Posted by Tj Marine

In 2017, I had a weird epiphany about an opportunity realized I had. Long story as short as possible, I had a 77-page Horror/Thriller script that I realized I could actually shoot, and thus, have my first feature film as a Writer/Director.

By 2018 the script was totally finished. I submitted it to a few Stage 32 written pitch sessions and I got some really supportive feedback. Notably one exec requested to see other loglines I had and even requested one script, but the important part was that although I didn’t have managers or producers raving for the chance to meet me, I had least had confirmation that, in their eyes—the story was good enough to have them intrigued.

Since it was a movie that I was going to make myself, I’m not sure what my goal was in submitting at the time. Getting positive feedback on your story is an important aspect of filmmaking, but ultimately, it is a small piece of the pie you’ll need in order to get your movie made. Nevertheless, it was a big check box that made me feel good about taking on the journey to making my first movie.

 

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

Still from my film "At Night Comes Wolves"

 

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

We’ve all seen the posts about movies made for a few thousand dollars. My movie was made for a bit more than that, but I still ended up doing almost everything myself. Here are the jobs I hired crew/talent/friends to help me with:

  • Cinematography (Cooper Shine)
  • 1st AC
  • Key Grip
  • Composer
  • Sound Design
  • Production Sound
  • Hair & Makeup
  • VFX
  • Graphics Artist

There are films getting made like this every year, and every filmmaker weighs the balance of things they can or cant do themselves. Had this been a movie with a 6-7 figure budget (it wasn’t), here are all the positions I would have technically been covering:

  • Writer
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Editor
  • Line Producer
  • Unit Production Manager
  • Casting Director
  • Production Designer
  • Prop Master
  • Assistant Director
  • Assistant to the Director
  • Production Coordinator
  • Location Manager
  • D.I.T.
  • Caterer
  • Production Assistant
  • Production Accountant
  • Post Production Supervisor
  • Trailer Editor

 

 

DEVELOPMENT & WRITING:

My film is 3 short films, which I then tied together to make one seamless narrative about an abused housewife that leaves her husband and joins a cult that is obsessed with transcendence, only to realize the husband she left is the same man who used to be the cult’s leader. I won’t spend time going into themes or anything, but that storyline is what gave me the arc to tie my unrelated short films into one seamless feature.

I contacted the actors from my 3 shorts. I wrote new arcs for the ones interested to reprise their roles. On top of working full time, this took me about 10 weeks while writing evenings and weekends. Once finished, I had a storyline that felt like one complete, elevated horror film. Including the combined 25 pages from my 3 films, the final script was 77 pages.

At this point, we were around March 2018. I spent about 2 months just kind of sitting on the script, putting everything into perspective. This is when I submitted my Stage 32 pitches and had my friends give me thoughts on the full script.

 

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

Still from my film "At Night Comes Wolves"

 

PREPRODUCTION

I took baby steps to make sure I was producing the film in a way that was economical while not compromising my vision. This included calculating my budget, getting film permits, location scouting, building and renting props, designing costume, scheduling, making shot lists, etc.

In September 2018, I had about $15k saved in cash. Additionally, I took out a small bank loan and also had a credit card I was willing to max out. A week before shooting, I quit my job. At that point everything had pretty much been set and production was ready to go.

PRODUCTION

The biggest hardship— the film didn’t have a producer. It was just me. To the people who will venture out on their own no-budget films in the future: I caution you to do it without some form of producing partner! The production went smoothly, but it certainly could have been less stressful.

Get your girlfriend to help you. Boyfriend. Younger sibling. Best friend. Film student who is hungry to learn. Or a legit producer who will at least help out on the high-stakes days. Just find someone who can answer phone calls. Take production notes. Run errands. Troubleshoot. Anything that will help you focus on the creative side.

 

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

Still from my film "At Night Comes Wolves"

 

POST PRODUCTION

I went back to working full time in 2019, editing the film in evenings and weekends. Once I had a decent rough cut, I did some outreach (including going to AFM, which is an experience that deserves a whole other blog post) and got about a dozen companies interested to talk distribution, but nothing materialized. The film just wasn’t complete yet. Then COVID hit.

In an ironic way, COVID gave me the bandwidth that the film really needed. It still needed sound design, original music, color correction, a new poster, etc. With the help of some talented people, I was able to get post production fully wrapped for under $1,500.

If you don’t know someone who you can hire, contact film schools— they all have talented students who are hungry for experience. Also, don’t fear finding people on Craigslist.

Take time to vet them, but I have only good things to say about folks I ended up working with (and paying).

THE DISTRIBUTION DEAL

By September 2020, I started sending screeners to the same distributors that showed interest the year earlier. It took some time, but I got offered 3 distribution deals. I felt they were all very honest folks, but I went with the 2nd deal because that company was the most well-known and had the most experience.

This whole section was as straight forward as A) making the movie B) emailing a screener to distributors C) sitting back and waiting for someone to show interest. Hopefully, they will. If your film has commercial value, there are people who want it.

 

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

 

NOW, ONE WEEK BEFORE MY FILM’S RELEASE

I remember my first day of film school, the dean made a comment I’ll never forget:

“It’s one thing to have ideas. It’s another thing to do something about them.” If I could sum everything up into one digestible lesson for aspiring directors and writers and producers to think about, it’s that if you truly want to make movies— you will find a way.

I grew up a middle class guy from Texas. No Hollywood network, no real money. How was I ever going to get a feature made? If you asked me back then how it would happen, I would never guessed that my first movie would materialize in the way that it did. But I saw opportunity and went for it.

 

About TJ Marine

How I Got Distribution on a Film with No Producers

TJ Marine is a Writer/Director born and raised in Houston, Texas, currently living in Los Angeles. AT NIGHT COMES WOLVES is his feature-film directorial debut and is available for PreOrder in North America. Streaming on iTunes and VOD platforms 4/20/21.

Pre-Order "At Night Comes Wolves" Here

 

 


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