Modern Moviemaking Manifesto Explained

Filmmakers need to establish a new business model to survive changes in VOD distritbution. Business Model Canvas: Nine business model bui...

Image via Wikipedia

Last week I published a new filmmaking podcast called the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto. I published these ideas in response to all my veteran independent filmmaking friends who are currently having difficulty raising movie financing, and later, getting a return on that money.

Since posting, I have gotten a lot of feedback. Most of it has been positive. But there have been some questions. The most glaring involves how to create a production team for the long term. And the other feedback has something to do with my pragmatic approach to the movie business. I’m told that the modern movie making model, relying heavily on VOD distribution, is not as sexy as what most filmmakers expect (because I don’t talk about Hollywood fame and fortune and going to cool parties, et al.) One woman screamed at me, telling me that she doesn’t care about business and just wants to make movies. Other folks have simply told me my modern moviemaker ideas suck. And others have quit our filmmaking community.

This was to be expected. Not everybody is willing to explore or embrace new filmmaking ideas. And when I listen to my own recording, I can see how my enthusiasm for the modern moviemaking model could potentially sound pompous. This was not my intention. So I promise to get back to Toastmasters and refine my speech. But all of this aside, I believe the demise of traditional movie distribution creates a serious problem as filmmakers – and also a great opportunity. As a result, we have two options as filmmakers. We can choose to ignore this, or we can choose to be part of the modern moviemaking solution.

If you read Ted Hope’s blog – Truly Free Film, you may have seen my conversational responses to Sheri Candler’s well written guest post: How To Make Money With The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model. If not, it’s worth a read. And I have added one of my responses, on how to make Independent Filmmaking a viable business, here.

Just like you, I’m looking for a way that us fillmmakers can actually make a living making movies in this brave new world of VOD distribution. So in terms of empirical data, so far in my own business, I can tell you that at least one of our titles generates a nice stream of passive income without the middle-man, and without much marketing. As a result, many of the acquisition folks who formerally rejected our title have circled back with offers. While the new deals are OK (cash advances for foreign territories, complete with performance bumps), after crunching some numbers, the headache of locking up rights prompted us to respond in way familiar to most gate keepers: “Unfortunately we have to pass at this time.”

In this new era of filmmaking, our growing ability to make our movies, find our audience and make money without the middle-man has forever changed my life. And as a result, I firmly believe this process can be repeated for all subsequent titles. I mean, sure, we can still entertain traditional theatrical and retail DVD distribution both in North America and abroad (while these channels still exist, and if we are so fortunate) – but from now on, it is my intention to base my business plans on projected returns from our direct DVD rights as well as our VOD rights – because these are the two sales channels that filmmakers can access and control without asking some middle-man for permission.

For those of you who are adding your own thoughts to the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto, what I’m proposing is easier said than done. It is easy for me to talk about the success of our first feature. It is much more difficult to admit that our second feature bombed miserably. With that project, we did the complete opposite of everything that made our first title successful. The movie was a character driven drama, without any name talent. And while the production value was great, and the acting was good, we had no definable hook. Nothing about the movie separated it from the sea of other, similar character driven movies. Had it been 1995, we may have had a chance.

So my team and I learned some valuable lessons. Most modern moviemakers agree that it behooves us independents to create movies with a strong marketing hook, peppered with a bit of controversy, aimed at a very specific target audience. But when you crunch the numbers, to make this work, our niche audience must have mass enough to justify our movie budget.

While I have spent considerable effort to jam-pack these ideas into the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto, anybody who has studied Rodger Corman and read his book, “How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime” will quickly realize that the Modern Moviemaking Manifesto is not so “modern.” Corman has been utilizing it for years. Known for his type of down and dirty movie making, complete with fans who got to know him and know his work, Corman created a model where movies were made fast, cheaply, and each movie had a controversial hook.  The result of which allowed Roger Corman to create multiple streams of movie income.

But the one thing Roger did not have was a non-discriminatory sales channel. And thanks to VOD and companies like Distribber, we really have nothing holding us back from creating a similar empire. This is why I’m so full of enthusiasm for modern moviemaking. Nothing is holding us back from raising money, making movies and reaching our audience. And instead of simply blowing investor money on up-front compensation, we just have to adjust the model ever-so-slightly.

The Modern Moviemaking Manifesto is about creating movies fast, cheap and repeating the process, while at the same time creating awesome profit sharing deals on the back end. Over time, you will add more and more titles to your library. And this will create diversification, with the thought that dividends from dozens of titles can really add up.

How To Make A Living Filmmaking

Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfeld industr...

Filmmakers can sell their movies on Amazon. Image via Wikipedia

Recently a question posed by filmmaker Ben Rock over at Neptune Salad gave me a good reason to think about (and share) my filmmaking business philosophy in detail.

Here is the question: “Is there a way to make enough money on any kind of self-distribution that a filmmaker can repay investors and eek out a middle-class existence?”

I felt like this question required a detailed response. So for Ben and other folks with similar questions, I broke it into 2 parts. Here we go…

1. Can any form of Self Distribution make you enough money to repay investors?

This depends on two factors. How much investor money did you spend? And how much of your investor money do you have left to reach your targeted audience?

Getting money to fund independent movies has always been a challenge regardless of what technological innovations have taken shape. But the big difference now is more emotional than factual. These days, whenever filmmakers go out to shake the money tree, their confidence is considerably lower. I mean, in the past, you could at least present speculative opportunities to to prospective investors with a measure of excitement: “Look what happened with The Blair Witch Project! Paranormal Activity! My Big Fat Greek!..”

But what do you say now?

“We are going to sell DVDs on Amazon!”

Yippy.

And even funnier is this. Let’s say you get the money, make your movie and get a (more traditional) 3rd party distribution deal – your deal probably won’t involve theatrical distribution. Add the demise of video sales outlets and video stores, and it is a good bet that your movie will end up on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Given these outlets, I now wonder why any filmmaker would even approach a 3rd party distributor. I mean, if filmmakers can simply set up shop and reach those outlets on their own, why pay a middle man? Do filmmakers really need 3rd party validation?

So my suggestion is this: If you’re trying to make a living as a filmmaker, you need to care less about traditional validation and more about your bank account. If the numbers don’t work, you nave NO DEAL!

“Ah… Filmmakers should be MORE excited to approach prospective movie investors!”

Unlike years past, you can finally eliminate much of the speculation from your business plan – and you can finally present a deal built on a measurable framework that YOU control. In other words, as a filmmaker you can now pick and choose your sales outlets and come up with an entire step-by-step system for reaching your target audience and then getting your movie seen and sold. Investors like that. It’s less risky!

From this perspective, you can create a reasonable plan and work backwards.

What? You can’t figure out how to repay 1,000,000 dollars in 5 years? Then you have two choices. Change your plan or change your budget (which may involve changing your screenplay and schedule).

And onto the second part of the question…

2. Can a filmmaker eek out a middle-class existence (with digital self distribution)?

Yeah. But like I was saying, you can not think about distribution in the traditional sense. In the past, filmmakers made a movie, got lucky and ended up with a BIG paycheck with incremental increases on the back end. These days filmmakers need to think about their movies in ways akin to how traditional investors think about dividends from bonds – once you make the investment, it’s a long term game!

In other words, you create your movie product this year, get it selling and then you repeat the process. Conceivably in 10 years, you’ll have a library of 10 movies. And with luck each movie will passively pay you thousands of dollars per month.

Moving forward,  if you want to make movies and make money making movies, your strategy has to include oodles and oodles of cash for marketing. I heard one colleague talk in terms of  applying 3/5ths of the budget for the marketing, 1/5th for “name” talent and 1/5th for your below the line costs. I’m sure there is room for variation – but we can all agree that your marketing (more than movie making) is going to provide you the difference between pocket change and profit.

What are your thoughts?

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This is a huge topic. So I will break it into a series. My next article will pick up where I left off. And we can get into a systematic approach to how to make a living through your filmmaking.

In the meantime, get my filmmaking book FOR FREE. Just follow this link: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

Independent Film Financing

United States one-dollar bill

Today, I’m going to offer yet another bit of perspective on the whole question of how to raise money for movies.

As you may or may not know, independent film funding can be a little overwhelming. If you’ve ever dabbled in the business side of making a movie, you know what I mean. The first time I heard people talk about writing a business plan or offering a private placement memorandum, I suddenly felt like I was on another planet. And if you’re like most filmmakers, you would much rather focus on actually getting your movie made, instead of cold calling rich and successful people to set up random pitch meetings.

  • So, the first challenge you have in the world of film finance is: How do I find investors for my movie?
  • The second challenge is: How will my feature film provide enough ROI (return on investment) for my investor?

Assuming you’ve followed some of my previous advice on creating relationships with rich and successful people, even if you do make a favorable impression on a few rich folks, your potential film investors may still shy away from making an investment in your project. Why? Because without star talent, a known director, a film distribution outlet and an experienced crew – it’s very tough to answer the important question of ROI.

Your potential investors want to know how you plan on spending their money, how you plan on getting their money back, and when. Can you provide your investors with this information? If not, then you can understand why independent film financing, especially for your first feature, can be a pain in the butt.

However, having worked as an account executive for one of the biggest investment banks in the world, I would like to share some thoughts and end today’s article on a positive note. If you can come up with a plan that at least attempts to answer the question of ROI – then you’re in the ball park. While I can’t say it’s common, there are a few potential investors out there, for which their excess cash sometimes burns a hole in their pocket. These folks will assess the potential for gain and loss, and despite the risk (which you will always disclose and never hide!), they will still choose to do business with you.

I have a friend (who I’ll interview in a few weeks) – but anyway, he made a short film that went viral on the internet. One day he gets a call from a random multimillionaire who says he has always wanted to produce a movie. Suffice it to say, my buddy is now in pre-production on his first independent feature film.

Stranger things have happened. What’s important is that you keep pushing forward!

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If you are wondering how to get money for your movie – Almost every resource will tell you that you need a business plan. Very few resources will tell you how to actually go out, find prospective investors, qualify them, contact them, get a meeting and build a relationship.

Since getting money for movies was such a frustrating experience for me, I spent the last few months creating: The Independent Producer’s Guide To Financing Your Movie. In it, YOU will gain valuable insider experience so you can avoid my past mistakes, find investors and make your movie. To learn more CLICK HERE