Also referred to as an “overall first-look deal”, this is basically a first look deal except anything that the producer develops while under this agreement must stay within the studio and cannot be taken elsewhere even if the studio passes. In return, the studio will pay an annual fee to the producer and cover all of his/her overhead costs.
If you want to thrive in the independent film world, this is a term you need to become familiar with. It’s an agreement made between a distributor (usually foreign and specific to only one country) and the production company before the film is completed and often times even before production of a film has even commenced. This is a strategy that producers use to get their film financed. You may here that a producer financed a film via foreign presales alone. This means that a distributor will pay for the distribution rights in their country before they even see the finish product. In return, they will get to pay a significantly reduced cost for these rights as opposed to if they waited to buy the rights to the film in the open market upon completion. They are banking on the film doing well in the box office based on the script, director, producer and actors that are attached to the film. Some presale agreements involve the distributor and producer agreeing – prior to production – on a fixed amount to be paid upon delivery of the film. This is called an advance or a minimum guarantee.
Let’s say you just directed a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, or you’re an actor attached to a film that did gangbusters in the box office, or you’re the creator of a nationally syndicated TV show. You are what we call a PROVEN TALENT. The studios and TV networks need people like you to create content for them and hedge their risk in this volatile business. To do this, they will offer you a first-look deal.
This is an agreement that’s made between an above-the-line talent and a movie studio, network, TV studio or production company (for simplicity sake, let’s call this “the company”). Most A-list actors, directors, producers and writers have an overall deal. This agreement basically states that the talent must allow the company right of first refusal to produce, finance and/or distribute any of their projects. In other words, the company gets first dibs on anything the talent develops. If the company passes on the project, the talent is free to shop that project elsewhere. In return for this arrangement, the company will pay the talent and annual fee and cover all their overhead expenses to run their company. If it’s a movie studio, the company will provide office space and other amenities on the lot. Another benefit for the talent that the company will funnel all their property to them. So if the company acquires a huge property, they’ll approach their talent with overall deals first. For example, Disney owns THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and since Jerry Bruckheimer has an overall deal with them, they will go to him first to produce the film. Or when Paramount acquired Transformers, the first person up for the job was Michael Bay since he had a first look deal with the studio.
NOTE: This is different from an overall deal where anything the producer develops must stay within the studio and can’t be taken elsewhere even if they pass.
If you want a quick reference on where the latest overall movie studio deals are, search Variety for their latest “Facts On Pacts”.
Here are some overall deals you should know:
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Boxing Cat Films (Tim Allen)
POW! Entertainment (Stan Lee)
Mark Gordon Company
Appian Way (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Carousel Productions (Steve Carell)
Green Hat Films (Todd Phillips)
MalPaso (Clint Eastwood)
Life’s Too Short (Chuck Lorre)
Lin Pictures (Dan Lin)
Ninjas Runnin’ Wild (Zac Efron)
Pearl Street (Ben Affleck, Matt Damon)
Revelations (Morgan Freeman)
22nd & Indiana (Bradley Cooper)
Aggregate (Jason Bateman)
Apatow Productions (Judd Apatow)
Blumouse Productions (Jason Blum)
ImageMovers (Robert Zemeckis)
Imagine Entertainment (Brian Grazer, Ron Howard)
K/O Paper Products (Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci)
One Race Films (Vin Diesel)
Wild Wild West Picture Show (Vince Vaughn)
Happy Madison (Adam Sandler)
Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith)
Scott Rudin Productions
Smoke House (George Clooney)
Syco (Simon Cowell)
Trigger Street (Kevin Spacey)
Hey Eddie (Kevin James)
Laurence Mark Productions
Original Film (Neal Moritz)
20th Century Fox
Bad Hat Harry Productions (Bryan Singer)
Film Rites (Steve Zaillian)
Lightstorm (James Cameron)
Peter Chernin Film
Red Hour Films (Ben Stiller)
Scott Free (Ridley Scott)
Plan B (Brad Pitt)
Bad Robot ( JJ Abrams)
Di Bonaventura Pictures
Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay)
Sikelia Productions (Martin Scorsese)
Four By Two Films (Sacha Baron Cohen)
Tyler Perry Productions
More often than not you’ll hear writers, studio execs and producers throw around the term “treatment”. SEND ME THE TREATMENT! I’LL WRITE YOU A TREAMTENT etc. This is because a treatment is one of the most versatile tools in the business. More on this in a bit…but first off, what is a treatment?
There is no precise definition of what a treatment is. Every treatment is written in a different format or a different style based on what it is used for. Generally speaking, a treatment is a document that summarizes a particular project. It could be for a narrative film, a scripted television show, a reality show, a documentary, YOU NAME IT. The content of a treatment varies along with the length. I’ve seen treatments ranging from 1-20 pages long. At the very least, a treatment should have an overview which describes what the project is about. If it’s a scripted film, explain what the story is. If it’s a reality show, explain the overall premise. If it’s a scripted TV show, explain what the series will look like. You should also include descriptions of the main characters and for TV shows, always include several story ideas. If it’s a reality series, be sure to include the format of the show.
A treatment can be used for many purposes. The most common use is a sales tool. Often times a buyer won’t have time to read an entire script, or is too busy to schedule a pitch meeting. An easy solution is to send a treatment. This will give the buyer a sense of the material in a short period of time. It’s almost like a written pitch. Often times writers will write the treatment first to help them in their writing process and understand what their story structure will be.
Producers will often write their own treatments and use it as a tool to communicate with writers. For example, if a producer comes up with an original idea that he/she needs to hire a writer for, one of the best way to communicate his/her vision is write a treatment and have the writer work off of it.
TESTING is one of the most over-looked, but under rated tasks that is executed by a director or producer. Testing is done in pre-production and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The purpose is to gather your creative team with your talent and test how the different visual creative elements look on camera. This includes costumes, make-up, hair, production design and even rehearsal. This process is absolutely essential and beneficial for a number of reasons.
1. Gives your creative team an opportunity to make sure their vision looks the way they want it to look on camera. Often times creative problems will arise and you don’t want to be sorting out these sort of issues during production. This is fairly obvious.
2. Allows your actor(s) to interact with the artists and build a good rapport with them before production. This is extremely important as you do not unseen personality clashes to occur during production.
3. Allows your director to make sure his creative team is on the same page as him/her.
3. Be sure to take pictures of hair, make-up and costumes especially after the actor and director has approved of them. As a producer, this protects you if creative disputes arise during production. For example, if you’re on set ready to shoot, and the director is happy with an actor’s make-up but the actor is not, you can use the previously taken photo, which was approved by the unhappy actor, to help you deal with the actor.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time – at least one month – before shooting starts in order to allow your creative team to test with the talent.
“Beat” is a term used a lot when developing or explaining a story. Beats are extremely important in communicating the direction of a story and to keep a story moving. It is a piece of information that can be conveyed in a quick moment, a sequence, or in an entire scene that moves the story forward. Often times when writers are trying to figure out their story, they will use what’s called a beat sheet. A beat can often be described in one sentence. For example, “The big bad wolf blows the straw house down.” This helps the writer determine what’s important in the story and what moments are needed in order to compel and audience.
I recently met with Steven Schneider; the producer of “Paranormal Activity”. After 10 minutes of engaged conversation, about a dozen light bulbs went on in my head. I’m hoping after reading this post, a few light bulbs of your own will turn on.
First, a little bit of background. Steven is a huge fan of horror movies. He’s watched them all, studied them, and has even written books on them. With Paranormal, Steven did not act as a producer in a traditional manner. He had a development deal with Paramount and Oren Peli, the writer and director, had given him the film to act as a director’s reel. In other words, the film had already been made, and Steven was not involved in the development or the production of it. Steven said that it was so scary that he had difficulties sleeping at night. That was enough for him to want to attach himself to the project. Not once did he felt critical of the production quality. To make a long story short, Steven and his colleagues sold it to Paramount and it became the most profitable movie in world grossing over $300 million worldwide. I will save the details of this story for another posting.
The point of the article is this: The ability to make high quality content has never been easier. You have access to amazing affordable cameras. You can edit digitally in your own home off your lap top. You can distribute your film online with a click of a couple buttons. This all presents the industry, especially young filmmakers, with an opportunity to make microbudget films (films under $1 million) and present a finished product to buyers, which is much more appealing than undeveloped projects.
Currently, it has never been harder to get a movie made and distributed. The biggest, and sometimes the only hurdle in the past has always been the cost. Nowadays, this is no longer an excuse. If you have the right story, you can essentially film a movie for less than 5 figures. So the challenge now becomes finding the right story. Oren told a story that had two main characters, and two supporting characters with two scenes each – four actors total. He shot the film in his own house – one location. He shot it using essentially no camera movement. Oren also edited Paranormal Activity on his laptop in his home office. With this in mind, I challenge you to set aside your traditional feature passion project for now, and develop a contained story that has no more than 5 actors, and takes place in no more than 2 locations. You can choose whatever genre you like, however, I strongly recommend horror because the audience is easy to reach, loyal, and don’t care about A-list actors. Also, with most successful horror films, the emphasis is place first on concept (it’s ability to scare), then on story. In all the rest of the genres, story is typically paramount. But, if you can crack this formula and be successful with other genres…PLEASE be my guest. If not, stick to the contained thrillers. Try and think of a high concept. Typically, the lower the budget, the higher the concept needs to be in order to gain attention from buyers. Having restrictions on locations and talent actually forces you to be more creative. I strongly encourage it, if anything, for the sake of the exercise.
To get you in the right mind-set, let’s look at some notable contained, high concept movies. First you have your “found-footage” horrors like The Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity. Both movies shot for under 6 figures, both extremely successful in the box office. Another notable film that I personally love is “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. This critically acclaimed film told a kidnapping story with three actors in essentially one location. In, “Phone Booth”, the lead actor spends the entire time in a phone booth. I think you get the idea.
If you have a great story, or an amazing concept, people will look at it. I am a firm believer of that. Having that story already produced only decreases the barriers to these people which is exactly what happened to Oren Peli. He created a unique, outstanding film, and found the right passionate person to champion his project. So go and develop your contained story, and then MAKE IT!!!