By day, Film and Television Production alumnus Brandon Valencia (MFA ’17) has a steady job as a content creator for a film company. By nights and weekends, he’s a writer-director whose first feature film, ONYMOUS, is being shopped at the American Film Market (AFM). Read on to learn about his journey from writing the screenplay to getting into one of the most prestigious and competitive markets for filmmakers.
Your feature film THE ONYMOUS won Best Horror Film in 2018 at the HAUS Film Festival and now it’s going to AFM. Can you describe the process of how it got there?
We were thrilled when we were selected for the HAUS Film Festival. There we screened a first cut of the movie, and it gave us an opportunity to see what did and didn’t work. Since then, our goal was always to take ONYMOUS to AFM. I was fortunate enough to attend a few years ago. It’s a dream for every filmmaker. There are buyers and sellers from all over the world who showcase, pitch, and screen feature films.
Many directors go the festival route, and that’s fine. But my goal had been to get my film into the hands of buyers in order to sell the rights. To do that, I needed to find the right sales agent. So I went on AFM’s website and I researched every sales agency who was going to attend this year, over 100 of them. I emailed every single one of them to ask if they’d be interested in taking my film to AFM and selling it. In these emails I added the film’s poster, a link to the trailer, and our website.
Predictably, I received dozens of rejections. Many said it was too low-budget. Others said they didn’t work with our genre, or that they believed my film couldn’t turn a profit. But I didn’t let the rejections stop me. I kept emailing every sales agency. Three companies expressed interest, but we couldn’t agree to terms for a deal. Finally, a fourth offer from Sunscope Entertainment came through. We’ve had an incredible working relationship so far.
What do you hope to accomplish at AFM?
Our goal is simple: Sell ONYMOUS to a studio, production company, streaming service or financier, who believes in our vision and the potential of the film. My brother Byron was the film’s producer, and he and I believe it has franchise potential. With the right studio partner, we can fund and create a remake with a much larger budget. AFM is the perfect place to achieve that goal. Horror-thrillers are extremely profitable. They’re cheap to make, and with the right team, you can create a project that has mass appeal. Hopefully, we’ll meet buyers who can see that and are willing to invest in it.
You hired a lot of your former classmates to help you make your film. Do you think that made for a stronger finished product because you knew them already?
Absolutely. My cast and crew consisted of not only classmates from LMU SFTV, but also other people I’d worked with previously. We didn’t have the budget to hire a large crew, so I had to depend on people I trusted to get the job done. One of the benefits of having my classmates helping me was that there was always a sense of camaraderie. They were patient with me from beginning to end. Going to film school is a unique experience, and my classmates and I have a strong bond. We often work on each others’ projects and we’re always supporting one another.
How do you balance your day job with creative pursuits you do on the side?
It’s all about time management. Like most people, I have a 9-to-5, 40 hours a week job. But as soon as I come home, I eat dinner and work on my project. I did that when I was writing ONYMOUS and I did the same when I was editing it. Now as soon as I get home from work, I’m trying to market the film by designing posters, creating artwork, things like that. I don’t have the budget to hire a marketing agency so I have to do it myself. It all comes down to how you manage your time—scheduling and disciplining yourself. Spending an hour or two a day to work on your creative projects will help you in the long run.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to folks who want to make their own feature films?
Don’t give up. The journey will be long, expensive, and excruciating, but don’t give up. For reference, I started writing ONYMOUS in fall 2017. I’ve been working nonstop on this project for the past two years, and yet we’re just beginning, which is insane. I’ve had many sleepless, broke, and depressing nights, but the hard part hasn’t even started yet. Even if you have a full-time job, before you go to bed, write a few pages of that script, edit a few scenes of your movie. I’ve had a full-time job since I started writing and filming ONYMOUS, which is why we shot only on weekends. Whatever struggles you have, I’ve lived them. If I can take my little film to AFM, so can you. You just have to keep going no matter how painful it seems. There have been countless nights where I debated whether to just cut my losses and upload the movie on YouTube. But when I saw my film on the big screen at the HAUS Film Festival, and I heard people screaming at the jump-scares and applauding at the end, I felt like I could fly. It made all of those hard nights totally worth it. I’d encourage every writer and director to create something of their own and put it out there. Don’t let problems stop you from developing the imagination you’ve had since you were a child. That kid is still in you.