The Must Have Reads in Any Aspiring Producer's Library

by Mandi Harrison

 There are so many books and articles and blogs on filmmaking.  There is a ton on directing, even more on writing and even quite a bit on editing and all the other technical parts.  But the material for producing is scarce, and there is a lot of repetition.  Or it is oh-so-boring.  (I mean, I love numbers and charts, but even I have a limit to what I can take.)

There are some great resources out there though. Through all our research and used bookstore hunting and Amazon wish-listing, I have found books full of information (plus Hollywood secrets).  Written by actual producers of actual projects that I admire.  Or by people who actually enjoy movies. 

Here are my faves; the books I always refer back to.  The ones that inspire me and remind me why I want to produce; that production matters.  They are full of lessons learned, advice and just really enjoyable to read.  



Shooting to Kill 

by Christine Vachon


This was possibly the first book I read about producing and I was hooked.   Christine Vachon is one of the top independent producers out there.  She has been responsible for getting movies like Kids, Boys Don't Cry, and my favorites, Far From Heaven and Carol made.  She doesn't shy away from provocative subject matter; she wants everyone to have a voice.  Most of her projects are considered no-budget (meaning no money) so she is a hands on producer, taking on whatever aspect is needed.  

Shooting to Kill is a "How To Be a Producer" handbook that goes through each step of the movie-making process by using her experience making Velvet Goldmine with her longtime collaborator, director Todd Haynes.  Like I said, this was my first real introduction to what it's like to be an independent producer and it wasn't always pretty, but by the end of the book, I knew more than ever that THIS was what I wanted to do.  



Sleepless in Hollywood

by Lynda Obst


Then we have a DRASTIC turn, from the dark world of Christine to the (mostly) sunshiney world of Lynda Obst.  Lynda has worked primarily in the studio system, but has still faced many challenges getting her movies made.  Movies like Adventures in Babysitting, Contact, Hope Floats, How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days, and the jewel in her crown, Sleepless in Seattle.  Working with the studio may mean more of a budget, but it also means answering to more people. People who don't necessarily understand story and logic.  Lynda has fought for each of her projects and every one who worked on them against studio heads who wanted higher box office gross, i.e. franchises.  Sleepless in Hollywood is part history, part Hollywood psychology and I learned a lot about how to think like an exec ( so I can get our projects made)



Hope for Film

by Ted Hope


Having started his career with being a line producer (the numbers guy) to running several production companies to being the reason why Amazon is in the movie business, Ted Hope is a fountain of knowledge.  Each chapter of Hope for Film is about a character trait that great producers need and each trait has a correlating story for his experiences on set.  He truly has worked all aspects of filmmaking.  There are so many practical tips on filmmaking as well as leadership skills and just some fun stories.  He is truly driven by a love of movies- he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his projects running. 



Independent Ed

by Edward Burns

I'll admit it: I never really took Ed Burns seriously.  He was just the cute guy, the secondary character.  I had heard about Brothers McMullen before but had never seen it.  But the name kept popping up in my research.  I saw that he had wrote a book about filmmaking and curiosity got the best of me.  I spent the afternoon reading it and I was amazed.  I texted Chris "THIS GUY IS LEGIT!!!" Independent Ed is the one book that I would recommend to ANYONE wanting to make movies.  His methods for getting each of his movies made are genius.  He is considered an indie legend (see here), but he has worked extremely hard and this book is a great resource for beginning filmmakers.  



I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy

by Erin Carlson


In case you weren't aware, I LOVE NORA EPHRON.  She is one of the biggest reasons I want to make movies.  To write her movies off as mere chick flicks does a disservice to movies as a whole.  Romantic Comedies have an esteemed place in the history of Hollywood. Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story- these are just some of the classics that are classified as romantic comedies. But over the years "rom-com's" slowly became known as chick flicks and less money and effort went into making them.  But that changed with a little movie called When Harry Met Sally.  

I'll Have What She's Having describes what happened before, during and after production on 3 of Nora's biggest movies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail.  Nora wrote and directed other films, but these three are credited (or sometimes blamed) for saving romantic comedies.  They all have the perfect combo of brain and heart, and you can feel the magic coming off the screen.  

I already loved Nora before reading this book, but I fell IN love with her during it.  She had such a style and a voice and it is easy to tell that you are watching a Nora Ephron movie.  Reading this book lets you in on some of her tics and thought process. She truly was one of a kind.



LeadingLady: Sherry Lansingand the making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker

by Stephen Galloway

Sherry Lansing came to Hollywood to be an actress, but discovered that being a producer was her cup of tea.  She eventually became the first female head of a movie studio (20th Century Fox) and became the CEO of Paramount Pictures, overseeing some of the biggest movies of all time.  Sherry is one of the most beloved people in the industry; she ran a tight ship, but she did it with grace and a smile.  When she produced, she was on set the entire time.  Even as a studio head, she visited each film set at some point during the production.  Sherry knew instantly what was working and what needed to be changed.  She trusted her gut and didn't allow herself to be trampled in a generally male-dominated environment.  This book really helped me understand more of the studio system- especially from a woman's perspective and when to speak up and what to hold back on.  



The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls,Movies and a Company Called Dreamworks

by Nicole 



This is more a book about the rise and fall of a movie studio, but a. it's important to know how the studios work, b. 2 of the studio heads are brilliant producers and c. it's a page turner.   

 This book is full of some of the most ridiculous behavior ever, and I am a FAN.  I remember watching a to of news stories when Dreamworks began; it had so much potential and so much to lose, which essentially happened.  Today, Dreamworks Animation is pretty much what is left of the studio; the live action division was absorbed into Paramount, and then Disney, now Universal Studios distributes the Dreamworks catalog.  In the beginning, the studio gathered the most creative people and brilliant minds.  The problem was, there was too many ideas and no one to work out the problems.  I'll admit that this book probably has more gossip than the other books on this list, but there are plenty of lessons to be learned here.  Namely, there has to be someone overseeing all the details, all the time.  I also learned a lot about how publicity tours and award campaigns work.  Very fascinating.



Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We LearnedFrom EightiesMovies (And Why We Don't Learn From Movies Anymore)

by Hadley Freeman

I've talked a little about this book before.  It's not necessarily about producing, but it's about lessons learned from movies and about what happened during their productions.  It's history meets pop culture meets psychology.  The 80's have some of the greatest movies ever made (Back to the Future!  Dirty Dancing! When Harry Met Sally! The Princess Bride! Goonies!  John Hughs!) and this book explores what makes these movies so special and why movies like that aren't being made anymore.  This is a great read for anyone who enjoys movies from this period.  Lots of interesting trivia bits.  Favorite chapters discuss Dirty Dancing, Steel Magnolias and The John Hughes Era.  



The Movie Business 

by Kelly Charles Crabbe

So this is your typical "So you wanna be a producer?" book, full of check list and numbers and lots and lots of scary terms.  BUT.... This one is extremely useful.  It is very matter of fact, breaks down the scary terms and it makes the numbers side of producing seem very doable.  It tells you the steps of what you should be doing to protect yourself and your project.  

There is so much information out there on filmmaking.  I think that learning should be fun and each one of these books is just that.  If I were to pick just one book out of these, I would pick Independent Ed.  For filmmakers starting out, he has many ideas that will help you make the best movie you can with what you have.

Each of these books has one thing in common- you have to trust your gut.  You are the best judge as to what you need to work with your filmmakers to make your movie.  

12 Movies to Supercharge Your Creativity

by Mandi Harrison


Writer's block is no joke. You've invested so much of yourself into a project and inevitably you're gonna get stuck. It can leave you feeling like you've hit a wall and/or that everything you've written is awful and unsalvageable. Words literally refuse to come to mind.  You start second guessing every decision you've ever made.  At this point, I'm usually lying on the floor, just staring at the ceiling.  

Every writer has their own way for breaking down the wall.  What works for us is reading scripts and watching movies.  Watching movies is like having a blueprint.  We see how the foundation was built for this story, how the filmmakers handled a particular story challenge and then we can use their formula to figure out what we are missing.  Watching a movie or two, talking through the story and then talking through our own really helps us get back on track.  

Here's a few movies that always supercharge our creativity:



Silver Linings Playbook


  Usually our first go-to.  At this point, we don't even have to watch it; we can just break it down to get our answers.  David O. Russell's movies all have incredible family dynamics with complex characters, but SLP is just the cat's meow.  It's a coming of age story, a family story, a romantic comedy.  It handles mental illness realistically- not as a gimmick or a crutch.  It takes so many elements and blends them together so they feel natural- like you've stepped into someone's life.   



Annie Hall


Confession- I had never seen Annie Hall before I met Chris.  It's his favorite movie, and he had me watch it and I just fell in love.  I mean, it's Diane Keaton- who wouldn't love her.   But the movie itself is incredible.  Woody Allen's dialogue is outstanding.  It's natural conversation; it's intellectual, self-deprecating and witty and always has a double meaning.  It reveals character without giving away too much of the story.  

 Woody has so many gems:  Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, Husbands & Wives, Blue Jasmine.  The women's roles in these movies are interesting and flawed and I just can't take my eyes off of them.  Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine is one of the most mesmerizing performances I've ever seen.  We can put on any Woody Allen movie and an immediate lightbulb comes on over our heads.



When Harry Met Sally


Chris had never seen When Harry Met Sally before me, but now it's one of his favorites.  It's my absolute favorite movie.  I could go on and on about it.  There is so much to learn from this movie, but my main takeaway is this: everything has to have a purpose.  If it's brought up in the beginning of the story, it needs to be referred to or disproven in the end.  At the very least, if you're including it, it needs to have a reason for being there.  Each character needs to have a purpose. Jess and Marie aren't just Harry and Sally's best friends- they each represent something in the story.  Nora Ephron uses moments and quirks from everyone she knows, including herself, so that each of her characters feels like someone you know.  



The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected)


 There's a saying in writing: Arrive late and leave early- meaning leave the audience wanting more.  Noah Baumbach is a master at that.  The editing in this movie is amazing- every scene feels like you walked in on a conversation but you immediately can read the room.  He sets up each character quickly.  There is a scene where Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson have two lines of dialogue in the background and you know instantly who these people are at their core.  This is a movie that we just have to watch a few minutes of and we've learned something that we can use.  



The Greta Gerwig Catalog


We love Greta.  Like hardcore love her.  We just read that she's in talks to direct an adaptation of Little Women and I literally was swooning for 4 hours.  Lady Bird, her directorial debut, was my favorite movie last year (it was Chris's 2nd).  What we love about Greta is her voice; you can tell who she is through her writing.  People say the word authentic and it sounds pretentious; but that is what Greta is.   Along with Lady Bird, she's co-written Francis Ha and Mistress America.  Her characters aren't necessarily likable, but they are very empathetic and leave you wanting to see more. They are frustrating and endearing.  They all have a truth to them- they are who they are.    



Call Me By Your Name


This movie is just so beautiful and cool.  When we aren't drooling over it, we're studying the main character, Elio.  He doesn't know what he wants through the story; he's just figuring out what he does NOT want.  That is a huge challenge- to have a character without a firm goal or want, and not have it seem like it's lagging.  CMBYN does it so naturally. 



Eternal Sunshine of the SpotlessMind/ 500 Days of Summer


There is a lot to love about these movies, but what we have learned the most from them is how to tell the story.  Nonlinear (not told in chronological order) stories can be challenging, but these movies still have structure, even though its not a typical structure. 



Spiderman: Homecoming/ Tootsie


Tootsie has everything that writing books say a screenplay should have:  a complex character with wants and needs, a three act structure and a goal that he needs to achieve and obstacles to hinder him from that goal.  Yet, although it checks off all the boxes, there is nothing textbook about it.  We study Tootsie whenever we are having goal vs. obstacle issues with our story.  The way Michael gets into/finds himself in a situation that will derail or sidetrack his goal- how does he ultimately work his way through it?  Tootsie helps us with cause and effect. 

On the surface, Spiderman: Homecoming is just a fun movie to distract yourself.  But deep down, it is a great example of a John Hughes-style coming of age movie.  Our Spidey friend has a bad guy he's trying to put away and he's trying to prove to Tony Stark that he can be an Avenger, but really all he's doing running into roadblocks of his own making.  It's a great study for characters who get get in their own way- how to make their positive personality traits work against them.


Other movies we've studied recently:  400 Blows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Captain America: Civil War, Love, Simon, and Terms of Endearment.  


Watching movies, learning from other's successes and missed opportunities, really helps us get past what's frustrating us.  At the very least, it helps us mentally reboot and see things through fresh perspectives.  



Why Haven't Aspiring Filmmakers Been Told These Facts About Sundance?

by Mandi Harrison


The Sundance Film Festival is a lofty goal for filmmakers.  For some, it's the Holy Grail; for others, it's just a box to check off on a to do list to get to the top. You could ask almost anyone and they will have at least heard of Sundance. TV shows and movies in an attempt to show that their character is a SERIOUS film maker will have them go to or talk about when they went to Sundance.  I've dreamed of going to Sundance since I first heard of it, reading my Entertainment Weekly subscription in high school.  And then later on One Tree Hill, when Julian's film was selected and he took the whole crew for moral support- OMG.  I REALLY wanted to go after that.  (Yeah, I watch One Tree Hill.   Pretty People with Pretty Problems™ -guilty pleasure) 

The thing that I didn't realize then was how much work goes into getting into the festival- not to mention staying afloat while there.   A lot of filmmakers still go in with stars in their eyes and dreams in their hearts, only to be completely devastated or, even worse, jaded when they are not selected.  We've watched several documentaries, attended panels, read posts on social media and talked to many filmmakers.  The majority just preach NOT to submit to festivals.  They feel like they have been betrayed- duped even.  If only someone had told them the truth about Sundance!  

I'm not saying that they didn't do their research, but.... we have found plenty of articles and books and interviews and documentaries about Sundance.  These are just some things that we uncovered between reading and putting two and two together.   

 Park City, Utah- home to The Sundance Film Festival

Park City, Utah- home to The Sundance Film Festival


1. The chances of being selected is slim to none.

You've made your brilliant movie, you've filled out your application, paid the fee and uploaded your film.  Now you just sit back and wait for that acceptance email.  

In 2017, 4,068 feature films were submitted to Sundance- that's not even counting short films or documentaries.  Of those entries, 113 films were selected.  Of those, 37 films were by first time directors and 32 were from other countries. You also have to take into account that at least 10 of those first time directors are Sundance alum or actors making their directorial debut.  So that leaves at MOST 27 films.  That's a .006% chance that you'd be selected.  But don't give up hope- it's not an immediate no!  


2.  That doesn't necessarily mean your movie is terrible.

If you get that "Good luck on your future endeavors" email, don't give up.  I don't look at it as a rejection.  I look at it as a "well I WILL have good luck on my endeavors!" We tried and now we can try  something else.   

That letter doesn't mean your film should never see the light of day.  Festivals, Sundance in particular, have an Official or unofficial theme each year.  The selection committee will look for films that fit that particular criteria.  Yours might not have met their needs. Researching festivals before you submit your film helps you see what is best for both parties.  Or maybe your film is terrible.  In that case, just keep making movies until you develop your skill.  


3.  Your entry fee funds more than just the festival.

*Sighs*  It amazes me how many people are shocked that their entry fee funds the festival they are entering.  This is all across the board.  Any festival.  What I want to know is, what did they think their money was going towards?  It's not like you are paying for a concert ticket and getting guaranteed entrance. 

Of course the entry fee covers the festival, including payroll for the employees.  Festivals depend on volunteers, but Sundance does have full time employees.  Some of the entry fees, as well as the badges that are purchased by the attendees, goes towards funding multiple projects through The Sundance Institute.  They have several programs that assist filmmakers from all walks of life and skill levels with completing their project. The alumni of these projects come back to assist with the retreats.  So yes, you might have been gambling with that entry fee, but it is going towards the filmmaking community as a whole.

 The Egyptian Theater- if you premiere there, you're a big deal.

The Egyptian Theater- if you premiere there, you're a big deal.


4. It's not what you know... it's WHO you know.

Part of what charmed me about Sundance is that it appears to be like summer camp- but in the winter and for movies.  Everyone is friends and is super happy to be there and then I realized- everyone is there BECAUSE they know each other.  Alumni are almost guaranteed a spot- it's perfect advertising.  A possible award season contender wants to premiere- absolutely. The first film of a Hollywood darling- yes please. Even more so if it's from the progeny of a star- because it's sure to be ripe with underlying family drama.  Heck, even on One Tree Hill, Julian's movie probably only got selected because HIS dad was a big time director. 

The point I'm rambling about is that the odds of getting in are favorably higher if you know someone who knows someone who can get your film into the right hands.  Or if you find out you're a long lost Duplass cousin.  Or you have built up a name for yourself, something that makes people take notice of you.  Plus, you really do have a great movie.


5.  Kevin Smith & Ed Burns are the exception, not the rule.

*Double sighs*  Almost every article about Sundance and every person that hasn't been rendered jaded beyond repair will squeak "IF KEVIN SMITH AND ED BURNS MADE IT, ANYONE CAN!!!" I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it (probably) won't happen for you.  At least not to the extent that it happened for them.  

Kevin Smith's Clerks and Ed Burns' The Brothers McMullen are indie darlings.  They are the stuff that urban legends are made out of.  Clerks was made for less than $28,000, completely self-financed and made.  It was purchased by Miramax for distribution and went on to make $3 million on just 50 screens.  It's now a cult classic and Smith is an indie nerd god.  Brothers McMullen also was made for $28,000, also self funded and made and was the first movie to be purchased for distribution by Fox Searchlight.  The box office totals were over $10 million.  It is on several indie filmmakers' lists of best first feature.  (For a little more history, read this

This is where everyone gets their hopes up too high.  Two normal guys, working regular jobs, doing everything they can to make their dream happen and then all the stars align for them.  Good things do happen!  You too could be part of a bidding war for your movie!  Every year there is at least one filmmaker that gets a huge distribution deal! Well, sweets, let me tell you- those "deals" were more than likely pre-planned.  Back after the late 90's-early 2000's heyday of indie films, the major studios decided that they wanted a part of the action.  But festival rules state that the films submitted for competition must be independently financed- meaning no studio involvement in production.  These distribution deals have been agreed upon beforehand, but announced and the contracts signed during the festivals. Sneaky, but there's nothing technically wrong with it.  

Now, there are distribution deals to be had, maybe just not in the multi-million dollar range.  But studios will send their teams to watch films and look for audience reactions.  If something that didn't necessarily catch their eye before has a great audience reaction, the teams have permission to make an offer.  That is what happened with Clerks and The Brothers McMullen.  


6. But it wasn't ALL luck that made Kevin & Ed succeed.

They really did have a great first break, but Kevin and Ed were both extremely smart and made sure they succeeded.  Kevin Smith put everything he had into the making of his movie and the audience ate it up.  He knew it wasn't perfect, but it was the best that he had to work with. When he met with the studio reps, the first thing he said was "Tell me how to fix it."  He was proud of what he did, but humble enough to know he needed help in order to better the finished project.  

Ed Burns utilized everything he had- his family and friends, his house, even his job as a cameraman for Entertainment Tonight, editing the film after he finished working.  When he had a version that he was satisfied with, he was able to slip a copy to Robert Redford after filming an interview.  He did everything he could to get noticed.  Good things may come to those who wait, but great things come to those who bust ass.  Which is something that Ed has done his whole career. 

 Ed Burns at Sundance 1995

Ed Burns at Sundance 1995

7. Sundance is a major cog in the "non-existent" festival circuit.

Sundance, just like Hollywood, is a business first.  Festivals have become an essential tool in marketing.  It's been said that there is not a festival circuit, but there totally is.  There are several festivals, Sundance included, that start the talk for award season.  Each one plays to a particular market.  Sundance caters to the more indie crowd- the slightly more free thinkers.  Movies such as Little Miss Sunshine, Winter's Bone, and Reservoir Dogs have all premiered at the festival, and earned Oscar nominations and much acclaim- which translates into more money for future projects.  It's a constant circle. 

 The glitz and the glamour.

The glitz and the glamour.


These are just a few things that I think would help to better understand Sundance. Whenever you want to submit to any festival, do your research.  Make sure that it is the best fit for you.  It's not one size fits all.  Even after doing my research, knowing what I know now, attending Sundance is still something that I am working towards.  It may only be a .006% chance, but that chance could be ours. 

Dirty Dancing: Pop Culture and Feminism Collide

by Mandi Harrison

There are certain movies- the ones you can watch over and over again. The ones you can recite line by line.  Everyone has a few of those movies.  One on my list is Dirty Dancing.  I didn't discover it until high school, but I can't even tell you how many times I've watched it.  And the soundtrack is a staple. 

 To me, Dirty Dancing is a perfect summer movie.  It takes place during the summer, at a crossroads in Baby's (the protagonist's) life, as well as in our country's history.  When I first watched it, it seemed like a first love movie.  But it is more than that.  It's about fighting for what you believe and for those who can't fight for themselves.  It's about feminism. It's about the right to chose your own path.  It's a coming of age- with Patrick Swayze as the catalyst. 




Dirty Dancing

released August 1987

Directed by Emile Ardolino

Written by Eleanor Bergstein

Starring: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop  

Budget: $6 million

First Run Box Office: $170 million


Brief rundown of the story.  Frances "Baby" Houseman is joining her family on vacation at a resort in upstate New York in 1963.  Baby's family and sister are having fun, but Baby of course is different and more studious.  She is drawn to the staff's quarters and tries to befriend the dance instructors.  She finds her chance when one of the instructors, Penny, reveals that she is pregnant and has scheduled an abortion with a traveling "physician", but the only day he will be in town is the day that she and her partner, Johnny, have to dance in a competition in order to get jobs for the next year.  Baby volunteers to take Penny's place at the competition and Johnny reluctantly agrees to teach her to dance.  Of course they fall in love, shenanigans happen, her father disapproves, more shenanigans and a big finish.  (Don't want to spoil it if you haven't seen it- but really you should see it.) 



Dirty Dancing came to be because a dance number from a script that Eleanor Bergstein had written for Michael Douglas was cut from the final movie.  She took the scene and parts from her childhood and wrote Dirty Dancing.  She sent out mix-tapes with songs that fit the tone of the movie.  Many studios passed on the script, saying it was too edgy, but loved the mix-tape.  She finally found the perfect studio and the right director.  The movie could've had multiple sponsors to help finance the movie, but the companies were skittish about the abortion storyline.  All the filmmakers refused to cut the storyline, and they were able to find funding to make the movie the way they wanted.  Jennifer and Patrick had worked together previously on Red Dawn and did not get along, but they had great chemistry and came to work well together.  Some of the most classic scenes, including her laughing as he was running his hand down her side, was just them being themselves.

 He genuinely was annoyed.

He genuinely was annoyed.


After the movie was finished, not much hope was held for it.  In fact some studio heads said just to burn the film.  But audiences loved it.  It was number one opening weekend, with many people seeing it multiple times. It reached $10 million in just 10 days, which at the time was an amazing feat.  It went on to make over $170 million worldwide.  When it was released on VHS, it was the first movie to sell one million copies.  The soundtrack(s!) sold millions of copies and the lead single, "(I've Had) The time of My Life", won an Oscar and a Grammy.  Something that no one wanted turned out to be something everyone wanted.  

 How I THINK I look when I dance.

How I THINK I look when I dance.


 Dirty Dancing has certainly earned a place in pop culture history, with lines like "Nobody puts Baby in the corner!" and THE dance move (recreated beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love... and then again by Ryan Gosling and Al Roker on the Today Show- seriously, look it up. It's a thing of beauty).  It's spawned sequels and a touring show.  But it has also earned a place in history as being a gold standard of handling a woman's right to choose- showing concern for her health as opposed to judgment and condemnation.

  Another interesting factor is that the camera truly is Baby's view of the world.  Most films, especially about first love and the first time, film the woman in a provocative way. Dirty Dancing has the camera capture Patrick Swayze the way that Baby looks at Johnny- at first shy and curious, leading to desire and then with love and trust.  The audience gets to feel their connection instead of knowing that sexy times are ahead because of gratuitous shots of Jennifer Grey.

This movie never would be made today.  I know that there was a tv musical version that was just on, but the acual movie never would have been green-lit today.  The studio would have cut the abortion storyline all together or made it very judgmental, among many other changes.  

 He's just so cool...

He's just so cool...


There is more about Dirty Dancing (and many other 80's movies) in an awesome book called Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We've Learned From The Eighties Movies (and Why We Don't Learn Them From The Movies Anymore) by Hadley Freeman.  This book is super interesting.  It has all sorts of fun facts about some of the best movies ever made, as well as life lessons that we can learn from them.  This is in my top 5 of favorite books about movie history.  

Reading this book showed me that Dirty Dancing never would have been green-lit the way it is now.  The studios now are too worried about the bottom line and the peanut gallery online to take chances, especially with movies geared toward women.  The abortion storyline alone would have been cut or reworked to make Penny look like a slut, instead of a girl who just got into a situation where there was no other alternative.  And Baby wouldn't have been allowed to find who she was the way she did.  Johnny would have been the one to show her the way.  Those would be the main changes, but lots of smaller things would change.  I think one of the reasons that the movie has endured so long is that it did take risks and gave a voice and a normalcy to real situations.


 I just have to say how much I love Baby's parents. I mean, just look at them. 

I just have to say how much I love Baby's parents. I mean, just look at them. 


People joke about Dirty Dancing, saying it's cheesy, and yeah, it has it's moments.  But for me, it's one of those movies that just has all the elements.  Every character has their wants and their needs and they are all right in their own way. (Except Robbie.  He's just an @$$hdhd)    The music is killer.  And say what you will, but that last dance number is MAGIC.  



How A Mechanical Shark Changed the Film Industry Forever

by Mandi Harrison

Some of my favorite memories of summer growing up are standing in line at the movie theater, waiting for the next big movie to start.  The fizz of cold soda, the smell of popcorn, the sweet candy and the anticipation of what was going to be on the screen was my favorite way to spend a hot summer day.  The air conditioning was a huge plus as well.  Even now, hundreds (maybe thousands) of movies later, I still think going to the theater is exciting. 



The summer movie season as we know it is due to one man: my dude, Steven Spielberg.  Before 1975, movie theaters were pretty much vacant during the summer- movie studios figured everyone wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and so there were limited movies released.  But that all changed in 1975, with the release of Jaws.



 Universal Studios spent over $1 million in advertising, which was unheard of at the time, and did a wide release of the movie, instead of the usual week by week roll-out.  Both risks paid off.  People, especially teenagers, stood in line and came back 2 or 3 times to watch a shark terrorize a beach community.  The film itself had a budget of $7 million, and had a $7 million opening weekend, recouping its production costs in just 2 weeks (Remember how movies make their money back?).  It went on to make $260 million in it's first theatrical run, which is about $1 billion when adjusted for inflation.  This doesn't even take into account video, merchandise, theme parks and sequels.  


So naturally, this one shark made studio heads take notice.  People WILL go to the movies during the summer, and in hoards, if there is something that will capture their attention.  The next movie to test this theory was released two years later, in 1977.  The movie was Star Wars- and I'm pretty sure we all know how that test went.  


From there, Spielberg became the king of summer.  Starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Back to the Future (which he produced) to Jurassic Park (OUR personal fave), even through today, Steven Spielberg has earned a place in cinematic history for the magic that he creates.  His influence can be seen and felt in many directors' work now. 



The term blockbuster (or as it's more commonly called now, tentpole) means something of great size that has great commercial success.  In order to achieve that, studios and theaters want to fill as many seats as possible.  Parents (most anyway) don't want to take their children to a rated R movie, so the majority of blockbusters are PG-13 and below, marketed towards families and young teens.  Kids see the ads and the merchandise, and beg their parents to go.  It's a win-win on all levels.  




Today, summer seems to mean superhero movies, but until 1989, they were few and not well-received.  Tim Burton and Michael Keaton changed that with Batman.  From there we saw the X-Men, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, 3 separate incarnations of Spiderman, Wonder Woman and of course, the explosion of the Marvel universe, beginning with Iron Man in 2008. 




You can't talk about summer blockbusters and not mention Will Smith.  Spielberg may have created the the summer blockbuster, but Will Smith kept it alive through the 90's.  It was a well-known joke/fact that Will Smith owned the 4th of July box office, with Men in Black 1 & 2, Wild Wild West, Hancock and of course the movie that started it all, Independence Day




Now, movie studios have their summer release calendars planned years in advance, so that they are not competing for coveted box office gross. No one wins if two major studios release movies on the same weekend. Even though so much is predetermined, that doesn't mean that everything is a win.  This method does take into account what is popular and has money in the past, but sometimes doesn't take into account that people change their mind.  They can grow weary of too much of one thing and search for something else.  That's when the sleeper hit comes in- movies that didn't have much publicity but developed a word-of-mouth following- movies like Bridesmaids, Superbad, Paranormal Activity, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.




It seems that summer is starting earlier and earlier, with this year's summer movies starting in April with Marvel's Infinity War.  But the end of the summer peak is always the same: the first week of August.  The box office always dwindles, due to last minute vacations, back to school shopping and in some places, kids going back to school.  Smaller releases and films whose dates got pushed back usually find themselves in the seemingly wasteland of August. It doesn't mean that these movies are terrible, it just means that the studios have used their marketing money elsewhere.  This can be a great time to discover a secret gem- Hi 500 Days of Summer


So as you head to the air-conditioned theater in the summer heat, remember that you owe it all to a man and his mechanical shark!  


8 Movie Moms & The Real-Life Mom Traits They Possess

by Mandi Harrison


"I'm not like a regular mom, I'm a cool mom." - Amy Poehler (Mean Girls)


Happy Mother's Day to all the cool moms out there! In honor of the day, here are 8 movie moms that give it all for their kids, no matter what.  



Aurora Greenway 

Terms of Endearment  

 Shirley MacLaine won her Oscar for her performance of Aurora, a woman who has spent her life in a codependent relationship with her daughter after her husband passed away.  When her daughter marries and moves away, Aurora learns to loosen her grip on control, even having an unlikely romance.  Aurora must take control when her daughter is diagnosed with cancer, having to remain strong in order to care for her grandchildren.  

   Being a mom, you feel like you have to keep it together even if you are terrified, but both women show that it's okay to be scared; you just have to be there.



Bryn MacGuff


Bryn MacGuff is stepmom to Juno, a smart-ass teenager who just told her dad and Bryn that she is pregnant and she is going to give the baby up for adoption.  Bryn always treats Juno like her own, never yelling at her, but is completely honest about how Juno will be forever changed.  She takes her to appointments, defends her from judgmental people and holds her hand through the delivery.  

Allison Janney just nails the way you can love someone even though they frustrate and exhaust you.  Bryn shows that a huge part of motherly love is just being there- just showing up no matter what.  


Dorothea Fields

20th Century Women

20th Century Women is the movie that will stay with you long after it has finished. Simply put, it's beautiful, and a huge part of that is Annette Bening.  Dorothea is a single mother in the late 70's to a teenage boy.  She feels that she isn't connecting with him and she enlists the help from his best friend and people renting rooms from her to help raise him.  They become a make-shift family, each learning from each other.  

Mothers want their children to experience life; to learn and have the opportunities that they never did.  Dorothea encourages her child to take risks and to learn other view points so he can develop his own.  



Rosemary Penderghast


Easy A

The family relationship in Easy A is something that is rarely shown- a teenager that actually enjoys being with their family.  Olive's parents are fun, wise and treat her with respect.  They listen and offer solutions, never demands, and in turn, Olive wants to include them in her life.  When she is going through something that she isn't ready to share with them, her parents, especially her mom Rosemary,  allow her space, but let her know that they are there if ever she needs them.  

When Olive finally needs advice, Rosemary doesn't pry or judge, just shares her own experiences and offers advice. Patricia Clarkson has the perfect combination of love, concern and understanding in each scene.  Olive is able to figure her way out of a difficult situation because she has confidence that she has people that have her back.  



Frannie Lancaster

The Fault In Our Stars

Hazel and Gus are the Tumblr generation's Jack and Rose or Romeo and Juliet. Basically anything tragic Leonardo DiCaprio was in.  And they are totes adorbs, but for me, they story was between Hazel and her parents, especially her mom.  Knowing your child is sick and probably going to die and there is nothing you can do has got to be the worst feeling in the world.  On one hand, you want to protect them and on the other, you want them to experience as much as they can. Frannie allows Hazel the freedom to have these experiences, even though it is costing her precious time with her daughter.  Her daughter's happiness is the only thing that she can give to her, and Laura Dern's anguish and joy over being able to provide that to Hazel, no matter what, is heartbreaking. 



Leigh Anne Touhy

The Blind Side

Leigh Ann Touhy is proof that blood alone does NOT make you a mother.  She wanted to give a cold, quiet mannered teen with no place to go a place to stay.  She grew to love him and protect him as if she had given birth to him.  Her persistence and love took him from sleeping at a laundromat to the NFL.  Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for this force of nature performance, having the perfect mix of fire and ice needed for a mom that would do anything for her children's well-being. Moms are capable of loving more than they ever thought was possible. 



Jackie & Isabel


The conflict between the two women in Stepmom has nothing to do with a man- it's because of the children that they both love.  Both Jackie (mom) and Isabel (stepmom) are right and wrong in their own ways- they each do what they think is best.  Jackie thinks she knows best because she is their mother and feels she is being replaced.  Isabel thinks she knows what the kids like better since she is younger and feels like she is not taken seriously.  Jackie has to start relying on Isabel when she becomes ill and the two women realize the kids have room for both of them and the kids will be better off because of it.  Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts play well off each other, and even better with each other.  Life will often put you in situations that weren't what you were planning for, but moms will always put their children's best interests first. 


Here's to all the moms- whether by blood, marriage, choice or chance- your love and guidance is what gets us through.  We love you!


"You know every story, every wound, every memory.  Their whole life's happiness is wrapped up in  you." - Julia Roberts (Stepmom)

Filmmaker Friday: 6 Wes Anderson Movies That Will Brighten Your Day

by Mandi Harrison

There's a lot of filmmakers that we look to for inspiration: Nora Ephron, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, just to name a few.  We just saw a new movie by one of our favorites, Wes Anderson.  Wes Anderson's stories are simple at their core, but the way he uses colors, music, wardrobe and the set design add layers to the story.  I am in awe watching his movies and always need to watch a few times to take everything in.

In honor of Isle of Dogs and Wes's birthday this week, I thought I would share my favorites and what I've learned that we can use in our movies.  



The Royal Tenenbaums was love at first viewing.  It's dark, smart, and completely unlike anything that I had seen before.  I learned that you should strive to stand out, that your differences are what give you your voice.  This was my first glimpse of how Wes uses every little detail; whether its for the story or subtext, nothing is wasted.  The wardrobe, the music and the locations all tell the story just as much as the characters.  



Fantastic Mr. Fox takes the classic Roald Dahl children's book and brings it to life as the perfect crime caper in stop-animation format.  It's perfect for families; in fact every swear word is just the word "cussin'" It showed me that you can make a movie for a wider audience and not have to sacrifice your personal style.  



The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is definitely a slow starter, but by the end, I was in love.  It has heart, humor and a great soundtrack, plus Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett, two of God's greatest creations.  It's the story about an adventurer who is trying to avenge his best friend's death by a mysterious sea creature and no one believed his quest had purpose.  The dialogue in this movie is more chatty than a normal Wes Anderson feature; this screenplay was cowritten with Noah Baumbach, another favorite.  



I mean, any movie that gives the world THIS creature is just wonderful.  



Moonrise Kingdom is about star-crossed misfits, Sam and Suzy, whose love the world just doesn't understand.  Full of world-weary characters, this is a lovely love story in more ways than one.  The children are wise beyond their years and the adults, even though they have been through rough things, they still are hopeful that they will be happy in the end.  Everything on screen is a puzzle piece and you might not know what the piece is used for at that moment, it eventually becomes evident.  



The Grand Budapest Hotel has to be seen.  His use of colors alone is just gorgeous; each scene could hang in the Louvre.  It's about how a simple bellhop came to the be the owner of a prestigious hotel and spa.  The tale is heartwarming and gripping, and in true- Anderson style, the attention to detail is just indescribable and all the characters have their moment to shine.  



And now the latest, Isle of Dogs.  Of course you can never go wrong with puppers, but this movie made me tear up a few times. In the near future, dogs have been outcast from society and 5 abandoned dogs go out of their way to help a young boy find his own dog that was taken from him.  It's about having someone to belong to and helping others, even when you've been hurt before.  Wes uses stop-motion animation again, however there are so many little details in this movie, it is closer to The Grand Budapest Hotel than Fantastic Mr. Fox. 

If you haven't seen any of these movies, I highly recommend watching. They are entertaining and beautiful and make you remember why you love movies.  At least they do for me!  

3 Things I Learned From Watching 22 Movies In 11 Days

by Mandi Harrison

The 2018 Phoenix Film Festival has come to an end and it's taken me a few days (okay, more than a few) to recover.  Chris and I went to the festival last year, but probably saw half the amount of movies.  This year we decided to get the festival passes, which allowed us to see any movie we wanted and we took advantage of it, catching movies anytime we had a minute.  Finally tally: 22 films in 11 days.

*Full Disclosure: 2 of the movies were blocks of short films and there were 5 shorts in each block. And 2 other movies weren't festival movies, just ones we wanted to see anyway.  

Seeing 22ish movies in a little over a week will teach you a few things, like how it can be exhausting just sitting watching movies and that there IS a limit for how much popcorn you can eat.  Here are some other things I took away from this experience.  



1. You have nothing without story


"But don't all movies have a story?" No.  Some movies are just a concept that never developed into a story.  Some movies are just series of moments the filmmakers thought were great and pieced together to make a "story".  And more often than not, the story starts off great, but slowly loses its momentum and doesn't have a satisfying conclusion.  

A good story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.  The beginning needs to grab your attention right away and show the character's wants and beliefs, the middle needs to challenge those beliefs and the end needs to answer the question: did the character get what they wanted?  Sounds super simple, but there are so movies that miss the mark.  

We saw a lot of movies that had potential, but weren't fully fleshed out. They would've benefited greatly from writing a few more drafts of the script or editing the movie differently.  I've learned that no matter how anxious I am to start filming, it's worth the time spent making sure the story works.  

Having a good story, something that engages, can forgive a multitude of sins, including the overall quality of the film, which leads to my next lesson learned.




2. Spring for sound equipment


When I'm invested in a movie, I can excuse a lot.  But if the story is lacking, I start picking it apart.  The editing, the way it was filmed, and most of all the sound.  Having quality sound can take you from amateur hour to professional. I'm not talking sound effects- it's about using a boom mike and filtering out the outside noises during the editing.  And then adding in effects if needed. Everything I've read and seen has showed me that a good chunk of our budget will be going towards sound and it will be money well spent.  

Geek out moment:  One of the non-festival movies we saw was A Quiet Place.  I LOVED this movie.  The use of sound was incredible.  I had chills walking out of the theater.  



3. Know your audience


Not every movie is suited for every person, so not knowing who your core audience is can really set you back, with time and money.  There were several movies that we saw that were trying to cater to too many audiences, or worse yet, were self-indilgent, just made for the filmmakers.  Asking yourself who this movie is for and being extremely specific with your answers will help you.  It will save you time and make your story gel better.  Marketing towards your core audience will make sure that the right people will see your movie and in turn will recommend your movie.  If the movie is done well, a buzz will begin and everyone will want to see what the fuss is about.  


If you ever get the chance to go to a film festival, I highly recommend it.  The people-watching opportunities are fantastic, there are some really great movies, plus you will be supporting your local film community, which helps local filmmakers. (*cough* like us* cough*) Sorry, had a tickle in my throat. Anyway, I'm really happy that we were able to go and see so many movies this year. We learned a LOT and had fun along the way.  

7 Films That Creatively Make The Most of Their Limitations

by Mandi Harrison

New filmmakers can face a multitude of limitations, most stemming from money, locations and time.  What you do with those limitations determines what type of filmmaker you are.  It will help you as a storyteller to keep your story tight. It can help you as a director and a producer to work creatively to make your movie, building your skill along the way.  Established filmmakers will place limitations on themselves, to constantly challenge themselves.  Learning how to work with your limitations can help you stay under budget, ahead of schedule and have a movie that keeps the audience engaged.  Here are seven movies that use limitations to their benefit, four of them by first time directors.  



by Duncan Jones

The story of a man trying to finish his solitary three year mission on the moon so he can get home to his wife and child.  The stark location and lack of characters shows the character's isolation and desire to get home to the ones he loves.  

Budget: $5 million




by Alfonso Cuarón

A grieving mother has isolated herself in her work after the death of her child.  Forced into actual isolation after an accident, her survival instincts kick in as she fights for a way to get back to Earth. Another alone in space story-  simple concept, incredible execution.  

Budget: $130 million


El Mariachi

by Robert Rodriguez

A legend amongst indie filmmakers, Robert Rodriguez just wanted to make movies.  He took a tale of mistaken identity and his $7,000 budget (most of which was raised by doing drug trials) and made a movie that he hoped he would be able to sell to Mexican television stations. Columbia Pictures bought the film and El Marachi is in the Guinness World Records for earning the highest box office numbers from the smallest budget. Robert used what he had and worked creatively and still works the same way.  

Budget: $7,000


Rear Window

by Alfred Hitchcock

A man in a wheelchair, unable to leave his house, spies on his neighbors and is convinced he has witnessed a murder. Considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, Hitchcock's classic proves that you don't have to leave the room to obtain thrills.  In fact, many movies since then have stolen this very troupe- lock your subject(s) in a small space and throw in a menacing force and voila- you have a thriller.  

Budget: $1 million (roughly $9 million today)


The Shallows

by Jaume Collet-Serra

A pretty girl, the ocean, and a shark. for the majority of the movie.  Seems like the ending would be a given. This is no ordinary survival story though; this enthralls you and puts you in that water. The starkness and beauty of the ocean sets the tone, pulling you into the movie. 

Budget: $17 million


The Blair Witch Project


by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez 

It's hard to remember a time when "found footage" movies weren't in the mainstream.  But these filmmakers took their low budget and made it work for them, creating a movie genre along the way.  The way the film was filmed and edited added to the movie and earned a place in pop culture history.  

Intial budget: $35,000

Reservoir Dogs

by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin's feature length debut is , well to paraphrase Mr. Orange, super cool, like a f**king Beretta. But it ended that way because of choices  made due to his budget limitations.  His initial budget was $30,000, but when actor Harvey Keitel signed on, he was able to find funding to bring the budget to a million.  And every dollar was used with purpose.  The heist that took place in the middle of the movie was never filmed due to finances and Quentin decided that the action before and after it occurred WAS the story.  Using your budget to write the story can be risky, but the pay off can be huge.  

Budget: $1.2 million

5 Secrets From Former First Time Filmmakers on Finding Funds

by Mandi Harrison


There are multiple ways of financing a movie, but not every method is one size fits all.  


Chris and I are still deciding what is going to work best for us.  In our research, we came across some first movies by now established filmmakers and how they found financing.  Here are some of what we've learned from their experiences that can be used during this process.






directed by Kevin Smith


Kevin Smith is in the history books of indie filmmaking for how he got his first feature made.    The budget for the film was $27,575 which Kevin got by selling his comic book collection, credit cards and insurance money from storm damage to his car he shared with his friend.  Most of the budget went for film stock and developing.

 Kevin worked all day at the convenience store where the story was located and filmed all night when the store was closed.  During filming, he only slept an hour a day and often drifted off while filming.  He gave everything he had to the making of Clerks, but it paid off: the movie was purchased by Miramax and earned $3 million dollars on 50 screens.  It has a HUGE cult following and Kevin Smith is an indie god.  

 You have to put your all into your film. If you're not willing, who else will? 





The Brothers McMullen

directed by Edward Burns


Edward Burns, or Eddie as we like to call him, is another indie filmmaker that is used as a IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU tale.   Ed seems like he had a lot of luck, but he was incredibly smart and works hard, using every tool that he had.

 The initial budget for Brothers McMullen was $28,000, most of which was pulled together by Ed and his family.  The majority of the budget went to film stock and developing.  He filmed at his home, he put up ads for free actors, just providing lunch.  He worked at Entertainment Tonight as a camera man and used their equipment at night to edit the film.  He snuck a copy of the film to Robert Redford while he was filming an interview with him for ET.  Robert Redford personally invited him to Sundance to premiere (which is unheard of).  

The movie was well received and was the first film to be purchased by Fox Searchlight.  Another $200,000 was used to fine-tune the movie and for the rights to "I Will Remember You" by Sarah Mclachlan to play during the credits. ( Remember, this was the 90's, so it was peak- Mclachlin time)  The movie made $10 million and set off a season of critically acclaimed Indies.  

Use everything you have available to you. People you know, your family, your house, make it work for you. 

Side note: Ed wrote a book about his filmmaking career called Independent Ed: What I Learned From My Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies and the Twelve Best Days of My Life.  I learned so much about the smart way of making movies from him; it's super fascinating! 






Fruitvale Station

directed by Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler was in college when Oscar Grant was killed.  He knew that he had to tell this story.  He worked with the family of Oscar Grant to write the script.  A production company ran by Forest Whitaker was looking for new filmmakers to mentor, and Ryan was one of those chosen and they helped develop Fruitvale Station.  He also worked with the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and utilized the tools offered to him there.  The budget was less than $1 million, raised through investors.  When some of the funding fell through, Octavia Spencer, who played Grant's mother, used her connections to raise what was needed.  

The finished film was involved in a bidding war at Sundance and The Weinstein Company purchased it for $2 million.  The filmed ended up earning over $16 million and critical acclaim.  Ryan would go on to direct Black Panther, one of the most successful movies in Marvel history, both financially and critically.

Be passionate and explore all avenues to get your project made.  Use the people around you- they are willing to help!  





Mississippi Masala

directed by Mira Nair

Mira Nair moved to America from India when she was 19 to attend Harvard and became interested in acting.  She started making documentaries about Indian traditional culture, winning many awards.  When she moved to features, she didn't stray from uncomfortable subjects of race and class.  

Mississippi Masala is about an interracial romance between a black man and an Indian woman.  Original funding fell through after an actor backed out of production and Mira and her team had to start looking again. Mira has said that potential investors told her that it would be easier to finance a film with white actors.  That wasn't the story that she wanted to tell, so she stood her ground and eventually found the investors she needed when Denzel Washington came on board.

The movie budget was over $6 million and made just over $7 million, so it wasn't a financial success, but Mira made a name for herself. She made such movies as Monsoon Wedding, earning a Golden Lion award from the Venice Film Festival, the first woman to do so.

 Know your audience and look for money based off of that audience.  Investors are not one-project-fits-all.  Look for money in unlikely places.  







Being John Malkovich

directed by Spike Jonze



That this movie was made at all is a true testament to persistence.  The writer, Charlie Kaufman, had previously written for sitcoms that never made it past their first season.  The director, Spike Jonze, was known for creating a skate boarding magazine and filming music videos.

After Charlie wrote the script, he took it from producer to producer, studio to studio, only to be rejected time after time.  He sent the script to Francis Ford Coppola, with the hopes that he would produce.  Francis gave it to his then son-in-law, Spike and he wanted to direct.  

Getting funding was the next hurdle.  The story was deemed just too weird and was passed on several times.  Even John Malkovich wanted nothing to do with it.  Eventually, they were able to convince John, and others to invest and the movie was made.  The budget was $8 million and it made $22 million, earning critical acclaim and 3 Oscar nominations.  Now Spike and Charlie are considered amongst the most creative forces in the movie industry

 It's going to take time. Be persistent and don't give up.  All it takes is one yes. 


Dov Simens from 2 Day Film School says " You can't make your third movie without making your second. And you can't make your second without making your first."  Getting the money for your first feature can be a challenge.  Be passionate about your project, get others excited to see it and to help you, be creative with your story and most of all, be persistent.


The Incredibly Fascinating Way Movies Make Money

by Mandi Harrison

I really started noticing how show biz worked when I was in high school.  I waited each Sunday night to see the box office reports on the 10 pm news.  My mind was blown when I discovered Entertainment Weekly. It was like this magazine was written for me.  It was the perfect combination of nerdy and in the know.  I immediately got a subscription.  My little heart thought it knew everything.  Granted, it was misinformed on a lot of things, but I had discovered a new love: numbers.  


Cut to 4 years ago when I was reading anything I could get my hands on regard the film industry. My heart skipped a beat when I got to the numbers part; THIS was my language.  I showed Chris and he got just as excited as I did.  Now with every movie that comes out, we play a little game I like call "Do it- do the math!"  and we see where everything goes.  

Recently, Black Panther was released and there were headlines like:

"$200 million opening weekend!" 

"Number one for 5 weeks straight!"

"$1 Billion made worldwide!"

I know you are thinking that this movie made a ton of money.  Well, yes and no.  There are some little secrets as to how money is made and spent.  It actually can take years if at all for a movie to remake the money they have spent.  Here is a easy guide to how the money is made!   

So the first thing we are going to look at is...


  • The amounts that are listed on the news and IMDb and Wikipedia are the GROSS returns; that means all the money made before anything is taken out- like your paycheck.  
  • The number that actually counts, again like your paycheck, is the NET returns.  That is the amount after all payments are taken out.  

Our next thing to look at is:


What Theatres Roughly Taken Out From Opening Weekend to Week 6

Chart shows the amount taken out by theatres. Numbers vary from studio to studio and then again from successful ones (Black Panther) to bombs (Valerian) on how much is taken out by the theatre.

This is the money that the movie theater keeps. The movie studio is paying the theater to play the movie.  The fee is set up on a sliding scale, meaning the longer the movie plays there, the more money the theater gets to keep.  Generally speaking, the starting amount starts at 40% to the gross going to the theater for the first 2 weeks, and then it goes up from there.  

Another thing to consider is that when the studio is trying make back its money.

The foreign box office numbers don't count right away! 

We'll get into that in a bit, so they are just looking at the domestic numbers, which the United States and Canada.  

Let's play "Do it- do the math!" with a movie and I'll show you how everything is done.  I'm going to take a movie that is out of the theaters and we can break that down.  Let's do..

Beauty and the Beast 

It was produced (paid for) and distributed (put in theaters for viewing) by Buena Vista AKA Disney

  • Estimated budget of $160 million
  • Worldwide (Foreign) box office gross was $1.26 billion
  • Domestic (US/Canada) gross of $504 million


$160 million budget against a $504 million domestic box office

Box Office Gross by Major Territory

It seems it made money.  But here are a few factors.....

A way for studios to attach big name actors is to give them a percentage of the profits.  There are two types of back end deal:

  • The net deal (which is difficult because as you can see, the "profit" is dwindling slowly.) 
  • The gross deal means the money is taking off the top sum, before anything is taken out.  This is the ideal back end deal.

Let's just assume that the main actors got paid off the gross.  Let's say 8% of the gross. That money is still going to come from the Studio's portion of the money.

Where Does the Money Go?!

We have our box office receipts and back end deals taken out.  Now with the $262,080,000 left, what do we do with the money?  Well, we need to pay our bills.  

  • First off is repaying what was spent on distribution and production.  Because this was a Disney film, it was done through by the same studio.  We are going to subtract that $160 million budget.  
  • Then we have marketing and advertising costs.  This is where it can get tricky.  For a big studio picture like this or something that is a contender for award season, the marketing costs can be over double the production budget.  Do you remember all the ads for Beauty and the Beast?  They were everywhere.  Studios usually don't release their marketing expenses, but I would be willing to bet money that Disney spent at least $200 million on advertising. Maybe even $300 million, but let's stick with $200 million to be safe.   
  • After production and marketing costs, there are other fees such as giving bonuses and making copies for each screen that will be showing the movie.  That's another $65 million. 

So, you're probably thinking, there's no money.  We are actually in debt. A LOT. Yes, but... now we can look at that foreign box office money.  

Each country is considered a separate territory, so there will be distribution deals for each one. The distribution and theater fees are little higher overseas, but once those fees and the back end deals are taken care of, everything goes back to recovering costs.  We've already recovered the production fees so that's a huge chunk taken out.  

Another way to make back money and attempt a profit is called ancillary rights.  

  1. DVD
  2. Blu Ray
  3. Video on Demand
  4. RedBox
  5. And of course the merchandise.  

Being that it is a Disney movie, there is merchandise as far as the eye can see.  

Everything that is a licensed Disney-Beauty and the Beast product helps make the profit.    

It seems like a lot of work and a little misleading at first.  Why say it made X amount of money when it really made Y amount?  Technically, it did make X amount.  It's a way to sell more tickets.  It's the peer pressure factor-you want to see what people are talking about. The studios and theaters work together to get the seats filled.  

The more seats are filled, the more successful the movie will be and that will lead to similar movies being made.

Once the movie has gone to streaming or DVD/Blu Ray, then the studio can work to recoup their investment.  Another question might be, why not just skip the theater all together?  Distribution at a theater helps to create an experience that people want to recreate at their own home. It's also easier to make money off of something that already has a fan base. Think of theatrical distribution as marketing for ancillary and merchandise as advertising and PR do for the film's theatrical release. 

To simply put it, run the final box office of any of your favorite films from sites like or -- pull both total domestic and budget and DO THE MATH.

Here's how Chris simply does it (because math isn't his strong suit):









Now this isn't 100% accurate but at least you know if a movie was profitable or not.

So that is how it works for a major studio produced and distributed movie.  There are a few more steps and a lot less money for movies that are independently produced.  Just something for you to think about as the summer blockbuster season grows closer!

Read the First Page of "OZZY," a Short Screenplay

By Chris Hoshnic

A few weeks ago, a small screenplay I wrote made the finalist list for Short Screenplays at the Phoenix Film Festival. Ever since then, I've just been carrying this strong sense of being better than everyone else-no, I'm kidding. It's not really like that at all... Or sort of. Kind of. A lot.


 I wanted to take the time to show people the first page of my little story about my little, fat dog, Ozzy. Incredible ass/ridiculously handsome. 

I don't want to keep blabbering about myself or my dog so go ahead and read the first page ABOUT my dog and myself below. Enjoy, but don't tell me how bad it is because I probably already said it to myself a few times revising it. But definitely tell me how bad I'm doing! 

OZZY - A short screenplay 

A disobedient dachshund attempts to train himself for his new owner when a dog-shaped gift is placed under the Christmas tree.


The 10 Most Essential Roles On A Film Crew

by Mandi Harrison

I enjoy watching the credits roll at the end of a movie. I know that the dozens and sometimes hundreds of cast and crew roles listed each contributed something to that finished movie.  

After making the decision to make movies, I researched all the different crew members needed on set to make a movie.  I was surprised to realize that we were already doing what most of the positions needed while working at the photography studio, and that I knew someone that could fill each of those roles. 

Here is a list of the crew members* that are most needed during filming.  This is based off of making a small to no budget independent movie; no blockbuster special effects here!  

* I'm not posting the writer (which is the most important role- story is everything) because filming has now started; the script is done (hopefully). And the actors aren't included because we are just looking at the crew members.


1.  The Producer

The producer gets $h*t done.  They can help develop story, find financing, and sign off on all major decisions. In a BIG HOLLYWOOD STUDIO™ production, the producer gets all the little ducks in a row and heads off for other projects, just checking in from time to time for the Powers That Be, aka The Money. Producers find great material and/or talent to tell a story he or she believes in. 

Being a producer is great for someone who is organized and great at budgeting and dealing with people.  Because you have to deal with ALL the people and ALL the money (or lack thereof).  You have to remember all the details and look at the bigger picture.  

2. The Director

The Director is basically the same on all budget sizes.  They are the one whose vision is being created.  Even if they didn't write the material, its still their interpretation of this vision.  A great director is someone who knows how to clearly communicate and knows how to work with people. From shot lists to scene breakdowns, set decorating to which use of lens, great directors see everything through and through; down to the packaging and rendering of a film, what colors an actor looks great in and how the camera dances within a scene. There's a lot of leadership, creativity and self-awareness in this role. 

3. The Assistant Director (or AD) 

The AD runs the set; they set up the scene breakdowns, help with budgeting (more on that later), keeping everyone on set where they need to be, making sure safety is ensured and that all documents are signed.  This person is super-organized and detail oriented and has excellent time-management.  

4. Director of Photography (or DP)

More commonly known as cinematographer.  The DP works closely with the Director to bring the story to life visually.  On bigger productions, there might be a separate camera operator. Sometimes on a small budget, the director will have to operate the camera.  Even though having a DP is a luxury, it's one that should be taken.  Having someone to focus on that one aspect will lead to a better finished product.

5. Line Producer

 On a movie's budget, the producer, writer, director and actors' fees are all called above the line.  Those are considered the essentials.  The rest of the crew and all other fees are called below the line; they are considered replaceable.  The line producer helps ensure that the budget is being met and helps with the hiring of key crew members.  They also set a daily budget and works with the AD to ensure it is met.  If you are great with numbers and puzzles, this is the role for you! 

6. Production Designer

Works with the director to set the visual tone for the movie.  Everything needs to work for the story.  They work with color and texture to set the tone for the movie.  They pay attention to detail and are super creative. On larger sets, production designers are actually the managers of art directors and other art departments. 

7. Script Supervisor

The script supervisor is the quality control of the set.  They document what has been filmed and what was added or cut from the script.  They make sure there is continuity, meaning that each take is set up the same way and that if a character is wearing a particular outfit in a scene, they need to be wearing it in any scene that takes place the same day.  Attention to detail and patience are key for this role. 

8. Grip/Gaffer

These are two roles that are different but are often lumped together.  The grip handles all equipment- the set-up and transport.  The gaffer handles everything electrical.  Attention to detail and safety are big factors.  

9. Production Assistant (or PA) 

The PA handles anything that needs to be do on set.  That could be running errands for the director to helping the set designer to chasing down the actors.  This really gives you a little taste of everything on set, so it's great for students and people just wanting experience.

10. The Editor

Even though most editing won't be done until after the filming is complete, having someone to start going through footage and logging the best footage will help the process.  Having someone who understands great storytelling and has an eye for detail can make an okay story great.  


There are so many more roles that put a movie together: sound, costume designer, hair and makeup, etc.  Whether there is $20 or $20 million dollars involved, there are still the same amount of pieces to put into the puzzle.  The budget just helps you figure out how many players you can hire.

 In independent filmmaking, multitasking and organization are pivotal. It's just like running a business.  Knowing how to do all the roles will help you when you can hire people to fill those positions, so you know you've hired the best.  

7 Novels You Should Be Reading

by Mandi Harrison


 I recently went on a reading spree, and read every book I could get my hands on.  Fiction, Non Fiction, whatever.  The majority of my reads, however, were from my favorite genre, YA, and I found some new faves.  


 YA, or Young Adult, novels may sound childish, but I've found that this genre's authors are unafraid to discuss subjects that a lot of people want to skate around or just flat out ignore.  Things like race, violence, bullying, standing up for your beliefs and sexuality.  Discovering who you are as a person in this world and what you believe in makes for fascinating storytelling.  The coming of age genre is my favorite in books and movies, especially the stories that tear your heart out and keep it long after it's over.  




I discovered an author during my reading marathon that did just that.  His name is Adam Silvera.  He has three books out now, with his fourth releasing in October.   I couldn't read anything for a week after finishing his first book, More Happy Than Not.  I became a fan after his second novel, History Is All You Left Me.  His third, They Both Die At The End is one of my all time favorite books now and has made Adam one of my favorite authors.  


Adam's writing has a definite voice.  He is kind of nerdy, which of course I love, and there is a slight sci-fi element to the books, which you don't really notice other than it sets up the (slightly) alternate universe New York City.  His protagonists are going through the defining moments in their life, big moments, but they already know who they are at their core.  



They Both Die At The End wrecked me. I cried for thirty minutes after finishing it. One of those really cathartic cries.  The theme of the story is there can't be life without death and love without loss.  In this story's reality, you receive a phone call on the day you are going to die so you can prepare.  The two leads, Mateo and Rufus, do not know each other and each have received that call.  They meet on a website that connects people who have received THE CALL and decide to stick together so that neither will be alone when it happens.  Mateo and Rufus help each other make peace with their pasts and deal with their impending fate, growing closer as the day comes closer to the end.

 I know it sounds unbearably tragic, and you're thinking WHY WOULD I WANT TO PUT MYSELF THROUGH THAT?   It is tragic, but it is also hopeful and hilarious.  It makes you think and appreciate the moments you do have.   

This book, and More Happy Than Not really remind me of one of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind written by Charlie Kaufman.  They use a slightly sci-fi notion but at its core, it's a story of love and loss and they all are so beautifully told.  There is a fine line between heart-warming and heart-breaking and Adam, like Charlie, knows how to walk it.  He is so visual in his writing; it's almost like watching a movie.  It's now a goal of mine to work with him in adapting one of his novels into a screenplay.

Books by Adam Silvera 

* More Happy Than Not

* History Is All You Left Me 

* They Both Die At The End

Other suggestions: 



Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Currently in theaters as Love, Simon.  It's the story of Simon Spier, a normal teenage boy who has a secret- he's gay.  He must come to terms with revealing his secret after someone discovers the truth and threatens to expose him.  

  Watch the movie.   Read the book.   The movie is like John Hughes.  And the book is very biting angst and introduced me to Elliot Smith.  I love them both equally and differently. 




Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Willowdean, the plus-sized daughter of a former beauty queen, joins her small town's pageant as a form of protest and she inspires others that aren't the typical definition of beauty queen to join. It is full of Dolly Parton references and drag queens- what more could you want?  

The movie adaptation is coming out later this year, with  Danielle McDonald (Patti Cake$) as Willowdean and Jennifer Aniston as her mom.  




The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend, and must decide whether to do the easy thing or the right thing.  It's funny and full of warmth, but it's very true to life and heartbreaking.  It's very thought-provoking.  I really recommend reading this book, especially before the movie comes out.  




Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Chris read Celeste's first novel, Everything I Never Told You and told me I had to read it.  It just kept me on the edge of my seat- so much family drama and mystery.  I immediately got her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere and I couldn't put it down.  It's the story of two families and how they become intertwined and how all their secrets come out.  Reese Witherspoon recently announced that she and Kerry Washington are developing a limited series based on it and I can not wait.  It's so intriguing.  

I really hope you pick at least one of these books to try; they all kept me glued to the page.  I recently picked up Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed; it's about a Muslim teen dealing with racism, her family's expectations and discovering her identity and I can't wait to read it.  What have you been reading lately? 




13 Cinematography Techniques Every Freelance Photographer Should Study

By Chris Hoshnic

Photography is a like a sport and I just f%#@ing hate it. I absolutely hate taking photos. I hate the how long it takes to load a camera and format it and wait for the sensor to self-clean and clean the lens and check the battery and white balance and take test shots wevmnairognmaodsknl I HATE ITTTTTT.

But it also helps to think of it like it's an art too. So I went ahead and put together some films, my other mistress-hobby and compared the two. Check out how film and well, film are the same. 


1. La Dolce Vita

Cinematography by Otello Martelli

A week in the life of a paparazzo journalist living in Rome, La Dolce Vita uses depth, geometry and composition, demonstrating the use of "visual direction" by placing objects and/or people at the forefront to create interest.

La Dolce Vita
Starring Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Magali Noël, Marcello Mastroianni, Yvonne Furneaux


2. The 400 Blows

Cinematography by Henri Decae

Where story meets cinematography - the start of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut (the director) used hand-held cameras and harsh edits. Useful in film camera shooting and polaroids.

The 400 Blows (The Criterion Collection)
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Patrick Auffay, Albert Remy, Jeanne Moreau


3. Yesterday Girl

Cinematography by Edgar Reitz

The first film of the New German Cinema - the true beginnings of independent financing/filmmaking, this is less about the art and more about what you can achieve on such a small budget.

Yesterday Girl
Starring Gunther Mack, Alexandra Kluge, Eva Maria Meineke


4. Citizen Kane

Cinematography by Gregg Toland

The reinvention of the Director, Citizen Kane gave directors and cinematographers a voice in visual storytelling; something photographers can learn from if they get lost in all the creative conflicts with clientele.

Citizen Kane
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick


5. The Young Girls of Rochefort

Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet

LA LA LAND-inspired, shot in what is now considered "classic cinescope" AKA wide lens, photographers can learn more about production value with Jacques Demy films.

The Essential Jacques Demy (Blu-ray + DVD)
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Anouk Aimee, Jeanne Moreau


6. Cries & Whispers

Cinematography by Sven Nykrist

Igmar Berman inspired many other iconic filmmakers, Spielberg, Allen, Scorsese, Coppola, etc. Cries and Whispers uses lighting to its advantage, a technique photographers NEED to know and understand.

Cries & Whispers (The Criterion Collection)
Starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek

7. Amelie

Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel

Eclectic, fun, bold and ambitious; The style most NEW photographers and filmmakers will adopt until they find their niche, but that doesn't mean the camera work in Amelie should be ignored - more like techniques you can adopt and then own.

Amelie (English Subtitled)
Starring Audrey Tautou, Matthieu Kassovitz, Rufus

el gran hotel Budapest cinemelodic viaje.jpg

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Cinematography by Robert Yeoman

Wes Anderson in one word is COMPOSITION. Told in mostly 4:3 aspect ratio, which is essentially like a film being told on a Mamiya.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrian Brody

9. The Revenant

Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki

Completely shot in Masters (Wide shots) and lens possibly all under 24MM, The Revenant uses natural lighting all the way through. Something photographers "claim" to be masters at. Watch this film with a "Natural Light" photographer and test them.

The Revenant
Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter


10. Ida

Cinematography by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

Old wine, new bottle. A film that looks like it was made in 1970 is actually a 2016 film. 

Ida (English Subtitled)
Starring Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski


11. Beach Rats

Cinematography by Helene Louvart

On a small unknown budget, Beach Rats was filmed in New York with a 16mm about a teen's sexuality. Photographers can take its non-digital concept and know that film is still the best form of visual storytelling.

Beach Rats
Starring Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge


12. Call Me By Your Name

Cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

Completely shot on ONE lens, the 24mm and during the most cloudy and stormy summer of Crema, Call Me By Your Name can teach photographers that maybe natural lighting isn't all its cut out to be. Talent is turning dreary summer storms into a sunny, 1980's romance. 

Call Me By Your Name
Starring Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg

13. The Wrestler

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti

My only argument here is that The Wrestler's cinematographer was a woman. A woman shooting a sports film and the results are crazy good. Don't let a man tell you you can't do anything a man can do. 

The Wrestler
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry

Break A Leg! Play Reviews From a Wannabe Theatre Buff

by Mandi Harrison


"Theatre is life. Cinema is art. Television is furniture." Anonymous  


One of the things I most want to do in life is go to New York and watch a play... scratch that.  Watch ALL the plays.

 It's so mesmerizing watching someone have the courage to go on stage and perform their heart out.  You can feel the electricity of the energy that is on and off that stage.  

A few weeks ago, Chris and I attended two performances at local theatre companies.  It was nice broadening our horizons.  It had been awhile since I had watched a play in person, and I instantly got that rush again.  I want to go to more shows! 



The first play we saw was a musical called Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, put on by the Almost Famous Theatre Company.  It was about a man trying to woo a girl and win over her father by helping him deliver a temperamental Italian opera singer to a special performance at the Cleveland Opera.  In musicals, tragedy=comedy.  And oh is there ever tragedy.  Broken hearts, mistaken identities, cover ups. It was so fast-paced; the action never stopped and the performers never fell behind. It was so enjoyable.  Musicals are my favorite because there is so much more that goes into them, but if it's done right, it looks effortless.  


Our second show that week was a play called Outside Mullinger by the Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theatre.  It was written by John Patrick Shanley, who wrote Moonstruck, and that was a big reason we wanted it see it.  It's about a man and a woman in their late 30's who grew up as neighbors in Ireland.  They've secretly loved each other all their lives but are only now starting to act on it as their parents are growing older and ill.  It's dialogue driven, but it never lags.  There is lot of heart and wit and Irish humor throughout.  


Plays, movies and photography have a lot of common.  They each are an art form that anyone can do, but you have to really study and practice in order to master them.  

Because I enjoy a good graph, I created a Venn diagram to show what else they have in common: 


If you notice, the main thing that connects them all is Story.  It sounds so simple: who, what, where, when, why and how; and yet it can be so incredibly challenging.  Story is what keeps people engaged.  If the audience or viewer doesn't feel anything in that moment, they will move on and forget about what they just saw.  

Story in photography keeps the viewer looking; it tells who the subject is or what they are going through. 

Story in a movie keeps the viewer guessing- what happens next?  It makes them reflect and put pieces together.

Story in a play makes the viewer feel as if they are IN that moment, not just observing. 

In movies and photography, the story is visual.  You have to show it, not say it.  

In plays and photography, you have to tell the story within the confines of a small area. You want to relay as much information in that box.  

In plays and movies, every element of the production is used to tell the story.  The lighting, the costumes, the set; everything needs to reflect the story that is being told.  Every person in the cast and crew is an integral part of how the story plays out.  

 Photography and movies give you the luxury of second chances; if something doesn't work you can try it again.  Plays are live- the performance and production is what you put out there, which is a terrifying notion.  But maybe plays are the one that have the advantage; you can focus more on being in the moment, conveying the story right then that you don't have to focus on being perfect or missing out on something.  

"All the world is a stage." -Shakespeare

9 Movies Every Bride & Groom Should Watch Before Their Wedding Day

by Mandi Harrison 


1. Four Weddings and a Funeral 


directed by Mike Newell

You've found The One!  Congratulations!  Life is never going to be the same!  Before all the wedding planning begins, snuggle up and watch what is considered to be one of the greatest romantic comedies ever.

 Four Weddings and A Funeral is the story of two strangers, a British bachelor and an American who fall in love as they continue to meet at mutual friends' weddings.  Unrequited love, heartbreak and missed opportunities go perfectly with a cup of tea.  Remember how you fell in love as you watch this love story unfold.  


2. Father of The Bride

directed by Charles Shyer

Now it's time to tell your parents!    A great way to break the news or to break any tension, would be to watch Father of The Bride.  There is a version from the 1950's with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, but in our humble opinion, you can't beat Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. (And Martin Short) 

A loving father struggles to let his daughter go after learning she is getting married.  He grows more distressed with each new wedding plan until he finally realizes that the only way his daughter will be truly happy is to be with the one she loves.  All your family really wants is to see you happy!



3. Pride & Prejudice

directed by Joe Wright

Now that the family has been told, wedding plans begin and you start to realize how many people have opinions about your life.  At least you don't have it as bad as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice.  Her mother's sole mission in life is to marry off each of her five daughters to respectable (rich) men.  She might have been concerned about her children's future, but she made their present very miserable indeed.  They all end up happy in their own way, no thanks to their mother's meddling.  You have to be the one to decide what you want in life.



4. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

directed by Joel Zwick

There's a saying: you're not just marrying the person, you're marrying the family.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a perfect example of that.  There are new traditions to observe, history to learn and family to embrace.  

Toula falls in love with Ian, the man of her dreams- the only problem is, he's not Greek. Tensions can run high- but at the end of the day, everyone just wants Toula and Ian to be happy.  Both of their families come together to support them. 





5. The Wedding Banquet 

directed by Ang Lee

Wedding plans can very easily get out of hand, especially when you are wanting to make sure everyone is happy.  The Wedding Banquet is a great example of this.   

The Wedding Banquet is considered a classic in the independent film community because it was one of Ang Lee's first movies, offers much diversity and was the most profitable movie of 1993.  The story is about a gay Taiwanese man and a Chinese woman who needs a green card agree to marry so she can stay in the country and he can appease his aging traditional parents.  Between the parents and the boyfriend and the "bride" and "groom", misunderstandings take place and feelings get hurt.  Being honest with what you want and not rushing to judgment can save a lot of heartbreak in the end.  



6. The Hangover

directed by Todd Phillips


6.5. Bridesmaid

directed by Paul Feig

A major part of your wedding plans involves your girls and guys.  They've always been there for you- of course you want them to be a part of your big day!  These movies really celebrate friendship and show that you can still be close, even though the relationship is evolving.  

The Hangover is the tale of 3 completely different guys who want to celebrate their pal's upcoming wedding with a weekend in Vegas and end up losing him.  By retracing their steps from a drunken adventure, they find their pal and realize that he doesn't have to be the glue that holds the group together. 

Bridesmaids is also about making unlikely friends, while trying to preserve a friendship.  Rivals for the bride's attention learn to work together to make her day as special as it can be.  

Let your people know how much they mean to you!  But maybe stay away from Vegas and sketchy looking meat.  



7. The Philadelphia Story 


directed by George Cukor

In the days and hours leading up to the wedding, it always seems that everything is falling apart.  There's problems with the location, the flowers you have to have are suddenly out of season and some family member is having a crisis.  Breathe.  Everything will work out.  Watch A Philadelphia Story and realize it can get worse.  

Katharine Hepburn is a socialite marrying a man with "new money".  Her ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a newspaper reporter hoping to uncover scandal (James Stewart) only complicate matters.   Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.  But Our dear Ms. Katharine realizes, as you will, it doesn't matter what happens just long as you end up with the one you love.



8. The Godfather

directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Your big day is finally here!  Your wedding is an event to remember- just like the Corleone Wedding.  (less tragic, I hope) .  Make your vows and gather for the picture that will hang on your wall for the rest of your life.  There is so much happening on your wedding day; pictures are the best way for you to remember all that went on.

The Corleones may have been conducting business during the wedding, but on your day, you are the family's business.


9. The Princess Bride

directed by Rob Reiner

And they lived happily ever after.  

The words from a fairy tale have been etched in our brains since childhood.  The Princess Bride shows that fairy tales can come in all different forms.  Sometimes the prince isn't so charming. Sometimes the pirate is the hero.  

Princess Buttercup's true love Wesley is believed dead and she is kidnapped and soon she will forced to marry the mean-hearted Prince Humperdinck.  A pirate, a friendly giant and a Spaniard on a mission of revenge come to rescue her.  There's a chase, and a fight, and a sword fight, and the pirate saves the princess.  Princess Buttercup got the happy ending that she wanted.  Now it's up to you to make your happily ever after!


Why You Should Love The Academy Awards!

By Chris Hoshnic

Almost hitting a hundred years, we still got a long way to go to honor campaigns-er, ehm, I mean art. 

Here's a little information on tonight's festivities.

The Oscars were created by studio heads back in the early 1900's to commemorate film. Little do people know, it was created at a time when films weren't doing very well. The first few years were just little articles in newspapers and then on radios and eventually televised. Over the years, the Oscars became more prestigious and eventually, when the 90's came around, Award Season became a bloodshed-political campaign season. Starting with The Weinstein Company and other producers, many actors, directors, writers, and more were forced to wine and dine their way to a statuette. 

You thought they did this by choice, huh? These people don't eat, sleep or socialize. Imagine being thrown around at your wedding or Bar Mitzvah, forced to socialize and interact with people by your mother, maid of honor/best man and wedding planner in six different directions because they want you to not look ungrateful. Now imagine that, times five for three months.


Kathryn Bigelow

First woman to win Best Achievement in Directing for The Hurt Locker in 2009, Kathryn told the story of a Sergeant and his Bomb-disposal unit. A powerful war drama told in fast cuts, great sound design and a tight knitted story about values. 

The Academy Awards is looked at as fake and overly wasteful. Well, undoubtedly, it's still a form of revenue. Independent production companies/distributors shell out millions of dollars OUTSIDE of the film's marketing and production budget to win, even be nominated for the films they are representing. All for the sake of credibility. Remember that word.
Production companies like Weinstein (RIP), A24, Fox Searchlight and Focus Features spend possibly three times a film's budget.

Here's an example.

If I were to say, make a film, I would direct and write it, the budget being, let's say, $1 Million under Focus Features. Is the budget really $1 million? Let's saying my film was actually made for $300,000 and we just write on paper that it was made for "under a million." That's how they get us. 
From there, we make it, sometimes, actors and crew are attached in hopes that it will create Oscar buzz. We make the film, premiere at, let's say within the major trifecta of Venice, Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals where most best picture winners usually premiere. We make $1 million opening weekend, ending it in a $15 million run in December.


Hattie McDaniel

First African-American to ever win the Academey Award for Gone With the Wind. With a tragic and untold story, McDaniel made history and her winning still stands as an event that still resonates today. Pick up "Backwards and In Heels" by Alicia Malone to learn more about some of the most inspiring, untold stories of Hollywood's backbone-I mean, women. 

Sounds like we made our budget, right? WRONG. Our marketing budget might have been another $30 million, depending on the caliber of the project. Then we get nominated for say, two acting categories, writing and picture. That's four nominations.

Now we get sent out by Focus Features come January to shake a lot of hands, pretend we like people, meet award season voters and win them over. We do this for three months, hitting what I like to call the three phases of award season: CRITICAL, INDUSTRY and GENERAL AUDIENCES.

Swoon the critics (Critics Choice, Golden Globes, etc), shake some hands (SAG, DGA, WGA, Academy Awards, BAFTA, etc) and charm the audiences (AFTER the Oscar nominations release). 


Rita Moreno

First Hispanic to win the Academy Award for West Side Story. The only Hispanic to have an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).

Upon Oscar night, we sit in the Dolby Theatre, awaiting for the announcement, which at this point, the distributor (Focus Features) will know what awards will be taken home. While all that is happening, Focus has spent another $30-$100 million on our campaign alone. Say, an actor wins an award from our film. Now, Focus has credibility and that box-office flop from last summer was forgiven, people will want to work with us, the cast and crew and it gives our producers their production company, a chance to expand into distribution and do what Focus Features did for us

Mahershala Ali

The first Muslim, believe it or not, won an Oscar just last year for Moonlight. 

Now you're thinking, where'd all the money go? The campaign money is not considered a "loss" because it wasn't a part of the film's marketing/production budget to begin with. The money we made back in December? That's a loss, but hey, doesn't that statuette look great on the toilet at home?


Merle Oberons

The first Asian to ONLY ever be nominated (never won!) OUTSIDE the directing and technical categories. 

So you probably think that it's glamorous and fun, but in reality, it's just one giant presidential campaign. You wear the minks and silks as advertisement, you go to the parties for five minutes at a time essentially kissing babies and you give these speeches at events to create yours and your cast and crew's "we are just so grateful to be here" persona. 

Now, I find this all fascinating and incredibly genius. You may think differently but every industry has an Oscar season. Even that little medical billing job you go to everyday. It's all in the game of life.

So the question is, should we LOVE the Academy Awards? Tell us in the comments!

13 Bittersweet Movies Every Senior Should Watch Before Graduation

By Mandi Harrison

It's your senior year!

Congratulations- you made it!  It's a year full of first experiences and  lots of "this is the last time we are going to..."  Between senior pictures and prom and getting your yearbook signed and college acceptance letters and asking your mom who Great-Aunt Mildred is and why do you need to send her an announcement, you will need some time to relax.  

These movies are perfect for reflecting on what's in the past and lessons to use with what lies ahead.



1. Lady Bird

Directed by Greta Gerwig

  Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson spends her senior year trying everything she can to make herself look good on paper for East Coast liberal arts colleges.  She wants out of Sacramento and wants her mother to like her.  This movie is the one most accurate portrayals of trying to create your own identity and friendship and family dynamics.  We could watch this movie every day.  

  There are so many things to get out of this movie.  Try new things.  Work towards your goals.  Be there for the people who have your back.  Hug your mom.


2. The Graduate

Directed by Mike Nichols

  "One word- Plastics."  The Graduate is considered one of the greatest movies ever made.  The character of Benjamin Braddock has just graduated college and has no plan of what to do next.  Everyone advises him on what his next step should be and he ends up more confused than ever before.  

  You too will be receiving LOTS of advice from well-meaning people.  They just want to spread their wisdom, not remembering that part of succeeding is learning from your mistakes.  You don't have to have everything figured out right away.  


3. The Kings of Summer

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

There is not seeing eye to eye and then there is the tumultuous relationship between Joe and his dad in this little jewel.  When his father gives him the old "As long as you're living under my roof" speech, Joe and two friends decide to make their own rules and build a house in the middle of the woods.  They are self sufficient and able to provide for themselves. They only come into problems when a girl comes between two of the boys. 

  Learn how to do laundry.  Learn how to grocery shop.  Learn how to make something other than Ramen.  You will thank yourself in the long run!


4. Mustang

Directed by Deniz Game Erguven

  A heart-breaking story of five Turkish sisters growing up in circumstances out of their control.  They held onto their dreams of freedom, even though history and their family were deeming it impossible.  

  Never give up: having hope can get you through anything.   


5. Dope

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

  A wanna be Harvard applicant from the rundown side of L.A. gets mixed up with drug dealers while trying to impress a girl.  He ends up running drugs for the supplier while going to college alumni interviews.  He is able to get out of the situation by keeping his cool and thinking the problem through.  

  Sometimes you are going to find yourself in some awkward situations.  Don't panic, keep your cool and you can get through it. 


6. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Directed by Marielle Heller

  A teenage girl is discovering her sexuality and who she is as a woman.  She makes some questionable choices along the way, but in the end, discovers that she doesn't have to define herself by those choices.  

  There's gonna be moments in your life that you regret.  You have the choice to wallow in that regret or you can learn from them and move the f**k on.  


7. Y Tu Mama También

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron 

 A story of friendship, discovering your sexuality and misunderstanding.  

  One of life's hardest lessons is that best friends forever doesn't always last forever.  Whether it's through a falling out or just naturally drifting apart, you still feel like you've lost a part of you.  Allow yourself to grieve and eventually you will be able to remember them fondly.  


8. The Way Way Back

Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

  A shy boy makes an unlikely friend, gaining a summer job and a community that loves him. This gives him the confidence to stand up to his mother's deceitful boyfriend.  

  Don't ever let anyone devalue your worth.  Surround yourself with people that will boost your confidence so you can do what you need to do.   



9. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Directed by John Hughes

"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it" - Ferris Bueller

  John Hughes is the master of 80's classics, but in my opinion, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the best.  At first glance, it's just a fun way to have a senior ditch day, but at it's heart, it's three friends dealing with the anxiety of not know what comes next.  Ferris's answer is to just stop and enjoy the moment.  And when in doubt, join a parade.  

  Don't be afraid to take a mental health day.  Having a day to just do whatever you want (or do nothing) will leave you refreshed and focused to accomplish your goals.  


10. Submarine

Directed by Richard Ayoade

  An misfit boy becomes involved with his crush, eventually cooling things with her once he realizes  her life has too many personal complications.  At the same time, he's realizing his parents' marriage is having issues. He attempts to solve his parents problem while pining over his lost love.

  Empathy is a powerful emotion.  Everyone is going through something and sometimes just being there and saying "I'm here for you" can make all the difference to that person.

11. 10 Things I Hate About You

Directed by Gil Junger

  This is a modern classic, based off an old schooled classic, Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew.  Two sisters, one trying to break out of her overprotective father's hold and the other wanting to come out of her sister's shadow.   

  You alone decide who you are.  You don't have to define yourself by rumors and other's opinions of you.    

12. Adventureland

Directed by Greg Mottola

  James is a recent college grad, with a European trip and grad school in New York in his sight.  After his summer plans fell through, he got a job at the last place he could've imagined.  He made new friends, fell in love and had experiences that he never would've had before of his life had stayed on course.  At the end of summer,  he had his heart broken and his roommate backed out of their living arrangements for grad school, he readjusted and made new plans.   

  Life will never go to plan.  Don't let setbacks ruin your day; not all surprises are bad.  


13. A Room with a View

Directed by James Ivory

  The biting dialogue and situations in this period piece are so timely, that could've taken place  today.  Lucy is traveling through Italy with her reluctant guardian, and must chose between a proper suitor who bores her and what her heart desires, a man who doesn't have proper social skills.  She discovers that the people with the "proper" upbringing often have the worst manners and that she wanted someone who challenged her to be a better person.  

  There might come a point where you have to choose between doing what your parents think you should do or what you think society wants you to do and what you want deep down inside.  You are the one that is going to have to live with your decisions.  Definitely listen to all sides so you can be sure that you are making the right choice for you.  

My Photography Role Model- Natalie Montez Miller

  I have worked with and studied some incredibly talented photographers, but there is one who just is the bee's knees.  Her name is Natalie Montez Miller.  Natty is the kind of photographer other photographers dream of being.  Whenever her name is mentioned, the next words out of anyone's mouth is "UGHH... she is amazing!"  


 Natty's three little munchkins

Natty's three little munchkins


  I knew of Natty's awesomeness even before I met her.  I knew several people that raved about her.  When I found out I was going to be working with her, I was a little intimidated, but she was so bubbly and welcoming that my fears subsided.  She worked part time at the studio, coaching volleyball and doing her own photography as well.  She grew so busy she just worked one day a week, which we called Natty Day.  She finally was able to leave and take care of her own clientele.   


I worked a lot with Natty and was able to develop my own skill through watching her in action.  Here's a few things that I observed:  


1. She is worth the hype.  

  Natty was the first person to show me that anyone's photos could look like the cover of Vanity Fair if you aren't afraid of trying new things.  Her use of angles, shapes and depth of field added so much dimension that her pictures looked 3-D.  And all of this was on film, so she couldn't see the finished product until it was developed.  She had to trust her instincts.  


I learned how to tell a story with a look.  The emotion and personality she was able to capture in her photos brought people to tears.  She also showed me the power of knowing when to use black and white; that it's not just an effect or a filter, but a tool to enhance the emotion. .  


  Even outside of the studio, I have learned from her.  She uses the scenery as a tool to enhance the photo, not as the focal point.  She uses color to add texture, so again her pictures have that out-of-a-magazine look. 



 I was able to develop my own skill by observing Natty and practicing what I saw.  Natty's style is very clean, which is something that I have adopted.  She has challenged me to try new things and find my own style, making each picture worthy of hanging on the wall.  


2.  She is gorgeous...

Not really much I can learn about that; it's just a fact.  Natty really could be a model, but her passion lies on the other side of the camera.  She makes everyone she photographs feel like they are supermodels.  

 I mean, really :) 

I mean, really :) 


3. ...but she's even more beautiful on the inside.


Natty is one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met.  She just makes everyone feel so warm and loved.  The first time I watched Bridesmaids, I thought of Natty when I heard this line: 

"You're more beautiful than Cinderella and you smell like pine needles and your face is like sunshine!" 

EVERYONE loves Natty.  After the phrase "She is so amazing!", you are most likely to hear "I love her!"  If I ever met a person that didn't like her, I would know that person is not to be trusted.  


People will schedule months in advance for Natty to take their pictures, and it's not just because they know their pictures will turn out amazing.  It's because she takes the time to get to know them so she can look for those moments that they didn't know they wanted captured.  That is he main thing that I have tried to emulate in my own photography.  She is so patient and thoughtful and you can't help but smile when you look at her.  Natty's family, including her husband and her five kids, are her everything and you can sense that love in every picture she takes.  

  In December of last year, her son Dylan was involved in a terrible accident that left him in a coma and his family not knowing the extent of his injuries.  In a testament of how much Natty and her family have touched people's lives, their immediate community rushed to surround them with support and Dylan's story made the news and was shared through social media all over the world.  

  Through the grace of God, he has improved miraculously and is home, just two months later, walking around and being loved on by his parents and siblings.  Natty remained so strong and grateful for every little step that Dylan took towards recovery.  The grace that she showed throughout this period just makes me admire her more.  

 Big Brother & Little Brother

Big Brother & Little Brother

  I owe a lot of who I am as a photographer to Natty.  Her passion for photography has inspired me and challenged me to try new things.  There are still traces of Natty's influence in my work.  Every photographer I have trained has benefited from Natty, without having ever met her and without her even knowing the influence she has had.  Check out more of her work!