Daniel Sollinger

IFH 557: The Brutal Truth About Making Indie Films with Daniel Sollinger


Today on the show we have producer Daniel Sollinger. Daniel and I have fought in the same indie film trenches for years. I had the pleasure of working with him on multiple occassion over the past 1o years.

He has a new film coming out called Clean, starring Academy Award® Winner Arian Brody.

Tormented by a past life, garbage man Clean (Adrien Brody) attempts a life of quiet redemption. But when his good intentions mark him a target of a local crime boss (Glenn Fleshler), Clean is forced to reconcile with the violence of his past. The film also stars Richie Merritt, Chandler Ari DuPont, Mykelti Williamson, RZA, Michelle Wilson, and John Bianco. It is written by Paul Solet and Adrien Brody. Clean, directed by Paul Solet, arrives in theaters, On Demand, and digital on January 28, 2022.

Daniel and I discuss the brutal truth on producing and making indie films in today world. The conversation is full of real-world stories, advice and lessons to help you on your path. Enjoy!!!

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show, Daniel Sollinger. How're you doing, Daniel?

Daniel Sollinger 0:15
I'm doing great. Yeah!

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Good to see you, my friend you and I have. We have, we have, we have fought this in battles. We've been in the same trenches. We have walked over the same bodies in independent film, and so I was so happy when you reached out to me about coming on the show, because you're a wealth of information. You've done. I mean, you've definitely have done the indie film hustle.

Daniel Sollinger 0:43
30 years of Indie film hustling. Yes!

Alex Ferrari 0:44
And then some. So I have to start let's start the conversation, my friend is how and why did you decide to get into this insanity? That is the film industry, let alone the indie film industry?

Daniel Sollinger 1:00
Well, you know, that's a great question. I just want to start off to saying like, how much fun it has been to watch, Indie Film Hustle, grow and expand. And, you know, you're such a great entrepreneur, too. I always use you as an example to young filmmakers who are, you know, maybe have a movie that doesn't have stores or whatever. And I say, there's, you just have to find a unique way to do it. I know this guy, Alex, who, when the iPhone came out, he took his short film, he turned it into an app and sold it on the App Store. Like you just have to find the new way to do it, to monetize your film and make it successful, you know, so I love what you do and glad to be here. I mean, I the long story is, is that when I was in high school, my parents did not want us to watch movies or television, they want us to read books, I became very rebellious, I got kicked out of one high school, I went to another high school, I got kicked out of that high school and I, I went to the end of the line, which was a night school for sort of disciplinary problem, children. And while I was a night school, I met another kid who was kicked out of this thing called the Fine Art Center. This is in Greenville, South Carolina. And he was studying film, and it was just like a light bulb went off. I was like, you can study film like that can be a career like it just it just blew my mind. And I had no experience whatsoever. But I, I had been writing a lot of poetry and I submitted all my poetry the Fine Arts Center, and God bless Dennis, you see the teacher there. He, he accepted me into the program, I'd go half the day at my regular high school. And then I went to half the day and studied film at the fine art center. And, you know, then I applied to NYU and went to NYU film school and, you know, build a career from that. I love making movies. I love telling stories, you know, and when I was getting out of NYU, I sort of I think there was sort of like a decision point. It's like, do I want to be a PA on big movies? You know? Or do I want to produce music videos, because I was producing oil. I was producing music videos before I graduated. And I said, You know what, I want to be a producer. I'm just gonna start producing music videos, and someday I'll be producing big movies, but I'm just going to produce because that's what I like to do. You know, I don't want a PA for 10 years. You know, I'm I mean, you know, God bless them, you know, and nothing wrong with it. But I mean, like, 60 year old second ideas and just wonder, like, I just didn't want to get caught in like, a, like a smaller roll on a bigger movie. Like I wanted to have the enjoyment of producing from the beginning, you know?

Alex Ferrari 3:27
Yeah, I mean, I've run into a couple 45 50 year old PA's and that's, that's it? That's tough. It's a tough gig, man. It's a tough gig. Yeah, getting caught up in that and that's nothing that's wrong with it, man. But PA-ing is a young man's game, my friend. It is things things hurt. Now, that did not hurt in your 20s like walking through it. I mean, if you know if you know when it's gonna rain by the pain in your knee, you might have jumped the shark. Now you made your bones coming up as a first ad and line producer in the UPM. Can you tell the difference? Can you tell me the difference between a UPM a unit production manager and a line producer? Because that's a confusion a lot of filmmakers have.

Daniel Sollinger 4:16
Sure well, yeah, I have a lot to say about actually. So I'm a DGA UPM on the Directors Guild of America UPM. And even if I'm doing a job as a producer, and it's a DGA show, I will take the UPM credit so that I get that you know, health pension and welfare benefits and everything so that's so that that's there's still a lot of room and I'm not the only one there's like huge producers like Daniel loopy and, you know, there's a lot of lot of, you know, big Hollywood producers that when they produce a movie they they are the UPM as well. So, the UPM is the person in charge of, you know, breaking down the script, creating a schedule, turning that information, the breakdown in the schedule into a budget, then Hiring the crew and making sure everything stays on track in terms of scheduling budget all the way through till the end of production. So that's, that's what a UPM does, um, the line producer I think is a little bit more of an indie role. And it's, it's, it's a step up. So the UPM will work underneath the line producer, the line producer will be their supervisor, and the line producer looks at more the big picture of the production. And the UPM is making sure the lunch is there on time and taking care of the smaller details to make sure that all the smaller details are hitting all the places that they're supposed to be.

Alex Ferrari 5:36
So you even though you might be line producing, you'll take a UPM credit.

Daniel Sollinger 5:40
Even if I'm just for producer, you know, I'll take a UPM credit if it's a Directors Guild of America movie, absolutely!

Alex Ferrari 5:47
Right. And you being a DJ, and you being a union DJ, a union member, you have to basically work on projects that are union DJ generally.

Daniel Sollinger 5:55
Well, luckily, in my category, that's a big loophole. Because yes, I cannot work on a non union movie. As a unit production manager. I can't work on a non union movie as a line producer as a producer. So it's a lot harder for Union a DS, because there's no other sort of title that really fits right? You know, so and the DGA is there, they are really serious about it, too. If I work on a non union movie as a unit production manager, my penalty if they find out and discipline me, is my entire salary from that project. So it's a very serious deal

Alex Ferrari 6:35
That we won't get into how fair that is or not fair that is. But now Are there any

Daniel Sollinger 6:44
There's other things you can do. You can go fi core, which is financial core so that you can get the benefits of being union and be non union? I mean, there's there's ways to deal with it. But if you're if you're doing everything by the book, I mean, that's the potential penalty that you face.

Alex Ferrari 6:57
Well, yeah, I know isn't I mean, Robert Rodriguez couldn't turn to You know, the, you know, George Lucas, they're all non GGA. And they still work on DGA projects and films, but there are five core if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, there and it's, it's like the DJ doesn't generally like to talk a lot about like, we don't we don't talk about Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez. No, no, no. But no. I mean, listen, I heard I've heard nothing. But great things about the DGA. I know that they have probably the best benefits package out of all the unions in Hollywood pension package. I mean, it's pretty insane. It's pretty insane

Daniel Sollinger 7:33
It's very nice. And beyond that, too. I'm a huge fan of the DGA, you know, they a decade ago, they spent $2 million to commissioned a study about where they thought online viewing would go right at the time. You know, I think YouTube was just starting to really kick in, you know, people were doing webisodes. I don't know if you remember those? No, it was very, very, very little revenue in it. And because they commissioned this study, they learned what anchor points they needed to put into the contracts so that people who working in new media felt free to go DGA. But as as it grew like the DGA would grow with it in the in the parody of compensation would grow with it. And I, they're there. Well, it's directors and UPM. So it's like the best run union, you know, there's very little drama, everything's like boom, boom, boom, by the book, very healthy pension. Their reserves and their pension, you know, the reserves for the operating overall are like really abundant, you know, and it's just a incredibly well run union, I think the best union, and I think the all the other unions follow them. So, you know, I think in terms of the contract cycles, like DJs, like the first up, and then a lot of the other unions will sort of follow their lead and when they go into their negotiations,

Alex Ferrari 8:55
Yeah, it's if you can, if you can get it, it's great. It really is, but you have to follow the rules. There's no question about it don't do not play around. They don't play.

Daniel Sollinger 9:06
Yeah, and rules, you know, rules are, are there for a reason to I mean, you know, you know, when you think about SEFs set safety liability, yeah. You know, um, you know, the rules that can be restrictive and challenging at times, but, but they're there to protect the the members and you know, and the, the institution as a whole and filmmaking in general, you know.

Alex Ferrari 9:29
Now you and I worked on a project two years ago, called without men starring the lovely, Eva Longoria who was just on the show, and that was not planned by the way I didn't plan on having you. You reached out to me before even was even scheduled to be on the show. But it just so was, was funny. And I talked to her a little bit about the show that about the movie, she's like, Oh, my God, I forgot. You know, that's amazing. I can't believe you worked on it. And that movie was a really interesting experience for me because this, we're going back it'd be releasing 10 years ago, 10 11 years ago, by 11 years ago. Um, that that was released. And we were working on it in 2010. I think it was being filmed in 2010 2000 2009 2010, something like that. And I you know, it had Christian Slater in it, it had Castillo Castillo Castillo, Paul Rodriguez, Paul Rodriguez had a really great cast. And it was shot outside of LA was I think outside the crew, the what you call it? What is that?

Daniel Sollinger 10:30
The zone. They call it the zone is 30 miles. radius from this screen actors guild headquarters. Yeah. So it was outside the zone. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 10:40
It was outside the zone. So technically, you could do a non union scenario there. And I think that's for crew, not for DGA or other things. But for crew. So I remember when we were on that, that that project was flipped. Now, can you explain what flipping a movie means? And how you handled it?

Daniel Sollinger 11:02
Okay, yes, definitely. Um, so flipping is when a, when the crew decides that they want to organize and collectively bargain with the producers. And so, you know, I do both Union and non union work, both as you know, as a union member, you know, in my category, but also, you know, all the other trade unions involved. And I'm, so usually, when I start a project, if we make a decision can, it always comes down to money, can we afford to go union, like, my default is, is like, I would prefer to go union because union, like your basement level quality of work is higher period. Sure, like, you're your worst guy on the union crew is better than the average guy on a non union crew, in my experience, just just my experience. So um, but, you know, you there's a tremendous cost impacted that I think, at the moment, it's around an extra $220 per day, per person, just in benefits. So that adds up to six figures very quickly. And if, you know, if you're really trying to, you know, get something done. You know, sometimes there's just not the room to do that, which was the case and that movie, by the way, love Eva loved working with her never such a wonderful experience. And, um, so, you know, we had a very limited, we actually didn't have full financing, you know, we had enough to get it in the Can we didn't even have the money for post, I think, when we started out, and, which is why I think it took another eight months before we were like, okay, like,

Alex Ferrari 12:46
I'm literally I had all the raw files on a hard drive on multiple hard drives sitting in my office. And I would call you every every month, like, Hey, man, do you want me to finish this Eva Longoria Christian Slater movie?

Daniel Sollinger 13:03
Well, that was the reason why. Okay. And so like I said, we had just, you know, we had just enough to get get us through production. So we we told everybody going into it. This is non union film, when we hired the crew, you know, we can't afford to go union, you know, we're going to do this non union, and mostly we hired non union people. Um, I find that when you have talent at a certain visibility, that, that becomes more and more untenable that that, I believe, I believe, I don't know who or where I think that they unions look at a project and they say, Look, you know, if you can, if you've got Eva Longoria, or, you know, whoever I'm just using her in the example, this movie, like you can, you should really be union. And I think that's sort of like the mindset and, you know, and they're entitled to that. So then what happens is you're shooting with this crew that you believe is non union, and it doesn't matter if they're union members or not, it's a little bit more difficult, if they are union members to stay non union because the union then applies pressure on them if the DP is union, you know, they'll get a call from the union and say, Look, we It looks like you're working on a non union production, you know, that's not okay. You know, we, you know, we need help, you know, organizing the organizing the shoot, and by organizing, if you can get 50% of the crew to sign on and agree to be represented, then the union then becomes the representative for the crew. And what what happens is they stop work, you know, they usually do it on a lunch break, or at the beginning of a day, and no work happens until you work out a deal with the, you know, a contract with the union. And that that did happen on that project.

Alex Ferrari 14:53
It was it was really interesting because I when I was when I was coming up, there was a movie We that I worked on in Florida. And it was it, believe it or not, was like a million dollar budget. But most of that money was going towards cast it was a very poorly. It was a very poorly run project. And back in those years is the mid 2000s, early 2000s. And I remember the day I was doing all the post on it, and it had like an Academy Award nominee in it and a couple of people in it. And then the union showed up because was non union this was in Florida, because Florida has a right to work state. So you don't have to put the Union came because he said they saw the trucks and everything. And then like so. And luckily that day, none of the major cast was there. It was all kind of like the the the non bankable names were there. And all of a sudden they looked and they saw the camera that we were using. And it was the dv x 100 a Panasonic mini DV camera, shooting a million dollar movie with the Panasonic dva 100 million. Wow. And they said literally they're like, You guys have a great day. And literally all of them just walked out. They were done. They were just like, these guys, obviously I don't care if you've got Meryl Streep here you're shooting with this camera, you're obviously don't have the money to pay us. But that's but that's the that's the one that these are the kind of things that you PMs in line producers have to deal with that the filmmakers generally don't need to even know about until they go. Why am I why isn't my crew working?

Daniel Sollinger 16:26
Where's the why is the crew across the street? It's call time.

Alex Ferrari 16:29
Exactly! At that point they go ohh.

Daniel Sollinger 16:33
I want to go in a little bit more detail about without men Yeah, in the flow. Because now that's 10 years past, I feel like I could devolve some things that I wouldn't normally have have have divulged in the time. But so you can as a producer, you can usually see a flip coming. It's not a surprise the day that the crew is not working. There's usually you know, there's background bills you get as rumbles. Yeah, feel it, you feel it happening. So I saw this coming. And this is a project that our it was all in one location we had, we had this great situation. It was a film school. I don't think they exist anymore, actually. And they're the name of the film school escapes me but they had this soundstage and they had this Mexican village backlot. And it was perfect for our movie. And so we struck a deal. You know, we hired students to and and so we just landed at this film school, and we shot our whole movie on their on their backlot in soundstage. It was it was a it was a great situation, especially, you know, with limited means. So, whenever a flip happens, there's there's some negotiating that goes on, you know, like you can, you can get, there's some things that they will not budge about on their contract. There's like minimum staffing requirements, you have to pay all the pension and welfare retro, retroactively, there's a lot that there's a lot that that is that you're not gonna be able to negotiate. But there's all these other deal points that you can negotiate that are more negotiable. So when I knew the flip was coming, the morning of the flip was there, and the crew went across the street and they all had their walkie talkies. And so I went around to all the film students I said, Okay, you're the you're the well, we are at staff it wasn't flip DJ. So our ad staff was still on. But you know, I said, Okay, you're the camera person. You're the you're the you're this you're that you're the I gave all the students assignments, and I said, use the walkies a lot just every every I told the ad anything you just you're moving the camera over two inches. Put it on the walkie Right. And, and and then I waited. Right and I and the union representative was expecting me to call him and be like, let's work out something we're not getting anything done. But instead the whole crew was sitting there listening to their walkies and there's like, alright, Roll camera. Okay, we're moving on, you know, and and we were just shooting without them, you know, and they were flipping out. And so they started to put a lot of pressure on their union representative to contact me and work out some sort of deal and I may have even like not answered the guy's phone call the first couple of times he was trying to call me and and and he finally got ahold me. He's like, Look, man, we really have to work something out here. I was like, you know, okay, well, I'll talk to you. Why don't you come in and talk. And I worked out like the best possible deal I've ever have on a flip. I've been flipped about seven times. But just like just the barest barriers, barest minimums of like what I had to comply with. And, and then, you know, the crew came back and everybody hugged and we went on and, you know, the unions want the union, it's good to have a win win the union won because they, you know, they flipped us and we won because it was like, really not a high impact on us financially. And, and, you know, and then we and we got the movie made and that happened. I guess by lunchtime. I think the crew was back, you know, so it was pretty quick. They of course, the camera department like destroyed the card that the students had been shooting with. But, but it was it turned out to be like a, like a very effective, you know,

Alex Ferrari 20:02
It almost sounded like a hostage situation like, you have to call in and like they're not picking up the call, what do they want? I don't know, we'd send food. Or we'll send out one room or at least one hostage like, right. Now, are there any tricks of the trade that you can kind of give advice on when it comes to line producing a project or UPM in a project?

Daniel Sollinger 20:28
Well, I just heard this, this week, and I love this. Somebody said, Daniel, we're going to fix it in prep.

Alex Ferrari 20:36
What a great, what a great. Oh, my god, that's amazing.

Daniel Sollinger 20:40
That's when you're on set, it's like, oh, we'll fix it in post, no, fix it in prep, you know, like the, you know, like, that's the best thing you can do to yourself, even if you don't have the money to, you know, pay people to do like extensive prep, just do as much prep as you I work on this TV show called a double cross. And the producers on that show, they'll start out months in advance location scout, they'll do all this prep work on their own, so that by the time it gets the week before shooting, like so much as done in the crew to sort of drops into this situation that they've already set up ever, you know, it's like, they know all their calf, they know all their locations, they know they've got, you know, they know all their props, they know how they're doing everything. And the crew just sort of drops in and they go and, you know, I don't think that's that's an interesting way to work. That's not the way I would normally do it. But, but it's amazing how much if you do enough prep, you won't have problems during production. It's just that simple. You know?

Alex Ferrari 21:38
Yeah, absolutely. Prep is it's so undervalued. Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. Now, what are some mistakes that you see filmmakers make when they're trying to produce their first low budget? Independent Film, I'm sure you've seen you've been witness might have even been a part of early in your career,

Daniel Sollinger 21:57
I was thinking about all the mistakes I've made, like I don't even know where to start, you know, but but, you know,

Alex Ferrari 22:04
Top five, top five mistakes.

Daniel Sollinger 22:07
Yeah, um, as well, just back for a second of what you were saying about that shoot in Florida, you know, I've very often get I do a lot of, you know, breakdown schedules and budgets for movies that are fundraising or trying to get greenlit and what have you. And, um, if there's too much discrepancy between the above the line, and the below the line, that is not a good look.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
So you mean 750 For the talent, and 250 for production, that llittle, heavy, little, heavy on the downside?

Daniel Sollinger 22:35
Well, a good rule of thumb is that those should line up. So if you're spending a half million above the line, you should be spending at least a half million below the line. Like that's, to me that's responsible producing. So yeah, so if the ratio between what the above line was below the line, or getting is too off, it's just, it's, that's, that's a recipe for disaster for a lot of weight reasons, you know, because you're above the line, or in a movie that looks like garbage, you know, like, you know, like, and then they're not happy about that. And then you have to deal with the repercussions of that, or they're expecting a certain level of professionalism that you just can't afford, if you've done it that way. You know, so there's the stars, your big name, stars, or whatever that you're expecting to use on your, your marketing and bring the money back, you know, they arrive on set, and they're like, this is a joke, I can't work in this under these conditions. And you know, and it causes, you know, can cause just tremendous problems. So there should always be a parity between, you know, at least a one to one ratio between the above the line below the line spend, that would be my, my, my, my piece of advice number one.

Alex Ferrari 23:40
All right. Yeah, cuz I mean, there's so many. There's just so many things like, Well, there's one thing I remember when I was doing my movie, my $20 million movie for the mob back in the day. I was, I had the pleasure of being mentored by a legendary first ad. And he was a lot he was a line producer on some David Fincher films like he was, he was the real deal like he was he worked on lovestory in the 70s. Like he was, he'd been alright, he was, he was in the room on taxi driver, when, when Robert was like, Are you talking to me? Like he was in that room. He was in the room with Marty. So he was a New York guy who was an East Coast guy. So I was I had the pleasure of working with him for four months, and he trained me on how to just taught me on how to break down a movie, how to schedule a movie. And then I discovered how he was able to hide money in other departments. Can you talk about that little trick? And it's not it's not it's not notorious or anything like that. It's an actual really very valuable tool to to have.

Daniel Sollinger 24:50
Absolutely, absolutely. Because when you're creating a budget, you know, first of all things happen. Surprises happen. Things come up, you've always need to be aware that number one. So, you know, you should always have overtime budgeted some overtime, I usually start at 10%. And every budget I do, there's like an, you know, a 10%, overtime, you should always have a contingency in place. And, and hopefully you don't spend it but but trying to do is another mistake I see a lot of young producers make where they'll like, make a million dollar film, and then their contingency will be like $10,000, you know, like, you should have a 10% contingency, you know, and, but then also inside the budget, there should be areas or places that you know, that you've over budgeted for, you know, like, I can get a much better deal with this vendor than I'm putting in here, you know, but I'm gonna put this in here, because this is what it would cost if it was just a regular, normal vendor relationship, you know, and so you find all these little pockets, and then when things start going wrong, things happen. And I can't even begin, you know, you know, as well as I do, anybody who makes a film knows, it never goes 100% according to plan, then you have these little pockets that all we have is we have a union flip, what do we need to find an extra 40 grand somewhere, you know, so you know, oh, well, if we take this pad out of here, and this pad out of here, and we use our contingency and reduce our overtime budget to 5%, then we have the money, you know, so So those, those little pads and pockets are really good. Now, on the converse, you have to be very careful to, um, did not get in the habit of quoting the department heads the wrong misleading numbers. So let's say you have, you know, a $5,000, you know, budget for the the wardrobe department, you know, it's very easy to get in the habit of saying that you have 3000, and then try to act keep that as pad. And if they go over, as they they go over 1000, then you're you're still 1000 under and, and I've, I've done that a lot. And but it's a habit I'm trying to get myself off of because if you can be just fully transparent. These are the same numbers as my budget. If you're dealing with professionals, like that's a much better and more effective way to go. So So you had to be careful where you put those pads that they're there, you know that you're not depending on somebody else to overperform in order to have that pad? You know what I mean?

Alex Ferrari 27:23
I agree with you on on the professional standpoint, like if you're dealing with Union professionals, or people who are very seasoned, I get that, but maybe when you're dealing on a lower budget film with the department heads aren't as seasoned. That technique might work. And this is the art of being a line producer. This is this little

Daniel Sollinger 27:41
Line producing,

Alex Ferrari 27:41
Yeah, it's the art of line producing, because you've got to kind of like, okay, you have to check out the the, the crew, check out what's going on, check out the director, check out the producer, who's how much experience of these people have, do you think they're going to go over and, and things like that. And sometimes you have to have those little tricks in order to keep because it's your job,

Daniel Sollinger 28:02
I never do it anymore. But I have a line producer whose work I really highly respect and his operates at a at a higher level than me and, you know, he told me like, I always give them my real numbers. And I was like, wow, it was just like, wow, you know, like, okay, sort of like you having that, that conversation with that ad and you just sort of, you're like, oh, okay, yeah, I see why, you know, at the, at the top level, this is the way it works, you know,

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Right! Yeah, like I was, when I was talking to Ridley Scott's costume designer, you can give her she's an Oscar winner, you could give her the exact budget, you can give her your you don't play around with someone of that guy of that caliber. And because they're professionals, they've done this 1000 times, it's fine. But if you've got someone who's maybe done one or two shows, and you just don't know, you got to protect them, you got to protect not only yourself, but it's your job to make sure that this ship doesn't sink. And if you don't have that, the way that you're just talking about contingency, when stuff happens, which will happen. And every project it will happen, then your the whole thing can come crashing down like that you can't finish the movie. So in many ways, I mean, that's a lot of pressure on the line producer really, truly it is it truly is a lot of pressure on the UPM in the in the line producer because they've got to, they're the they're responsible for keeping the engine going. They're not the creative producer. They're the they're the nuts and bolts producer.

Daniel Sollinger 29:27
Well, and it's interesting too, because often the crew will consider them the enemy and that think that they're trying to get over on them or manipulate them, which is one of the reasons why I was saying like, it's best when you can give the real numbers. But um, but what I always say to the crew that's that's unhappy with me because I'm not giving them all the things that they want. I'm in charge of making sure your last paycheck clears. Right. If we if we spend all the money and and your paycheck bounces like that, you don't want that to happen any more than I do. So if I tell you We don't have the money, we don't have the money. You know, and there's we can't talk about anymore.

Alex Ferrari 30:04
Right. And a lot of times, especially when you have crews are coming in from the studio system, who are just used to all the toys, and they also know the depth that a studio has, like, Oh, if you go over 100,000, no one's gonna blink too much. If you go over a million, there's going to be a conversation, but the movie is going to get finished, you're going to get your final check from Universal. But when you're in the indie world, when the money runs out, you better go find some dentist.

Daniel Sollinger 30:31
Right! It's absolutely true. Yeah, I've been there. And it's painful.

Alex Ferrari 30:37
Yeah, especially when and then the poor director, and the forecast and the poor, the creatives behind everything that just like, what's, what's going what's going on. So it is truly one of the more important positions you can hire on is a good good line producer, who knows how to plays, who knows how to play with the numbers and make things work. And it is, I mean, watching watching my, my, my my line producing First Lady mentor work on that project all those years ago, I would just see how he would just move in, let's get into scheduling. That is a whole other art form between schedules, and this and that, and the actor and the location. And oh, God, you know, this, one of our content, one of the issues that we had was like, Oh, the Turtles are in mating season, and we can't shoot on the water. So we have to move things. Like it was, these are the things you have to deal with. These are this is the non sexy stuff, right? It's true. This is the stuff that we're talking about so unsexy, because all they teach in film school is like, look at the cool lens. Let's watch Citizen Kane, look at the new red and the Alexa. And let's go and let's go watch a Darren Aronofsky movie, and, you know, and, and, and wax poetic about it. But at the end of the day, this is what makes the movies, this is what gets these movies finished.

Daniel Sollinger 31:56
And you know, and it's what they don't teach you is that sometimes a small hand prop can grind the entire production down to the whole, you know, like, you know, it's like, you know, the, the director didn't see it that, you know, before the it's needed on camera, the prop person brings it. And the and the director is like, this is I can't work with this, this doesn't this is not what I need for this scene. And then production stops until somebody runs out and gets exactly what the director needs, you know? And yeah, they don't teach you that in film school?

Alex Ferrari 32:29
Not at all, not at all. Now, what was in your opinion, one of the worst days you've ever had on set? I know you I know. You'd like a shiver went down his spine. If you're not watching this.

Daniel Sollinger 32:42
I've done 65 Movies 400 short form content. So

Alex Ferrari 32:46
You've done a lot. So is there is there one that stands out? And then also how did you? And how did you overcome it? Like, that's always my question. And how did you overcome it that day?

Daniel Sollinger 32:56
Okay, that's a good question. So I'll start with the hardest one that I eventually did, overcome, was hired, hired by somebody, you know, very, very late in the prep process. Like, we got to shoot next week, kind of late. And find out after shooting three weeks, that they had spent all the money that they were given to make the movie all but like 40 or 50 grand on, I don't know what I suspect leisurely activities, for lack of a better word. And, but that they, they and it was a foreign production, and they didn't have an American LLC. So I formed an LLC, just to put all this money through. And so that we could operate as a as an American production. And then basically, you know, actually it was it was like a three week shoot, and two weeks into it, I realized the money isn't there, there's no money, you know, and it was right before Christmas. And I had about 130 people who weren't paid. Oh, and it was all on me. I was the LLC sole sole member of the LLC. And it was all on me and wow, that I woke up every morning and so much pain. And I had to go and just knock on doors 24/7 until I got the money to pay the people and it took it took like three months you know and and then the money to finish the film. So that's that's something that you never want to go through. And, but, you know, you come out of it stronger. Like there's, I've had so many experiences. The other story I want to tell about is the time we blew up a town, like literally, but the I'll tell that story and then just say that You know, now when I go onto a shoot, you know, it's there's very little that fazes me, there's one of my favorite movies is, you know, Wag the Dog were often the producer, and you know, there'll be a problem that will come up and what they're trying to do in that movie. And don't go like, this is nothing. You know, I was shooting Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and three of the horsemen died. And that's where you start to feel as like, whatever the fuck come up, you're like, look, I lived through this thing. I lived through that thing. We're going to get through this somehow. One of my mottos now is like, a problem cannot existentially exist without a solution. You know, like, it's just, it's not possible for a problem to exist without there being a solution. So, you know, that's the attitude I took. We were doing this movie, the alphabet killer. fun movie. Good movie, I'm very proud of it. And our grip truck was pulling out in the parking lot. After we'd packed up one location, we were doing a company move to another location, where we were shooting Martin Donovan, and Melissa Leo, who we only had for one day, like, they were going back to their, to their other projects or whatever. At the at the next morning. The grip truck grabs a power line pulls the power line, two telephone poles was transformers snap. Now what I didn't know that is that transformers are full of oil. So when they hit the ground, they exploded. And they the explosion of the oil like flew onto our still photographers car, and completely incinerated his car, incinerated the hotel next to the location we were at. We had you know, a huge luckily thing. Thank goodness, nobody was hurt. But a huge fireball, like came towards our first ad or second ad and like, burned off her eyebrows. And you know, this fire may have the explosion was enormous. You could hear it miles away, you know, and, um, you know, and and we had to get, we had Melissa Leo for one day. And so first of all, we made sure everybody was okay. Sure, of course. Anybody who was traumatized, we told them go back to the hotel. Right? Then I had to go and talk to the fire department. And who had now cordoned off, you know, like several square blocks. And I was like, Look, is there any way I can get to my camera truck to pull off my camera because we have to keep shooting? And he's like, Okay, well, let's, we'll have an escort, you can go and pull out your camera. What he didn't realize he thought it was a camera. It was actually 15 cases, of course. I grabbed a hand truck. And I'm like, pulling 15 cases off and like throwing them onto the hand truck. The fire the fire guy who came with me is looking at me like, I can't believe you're doing this right now. We frickin pulled the camera out. I don't I think there was a supplemental truck. Maybe it was the grip truck that pulled down the thing. And we had an electric truck that had lights and enough grip gear to get by. Did the company move? Shot Martin and Melissa made our day, you know, and the issue, you know, in the insurance claim was like, all the funny thing is, is, is right after it happened, you know, it was just mayhem. I turned to Martin Dunham and I said, Can you believe this is like, No, this is like the second time this has happened. We made our day you know, the insurance claim went on for years, the city was battling the the the film insurance company because you know, the film company, his position was that the line should never been hanging low enough for the truck to grab it. You know, the the insurance, the the the city's insurance company felt like we were driving in a place that we shouldn't have been driving and therefore it was our fault. So that went on for years and years. But you know, again, one of those experiences that you make your way through and you become a stronger you know, I participate in town this time and you know, everything's okay, you know.

Alex Ferrari 39:03
And another lesson is make sure you have production assurance, make sure you do not go anywhere without production assurance. Now, you've worked on a ton of movies over the years, can you you know, and you've seen the business change. I mean, you were there when DVD was king, and you could just put something out and what you would do is paying Yeah, but like when that was like the heyday when everybody was making just obscene amounts of money is during the I say the Late 80s Late 90s to probably like 2010 That's when you could just pre sell stuff and DVD sales like you can make sniper 52 and just go and get sold all over the world. You now you I mean, obviously you're making movies now as well. How important is it to have bankable stars in your films? And I mean, obviously that's a that's a kind of a dumb question as we all like, hey, we all we need stars in our movie, but it all depends on the I always tell people it depends on the budget. And the genre. But if you're making it, you can make a knot, you can make action, you can make horror, you can make thrillers, with maybe some recognizable faces, or even some unknowns, if the budgets low enough. But once you start breaking a certain budget threshold, it's irresponsible of you in today's world not to have some sort of bankable cast, what do you think?

Daniel Sollinger 40:22
Well, you know, talent is the coin of the realm. So you, it doesn't just matter to the people selling the film, like, I'm making the film. So the the, the normal, sort of, by the numbers, processes, you make the film, you get into a big film festival, you get a sales agent, you get a publicist, you go to the festival, you create a lot of hype, you sell it to a distributor, they put it out, right. Film Festivals, when they look at your movie are thinking, who is going to bring the most press to my film festival. So it's not even the people who are buying it, the the sales agent is looking at your film and saying, it's a good film, but I don't know anybody. And then, you know, you're glad to go find another agent, you know, like, like, it ripples, and all these, you know, the publicists, the casting, you would be surprised even like, if you go to a, you know, one of the top casting directors and you say, I've got this, this great movie, you know, and it's got this person already attached, you know, versus I've got this great movie, and nobody's attached, it could be the difference between like that top casting director saying yes or no to your project, you know, so it's not just, you can't just think about in terms of the, the, you know, the name on the DVD box cover on the the thumbnail on the streaming service, you know, it ripples all the way down, you know, and you find you get better crew to it's like, oh, you know, oh, this has got a project with that in a minute. Okay, um, in, you know, whereas, well, you know, the pays, okay, or it's not usually what I get, but, you know, and there's nobody in it, you know, I, you know, I'll do a commercial that week, you know, and make more money than, you know, one day than I would make a week on your film, you know, so it matters all the way down the line. Unfortunately. However, not everybody can do it. And it's not easy, you know, it's getting cast attached can take forever. And, you know, it's it's a big rigmarole. And if you can't do that, and if your budget so small, or whatever, you can't do that, then you have to do something innovative, like you did, you know, putting it as an app on the I know, I know, a guy who figured out SEO, this was this was years ago, he did a wrestling movie with no no stars. But what he did was, you know, he, he knew how to work Google, so that anytime somebody typed in wrestling, the first result would be his movie, and you went to his website, and you bought it for 30 bucks. And as he turned 300, he spent 300 grand to make the movie and he sold a million dollars worth of DVDs, you know, and so if you're not, if you don't have that you better have like a unique and, and, and well thought out business plan of how you will recoup your money without names.

Alex Ferrari 43:01
Right. And then that's why I wrote a whole book about being a filmtrepreneur, which is about finding a niche, and finding a niche and serving that niche. And you don't need to have, you know, Adrian Brody, in your in your film, if you have a movie that is focused on a specific audience that you know, and I always, I always use the vegan chef movie, as my example. But something along those lines where you could target that audience. So it is doable. But again, that also limits on budget, I wouldn't suggest doing a $5 million budget film with no stars attached are no bankable stars attached for a film entrepreneur release. Unless you have deep connections into a massive niche audience that you can sell to it's not impossible, but it's so I mean, you know how hard it is to make a million dollars in rentals. AVOD and TVOD and SVOD it's tough with no stars. Right! It's tough in today's world, it's just too much competition.

Daniel Sollinger 44:07
And it's true. It's true. Although this gives me a grip because you brought up Adrian has given me a great opportunity to pivot to the movie that I got coming out is clean. And it stores Adrian Brody and having him on board changed a lot of things, you know, like, you know, we want CAA to be the sales agent. I went in, screened it with their head, their film division, you know, in their screening room, you know, you know, the festivals were a lot more you know, like, and we got, you know, we got our casting director, sort of like that was saying is it top top casting director who came on board because they wanted that relationship, you know, and just all the way down the line it opened doors and opportunities. Just on top of that Adrienne is a phenomenal creative partner and and is works harder than anybody else to ensure the success of the movie, you know, which is the fringe benefit of it is not just the name, it's also what they're bringing to their name for a reason, you know, like they're bringing, you know, all this knowledge, expertise, connections, and benefits, just in terms of because they have distinguished themselves through talent and hard work, you know?

Alex Ferrari 45:24
Yeah, I was gonna ask you about clip because I saw the trailer for it. It's going to be in the show notes. If anybody wants to watch it. It looks badass. It looks really beautifully produced and beautifully shot beautifully before. I mean, it just looks like it does. It looks like a 30 or $40 million movie, which I know wasn't that budget. But not even, not even remotely close. But I'm a huge fan of it. But I'm a huge fan of Adrian's I mean, I think he's unfit for not only a phenomenal actor, but he's got that presence about him on screen. And when I saw the trailer, I was just like, Damn, man, it just looks like I am really, in honestly, looking forward to seeing it. It's like, that's a Friday night movie. That's a Saturday night movie for me. So I'm excited about how did you get involved with it? Man? How did you get involved with that project?

Daniel Sollinger 46:13
Well, first of all, please go see it. It's the best movie I've ever made, you know, and it really delivers and production value aside, you know, like, hopefully, you always want the movie to look better than the money that you had, you know, but um, but you know, the story just is just rock solid. The script was in such a great place, even before we started to, to do pre production. And then Paul solet, and this is how I got involved. So I did another movie with the CO writer director, Paul solet. called Dark summer. And, and Paul and I, you know, connected and hit it off. And then he went off to do a movie for Avi Lerner called bullet head that had Adrienne, Antonio Banderas, and John Malkovich. And through that experience, you know, him and Adrian, start talking about something that Adrian had been wanting to do for a long time, you know, create a character that that, that he doesn't, he didn't feel like he was being cast, as you know, and a lot of these projects are sort of cast centered, like, often I'll find an independent, it's very common in independent film that a movie is given birth by an actor who really feels like, either they're not getting enough recognition, and they want to raise their profile. Or, like Adrian, it's like, people think of me as just like, really sensitive guy. And, you know, I like to be a tough guy, you know, I, you know, I enjoy playing with guns, I enjoy doing, you know, these tough guy things. And, and, and so, like, this is something that he really, you know, really passionately wanted to do show this side to him, you know, it also gave him the chance to grow a beard, which, you know, you know, if you're ever in the casting process, it's always like, if the, if the actor has a beard, it's like, okay, they got to cut their beard, or else we're not gonna cast, right. Like, grow a beard, you know. And so, anyhow, so, Adrian, and Paul, like, decided they want to make this movie, you know, they had somebody that that showed the willingness to put up the budget. And, and then at Paul's contacted me said, you know, Daniel, I really think you'd be good to do this, you know, you should really meet Adrian, which was one of the most nerve racking days of my life was where, okay, you know, they were coming over to your house, you know, it's like, like, my house, like, how do I get my house? Ready for an Oscar winner? Like, do I have more dirt? Like, you know, and I have a kid, so like, it's got to be, like, clean, you know, like, I just, it was unnerving. It's like, oh, my gosh, you know, like, how do I prepare for an Oscar winner to come to my house. But as it turned out, you know, Adrian's just an angel, and it was all about the work from the moment they stepped through the door, you know, and, and I didn't have to worry about anything, like, my house was definitely fine. You know, but, but we had a conversation, you know, and, and, you know, I said, Well, you know, like, I asked, like, what other producers are on this? And they said, Well, you know, we're both going to get producer credit. But, you know, like, do we know other like, producers on unlike, you know, gosh, guys, you know, if I want to make this movie, I'd love to make this movie, but, you know, you know, producing movies, like pushing a huge rock up a hill, you know, you need to have more, you know, as many hands as you can get on it, you know, and, um, you know, and it was it and it is it's, I'm still you were coming out tomorrow. And I just sent the distributor some delivery requirements still, you know, it's still like, yeah, these hands trying to push the rock over the hill, you know, but anyhow, so that they whatever I said, or did or, you know, they seemed that I would be a good fit for the film, and, you know, and then we went off and we made it, you know,

Alex Ferrari 49:49
That's awesome, man. That's awesome. I'm so happy for you because it looks fantastic. And, you know, when you reached out to me, I'm like, Hey, I got this new movie with Adrian Brody. And do you want to do you want to have me talk about I was like, oh yeah, this would be awesome. This would be a great conversation to have you come on. Did you? Were you involved in the financing and getting raising money? Or was the money in place before?

Daniel Sollinger 50:10
I'm a physical producer. So usually, the money is in place before it comes to me. I I'm the person that can take a script through distribution and know all the all the details that what needs to go to make that happen. I have raised money on occasion but but is not really. There's, that's why I like to have a lot of producers, everybody has their strengths. There's some people that are just good rainmakers. Like I don't consider myself one of them.

Alex Ferrari 50:34
Got it. Got it that and when does it come out?

Daniel Sollinger 50:38
Tomorrow night today, which is January 28.

Alex Ferrari 50:40
So yeah, it's gonna be in theaters, there's gonna be?

Daniel Sollinger 50:43
Yeah, we're on. We're on almost 160 screens around the country, iTunes and Amazon simultaneously.

Alex Ferrari 50:50
Okay, so it's a day in day? Day in day. Okay, perfect. So it's just so you can't go watch it and rent it as well?

Daniel Sollinger 50:57
Yes, yeah. Theater, you can or you can rent it.

Alex Ferrari 51:00
Awesome. And that's awesome. Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Daniel Sollinger 51:09
You know, I would say there's nothing to it, but to do it, you know, just make movies, you know, don't wait to be greenlit, I would say that. Just do as much as you can, you know, like when I was at NYU film school, I was there, a lot of my fellow students were like, Oh, I'm not gonna PA or I'm not gonna do this. And I was like, I'll PA, I'll do that I'll do no runs up, dirty. You know, like, just do as much as you can to get in where you fit in and do as much as you can. And you'll, you'll get a network and you'll start elevating yourself. So, you know, I think and and I would say to producing as an entry level position, like you, you can start producing today, you know, you don't have to wait till you climb a ladder to get there. If you want to produce, you know, you can go and produce something right now, I guarantee you.

Alex Ferrari 51:55
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Daniel Sollinger 52:00
Hmm. Well, I, you know, what I always say is that, I don't feel like there's a lot that I need to learn about the technical aspects of filmmaking. But I've never learned enough about people, you know, if you can really focus on how to interact and with people in a way that is, like I was saying about a win win situation, or, you know, you know, if you can learn how to like, really work well, with people play well with others, you know, you will do great, you know, and so that's, I still am learning that today, you know, how to continue to like, learn how to play well with others, you know,

Alex Ferrari 52:36
Yeah, I guess I've said this 1000 times on the show, but I can never get tired of saying it. Best advice ever heard. Don't be a dick.

Daniel Sollinger 52:45
Because nobody wants to work. You know, you might get through this movie, but then nobody want to work with you on the next one.

Alex Ferrari 52:50
It is too small. It's a very small business. It's a small business, very small,

Daniel Sollinger 52:54
Very small, run into the same people over and over again.

Alex Ferrari 52:58
Yeah. And it's so funny. And now that I've been have had this show for so many years, you know, I'll watch something or I'll talk to somebody and they're like, Oh, he's on that project. He's been on the show, or I know that person I've worked with that person or this or that. I just been around you know, I've been around close to 30 years as well. So it's just like at a certain point you run into a lot of different people in business grew and don't Don't be addicted screw anybody over it will come back to my channel.

Daniel Sollinger 53:22
There are a lot of people who watch out that the film business is not for them, but the people who stay you run into those people over and over and over and over again.

Alex Ferrari 53:29
Absolutely. And three of your favorite films of all time.

Daniel Sollinger 53:33
Contact Apocalypse Now. And Lawrence of Arabia.

Alex Ferrari 53:39
Good good trio. Good. That's a good Movie Night. That's a good Movie Night.

Daniel Sollinger 53:45
Watch the whole Alien franchise from beginning to end.

Alex Ferrari 53:49
I mean, Alien and Aliens Jesus man. If you want to read a great action script near perfection is aliens Cameron's aliens it's just the script is just perfection man.

Daniel Sollinger 54:00
What's great about to you when you watch the all the movies back to back you see Ripley's character are just Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. over the over the course of the film, so that in the beginning, she's terrified of these aliens. And you know, by the third movie, she realizes that, like, Please kill me, you know, like, like, you know, like, I just keep waking up and having to deal with this. This nightmare, you know?

Alex Ferrari 54:24
Yeah, it's amazing. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the show brother. It has been a great catching up with you, man. And I think you've dropped a few knowledge bombs on the tribe today and hopefully will help some young producers and young filmmakers out there man. So thank you, my friend.

Daniel Sollinger 54:38
Well, and if you want more on Tik Tok Producer Daniels so I go every day and drop a little bomb every day. So if people want more they can get it there.

Alex Ferrari 54:45
We will put it on the show notes my friend. Thank you again. All right, man. Take care.



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