Writing, Producing and Directing: Filmmaker Angelo Bell Does It All!
The first time I heard of Angelo Bell was on Twitter. I read a couple of his tweets about writing screenplays and wanted to know more. Here was a filmmaker with wit and wisdom who was willing to share both with friends and strangers alike via social media. Very quickly, I realized how much this man understands the delicate balance between business and artistry when it comes to making movies. So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you Part 1 of this Filmmakers Q&A with Angelo.
Where do you find the inspiration and story ideas for your writing?
Years ago my story ideas were spawned from a single scene that I couldn’t get out of my head. Sometimes ideas were inspired by or grew from a song that presented a specific visual to me. Now my process is quite mechanical and procedural. I start off with a specific genre, and then I work my way into a logline. The logline becomes a single page film synopsis. I rework the synopsis until it excites me. If the synopsis doesn’t excite me I drop it and move on. If the synopsis excites me I create a treatment of 7-15 pages. If the treatment excites me and I believe it is marketable, I’ll consider writing the script.
The thing about a story that is misunderstood is that, stories themselves are simple. It’s the conflict and drama within the story that is interesting. It’s the manner in which you tell the story that is interesting. For my film “Resurrection of Serious Rogers”, there’s nothing inherently special about an assassin who wants to get out of the business. But because the assassin is the woman who gets mixed up in a political conspiracy through her efforts to go straight it becomes more interesting. Add the fact that this female assassin realizes that the only way to stop killing and be free is to first kill everyone who stands in her way and you’ve got conflict and drama.
Compared to a lot of filmmakers you really seem to balance the business aspects of making movies with the passion needed to produce good stories. How do manage to juggle these diverse components and make them work for you?
I’ve always had a passion for telling stories and for writing. I remember the exact moment in the third grade when I said, “I want to be a writer.” From that point on, I studied the craft of storytelling while I learned the techniques and mechanics of writing well. Most people would never guess that I was incredibly shy as a kid. Stories were my refuge, my sanctuary. Everything that I wished I could do in real life was very simple to accomplish in the stories I created. In fact, I often envisioned myself in my stories as the big, bold badass hero, defying the odds and rescuing the girl.
Ultimately, for me to achieve balance I had to accept one undeniable fact: filmmaking is as much a business as it is an art form. Why fight it? The argument of art vs. commerce is one of the most ridiculous arguments I’ve heard. Art and commerce need not be mutually exclusive. To have a sustainable career I believe it’s important to operate on both sides of the industry, the artistic side and the commercial side. Once I accepted that fact I knew it was important to learn the business side of things. I don’t want my career to become a cautionary tale, thus understanding the business side became equally important to me.
I already love what I do. Put me in front of a keyboard and I’ll write until my wrists cramp. Put me on a film set and I am in my element. It’s easy to maintain passion for these fun aspects of filmmaking. The business side can be fun too, if we open our minds to it and accept that in the end we’ll be better off.
In your opinion what are the pros and cons of crowdfunding?
If a filmmaker is making a cheap movie, crowdfunding is a win/win situation. However, in my experience, crowdfunding requires an element of Internet celebrity to achieve success. Add to that the required time commitment and it becomes a huge burden to bear. I’ve seen boring projects get over-funded and great projects fail. It’s entirely subjective like a screenwriting contest or like a film festival’s selection process.
After attending AFM what would you consider to be the key considerations in order for you to work with a distributor or producers rep?
There are a few things I look for when considering a distributor or producer’s rep. Does the company pay an advance against royalties? If a company does not pay advances on projected sales and/or royalties, I don’t immediately dismiss it. Obviously, I’d rather work with a company that does offer advances because I’ve got bills to pay just like everyone else. However, a company that doesn’t offer royalties may still be beneficial to me in other ways. For example, if a company has worked with films that are bigger than mine, there is an opportunity for my film to be offered as part of a package deal when the distributor approaches a TV network.
If the distributor has worked with bigger films than my film, I look to see if the films are similar genres. Handing over my romantic comedy to a skilled horror film distributor is probably not a smart choice because the company will be out of its element. I also look for flexibility in the contract. Deliverables can be costly, so I look for flexibility in that aspect. I look for caps on marketing and advertising with a clause that requires my approval before certain actions are taken. Typically, I work my due diligence with folks who are more knowledgeable than I, so the scammers are pretty much weeded out before I approach them, or soon after they approach me.
Was your opinion and perception about AFM different beforehand?
Before AFM I did sort of put distributors on a pedestal, when in fact they are normal everyday working people just like I am. The fact is, I had two completed films and a film project in hand and they wanted films. It’s not about putting on one’s salesman cap and selling. It’s more about finding a good home for your film through research and introductions.
Attending AFM helped me understand that I need to consider domestic and foreign opportunities for my film. The world is a big place and thinking only foreign or only domestic is shortsighted.
What surprises you most about the changes in independent film since you started out?
I’m surprised that advancements in technology haven’t done more to facilitate discovery and distribution for indie filmmakers. Technology is affecting everything else by leaps and bounds but things still seem fuzzy within the areas of DIY distribution, film discovery and filmmaker awareness. It seems there’s still a gap between indie filmmakers and their audiences. Social media has helped as has using SEO has helped. It makes sense that some of the smaller Internet distribution companies would benefit by partnering up with other companies. This way instead of 500 companies scattered all over the Internet there are one or two. In essence, I’m surprised that companies like Google and Yahoo haven’t recognized the potential of working with indie filmmakers on a global basis.
Find out more about Angelo’s thoughts about filmmaking and distribution and two of his own projects in Part 2 of our Q&A and in the meantime have a look at his website www.angelobell.com or connect with him on Twitter @angelobell.