Three Questions is an ongoing series to get filmmaking-related advice and insight from the people actually getting their hands dirty. Not from the chickenshit naysayers and posers on the sidelines… but from the people who can speak from hard-won experience, with the scars to prove it.
Paul Osborne is the writer and director of the award-winning thriller FAVOR, which is now available on iTunes, VOD and DVD everywhere. He previously directed OFFICIAL REJECTION, the acclaimed documentary about film festivals, wrote the indie feature TEN TIL NOON and is an occasional contributor to Moviemaker Magazine and Film Threat. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMakesMovies
ZF: FAVOR SKYROCKETED TO THE TOP OF THE ITUNES CHARTS WHEN IT WAS RELEASED. LOOKING BACK, CAN YOU PINPOINT WHAT WAS SO EFFECTIVE ABOUT YOUR PUBLICITY EFFORTS?
PO: I don’t think there was one specific thing that put us over the top. We formulated a pretty ambitious marketing & publicity plan, spent five months creating materials for it and 4 weeks executing it. Because of what we were doing, our distributor Gravitas was able to successfully pitch us for highly visible placement on all the VOD platforms, including iTunes. We were also fortunate enough to have a poster which really worked, so once we were visible, people saw us and wanted to click on our film. Everything just came together in a big, sweaty pile of hard work and luck.
The beauty of marketing your own movie is that you don’t look at it as a “product”, just another widget coming off an assembly line somewhere. Because their way of operating forces them to deal in bulk, distributors and publicists tend to treat each movie similarly. For them, the product serves the business. But a filmmaker, who just poured a couple of years into a movie, doesn’t think that way. For them, the business serves the product. I think that gave us over at Team Favor an advantage in terms of coming up with publicity schemes that would only ever work with this specific movie, and as a result we were able to stand out in the marketplace. It’s something every filmmaker can do, but so many either don’t seem to realize they have this power or aren’t willing to take advantage of it.
There are also plenty of aspects of our campaign’s success that just hinged on good luck. We got lucky with a distributor who backed our efforts, even when we seemed like lunatics; lucky that we didn’t open against too many other, bigger titles; lucky that we had mostly terrific reviews and the press was on our side. No matter how hard you’ve worked or how prepared you are, you still need the winds of fortune to blow your way.
ZF: HOW DOES YOUR DAY JOB INFLUENCE YOUR MOVIE-MAKING?
PO: I pay the mortgage as a film editor, so the “day job” does give me the benefit of access to the latest editing software and post-production technology. There’s certainly a on-going education perk with that, and over the three features I’ve done it’s easily saved me tens of thousands of dollars. But the flipside is the day job really slows me down as a filmmaker. If I wasn’t losing fifty to sixty hours a week to it, I could turn around a new movie every year, but as it stands now it takes me three or four years to make a picture.
ZF: WHAT WAS THE GREATEST LESSON YOU LEARNED ON FAVOR, THAT YOU WILL IMPLEMENT ON YOUR NEXT MOVIE?
PO: On FAVOR I saw, for the first time, the incredible potential of well-managed improvisation. Usually I script things pretty tightly, and while I’m fine with the actors tweaking their dialogue so it feels more natural to them, we pretty much stay on the page. But for FAVOR we used improv to flesh out some moments, and I was blown away by what the performers came up with. These improvs weren’t scripted or even filmed, but were merely exercises to further explore character. An example would be the scene leading up to the fatal accident in the hotel room between Kip (Blayne Weaver) and Abby (Rosalie Ward), which the audience never sees and takes place right before the beginning of the movie. I wanted that moment to be real for the actors, so I encouraged them to improvise it as a scene, and what they did was terrific. There were several of these improvs that, if I’d shot them, could easily have been cut together and incorporated into the movie. It was a big lesson to see how far a performer, who’s both skilled and prepared, can run with a character and still function within the story and universe of the script. I think every filmmaker’s goal should be to push the authenticity of the performances, so moving forward I definitely want to loosen the reigns and encourage improvisation, both on an off camera.
BONUS: RECOMMEND SOMETHING RAD
PO: This recommendation is hardly a secret, but anyone looking to shoot anything digitally should make sure to explore Philip Bloom’s website and blog. The guy’s not only a really gifted cinematographer but extremely generous about sharing his knowledge and covering cameras thoroughly, so you can make a very informed decision about which one is right for you. Plus the guy’s accessible – you can tweet him a question and dammit, he’ll answer you! Even if you’re not the one shooting your film, it’s good to be aware of what gear is out there and how it works. Bloom’s saved me a lot of money and grief, so I’ll go ahead and recommend his site to any and all filmmakers.