The first winners for tickets to Christine Vachon and Ted Hope’s first-ever stateside masterclass in producing, Killer/Hope Masterclass: Get Your Movie Made, Make It Well, Make It Great, Get It Seen & Survive to Do It All Over Again, have been selected.
iW readers selected Tomris Laffly’s answer as their favorite, while Vachon and Hope chose Adam Collis’. (See below for their answers.)
Want to win your own pass? Here’s how it works.
• Ted and Christine pose a series of questions about your filmmaking experiences.
• You post your answer in the comments.
• They select their favorite answer from the responses.
• The answer’s author gets a free ticket to their class.
The class will be held at Cantor Film Center in New York on November 5 from 10a-4p. Tickets are available for $150.
The next question is:
What will you do differently on your next film?
Tell us your answers in the comments. And here’s the winning answers to the question, “If you could change one truly changeable thing about the film industry, what would that be?”
Empower/educate/motivate filmmakers to start thinking about who their target audience is in the early stages of development. There is always a ‘mystery’ element of course, however once you can draw some rough lines around who MIGHT or WILL see your film, that will help guide 1) How much you can realistically afford to spend on it 2) What distribution method is best suited for this target. As obvious as this might sound, it baffles me to notice how many good films suffer from a lack of plan in place early on; unfortunately don’t get noticed by the crowd they were meant for (or over-spend due to misguided or unrealistic expectations) and don’t go past the festival circuit. True; film is an art form and filmmakers are artists who should first and foremost be concerned about the artistic integrity of their project. However, the times we live in require filmmakers to have a marketing sensibility as well. Definition of success for a film is no longer about winning the weekend box office. It’s winning the crowd you should be going after; and hoping that crowd will be the champions of your film loud enough that will eventually open up your film to other targets. As much as I would love/prefer to see a film in theaters on big screen and experience it collectively in a crowd; the sooner we ‘fully’ accept and ‘completely’ embrace not just theatrical, but other methods of distribution (on-demand, online/viral, social-media, etc..), be inventive about how to best utilize these methods and the sooner we identify the preferences of our target about HOW they would want to see our film, the more chance films will survive by surpassing their goals and new talent will have a shot to exist sustainably and grow from there.
FILMMAKERS/PRODUCERS NEED TO START THINKING LIKE REAL BUSINESS PEOPLE AND MAKE INDIE FILM WORK FOR THE INVESTOR CLASS or be straight up with their investors and tell them that, even if they have a huge hit film, they’ll be lucky if they break even on their investment.
My preference would be the former because a satisfied investor class would be, in my opinion, the single best thing that could happen to independent cinema. It would mean more movies, more diversity of films, and a more stable industry. I’ll explain what I believe to be the simplest way to accomplish this below.
But first, here’s a way of looking at the problem. In 1998, Andreas Bechtolsheim wrote a $100,000 check to two young guys named Sergey and Larry who were working on this crazy Internet idea called Google. Eventually, that $100,000 became worth over $1.5 billion dollars. As a way of gauging the risk-reward profile of this investment, consider that there were about 3500 start-ups in Silicon Valley at that time. Bechtolsheim picked the 1 in 3500 shot and won the Derby. He took on a lot of risk, but when his pick flourished, he was rewarded handsomely for taking on that risk – or, more accurately, he was given a reward that was COMMENSURATE with his risk.
Now consider that over the past few years, Sundance received about 3500 submissions to its festival. (That’s to say nothing of the films that weren’t submitted, but let’s forget about those for the time being.) Of those 3500 films, generally a little over 100 were accepted into the festival. And of those, maybe 15 – 25 got picked up for distribution. And of those, only a handful generated any significant box office revenue. And of those, there is only the occasional Little Miss Sunshine, Reservoir Dogs, Thank You for Smoking, Napoleon Dynamite, etc.
Yet, some investor put their money on those films. Just like Bechtolsheim, they put their money on a 3500 to 1 shot. But sources familiar with these deals indicate that the investors of such indie movies rarely do better than making back their initial investment – and that’s not even factoring in the time value of money. That’s a far cry from a $1.5 billion return – even though you could argue that the risk involved in the film investment was about the same as the Google investment, if not more.
I admit, you could poke holes through the Google analogy. But the fact remains that investors who put their money into indie films practically NEVER receive a reward that is commensurate with their risk. But I suspect most film producers do not present the reality of this situation when they pitch investors. They probably find a way to get ahold of some ultimates for Juno or some other indie breakouts and say: “This is what Juno made! This is what we could make!” But I doubt most producers are completely upfront about the fact that the investors will likely end up with some variation of a profit-participation acquisition deal that will likely never get into profit because the studios will continue to apply various costs against the films (most of which are marketing costs).
When an incredible producer like Saul Zaentz has to sue the studio to get his fair share, (as he did recently for The English Patient) what chance does some younger producer have of protecting his investor and delivering a fair return?
So before you get too depressed, I want to propose a solution. It goes hand in hand with my suggestion above that filmmakers/producers need to think like real business people. What that means in this instance is that PRODUCERS NEED TO RAISE THEIR OWN MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION MONEY.
As best as I can tell, the primary rationale the studios have for justifying the lopsided profit participation deals they offer is that they are the ones taking the most the risk because they are the ones ponying up the cost of marketing and distribution. That seems fair, but even if it doesn’t, it’s precedent and precedent is everything in negotiation. They take on the large marketing and distribution expense, then they get the lion’s share of the revenues. But take away that risk from the distributors, take it on yourself with your investor, and then you have every right to the lion’s share of the gross.
I’m not suggesting self-distribution. I think filmmakers/producers need partnerships with experienced distribution companies who have built their distribution footprint. That’s a huge value add. I am suggesting reducing their risk, while still structuring a deal that keeps them incentivized to perform.
My understanding is that this is occasionally done in what are called “Service Deals” with mini-majors or with “Rent-a-Studios” like Freestyle. But I don’t think it’s done nearly enough. And I recognize that it would need to be done the right way. I’m sure your investors could end up very unsatisfied if their marketing and distribution dollars aren’t being spent in the right way. That’s where getting a distribution/marketing expert on your team is essential, or as Jon Reiss calls it, your Producer of Marketing and Distribution.
A real business person thinks through production, marketing and distribution of their project. They have a plan to deliver a fair return (i.e. reward commensurate with risk) to their investor, in the case that the project takes off. That plan includes the costs of not just getting the project through production, but also the costs of marketing and distribution.
Here’s what is NOT a business plan: Hello Mr. Investor, We have a great film that we know you will like. Give us your money to make it, and we hope we will sell it at Sundance. And by the way, it might be Juno!
In my experience, investors don’t mind taking on risk. They know that picking a great film is very hard to do and that they will likely lose their all their money. They just want to be rewarded for their risk taking if they pick a winner. If producers start delivering rewards that are commensurate with the risk film investors take, I believe you will see a seismic shift in our industry, and what I hope and predict will be great variety of films, greater creative risk taking, and a more stable indie film industry overall.
But they key is to raise money beyond production expense. BECOME REAL BUSINESS PEOPLE. FINANCE AND CONTROL YOUR MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION AND WATCH THE INDUSTRY CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.