Posted by Valentina Valentini on March 8, 2013 at 1:34 am
“Joe [Leonard], Tara [Samuels] and I produced an independent feature in 2008 and found pretty quickly that the distribution world sucks,” says We Make Movies (WMM) co-founder Sam Mestman candidly over coffee at Whole Foods. “We naively put all the money into making the film and not anything into building an audience. We figured we’d go through the fest circuit and they’d just love us and distribution would line up. Theoretically, we still believed the 90s existed.”
They were wrong, of course. As so many of us over the last three years have had to reevaluate how to get our projects ‘out there,’ Leonard, Samuels and Mestman made it their full-time job to both help themselves and others in the same position.
“What we got from that first experience was a crash course in the business end of how awful trying to make a movie on your own is,” says Mestman. “Indie film distribution isn’t really viable at this point.”
When they finished that first film they were broke and broken-hearted, but like the scrappy go-getter attitude that makes up WMM’s core, they knew they couldn’t just give up and walk away. It started out as just the three of them, getting into a room and reading and developing their scripts about once every six weeks. Now there are weekly donation-based meet-ups with 100s of people present at times, and the LA-based film collective boasts over 2000 filmmakers dedicated to empowering indie filmmakers and providing the resources and connections that will help them get their movies made. They were even written up in MovieMaker Magazine as one of the main reasons LA was listed in the Top 10 Cities for Filmmakers in 2013.
In 2012, WMM successfully fundraised to self-produce 14 short films, not the including other 30 shorts and six full-length films that were developed and screened within WMM. They also release an industry podcast called ‘How We Make Movies’ and have had guests like Stephen Scaia & Matthew Federman (writers/producers of Charlie’s Angels, Human Target, Warehouse 13 and Jericho), JD Walsh and Elizabeth Triplett (director/executive producer and producer/writer/actress, respectively, of Battleground, Hulu’s original scripted series), and Reuben Lim (three-time Sundance alumni and producer of Saving Lincoln).
“There was no master plan,” recalls Mestman. “We just took our lessons learned and began to focus on how best to move forward in the new climate.”
Somewhere along the way, Mestman came across Jon Reiss’s book Think Outside the Box Office which he claims as one of the main kick-starters of WMM.
“Really,” he says, “we live in a world now where if you build an audience and create a platform, all the tools are there where you don’t need the studios and outside money. There’s nothing preventing the filmmaker getting hers or his work out there, except for the fact that no one cares. So how do you make them care?”
That is the golden question. Can you make a movie for an audience and get them to care? The best way Mestman and his pals saw for that to happen was by getting someone other than your core group of pals to care about what you’re doing.
“Make it bigger than yourself,” Mestman enthusiastically offers. “So our concept was to try and build a community where we could make projects we cared about.”
Most recently, WMM has launched a script competition with Effie Brown’s (Real Women Have Curves, Stranger Inside) production company Duly Noted, Inc. It is a live competition that will give seven lucky screenwriters a chance to get a green light and they are looking for courageous films forged on the intersections of race, religion and gender with voices that shape the new discussion on diversity.
“We have had a total of 14 films made that have been self-funded through WMM via Kickstarter,” relays Amanda Lippert, WMM’s marketing and communications director. “But we didn’t want to run that river dry anymore. We were looking to partner with people that might have their own financiers and wanted fresh content.”
“Also,” adds Mestman, “we have a lot of white people in our group and we don’t want that to continue. We want more diversity – other people’s voices and other people’s stories. Effie is really passionate about getting stories of people of color and different ethnic and religious backgrounds into film.”
Although he knows it is a controversial position, Mestman doesn’t feel that film festivals actually provide a lot of value for the filmmaker anymore. He may be on to something – having your film screen in front of 300 people and knowing that the festival keeps every penny from that and not one dollar goes to the investors of the film… Mestman takes issue with that.
“Part of WMM’s goal is to have filmmakers released through VOD platforms and screenings where they’re actually going to get to keep the money,” he says. “We’re trying to change the way that indie films are getting distribution so that the filmmakers are keeping the money. Soon, we’re also looking to build up our YouTube channel so some of the shorts can go there and we can do revenue shares with the filmmakers, and we’re exploring the music model where you have a lot of indie labels selling direct to the audience. Our goal is to build an audience collectively and a better process for refining content where people trust the brand and then we can enable filmmakers to have a platform to sell direct.”
For more information, visit: http://wemakemovies.org