Media Production

10 Really Bad Ideas About Making Movies

10.    I have Jim Caveziel for my movie – when can we shoot?
Just because you have a star connected doesn’t mean you have a great movie. Worse yet, just because that star worked in a “Christian” movie, doesn’t help.  Trust me.

9.    If I could just have Ralph Winter (producer of X-Men) attached to my movie, it would get made.
Acting talent brings money, then director, then writing, then maybe the producer.  The bottom line is that
it’s is all about the creative.  Stop trying to network with the people onstage at big media conferences and events. Network with your peers.  Years ago, speakers like me at conferences weren’t on stage, we were all in the audience.  We started talking and networking there.  Look around the room.  There are people at your level who can help you write, direct, fund, and distribute your movie.  They’re in the audience at conferences and event, not on the stage.  The people on stage at events like this already have a full slate of projects – that’s why we’re busy.

8.    I have the money committed, I just need . . . .
Money is important, but distribution is more important.  Every day in Hollywood, well funded projects fail.  Also – have the money “committed” is different from having the money in the bank.  Make sure the money is really on the table before you go out on the ledge.

7.    I have the greatest story ever. . . .
Playability does not mean marketability.  There’s always a list of brilliant screenplays floating around Hollywood that for a variety of reasons will never get made.  Story is critical, but this business is complex.  Learn how it works.

6.    I have the greatest idea. . . . .
Ideas are cheap. . . screenplays are hard.  Ideas are easy.  Making the idea happen is what’s difficult.  The guy who invented the wheel wasn’t so smart.  The guy that invented the other 3 – now he’s a genius.  At any typical Hollywood party, you’ll meet 3 or 4 “idea people.”  Run from them.  I’m not interested in idea people, I’m interested in “make it happen” people.

5.    If you just follow The Passion playbook, you can be successful
The Passion of the Christ is a “one off” – not a business model.  Stop talking about it.  Enough said.

4.    Wholesome movies make more money
You can twist statistics to say anything you want.  Studios are in the business to make a profit.  If family films were so lucrative, they’d be lining up to make them.  Also, understand that statistic wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for animated features from Disney and Pixar.  Also, keep in mind that people have many motivations for making movies, and money is just one.  Sometimes people make movies to win awards, get them respect, or to build a library.  So even if that statistic were true, it’s not always about money.

3.    If you would just read my screenplay
I am not your reader.  You need to realize that asking me to read your screenplay is an incredible imposition on my (and other producer’s) time.  Producer Ralph Winter told me recently that currently, he’s wrapping up Fox’s “Wolverine,” developing a slate of another 3-4 movies, plus being an active partner in our major TV commercial production company.   He also happens to be on about 5 organization’s boards, and is a husband, father, and grandfather.  Do you really think he’s going to take an hour or two to read your screenplay, and then take another couple hours to analyze it and get back to you with detailed comments?  Get a life.

2.      God told me to make this movie, you should know this and act on it.
Nope, I don’t need (or want) to know this.  First, if God wants you to make the movie, he’ll open the doors, and trying to lay a guilt trip on me or anyone else won’t help.  God wants to make good movies, so even if you believe he gave this to you, you still have to write it well, develop it, prep it – and go through all the normal motions like every other good project.  I’ve seen no evidence that God honors short cuts.

1.   If I could just have an appointment with you…
See #9 and #3.  If you saw a typical day in my schedule, you’d pass out.  Between arguing with various clients, studios, and networks, dealing with current projects, juggling egos, running my own company, balancing budgets (multiple), and trying to be a family man, I don’t come up for air very often.  It’s not arrogance, it’s reality.  Chances are, you won’t get an appointment with Steven Spielberg, Ralph Winter, Mel Gibson, Scott Derrickson, Quinton Tarantino, or Tony Scott either.  Get over it.  Develop your career plan by meeting with the people on your track, with your career velocity, and at your level.  You move up by networking – starting with those at your level and moving out from there – not by making huge leaps.

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  1. Your 10 REALLY BAD IDEAS ABOUT MAKING MOVIES remind me of the process of change I went through in having to learn these lessons the hard way.  When I taught at USC film school, Jeffrey Katzenberg was a guest and he made it clear–there are many doors into Hollywood, however it is up to you to find that door that opens and once it does, keep your foot in it so it doesn't close all the way.  Make your way to the next inner door.  It may sound a little cliché and it may sound a little like Eastern philosophy but what is important is if you have a purpose and your purpose is to make an impact through movies, then search for that way in and trust that God is leading.  I have heard so many people say they know so and so, they have an investor, they know an actor, they have the greatest story ever told, or they have the next Passion of the Christ.  Start with this–I believe so much in my project that I am making a movie, period!  When you have done that one thing, with a script that has gone through the fire of several re-writes and critiques, you will get my respect, and maybe even the attention of those people who will let you tell more great stories theatrically, online, and on TV. 

  2. Great stuff. I still remember your advice; write five screenplays then pick the best one.

    Then keep writing.

  3. So, I guess you're saying you don't wanna read my screenplay, huh?

    Seriously, Phil, thank you for giving us principles that apply in a cross-disciplinary fashion to all media-related endeavors.   

  4. I agree with Cynthia's comment, that the principles apply across all media.  I'm thinking in particular of the Christian segment of the music business.  If the "God told me…", "My church worship team really likes my songs…", "Can you hook me up with Matt Bronleewe?" wannabes understood the nature of the business culture, that the 'Christian' side of the business is essentially no different than the 'secular', they'd run the other way in horror.  The consumerist nature of the Christian subculture perpetuates the myth of what success is and how to obtain it.  Be real.  Learn what the business is about.  If you pursue it, be prepared to yield control and stay on the ride until it throws you off or you make it to the end.  Above all, make good art.  Then make it better.  If a commercial avenue intersects your path, weigh the options.  But give up the quest for significance and be faithful to the calling where God has you this day.       

  5. For anyone who was offended by #6, have you actually tried to write a screenplay?  It's tough, man!  Really tough.   

    I attended the Act One month long writer's program last summer, and it was a fantastic introduction to the world of professional writing in Hollywood.  Since then, I've been receiving my continuing education for free thanks to my ipod.  Go to itunes and search for screenwriting, and you have access to some awesome podcasts.  My favorites are "On The Page", "Creative Screenwriting", and "Sam and Jim go to Hollywood".  Those three podcasts alone give you a WEALTH of knowledge.

    And if you aren't in Hollywood, pray for the Christians who are in the mission field of Hollywood.  In many ways they have a tougher mission field than many overseas mission workers. 

    Great post, Phil! 

  6. Some of this stuff can be difficult for people to agree with but it's accurate. Not to say that it's impossible to get a major break, be at the right place at the right time, etc; but you cannot rely on these to happen. Be optimistic – but realistic.

    Also, I thinks it's important that when taking advice (especially about the film industry), to remember that everyone has a different set of skills, strengths, resources, connections, and experiences that they have to work with. It's up to them to know when an opportunity presents itself and how to take advantage of it. 

    I especially like the comment that you should network with people on your own level. Many of the successful filmmakers started working together before they had really made names for themselves. However, I will always attempt to meet or introduce myself when appropriate. Just make sure you have something good to say or ask. I find when you are humble, honest, and eager, many people are excited and eager to give you advice and direction. 

    Phil – Thank you for being a continuous source of wisdom and inspiration. I cannot count the number of times that your words have helped me make successful decisions.

    Paul T. 

  7. I should mention, btw, that the podcasts I mentioned are totally secular.  The language and conversation can sometimes be pretty raw, which shouldn't be a big surprise.  But the information they give about the practical side of the craft and business of screenwriting is pretty amazing.

  8. Thank you Phil for your wonderfully blunt wisdom.  I know it is sometimes hard for people trying to break into the biz to understand that getting a movie made is NOT just done by pressing a crumpled screenplay into the hands of someone you meet at a conference.  I never want to crush anyone's dream but the reality is this business is tough and the people who have scratched and clawed their way to where ever they are are  VERY busy still scratching and clawing.  I have had many people approach me with projects that God has told them to give to me.  Unfortunately He didn't bother to tell me as well.  This is a relationship business but that doesn't mean that every relationship will be able to open up THE door that one might need opened.  I think if someone really wants to get a movie made then what they need to do is 1. Hone their craft. 2. Get blunt, merciless criticism and dive back in and keep working on that screenplay, etc. 3. Figure out what the market wants by getting up to date with what is going on in the world as well as in television and film. 4. Put a new spin, a fresh twist on what ever that is and then write it. 5. Meet lots of people, pay attention to what they have to say. 6. Be willing to work in all areas of the business no matter how lowly while waiting for your masterpiece to be discovered. 7. Repeat steps 1-6 for at least 10 years. 8. If nothing has happened by year ten repeat steps 1-6 for 10 more years. 9.  If you still haven't gotten your career going…. marry someone wealthy. 10. If step nine is not an option go back to school and become a lawyer.




  9. Re Screenwriting – I've been finding it useful to read as many produced screenplays as possible. I also subscribe to the podcasts for great interviews of current A-list writers.

  10. As far as getting your work looked at or produced (screen plays), if you are not in Hollywood, are the rules the same?  And should you have an agent to represent you?

  11. All of your points are valid and hit the mark.  My only additions would be:

    1)  Just because you have a scene in the film shot in a church, or you have a church in the background of two people talking, that doesn't make it a Christian film!  I've gotten dozens of finished movies that have no redeeming value whatsoever, but because they pray at dinner one time, or have someone wear a cross around their neck, "Then it's a perfect film for a Christian audience!"   The concept is that the faith based audience is so under served, that they will buy anything.  A secular audience hates this film, so let's market it to the Christians!!

    2)  On the flipside, just because you have a good message, or even have one of your characters get saved and recite the sinners prayer, that doesn't make it a good movie!  There are times that individuals mix an enthusiasm for the Gospel, with inexperienced talent, and while I applaud the effort, the results can be disastrous.  Again, this falls into the same mindset that "Christians will buy anything, if it's targeted at them."  This probably cross qualifies into all forms of media, (Music, Video Games, Books, Art, etc.) not just films.

    Trust me, Christians don't have "exclusivity" on bad films, there are millions of them out there and more to come.  But what I get excited about is the bar is being raised, and "faith based" projects are getting better and more abundant.  The cost of production equipment continues to go down, now what's important is a good script, with a positive message, produced with talented and experienced people, who know what they're doing.  Like you said, there are no shortcuts, and hard work will be evident in the finished product.   

  12. Great insight! Good job Phil, Peggy, and Paul Jr.

     I think you have to look beyond the idea of just "making a movie" and think "career," because that is how long it's going to take!

     And to build a career, I believe you mainly need two things:

     I. Commit yourself to excellence of person (constantly knowing/improving yourself and building good relationships).
     II. Commit yourself to excellence of craft and trade (it's amazing how rare this is).

     I cannot tell you how many talented people I know who are unable to communicate/work with others and are therefore severely limited in their careers. And then there are people who can communicate but have no real craft and falter when their words/relationships give them opportunity.

     The most successful people I know are the ones who have mastered both. They are also the people who stick around the longest..

  13. Wow – I completely agree with this, especially 4 and 2. Even if your film is absolutely brilliant, if you describe it to me as “wholesome” I will run a mile. And the “God told me you are to produce this” argument always gets a similar reaction.

  14. I would add an 11th reason.  This film will win souls for Christ.  That would be the Holy Spirit's job.  A film is just a seed, not an altar call.

  15. Thanks for reminding us of these Phil.  I wrote these down when Ralph Winter & Susan Zepeda Cagan humbly & helpfully gave these points at Biola a couple years ago and have emailed out my notes & referenced them often.  Wise advise!  Good to hear the thoughts from you working Producers!  Many thanks!

  16. Great advice Phil…..   I bet someone asked you to read his or her script in the last week. 🙂

    Having just completed my first independent feature, I thought I'd share a couple of thoughts.

    –  All lights will never be green as you begin your journey, you have to start sometime.  I had a couple of comedy scripts sitting on the shelf for 7 years.  Constantly polishing and tweaking.  Not until I had 5 friends hold me accountable and setting a start date did the process begin.  Interestingly, it wasn't either of the two scripts we produced.  Action caused a different script to be written.

     Had I never produced my first feature, warts and all, I wouldn't be ready to produce my second or third.  It was like a big mountain in front of me that I could look back on and say, "wow, we did it".

    – Not having a 'known' actor shouldn't stop you from producing a compelling story.  It made it more difficult in talking with distributors but not impossible.  They were interested in the film because of the compelling story.  That said, I would never turn down using a known talent had I the opportunity or funding.  I just didn't want it to be an excuse for not starting.

    –  It doesn't have to be a Christian film to reach people.  Only a production assistant, a grip and myself were Christians from the 32-member crew.  The crew noticed a difference and on more than one occasion said, "there's something different about this set".  Actions speak louder than the best sermon.

    Phil, thanks for being a wealth of knowledge and keeping your finger on the pulse of current information and technology.  I owe a lot to you.


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  17. Thanks for the thoughts, but I disagree on the idea that you should only network with people at your level.  All the great career breakthroughs I have had have occured when I worked with people who had the power to say yes.  I did produce something with people at my same level, but nothing came of it, and also, because they were new, the quality didn't turn out so good.  I would say network with people at your level for support, but continue to try to reach people higher up. 

  18. What movies has Phil Cooke made anyway? He acts like he's Steven Spielberg and seems very arrogant without reason to me.

  19. By the looks of the rest of the comments, you seem the one who's out of touch. Speaking truth isn't about arrogance, it's about honesty, and I'm grateful Phil has the guts to be honest.  He's one of the few in this business..

  20. As blunt as this was, I found it very encouraging. I'm in the beginning stages of a MOTW that SEEMS like it's going to get greenlit on one of the big four. It is my first project, and I'm scared it will fail…even more scared it might succeed! But I think, reading this, we're on the right track.

  21. Thanks, Phil!

    Gut-checking honesty might not be what anyone wants to hear, but it's always exactly what we need to hear! Producing a movie is a lot different than producing a church sermon illustration. In my very short experience, the "spiritual" side in film production is depending on God to carry you through – when you just can't go on! If "God told me to make this movie"then he'll equip me to do it – not Phil, not George Lucas, not Mel Gibson. If He called you to do it, then do it with all your heart – And He will bless your efforts. The blessing may not be what you want… but then again, that leads back to questioning why you want to make it in the first place.

  22. I’ve only heard your name from a few folks in LA, but wow what a terrible article laced with cynicism and ego all coming from a purported preacher who’s bio has more exaggerations than a B-movie DVD case.

    We get it, you don’t want to read the script of an up-and-comer. No need to spit in their face.

    We get it, you’re too important and too magnanimous to take a meeting with someone trying to make it. No need to mock them from your ivory tower.

    I bet you and countless others far more successful than you got their start through that one person gracious enough to take their meeting or that one person who took the time to read their script.

    Turn down as many of their requests you want, that’s your right, but don’t try to tell people to stop trying to get impossible meetings and quit trying to reach the people they admire, that’s their right.

    It might slightly inconvenience the great and mighty producers like Phil Cooke, but it’s the kind of gall the film industry was and will continue to be built on.

    1. Thanks for commenting Adam. Always good to hear other points of view. But if you read through the other responses to the post, you’ll see that brutal honesty can be a very good thing. In the meantime, best of luck with your project…

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