Karen Worden and I had the privilege of attending Film Independent’s Filmmaker Forum for the second straight year. It’s easy to think that this would be a rehash of last year’s event, but Film Independent is not in the Hollywood remake business. To their credit they put on a first class event that provides attendees with cutting edge and relevant information for today’s marketplace. This has quickly become one of our favorite events of the year.
This year we attended these panels ‘Evaluate Your Project for Today’s Marketplace,’ ‘Take Advantage of Domestic and Foreign Tax Incentives,’ ‘Realize Your Vision On a Budget: Production Case Studies,’ ‘Genre Films: Case Studies,’ ‘It’s Your Turn to Pitch: Packaging and Financing Clinic,’ ‘Your Marketing Toolkit,’ & ‘Piracy: The Real Cost of Free.’ Here's the full schedule with all of the panelists http://empower.filmindependent.org/schedule/
What resonated with me this year? Let’s go into it.
1) I hate to start off by shining the light on something like this but it is something I cannot get out of my head. Without giving away the person’s name (you will have to research it), there was one panelist who pointed out that he is currently receiving unemployment checks. No big deal, right? Except that his $3 million film made $20 million at the box office opening weekend. When are these kinds of stories going to go away? All together the film made close to $60 million worldwide and the filmmaker hasn’t received a dime. It’s hard enough to make it as a filmmaker as it is, I’m not saying you have to make the filmmaker a millionaire but if you make a $3 million film and it makes that much money, shouldn’t there be enough of a kickback where you can avoid unemployment checks?
2) One carryover from last year, ‘Drama’ is still not an attractive word when selling your film. Do everything in your power to label your film anything but drama. And I am sure many would argue to make anything but a drama.
3) Film Commissions (I love what Karen wrote much better than what I had written - link)
4) Actor star power. There will always be stars, but there is a shift happening. Stars aren’t shining so bright these days. Do not think that just because you have a star in your film that it’s success is guaranteed. One panelist asked, "Who is a a movie star right now?" Once you get beyond those first ten names on the tip of your tongue, it is something to ponder.
5) Another note on actors. Now is a great time to aim high in casting. Many of these talented actors want to act. There are less opportunities for an abundance of actors. Go after the top names on your wish list, but as one panelist cautioned, make sure the project is ready to be put in front of their eyes.
6) Theatrical is becoming less important for smaller films. They can be too much a sinkhole. Don’t be sad. In the Filmmaker Forum manual handed out to each attendee, one film with a production budget of $900,000 has made almost $2 million in VOD sales as opposed to $100,000 theatrically. That’s a startling differential. Especially when you factor in how much money was probably spent to make that $100,000.
7) Don’t sign anything without a lawyer. (refer back to #1)
8) Day and Date. I wrote about this in my last blog. Matt Dentler talked a little about Ed Burns and his current release of NICE GUY JOHNNY where Ed has foregone theatrical release. He went to say that right now Ed is able to heavily promote this idea of ‘day and date’ because it is still fresh. He says in two years that will no longer be the case. My opinion is that I wouldn't be surprised to see ‘day and date’ will become the standard by this time next year.
9) Have you ever talked to a distributor before you made your film? Have you pitched your project to buyers to see what the current market may bear for your project? This is what Effie T. Brown did before making her latest film THE INHERITANCE. She got a price from distributors and she made sure that her production didn’t go over that price. It’s not a foolproof method, but how many first time filmmakers could have saved heart ache if they took this approach?
10) As I listened to producer Dean Zanuck tell the story of why a significant investor contributed to GET LOW, I couldn’t help but think of crowd-funding, just on a grander scale. Did the investor want guaranteed enormous returns? Well, that wouldn’t hurt, but he ended up investing money so that he could have a round of golf with stars Bill Murray and Lucas Black. It’s all about experiences that we can give to those who want to support us and our work.
11) Want to build an audience for your film? Identify niche groups that correspond with your film's subject matter, then seek out existing groups who service that audience. Do you do this the week before your World Premiere? No, it was emphasized to build these relationships before you roll cameras. Get these groups involved with your film right away and engage with them. Get them involved in the process and nurture the relationship. You will have advocates that will become invaluable when the time comes for you to release your film.
12) Two memorable quotes from Matt Dentler “Piracy is a scapegoat for a film that under performs” and “The DVD boom was an anomaly. It’s never going back, at least not anytime soon.”
13) The main take away from this year’s Forum is this, ‘Make Your Film at the Right Price.‘ Just because you make a film for $1 million doesn’t mean that your film is worth $1 million. You may want to take the advice of Joe Drake, head of Lionsgate, who shared these words in his keynote address, “Develop something that has extraordinary market demand, in which your contribution is essential.”