Of Budgets and Big Dreams

Written by Eric Kohn on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

UP, ALL you budding filmmakers: Nobody said this was going to be easy.
You can invest in all the how-to books you want, but the only way to
complete a movie and get it seen in today’s fleeting indie landscape is
simply to keep trying and think fast. No one is suggesting that a
filmmaker should ever abandon the craft of filmmaking for the sake of
marketing. But to make a mark in today’s tricky movie industry, you need
a game plan that makes sense. We asked a few industry players for
advice and here’s what they told us.


the current independent filmmaking industry, online fundraising is
accelerating, production and distribution costs are declining and social
media is connecting filmmakers and fans. With the proliferation of
social media and online video, there is more content than ever, making
it more important for filmmakers to focus on promotion, building their
fanbase and rising above the noise.

an aspiring filmmaker, “big studio money” is rarely attainable,
especially for someone trying to break into the industry. Filmmakers
know that they have to start small and tap their colleagues, friends and
influencers for financial and creative resources. In today’s online
world, there are more possibilities available beyond just a filmmaker’s
inner social circle. Consequently, “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) is no longer
the average filmmaker’s mantra. It has evolved into “Do-It-With-Others”


should look at other films comparable to their own that have gone
through a similar process and were successful. I think there are a lot
more opportunities now with the ability not only to premiere at a
festival but to take advantage of the publicity and marketing of a
festival to actually exploit the film. We look for filmmakers who will
have staying power as an artist and with whom we would want to work with
again. Any filmmaker who shows individuality—and, of course, talent—is
someone we would want to promote. One other important factor is the
ability to collaborate—if you are a first-time filmmaker, then this
would be your first experience with a distributor. We look for
filmmakers who are open-minded.


lot of filmmakers don’t believe this, but, as far as festival
programmers are concerned, the most important thing of all is that the
film speaks for itself. I am not going to claim that there aren’t
festivals that will gravitate towards a film that has some hot new actor
in it—of course that happens, and if you do have some budding superstar
in your cast, by all means make sure that the word gets out and that
this detail is made clear in your cover letter to the festival, etc. But
also note that casting a C-list actor or sitcom secondary character
will not likely help to get your film into one of the better festivals.
In fact, it might hurt if their presence is a distraction. And don’t
spend a fortune on packaging and glossy press kits: All this stuff goes
into the garbage as soon as the film is received. Think about it:
Festival programmers are going to watch hundreds—perhaps thousands—of
films in a few months. All of the publicity materials are dead weight.
Nobody but the intern is going to see those materials, so save your
money and save the trees and don’t go nuts with the packaging and press
materials. Also, research the festivals and pay attention to what sort
of films they program. Some festivals program lots of genre films,
others don’t program any. Send your sci-fi gangster film to Fantastic
Fest, but don’t send it to Human Rights Watch. That might seem like an
obvious point to make, but you would probably be surprised by what gets
sent our way.


is the Internet age, so use it to your advantage. Get on it early and
update it often: photos from shooting, merchandise that can be sold,
small local press stories where you filmed. Target the audience you are
going after. Is it a music-related film? Let the music blogs know. Is it
a design film? Give those blogs an early photo or a clip to build
excitement for your eventual release. Does the film have an actor with a
lot of fans? Provide fan sites with photos from the set. Put the film
on people’s radar as early as possible. Nothing in life is free: You are
hiring a publicist to act as your advocate and represent you and your
film in the way you want the press and audience to view it. And it’s not
an easy job. You should expect to pay at least $3,000 a month
for a documentary that doesn’t have a lot of talent attached and up to
$6,000 for a narrative film with many actors and a planned premiere and
press days. And enquiries should be made to your publicist about their
current slate.


today’s marketplace, it is the rare film—the extremely rare film—that
makes back more than $500,000 in profit, and it’s probably more like
$300,000. That’s not an exaggeration. Talk to producers who have played
Sundance and won awards about what they sold their film for, and how
much they received on the back end. The best strategy is to spend less
than this amount on your film. If costs go above that, you won’t make
the money back in today’s market. If you raise more than that, spend it
on the marketing and distribution of your film, or on the next film
because, no matter what you think or what anyone tells you, that is the
real ceiling for profits today. Keep your costs down the old-fashioned
way: beg, borrow and even steal to keep costs as low as possible. Spend
money where it matters— good lighting and sound. You can’t afford any
actor who will make any difference to the bottom line on sales, so don’t
spend money there. Follow the tax incentive money closely. Use your
social networks for favors, from equipment to expendables. Keep your
dream budget a dream until this nightmare economy changes.