When Your Movie Is Still Happening, But It’s “On Hold” (and 16 other labels for various stages of filmmaking limbo)

When Your Movie Is Still Happening, But It’s “On Hold” (and 16 other labels for various stages of filmmaking limbo)

It’s ok to be in process a long time, but ‘where’ are you in the process?

It happened to me this year. It happened to me last year. It happens to me a few times EVERY year, actually. So, how do we talk about it? We label it: “On Hold.” But it doesn’t help describe what it means, so here are some labels to try out and see if they work:

“My movie was shelved”

So, your movie is sitting still in ANY stage of pre-through-post and it is not being addressed, not in a stack to tackle, and not in process. It is sitting out a year or so and will be dusted off for consideration to process in the future. I have several features in this stage. This is an indefinite window of a script you never intend to finish, a movie that is 30% shot with no future for various reasons, or a movie that will never come out for legal reasons. This is the reality of the film business. And it’s ok. Having films that are shelved is not a negative judgement, it is a truthful reality that you work in entertainment.

“My movie is on hold”

So, your movie is intending to move forward, but there is an obstacle or barrier that’ll keep it indefinitely in a certain pile on the desk or in a file until ….

That means there is an intended future. But that future is not today.

“My movie is on glacial hold”

So, your movie has a timeline to its hold. That timeline is either til the end of the year for tax reasons, until your financier is done with their personal project, or while something is being done to prepare for the film to go back into process. A glacial hold is not the same as a hold because there is an expectation that a switch being flipped is inevitable through time or obstacle, not a decision to re-open a film in process. Something will ‘happen’ and the film will be in process, but that glacial happening is based on something as cyclical as weather (or taxation).

“My movie is in development”

So, your movie is in the necessary processes that could be anywhere from early treatment talks to lawyers drawing up agreements to final casting attachment negotiations before greenlight. Your movie is in any stage before production – before 80% of the production funds have hit the account.

“We’re pitching”

That means your project is in a phase of packaging where the decision-making-team are discussing this project (at any stage) with potential financiers, distributors, or casting. Pitching means a package is being presented to potential collaborators, partners, or vendors. It’s a long process that involves meetings and carefully crafted emails. This is when a sales team could do their best work.

“We’re greenlit”

So, your financier or financing studio has SIGNED paperwork to drop at least 80% of the production budget into a set-up and ready-to-go established bank account. Greenlit is not a state of mind, it is a truly specific moment when the train can move and the team has permission to turn on the damn machine.

“We’re in pre-production”

So, your movie has set a date and is moving forward to create all the necessary documents, plans, and processes to set up a successful production. All the plans are laid in this time, but now they are real plans and not just ‘ideas’ of plans. This is generally a 3 week min to 6 month max time period. I like to aim for 6-12 weeks for pre-production.

And, of course, a few more options for after principal photography…

“We’re in post”

So, your movie is in the can and all the pieces are being put together to make the movie into a … movie. Nice work! This can be a 3 month experience for a TV movie or a 3 year experience for an independent film – that is short on funds. Or, in my case, I have been in post for 9 years before on a movie… anything goes.

“We’re in glacial post”

So, your movie is out of money, but it’s coming together with blood, sweat, and favors. Gotcha. We’ve all been there.

“We’re testing”

So, your movie is in the editing phase when the content, flow, and everything is being re-negotiated for a stronger piece of art or a stronger product for market. You’re maybe pitching unfinished or you’re just trying to fix some pacing. Maybe you are missing the music that brings a whole section together or having a hard time hitting the theme hard enough.

“We’re submitting to fests”

So, your movie is basically done enough to hit some deadline that means a lot to you! Don’t submit it before it’s done done done. I’m serious, don’t. It’s better to waste a year. Don’t chase that world premiere status. Just wait til the movie is finished. You don’t know how the jury side works, but putting your best foot forward in ANY major fest is better than getting a 98% finished project rejected from your top pic. If you premiere your best work anywhere else, it CAN be boosted to go to other festivals you didn’t even apply to – anything is possible with your 100% best movie in the circuit.

“We’re shopping” or “We’re going to markets”

So, your movie hasn’t landed distribution, but you’re looking for a partner to bring it to release. Go to markets. Take your time. Get out there and meet people. Your finished movie isn’t the only think going to markets, YOU are the commodity that is being shopped. Show up to markets ready to talk about your next project, this one is ready to go, but it is just getting you in the door to talk about the future. Use it.

“We’re in ‘talks'”

So, your movie has interest, but it is not settled. That’s ok. Take your time to do research, talk to other producers who have worked with them and really set your expectations.

“We’re in negotiations”

So, your movie is ready, but you have a 42 page contract in front of you and it’s not great. That’s ok. You’ll figure it out.

“We’re in delivery”

So, your movie is being delivered to QC (Quality Control) and you’re googling what title clearances are. Just ask other filmmakers for what they did and try to lean on the distributor’s legal department or delivery person – they want to help you. Listen to their advice and don’t be afraid to hop on the phone with them to talk out what you don’t understand.

“We’re starting our PR push”

So, your movie is ready to go, but you have a lot of work to do regarding release plan for intra-industry publicity and then direct-to-consumer advertising.

“We’re awaiting a release date” or “We have a release window”

So, your movie has been delivered and you are in the waiting room to find out more. Relish this moment. Enjoy the calm before the storm. And maybe update your photos/online presence/reel/everything in the meantime.

I’ve been in each of these stages many times. Where are you at today with your many projects?

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