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.

Episodic Funding Model

Brian Norgard is the founder of Chill. And today he stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share news about the Vigilante Diaries, which is also the first series ever to use the “episodic funding model.” In full disclosure, I manage film acquisitions for Chill – at the same time I thought the filmmaking community would benefit from the Episodic Funding Model, so I included the interview below.

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Jason Brubaker
Tell us a bit about your new series, the Vigilante Diaries.

Brian Norgard
The “Vigilante Diaries,” is a new series starring bombastic Jason Mewes (“Clerks,” “Mallrats” and “Jay and Silent Bob”) alongside a knockout cast.

Jason Brubaker
When did you guys start working on the project?

Brian Norgard
We started development on the Vigilante Diaries two months ago, and it’s finally available.

Jason Brubaker
That’s an amazing turnaround… From development to release in two months!

Brian Norgard
This is an exciting milestone at Chill. Prior to this we focused solely on distributing and marketing films and comedy specials.

Jason Brubaker
Where did the idea come from?

Brian Norgard
It was Jason, Christian (the director) and Paul (writer/actor) – They came to us with a great concept, yet didn’t want to shoot another traditional TV or Web series pilot. They wanted to bring the audience closer to the collaborative experience.

Jason Brubaker
Having seen the cut, it looks you guys figured out a narrative that helps Jason connect with his audience.

Brian Norgard
We were certain that Jason’s hardcore fan base needed to be a integral part of the creative process. Jason’s always maintained a very honest and open relationship with his fans.

Jason Brubaker
Why not go the traditional route for this?

Brian Norgard
The old entertainment platforms simply don’t offer a true two-way engagement channel — in fact they absent of this notion. And that’s a significant disadvantage long-term. The Web has all the properties that can aid in the formulation of world-class entertainment: real-time feedback, rich engagement, niche community, immediacy, personalization and on.

Jason Brubaker
The delineation between the web and TV is increasingly blurred.

Brian Norgard
The great Shane Smith (founder of VICE) further influenced my thinking here with this extemporaneous rant last year, “We just have to do it better. Online is a revolution. The Internet is a revolution and we should be revolutionary when we think about the content we put on it rather than derivative and mimic the shit on TV and make it worse. Let’s say fuck it because the Internet isn’t TV. It’s different. It’s better.”

Jason Brubaker
So how does Vigilante Diaries make the viewing experience different and better?

Brian Norgard
We are being totally public about how much gross revenue the first episode of “Vigilante Diaries” generates. The money counter will increment in real-time. (I know. I know.) What if we bomb? What if we make $5M? So be it. I think Jason’s fans will appreciate our transparency and, more importantly, see that we’re all in this together. Because we are.

Jason Brubaker
That’s a bold move. What else?

Brian Norgard
Jason and the entire cast and crew have agreed to make at least two more episodes — provided they reach $50,000 in gross sales in less than 30 days. We call this episodic funding.

Jason Brubaker
How does episodic funding work?

Brian Norgard
The idea is simple in theory. Audiences will rally around creators. They will support ongoing production with true, old-fashioned patronage. Our episodic funding model represents a new direction for digital series. We’re working outside of the ad-supported world, which lets the creators take risks without answering to brands, networks or agencies. In its purest form, this a model for series that cannot be cancelled as long as viewers are willing to support them.

Jason Brubaker
You’ll know if the audience is engaged or not.

Brian Norgard
Everyone involved with this project is incredibly open to real-time feedback. We are literally going to be asking for help in making each new episode, and it’s clear to all of us that our greatest asset is our audience. We can’t wait to make this series with them. We’ll soon be rolling out more tools to make this process easier.

Jason Brubaker
This sounds a lot like crowdfunding. What makes episodic funding different?

Brian Norgard
Let’s be clear: episodic funding is not crowdfunding, but the model does share some similar psychological properties.

Jason Brubaker
And this is because a portion of the series has already been produced?

Brian Norgard
Correct. This is not a promise for a future product. If you support “Vigilante Diaries,” you are buying the first two episodes and will be able to view them on demand via the Chill platform. “Vigilante Diaries” will be available immediately.

Jason Brubaker
In addition to watching the episodes, what are you guys doing to amplify word of mouth?

Brian Norgard
To help Vigilante Diaries be even more successful, we’re launching a new feature called Patronage, which lets you support the creators even more. Viewers will have the ability to gift DRM-free copies of the episode to friends.

Jason Brubaker
So this means, if I buy an episode, I can also buy additional copies and gift them to my friends?

Brian Norgard
Yes. For example, you can choose to support Jason and the crew at the $14.99 level. This will allow you to gift 3 copies to friends.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like an exciting way to quickly spread word of mouth.

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Brian Norgard
We’re fascinated about this approach to social distribution but frankly, we don’t know it if will work. Can you imagine a film or series going viral in this way? I can. Could that be you?

Jason Brubaker
What happens if things don’t go as expected?

Brian Norgard
If we fail to reach these goals, it will be on full display for all of you to chuckle at. But that’s okay. We’re open to risk. Countless creators have come through our doors and are interested in this new model because they too see the power of what can happen when an audience gets behind something special.

– – –

Brian Norgard is the founder of Chill. He is a successful serial entrepreneur, investor and product designer. You can follow him on Twitter.com/BrianNorgard or Instragram.com/BrianNorgard. If you’d like to discuss your film with Brian directly, he will personally buy you a Corona at The Standard Hotel.

 

Audience Database For Your Movie

Image representing AWeber Communications as de...

With the demise of traditional DVD distribution, you as a filmmaker are responsible for your audience. Why? Because your audience is your business – and without an audience you will have no movie business.

Having an audience database for your movie is essential.

Whenever I give talks, I make people repeat this aloud. This gets a few chuckles, but kidding aside – this is important stuff for any filmmaker.

Building Your Audience Database

As a professional filmmaker, you need to build a database of people who know you and know your work. But don’t let the word “database” throw you off. A database doesn’t have to be complex. At the miminum, it is simply a list of the names and emails of your subscribers.

Once you have this info, you can easily generate personalized email, letters and phone calls to your audience. And having a list allows you to directly promote your current movie project or an upcoming movie project.

Tools For Building Your List

Most of your list building efforts will happen online. So you need hosting for your website. And I suggest you go with a company that allows you to easily set up a WordPress powered website. That way, you’ll be able to grab a copy of the fully optimized WordPress Template for Filmmakers.

But let’s face it… Even with the greatest movie website on earth – The truth is, most of your movie website visitors will NOT buy your movie on the first visit to your site. Think about it. Most people are busy.

So in addition to marketing your current movie (and all of your future movies), you will need an easy way to capture and collect visitor email addresses. I recommend Aweber as an easy way to build your audience list.  And after you grab Aweber, I suggest utilizing this tool to increase subscriber opt-ins.

 

Movie Marketing: Are Film Festivals Losing Relevance?

Filmmakers often utilize film festivals as a way to get their work seen and hopefully sold. And while acceptance to top-tier festivals is super exciting – the reality is, many filmmakers do not get in.

As a result, many of these semi-dejected filmmakers take a shotgun approach to their festival strategy. They start applying for most every regional and local film festival, everywhere. And aside from outlandish application fees, upon arrival to these festivals – instead of  meeting a bunch of VIP acquisitions executives, most second tier festivals are populated by a bunch of other desperate filmmakers shoving postcards in your face, eagerly advertising their screening times to, well, other filmmakers.

Sometimes this includes free beer. (Most times not.)

While having delusions of distribution grandeur is still part of the film festival fun – with the demise of DVD distribution, and the odds that you won’t get into Sundance – it is vitally important that you create a film festival strategy PLAN B.

What is a film festival strategy PLAN B?

Simply put, if you are serious about making your movie profitable, YOU are now responsible for marketing, promotion and distribution of your movie. And inline with this strategy, you must view regional and second tier festivals as an opportunity to build your audience list. But instead of handing out postcards to other filmmakers, your marketing strategy will be smarter.

Here are five tips on making film festivals relevant to your movie business:

  1. Write a press release specific to the festival and then distribute to the local press. This also involves picking up the phone and personally inviting the press to attend your screening. Many festivals will have a press list. You can use this – but I would also advise conducting additional internet searches for other press outlets.
  2. Many local towns have a filmmaker community. Reach out to them. If you are traveling, it’s great to have someone to pal around with. The secondary benefit to this is, many of these same people will have relationships with the festival staff – always good to know people on the staff.
  3. If the festival allows it, see if you can take several clipboards into your screening. You’ll want to collect the names and email addresses of each viewer and get their permission to email them. Later you will enter this data into your audience list.
  4. If your film website does not include a blog component, add one. Then update frequently. Add pictures and video. Let the world know your movie is screening. People like this stuff.
  5. And finally, most regional festivals have panel discussions with industry experts. Make sure you attend these. Take your business cards. And then try to build relationships with whomever is on the panel. (And as a side note, if you know anybody looking for a panelist – I suggest inviting Jason Brubaker from Filmmaking Stuff? Just sayin’)

Out of everthing I mentioned, the most important strategy for your movie and your modern moviemaking career is grow your own fan base. This way, when you focus on building your audience list, you stress a lot less about the traditional distribution deal you may or may not have received at one of the notorious festivals.

So yes. Film festivals are still relevant. They offer a great way to source an audience for a minimal marketing investment.

Also, I’d like to thank one of our filmmaking stuff readers named Michael for this question. If you would like to get on the filmmaking stuff VIP list, click here >>

Make Filmmaking Your Next Small Business

Quiet please…we have speed…ACTION!

A new website is being launched today that will help take filmmaking out of Hollywood, and put it into the hands of everyday, creative people so that they can combine their life’s ambition of being a filmmaker with owning their own business.

makeyourmovienow.com is the brain child of Jason Brubaker, a Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker and an expert in Video On Demand distribution. He has hosted another filmmaking website, Filmmakingstuff.com for years and is taking his experience to the next level.

“makeyourmovienow.com is focused on helping YOU make, market and sell movies more easily,” he says. “The ways movies finally make it to market has changed. makeyourmovienow.com is specifically designed to help grow your fan base, build “buzz” and create community around your title.

“If you want to make a living making movies, you need to realize that your library and the subsequent audience you source (over your career) are your major assets. And, as a result, your most important filmmaking focus (aside from doing good work) is to acquire and keep a customer,” he emphasizes.

For filmmakers in need, makeyourmovienow.com covers the four key areas of film production: screenwriting, film financing, filmmaking and distribution.

Tell your filmmaking friends!