Thursday, February 18, 2010

Am I... 'A Dream Crusher?'

I am currently working on a blog about my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. But there is something else that has been on my mind for the last few days. I wanted to quickly write about it here as I am hoping that you can offer your opinion as well as your insights and related stories.

A filmmaker sent me an email asking advice on raising money for his first feature film. Though I am hardly the person to answer this question. I was humbled by his inquiry so I took the time to reply with a list of ideas and suggestions. My key point was one we all know, there is no one way. He hadn't given me his budget, so I couldn't get into specifics.

In my mind I was thinking it was probably for a lower budgeted film, under 100K. He then responded to my message with more details surrounding his film and that his budget was going to be at least $300,000. That doesn't include all of post-production and everything that comes after.

I would like to keep this one brief. But please allow to highlight some things.

1) This $300,000+ film will be this filmmaker's 1st feature film.
2) This filmmaker has a small/limited audience.
3) The post production will be extensive with compositing, matte paintings, CG airships, etc…

Once I received the details and the budget range, I informed the filmmaker that I believe before he makes this film, he should first focus on a smaller film that he can make while also building his audience.

My belief is that no filmmaker should make their first feature for more than 100K. Unless you have studio support. Or if you know some money folks who don't care whether the money is made back or not. Your movie being made is worth more to them than the money.

I believe in everyone making their film. But I am a bigger believer in making your film with the resources you have in front of you. Expand and outwork those same resources. I believe the majority of filmmakers overextend themselves on their first feature film. They find themselves straddled with debt, or are unable to recoup their money for their investors, etc.

There are so many filmmakers who are much more talented than me who no longer make films because they took on too much too soon.

There is so much I can write about here, but I would like to turn it over to you. Even if you don't have time to answer all of these, perhaps you can just give me a number for #2.

1) What would be your advice to this filmmaker?

2) What should the budget range be for a filmmaker's 1st feature film?

3) Am I... 'A Dream Crusher?'

Enlighten me.


Miles Maker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miles Maker said...

You nailed it--and considering the state of the existing film market, I wouldn't make a feature film debut over six figures unless I had $5mil or more at my disposal. The smaller your potential audience, the further you should shy away from the $100K budget because you're gonna need viable options to recoup production expenditures.

$300K is a 'danger zone' budget because you're overexposed. If things don't go your way for distribution you're fucked, and the self-distribution route is hardly an option for a $300K outlay unless your sitting on an exception to the rule--but you can't 'plan' to outperform market expectations when you set out to make your movie (although must filmmakers do). By the way, what kinda filmmaker seeks advice on the Internet about what to do with $300K anyway?

Alternatively, talent and/or P&A may fix the $300K 'danger zone' situation because the right talent can make your distribution problem go away, and even if it doesn't--you're likely to piece-meal non-exclusive rights including foreign territories with the right face on the box. In that case, I would shoot a $100K movie and spend $100K on a familiar face(s) and throw the last $100K at P&A.

I might also suggest $200K for P&A on a $100K movie if the market potential for the film warrants it (comedy, romantic comedy, horror, teen flick). Obscurity can kill any movie, but a healthy P&A budget behind a clever cost-effective marketing strategy can shoot your 'little movie that could' right into the black: that P&A money is leverage at the negotiating table with distributors for a fair handshake.

Lastly, I might simply recommend shooting three $100K movies and be afforded three shots at making it all back: the hedge fund concept. One relative success can compensate for two losing titles, and in the long run you just might turn profit on all three with a catalog you can package for distributors. You're now no longer a one-trick filmmaker when you've got three horses in your stable.

At the end of the day, the concerns you expressed are legitimate: a first-time filmmaker holding $300K in his hand and no idea what to do with it spells fuck-up, and when you're only as good as your last film, a financial failure your first time out might very well be your last time out.

[Miles Maker A story author, motion picture auteur and cross-platform distributor whose dynamic media ventures converge mobile, social and real-time interactions.]

Cfallsprod said...

I have a few things to say on this one, finally speaking from a position of some experience. My movie, Manhater, has about 100 effects shots in it and was done for under $50K including postproduction. Granted it’s not top quality stuff but it’s a first movie, it’s done, and…we did an effects movie for under $50K! A large point of the movie is to demonstrate that if we had more money to work with, we could do a proper quality movie. Meanwhile, we’ve learned how the whole process works.

Assuming that this filmmaker wants to yield pro-quality visuals he either better already be a professional with free access to high-end hardware/software (himself or via friends), or direct that entire $300K to visual effects.

The killer sentence above in David’s blog is that his budget doesn’t include all post-production and everything that comes after. For an effects movie, I’ll throw out this very generic formula—1/3 for production, 1/3 for postproduction and 1/3 for publicity/marketing. For a first movie, the $60K number is reasonable--$20K for each third—assuming that you have good audience potential. If your subject matter limits you to a niche audience then your goal should probably be half these amounts.

If you anticipate distribution, expect to earn $1.50 per DVD sale, starting two years from now with $0.00 as an advance. (That’s not a typo—zero dollars.) With $60K spent that’s 40,000 sales to break even. With $30K spent that’s 20,000 sales. What happens in the real-world? For low budget horror (what I know at the moment), a realistic expectation is 10,000 sales.

If you decide to distribute yourself expect to profit $5-10K total between Netflix and Amazon unless something magical happens. Your direct sales will have a higher profit margin, perhaps $10 on a $20 dvd sale. 10,000 Facebook fans (et al) will yield you 1,000 sales so there’s another $10K profit. Total profit--$20,000. And don’t forget to pay your taxes on that since you no doubt would have already used your expense deductions to get a tax refund (LLC) and already used that to fund some of the marketing phase.

Granted there are tons of assumptions in the above scenario but unless you’re working with Tom Cruise’s younger brother as star and executive producer, it’s probably close to reality. Only you know what your hidden details are but as described I can guarantee you one thing—your $300K will balloon to at least $600K.

My advise right now before you go to Kickstarter? Budget the project out completely through postproduction and marketing. Next, research similar indie movies to dig up some realistic numbers on audience potential. Finally, reverse your perspective: assume that you’re a 50-year old itching to move an inactive $300K and some guy has just handed you a business plan to make a movie. Prove to him with tangible arguments and evidence that it’s a reasonable investment.

Ester said...

Absolutely. I have made my first film last year for way smaller budget and eventhough we have audience (the film has a cult following as it deals with rising personalities on YouTube) it is very hard to get any money back. Constant promotion keeps costing and I am so very grateful I haven't invested other people's money into the film. Esp first time filmmakers should be very careful, because film might have success on paper, but that doesn't mean it is making money back. You are right to advise this filmmaker to think again. His goal should be to build audience and establish himself as a good artist. Making movies for this kind of money without any following is just a very expensive hobby.

Anonymous said...

My main concern about this post is to ensure you that you are NOT a dream crusher. Filmmakers (specially first time filmmakers) need a serious reality check and realize that they should not make a movie for that amount of money if they don't have the experience.

If the filmmaker has a rich uncle or someone who doesn't mind giving them half a million dollars (because that's probably going to be the end budget by the time post-production is included) then by all means, he/she can go ahead and waste that money away.

But, sadly (as with anything else in this world) the first time one ventures into something mistakes will be made and in this case, it will be a very expensive one.

Do not feel bad, and if the filmmaker is placing all his dreams in a budget then he should not be making movies at all. It is passion, determination, creativity, COURAGE and discipline that will drive the individual at the beginning of his career.

I am living proof of that. So, please, do NOT feel like you are crushing anyone's dream. They will do that themselves if they let something like $$ stand in the way.


Mattson Tomlin said...

I'll speak from the standpoint of a (Sort of) first time filmmaker. Though I have another low-budget feature under my belt, and have had a whole lot of experience on low budget films, and big budget films, I'm still new. I just started a kickstarter of my own to raise 10k for a project. I've done the math. Figured out a breakdown. Made a plan. Surrounded myself with two producers way, way smarter than me when it comes to mathematic side of it. And even as safe as I'm playing it, as low-key I'm keeping it, I'm still thinking "is this a safe way to be playing it?"

my producer always gives people advice that goes something like- "when you are first stepping out into the film world, you want your first project that is yours to be impressive. it's going to be your calling card. so if you make something that is a critical failure, or a technical failure, or just doesn't knock someone's socks off for some reason, you're setting yourself way far back, because you have to walk around apologizing for your first step out"

I really took that to heart. Prepared. Got myself ready to go, and have a plan that takes me all the way to be able to control as much as I can control. It's not going to burn me, and not going to hurt me. There's always risk in making a film, duh, that's why you spell 'risk 'f-i-l-m', but that doesn't mean you can't play things safe too.

1. do some other work first. this sounds like a big project, that could do with having an even bigger budget than 300k. so why not shelve it, and do it right when you're ready?
2. really depends on their experience. if someone like Mark Romanek has spent fifteen years in the music video business and know what he's doing, sure, 1 Hour Photo should be given more than 50k. But for those of us without the kind of experience that would make... the rest of us go 'wow'? 50k and lower. And you should always shoot for lower. You give a filmmaker too much money, they lose a bit of creativity. See: Sam Raimi. (sorry)
3. No. Reality Checker.