Monday morning shone bright and clear at Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica as the AFM attendees gathered to hear Paul Hertzberg, CEO of CinTel Films, moderate the panel on High Concept, Low Budget. Along with him on the stage sat Paul Bales (CEO of Asylum), Lynette Howell (Electric City Entertainment), Eric Brenner (Informant Media), Lisa M Hansen (President CinTel Films) and Braxton Pope ( Sodium Fox Productions.)
The big question of the day is how to get the best quality picture on the lowest budget. According to Lynette Howell, who did Half Nelson, she looks for scripts that can be done for a low budget. That is with limited locations and limited cast. "They need to have a strong voice." She looks for new talent and new writers and enjoys bringing them out. Eric Brenner says "keeping your shooting time to a minimum and only using the stars for under five . When he did Crazy Heart, it took only 18 days to shoot.
Lisa Hansen said "choose a genre that you can sell easily." She pointed out that action and thrillers are the best buy right now. Drama is hard to sell. Do not label your story a drama, but make it a combination of genres. Horror can be good, but the desire now is more toward the supernatural and the psychological horror rather than the guts and gore. "Pick something that will stand out. There is so much product out there and there are so many ways to finance now." She also added that things which can be shot in Canada can take advantage of the tax credits there.
Paul Bales, whose company did the now popular Sharknado, does as many as two films a month. Sometimes their budget is miniscule. They get people to volunteer their time and often get product donated for free or for credit in the movie. This soft money is often forgotten by many producers. Most of their films go straight to VOD (video on demand) since the DVD market has become soft and many people are streaming their movies straight from Netflix or Blockbuster. "Shooting in LA turns out to be less expensive in the long run because you don't have to fly people anywhere or put them up and you have access to great talent here."
The production value of the movie is crucial if you are to succeed, says Braxton Pope. Digital allows better value and is cheaper to work with than film. His new film, The Canyons, with Lindsay Lohan, he feels was successful because he made the film for himself and did not have to answer to the studio execs for anything.
Ms. Howell said you have to ask yourself "Is this a movie that I would go see, myself? Do I think it's that good?" Casting is crucial. She was able to get Ryan Gosling for The Place Beyond The Pines before he became popular. She found him at a Sundance lab. "You find good actors by watching a lot of television and films and using your instinct." Take a chance on yourself and hire a casting director even for one part only so that you can say that you have a name in your movie. There are a lot of actors out there who are not working regularly and are looking for material.
Mr. Pope suggested that you look for grants. He was able to get numerous grants to help fund the movie and the locals where he shot gave them free hotel space because they were so thrilled to be in a film.
Ms. Hansen suggests that you plan ahead and get your distributor on board early on to give you casting suggestions and other advice. Don't plan on being picked up by Sundance. There were over 4,000 films flooding the judges last year and only a few hundred were chosen.
As a final note, the panel also suggested getting crews who are familiar with TV work. In television land, they have to do 8 pages a day and work at a brisker rate than film crews are used to.
Be ready for AFM next year and their informative panels.