Film Financing and Production with Ben Yennie

by Dominica Malcolm

The production-focused Ben Yennie will be teaching the second Bay Area Film Mixer Workshop, “The Lean Filmmaker,” at 12noon on April 30th, at Ninth St Independent Film Center. Tickets are available at Eventbrite. You can also pick up his book, The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and check out his blog.

Ben kindly answered a few production related questions for me, explaining why it’s valuable to learn about these topics no matter what your role in the film industry is.

DM: What are some of the topics you’ll be covering for your Lean Filmmaker workshop?

BY: If you want a direct answer, take a look at the Eventbrite for the workshop, many of the direct benefits are outlined there. I am very much about practical application. But really, there’s a lot more to this workshop than immediate practical application.

We all know world of content creation and particularly of content distribution has been completely revolutionized over the past 10 to 15 years. This is especially true for filmmaking and video production, but the same can be said all across the entertainment industry. Tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Apple have revolutionized how artists distribute and how consumers imbibe creative content.

What most do not realize is the underlying process for marketing content, selling content, and building a business in any industry that is primarily driven by content has remained largely unchanged during that time. Sure, there’s a new face on it. Platforms come and go, styles and genres come in and out of fashion, and the best suited distribution medium changes every few years. However the tried and true methods of developing a community that leads to building a larger audience hasn’t changed that much since the days of David Bowie, The Police, and Dirty Harry.

So this workshop is less about how to use Adwords, Facebook boosts, and mailing lists, but rather developing your personal brand, reputation, and creative voice can inform and enhance those decisions. Effectively using social media is more about building your brand and building a relationship with your fan base than it is knowing the current hot platform. The how is the platform you’ll use, the why is the methodology and brand you’ve built.

DM: Aside from producers, who can benefit from learning about film finance, marketing, and distribution?

BY: Everyone can benefit from learning about the business side of film. Like it or not, if you’re in the film industry, unless you’re working within the confines of the studio system (and sometimes even then) you’re building a business.

An actor needs to know how best to brand themselves in order to find work. They need to develop a network of people doing other jobs in order to be able to find work, and they need to develop their social media presence to be more attractive to producers. Along the way, they can learn to sell other merchandise once they have a big enough following. Why do you think the Olson Twins are in fashion now?

A DP or any below the line crew needs to know where their next gig is coming from. That generally requires a strong professional network. Sure, you may be part of a small production company, but somebody’s job had better be finding work and maintaining client relationships.

Regarding finance, every member of the team should have some idea as to what drives investors, and how films get funded. Understanding the process will give you a much deeper respect of it, and a much greater value on set. If you have a basic understanding of film financing and how it works, you can better negotiate with producers, or at least understand the ties that often bind their hands when working within the confines of a very limited budget.

For more information, I recommend this blog I wrote for Producer Foundry called Understanding money.

DM: What is one tip filmmakers can use to reduce costs on projects here?

BY: Well, this is going to seem self serving, but ProductionNext is one of the best ways I know. It makes everything easier to track, keeps all your projects in one place, and takes a lot of the pain out of production coordination. The closed beta is also free.

Apart from that, brand integration is incredibly useful here. It’s quite easy to get brands to give you things you need in order to keep your budget low. In fact, I wrote a blog on it so filmmakers can find out the basics of looking for product placement. Read it here!

DM: Where do you see film financing coming from in the future, particularly in the SF Bay Area?

BY: I see the best path forward for filmmakers as focusing more on generating revenue from projects than seeking financing for them.

While there is space for an interesting albeit existential discussion as to what the role of institutional (Venture Capital) financing would have on film finance, it’s a difficult market to attract VCs due to the low returns when compared to tech companies. In the interest of brevity, I suggest you read the blog I wrote called Why Film Needs Venture Capital. If you’d like to know more about this potential avenue for financing film.

Angels are difficult to court here in the Bay Area. There are a lot of very strong and likely more lucrative investments to be had here. So you’ll need to sell them on more than your potential revenue. You’ll need to be able to paint a picture of the film in their head, and make them feel like they just have to be involved. Passion is a prerequisite for this, but it’s far from the only thing you need. If you’d like an idea as to what it takes, it might not be a bad idea to check this out: The 12 Slides You Need in Your Indie Film Investment Deck.

No matter what sort of financing you’re seeking, you’re going to prove that you have the ability to go to market. This means having community and audience engagement. The Lean Filmmaker workshop will help you learn how to develop that base and build an engaged audience. I know every filmmaker hates to hear it, but getting some money in via crowdfunding proves your worth to investors. It proves people are willing to pay for your content.

Although, once you get a following, brand integration can be a good financing strategy, but you need a large following, and the money isn’t as good as you would think it is.

DM: Are there some mistakes you see first time filmmakers making that can and should be easily avoided?

BY: I could write a book on common filmmaking mistakes, but I’m pretty sure that’s been covered. I’ll try to stay away from the obvious standards like plan adequately, etc.

First, you’ve GOT to pay attention to all your rights, and keep them in one place you can turn over to a distributor. License a song for that “up and coming” band you know by buying them a case of Pabst and a handle of Jack Daniels? Guess what, you need a paper trail on that (put $45.99 in consumables on the compensation part of the form). You’ve got to keep track of every release, and make sure you don’t use anything you don’t have the rights to. It’s a bit tedious, but there are software solutions to help *COUGH* *High five for shameless plugs!*

Also, whenever possible only shoot your film in one language. It makes international dubbing and subbing much easier. English is still the best. I’ve had sales agents ask for an English dub just because it sells better to China than Spanish does. Additionally, when you enter post, MAKE SURE you follow proper procedures. Editing your dialogue, music, and effects on separate tracks that are easy to turn off and on make a world of difference. That, and separate video tracks for subtitles and any text that shows up on screen (with the possible exception of the opening credits) make international sales much easier. In fact, it may not be possible without it.

If Ben Yennie sounds like the kind of person you want to learn more from, get your tickets to his Lean Filmmaker workshop on Eventbrite.

Ben Yennie headshot

Ben founded, in 2014, an independent film producer’s representation company. The company was officially launched with the book The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Success on No Budget, which has been used as a textbook in ten film schools. Utilizing existing connections and a powerful knack for networking, he’s worked with sales agents to sell, in 2015, nine feature-length films to Starz and other national and international media outlets, scoring a 100% offer rate for his clients and 5 films selling at Cannes 2016. He’s also worked as a tech executive focusing on Sales and Business Development in two separate companies, one of which he cofounded. <ProductionNext>

Additionally, Ben is the founder of Producer Foundry, a business school for independent film, has hosted more than 75 events on Film Finance, Marketing, and distribution. Formerly, Ben founded Global Film Ventures, served as an advisor to the Film Angels, and ran the San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles chapters of the institute for international film finance.

Keep up with Ben
Buy his book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Follow him on Twitter, like Ben and Producer Foundry on Facebook, and connect on LinkedIn.

Training with Veteran Actor Jeffrey Weissman

by Dominica Malcolm

Jeffrey Weissman is one of the Bay Area’s top working actors, who gives back to the community with genuine support while mentoring other actors in the Bay Area. I’ve been training with him since January 2016, and found that my confidence for memorizing lines and attending auditions, both with and without cold readings, increased immensely. I’ve learned how important it is to focus more on putting in the time to build that confidence and being myself than it is to land the role in any given audition. Because whilst you may not be right for that role, if you come across as someone the casting people like, they will remember you and likely consider you for other roles in the future.

The Bay Area Film Mixer is offering a number of workshops with Jeffrey Weissman over the coming months, on very specific topics. The first workshop is “Working On Set” at 12noon on Saturday 16th April at Ninth St Independent Film Center, and tickets are available on Eventbrite.

You can also audit or sign up to one of his weekly classes, held in Sausalito on Tuesdays, 11am-2pm and 7pm-10pm (after audit session, 8 week minimum commitment required). If you’re interested in this class, please email Jeffrey at

Let me share with you some words of wisdom from Jeffrey, so you can discover for yourself if he has the background you would be interested in learning from.

DM: What are the primary skills actors develop while working with you?

JW: I teach a varied set of skills for the Bay Area Film Mixer group, with the main focus on the actor’s big three: cold reading, scene study, and working on set. Ingredients such as audition monologues, using intuition, theater games, scene beats, and developing characters using text and action are included. I’ll also do a bit of mentoring about the business, since I’ve been in show biz for most of my life. I love working with the serious actors that want to do great work, instead of just passable or mediocre work. I use my 40+ years acting experience on stage and film combined with my studies with many master teachers.

DM: Tell me a bit about your background, with who and what has influenced your acting and what you teach.

JW: I was raised in in Los Angeles, and growing up there, I had friends who’s parents were in the industry, and even friends who acted on TV and film. My parents had many industry friends, and some were celebrities. I’d meet them and sometimes get advice, because I knew pretty early on I wanted to be an actor. I met Omar Sharif, Lorne Green, Don Adams and other stars at my Dad’s club, and I when I’d see them on the big screen or TV, it made it seem like a reachable goal to work in those mediums to me. I’d visit shoots when they were on location in my neighborhood, and speak with the actors about their work, and I’d get advice.

After High School, I worked doing some waiver background in some major films (The Rose, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, FM, Fastbreak, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, etc), and even though it is very exciting to be on a major studio lot and sets, ultimately it is unfulfilling for an actor that wants to tell stories, and I was told by a top casting director that no one is going to take me (or anyone) seriously, unless you get great training. So I set my sights on training at the American Conservatory Theater, and I headed to San Francisco. I was accepted to the Summer Training Intensive in ’81, and while I was continuing my intermediate studies at SFSU for my MFA, I fell into an opportunity to audition for a big Hollywood feature. The director and casting director both liked my talent, and they decided to screen test me for the lead in a film called ‘The Genius’, (later re-named ‘War Games’). An agent from William Morris’s New York office had heard about me from the director, and she offered to represent me. I had to move back to LA right away, and I began working in co-star roles a few months later.

I had studied hard at ACT & SFSU, and before I left LA I had been studying elements of ‘the Method’ from Jackie Benton. When I returned to LA, I re-united with Jackie, and in the four years I had been gone, she had been studying with Charles Conrad, and had thrown all of the sensory & emotional recall, private moment, etc out the window in favor of the Meisner based work that I carry on teaching. Still keeping the relaxation techniques from Strasberg.

I also studied Comedy at the Harvey Lembeck Studios with Bill Hudnut, and another scene study class with Peter Flood. Both of those classes had me working along side many stars and up and coming talents that are now stars. I also worked with several comedy troupes, with members that trained extensively with Groundlings during the Phil Hartman years, and then Keith Johnstone trained performers. My ‘Flying Penguins’ troupe, became the core of the newly formed Los Angeles Theater Sports, which boasted many great talents that went on to amazing writing careers and on screen. LATS continues now as ‘Impro’ and is consistently in the top picks by LA critics for their completely improvised theme shows based in several different genres, i.e. Sondheim, Shakespeare, Williams, Twilight Zone, Jane Austen, etc.

I have taught at San Francisco School of Digital Film Making, Dominican University, Ruth Azawa San Francisco School of the Arts, Education Unlimited at UC Berkeley, and I’ve coached privately, with several of my students performing in shows touring internationally. I currently teach film technique in Sausalito and Improvisation at Sonoma State University.

DM: Are there any books you recommend for actors?

JW: My library has 50+ books on acting, and/or relate to storytelling.

Some of the top acting books are:
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
Sanford Meisner on Acting by Meisner & Doug Longwell
Respect for Acting by Uta Hagan
Stella Adler – The Art of Acting by Howard Kissel
Acting In Film by Michael Caine
Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff
On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov
The Way of Acting: The Theatre Writings of Tadashi Suzuki
A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previtio, Scott Zigler
Towards a Poor Theatre by Jerzy Grotowski
An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski by Stephen Wangh
The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition by Anne Bogart & Tina Landau
The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre by Jacques Lecoq
A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art in Theatre by Anne Bogart
The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook (1, 2 & 3) by Larry Silverberg and Horton Foote
Impro & Impro for Storytellers both by Keith Johnstone
Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation by Del Close
Art by Committee: A Guide to Advanced Improvisation by Charna Halpern
Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser
A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology by Euginio Barba & Nicola Savarese
Playing to the Camera: Film Actors Discuss Their Craft edited by Bert Cardullo, Harry Geduld, Ronald Gottesman, Leigh Woods
Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie (1 & 2) by Christopher Kenworthy

DM: What’s one piece of advice you would like to impart on actors who are wanting to dive into the film industry?

JW: Study. Preferably with me.

One piece of advice is impossible to chose. If you choose to pursue this crazy industry, you have to go in to it with your eyes open, and not blinded by a dream of stardom and financial reward (Those are by products of hard work, perseverance, teamwork, connections, opportunity and good timing). The hard work, that never really stops. You must constantly update your materials, and hone your craft. You need to frame your thinking into seeing yourself as an instrument and a product. You learn to play your instrument like a musician does, by practicing and getting the notes, rhythms and melodies. You manage marketing your talent, since you are the product, and it is imperative that you understand that it is very personal working with your ego and emotions in a very impersonal business. Rejection is a fact of the biz, and you cannot take it personally.

The first of the three elements of the craft is auditioning; go in, be brilliant and get out. Go on to the next audition and don’t look back. Hone your work, do your homework, be prepared so when you get into the audition room you do your work focused and well. Be friendly, relaxed and not ‘needy’, showing that you are easy to get along with and you can take direction. Then, when you get into rehearsal, know how to collaborate, and generate authenticity in each beat. Make the best possible action choices for each moment. Make connections on every level, from inferred text, environmental, character relationships, history, blocking with the camera and active listening.

What are a couple of the highlights from your acting career?

I have so many it’s difficult to choose a couple. I’m thrilled at being a team member on great films. Working with legendary directors: George Miller, Clint Eastwood, Louis Malle, Robert Zemeckis, Catherine Hardwicke, Amy Hekerling, Oz Scott, among others. I loved watching cinematographers and cameramen, Alan Daveau, Bruce Surtees, Garrett Brown, Dean Cundey, et al, find their shots and collaborate with their directors, using cutting edge technologies and effects. Becoming collaborators and often friends with stars and celebrities is extremely exciting. Traveling the world to shoot, and to appear in support of films, and then to meet fans at conventions make me very happy.

I have dozens of fun stories from location shoots, studio shoots, fancons, film, Television, Commercial, Industrial stage, even party work… but that should be another blog, perhaps a sequel?

Does Jeffrey sound like the kind of teacher you want to work with? Then sign up for his first Bay Area Film Mixer workshop “Working On Set” at Eventbrite. We’ll see you ready to start class at 12noon on Saturday 16th April at Ninth St Independent Film Center!

Jeffrey Weissman headshot
Jeffrey Weissman is an acting vet with over 100 stage roles and over 50 film and television roles under his belt, including a role in two of the biggest grossing sequels of all time, playing George McFly, co-staring with Michael J Fox & Lea Thompson in Back to the Future II & III. He also co-stars with Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider. His first film co-star role is with John Lithgow in Twilight Zone the Movie.

More recently his roles in indie films, include playing Benny, a depressed, epileptic widower, turned avenging angel in Savior of None, and he plays an OCD winemaker in the hilarious mockumentary Corked!. Other recent films include Nobody’s Laughing and Slapdash, both shot in San Francisco. And he plays a time traveling menace in the award winning sci-fi pilot, The Traveler (Gold at 2016 International Independent Film Awards).

On television, he guest starred on The Man Show, Saved By The Bell, Diagnosis Murder, Scarecrow & Mrs King, Max Headroom and on a host of other shows and commercials.

Jeffrey writes, directs, consults, and produces live entertainment, stage shows, TV and films. Jeffrey studied at the American Conservatory Theater and San Francisco State University, and he currently teaches privately, and publicly he’s teaching film acting in Sausalito and Improvisation at Sonoma State University.

For full credits, check out Jeffrey on imdb.