Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"Sell Your Own Damn Movie" - book review Part II

Regular readers of NoteOnVideo (insert joke here) will remember that I started reviewing Sell Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman a week or so ago. Well now I'm back with the second part; which is also the conclusion. This means:
  1. I actually finished reading it
  2. I had nothing better to do this July 4th weekend
  3. there won't be any more parts in this series; unless Lloyd does a sequel

But first, let me digress..

Years ago I read a book on Meditation, and at the beginning of the book the author essentially said "Meditation is simple; it's so simple, I could tell you what to do and how to do it in less than a page. But you won't believe it unless you have a whole book to go with it, so here's the book..."

I felt a bit like I was having a similar experience as I read Lloyd's book. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of interesting information and tips through out the book covering the ins-and-outs of movie promotion, but I often felt that much of it could be summed up in a sentence or a paragraph or a list. The problem is; most readers aren't going to believe it unless they read all the asides and the stories.

And many probably still aren't going to get it. Because here's the thing; you probably aren't going to be a big success. You probably aren't going to make a lot of money. You probably aren't going to get picked up by the big studios. Instead, you're going to have to hustle, and sell, and hustle, and hustle, and chances are you still won't be the next Steven Spielberg. But you may get your movie seen by people who may love it. If that's enough, then keep reading.

It was at this point that I decided this review would need some help to brighten it up a bit. So taking another leaf from Lloyd's book (figuratively, not literally) I thought an interview might help.

A conversation with the long-suffering editor* of Sell Your Own Damn Movie!

MICHAEL: How did you come to be the editor for this book?
ELINOR: All of the editors at Focal Press drew straws, and I lost.

MICHAEL: It’s kind of unusual for the editor to actually make an appearance in the book they are editing. How did that come about?
ELINOR: Well, as Lloyd likes to remind me, I work for a devil-worshipping media conglomerate. A certain amount of self-loathing just comes with the territory, and I like to take that out on my authors by red-inking their work. Mercilessly. Some of the browbeating just naturally made its way into print.

MICHAEL: What was it like working with Lloyd?
ELINOR: He requires a lot of “managing,” shall we say. In fact, he was the first author who made me exercise my God-given right to censor. See page 41 of Direct Your Own Damn Movie and the charming sidebar involving Ron Jeremy and his porn directing tips.

MICHAEL: What’s the typical day of a book editor like?
ELINOR: When I’m not stifling my authors’ creative impulses, I’m reclining comfortably, sporting my velvet smoking jacket and a monocle.

MICHAEL: Have you ever written a book review?
ELINOR: I prefer to make the books and have you review them.

MICHAEL: What do you think makes for a good book review?
ELINOR: Ringing praise for Sell Your Own Damn Movie. If you get past chapter 2—and I’m counting on you, Michael!—you’ll find some real gems.

*this is for real; I did not make this interview up!

Damn! I was hoping for some amusing space filler, and I end up getting guilt tripped by the editor. And she's not even mine! These editors are all the same!

So back to the book. Here's a summary of the rest of the chapters.

Chapter 3: Piracy is Good
In this chapter, Lloyd get's his Tea Party hat on, and reconnects with the Founding Fathers, who would NOT have been happy with the way copyright law has been extended repeatedly in the past century. It was originally supposed to be 14 years! If this doesn't get you pissed off at Disney, I'm not sure what will.
Lloyd also interviews Nina Paley (Site Sings the Blues) who talks about her troubles with getting the rights to music - TIP: don't use music - and explains how she has managed to make money by giving her movie away.
TIP: You probably won't.

Chapter 4: How to Make People Want to See Your Movie
This chapter actually has useful information about rules for titles, taglines, Key Art (pictures baby) and how to confuse Grandma.This might be important stuff. You might think it's right. Or you might realize that there are lots of mistakes you can make, and luck is often involved in getting it right.
The bonus chapter looks at five movies ruined by poor marketing, complete with a rebuttal from the Producer of one of said movies.

Chapter 5: How to Make People Want to See Your Movie
Word of mouth, guerrilla marketing, press kits, trailers, social networking, conventions. Pretty much anything you can think of is covered here. BUT, while the latest things like Twitter and Facebook are covered, there's not a whole lot about how to build a following; just that it's important to do so. Is there a magic way to build a following? I'm not sure...if I find out, I will let you know. Lloyd would tell you that you have to keep at it.
Oh, and don't forget, three years from now, everyone will be on Google+ instead of Facebook - as Lloyd notes, they are already abandoning MySpace -  so watch out for that.

Cahpter 6: Film Festival Survival Guide
This chapter has some down-to-earth information on what festivals to try out for, and how to use those to get some benefit; even if that benefit is just watching your movie with strangers. And even though you probably won't get in to some of those expensive, flashy events, Lloyd still thinks you should go. I'm just not sure his recommendation of selling body parts to finance the trip is a good one.
TIP: you won't get into the big festivals, and the studios will screw you.
Uplifting stuff people!

Chapter 7: Short films
Why? Why Not?

Chapter 8: More Distribution
The studios will screw you.

Chapter 9: International Distribution
And you thought getting your movie shown locally was a problem? Overseas is worse, but it might still happen. The studios will still screw you.

Appendix A: The Best Film Festivals You Won't Get Into

So that's the book. How does it all stack up?
In addition to Lloyd's warped sense of humor, and ability to digress, this book includes a lot of interviews and stories from people who - somehow - made a bit of a success of themselves. I think these stories can be summed up by: Every failure is the same, every success is unique. The message remains: you're going to have to hustle and sell and adapt until you find your success. Or, until you decide to take that full time job managing the pizza shop.

Still haven't gotten the message?

If you were hoping for a "do this and you'll be a success" guide book, then you'll probably be disappointed. Because no one can give it to you. The ugly truth is that no one know's how to be a success. Don't believe me, look at the stories included in Lloyd's book; the chances that following their strategies exactly will work for you are small. Smaller than the chances of getting tips at that pizza job.

But this book can help you avoid some obvious disasters, and give you ideas to try. Ultimately, you have to find your own path, and the only way you will find your path is if you keep at it. And maybe that's what this book is really trying to do; to present all the problems - the hard work and the small chance of success - as something that seems fun and exciting.

So read this book, and keep trying, and maybe you will get lucky.

Part 1 of this review can be found here: "Sell Your Own Damn Movie" - a book review in multiple parts

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