Nobody Cares What You Spent On Your Film

I was watching the real estate show Selling LA on HGTV last night and as usual, there was that one pesky client who refuses to see things for how they really are. For example, the market may dictate that a one bedroom condo on the Wilshire Corridor goes for something in the $800K range, but this guy demanded his condo sell for $1.3 million because his was ‘different and better’ than all the other comparables out there. Market be damned – he was not willing to lower his asking price for anything saying that he put money into renovating the place and couldn’t afford to take a loss. Guess what dude? The fact that you spent more money on your condo than the market could bear is not anyone else’s problem – it’s yours! And no matter how much you dig your heels in and refuse to lower your asking price, no one is going to pay more than market price for your condo! (OK maybe someone will….but it might take 2 years to find that someone. Opportunity costs anyone?)

So all this reminded me of what I hear from filmmakers all the time. They’ve spent $500K or $1 million on their film and by golly they want/need to recoup that much to break-even. Well guess what – here’s the cold hard truth: 

Distributors don’t give a rat’s patooty what you spent on your film, they only care about what the film looks like and more importantly WHO IS IN IT. That’s right – distributors will only acquire your film for the market price or what the market can bear at any given time, and most of the time, it’s a lot less than what you think you’re gonna get.

So what can you do about this conundrum? Well first of all, study Sales Projections BEFORE you make your movie. As a former sales agent myself and someone who is in constant contact with sales agents about market trends, I’ve developed a set of realistic sales projections for indie films. You can take a look at them on the Film Specific site HERE

What you want to do is get a grip on what the market is paying FIRST before you go building or renovating your condo (in your case, making your movie!). Get in touch with what the market is paying before you pour an amount of money into a project that you’ll never recoup. 

Second you want to only put money into the areas that count – in real estate that’s Kitchens and Bathrooms. In filmmaking it’s CAST and CAST. I had a client come to me the other day determined to make a $500K movie and asking me how he could recoup that on a horror film with no names. I said YOU CAN’T (or most likely won’t). But he keeps trying to fit a square peg into a round hole rather than do the easy thing – lower his budget. Spend less! Like $450K less if you’re not willing to go after ‘names’. Heck, even at the $450K level with names, I know someone who has been trying to recoup for 3 years, and is only halfway there (sigh). You can listen to an interview I did with him HERE.

So the bottom line is this – make your film according to what the market can bear not the other way around (trying to get the market to cooperate with your film). Remember, buyers don’t care how much you spent – they are going to pay what they’re going to pay and could care less if you spent a million or ten thousand. They only care about what is on the screen!

Now over to you. Anyone have an experience like this where they spent more on their film than the market could bear? Or any questions about this topic? Just post in the comments section below!


Additional Resources

1. Learn how to completely reverse engineer your project so you never make a movie for more than the market can bear in my flagship on-demand course Distribution In Reverse. Completely FREE for FS Pro Annual members. Check it out HERE

2. Speaking of FS Pro Annual Membership, our 5th Anniversary Promotion that extended through the month of April is coming to a close on Monday April 30. Join the largest community of serious filmmakers on the web and get access to training audios and videos, sample contracts, sales projections, online courses, get all your questions answered in our private forums, and more! Plus get 3 free months of membership + a 2012 Film Distribution Kit shipped to your house during the last couple days of this promotion. GO HERE TO GET STARTED.



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  • Joel Valle

    The problem with most aspiring filmmakers is that they want to make films for all the wrongs reasons. They don’t care about the business side, they just want to make films to be “loved”. Of course they are not even aware of that, it’s all subconscious. It boggles my mind that a lot of so called “film directors”, learn everything technical thing there is about the creative side of filmmaking, yet they completely skip in learning the two most important things. A) the business side. If they actually learned at least 30% of what entails to create a financially successful film they would quickly learn to delegate and not wear multiple hats. B) They call themselves directors yet they don’t know how to work with actors. What good is to buy a $5,000 camera if you don’t focus on what the audience is really going to watch…the acting. I could go on and on.

    I enjoy reading your articles Stacey, keep telling it as it is.

    • Kholi

      Sorry Joel, but while opinions are opinions I’m compelled to vocally (or textually) disagree with this one.

      One, it’s not wrong to want to produce material for the love of it, or so that it will be loved. Not everyone’s goal is a financial one, and it isn’t “wrong” simply because another creator’s goal is not the same as the next.

      Second, not everyone can afford to not wear multiple hats. That’s just a reality of getting it done in any industry, when you aren’t loaded or can’t exactly locate funds to start with. Hopefully, a goal to aspire to for some would be more capital to feed more key positions.

      That doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop, if you can’t.

      Lastly… good acting or good directing being essential to the sale of a feature film? Are you confusing feature films with television? If you’re looking for financial success in the market of feature length films, the criteria doesn’t include great acting or great directing.

      Like Stacey says… what it looks like and who’s in it.

    • Stacey Parks

      Thanks Joel! I agree completely – in my experience most filmmakers are so obsessed with cameras and gear and don’t put enough emphasis on learning the business side of things. That is why I started in the first place – to hopefully bridge that gap!

  • Mark Lund

    Another great post Stacey. And I agree with Joel 100%. It’s called the film “industry” not a “hobby”.

    • Stacey Parks

      Yep, see me above reply to him :) Thanks Mark and glad you liked it!

    • Simon Green

      Hi Mark,

      Just came across your film “Justice is Mind”. Looks like you should’ve taken a page from Stacey’s handbook on that one. I disagree with this argument, because without good artists (artist being a profession in which content matters as much as finances), there is no industry.

      And you, sir, are a far cry from a good “artist”. Put a sock in it and go back to Wall St.

      Simon G.

  • Mandy H.

    The main problem is that everyone thinks they are going tonot that you can not love your craft as well. have the next Paranormal Activity franchise I.e. something very little that will make millions. Dreams are good, delusions of grandeur- not so much! I also don’t believe people make movies not thinking about it making money at all, “for the love of film making” Whatever! Very few people do anything without monetary motivation. That’s not to say you can’t love your craft as well.

    • Mandy H.

      Oops I don’t know how that sentence got up there! Sorry.

    • Stacey Parks

      Totally agree with your sentiment Mandy!

  • Anastasia

    I think a filmmaker must decide early on whether his film is for the love of the art or for a wide/commercial audience… That decision will dictate the rest, ie: casting, directing, budget etc. I agree that filmmakers on the whole tend not to see the end picture, but it depends certainly on the filmmaker and his aspirations: commercial success (the business have you) or for the love of it. That’s not to say that art can’t be commercial…but there are a lot of factors involved in making a film. And most important is who will watch it. It all comes down to money. Like Mark said, it’s an “industry”.

    • Stacey Parks

      Yep! You got it Anastasia…thanks for commenting!

  • Kia Barbee

    Such a relevant post as I’m getting ready to prep a budget for one of my scripts that will most likely have no major names, maybe one name for a supporting characters. None-the-less the issue I have with no-budget is the technical aesthetics. How can a crappy looking film compete in top tier festivals. I can have the best untapped talent out there and there’s plenty in NYC, however most people will not sit through your darling indie film that looks cheaply made. IMHO. So I rather spend on production values if I have no “name” talent, but are solid actors in of themselves than spend on name cast and have an not so attractive looking film. Post production is also important to me.

    • Stacey Parks

      You can have it all Kia! Many people accomplish million dollar ‘looking’ films on a quarter of that budget-wise….it all depends the professionals you are working with. Also name cast (not A list of course) will work for cheaper than you think….

  • Phil Wurtzel

    Right on the nose Stacey. I did that with my first feature, got the B-Name character actor on a $175k budget film should have went after two more names to round it out. Also made a “tweener”, bad idea! Sales Agent told me this is when you mix genres, in my case an action /drama with not enough action. Took several years to get 60% of my budget back. Got smart on next project. Took on a Doc about a local band with a huge following, shot it for less then $15k total and got into profit in less then a year just selling to their fans (facebook, email blast and at the premiere/concert). On to my next Doc about the nations oldest Summer Stock Theatre with a 35k person mailing list which I have access to. Budget on this Doc is under $50k total (more ambitious subject took a year plus to film) using Stacey as consultant and have a PMD on board. So important to know your market and not just run off and produce in a vacuum. Or go ahead and produce in a vacuum and then sit back wonder why you can never get second film off ground and all your investors are running scared from you. I’m all about passion projects believe me I have a script that I will make someday that is not genre just a great drama. It’s just not gonna happen until I’m in the right position ie A list names attached. All in all though, first time directors heed this post and learn.

    • Stacey Parks

      Thanks Phil for sharing your experiences with the group – very valuable stuff!

  • Charles Mariotti

    Stacey is right on the money again. I work in distribution and funding. If you spent 500K, you use tax incentives and foreign presales and other inside knowledge to bump your project to 1.5M. And you have all the star power you need for 500K. One example: we have a filmmaker who came up with 450K first-in investor. We attached two bankable stars. Used the above formula, and raised the budget to 1.6M. Sold it for 6M. Paid back the investors with an ROI (one year total time) and still have ancillary markets to generate revenues for years. Of course my exec is a seasoned veteran. Not something easy to do without the proper connections. Nevertheless, Stacey is giving you guys the right tools and info. @Stacey, I am offering to help your filmmakers who have at least 200K first-in, and preferably have one film under their belt. You have my contact info.

    • Stacey Parks

      Thanks Charles!

  • Mandy

    I also want to add how important names are to distributors, which is how you make money. My friend Mel House , has made a couple of movies on super small shoestring budgets that have distribution. He has also made his money back on the later ones, and I hope more. One of the larger ones, had no names but was a good movie- closet space. It got small time distribution but distribution none the less. It can be found at walmart and other places, that’s a win in my book. The other movie now called Psychic Experiment (used to be Walking Distance) has a plethora of not quite B-listers, but big in the horror community people. It was bought and distributed by Lions Gate and now has foreign distribution in multiple countries as well. Some of the people in it were glenn moreshower, kathy lambkin, Debbie Rochon, Lisa Wilcox, and katie featherstone(from paranormal activity. They met her before Paranormal came out!luck!) He did this knowing it is what the companies want, and it worked!

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  • Stacey Parks

    You’re welcome Sawa!