The problem with traditional independent filmmaking is the ever growing gap between investment dollars and a filmmaker’s ability to recoup the initial investment. This is nothing new. Independent filmmaking has always been a risky business. And we freely share this with any prospective investors, usually stating: “filmmaking is risky and you will most likely never see a dime.”
While these types of disclaimers have always been transparent and accurate, filmmakers could often counter this objection by getting investors to focus on the misguided idea that the movie might get into Sundance. The movie might garner ginormous buzz. And if you’re really lucky, the movie might sell to the highest bidder! The benefit of investing in independent movies wasn’t the promise of a solid investment. Rather the driving force behind investment dollars was the chance of winning instant fame, fortune and a never ending supply of coolness.
Many filmmakers still hold this dream close to heart. But the realities of the independent movie business are sobering. Out of the gazillion movies made each year, only a few get into a major film festival. And out of those movies, very few garner a deal worth mentioning. Adding to this problem is the ever prevalent demise of DVD sales channels, resulting in filmmaking becoming less profitable and less cool than it once was. And as a result, the “invest in my movie because it’s an awesome business” pitch is no longer believable.
Technology is also changing independent moviemaking. For two-thousand dollars, every filmmaker can now grab a camera, shoot a feature and compete for virtual “shelf space” in iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and most of the many VOD outlets. In the context of business 101, this means that our high quality, expensive goods (our movies) are now competing with cheaply produced goods of a somewhat comparable quality. And if we were in the widget business, this would mean massive layoffs are in the near future. Or to put it another way, our old way of making movies no longer fits the marketplace.
This of course raises the question: How do we make independent moviemaking profitable (and fun) again?
A lot of people have solutions. One that is gaining popularity is the idea that filmmakers should hire someone to cover the marketing and distribution of the movie from day one. In this sense, filmmakers can focus on making the movie while the marketer can focus on the marketing, social media and list building duties. In this regard, instead of trying to find a traditional distribution deal, complete with a cash advance, you get enough people to know you and know your movie from day one. And once your mailing list (or community of followers) reaches a certain mass, you will hopefully sell enough copies of your movie to recoup your investment.
When I think about how this idea of community applies to my own filmmaking, I always think about my mom. Would she join a community just to follow a filmmaker? Would she buy the tshirts and pay five dollars in a crowd funding, financing pool to earn an associate producer credit? Would she tweet about my movie project? Maybe. But the last time I checked, she just wants to come home from work, sit down on the sofa, relax and watch something without complication.
I know my mom does not fit the same target, tech savvy demographic as most modern moviemakers, but I use her as an example because my mom, as well as my friends who aren’t in the business, as well as strangers I see on airplanes (prospective customers) – most of these folks aren’t looking to go out of their way to watch a movie. They just want to watch a movie in the most convenient way possible. And if their iPad or iPhone is convenient at the moment, fine.
That said, I do agree that modern moviemakers need to build a targeted audience list and grow community around individual movie titles – Everyone fits into some kind of demographic. And everyone wants to be part of something. And many folks aren’t even conscious of this. But building community around your project is easier said than done. The reality is, it will take tremendous efforts to make the metrics work, begging the question: How much must a community grow to support a movie budget of at least one-million dollars?
One-million dollars is not a lot of money in terms of traditional indie filmmaking budgets. And if we assume all traditional distribution will eventually be replaced by some form of VOD, then as a filmmaker, business success really comes down to three economically focused questions:
- Who is your movie’s target audience?
- How will you reach your target audience?
- And how many VOD downloads does will take to recoup the initial investment?
If you can’t answer these questions, then you know from day one that your odds of success are dramatically decreased. Without a defined market or an established sales channel, it is difficult to justify financing, which makes it very difficult to pay cast and crew, which makes it difficult to produce a movie.
Assuming you can answer these questions, the problem is still economy of scale. If you can’t reach the masses (or reach enough people willing to pay for what you’re selling), how will you ever recoup your initial movie investment? And if you can’t figure out how you’re going to recoup your budget, two things have to change:
- Filmmakers will need to make smaller movies.
- Filmmakers will need to pay cast and crew less money.
At first thought, neither of these options seems to make independent movie making profitable (or fun) – which is why people keep creating solutions without first scrutinizing the traditional filmmaking paradigm. As a result most current solutions fail to fully SOLVE the indie producing for profit problem – Which prompted me to share my own solutions.
What I’m about to share is the official Jason Brubaker solution for saving the independent movie industry. And it has a name. I call this philosophy…
Admittedly, I should have added some shazam to my idea and called it Filmmaker 5.0, or Dogma 2010 – but coining phrases is not my strong suit. Rather I want to join the other filmmaker thinkers and focus on a workable solution. Additionally, I’m just like you. I’m a filmmaker, passionate about making movies. But at the same time, I want to help us figure out a way to make a living making movies.
So this movement is your movement. Should you choose to participate in this brave new modern movie making world, there is one solid, economically viable way to make movies profitable again. And it will require that you adopt a modern moviemaking paradigm. So are you ready to join the modern moviemaking movement?
Modern Moviemaking Manifesto
- Modern Moviemakers will think of movie making in ways akin to how entrepreneurs think of start up companies. Instead of raising investment dollars for just one title, Modern Moviemakers will create a mini-studio, complete with research and development, planning, production, marketing, distribution and sales under one roof.
- Modern Moviemakers will focus on producing a slate of at least five genre specific movies. These movies will be created inexpensively and will be delivered to the audience via ALL popular VOD marketplaces.
- Instead of paying freelance day-rates, Modern Moviemakers will put crew on a salary, with benefits. Everybody in the company will own equity in the company. So in this regard, someone who owns 10% in company stock will get 10% of all movie profits. This will supplement crew salary with an ongoing, lifelong stream of income.
- Modern Moviemakers will work to grow our community (and customer base) bigger. And over time, our fans will begin to know us, know our company and celebrate our work. Only in this way will we eventually reach mass great enough to increase ongoing revenue through multiple streams of movie income.
- Modern Moviemakers focus on muti-title diversification, with the goal that multiple movie titles build enough buzz to create long term, sustainable revenue. In this regard, we can begin to focus on creating entire library instead of just depending on one title to support our career.
There is no fee to join the Modern Moviemaking Movement. If you think it makes sense, just tell two or 3-5 of your closest filmmaking friends about the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto.
To get the Modern Movie Making Manifesto, CLICK HERE
If you would like to listen to the Modern Moviemaking podcast, CLICK HERE
I look forward to making movies for life. I hope you’ll join me in the movement.
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Jason Brubaker is a Hollywood based Independent Motion Picture Producer and an expert in digital self-distribution. He is focused on helping you make, market and sell your movies more easily by growing your fan base, building buzz and creating community around your title.
To read more of his articles, check him out at: www.FilmmakingStuff.com