Looking to Get Your Movie Made? Filmmaker Michelle Mower Has Some Advice (and She Has A Movie Coming Out, BTW)
When you see the trailer for the upcoming Lifetime film The Preacher's Daughter, you can't help but replay it again, and again maybe for a third time. In just a minute and a half, there is enough excitation to give you your fill for a week. Somewhere in among those 90 seconds, you might just pause the video because...wait a minute? Was that just Houston's skyline that passed by? Was that the Harris County Courthouse? Yes, it was.
Courtesy of The Preacher's Daughter Good girl gone bad... wait, what store is that behind her?
Indeed, The Preacher's Daughter is an emotion-filled drama with some big-name stars (Andrea Bowen, Desperate Housewives), but what Houstonians might enjoy best is that H-Town is getting some screen time on the national scene. The movie, which was written and directed by Houstonian Michelle Mower, will premiere next weekend on the Lifetime Movie Network (LMN).
Many people don't consider Houston a "film town," but if Mower has anything to say about it, this will certainly change. We caught up with the East Texas native and found out just how aspiring filmmakers can follow in her footsteps.
What is your background and are you a Houston native?
I'm originally from a small town in East Texas, much like the town depicted in the film. But I've lived in the Houston area for most of my life. So, Houston is home.
Where did the idea for this movie come about?
I am a preacher's daughter, so I felt I had a unique voice for telling a story from that character's perspective.
I originally wrote the screenplay as a short film. A local producer read the script and said, "This isn't a short film. There's too much here. You need to write a feature." So I did. I always intended to produce the film myself. Selling it to Hollywood was never really an option because the film doesn't really fit the standard Hollywood formula.
How long did the project take to complete?
We began pre-production in February of 2010. We shot the film in the fall of that year. It took us over a year to get it complete, mainly because of financial obstacles. You've heard the saying, "Good, Fast and Cheap. Pick 2." I picked good and cheap. So we didn't go very fast. But in the long run, I'm glad we took the time we needed to make the best film possible for the budget we had. We finished the original cut in November of 2011.
Funding can be difficult for a new filmmaker trying to get a project off the ground. How did you fund the movie?
I funded half the film and the other half came from outside investors. I knew it would be extremely difficult to find investors to take a risk on a first-time feature film director, even with a great script. I funded the initial stages of production myself so that we would have the material to take to investors and show them the quality of the work. Once we had footage to show, it was a lot easier to get people to write those checks.
How do you feel about the final product? Did it meet your initial expectations?
Honestly, I didn't set out to make a made-for-TV movie. I wanted to make a low-budget guerilla indie film. During pre-production, things happened that forced us to shift our plans toward a much more mainstream production style. We got named talent. We ended up getting some highly experienced crew on board. All these things brought a certain degree of standards that prevented us from shooting guerilla-style. So, what I initially wanted to happen didn't. But what did happen was way better. So, yes, I'm happy with the results.
This is the perfect movie for Lifetime Movie Network. How did you manage to pull that off?
I met a woman named Orly Ravid at the annual Business of Film Conference, presented by Houston nonprofits Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA). Orly is an expert on independent film distribution and is the co-author of a book titled Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Orly watched my film and immediately said, "Don't bother submitting this to festivals."
She recommended me to Larry Goebel with Imagination Worldwide, a sales agency in L.A. that specializes in broadcast cable sales. Larry agreed to rep the film and took it to Lifetime. Larry will actually be speaking at this year's Business of Film conference. I'm so excited he's coming!
As a Houston filmmaker, can you talk about the film industry in Houston?
The film industry in Houston is very diverse and somewhat fractured. A vast majority of the community are independent filmmakers who are struggling to get their scripts into production.
The problem is Houston isn't really connected to the larger industry and they have problems getting their work funded. So, films are either made on a shoestring budget with mostly amateur crew or they are not made at all.
I can tell you right now there are four or five really great scripts floating around Houston trying to get funding. Maybe one will get enough to go into production. I really hope more get funding. Houston needs more quality films to get into festivals and onto networks like Lifetime if we ever hope to get the recognition we deserve and to make those valuable connections in the larger industry.
Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers?
First, you have to watch films. I'm not talking about the big-budget Hollywood fare. That's not the kind of film you can make starting out. If you're going to make independent films, you have to watch independent films. Sundance Cinemas, River Oaks Theatre, Rice Media Center...these venues offer some stellar independent films! Go see them.
Second, there are resources in Houston like the Houston Film Commission and SWAMP where filmmakers can learn the craft and meet others who want to make films. SWAMP offers filmmaking workshops, conferences and monthly networking opportunities for up-and-coming filmmakers.
Once you've met some local filmmakers, get your hands on a good HD camera and start making short films together. Learn the craft and process by doing it. That's what Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater did. There's no guarantee of success for trying. But there's guarantee of failure for not trying. What do you have to lose?
So, what's next for you?
A feature film I produced in February just completed postproduction, so it will be sent out to festivals soon. We're hoping for a big festival premiere. I'm writing another screenplay for the Lifetime market which already has funding.
I'm also developing a comedy to shoot next year. We're trying to get some big names attached, and I'm hoping to get a bunch of our local comedic stage talent in some roles as well. As I said above, we have so much talent in Houston. I want to reach beyond the film world and incorporate other artistic disciplines into my films -- theater, dance, puppetry. I want to show the world what Houston's got!
The Preacher's Daughter will air Friday, August 31, on Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) at 8 p.m. Additional times can be found by visiting mylifetime.com