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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What's an indie filmmaker to do?

There seems to be a reasonable panel for "old distribution model has died" everywhere I look these days, followed by an example of what seems to be an 'exception to the rule' for us indie filmmakers to follow as our 'new model.'

Then, I read an interesting article yesterday on ifp, where guest blogger, Laure Parsons, says, "But there is a reality, it seems to me, that is missing from the discussion. Selling independent films is not and never was a “business model” (or- if you wish- not a 'good' business model), in the context that making these films should be the basis for a lucrative career using the principles of an MBA program. A good business model takes into account what the consumer wants and tries to give them that. It does not find something that one personally likes and then tries to make other people care about it, which is something more like patronage."

Does anyone ever really really know what they're doing?

We are in the middle of a major change. Anyone can (affordably) make a movie these days (doesn't mean they have the skills to). Social media seems to be a revolutionary adjustment, as well as an on-going experiment that will determine who and how people are involved.

But how will people buy (or invest in) our films? Will they just start preferring our movies on their iPhones? And if so, what does that mean for film sales? There's arguments for everything. Some will argue the experience of going to a theater and how that will never completely die, while others will argue that we have to change with the new world if we want to be in it. They'll say, "Start bringing iPhones to theaters!"

I don't know about you, but for myself, it seems to be turning into a huge conundrum, and for good reason! HELP!

If the old model has died and the new one(s) are based on select successes (AKA experiments) then isn't everything really just an experiment at this time?

And if that's the case, where does that leave us explaining our business plan (case) to investors, who don't particularly understand where we're coming from with this new age approach, or perhaps don't agree?

An extension of my confusion:

If we shoot LIS ultra low, then no one (really!) gets paid. Basically, everyone would be doing us favors. On the flip side, there's a chance for us to recoup costs faster, basing it on an aggressive DIY plan that keeps us in charge of our product(s). And there's an entire world out there waiting for that type of film. But what does that mean for our story? It has several (non-negotiable) characters and locations. Meaning that movie, wouldn't be the one we want to make today.

If we shoot somewhere-in-between low (under a million), then that's considered a hybrid, something that a an audience doesn't exactly 'get.'' Apparently, you can have a low budget movie with semi-recognizable faces, or high budget one with big A-list stars - and people will get that. But give them a hybrid, and expect some puzzled faces.

If we shoot a higher budget film (1-2 million), then we have to be prepared to justify why we are worthy (to investors), when I'm a first-time feature filmmaker, etc. Hell, I'm not sure why I'm worthy. Kidding aside, I know I can make a respectable movie for much less, especially with the crew I've got on board, but that doesn't seem to be good enough for the business (politics!) side. And if someone wants to invest 2 million, should I be arguing?

You see the confusion, right, or am I flying solo here?

What's right for the movie/filmmakers doesn't seem to be necessarily what's going to appeal to whoever invests. I'm sure this has always been the case on some level, when dealing with super creatives and studios, but it seems more relevant than ever to discuss today!

Is nothing more than an educated guess? And what does that even mean, when dealing with exceptions?

And if we are all just guessing, then isn't the risk the same as if we choose to take an unproven, experimental route?

Creativity aside, who's eyes should we really be looking through to solidify a budget?

This all feels a bit to me like forecasting the weather for next year. While we can look at patterns and history to determine our educated guess, it's still that - a guess.

A (temporarily) confused indie filmmaker,


  1. This is why, Jentri, the way you're going about this is actually brilliant. You are putting on a show, creating a world around the film's story, so that people can experience it BEFORE a single frame is shot. If you can build an audience around the essential, core IDEA of what the film presents, then your film's worth will increase.

    Think about it. What do investors, studios and distributors want? A low-risk, profitable business opportunity. If you present the script and business plan for your film to them, with 20,000 names already on your mailing list, you make a VERY convincing proof as to why this film should be made -- there's audience out there who wants to see it!

    The traditional model is risky because they invest in production first and then hope that the muscles of majors/distributors are enough to convince enough people to see it to recoup the cost. With the way you're going about this, you have the potential to present a no-brainer opportunity for any investor/studios, because you are doing the hardwork for them BEFORE they get involved -- you already have AUDIENCE.

    So I say, shift your attention from when to shoot and how much money is needed to do it, to audience building. The bigger audience you attract, the better the chance of you being able to tell the story in a way it deserves to be.


  2. Jentri, I loved this post. Partly, because of course, I'm experiencing it all with you; but, also because I think it articulates very well this "rock and a hard place" moment we've arrived at. And, I don't believe we're alone in juggling these ideas/issues.

    And, Ari, I believe you're right on. We're blessed to know you and be working with you on LIS! I do believe the money will come, even if it might not come per our desired schedule; and, I love that we're putting on a show. We'll keep it up and keep blooming together!

  3. Thanks for this, guys! You are both right on, and so inspiring to me. I'm truly blessed to be working with such beautiful people. My heart's once again - full!