Produce Your Script: An Interview with Indie Producer and Filmmaker Ramfis Myrthil
Jake: I’m here today with a special guest, Ramfis Myrthil. Ramfis is our newest teacher here at the Studio and he’s going to be teaching a topic we’ve always wanted to share.
Ramfis is an incredibly talented, independent film producer and he’s going to be teaching a one-day seminar on October 19th called Produce Your Script. It will cover how to produce your own work as well as attach stars and money, all those important things we need to do.
When I was starting out, we did everything on film. If you weren’t super-wealthy and super-connected, it was just impossible.
But today, people are making movies and web series on iPhones. You can do all of this with so little money; it’s so easy.
The great dream used to be everyone wanted to write a novel. Now, the great dream is everyone wants to make a movie. And the truth is you can make a movie, but you have to have a plan because otherwise your movie, series, short, or pilot is just going to get lost in the chaos.
It really is about having a plan for everything, a business plan that’s going to take this dream and turn it into a reality.
Ramfis has produced a ton of stuff. He recently got back from speaking at Cannes. He’s had films at Sundance and Tribeca and he is an all-around badass guy.
So, today we’re going to be talking about how you start in self-production. You’ve written a script, you know the script is great, you’ve done all the work, you’ve gotten the professional feedback, and you know this thing is actually ready to go. What do you do? What’s the first step, Ramfis?
Ramfis: Thank you for the very kind words and support.
The most important thing is obviously the screenplay. Your screenplay should be ready to rock and roll.
The second most important thing I always advocate for is having a great team, building a team of producers or a production company and a director.
If you’re the writer/director, then that role is filled. But if you’re strictly the writer, finding a director that makes sense to warrant the stars you want to go after, if you’re going after stars, and to also warrant the financing, depending on the budget level you’re looking to make the film for, and to also warrant the distribution, that’s the end goal. The most important thing is setting that up whether it’s theatrical or straight to VOD or one of the streaming platforms.
The key ingredient is the team. You could have a great script, but if you don’t have the proper people behind it, how are you going to execute? How are you going to get the stars and people that communicate well and follow through?
Jake: Yeah. So, for a lot of new screenwriters, or even experienced screenwriters, there’s a lot of terror around the idea of production, right? And there’s a lot of terror around the idea of networking.
I know a lot of our students who have fabulous scripts are asking themselves, “What do I do? Should I be trying to get an agent? Should I be shopping this to producers? Should I be trying to raise money myself? Should I be trying to get attachments? Or should I just keep my head down in my laptop and hope I get lucky?”
How does a writer who has never produced before, how do you make that decision about whether this is something you should do yourself? And how do you know if you even have the skills to do it if you’re brand new to this?
Ramfis: Well, I think if you’re a writer/director and the plan is to make this movie or project you’re looking at, first make sure you have a reel or something you can show people because that’s what everyone is going to ask for.
For example, if you’re going after a star — their reps, their team, or even the actor — they’re going to want to know you have the chops. What’s your bandwidth? Do you have success? And if you don’t have the success, why didn’t you have the success?
These are important, key questions. The same reason why a backer would want to back the project is, “If you’re directing it, what have you done before?” So, I believe if you’re looking to direct it, you have to have some body of work, whether it’s a short or several short films or a reel. You’ve got to be able to show something in terms of that.
Now, if you’re strictly a writer and you’re looking for a director, then it’s a different conversation. You’d still need a director that has those credentials for it to make sense.
Film is sexy. People want to make movies at the end of the day, so it’s not hard finding someone that will complement you in terms of what’s on paper.
What it really comes down to is personality because it’s a marriage, in a sense. If you bring someone on to direct your piece, it’s someone you’ll, in a sense, be working with forever. Because you go to preproduction, you develop preproduction, you go to production, postproduction, then the film, there’s maybe a festival, it gets picked up, and it’s out there in the world forever. There are certain responsibilities that have to happen afterward, so it’s a marriage.
So, can you stand this person? Can you be in the same room with them for hours? Can you listen to them? Does their voice annoy you? All these things have to run through your head and if you feel it’s a good fit for you and vice versa for them, then you have a partner.
Obviously, you want to make sure they know what they’re doing, that they’re honest, there’s a sense of integrity, and that they’re not going to just drop your project for the next project that comes along. They’ll be someone that’s committed.
Because even as a director, in a sense, they’re handling producing duties. They’ll have to meet with the talent, if you’re going after talent. And even if you’re not going after talent, you still have to meet and talk to the actors and show your vision, so there is a high level of responsibility there in order to make that happen.
Jake: So, I want to find a director, let’s say, because I think of all the fears that come up, right? I’m a nobody screenwriter. Yes, I’ve got a great script, but I don’t know anybody in the industry. I’ve got $6 to my name, I don’t have connections, I don’t have a resume, and I don’t have a reel. I just have this script I’ve been working on for six years that I know is really ready to go.
Maybe I go to some festivals and look at young directors or there are directors out there I dream of working with. How do I approach them? Do I actually have a shot of getting somebody like that attached?
Ramfis: That’s a great question Jacob. I was at Tribeca and on opening day Mira Nair comes to the stage and she says, “Everyone that’s here, you all bring something to the table. That is why you’re here, and what you’ve created you have the power to. So no matter what, if it’s a distributor, a financier, or whomever, at the end of the day you have the power.”
And I know, as a screenwriter, this is the first step. This is the person that’s creating the recipe. You ultimately have the initial power to be able to put the package together in terms of the director. Do you want to give your power away?
So, I think it’s about how you have a conversation with that person. It’s important to come from a place of power. Everyone started somewhere, everybody was a nobody at some point, and you have to start somewhere. People get that. Sometimes you have to remind them of that and they’ll respect that.
I think if you have no connections or anything, because that’s how I started, I didn’t know anybody in the business and I just made it my business to become a student. I did a lot of reading. Reading the trades, Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Variety on IMDbPro and knowing what people are looking for.
For example, what I used to do, and I still do now, is any time during a major festival or a festival period, I’ll do my research on who’s going to be there: the films that are playing, who’s the writer, who’s the director, and who are the producers.
Then, if there’s someone that sticks out, I think, “Oh, this person will be interesting.” I dig deeper and look into more about them. I want to find out what kind of stories they’re looking to make and if it aligns with what I’m looking to do. That’s the icebreaker.
I’ll give you a real-life scenario where I went to a small film festival in The Bay called the Sonoma Film Festival a few years back. I feel like I was the only person that did this, but I feel everyone should be doing this. To everyone listening, please do this and bear this in mind.
I researched every single film. I researched every single judge, their background, what they’ve made, what their interest is. There was one agent specifically. I listened to a podcast she had done years ago. I wasn’t able to find a lot on her and I had an idea of what she looked like.
It’s always important to know what the person looks like. A lot of times they don’t always look like what they look like in the picture, but this way you can find them.
Long story short, it’s the last day of the festival and I’ve been looking for this woman. I’ve been asking about her and no one really knows she’s even there. She’s listed as a judge. A lot of times I feel as filmmakers we just think about the creators, but this was the business side of me thinking.
So, I think I recognize the woman. I’m looking at her under this canopy and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were such and such.” And she said, “Wait a second. I am such and such. Who are you?” And I said, “Well, I’m a filmmaker. I have a film at the festival and I read up about you.”
She said, “What did you read?” And now she’s telling her friends about how this guy researched her and everything. I’m telling her about the podcast and she said, “Oh my God, you listened to this bloody thing, this thing was horrible I did years ago when I first became an agent.” And I said, “Yeah, I listened to the entire thing,” and I was referencing points.
She said, “Well, listen, if you’re ever in LA come over to UTA,” which is United Talent Agency. It’s one of the big ones and this agent happened to represent financing for her clients and she looks for writer/directors.
Now, I wasn’t looking to be repped as a writer or a writer/director or director, but that’s how we created a relationship. From that point on, I had an open door policy with her. I’m able to bring anything to her and she’ll take a look. She’s actually brought things to me and that’s how we started our relationship.
So, no one else knew she even existed and it was just doing the research and showing up. Showing up is half the battle. I know your heart might be beating really hard and you’re nervous, but that person was in your shoes at one point in time. Feel free to even say, “You know, I feel a little nervous, but I really want to meet you.” They’ll respect that because we all started from somewhere.
Jake: Yeah. I think it’s important to remember that these people are just people. It’s funny, I was on this panel and oftentimes when you’re on industry panels they want to kind of create the feeling of how important they are and how hard this is.
So, I’m on this panel and somebody raises his hand and says, “If you don’t know anyone in Hollywood, but you’re a great writer and this is your passion, do you even have a chance or is it all nepotism?”
And this kind of nasty panelist says, “It’s all nepotism. I wish I could say it was a meritocracy, but it isn’t. It’s about who you know and if you don’t know the right people, you don’t have a shot.” And all the panelists looked at each other like, “Is that really true? Do we actually believe that?”
Finally, I just turned to the panelists and I said, “Who had connections when they came to Hollywood?” And nobody raised their hand. And the truth is every single person on that panel, everyone was hugely successful and had absolutely no connections when they started. But what they had was this driving need to do this no matter how freaking scared they were.
The truth of the matter is people are people. Treat people with respect, but also with interest. I think that’s so interesting what you’re saying. Most people don’t do the work. Most people just show up and they want something from somebody else.
Actually taking the interest to do the research on the people who are there and really understand, “I don’t want to talk to every agent or any agent; I want to talk to this one agent I’m particularly interested in. I don’t want to talk to any director; I want to talk to this director who made this movie that I think is freaking awesome.” I think that’s really exciting.
We do a lot of partnership with a festival called ITVFest, which is now called Catalyst. Big festivals are awesome, Sundance, Cannes, all these great places that you go to.
But I love that you’re also bringing up these smaller festivals. Because what we loved about working with ITVFest was that there’s no VIP section in Vermont and a lot of major people were there. In fact, one of my students, Jenna Laurenzo, bumped into Bobby Farrelly singing karaoke and he ended up producing her movie.
You should target the big festivals because everybody is there, but you can also target the smaller festivals, especially if the right people are going, the people who might be interested in you.
But even at a big festival like Sundance, almost always the director is there after their film and you can go up and talk to them, if you actually like their work. Don’t go talk to them if you don’t, even if they won the Palme d’Or, don’t go talk to them if you don’t like their work. But if you like their work, oftentimes they’re shockingly open.
So, let’s pretend I’m a director. You’re at the Des Moines Film Festival or at Sundance or whatever. You’ve done your research. You know I’m there, you know you’re interested in my work. You’ve seen my movie, you like it, and we’re through the question and answer period and I’m standing around and people are wanting to talk to me.
How do you do that in a way that doesn’t come off as pushy or obnoxious? How would you approach me if I was that director?
Ramfis: I’d say, “Hello [name of director]. Such a pleasure to meet you. I love the movie. It’s so great and this is why I thought it was great…I found this really interesting…You have such vision. It would be an honor to work with you.” And you’d probably say, “Yeah, it would be great.” Something like that.
Then I’d say, “Hey, is there a way I can send you something? I actually have a project that’s in the works. I think it would be interesting and this is what it’s about [offer a log line]. It has this element…or I haven’t brought it anywhere, but I’ve been waiting for this moment because you’re the perfect candidate for this project and I think it’ll be a good fit.”
They’ll usually say a few things, such as, “Okay, great. That sounds awesome. Here’s my card,” or “Do you have a card?” Or they’ll say the Hollywood thing, “Go to my rep,” if they have representation. Or they can just say, “Hey, I’m busy on another project that’s going right into production, let’s circle back later.” Those would probably be the responses you get.
Then I think it’s key to try to get some type of contact, even if you give your information. The reality is they’ll be overwhelmed and a lot of people don’t follow up in this business, so I think it would be good to get at least an email to follow up with them. That’s what I would ask for.
And I want to say I’ve done this a million times, where I’ve been at a festival and I met someone and I really like their work and said, “Hey, I’d love to collaborate with you. I don’t know on what maybe,” or if I have something specific I’ll tell them on what specific project and a lot of the time they’ll just give their information over.
But I keep it short and sweet. I don’t do overkill because I think overkill can hurt if you’re talking to them for 10 minutes. There are other people that may want to talk to them or the team or they want to leave, so I keep it short and sweet to entice them and then go in for the close.
And that’s what they’re there for. They want to meet other filmmakers to possibly collaborate with in some capacity.
Jake: I love how you said that. I want to point out 10 minutes. A lot of people think 10 minutes is short, but 10 minutes is an eternity and that’s one of the reasons it’s so important to really work your pitch.
I know you’re going to be doing a lot of work with pitches in your class, but I always used to practice my pitches. I used to go to Sports Harbor in Marina Del Rey. I loved practicing in the sports bar because no one gives a crap about your movie, right?
And I would practice pitching my project to 50 different people 50 different ways until I knew what certain kinds people reacted to or didn’t. I tried to pitch it differently to every single person.
You want to get yourself to a place where you aren’t reading a log line, where you’re having a real conversation like you would with anybody else, but where you can actually capture someone’s interest in a couple of minutes and make sure you get their card or just put them right into your phone.
Ramfis: This project that this writer…how did I meet Mike? I don’t remember how
I met Mike. I think maybe I put a link up saying, “I’m looking for screenplays,” and this guy sent me 10 to 20 screenplays. There was only one where I really resonated with the treatment.
So, I read it, I liked it, I wanted to get involved. We worked out a deal and I remember at some point I found this guy who said, “Hey, if Robbie Williams…” No, it wasn’t Rob Williams. I don’t remember. It was a British actor and the guy said, “If he can star in it, I’ll finance the whole thing.” We had spoken offline first and then I set up a call with the line producer, my business partner, and the writer. And I just choked on the call.
I had talked to this guy one-on-one and it was fine, but everyone was there and I had been on other calls beforehand. But I was running point and that was probably one of the first times I was running point and everyone could hear me choking. I was so embarrassed. I told myself, “This is never happening again.”
I practiced and practiced and practiced and that never happened again. I don’t choke on calls anymore. I’m the guy running it saying, ”All right, this person is going to be on the call at this time…”
I think some of those times there are stumbles, they help you. Because I decided, “Wait a second, I never want this to happen again. I have to be fully prepped.” And I went on a whim, like the call was easy between me and this guy one-on-one, but I didn’t feel as confident with all of my colleagues on the call running the show. So, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Jake: One of the tricks I teach people when they’re trying to get through to a producer, a big name that has a strong assistant where you can’t get through, is to call late.
You call at eight o’clock and oftentimes the producer is still there, but they’ve sent their assistant home.
Jake: So you’ll call and they won’t even know how to answer their ow
n phone, because they haven’t answered their own phone in years, so they’ll pick up and say, “Hello.” And you’ve actually got the real person.
So, my student did it. She called somebody Jerry Bruckheimer huge. It wasn’t Jerry, but it was somebody that big. She didn’t believe it was going to work and the guy actually picked up! She did exactly what I told her. She said, “You know, I didn’t expect to talk to you; I thought I was going to talk to your assistant. I hope I’m not interrupting, but do you have a minute?”
Invariably they say yes and that’s what he said, “Yeah, sure.” What I told them to do is to then pitch your script, but because she wasn’t expecting it to work she wasn’t even prepared to pitch when she called.
So she freaked out and she said, “Um, can I send you a query letter?” And he said, “Sure.” She ended up sending a query letter which, of course, just ended up stuck on a desk, right?
Jake: But it was such a great lesson. These things actually work; you can actually get to anybody, but you’ve got to be prepared. Then the most important thing, as you’re saying is to follow up.
We had Kelly Edwards here, who is a big deal at HBO. She is lovely and she was kind enough to give a private lecture to our students. We had about 100 students in the room and she said at the beginning of the lecture, “I’m going to give every single one of you my direct email address and none of you are going to email me. Because that’s my experience. I give my email address to a lot of people. I’m actually interested in their projects and they never follow up.”
She said, “I challenge you to actually email me. Put in the headline where we met so I know it’s you and give me a short, sweet email that tells me exactly why you’re reaching out and exactly what you need.”
I thought it was so cool of her to be honest about that, right? That the biggest thing getting in most people’s way is actually not a lack of connections. It’s fear and it’s a lack of preparation or a lack of follow up that’s really needed.
One of the questions I get all the time and would love your opinion on is this: Okay, so you connected with Sally Director. She is awesome and you pitched her your project and she says, “I love it. Yeah, let’s definitely get in touch. Here’s my card.”
When you reach out to her, how do you do it? Do you call her? Do you email her? How long do you wait? Do you do it right away?
Ramfis: I want to say my approach is probably not what a lot of people like doing. I call, because it’s all about human connection. I always prefer to meet someone face-to-face and if that can’t happen, then a phone call.
And an email can be confusing in terms of the tone. Now, if I only have the email, then I use the email. Or if they say they prefer me to email them, then I do what their preference is.
But what I always do is follow up. If it’s something that’s high priority, then I follow up the next day. If it’s a little bit more relaxed, then I’ll give it anywhere from a few days to a week at max. I’ll usually do it in about a week.
When I went to Cannes, I met a million people. The following week I followed up with most of them because I figured everyone was running around and they either got back to me that same week or the following week. That’s how we kept the conversation going.
Jake: And what does that call sound like? What do you say to me? I’m Sally Director and you’re in love with my work and you’re nervous about calling me even though we had a good rapport. You don’t usually like to use the phone and now you’re picking up the phone and you’re giving me a call. Maybe you’re talking to me directly, maybe you’re talking to my assistant. What do you say?
Ramfis: Well, first, if this is the first time you’re doing it or you aren’t used to doing it, it means practicing. You know, practice makes perfect.
What you’re going to say doesn’t have to be scripted, but my basis in terms of communication is I always want transparency. It might be a little overkill sometimes, but in terms of the who, what, when, where, why, and how, I try to cover all of that in a follow-up and be as detailed as possible so I’m not wasting their time or my time, so they don’t come back and say, “Oh, I thought it was this or that,” and there are no surprises.
So, my conversation, I’d say, “Hey Sally, this is Ramfis. We met last week at such and such festival. It was such a pleasure meeting you. We spoke about….and you were interested in it. Now that you’re interested, I’d love to send the material for you to actually read.”
“Okay, great. Yeah, I remember you. Okay, here’s my email.” Then I’d say, “Okay, I’m going to send it to you right now while we’re on the phone.” I have the email prepped and ready to go. I send it and I confirm they’ve received it while we’re on the phone so it doesn’t bounce, because sometimes it happens and then you lose time and traction.
I’m all about having the momentum. The fact we met last week and we’re speaking on the phone now. “Okay, great. I have the script. This is great. I have it right here.” Then I’ll say, “Alright Sally, I know you’re really busy and have a lot going on. When do you think you can get back to me? What’s your schedule like? Can you knock this out in a day, a week?”
She might say, “It’s going to take me two weeks.” I’ll say, “Alright, perfect. I’m looking at my calendar and two weeks from now is the 27th. Should I call you back on the 27th?” “Exactly.” At that point. I’ve done all the work for her. I’ve answered any questions she would have had, she knows why I’m calling, what I’m calling about, and we have a follow-up. I’ve given her the script and confirmed she has it so she can’t say I never sent it or she doesn’t have an inbox.
And what may happen sometimes, you may have a follow-up and she might not have read it. She may need more time. But at least I know I’ve done everything on my end for her to be successful at continuing the conversation. And it doesn’t feel threatening; I’m not pushing. I’m asking her questions, but it’s benefiting the both of us in moving forward on working together.
Jake: Yeah. And notice what Ramfis did there, which is so good. First off, notice how quick it was. That isn’t a half-hour or 10-minute call. That’s a two-minute call, right?
Notice how he didn’t bury the lead, right? A lot of people, their phone call looks like this, “So, how was the festival for you? Oh cool, how is your week? Are you busy? What’s the weather like?” Right?
All that does is make you feel more nervous and make them feel more nervous. Ramfis got right in there and was like bang, “This is who I am, remember me? This was the project. This is what we talked about.” Because oftentimes they’ve forgotten what you’d talked about. You’re reaffirming her interest and went right to the ask, “I want you to read this.”
After he got the lead, then he got chitchatty for a brief amount of time to give them a chance to actually connect emotionally before going to the next action step. You see how specific that action step was, right?
It isn’t like, “Sure, I’ll call you next week.” It’s, “I’ll call you Tuesday, January 3rd at 2PM,” so everything is scheduled and moving forward, everyone is taking it seriously.
And when you’re able to do it that quick — two minutes, two minutes, two minutes — how many of those calls did you bang out the week after Cannes?
Ramfis: I contacted most of the contacts I had. I had over 100, maybe 200 or 300 contacts. I went through them the same way.
Jake: So many people are afraid of rejection, so part of this is realizing you want to be in the volume business, not in the ‘casting one specific hook for one specific fish’ business, right?
You want to be targeting the people you think are best, but you don’t want to hang all of your hopes on Martin Scorsese, right? Yes, try to get to Martin, but make 100 phone calls. And out of those 100 phone calls, how many actually come to fruition?
Ramfis: I want to say it’s a 50/50 ratio.
Ramfis: So, the way I look at it is if I meet 10 people, I follow up with all 10 of the 10. At least five will respond and out of the five, maybe with two something will come out of it. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game. I’m not saying to go out specifically thinking, “I have to get 100 leads,” but you do want to keep it at volume.
I do have a team of interns. We go to events together and one thing I always stay mindful of is that I look at my watch and I tell them look at their watch and mind the time. You don’t want to spend too much time. There are a thousand people in the room. Speak to as many people as possible and that’s how you build the lead generation. Then it’s basically the follow-up, just like I said.
Jake: Yeah. So now they follow up, right? Actually, let’s take the more common scenario. The director says, “Great, send it to me,” and if in two weeks you follow up and they haven’t read it, what do you do now?
Ramfis: I’ll say, “Great, so did you read it?” They say, “No,” I’ll say, “Okay, when do you think you can read it realistically in terms of your schedule?” They may say, “You know what, I need at least another week.” At that point, reschedule it. Or they may say they need another two weeks or they’re in transition on a project so they need more time.
So what I’ll do is I’ll work it around their time schedule. Now, if it becomes a thing, and it can happen, where you call the following week and they say, “Oh, I didn’t get to it.”
At that point, you kind of have to put your foot down and say, “Hey, I really want to do this with you, but we do have a time frame. This is when we want to shoot, these are the ideas, and these are the reasons why. If you’re sincerely interested in it, can you read it?” Then give them a time frame and they’ll say yes or no.
And if they say no, then you know it isn’t going to work out and you move on to the next one. If they say yes, hopefully they do it at that point and then it works out. Because the reality is, in this business a lot of times things come in last minute that are priority or there are things that distract.
Because it isn’t just one project they’re working on. They’re maybe answering to their reps, if they have representation, that’s an agent and maybe a manager and legal. And they have things, maybe panels or events, they have to go to. There are a lot of moving parts, so sometimes it can be lost in transition.
Jake: Let’s say Sally Director is your dream director and you got Sally.
Jake: She’s interested. But, Jimmy Director and Suzie Director are also. You also met them and they’re interested. Do you send to all of them at once? Do you wait? How do you do that?
Ramfis: What I usually do in terms of a director, if I speak to multiple people I let everyone know about it and see their interest.
If everyone is interested, it’s a good problem I have. At that point I go back to my team and we bounce back ideas and run scenarios. If I don’t have a team at that point, I go to other industry professionals and ask their opinion and dig deeper too.
One of the things I like to do is, if this filmmaker has done several movies, or at least one other movie before, I will call whomever they’ve worked with in the past and see what it was like. What was the process like? Were they easy to work with? Did they overpromise and under-deliver? Were they pleasant? Did you enjoy the relationship? Would you work with them again?
That will help answer, “Alright, I have these three directors and they’re all great. Then you can figure, “Well, what if he’s going to be like this every time and take long. It’s probably not a right fit for me.” Then you can probably cross this person off and you know it’s a waste of time.
Ramfis: Or this person was super workable, talent loved working with them, and not only did they come on as the director, but in this current ecosystem environment you have to wear this producing hat too as the director.
Did they make calls and help the project get made? Did they help with the distribution of the project? Did they come to the screening? Did they do all these other things that are important as well?
That will help me figure out, out of the three, who is the best fit.
Jake: I love what you’re saying here, Ramfis. Because so many times screenwriters think they’re the beggar, right? That they’re begging for anybody to care and get involved. And the truth is if you’ve got a great script you aren’t a beggar, you’re a chooser. Part of it is recognizing your own value and taking yourself seriously.
One of the things I hear you saying, you notice Ramfis isn’t saying, “Oh my God, I’ve got three, what am I going to do?” He’s saying, “Okay, I’ve got three people interested, but I’ve got to make sure these people are actually worthy of my work, that these people are worthy of being a part of my team.”
Setting the bar that high for yourself, that’s partly what this volume game is, once you start to realize you have so many people you can potentially connect with, who can potentially help you, who could potentially be involved, you start to realize you aren’t a beggar.
And the truth is, if you’re talking about your script with a lot of people and you’re not getting that kind of interest, if you aren’t getting a certain number of people saying, “Oh sure, I’d love to follow up with you,” or “Oh, that sounds interesting,” then you have to look at your pitch and your project. You have to ask, “Hey, is this thing actually working?” Oftentimes if you’re having trouble talking about it, it’s because there’s actually something wrong in the execution that needs to be honed or refined or brought to the surface.
So, okay, now we’ve got our director; they say they’re interested. What happens now? Are they expecting money from you? Are they expecting promises?
Ramfis: No, it depends on the level of the director. I think for the most part, if it’s an indie director, you just have to be fully transparent.
I think that’s one of the things I’d love to see a little bit more. Just putting all the cards out on the table and saying, “Hey, this is the project I’m looking to make with you. The reality of it is that I don’t have development money, but I would love for you to be a part of it. Is this something you’ll go to bat for with me? Would you be part of my team? Will you walk through the fire with me?”
There could be a scenario, if they don’t have people to report to, they could just say, “You know what, yeah, I’ll do it. I’m in.” And you explain to them at the same time that you don’t expect them to drop a project they’re working on and are getting paid for. You’ll work together on off-time.
And this may take weeks, months, but you’re determined; you’re serious. And if they’re willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears, then it can work out.
A lot of times that’s the case. You can’t be too demanding and pushy when you aren’t offering anything upfront. It just doesn’t make sense because they still have responsibilities; they have bills.
Now, if they’re with a rep, what will have to happen is they’ll have to tell their team, “Hey, this is something I really want to do.” And there may be some push back from their team. Their team may say, “You know what, this doesn’t make sense,” or they may say, “Hey, I want to get behind it.”
Or it could be a scenario where they say, “You know what, let’s start working together. However, when things really start ramping up and there’s some money and moving parts, then we’ll bring it to my team, because they will give push back.” And that’s up to them. That’s something you can ask, but it’s up to them to acknowledge.
I’ve been in both situations and usually it’s the latter, where they say, “You know what, let’s circle back once this thing is in motion. Then I’ll let my team know.” Then we’ll get their management and agency involved in that capacity.
Jake: And do you do an LOI (Letter of Intent) with them at that point? Do you write anything down or is it just a verbal conversation?
Ramfis: This is usually a verbal conversation. But what will happen is, if my financing is pending on them being involved or attached, that’s when I’ll say, “Hey, can I have your name.” That’s when they’ll have a discussion with their manager and/or agent in regards to that.
Then show them that this financing person is real, that we’re asking for this because this person has financed movies before or they have the capacity. They’re a high net-worth individual on Wall Street or they have the equity and they can prove it. This is the reason why and then at that point we can work some kind of deal.
But I think it’s really important to get some type of agreement with the talent to have on board and then you’ll get the support of their representative.
Realistically, you could have a person-to-person chat with the agent. You say, “The bottom line is boom and I’m working with so-and-so and I want to work with your talent.” But, at the same time in a realistic market, you know they’re doing a film every other year because it takes time to make a movie.
If there aren’t people banging on their door, you can’t ask for a $100,000 retainer because his agents will ask for the world. That’s their job; it makes them look good for their client. But when you rebut back to the agent with facts, you have to have these facts, it becomes a back-and-forth and then you get something down the middle. This is usually how it works.
Jake: So, now I’ve got $6, a great script, and let’s pretend I don’t have Martin Scorsese, I’ve got Sally Director. She’s got a short and a feature under her belt. She premiered at the Iowa Film Festival and not at Sundance, but she’s brilliant.
I’ve got a great script, I’ve got a strong but no-name director or I’m directing it myself, and I’ve shot a short or something as a prover. But I’ve got no money. I’ve only got talent on my part and talent on the part of my director. What do I do now? How do I start to make this feel real or how do I start to raise money?
Ramfis: So, one of the things I think is very important to do as a filmmaker in the early parts is to have pieces in place. You may not be able to write the check for a portion of the budget, but you have in-kind services. For example, if the film is, let’s say, a low six-figure film and you know you have access to certain locations for free, that’s a value.
Those location costs may be $10,000 and, let’s say, you can get product in it or you have access to a certain product, that’s another in-kind service. Or, let’s say your friend is an editor and they really want to transition from television to film, or they’re in film and want to transition to television, or they’re looking to move up the ladder. You get all these pieces together to show that it has some value and it has interest.
Let’s say you can’t afford a DP, that’s really expensive, but there’s a gaffer that really wants to learn how to DP and they’re learning and they know a little bit and they have some skill set. You get all these commitments and you see the value and, wait a second, they also have an entire camera package like this young lady that has this G&E company, has always been gaffing, but now she wants to be a DP. She’ll come in with all her gear so you’re saving all this stuff out of the budget.
So now you’ve got a director, you’ve got locations, you’ve got a DP, you’ve got equipment, and you didn’t spend any money on any of these things.
Now you look for a producer or a production company to get involved and you paint this picture because that’s what you’re doing, in a sense. You’re creating things out of thin air and that’s the nature of the beast and the game.
So, you’ve done all this work and now you need $100,000 to make this and you have $50,000 of in-kind services. You think, “Wow, this is amazing. I think maybe I can sell this to some investors or I can bring in investors. Or we could champion it together and apply for grants, or go to IFP and be able to put some of the equity that’s needed to make this come to life.”
At that point, it looks like it’s real. People are showing up. They’re serious, they’re vested in it, and that’s the way to attract, I think, a producer or production company who wants to get involved. Because if you come there with, “Alright, I have a director and I have a script,” so does everyone else.
But, if you come there with pieces of it, now the producer could think of out-of-the-box ways to maybe get the money. Or maybe they have access to some of the money and they’re like, “Wait a second, we don’t need this much because you have all these other things.” It makes it more lucrative for them to get involved.
Or, let’s say you have an actor that’s done some television. I’m not saying an A-list actor, but an actor that’s maybe working steadily in TV. You have a piece of it for something that’s smaller, then it makes sense if you’re shooting for, say, $100,000. They’ll say, “Okay, so you have some talent.”
And they’re good talent; they fit the script. They’re working talent so they’re not necessarily a name in terms of distribution, but in terms of doing a smaller movie it makes sense to hire this person and bring them on board.
Okay, now I can go to friends and family or outside of friends and family to others that may want to get involved, because there are a lot of people that have come a long way. Maybe they aren’t in the film, but your producer or you and the producer can go to people that are maybe small business owners or have a strong interest in film or the arts. They’ll say, “You have all these pieces and you only need five grand. I can give you the five grand or the ten grand.”
You start putting those pieces together and they add up. You build momentum and then you have something.
Jake: I love what you’re saying and it’s such a great place for us to be, right? Because so much of what I talk about in the podcast is the spiritual side of writing. One of the reasons I’m so excited to have you at the school and to be working with you is because of the spiritual side of producing. This isn’t just a dollar and cents game and it isn’t just a practical game. It’s like you said; it’s a little bit of an act of wizardry, right?
It’s believing in something so much and needing something so bad, you literally do spin it out of thin air. One of the magical things that happens in production is that angels start to show up, and I don’t mean that in a religious way. I mean, literally, angels start to show up.
When you start that ball of belief rolling and you start doing something every week that moves your project forward, that takes it one step closer to being real, suddenly you start to bump into people who want to help.
Suddenly, you start to see the possibilities everywhere. “Hey, this place where I buy pizza every day and talk to the owner, maybe they can help with craft services. This person who was in my theatre class when I was in high school, she’s now a DP.” You know that as you start to get that ball moving a truly magical thing happens, which is these people show up that want to help you.
I always talk about writing as a radical act of faith in yourself and I think producing, fundraising, all the stuff that goes into what you do is also that radical act of belief in yourself. In a way, as screenwriters and filmmakers we’re all entrepreneurs, right?
The chances are unless your last name is Scorsese, no one is banging down your door for your project. Just like an entrepreneur, we have to believe in something, usually something that no one else has ever believed in. We have to believe in it so much that we’re basically willing to do it no matter what it takes.
And once you get yourself to that place, and it’s why it’s so important to write and to make the movies that are in your heart, because once you’re in that place, that’s what’s going to pull you through. That’s what’s going to get you all the way to the end when it seems like you don’t know how you’re going to make it happen.
But beyond that, it’s actually just a lot of hard work and some very important skills. Ramfis, I’d love if you could take a few minutes to talk about the class you’re going to be teaching for us in October. You can already see Ramfis’ brilliance and the depth of his knowledge and experience when it comes to indie filmmaking.
I wonder if you could talk about how the class is going to work, what people are going to learn, and all that good stuff?
Ramfis: Absolutely. Again, the class is on Saturday, October 19th from 12:00 to 3:00 pm EST. People out west can chime in and people in New York can attend since it will be live online and in-person and it will be available worldwide.
The class is set up for three hours. The first hour will be myself talking about the do’s and don’ts of producing a script from concept. From just having an idea, getting the script, and how to put together the financing, there are so many ways to be able to get money for the project.
I’ll share the path I’ve taken and things I’ve done that were great things, things that I did that weren’t great, and things I’ve seen a lot of my colleagues do. I’ll give everyone that’s tuning in or that’s there in person the tools they need so they can go out there and make their little movie, whether it’s for $10,000 or one million dollars.
For the second part of the class, I’ll have some guests attending that are either on the financing side or the distribution or sales side and who have an array of experience and can share how they look at things and how they work.
It’s interesting because I’ve been at the table with distributors where they require having certain things in place or a financier that requires certain things, while others don’t need that. I think that’s a unique conversation, to be able to have that perspective because it’s who you cater to. So that’ll be the second part of it.
The third part will be an open discussion where anyone can ask questions they have be it specifically for projects they’re working on or to ask these financiers or buyers or sales reps what they need to do so they can get their project made.
That’s the overall breakdown of what will be going on that Saturday, October 19th.
Jake: You will get to meet these people who are working in this market. Not the people who are producing two hundred million dollar films, the people who are producing, distributing, and financing low-budget movies who are actually out there looking for content now.
I just think it’s so amazing how you’ve built this. To put people in a room where they have the opportunity to actually hear the real deal from the real people who are doing it and get the knowledge they need to develop a plan for their own project.
Ramfis: I say it every day, whether it’s a compliment or for support, that half the battle is just showing up. That’s all it is. Right place, right time, you meet the right person.
At one point in time earlier in my career, yes, I was really nervous and unsure. I didn’t know what I was doing. Even now I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes. And in all fairness a lot of the people that are the decision-makers, they don’t know what they’re doing either.
But, at the end of the day if you don’t show up, how can you expect any results? The reason that all of these speaking engagements happened was because I showed up. I met someone who asked me to go speak at NYU and that worked out.
I knew the head of South by Southwest and we had a conversation and that turned into a talk. When I was at Sundance, I met a gentleman and we hit it off really well. He knew I was talking at South by Southwest and he said, “Hey, you should come speak in Florida and you should come speak at Cannes.”
These weren’t plans I had, but I said, “What’s the worst that can happen? I should just show up.” And because of these things, there were opportunities that were created. Because that’s what happens when you show up; there are people that are like-minded that have that interest.
It’s like a radio frequency. You can’t see it, but from human to human we have frequencies that we throw out and you connect with like-minded people. It’s inevitable.
But if you don’t go to the festival, you don’t go to the markets, you don’t go to networking events, and you don’t put yourself out there, there’s no way.
That’s how you grow. That’s how I’ve grown and how I’ve become even more confident because I’ve jumped through the fires. And what I don’t know I still challenge myself to learn. That’s how I think you grow as an individual and as a filmmaker. And a lot of these executives, that’s how they’ve grown; they had to do the same things.
Whenever I’m asked what’s the biggest piece of advice I have, it’s those the two things: showing up and following up.
Jake: And that fear you’re feeling is really because there’s a skill you’re missing. That’s a skill you can learn and a skill Ramfis can teach you.
For me, that’s really exciting. The idea that anybody can do this and you’re going to show them how to do it.
I also think it’s great that they’re going to get to meet with the people that normally no one knows how to get to. They’re going to get to meet with real financiers, real distribution people. They’re going to get to pitch the project, their project, their elevator pitch. They’re actually going to get it heard by all these people.
And, they’re going to learn how to make their pitch stronger, what pitches work and what pitches don’t work. They’ll be learning how to talk about all this stuff that’s a mystery for a lot of screenwriters.
I think that’s super cool and I also like that you don’t have to be a screenwriter. You can be a director, you can be a young producer, or you can be an actor who wants to produce their own content. This is really valuable for anybody who’s got a dream and wants to make it a reality.
We’re so excited to be offering this class. If you want to learn more about it, it’s October 19th from 12:00 to 3:00 pm EST, but you can chime in live online from anywhere in the world. Our entire classroom is miked for sound, we can see and hear you, and you can ask questions. It’s going to be a really incredible opportunity to learn how to do this, no matter how much or how little experience you have.
You can check out the details on my website at www.writeyourscreenplay.com/produce.
Thank you, Ramfis. It was so nice to have you.
Ramfis: Thank you for having me. This was awesome.
*Edited for length and clarity