Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Cinematic Civil War: Part 4 - What Victory Might Look Like

Just last night I watched a segment on the NBC Nightly News highlighting the only major industry that seems to be thriving in this bad economic time. And what is it? The Film Industry. Already, audiences have spent 1.7 Billion dollars in 2009, making it a record breaking January. Many of the films however, have been big box office popcorn films, with a lot of special effects and "star power". These movies are prominently around during the holiday season and the summer.

So what does that mean for Indie Film? Fear figures to play a prominent role again this year given the surplus of films in the market, the present recession, the credit crunch and competition for audiences who are viewing many of last year’s independent films on their televisions and computers through broadcast, VOD, downloads and streaming.

Given this uncertain and challenging marketplace, how can the independent moviemaker navigate the choppy waters to a safe distribution harbor? This article offers some practical advice.

1. Action cures anxiety: As soon as possible, if you have not already done so, organize a marketing and distribution game plan. Create marketing materials that embrace the unique aspects of your film and your anticipated target audience. This exercise helps focus your team (sales consultants, publicists, etc.) on your film’s key selling points and facilitates getting everyone on the same page. Additionally, busy distribution executives appreciate user-friendly materials that minimize their time expended and money spent.

2. Create your own DIY distribution platform: Develop your own your Plan “B” distribution strategy. This will be vital in the event you do not hit a grand slam and secure a significant distribution deal from a mini-major. The exercise will also help you to better understand the current distribution landscape and will provide leverage and confidence as you assess your distribution options at the bargaining table. Seek advice from other moviemakers, producers and leading industry professionals about their experiences. Recruit experts to guide you down this specialized road, but do not take your hands off the steering wheel. The savvy independent moviemaker understands that he or she must also retain direct involvement in the marketing and distribution of his or her film.

3. Manage expectations (yours and others’): The road to investment recoupment can be long and bumpy. Be realistic and examine all distribution options. For the most part, a substantial distribution deal with a mini-major is unlikely in today’s marketplace. You may find yourself carefully assembling your distribution choices like pieces of a puzzle. Pay particular attention to the digital horizon where the greatest number of people will eventually view your film. Understand the immense value of your digital rights; they may be your primary route to future revenues. Finally, avoid so-called “digital rights experts” seeking disproportionate commissions from your gross revenues to secure deals that may already be within your grasp.

4. Be prepared with distribution-ready elements: If you have not already done so, prepare your film’s elements, including E&O insurance and all music licenses (sync and master use), so that you are capable of prompt and seamless delivery. Your ability to deliver your film may influence a distributor’s decision to work with you. At a minimum, it will accelerate the payment of any minimum guarantee. Needless to say, having a delivery-ready project will also come in handy, should you decide to release the film yourself.

5. Be optimistic: There is a silver lining in every cloud. In fact, these are favorable times to create and distribute breakthrough independent films. In the new marketplace, you can have more involvement and control with your distribution matters and greater opportunity to share your film before larger audiences. While it is useful to understand how fear has transformed the traditional marketplace for distributing independent films, it is even more important to focus on the emerging opportunities to manage your film’s distribution in the new marketplace.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent advice! Yeah, I saw that report too about the "booming" movie business in 2009. That's nice and all, but those certainly are the big-budget escapist sort of films. Don't get me wrong, those films have their place, and I understand why people are drawn to them (especially under the current economic climate). But most of us indie filmmakers aren't exactly making escapist movies with big stars. So yeah, the one side of the business is doing pretty well, but the other side still faces some challenges.

    But this can be a good thing too. Keeping in mind that new digital technology has bought about a glut of new filmmakers to the indie film scene, this might be a needed weeding out of the truly dedicated and passionate from the more casual aspiring filmmakers who would love to have a career in film if it just didn't involve so much hard work and creativity.

    I think you are right that we have to be on our toes about distribution, and always thinking up new means to gain exposure and reach our audience. It's not an easy thing, but I'm glad you're reminding us to keep thinking in that direction. Things have changed, whether we like it or not. Might as well seek out the new opportunities rather than waste any time grumbling about the "way it used to be" (which was always plagued with it's own big problems).