If you have any interest in making films you owe it to yourself to go to one of Larry Meistrich's Aspiring Filmmakers Boot Camps. It is two days packed with information on the business of filmmaking. Larry touched on fundraising, pre-production, product placement, insurance, production, releases, post-production, and delivery to a distributor. He stressed the importance of insurance and creating a limited liability company for your small business because that's exactly what it is. As Larry says, "you will be sued." Don't take chances. Embarking on a filmmaking career is the same as starting a small business and if you take money from investors to finance your film you are officially dealing in securities which are governed by state and federal laws. It is not something to be taken lightly. You need to protect yourself and your investors by forming proper, legally binding entities and agreements. The investors must get a prospectus that outlines all the ways they can lose their money. You must have proper documentation from lawyers who know about securities law, and you must have insurance to cover your liabilities. Did I mention insurance? Yes, it's expensive and seems to be unnecessary for an ultra low budget movie, but the minute that a light falls on an actor or a truck rolls over all of your camera equipment you'll wish that you had taken the precaution.
A few things to know about Larry. He has a memory like a vice. He told us very bluntly that he would use what we said against us. He is a memory machine. He had no notes to keep himself on track for the two days. He just came in prepared and he stayed on track no matter how many questions were asked. He has a strange mix of arrogance and charm. Was it charm? I'm not sure if that is the right word. Maybe it should be qualified as "New York charm." He is from the Bronx and you can see it in him. He is also a shrewd businessman. He has made deals with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and walked away with what he asked for. And according to Larry he has raised more money for independent film than any other person on the planet. I don't doubt it for a second.
Very important things to remember when meeting people in the business: for starters don't lie, don't misrepresent yourself, and equally as important don't be self deprecating if you have the chance to meet someone who can help you. Be confident and show your assets and value, but for the love of pancakes don't make up an Emmy or even a nomination. The Internet makes it very easy to check what you've said. If you lie, if you mis-represent yourself they will find out and you'll most likely never get a second chance.
Here is a list of topics that were NOT covered in the boot camp:
- What kind of camera to use
And here a few topics that were covered.
- The difference between accredited and non-accredited investors
- The minimum budget for a theatrically released film
- The reasons to start your own LLC
- How to pitch your story
The art of filmmaking is not the topic of conversation at the boot camp. The business of filmmaking is. If you don't have a grasp of the business side of filmmaking you are destined to make only one film (if any) which will never be sold, might bankrupt you, make your family, friends, and/or investors very angry with you, and generally squelch your dreams of making movies as a career. If, on the other hand, you have a business plan, do your homework, go to markets like Cannes and the American Film Market, talk to people, and make connections – you're on the right track. Filmmaking as a business is about people and relationships. From producers and investors to cast and crew it's dealing with other people that will make or break your career. Be nice. If you can't be nice at least be competent and trustworthy.
At the end of the boot camp we practice pitching. You're not obligated to pitch anything, but it would be foolish not to. Take a project that you want to see made and pitch it to Larry. There is a slight chance that he will be interested in producing it, but most likely he will just give some good advice regarding the film. Maybe it shouldn't be a film. Maybe the idea sounds more like a web series. He is very generous with his experience and advice. If you sign up for the boot camp, do the pitch. It's great practice.
And as a closing note I offer this bit of advice: Don't stalk Larry. It's not good for anybody.