These are the most common mistakes/beliefs I regularly come across from filmmakers, whether they are seasoned or newbies. I ask that you carefully consider these scenarios to see if one applies to your situation and possible solutions to either avoid them or turn them around.
#1 Not setting aside a promotional and/or distribution budget. For at least 4 years now, I have been talking about this one point and for at least 2-3 years every industry event brings up this point, so why are there still people producing films without a promotional budget? Most of you are not getting into Sundance or any other impact festival that will lead to a significant sale., so what’s the plan for getting your film noticed and into the market? Solution: Recognize that the responsibility for promotion and distribution of your film is increasingly on the production. Even sales agents and distributors are now checking out how much work the production has done on this BEFORE the film premieres. Raise and set aside this money to guard against being forced either to take a bad distribution offer or shelve your hard work. If you get a great deal, give the money back to your investors.
#2 Holding back on distribution to wait on the imaginary deal. If your film has been kicking around on the festival circuit for 6-12 months and there are no active negotiations started for a broadcast deal, for example, don’t hold back from at least distributing it from your own site, both digitally and via DVD (if that is relevant to your audience). Films are not like fine wine, they don’t get more valuable with age. The chances for a decent deal start to decay quickly after the film has a premiere and even more so if it does not find some kind of distribution path quickly. The attention you have built up will quickly dissipate with audiences who have heard about the film for a while, but are unable to see it and for industry who have heard about the film, but know that no other company has bothered to pick it up. Have a contingency plan that within 6 months of premiere, if the film isn’t in active negotiation for some or all rights, you will start to distribute it directly to the fans you are picking up on social sites and on the festival circuit. Solution: Momentum and resources die quickly, stop holding out for a deal that may never come. Sometimes the deals you are waiting for are waiting to see how the film does in the market. If after investigating outside distribution options and nothing seems to be on the near horizon, then start your own efforts. You would be surprised at the entities that will chase after films they perceive are showing success on their own.
#3 Thinking your first film is sellable. That thesis film you made for film school or your first short film may just be practice. So may your second, third and fourth film. The fact that you completed a film does not mean it will sell and you should not have automatic expectations that it will. Films are a commodity, and not a scarce one anymore, so audiences are getting discerning about what they are willing to pay for versus what they will watch for free. While there is certainly nothing wrong with putting your film up on Vimeo Pro or embedding a Distrify player on your website, be realistic about its revenue prospects. Solution: First try to get some pedigree built up on your work before asking for payment. The more distinguished titles earn a right to ask for payment from an audience.
#4 Believing your film has more merit than the market does. There are hints along the way to making a film that indicate that it will be tough to attract financing and reasonable distribution. Usually it starts with the script (you pitch and pitch and executives pass), then with the talent (you fail to attach anyone notable willing to take a pay cut in order to have a juicy, well written role), then in trying to attract a presale or significant distribution deal (the film fails to make it into the impact fests and reputable distributors won’t return your calls). Making the decision to go against all of these judgments because YOU believed the project had merit is very indie, but it doesn’t mean that the film is going to attract a sizable deal in the market or an interested audience. Solution: If you are committing to the decision that the market doesn’t know what its talking about and you do, then go all the way with the budget to back up a direct distribution plan. You’re going to need it. But it still may not succeed.
#5 Not spending marketing money believing it will make you money. Admittedly, filmmakers are not the only people who do this. I’ve worked in marketing on and off for a while and usually in a sales downturn, management thinks that cutting the marketing spend will somehow increase sales. This doesn’t happen. By refusing to spend money to market your film, you are in effect keeping your project a secret and this will not increase your film sales. Also, spending a lot to launch a film and quickly stifling the spending will not prolong that initial burst of sales. Good word of mouth can only do so much and 4 months into release, that word of mouth is gone if no other marketing/publicity efforts are continuing. Solution: While you may spend the significant portion of your marketing budget for the initial release and then pull back on the spend, don’t blow the whole budget on the first week of release. There are new films releasing every week. In order to stay top of mind and keep those sales coming in, new marketing initiatives need to happen regularly over time. If you have let efforts fall the ground, recognize in order to raise them again, you are in essence starting all over.
Some of these topics will be covered during my upcoming webinar hosted by Atlanta Film Festival on October 20. Anyone with access to the internet may participate. Visit the Atlanta Film Festival site for details.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jazbeck/8025692978/”>jazbeck</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
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