I work in media, but I don't have Hollywood connections and I don't know any venture capitalists. Despite that, a close friend has been subjecting me to relentless earnest cajoling to get me to co-produce a film with him. Now he has cancer. Disturbing news, for sure, but fortunately his was discovered early enough that he'll be fine without chemo or radiation. Naturally, mortality is on his mind, which means that his film idea (the budget for which would rival that of the Hobbit trilogy) is an urgent priority. I love him like a bro, I want to be supportive, but I can't help him realize his fantasy. How do I navigate this without crushing his soul?
Ah, but you can help him, I think.
I wish I had a little more information to work with here.
Mainly: Does your friend have a script? If he doesn't have a script – stop right there. With no experience, connections, or track record, without a script he is simply one of the hordes of people with "a great idea for a movie."
And if I had a nickel for every one of those – well, I'd be able to finance your friend's movie and also probably buy a nice little island in the Caribbean with what I had left over.
If your friend doesn't have a script, encourage him to write one. And boom: You've already started to help him.
Of course, to write a script you have to read a mountain of scripts first. I hate when people think they can write without studying the craft. If, say, I'm at a party with a dentist who announces, "I'm thinking of writing a screenplay, but can never find the time," I'll reply, "Yeah, I'm going to start drilling people's teeth as a hobby."
I have a chip on my shoulder about it, in other words, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But if your friend hasn't written anything or studied screenwriting, I would lecture him to get serious – then follow it up with positive encouragement.
If he does have a script, read it and give him "notes" – i.e. constructive suggestions on how to make it better – and don't stop until it's utterly kick-ass.
Now, I want to strike the right balance here between optimism and realism. It is a lottery-like long shot to get a script produced. You have to have the tenacity of the damned. But it does happen that total outsiders get stuff made.
Me, for one: I wrote a script with a friend of mine that actor/producer Paul Gross happened to like. Next thing you knew I was executive producer of a show on HBO Canada. On set, I was the boss of an army of creative types who'd come up to me holding up, say, two T-shirts: "Red shirt or blue, Dave, what do you think?"
Me: "Uh, blue?"
Them (into walkie-talkie, striding off): "We're going with the blue shirt, copy that? Dave says blue." Then someone hands you a cheeseburger at 10 in the morning.
Or take Nic Pizzolatto, creator of True Detective. The midwestern novelist and writing teacher wrote a script that wound up in the hands of Matthew McConaughey, who loved it.
Or Mickey Fisher, creator of Extant, starring Halle Berry. He was some dude from Ironton, Ohio, who entered his script in a contest. He didn't even win, but was one of five finalists, which attracted agents who gave his script to a guy named Steven Spielberg, don't know if you heard of him.
So it can happen. My examples are all from TV, but the same principles apply in film: 1) get serious, 2) study the craft, 3) have passion, 4) write script that kicks butt.
Forget financing it yourselves – for now, anyway. Self-production or crowd-funding are options down the road, but only when you've exhausted other avenues. Help him take baby steps towards getting his script produced using other people's money, and I'd say you'll have helped him realize his big dream, big time.
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