The 5 Immutable Laws of Successful Filmmaking

As an independent filmmaker, the prospect of putting together a project and creating something awesome out of an idea really gets us going. Serious indie filmmakers stop at noting until the movie is actually in the can – or these days – in your hard drive.

Still if you’ve been working to make movies for any length of time, you know there are days when you hit obstacles, sometimes so seemingly insurmountable that you just want to give up on your project.

Here are five tips to help keep you on the path to successful filmmaking.

Successful Filmmaking

The 5 Immutable Laws of Successful Filmmaking

  1. Remember Perspective – You’re not performing brain surgery. You’re attempting to make a movie. This is a fun business. This is a privilege.
  2. Facing Rejection – Always ask WHY? Sometimes your pitch is perfect, but your audience is wrong. Make sure you’re talking to people who are actually interested in your type of project.
  3. Break down BIG goals – Setting out to make your version of impossible, possible can be overwhelming. It is important to break all of your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks
  4. Missing Personal Deadlines – It happens. Sometimes people cry. I suggest you simply change your deadline.
  5. Your Peer Group – If you surround yourself with negative losers, you lose. Make it an ongoing habit to always surround yourself with winners.

If you like these bite sized filmmaking tips, you’ll love our Filmmaker Checklist.

How To Overcome Your Indie Filmmaking Challenges

Over the past year, we have seen a lot of developments in the indie filmmaking space. New technology coupled with non-discriminatory distribution has enabled many would-be filmmakers to finally get a feature made and distributed.

While most of us in the indie filmmaking community welcome these changes – The downside to these innovations is the market is now saturated with backyard indies.

The other day I asked members of the Filmmaking Stuff Facebook community to describe their biggest indie filmmaking challenges. Minutes later, it became clear that the most glaring obstacles revolved around:

  1. Film Finance
  2. Movie distribution.

This seems right. Like you, there was once a time when I had no idea on how to finance, make, market, sell and distribute a movie. I remember spending countless hours reading everything I could get my hands on. Most of those filmmaking resources let me down. None of them helped me overcome my particular indie filmmaking challenges.

So I decided to address both points below and offer solid solutions you can utilize to get your movie made, seen and selling.

indie filmmaking

Indie Filmmaking Challenge – Film Finance

You know you need money to make a movie. Your indie filmmaking challenge here is obviously finding the money.

Read any of the books out there and the solution almost always involves some ridiculous scenarios where you either hire a seasoned producer to raise the money (wouldn’t that be nice) or find someone with disposable income, like a doctor or dentist. I’m sure you heard this useless crap too. I am tired of it.

So here is your non-magical solution to film finance. Notice I DID NOT say easy. What I’m about to share is not easy. I am sorry. If you don’t like a challenge, choose another profession or simply buy another indie filmmaking book that promises fame and fortune. But for those of you wiling to do the work, here are the steps for raising money:

  1. Write or acquire a great script.
  2. Break your script into a schedule and budget.
  3. Create a business plan that outlines how you will make, market and sell the movie.
  4. Have a lawyer draft a Private Placement Memorandum.
  5. Approach prospective investors and ask for the money.

While the entire indie film finance process can be broken down into five basic steps, it may take you months or even a year or more to get your movie fully financed. At this stage, your indie filmmaking challenge is to decide if you want to keep going, or perhaps save your blockbuster for another time and focus on making a smaller movie now. I personally think it’s better to make a feature than wait. But only you can decide what’s right for you.

Regardless of the scope and scale of your project, most prospective investors will want to know how they will benefit from your movie. Tom Malloy talks about this quite a bit in our film finance guide – But the basic thing to remember is that each prospective investor is looking for a different payoff. Some want a financial return. But some simply want to get involved in the movies.

It is important that you do more listening than talking. Figure out what the investor wants and then provide that.

In all scenarios, investors will likely ask what your plans are for marketing, sales and distribution. And that leads me to address the next point in your biggest indie filmmaking challenge – Distribution.

Indie Filmmaking Challenge – Distribution

There was a time when film distribution required someone picking up your move in exchange for a tremendous outlay of cash. Those days are over. Thousands of filmmakers flood the market with cheaply produced backyard indies. DVD distribution has been replaced by VOD distribution. And traditional distributors (with minor exception) no longer offer minimum guarantees.

filmmaking_challenge_solved

The cast of Special Dead.

Sounds pretty wacky, right? Wrong.

Many traditional distributors still pretend it’s 1995 and avenues to the marketplace are limited. But this is not true. Getting onto iTunes or Amazon or any number of VOD outlets is simply a matter of choosing one of the popular encoding houses and shelling out a few thousand bucks.

I cover a lot of this in my indie guide to digital distribution. But the bottom line is, you no longer need a traditional distributor to grant you access to these marketplaces. (Especially if the deal is not good!)

Here are your steps to distribute your movie:

  1. Create a marketing plan and launch strategy. (Note: This should be part of your initial business plan.)
  2. Get your movie onto popular VOD platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Pivotshare (and others).
  3. Come up with an advertising strategy that pays for itself and provides a profit.

Once again, I oversimplified this. Your indie filmmaking challenge with distribution is creating a strategy that makes sense for your movie. You need to move enough units of your movie to show a profit. Otherwise, you will be operating at a loss. And nobody wants to lose money… Because that’s not a real business.

If you’re like most indie filmmakers, you want me to prove that this works. You want Video On Demand Sales Projections to show your prospective investors. The truth is, most investors will see your projections as fluff. The reason is simple – Just because The Polish Brothers were able to have one of the highest grossing movies on iTunes does not mean that your movie will have similar success.

There. I said it.

More important than any VOD sales projections is figuring out how you will leverage VOD sales, to sell more movies. In short, there are some old fashioned direct mail formulas that will serve as an awesome starting point for actual scenarios. You can utilize these in your business plans. And savvy investors will understand.

You need to plan both your financing and distribution strategy as if you are your own mini studio. Because you are. If you plan to make, market and sell movies – you now have the technological firepower to take your filmmaking dreams to the big screen. And the best part? You don’t need to ask me or any other film professional for permission.

But you have to take action and make things happen.

What is your biggest indie filmmaking challenge? Feel free to tweet this and comment below.

 

 

Modern Moviemaking Manifesto

I am going to share the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto with you. After this, you’re going to know yourself a little better as a filmmaker.

And to get the ball rolling, I have a question for you:

What’s the biggest filmmaking failure you must avoid?

Ok, this is gonna sound obvious… But the answer is:

Making a movie NOBODY CARES about!

(Which is sort of the same as making a boring movie that could put monkeys to sleep, if monkeys actually watched movies – and I think some do.)

 modern moviemaking manifesto

Notice I didn’t say BAD MOVIE. You can make bad movies and people will still care.

For examples, check out The Room or Birdemic for an example of this…

But if you make movies nobody cares about, you will fail as a filmmaker.

This sounds obvious right? But if it was so obvious, how come many silly filmmakers keep making movies nobody cares about. I’ll tell you why…

Modern Moviemaking

Inexpensive production technology, coupled with about 237 different ways to get your movie selling (more on this in my email series) makes it way to easy to make mundane, crap movies nobody cares about.

And SURPRISE: Most movies do not make money!

There. I said it. And it gets more challenging than this… Ready for some serious real world film school?

The problem with traditional independent filmmaking is the ever growing gap between investment dollars and a filmmaker’s ability to recoup the initial investment. In other words, indie filmmakers find investors, get money, make a crap movie and never repay the investors…

Oops. Sorry.

But let’s be clear. 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 are 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!

(Sound familiar?)

So from this perspective, the real 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!

And we all want to look cool.

Here is a picture of me looking cool:

filmmaking_Challenge

Many filmmakers still hold this dream.

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.

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.

Build Your Audience Now

Everybody is now talking about audience engagement as though it’s a new concept. But it’s not. In fact, audience engagement has been around since the beginning of story telling. And again, it comes down to telling a great story that people actually care about.

Then the goal is to start telling your story early enough so people actually care.

Here a video I did for the folks at Film Courage that explains this in a little more detail:

Modern Moviemaking Manifesto

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:

  1. Who is your movie’s target audience?
  2. How will you reach your target audience?
  3. 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:

  1. Filmmakers will need to make smaller movies.
  2. 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…

Modern Moviemaking

Revolutionary, right? Admittedly, I should have added some shazam to my idea and called it something fancy – 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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 explore some other awesome filmmaking tools, check out our resources at make your movie now.

The Secret Society Of Modern Indie Filmmakers

Earlier this week, Sheri Candler was spreading word of mouth about a test screening of Gary King’s indie film musical:  How Do You Write A Joe Schermann Song. So I did something I haven’t done for awhile – I got out from behind my computer screen to meet and mingle with some new filmmakers face-to-face.

As the lights dimmed and Gary’s movie flickered across the screen, I was reminded of the year I lived in New York City. This was a time when I couch surfed between a sofa and an inflatable air mattress, all the while dreaming that I would someday make movies. Admittedly, maybe these memories were flooding back as a result of Gary’s movie. I mean, the story is based in Manhattan.

During the screening, and afterwards, I realized I have been missing something I haven’t felt for years.

I have forgotten the joy that comes from participating in activities with other folks from the indie filmmaking community. And I also realized that my world of indie filmmaking (once defined and limited by the following filmmaking mantra): save up all summer and buy an Arri BL, scrape together enough money to pay for film and processing, make the movie and PRAY for a distribution deal that makes sense – I’m pleased to say that era of filmmaking is over.

As a result of lower priced production equipment, coupled with new, non-discriminatory distribution, YOU can make, market and sell your movie this year and you don’t need to ask permission. Filmmakers like Gary King epitomize this movement – asking questions like How do you write a Joe Schermann Song starring awesome actress Christina Rose (nice work Christina!)

Past that, there is something else. While the studios are excited about UltraViolet and a new attempt to control their piece of the world wide web, our thriving indie community could care less. Instead of worrying about traditional distribution, modern movie makers are more concerned with their YouTube following – and the size of their growing audience.

As a filmmaker, you are part of movie making history. And you probably don’t know it. But like all artistic and social movements that have come before, you are riding this wave. The question is, will you take advantage of this opportunity – or will you find yet another reason why you can’t make your movie this year?

ALSO:

At the screening, I met close to a dozen people who claimed to have heard of me or knew me from this website. Please give me some time to adjust socially – It’s not every day that people approach me and quote my ideas back to me… But I want you to know I am honored and grateful for your readership.

This is usually the part in the article where I ask you to sign up for my newsletter.

Filmmaking Success Tips For Sourcing An Audience

Because of an eroding DVD market, the modern moviemaking model dictates that you (as a filmmaker) must treat your independent movie business just like any other small business.

YOU have a product (your movie) and YOU must sell your product. In order to sell your product, you must find a customer and convince them that your movie is worth more than their money. Obvious right?

But most filmmakers have no idea how to find a customer.  It’s not your fault. I blame the STUPID notion that filmmakers should concentrate solely on making movies without considering how to source their target audience.  Think about it. Filmmakers traditionally depended on some sort of middle-man distributor to come in deus ex machina style to provide a big fat cash advance. But that was then…

Now, as a result of DSLR technology, you have a whole world of filmmakers flooding the market with awesomely good-looking backyard indies.  It’s an example of supply and demand. There are too many movies! And there are too few traditional deals. And sadly, most filmmakers have no idea how to get their movies seen and selling. As a result, the entire world of indie filmmaking is belly-up.

The only way modern moviemakers can compete and succeed is to learn from traditional small businesses. Filmmakers must focus on finding creative ways to produce movies inexpensively and spend tremendous effort (and little money) sourcing an audience. Which, when you compare the filmmaker’s need for customer acquisition to other businesses, it’s really the same thing.

Welcome to the new movie business!

So who wins? Filmmakers who can source an audience for their movies are in better shape than those who can not. Period.

How do your source an audience: In two words – Internet marketing.

I got news for you. Selling a movie online is no different than selling an eBook! But not everybody knows how to sell things online. That is OK. I explain this in my book. And for those of you not ready to get my book (so you can discover my mad movie marketing methods) – here is a tip as well as an actionable item: Crowdfunding.

By now you’ve heard of crowdfunding. But the little secret that nobody is talking about is this – Not all movie projects will get fully funded by the crowd. BUT, by creating a campaign, you essentially get the word out about your movie. You increase your YouTube hits (because you presumably embed your trailer into your campaign)… And even if your campaign is not successfully funded, anybody who did donate is now part of your future audience. Hmmm.

I know I’m on a bit of a rant today. So I’m going to slow-my-roll. If you like this filmmaking stuff, make sure you click here   >>

And if you want to see me speak or attend any of my workshops, telephone your local film festival and leave this message on their answering machines –> I WANT TO SEE Jason Brubaker LIVE.

Feel free to comment below.