Sam Mestman is the founder of We Make Movies, inc. (www.wemakemovies.org), a Los Angeles independent film collective dedicated to reviving a sense of community within the independent film world. It is a place for filmmakers to build an audience, find helpful resources to develop their craft and business, as well as being a production company actively developing its own content and throwing events and workshops throughout Los Angeles.
In addition to running We Make Movies, Sam is a 2002 graduate of NYU’s film program. He has worked in just about every medium as an editor in the film/tv industry, and is a certified picture editor with the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild. Among numerous other things, he has edited four features, worked on the hit fox show Glee, as well as being a two time editor for ESPN’s coverage of the NBA finals.
In 2006, He directed and edited the documentary The Gloves for Mochary films, and in 2008 produced and edited the Award winning independent feature How I Got Lost. Now a resident of Los Angeles, he has dedicated himself to reviving independent film as a viable business model, and finding news ways for filmmakers to profit directly from their content while still retaining creative control over their work. He envisions an independent film industry where filmmakers actively build their own audiences, sell directly to them, and completely bypass the current distribution system entirely, which for too long has been taking advantage of filmmakers and their work.
What are you working on right now?
It’s a funny question, because I always seem to have about ten different projects going. But the big thing, and my long term focus, is always going to be We Make Movies. As a collective, we’ve currently got about 10 shorts in some stage of production, have had a couple features already come out of our workshop, put on our first original theatrical production, just launched our new website last week, and are gearing up to do some pretty cool events around Los Angeles over the next couple months. Considering we started this whole thing a year and a half ago with no start up capital and a little writers workshop in a 30 seat blackbox theater, our growth has been pretty amazing… and we’re just getting started.
3 trends that excite you?
1. Well, the big trend that scares a lot of people but really excites me is that the film business is very much heading towards where the music business went, which is that the distribution model is completely changing and will be forever altered by the internet, tablets, and smart phones. Cable TV, DVD, and traditional theaters are all in decline as platforms. However, as an independent filmmaker, those industries were all terrible for us, and took advantage of us at every opportunity. The truth is that never before have filmmakers had more control over their audience and content. It is now possible, with enough planning, to build and mobilize your own audience online, purchase all of your own projection equipment, self release your movie theatrically, market and distribute your movie yourself, and completely ignore all of the middlemen (distributors, studios, and rental chains) that have been stealing from filmmakers for decades.
2. Another trend that’s really exciting for indie filmmakers but also terrifying for the establishment is how cheap it has become to manufacture top quality content if you know what you’re doing. What used to cost millions can now cost a fraction of that when placed in the right hands. For example, my current home editing setup can do exactly (and in many cases more) than what a $600/hr edit/color suite can do in an expensive post house. What’s going on in the production realm with companies like Red and all the DSLR cameras is just amazing. All a filmmaker will need in the digital age is content that people actually want to see, and a fan base willing to pay for it (easier said than done). And while a lot of people are seemingly terrified that everything will always be free on the internet due to piracy, etc., no matter how easy it is for people to steal content, it’s my belief that there will always be a market for quality content so long as it is packaged and promoted in a way that is usable for the consumer.
3. This leads me to the trend that I’m most excited about, which is the concept of crowdfunding for content. You’re seeing it at a very small level now with things like kickstarter and indiegogo, which allow filmmakers to make custom donation pages for projects which people can actively contribute to so that films and other projects can get made. Right now, this is on a very small level, and mostly being used for smaller projects (generally $20,000 and under). What you’re going to see start to emerge over the next few years, though, is this concept taken to a much higher level. You’re going to see major artists and directors move their projects from being funded by studio money, and instead be funded directly by the people who actually purchase the content… their fans. You’ll see major artists pre-selling their project to their fans before it has even been made. Essentially, what you’re going to see coming to the independent film industry is what Trent Reznor is already doing with his music, and Obama did with his presidential campaign. Grass roots marketing at its finest. The technology is there, and filmmakers are waking up to it.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It took me awhile to figure this one out in my own life, but I found that as soon as I stopped worrying about all the things I didn’t have at my disposal (money, industry contacts, etc.), and instead started focusing on what I did have going for me (time, talent, resourcefulness, and lots of people just like me willing to help out), I was able to start focusing my energies on making the most of what I had to work with, which in turn has led me to places and things that didn’t seem possible just a couple years ago. At the end of day, the real way to bring an idea to life is to not be pathologically focused on the end result, and feeling like a failure if you haven’t gotten there yet. That will just bog you down and make you want to quit. If you really want to get something done, you have to focus purely on developing your process for getting to where you want to go, start chipping away little by little, knowing you’re going to keep doing it no matter what, and just taking every day to make the most of the tools you have at your disposal. Even if you don’t get to where you thought you might get to, the worst case scenario is that you’ll end up somewhere a million times better than if you’d done nothing at all.
What inspires you?
The biggest thing that universally inspires me is watching people who really care about what they do, and seeing them continue to make things they believe in regardless of what life throws in their way. And I don’t mean just big things… sometimes I get the most inspiration by walking into a little out of the way cafe, going in there, having a fantastic meal that you can tell someone cared about making. Or going into a small business and seeing service that’s handled perfectly, and getting a customer experience that someone really thought about and thought was important. For me, it’s more important that the work you do actually means something and that you care about it. Making money’s nice, but if it doesn’t serve a purpose, and you don’t care about the end product, what’s even the point? I think the world would be a much better place and people would be a lot happier if they just tried to make everything they do great, and focused on that more than they did on profits.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Hard to count how many mistakes I’ve made, but if I had to choose one that’s really changed me, it would be how we approached distributing our first feature, How I Got Lost. It was truly a crash course in real world business and I basically learned that, at the end of the day, if someone knows that you need them in order to make a deal, they’re probably going to abuse that knowledge. When it comes to money, it’s extremely rare that someone is going to act in someone else’s best interest.
Basically, we made our first movie focusing all of our money and resources into only making the best movie we could possibly make (it’s an idealistic, stupid mistake that many filmmakers make). We never budgeted for publicity, marketing, building a fan base, or anything other than the prayer that someone else would swoop in and offer us a great distribution deal cause our movie was just that amazing. It was naive, and we were in for a rude awakening when it came time to start getting the movie out there. While we did have a somewhat happy ending (the movie is pretty much available everywhere now), I’d give anything to go back in time and actually be able to plan the process out from the beginning, accounting for all of the distribution landmines that were waiting for us. The bottom line is that I will never again do anything where I risk my money (or an investor’s) on a business model that I haven’t completely understood how to monetize. The only real way to do that is to find a way to not need anyone when you sit down to make a deal. The experience has taught me that I have to be 100% self reliant when it comes to being able to get my product out to the consumer.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
You know, this one’s pretty simple, but I’ve found very few people really put it into practice. Basically, just don’t make your business all about you. You want to build something people will get excited about? You have to figure out a way where it’s going to benefit them as much as you. This might seem like common sense, but it wasn’t for me. Our other big mistake with How I Got Lost was that we only tried to promote our movie. We never did anything for anyone else’s… and so we ended up in a situation where no one else cared that our movie even existed except for us. It’s a common problem in indie film.
We built We Make Movies as a direct result of this. We built it as place for us to develop and promote our work, but also a place where other people could do the same just as easily. We’ve been growing rapidly and making tons of new contacts ever since. And it’s only because we weren’t just trying to sell people something. We were offering something they could get out of the deal as well. If you’re in a business like film, where you need to build an audience to generate revenue, the only way to do that is to make it about other people as much as it’s about yourself.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
Figure everyone else on the site has the pure business books thing covered here. So here’s a business book for filmmakers that I’m pretty sure no one is going to list. It’s called Think Outside The Box Office by Jon Reiss, and I wish this book had been written before we made our first feature. Basically, it’s all about how to bypass the traditional pitfalls of distribution and actually go about building a buzz and monetizing your movie in our new internet ready mobile world. There are ideas and concepts in here that literally changed the entire way I thought about the film business. This book would have saved me two years of aggravation if I’d read it before we made How I Got Lost. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
One tool filmmakers should really check out on the production end is Scenechronize. It’s basically a cloud version of Movie Magic Scheduling and allows your various departments to stay connected in the cloud and get things done a lot more efficiently. It’s your AD department’s dream come true. The website does a much better job than me of explaining all the different ways it can make your production more efficient, so just go to www.scenechronize.com to check it out. It’s amazing.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Jim Jannard, founder of Red Cinema.
What is the meaning of life?
We Make Movies: www.wemakemovies.org