Indie film financing and movie distribution reminds of what it would feel like dancing nude on stage (much respect for exotic dancers at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club!). You show up to pitch your movie project and have to be able to dance to a picture investor’s music. It’s their stage and not yours as an indie filmmaker seeking film funding. They desire you to make a sellable movie which attracts movie distributors therefore the production can make money.
Most investors I’ve met with aren’t enthusiastic about putting hard money into indie art house films because those are tough sells to movie distributors and overseas film buyers aren’t usually enthusiastic about seeing them. The dialogue and scenes of certain art house type films don’t translate well to foreign buyers and movie viewers. 123 movies Action, horror and skin does not require subtitles for individuals to follow the story is what I’ve been told by distributors. Talking head movies can make no sense to viewers that don’t understand subtle lines spoken in a foreign language.
Independent film financing continues to improve as indie movie distribution gets more financially shaky. The place it’s hitting indie movie producers hardest is right at the foundation – film financing. Film investors at this time aren’t feeling excited about putting money into movies that do not have bankable name actors. This is not like so-called indie movies which have A-list actors or are produced for countless dollars. Those type of indie film passion projects you may make once you’ve managed to get in the entertainment business at the studio level.
Indie film investors and movie distributors won’t expect you to have an A-list actor, however they do want producers to own actors (B-list or C-list or D-list) with some name recognition or celebrity. The initial question film investors and movie distributors ask is who the cast is. That is where most indie movie producers are blown out of the water because they’ve an unknown cast of actors. Plus there’s a glut of indie movies being made because technology has managed to get cheaper to produce movies.
The bright side is that entertaining indie movies are increasingly being made that may not otherwise ever have seen light of day before. The downside is meaningful movie distribution (getting paid) for indie produced films continues to shrink as indie films being made rises (supply and demand 101). I talked to at least one movie distributor that suits releasing independent films and they explained they receive new film submissions daily.
They certainly were honest saying they get very sellable movies and ones which are less than appealing, but with so many movies available they no longer offer most producers advance money against film royalties or pay a lump cash “buy-out” to secure distribution rights. Their business viewpoint is most indie filmmakers are just happy seeing their movie released. The term they used was “glorified showreel” for an indie filmmaker to show they can create a feature film. So, they acquire many of their movie releases without paying an advance or supplying a “buy-out” agreement.
Not creating a make money from a movie does not make financial sense for film investors that expect you’ll see money made. When people put up money to generate a movie they desire a return on their investment. Otherwise it’s no longer a movie investment. It becomes a picture donation of money they’re giving away with no expectations. I’ve been on the “dog and pony show” circuit meeting with potential film investors and learning invaluable lessons.
I’m in the habit now of speaking with indie movie distributors before writing a screenplay to see what forms of films are selling and what actors or celebrity names mounted on a potential project interest them. This is not like chasing trends, but it gives producers a sharper picture of the sales climate for indie films. Sometimes distributors gives me a brief list of actors or celebrities to consider that suit an independent movie budget. Movie sales not in the U.S. are in which a almost all the cash is good for indie filmmakers.
Movie distributors and film sales agents can let you know what actors and celebrity talent is translating to movie sales overseas at the indie level. These won’t be A-list names, but having someone with some sort of name is a great selling point to simply help your movie standout from others. Brief cameos of known actors or celebrities was once an effective way to help keep talent cost down and put in a bankable name to your cast.
That has changed lately from my conversations with distribution companies. Movie distributors now expect any name talent attached to truly have a meaningful part in the movie as opposed to a few momemts in a cameo role. Cameo scenes can still work if you have an aesthetic hook that grabs the attention of viewers in some way. But having name talent say several lines with no special hook won’t fly anymore.
Another way to produce an indie film in need of funding more attractive to investors is to add talent that has been in a movie or TV show of note. Their name as an actor might not be that well-known yet, but rising stars which have appeared in a well known movie or TV show can provide your movie broader appeal. In the event that you cast them in a supporting role keep working days on the set down seriously to the absolute minimum to save your budget. Try to write their scenes for them to be shot in 1 or 2 days.
When you’re pitching to serious film investors they would want to be provided with a detailed movie budget and distribution plan on what you plan on earning profits from the film’s release. The Catch-22 that happens a whole lot is that many movie distributors that appeal to releasing indie films won’t commit to any deal until they’ve screened the movie.
There’s not built-in distribution like with studio budget films. Film investors that aren’t traditionally area of the entertainment business could possibly get deterred each time a producer does not have a distribution deal already in place. They don’t understand the Catch-22 of indie filmmaking and distribution. That is in which a movie producer really needs a great pitch that explains the financial dynamics of indie film distribution.
Most film investors will pass on an indie movie producer’s financing pitch that mentions self-distribution in it. From a movie investor’s business perspective it will take entirely too long for an indie movie to generate money going the self-distribution route. It’s just like the old school means of selling your movie out of the trunk of your car or truck at places, but now it’s done online using digital distribution and direct sales using a blog. That’s an extended grind that many investors won’t be interested in holding out for. Moving one unit of a movie at the same time is too slow of trickle for investors.
A possible way around the Catch-22 is to touch base to movie distributors while you are pitching to film investors. With a strong budget number and possible cast attached you can gauge to see if you have any meaningful distribution interest in the movie. It’s always possible a vendor can tell you that they would offer an advance or “buy-out” deal. They usually won’t provide you with a hard number, but even a ballpark figure of what they may offer can inform you if your allowance makes financial sense to approach movie investors with.
I know one savvy indie movie producer which makes 4-6 movies a year on affordable budgets and knows they’re already creating a make money from the advance money alone. The film royalty payments are a bonus. The producer keeps budgets extremely affordable and streamlined at every phase of production. When you have a track record with a distribution company guess what happens you can expect you’ll be paid. Then you can offer film investors a percent on their money invested into the production which makes sense.
Social networking with other indie filmmakers allows you to hear what’s happening with movie distribution from other people’s real life experiences. A very good thing I’ve been hearing about is that there are film investors that won’t put up money to produce movie that will probably be self-distributed, but they will roll the dice on a characteristic that will probably specific film festivals. Not the art house film festivals. Those who are extremely genre specific like for horror or action films. Like Screamfest Horror Film Festival or Action on Film (AOF). Film buyers attend these events and meaningful distribution deals are made.
Independent film financing and movie distribution are aspects of the entertainment business all filmmakers will need to cope with and learn from each experience. I was in the hot seat today pitching to a picture investor. I’ve streamlined the budget as much as I will without making the plot lose steam.
The jam I’m in as a producer is there are hard costs that can not be avoided offering a lot of gun play including two rigging shots where baddies get shot and are blown backwards off their feet. Badass action films need experienced and seasoned film crews to pull-off hardcore action shots off clean and safe. The cast I want to hire has an ideal appeal and name recognition because of this indie action movie to rock viewers. There’s nothing that can get lost in the translation in this film for foreign film buyers and movie viewers.
What I think got lost in the translation with the potential film investor today is if I keep taking out below-the-line crew to save money I’m likely to have to do rewrites to the screenplay to obtain action scenes. These are selling points which will hurt sales if they are written out. But it’s my job as an indie filmmaker to balance a budget that attracts film investors. We’ll see how this goes. That is indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing fade out.