Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wondering why you're not seeing posts from The 60 Second Director lately?

Same snappy logo, new snappy URL.
I've been publishing posts as The 60 Second Director for well over six years and if you've been using an RSA feed to stay on top of my advice and opinions, thank you.

Thank you and I'm sorry.

Thank you for reading. I'm sorry I didn't mention earlier that I'm consolidating my internet footprint as a way to manage all the links and stuff. As part of that process, I've moved my blog. You can now read all my snarky, boring, and even occasionally helpful blog posts at http://belefant.tv/category/60-second-director.

So now would be a good time to update your RSA feed if you're using one.

Thank you. I said that already, I know, but I mean it. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Moving Post. And By That I Mean It's Hosted Elsewhere

I've been publishing posts as The 60 Second Director for well over six years and if you've been reading my stuff since then, thank you.

I'm consolidating my internet footprint as a way to manage all the links and stuff. As part of that process, I'm moving my blog. You can now read all my snarky, boring, and even occasionally helpful blog posts at http://belefant.tv/category/60-second-director.

If you want to be sure not to miss a single word, why not add your name to my mailing list when you click over there? That way I can sell your contact information to Google and make like .00000000000004¢.

Which I'm not going to do, by the way.

That was supposed to be funny.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My two cents about Zooppa –– which is less than what my opinion is worth.

The actual email. Thanks,
Mark, for saying such nice
things about my work.
I recently got an email from someone at Zooppa, offering me a "filmmaking opportunity.” The opportunity is for me to create a commercial for a stapler company and if my finished piece is determined to be one of the ten best, I’ll get to share $25,000.

I’m not going to do it. And I suggest you don’t, either. Here's why:

Let’s say I’m the best of the best. And that each of the nine other submissions considered to be one of the ten best “wins" $50.00. That leaves me “winning” $24,550. 

There’s a reason that word “winning” is in quotes. Because it isn’t winning. It’s earning. 

To earn that money, I have to first work as a copywriter. I’d study the brief so I could get to know the marketing strategy, advertising strategy, and brand voice. I’d familiarize myself with the target market, understanding their perception of the brand and its competitors. I’d also evaluate the product and its competitive set to determine opportunities to communicate the benefits of a feature that would be relevant to the audience. 

Only then would I be able to come up with a script.

Me having an idea.
What it looks like. Really.
Once the script is prepared, I’d have to work as a producer. I’d break down the script in order to create a budget to shoot the piece and put together all the necessary resources. I’d arrange for casting and location scouting, procure equipment and the people to operate it, secure insurance to cover something happening to a piece of equipment or a person. If anything costs money I’d have to pay for it. 

By this point I would have already worked for about a week and spent something, even if it isn’t much. 

If you’ve been reading my blog at all you know that working as a director involves a lot more than showing up and calling “action!” Before I can even dream of calling “action!" I'd have to cast actors, find locations, and create the world I want to create through art direction, lighting, and props. 

When it finally comes time to shoot the piece, I'd get to be the director, but I'd never stop being the producer, the person to deals with the inevitable problems –– equipment that breaks or doesn’t show up, people who flake, actors who are happy to work for free, but simply MUST have fresh dahlias in their dressing rooms...

I wouldn't get to stop being a producer once the footage was all shot because there’d be equipment to return, a location to clean up, and crew members to pay. But I might also get to be an editor. Somebody’s got to digitize the footage, sync the sound, pull the selects, edit the piece, do a color-correct, and mix the audio. 

Oh, and then there’s music. We might want music. And a voice over. 

Is there a title that comes up with the logo? Yeah, someone would need to create that, too.

The deadline for submitting to Zooppa is September 22nd, which means I'd have three weeks to write, produce, direct, and finish this thing. Pretty tight, but yeah, I could do it if I worked every day.

Twenty years ago, I was bringing in $1,000 a day as a freelance copywriter, but let’s forget that I’d just come off a job as Senior Vice President/Creative Director at BBDO Worldwide and let’s also forget that you'd need $1,568 today to buy something that cost $1,000 in 1995. Instead, let’s say a copywriter is worth $350 a day. 

Let’s also say a producer is worth $350 a day. And because we’re being all egalitarian and stuff, director/editors get to make $350 a day, too. 

That means I’d be paying myself $22,050 to make this thing, which leaves a whopping $2,500 to pay the crew and actors, rent the location, props, and equipment, and buy the insurance.

And that’s if I win. Which I decided way up there at the top of this rant that I would. 

You losers? All you other people who go to the same trouble that I do and who come in second? You'd get to spend $22,050 worth of your cut rate time and $2,500 of your money in order to collect $50. Plus you wouldn't get to say you made a real commercial. 

Zooppa has come up with a business model that is predicated on people like me being willing to invest their time and money –– plus assume all the risk –– in order to create advertising on behalf of its clients. It's like a lottery, where the potential payout doesn't even cover the cost of the ticket.

So no, Zooppa, I won't be taking you up on this "opportunity", thank you very much. Even if it were my first time looking into the eyepiece of a camera –– and it isn't –– if I'm creating something a legitimate business values as part of its marketing communication, I deserve to be treated as a professional. And the people I hire to work with me do, too. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm more than willing to cut my rate or work for free –– just like most everybody I know in this business –– but when I do it's because I either believe in the project, love the people, or see an opportunity to go to France. 

Zooppa, you're asking me to invest both my time and money to further the marketing goals of a legitimate, profit-seeking enterprise. The only remuneration I'm guaranteed is two staplers, which I can keep as long as I promise to submit a commercial.

It's not a stapler. It's a paycheck.
Three weeks' work for two staplers? Wow. What an "opportunity."

Brian Belefant is a diretor who is not shooting a stapler commercial this week and just happens to be available to work on something more legitimate, more worthy, or more likely to involve travel. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Difference Between A Good Guy And A Protagonist

I’ve always thought that the most realistic antagonists are convinced they’re not being bad. They honestly believe that what they’re doing is right. 

How else can you explain the despicable shit my ex-wife pulled during our divorce?

So when it comes to a story where a protagonist confronts an antagonist, it only makes sense that a legitimate argument can be made to root for either character. 

The trick is in the telling. And just the other day I stumbled onto a wonderful example. It’s by J. Matthew Turner and wow, is it a lesson in perspective. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Adventures in Script Meetings

Corporate shill.
I was recently hired by an ad agency to write a 22-minute television show –– an animated family story that takes place in Pre-Colonial Hawaii and involves a young prince and his pet chicken. (Imagine 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer' with a corporate agenda.)

Because my kids love stories (and because we were waiting for the pizza we ordered to be ready), I took them through the entire script. 

Walter the Chicken. The one the
character in the story is based on.
They sat, rapt, for the whole 22-minutes. I know this because when I was done, I quizzed them on what happened. I asked them to let me know if anything about the story didn’t make sense. Nope, they replied. Although it could have been clearer that the bad spirits turned into nice spirits at the end. 

Note taken.

Then I asked if they liked it.

“Loved it,” they both said.

But then there was a little hesitation from Dashiell, my seven-year-old.

“You know what, Dad?”


“Maybe instead of a raft, it could be a rocket that goes into a black hole and that’s how he gets to the Dark Island.”

And just like that, I’m back in Hollywood, having a story meeting with a studio exec.

Brian Belefant is a director who also works as a writer, but is mostly looking for directing gigs these days and if you happen to need a director you could do a lot worse than hiring him. Try calling (503) 715 2852 or emailing belefant (at) me (dot) com.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 3)

I can't see the forest.
Wow. Has it really been a month? I've been so busy with post production on a film project I'm working on that I haven't had time to write up a post. 

Guess I probably ought to start with a recap.

In What To Look For In A Producer (Part 1) I said that the most important thing to look for in a line producer is ethicalness. And then after I hit Publish I realized there’s a better word for that: Integrity. 


A couple of weeks later I put up What To Look For In A Producer (Part 2), in which I said that the second most important thing to look for in a line producer is a commitment to seeing the project through. Finishitoffness.

There. All caught up.

Now for the third most important thing to look for in a line producer, which is related to both of those, but different enough that it deserves to have its own number. Number 3.

Ready? The third most important thing to look for in a line producer is the ability to see the big picture. 

Let me give you an example.

Not that kind of Dolly.
I was shooting a commercial project that turned out to be a bit more intricate than the producer had initially anticipated. So after the bid was accepted and the job awarded, we discovered that we needed four days to do what he had initially thought we could accomplish in three. As you can imagine, a fourth day makes a pretty significant difference to a budget, what with the additional crew hours and equipment and stage rental. Needless to say, the producer was concerned –– as was I –– about making it work for the money.  

But we’d committed (integrity) and we were determined to see it through (finishitoffness). So we plowed ahead, keeping an extra eye on expenses. 

I’m one of those directors that’s pretty good at scheduling out my days and when I did, I worked it out that our first shot on the first day required a dolly. Which is only important because of what happened. We all showed up on the first day to find... no dolly. 

Not that kind of Dolly, either.
Which means we couldn't get the shot. 

The producer had decided that since money was tight, he’d book the dolly to show up at noon. 

He saved a couple hundred bucks, tops. And ended up having to pay thirty crew members to stand around while the rest of us scrambled to get ready for what turned out to be our first shot, which of course we didn’t actually shoot until almost when we were scheduled to shoot it in the first place. When the dolly finally showed up, we interrupted the flow of what we’d already planned to follow the first shot in order to take advantage of the light that was quickly becoming crap in order to get the dolly shot. 

That was a producer who didn’t see the big picture. And the thing about producing is that there are so many aspects to a production that there’s a lot of big picture to see. The job is seriously like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only there’s no one right way to do it. You have to take into consideration equipment and crew and cast members and light and locations and preferences and availabilities and all that. A lot of the time, it’s a matter of figuring out the least worst solution to the problem, but in order to do that, a producer needs to keep sight of what is important –– not just to the director, but to everybody. 

There. That's the Dolly I'm talking about.
In the case of this example, the big picture wasn't all that big. The guy wanted to save money, which is one of the things producers are supposed to do. But he ended up wasting a ton more. Plus he put us behind schedule from the very beginning and put the crew into a panic because we had to scramble to move on to what would have been the second shot of the day. Worst of all, he caused incalculable harm to my relationship with the ad agency, who rightfully wondered if I'd ever actually directed a commercial before. 

All that stuff is the big picture. Plus more. And before you haul off and hire a line producer, it’s a good idea to be sure you’re on the same page with regard to just what the big picture is. 

And this, of course, brings up the obvious follow-up question: Brian, just how do I find a producer who sees the big picture? 

No guarantees, but I’ll tell you something I do that helps. I talk about food. 


As someone who has (and still does) work for free, I sincerely believe that a well-fed crew is s happier and more productive crew. So no matter how much we ask people to compromise on their rates, I never want to cut corners on lunch. The difference between a crappy lunch and a good lunch is sometimes less than $5 a person. So it’s really a small concession to make when we’re asking someone to cut their rate by $100 a day. 

This isn’t something I declare when I’m talking to a producer I’ve never worked with before. It’s a discussion I open, to see where they go. 

And no, it’s not the only thing I do, but I find that how a producer feels about feeding a crew is usually a pretty good indicator of the way he or she feels about how all the myriad factors of a production are interrelated. 

That producer? The one who booked the dolly to show up at noon? He thought it would be a good idea to cap off a long day of hard work by having Taco Bell cater the crew’s dinner. This came up before we found out we were going to have to shoot four days for the price of three. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was a sign. 

Brian Belefant is a director who's so busy finishing up the project he's working on that he doesn't have time to be out looking for the next one. Think you might be able to use him? If so, give him a call at (503) 715 2852 or email him at belefant at me dot com.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 2)

You know what sucks about working as a director? You really don’t get to see how other people do what you do. 

I figured out a way around that. What I did was sign up with an extra casting service. I’d get booked as an extra on other people's sets and get to see how different directors work. 

Remember that movie ‘The Wild, Wild West’? I was in that.

Don’t bother looking for my name in the credits. They hired hundreds of us, put us in genuine wool Confederate army uniforms, had makeup people apply facial hair, and then told us to sit in a non-air-conditioned soundstage all day in sweltering Burbank, waiting to be called to the set. 


I had been booked for four days. When I got home at the end of the third day I got a phone call. A directing job I'd been hoping to get had come through. 

Of course I came in for the fourth day –– I’d put off starting the directing job because I’d committed to the extra work –– but since the scenes I was supposed to be in hadn’t been finished, the Assistant Director made an announcement to the bunch of us that they’d be needing us to come back for a few more days. 

I took the AD aside and told him that I was sorry, but that I couldn’t make it back. And this guy? He tried everything. He appealed to my greed. (“I’ll see if I can swing you more money.”) He appealed to my sense of duty. (“You committed to this project. You can’t just leave us in the lurch like this.”) He even tried to threaten me. (“With an attitude like that, you’re not going to go very far in this business.”)

Finally, out of ammo, he asked. “What could you possibly be doing that’s more important than helping make this film come together?” 

I didn’t want to do it, but I had to tell him. “I booked a job directing a commercial for American Express.”


There are two points to this story and they both aim square at the second most important thing you need to look for in a producer: 

The second most important thing to look for in a line producer is someone who’s committed to seeing your project through.

Point one was that I was not that. Not to Barry Sonnenfeld, anyway, or the rest of the people on ‘The Wild, Wild West’ and maybe that’s why the movie turned out to be such a turd. Point two was that the AD was. He did his very best to get me to come back, but no matter how hard he tried I gave him something he simply couldn’t trump. 

Granted, I wasn’t the producer and neither was he. But here’s the thing. There will always be reasons. People get sick. People’s kids get sick. Relatives die. Those and many more are legitimate reasons to not come into work and if you don’t understand those you shouldn’t be in a position of authority.

It’s the illegitimate reasons that can never ever ever get in the way. Like the producer who disappeared on me because the surf was really good. Or the one who went incommunicado for hours at a time as soon as the bars opened. 

When you hire a producer, make sure you hire one who wants not only to be a producer, but wants to be your producer. As uncool as it is, people will ditch one job for a better one and let’s be honest, your masterpiece might not be the best job a producer is in contention for.

Remember the first most important thing to look for in a producer? Ethics? This is a another reason that’s Thing Number One. An ethical producer will finish out his or her commitment to you and if Spielberg calls, he or she will ask him to wait until this project is finished. 

I don’t know Steven Spielberg, but I’d be willing to bet you he’d respect that. After all, he’s not looking for someone who’s going to disappear in the middle of his production, either. 

As for Barry Sonnenfeld, if you’re reading this? Dude, I’m sorry.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director still finishing up post production on a corporate video that you'll never get to see because of all the non-disclosure agreements and stuff. But hey, if you're looking to put together your next project, maybe he'll be done by the time you pull the trigger. Call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com.