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 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?

– – –

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

How To Find Investors For Your Movie

If you ever wondered how to get money to make your movie, you’re not alone. As filmmakers, many of us would rather focus on our filmmaking – And if we had it our way, we would save the go-get-movie-money for a producer.

Back when I started my filmmaking career, I crossed my fingers a lot, hoping that some producer would magically appear in my life, discover my  brilliant material and give me a million dollars to make my movie. Of course the reality is: you get nothing in life until stop allowing other people to give you permission.

In my situation, I did not know producers. I did not have money. And I didn’t know any rich people.  But I knew I wanted to make movies. And I knew I needed money.

Then later, as I expanded my network to include other filmmakers, my nagging question was always in the back of my mind. “How do I get the money to make my movie?”

While asking around, most people told me I needed to find a willing doctor or dentist and ask them for money. UGH! That was so frustrating. The reason? Because it’s old thinking. In the past, movies were a good tax shelter for wealthy self employed professions. Not so much anymore. (Of course I learned that the hard way!)

It wasn’t until I moved to New York City and worked with a producer when I finally learned how people REALLY finance their movies. I learned there is a well defined, systematic approach to getting money. And it doesn’t involve self employed dentists and doctors.

If you’re looking for movie money, here are some tips:

  1. Ask around and see if you have rich people in your network. Then meet them.
  2. People make money in different ways. As employees, self employed, big business owners and investors. Make sure you know how your prospective investor makes money. Then form your pitch accordingly.
  3. Despite popular thought, most prospective investors were not born rich. Many are self made. They value hard work. And they will be looking to see what you can do for them.

As you go out and build relationships with prospective movie investors, just remember – Your independent movie is YOUR business. Respect it accordingly.

– – –
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


Sell Your Movie

Lasky's original studio, aka: "The Barn&q...
Lasky’s Original Studio, AKA The Barn —  Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve made a movie or you’re working to make your movie (and I hope you are), you might also be thinking about how you’re going to sell the sucker.

I mean, despite the fact that filmmaking is fun there is a business component to it. If you fail to think in terms of Return On Investment (ROI), then getting money for your next movie is going to be even more difficult than the first, for two reasons:

  1. You’ll need to worry about money to put food on the table.
  2. Your prospective investors will want to see your track record.

As a filmmaker, the other factor we have to consider is our initial budget. Go too high and the chance of return could diminish. Let me explain.

I’ve chatted with a few heavy-hitting friends in the industry (that I hope to interview soon) and there is talk about what I’m going to call the “no-man’s-land” of indie movie production. That is, there is a budget range from roughly 2.5M-10M that is becoming increasingly difficult to finance.

Tax credits and other deals aside – What I’m suggesting is due, in large part to changes in movie distribution and the subsequent challenge of generating enough revenue to recoup the initial investment.

Indie film financing was always a crap shoot – but take away potential sales channels and add the fact that technology now permits virtually anyone to make a decent looking movie and you can begin to understand why this is happening.

While I’m on the subject, I’m not just talking about the indie movies. I’m including studios as well. Thanks to the success of Paranormal Activity,  there is now word that Paramount is going to launch a micro budget division and begin to churn out movies under 100K.

From a business standpoint this makes sense. You invest 100K and you get 100M – That’s pretty good! (Understatement).  But from holy crap perspective, the ripple effect of a studio churning out no-to-low budget movies could potentially rip a hole in the ways Hollywood traditionally operates. (BTW, Paramount is not the first studio to attempt this. But thanks to VOD outlets and more digital projectors in theaters, what didn’t work at this budget level in the past could very well work now.)

Lets talk some numbers…

Traditionally, when movies are financed most people including grips, gaffers, craft services and other crew – they get paid on the front end as part of the movie’s budget. We can also include some agents, managers, lawyers, Teamsters, writers, actors – and mostly everyone else too.

On the micro budget level however, there isn’t enough money up-front to pay these folks what they were formally worth. So there are a few options. Hire less people. Hire non-union folks. And offer to pay Teamsters deferred pay with the added bonus of copy and credit. (I’m adding some humor here – but can you imagine Paramount trying to offer a Teamster deferred pay?)

Ok, so what does this mean for you and your movies? Well just look at the music industry. Recording studios and record companies took a nose dive. But that hasn’t stopped people from making music or making money making music.

Instead of asking some idiot in a suit for permission to make music, musicians can now find their audiences, build a following and sell their music… Without a middle man – globally. That’s pretty amazing.

The same wide open world applies to your movie. Do good work and people will notice. Do bad work, and well, you still have the opportunity to find the 20 people in the world who think you’re brilliant. And in terms of pay structure – I made a joke earlier about deferred pay. But I am not totally opposed to some well structured back end deals. I mean, 1/4th of 1% of 100M is – it’s nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, as we all know there is no guarantee that any movie project will make money. So for you and me and most indies, it will take roughly two years of hustle to churn out a movie that we can be proud of. For the studios, they are going to churn out micro-budget movies like widgets in a factory.  The odds of success, for both of us  – the indie filmmakers and the studio are getting closer equal.

And I think that is something worth celebrating.

Is anyone else excited about this? Please feel free to comment.

Get Film Financing, part 2 of 2

Shows the difference between systematic and un...

Image via Wikipedia

Most investors are seasoned business professionals who manage their money in a superb way. They have run successful enterprises and will know how to evaluate your business. (Yes, your movie is your business.) If you present a project with inexperienced management, lack of star talent, no distribution deal in place with no clue how you’ll return the money, prospective investors will quickly realize the inherent risks of your project. This is assuming you can actually finish the movie on time and on budget. Good luck!

While risk tolerance is different for every investor, your project becomes more appealing if you find ways to convey an upside for minimal risk. In this regard, one of your biggest challenges is to make your movie good business. If you’re pitching a business project that has no revenue generating framework (your movie is not yet made and there is no distribution) you will need to find selling points other than than an invite to the wrap party to make your project appealing.

Fortunately for you, a strong script can open many doors to name talent. Name talent can increase your odds of a distribution deal. Distribution can create the opportunity for ROI (Return on Investment). If you put all the pieces together and the stars align, then you may have something worth presenting to investors.

What is name talent? To find out, use the grandmother test. Ask your grandmother if she ever heard of Jason Brubaker. If she has not, chances are I’m not a name. Then ask if she ever heard of Tom Cruse. Chances are she has. So as a rule of thumb, if your grandmother has not heard of a particular actor, neither has the potential investor or paying audience.

The good news is, to the rich, 100K feels like 100 dollars. So money isn’t the same. Still, you will need to find rich people willing to take risks. Since most of these folks are sophisticated, you’ll need to convince them your project offers more than a party. Here is how to eliminate some of risk for potential investors.

1. Control the rights to a great script.
2. Attach name actors to your project.
3. Have a distribution deal in place.
4. Attach an experienced director and cinematographer.
5. Attached an experienced production manager.