I’ve been promising you guys for a couple weeks that I was going to come up with some Micro Budget case studies – basically to showcase some of the filmmakers who are experiencing success at this budget level (success being defined as getting distribution for their films, achieving profitability, or both).
If you attended my Virtual Seminar last week on Micro Budgets, you know how important genre, cast, and budget can be even at this level (by the way Part 2 of the Virtual Seminar will take place on Jan.23 where I’ll be talking about financing, production, and distribution). So these case studies here on the blog will hopefully show you how to put everything into practice – also what works, doesn’t work, and what everyone would do differently next time. Reading case studies like this are a great way to shorten your own learning curve!
So without further ado, I’ll introduce you to our first case study…. Gavin Rapp and his film TRAPPED. Take it away Gavin….
What is the name and log line of your film?
The suicide was easy, getting away with everything else could be murder. . .
What is the website for your film?
What is the budget of your film?
What ‘names’ were in your film if any?
On our first feature “Trapped” we worked with Corbin Bernsen and Tom Atkins.
How did you finance your film?
With Equity Investments. Our investors get 90% back of everything we make up and till the recoup 110% then we split the ongoing profits 60/40 for us for perpetuity our investments was all Equity, and we also took advantage of the PA tax credit as well. (which was a lot of work)
How are you distributing your film?
We went the traditional distribution route and didn’t get any advances for our deals (we have a U.S and Canadian distribution deals). The deal with our distributors is that they get 25% each for any sales, and they also get to recoup P&A and expenses incurred for the sales over each quarter then we get the rest (which isn’t much). We signed 5 year deals, we have 3 more to go. Our distributors said it it usually in the 3rd year when we should start to see a profit on the sales then the rights come back to us which we will then keep and sell on our own through our website and “CreateSpace”
Why did you decide to do traditional distribution instead of self-distribution right away?
we thought about self distributing vs. traditional and wanted to see what if anything we could learn by going the traditional route first since we had a couple distributors interested. We sold about 500 copies of the movie on our own before we got the distribution option, and decided as a team to go for it to see how it would play out. That way we knew both sides of our options, we knew how to distribute and promote on our own (which is a heck of a lot of work, and we didn’t budget enough on our first feature to really promote it ourselves ), so when presented with an option to get into all of the Big Box retailers, even if for a couple of days, and then have an option to get “Trapped” onto cable and VOD we decided to go Traditional.
How did festivals play into your distribution strategy?
We didn’t really do to many festivals. We didn’t have the money. We had a premiere in Pittsburgh and were in a local theater for a weekend. (which was very hard to wrangle as well. No theaters played dvd’s so we had to transfer everything to DVCAM and then go spec out theaters to see how the film would look on the big screen. Sometimes we couldn’t even see the picture. Then we’d have to go back to Final Cut to turn up our brightness on the whole movie, and then get a DVCAM tape made again and then go back out to theaters to test it again. That took months.
What are some of the obstacles (if any) that you encountered and how did you overcome them?
It seems that in making movies on whatever budget scale, everything and anything can be an obstacle. It all matters on how you look at your situation. After making 2 indie features I have become accustomed to the landscape of production. It is always a pressure cooker. You never have enough time, energy, or money. I can say that I learned to delegate and hold responsible the people we work with. My first feature I was answering every last question from everyone, and I feel that the production suffered because of that, i.e. , when’s the food coming to the set, who’s getting it, where are the bathrooms, so and so can’t get a ride to the set today can you give them a ride, and on and on. I feel that with an extremely small crew of 4, I was overwhelmed. On my second feature, I made sure we had a few more experienced people on set to distribute the workload, such as a 1st AD, and a couple more grips, and we added additional responsibility to our production manager. With a total of 5 to 6 people working it was a big help and enabled me to concentrate more on the performances and specific shots I needed to get from our 2 sometimes 3 camera set ups.
What were some of your biggest mistakes or wastes of time/money?
I can’t name any really big mistakes we made on this feature. We had everything mapped out and had weekly production meetings to help us stay on course.
What resources or tools did you find most helpful during production, post, and/or distribution?
I would have to say our resources were both people and technology. A lot of local folks love to help out artists especially movie-makers. We would find out what locations we would need, and then would offer locals a chance to be in the movie as an extra. We had people offer places of business to shoot in, period cars, clothing, etc all for free. On the tech side we shoot HD and use our laptops with final cut, to edit the picture. All of which is pretty affordable.
Did you recoup your investors’ money?
We have made some money back but not break even yet.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I shot every weekend for two months. Which is a real drag. I also work full time at FedEx as their multi media specialist. So needless to say it was a grind. I don’t really want to do that again. I would rather shoot straight through 26-30 days and be finished with production. I would also make sure that you have an agreement with all named actors to be at the premieres. We didn’t do that, and Corbin and Tom were “busy” and didn’t show. I won’t do that again. . .
What are your next steps from here?
Thanks to your insight and posts on your website Film Specific about distribution and sales agents, we were able to send out screeners and Trapped was picked up for distribution.. Since we went with a traditional type of distribution we will just have to wait it out and see what happens. We are supposed to be on VOD and Cable this year. So we’ll see if that happens or not. It is a long, slow process.
Thanks Gavin for sharing! Any questions for us? Just post them below in the comments section. And if you have a Micro Budget success story that you’d like to share, please email me and let me know.