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IFH 143: How NOT to Shoot a $50,000 Short Film – Lessons Learned

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So as filmmakers we all want to make the best films we can. Sometimes filmmakers think that a bigger budget is the answer, that bigger is better. This is what I thought when I went down the road and create my short film Red Princess Blues. After going down this road once before with my first short film BROKEN, I thought bigger had to be better. If $8000 was good (budget of BROKEN) then with $50,000 I could blow everyone away.

BROKEN opened a ton of doors for me as a filmmaker. I was contacted by studios, executives, producers, agents, you name it. BROKEN was an ambitious short film, to say the least. You can listen to that story here: How I Made Over $90,000 Selling My Short Film. 

In this episode, I discuss the mistakes I made when I made a $50,000+ short film. Mistakes with

  • Budget
  • Crew Choices
  • Size of Crew and Cast
  • Production Design
  • Distribution Plan
  • ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Who is the end-user (audience I’m trying to reach)

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues someday soonI’m just not sure spending $50,000 for a proof of concept short film was the way to get that train moving.

Here’s the synopsis of the short film:

ZOE, a young teenage girl, is lured into an after hours carnival tent by the sleazy rock n roll carnie RIMO, and gets more then she bargained for. It’s up to the mysterious PRINCESS, star of the new knife show, to pull her out of the wolf’s den.

This is not the first short film I made based on my feature film screenplay. I co-directed, with my brother in arms Dan Cregan, a traditional Japanese Anime Prequel called Red Princess Blues: Genesis starring the legendary Lance Henriksen

 

I was a bit ahead of the curve on the distribution of Red Princess Blues. I was the first short film to be distributed exclusively on an iPhone app. Streaming was not a thing yet. I go over what happened with that in the episode as well. Check out this promo I made for the app.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Many amazing opportunities were generated from RPB, I just wish it wouldn’t have cost me as much. = ) These are some interviews and red carpet moments from Red Princess Blues’ World Premiere at the HollyShorts! Film Festival.

 

I do hope to get the opportunity to make the feature film version of Red Princess Blues. I hope you find some words of wisdom in this episode and that you can learn a few lessons that cost me a bunch of $$$ to learn. So if you are thinking of shooting a $50,000 short film, FOR GOD SAKE DON’T. Listen to this first, I beg you! = ) Enjoy!

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Killer Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas

Short films have become a lot more popular nowadays with the advancements in the field of media, but coming up with short film ideas can be challenging. Since short films are easier to make than the feature movies, the production cost is also a lot cheaper. One has to have some ideas and they may be inspired or may come mainly from your everyday life, personal life, personal experiences, experiences of others, or even on the fantasies that you have.

The first thing to remember is that you have maximum 10 to 15 minutes to grab your audience’s attention, so make sure to make the best out of the least. Some people do not have any trouble in coming up with ideas for the short film, and they get it spot on. On the other hand, most people do not even know how long should their short film should be.

Here are a few ways that you should try to come up some great short film ideas:

1. Brainstorm Short Film Ideas:

You can brainstorm a lot of short film ideas to get started, and it can be in the form of a small script or anything. The initial ideas are raw, and they do not have to make any sense, but you have to keep working until you find the right idea. Your short film idea or plot relies on your creative skills and thus, you have to start some brainstorming activities to start with the concept of the short film.

Everyone wants to get done with the visual content first so that they can visualize the main plot or theme of the short film. On the other hand, remember that you have to remain attentive while brainstorming the ideas and do not stop until you find something that you think will captivate the minds of the audience. Most of the award-winning short film ideas come from brainstorming, and you have to use brainstorming as a form of exercise.

2. Write It Out:

There is no doubt that the best of the directors are also one of the best screenplay writers. You have to use those writers as a form of inspiration to get that perfect idea for your short film. Writing about your personal experiences, or something experienced by someone else, can make a huge difference to the ideas that you already have thought of. Write about some believable or unbelievable ideas, even if you haven’t selected the theme or the genre of the short film.

Drawing an initial outline is the first step that you can take towards the formation of an idea. Before writing, make up some scenarios in your mind, and write about the central concept that comes to your mind with that scenario, and then, with the help of a few friends, you can form the idea to give it a defined shape. Work with instincts and instances and add some experiences so that your idea can remain original and the basic plot is set.

3. Create a Routine:

In an attempt to decide the major theme or the core plot of your short film, you can form a routine so that you try to generate the best ideas every single day until you find the right idea. The best times to produce the perfect ideas out of your mind is morning and at night. Creating a routine is a tricky concept as you have to devote 10 minutes in the morning, and that too, before having breakfast or doing anything else.

In the morning, your mind is fresh, and your level of creativity is at its peak, so make sure to use that time well. It is a quite healthy part of a routine and healthy for the mind. Plus, this way you can also use your dreams as an outline, or form something out of the dreams you had before. This similar routine can be integrated into the nighttime as well before you go to bed. There is a 50 percent chance that you will generate the best idea during one of these times of the day.

4. Watch Other Movies:

Everyone wants to make the topic of their short film unique and original. But then again, you can always use other films, or even novels, as a source of inspiration for the idea of your short film. You can become a keen observer to make something out of the most neglected topic in any movie or novel that you’ve seen or read.

You can raise an issue that you think that the director ignored in the film and created your short film around that idea; it doesn’t matter if you are in favor or against that idea. All you have to think of is to find a way to form and present that idea as yours, and make sure that it stays original no matter what.

5. Find The Right Resources:

Robert Rodriguez said it best when he was making his landmark film El Mariachiuse what you have access to. If you have a house, backyard, dog, motorcycle in the garage and a parrot write your story around those elements.  You should list the number of resources and make certain that you visit those places or people to form the right idea for yourself. Furthermore, if you do not have the right resources available for the idea of your short film, then you can start your research to find something that is more visually exciting for your project.

You have to remember that if your initial idea is not interesting enough, no matter how much determination you put into it, your short film will not be good enough. On the other hand, some miraculous directors can make the best movies using the simplest ideas by using the right resources and presenting it in such a manner that it makes the short film a remarkable one. The resources can be many things, i.e. a particular location, props, or anything that grabs your attention.

6. Make Up a Story:

By replicating a few quotes from some of the prominent film scenes, or by envisioning some of the mainstream plots of the most famous movies or novels, you can form some short film ideas, or find something that inspires. You can also create a story by developing individual characters in your mind; for instance, place your characters in a situation where they do not have any resources and no other way to get out. Use different challenging scenarios to make up the perfect storyline for your short film.

Entrap your characters in various and unusual circumstances and limit the resources they have to free themselves from these conditions. However, keep in mind that you should not choose such a conflict that can take too much of the time to be explained. Most of the short film ideas come from the exhausted themes or plots, and you have to find a way to present it in such a way that it becomes your original idea.

7. Stories from Real Everyday Life

Why don’t you look at your local paper for some short film ideas? You can choose an idea from the news, or you can create a short film from the actual real world situations. It can be on the financial affairs of the state, or the political conditions, or anything else that can be extracted out from the newspaper or the headlines. You can form the best short film ideas by incorporating any current headline and forming it into a recognized piece of art.

As they say,

“truth is stranger than fiction,”

you have to find the news that you think needs to be explained on a certain level and you can do in-depth research on the subject to form the plot and idea of your short film perfectly. The idea would be original, and your short film is going to be recognized by a larger audience. A good headline can result in a remarkable plot or idea for a short film.

8. Simple yet Engaging:

There is no doubt in the fact that first-time directors or screenwriters should consider opting for a simple genre, theme, or storyline for their short film. If the idea of the movie is too complicated or grandiose your short film will suffer. Don’t try to complete with big Hollywood tentpole films. Focus on a great story, characters, and plot.

Unless you are completely aware of the dos and do nots of the film industry, you cannot work on complex ideas. The best way to step into this industry is to find something that is simple yet intriguing to the audience. If your first short film is a failure, then most people would not be interested in watching your second film, even if it is one of the best short films of all times.

Alex Ferrari 1:38
So today, guys, I wanted to talk about a project I did many moons ago. And I learned a tremendous amount of lessons. It's actually one of the most valuable projects I ever did in regards to the lessons and what I learned from it, and how not to do things. Now, as the title of the podcast suggests how not to shoot a $50,000 short film.

Now, you must be asking yourselves, Alex, where the hell did you get 50 grand? Well, Mistake number one is I invested $50,000 from my savings that I had been saving over the course of years. But before I get into all of that, I'm going to go back to the beginning. And I'm going to talk to you guys a little bit about what how the project came to be, how I how, what happened to my journeys through Hollywood meetings, things like that, and where it is today. So the project I wrote, I wrote a screenplay A few years ago, a few years ago now called Red princess blues. And I wrote a full screenplay because when I went through this the first time with my short film broken, where I got a lot of press and got into a bunch of festivals and the detours got studios calling me producers calling me about the movie, I had nothing ready. So I said to myself, well, if I can make a cool short film, again, get a bunch of attention, but I'll have a screenplay ready, and it'll be ready to go. So when I do those meetings, I'll have that screenplay. And I can pop it up, and I'm off to the races. And that was the theory. So when I started doing when I went after creating red princess blues, that was my first main focus was to create a calling card for not only myself as a director, but also for the project and hopefully getting the project off the ground. So after doing broken I did, you know I wanted to do, I want to take everything up a notch, I wanted to get some name actors, or at least faces some really accomplished actors that I can work with. And I was blessed to have working with Robert Forster, an Academy Award nominee from Jackie Brown, Tarantino's Jackie Brown. He's a legend, legendary actor who worked with us on the project as of course, Richard Tyson, from Kindergarten Cop fame from back in the 80s. And he's always working and he's a very established actor as well. And Rachel grant who is a Bond girl from one of James once one appears Boston's James Bond movies back in the day as well. So these were all established actors and experienced actors and I want to just take everything up a notch from what I did before. So I wanted to create a world and create this environment which is a really seedy, carny. You know, Carnival folk, you know, backstage after a carnival, you know, hookers and prostitutes and drinking and all sorts of debauchery going on. And I had never seen anything like that on screen before. So I was like, Well, let me see if I can kind of create this world. So not only did I have, you know, the most experienced actors I've ever worked with, at that point in my career in front of the lens, I needed to have an insane team on the back behind the scenes as well. So I was able to work with a production designer from 24, the show 24, who was amazing and he was able to create these crazy sets and I'll tell you a little story about where we got the sets in a bunch of the sets in the first place. But we also was I was also able to work with a stunt coordinator. His name is Jeff parlanti who was the stunt coordinator on 24 he's been I mean he was on the CRO he was on Scarface I mean he'd been around for a while but he was the the head stunt coordinator on 24 and now has been the stunt coordinator on Hawaii Five o for the last seven years six seven years that he's been on that as well so he was able to gather a bunch of amazing stunt performers to come and work out work with us on this little action short and I again the quality of people I was working with was pretty much top of the industry I mean people were coming from Kill Bill the matrix You know, I'm insane you know, insane credits, we're all coming to work on my little short film that I was shooting here in North Hollywood for God's sakes. So these guys were coming up and helping me work on this stuff I had a great dp who you know very seasoned dp that I worked with as well and and we were pulling favors left and right I was you know, I was pulling fit and like you can imagine like, it cost 50 grand, but yet I got a lot of stuff gratis, I got a lot of stuff donated or helped or pulled favors or exchange services, all sorts of stuff like that. So I had a really top end team and when you see the short you'll you'll see that it was well put together I mean, and I'm not being cocky, but on a on a professional standpoint, the production value was fairly high on it without question because I had amazing talent working behind the scenes. So we built this insane set that you know, we were able to since 24 was just shutting down. My production designer basically went over to the 24 warehouse and just grabbed a bunch of flats which are basic walls pre done walls that had graffiti on them and had you know, brick on them so we were able to create the outside of a carnival inside of a soundstage. So we were able to do that we went to their prop warehouse and basically just took a shopping cart and grabbed whatever we needed for free this was all for free guys I mean so even with all of that you might you'll ask how where'd all this money go to? No, I'll tell you in a minute. So we were able to build this this really awesome short and I'm very very proud of it. And I'm gonna just step back for a second this is the second red princess blue short The first one was an actually an animated a Japanese anime that I co directed with my my brother in arms Dan creegan who is the animator on on it and I tried to create kind of like a prequel story to the short film into the into the screenplay trying to get attention that way. So not only had one short I had to really high end shorts that that I'm using to promote and try to get this project off the ground. So what's the first lesson I learned? Well, I'll tell you I'll finish up where this this short went. We made the short it got into probably I don't know 60 7080 Film Festivals I didn't keep going with it. I could have probably gotten to another 50 or 60 of them. But you know went out I did a lot of I did a lot of as they say the water bottle tour around la in the studio's meeting with different producers meeting with different studios who are interested in the project. I had a book of artwork created for it. I mean storyboards we had an entire investment package created a ppm all the legal paperwork to start getting the ball rolling with it. I mean we really I really went all out for it guys you know I I swung for the fences without question. I swung for the fences with red princess and I'm very proud of how it ended up I'm very proud of it's still one of my favorite things I've ever done in my life it was it was so beautiful and I was so happy with the way it turned out. Of course we always want to change things but that's that's the way all artists are all directors are, you know, you want to go back and like Oh, I wish I could have done this or that. But you know, we shot it in over three days. I think it was two days or three days. I don't even remember anymore. But it was pretty intense. And it was a lot of a lot of extras. A lot of wardrobe. A lot of a lot of everything. So what happened with what happened with the project? Well, a lot of dead ends. A lot of people wanted to be attached. You know a lot of a lot of producers like hey, let me go get money for it. It was set up i i optioned it a few times. Nothing ever came out of it, you know. So that's where a lot of not only that project, but all the projects I've done in my career. That's why I'm a little cynical about how things work in Hollywood as a general statement, but Nothing really came out of it. So, you know, where Why did it cost $50,000? Well, the very first thing is I was trying to create a world I was trying to do something that I hadn't seen before. And I was really trying to impress Hollywood and press studios and press producers or agents or managers. It was a, it was a point in my life where there was a desperation. It was a desperation in, in my work, and in the way I carried myself, a lot of the things I preach against Now, on the podcast and on indie film, hustle, I was doing back then. So when I say not to do it is because I know what happens when you do do it. And I was doing it for a long time. But, you know, I think one of the big mistakes that you make, and this is one of the this is one of the top mistakes that I made on red princess is trying to compete with a Hollywood production. As far as production value is concerned, huge. I was trying to create a 10 minute piece that had the same production value out of a 10 minute, a 10 minute Hollywood blockbuster of $100 million, which is not really, really not really possible. It really isn't. Now, you're a lot of people are listening to that as well. How about district nine, I mean, they did this insane visual effects, huge production value, and there's multiple other shorts that came out, that did things that are really high end to get noticed, and to get their projects off the ground. Yes, that is exactly it. So district nine, I'm going to use as an example, if you have access to high end visual effects, guys, that really are insane. And you feel that you can create a world and can create a production value that's on par with a studio. Great, do it. Okay, but my advice and my experience is don't because, yes, district nine happened, how many district nines Have there been in the last 1520 years? Not many. And there's a reason for that. Because when and again, this is my opinion, when Hollywood looks at new talent. You know, the El Mariachi model of like, look at all that production value, they got out of no money, those days are gone. They really are, they're not there anymore. Because production value is affordable. Now, you can get high production value. But now that that bar is moved from the days of El Mariachi, you know, an action movie back in 9291 92 is a lot different than an action movie now, before they were making 15 20 million $10 million action movies that were being released theatrically. Now they're not. Now they're making 100 100 and $50 million action movies. You know, it's not, it's not on par anymore. But what has created a lot of stars directors, writer, writer directors, who's created a lot of noise is been with good short films that are story based, character based, vision based. That's what Hollywood is looking for. They're looking for a unique voice. They're looking for someone who can direct story and character someone could tell a story and tell and work with characters and actors and have a point of view a vision. Okay, a voice a unique voice. Because this is the way Hollywood looks at things, guys. And this is again my opinion. They look at a guy like Chris Nolan. Okay, who started off with with a film called the following. You look at the movie called if you look at movie called memento or following, you don't think blockbuster you don't think one of the biggest blockbuster directors of his generation. You don't think that. But what Chris was able to do, or Mr. Nolan, excuse me, I don't know him personally. What Chris Nolan was able to do was show people he can tell a story, that he can work with actors, that he had a unique point of view, a unique vision. That's what you need to focus on with short films. And guess what, those kind of shorts, or those kind of independent features are affordable. When you go after these bigger big movie action style kind of films, and you're trying to compete with Hollywood, you're not going to make it and I'm not the I'm the I'm the first to say, never give up on a dream. Never give up on trying to try something new. But understand that there is a risk when doing it at a big dollar value. Like I did, I roll the dice with $50,000 of hard earned money that I had created. And believe me, it wasn't like I had half a million in the bank. That was a lot of money and it took a big chunk out of my savings out now if you want to go and try to create high production value and really compete with the big boys on a feature length film. You can I'm gonna have an amazing story coming up in the next few weeks of a filmmaker who just did that. Wondering $50,000 budget that looked like a 20 to $30 million budget. And it really did and how he did it. So the it is possible with the feature you have something you can sell, you have something that you can make money with, you can have an ROI. On shorts, it's very difficult to make a lot of money. It's unique if you can. So you can't invest a large amount of money in those kinds of short film projects unless you really feel that you're going to be able to make all of your money back. Lesson number one, focus on story on on how to tell a story how to work with actors and character and create characters and a vision, a point of view or new voice. That's what Hollywood is looking for with short films, specifically, if there are going to if there anything even happens with short films. I know many short films that like the Raven, which is one I'll put a link to in the description, I read all these articles Mark Wahlberg bought bought the script and all this stuff, nothing's happened with it. That's happened three, four years ago, it's probably stuck in a hotel somewhere. And I would love to know what happened with that project. Because it was a great little project had a lot of great, you know, there was a commercial director who did it, he busted out all his friends spent about 150 100 grand on it, and did a really nice job and really showed off what he can do. But nothing happened. Nothing happened with it. Not saying that there's anything wrong with that project. But it just didn't happen. It's just the way Hollywood works, guys. So and I've seen so many of these shorts that are all high end. When I was when I was doing this water bottle tour I was these guys were showing me shorts in their rooms of other guys who were doing cool things I was looking at, like why haven't I haven't seen this before? Holy Cow look at that doesn't matter. It was rough. So guys focus on story and telling a good story. The next mistake I made is, I didn't initially I didn't know who I was going to do that, who was who I was aiming this to who was my audience, I didn't know who my audience was, you know, I really thought like, well, I'll just make it and make a whole bunch of noise. And I'll do what I did with broken and people will come You know, if you build it, they will come. And it didn't work that way. So because I didn't understand who I was aimed this aiming this at or focusing this at. I kind of kind of like, floundered I didn't know where to do because I made a very conscious effort not to redo what I did was broken in the sense of creating a whole bunch of tutorials and put out another DVD and sell that I decided like, I'm not going to do that again, in my high end ego craziness that I was back then, where you're like no, I'm not gonna do that I've done that already. I've moved on from that. Well, believe me, in hindsight, I wish I would have done something like that, because then maybe would have been able to bring back a little bit of dinero from I would have maybe recoup some of my money, which was which I didn't. I did do one thing. And I did try to create a unique thing I was I think I was the first short film to actually create an app, an actual app on the iPhone and Android where you can buy the app for 99 cents or $1.99, or whatever it was and watch my short with a bunch of behind the scenes footage. And other things that I put on it. I was a little bit ahead of my time. But I also don't think it was a wise thing because I was out of the after making the after making the app and everything like that I might have if I was lucky, I might have pulled in 500 bucks, 1000 bucks if I'm lucky. And it cost me like 500 bucks to make the damn app in the first place. So you know, the the self distribution outlets, we're not there yet. This is 2010 2009 2010. So there wasn't amazon prime, there wasn't, you could put it on YouTube. But that was still very taboo to put a short film on YouTube back then, if you're going to try to get into festivals and stuff like that. So it was a bunch of different things that were going on back then. So knowing who you want the short, the short, that you're making to go to is very important, especially when you're risking so much money.

The next big mistake I made and I didn't ask myself this question because I was just so gung ho about putting it out there was where is going, what's going to be my ROI, what's gonna be my return on investment. You know what, I was really swinging for the fences on this. And I'm do I did basically everything I preach against. I had no real real distribution plan. I had no real way of making money with it. Because I had no I had no indie film hustle. There was nothing like that around. I had no audience I had nothing I can sell. So basically I was just going to put it out in the festival market and hope that someone watches it and someone comes down from Mount mount Hollywood, taps me on the shoulder and says you shall direct here's a check for for $5 million, go make your movie and you're off to the races. And it did not work that way and it does not work that way. That's why I yell so much about this when I when I talk about this subject We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So I didn't ask myself that question, what's my return on investment, so I had no way of selling it, I had no way of making any money with it. And I had no way of guaranteeing that I even had a chance of making any money with it. So that was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a filmmaker is I invested as a businessman, I invested $50,000 in a product that I had no way of selling, I was just using it as a proof of concept. And $50,000 is a hell of an expensive proof of concept, you're doing it for a grand or to something that's really affordable in a smaller scale than Yes. And if you want to do that, by all means you can do that. But on an investment like $50,000, you look at that now a lot of you guys listening like 50 grand, I can make three movies with 50 grand you can make I could have made a feature film with 50 grand, but at that time, technology wasn't caught up yet. And this this new revolution, that DSLR revolution hadn't hit yet, as far as making really affordable, short, independent films, things like that. So please always ask the question, what's going to be my return on investment? Where am I going to make money on this? How am I going to make money on this? Can I afford to lose all this money? Or am I going to swing for the fences, and you can do that, and a lot of people have done that with features, you know, they mortgage their house, for God's sakes, listen to Episode 88. If you're thinking about doing something like that, and I'll put a shirt I'll put that in the show notes as well, you know, or to put it all on your credit cards, you know, and make $50,000 you know, it's very romantic. But anyway, I don't want to get into that because I'll go off again. But, you know, at least I did it with my money. And I didn't put it on credit and it didn't kill me. It was something that I could afford. It still hurt. So also, I wanted to go back real quick on the production of it. And lessons I learned from making a $50,000 short film like Where did $50,000 go? That's the question Where did 50 grand go if I got all this free stuff, people working for free, high end people working for free, or really cheap, how about where it all the scope I made the goddamn thing too big, it was an event you walk on that set that I had first of all, I had a soundstage that I had to run out for a week that wasn't cheap, I had to hire producer all the food the the I must have had on set on any day, probably 30 to 40 people maybe even 50 people on a short film. So all those people had to be fed all of those people a lot of those peoples were being paid a lot of them were actors and extras I had to deal with with sag and all the fees that had to pay for it back then before all the the rules changed so it was a little bit tougher back then to deal with sag so the thing was that there was just so many people and each of those departments needed a bunch of different things and if you watch the short film you'll understand like okay, there was a lot of stuff going on you know and that's what a lot of free stuff you know, I had a lot of favors I pulled to get it done but it was just so big. I had a really good production team for the most part there were issues there were people that I wish I would have not hired on my team because you know, I wasn't working with a lot of people that I knew and had only been in LA for basically a couple years at that point so I didn't have the the depth of connections and relationships that I do now let's say because I hadn't worked as much as I had at that to that point. So I was still I was still you know kind of green and I was definitely green working with a full full blown Hollywood set you know, full blown Hollywood set with really high end people that are expected to do certain things. So I felt that the whole short got a little bit away from me back then. And we're talking about now eight years ago, almost seven, eight years ago. And I learned a lot about how I wanted to run a set how I wanted to control my my vision and make sure that the vision that I have is gonna get gets onto that screen. So I had to fight on set with people's egos and stuff like that which I was not aware of. It wasn't any of my actors by the way all my actors were wonderful talking about people behind the scenes, and it could be the smallest thing it could have been the biggest thing but but because I felt like this was all out of control for me. I think that's where a lot of this money when I when when you when you do a project this at this size, there was a money hose and all of a sudden when you crack that money hose open, it just keeps flowing. It keeps flowing and keeps flowing and it's it is it's like opening up a brand new business which I have a little experience about as you guys all know with my gourmet shop. It was very similar to opening up our store like The second you open it, every day, there's something new every day, you need to put more money in here. And I didn't know that I didn't know that. And, you know, oh, this department needs this now. And this heart needs that now we need this permit. Now we need this insurance now. And, you know, we did a lot of things that I wish we wouldn't have done. But I felt that it was a little out of control. And once that train left the station, it was very difficult for me to control it. So that's that's just an experience, and running with a $50,000 budget when you were that inexperienced to something I think was a bit foolish on my part. Now, with all of that said, Those were the big mistakes, I felt, trying to compete with high low production, you know, values, not focusing on on story and vision as much. I didn't understand who I was really focused, how I was going to be able to make money with this and who I was focused, what my audience was going to do, and what my ROI what my return on investment is going to be and having a distribution plan at all. That's why I always yell. festivals are not a distribution plan, you have to actually have one. So what good things came out of red Princess, and whereas red princess today? Well.

A lot of good things came out of red Princess, I was able to do a lot of festivals made a lot of connections. I was on on panels with big, big star the Collingwood stars, made connections with them had the experience of doing a lot of La film festivals. I mean, it was literally every other week I was on a red carpet with this with this film, it was very well received. And people really do enjoy it and really liked it, which is great. And it did, it did add one thing it did do, it did add a level of legitimacy to myself as a director, and that little short did get me jobs. So I think probably from all the jobs I've gotten based off of that short, I was able to probably recoup my money, at least just from the jobs that I was getting as a director as a commercial director, music, video director, and things like that based off the quality that I was able to create with that. So on that sense, it was a very big success. I have been able to if you guys are part of the syndicate, you've probably seen the short film that I'm talking about short films I'm talking about because they're part of our of the syndicate, part of the filmmaking hacks course, that I have, where I talk a little bit about my experiences making the film will go a little bit behind the scenes of how we did some things I did do some behind the scenes, but nothing compared to what I did on on broken or the depth of the tutorials that I was able to do back then. And I By the way, I still have probably about 10 or 15 hours of behind the scenes footage. Maybe one day, I'll go into it and start creating some tutorials on how we did some of the cool stuff we did back then. But I'm busy right now you can imagine. So many of the lessons I learned on red Princess, I brought to this is Meg and this is Meg is the complete opposite of what I did with red princess. You know, it's a feature first of all is not a short, it was very controllable. I, I kept it really small, very small crew, and focused on story focused on character focused on vision of what I wanted to try to do, and the kind of story I was trying to tell as a director. And it you know, it's a complete and the risk is very minimal, comparatively to, you know, 50 grand or 60 grand on on a short film.

Well, let me go back, of course, obviously, this is made was made for under $25 million. And I released the budget once my my IRS artists done, but it was done on a humble budget, to say the least. But again, so I do believe that red princess blues was a amazing experience for me as a filmmaker. And I think, you know, I wouldn't want you guys to have to go through that and lose 50 grand and then wait years to hopefully get jobs to get yourself paid back. That's not a business plan. But um, you know, I'm very happy that I went through that. And I'm very happy that of the lessons I learned from it because it made me a much, much, much better director, and very proud of it and very proud of what we were able to do with it. Now where is it today? Well, my screenplays still available. And I love that screenplay. I love what I did with it, it has been read a bunch haven't really pushed it too much, I might start pushing it a little bit more in the next coming months. Once I start getting a little bit of attention from this is Meg hopefully, and I'll have something else in my back pocket to show people at meetings and go oh, by the way, I also did this short so I think the story of red princess blues and where it's going to take me as a filmmaker and a storyteller is, is still being written but I wanted to share this experience with you guys because I know a lot of people out there are thinking maybe of doing a big swing for the fences kind of short film. And I just wanted to show you guys my experience and tell you guys Mike experience of what I went through doing something like that. The bottom line is guys that you got to keep working. And you know, if I would do this all over again today I would take that 50 grand and make a feature film without question without question. In today's world, there's no reason absolutely no reason you would spend $50,000 on a short film, unless you're trying to do exactly what I told you not to do, which is to create a world create the same kind of production value that you're trying to compete with on a on a Hollywood budget film to try to get those jobs. If you're trying to get those jobs. My suggestion is follow what all the other really well known. directors who have gotten noticed the Darren Aronofsky is with pi, Chris Nolan, with with the following the momento, these guys focused on story, not big blockbuster films, hollywood figures that they can't hire a great team around a visionary director, because the technical stuff can be you can hire technical, it's hard to hire vision, it's hard to hire someone with a voice. That's something you can't buy as easily as a very competent, creative crew. So understand that and next time you're going to try to make a short film, a feature film to try to get attention or to even get your name out there into the world guys. I hope you got something out of that guys and hope you learn from my mistakes and it was an expensive mistake, but I'm proud of that mistake and I wear it with pride. So thanks again guys for listening. Don't forget to head over to free film book calm that's free film book calm to download your free filmmaking audio book from audible. The Show Notes for this episode our indie film hustle.com Ford slash 143 and I have links to everything I talked about in this episode there as well as trailers for princess if you guys want to watch princess and are not part of the syndicate. You can always go to Amazon it's on Amazon Prime if you want to watch it there I'll leave a link there in the in the show notes as well. Or you can rent or buy there as well. And both shorts are on Amazon as well the animated one the red princess blues Genesis, as well as the the live action red princess blues. And don't forget guys, this is Meg is going to be at cinequest March 3 is our world premiere on Saturday. 320 put links in the description if you guys are in the area, please come by the whole the whole town the whole gang is going to be there. A lot of cast and crew are going to be there at the two premieres the two two showings that weekend. So please come by we really appreciate if you do. Thanks for listening guys. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 024: How I Made Over $90,000 Selling my Short Film + Video Tutorials

Making a Short film can be tough but selling a short film can be impossible. Here’s my story on how I did both.

I directed a small action short film a few years back called BROKEN (Watch it on Indie Film Hustle TV) I shot the short film on MiniDV Tape (yes I’m old) on the Panasonic DVX 100a, the indie film workhorse of its day.

My team and I filmed it in West Palm Beach Florida (not exactly the Mecca of the film industry) and it starred only local, no named actors.

Now once the filming was over I marketed the living hell out of that short film. It went on to screen at over 250 international film festivals, won countless awards and was covered by over 300 news outlets.

That little short film had a life of its own. I even got a review from legendary film critic Roger Ebert (to hear the full story on how that happen to take a listen to this podcast: Getting Attention from Influencers & Gatekeepers)


BROKEN is essentially a demonstration of the mastery of horror imagery and techniques. Effective and professional.” – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, short film, short films, indie film hustle, film school, independent film, robert rodriguez, indie film, moviemaker, red camera, arri alexa, cinematography, digital filmmaking, filmmaking, alex ferrari, guerrilla filmmaking, NYU, USC, Full Sail University, Sundance Film Festival, film festival, tarantino, kurosawa, cinematography, short films, short film, indie films, filmmaker, how to make a movie, short film ideas, filmmakers, filmmaking, film festivals, film production, guerrilla film, film distribution, indie movie, screenwriter, screenwriting, short film competition, film producers, short films online, how to make short films, film distribution process, great short films, good independent films, digital video production, list of film festivals, watch short films, marketing video production, indie filmmaking, filmmaking software, short film contests, short film festivals, how to make an independent film

Roger Ebert at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Now you must be asking,

But Alex how the hell did you make money with it?

Well, I knew that no one would pay “real money” for a 20-minute short film, shot on MiniDV, with no-name actors, and from a first time director to boot. So I thought like a Filmtrepreneur and planned to create a guerilla indie film school with over 3 hours of footage, tutorials, commentaries and more. 

By creating all the supplemental material and packaging with the short film on DVD I created a viable product for the marketplace.

VOD (Video on Demand) and digital download technology were just getting off the ground and still very expensive if it worked at all. Youtube was not “Youtube” yet, it had just launched. So DVD was the only way to go.


I went after every message board and film news outlet I could get my hands on. I’d had created so much hype around the release that on day one I sold over 250 DVDs for $20.00 a pop. That’s $5000! 

The orders kept coming and I went on to sell over 5000 copies worldwide (and counting), shipping them out of my bedroom in Fort Lauderdale, FL. 

short film, short films, indie film hustle, film school, independent film, robert rodriguez, indie film, moviemaker, red camera, arri alexa, cinematography, digital filmmaking, filmmaking, alex ferrari, guerrilla filmmaking, NYU, USC, Full Sail University, Sundance Film Festival, film festival, tarantino, kurosawa, cinematography, short films, short film, indie films, filmmaker, how to make a movie, short film ideas, filmmakers, filmmaking, film festivals, film production, guerrilla film, film distribution, indie movie, screenwriter, screenwriting, short film competition, film producers, short films online, how to make short films, film distribution process, great short films, good independent films, digital video production, list of film festivals, watch short films, marketing video production, indie filmmaking, filmmaking software, short film contests, short film festivals, how to make an independent film

Speaking on a panel at the Director’s Guild of America opening night at Hollyshorts! Film Festival

10 years later I’m still selling copies today, as crazy as might sound. I’ve probably have generated well over $90,000 selling that little short film over the years. All because I understood my marketplace and what it needed. 

At the time there was nothing on the market like the BROKEN DVD; no courses on how to make a low budget indie feature or short film with low budget technology. BROKEN has found a new life in Indie Film Hustle’s first online educational course “BROKEN (Watch it on Indie Film Hustle TV)” More on that later.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
So this episode today, I wanted to talk about a question that I get asked a ton. It's something that I did almost 10 years ago now was 11, over a little was 11 years ago at this point. And I talk a lot about this little short film, I think in the most, it's the most talked about short film in history. But my film that I did 10 years ago called Broken, I was able to do something very special with that film back then, and continue to do stuff with that film. And my other works today. And I wanted to share with you guys a little bit of how I was able to generate a substantial amount of money selling and self distributing, broken and now my other works as well. So when I created broken, it was a short, I'll give you a quick, quick story about it if I haven't mentioned that already on the show. But the quick story of broke it is that it was a shot as a small short film, shot for about $1,000 shot on mini DV back in 2004. There was no high end technology back then. So I was editing it on Final Cut shot on a mini DV. But what I did do was create a look for the film because of my post production experience. And I took the format of mini DV and did something really cool with it that a lot of people hadn't seen before. So what I did was did a lot of color grading and made it look in a very filmic. And the way it was and a lot of filmmakers started asking me how I was doing it and how I did it. So when when I released the trailer, like when I first started the movie, I had no plans on selling it. I don't think I didn't even understand what I was going to do with it. I just wanted to try to get it out there and see what would happen with it. But as I started posting in places and posting the trailer, in places people kept asking me how did you do those visual effects, which by the way, we did over 100 visual effects in this little short film. So people were asking me how did you do the visual effects? How did you do the had the magic, that camera looked like that I have that camera, which was the dv x 100 A the workhorse of its day. I still love that little camera, they were asking me how I'm able to do it, I can't do it. I have that camera, well, your techniques. So that started giving me the idea. When I first was about to start doing broken, I looked everywhere for some sort of resources to be able to make broken as far as like DVD tutorial something to show me how to make a mini DVD movie editing on Final Cut just something to teach you how to make independent film and believe it or not back in 2004. There wasn't a whole lot. There was actually nothing, I couldn't find a thing about how to make movies for that kind of budget with that kind of technology. YouTube was just it's an infancy was just getting started. And it definitely wasn't owned by Google at the time. So the quality was really horrible as well. It just there was nothing there. So I saw that there was a a hole in the marketplace. So I was like, Well, you know what I'm going to do this. I'm going to learn a whole bunch of stuff on how I did it along the way. And I documented everything I had to documentary crews following us through the entire five days shoot documentary crews being my friends.

And we shot just hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of behind the scenes footage of how we made this movie. So then I went on and spent about six weeks I would imagine to create over three hours or so of behind the scenes tutorials, kind of like a gorilla film school and put it on DVD. Now while this was going on, I was creating a buzz about the movie. For about six months, I was creating a lot of buzz about the movie. I was getting into film festivals. We were winning awards. We were getting written up. We went to Sundance, we've just done a whole bunch of different things with the film. And I was on spin offs to me now I know this now is like you I was doing a product launch. A lot of people talk about doing a product launch online. There's a sequence that you go by and I was doing it and I didn't even know what I was doing at the time. But I was actually Creating a product launch sequence, creating anticipation for the product. So when I started released it, it was very excited about the movie then, when I announced that I was creating this DVD, about how to make the movie, and how I made it, and all the tricks and tips of how I did it, and it was so full of information so full of rich content, the indie film community at the time, really, really just embraced it and went crazy for it and started sharing it and started talking about it. People were already getting excited for I didn't even do any pre orders, I should have done pre orders, I didn't do any pre orders. All I did was like, Hey, if you want to know when it comes out, just sign up for my email list. And I was even getting email lists at the time. And that wasn't something in vogue back in 2004. So I was doing all this kind of instinctually I can't say there was a master plan that I was doing this back then. But so anyway, the day opens that I launch it, all of a sudden, I just hear Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, all my emails keep coming in from PayPal. And we sold over 250 DVDs in the first day, which was about five grand, because we were selling the DVD at 20 bucks a pop, my partner and I had to run to the post office handwrite all all of the addresses hand stamp all the addresses, we didn't have any infrastructure laid out and the printing of postage, nothing. So it was it was pretty crazy. And then it just kept building and kept selling and kept selling. Okay, building a building. But I was able to create a tremendous amount of press and a tremendous amount of energy around the product. But it was all about creating a piece of a product, if you will, that had content for people like I know, I wouldn't have been able to sell the short film by itself. It just didn't make any sense. It has no stars in it. Yeah, it's an action genre. And, you know, there's a lot of visual effects and things like that in it. But there was just no way someone was going to pay 510 20 bucks to buy this on a DVD, there was no digital downloads, no VOD at the time, that was at least accessible to indie filmmakers like myself. So when I was able to do this, I, I was able to create this, this product that had a tremendous amount of content, and people just went crazy for it, and then start talking about it and start sharing it. And what I was able to do is generate a sold, we've ended up selling over 5000 DVDs, over the course of the years have gone by. And it was all because I was able to identify a hole in the marketplace and understand what they wanted and fed my marketplace fed my audience what they wanted. And what they were asking for. It was pretty humbling, honestly, the whole process of what happened with broken so I tried to do something similar later on with our next film sin, where I was able to do some stuff on with some digital downloads through iTunes. But that was a kind of wonky way of doing it didn't create a bunch of content, like I did with broken was just wasn't as big of a movie. And then years later, I created my movie Red Princess Genesis, which is the animated prequel to references blues, which is the live action short for my feature film that I hope to make one day. And I created a whole bunch of content around that. So what I decided to do recently is to create a new brand new guerrilla indie film school encompassing all of my movies, and giving you almost seven hours of how to stuff like how to everything from pre production production post production, how to market your film, I do brand new content on how I marketed the film's how I went through it, how I how I built the websites, what techniques I used as far as theories and the concepts that I used, why I was doing certain things still hold very true today. So I put this all together under the name lipstick and bullets, lipstick and bullets was a Blu ray compilation of all of the stuff I did, and released that in England. I got all the rights back. And now I'm going to distribute them as an experiment through indie film hustle. So indie film hustle will present the guerrilla indie film school lipstick and bullets edition. So it's gonna have a ton of stuff. It's available. Now, if you head over to indie film hacks, calm, that's indie film hacks, calm. And since you're listening to this podcast, you're going to get a coupon for 20% off. Right now I'm selling it for $47 that will go up in the future. Right now. It's an introductory offer, I think it's a super deal for that much content, or you can rent it for 15 bucks. We're doing it all through VH x.tv going to have the the some representative from VH X on the show in the coming weeks as well. So look out for that explaining to you how how to do video on demand or self distribute through their platform, which is amazing. So far, I love it. The coupon code is I FH tribe. That's I F h tribe and you get 20% off the sale price of $47. So it ends up being like $37 and change. So you get almost 10 bucks off. So to wrap it up guys create how I was able to create this kind of amount of money with a short film is these key elements you have to remember. Now write these down, understand your audience, understand where your audience is, go to that area, where they are, where they're hanging out, whether that be on Facebook groups, whether that be in on forums, at film festivals, wherever they might be hanging out, depending on what that group is, if it's about, I always use the vegan chef example. But if they're vegan chefs don't go to the foodie blogs go to, there's so many different places you can go just find out who your audience is, okay? Once you find out who do you audiences, then start crowdsourcing them starting interacting with them start, you know, asking them what they want, when you find that information out, then build a product that you can sell to them through your movie. So whatever that movie is, and I'm using the word product, but it's really your movie. So write the movie around it around what they want, build a product base about what they want, whether that be hats, T shirts, extra extra materials, film, schools, whatever, whatever they want. If it's you're doing a movie about vegan chefs rom com about vegan chefs, my God, you'd be a fool not to create a whole series of videos on how to make vegan like, you know, a vegan chef of vegan recipes, and show them how to do it, because that's what they want. You know, that's something that they would want to do. If you're making a horror movie, it would be awesome to do tutorials about how you're making, you know, the heads explode, how are you doing it, you know, how you making the fake blood recipes, stuff like that, believe it or not, people really, really love, especially if you're focusing on other filmmakers or other people who are trying to do what you're doing. Once you do that, then you sell the product to them. And now how you how you sell that product to them in 2004 2005 DVDs with the answer, there were no other options. Today, I would not suggest you do a DVD, it's not a great place to it's a lot of upfront costs, and time. And all that stuff, I wouldn't do blu ray either. What I would do is strictly video on demand through through companies like VH X through Gumroad, through Vimeo Pro, any of those guys just do it directly to your consumer and cut out the middleman as much as you can with your project. And again, this is a case by case basis. Some projects have budgets that, you know, this is a much longer conversation about which project makes sense to do VOD and do this for short film and what I was doing to make perfect sense I spent $8,000, you know, I was able to recoup my money and then some with with what I was able to do. If you were doing $100,000 movie, you better have a heck of a marketing plan, and a heck of a business plan on how are you going to be able to recoup your money. And that goes into crowdsourcing crowd, crowd building crowdfunding, all those kinds of different topics. But that's how I was able to do you know, generate a tremendous amount of money, close over $90,000 Over the years selling broken as a broken on DVD. And now I'm continuing to sell not only some of the hand picked stuff from broken, that is still very relevant, I'm not going to give you a tutorial on mini DV. But a lot of the a lot of this cool stuff that was still very, very relevant today. I have picked that by creating and also created a bunch of stuff for red Princess references Genesis sin, and then marketing materials on how to market all of A plus tons of commentary tracks on composing and visual effects and all that kind of stuff for indie film. So I also include in this guerrilla indie film school, my book, The Art of broken, I've always been a big fan of all the art of books like The Art of matrix art, Sin City, and so on. And Ken Robinson and Dan create, and I put together this book with all of the artwork from not only broken, but for the defunct feature film version of broken, but there was so much artwork, and you can kind of see as an example of what can be done with some with a short film for God's sakes. But it's another product line. And we did sell it a hardcover hardcover copies of it. During the days of broken when it came out. We sold a handful of them. But I wanted to give this to you guys not only as an example of what can be done with a project, but also just for fun for people who just want to see all this cool, amazing artwork they all the artists did. I also include all the marketing materials of all the four movies that I did. So all the poster work all the kind of extras I did on the websites and things like that. So you can kind of see the progression of how I was able to market all of our films, and how we were able to get into over 500 film festivals and so on. And how about that you also get my ebook on how to get into film festivals for cheaper free. And that gives you a complete detail explanation of how I was able to get into over the into over 500 film festivals after the first 30 or so film festivals. I spent I spent over $1,000 in submission fees were broken, it was ridiculous. But after a certain time, I was like, You know what, I don't know, if I'm going to be able to like, at this point in the game, any film festivals I get into after this, how much more they're gonna like boost my career boost the film. So I was like, You know what, at this point in the game, I'll be more than willing to pay a submission fee if I'm able to play in the movie, but just to pay to submit and just maybe I'll get into it wasn't playing that anymore. So I decided to create these techniques that worked very, very well.

So you also get that in this package as well. It's a hell of a package, it really, really is a hell of a package, I would have killed to have it. And for the price, honestly, it's awesome. And you get to watch it as much as you want, whenever you want to watch it. Again, head over to indie film, hacks.com indie film hacks, calm and use that coupon code ifH tribe. So on a side note, guys, I wanted to thank you again for making this podcast the number one filmmaking podcast on iTunes. I am humbled beyond, by beyond all recognition. It's amazing that within a three month period, this little show has been able to rank all the way as to the number one spot or filmmaking in iTunes. So I humbly humbly thank all my listeners, all my all the all the tribe, all the indie film hustle tribe, for doing that. Thank you again, so so much for helping us get to that point. And please, if you love the show, or if you just want to give us an honest review, head over to iTunes, give us a review, give us a give us a good rating. And that will help us even get more and more people to listen to the show and help more and more filmmakers. So thanks again guys for listening. I really hope this helped you guys out a lot inspired you a little bit that it can be done. So keep that dream alive. Keep that hustle going. I'll talk to you guys soon.

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