Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

Welcome to Lost Creek.  Check out what's new.  Join us by the creek.  We've got a great ghost story, and we can't wait for you to hear it.

Legal Malarky

So...it's the sad truth that not EVERY aspect of a movie is fun to do.  Like the legal stuff, for example.  But it's REALLY necessary.  And kind of confusing.  So I thought I'd share our experiences, if it helps other new filmmakers navigate the thicket!

So...a movie needs money.  But where do you put it?  And it's a lot of money.  That can be scary to handle...so what do you do?

Step one: open an LLC. Every movie does this, from Spielberg to, well, us. An LLC is a Limited Liability Company. They are easy to open, inexpensive, and offer the perfect kind of legal protection for a movie. They are more flexible than a normal corporation, and you can open one with just one person managing it. The main point is the “LL.” Limited Liability. That's the protection. If you produce your movie as an LLC, then for most things you are not liable. In other words, say something goes wrong on the set (god forbid) and someone wants to sue you. You, as producer, should be very careful to hire/work with only people you trust, who are not likely to screw you over. Also, it is your responsibility to create and maintain a safe, happy working environment on set. But still, say that happens. Under an LLC, that person can only sue the company, and not you. Your personal assets are protected. Plus, as an LLC you may open a business account at a bank, which means that the budget you raise will be kept separate from your private money which is a must. You don't want to go down that road.

SO...opening an LLC. Almost anybody can do it, but I don't recommend just anybody does necessarily. There's lots of legal stuff here. If you're like me, that gets confusing fast. And as a first time film producer, you don't want to make dumb beginner mistakes that cost you money or ruin the film. So as I see it, you've got 3 options. Do a TON of research on your own, open it yourself, and hope for the best. Or, happen to have a family friend who is an accountant, financial adviser, or lawyer. Or, hire a lawyer.

That's what we did. Again, everyone's experience is going to be different, but still try to be smart about it. Lawyers can be expensive. I happened to know one from that SAME play where I met Katie, Elizabeth, and Kevin. (Again, keep yourself open to possibilities!) I was friendly with him. So, we spoke to him and he agreed to represent us for a deeply discounted fee. For us, it was worth the money. It meant that we had experienced lawyers who could draft all the necessary documents for us, and answer any legal questions we had. You can't do it on your own, I'm afraid. Or rather, you can, but it's a big risk. Everyone you talk to, every blog you read, will basically end with the same advice: talk to a lawyer. They end that way for a reason.

But basically, a quick run-down of LLC stuff:

Filmmakers generally open one of two kinds: “Single Entity” or “Umbrella.” That's pretty self-explanatory. In Single Entity, the company is formed for the sole purpose of producing a single film. That's why you'll often see something like “Copyright [name of the film], LLC” at the end of the credits. That's why our LLC is called “Lost Creek Productions, LLC.” Umbrella is for if you want a company to manage several films. We went Single Entity, for the purpose of raising money. A good corporate attorney can help advise you how to do that.

Then, you decide who's going to be part of the LLC, and who the manager(s) are. That is somewhere you want to be careful. This is real, so make sure you're careful who comes on board, and what their powers are. No one wants to get involved in a legal battle with their friends.  For us, we started with our LLC consisting of only one manager and member, who was me. The joy of LLCs is that you can change things as you go, if you need to.

The two documents you'll need to organize your LLC are:

Articles of Organization

Mostly to officially outline the existence and purpose of the company, the official address, name of registered agent (the person who accepts paperwork on behalf of the company, in this case again me).  

You'll hear a lot of different opinions on what state is best to open your LLC.  You'll hear Delaware and Nevada thrown around a lot, as they have weird/beneficial tax laws.  Since I technically live in Maryland, our lawyers counseled us to open the LLC in the same state as where the manager (me) lives, so we'd be reporting taxable income from one state only.  But, do your research.  Some states make it WAY easier and cheaper to open an LLC than others (I hear NY is difficult).  That might need to be a factor in your decision.

Operating Agreement

This is where you legally spell out all that stuff I just mentioned: who does what, etc.

And this is where I say again: TALK TO A LAWYER. It's much, MUCH better if you have an experienced attorney help you draft these documents and get you started. And, they will counsel you as to the best and legal ways to obtain the funds you need to produce the film.

Once you're organized and registered, you'll apply for an EIN (Employment ID Number) with the IRS.  This, along with your Articles of Organization, is what you need to go to a bank and open a business account.  You can register to get your EIN online at the IRS website, but we had our lawyers do it.

So, you've got your script, crew, you've opened an LLC and bank account to receive funds, what next?

Stay tuned...

THIS JUST IN

Great news!  Lost Creek is happy to announce we've found our Maggie!  Maggie's one of the trio of kids that form the heart of the story.  Our Maggie will be played by a very accomplished child actor, and we're really excited to have her on board.  Stay tuned!  We'll be sending out more updates, and there's some fun parties in the works where you can meet us face-to-face!  And keep reading...later on I'll be talking about the process of casting for Lost Creek, and offering some tricks to create smooth auditions!

How do you solve a problem like a budget?

So, we know we're going to need money.  But before we even think about getting it, how much do we need?

Be smart. First, create a projected budget. For me, it was working especially with Erica (our FX/makeup artist) and Kevin to estimate what we'd need. We made the decision to primarily use practical effects in the film, but that's still money we'll have to spend, to make those effects look good.

First, figure out what you have. Figure out a number to shoot for. My suggestion is this: at some point soon, go through the script with a technical eye. That basically means you sit down with your DP, and yourself (if you're director), and any other technical crew who might lend their expertise to budgeting (for example Erica), and you go through the script scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot. This will give you lots of good info. It will tell you roughly how many days the movie will take to shoot, what equipment will be needed in each shot, how many locations, when you need those locations, etc. That will give you a great idea of the kind of budget you need. Since it is better to rent expensive equipment rather than buy, I would DEFINITELY suggest doing this before you rent. In other words, say you just know you need to rent a dolly for a certain shot. Going through the script like this means the difference between estimating you might need to rent it for a week, and finding out you really only need to rent it for 2 days.  Plus it gets you to start to visualize the whole film in a real way!

Also, be creative and smart. In other words, find creative inexpensive solutions to expensive problems. I'll give you an example. In our film, we knew we'd need to do a lot of exterior shooting at night. A lot of these scenes would need to appear as though they were lit by moonlight. Theatrical lighting is expensive. I happened to have access to some for free. But not enough. Plus, these exterior shots need to be somewhere with no plugs. Which means a generator. Which are noisy and expensive. But one night I noticed that the LED flashlight on my phone made perfect moonlight. It's cold, bright light that throws crisp shadows. A little research revealed that I could buy a 900-lumen LED work floodlight from a hardware store for 30 bucks, at a fraction of the cost of renting theatrical light. And it was ours, meaning we never had to spend that money again. Plus, LED lights use a fraction of the power that normal lights do. Which means, there are models out there that are battery-operated, with lithium batteries that last for up to 5 hours, for only 60 bucks. Which means we don't have to rent a generator. That's less money, it makes us far more mobile, and the lack of noise means we have more options of where to shoot (we can shoot in residential areas and not worry about annoying people if the shoot goes late). The light was very bright, great for medium shots, though we figure we'd need more for wide shots. The only downside is that you can't dim a light like that, it's either on or off. We compensated by grabbing a couple smaller, less powerful lights for even less money apiece. That allows us to position them in multiple places, as well. We eventually decided that the light needed to be a little bluer to work as moonlight. Not a problem! You can purchase a great, comprehensive pack of gels online for 20 bucks. Because LEDs burn with almost no heat at all, you don't even have to worry about buying a rig for the gel. You can just gaffer (tape) it straight onto the light without any worry of the gel melting. Plus, we found out several people we know OWN generators, so if we need one, we'll borrow it. That's what I mean by creative solutions!

LED moonlight behind the scenes while shooting the trailer!

LOCATIONS:

This is part of your budget, and you might as well start looking.  I went into this film with a lot of locations already in mind.

There are obviously many ways to do this, and it all depends on what kind of film you're making. Do you need to build sets? Can you use existing buildings and locations? Since our film was set in suburbia, we decided to shoot on-location in Delaware.

Some of last summer's location scouting!

Locations can sometimes be a source of headache for a filmmaker. They can sometimes involve acquiring permits, which means money and having to navigate laborious bureaucracy. Some filmmakers opt for “guerrilla filmmaking.” In other words, they just sneak into a location without acquiring permits and film as they can. I'm not going to endorse this, because you can get yourself into trouble.

But be smart. Avoid filming in places where you'd have to pay if you can. Does your house or your friend's house work as a location? Use it!

If you find you just really need to film somewhere and you'd need a permit, it never hurts to talk to someone face-to-face. Depending on how busy or how big that place is, you might find someone willing to cut you a deal. Especially if you're enthusiastic about the project and pitch it well to them. They might get excited too. This isn't always going to work (the city of New York is not going to care about your little movie) but the local museum in your hometown might help you out.

My one word of advice would be this: if you need exterior locations, stay off state land if at all possible. Places like state parks. You need to pay to use it, and they really can't be that flexible. It's not that expensive, but it does cost money, especially if you need to be there for many days of filming. For example, state parks in Delaware cost $125 for the first day, and $75 a day for every day after. That adds up. And there are other problems too.

Filming on state land, especially parks, means that you have to interact with rangers. If you're filming after hours (many parks close at dusk), that means you have to pay overhead for the rangers to be on-duty after hours too. In Delaware, that's $40 an hour. That adds up REALLY quickly. In addition to this, I've found that at least here, there isn't much inter-department communication. In other words, you might have arranged with the park to be there at 9 pm to film for a couple of hours. But parks are big. And the ranger that rolls up to yell at you might not have gotten the word. And even if you've got paperwork, they will get grumpy. In fact, even if they KNOW you're going to be there, they don't like it. I did a show in a state park once, and the rangers knew we were going to be there until at least 9:30-10 pm. But they wanted to go home, and who can really blame them? They gave us a little grief to try to hurry us up. The result is that you feel pressured, you move too quickly, and you might end up making mistakes or overlooking something. That means that you might have wasted a lot of money and a whole day of shooting for nothing. So, my advice is: stay off state land, unless you've got a good connection.

But you're still going to need a lot of money, there's no way around that. Which means several things. First, you're playing for real now. Which means you need to protect yourself legally. You're going to be acquiring money that isn't yours.   That's for next time...

Before "Action" you have to have lights and camera...

So you've got your screenplay written and registered, and you want to independently produce it.  I applaud you, because it's both one of the scariest and most interesting things you can do. But, this is sadly where we really get into “there is no universal handbook” territory. I wish there was. The fact of the matter is you've really got to be smart, play it by ear, and be open to every possibility. But I'll detail what we've done, if it helps.

First, start with a goal. What do you want to do with this movie? Aim as high as you can, is my advice. Don't do anything crazy that puts you in dire legal or financial straights, but aim high and do everything you can to get there. For me, I wanted to make a beautiful movie about subjects I loved. The more I thought about Lost Creek, the more my vision started to take shape. I knew what the world I wanted to make was. I knew what it looked like.

A while ago, I was working in a book shop in New York City to pay the bills. There, I stumbled across the work of artist and photographer Gregory Crewdson, and immediately became enthralled with his pictures. He presented dilapidated suburban nowhere in a Hopper-esque way that was at once mundane, almost tawdry, and yet also hauntingly beautiful and somewhat disturbing. While we were not going quite as darkly sad as Crewdson, that was what I wanted Lost Creek to look like.

Property of Gregory Crewdson

You also need practical goals. For me, it was to take Lost Creek as far as I could possibly go. Maybe distribution deal. Maybe at least get into a room with someone who might be interested in other work I have. I want to write and direct movies, and Lost Creek is intended to be the calling card. Definitely, I want it at least to go to the festivals. So those are my goals. Create a beautiful movie so I can tell a story that's important to me, and take it as far as it will go.

NEVER BURN A BRIDGE. As you'll see, you never know when you'll make that crucial connection that makes your movie possible. For me, I initially had a problem. When I had the idea for Lost Creek and decided I was serious about producing it, I had been a working playwright, director, and producer for a year and a half. I knew plays, and how to make them. I did not, however, know exactly how to make a movie happen. Moreover, I was trained as an actor, stage manager, and theatre person. While I had worked as an actor and crewmember on films in the past and knew the basics of how one was supposed to run, I knew next to nothing about operating a camera, or what camera was good to buy. I needed a crew. But I didn't know anybody.

That's the crux. To make a movie is expensive. VERY expensive. And I don't have that kind of money. Which means that I need a team.

My philosophy has always been: in order to make a living in the arts, you cannot work alone. You must find a group of talented, creative people who you care about and trust, and together you will face all of the terrible difficulties that the professional arts world presents. Together, you make it happen.

I happened to be working as an actor on a show in Baltimore. While there, I met a girl named Elizabeth, and we became friends. In the process, I learned her boyfriend Kevin was a young, eager cinematographer with his own amazing camera. That was the beginning. I pitched my idea to Elizabeth, and she pitched it to Kevin. Kevin sent me examples of his work which I LOVED. His sensibility perfectly fit the world I imagined for Lost Creek. Also, Kevin turned out to be an awesome guy, and I liked him immediately. So I started to put together my team, I would direct and executive produce. Later, from the same play I met an amazing Baltimore artist named Katie, who agreed to come on board as art director, and also to create beautiful original promotional material for us. I added an FX/Makeup artist I met through a project I helped out on, Emily would be my writing adviser, co-producer, and costume person, Elizabeth agreed to help work on the soundtrack, Kevin was DP, my friend Sky came on as AD, my friend Brad agreed to be script supervisor, my friend Dan agreed to help me produce, etc. I had no idea when I started working on that play that I'd find half the crew there. Indeed, that play made the film possible. So always keep open.

That's how I do it. Find everyone you know whose work you love, and are people you love, and bring them together. It means that the work will be amazing, and you'll have a BLAST making it with them.

So you've got your vision, your script, and you're putting together your team. What next?

MONEY. We all knew it was coming, but we'll tackle it in the next entry. See you next time!

The strange journey begins...

So, making a movie.

I've decided to keep a record of the process as we experience it. As with any artistic (and therefore deeply subjective) endeavor, there are a LOT of opinions out there, all of which are STRONGLY held. They often conflict, and the internet doesn't make it any easier. For any one issue, I'd wager you can find at least 10 completely conflicting opinions of the “right” way to go about it. In my experience, the fact of the matter is that sadly, there is no one “right” way. Different people find different routes to make their projects happen, and there is no universal rulebook. But unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily save you from getting into trouble by listening to the wrong opinion. Because of this, I am always deeply appreciative when someone who has gone through the experience themselves is willing to share what has happened to them. It might not happen that way for everyone, but it really helps when someone is willing to honestly say, “here's what happened to me, learn what you can from it.” So that's what I'm attempting to do here. Being a beginner is exciting and wonderful!  But it would be terrible if some mistake cost you the chance to create a project you care about deeply.  My hope is that someone out there like me might benefit from my experience.  So, step-by-step from the beginning, here goes.

It's hard to know where to start!  With Lost Creek, it began with an image I had sitting at my cousin's wedding. Two kids, a boy and a girl, holding hands in some sort of suburban wasteland, about to face something together. I liked it, logged it away. Later I had an idea for a movie I wanted to do about childhood and Halloween.  I was interested in exploring the world of childhood imagination.  When you're a kid, you almost create your own personal mythology as you play and create pretend worlds.  And the significance of those worlds never goes away.  There are still places in my home town that are special to me because of the part they played in my imagination as a kid.  Also, imagination can be scary as well as exciting.  These two ideas came together to form Lost Creek.

Obviously a movie starts with the script, but I don't think I'll go too in-depth with the writing process. I think the act of writing is very personal, and I don't know if it's my place to offer advice there.  The only things I'd say are:

Familiarize yourself with screenwriting etiquette.  It exists for a reason.  A movie is a collaborative process, and lots of people are involved to make it happen.  From basic smart use of "CUT TO:"-type directions to intelligently laid-out scene progression, a well-done screenplay can really help the DP, director, etc., know how to shoot it beautifully.  Work with those people through your writing.  There are free programs out there that will let you write automatically in the accepted format (so you don't have to bog yourself down trying to set margins and so on), and lots of online resources to give you a sort of "101" crash course in screenplay etiquette.

Show rather than tell.  Movies are a visual medium of course, but don't over-explain to your audience.  In some of my favorite films, the best lines leave most of the idea unsaid, the power is in the simplicity.  Trust your audience's intelligence.

EDIT.  As many times as needed.  Lost Creek went through at least 14 drafts, one of which completely changed the ending of the film.  Even the name of the film changed several times.  Seek out advice from TRUSTED friends (be careful who you first show it to), let them read it.  But remember, it's your vision.  Take advice on board only when it's helpful.   It's hard to do, the first time.  I remember feeling scared, maybe even a little resentful.  I'd just poured my blood sweat and tears into this story, really lived with it.  That tends to make you want to hold onto everything.  Don't.  The simpler, the tighter, the better.  I tend to over-write.  If you're like me, you'll always need to cut a ton.  That's why it helps to get outside perspective.  And of course, don't OVER-edit.  My experience is, you'll start to feel when the script is truly in shape, but it's NEVER done in one draft. 

Think about protecting your work.  There are a lot of opinions out there about this.  Whether it's better to actually copyright your work, or simply register it with the WGA (Writer's Guild).  I'll only say this: DON'T trust people who say the "poor man's copyright" is good enough, because it isn't.  That's the process of mailing it to yourself (either as a hard copy or an e-mail) to prove your ownership.  That won't stand up in court.  Then again, you'll hear some people say that fully copyrighting the script might hurt you, depending on what you want to do.  For example, say you're just writing a spec script, which you'd like to sell to a studio.  To produce it, they'd need to transfer the copyright ownership from you to them.  I've heard that process can be laborious, and sometimes studios pass up on such scripts because it's not worth it to them.  But I'm not sure about that, as I've never gone through it.  I get the impression that if your work is stolen, no matter what you do, there will be an unhappy legal process, so I hope it doesn't happen!  I'd just say, at least register with the WGA, either West or East (there doesn't seem to be a real difference between them).  It's official, it's easy (you can do it in 2 minutes online), it's cheap (around $30), and they keep your script in their archive for 5 years.  It does afford some protection.

Great!  So what's next?  In the next entry, I'll talk about the process I went through to take the script of Lost Creek, and start to turn it into a movie!

Gentlemen, start your engines...

Welcome to Lost Creek!

Welcome everyone! This marks the first official Lost Creek posting! It's been an incredible journey so far, and there's lots to do! We're all so excited to be embarking on this project, and we're very happy you're coming along for the ride.

Lost Creek began as a simple idea way back last fall. It might be clear from the nature of this film, but I have always had an abiding love of the scary and the macabre. Since I was little, it was always the with things that scared me that I became fascinated. On top of this, Halloween has always been my favorite time of year. There's something about this time that speaks deeply to me. It's more than just the ghosts and skeletons. As I see it, Halloween is the one holiday that truly belongs to children. It is the time of year where you are allowed and encouraged to let your imagination run wild. This is exciting and scary at the same time, which I think is how it should be. The world of childhood imagination is a magical place, and I started to want to really explore what it means. And, I don't mind admitting, explore my own love of Halloween and the slightly darker places.

That's where Lost Creek really began. From there, we started to build our crew. I have always firmly believed in the independent spirit of film.  My philosophy is, you should strive to surround yourself with talented, creative people, and work together to make something new and beautiful. If we support each other, nothing can stop us. That is how we are making this film. Everyone involved is an amazing artist, and together we're going to make an amazing film. We can't wait to share it with you.

Please keep checking back with us. There is nothing more rewarding and fascinating (and stressful and scary!) than the process of making a film truly from scratch. And this is the first time for all of us. We plan to document every step of this journey, and we want you to follow along with us as we learn together the best way to make Lost Creek come to life.

I really do think we succeed by working together. So one of my goals with these blog postings, is maybe to discuss some of the ins and outs of making a film. My hope is that maybe, if there's another indie filmmaker out there just starting, I can offer some advice through what I've seen and done so far. It's going to be a wild ride, and we're so excited you're coming with us!

And there's going to be a lot of cool stuff coming. In order to reach our budget, we need your help. We believe in this film, and we hope you will too. You are so important to making this project a reality. If you choose to donate to this film, you become a part of our team. And we are planning some great ways to show our gratitude!

It's an amazing thing to see your dream start to become a reality. Thanks to everyone involved in Lost Creek, that is happening for me. I can't tell you how meaningful that is. Every time I've seen a film that's made the hairs rise on the back of my neck, I know it's possible through art to touch something fundamentally, universally important. I hope that you, like me, believe in the power of storytelling. We've got a great story for you, and with your help, we'll tell it the best way we can.

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