There’s something indie filmmakers are skipping over.
It’s costing them opportunities, funding and connections.
They’re afraid to treat themselves like professionals, so they’re not developing their own slate of projects.
It’s high time we go through the simple steps to creating a film slate that will step up your career and get you noticed.
Step 1: Define the projects you make
Whether it’s shorts, features or series-length projects, you need to be able to define them in one simple sentence.
Example: I make films about people fighting for their dreams and finding clarity
Note: it doesn’t mention genre or format at all.
But it still gives a clear sense of the projects, stories and characters. It also encompasses the sense of each project, plus the takeaway.
Believe it or not, it’s more effective to give a sense of the stories than to specify genre and format.
Everyone can say they make short female-led narrative dramas, but only you can create a sentence that encapsulates your work and what you hope to achieve with it.
Time to make your own. Here’s the format I use with the filmmakers I work with:
I make films about people [……………….] and finding/getting […………………..]
I make films about people attempting to reach their goals for better or worse.
I make films about creatives struggling to find meaning in their work and gaining a new perspective on life.
Step 2: Let your imagination go wild
Grab a notebook, pen and your imagination.
It’s time to craft some new ideas. The easiest way to develop ideas is either to start wide or start niche.
Starting wide = starting with a genre and theme you want to work with. Then developing the story within that framework.
Starting niche = starting with a character and their desires. Then developing their story based on their dream, their fight and the outcome.
Before we go any further, I have to stress that you shouldn’t pressure yourself into developing a ton of ideas in a short space of time.
Bonus step = schedule in regular time each week to develop new ideas.
You’re aiming to have 15 ideas in this list before you move onto step 3. And of course, include all of your current ideas and projects too.
Step 3: Reorder your ideas
Once you’re happy with your ideas, it’s time to reorder them into most easy to make and the most difficult to make.
Ideas 1-5 should be fairly low budget, short format, with minimal locations and cast. Anything that isn’t overly complex or expensive, and would be easy to get made.
Your 6-12 ideas should be higher budget, short format, or low budget but longer format. These ideas are the ones that will take longer to develop and will be harder, more time-consuming and more expensive to make.
Lastly, ideas 13-15 should be the big budget, long format ideas. The crazy brilliant feature films or series that need way upwards of £500,000 to make.
Getting analytical about your ideas can be hard, especially if you don’t automatically think like a producer. So here are the things you need to consider when identifying which idea falls into which category:
- Format. Is it short, feature-length, or a series?
- Genre and setting. Is it your standard narrative drama/comedy? Or is it something more expensive and time-consuming to make, like sci-fi or period?
- Cast. Do you need a small or large cast?
- Locations. Are there a lot of locations? Are the locations fairly niche, and would require hiring a specific set or paying location fees? Both will push your idea into the third category. But it does work both ways. Cut down the locations, or replace hard to source locations with places more readily available to move your idea into category 1 or 2.
Step 4: Get onto Google Docs
Now you have enough ideas to build a solid film slate, let’s commit them to your Google Docs.
Keep the formatting neat and organised. A stranger would need to look at it and immediately understand the scale of each project, as well as the creative details.
Break your slate into the 3 categories from the last step. I break mine down into ‘low cost’, ‘mid cost’ and ‘high cost’. But you could also break it down into ‘immediate’, ‘near future’ and ‘distant’.
Add in the details about each project. You don’t need to include every single thing about the idea (it becomes impossible to read otherwise). But you do need the basics.
- Estimated budget
- Key target audience
- Stage of development
This quick overview is enough info to get a clear picture of the idea, without being overwhelming. You also won’t need to go in and reedit every detail after every script rewrite.
Step 5: Analyse your film slate
Time to get back to that analytical half of your brain. Look at all of your ideas and ask yourself, “do I truly want to make this? Do I want to be known for making this project?”
If the answer is yes, then it stays.
If your answer is anything other than yes, then it should be moved into a separate ideas doc. Even if your answer is, ‘well it’s a great idea so sure’, put it somewhere other than your slate. If the project doesn’t speak to you, then you shouldn’t be making it.
A good idea is never wasted. Maybe you’ll write the script and sell it. Maybe you’ll develop the idea and hand it over to another creative team but stay on as executive producer. Just because it’s not on your slate anymore, doesn’t mean the idea is dead.
Bonus step: Using your slate
When I work with filmmakers we put a lot of time and effort into creating and perfecting their slate.
This is because they can then rely on it for the next 3 years of their career. They don’t lose months wondering what to make next, or trying to develop new ideas but getting distracted by *all the things*.
They also use their slate to change the freaking game at every pitch meeting. Yep, even the casual coffees.
Example: “what are you working on at the moment?”
Give them a couple of loglines from category 1 on your slate. Tell them what stage of development each project is at and what the key thing you’re missing is. Guaranteed they’ll try and help, even if it’s just suggesting someone they know.
Example: “have you got any other ideas you’re working on?”
This is a classic pitch meeting question. It’s also the make-or-break moment too. They might not love the idea you came in to talk about, but they’re intrigued enough to want to know your other ideas.
Luckily you have plenty of options to choose from, so you won’t lose an opportunity and leave the meeting without an offer.
You can give them ideas from category 1 or 2, and you can vary it to what they seem interested in.
If they want to work with you but they’re not fully on board, maybe because it’s a new relationship and they’re feeling cautious, stick with category 1. These are the easy and low cost to make, which will be an easier sell.
Or maybe they want to go all in, but don’t love the first idea you presented. No problem. Grab any other ideas from category 2.
Remember, always tell them the state of development of each project.
This is what takes you from a girl with ideas, to a serious professional who knows what she’s talking about with a curated film slate.
Let me know if you finish creating your own film slate and how you’re using it.
Start making your films
Or just stick with the never-ending freelance jobs