Last week I published a new filmmaking podcast called the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto. I published these ideas in response to all my veteran independent filmmaking friends who are currently having difficulty raising movie financing, and later, getting a return on that money.
Since posting, I have gotten a lot of feedback. Most of it has been positive. But there have been some questions. The most glaring involves how to create a production team for the long term. And the other feedback has something to do with my pragmatic approach to the movie business. I’m told that the modern movie making model, relying heavily on VOD distribution, is not as sexy as what most filmmakers expect (because I don’t talk about Hollywood fame and fortune and going to cool parties, et al.) One woman screamed at me, telling me that she doesn’t care about business and just wants to make movies. Other folks have simply told me my modern moviemaker ideas suck. And others have quit our filmmaking community.
This was to be expected. Not everybody is willing to explore or embrace new filmmaking ideas. And when I listen to my own recording, I can see how my enthusiasm for the modern moviemaking model could potentially sound pompous. This was not my intention. So I promise to get back to Toastmasters and refine my speech. But all of this aside, I believe the demise of traditional movie distribution creates a serious problem as filmmakers – and also a great opportunity. As a result, we have two options as filmmakers. We can choose to ignore this, or we can choose to be part of the modern moviemaking solution.
If you read Ted Hope’s blog – Truly Free Film, you may have seen my conversational responses to Sheri Candler’s well written guest post: How To Make Money With The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model. If not, it’s worth a read. And I have added one of my responses, on how to make Independent Filmmaking a viable business, here.
Just like you, I’m looking for a way that us fillmmakers can actually make a living making movies in this brave new world of VOD distribution. So in terms of empirical data, so far in my own business, I can tell you that at least one of our titles generates a nice stream of passive income without the middle-man, and without much marketing. As a result, many of the acquisition folks who formerally rejected our title have circled back with offers. While the new deals are OK (cash advances for foreign territories, complete with performance bumps), after crunching some numbers, the headache of locking up rights prompted us to respond in way familiar to most gate keepers: “Unfortunately we have to pass at this time.”
In this new era of filmmaking, our growing ability to make our movies, find our audience and make money without the middle-man has forever changed my life. And as a result, I firmly believe this process can be repeated for all subsequent titles. I mean, sure, we can still entertain traditional theatrical and retail DVD distribution both in North America and abroad (while these channels still exist, and if we are so fortunate) – but from now on, it is my intention to base my business plans on projected returns from our direct DVD rights as well as our VOD rights – because these are the two sales channels that filmmakers can access and control without asking some middle-man for permission.
For those of you who are adding your own thoughts to the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto, what I’m proposing is easier said than done. It is easy for me to talk about the success of our first feature. It is much more difficult to admit that our second feature bombed miserably. With that project, we did the complete opposite of everything that made our first title successful. The movie was a character driven drama, without any name talent. And while the production value was great, and the acting was good, we had no definable hook. Nothing about the movie separated it from the sea of other, similar character driven movies. Had it been 1995, we may have had a chance.
So my team and I learned some valuable lessons. Most modern moviemakers agree that it behooves us independents to create movies with a strong marketing hook, peppered with a bit of controversy, aimed at a very specific target audience. But when you crunch the numbers, to make this work, our niche audience must have mass enough to justify our movie budget.
While I have spent considerable effort to jam-pack these ideas into the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto, anybody who has studied Rodger Corman and read his book, “How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime” will quickly realize that the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto is not so “modern.” Corman has been utilizing it for years. Known for his type of down and dirty movie making, complete with fans who got to know him and know his work, Corman created a model where movies were made fast, cheaply, and each movie had a controversial hook. The result of which allowed Roger Corman to create multiple streams of movie income.
But the one thing Roger did not have was a non-discriminatory sales channel. And thanks to VOD and companies like Adam Chapnick’s distribber, we really have nothing holding us back from creating a similar empire. This is why I’m so full of enthusiasm for modern moviemaking. Nothing is holding us back from raising money, making movies and reaching our audience. And instead of simply blowing investor money on up-front compensation, we just have to adjust the model ever-so-slightly.
The Modern Moviemaking Manifesto is about creating movies fast, cheap and repeating the process, while at the same time creating awesome profit sharing deals on the back end. Over time, you will add more and more titles to your library. And this will create diversification, with the thought that dividends from dozens of titles can really add up.