The Embodiment of Energy

When you see someone who embodies (“makes visible”) a specific value, it can be inspirational. This is a story about the great writer/director, Sam Fuller, who WAS the embodiment of creative energy and generosity of spirit.

When I first met Sam in 1967, I had come back to LA from college to interview him for my first book, THE DIRECTOR’S EVENT.

We arrived at his house, and he was moving all his furniture to a new place. After a brief handshake, he said, “Okay, fellas, please load up your car and drive it to (address).” We did, and followed this with about 8 more loads.

By then, it was mid-evening. He next said, “What’ll ya have for chow?” We told him, and he lighted up his barbecue.

While the meal was cooking, he said, ‘What’ll ya have to drink?” Without awaiting our response, he poured two tall glasses of vodka (neat – no ice).

Next, we ate. After that, he said, “Wanna rope?” (his nickname for a cigar). Before we could answer, he unsheathed two enormous smokes, removed a railroad spike from his belt, cut a hole in the end of both cigars, and lit us up with wooden matches.

I was turning green.

Finally, about midnight, he said, “What did you want to talk about?”

We got it together, and brought out our list of questions. By about 8am the next morning, we had discussed not only all of the movies he’d made, but talked about some eagerly anticipated projects for the future.

We almost passed out with exhaustion, but his energy was truly infectious.

I learned that day/night a definition of what it meant to be a professional filmmaker. Boundless energy, incessant creativity and a thirst for the action and games of life. Sam’s dedication was not bounded by time issues – only by his enthusiasm.

Over the following decades, I learned that Sam affected everyone in that same way. In fact, he wrote the script for Peter Bogdanovich’s first film, TARGETS, in one 24-hour period. And he did that for the joy of creating – NOT for the credit, money nor any of the other common factors that follow so many people’s professional drive.

When my father wrote his own autobiography, STUDIO AFFAIRS, 30 years later, Sam came to the book signing at Samuel French’s Bookshop. Though he was by now wheel-chair bound, he was a fountain of spirit and creative energy. He heartily congratulated Vincent and told glorious tales of his own Hollywood days.

A good friend of mine went over to Sam and said, “You’re an inspiration to me.” Sam asked him what he wanted to do. He answered, “Make films.” Sam responded: If you want to make films, you’ve got to have GIANT BALLS!

The courage to stand up for yourself and your projects; the tenacity to hang in there, no matter what. These are qualities you can develop yourself. I know that YOU can do it. So, remember Sam’s example. His light served as a guide for many of us along an otherwise dark and confusing path.

For a complete list of books, videos and services please visit ericsherman.com

Eric Sherman
PO Box 41-1688
Los Angeles, CA 90041
323-344-6051
Fax: 323-344-6053
www.ericsherman.com

Every Project Has Its Own Path

Many years ago, when I decided to enter my father’s field (making movies), I read every book on the subject, and spoke with dozens of professionals.

In fact, in my first big meeting with a pro producer, I told him I could direct, and he asked, “What do you want to make?” I realized that the then-studio chiefs were no longer dictating which pictures would be made. Rather, they would leave the subject matter up to those making the pitches. The heads did maintain the power to green-light projects, but were no longer the sources of them. So, your commitment to your own project would become a primary factor in gaining its approval.

Every idea and property would find its own unique path to being realized.

How could you find yours?

I began a study of everyone I knew who had achieved success. There were as many routes as there were projects.

One man I knew received the production funds from a family member who felt that by his not continuing with college, he was saving that amount of money on education. The picture, by the way, became a success!

Another man had done his duty for a company, directing numerous corporate-sponsored films. He finally told the parent company that he’d had enough, and they agreed to back his feature if he’d then commit to another year of corporate work. He did!

Still another man had stayed around a film company’s management for years. Nothing was happening, but he hung in there. Finally, when everyone else had left in frustration, the money arrived, and, thus, it became much easier to get his own projects approved!

In each case above, none of them followed an existing pattern. They were all created by the owner (a) deciding it should be made; (b) the owner’s finding of a resource that could see the mutual benefit.

So, when I consult with someone on the financial aspect of getting a film made, I start with (a) assessing the project; then (b) evolving a winning strategy to get it made; (c) finding one or more backers who could see the movie’s value, and then (d) negotiating to achieve the best possible alignment between owners and backers.

I like to do this! If any of it applies to you, give me a call.

For a complete list of books, videos and services please visit ericsherman.com

Eric Sherman
PO Box 41-1688
Los Angeles, CA 90041
323-344-6051
Fax: 323-344-6053
www.ericsherman.com

You Do What It Takes

In 1989, my wife and I were sitting in a movie theatre watching the premiere of a picture called FIELD OF DREAMS. It starred an almost-unknown man, Kevin Costner, an older man, Burt Lancaster, and the magnificent James Earl Jones, in one of his last roles.

None of us had ANY idea what the picture would be about.

The images came on-screen, and we watched every frame. We also kept looking at one another and clenched each other’s hands, hoping that the story would be true to itself. It was.

When it was over, we were in a state of shock – this movie REALLY was what it was, and didn’t compromise in the least.

I went up to the writer-director, Phil Alden Robinson, and (a) congratulated him; (b) asked how he could have gotten that screenplay approved. Here’s what he said:

He had written a very successful comedy, ALL OF ME, starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. He thought it would be easy to get his next one approved, with him as director.

Every studio passed on it, thinking it was silly, and about baseball, and “who cares?”

By the time everyone had said “no,” all the studio management had changed, so he resubmitted it. Again, everyone had said no. And, yes, this happened a third time. Phil was nearly in despair.

One day he was crying on the shoulder of a friend of his – a horror film producer who had had many successes. The producer read the script, and he loved it. He took it to the studio who most wanted him to work there, Universal, and told them about it. They laughed, stating they’d passed on it three times before. But he took their desire to work with him seriously – and used FIELD OF DREAMS as their entrance point. They put a number of strict guidelines on the project (budget limits, etc.), and sent them off to make it.

The rest is history. The picture was a major success, started Kevin’s starring career, and revitalized a whole segment of the movie-going audience.

Who would have thought?

So, what did it take? Phil’s undying interest in the project, and his certainty that others would find it appealing. It also took some points of agreement that hadn’t been predicted.

If your idea is unique, what will it take to get it financed and made? The main thing is: YOU have to believe in it, and locate others who are similarly inclined!

For a complete list of books, videos and services please visit ericsherman.com

Eric Sherman
PO Box 41-1688
Los Angeles, CA 90041
323-344-6051
Fax: 323-344-6053
www.ericsherman.com

Orson’s last movie

A new book has just arrived: ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE.

Taken from first-hand accounts of participants (including yours truly!), it’s a tale of tenacity, creativity, hesitations, fears, daring, etc.

It’s a great read – and a great movie! (Yes, I’ve seen some selected scenes.)

Order your copy now! St. Martin’s Press.

All best,

Eric

HARD SELL – diary of a first-time feature filmmaker

Recently, a former student and current consulting client, Sean Nalaboff, completed shooting his first feature film – HARD SELL.

As he’s putting the finishing touches on the picture (color and sound), we talked about this remarkable experience.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

ES: Tell me what led to the idea for HARD SELL.

SN: Everything I write comes from a level of my personal experience. I had a comfortable upbringing, but, personally, I was isolated. So, there’s a bit of me in nearly every character in HARD SELL. I was born and raised in Long Island. I went to a private school. But I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. The environment in HARD SELL is one I know very well

ES: When did you get the filmmaking dream?

SN: From the first movie I could remember watching – I was 6 or 7 years old – it was JAWS. I was afraid to take a bath for months. The picture had a tremendous effect on me. It took me to new worlds. I was SO captivated by it. While I loved soccer, I had an internal dialogue: do you want to be Pele or Spielberg?

ES: How did your dedication manifest itself?

SN: My dad had a high-end video camera. He shot the usual home movies: the family growing up. I tried to make the camera see the way I see. But none of my friends wanted to act; they thought it was lame! So I used toys and moved them around. Then, in high school, I tried to get more people involved. Then I went to film school in California.

ES: Why did you decide on the West Coast?

SN: I wanted to experience something new. I thought California was far away enough. First though, I tried it in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two years there. I met cinematographers, art directors, and others of like mind. Then I went further west.

ES: The two inciting incidents (meeting a stripper; and your dog getting sick) – which happened first in your life?

SN: First was the dog. I had one, “Walter.” It needed a surgery to survive. But it was so expensive, I couldn’t afford it. We finally held a fund-raiser for Walter. But I needed more money. Next, I thought, what could happen that would be a new and unique way to make money? Maybe I could have met a stripper, who could’ve “danced for the students,” and I could have charged for that to supplement Walter’s surgery fund. That would have been exciting! I did my “research,” and emailed lots of actual strippers. So I developed this unique character for HARD SELL – a stripper who actually ended up giving the kids counselling about their personal problems, for which they were willing to pay me!

ES: A man comes looking for the stripper in your film. Was he really her uncle, or a pimp, or from a mental hospital, or a policeman?

SN: It’s okay with me if you wonder about that! Remember RISKY BUSINESS?

ES: How did you get Kristin Chenoweth to agree to play the hero’s mom?

SN: Matthew Rolston, the great photographer, took me under his wing. He mentored me. I was doing behind the scenes videos for him. We did one for Jennifer Love Hewitt who shares the same manager as Kristin. That led to me doing a video with Kristin. We got along very well, and she told her manager, “When Sean has a project of his own, let me know.” We had very little money, but she loved the part. She’s a wonderful comedic actress, and a very nice person. She felt the part of a mom in distress would be something new. She worked with me for five days. This was a dream come true for me. She treated me with such respect; it was amazing! She is SO gracious and courteous.

ES: How about the rest of the cast?

SN: I hired a casting director early on. We put together a “pitchbook.” Our investors, of course, were excited by Kristin’s involvement. All the other actors were locals. Therefore, no transportation and minimal housing costs. Skyler, the main male role, really embodied the character. It was his first leading role.

ES: How many shooting days did you have?

SN: 20 days; four 5-day weeks. We had one pick-up day. I had enough time! We got ALL our shots. We had blocked out everything in advance. Had only about 2 set-ups per scene; maximum 4 takes per set-up. This was an EFFICIENT shoot!

ES: And the inevitable question – will you tell me what the budget was?

SN: Let’s say “under a million.” You could even say, WAY under a million.

ES: What made you come to me as a Production Consultant?

SN: When I knew the script was ready, I now needed to know, “How am I going to make this film? How and from where should I get the money?” I came to you because I know you, I trust you, and you know how to do it! By the time you helped us schedule and budget the movie, we knew how much time and money we needed. Jimmy Seargent, my producer, came to most of our meetings and took copious notes. Because of our preparation, there were no real surprises on the set. You had accurately warned us about everything!

ES: Were there any specific problems?

SN: So many variables. Weather in New York during the Fall. Just a year earlier, we had Hurricane Katrina. We knew we couldn’t afford to take off any days. So we covered ourselves by having interior scenes possible to shoot if it rained.

ES: HARD SELL, because of the subject matter, could easily have been an R rating. But it seems milder to me.

SN: Yes, the intended audience was a younger demographic. We wanted a PG-13 rating. We even removed some of the language to ensure that.

ES: How are you getting HARD SELL to the marketplace?

SN: Working with an agency that’s setting up screenings for festival programmers. Ideal, of course, would be a theatrical release. Next would be VOD and the other usual routes.

ES: What’s your next project?

SN: This’ll be about a group of friends in their twenties (also Long Island-based). They go searching for buried treasure and end up getting mixed up in the disappearance of a young girl. I’ll be going for a higher budget. And you were right – the “pride of ownership” factor is the primary determinant as to my abiity to interest investors. It’s been quite a ride so far!