Welcome to the journey… that is my motto. Life is an endless journey, and along the way there will be bumps on the road. That summarizes my experience producing the first part of what has the potential to explode, once all the stars are lined up as they should. It was important to journal this trip publicly, not only to help others following behind me with innovative stories, but it serves as a cathartic wrap up to a year’s worth of hard determination and unrelenting belief in this unique story. I hope you find this retelling as an inspiration to having the courage to step outside the box.
Tool to Proceed
You’ll need a great dose of self encouragement in the development stage of planning.
1. Believe in yourself! Yes, cliché… but if you don’t believe, no one else will either. This becomes the most important of “mental tools” as sometimes you may find yourself alone on this island of belief. Just remember→Confidence breeds belief.
2. Be the biggest cheerleader! This is similar to #2, but it’s something filmmakers still struggle with. We assume that others will be just as enthusiastic about our story as we are. The truth is that you are the only person who can bring the level of excitement that is needed to market the story.
3. Expect nothing. Yes again, cliché… but we filmmakers keep forgetting that our creative peers are not responsible for our success. You are—by working 24/7 to build an audience who will support you without a clause (real fans vs fans with benefits). Be grateful for whatever support you get, because even a little bit is better than nothing. For Evolve, I was lucky to have a handful of creative peers give me a boost during the development stage, which was wonderful. They encouraged me to proceed.
Casting: What everyone wants to know… How did you cast Donia? I wanted to cast to type for the introduction of this story and that included casting a girl who was very similar to Donia in age and life experience. In short, I wanted a real sheltered teen who I had unlimited access to train with. Unfortunately, this became the biggest challenge during filming. Donia #1 (as stated in a past post) didn’t work out as well as I thought. I will contribute that to two things: her inexperience and me not being a seasoned enough director to pull out the performance on set as rehearsed. Lesson #1: restrict non-actors to bit roles. I don’t care what other perks may come from that casting (as was the case with Evolve)… avoid it. The rest of the casting was done through breakdown services and previous relationships with actors I knew. I was fortunate to have the rest of the cast be stellar and they picked up the slack when needed.
Crew: Here’s where I will have to take the high road, so I’ll be “lite”. First, I must note that my original plan was to hire a co-director so that I could focus more on producing once filming began. You can’t do both on set. Unfortunately, I had to redirect funds elsewhere and the direction suffered as a result. Being overwhelmed with producer responsibilities, I decided to hire crew members who were also directors, so that I can get some assistance on set. Great idea, but it wasn’t as productive as it could have been. I say this because, the climate on set was a bit tense (see Physical Production). Between some tasks just being outright ignored (Script continuity) and given the lackadaisical attitudes of some, I doubt I’ll go that route again.
Physical Production Challenges
One word… Frustrating. I’m sure I speak for many here. There were a bunch of “firsts,” which is not uncommon for smaller budgeted projects, but if everyone involved doesn’t believe in the project, tolerances will be very low. Some of the most memorable challenges second to working with an inexperienced teen lead were:
1. Not having paid PAs. After this experience, I have the upmost respect for this position. What a joy it would have been to have at least one dedicated PA to help out every shoot day.
2. Over scheduling. We averaged about 8-10 pages a day and one pick up day (3 pgs). The biggest part overlooked was the time it took to set up the special effects and the fight scene. With the exception of one scene, the special effects sequences were all done in one long 14 hour day. No one on set had any experience doing special effects, so that made it harder as well.
3. The weather. Three scenes were affected by the rain, one of which was the fight scene. I had spent an entire day scouting visually pleasing locations for several scenes to take place. One was an auto body shop and the other was an isolated dead end street, where the fight was scheduled to shoot. The rain set shooting back a few hours, but luckily the trees at the main house provided shelter from the rain and we were able to still shoot the scene in the driveway.
4. No shot list used. Yes, you read that correctly. In hindsight, the only reason I agreed to that was I didn’t have the energy to do yet another set of paperwork, so I trusted the DP. It worked out okay because I did have a private shot list I made on index cards for the different set ups I wanted. Lesson #2: Create a shotlist especially if it’s your first time directing.
I may have provided the blue print (wrote the story) and the cast and crew built the structure, but the post team turned that skeleton into a piece of artwork. Hands down, post was my favorite part of producing Evolve. It was during this stage where I really felt a “team” emerge. They had a lot of work to do and it was not easy fine-tuning what you see/know from where it began. Leading that team was my main editor and the closest thing I had to a “partner” on Evolve. He was encouraging, thoughtful, dedicated and respectful. The editing process took six months and was originally scheduled for three. There were several replacements within the post crew that set post back, but they proved to be well worth the wait. I was really pleased with their work.
The hardest part of being a producer is getting people to watch your project. This task becomes almost impossible when you have no budget to hire a dedicated social media manager or a publicist to assist with marketing. The core cast was helpful in volunteering time for post interviews, pushing the trailer and sharing the premiere episode, along with a few crew members. Apart from the Evolve emblem you see planted everywhere, all of the marketing strategy was created and initiated by me. I did consult with a social media manager and was given mounds of encouragement to stay on the track that I was on. I spent three full months relentlessly promoting Evolve, which included: weekly email blasts, managing 7 social media sites, physical Outreach Sessions (three actors attended as well) at local High Schools, building relationships with bloggers and networking with comic book community. I would have to say that my efforts paid off as the marketing was the most successful aspect of the entire release. I was able to get people excited about the project. Lesson #3: The marketing of your project is more important than the project itself.
Here’s a list of what worked:
1. Being kind and courteous to your actors—they are on the front line, even more than you.
2. Utilizing a social media managing site such as Hootsuite
3. Having an amazing trailer
4. Having an event to always build up to: Trailer, Release date, Premiere screening, first episode
5. Email blasts that always included some new piece of info (read: build excitement)
6. Inviting my core audience (teens) to the Premiere screening
7. Engaging (thanking) with everyone who showed some love. These people have the potential to be future fans
NOTE: Be careful about what kind of fandom you are receiving. There’s a big difference between a hardcore fan and a fan with benefits. I’m a believer of you have to give to get… but I think there should be a mixture, with 80% of the balance leaning towards true fandom. When people are genuinely excited about your story, they will share willingly.
What I want to try next time:
1. Offering merchandise (didn’t have anything to offer)
2. Document Behind the Scenes
3. Incorporate Instagram and Google Hang Outs
I will end my diatribe of this process in only a few sentences. When I come back with the continuation of this story, expect every area to be upgraded to awesome. Part One was a cool intro to what Evolve can be with all the stars in place. There’s no limit to where this story can grow and it’s designed to thrive in any medium. Remember… innovation takes time.