Filmmaking in an Independent World: Part II

By Shea Lord | Tags: ,
October 30th, 2011

Filmmaking in an Independent World: Part II

By Shea Lord | Tags: ,
October 30th, 2011

Social/transmedia today gives any artist seeking support the ability to literally build an audience before ever actually premiering a piece (be it a movie or painting exhibition— or anything in-between). Here I could go into a transmedia spiel, but I’ll save that for the post about the transmedia panel. However, using a platform such as Kickstarter, it is possible to include a whole network of people in the process of creation. This is why I’m so glad our “black sheep”, Charles Adler, was invited to the panel. He was advocating this audience-Kickstarter Film Festival 2010building concept that I had considered almost subconsciously before, but never really understood. Here I must first urge the need to protect your work, or rather say as a disclaimer that I am not by any means saying that a film should cater to an audience’s desires. The film should always strive for the vision of the writer/director— however, filmmaking is the king of collaborative efforts. Negotiations are not only inevitable, but often for the better. Plus, everyone has to support themselves somehow, so be practical and consider your film’s market appeal.

Today it seems that there are only two kinds of profitable movies: those with budgets over $100 million, and those made for under $1 million. The former blockbusters always dominate the box-office because they are highly anticipated by audiences— which is why they get those budgets. The latter make a profit because they are good stories and really only have room to go up. Everything in-between typically sees a painful financial loss. So the ideal for independent filmmakers becomes using an ultra-low budget to make a highly anticipated film. How?

Start the marketing campaign early. Raise awareness while raising money. Use a platform such as Kickstarter, for example, to create a community of people who can connect to your film. This can be done through movie posters, behind-the-scenes content, a teaser trailer, transmedia games, or rewards for pledges and investors. Any kind of visual you can create and provide is great. There is an audience for every kind of story (The Human Centipede is proof), but they may need to be brought together. Leverage your films unique qualities almost as selling points and community builders. As a student, the hardest part will be expanding your network beyond family and friends. It is necessary to establish a large, professional web-footprint.

Then define the network you have to appeal to: where are they from? How do they connect to your film and how can you bring them together to realize their connection? With the internet, the number of people you can reach is practically limitless if you can utilize SEO and social networks. Indie films are not doomed to obscurity. Netflix did a study on viewing habits that showed how their viewers quickly moved into seeking out independent films once they realized how easily they were available to them. Sophistication of the audience is growing. Market awareness. Once you can prove you have an audience, you can easily raise money for your film, and studios are more likely to invest in your story. There are specific festivals for many kinds of films, too (and remember to budget for submission fees).

Many people seem to think that film festivals such as Sundance are the goal for indie filmmakers: get screened, maybe receive an award, and hope to be approached by a distributor who just loved your film and wants to buy/sell it. According to the panel, this rarely ever happens, and even when it does the results of the deals struck are often unsuccessful. Self distribution is becoming more and more popular and successful. Timing is always important. Try not to release a film during a time that it will be overshadowed by a blockbuster like Harry Potter. And while online distribution is so tempting because it provides immediate gratification, this should really be the final sales avenue. If it is released too early, it can severely hurt long-run possibilities of profit.

According to producer and panelist Bill Borden, his friend and creator of the film The 12 Dogs of Christmas, got his million dollar budget by going to WalMart with nothing but a spec poster for the film, saying he’d make this movie by the next Christmas. WalMart thus wrote him a check placing an order for 1 million DVDs, the same way they would order t-shirts. They sold all copies for $7 each and placed an order for another film in the same way.

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