Strange times - easier to make movies harder to make money from them

I've been infatuated with film for a long time. Started when I was a kid (making 8mm horror films with a camera I borrowed from a friend), then at college made mixed media animation/live-action shorts. On leaving I set up a production company (from my living room) to direct a music video and then joined a company and directed several more. Moved onto commercials, but my heart was always into features. Like many people I pitched, but that's a lottery. And even when I was very close, something happened (like the tragic death of an actor or managerial changes) that scuppered a project. Time waits for no man, so finally I decided to just make my own feature and do it as cheaply as possible. And I mean CHEAP. I was always inspired by the resourcefulness of the Pink directors I'd met from Japan. They made great films (often all on film and cut on film) for next to nothing. And incredibly quickly - a few weeks, believe it or not. So I decided to follow their advice. I shot without sound, and went one step further, without any dialogue. Actually that was the surprisingly easy part - removing all the dialogue from my script. I also picked a commercial genre - thriller/ghost story. Then of course I made my thriller/ghost story as uncommercial as possible! LOL. I had as few actors in the film as possible (4), and kept the locations down to one (my place and locality). Plus I decided to only use natural lighting. All these would make production faster. I got my crew (as small as possible) and we shot roughly 3 days a year for about 5 years. That was the max free time we all had together every year. and since ono of us were getting paid the had to live with that. But it worked and I'd scripted it to work that way. I'm now doing post work. It's cut, and I'm writing the score. I took the rough version to AFM last year and got 2 solid offers. Just wanted to get some feedback. But in the end decided to wait. I've had bad dealings (as a producer) and heard other rough stories from filmmakers about distribution deals. It's the side of the business most filmmakers don't really understand. I decided to learn about it over the years - attending AFM annually since 2007, and getting to know many of the sales agents and distributors in town. The paradox is that we can now make feature films more easily than we ever could, but find it harder and harder to make any income from the fruits of our labour. It was that that lead me to start my own distribution company this year. One aimed more towards filmmakers like myself. Anyhow, enough rambling on, I have to get back to scoring my film and getting it finished.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
Welcome to indietalk.

The paradox is that we can now make feature films more easily than we ever could, but find it harder and harder to make any income from the fruits of our labour. It was that that lead me to start my own distribution company this year. One aimed more towards filmmakers like myself.
This is something I've been saying for years. As it gets less and less expensive
to make a movie it gets more and more difficult to get people to pay to watch it.

I look forward to hearing about your distribution company.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
ah yes classic supply and demand. easier to make films and the supply increases. now there are tons of films and the demand decreases.
why should anyone watch your little film when theres a 100 million avengers movie they haven't seen yet! oh and they haven't watch game of thrones. so why watch yours ??

It's a tough question to answer.
 
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Welcome to indietalk.


This is something I've been saying for years. As it gets less and less expensive
to make a movie it gets more and more difficult to get people to pay to watch it.

I look forward to hearing about your distribution company.
Tell me about it! Even for the smallest of films, if they're lucky enough to get any press, that same exposure leads to tons of online piracy. Just happened to a film we're distributing right now. Suddenly it's everywhere. And by "everywhere" I mean pirate websites. The good thing is that there are still people who'll pay for a DVD or Blu-ray (but they've got to be packed with extras). Plus it's available on AMAZON PRIME for free, so many people will still go there. In the end filmmakers simply have to make their films as cheaply as humanly possible if they want to see a return on their investment. Plus they need to understand genres - what are the most and least commercial, etc etc. And marketing is such an important aspect filmmakers often don't think about. Both before and after a sale. Everyone needs to have a marketing budget. And strategy. It's still possible to make money, but it's not going to make you a millionaire for sure.
 
Welcome to IndieTalk!

Good luck finishing and getting your movie out to the world, and I too look forward to hearing about your distribution company.
Thanks. Shot the film over 5 years. Didn't do much to it for a year (as I was too busy with work and life - you know how that is!). Then last year finally edited it. This year did some clean-up work, visual effects and now the score. Brought my old sampling keyboard out of the garage. Of course it didn't work. Then found a guy in San Fransisco who could fix it. Luckily I got that all done before the lockdown. Started composing. Have about half the film scored. Bought a violin a few weeks ago to add more texture to the soundtrack. But of course got more busy with work (though shouldn't complain) that I haven't even had time to tune it. But really hoping to get it totally completed by the end of the year. Sounds far away. But times flies as we all know.
 
ah yes classic supply and demand. easier to make films and the supply increases. now there are tons of films and the demand decreases.
why should anyone watch your little film when theres a 100 million avengers movie they haven't seen yet! oh and they haven't watch game of thrones. so why watch yours ??

It's a tough question to answer.
It is tough. What filmmakers don't understand is that even with a distributor it doesn't mean people will watch their film, like you point out. What really helps is when the filmmakers work with the distributor hand in hand in marketing the film. Take an online merchant for example. Say you get your film/Blu-ray on sale through a particular online merchant. To get a film noticed by them (you really want them to start adding your film to customers recommend lists) the film must show initial sales/views. Otherwise it remains essentially hidden. To do that the best way is for filmmakers to get cast, crew, family, friends to watch/buy it. When those sales kick in, the merchant says, WHOA! this title is selling, let's promote it. Then it moves out of the clutter and starts being actively promoted by the merchant. And sales automatically grow. All this is done with algorithms, and I'm simplifying it a lot. But you get the idea. Filmmakers can't be passive. Those days when tens of thousands of DVDs could be sold will little effort are gone. But if a filmmaker really works hard with a distributor it's a win-win as the film becomes more well known.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
It is tough. What filmmakers don't understand is that even with a distributor it doesn't mean people will watch their film, like you point out. What really helps is when the filmmakers work with the distributor hand in hand in marketing the film. Take an online merchant for example. Say you get your film/Blu-ray on sale through a particular online merchant. To get a film noticed by them (you really want them to start adding your film to customers recommend lists) the film must show initial sales/views. Otherwise it remains essentially hidden. To do that the best way is for filmmakers to get cast, crew, family, friends to watch/buy it. When those sales kick in, the merchant says, WHOA! this title is selling, let's promote it. Then it moves out of the clutter and starts being actively promoted by the merchant. And sales automatically grow. All this is done with algorithms, and I'm simplifying it a lot. But you get the idea. Filmmakers can't be passive. Those days when tens of thousands of DVDs could be sold will little effort are gone. But if a filmmaker really works hard with a distributor it's a win-win as the film becomes more well known.
okay so john doe is gonna watch MY FILM instead of john wick 3. because it showed up in a recommendation by dignity dog productions or whatever? idk man. people that know me personally dont even watch my shit. ANY OF IT. like not even 5 seconds of it to see what kind of quality it has. I have a very hard time believing that a random rec carries that much weight . and i certainly dont have enough friends or fans or followers to influence any online algorithms.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
I remember i was on this other forum many years back and it was a lot of movie fans on there. I spent a month extolling the virtues of a particular film, how great it was. after that month. nobody watched it. I didnt even make the film!!! I was not associated with it. it was a professional film.

It's so god damn hard to get people to watch ANYTHING. complete and total oversaturation
more content than anyone has time to watch.

these film makers youre talking about that think distributor = audience sound crazy naive.
 
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I remember i was on this other forum many years back and it was a lot of movie fans on there. I spent a month extolling the virtues of a particular film, how great it was. after that month. nobody watched it. I didnt even make the film!!! I was not associated with it. it was a professional film.

It's so god damn hard to get people to watch ANYTHING. complete and total oversaturation
more content than anyone has time to watch.

these film makers youre talking about that think distributor = audience sound crazy naive.
You're right about the naive part - but we all start there, knowing nothing. That's why I'm all for people being open about the business. Once you understand the business and the limits of the business you have a clearer understanding of how to best make and promote/sell your film. Since units sold of DVDs and Blu-rays are very small these days, you'd be surprised at how effective an initial buying push is. It won't necessarily make that title a big success but it will make it visible and get promoted within the merchant's website. It's the difference between not being seen and seen. Then there's the importance of knowing your market. That's where places like AFM come in. They're great places to do market research and see how commercial your (hopefully unproduced) project would be to the sales agents when it's made. That way you save yourself time, and money. Nothing worse than trying to sell a genre picture that no-one wants. Comedies are a hard sell internationally, action is number one worldwide. But action is usually too expensive for indies. It's tough to do multiple car crashes and a chase through Paris on a $10K budget. But horror can be done for virtually nothing. That's why horror and high concept horror are still the most profitable films around. But don't make a zombie film - there are simply too many about. Better to find out first what the market is looking for before you make it. But most people don't. Then we come to the title of your film. That's very important. Top of the alphabet is preferable, and something that both represents and sells your film as succinctly as possible. Titles alone can sell a film. We've sold films recently on titles alone. Crazy but true. Luckily they're great films, but you get the idea.
 
First, I learned a new word from you post - "scuppered." Thanks. :lol:

I got my crew (as small as possible) and we shot roughly 3 days a year for about 5 years. That was the max free time we all had together every year.
Dude, this is the most insane shooting schedule I've seen. I guess none of you wanted to use Vacation Time to schedule a solid 10 - 14 days? I've worked in hotels for a number of years, for my main income. I made 4 features, all while on paid vacation. To me, making a movie was far more important than going anywhere. I don't care about travelling, so it worked out.

Anyway, I really enjoyed your post. I haven't shot a feature in more than 10 years, as I went bankrupt, during the big recession of 2008 - 9'. That mainly had to do with my income taking a drastic hit that year. The last thing I was going to do was rack up some more credit cards, when I needed to get back on my feet.

But, yeah, it really sucks to see how the film selling avenues have dried up. Ironically, I got an email today from the Head of Global Acquisition & Sales for a company that manages a few hundred films. They were asking about making a deal with my sci-fi flick, EXILE. They heard about me through a years past deal with Go Digital, so this could be interesting.
 
I remember i was on this other forum many years back and it was a lot of movie fans on there. I spent a month extolling the virtues of a particular film, how great it was. after that month. nobody watched it. I didnt even make the film!!! I was not associated with it. it was a professional film.
You have to ask yourself tough questions, like why would they watch a film I recommended? I often tell my friends about great films to watch and they likewise tell me about their faves. But rarely do we ever watch these personal recommendations. I, on the other hand, buy and watch films that are reviewed online by a handful of popular genre review channels and pages that I follow. These have tens of thousands of followers, so films can gain hundreds or near thousands of views/purchases as a result. And for a small DVD/Blu-ray release that could result in a film selling out. So you can see why that's a good way of marketing. What I'm saying here is maybe you're forum approach is like fishing in a small pond, rather than getting the lakes and oceans the review sites command. And remember, people go to review sites with the intention of finding something to buy. People on forums don't. That's a huge difference. So pick your target audience wisely. Take horror conventions. People go to them with the intention of spending money. They won't go home without purchasing something. So if you've made a horror film and have a table of product for sale, you may sell out completely. On the other hand you could spend all year with the same table at swap meets, and sell nothing. Again it's because the audience/consumers you were reaching out to were different. I'm over simplifying here, but hopefully it makes sense.
 
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Dude, this is the most insane shooting schedule I've seen.
Insane to you I guess, but it worked for us perfectly. It worked for the crew, the actors and most importantly for the script. Before I wrote the script I listed the limitations I set myself (few actors, limited location, limited shooting days, natural light and, later I decided, no dialogue). That was my artistic/design brief. I wrote the script and designed the whole look of the film with those limitations in mind. I turned a liability into an asset. It also meant no-one lost any money on this project at all. So our first dollar from sales will be our first dollar in profit. However you can, I say make it work for you. Get your film made, but don't go into debt. BTW what's vacation time when you're freelance? LOL. We were all busy in our day jobs that this was simply the only way to do it. The entire experience was (and still is) the best time of my creative life and the most fulfilling artistic accomplishment I've ever had. And I've directed tons of commercials and other things. But nothing, absolutely nothing compares to making your own film on your own terms.
 
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I'm glad it worked out for you. I've shot films two ways. The first way is to shoot for 2 weeks. By the third day, you hit your stride and the routine becomes more comfortable, mentally. The second way is to shoot on the odd day off. We did that for close to a year. I found that the amount of time wasted on the second was a lot more work. We kept having to regroup, reorganize, and re-establish continuity. That time added up. Hopefully, I'll never do it like that, again. But that's me.

I also have a script, called PIT DWELLER, where there is no dialogue, and three main characters - a husband, wife, and the creature. There are also two minor characters, a park ranger and a hunter. I set that limitation, because I wanted to be able to shoot it with my 16mm Bolex. I'm pretty good with sound foley, so I was going to do it all in post.

Anyway, I was complimenting your post, as I related to a lot of it. But, the 5 year thing is Lynchian. It took that long for ERASERHEAD.
 

onebaldman

Pro Member
indiePRO
IOTM Winner
I always wonder how I'm going to figure out distribution and the business side of things. I can't even consider calling myself a "professional" until then. Hopefully by the time I retire and sometime during film school, things will become less saturated and easier to profit from.

Blaney; you said you started your own distribution company. Is it focused on a niche genre type? Or broad and encompassing for all sorts? I see a new film distro site open almost on a monthly basis... And it seems none of them succeed as well as niche sites like DUST, Shudder, etc.

Or maybe one that has a film festival attached to it? There are so many ways to get creative with all of this. I'm just wondering what your take is on what could be most successful for an up and coming filmmaker... Or what I should be looking for with my future films.
 
Blaney; you said you started your own distribution company. Is it focused on a niche genre type? I see a new film distro site open almost on a monthly basis... And it seems none of them succeed as well as niche sites like DUST, Shudder, etc.

Or maybe one that has a film festival attached to it?
Hi
I think you're confusing distribution with streaming services (or as they used to say, broadcast). That's like thinking a cinema or TV channel is a distributor. We're primarily a distribution company (and international sales agent), so our films may eventually find their way to the actual channels and services like those you mention. We distribute work globally to streaming platforms (the majors and niche ones), big and small and also release on DVD and Blu-ray. Believe it or not we still distribute to brick and mortar stores. Unlike many similar companies we don't charge any expenses. Filmmakers just supply us their deliverables and then any monies that come in from sales are simply split 50/50 between us and the filmmakers. We promote, create artwork and market the work. But we do so in partnership with the filmmakers whenever we can. I also run 3 film festivals and many of the films come from the festivals, and are marketed and branded by each festival's name. So we distribute, horror, sci-fi, action, comedy, and animation. Films currently range from epic international action-packed animation to erotic artspoitation vampire stories (and absolutely everything in-between). If it's interesting, looks like it has a market (however small) and made with passion, we're interested.
 
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onebaldman

Pro Member
indiePRO
IOTM Winner
Hi
I think you're confusing distribution with streaming services (or as they used to say, broadcast). That's like thinking a cinema or TV channel is a distributor. We're primarily a distribution company (and international sales agent), so our films may eventually find their way to the actual channels and services like those you mention.
Oh I got ya. Sorry my mistake for misunderstanding. Like I said, I'm not familiar with the business side of things.

Out of curiosity, do you have a website or something I can reference and take a look at for the future? I'd love to check out anything you can share.

I'm curious if you know of any distribution services that market short films?

I've already submitted a short sci-fi film we made to a distribution service called PopcornTrailer, but I would love to know of any others you may know of off hand.
 
Oh I got ya. Sorry my mistake for misunderstanding. Like I said, I'm not familiar with the business side of things.

Out of curiosity, do you have a website or something I can reference and take a look at for the future? I'd love to check out anything you can share.

I'm curious if you know of any distribution services that market short films?

I've already submitted a short sci-fi film we made to a distribution service called PopcornTrailer, but I would love to know of any others you may know of off hand.
Sure, here's our website - and library of films so far.

As for shorts, we've done a couple of compilations but shorts aren't really our focus. Whoever you sign up with to distribute your work though, do check and see if and how they deduct expenses.
 
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