Indie film financing and movie distribution reminds of what it’d 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 need to manage to dance to a video investor’s music. It’s their stage and not yours being an indie filmmaker seeking film funding. They need you to create a sellable movie which appeals to movie distributors so the production will 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 will make no sense to viewers that don’t understand subtle lines spoken in a foreign language.
Independent film financing continues to alter as indie movie distribution gets more financially shaky. The place it’s hitting indie movie producers hardest is right at the origin – film financing. Film investors right now aren’t feeling excited about putting money into movies that not need bankable name actors. This is simply not like so-called indie movies which have A-list actors or are produced for countless dollars. Those kind of indie film passion projects you can 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 with 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 very first 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 have an as yet not known cast of actors. Plus there’s a glut of indie movies being made because technology has managed to get cheaper to create movies.
The bright side is that entertaining indie movies are now being made that might not otherwise ever have experienced 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 1 movie distributor that suits releasing independent films and they told me they receive new film submissions daily.
They certainly were honest saying they get very sellable movies and ones that are significantly less than appealing, but with so many movies on the market they no more 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 simply happy seeing their movie released. The term they used was “glorified showreel” for an indie filmmaker to display they can create a feature film. So, they acquire many of their movie releases without paying an advance or offering a “buy-out” agreement.
Not creating a benefit from a film does not make financial sense for film investors that expect you’ll see money made. When people set up money to make a movie they need a return on the investment. Otherwise it’s no more a film investment. It becomes a video 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 conversing with indie movie distributors before writing a screenplay to see what types of films can sell and what actors or celebrity names attached with a possible project interest them. This is simply 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 think about that fit an independent movie budget. Movie sales outside of the U.S. are the place where a bulk of the cash is perfect 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 kind of name is a good selling point to greatly help your movie standout from others. Brief cameos of known actors or celebrities used to be an effective way to 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 there is a visible hook that grabs the eye of viewers in some way. But having name talent say a few lines with no special hook won’t fly anymore.
Another way to create an indie film needing funding more attractive to investors is to install talent that has been in a film or TV show of note. Their name being an actor mightn’t be that well-known yet, but rising stars which have appeared in a favorite movie or TV show can provide your movie broader appeal. If you cast them in a supporting role keep working days on the set right down to the absolute minimum to save your budget. Attempt to write their scenes to allow them to be shot in a couple of days.
When you’re pitching to serious film investors they will want to be provided with a detailed movie budget and distribution plan on how you want on earning profits from the film’s release. The Catch-22 that takes place a lot is that many movie distributors that cater 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 part of the entertainment business can get deterred whenever a producer does not need a distribution deal already in place. They don’t understand the Catch-22 of indie filmmaking and distribution. That is the place where a movie producer really needs to have a solid 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 film investor’s business perspective it takes entirely too long for an indie movie to generate money going the self-distribution route. It’s such as the old school method of selling your movie out of the trunk of your car or truck at places, nevertheless now it’s done online using digital distribution and direct sales using a blog. That’s a lengthy grind that many investors will not be interested in ready for. Moving one unit of a film at any given time is too slow of trickle for investors.
A possible way across the Catch-22 would be to reach out to movie distributors while you are pitching to film investors. With a strong budget number and possible cast attached you are able to gauge to see if there is any meaningful distribution curiosity about the movie. It’s always possible a distributor will tell you that they would offer an advance or “buy-out” deal. They usually won’t provide you with a hard number, but a good ballpark figure of what they might 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 very good budgets and knows they’re already creating a benefit 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 history with a distribution company do you know what you are able to expect you’ll be paid. Then you can certainly offer film investors a percent on the money invested to 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. An awesome thing I’ve been hearing about is there are film investors that won’t set up money to create movie that is going to be self-distributed, but they’ll roll the dice on a characteristic that is going to specific film festivals. Not the art house film festivals. The ones that 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 handle and study from each experience. I was in the hot seat today pitching to a video investor. I’ve streamlined the budget around I could without making the plot lose steam.
The jam I’m in as a maker is you will find hard costs that cannot be avoided that include 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 do want to hire has the right appeal and name recognition because of this indie action movie to rock viewers. There’s nothing that will get lost in the translation in this film for foreign film buyers and movie viewers.
What I do believe 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 need to do rewrites to the screenplay to get action scenes. They’re selling points that’ll hurt sales if they are written out. But it’s my job being an indie filmmaker to balance a budget that appeals to film investors. We’ll see how this goes. That is indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing fade out.