Film Distribution System

Independent filmmaking is often considered one of the riskiest businesses in the world. This is due, in large part to the inefficient nature of our business. Think about it. Indie film is one of few vocations where people create a product without any idea how they are going to market or sell it.

Despite this reality, most indie filmmakers still make movies, subscribing to the belief that it’s impossible to enter the marketplace without finding some 3rd party movie distributor to “pick up” a movie. But thanks to modern Video On Demand distribution, this belief is eroding.

As an independent filmmaker, you now have options. You can choose to take the conventional route, go it alone or combine a little of both models to create a hybrid distribution strategy.

While these options allow independent filmmakers to enter mainstream marketplaces, this paradigm shift creates new challenges. Namely, if you chose to become your own distributor, you will need to become comfortable with internet marketing tactics, social media and audience list building.

For most indie filmmakers, what I’m describing is a huge learning curve!

 

Film Distribution System

My Film Distribution System

I frequently share marketing and distribution tactics. As a consequence, many filmmakers think of me as the “self-distribution guy.” If you share this opinion, you might assume that I no longer value traditional distribution. But here is the irony.

The reason I am able to share marketing and distribution tactics is because I actually spent the last half-decade working professionally in film distribution. For over a year I was the director of operations at Distribber. And after that, I served as the manager of film acquisitions at Chill.

And recently I was hired by a producer to help sell a movie at the American Film Market.

During the market, we were able to schedule over 20 meetings. The reason we had so much interest from distributors is because we DID NOT actually need a distributor. This is because (aside from having an awesome movie) we also had a plan for marketing and selling our movie, ourselves.

Taking time to do our homework and create our own marketing and distribution plan eliminated all desperation and provided us with confidence. Because we didn’t actually need a distributor, we were able to go into each meeting with the patience to work towards a balanced win-win.

Regardless of the route you choose, the first step of the process is to sit down with a pen and paper and answer the following questions:

1. Who is Your Target Audience?
2. How Large is Your Target Audience?
3. How Will You Reach Your Target Audience?
4. What is Your Marketing Strategy?
5. How Many VOD Sales to Break Even?

While this may seem like an overly simple task, taking time to answer these questions is an exercise most filmmakers ignore. And by not having a marketing strategy (that you control) prospective distributors will have no choice but to present you with their standard offer. And because you will have no leveraging power, odds or good you’ll take it.

Creating Film Distribution Leverage

My clients took a different route. The producers did their homework. And as a result, we knew what we had and how we were going to market and self-distribute. By having a plan, we were able to minimize the risk for a prospective distributor and emphasize the potential upside.

In response to our plan, prospective distributors correctly perceived our movie as less risky than most. As a result, we received close to a half-dozen solid offers for the movie. (Some even included a substantial minimum guarantee and advertising spend.)

From there, we narrowed down the selection into final negotiations. While I’m not yet at liberty to talk about the actual deal, I can tell you that things are going well.

If you’re just learning about distribution, here is what the process looks like:

1. You pitch the movie.
2. Distributor expresses interest.
3. Distributor sends proposal / term sheet.
4. You negotiate terms to (hopefully) find a win-win.
5. From there, a long-form agreement is drafted.

It’s Never Too Early To Learn Film Distribution

The truth is, this blog would be a lot more popular if all I wrote about was cameras and gear. That stuff is sexy. Distribution is not. I get that. But here’s the thing… The reason you can’t close your prospective investor or land a dream distribution deal is because your movie project is too RISKY.

You think you’re ready for the pitch, but you’re not.

In fact, you shouldn’t be talking to anybody about your movie project until you have a clear marketing, sales and distribution strategy. This may seem extreme, but knowing this stuff is essential. And I’m not saying you need to become a world class social media marketer.

You need to know a little about a lot.

You need know who to hire and why.

And you need to start planning this TODAY.

If you’re interested in becoming your own distributor (so you can raise money and or sell your movie) you’re in luck. Based on my experience marketing and distributing movies, I have created a system to help you understand the marketing and distribution process.

My system is called The Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self-distribution. In it, you will be provided with a step-by-step roadmap to help you get your movies seen and selling in popular marketplaces. I wanted my film distribution system to provide you with a plan you can control. Once you know this stuff, you’ll probably never consider a crappy distribution deal again.

If you would like to find out more about the Independent Producer’s Guide To Digital Self Distribution, check out www.HowToSellYourMovie.com

 

The Secret of Pitching to Film Investors (Shhhh. Don’t tell.)

I’m going to reveal some secrets for pitching to film investors. But before I do, I want you to know something. There is NO magic secret for pitching to film investors.

The process of finding and pitching to film investors is not nearly as complicated as many people would like you to believe. Pitching to film investors is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the greater your chances of finding someone willing to invest.

So with that said, it’s important to note that most prospective film investors are business savvy. And they all ask the same question. What is the question?

Inevitability one of the most frequently asked questions film investors ask is:

“How do you plan to make, market and sell this movie and return my investment?”

In the old model of filmmaking, traditional distribution was a lottery. So in response, most filmmakers (especially first time filmmakers) say something like this:

“Filmmaking is risky. If we are lucky, we will get into Sundance and get a distribution deal.”

To that end, most film investors respond like this:

“What? That’s not a business – that’s gambling!”

film investors

Film Investors: The Secret of Pitching

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is total FICTION and should NOT be used in any business plans you create because I am neither a lawyer or an accountant. And I express my right to free speech as I share this imaginary, yet very pragmatic scenario.

Picture this. You enter a room with a bunch of prospective film investors.

Filmmaker: In our business, we hold the rights to an outstanding screenplay that taps into a well targeted, genre specific audience. We have budgeted the movie for $100,000 dollars. And given the genre, we do not need star talent. We are keeping the budget low – most folks have agreed to work for a salary, and all have agreed to residual compensation in the back end.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: At present, our crowdfunding campaign has allowed us to test the concept. And with sixty days left in the campaign, we have already sourced several hundred donations, giving us $8,000 dollars to pay for our website, marketing and PR.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: Upon completion of our movie, the title will available in all the popular marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes. And as we speak, in addition to crowfunding, we have already contacted our audience list of 20,000 people (from our last movie in a similar genre) who have expressed interest in this upcoming title. Combine this with several partner filmmakers which will roughly expand our audience footprint to well over 250,000 targeted viewers.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: So at the time of release, if we project sales at 2% of 250,000 people. This means that 5000 people will download the movie at 9.99… which will be close to 50K minus a 40%  marketplace fee and a 10% commission to our partners – and we should be able to immediately return $25,000.

Prospective Film Investors: Wow! You really did your homework.

Filmmaker: Each subsequent quarter, we would like to continually re-invest 10% of the revenue into further list building efforts. And we would like to keep 30% for the producer and crew compensation. Which should leave you with a 60% cash dividend, to be paid quarterly. Assuming we can bring in $30,000 per year, in 7 years we will have more than $200,000 in revenue for this title. At that time, $20,000 would have been paid to marketing, $60,000 would have been paid to cast and producers and $120,000 would have been paid to investors.

Prospective Investor: Then what?

Filmmaker: As soon as we pay back the initial investment, we would like to split our revenue 60/40. In other words, the producers and crew would get 60% and you would continue to get 40%.

Prospective Investor: I understand what you’re saying here.

Filmmaker: Of course, there is always the small chance that we could get lucky – if we got a 5% return on our initial campaign, and 12,500 people immediately downloaded the movie at $9.99, our revenue will be close to $125,000 – minus expenses. But I need to remind you that this is not likely. And we would still have to pay a commission.

Prospective Investor: Oh. This makes sense.

Fimmaker: Great. Would you like to invest?
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While I have provided a FICTIONAL example  (talk to an attorney and accountant before you ever pitch an idea) of how some filmmakers may decide to navigate this new movie business, my whole point here is this:

It is important to realize that success of a movie is no longer based solely on handing off the movie to some 3rd party distribution company. If you want to make it in this new world of filmmaking, you need to stop waiting for someone else to manage the business aspects of your movie and your career. Instead you now need to take a vested interest in the success of your project.

If you’re helming your movie project, nobody cares about it more than you. But if you aren’t afraid to provide everybody on your team with a bit of ownership too – you’ll soon be surprised to learn that word of mouth spreads a lot quicker when your entire cast and crew has a vested financial interest in the project.

In this regard, when you win, everybody wins!

Getting movie money begins first with making the call and building relationships with good prospective investors. So if you liked this article, you will love this professional film funding resource I created. Check it out by clicking here.

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DISCLAIMER (again) – I’m a filmmaker – not a lawyer or accountant. I’m expressing my freedom of speech for your entertainment. If you’re still reading this, I want to make it very clear that I made most of those figures up as a fictional EXAMPLE. You’ll have to figure out your own numbers and crunch your own data and make your own relationships with prospective investors. And always speak with a qualified professional before you do anything.

The Secrets of Successful Online Movie Advertising

If you want to be a successful filmmaker, you better learn a thing or two about online movie advertising.

The reason I emphasize online movie advertising is because most movies end up in some sort of video on demand platform. And because many of the most popular platforms exist online, selling movies on the internet is very similar to selling anything online

This means you now have the ability to create online movie advertising campaigns to drive people to your point of sale.

If you’ve been reading my filmmaking stuff for any length of time, you know I’ve been sharing similar advice with filmmakers for years. I first published my thoughts back in 2010 – Here’s the article called Financing Movies With VOD Sales Projections. As you’ll read in the comments, most people thought I was crazy.

Fast forward to a recent job interview with a well known distribution company. I kid you not, the whole conversation revolved around this thing called conversion science.

“Jason, WTF is conversion science? I’m a filmmaker. I failed science!”

Look. I am trying to help you. You’re obviously reading this because you want to know the secrets of online movie advertising. And I’m telling you, the big secret is this thing called conversion science.

Online_Movie_Advertising

The Secrets of Online Movie Advertising

Here’s the thing about business (that most filmmakers ignore). Everything in business is measured in profit and loss. So if you spend money for online movie advertising, you better get that money back, plus a profit on top.

So here’s the question: How do you know if your online movie advertising is working?

This one is simple. You track your advertising campaigns. If you make more money then you spend, you’re doing OK. But if you start throwing money into an online movie advertising black hole, you have a BIG problem.

And before we get too crazy, there is something you need to know.

The whole reason you want to do your homework is so you don’t end up depending on the glaringly flawed and totally outdated distribution strategy:

“Gee, I sure hope we get into a film festival and garner a great deal.” 

Hope is not a sustainable business strategy. It is a lottery. And it’s outdated.

Online Movie Advertising Formula

Whenever you think about your movie advertising strategy, it helps to think about some real world scenarios. And because we are talking numbers, I am going to share a basic direct marketing ROI (return on investment) formula.

Here are the MAJOR Filmmaking Challenges:

  1. With no promise of pre-sales, or minimum guarantees in a traditional distribution deal, how do filmmakers justify a budget large enough to pay freelance day rates, while at the same time project enough direct DVD and VOD sales to recoup the initial investment?
  2. And assuming only 1% of your website visitors buy your movie, then how many people must visit your website so that 1% recoups your initial investment? (Don’t forget to include marketplace costs.)
  3. How much will this cost in advertising?

Here is a formula you can test and tweak. Plug in numbers and play around with assumptions.

U = Unit Sales Goal.
A = Amount you pay advertiser per website visit.
C = Projected conversion percentage rate.
X = Number of Visitors Needed.

(X)C = U
EQUATES TO: X= ?
THEN:  X(A) = ?

If all of that seems like a bunch of gobbledygook, you’re not alone. In the real world, most marketers utilize software, an online calculator and spreadsheets to help clarify assumptions.

But here’s the rub.

When you actually crunch the numbers on a One-Million dollar budget by selling $20 dollar DVD’s in Amazon (which is a totally high price), and you rely solely on Pay Per Visit advertising at $.05 cents a visit – Even if you’re lucky enough to garner a 1% conversion, you would need to sell 100,000 units (which allows for a 50% marketplace fee).

Or to put it another way, to get these results, you would need 10,000,000 targeted visitors, visiting your website.

Yes, ten Million people! Which is outlandish… 

This means you will have to think very carefully about your movie budget, marketing budget, your distribution strategy and obviously, you’ll need to make sure your movie actually has a market large enough to support the budget.

If you would like to start planning your distribution, you might want to check out my “How To Sell Your Movie” program.

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.

Video On Demand Distribution MiddleMen

VOD Distribution is going to change the world.

That was the thought running through my head a few years back when I watched a James Bond movie on my very small iPod. It was a time when video on demand distribution was new. The idea of consuming media without a physical DVD seemed weird.

As a filmmaker, I was adjusting to the new paradigm… Video on demand distribution allowed me to directly access my audience. I hadn’t yet realized that we had the power.

Like many filmmakers with an independent movie and no deal, I received countless offers to give up my VOD distribution rights to bottom-feeding distribution companies. The offer was seductive. These aggregators promised inclusion on Amazon and iTunes and other anonymous marketplaces.

In exchange for almost no money, I was offered the the validation of acceptance. All I had to do was sign over my rights… And if I refused, what could I do?

This got me thinking. Let’s pretend I wasn’t seeking VOD distribution for my movie. Let’s pretend instead that I wanted to open my own frozen yogurt shop. Would I still ask permission to sell my yogurt? Probably not. Instead of asking someone to sell my yogurt for me, I would pick up a sign, pass out flyers and get press coverage. I would partner with other complementary businesses. I would work to get people into my store.

Why should the independent movie business be any different?

Yet as filmmakers, we have the tendency to fork over our rights based solely on the promise of some crappy distribution deal. Don’t get me wrong – the key word is CRAPPY. If you are fortunate enough to get a good deal, you should take it. But if all you’re getting is crap – like those traditional deals that snag your rights for seven years and never pay.

Why do filmmakers accept crappy video on demand distribution deals?

Because in the old days we have been conditioned to believe that adding a middleman will magically create revenue beyond what the filmmaker could otherwise create on their own. And that’s stupid.

These days you can sell your movie directly to your audience.

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If you are a filmmaker with a movie, before you give up your filmmaking rights, check out this website: www.MovieDistributionCompany.com