Dan Mirvish is a director, screenwriter, producer and author. His new feature, 18½, a 70s Watergate thriller/dark comedy is already an award-winner on the festival circuit and will be coming out commercially Summer 2022. The film stars Willa Fitzgerald, John Magaro, Vondie Curtis Hall, Catherine Curtin, Richard Kind, Sullivan Jones and the voices of Ted Raimi, Jon Cryer and Bruce Campbell as Nixon.
Prior to that, Dan directed the award-winning, critically-acclaimed feature Bernard and Huey, scripted by Oscar/Pulitzer-winner Jules Feiffer, and starring Oscar-winner Jim Rash and David Koechner which screened in over 30 film festivals on 5 continents, had a nationwide US theatrical release, and sold to over 49 countries. Dan is the author of the bestselling non-fiction book The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking: From Preproduction to Festivals and Distribution from Focal Press/Routledge.
The fully updated, post-pandemic 2nd Edition starting selling on July 6, 2021 and hit #1 on Amazon’s New Releases chart. His film Between Us, an award-winning feature starring Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs, played in 23 festivals in 7 countries, and got a 50+ city theatrical release in the US, and sold to 144 countries, plus screening on Netflix, Showtime, Starz and all digital outlets.
Dan was mentored by Robert Altman on his first film, Omaha (the movie), which led him to co-found the upstart Slamdance Film Festival. His film Open House prompted the Academy Awards to controversially rewrite their rules on the Best Original Musical category. Mirvish also co-wrote his bestselling, critically-acclaimed novel I Am Martin Eisenstadt based on the fake McCain advisor who took credit for Sarah Palin not knowing Africa was a continent.
A former speechwriter for U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Dan has a master’s degree from USC film school, is a member of the Directors Guild of America, has guest lectured at more than 45 film schools and universities and was named as one of Variety’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch.
Alex Ferrari 0:09
I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Dan Mirvish. How you doing, Dan?
Dan Mirvish 1:04
Good to see you, Alex. Thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 1:07
Of course brother, of course. You know you've been on the show a couple times. I mean, we've you were in my last movie.
Dan Mirvish 1:12
Yes. My book was in your last movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:18
But it's maybe your book was in my last movie. You were my last movie. You gave me a great little blurb at the end the back of Rise of the film trip earner. And we've partied a bit over at Sundance back when we could do things like that you could back in the olden days, but I appreciate you coming on man. So for everybody who doesn't know who that Dan Mirvish is, can you give them a quick little rundown on your history and what you what you did and what you're doing?
Dan Mirvish 1:46
Sure. I like most people I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and, you know, went to but I majored in History and Political Science only did a little bit of film as an undergrad, like super a class and some summer classes at UCLA, then worked in DC for a couple years as a Senate speech writer, then went to USC film school, and got my master's degree there. And while I was there, instead of a short film for a thesis film, I did a feature film called Omaha that movie. And I think I was the first student to figure out the loopholes to do a feature film there. and was lucky enough to be mentored by Robert Altman on that film. And then of course, that film didn't get into Sundance. So I helped co found the slam dance Film Festival in January 95. And still stayed involved with that up till now. And and then meanwhile, I've just kept making indie films along the way and written a couple of books to read the couple editions of the cheerful subversives guide to independent filmmaking. Which, thanks to you, Alex, and your advice is now available also as an audiobook. So thank you for that. And but yeah, but mainly every, you know, three or four or five years, however long between movies I make independent film. So I've done a couple of musicals. I did a film called open house. There was a real estate musical, which was we helped change the rules of the Academy Awards, which is a whole other long story. I did a play adaptation called between us with Julius Stiles and Taye Diggs and David harbor and Melissa George. And the last film I did was called Bernard Huey, which was written by Jules Feiffer, and had David Cameron and Jim Rashon. And then this film 18 and a half, which is an original script I wrote with my friend Daniel Moya. And, you know, he wrote the screenplay, we came up the story together. And but it's upset around the time of Watergate, and it's about a young woman who gets a hold of the missing 18 and a half and a gap in the Nixon tapes and tries to leak it to a reporter and they run afoul of swingers hippies and nefarious forces out to get them
Alex Ferrari 3:56
Well, I'm sure back in the day, looking in hindsight that Sundance wishes that they accepted your film
Dan Mirvish 4:05
Well, eventually it played on the Sundance Channel and in their program notes it actually said and the film played at Sundance, so yeah, I guess they sort of retro actively. Go figure.
Alex Ferrari 4:19
So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about before we get into your do you film 18 and a half I wanted to talk to you about film festivals because you know you you started one of the larger film festivals in the in the country, arguably in the world and one of the easily the top 10 film festivals that actually mean something in the world today slam dance. What is the biggest mistake that you see filmmakers make with Film Festival submissions in general,
Dan Mirvish 4:43
I think just submitting blindly you know, onto film freeway or something or you know, or similar things without any kind of introduction or follow up or connection to the festival is I think that that is a big mistake, you know, or then not doing research on if it's even the right fit for your film. I think that's another kind of related mistake. I think that you know, and it doesn't mean that you have to know someone ahead of time, but you need to try to get to know someone, you know, and reach out to them personally, one way or another, not an intrusive way. But you know, and really say, you know, is this film, the right fit for your festival? Generally speaking, and but then really what that does is it gets the, it gets your name a little bit, you know, floating in their consciousness, like, oh, yeah, that was a person that emailed me or called me or ran into me at another festival. And, you know, and yeah, I'll take their film a little bit more seriously. So I think I think that's the thing is, I think just submitting blindly just doesn't, you know, to any festival is just lowers your odds tremendously. And yeah, so any kind of personal connection you can make to the festival director, the programming director, the artistic director, depending on what the title is, but then also just to help narrow down the number of festivals you're going to submit to because it can get expensive, is do the research, find films that were similar to your own film and genre and length and style? From like, a year or two before and see, where did they apply to? Where did they play? Where did they get in and either contacted the filmmakers or just look on their websites? Usually, you can kind of figure that out. And then, you know, and then at some point, find out, was it good for those filmmakers? Was it a good festival? Was it worthwhile? And in what ways was it worthwhile because, you know, not every festival is going to have a million distributors, you know, you know, hungry to take your film. But there's plenty of festivals that you're going to have great experiences that meet other filmmakers, you meet investors go on a vacation. You know, there's a lot of great reasons to go to a lot of different festivals, and they're not always the same reasons.
Alex Ferrari 7:00
Now, do you? Do you think that it's important for filmmakers? Because I've seen this mistake happen too many times in my films over the years have gotten I think, five or 600 film festivals, I think at this point in the game, back in the day since oh, five when I started submitting to festivals, 18 1805, obviously, even 1905. But But do you believe that it's helpful to have a nice presence on the web, have a trailer have like make your film look a little bit bigger than it truly might be purely through the web through just through your web presence, a nice poster, these kinds of things to make the festival look at it and go, oh, there's some there's something here. There's more value here than just another film from another filmmaker?
Dan Mirvish 7:49
Yeah, definitely. Because you know, every festival programmer at some point and maybe with, you know, when they're first looking at your film, or or when they're making their final decisions, they're going to Google you, you know, and make sure you're not weird, but and yeah, and then you know, they want and they'll all look at IMDb Pro and make, you know, see if you can get your film on there or Wikipedia or whatever it is. And and even if it's a short have a trailer for the short, you know, it doesn't matter, even if it's a one minute short, make a 10 second teaser. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, everybody should be doing things like that. Yeah, I think absolutely. Right. Yeah. Give it as much info as you can.
Alex Ferrari 8:33
No, I have to ask you the question. Because, you know, I've said this so many times on the show before, but I'd love to hear your opinion on it. It's there, you know, film festivals, like filmmakers still think that film festivals have the power that they did back in the 90s and early 2000s. Were back in the day in the 90s. When you got into Sundance, it truly meant, it still means something today, but it was like you were gonna get sold. Just because you got into Sundance or because you have a laurel on your poster, a distributor is going to have a better chance getting it out there, you're gonna make more money with it. But those days are kind of, in my opinion kind of gone to a certain extent. What value does the film festival even the top five or 10 have to the bottom line, not experiences. Because you and I both know Sundance and go to Park City is and slam dance. It is amazing. It's so much fun. You meet people. So there's a lot of other benefits. There's there's lectures, there's webinars, seminars, all this kind of stuff. I'm talking about the bottom line as far as an investment is concerned. Because filmmakers have that kind of delusion that like oh, if I win if I get into Sundance or Sundance or South by or something. It's an automatic where I know and you know, filmmakers who've won Sundance one slam dance one South by one all these and their films didn't get sold or put the needle so what's your opinion on that?
Dan Mirvish 9:54
Well, I think you know, I differ a little bit with you. I think it is still important. I mean, I remember in 95 for directly, you know, fall of 94, your distributors saying, oh, that's we love your film, we want to pick it up for distribution if it gets into Sundance, right, and if it doesn't, we don't. And they were very matter of fact about it cut to, you know, 2000 or one year we 2020 2020 2022. And I still have distributors have the exact same conversation with me, oh, we really love your film. But you know, if it really got if it had played in Sundance or South by or Cannes or Berlin, yeah, we would have picked it up for distribution. But if not, we're not going to now. But the reverse isn't true. I think that's what you're hitting on is that you can still get into Sundance, you can still get into South by and still not get distribution. It's not it, it's, and even in the 90s, that wasn't a guarantee at Sundance either. There were still films that weren't getting picked up. So it's a little bit of a myth in that regard. But if you don't get into those top festivals, it is very, very difficult. Now that said, I've never gotten my homes into Sundance, I have gotten my films into South by but back in 95, when South by was just in second year, so it didn't really mean as much then. But I think what I've been able to do with most of my films, really, pretty much all my films is that is to play at the kind of the next tear down the the a minus and the B plus festivals, and somehow managed to create enough buzz and momentum from a volume of festivals and accumulating awards, audience awards, jury awards, you know, critical reviews, blurbs. And eventually you can get some distributors, someone to pay attention to you in a way that that even just, you know, a failed film at Sundance may not even get that attention. And certainly that was the case with 18 and a half we started playing, you know, last fall. We premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival, which is great film festival, but it's it's not an ageless festival. But it's it's it's certainly respectable. And you know, but also it was partially by design and partially by luck. Yeah, there was this trough between the Delta variant and the and the Omicron variant. I remember that trough where you could have live festivals, you know, because for a year all festivals are virtual, and then they all thought they were going to be back live in 2021. And then delta happen and then it was like, whoo, hang on a second, you know, Toronto was was virtual then. But then, you know, there was about a two month gap there and we're like, you know what, we just finished the film. We're gonna go hard and heavy into festival circuits. We did like 10 festivals in two months. In the US, you know, we won the top prize at Tallgrass in Wichita, we which actually came with money, which was amazing. We played internationally, the International premiere was at Sao Paulo International Film Festival, went to Europe in Spain for the European premiere at the home Film Festival, which is like the third biggest festival in Spain, but around the US, Rome International in Rome, Georgia. And we won a prize, Anchorage, St. Louis, you know, a bunch of festivals, and, and it was based on on those wards and that presence and that kind of geographical spread that we had to prove that it wasn't just a US centric film, Whistler Canada that was there was a Canadian premiere, that based on that we literally that's what got us a distribution deal with a European London based sales agent, international sales agent called one on one film that also does direct VOD distribution in both North America and and and England and the UK and Ireland. And then once we got that, then we got a theatrical distributor, and an airline distributor and a DVD. Blu ray distributor as separate split.
Alex Ferrari 13:55
Do you split? You split up all your deal? Yeah, split up all your rights. Exactly, exactly. So I wanted to kind of point that out to people is that a lot of filmmakers think that you have to just give all your rights to the one distributor. That is not true. I mean, some of them asked for it. Right? But but if you can carve out like not everyone, no one's gonna do airline, if they're not specializing an airline, no one's going to do do theatrical now unless they specialize in that or have strength in it, or DVD, or you know, or or VRS VOD or a bot or T matar and there's 1000 rights that you can give away, you can carve up and then there's International and different countries and things like that. So that's a really great lesson for everyone listening is that you really should think about how you carve out those rights. But also going back to the festival circuit, I agree with you 100% That because I couldn't get into any of the big festivals when I was starting out at all. So what I did, I did the exact same thing on my first short was in 185. And I just stopped Yeah, just after like a year and a half or two years of it because I I submitted to different time periods 2005. But I just kept, and I didn't pay I refuse to pay after like, 40 of them. I was like, Yeah, I'm not paying, right. So I just kept going in there. So it was this volume. Then everyone just said, Jesus, it's gotten into like 100 film festivals, or it's gotten to so many that you lack of quality, you get a quantity. And it helps. So like when I was watching your trailer, I saw with 20 Film Festival laurels all at once, which was impressive. And I recognized in the time that a flash fires like Oh, there I know that festival, and then it was gone. But I knew and I was like, Oh, that's a really great technique on how to use film festivals. Because Film Festival, just other people one Laurel or two laurels. You just like Nah, man, we did 20 film festivals and boom, and so that
Dan Mirvish 15:52
In a global pandemic, you know? Yeah, yeah, cuz after that fall trough, we then did this spring trough tour, you know, between Omicron and world war three, there was a nice little trough of
Alex Ferrari 16:08
Yes, of course, we can't forget world war three, right? Forget or worth three as well. That's, uh, we're joking about it. But we're not really it's not a joke at all about what's going on but and God forbid, knows what the hell that's gonna end up being. But But yeah, so you're I agree with you. And I think we're both on the same page. Because that myth of like, Oh, you just get into Sundance. It's sold is false. But it's still in today's marketplace. Getting into Sundance is great. It's better than not, but the film has to be marketable.
Dan Mirvish 16:45
The film. Exactly. And, and the other thing too, is that, you know, I had a, I had a pretty good feeling, probably more than most people that Sundance wasn't gonna be live this year. You know, they only canceled it before. Claim dance, we canceled like, three weeks before, because we knew, but But even you know, when I was deciding to play Woodstock, I already had enough clues that I you know, this film wasn't going to get in, it wasn't either going to get into Sundance and if it dig in, and Sundance Sundance wasn't going to be live. And if it's not live, you know, I mean, at the end of the day, we're filmmakers we want to engage with an audience you know, for film is virtual, but nobody knows you played it virtually, did you really play it's like the Trojan horse. So I was I'm a big believer, like, go to where ever the audience is, however, you can do it to drive in, if it's a, if it's virtual, but you can engage with an audience great, go for it. But But yeah, I wasn't going to wait around for a virtual festival that I knew I probably wasn't gonna get into. Because also just keep in mind, in these days, 2020, most festivals are showing half as many films as they did before. And meanwhile, there's a backlog of twice as many films trying to get in. So you actually have a 25% of one quarter chance of getting into any given festival than you might have two years ago. So which means you have to apply to four times as many festivals to hope to get into anything. And you've got to be nimble, because festivals are changing. They're like, Oh, we're gonna be live. No, no, there's a new variant, we're gonna go virtual. You know, a festival may call you up a week before and go, Oh, we have a slot that just opened up, do you want to play here, and you've got to be nimble and flexible, and say, You know what, I can't go but my composer can go like he went to Brazil on my behalf or my cinematographer went to Wichita to, you know, represent the film and at Tallgrass, and we wound up winning, I should send her to everything, you know. So you just have to be nimble about all this stuff and just go wherever makes sense it at any given time, but if you wait around for that six months to get rejected from an alias festival, you're gonna be waiting around for another six months for the next day this festival to reject you. So you know, if you can, if you can get out there and somehow find an audience one way or another, do it.
Alex Ferrari 18:59
Now, how many submissions do you guys get and slam dance still? Do you do do you? Are you still like involved heavily or not?
Dan Mirvish 19:07
No, I especially when you know, because we're all filmmakers by unemployed filmmakers, for unemployed filmmakers isn't our motto. And so now when I've been working on my own films, I'm not involved with the programming at all, thankfully. Because it is so time consuming, but it's all done by alumni. So it's nice to get different people every year to be programmers. But we get like 1000 submissions. I mean, I think most of those are shorts, but But it's, it's it's a it's a lot. And you know, and at that level, you know, it's kind of a crapshoot, whether you get in or not, you know, that it's not about how good your film is, because there's a lot of other good films applying to, you know, same with Sundance, you know, at least with slam dance. It's it's, there's no politicking it's, it's there's no early invitations, we don't you know, it doesn't matter if you know, someone or don't know, someone, Sundance that, you know, honestly, their problem is that I think their problem now is that they have so many labs, that they're They wind up obligated to show all these lab films that take up half the slots, or more than half the slots, whether the rooms are good or bad, they kind of have to take them. And so there just aren't as many, you know, and then whatever politicking that goes on as well, you know, that could be a whole podcast, but there just aren't that many, like, openly available slots anymore. And you just have to know that going in and realize your chances are slim to next to none.
Alex Ferrari 20:24
And just so people understand that there is no politics at slam slam dance. I know you. Well, you were in my movie. And that movie did not get into slam dance. That's so. So I mean, the you know, oh, and I shot part of the movie at Slamdance. So no, sorry, does it so there's no politicking so I firsthand experience. There are no politics. It's all good. It's it's that the whole film was such a fun process to go. It's super fun. So can you can you touch a touch upon the economics of film festivals? I think a lot of filmmakers don't understand what it really takes to put on a festival, what the costs are where they make their money. Is it a break? Even Is it a for profit, like all these things, I think if at least from your point of view, doing this for so long?
Dan Mirvish 21:49
So yeah, I mean, and it is good for filmmakers to think about it, like from that perspective. So festivals, most festivals make their money or support their budget, and they don't, most of them are nonprofits or don't profits. But they make them money, their their income from either box office sales at the festival itself, sponsorship either from their local community or, or businesses, or some combination thereof. And submission fees, those those tend to be the the three big I think that's I think that's it and remind me if there's anything else, but merchandise Much, much yeah, and a little bit of merchandise and merch if they can sell, those tend to be the three big drivers of of their things. So if there's a, you know, if there's a global pandemic, or economic downfall or whatever, you know, that's going to impact festivals in different ways, depending on on what they are. I mean, if they're, if 70% of their income comes from Box Office, and there is no box office there, they're tanked. And a lot of festivals went under, you know, or went dormant during the pandemic because of that. But on the other hand, if there is, a higher percentage of their budget comes from submission fees, then then you can survive a little bit longer, just economically, but but the relevant thing to filmmakers is to think about well, all those festivals, especially the ones that are particularly reliant on sponsorship and box office, they need big name actors in their films, they need big name directors to show up and do Q and A's. Just as like, it took me like 20 years to figure this out, like, oh, what's the point of getting stars in your film, like name actors? It's not just to get distribution, it's to get into festivals, too. And there's a reason for it. They, you know, they're trying to get people in their doors and get people to give them money. So once you realize that, like, what then then it makes you realize, okay, what can I offer to that festival? Like, okay, if I have big names, great, you know, if I have, but even just to say it's a premiere, you know, even a short film, you know, to say, oh, it's the Carolina premiere, or the North Dakota premiere, whatever premiere it is, make something up, you know, because that's something that the festival can then use to, to generate some excitement about that film.
Alex Ferrari 24:04
You know, it's really interesting, too, because when I had my film, some of my films had some stars in it and, and people involved in it, and they, in fact, had festivals, like, will that person show up? Before I got accepted? Yeah. That will be the determining factor, essentially. And that's the politics of behind the scenes stuff. Like I've literally had phone calls like will that combat actor show up? And if he can, we have another one done? The next movie online has another actor of similar caliber? Yep. Yeah. And it's so it's not always about if the movie is good or not. Honestly,
Dan Mirvish 24:39
Or if you have a band, will the band play, you know, things like that.
Alex Ferrari 24:42
I remember I remember sitting down and 2000 506 and I had a shorts, shorts package at Sundance, and all of a sudden I see this horribly produced a horribly, horribly produced short film about Batman and Robin on a date Like bat, like Robins on a date and Batman kind of comes in and tries to steal is Robins date? That's basically the whole short, but and I'm like, this is horribly produced. It's bad. And then I'll go oh, well, it's Justin Long is Robin. And Sam Rockwell is Batman. Done.
Dan Mirvish 25:22
There you go. That's it.
Alex Ferrari 25:23
That was a perfect that was the that was the moment that I understood even back then I was like, Oh, these guys need asses and seats. Yep. They need star power as well. If it's not a if it's not actors, then it's a writer or it's a filmmaker, or it's someone of some sort of magnitude that they can bring on. And people other film festival people would love to see them talk or
Dan Mirvish 25:48
I mean, there's a reason. You know, Top Gun Maverick is playing a can. Right? Um, Cruise is there, you know, like,
Alex Ferrari 25:56
Oh, yeah, they called. Will Tom be there? Yeah. Okay. You can you can play. Yeah, you can play. It's George George Miller's new movie. Sure. Well, we'll play George. Right. It doesn't like it just George showing up. Sure. Like, yeah, absolutely. But that's the that's the thing that they don't tell filmmakers, you know, and so many filmmakers are so starry eyed about the process. And there's been so much myth over the years about film festivals, that I really want to kind of pull the curtain back a little bit like, Look, guys, look, this is the reality of what you're going to be dealing with. And now more than ever, things are changing so rapidly, like you were saying, Sunday's canceled. We had friends of mine, like, I booked hotels, I booked flights, I'm losing like it destroy me. Imagine remember South By. Right. And the pandemic blew and blew up?
Dan Mirvish 26:42
Yeah, we shooting 18 and a half at the time. We were like Southwest closed.
Alex Ferrari 26:46
Wow. Like that. After they sold tickets? Yeah. Yeah. I'm surprised that they did not. They were big enough of a festival, because the film festival is like this big, comparatively to exactly the rest of South, which is everything else. So they can handle it. But still, it was pretty. So in the world that we're living today it's not, you know, it's not what everything's always the same. It's changing so, so dramatically. Now, I have to ask you, because you've been around the block, you've been around the block a couple of times. A couple of times, you've you've worked with distributors in the past, I'm assuming that every distributor ever in your life has paid you promptly and has not, has not taken has not taken advantage of you in any way, shape, or form,
Dan Mirvish 27:30
I believe the phrase you're looking for is every distributor has gone bankrupt. So I think that was more.
Alex Ferrari 27:39
And then they reopened a week later under a new name, right? Yeah. And then they buy your and then they buy your your, your the catalog for pennies on the dollar under the new brand. And now they only 100% Things like that, right. So that's, that's another thing too is a lot of filmmakers go to film festivals hoping that the the almighty distributor will come down from Mount Hollywood and write them a big fat check. And they don't have to worry about anything. But in your experience, even in today's world, the fat check doesn't really exist. The ng is very difficult to get nowadays, unless you got major star power or a different level in film for an MG to make sense. You have big stars action, or are certain genres that kind of get those things. But what's your experience with that right now?
Dan Mirvish 28:23
Well, I, I, shockingly, I got a not a huge mg, but an MG is basically minimum guarantee or in advance. We did get one from one of our distributors. So the international sales company, God bless him. And honestly, that was a big reason we went with him because the reality is, you know, some people look at these contracts, and they're like, whoa, I'm getting a bigger percentage on the back end. And this one compared to this other one, I was like, Dude, you're never gonna see that. You know, like, if you're getting any money upfront, take it, cuz that's all you're gonna see. And, you know, and it's not just because distributors are going to actively screw you a lot of times they just passively Screw you. They're like, you know, they can be trying as hard as you are. But they're just not good at it. Or they just go bankrupt. You know, it's like, we tried sorry.
Alex Ferrari 29:10
I love that. I love the term passively. Screw you. That is brilliant.
Dan Mirvish 29:15
Yeah, I don't know
Alex Ferrari 29:17
It's not it's not every distributor is twisting nefarious. Yeah. Twisting their mustache by haha, but not all. Yeah, some and arguably many. But, but there are that just, they just, you're right. Don't know what they're doing. Couldn't figure it out. The market shifted their marketing plan or their bid, their release plan was like DVD and it's 2020.
Dan Mirvish 29:42
Or one of them dies. I mean, that's happened, you know, like, so.
Alex Ferrari 29:47
So again with the film so again, with the film festival aspect, the reason I'm bringing that up is because I want filmmakers to understand that film festivals, looking for a distributor to film festival. Yeah, it's great and it's nice, but if you can get an MGB get some money. But it's not the end all be all again, I love the way you're looking at it more. So we're like you're you're building quantity of film festivals for your movie, which, by the way, make sense? As a film festival style movie is an RD kind of film in that sense. You know what I mean? entertaining, and entertaining? No, but our rd was entertaining. But it plays at festivals where a horror movie doesn't really benefit maybe a little bit here and there, depending on the festival.
Dan Mirvish 30:30
Yeah, I mean, there's a whole there's a whole circuit of of genre festivals now that's becoming just as big or bigger. But the other thing, I think that's interesting that the pandemic is kind of accelerated is the kind of the fuzziness between festivals and art house theaters, which is to say, Now, there's a lot more festivals that are doing revenue sharing, I just got to check yesterday festival, I didn't even know what I was doing revenue share. And I was like, Wow, this I wasn't expecting, I mean, if it wasn't for a lot, but it was for something. And also a lot of festivals are doing year round programming. So even if you don't get into the festival, they may still program you six months later. So you have to be nice to everyone when they reject you. And then likewise, a lot of art house theaters are doing more with Q and A's and zoom Q and A's and, and bringing filmmakers in so there's it's getting a little fuzzy, but you know, there is some revenue you can make. I mean, we've made money on our festival circuit, I mean, bottom line, you know, between awards and revenue sharing that not a lot, but something.
Alex Ferrari 31:29
Yeah. And you know what, I think that is you're right, because it's there, everyone's just trying to survive. So they understand that like a week of film festivals, probably not going to, you know, pay the nut. So we're going to have to do things differently stand out,
Dan Mirvish 31:44
Or they buy theaters, and then they become urine programmers themselves.
Alex Ferrari 31:48
Right! Exactly. They could start making money and then they then there's a revenue sharing person now the filmmakers incentivized to work with them not only for exposure, because maybe it won't be the moment of all the press and attention on that week or two weeks that they're they're running their festival. But now it's a business deal. Okay, we'll run your movie. It's a rev share. Do you want to do it? In Omaha? Yes. Why wouldn't you
Dan Mirvish 32:13
No, I mean, five days ago, we had a screening in Annapolis that was run by the Annapolis Film Festival, which we for whatever reason, we I think I forgot to apply. But they do a year round programming. And that was a revenue share screening, you know, we did as a sneak preview for the film. So yeah, there's a lot of great opportunities out there now.
Alex Ferrari 32:33
Now, tell me about your film 18 and a half, because when I mean, you would you can talk about this for a while now. And if anyone who knows, Dan, if you are in his circle, you will know when he's making a movie, you will know everything about that movie, you will know when he's filmed crowdfunding for it, you will know what has been released. You know, so all the as he drinks from his 18 and a half cup.
Dan Mirvish 32:58
Alex Ferrari 32:59
So tell everybody what you think you already mentioned what the movie is about. But my one question I wanted to ask you about is how did you raise the money this time for a bunch of different ways?
Dan Mirvish 33:10
Yeah, so with most of my films, I start with crowdfunding. This one we did on seed and spark other films I've done on Kickstarter. And the goal is usually to raise about 10 or 15% of the budget that way, I mean, it's Kickstarter, not kick finisher seed and spark Not, not fire and seeds. Even fire. Yeah. So, um, and, you know, when you do, you know, like, like most people do, like a month long campaign, you know, for for that, and that's, you know, but really, the goal is not about the money. It's about building that community that 300 backers that you get, and you know, Dave, your old bass player, buddy from college may give you $40. But when he posts the video, on his Facebook page, and his brother in law, the Silicon Valley investor gives you $10,000 That's, that's the power of crowd funding. It's it's kind of the Trojan horse to then get you to slightly bigger levels. But the other thing that I do is I always work with a 501 C three as a fiscal sponsor. So the last couple of films has been the film collaborative, because they're one of the few ones that will work with narrative films, there's a lot more than two documentaries. And and I kind of use that as as almost more like a Patreon or only fans page where people can give money, you know, year round, or over the course of two or three years.
Alex Ferrari 34:25
So when you partner with when you partner with a 501 C, that means that they're nonprofits, so that that means it's tax deductible.
Dan Mirvish 34:32
Yeah, for the for the donor, because a lot of rich people, they just want a tax deduction right away, because you know, because I always tell them, Look, you're, you know, you and then the third thing is, is equity investment, like do you want to invest in the film? So I said, Well, look, you can invest in the film, but truthfully, you're not going to make your money back. So if you just want to get a tax write off now this year, then the other way to do it is you donate to the 501 C three, they keep 5% of it for administrative costs for their their kickback and then You get and then the filmmaker gets the rest of the money. And you never have to pay that money back. So it's kind of a win win for the donor, the fiscal sponsor and the filmmaker.
Alex Ferrari 35:09
What was the percent? What were the percentages of each year for the show?
Dan Mirvish 35:13
I think on this film, I think two thirds of the budget came did come from equity investors, from you know, investors. And then you know, that other third was kind of split between crowdfunding through seed and spark and, and and the fiscal sponsor, you know, for the most and yep, donations that came tax deductible donations. So it's, it's, it's winds up paying a fair percentage of it. And again, it can, just by giving people those options doesn't mean they're going to take them, but it shows that you're kind of honest and realistic about your expectations. Like, dude, I told you, you weren't gonna make money. If you want to roll the dice and invest. Great, I'll take it that way. But if you don't, I'll you know, and want to get the deduction this year, that's fine, too. And I think investors appreciate that, like, Okay, well, Dan gave me all the options and was realistic and told me all these distributors were gonna go bankrupt. And while they did, you know, so that's, you know, I put it right there in the business plan. And sure enough, that's what happens every time. So. But, you know, but they're all along for the ride. I mean, I still send them all the same updates and get the same, you know, they get same swag options. And, you know, and and they, you know, they all are part of that community that's building that film.
Alex Ferrari 36:29
That's, that's awesome. Now, casting, you have a pretty awesome cast for for this film. How do you I mean, I mean, obviously, people know who you are, you've done you have, you know, you have, you know, filmography now so it's not like you're starting from scratch. But do you just essentially cast the same way you cast any anybody would cast from you'd send out, call their agent up and go, Hey, or if you have a direct connection, you can try to go to a direct way, and then negotiate afterwards?
Dan Mirvish 36:57
Yeah, my, my kind of, and funny, you should say that there's a chapter in my book about how to get a list actors in a micro budget film, and the name of that books are in the name of the cheerful subversives guide to independent filmmaking. Now avail second edition, available and available on audiobook which I got, but a higher percentage of the print book. But yeah, the main thing I do that may be a little bit unique is I start with New York agents and New York agents, agencies and or the branches of Hollywood agencies in New York. And if you can get in with a junior agent, or an assistant that's about to hit agent, and ask them, they're like, don't come in with a pre existing list. Like, you may have one, but don't tell them about it. Say, look, I respect you, you went to Brown, you have accomplished degree, you know, you're paying back your finance, you know, your student debt. You must be smart, who do you think would be good? And all of a sudden, like, you're asking them their opinion and their advice, and, and then they come back in there pitching people to you, you're not begging people from them. And that just flips the dynamic. And that's exactly what happened on this film. It was a junior agent at one of the ATF paradigm, I think, who I'd worked with on the last film, so I knew him already. And and he had gotten me someone on the last film and on this film, he was like, Oh, you get Dan, you got you. You got to meet with Willa Fitzgerald. I was like Willa, who never heard of her, you know? And and he said, No, no, she's fantastic. Trust me, trust me. Trust me. I was like, Alright, fine. I was in New York. I met with her she was great. And and then I found that she'd been in a film that lucky McKee. It was an old friend of mine from the USC Rian Johnson days. He recommended her he said, Oh, yeah, she's great to work with and, and you know, and, you know, we went we thought considered other people along the way, but it kind of came back around to her, you know, week before shooting, and of course, you know, we shoot the film, she's great. She's wonderful to work with fantastic performance and then she winds up doing reacher afterwards and and just came out as that and shoots up to number two on the star meter like today, we never could have gotten there. But she's still great. You know, she's still wonderful, supportive actress. But I talked to a lot of other directors too. So I was thinking about John Magaro. And I reached out to Kelly Reichardt, who I know just a little bit but she, you know, she said, Oh, yeah, he was great. And first cow, you should cast him and I did you know? You know, someone like Jon Cryer, though, is someone that I met 30 years ago when he and Richard Shankman, were making indie films and they came up to me at a screening and said, Oh, how do you make Omaha the movie, you know, because they were making gone to Coney Island, you know, be back. And so I've kind of stayed in touch with him a little bit through Twitter, but we still had to go through his agency, even though I kind of knew him. You know, Bruce Campbell, who plays the voice of Nixon, you know, was someone that I had? We tried to get him on the last film and schedule didn't work out so I kind of same thing, but I knew his agent, and through his agent was able to get to him. And, you know, but also we made it easy for some of these guys for Bruce and for Ted Raimi and for Jon Cryer, we said, look, it's it's, it's a couple hours of work voiceover because it's there, the 18th, half and a gap. And it'll be sometime in post production, you don't even have to commit to a date at this point. And in the end, we wound up recording that during the pandemic, Jared, we had because we started shooting March 3 2020, what could possibly go wrong, we shot for 11 days had to shut down, we four days left to go. But in the process, we took a six month gap. And during that six months where nobody was doing anything, I was like, You know what, let's do the voice performance now. And let's do it over zoom. We don't have to worry about getting everyone in the same studio at the same time flying people in. It'll be cheaper, easier. They all had pretty decent mics by that point. And they were sitting around not doing anything.
Alex Ferrari 40:47
And it's on a tape that's supposed to be like it's supposed to be.
Dan Mirvish 40:50
Yeah, yeah. So it worked really well for us. But all of a sudden, like June of 2020, where no, no actors were doing anything like we were making part of our movie, you know, over zoom. But availability and schedule is a key thing. I mean, we were already a week into shooting the film. We didn't know who to have our actors were going to be because someone else had dropped out. And again, I called an agent who, who's the head of talent at gershenz guy, Alex Jarosz, who I knew because he was an assistant 20 years ago, and we used to hang out, make photocopies together, you know? And so having that those kinds of relationships, and I could say, Hey, dude, I need someone you know, in 36 hours. He's like, how about Bondi, Curtis all unlike me winter avanti. Cortisol? Yeah, you bet. You know, and sure enough, he shows up. And is amazing in the film, and a lovely absolute treat to work with. So I'm so developing these relationships with talent agents, as opposed to like lit agents. I haven't had my own agent in 15 or 20 years, you know, but having those kind of personal relationships with with agents and managers, you know, because they may have 20 clients. So even if the one person on your list can't do it, they may come back and suggest someone else. You know, that was, that's how I've gotten a lot of people over the years, including Julia Stiles, you know, for my movie between us is because she was in a play. The financing fell through two hours ago. She's completely distraught. And the agents like, do you want her in? Do you want me to send her the script? And I was like, yeah, 24 hours later, she says, Yes, two weeks later, she's in my kitchen rehearsing. Yeah. And so and that was something you know, we learned a little bit from Robert Altman was set that start date, tell everyone trains leaving the station and and see who shows up. You know,
Alex Ferrari 42:34
I have to ask you man, What was it like, you know, haven't haven't worked with Bob. Bob. Like, I know him. Robert, sir, if you will. What was it like having Trotman? You know, mentor you, man.
Dan Mirvish 42:46
Yeah. Well, it was, you know, it was a funny coincidence. I was, you know, I'm from Omaha. And when I went back to Omaha to shoot my film, and I said to the film commission, look, I know, actors here, but I need a local producer. And they say, well, there's this guy, Dana, who, you know, works construction during the day, but he's been producing commercials. He wants to get into, you know, features. So he doesn't have to pour some metal all the time. And they said, Oh, and by the way, his grandfather's Robert Altman, I said he's hired. And so And since then, Dana, and Dana has been Dana Altman still lives in Omaha, and actually lives on a farm outside of Omaha now, and it's still one of my producing partners. But we, you know, then Robert, and Bob, you know, came on board kind of as our mentor on that film, and then I got to know him a little bit after and spend a couple of days on the set of Kansas City watching him work, you know, and, yeah, I mean, it's it, you know, and there's still things that he did that I do, you know, miking every actor individually is a technique that he pioneered with mash and Nashville, and, and I 100% do it on every one of my films. And it's, it's more than just like miking individual actors, but it's also then encouraging them to Okay, now that you've got this mic, talk over each other, you know, like, do overlapping dialogue. And then all of a sudden, even though the script is pretty uncertainly on 80 and a half is a very well scripted script is not a lot of real improvisation, but it's but it's a much more naturalistic performances that you get out of actors by encouraging them to do that, and having the confidence in yourself that in editing, you can work with it, too. But it also means that you never have ADR so you never have those false ADR performances that you're falling back on, which most films do. So there was a lot of other the nuances that I learned from Altman more than just the technical technique, but the kind of the reasons why I mean, he said, point blank, he said, I don't want the lowest paid person on the crew, the boom operator to make the creative decisions about who I was going to listen to, and that's what it was like up until that and he's like, I'm the artist, I'm I want to do you know, I'm gonna be the one making that decision myself. So, I wish we really Blunt Talk, but it was it was true and then you know, and then he combined that With the kind of the wandering zoom lens, which, which I don't do as much of I use in 18, half, there's a lot of zooming. But it's kind of for slightly different, you know, creative purpose. But yeah, but just but also just his philosophy on just make film, make the film, make whatever, you know, I mean, it's amazing how many films he made that most of which most people have never heard of, but he just kept doing it over and over again, you know, and, and he and that feeling of, or that philosophy of set the start date, tell everyone that trains leaving the station. And the interesting thing is, the closer you get to that start date. And you've got to have, you know, iron colonias to pull it off, really, and you have to have backups in mind for cast. But, you know, very often and it's been true in my case, you get better higher level name actors, the closer you get, because actors are not just motivated by money. And agents are mostly motivated by money, but not entirely. They're also all motivated by insecurity and fear. So an agent doesn't want to have an actor calling them up. Why don't I have anything next week? Why don't I have anything next week? And eventually they'll say, alright, fine, fine, this is crappy little indie film, there's no money in it, but just just get out of my hair go to this thing. And and actors love to work, you know, they they hate a vacuum in their schedule, because they never know when they're going to be working next again. So you know, so that was something we really kind of embraced and learn from them.
Alex Ferrari 46:23
That's awesome. Man. That's awesome. I work with people watch your your new movie 18 and a half
Dan Mirvish 46:29
In theaters only. This is not a day and date situation. So you have to go to movie theaters. We are helping bring theaters back whether they want us to or not, and, and bring people back into theater. So on May 27. It is opening in Los Angeles at lumley's for a week long Oscar qualifying run because it's an honor just to be eligible. And, and playing in a few other Lemley theaters around LA and also in New York City, with big premiere may 27 in Brooklyn. And then June 1, we have a big premiere in Washington, DC. And then June 3, it opens coast to coast around the country, North America. And eventually it's going to be probably in about 50 theaters, nationwide, and for for about five weeks until it hits VOD.
Alex Ferrari 47:16
So again, this is through a theatrical distributor.
Dan Mirvish 47:19
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Adventure entertainment. That's awesome. The company Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 47:24
Dan, you are an inspiration, my friend to say the least. You You inspire me all the time, dude. Seriously, like I see you working and doing your thing, man. I'm just like, you hustle hard, bro. The Hustle recognizes us. Oh, man, there's no question about it. And you're still and like, man, were you still do it, dude, all these, like, you just like you're insane. You are the definition of an insane filmmaker, you are
Dan Mirvish 47:47
I'm doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
Alex Ferrari 47:52
We all do. But you have a good time you have a good time doing?
Dan Mirvish 47:55
Yeah. And that's the key. And I think also, and this is something I remember when I first went to South buy in 95. There was this great panel discussion and it was you know, all the bigwigs of the indie film is Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater and, and Robert Rodriguez and and you know, all kinds of B Allison Anders maybe was there. And then Greg Rocky was there. And and I remember something Greg said, because he was there with Doom generation, but he'd made five tiny, tiny, little 60 millimeter weird films. To get to that point. He said, Look, all these other guys got to Sundance hit the ball out of the park got a big homerun their first step back. And, and I didn't do that, you know, he's Greg's, like, you know, I had to keep struggling making one film after another film after another film, but five films later, I'm literally on the same panel with these guys. I'm on the same Pantheon, and I'm making films at a similar budget level. And, and he said, you know, look, you can either hit the ball out of the park at bat, but you know, that we know that's 1% of filmmakers every year. Or you just build a body of work. You just keep at it, and keep making films, and eventually someone will recognize Oh, wow, this filmmakers made a bunch of films that there must be something there, you know, and that, to me is still like, you know, the inspiration just keep on making them because you never, you know, and it's not because you think anyone is going to hit the ball out of the park, you know, they may not, but eventually people are gonna go, oh, wow, this person's made some halfway decent films. You add them together. Maybe there's at least one decent film in there, you know?
Alex Ferrari 49:28
Exactly. Brother, man, thank you again, for coming on the show. You're welcome back anytime, as you know, I'm looking forward to what you do next. What insanity you're coming up with next. And
Dan Mirvish 49:40
Well, there's still plenty plenty of you know, I'm still beating this dead horse. You know, so 80 and a half the soundtrack is out this week on iTunes and, and, you know, Spotify, different things like that. There's talk of turning it into a play. There's some chatter of turning it into a TV series. It's mostly We meet chattering but still, there is chatter. And, you know, and I know it's gonna take a while to do the DVD and the blu ray. So this is going to keep me busy for a while. So yeah, get used to me. So, you know, talking about this for listening to hear. Yeah, exactly. And that's part of what you need to do. Like you can't give up. You know,
Alex Ferrari 50:18
It can't just be like, Oh, I'm done all the final cuts done. Whoosh. Okay, let me start working on my next movie. Now. You got about a year, two years on this one.
Dan Mirvish 50:26
Absolutely. And we're lucky because all of us, you know, had a good time on this one despite a pandemic, or maybe because of it, I don't know. And, and we're all excited to keep working on it together.
Alex Ferrari 50:37
Brother man, thanks again for coming on the show. Keep inspiring us all. My friend. I appreciate you.
Dan Mirvish 50:41
Thank you Alex.
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- WATCH: 18 1/2
- Dan Mirvish – IMDB
- The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking: From Preproduction to Festivals and Distribution
- Slamdance Film Festival