosophy developed by Former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. As part of his world-renowned Leadership Philosophy and Guidance, he mentions the need to "be brilliant in the basics because...we know too well the cost of not being ready."
In this statement, Mattis doesn't emphasize the need to be superior nor does he say to be brilliant in all things. He simply mentions the basics. This is because the basics are the foundation of everything we do. For example, the ABC's give us the basics of language and counting gives us the basics of mathematics. As children, we learn these basics, repeat them countless times, and apply them to progressively challenging situations. As we grow up, we apply those basics with little effort at all because they've become part of who we are. We are ready because we've become brilliant in the basics.
So how does this translate to filmmaking? Well, here are a few filmmaking basics for you to consider:
Know Your Why's
As a filmmaker, you will inevitably have to sell your film. This may mean selling to a potential investor, prospective cast and crew, a production company, or any one of countless individuals or organizations that could support getting your project off the ground or seen in a meaningful way. To sell your film, you'll need to know your Why's and be able to articulate them to every audience. The Why's include:
Why this film?
Answering the first Why (Why this film?) provides your reason for telling the story. This is where you define the target audience and the compelling reason the audience will want to be a part of the experience. Answering the second Why (Why now?) describes the relevance of your story in the context of the current social climate. This creates a sense of urgency to strike while the iron is hot and to take advantage of a current wave of interest. The third why (Why you?) speaks to what makes you, as a filmmaker, uniquely qualified to tell this story. This is where you articulate how your unique skills and experience will translate into execution. The last Why (Why me?) is all about the audience you are selling to. You need to know why that specific person, organization, or group would have a vested interest in your film. This is where you create a connection based on mutual values, principles, and objectives. In the end, knowing your Why's and speaking to them without pause or hesitation will prepare you for every opportunity to sell your film.
Budget for Trailers and Cover Art
You only get one chance to make a first impression. In the world of film, that impression is most often made by the trailer and the cover art. This is the filmmaker's primary opportunity to get someone to choose their film in a world of endless options. For many indie filmmakers, this basic tenet is often overlooked and so are their films.
When building out your film budget, be sure to budget for a specialist to make your trailer. This isn't something to simply hand off to your editor unless your editor specializes in this area. There is a specific art and science when it comes to the creative marketing behind a well-crafted trailer or teaser and every subtle nuance is important. The same is true for cover art. There are design rules and rubrics to creating great cover art that cue the audience in to the genre, the rating, and even the nature of the content. Breaking from those rules confuses the audience and makes it hard for them to connect with your film. Be sure to hire a seasoned graphic designer who understands these rules and can make your film stand out above the rest.
Get it in Writing
Filmmaking is both art and business. The art of filmmaking is based on creativity and collaboration that thrive on a foundation of mutual respect and mutual outcomes. The business of filmmaking is based on the exchange of goods and services that thrives on a foundation of contractual agreements. When it comes to mastering the basics, here are a few things every filmmaker should get in writing:
Agreements from all cast and crew to participate in social media marketing. These agreements should articulate what should be shared, when it should be shared, where it should be shared, and how often. The more specific the detail, the greater the probability that it will be done properly.
Agreements from all cast and crew to positively rate and review the film upon release. This should include a method of verification to ensure that everyone meets this obligation.
Agreements from top-billed cast to provide publicity for the film prior to and upon its release. These agreements should articulate publicity windows, media outlets (e.g. social, interviews, photo shoots, etc.), the positioning of ancillary products, and any other expectations as mutually agreed upon.
Setting your expectations in the form of formal contracts helps to ensure that those expectations are met. If you want it done, get it in writing.
When it comes to finding brilliance in the basics, this is just scratching the surface. Depending on your role in filmmaking this could mean so many things. The most important takeaway here is that the basics are the things that we should never take for granted. These are the things that are mastered through repetition and process and should become second nature in our execution.
A big thanks goes out to Amanda for sharing this bit of insight with us and for the great conversation we had with her on the MAKE IT podcast. If you'd like to see all of the great things she's been up to, check her out at https://amanda-young.com.
Be Better. Be Creative. Be Engaged.