What is Your Filmmaking Niche?

In movie marketing, there is this phrase I really like: “Marketing to everybody is marketing to nobody and niches will make you riches.” And while not every movie is guaranteed success, it is much easier to find your audience when you choose a filmmaking niche.

What is a filmmaking niche? It’s making a movie for a small slice of a larger audience. For example, let’s say you were making a horror movie. Horror is a very broad genre. But a subset of the horror genre is zombie movies. So in this example, making a zombie movie for a zombie loving audience would be your filmmaking niche.

So this is where you start. Will you make a horror movie, romantic comedy, action movie or a girl with a horse movie? (By the way, a girl with a horse movie really does well internationally.)

filmmaking niche

Photo © auremar / Dollar Photo Club

What is Your Filmmaking Niche?

Knowing your filmmaking niche is important because in order to make non-discriminatory distribution channels, such as iTunes and Amazon profitable – It is required that YOU market your movie on the internet. This means that you must work on sourcing your target audience and then drive those folks to your point of sale.

Having spent the last few years working in distribution, I can tell you that most filmmakers screw this up. They make a movie for everybody. And it is frankly too expensive to market to everybody! So before you even think about making your movie, answer these filmmaking questions:

  1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
  2. How Large Is Your Target Audience?
  3. How Will You Reach Your Audience?
  4. What Is Your Marketing Strategy?
  5. How Many VOD Sales To Break Even?

Since both iTunes and Amazon are internet, transactional marketplaces, it makes sense that most of your sales will come via the internet. And as a result, you must create a web presence that speaks to your audience. In other words, you need to make sure the right people know your movie exists.

Who are the right people? People who love your type of movie.

Your Movie Website

When it comes to designing a movie website, most filmmakers never think about their filmmaking niche. They know they need a website for their movies. The problem is, most filmmakers put way too much crap on their site. And none of it speaks to their audience.

Goals

It’s essential to have goals for your movie website. When people come to your website, what action do you want your visitors to take? Do you want them to Tweet about the site? Join you on Facebook? Get into your audience list? Or buy your movie?

Distractions

Once you know your website goals, you need to determine if your website architecture and design is inline with your goals. To do this, install Google Analytics and monitor your traffic. If you find people are getting lost in a bunch of silly pages, remove those pages. Keep what matters.

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If you like these tips, you’ll love the Independent Producer’s Guide To Digitial Distribution

No-Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

Like it or lump it, there are a lot of backyard indies being made each year. Thanks to inexpensive production technology, no-budget filmmaking is not only possible, but has become the norm for many first time feature filmmakers, web series producers, YouTube artists and short filmmakers.

These days any filmmaker with passion and a story can make a movie. And unlike years past, backyard indie filmmakers are not prohibited by cash or creativity.

Yet despite the no-budget filmmaking movement, many of my high profile “professional” friends in Los Angeles, have made a conscious effort to ignore the rise of backyard indies. Why?

Because no-budget filmmaking isn’t real! (At least, that’s what some of the old school pros would tell you.) When it comes to no-budget filmmaking, some common questions asked by these Hollywood hot-shots are:

  1. Who signed the SAG agreements?
  2. Who contacted the Unions?
  3. Who notified the MPAA?
  4. Where is your theatrical distribution deal?
  5. Who do you think you are?

Good questions. Why don’t you go back in time and ask Roger Corman!

But the thing is, if you create a good movie – Your audience doesn’t care if the movie was an official union indie or a backyard indie made for pocket change.

no budget filmmaking

Photo © Jacek Krol / Dollar Photo Club

No Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

The demise of traditional DVD distribution coupled with the growing market domination of iTunes, Amazon and Netflix had leveled the playing field. The big difference between a $10,000 backyard indie and a $2,000,000 dollar indie isn’t the budget – The difference revolves around the film that gets the most eyeballs (and sales).

Think about it. Hitting breakeven on a 2M feature is going to require a lot of sales.

As a rough example, to recoup 2M dollars, the filmmaker will need to to sell (roughly) 200,000 video on demand downloads at $10 a pop. These first sales will cover the 40% cost allocated to VOD providers (the real winners here), after which, the filmmaker will still need to sell an additional 200,000 downloads to repay the investors.

400,000 VOD downloads x $10 = $4,000,000 minus $2,000,000 in VOD fees = the initial $2,000,000

Meanwhile, through no-budget filmmaking, a backyard indie only has to sell 2000 VOD downloads to recover the initial 10K costs.

While nobody wants to make movies for pocket change, many filmmakers still believe we can somehow continually produce unprofitable (movie) products and expect the money and the subsequent jobs to keep rolling in.

And unlike years past, filmmakers can no longer approach investors with the cliche pitch: “Filmmaking is a risky investment – if we are lucky, we might win Sundance and get a deal.”

Now, with transparent distribution options available to all filmmakers, that line of give-me-money reasoning is reckless, no longer applicable, and in my opinion, unethical. And for these reasons, no-budget filmmaking makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the initial challenge of sales and marketing, the ripple effect reveals an even greater conundrum:

How will you raise enough money to pay your cast and crew AND still pay back your investors?

I mean, what’s the new sweet spot?

How can we once again make independent filmmaking profitable?

“I CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY MY CAST AND CREW. WHAT DO I DO?”

Here is the modern moviemaking model on how to save the movie industry.

(And you thought this was going to be your typical no-budget filmmaking article.)

To survive in this ever changing world of indie filmmaking, we have to change our strategy.

Instead of focusing on making that one big awesome indie, we now need to focus on building a genre specific movie library and spend all of our downtime building a ginormously targeted email list.

Step 1: Find your top-ten closest filmmaking collaborators. Form a company.

Step 2: Write a business plan, but instead of putting all of your focus on making one movie, concentrate on making 3-5 feature films.

Step 3: Make sure that you include a sales and marketing plan for each movie. To do this, take your proposed budget for all movies and work backwards. Start asking yourself, “How many units do we need to sell to recoup our investment?”

Step 4: In this model, instead of paying freelance day rates, you’ll have to hire long term employees and provide each with a salary and back end points (sort of like stock options) on each title.

Step 5: When the title wins, you all win. Over the years, your titles will add up. And the real compensation will come back in the form of residual movie income.

While this is not a fully refined model, it’s a start.

In my opinion, creating a sustainable business model is better than ignoring no-budget filmmaking and pretending backyard indies are not real movies.

We are experiencing a time of change.

This is the indie movie distribution equivalent of the automobile replacing the horse drawn wagon.

You can choose to ignore this movement, and you can probably succeed for a few more years. But there will come a day when all entertainment will be on-demand and cheap to produce and cheap to consume.

The question is, will you ignore the no-budget filmmaking movement and continue to play your distribution lottery ticket in hopes of winning the dream deal, or will you  join the movement and help us filmmakers figure out a way to make indie movies profitable?

If you liked this article, you’d probably benefit from these professional filmmaking tools.

The Secret of Pitching to Film Investors (Shhhh. Don’t tell.)

I’m going to reveal some secrets for pitching to film investors. But before I do, I want you to know something. There is NO magic secret for pitching to film investors.

The process of finding and pitching to film investors is not nearly as complicated as many people would like you to believe. Pitching to film investors is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the greater your chances of finding someone willing to invest.

So with that said, it’s important to note that most prospective film investors are business savvy. And they all ask the same question. What is the question?

Inevitability one of the most frequently asked questions film investors ask is:

“How do you plan to make, market and sell this movie and return my investment?”

In the old model of filmmaking, traditional distribution was a lottery. So in response, most filmmakers (especially first time filmmakers) say something like this:

“Filmmaking is risky. If we are lucky, we will get into Sundance and get a distribution deal.”

To that end, most film investors respond like this:

“What? That’s not a business – that’s gambling!”

film investors

Film Investors: The Secret of Pitching

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is total FICTION and should NOT be used in any business plans you create because I am neither a lawyer or an accountant. And I express my right to free speech as I share this imaginary, yet very pragmatic scenario.

Picture this. You enter a room with a bunch of prospective film investors.

Filmmaker: In our business, we hold the rights to an outstanding screenplay that taps into a well targeted, genre specific audience. We have budgeted the movie for $100,000 dollars. And given the genre, we do not need star talent. We are keeping the budget low – most folks have agreed to work for a salary, and all have agreed to residual compensation in the back end.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: At present, our crowdfunding campaign has allowed us to test the concept. And with sixty days left in the campaign, we have already sourced several hundred donations, giving us $8,000 dollars to pay for our website, marketing and PR.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: Upon completion of our movie, the title will available in all the popular marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes. And as we speak, in addition to crowfunding, we have already contacted our audience list of 20,000 people (from our last movie in a similar genre) who have expressed interest in this upcoming title. Combine this with several partner filmmakers which will roughly expand our audience footprint to well over 250,000 targeted viewers.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: So at the time of release, if we project sales at 2% of 250,000 people. This means that 5000 people will download the movie at 9.99… which will be close to 50K minus a 40%  marketplace fee and a 10% commission to our partners – and we should be able to immediately return $25,000.

Prospective Film Investors: Wow! You really did your homework.

Filmmaker: Each subsequent quarter, we would like to continually re-invest 10% of the revenue into further list building efforts. And we would like to keep 30% for the producer and crew compensation. Which should leave you with a 60% cash dividend, to be paid quarterly. Assuming we can bring in $30,000 per year, in 7 years we will have more than $200,000 in revenue for this title. At that time, $20,000 would have been paid to marketing, $60,000 would have been paid to cast and producers and $120,000 would have been paid to investors.

Prospective Investor: Then what?

Filmmaker: As soon as we pay back the initial investment, we would like to split our revenue 60/40. In other words, the producers and crew would get 60% and you would continue to get 40%.

Prospective Investor: I understand what you’re saying here.

Filmmaker: Of course, there is always the small chance that we could get lucky – if we got a 5% return on our initial campaign, and 12,500 people immediately downloaded the movie at $9.99, our revenue will be close to $125,000 – minus expenses. But I need to remind you that this is not likely. And we would still have to pay a commission.

Prospective Investor: Oh. This makes sense.

Fimmaker: Great. Would you like to invest?
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While I have provided a FICTIONAL example  (talk to an attorney and accountant before you ever pitch an idea) of how some filmmakers may decide to navigate this new movie business, my whole point here is this:

It is important to realize that success of a movie is no longer based solely on handing off the movie to some 3rd party distribution company. If you want to make it in this new world of filmmaking, you need to stop waiting for someone else to manage the business aspects of your movie and your career. Instead you now need to take a vested interest in the success of your project.

If you’re helming your movie project, nobody cares about it more than you. But if you aren’t afraid to provide everybody on your team with a bit of ownership too – you’ll soon be surprised to learn that word of mouth spreads a lot quicker when your entire cast and crew has a vested financial interest in the project.

In this regard, when you win, everybody wins!

Getting movie money begins first with making the call and building relationships with good prospective investors. So if you liked this article, you will love this professional film funding resource I created. Check it out by clicking here.

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DISCLAIMER (again) – I’m a filmmaker – not a lawyer or accountant. I’m expressing my freedom of speech for your entertainment. If you’re still reading this, I want to make it very clear that I made most of those figures up as a fictional EXAMPLE. You’ll have to figure out your own numbers and crunch your own data and make your own relationships with prospective investors. And always speak with a qualified professional before you do anything.

What Filmmakers Need To Know About VOD

As filmmakers, we are in the midst of a major movie distribution paradigm shift. Traditional theatrical release models as well as DVD sales channels are being replaced by video on demand platforms.

These changes have forever altered the ways in which movies are seen and sold.

As a consequence, getting into Sundance and selling your movie for instant fame, fortune and a three picture is probably not a realistic business plan. While it is possible that your movie will be a break out hit, it is more likely that your movie will end up as one of the many titles in Amazon, iTunes, Hulu and NetFlix.

As a result, what filmmakers need to know about Video On Demand is pretty simple. Your movie will not succeed without an audience. And you will not source an audience without including a solid sales and marketing strategy in your business plan.

Previously, I served as the Director of Operations at a VOD aggregator called Distribber. This experience allowed me to gain insights on emerging trends in video on demand distribution and also see first hand how filmmakers embrace this new movie business.

As your business shifts from filmmaker to film distributor, it is important to know that your video on demand distribution strategy will usually be comprised of three models, including Transactional VOD, Subscription VOD, Ad Supported VOD. The following provides basic overview what filmmakers need to know about VOD:

Transactional Video On Demand

With Transactional VOD people can only watch your movie after they make a payment. Some of the platforms such as Amazon and iTunes have made transactions easy. They keep customer credit card information on file, which means prospective viewers are only one or two clicks away from watching your movie.

Two of the most popular and transactional platforms for filmmakers are Amazon and iTunes.

Amazon: How to Get Your Film Into Amazon Instant Video

Getting your titles into Amazon is a relatively straightforward process. To get started, sign up for a free account at CreateSpace and submit the necessary details about your title. You will need to upload artwork and then submit a DVD of your movie. Once complete, you title will be made available in the Amazon marketplace.

If you are outside the United States and would like to access Amazon, you will need to go through a US based aggregator. Distribber offers this service to non US filmmakers.

iTunes: How to Distribute You Movie on iTunes

Getting your title into iTunes is a bit tricky. You will need to go through an aggregator, like Distribber. Just anticipate some delays in getting during the quality control process. Because iTunes has some of the highest standards for encoding, many titles will not be accepted to iTunes on first pass. And if the encoding house cannot fix the issue, you will have to fix your source and resubmit.

Subscription Video On Demand

Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) is a convenient model that allows subscribers to sign up for a service, pay a monthly fee and in exchange, have access to unlimited programs. This model is great for consumers because, well, they can watch anything.

As a filmmaker getting your title onto a subscription based platform could be a great play for getting your title discovered. As a possible downside, unless you strike an awesome licensing deal you may be a little disheartened if your title gets a gazillion views and you have not seen a dime.

Netflix: How to Distribute You Movie on Netflix

Netflix will not make an offer for your movie unless you are already in their database. Netflix only includes the titles in their database that they already scouted. Even if you are in the database, the challenge is getting the “queue demand” up on the title so their algorithm determines if it makes sense to acquire your movie.

You best bet for Netflix (assuming you are in their database) is working with an aggregator with a track record for negotiating great deals with them.

Advertisement Supported Video On Demand

Many platforms make money by placing targeted advertising in front of the viewer. This type of model can be win-win, as many ad supported platforms provide the filmmaker with a portion of the ad revenue. The viewer gets to watch your movie without making a transaction.

Hulu: How to Distribute Your Movie on Hulu

In the United States, Hulu has gained popularity as a great way to watch popular television shows and movies on demand. Unlike transactional platforms, Hulu makes their money by peppering content with advertisements. And assuming they acquire your title, Hulu will pay you a portion of the advertising revenue.

Getting your title in Hulu once again requires working with an aggregator who can make a pitch to Hulu on your behalf. Like any platform, Hulu is looking for great content. While trends change monthly, if you have a documentary or a niche specific title, Hulu may be worth exploring. Based on this criteria, our movie Toxic Soup was accepted on the Hulu platform.

Embeddable Player for Filmmakers

While best practices emphasize the importance of getting your movies seen in selling in the popular video on demand marketplaces, there are many filmmakers who have strong audience engagement and heavy, targeted internet traffic. As a result, it makes a lot of sense for these filmmakers to sell directly to their audiences.

Distrify: How to Distribute Your Movie on Distrify

Distrify provides filmmakers with an easy way to upload movies and embed the player on their sites. This player also has a strong social media component and promotes word of mouth advertising and social sharing. Additionally, Distrify gives you the tools to sell DVDs and merchandise with no upfront costs.

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While there are no guarantees in business, utilizing these movie distribution tools may dramatically increase the odds of getting your movie seen and selling. And if you need a little extra help on the marketing side, make sure you check out www.HowToSellYourMovie.com

Changes In The Movie Industry

Yesterday I had breakfast with a studio executive from one of the Majors here in Los Angeles. Much of what we talked about revolved around changes in the movie industry and how many of the studio folks are slow to implement new ideas.

With an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 independent movies flooding the market each year, the movie industry is experiencing what happens to any industry when cheap labor, inexpensive production technology and efficient distribution enters the equation. Your once high priced product is now competing with cheaply produced, comparable goods.

In the past, studios controlled distribution which provided immunity from outside competition. So even if you made a movie – odds were good it would never get into the mainstream market. But the internet has forever changed this. These days, any filmmaker can get their title into digital markets like iTunes, Hulu and Amazon.

To put it into perspective, let’s say you have the biggest and best Frozen Yogurt shop on your street. Then one day, over 10,000 small Frozen Yogurt shop competitors open shop next to you. What would happen? Would you spend more to market? Would you create flavors nobody else could emulate? How would you keep the business?

This is the dilemma with the studios. And this is also your dilemma as an indie filmmaker.  With all the competition, how will you make your movies profitable?