When it comes to indie movies, Wayne Shipley has already been there and done that. But he’s doing it again. And he thinks the second time around is going to be even better.
Shipley, a retired Anne Arundel County schoolteacher, spent 30 years teaching English and was notable for his love of Shakespeare and John Wayne’s swagger on the big screen; in 2007, he melded their disparate spirits into the screenplay of his first independently-produced movie, “Come Hell or High Water,” which he self-financed for $100,000, produced and then had distributed.
By 2010, Shipley broke even on his maiden voyage. But today, with lessons learned during that by-and-largely successful first go ’round, Shipley is moving toward wrapping production on his second western, “Day of the Gun” — “My nod to Lady Macbeth,” he said, which is set in 1890s Montana — which is in production on Shipley Farm in Jessup.
Now armed with experience and an investment plan that spares him of most production costs, he and his crew are slated to wrap by spring, then start promoting the film and figuring out new avenues for distribution.
Some of Shipley’s maturation as a producer is evident in the new film’s $125,000 budget, most of which is being footed by investors who have already paid $2,500 each for 21 of 45 available shares (with the production company, One-Eyed Horse Productions, holding five).
Both films are what the Screen Actors Guild defines as “ultra-low budget.” With most of the actors volunteers, “Day of the Gun” is mainly a labor a love, as is evidenced by the cast and crew’s appreciation of Shipley, his vision, his persistence and the shared goal.
“I learned a lot from the first experience,” he said, notably what methods he didn’t want to employ to get the film in front of western movie buffs. “After the production wrapped, I sold the rights for a period of time to a distributor, which I’m going to try to steer away from this time.”
His problem was — surprise — getting paid.
“To my knowledge, there is no real way to track royalties, so it’s hard to tell what’s yours in the end,” Shipley said, “so I’ll avoid the conventional form of distribution this time.”
His plan is to self-distribute, while considering the numerous options that are available to promote a film in today’s world. “There are so many ways to go,” he said. “You can do it yourself via web sites like Amazon and the like and four-wall it by renting theaters. We already have several theaters lined up for next summer.”
That was part of the approach with the first film “to a smaller degree. We showed it at Hagerstown, sold-out a three-nighter at the (now defunct) Westview Cinemas on Route 40 West in Catonsville and then screened it four times in the arts district in Bryn Mawr, Pa.”
This time, however, Shipley is considering more options. He already has a web site, a DVD and a docu-teaser on YouTube, and has more Net-centric ideas. “Rich Cutting, an actor/acting coach/cinematographer of our team, has a web series on YouTube called ‘Milgram and the Fastwalkers.’ So we may go that route when we’re done.
“But the main thing,” he said, “is that the promotion comes down to effective word-of-mouth.”
Shipley is on the right track with “Day of the Gun,” said Shama Kabani, CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a social media and digital PR firm based in Dallas.
“Marketing indie films today is so much easier than it’s ever been before — if your product is good,” said Kabani, noting investment platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, “where you can also get people involved by offering them personalized incentives, like signed souvenirs or maybe even a part in the movie.”
It’s also critical, she said, to present a good web site. “That’s a must. And I highly recommend social media marketing campaigns on Facebook and on Twitter, with a hashtag, to generate followers.”
Another option would be partnering with another organization, perhaps a nonprofit. “A producer could give 10% of his revenue to the nonprofit, which would then be more inclined to share information about the movie to its audience.” Kabani said. “This is all about cross-promotional opportunities.”
She also pointed out the power of film festivals, “even the small ones, because they create a good buzz,” she said. “That can lead to a nice tipping effect, too, because one festival might see that it was featured in another, and so on.”
Like Shipley, Kabani feels that distribution “is the toughest part” of the equation, she said, “but hopefully, the festival screenings can lead to a good deal.”
Quality Is Job One
How does one become executive producer on a film? Invest $25,000 in the production, as Earl Klemm did when he bought 10 shares from Shipley.
Klemm, who met Shipley 40 years ago when Shipley was a young teacher at Linthicum’s (also defunct) Andover High School, crossed paths with him again early this year on the set of “Dangerous Deception: Tales of the Fixer,” a film by Ellicott City-based Producer Lee Doll.
“Wayne’s new story is very interesting, and I wanted to kickstart it,” said Klemm. “I was impressed with ‘Come Hell or High Water,’ and there aren’t many people in the business today who are producing westerns.”
His hope is to make the money back, “then invest it some other production with Wayne, Lee or whomever,” he said. “I think it’s good to invest in these indie filmmakers so they can get their product out.”
That’s the basic feeling of Barbara Herron, who has a bit part in “Day of the Gun” and is married to Shipley’s production designer, Craig Herron. She bought one share, which will be used to build a church on the set.
“This is a good, family-type movie, and we need more of those,” said Herron, “and this is [such] a great crew that I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve watched plenty of indie films and saw how they weren’t executed well or ran out of money, but Wayne knows how to do it right.
“He’s sticking to his budget and his plan. If I get my money back and make a little bit, great,” she said, “but I want this to be the best movie we can make.”
For now, the cast and crew is shooting while Shipley hustles to sell his remaining 20 shares. “The moment we have any receipts, the income goes right back to the 45 shareholders,” he said. “It’s a rather informal process here, and we just want to make a film with high production values and, eventually, reward the people who had faith in us.”
Part of that high production value is that, unlike “Come Hell or High Water” (which was originally titled “One-Eyed Horse”), “Day of the Gun” is being lensed with multiple cameras.
“That saves a tremendous amount of time because we garner the amount of content in one day that a Hollywood production gets in a week. Using four perspectives makes for a much more dynamic edit,” Shipley said.
And if he does go to distribution, he’ll hold on to the rights — unless he gets the proverbial deal that he can’t refuse, of course.
“We’re much wiser now,” he said, while contemplating his next moves, which may include casting a name actor in the upcoming flick or even a spin-off children’s series for one of the movie’s stars: A mule named Gracie, who appeared with actor Robert Duvall in “Get Low.”
“We didn’t do any of that last time because we didn’t have the budget,” he said, “but now we do, with a track record, to boot.”