Can you pre-sell the theatrical premiere screening to finance an independent film?

Can you pre-sell the theatrical premiere screening to finance an independent film?

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Alright, so we all know that independent features when they are completed, have a big movie premiere on the big screen where the entire cast and crew come out. The going rate is usually $10 a ticket. You go out and watch the movie, meet the cast and crew, and usually do a Q&A afterwards. Based on my numbers, if you book a large theater that seats around 1,000 people, you can do your split like this...

700 tickets x $10 = $7,000
300 tickets (reserved for cast, crew, press)

Then you can put something up on Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and pre-sell the tickets and if you can find 700 people in your entire city, to pre-order a ticket to your screening, mixed with additional supporters, you should be able to easily hit your $10k goal and shoot most independent feature films.

I have a cast/crew size of around 30 so if all of them got just 10 of their friends, family members, past co-workers to pre-order a ticket to see a movie they are a part of, that would be 300 tickets. I've learned that this is how plays did it back in the old days. They purposely created these plays with really large casts because they knew they could pack a theater on opening night if their cast was large enough. I told my entire cast/crew to all try to get 10 people and once those 10 say they'll go, encourage them to bring just 1 person with them because nobody likes to go to a movie by them self (except filmmakers cause we see too many movies). So that could easily put us up to 600 and really close to actually pulling it off if everyone did their part. And then that's not even counting social networks, people not in the movie wanting to go that could exceed the goal. That's just for the initial push so people believe it will actually happen.

I believe that this model could ultimately lead to a surge in independent films being made if it can be proven to work. My theory is people HATE being asked to donate for money but they LOVE being invited to a movie premiere. And many people will actually get angry at you if you don't invite them to your movie premiere. I'm personally one of them. Even if I don't go, I still like to be invited. It makes me feel special. The same way when someone invites me to their birthday party or wedding. I may not go but it feels nice to know they want to see me there at their big event. :)

So, I'm giving it a try and I hope you guys follow my progress, I launched yesterday afternoon! Please give me feedback suggestions, maybe help me promote it if you have any connections to bloggers/filmmaker publications, or if it's something you'd watch, feel free to show your support if you like....

If people respond with interest to this post, I'll come back and keep you all updated and answer questions. I'm just a struggling filmmaker like many of you trying to get my movies made. So anything I can do to help, I will. If I ever actually get this movie made, I'll come back on here and create a big thread on it with lots of tips for everyone. I really believe this could be my breakout film that puts me on the map. I got scripts ready to go after this as well to keep making some big exciting things happen. We shall see friends!

My theory is also that there is around $212 million dollars that have flowed through kickstarter, and if I can hit the initial $10k as quickly as possible, the kickstarter crowd may come in and push me over the amount to get the celebrity cameos I have that are interested in this project. But maybe that is wishful thinking, so I'm also going to be looking for sponsors in the meantime to maybe help close that gap.

Some of you are probably thinking, there is no way it could work because people aren't going to reserve a ticket to an event when the date hasn't even been announced yet. And that is the biggest obstacle really. So I've packaged every ticket with a digital download of the movie, soundtrack, making of ebook, digital download of the poster and a public thanks on the facebook fanpage..all for $10. That way even if they somehow can't make the screening with a 1 month notice, they'll own a digital download of it to see it no matter what. I figure if at that point they still don't want to reserve a ticket and I don't hit my goal, I'll go shoot another feature and come back to this later. :(

You can't give up, got to keep pushing and try new things. I see that some on Kickstarter/IndieGoGo don't even give a digital download until like $25 dollars or something. Or do their premiere tickets at like $50, it's just insane I think to charge so much more than the normal going rate. But what do I know, I'm still trying to figure all this out.

I hope you're all having a great weekend so far. :)

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My theory is people HATE being asked to donate for money but they LOVE being invited to a movie premiere. And many people will actually get angry at you if you don't invite them to your movie premiere. I'm personally one of them.

Aside from anecdotal evidence, do you have any research or sources to support your theory? :hmm:
Aside from anecdotal evidence, do you have any research or sources to support your theory? :hmm:

People will delete you on facebook and other channels for asking them for money to support your project. It is brutal. Even people who you think are good friends instantly are turned off by it and take offense or ignore you. You just never know people's reaction until it comes to it. I know a lot of people who have gave it a try and have spoken with them and followed others progress as well who say the same.

I think it can work. I love the idea. I'll be watching your progress.

Thanks man, so far we're off to a very slow start and it's not looking good. It's actually looking quite strongly like we will fail but I'm keeping at it. :blush:

This is a good experiment that many of us here will be following for as long as you stay in contact.

Your campaign has been added to the ongoing list.


Thanks buddy, nice list you got there. ;)
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Then you can put something up on Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and pre-sell the tickets and if you can find 700 people in your entire city, to pre-order a ticket to your screening, mixed with additional supporters, you should be able to easily hit your $10k goal and shoot most independent feature films.

Independent features which have a world premiere in a 1,000 seat theatre with press, etc., are NOT "most independent features"! Most independent features with a $10k budget will get premiered at a small, regional film festival. What you are suggesting ups the stakes considerably, a world premiere in a large cinema with press in attendance is going to significantly increase the expectation for your film. Add in celebrity cameos and the expectation will rise even higher. "Most independent feature films" attempting what you are suggesting would have a budget of 20 to 500 times more than you are aiming for in order to meet that expectation, $10k is IMHO, completely unrealistic! To put it into perspective, you are going to need a professional sound mix to meet expectations in a 1,000 seat cinema and your entire $10k budget would be blown in just two or three days at one of the cheaper Dolby mix facilities and they usually require a day per reel.

I'm not blowing your idea completely out of the water, it has some novelty and there might be a way to make it work. Especially baring in mind that "where there's a will there's a way" but you've got some major obstacles to overcome, the first of which IMHO is a good dose of realism!

I think it's an interesting idea, but there's a few reasons as to why I don't think this will work:

-The cost of a theatre that can seat 1,000 people could cost you almost that $10,000 you were planning on using for your film.

-Without a trailer, it's going to be tough to judge whether your movie is one I want to see or don't want to see.

-Most indie films struggle to find a 1,000 strong audience

-$10,000 is a bare-bones micro budget. You could use up $10,000 on a half decent camera or lighting/grip package in a week or two.

But the biggest one is:

-Most high profile festivals, or at least ones that require Premiere (which is most) specifically state a max number of people that can be present at the cast/crew screening of a film. IIRC, the Melbourne International Film Festival states a cast/crew screening as <94 people.
If you want to get into this/these festivals, you cannot show your film to 1,000 people - you're limiting yourself to second and third tier film festivals before you even make your movie.

Also, as APE mentioned, you're going to need a proper sound mix to show a film in a 1,000 seat theatre - you're not going to get away with a stereo mix out of FCP or Adobe Premiere...

That's not to say this is a terrible idea - I do think it's interesting. I'd like to see you have a go at it, and I'd be interested in your results.
"An average theater will buy 225 seats per screen"

With an audience goal of 1,000 you're looking at five nearly sold out showings.

Gotta pay the theater owner, maybe they'll take a few hundred + all concession stand sales.
Word of mouth is great and inexpensive, but to rely on that 100%... for the 700 seats not ascribed to your 300 cast & crew tickets... meh... pretty cheeky.
So, what would your promotion expenses really be to secure that $7,000 pre-sold local ticket sales?

That cast of 30 each selling 10x tickets each to family and friends (Really? You're going to SELL to your family and friends? No comps?) to generate $3,000
- PLUS -
the $7,000 pre-sold local ticket sales minus promotion & marketing expenses
what the theater owner will want you to pay for an average 225 seat theater for five sold out showings
really won't leave you with much production cash on hand to begin production to attract 1,000 paying audience members.

The average corporation makes about 10% Earnings after Expenses.

Earnings (Profit) = Revenue - Expenses

Keep in mind that's with economies of scale really working in their favor.

For a production budget of $10k you'll really need to either pre-sell about double that or at least sell twice as many tickets after you've made the film.

I'm not suggesting at all that it can't be done.
Plenty of popular products are pre-sold.
I'm just suggesting another way of lookimg at the scenario so that you can better determine how to make your film product "popular" before it's even made.
And that's pretty tough.
Unfortunately I see so many potential problems with this that I just don't see it being successful - not the film itself, that is, but the approach you're describing.

Back-of-the-envelope type calculations like you've given are really only useful as a starting point to determine whether something is absolutely impossible or merely improbable. At this point you've determined that it's merely improbable that you could do what you're attempting - now you need to get some real numbers to determine exactly how improbable it really is.

Others have mentioned expenses you don't seem to be accounting for, like the theater rental. There's also the digital download and ebook, etc - how are you planning to create and distribute those?

You also need to look at how you'll reach the people that you expect to buy the tickets. If you plan to ask each cast/crew member to invite 10 people and anticipating that you'll reach that goal you're essentially expecting 100% buy-in which is extremely unlikely. Even when you're talking about people who are not strangers you'll be very lucky to get a 10% buy-in - so realistically you're expecting each cast and crew member to invite at least 100 people just to actually get 10 to buy tickets. You also seem to be expecting that none of these cast/crew people know each other, otherwise it's likely their friends will overlap and may be very unlikely that each will know 100 unique people to invite. And all of this is just to get to the first 300 people, which won't even get you halfway to your goal.

There's also nothing that really shows me what it is that I'd be buying tickets to, and no date for the premier. How are people supposed to plan for it? Without a trailer and no screening date you have to understand that you aren't really pre-selling anything, you're still basically asking people to donate to something that might or might not come to be.

The 'kickstarter crowd' coming in and pushing you higher is definitely wishful thinking - that's just not how it works. Every one of those $212 million dollars that flowed through kickstarts was fought for tooth-and-nail by the project creators, except in a few high profile cases that generally involve pre-selling physical goods - and in those cases the crowd didn't come from kickstarter itself, but from widespread media coverage elsewhere. If you want that to happen for you you'll need to do the PR and promotion work to get your project covered by blogs and other media, and you'll need some kind of hook that makes it a unique story rather than just another indie film looking for funding.

The 'public demand' section of your kickstarter is problematic. Are the 600k people searching annually for the term 'hooker movie' really looking for a romantic comedy? Or is it more likely they're looking for porn? Also, when I search for the term "hooker movie" (with or without quotes) you aren't showing up anywhere in the first ten pages of results... try using chrome, opening an incognito window, and searching for the terms. Your own results in a normal browser window are customized by google to reflect the things they think you'll be most interested in, so you need to use an icognito window to search without that customization and get a better reflection of what other people are likely to see. If you want to drive your film to the top of the results you'll need to put in some serious marketing and SEO effort.

You have too many pledge levels as well. You generally want to structure the pledges to drive people towards your real minimum pledge goal, so the $10 level should be the second level at most. Having more levels, with very little differentiation between them, doesn't really improve your chances of getting more money from each person pledging. Make it simple, and make it clear what benefit there is to pledging more.

People are either going to pledge or not - there's nobody that's on the fence about pledging who's going to look at it and say 'I was going to pledge, but $10 is too much - but hey, I can afford $9!". Your goal should be to convince the people who are interested in pledging to pledge as much as possible - it's the old marketing truth that it's much easier to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one. It's significantly harder to find 1000 people to donate $1 than it is to find 100 to donate $10, which is still harder than finding 20 to donate $50. Obviously the curve inverts at some point - it's pretty hard to find one person to donate $1000 - but the goal is to find that sweet spot where you get the fewest donors to hit the highest average donation, and in my experience it's somewhere around the $40-50 range. But if I've decided to pledge, and I don't have four other friends I expect to drag to your screening, then there's very little incentive for me to pledge $50 right now.

The thing I like about your ks video is that it shows you've got a decent cast with good chemistry. Other than that it doesn't tell me anything about why I'd want to contribute to your movie. 'Send us the money and we'll make you a comedy masterpiece' just doesn't cut it. I can go down to the local video store and pick up five comedy masterpieces for the price of one ticket to your screening. You need to convince people that there's something special about being a part of the making of your film that makes it worth spending the money on your film rather than the many other options out there. Around here you'll probably find people who will do it just because they want to support independent film - but that's not going to be enough for a general audience.
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