Wow, there’s quite a discussion going on over at the Film Specific Facebook page on giving films away for FREE. Yes, that’s F.R.E.E. All prompted by a Time Magazine article I posted about the indie movie “Star Wreck” and the filmmaker Timo Vuorensola who gave his film away for free and then made money (a nice amount of it) off merchandise and other ancillary sales.
The big question is – is this strategy right for EVERY film?
I think not. And here’s why — “Star Wreck” had a gigantic built in audience (rabid Star Trek fans). So they could afford to give the film away for free and be pretty sure that they could recoup money in the ancillaries. But here’s the deal – not every film has that kind of target audience, and EVEN IF THEY DO, who’s to say that that particular target audience will embrace the film the way Star Trek fans did with “Star Wreck”?
That’s one of the inherent problems I see with the FREE strategy. The film business is already risky, and this adds on a whole other layer of RISK. What if you give the film away and nobody cares? No sales of anything? Then you’ve shot yourself in the foot – you can’t go back and start charging for the film and expect people to attach any sort of value to it.
Then there’s the question of SUSTAINABILITY that has come up in the Facebook posting – how can filmmakers have a sustainable career, where they actually can earn a living making films, if they’re just making gimmicky films, giving them away, and hoping to make money on merchandise. Someone brought up the fact that that’s not real FILMMAKING….now we’re talking more about ENTREPRENEURSHIP.
So do you want to be a filmmaker? Or an entrepreneur? Or can you be both AND still make the films that you want to make?
Or does all this mean that you have to CHANGE the films that you want to make in the first place?
And the other question that has come up is about the VALUE of our films. If everyone starts giving away their films on the internet, consumers will become accustomed to getting indie films for free, and won’t ever want to pay for them. (that’s one concern people had in the Facebook discussion). One solution to this is to give the film away as a free download, but then charge for the DVD, special edition DVD, and so forth. Can this work?
So there you have it – the issues surrounding giving your films away for FREE. Bottom line is this: it all comes down to:
1. What your goals are as a filmmaker
2. What your goals are for the film
3. And a case-by-case analysis as to whether a free strategy can work for your specific film
What are your thoughts on this debate? Please comment below!