The Revenue Game
Making movies for a living is something that a lot of filmmakers aspire to. Being in a position where you can make films and release them to theaters or straight to video on a consistent basis is the ultimate dream for most, but it is also a cause of frustration and anxiety to many. I believe it to be the main reason why so many good people who venture into this business quit before their time. The cost associated with making films, along with the pressure and artistic skill demanded, and the obligation to adhere to budgets and generate revenue, can prove to be a challenging feat that many people assume is beyond their capabilities.
There are plenty of people who proudly wear the “broke artist” tag and look with distaste upon those who go into this business for the dollar. The one thing that many “broke artist” types fail to keep in mind is that the movie business is a business and, like any other business, your job is to produce a great product, cost-efficiently, sell it to consumers, and generate enough money so you can make more products. More products mean more revenue – that is the nature of any product-based business. The only way you can sustain your business is by making movies that generate revenue, and if you lose money on every film, you won’t last long.
Now, as far as I know, there are two key ways by which you can derive your income from making and selling feature films: (a)you can make a movie and sell it to a distributor,
(b) make a movie and sell it on your own.
That’s it, really.....
However, when most independent filmmakers think about the prospect of getting their movie made and sold, they’ll opt to go for option A. They’ll send it to major film festivals in hopes that during their circuit, the movie will hit a cord with a capable distributor who would show an interest in buying it. If the distributor is big, they may get a theatrical release, and a good deal of money could follow. They’ll be featured in the press, be courted by agents, and have an easier time getting funding for their next project – and life will be grand! And if the distributor is small, the movie will go straight to DVD/VOD/ Blu-Ray, and they’ll make a little less money and maybe have to work a little harder to get their next movie lined up, and the next one – it will be the big break they've been waiting for.
Take any of those filmmakers and offer them the opportunity to distribute their own films and they’ll snigger, “I’m not interested in doing marketing or handling sales; the business side of moviemaking is not something that I’m really interested in. I want to focus on making movies and let other people worry about selling them.” There is nothing wrong with that approach, it is, as the name states, an approach – it’s just one way of doing things. In fact, it’s the go-to approach for a big chunk of the filmmaking population. However, what do you think will happen if you take that very same filmmaker and give them a failed festival circuit? Meaning their film got accepted into festivals, but no one bothered to buy it; no one licensed it or showed any interest in distributing it... Well, now these very same filmmakers are in “panic mode.” They’ll eventually make their way to signing a deal with an online film distribution company, and their movie will most likely die in obscurity. These online, independent film distributors are the kind that'll put your movie up on VOD and leave it there for seven years without doing a lick of marketing or promotion. They call themselves “film distribution companies,” but in reality, they’re more like vanity book publishers. They’re “movie brokers” – meaning they take your movie, put it on iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, Google Play, and other VOD channels via an aggregator (to which you, as a filmmaker also have access), and maybe send a press release out via their website and social media channels, and that’s it. The offer you get when you sign the contract is usually $0 in advance but 30% of the net, and you feel confident in the fact that you have a distributor and that your movie will finally see the light of day.
A month later, the film comes out to VOD, and this “distributor” didn’t put a dime into P&A (Print and Advertising). They didn’t market the movie, they didn’t sell it, they didn’t build a marketing plan for it, and they don’t intend to push it, promote it or sell it. It gets very few reviews from the indie fans who might buy it online, and after two years of selling, you still haven’t seen a dime – because the distributor had “marketing expenses” that kept you from actually seeing a profit. Believe it or not, that is the actual situation that many independent filmmakers find themselves in after spending years of their life pouring their hearts and souls into the making of their indie features. They hope and pray that it’ll get picked up during the festival circuit and are willing to give up their rights to do so because the thought of leaving the festival circuit without a deal is terrifying.
Similar to these distributors, Jane Fonda's character in "They Shoot Horses Don't they?" couldn't go on when she learned that she would never see a dime after her "expenses" were collected.
Don't be her...