Filmmaking For a Living

Hollywood Sign

Image via Wikipedia

As a filmmaker, you are expected to make a product (your movie). The money invested to create your product should be less than the eventual sales of your product. If you can not figure out how to achieve this goal, you do not have a business. You instead have an expensive hobby and probably a good demo reel.

There are a lot of filmmakers who attempt to raise money without first considering how their movie will recoup the initial investment. These filmmakers say things like “I have a vision” or “I’m going to make this for the love of filmmaking. Then I’ll get into festivals, get noticed and garner a great distribution deal!” And while it is true that passion, tenacity and blind optimism play an important role in getting your movie produced and seen and hopefully sold, this alone is not enough to drive the masses to your screenings.

This happens in Hollywood all the time. A filmmaker creates a typical business plan that focuses on film festivals as the most viable distribution strategy. And played out, the filmmaker gets the money, hires a crew, makes a movie and then enters the festivals. But months after wrap, well into the festival circuit, these filmmakers realize that the market has changed. The days of awesome DVD acquisitions deals and huge upfront advances are over. And when the last frame flickers off the silver screen, these filmmakers take their dashed-dreams back to their day job.

The veterans of the industry tell us that all this distribution deal disappointment is a result of improved technology. They optimistically tell us that our lost DVD revenues will be recouped by Video On Demand. Some refer to this as simply a market correction, implying that someday, somewhere, someone will figure out how to once again pay the big bucks for movies. But this is a pipe-dream.

Here is the flaw. Most filmmakers depend on DVD distribution for a return on investment. And with deteriorating DVD sales channels, filmmakers are currently left with iTunes, NetFlix and Amazon as the most prominent VOD sales options. My question is this. Who on earth is going to pay a major advance to get your movie into a marketplace that YOU can easily access without the middle man?

This approach to the marketplace changes everything. Your business is no longer dependent on production and capital gains. Nope. These days, the focus for the filmmaker lies in creating multiple streams of movie income over the long term. And if you want to make a living making movies, you need to realize that your libary and the subsequent auidence 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.

Like it or lump it, filmmaking has become a small business. The same rules now apply.

– – –

Jason Brubaker is a Los Angles based independent filmmaker and an expert in Video On Demand distribution. If you are one of the many filmmakers seeking movie distribution, you might want to check out The Independent Producer’s Guide To Distribution.

Filmmaker David Allen Talks Modern Moviemaking and VOD Distribution

As we get closer to an independent filmmaking business driven by video on demand distribution, I am on the hunt for various case studies that can help filmmakers navigate the changing world.

I caught wind of an indie production company based in Australia called Rapidfire Productions. This is a production company that operates as a self sustaining modern moviemaking business. They develop, produce and distribute their genre specific titles through their own distribution arm. David W. Allen is one of the producers. Earlier this week he stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some ideas on how to make, market and sell movies through new forms of internet distribution.

Jason Brubaker
What is your name?

David W. Allen
David W. Allen

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started making movies?

David W. Allen
I have always been into making movies with my long time best friend and director of our most recent feature, “The Gates of Hell,” Kelly Dolen. As kids in our early teens we would always be running around with a video camera making home movies and writing our own horror and action screenplays.

Jason Brubaker
And then when you felt ready, you made the shift to features?

David W. Allen
Yes. Our first feature length film was a low low budget vampire flick called ‘Reign in Darkness’ which we both wrote and directed. We only had $49k to make this with and considering the budget it came out okay.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like an exciting first feature.

David W. Allen
We jumped on a plane to LA wide eyed and innocent to sell our film and make it big in Hollywood.

Jason Brubaker
I felt the same way after our first feature. It’s like you work so hard to make the impossible, possible. Hollywood sure seems like the logical next step.

David W. Allen
Ahhhh how naive we were all those years ago. [Laughter]

Jason Brubaker
So what happened? Were you able to sell the movie for an amazing cash advance and get a 3 picture deal?

David W. Allen
We ended up getting a distribution deal with a sales agent who we were introduced to by an entertainment lawyer.

Jason Brubaker
Was it a good deal?

David W. Allen
No. We got ripped off and didn’t see a great deal of money for the film. That was 10 years ago. Today the title is still selling out there, online. The movie is making money for other people but not us.

Jason Brubaker
How did that change your perspective about traditional distribution?

David W. Allen
I learned a very valuable lesson with ‘Reign’ and vowed if we ever made another feature film we would distribute ourselves.

Jason Brubaker
I agree with you. Especially when it comes to video on demand distribution.

David W. Allen
I could see where the Internet was heading and knew it was going to be the way to reach our future audiences with our Independent films.

Jason Brubaker
What is Rapidfire Productions?

David W. Allen
Rapidifire Productions was established by Kelly Dolen and myself in 1999 with the sole purposed to produce a diverse, wide range of Independent high concept genre films, ranging from action, drama, horror and sci-fi.

Jason Brubaker
So you are staying very genre specific?

David W. Allen
Our long-term goal was to make commercially successful projects that satisfy a marketplace craving for intelligent genre films and build a distribution arm for low budget Indy films.

Jason Brubaker
And it sounds like your title called “The Gates Of Hell” fits your model. Tell us about the project.

David W. Allen
The Gates of Hell is a dark psychological thriller and horror flick which is inspired by a combination of “old school” films like The Exorcist and The Thing and the adrenalin of cutting edge video games like Gears of War and Manhunt.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell our readers where to find out more about your movie?

David W. Allen
Here is the website: www.TheGatesOfHellMovie.com

Jason Brubaker
How did you come up with the idea?

David W. Allen
It was back when Kelly and I were sharing a place together and we were talking about what we can make next for a low cost and high commercial value. We were talking about a filmmaking seminar we attended in Melbourne, Australia conducted by Dov Simmens, a Hollywood indy filmmaking guru.

Jason Brubaker
I am familiar with Dov and his work. What was the most inspiring advice he gave you?

David W. Allen
He said the best thing to do with your first film is to get a bunch of young people and take them to a single location and chop them up.

Jason Brubaker
Ha! I think that is sound filmmaking business advice.

David W. Allen
That was the thought process that ignited the idea for The Gates of Hell.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had your idea, what came next?

David W. Allen
Kelly and I started brainstorming ideas and we come up with an old condemned orphanage that used to house discarded deformed children that upper class people didn’t want.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like a true horror movie.

David W. Allen
We researched this online to see if in fact a place like this did exist and they did back in the early 1940’s. And then we added some Hollywood to the idea and the first treatment was written.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had the treatment, what came next in your process?

David W. Allen
From there Kelly ran with the idea and developed it into a screenplay which was constantly developed over some years to get it to a stage where it was ready to make. We had a local artist drawing characters for the film and story boards you name it was all happening.

Jason Brubaker
What was your role during this time?

David W. Allen
I focused on the producing and marketing. I was responsible for developing an internet marketing strategy, building the website and creating the entire online distribution business model. I planned an online release from the very beginning.

Jason Brubaker
Building your movie business plan based on an internet marketing strategy is a very new concept. Was there any pushback from other producers or investors?

David W. Allen
The Investors had no intention of going down this path. They wanted the big blue sky and Hollywood. But I knew in the end they would end up going with my plan to self-distribute.

Jason Brubaker
What was Kelly’s role?

David W. Allen
Kelly went out and raised the large majority of the money from investors of our previous film and the new investors came from people he knew from his years selling home audio equipment at the large retailer JB HI-FI. The main investors were customers of Kelly’s from this store and over the years they come to value him as a friend more than just a shop assistant.

Jason Brubaker
So would you say that filmmakers must first understand the value of relationships?

David W. Allen
There is such a valuable lesson to be learned here especially with the social networking explosion on the Internet… Success is all about the relationships both online and offline.

Jason Brubaker
That makes me remember a quote I learned while selling overpriced hot tubs in college. “People buy from people they trust and like.”

David W. Allen
In my opinion this is the key to being successful in offline and online business and film distribution. Over time your followers will come to trust you and believe you, so when you have something to sell they will be far more likely to buy because they feel like they know and trust you.

Jason Brubaker
So let’s talk more about your movie sales strategy. How did you handle the sales, marketing and distribution?

David W. Allen
After the film was completed we took the film to a number of film festivals such as Screamfest, Amberg, Sacramento, and NYC. We also attended some film markets such as AFM and Cannes.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to gain any traction?

David W. Allen
The film had great reviews but with all the positive hype around the the film the distribution deals were not very favorable and we didn’t want to go down the same path as we did with our first film ‘Reign in Darkness’ where were got a raw distribution deal.

Jason Brubaker
That is a tough choice. Many first time feature filmmakers will consider deals that do not pay a dime, just for the validation that comes from someone else saying “Great work! You’re a REAL filmmaker!”

David W. Allen
Yeah. But being passionate about everything Internet, I was pushing the proposal of just self-distributing online. But it was a hard sell to our investors who wanted to see the film in cinemas and up in lights.

Jason Brubaker
That is interesting. I guess some of those folks need traditional validation too?

David W. Allen
Well, all I wanted was to see a positive net return for sales of the film and focus on introducing the film to its market online and letting its popularity spread over time.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a pragmatic approach to your modern movie business. Were you able to get your way?

David W. Allen
I managed to get my way in the end with a little compromise. The investors wanted to see the movie in the cinemas so we did a distribution deal with an Australian distributor for Australian and New Zealand rights.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a hybrid deal. You retain some rights, while licensing other rights through other channels. Was this a profitable strategy for your movie?

David W. Allen
As I am writing this, the distributor is still yet to do anything with ‘The Gates of Hell’, which is no surprise to me, but a big lesson for the investors who wanted a quick return and blue sky.

Jason Brubaker
At least you can move forward with your own internet movie marketing strategy. Can you tell us a little more about your marketing plan?

David W. Allen
My marketing plan is simple. With very little money, I am taking the advice of a brilliant marketer Seth Godin and build a tribe and sell the movie to that tribe who over time will spread the word.

Jason Brubaker
What are the mechanics involved in building a tribe?

David W. Allen
I will be collecting emails from prospective customers so we can sell them backend products that they actually want.

Jason Brubaker
What about marketplaces? Where will you actually sell your movie?

David W. Allen
My distribution plan is to start off with selling the DVD then when I get some traction in the market I will approach a VOD distributor and then an iTunes aggregator and Amazon. I will also look at Netflix but I will wait until it gets more popularity so to get a better upfront fee.

Jason Brubaker
You mentioned DVD. Who is going to handle your DVD fulfillment?

David W. Allen
For the DVD distribution I use a company called Disk.com. They were highly recommended to me by some of my Internet marketing peers who use them to create and distribute their information products. They are based in the USA and is a great place for the shipping of the DVDs within the US and throughout Europe and the UK. There are some great companies here in Australia but the shipping costs would be way too high given our main market is in the USA and UK.

Jason Brubaker
Outside of distribution and your website, how are you spreading word of mouth?

David W. Allen
Facebook Pages and Twitter play a bit part in my strategy. I use these platforms to build what is called Market Leadership. I also hit the forums and get involved in the top ones and this is a great way to get people to check out the film.

Jason Brubaker
What about getting prominent website owners to review the movie?

David W. Allen
I am sending out copies to influences in the market place, people who already have a large following in the horror market and if they like the film they will tell their tribe about it.

Jason Brubaker
When I first saw your movie website, I was impressed. I think it has all the components necessary to create a movie sales funnel. But you also have something called an opt-in box to build your mailing list. How important is a mailing list for modern moviemakers?

David W. Allen
Very important! It is such a valuable asset for filmmaker if they don’t abuse it. It takes so long to build traffic to your website so you want to be capturing as many leads as possible so you can stay in touch with them, send them cool free stuff and then sell them backend products related to their film.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. I think filmmakers need to take charge of sourcing their own core audience. But what about in-between projects? How do you leverage your list?

David W. Allen
Between projects, the other thing filmmakers can do is introduce other people’s related products to their list for a fee or on an affiliate basis. Over time your mailing list will become very valuable. The bigger and more responsive the list, the more other industry players will want to pay filmmakers money to get related products or films in front of their subscribers.

Jason Brubaker
What suggestions do you have for other filmmakers who want to create their own movie business?

David W. Allen
Look at the market you’re making the film for first. This is a business and if you are going to spend money on making a film you better be sure there is a big enough and hungry enough market out there to buy your film and other backend products.

Jason Brubaker
You keep mentioning marketing related products. Could you explain this a little more?

David W. Allen
I look at the film itself as a lead generation product for the purpose of building a big list. I am not all that concerned about making the money back on the DVD itself but on other monetizing avenues over time including advertising.

Jason Brubaker
That is an interesting concept. Most filmmakers do not think like marketers. Yet if we want to make money making movies, it makes sense that we would need to diversify our product offerings.

David W. Allen
The modern filmmaker needs to think beyond the film itself as the only means of generating income. The money online is where the eyeballs are. Think about it.

– – –

Find out more about how to sell your movie.

Filmmaker Jason Brubaker Gets Punched Out By LA Producers Over Video On Demand Sales Projections

When I published my article on leveraging VOD sales to finance your movie, I had no idea that a simple internet marketing formula for filmmakers would be such a polarizing issue. I can’t tell you how many Los Angeles based movie producers responded negatively through email.

One guy even told me my grammar sucked.

So to clarify, I was not trying to ruffle any feathers. I was simply applying a standard internet marketing ROI formula to a product available through video on demand. Nothing more.

All of this was based on the premise that selling movies on the internet is no different than selling any other downloadable product (where you are lucky if you convert 1%)

This is based on experience. I learned how to market and sell movies on the internet when our first feature did not garner a traditional distribution deal and we ended up selling on Amazon. Back then I personally knew a bunch of filmmakers in a similar situation – all had titles but no deal. Since that time, even more filmmakers have flooded the market with titles. Couple this with the decline of various DVD sales channels, and suddenly a crappy $25 backyard indie can now share virtual self space with $25M movies.

For those of us who produce features without any sort of pre-sales, instead of telling prospective investors “If we are lucky, we might get into festivals and garner a distribution deal.” We can finally reach our audience without asking permission. And to me, this makes the indie movie business like any other small business… Produce a product and then market, sell and distribute your product.

This said, I totally agree with one of the readers who said my equation for returning a 1M dollar budget was preposterous. He was right. Anybody who thinks you can magically generate the mass amount of sales needed to recoup even a 1M dollar investment without a substantial outlay of cash towards advertising is mis-guided. Which is what those formulas reveal.

I wasn’t trying to present an indie movie panacea. We are all trying to find profit in business competing with (what I think is the indie movie equivalent) of sweat shop labor produced goods. So in terms of the person who said I’m trying to seduce “starry eyed producers,” I would say that finally having non-discriminatory VOD sales channels like Amazon, and especially iTunes finally gives us producers something to get excited about.

Whether or not we can find the marketing formula to justify our budgets remains the ongoing challenge. I for one am working my butt off to find the balance between budget and the amount of marketing needed to recoup the money – and hopefully create an ongoing stream of revenue.

My model of moviemaking isn’t for everyone. In fact, many of you have great relationships with distributors and are still making money in DVD and theatrical. Awesome! But if you are a filmmaker still relying on the “Sundance Dream” to recoup your budget – or if you are a filmmaker with a title collecting dust in your bedroom closet, I hope my article offered a little optimism.

At the same time, feel free to share your own thoughts on VOD distribution.

And spelling an grammatical tips are welcome from filmmakers too.

Indie Filmmaking As Your Business

If you’ve been following Filmmaking Stuff for some time, you probably know that this site really pushes non-permission based filmmaking. This concept means that if you’re a filmmaker with ambition and a dream, you should not hesitate…

You should not wait for Hollywood to give you permission – but rather, you should pick up a camera and Make Your Movie Now!

For some of you, this is easier said than done. Part of why this seems challenging and impossible is because many of us start our career with the belief that filmmakers need a gazillion dollars, tons of experience and an address in Hollywood to make a living as a “real” filmmaker.

While this was once true, the new model of movie making allows you to create and sell movies from anywhere in the world.

For many, this filmmaking evolution is exciting. But the classic elements of filmmaking remain. You still need a great story, the passion and persistence to bring your movie to life, and the guts to share your work with the world.

To give you a rough plan of how to get your indie movie business up and running, I’ve provided a few steps. (Where I thought it would help, I also included links to some sponsored filmmaking tools and services.) Ready:

1. Build A Team: Create relationships with at least 5-10 collaborators who complement your skill set. At the very least, you’ll want to find a writer who understands budgets, a physical producer experienced in low budget movie making, a tech guru who understands cameras and modern production gadgets, an editor with Final Cut Pro and an internet guru who can help you promote and sell your movies online.

Bonus points if you can find a lawyer who can provide you with the necessary legal advice, contracts and advice on setting up a business.

2. Create a Manageable Movie Concept: Come together as a team and design a movie that can be explained in one high-concept log-line. It has been my experience that original, genre specific movies with a bit of controversy, geared towards a clearly defined target audience will later help you when it comes time to market and sell your movie.

Above all, your movie idea should be totally fun and captivating. (Otherwise, why make the movie?)

3. Break Down Your Screenplay: Out of this, complete your schedule and your budget. Then analyze your budget. Ask yourself: If we do not garner a traditional distribution deal, how many $4.99 VOD downloads will we need to sell to get a return? At this point you can decide to decrease your budget, or not. But once you decide on your budget and the amount of sales you’ll need to get a return, you can then begin planning your marketing strategy.

If you have money, hire a great Production Manger. If you don’t have money, you’ll have to do your own breakdown. Check out my sponsor, LightSpeed EPS.

4. Go Get The Money: Once you have a concrete filmmaking strategy, you can go after your money. Investors like to see three things in your business plan: Who is running the company? How will you spend the money? And how will you make a profit?

Unlike years past, iTunes, Amazon and (sometimes) Netflix provides you with an accessible distribution pipeline. This will assist you in getting the necessary movie money. If you don’t know how to find prospective investors, see: www.GetMovieMoney.com

After you lock down your money, you can go into pre-production full force. Hire a great 1st AD.

5. Sell Your Movie: Once you get the money, I’m assuming you’ll make the movie. After that, two things have to happen. You have to spread the word about your movie. And you have to figure out how you are going to sell the thing. Once you get your movie out there and selling, focus on fueling your marketing with ads, PR and partnerships with other filmmakers.

After you do this once, the way to become successful is to create more and more movies. Remember, your goal is to create at least 20 movies in your life time, so that you can get at least 20 checks in the mail each month!

If you like this filmmaking stuff, you’ll love this resource: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

How To Break Into The NEW Movie Business

This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Social Media is not always the best tools for Filmmakers. Image via Wikipedia

If you’re a filmmaker, wondering how to break into the NEW movie business, then you’re not alone. There are a lot of changes taking shape. Some are exciting and some are super scary.

Luckily many of these changes represent great opportunities for ambitions filmmakers.  (And yes, this is a continuation of my article on how to make a living filmmaking.)

Allow me to explain. . .

Our first feature DID NOT garner a traditional distribution deal. Like a lot of filmmakers, we thought that the lack of a deal was synonymous with a lack of success. And outside of the financial returns, we really wanted validation.

But that didn’t happen. Months in the festivals resulted in a lot of talk, but no contracts. So we gave up… Almost.

But the one thing we had going for us with that feature was a marketable hook – The story was controversial and a bit “wrong.”

This enabled us to get the attention of David Strick who came to set, snapped some pictures and sold one of the shots to the now defunct, Premier Magazine.

After that issue of Premier hit the stands, our movie went viral. In a very short time, we had over 100,000 unique visits to our movie site. And while I would like to say this changed our life, it didn’t. Unfortunately, we were not ready to leverage this power – nor were we able to realize the power of website traffic. In fact, we even tried to leverage the traffic as a reason to actually get a traditional distribution deal – Ha!

Why do I say “Ha?” Certainly it is reasonable to say: “Dear traditional distribution company, we have almost a quarter of a million people who know about our movie. Can you please give us a deal?” And if you’re a traditional independent filmmaker thinking in traditional ways, then touting website traffic seems perfectly reasonable, right?

WRONG! That was 2005. We were stupid.

Knowing what I now know, our most important objective would have been to focus less on traffic, and focus more on getting visitors onto our audience list.

From now on,

  1. We could have created solid relationships with our fans and made them part of the process.
  2. People don’t usually buy the first time they come to a website.
  3. Later we could have asked our fans to “buy now.”
  4. If we had garnered a distribution deal, we could have helped promote our movie to our audience.
  5. But most importantly, we could have created a prospective customer base for LIFE.

Now before I bash our marketing efforts too much – we did have a MySpace page. Out of that, we managed to get a few thousand folks to become our MySpace “friends.” And after the movie release, quite a few of those folks DID buy our movie. But we soon learned a major lesson  – once your social networking site goes out of vogue – your entire filmmaking audience list becomes worthless.

So again – it is best to focus on getting people onto a LIST that YOU control. To help you avoid my mistakes, here are TWO audience building list services that I affiliate with (because I use them):

  • www.AudienceList.com allows filmmakers to capture leads from their movie website, build a mailing list, set up email newsletters and add sequential email auto-responder.
  • www.ProVideoTool.com allows filmmakers to capture leads from their movie website, build a mailing list, set up email newsletters and a sequential email auto responder. But unlike the previous system, this one allows you to send your emails via video!
  • And just in case you don’t have a movie website – www.MovieSiteHost.com allows filmmakers to easily get hosting, a domain name and set up a website for their movie.

Those are the affiliate sites that I use for my own filmmaking business. And I think each offers a great service for those of you who would rather make money with your movie than let it collect dust on your book shelf.

And just in case you’re wondering, our first feature is still selling like hot cakes. More on this in upcoming articles…

– – –

If you would like my 90 page filmmaking book for free, go here:

www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

Jason Brubaker
An LA Based independent motion picture
producer
specializing in internet marketing
for YOUR
movie so you can get MORE buzz,
get MORE
followers and have MORE fun!

Three resources you can grab right now:

1. Fat-free Movie Making ideas for those of you
who hate asking permission:
http://www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

2. Follow me on Twitter to get cool micro-ideas
on how to make your movie now:
http://twitter.com/filmmakingstuff

3. Connect with me on FaceBook so you
can tap into my 300+ Movie Maker connections:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Filmmaking-Stuff

Brubaker Unlimited LLC
6767 Sunset Blvd. #153
Los Angeles, CA 90028