Filmmaking Fundamentals: Understand the 5 Stages of Making a Film - Careers In Film
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Filmmaking entails more than a Screenwriter typing “FADE IN” or a Director yelling “Action!”

And that’s a good thing.

Though the world of filmmaking is a competitive one, the landscape of it is vast. It needs not only Screenwriters, Directors and Actors, but also Storyboard Artists, Cinematographers, Editors, Composers and more. All these people make up the workforce of the film industry, which becomes abundantly clear when considering the various stages of filmmaking.

That’s why we’re breaking down those stages of filmmaking to show all that it takes to get a film from script to screen, as well as the many opportunities for those looking to be part of it.

The 5 stages of filmmaking include:

  1. Development
  2. Pre-production
  3. Production
  4. Post-production
  5. Distribution

Throughout this blog, as we discuss the five stages of filmmaking, you’ll hear from experienced Director Mike P. Nelson (Wrong Turn, The Domestics), and first-time feature Directors Cassius Corrigan, whose Huracán landed on HBO Max, and Seth Savoy, whose Echo Boomers script netted enough buzz at Sundance for stars Michael Shannon and Alex Pettyfer to sign on. You’ll also hear from Producer Lindsay Lanzillotta (The Invitation), who serves as Head of Distribution for The Film Arcade Carousel, where she helps independent filmmakers distribute their films.

1. Development

In the world of filmmaking, development refers to the stage where the script is written and then rewritten… and rewritten… and rewritten. In other words, the script is developed to a point where it’s ready to be produced.

Development can last from a few months to a few decades. Yes, you read that correctly. Some scripts do indeed take that long to make it into production, especially when you take into consideration the multiple steps that usually comprise the development phase.

And don’t forget to add in more time should another Writer(s) be brought on board to revise the material or if a production company or studio decides to put that script on the back burner to focus on producing other projects ahead of it.

What does it mean to be a filmmaker?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

To me, being a filmmaker is about finding beautiful, honest moments. Making the audience really step outside of their comfort zone and rethink what they believe.


What makes someone a good filmmaker?

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

I think a good Director is somebody with a strong point of view. There are Directors who get the job done and know how to tell a story; they’re the easy kind of “for hire” Directors that can fill the shoot and do the job. But then there are the great Directors who have a point of view and own it. They have a specific style or voice. When you’re watching their films, you feel that voice, that attention to detail and story.

The great Directors have a very specific mind towards storytelling or towards style. Those are the ones I look at and say “Okay, that’s what I want to do. I want to have that voice.”

[The awareness of that voice has] helped me land work and helped me in conversations with executives and Producers. You go into a room and an executive questions what you’re doing with a movie. For instance, with this last one I did, Wrong Turn, they’d ask, “Why isn’t the violence really coming through as we’re looking through the dailies?” And I’ll say, “You have to trust me, and here’s why.”

Then I’ll go through how I plan to assemble it in the edit and that we’re not necessarily making a splatter film where we’re ripping arms out of their sockets and showing it from four different angles with blood spurting all over the place. I’ll explain to them that they’re not seeing that because that’s not what we’re doing. It’s not that kind of movie. We’re going to be doing something that’s a little more grounded, more realistic, and you’ll see that when it’s put together.

Give a strong point of view and own it. That’s a huge strength. A Director being wishy-washy is the scariest thing for any executive. If I was an executive and I had to hear that, I’d be nervous, because that tells me my Director is trying to cater to what I want. But I think it’s important for Directors to listen to executives. Some executives have very good points.

As an artist in general, if your work is put out there, you want your work critiqued. Let’s say you write a script and you send it to a buddy. They’re going to tell you things that are useful, and they’re also going to tell you things where you’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s not the movie I’m making.” And you can just go, “Cool, thanks for the feedback.”

You take the stuff that works for you and that’s telling the story that you want. The stuff that doesn’t fit, you don’t need to worry about that so much. Put it to the side and just say thanks for the input.

Writing

First, you have the Writer drafting what is called a spec script, which means a script that they are writing on their own with no payment or direction from a studio.

However, if a Writer is hired to write a script, it may go through considerably less time during the development phase, as those attached to it can skip the pitching step.

Pitching

This is the period when that Writer and perhaps their representation are trying to pitch that spec script for option or purchase. This in itself can take years.

Revising

Should that script get bought or optioned for a period of time, then you might have Producers and Studio Executives weighing in on what needs to be revised to make that script screen-ready.

It’s important to note that even when a Writer is hired by a production company or studio to write a script, they are not exempt from getting rounds of notes, which may extend the development phase.

What skills do you need to be a filmmaker?

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

People skills are good. Being able to communicate your ideas well is one of the biggest things, both verbally and visually. I come from a one-man-band-type background. I learned all aspects of filmmaking. I learned to direct. I edited my own stuff. For a lot of it, I would shoot my own stuff, too.

As I started making bigger things, I didn’t shoot my own things and would hire somebody like a Director of Photography where that was their focus and they could be that specific eye. They could be a person that I collaborate with. Ultimately, coming up in filmmaking, I wanted to learn how to do it all so that I understood it all. That’s been very helpful moving forward. Understanding all those departments and what they do so that you know how to communicate with those people: that’s been invaluable.

I remember with the first feature that I did, The Domestics with MGM, that was often a question. This first-time filmmaker with a budget now, can he get his ideas across? Can he communicate? Does he know how a film set runs? And I knew how a film set ran [because] I’d been doing it for so long on a smaller scale. You have different departments, you give those people the ability to execute their craft, and you work with them and collaborate. They started to see that and thought, “He’s fine. Go do your thing.”

Sometimes someone comes in who wants to be a Director and has a vision for a story but they’ve never worked with those types of teams. It all comes down to how you communicate. Communicating your vision is one of the most important things. So is getting your hands dirty in all those different departments and understanding what they do.

2. Pre-Production

You might wonder, “How does any movie ever get made?” after learning about the common trajectory of the development process and understandably so. But the good news is that once a script get a green light and the attached filmmakers can begin, the next stage of the filmmaking process—pre-production—typically goes faster depending on the material getting produced.

The scope of the movie will somewhat impact this stage of the filmmaking process. For instance, the pre-production needs for a huge tentpole film like Avengers: Endgame might be more intensive with its huge cast, crew and budget than Booksmart, another film that came out in 2019 that did not have quite the same scope or need for special effects.

That being said, regardless of the size of the production, many pre-production needs remain the same.

How do you become a filmmaker?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

To become a filmmaker you grab any camera you can find and shoot as much as humanly possible. Mastering photography helps you as a Director and since we live in a digital age, there is no excuse to not shoot as much as you can.

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

It’s going to sound super simple, but just by doing. I did go to film school. I got a four-year degree at the Minneapolis School of Art and Design. But that was very much just the beginning. That was like a kick in the pants for me.

I was always making short films and making little movies with my buddies on the weekend and stuff like that. Film school for me was like: okay, I’m going to get serious about this and learn this. But it wasn’t until after film school that I really started to develop my style. I feel like that’s the true test of the people who make it and those who don’t. The people who make it continue on. They continue to create. Not for anybody else, but for themselves.

I wanted to break into the film business so badly. In my mind that meant that I needed to write a script that somebody out in LA or Hollywood was going to like and going to help me break in. I was writing scripts trying to fill them with everything that I thought everyone would like.

That was the wrong move. As soon as I left all that behind, as soon as I sat down and realized that I just needed to tell stories that I liked, that’s where my voice started to come through. That’s when people started to notice.

A lot of the films that I started to make with that mindset weren’t films that were necessarily typical Hollywood kinds of stories. But I wanted to make them and I wanted to do them in my own way, where nobody else was telling me how I had to do it. I just focused on the way I wanted to do it. And when I did that, when I forgot about making it for somebody else or having to appease someone … that’s when this short I put online got noticed by a guy who asked if he could put it on his website. It was Todd Brown from XYZ films.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my future Agent saw that film. Sure enough, four or five years later he signs me when I get my first movie deal. These are the movies that have created the path for me.

The Domestics came from a short. It was a short that I wanted to do. I wanted to create this world. I was very inspired by the original Mad Max from the ‘70s. I wanted to make my own version of that and tell a story of a husband and wife going through a divorce during the apocalypse. What does that look like? I didn’t worry about what anybody else said. I made it in my own way.

And sure enough, it went from somebody seeing the short and saying, “You should write a script,” to actually writing a script, to a Producer asking if I had any scripts laying around, to him taking it to somebody else and saying, “I want to make this.” It just snowballed.

Anything else that I made that I was making for somebody else, whether it was a commercial job that I got paid for or a script or a short that I thought was going to be important and was going to make waves: all that stuff just disappeared. It didn’t mean anything. It completely vanished. Nobody cared.

Continue to make stuff. Even if it’s not great. As long as you care about it and it means something to you, people will take notice.

I had this short called The Retirement of Joe Corduroy, which was kind of my love song to Charles Bronson in Death Wish and some of my favorite ‘70s horror films. That’s the film through which I found my future Agent at the time.

I remember I would go to LA and stay with my friends in their small, broken apartment for a week. I would tell my Agent “I’m going to be in LA in a couple of days, wanna meet up?”

I’d get out there and I’d have lunch with them. That took an hour. Then you hang out for a couple more days. And that’s just what I did. It was important and it allowed me to be out there for a little bit and meet some people. I didn’t do the full-on living in LA thing.


Is it hard to become a filmmaker?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

It’s extremely hard to become a filmmaker. This profession isn’t for people with soft skin and you have to love the craft.

Storyboards

Storyboards are fundamental to the pre-production process in filmmaking because they are the first instance in most cases of what the movie will look like1.

A Storyboard Artist will typically collaborate with the Director and Cinematographer to create images that will be used as a reference for another pre-production staple: shot lists. But even beyond providing that visual blueprint for the Cinematographer and their crew, storyboards can also be helpful to the production design team in visualizing the look of the film and perhaps even the casting team in deciding what Actors might fit that look on display in them.

Shot Lists

As the filmmaking crew continues to work towards the start of production, shot lists must be made. As their name implies, shot lists are a detailed breakdown of every single shot required during the production process2.

Shot lists are critical for several reasons, one being to determine just how long production might take. The order in which the shots are listed impacts this timeframe and also helps the cinematography crew decide how best to set up for each shot, including the time of day that will be potentially needed, as well as equipment required.

Call Sheets

Once the filmmakers are ready to wrap pre-production and move on to actually shooting the movie, it’s time to let the entire crew and cast know when and where they’ll be needed. Call sheets, which are issued daily during production, provide a schedule for both crew and cast to let them know when they need to report for work and where they should be on any given shooting day3.

The call sheet is created by the Assistant Director based upon the aforementioned shot lists.

3. Production

Lights. Camera. Action. In many ways, these three words do concisely describe the next stage of filmmaking: production. Many people—whether they work in the film industry or not—associate filmmaking with this particular phase of it. They might also think that production constitutes the most expensive part of the filmmaking process, and they’re usually right.

Production means bringing together what is typically the biggest assembly of people attached to the movie, including both cast and crew. And in addition to the payment required by each person who works on a movie, additional expenses may include room and board if shooting on location, transportation, insurance, permits and more. That’s when a competent filmmaking accounting office and payroll company can be well worth the cost.

Given that the following elements each play a pivotal role in making the film look and sound great, it also pays to bring on board creatives and technicians who can successfully translate the story from script form.

How do you create a low budget film?

Cassius Corrigan (Huracán)

Definitely, the production logistics are a huge part of it. Having a very limited and controlled location approach to your story is gonna make your life infinitely easier.

In our case, we shot 40% to 50% of the movie in an MMA gym in Little Haiti, and the deal we made was with Diego de Vera, the owner of the gym, who helped us out tremendously. He said, “Well, as long as you don’t interrupt the operations of my gym, you can shoot your movie here and you don’t have to pay for it.”

So, that meant we had to shoot overnight. Every day [that] we’re in the gym, our day was starting at like 8:30pm and finishing at 5:30am. It’s those types of compromises you have to make.

To get the gym in the first place, I had to do some commercials for the gym for their sponsor. They’re sponsored by Hayabusa, an MMA brand, and I had to find ways to give value to the people that I needed to give value to.

What I would say is you have to find a way to deliver value to the other people that you need to help bring your movie to life, and that goes to your locations people, that goes to your vendors, that goes to your collaborators.

I wasn’t able to get the most established Production Designers or department heads in my movie (because we couldn’t afford them) but what I was able to do was give people who did have some experience the opportunity to earn their first credit on a feature film in their chosen department.

So maybe someone who had only been a First AC in commercials and music videos, they’re gonna work on Huracán and get their first First AC credit on a feature film at a lower rate because it’s something that they don’t already have.

That mindset really unlocked the team-building aspect of putting Huracán together. The truth is, as much as you want to work with people who have some kind of clout or experience, on these low-budget or no-budget movies, you really are gonna be way better off—and I didn’t understand this until we did it—with people who maybe have a little experience, but who buy into the process of making this movie, who have a passion, and are really incentivized by the project.

That’s gonna take you so much further because people who you convince to work at a lower rate and it’s just a day job for them are not gonna want to go the extra mile. You’re gonna need people who wanna go the extra mile.

Those people are just not gonna do it because that’s not why they signed up. Maybe they were just available, and they just thought, “Okay, it’s a pretty shitty paycheck but I don’t have anything else on those days.” You wanna be able to discern in advance why someone would want to, and would benefit from, being a part of your production. That’s something that, even beyond filmmaking, is a huge thing that I’ve learned.

As you’re finding partners and collaborators, you really need to understand what they’re gonna get out of your collaboration and your project. You can design your system in such a way that you know you’re gonna get what you need from them, and they’re gonna get what they need from you.

Something that allowed us to do the movie, especially in this ultra-low-budget way, is the fact that you can work with non-professional Actors, and you can get great performances out of them. In our movie, we really only had two people who had ever acted before in our film.

Yara Martinez, who is an established Actress beloved for her role as Luisa in Jane the Virgin, she’s been in True Detective. She is a very experienced and beloved Actor, super-talented, and she was a huge part of elevating the performances of everyone in the film, specifically mine. Our Detective Carlos Guerrero, made guest experiences on everything from Bad Boys III to Atlanta on FX. Outside of those two people, effectively, everyone else was a first-time Actor.

That was a huge challenge directorially. My biggest takeaway from that was with non-professional Actors, you can get great performances out of them if you don’t ask them to act. What I mean by that is, someone without acting experience, you cannot expect them to just invent that experience and have the skill set to go far out of what their natural behavioral range is.

But what you can do is get real people who bring a similar presence and a similar energy, have a similar life experience to the character that you want to portray, and get them comfortable enough with the filmmaking process that they can just be themselves on screen. If you cast them well, you will get the performance that you need for the movie, and we did that with so many people.

One of my favorite examples is Camila Rodriguez, who’s a Columbian Actress, who at the time that she auditioned for Huracán, had never been in a movie before. She was (and still is) a Nurse in the ICU at Jackson Memorial Hospital, which is one of the biggest and craziest public hospitals in Miami. She had some experience in theatre, but she didn’t have any experience on screen.

In her auditions, I saw that she was maybe rough from a technique standpoint, but emotionally she got it. She just really understood who this person was, who this character was, and how they might react in a given situation, and now when you watch the movie—she plays Alonso’s mother, her flashback scene’s a big, critical one—she’s amazing!

In my opinion, she’s the heart of the movie. If her performance wasn’t as breathtaking as it is, the movie wouldn’t work in the way that it does. It wouldn’t impact people in the way that it did impact people emotionally. So, we got an amazing performance out of her, and it was her first time.

Everyone on our MMA side, they were all real fighters who trained at the gym that we shot at, and we were just able to put them in positions to be themselves on screen, and it worked because they were the real deal. They were the authentic people who would really be at that location doing that thing that they’re doing on screen.

Direction

The Director is often considered the leader of the filmmaking process and for good reason. They typically take a leading role not only during production but also during pre- and post-production as well. Even with the influence and collaboration of dozens if not hundreds of others who are part of the filmmaking process, it is the Director who is tasked with providing a singular vision for a movie4.

Acting

When discussing a film, what’s usually the first part of it that you bring up? If you said acting, you would hardly be alone in that regard. And while Actors often get more attention than most when it comes to who is part of the filmmaking process, you really can’t overstate the impact of a great—or worse, bad!—performance. It’s during production that Actors get to truly shine, and if they do, they can elevate an otherwise good movie into a great one.

Cinematography

The Cinematographer on a production is the person primarily responsible for how the movie looks5. While this encompasses several elements, including choice of camera, camera lenses and mise en scène for each shot, two of the biggest factors that go into a film’s visuals are camera angles and camera shots.

Camera Angles

Camera angles both inform what potential audiences see, from where they see it and how they feel when seeing it.

Among the more common camera angles are:

  • High Angle
  • Low Angle
  • Dutch Angle
  • Bird’s Eye View

Camera Shots

Camera angles and camera shots go hand-in-hand. But while a particular angle can help to inform the type of shot, such as a Dutch angle medium shot, not every angle and shot are compatible. But if you can find a bird’s eye view extreme close-up, please let us know!

In the meantime, here’s a breakdown of some of the more routine camera shots:

  • Long Shot (LS) or Wide Shot (WS)
  • Medium Shot (MS)
  • Close-Up (CU)
  • Extreme Close-Up (ECU)
  • Point-of-View (POV) Shot

Production Design

It’s incredible to think that during the production stage of the filmmaking process, the world of the film might be built entirely from the ground up.

Though many films take advantage of real locations such as New York City or Paris for scenes set there, locales such as Oz or Mars require a little more handiwork. Enter production design. Responsible for making each scene look as real as a NYC pizza parlor or as foreign as a stark Martian landscape, production design and the creatives behind it are an integral part of the filmmaking process6.

Sound Capture

Many people focus on how a film looks because, since the silent era of cinema, it has been considered primarily a visual medium. But we’ve come a long way since then!

Great sound is just as vital as any other component of the filmmaking process during production7. Consider the varying impact of when a character whispers or screams or cries. Each brings with it an emotional resonance that can only be captured by sound.

4. Post-Production

The film is finally “in the can” and ready for assembly. Now we enter the fourth stage of the filmmaking process: post-production.

Post-production might not seem as exciting as development when the creative juices are first flowing or as glamorous as production with potentially famous Actors on set, but it is ultimately the most critical phase of filmmaking because it is the last step before the film goes out into the world to be watched—and judged—by audiences. The following highlights some of the main areas of the post-production process.

Editing

The Editor is typically considered the most important person in the post-production phase of filmmaking8. Why? Well, they’re referred to as the individual who “cuts” the picture, a term that goes back to when movies were shot exclusively on film stock. Now those cuts are done primarily via editing software on a computer, but the importance of this role is unchanged.

Editors make the decisions of what scenes stay and what scenes go in a film. They decide in what order they’re seen. They even decide for how long they’re seen. It’s no surprise, then, that many films can be vastly improved upon from both the development and production stages during post-production because of the Editor.

Composing

John Williams. Danny Elfman. Hans Zimmer. They are not Actors or Directors, but these creatives are still known and loved by millions because of their tremendous importance during the filmmaking process9.

Composers can turn an otherwise boring scene into one filled with emotion and excitement all because of the music they create to go with it. And while a Composer’s work may begin during the production or even pre-production stage, it’s only in post-production where their talent gets its due as the score is added to the film.

Sound Design

Didn’t we already cover this? Not so fast! Unlike the technicians who capture sound on set or the Composers who create captivating music to go with a film’s images, it’s the Sound Designers and Mixers who balance all the sound you may hear in a film, which includes dialogue, the musical score, sound effects and more10.

Truly the heroes and heroines who often get little recognition for their efforts, it’s these hugely important individuals who are behind a film sounding as good as it looks.

Is filmmaking a good career?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

Filmmaking is an extremely impractical career. There is no consistency, which is extremely hard but personally, I love how relationship-based this industry is. As an artist, it’s probably one of the hardest careers since making films is so expensive. You can’t just buy a canvas and paint like someone who paints can.


What else do you feel aspiring filmmakers should know about getting into filmmaking?

Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics, Wrong Turn)

When you feel like you’ve broken in, you get that gig and it feels like you’ve made it, that might be true, but in a way, you’re starting all over again. When we started out, we were kind of the ragtag crew that just wanted to make stuff.

I was an Internal Director at a visual effects house in downtown Minneapolis. It was like, wow, I did it. I made it to this point. But my goal was that ten years out of college, I wanted to make a feature film. It was ten and a half years later that I got that opportunity. You work up to that point and you get that opportunity. Then, you start working your way back up.

There are a few exceptions where people get up there and stay there and it’s easy for them. But I would say that with most people you see, it only feels as if it happened that way; you’re not seeing all the work. Look at somebody like Ari Aster, for instance. You can say, “Oh, he made Hereditary and his career just took off!” Yeah, to a certain extent that’s true.

He made a really great film that resonated with a lot of people. He’s a filmmaker to be reckoned with. But if you look back at the history of his filmmaking career and where he started, he went to AFI and made shorts and put in a lot of time. He didn’t just write a script one day and a Hollywood Producer saw it and said, “This is perfect,” and he made it and he was a great Director. He did a lot of legwork.

When you think you’ve made it, I don’t think you’ve really made it. You’ve gotten to a certain point. More than likely, you’re going to be starting over again. Like when I made The Domestics, it came out and I thought, “I’ve made it! I got a movie out into the world!” Things got really hard after that. Because then it was like, wait a second, people aren’t responding in the way that I thought they would.

I got some really great reviews and people were like, “Oh cool, look at this new guy, he has a cool voice,” and then crickets. Okay, what’s next? You’ve got the Agent and you’ve got the Manager and they’re trying to find scripts. They’re trying to find something you can do. You pitch, you pitch, you get a lot of “no”s. “Oh, we saw The Domestics! Yeah, it’s … interesting.” Ugh.

You sit there for two years or so and you’re trying to snag up small freelance gigs. You’re wondering, do I need to find a nine-to-five? Do I need to figure out how to become a Bartender to make ends meet? Does anybody care? Was that my last shot?

Thank God I have my wife who has always been so supportive of me. We’re supportive of each other. One thing she kept saying to me was, “Do you want this?” I was like, “Yeah.” And she said, “Well then you have to keep going.” It might sound cliché, but when you hear that from somebody who’s such a big part of your life, you think: yes, I need to keep going. And you keep going.

It’s still hard. But then one day that thing comes across your desk, or there’s a thing that just hits and God, the universe, they’re listening and stuff starts to happen again. You just have to keep going.


Can you become a filmmaker without college?

Seth Savoy (Echo Boomers)

Absolutely. Being on set is more valuable than being in a classroom. The beauty of being on set is that if you don’t know how to do something and you admit it, someone will show you. I think that is really beautiful.

5. Distribution

The film is completed and ready to be enjoyed. Now what? It must be distributed, which is the final stage of the filmmaking process. Fortunately, never in the history of cinema have there been so many ways for filmmakers to get their work out to the public.

While many films experience the traditional route of theatrical distribution, that is hardly the only way to go with today’s technological advances. Thanks to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, films can go straight from post-production to your living room television, tablet or phone.

If a filmmaker doesn’t have access to those alternate distribution outlets, they might just decide to distribute their film on their own via YouTube or a dedicated website for the film.

Distribution access is undeniably easier than ever before for filmmakers outside of the studio world. But as distribution outlets have multiplied, so too have filmmaking options, making the former increasingly competitive for those seeking ways for their films to be seen.

How do you market and distribute a film?

Lindsay Lanzillotta (The Invitation, Obsession, The Vicious Kind)

There are a number of pathways. Often people go to a film festival. You make an independent film and sometimes you can reach out to distributors and get a distributing vault early. It doesn’t happen a lot for independent films.

Or you make your film and take it to some good film festivals and hope it gets in and sells. Or you can get a Sales Agent if you get into some of those festivals, which is a wonderful thing to have because you’re not usually an expert in selling your own film.

If your film doesn’t sell at your film festival or event, you can go down the route of something like what I’m doing with The Film Arcade Carousel, which is the new arm of Film Arcade. Film Arcade is a North American theatrical distribution company but Carousel itself does distribution for independent films.

A lot of distribution offers that come to independent films are basically “no minimum guarantee.” That means not giving any money to anyone, but saying, “We’re going to spend these marketing dollars on your film and you don’t have to pay for that.” You’re going to sit behind that in your recoupment. So you give them your film, and you give your rights away sometimes for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, and you don’t ever see a dime from your film.

There is some frustration in that process because you have no control as an independent. Our CEO Miranda Bailey, myself, Jason Beck who runs the Film Arcade, and my other colleague Natalie Wayland, what we’re offering is more transparent.

We’re saying, “This is how much it costs to release your film these days,” and “we can help service that so that you can retain control of your film, [and] sell the rights to it internationally, if you want.” There are all kinds of different pathways, but you can know how much that costs and control it and help guide the messaging and marketing of your film.

By the way, I don’t pretend to be an expert in the marketing of film. We have vendors who have done this. Film Arcade itself has serviced films for Universal, Lionsgate, and Paramount. So they [the vendors] have experience doing this with smaller films that studios have picked up and deferred to Film Arcade to do for them.

We’re providing a service for the larger companies, but we’re doing smaller films as well. We can go even smaller. “My friend doesn’t know how to get her film out of her living room.” If you need an aggregator, that’s one thing. If you want an aggregator who actually knows how to do a film campaign, how do you do that without feeling like you have zero Consultants?

You’re the person who’s made a $50,000 film or $1 million film, and everyone’s disappeared but you’re still holding it and don’t know how to get it out in the world. So this is what we’re trying to offer to people.

Films have been serviced for a long time. Big films. Peanut Butter Falcon is an example of a film where it looks like a big distributor put it out, but it’s actually a service deal. They paid and they controlled that because they didn’t like any of the offers they got for that movie. It has a big cast (like Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Fanning), it just didn’t get the offers they thought that movie could have.

And they were right. They put it out. They paid a very expensive service company to do it for them, but that’s fine and it worked out for them. So that’s what we’re saying; we need to offer this for smaller films with more reasonable rates. This is part of the education I do now with independent filmmakers.

You need to budget for insurance. You need to budget for locations. You need to budget for Actors. But you also need to budget for your distribution. It needs to be part of your budget before you even make the movie. You need to have it as an insurance policy. If your movie doesn’t sell at Sundance for a zillion dollars, if you saved $10K, $15K, $25K, then you can market your film more than you realize.


How do you secure distribution for a first-time filmmaker?

Lindsay Lanzillotta (The Invitation, Obsession, The Vicious Kind)

We’ve worked with first-time Filmmakers and we still do at Cold Iron Pictures. With Film Arcade, the theatrical releasing company, it usually does have to have some kind of cast or documentary storyline draw that’s a little more commercial to invest in a wide movie. With Carousel, the whole point was to open it up to films that have zero cast (documentaries).

As long as it’s an executed film that could have quality control to it–meaning, it would pass tests if you wanted to put it on Amazon or iTunes, that kind of thing–as long as it’s a well-made film in that respect, we’re here to help all films.

We’re open to looking at anything. That’s why we’re transparent. It even has my email on the website for Film Arcade because the transparency is, “We’re here to have this conversation with anyone.” If you want to know how to budget for a film that you’re making for $10,000 or $100,000 and it’s of a specific genre, we can even tell you the numbers you should budget for.

If you want to have a plan early on, you want to commit to servicing, and your Executive Producers are interested in helping you finance in that way, (your Executive Producer can be your parents, doesn’t matter), we’re here to help you navigate that.

The goal of Cold Iron is to be the sister company to Film Arcade. The build of this will help other filmmakers get their film seen, because we’ll have it up on our website and people can go and that might provide them with some interest. We’re hoping what we’ve been working towards for our filmmakers can spread to other filmmakers. That’s the whole point.

Sometimes I think I’m insane because a lot of independent filmmakers have zero money. They come to you with their film in hand and they can’t afford to pay your operating fee or even the aggregation fee, which they could go and do with someone that didn’t want to help at all. They don’t have any money left for that.

Which is why I feel like even a year from now, I hope I’ll be busier because I’ll be trying to educate about the need to budget for that. It’s just as important as insurance.

Learn Filmmaking

While providing the broad strokes of the five stages of filmmaking, we’ve only scratched the surface of all the work and people involved in the script-to-screen process. Looking to learn more? Then why not learn from the best! Masterclass is an incredible resource with creatives such as Aaron Sorkin, Martin Scorsese and Natalie Portman who provide personal instruction on the basics of screenwriting, directing and acting, respectively.

For those with an interest in cinematography, Shane Hurlbut’s Hurlbut Academy is a comprehensive space where students can take a variety of classes to learn the craft. Hurlbut, a member of both the American Society of Cinematographers and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has among his filmmaking credits Drumline, We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation. A Cinematographer with nearly 25 years of experience in the film industry, Hurlbut and his Hurlbut Academy can provide a launching pad for other aspiring DPs.

If signing up for Masterclass or the Hurlbut Academy isn’t an option, you can always find useful, informative videos on filmmaking on YouTube—you just might have to dig a little deeper to find quality information. But there’s certainly an ample amount of it for free from emerging and veteran filmmakers such as Film Riot who want to share what they’ve learned with others.

Given how accessible filmmaking has become for those equipped with nothing more than a phone and how many different avenues are available to them for getting their film to others, it’s an exciting time to be part of the filmmaking community. Whether as someone who goes the route of working on studio-backed films or going it alone as an indie filmmaking professional, there’s no shortage of opportunities for those wanting a career in this industry.

Huracan Director Cassius Corrigan
Cassius Corrigan

One of the most exciting talents to break into the filmmaking scene over the last few years, rising Writer, Director, and Actor Cassius Corrigan is positioned to take the entertainment industry by storm.

Creating boundary-pushing stories that span genre and format, Cassius represents the next generation of multi-hyphenate filmmakers, bringing his passions for original storytelling, Latino-driven narratives and Mixed Martial Arts to life in film, television and documentary.

This year, Cassius makes his directorial debut with his critically acclaimed film Huracán. Praised by The New York Times as a gripping thriller they “couldn’t stop watching,” Huracán tells the story of an aspiring MMA fighter Alonso Santos (Cassius) who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personality Disorder), which manifests itself in his aggressive and reckless “alter,” Huracán.

The film, which features a predominantly Latino cast, also stars Yara Martinez (Jane the Virgin), UFC superstar Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal, Muay Thai world champion Grégory Choplin, actor/musician Steven Spence, and Colombian newcomer Camila
Rodríguez. Following a global festival run that culminated in an International Premiere at the 2020 Shanghai Film Festival, Huracán was acquired by HBO and became available on HBO and HBO Max on September 11, 2020.

Born and raised in Miami in a diverse family with Latino and Jewish roots, Cassius developed a global perspective that informs his filmmaking approach. He discovered the art of cinematic storytelling while on scholarship at the University of Southern California, graduating from its historic film school.

Cassius most recently wrapped production on the upcoming gangster film The Birthday Cake, which he Co-Produced and 1st AD’d. Directed by Jimmy Giannopoulos, the film stars Val Kilmer, Ewan McGregor, Luis Guzmán, and Penn Badgley, with Endeavor Content handling worldwide sales and targeting a Christmas 2020 release.

On the television front, Cassius was recently hand-picked by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard for their prestigious Imagine Impact program, designed to discover the filmmaking voices of the future. Through the program, Cassius has developed an original international MMA series set in Brazil, under the mentorship of Entourage creator Doug Ellin. He is also developing an original international music drama for eOne.

A passionate mixed martial artist who has created documentary content for Conor McGregor, Cassius is dedicated to creating breakthrough global content for the fast-growing sport of MMA, and to empowering Latino voices and stories through cinema. He currently splits his time between Los Angeles and Miami.

Photo credit: Galfry Puechavy

Producer Lindsay Lanzillotta
Lindsay Lanzillotta

Lindsay Lanzillotta is the Head of Distribution Services at The Film Arcade Carousel, a Producer at Cold Iron Pictures, and a Co-Founder of The 51 Fund. She has produced the Mekhi Phifer starrer Obsession and Director Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation. The Film Arcade Carousel is a boutique aggregator for indie films that also handles distribution, marketing, and advertising for films on digital platforms.

Director Mike P. Nelson
Mike P. Nelson

If the apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, you’d find Mike sipping an old-fashioned in his backyard and reveling in the fact that now he could go out and shoot a post-apocalyptic revenge film entirely practical. Whether he’s writing or directing, Mike’s focus remains creating stylized, character-driven work. Sure he may like the dark, weird, and gritty nature of storytelling, but underneath all that cool midnight madness is something warm we call heart. And boy is it tasty!

He wrote and directed his first feature film, The Domestics, with MGM and just released Wrong Turn for Constantin Film in January 2021. He is currently in development on three features including two of his own screenplays.

Director Seth Savoy
Seth Savoy

Cajun-American Filmmaker and Screenwriter Seth Savoy is catapulting himself into the entertainment industry, quickly becoming known for his flashy filmmaking style.

This year, Savoy made his feature film debut with the crime drama Echo Boomers (Saban Films). The film, which stars two-time Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon (Knives Out) and Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four), follows indebted college graduate Lance Zutterland (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who is pulled into an underground operation in Chicago in which his peers fight the system by stealing from the rich. Led by Mel Donnelly (Shannon), the group leave behind a trail of destruction before Lance realizes he is in over his head with no way out.

Set in 2013, Savoy was inspired to pen the script after local headlines of similar break-ins in the Chicago area surfaced. He eventually took the script to Sundance Film Festival in 2015, where he won an independent pitch competition and captured the industry’s attention. Echo Boomers released in select theaters, on- demand, and digital on November 13, 2020.

Born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas to Cajun-American parents, Savoy participated in a multitude of theatre productions growing up. He discovered his passion for storytelling on-stage, being instantly mesmerized by the beauty of one-of-a-kind performances.

Savoy went on to study filmmaking at Colombia College Chicago, where he made multiple award-winning short films that have screened globally. Outside of film, Savoy has an extensive background in music videos, working with artists such as Twista, Mike Jones, and Asher Roth. He has also directed creative campaigns for prestigious companies, including the New York City Ballet.

Savoy currently splits his time between Los Angeles and Chicago.

Photo credit: Saban Films

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