There’s an old saying that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. This has never been more true than in our 21st century society.
Recently Britney Spears’ enthusiast Chris Crocker landed a telvision show deal when his tearful YouTube plea on behalf of Britney Spears ended up netting him millions of views. The fact that most people were there to laugh at Crocker didn’t change the turnout or the fact that it turned the heads of show producers, who have decided to focus on the openly gay youth’s life in the conservative state of Tennessee.
Crocker’s success comes right on the heals of a popular YouTube rap act that recently signed a film deal with MTV Films to create a film based on the characters in their music videos.
With the different ways people in our culture can rise to social consciousness, this reality has gone from a likelihood to an expectation. As though being born in America entitles people to this “inalienable right” of at least a moment of fame.
Is there anything wrong with wanting to rise to the top and become well known? Absolutely not. However, the problem arises when people want fast, immediate success. This success is usually based on some astoundingly low-level traits or some quirk of society. With some extremely minor exceptions, this type of fame never lasts, tends to taint the benefactor for future legitimate success, and often is often willing to be gained at the expense of someone else.
While this mentality is to be expected from our get-rich-quick society that thinks wealth is as close as the next lotto ticket or the next throw of the dice, it, unfortunately, buries its fangs into filmmaking in various ways. While most of us try to make good films so that we can finally get to the point where our films can support us, some wish to make the next Blair Witch Project just so they can get a big payday and be “set for life”. Obviously those who want those sorts of returns are in the wrong business with filmmaking of any stripe. (Especially since, despite erroneous reports to the contrary, the creators of the original Blair Witch did not make very much money off their film and have been able to get precious little work in the industry since then.)
While this mentality is sometimes present in filmmakers, the actual rigors of filmmaking tend to burn out the “15 Minutes of Famer” early in their filmmaking endeavors. By far the greater danger is presented in all those “helpers” who want to aid micro-budget films because they believe they will get their 15 minutes through your film.
A while back, I worked on a short film in which an unnamed town’s mayor verbally agreed to help the director in any way he could, even to the extent of providing a police escort for the movie, if needed. The director (who we’ll call Todd) thanked him, explaining that this was a very low-budget film and a short to boot. The mayor cavalierly overlooked these facts, stating that, “You never can tell…” My friend again made sure the mayor understood that this was a small movie and the mayor (whom we’ll call “Fred”) again overlooked it. Fred then went on to say that he owned a pizza company in the town we were shooting in and he would be more than happy to provide our entire crew with food, no strings attached.
Todd was highly encouraged by this enthusiastic support from the town for a no-budget short. However, his enthusiasm proved short-lived when he called the mayor to have the first day’s food sent over to the film site. The mayor suddenly insisted that Todd write in a sequence that showed the mayor personally delivering the pizzas in the movie, requiring Todd to shuffle things around so the pizza delivery loosely fit into a lunch scene in the film. To make Todd’s job even harder, the mayor’s pizza company was merely a franchise of a larger pizza conglomeration that we’ll call “Acme Pizza.” Of course, the mayor had no controlling rights for Acme Pizza logos or trademarks and Fred had to figure out how to show the delivery and a lunch sequence that now sported pizza without getting the Acme Pizza logo recorded at any time.
As we rapidly tried to get this scene shot, the mayor off-handedly mentioned that he was pretty sure that Todd’s movie could "easily be as big as that Big Fat Greek Wedding movie." After all, mayor Fred was certain that “[My Big Fat Greek Wedding] was a $50,000 Indie film that became famous” and, since Todd’s movie “must be the same size,” it might easily do as well. Never mind that My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a feature length film produced by Tom Hanks with a $5 million budget or the fact that Todd’s movie was a 30 minute short with a $1,000 budget, mayor Fred was here to try to wring his fifteen minutes of fame out of Todd’s film with all the strength his scrawny arms could muster.
Of course, when Fred finally realized we hadn’t been joking about the size of our budget, his support promptly dried up and he tried to renege on his food support agreement, until staff producer Kari Ann Morgan proceeded to explain to him the backlash he would undergo if he did so. (Verbal agreements may not be legally binding, but, unless you want to find yourself bound to a barn roof with bailing wire, don’t try to back out of one when Kari Ann is producing.) In the end, even though he reluctantly provided food for the rest of the shoot, we never got the police escort he had promised us for the road scenes we had to shoot.
Like I said, there are many people who want to ride the “success” they perceive in your upcoming film to get their own fifteen minutes of fame. As this is never going to change, never accept any verbal offer of help without getting it locked into a contract first. While most “fifteen minutes of famers” will try to radically weasel their way out of verbal agreements, few will try to do so if there is a written contract. And, if the person who’s enthusiastically promised support won’t sign a contract, then you’ve already identified them as worthless and can disentangle yourself from him before they have a chance to screw up your film.
By getting things straightened out in writing before your shooting starts, you minimize the problems that can happen in your film. And as micro-budget films don’t have the luxury to reshoot very often, avoiding these problems can be the difference between making your film a reality or not. My friend’s shoot had a little more flexible schedule, so we were able to complete the film in only one extra day due to the delays these issues caused, but Todd still ended up with footage of a completely useless pizza delivery scene that could not be used in the final film. (This was due to the fact that the same mayor who couldn’t be bothered to be ethical by upholding his word also couldn’t be bothered to sign his release form that allows his image to be used in the film.)