Filmmakers know that Indie Films are sold on their back. Filmmakers know that it benefits their films and their careers to promote their movies. Filmmakers also recognize that they spend on the average two years developing their films, generally unpaid. And filmmakers also realize they are asked to spend eighteen months to two years promoting and publicizing their films, ALSO UNPAID.
If we don’t figure out a way to pay for these crucial services, the indie film biz is doomed. Even more so, if we don’t find a way to weave this recognition into the discussions with sales agents, distributors, and talent representatives, we are covering up one of the necessary truths.
I try to help my movies in every way I can. I think all producers and directors do that. Well, okay 90% of them. I think sales agents and distributors see that. I think they do likewise. Well, okay, 90% of them. But I don’t hear it in their conversations or actions with me.
It is not easy to go back to relationships one has built over years and say “what I just told you was doable, and is industry standard, well now we can’t do it.” “I know you are used to getting it this way, but that is the old way”, “Indie film is the new theatre, in that you do it for love and art and not money — but yes others make money at the same time”. Nor do I like going to those, like GC, who have given beyond what the deal was, and saying “I need you to do more” or “I need you to give again”. Believe me, I wouldn’t do it, if I did not have to. I put my reputation, relationships, and financial well being on the line all the time.
And I know the sales agents and distributors do likewise. I recognize all that they do, and I hope you know I appreciate it. But it doesn’t change the realities of the situations we are in. Nor does it ease the conflict when they take me out for that rare nice dinner and I know it — like ten others that I won’t participate in — are going to get charged back to my movie.
Some films are more difficult than others. It’s that curse when you deliver a film that gets into competition at one of the A List festivals. Okay, it is a wonderful curse, but in some real ways, A list festival acceptance is very much a curse. There are costs involved that one just doesn’t expect will ever get paid back.
It is even harder nowadays when the producing and directing fees on such films don’t pay you enough to live. Maximum producing fees on indie films are generally 5% of the budget — and most earn less. Frequently writing/directing fees are tied to the producer fees. And we spend about two years minimu developing, packaging, financing a film. Add a year to make it, and for the director 18 months to two years promoting it. That is five years of work. On a $3M movie (if one can be as fortunate enough to raise that kind of money) that breaks down to a whopping $30K/year salary. That is less than my Mom earned teaching community college 35 years ago. No wonder everyone needs a second job. Luckily for producers, we often can find a way to make a film each year, and still try to handle the other 4 or so films that are either in development or release. That is not the same for directors. They only get to do one film at a time.
If I had a distribution or sales company, I would build in a percentage fee so that the director could afford to do publicity, but that’s just me dreaming the world could be different.
I have to tell my directors a hundred million times or so that we don’t have the money for what they need to do the work I and others request of them daily. What is a producer supposed to do when a director’s request is directly related to work on the film, but the budget or sales cap doesn’t allow for it. If the film doesn’t pay it, it will come out of the director’s and my pockets, threadbare as they are. I contextualize the situation clearly for my collaborators so I know they wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t necessary. The people I choose to work with are generally not demanding or greedy personalities. They are trying to find ways to survive and still do the work required.
Yet the industry says they can’t pay for it. I know everyone values the work. So where does this leave us? Don’t we need to find a better way?
Why aren’t the sales agents and distributors and PRODUCERS and the talent representatives trying to find a way to do something about it? The culture and business we love depends on it. We are all in this together. Isn’t it time we spoke openly about it?
As we head into the Fall Festivals, a lot of people are going to be frustrated, disappointed, and resentful because we keep ignoring all the elephants in the room.