Back in 2011, I wrote a guest blog for Women and Hollywood entitled I Sold My House to Make My Feature. I had spent many years working in film art departments both in the U.S. and the U.K. ( Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Being John Malkovich, Batman Begins, among others). My husband Ant is a music composer and had being composing for an animated television show. And we kept having reoccurring conversations about making our own film. So in order to make this happen, our only viable option was to sell our home in England and use the profits to make a film, after all, who was going to fund a film by a woman director who had not even directed a short, and a sci-fi to boot!
Selling our home was not a decision we took lightly - some called it insane, some inspired - but we could either talk about it or just do it. And life's too short, so we went for it.
Three years ago, in Cambridgeshire, I put together a cast and crew of which, proudly, was over 50% women – not on purpose, we just hired the best people for each job. We had a year of post and then we hit the festival circuit for a year and a half where we were honored with five Best Film awards and three other awards including Best Director from the Long Island International Film Expo 2012.
It's been an amazing, exhilarating and exhausting process. I felt quite comfortable with the production side of making a film, but the business side was a baptism by fire - and we had done a lot of research. The advances in digital technology have been fantastic for filmmakers, but it has led to as Ted Hope says a "superabundance" of options out there.
Out of all the films we saw on the festival circuit, only a tiny proportion have secured a traditional release. We've been really lucky -- our festival track record raised our profile enough to secure a limited U.S. theatrical release and VOD release, via the forward thinking, boutique distributor MouseTrap Films. We'll combine our U.S. release with a hybrid approach in other territories and hopefully in six months or so we'll have some actual data to share.
So, assuming that you don't win the golden ticket and get picked up by a 'traditional' distributor (and those deals are few and far between, and often not as attractive as they first seem) there are plenty of options for getting your film out there: VoD, online, iTunes, DVD -- it's all achievable, but remember, we are in an age of "superabundance."
So what does that actually mean? Well, according to a trusted source, currently putting a film out wide on VOD in the U.S. with minimal or no PR campaign will at best bring in a few thousand dollars. A few thousand.
A few years ago, filmmakers would use their MGs (minimum guarantees -- an upfront payment from a distributor) to cover the costs of 'deliverables' (the film in specific formats, legal documents, chain of title, etc.). As MGs have pretty much disappeared for independent films, we now have to factor these, often fairly substantial costs, into our budgets. To stand any chance of recouping on a wide digital/VOD release, we now need to factor in an advertising budget.
There are plenty of people out there whose masterplan is ' just make the film and run a social media campaign - after all it worked for Blair Witch'. In our opinion, this it is a super-risky strategy. Of course, occasionally a film breaks out via social media, but there are a lot of filmmakers working very hard and not getting much traction. Social media is important, but only as part of a bigger, focused campaign. Stating the obvious, you need to know who your audience is before you even go into pre-production, and remember 'niche' can be your friend. But don't just think you can set up a Facebook page, or Twitter account and fans will come.
I am only scratching the surface here, and it is admittedly an over simplified look at the current issues in independent film distribution. So why I am writing about this? Because we need to work together. We need to find ways to support each other and promote each other. We're not in competition.
People usually don't just go to see one independent film. In reality, if they are adventurous enough to venture outside of the multiplex world of mainstream films, they will probably actively seek out other independent films. So fans of my film might well enjoy yours.
So, how do we change things? Here are a couple of ideas...
Imagine a technology-rich, interactive film channel that programs women-led features, documentaries and short films guest curated by some of our leading lights (both from in front of and behind the camera):
- The channel should have (optional) social media interactions built in or on a second screen.
- The channel should host live Q&As and 'event driven' screenings.
How about a shared mailing-list? Imagine: once every couple of weeks an email comes (tailored to the genres that interest you) with a log-line and link to trailers for half-a-dozen independent films by women ends up in your inbox.
Or what about a network of women filmmakers/fans in different cities organising TUGG-type screenings to support multiple releases on a quid pro quo/loyalty points-type basis? If we could do this on a world-wide basis, we could really get the word out about our colleagues' films.
Of course, all of these sorts of things need someone with the bandwidth, skillset and resources to get the ball rolling. Any takers?
Best wishes from down the rabbit hole,