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Should Filmmakers Think About Distribution Before They Start Shooting?

Photo of Carlos Aguilar By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz August 9, 2014 at 10:31AM

How early should filmmakers think about the audiences of their film -- and whether they can get a distributor? Sundance NEXT filmmakers weigh in.
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Life After Beth

Jeff Baena, "Life After Beth": I personally think that filmmakers should just focus on their film and not worry about distribution or the business side of it. You should be an artist and tell the story you want to tell. Whether or not it finds an audience is fate. It is not a good path to go down trying to assume what your distribution and marketing plans are as you are making it because then you are sort of a jaded person and you are not really a filmmaker or an artist.

"It is a financially stupid endeavor to make a film." - Ana Lily Amirpour

David and Nathan Zellner, "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter": It's smart to think about it unless you are fortunate enough to have other people thinking about that for you. It is smart to be making things to be seen, so it's good to be thinking on some level where and how you wanted to go afterwards.

READ MORE: What's the Biggest Challenge of Being an Indie Director in the Digital Age?
 
Alex Ross Perry "Listen Up Phillip!": I don't know if I think they should or shouldn't, but I know that they have to because these conversations are in play not even in pre-production; they are in play in development. A conversation about the commercial prospects or the distribution chances affects whether or not a movie is aiming for $500,00 or $1 million.

On a movie for which the script has only been finished for a couple months and has been read by less than twenty people, we are having conversations about the distribution prospects of a film like this based on each individual cast scenario and how much money that means we should try to make a budget for. Whether or not people should have these conversations, they are being had at square one, which in some ways makes movies better and more interesting. Something that happened for "Listen Up Phillip!" is that there was a scene where Jonathan Pryce's character is supposed to take Jason Schwartzaman's character to a restaurant, and someone just said, "This is so pointless, why do we want to find a restaurant and close it down. Can't this scene take place in his house?"

The scene ended up being my favorite scene in the movie, and it came from someone asking us to cut this restaurant and think of a creative solution. Now we have a scene that is better that anything I could have come up with. I think, to some extent, those conversations can be quite beneficial in a very classical economic filmmaking way that people should look at anyway. Working on the next thing I'm thinking about decisions like that on my own before someone else has to suggest them to me.

Imperial Dreams
'Imperial Dreams'

Malik Vitthal, "Imperial Dreams": I think filmmakers should think about who their audience is, how are they going to connect with that audience, and also how they are going to market their film. That's all part of filmmaking, every level of it until it gets out to your specific audience. It's realistic to think that way. As you are creating the film, it's good to ask yourself who do you think the audience is? How do you want the audience to react? That can help you later when you are getting it out to the correct people to see your film. Whether it is going to end up on Netflix, or in theaters, or VOD, it is good to know which directions you want to go in the end. It depends on what the project is.

READ MORE: What's Next for the Sundance NEXT Fest?

Adam Wingard, "The Guest": I think you should always consider who is going to be watching the movie. Even if you are making a wholly sentimental artistic statement with your film, at the end of the day, it's not only going to be you by yourself sitting in your house watching it, that's not the reason you made it. Thinking about how to tell that story and also telling it in a way that engages people is a healthy thing to do. Otherwise you end up with something that may be so pretentious that nobody really cares about it, and I don't think that's actually a filmmaker's intention ever. A lot of people say they made their movie for themselves or whatever, but if they made it for themselves they wouldn't show it to anybody.

"The Guest"
"The Guest"

Ana Lily Amirpour "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night": I think if you are thinking about financial prospects at all at the time of making the film you are not going to make a good film. It is a financially stupid endeavor to make a film. I'm not like "I'm going to become a millionaire because I made black & white, Farsi language, vampire film." I'm just an inventor. I'm interested in my own idea. I want to make an experience and I want people to experience it and hopefully enjoy it. I grew up on "Back to the Future," "Superman," "The Never-Ending Story," and all these fantasies and the magic of American movies. It was just an adventure of infinite possibilities. Making a movie is like being inside of a dream, that's all I can think. I'm not trying to figure out the money part. You cannot predict the whims of an audience. It is about pure risk and betting on something. You do have to get money from people to make the film, but if they do give it you hopefully it is because they believe the idea is something special. People that really want to make money don't go after making movies. They should make an app.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Malik Vitthal, Adam Wingard, Alex Ross Perry, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner