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How Does Everyone Expect Filmmakers To Promote Movies?

by Ted Hope
August 23, 2011 12:30 PM
10 Comments
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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.

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More: Promotion, Sustainability, International Sales

10 Comments

  • Bob Germon | August 24, 2011 7:28 AMReply

    Maybe for anything above a micro budget (under 50k) Coppola was right about the Indie model.

    "I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script."

    http://the99percent.com/articles/6973/Francis-Ford-Coppola-On-Risk-Money-Craft-Collaboration

  • @audreyewell | August 24, 2011 4:06 AMReply

    After a long workday spent promoting my and other people's projects, I finally got a chance to read this post and all I can say is: social stratification. No middle class means no middle class, period. That's America today. As long as filmmakers are "content providers," our labor and time will hold little financial value once the product is delivered. If our recoupable value ends when the product is delivered, no distributor is going to volunteer to pay us to promote. If you don't get it in writing, you don't get it. If we're not part of the apparatus, not just of production but also distribution, we're probably not going to be paid for our time.

    Oh, and I'll share one thing I did in the course of promoting my last film: when one of our international distributors asked us for extras for the DVD, and also asked us if we'd be able to help with promotion, I charged them for the DVD extras (which of course add value to the product, and are used to promote it). This was on top of our previously negotiated deal (which did not specify extras). Be creative.

    And before my big pink lining shows (too late?), let me just say that all hope is not lost! The conversation itself creates space for a solution.

    We're all dreamchasers here, and filmmakers are a driven, insane, obsessed breed. That's unfortunately easy to exploit. I mean, isn't this just a symptom of the general craziness of the idea that we're "lucky" to make films? I don't feel lucky, I feel brutalized by the process. I feel like I created my opportunities, and worked my ass off to maximize on them. And yet it's absolutely true that I'll dive back in as soon as I'm "lucky" enough to engage people in a vision to the point that they want to be a part of it (and be overworked and underpaid) along with me. I think that to some degree, we're all after the thrill of the affair, and that means we make certain sacrifices to have it. Just don't tell my boyfriend I said that.

    Oh, and to the guy who suggested the fees coming out of the sales agents take: we must have worked with different sales agents.

  • Michael Favelle | August 24, 2011 2:49 AMReply

    Perhaps if such fees were built into the recoupable Marketing Expenses for sales agents it could then cover the Director and/or Producer publicity costs for their time. A sales agent is rarely going to suggest this but the good ones would be amenable to it.

  • Scam Fest | August 24, 2011 2:39 AMReply

    HERE COMES SOME MORE BULLSHIT.
    WRITE A GOD DAMM REAL STORY
    http://sundancefilmfestival2012.com

  • F.P. | August 24, 2011 2:00 AMReply

    I can't speak for how things were done in the heyday of the 90s indie boom, but at the end of the day, if we're going to regard this thing called show as a business, then we have to accept its true nature today. Selling a movie is like selling a vacuum cleaner is like selling an insurance policy is like selling a timeshare in Cancun. You knock on a door, and hope for a sale, or else you starve.

    It's not like A-list festivals don't put up directors when they attend, or that they don't sometimes get flown in, or that they don't get screening fees, depending on the fest. It's not as if, once you've had your indie project bought and distribution becomes a reality, you can't just take the money and sit at home working on the next project while you (or other people) blog about the current film. You can - you'd be an idiot to do so, but you can. And still, Terrence Malick barely flew to France for Cannes then didn't say a word while there - he let his film speak for him and I think we'd all agree he's no idiot.

    Selling a film or any artistic project comes down to two factors: 1) how good the project is, and 2) how much you're willing to do to prove it's good to people. The worst marketer or poorest director can sell a great film - so make great films, struggling indie filmmakers. And when 1) fails, recognize that you have to put in the time and, yes, that often costs money - either in cash outlay, or money you don't earn from a job while you chase paper. The old adage remains true - you have to spend money to make money.

    I took time off work during a festival run for a film I produced, and went back to work when a great job offer came my way. It meant I couldn't do that promotional tour full-time, but that didn't mean I stopped altogether. Sure it meant 20-hour days and having no life outside of work so I could continue to network with festivals and regional blogs and press, but if I didn't, the project wouldn't have been (as) financially successful when it came out. The filmmaker who works that hard, gets more out of it when the work is on screen and when you've spoken with the right people, however you define those people.

    No one said this business was easy or fair or financially sustainable for everyone. If you can't afford (or can't be arsed) to promote, you get what you get and, in 2011, every filmmaker should know what they're signing up for when they decide to make a feature independently. I hear ya, Ted, we should be paid for our work and extra effort, absolutely. But then again, no one asked us to make these films, and many should feel privileged they can say they made a film at all...

  • Nils Taranger | August 23, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    I realize this would probably only work for indie documentaries like mine, where it is a one-man show, but I am trying a business model where I raise my budget through tax-deductible donations and invoice my LLC a monthly fee for directing/producing. I'm going to try supporting myself for the next two years as I move from production to post to marketing/festivals.

    I'm going to give the film away for free online, because I will have already supported myself throughout the process - so no worrying about distributors ripping me off. If I have a good enough idea and start cranking out good enough footage, my target audience will hopefully get excited about the project and donate.

    I'm still a grad student in the University of Central Florida's film program, so this is my first try at this, but so far I've raised $10,000 and I'm not sitting around complaining about not getting paid or having to use my credit card for everything! We'll see how my first IndieGogo campaign works out, I'm launching in a few days.

    www.ablueflower.com

  • Alex G. | August 23, 2011 7:33 AMReply

    Mr. Palombo,

    While I commend your efforts, this isn't your blog. It's rather inappropriate to use the comments as a platform to promote your site in such a lengthy manner.

    In the future, I would recommend writing a thoughtful comment that actually reflects on the article written...and then leaving a link to your own site. Online etiquette is crucial for any business - be it site or film - if you hope for true success.

    Cheers,
    Alex G.

  • Mike | August 23, 2011 5:51 AMReply

    There is no difference in terms of size of audience between a good $2 million film and a good $75,000 film. There is really little difference between $1 million worth of online marketing and $100,000 worth if you understand social media and focus on targeted venues.

    So, why are you making films that cost $3 million? We need to re-engineer indie films starting with the production itself.

  • David Geertz | August 23, 2011 4:40 AMReply

    Great post Ted!

    As we move into a more democratized funding, marketing and distribution world its important that the filmmaking community explains to the masses (the new distributors) what each line item is within the budget and why for example a producer unit line item may be $300,000. At first glance it seems greedy but upon further examination most people would agree that after amortization and overheads that this in fact is not the case, and all things being equal people do have a right to make a living wage.

    It's going to be an interesting few years as we explain the process, and those who don't, and try and hide behind the veil of padded secret second budgets will be forced to do things the old way....if that method even exists.

  • Michael Palombo | August 23, 2011 3:27 AMReply

    Where there is a will there is way, and for sure more and more filmmakers are finding ways. I would like to offer an outside of the box idea for distribution and marketing!

    When I got on Twitter 3 years ago I also saw a need to help other artist share their work, at the time I was ending my career as a glass blower and getting involved in the growing film industry here in New Mexico. I've given myself on many small projects, and have directed 3 short films, been told I hold a camera like a steady cam, sure it was all those years blowing glass(-:

    I've had many opportunity's to advance my skills toward paying work in the industry, but decided helping filmmakers online in this new age of distribution was more important, so I worked on connecting and helping filmmakers share @fansoffilm and have done this without pay, and money out of pocket every month for internet and website fees.

    As a result I've built a quality community of filmmakers and fans and a great following on Twitter of 18,000+ with over 5000 of them being film related profiles, there is also some great local media support for Fans Of Film and growing support with the community here in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

    The question is what to do next and how can I help filmmakers in a bigger way?

    We'll I had to take on some partners to develop a video platform with all the cool distribution tools, using open video development from Kaltura, and also the development of a dynamic custom community wordpress site. The site is now in beta development at fansoffilm.com or .tv and being hosted on local server with unlimited bandwidth and will launch video platform this year, the old site is still available at fansoffilm.ning.com

    The service will be available to all self publishing content creators, but only pre approved content will make it into the main genre categories of the site for social marketing, we even have plans of a looped player for free content, with placed advertising that will open full screen at fansoffilm.tv.

    I think for a filmmaker that is new on the web could see Fans Of Film as an opportunity to campaign the distribution in collaboration with Fans Of Film for a large portion of the profits going to the creators.

    I know their are lots of great platforms online, but in my opinion there are none more well branded for filmmakers than Fans Of Film, and with some strong partnerships Fans Of Film can be a awesome and viable network for filmmakers.

    sincerely

Hope on social

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