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Episode 85 – Getting a Name Actor in your Micro-Budget Feature

What makes for a satisfying ending to a movie? And how the hell do you get a name actor attached to your micro-budget feature when you don’t have an agent or a manager?

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Satisfying Movie Endings

Right out the gate, the topic of discussion is “what makes for a satisfying movie ending” as Timothy tries to explain to Alrik why he wasn’t satisfied with the ending to Alrik’s feature script “The Alternate.”

Read Alrik’s Screenplay:

Were you satisfied with the ending to Jaws?

How about Alien?

What about Die Hard?

Would you still enjoy the ending to Die Hard if you ended with Hans’ plunging to his death or do you need those extra four minutes of denouement?

Timothy argues that the success of an ending depends on the story you are trying to tell and though Alrik is channeling the endings to movies like Jaws and Alien they might be the best fit for “The Alternate.” You can’t justify an ending just because it exists or you happen to like it in another film, you have to find the right ending for your movie and Timothy thinks Alrik’s movie is less like Alien and Jaws and more like Die Hard. In movies about survival it makes sense that the movie ends when the last man/alien/woman is standing. But a movie with dramatic underpinnings, Timothy argues, need a denouement. Alrik counters that not all dramatic movies need them.

Alrik argues that he often feels that movies don’t end quickly enough and even Ex Machina, an ending he likes,  is criticized for being 3-minutes too long.

In the end, we agree that a satisfying ending comes down to personal taste and an ending doesn’t need to be satisfying to make the movie enjoyable. Although Timothy doesn’t like the ending to Jaws, he still loves that movie. Want some examples of endings that Timothy finds satisfying? You’re in luck!

“I was watching the endings to a bunch of films lately and noticed that after the hero gets what he/she wants, there is a 4-10 minute end sequence that ties up the loose ends. For me, this creates a satisfying ending. Here are a few endings that satisfy me immensely. I know other films get away with shorter endings, but I never feel very satisfied by them. Do you? Anyways, read these.” – Timothy

Die Hard (TOTAL SCREEN TIME 4-Minutes): Hans falls to his death and we pan down from the building to mass destruction. Twisted metal, a fallen helicopter, etc. And from the wreckage, John and his wife emerge while the fire department heads inside. John sees the cop, Al, that he’s been talking to the whole time and mouths his name, the cop nods and he walks slowly towards him and they smile. They laugh and hug. It’s an orgasmic release of emotion. John introduces his wife Holly. The chief of police pushes through the crowd yelling out “John, you have has a lot to answer for”. Suddenly, one of the bad guys, Karl, stands up with a gun and waves it around. He’s alive! John and his wife hit the floor and someone fires a gun, killing Karl. We reveal the man who pulled the trigger, it was the cop, Al, who has a moment of realization as he’s just experienced a bit of action on the job. Then a limo smashes through the gates of the parking lot and John tells Al not to worry, “he’s with me.” As John and Holly walk towards the limo a reporter sticks a mic in his face and says “Now that’s it’s all over, what are your feelings?” Holly punches him in the face. John and his wife get into the limo and the film ends with John and Holly kissing in the back seat while “Let it Snow” plays.

Home Alone (TOTAL SCREEN TIME 7-MINUTES): The burglars are arrested and Kevin watches them being driven off by the police. It’s Christmas Eve, Kevin readies the Christmas tree and stockings for Santa. Meanwhile, mom is in the back of a van with the polka band and John Candy tells her not to beat herself up about leaving Kevin and tells him stories about bad parenting including his own story about leaving his son at a funeral parlor and that his son came out of it. “Kids are resilient, they get over things.” Back at home, Kevin wakes up on Christmas morning, he calls out “Mom” and runs downstairs. He looks around the house, but no one is there. The house is still empty. He sighs in disappointment and goes to the front door and looks out into the snow. Nothing. He closes the door, and just as he does, the truck with his mom pulls up. Kevin is inside looking at a framed picture of the family when the door opens and he hears his mom yell “Kevin!” but he doesn’t answer. Mom walks in and sees the house is nice and neat and the Christmas tree and stockings are up. Kevin runs downstairs and stands in front of his mom. She looks happy, he looks mad. She says “Oh, Kevin I’m so sorry,” and his face turns from anger to joy and he runs into his arms. Kevin asks where everyone else is and mom says they couldn’t make it, but then they all walk in, arguing and bickering like always and make a few sweet gestures to Kevin in the way a family does like his brother saying “it’s pretty cool you didn’t burn the place down.” As the family turns to unpack and get back to their life, Kevin walks slowly toward the window at the other end of the house. He gets there and looks out at the old man next door who is having a family reunion with his son and granddaughter. As the old man hugs his granddaughter he waves to Kevin and Kevin waves back. Then we hear his brother offscreen yell “Kevin, what did you do to my room!”. FADE TO BLACK.

Inside Out (TOTAL SCREEN TIME 4-MINUTES): Joy and Sadness make it back to Mission Control and to Joy’s shock, Riley is on a bus leaving Oakland. The other emotions tell Joy to get up to the control panel and stop her. And Joy tells Sadness to do it. Everyone is shocked! Joy says to a reluctant Sadness, “Joy needs you.” As the bus starts and moves towards the freeway, Sadness walks to the control panel and when she touches it, it goes dark and then she simply removes the lightbulb. Suddenly, Riley runs towards the front of the bus yelling “I want off, I want off.” Riley runs home to her parents. She comes in and they run to her asking “where have you been? We’ve been worried sick. It’s so late”. Inside her head, Joy looks at Sadness at the controls with a realization. She walks over to her with a handful of happy memories. that turn blue in Sadness’ hands and as she puts them back the memories play, this time blue. Sadness presses a button on the control panel and Riley starts crying and she tells her mom and dad not to be mad, she misses her friends, she wants to go home. They say “we’re not mad. And Dad says “You know what, I miss Minnesota, too.” And they share some things they miss. They pull Riley in to a hug. Meanwhile, inside Riley’s head, Joy hands Sadness a final memory that’s been in her bag and Sadness pulls Joy to the control panel and presses her hand on the emotion button. We cut to Riley and see her feeling both oy and Sadness as a new core memory is created of this moment with her parents. The new core memory is both blue and yellow and the family island is rebuilt. The scene ends with a slow pull out on Riley hugging her family and then a similar shot with Sadness and Joy sharing a moment of Togetherness.

Getting a Name Actor in Your Micro-Budget Feature

The recent distribution stories we’ve heard makes Timothy believe that getting a return on a $100k investment really comes down to a film being something people need to see. They can’t just kind of sort of want to see it, they need to be inspired to pay to see it. So the standard for filmmakers at our level is to make a film that appeals to a fairly large audience. Either it works from a pure marketing standpoint (Sriracha, Super Size Me) it wins a bunch of awards (Krisha) it’s a novelty (El Mariachi, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity) or it’s an crowd pleaser with good word of mouth (Napoleon Dynamite, Once).

The other way to get people to want to see a movie is to cast a name actor. Alrik has been talking about casting Anthony Mackie in his film, the Alternate. But how the hell do you do it without an agent or manager?

Timothy talked to his fellow filmmakers and came back with some answers.

 Our Sources:

1) The writer/director of a micro-budget film with John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) Shelly Cole (Gillmore Girls) and Cindy Pickett (the mom from Ferris Bueller’s)

2) A local San Francisco Casting Director and Producer that were working with Timothy on Haunted Toyhouse

3) The Asst. Unit Production Manager on La La Land

4) The writer/director of an indie film shooting this year with Josh Brolin and Ben Foster

5) This article:

Based on what he heard, Timothy came up with this list to help you get actors attached to your micro-budget feature:

1. Start with the material. Create more than a script.

No one we talked to went in with just a script. Either they had their funding secured or they had some other materials to show, like storyboards, concept drawings or a proof of concept video. This goes a long way to show how serious you are about your film.

2. Try the obvious solutions first (Sundance Labs, Grants, Producers)

No one wants to hear that the best way to get a name actor in your movie is to get a well known producer attached to your script, but that’s how it happens for a lot of filmmakers. So why not try the obvious solution firstt? Submit to grants, the Sundance Labs, or screenwriting competitions. The filmmaker with Josh Brolin attached to his movie only got that far because he was a finalist in the Sundance Labs program. Being a finalist was enough of a push to get his movie off the ground.

3. Assemble a Team. Build your brick wall one Brick at a time.

Success doesn’t happen overnight, you have to take it one step at a time. Getting a movie off the ground is no different. Start with what and who you have access to and build from there.

4. Raise the money and set a shoot date.

You’ll have an easier time booking an actor if you can make a firm offer.

5. Connect ! (however you can)

As with anything, the more connections you have, the better chance you’ll have at knowing the right person or person who knows a person.

6. Make a list, but be flexible.

It’s nice to have a dream list, but the chances all of the actors you want will be available at the exact same time is unrealistic. Even huge Hollywood movies have a hard time scheduling shoot dates. So be ready to take the backup. You might also want to just approach agents or managers with your shoots dates, your offer and see who they recommend you cast. They might recommend someone you didn’t initially think of. Be flexible.

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Published inActorsAgents and ManagersCastingDirectingDistributionFeature FilmsFilmmakingMarketingProducersScreenwritingStoryStory Structure
  • Wowee, that was a fun episode to record. Share your thoughts below. Here are a few thought starters.
    What are some of your favorite movie endings and why?
    Do you have a story about how a filmmaker got an name actor without an agent or manager? Do share!