Nuts, bolts, hot tips, and road-tested information from Holly Million for indie filmmakers raising money

Tag Archives: editing

A Helluva Camp Featured Presenter — Richard Levien

Editor and filmmaker Richard Levien is presenting at two different camps I am organizing in 2010. Richard will present on “A Low-Budget, Kick-Ass Trailer” at A Helluva Camp for Indie Filmmakers which is taking place in San Francisco on Saturday, January 23, 2009. He will also be part of the four-person team of experts presenting at A Helluva Camp on Film Production from Idea to Internet on Saturday, January 30, 2009.

For more information about both camps or to register, visit Golden Poppy Productions.

Richard has a PhD in theoretical physics from Princeton University, but has found his real passion in film. As a freelance film editor, he co-edited the feature documentary D Tour, which won the Golden Gate award for Best Bay Area documentary at the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival, and will appear on the PBS series Independent Lens in Fall 2009. He edited and did motion graphics for the short film On the Assassination of the Presidentwhich premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. He also edited the cult Internet hit Store Wars, which was seen by 5.5 million people in the first 6 weeks of its release.

Levien’s first film as a director is Immersion (2009), a short film about a ten-year-old immigrant from Mexico who speaks no English, and struggles to fit in at his new school in the U.S. “Immersion” debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival in January 2009. It has also played or will play at the San Francisco International, Seattle International, Sarasota, Palm Springs Shortfest, Mill Valley, Chicago International Children’s, Media that Matters, New Zealand International and Brussels International Independent Film Festivals. It won the “No Violence” award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the Golden Gate award for Best Bay Area short film at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

At the same festival, Levien won the $35,000 San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant, the first in a cycle of grants that will infuse $3 million dollars into narrative feature filmmaking in the Bay Area in the next five years. Levien won for screenwriting and script development of La Migra, the story of an 11-year-old girl whose mother has been taken away by U.S. immigration police. He is working with author Malin Alegria on this project.

Levien was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1968. He enjoys a good cup of tea and follows the (mostly ill) fate of the New Zealand cricket team. He is one of the few New Zealanders who played no part whatsoever in the making of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

For more information about A Helluva Camp or to register, visit

The Leading Causes of Film Trailer Failure

Ultimately, it is the sample/trailer that causes a film project to be funded — or rejected. Here are some of the common trailer snafus that can torpedo your funding chances as well as some tips for how you can create a trailer that can “make” them love it.

Problem: The trailer doesn’t match the proposal. It’s a Catch-22. The funder touts how they want to fund films that push the envelope, films that go where no other film has gone before. You know that’s you. You are thinking big. And you write a vivid description of your narrative/documentary/animated film shot in HD and distributed via Twitter. They love you and think you are a genius. Then they see your trailer, you know, the one for the film you haven’t raised any money for. You do your best to simulate your vision in the trailer. You don’t have the camera you want to use. You can’t pay for the animation. Of course the trailer is just a pale imitation of your unfunded vision. Sorry, they don’t get it.
Solution: Under-promise in the proposal and over-deliver in the trailer. Tone down your vision on paper so that it doesn’t sound like something completely unattainable. Then blow their socks off with the best trailer you can muster with limited funds.

Problem: The trailer tries to say too much. Who the hell are all these people? They are saying a lot of things. They’re doing random things. I’m being lectured by a voice-over narrator who is reading a long list of information. I’m watching a blow-by-blow five-minute condensed version of a 90-minute film. Blah. Blah. Blah. There is no meaning.
Solution: Less is more. You can’t tell the whole story of your film in five minutes. Don’t try. You will not succeed. Give them a tasty slice, not the whole freaking cake.

Problem: The trailer fails to hook them in the first 10 seconds. They say they want a 10-minute sample. But it’s the first few seconds to hit their eyeballs that will seal your fate. They’re bushed. They’ve watched umpteen trailers. You’re number 43. If they watch past 43 seconds, you’re doing good. Like a thoroughbred in a high-stakes race, how your project comes out of the gate determines whether you’ve won or lost.
Solution: Lead strong! Forget the wind-up and deliver the pitch. Have the viewer enter the action in progress. Slight disorientation is remarkably focusing.

Problem: The trailer lacks emotional punch. I was sitting on a grant panel a few years back. We’d read hundreds of proposals and watched dozens of samples. Then somebody popped another DVD in the player and BOOM!, we all sat up. The screen was filled with raucous crowds of women in a prison in Colombia. They were cheering on beauty pageant contestants strutting on a walkway. There was color everywhere! Ribbons! Balloons! Guards trying to hold back the screaming women. Everybody on the panel was screaming along with them. When the sample ended, we looked at each other as if to say, “What was that?!” We didn’t get any additional information from the trailer about what the film was about. But we knew we wanted to see the film just because of how the trailer made us FEEL. This was not the case with the majority of trailers we had seen.
Solution: Find the emotional intensity in your project. Collect it from the scattered corners of the film. Gather in a ball. Insert in trailer.

In fundraising solidarity,
Holly Million