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I didn't think I was saying anything new to my friend. As I told him, despite opinions to the contrary it's always been a little bit like this. Maybe it was different in the early days of home video. But for a long time there's been no quantifiable minimum sale figure for an execution-dependent (i.e., difficult to market) independent film produced without some form of distribution in place.
I think, though, my friend was really asking me a different question: how do we create financial models for our films? How do we cobble together enough case studies and industry knowledge to predict how much they may be worth in the Wild West of downloads and VOD, where so many independent films are finding a home these days? How can we pitch our films to investors when we have no clue what these new markets bring? (For some answers, see this blog post linking to an excellent breakdown of VOD revenues for the independent documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story.) It's a problem that producer Ted Hope has noted before. "The film industry, like all others, mystifies by design," he wrote. "All industries create their own vernacular, keeping the have-nots clouded in confusion... Where is the information when you need it?... The industry promotes a paranoia and close-to-the-chest confidentiality in all its parishioners, whispering that if you don't leap in, you'll be out forever."
Like I said, it's always been a little bit like this. Ted wrote this for Filmmaker in 1995 in an opinionated missive titled "Indie Film is Dead."
But maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. The idea behind financial models is that you create something of worth and you predict that someone else will figure out who to sell it for and for how much. If you're a certain kind of producer, connecting with the right talent, sales agents and buyers, you can still be in that business. The Cannes Market is coming up. But if you're not that kind of producer or filmmaker, you have to create your own models, your own predictions.
When No Film School's Koo, for example, set about crowdfunding his feature Man Child on Kickstarter, he extrapolated from the size of his audience on the website, crunched numbers and figured he could raise $125,000. (Read his detailed breakdown here.). Zak Forsman writes similarly here at Filmmaker about how he successfully raised production monies through his own Kickstarter campaign. And while Kickstarter campaigns typically give as rewards a finished DVD of the film, thus making them a form of direct-to-fan pre-buy, there are plenty of other filmmakers who are coming up with their own economic models by projecting from their email lists, fan pages, and other places where their audiences can be quantified and aggregated. (These two links are highly relevant as Congress passed the JOBS Act this week, allowing for the first time equity financing to be raised through crowdfunding sites. Expect big changes in the independent film world -- and read about those changes in the next issue of Filmmaker.)
Of course, Jon Reiss, Ted Hope and others have been talking about these ideas in the film space for years, as has Bob Lefsetz in the music space. Kevin Kelley's "1,000 True Fans" concept is relevant here too. I guess that question posed to me the other night reminded me of all this stuff because I'd rather build an economic model from information I have in my own hands than ideas about independent film pricing that were outdated when they were first recorded... back in the '80s. So, my question back to my friend was, what have you done to build an audience you can model from?
On another note, Scenes of a Crime, Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh's smart and suspenseful character-based crime documentary opens in New York this Friday and in L.A. in two weeks. It's the winner of the 2011 "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" Gotham Award, and I highly recommend you check it out. We're happy the award helped get the film into theaters, where its immersive depiction of the flaws in our criminal justice system will resonate deepest.
See you next week.
IFP NARRATIVE LAB DEADLINE APPROACHING The deadline for Narrative Lab strand of IFP's 2012 Independent Filmmaker Labs is April 6. This year-long fellowship supports independent filmmakers through the completion, marketing, and distribution of their first features. The Labs provide community, mentorship, and film-specific strategies to help filmmakers reach their artistic goals, support the film's launch, and maximize exposure in the global marketplace. Alumni from the 2011 Narrative Lab have been making waves: Ryan Onan's The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best premiered at Toronto 2011 and was recently acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories for 2012 release. Keith Miller's Welcome to Pine Hill won the Dramatic Grand Jury Award at Slamdance 2012. Nir Paniry's sci-fi thriller, Extracted; Tim Sutton's ethereal and enigmatic youth drama, Pavilion, and Matt Ruskin's meditative crime drama Booster premiered at SXSW 2012, with Booster's Nico Stone winning Special Jury Recognition for his performance. Lucy Mulloy's vibrant Una Noche (which premiered at Berlin 2012); Jenny Deller's Future Weather, a drama of three generations of women navigating responsibility and self-fulfillment; and Andrew Semans' darkly comic Nancy, Please screen at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. And Sara Blecher's Otelo Burning has just been nominated for 13 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA). Additional detailed information about the labs and how to apply are available here.
Hammer to Nail Review
The Island President
Turn Me On, Dammit!
Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh's "Scenes of a Crime"
IFP Narrative Lab Deadline Approaching
ARTIFICIAL PARADISES By Michael Tully
Yes, Yulene Olaizola's Artificial Paradises is about drug addiction. But not only does Olaizola take her time in revealing this agenda, her patient filmmaking and reverence for the gorgeous natural environment in which she shoots keeps that agenda from elbowing its way into the foreground. It's this gentle approach that distinguishes Artificial Paradises from the rest of the "foreign-film-festival-circuit" pack. This is a minor film, but it resonates and lingers. read more THE ISLAND PRESIDENT Jon Shenk's critically acclaimed documentary The Island President tells the story of (recently resigned) President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives who, after establishing democracy in his nation, was left with an even greater challenge: to keep the 1200 low-lying islands and its citizens from submerging under water. The film centers on his first term as president and follows his journey to becoming one of the most respected leaders in the fight to raise awareness of climate change. BULLY Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully focuses on five bullied kids over the course of one school year. The film has already garnered a great deal of attention due to the battle between its distributor, The Weinstein Company, and the MPAA over its R rating, which it received due to bad language. This will hopefully not keep it from being mandatory viewing in every high school in the world, which the film's creators -- and a number of Bully's high-profile supporters -- feel that it ought to be. TURN ME ON, DAMMIT! In Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's Turn Me On, Dammit!, 15-year old Alma (Helena Bergsholm) embarks on a turbulent journey of self-discovery fueled by hormones and sexual fantasies. The film won best screenplay at last year's Tribeca Film Festival and has gotten rave reviews for its humorous and poignant portrayal of female adolescence. Judging from the film's trailer, it looks like an entertaining cross between Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde and American Pie. This week on the blog, Nick Dawson shares Harmony Korine's The Fourth Dimension trailer, Alix Lambert discusses Music, Parallax Sounds and the City (pictured left), and Farihah Zaman presents A Genre Fan's Guide to 2012 New Directors/New Films.
To read more posts from our blog, click here.
GROVER BABCOCK AND BLUE HADAEGH'S "SCENES OF A CRIME" By Scott Macaulay
The 2011 winner of the Filmmaker-sponsored Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You IFP Gotham Award, Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh's Scenes of a Crime is a powerful social justice documentary that uses its feature-length format as its most powerful argument for the innocence of Adrian Thomas, a New York man currently inprisoned for the shaking death of his infant son. Over the course of the film's 88 minutes, we go beyond the soundbite, watching long stretches of Thomas's interview by two detectives -- a grilling that resulted in a confession that specialists in police interrogation believe was coerced. Scenes of a Crime is the engrossing flipside to prime time crime shows, which inevitably end with tearful, cathartic mea culpas. read more
New Orleans Film Festival
Regular Deadline: March 30
Late Deadline: May 4
WAB Deadline: June 4
Festival Dates: October 12 - 18
San Diego Film Festival
Regular Deadline: April 1
Late Deadline: June 1
WAB Deadline: June 15
Festival Dates: September 26 - 30
Hamptons International Film Festival
Regular Deadline: April 6
Late Deadline: June 8
WAB Deadline: June 25
Festival Dates: October 4 - 8