It’s not that aspiring to the Hollywood dream is a bad thing -it’s just not for me. I know that may sound strange but as I’ve said in the past, I never got into film to be some sort of “big shot”. I got into film because I enjoy it. A lot of would be indie filmmakers are indie filmmakers out of necessity not necessarily out of choice, for if given the chance they’d happily change places with (name your director). And why shouldn’t they? But how many truly talented individuals have missed out because either they or someone close to them pushed them to be something they weren’t. Or at least, weren’t yet. I’m not saying don’t dream big, but is it possible one can push too hard and try and force the issue that they miss out on a golden opportunity to be their own, personal, Hollywood success story.
You see success is in the eye of the beholder. If you crave the lifestyle, parties and adoration then yes, you’ll most likely need to play in Paramount’s sandbox. However, if success to you is merely being able to do good work and progress as an artist, then my friend, success is far more obtainable. For years I’ve preached that indie filmmakers need to remember film is a business, but I was never specific about what type of business that was. Not because I was being coy but because I hadn’t yet figured it out for myself. But now, as I work on Love In Training, I realize that my personal Hollywood isn’t a huge, multi-national corporation. It isn’t even a publicly traded company -it’s a small business.
We’ve all gone to the movies only to leave with one question on our minds, they spent how much!? Or maybe the question is simply, why?. Whatever the take away one thing is certain, Hollywood spends A LOT of money. What’s even more amazing is that they’re success to failure rate isn’t even all that great, in truth more films fail than succeed. How are they still able to stay in business then? It’s a combination of things really; a mixture of big budget movie successes, foreign aide (both box office and investor), library or archive revenue and financial incentives (tax breaks). This is how every year you read about some studio going bust on a $200+ million dollar film, but not out of business. In many cases these flops are largely written off or simply absorbed by the machine. It’s very Wall Street-esq in that the studios, despite their claims to the contrary, continue to do as they always have even amidst a bad year or harsh economic times. I’m not saying they’re too big to fail, as some have, but like the big banks they’re all in it together therefore they all have a sort of vested interest in the machine marching forward. And it’s a BIG machine. A machine that is largely reactionary, slow moving and scared.
Scared of what you ask. You.
You see the Internet changed the way content is delivered and consumed. You may be saying to yourself, duh, but understand the studios weren’t prepared. Many looked at it as a toy or as an ad tool -not as a distribution one. They do now, believe me they do, but they’re in the position of playing catch up for consumers have long been sharing their content with one another easily and freely. This is where the small business mentality comes in. In a small, community business your customers are the men and women you may live amongst and/or interact with on a daily basis. For filmmaker this community could be your social network fan base or the like. In traditional small business it’s important to balance your overhead with your projected sales. If you think that you’re only going to make $50,000 a year in sales, well, then your overhead needs to be less than fifty grand. In some instances a lot less. Depending on your startup capital you may be able to have a few years, in the beginning, where you can be a little underwater, but you’ll need to take precautions not to get yourself in too deep otherwise -disaster. So let’s break it down in film terms.
Indie filmmaker John has a total of 5,000 followers between Facebook and Twitter. John wants to make a feature length film and sell it direct via his website. He isn’t sure how much he can raise and/or spend on the film but knows he can’t film for free. Well, to John I would offer this advice; realistically gauge what you believe you can earn from your loyal fans. For example, Facebook gives moderators metrics on their traffic. You’ll notice that between the metric “reach” and/or “talking about this” the value is never 100-percent of your total number of fans. It’s generally a third maybe half. Being optimistic let’s say it’s half, or in John’s case -2,500 followers. So, of John’s 5,000 fans let’s assume only about 2,500 are active or engaged enough to want to spend money on John’s film. Since John is an indie filmmaker, presumably non-union, who is going to tell his story using available tools and resources he’ll have to charge a price that is in line with the quality of the film he is making. I’m not saying John’s a shoddy filmmaker, but you can’t charge Paramount prices so audiences can watch your cousin in a lead role. Make sense?
Let’s say John can charge $10 for a DVD with extras and $5 for a digital copy. In truth I’d probably forgo the DVD and stick with various digital copies ranging in quality priced from $.99 to $5.00, but we’ll keep the numbers simple and use $10 and $5. In my experience, more indie filmmaker fans like physical discs so let’s say 75-percent of sales are going to be for the DVD, with 25-percent representing downloads. That means 1,875 fans of John’s 2,500 active followers are going to spend $10 with John and 625 are going to spend $5. How much can John spend on his movie if he wants to turn a profit? Well, by this simple metric John can reasonably expect his film to generate roughly $21,875. So if John is able to scratch together $15,000 to make it, well, then he was profitable. If John can rinse and repeat, then he has become his own small business or studio in the independent film world. And it is my opinion that should you be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue making quality films that earn you the ability to green light your own endeavors, then what do you need a studio for?
Don’t wait for your phone to ring or for someone else to validate what you already know. Validate yourself and make those who do call leave a message -you’re busy making movies!
As always I thank you all for reading and for your comments and for sharing my content with your friends. Until next time, take care and stay tuned…
UPDATE: The romantic comedy, Love In Training, referenced in this post has been put on hold indefinitely. I apologize for the confusion. For more information please read my announcement detailing the change.