Monthly Archives: January 2011

Casting Before Financing???

The biggest obstacle that any independent film producer faces when producing a movie always comes down to financing. How do you get money? Even if your project is amazing, you still need to reach out to the people  with money. How do you accomplish this…especially if you are not an established film producer? I asked a former film producer-turned agent, and he offered me some interesting advice. If you are not established and have not built relationships with financiers, agents or managers,  one of the best things you can do is HIRE A CASTING DIRECTOR. ……..Huh? Yes, the first person to spend your money on is a casting director. A casting director has first degree relationships with all the agencies. If she likes the script, she’s going to work her hardest to get the best talent attached to the project. To do this, the first line of attack are the agents. In addition to a plethora of actors, they also have access to financiers, and if they believe the project is good, it’s in their best interest to help you get it financed. In other words, casting directors is a way to “pay” to get access to agents and, in essence, get access to financing. The agents will also help get great talent attached to your project, which again, will attract financing.


What is a Unit Production Manager?

A unit production manager, better known as the UPM, is crucial to a smooth running film set. The role is very similar to that of a line producer, and a lot of times, the two terms can mean the same role, which is to manage the cost of production. A UPM will help the producer and director derive the budget, but once the budget has been created, it is the UPM’s job to make sure that the production stays on budget. During pre-production, the producer will usually deal with hiring the above the line talent, the direct will look after hiring the key heads that work below the line  (cinematographer, editor, production designer etc), but the UPM will usually look after hiring the other below the line crew members. The UPM will also work with the first AD in securing equipment and locations. During production, the UPM is in charge of managing below the line crew members, approving expenditures, approving call sheets, and maintaining the schedule. The UPM’s are represented by the Director’s Guild of America.

The Do’s and Dont’s of Pitching

Brevity is beauty

DO Try and find ways to keep your pitch as brief as possible without eliminating pertinent information that will capture your audience. Think of it like telling your friend about an awesome movie you just saw.


DON’T worry about being overly thorough. Your only objective is to captivate your audience with your story and character(s). Once you have done that, your audience will ask you questions and it is at that point where you can divulge into other details of your idea.



Unless it is absolutely imperative to convey a certain visual image, you shouldn’t need to bring any props. What happens is that your prop becomes your crutch. You shouldn’t need diagrams, objects, pictures, or power point presentations to pitch a good story. If you require these things, your idea is probably not very good. You should be able to pitch your project to anyone at any given time, at any given place.


Adapt – Have other ideas prepared.

One of the important skills with pitching is being able to adapt in the room. A lot of times, through unforeseen circumstances, an executive may tell you that your idea has been pitched already, or is not something they are looking for. Your job as a pitcher is to be able to adapt and find a way to give the person at the other end of the table what he or she wants. If the rest of your ideas are half decent, and pitched briefly (and you’re not a complete arrogant jerk) chance are, the executives will want to hear more. That’s their job; to find new ideas and new material. You won’t have very many opportunities, so you might as well make the best of it. The hit TV show Rugrats was the 8th idea pitched during a pitch meeting. The executives passed on the previous seven.


Leave the business to the professionals

DO have an idea of what your budget may be, or what marketing strategies you might use. It’s never a bad idea to conjure up a budget for your own personal knowledge…but


DON’T bring marketing materials or budgets to the meeting. These sorts of things will not help you sell your project and this will all be re-worked by the studio should your project get picked up. Neither budgets nor marketing materials will help you in closing a development deal with a studio or production company.


Attaching talent

If you have the means and ability, DO attach a well-known, accomplished talent            to your project (ie. Lead actor, Director)


DON’T make a cast or director lists. Chances are, your list will be similar to their list, and it will not help you sell your project. It will not impress the studios if you start naming A-list actors or directors that you “wish” will be attached to your project.


Enthusiasm & Passion

DO show enthusiasm and passion for your project. This may seem like common sense, however, people do not realize how far passion travels across to your audience. Most of the time, your audience is not only interested in the project, but they are more interested in the person behind the project. You could have the next Oscar winning project, but if you don’t show your passion it will not sell. Feel free to stand and use the room when delivering your pitch. Look happy and thrilled to be delivering you pitch (even if it’s a horror project).


DON’T put on a show, or a sales presentation. Over-enthusiasm can be a bad thing. Remember, in their minds, if they want to buy your project, they’ll have to work with you on a regular basis, and being an over-the-top showboater might sway them not to. When you give your pitch you want to feel like you’re telling your friends about a movie you saw on the weekend.



Leave-behinds are 8-10 page documents outlining your project. They usually including a synopsis of your story, target audience, summary of characters. Whatever you do, DO NOT give them the leave behind before you start pitching. It’s called a leave behind for a reason, not a “give first”. After you finish your pitch, you may learn that what the buyers want is not outlined in your leave behind. Or you may learn that the weakest part of your pitch is the one thing you emphasize in your leave behind.


TIP: Leave behind for TV shows should show two key things: Character breakdown (detailed and interesting), and “where is this story going”. Show a season arc, or a series arc. They like to think about longevity and they want to know that you have thought about it too.

Verbal Presentation

DON’T read from a piece of paper or cue cards. Executives hate this. If you know your project well enough, you shouldn’t need to read. This disconnects you from the buyer. Remember, the executives are not just buying the project, they are buying YOU. Therefore, you need to connect with them, and moving your eyes/head back and forth between a piece of paper does not accomplish this.


DO engage in a conversation. Pitches should not be presentations. Every pitch is a job interview. The need to be assured that they can work with you no matter how great the project is. The best pitches are the ones that transform into conversations. This is the best way for executives to get to know you, and to get excited about your project.



Know your project but be open minded and flexible

DO show your audience that you are creatively flexible and easy to work with.  Nine times out of ten, when a studio or network buys your project, they are going to tear it a part. Part of the pitching process involves selling yourself to your audience and showing them that you will be a good partner, despite whether or not your project will sell. At the same time, convey that you know your project in detail and that you have your own personal vision.


DON’T refute suggestions given by your audience. You need to show that you are not only open to creative suggestions, but that you appreciate them. BUT, whatever you do, DON’T use the phrase “whatever you want it to be”. If an executive asks you a creative question, you tell them what you feel is the best answer, because that is what they are looking for.

The Pitch

A pitch is basically a verbal presentation you give to someone regarding your project. Reasons for pitching could be as simple as sparking interest, or getting someone to finance your project. It’s basically a sales presentation. Pitching is arguably the most important skill to possess as a producer. Pitching is a huge part of how projects get bought and greenlit in this industry, and the better you are at pitching, the better chance you have of getting projects in motion. The duration of a pitch can last from 30 seconds to 20 minutes depending on what your project is, what environment you are pitching in , and who you are pitching to. Sometimes you’ll only have 30 seconds capture the attention of an agent on the phone. Other times, you might have 10 minutes to sell your script to an executive in a board room. No matter what way you look at it, pitching is an essential art that all producers must learn how to master.  There is no “right” way of pitching – everybody has their own pitching styles. However, there is a “wrong” way of pitching.

Read “The Do’s and Don’ts of pitching.”

What does a Neilsen rating mean?

A Neilsen rating is expressed as a fraction. The numerator is called the “rating”, the denominator is called the “share”.



This is a percentage of all the Americans that own a TV set. In other words, it expressed how many Americans were watching that particular show, regardless of whether or not they had the television turned on.



This measures the percentage of all the individuals who are watching TV during a particular time slot. In other words, while ratings measure percentage of the population whether or not they have the TV sets turned on, shares only calculates the percentage of all the TV sets that are turned on at a particular time.

So if a show has a 2.2/11 Neilsen rating, this means that 2.2 percent of the entire American population watched the show, and of the population that had their TV sets turned on, 11 percent of those people were watching your show. For a primetime show, you are mainly looking at the population between the ages of 18-49. There are 135 million Americans in this age range. So when a Neilsen rating is given for a prime time network show, it’s usually a percentage of 135 million people.

What are Neilsen Ratings and how do they work?

This is the method used by TV stations to measure viewership and devise ratings for all the shows. This is done by Neilsen Media research. The company conducts research using three methods.

Local  People Meters (LPMs)

In about 14, 000 homes which encompasses about 35,000 people in the USA, Neilsen installs special boxes with special remotes that transmit data to their research headquarters. These homes are usually located in the large markets (ie New York, Chicago, LA, Houston). Each member of the each house hold has a special button on the remote that is designated for their TV usage. This way, Neilsen will know who is watching what show at what time.

Set Meters

Similar to LPMs except they don’t monitor who is watching, just what is being watched. Again, this set meter is installed in about 10,000 homes through the USA.

Paper Diaries

Neilsen will pay certain households in smaller markets to fill out a diary of what shows they watched throughout each day and deliver it to Neilsen at the end of each week.

See: “What does a Neilsen Rating mean?”

What is an Independent Film?

When we here this term, we normally think arthouse, film festival, and cheap. This can be true for most independent films, however, not all independent films will share these characteristics. To put it simply, an independent film is a film that is financed outside of the traditional studio system. In other words, the money to finance the film came from a place/person other than a studio. In most cases, independent filmmakers have to find distributors on their own. This could be a major studio, but often times independent filmmakers have to find other means to distribute their films.