So you wanna make a movie…
Bucks, bravado and how I hope to build a blockbuster
I'm selling my memoir, Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship to Hollywood for life-changing money: $3.5 million sticks in my head for no good reason ― it's just the number I made up.
It may not sell to Hollywood. It may sell to Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or an emerging video distribution channel we don't yet know about, but here's the deal: The 2016 movie industry grossed nearly $12 billion in sales, and in 2017 over 500 originally scripted television "new content products" (think Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black) will be bought and distributed via streaming outlets.
Soon, Cheap Cabernet: The Movie will be one of them.
Ballsy and none-too-arrogant, I know. But in my defense, this grand scheme springs from the special bitterness known only to the undiscovered artiste. In 2009, after three years, 68 rejections and a forced re-write, I channeled long-fed rancour into throwing an online book launch party for Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship, making it an Amazon "No. 1 Movers & Shakers" (the biggest gainer in book sales rank over the last 24 hours). Twenty-two of those rejecting publishers and 16 literary agents came a knockin' to represent the book and Hyperion Books bought it.
Not to be ungrateful – I'm a nobody with a publishable book – I am bloody grateful, but the $75,000 advance barely covered the costs to get it to that point (and excludes labor entirely). Moreover, despite me writing love letters to my Top 10 Favorite Movie Directors of All Time and sending them the book, no one gave a rat's behind about the book's movie rights.
Some movie studios, in case you were wondering, employ an indignant "RETURN. UNSOLICITED MATERIALS" process whereby you receive your lovely, $3-each, padded envelope with said love letter + book that took you 10 years to bring to fruition – well, all that shows back up on your doorstep with your now-ripped and torn package stamped " RETURN. UNSOLICITED MATERIALS."
Sort of like IRS hate mail, or the most crushing Dear John letter ever penned.
So here we go.
I'm busting this movie-rights sales move on a diet of naiveté
and optimism – optimism at the amount of content that will be bought by the movie and television industries in 2017 and beyond, and by the ever-present grumblings of women forever discriminated against in the movie and television industries.
Those grumblings are fueled by facts. Over the last six years women have outnumbered male audience members; in 2013, female protagonist movies earned 20 percent more on average that male-protagonist films; and women producers account for over 40 percent of all film producers.*
Despite all that, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media says that, "While Hollywood is quick to capitalize on new audiences and opportunities abroad, the industry is slow to progress in creating compelling and complex roles for females. This tendency to under and misrepresent women is not just an American phenomenon. Gender imbalance occurs on a worldwide scale."*
Today marks a tipping point for women in film. One need only pick up the remote. Series like Girls, Veep, Insecure, Grace & Frankie, the upcoming Big Little Lies, even the Golden Globe winning, The Crown (about Queen Elizabeth) are all female-driven, binge-watching vehicles. Fargo, Carol, Wild, Precious, and Monster represent but a smattering of financially successful female-lead movies.
Ava DeVurney routinely breaks records as a female director and filmmaker (Selma, 13th), and Sally El-Hosaini, Miranda July, and Selene Sciamma comprise but a very short list, yet growing list, of women killing it in film.
Still. In order to begin making the movie, which begins the process for selling the rights, I need a lot of money. It appears I need a director and a script, which costs $20,000 or something. I need a recorder, a mixer and a unit production manager, whatever the hell that is and, most important, I need a "product" – a sample of the movie, something to pitch to would-be movie-rights buyers.
I need a budget and an entertainment lawyer and an accountant and, in front of all that, I need a budget. Do you know what kind of moolah it takes to make a movie? Me neither.
All of which brings us to Colorado. Colorado passed 2011 legislation designed to keep film projects in the state and thereby keep the film money here. But listen to any would-be Colorado film mogul speak to Louisiana's generous film incentives, or how Quentin Tarrantino snatched all of Colorado's 2014 incentives in one fell swoop with his filming of Hateful Eight, up near Telluride and, well, here we go.
It's a business, it's a bunch of work and some say that it's an absolute ball.
And you never know. It may just be a blockbuster. Somebody's got to do it.