“Buyers and sellers said the indie business is past its painful bottoming-out phase of the last few years. A leaner, smarter model has emerged and while minimum guarantees and P&A commitments are smaller than years past, filmmakers are keeping their budgets at sensible levels.”
I read this quote yesterday about what’s happening at Sundance Film Festival and was as excited as you probably are to see that the worst is behind us. But the part that stuck with me most is the part that says filmmakers are keeping their budgets sensible. What does that mean exactly? Well let’s break that down….
Remember how I said in a previous post how I’m bored with Distribution? Well one reason why is because by the time you get to the Distribution phase you’re in reactionary mode. The film has been made, any damage has been done, and now you’re left to deal with what you’ve got and what if there are no takers? Versus….. when you’re in the Pre-Production stage and you still have a chance to ‘back into’ your budget and craft your film specifically for distribution. This is what I call Intelligent Filmmaking.
Intelligent Filmmaking = Sensible Budgets + ‘Third Way’ Distribution Strategy
What I mean by ‘Third Way’ Distribution Strategy is this: In a very general sense it’s taking the best of the new distribution platforms and combining them with more traditional methods of financing and distribution and coming up with a solid approach to making your movie.
It means you’re aiming high from the beginning. You’re focused on a target audience for your film and using leverage to make something worthy of distribution. Because who cares how big your audience is and how much you engage them and how much ‘control’ you have over your film if you can’t make a living and get yourself on a path to making bigger budgeted films eventually? Does it really matter how many Facebook fans you have if not one of them will ever buy from you?
An example is this: You create a story/concept/idea that has distinct target audience appeal – you package this idea with cast, director, producer, and other elements – you ‘back into’ a budget based on your target audience and package – you develop a distribution strategy based on new and traditional platforms – you nail down a financing strategy based on all these factors.
So back to the ‘sensible budgets’ quote from the top. What is a sensible budget? Well that’s relative to the film you’re making and what elements are involved. Are you getting distributor financing on the front end to justify your $2-$10 million budget? I hope so! If you’re risking 100% private equity and you’re a first or second time filmmaker I’d stay below $1 million budget unless you have a bigger Producer or EP involved who can act as some kind of ‘insurance’ for the project. But all in all ‘sensible’ means this – set your budget intelligently. Not what your line producer tells you, and not what you think you need, but what you’ve researched you can make it for and still be profitable.
You can tell I’m quite passionate about the notion on intelligent filmmaking. What got me started on this? A lot has to do with the recent focus on bottom of the barrel, lowest common denominator filmmaking – the kind that anyone with a Facebook profile can do…because if all you’re doing is focusing on marketing and you’re marketing crap films, where does that get you? It’s a depressing vicious cycle to me.
Incidentally, intelligent filmmaking has gotten me so riled up that I’m putting on a one day workshop in LA on Feb. 12 where I’m going to work with participants to break down their projects, back into budgets, and elevate projects to this ‘third way’ of moviemaking. We’ll focus on financing, marketing, and distributions strategies that make sense for those of you who aspire to move up the in the world, and not stay micro budget forever. More info on the workshop can be found by clicking here.
So I’d love to hear your thoughts. What kinds of films are you planning to make this year, at what budget levels, and how are you justifying those budget levels?
And with Sundance Film Festival in full swing this week, pay attention to acquisition prices if nothing else. If you see that films are being picked up for 6 figure sums, why would you think of making your film in the 7 figures? I’m not saying NOT to do that, but what I’m asking is you to justify that. Let’s discuss!