Choosing Your Path – Still Filmmaking, the Hard Way Extract
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The following excerpt is an excerpt from the sales chapter of Still Filmmaking, the Hard Way. She advocates the need for independent filmmakers to change their thinking about distribution, particularly the self-distribution stigma and widespread willingness to conclude bad distribution deals out of fear. Some of the more colorful languages, which I don't shy away from in my prose, have been censored here for the kind and possibly politically correct allies who help me spread the word about their publication. You only need to buy the book if you want to enjoy all of my more vehement adjectives.

The chapter on distribution in my previous FtHW letter, which was mainly written in 2012-13, was entitled "Distribution (or the pursuit of it)". I could not reuse this little nugget of cynicism for this writing, luckily it is no longer applicable. Mr. Gorbachev has torn down the wall, and independent filmmakers no longer need the support of a distribution partner to get a film into the masses. It has been democratized, at least in part, by the fact that there are currently some ways that a chimpanzee could manage the commercial distribution of content.

Rarely do needs and desires overlap in life, and media distribution is certainly not a statistical outlier in this regard. There aren't many of them, but there are absolutely potential distributors on the market that can add significant value to the release and marketing of films that come from the micro budget. The proliferation of media is so much facilitated by personal and business relationships that lubricate the wheels of money exchange between people, whose entire professional function is based on having these relationships and taking advantage of the fact that a single filmmaker has no hope of playing sandboxes in them .

The pitfalls in this step of the distribution process, in which a decision is made between using the buddy system or using a rogue, is the difficulty in determining whether your potential buddy is of sufficient value to the project (or whatever) can or will add. There are a lot of companies that claim to be content distributors and / or sales representatives. Trying to find a comprehensive list would be impossible, since new ones are born almost every day when others die. Suffice it to say, however, that hundreds are trolling the waters of independent filmmakers at all times.

For the same reasons, it is difficult to guess an exact number that I would consider credible and that I believe is capable and willing to provide reasonable value for its cost in the distribution process of an independent film in which Space was created with which this letter deals. If you spit out a number, I could say that the percentage is in the range of ten to twenty. At best, that gives a shit to legitimacy ratio of eight to ten.

"Shit" as used in this context is defined as a company that participates in one or more of the following business practices;

  • Mainly predominates and sells films without spending money, either in the form of a minimum guarantee / advance to the filmmaker or substantial direct marketing expenses (which are not shared with other titles)
  • Is not willing to pay for the costs of delivery (quality control, creation of marketing material, error and omission insurance), or, even worse, charges the filmmaker at a profit
  • Pursues pre-approval spending ceilings that go beyond the minimum cost of doing business in film markets and otherwise for the film, and enables creative accounting to view film revenue as a reimbursable cost to the distributor, rather than a profit made by the agreed distribution of sales will be shared between both parties
  • Does not physically "distribute" the film, other than listing it on digital platforms that could be achieved either by an aggregator or by self-placement

The latter practice is particularly flammable for me because there is a risk of saying the obvious. An October 18 email response I wrote to Alex Nohe of Blood Sweat Honey, a notorious advocate of this business model who continuously sends the same phishing email to filmmakers that he finds through mining festival announcements, sums it up together quite well:


As I have told you in the past (on copies of this email), there is no chance that I will ever pay an upfront fee to a distributor / sales representative and frankly your business model to hunt inexperienced filmmakers who don't know how to do this how wrong that is makes me sick. You can mark me as a pious unsubscribe from these pitch emails.

The independent filmmaker already bears an immense part of the risk associated with monetizing a film if it produces a film without a distribution already in place. The idea that a distribution company should not expect to bear a tiny fraction of the total risk in this joint venture and also incur a certain cost is bad enough. The idea that their participation should be subsidized by an additional risk for the filmmaker is downright silly.

The only thing that allows these companies to act in this way is the sheer number of hopeful but inexperienced filmmakers who believe that there is no alternative to distribution other than these (explicitly omitted) leeches for their perceived "connections" To pay buyers. If they had exclusive connections to premium buyers that justified filmmakers enough to pay to access them, there would be no need to strain the filmmaker in the first place – their superior skills in monetizing content would attract enough ( more films are shot every second than the audience could ever consume blah blah blah, right?) high quality, marketable films to generate revenue by banning a filer $ 5,000 check to start the process trivially. They have never heard stories from A24, NEON and The Orchard asking filmmakers to provide them with working capital.

Do not support this hatchery (I will NOT repeat) with your money. If you find that you can't win a reseller who doesn't require upfront payment, and you're too lazy to do the work outlined here to do what I assure you will get the same end results, but one have a burning desire To piss $ 5000 on the wall, send me an email at with the link and distribution of your movie, and I will help you find an application of this money that is actually constructive is.

Just a moment while I put my soapbox back in the closet.

Filmmaking is difficult and monetizing the derivative is even more difficult. Finding no willing sales partner is not synonymous with making a bad film. Having made a bad film is not synonymous with not finding a willing sales partner. A film's monetization potential is not necessarily related to its quality, and quality is initially a subjective measure. This bypass sum means that the movie distribution equation contains a large number of unknown variables, and it is unlikely that all variables will be solved regardless of who is on your team.

Not all distributors that exist outside of the legitimate 10-20% work as insincere as the gang at the receiving end of the above-mentioned soap box vitriol. There are a number of companies that are busy in the market and do everything they can to fight with the product they can deal with. They simply don't have the resources, relationships, experience, or luck needed to earn the reasonable minimum compensation that they would require a project to include in their catalog.

This is where the decision component of the equation for the filmmaker comes into play. Unless you are premiering at one of the major boy festivals and are immediately generating a bidding war so you don't have to read anything I write, and your distribution options are unlikely to be presented to you in an orderly and functional manner that gives you the luxury of a direct Comparative offers. More often, you need to be able to view an offer in a vacuum and decide whether the deal points meet at least your minimum expectations and whether the company is able to achieve the value that corresponds to these deal points. If you find that both are below average, you need to have both consciousness and coyones to get away from it, even if there is no other deal on the table.

A bad sales offer is worse than no sales offer.

Tell yourself that often. Bring it into your psyche, producer, as it is a crucial understanding.

After doing this, you get two distribution deals and are such a great (explicitly omitted) producer after reading up to this point in this book that you know what their end results will look like:

  • Deal points: Seven-year term, distribution of earnings on 70/30 (filmmaker / company), upper limit of USD 35,000 (thereof USD 25,000 for the film), USD 4,000 shipping costs, no minimum guarantee.
  • Results: Placement on any digital TVOD platform (transaction platform), some smaller SVOD platforms (subscription – no, not Netflix). Revenue of $ 15,000 the first year, $ 3750 the following years for a total of $ 37,500 over the life of the business.
  • Deal points: Seven-year term, 70/30 (filmmaker / company) revenue breakdown, $ 0 cost cap, $ 1500 delivery cost, no minimum guarantee.
  • Results: Placement on any digital TVOD platform. Revenue of $ 1,000 the first year, $ 100,000 the following years for a total of $ 1,600 over the life of the business.

Make your choice, producer.

If this remote, shiny-looking total of $ 37,500 from Offer A lured you into its catch, you still have a lot to learn. The total profit for this filmmaker is actually $ 2,750. Offer B, with a low total sales of $ 1600, brings a whopping $ 100 profit.

How the hell does a sweaty, crumpled Ben Franklin end up in the hands of the happy B-filmmaker? Math, producer. The distributor's bean counters are sure of themselves. You should also brush up if you want to make good production decisions in the content distribution sandbox.

The conditions are the same, the sales breakdowns are the same. The deal point that throws the filmmaker so far out of balance is the cost cap, both in this case and often in many other cases. These are defined as the costs that the company may incur in selling your film before you have to obtain the filmmaker's approval, and can be (i.e.) charged to the filmmaker's revenue sharing side. The problem with this variable as the core of the profit equation is that it is very difficult to dispute. I have already explained this, and life is short, so an extract from the first FtHW:

On the well-founded side, these are the costs that the distributor incurs when he sells your film to buyers – screeners, single sheets, posters, film market stands / spaces, trips that are attributable to the sale of your film, etc. The gray area here is that a distributor has a catalog of films that they sell at the same time. So if your distributor brings their 12-film catalog to a market and their room costs $ 12,000 there should be a $ 1,000 fee to sell your film, right? What if the market is Berlin and it is known that your film is of no interest to the buyers your distributor will speak to and the sales results for your film reflect this at the end of this market? Should your title be the same number as the one that was passionately pushed? To argue in both cases, and these bookkeeping tools are common in a trader's normal business.

The cost cap in Offer A is $ 35,000. The company in question will now assure you that this is only an upper limit and that this figure may not actually apply. However, after writing the agreement, this is allowed without you having to respond. There are undoubtedly some companies that really work to minimize costs and do not make it common to charge films at or near the maximum allowable amount. However, if you trust that this is the case, you will be let down more often than not.

This company works in my half empty reality, reassures the producer that the market is currently a challenge and insists that you have to spend money to make money! The distribution notice (yes, only one is sent in the course of business – they are very crappy with reporting) arrives and they calculated $ 25,000 in spending on the film after deducting their 30% due from gross income. This 30% top off is $ 11,250, leaving $ 26,250 for the filmmaker side. This amount is now subject to reimbursable costs and 26,250 – 25,000 = 1250, so the filmmaker will get $ 1250 back. The filmmaker has already spent $ 4,000 on delivering the film, so they're still in the hole for $ 2,750 and don't have a penny to send to their investors.

The filmmaker who accepted Offer B will hate to email his investors telling them that they have only made a hundred in the seven years since the film was released, but he / she will have a far better day than the filmmaker That has accepted Offer A and has to explain that not only is there no return on investment yet, but the cost of making this big, fat zero was $ 2750.

Are these deal results both crappy return on investment? Probably unless the negative cost of the film in question was $ 100. If so, you have exceeded the break-even point and are a winner. Well done. Next time make the film for fifty dollars so we can make a profit, producer.

Are these totally unrealistic earnings and deal points for a micro budget film in today's market? Revenue varies a lot, of course, but I'm afraid that's not the case, especially with deal points. Offer A is a deal in the wheelhouse of one that a filmmaker recently accepted from a company that you probably haven't heard of the name of, and Offer B is not unlike what a self-distribution agreement could look like.

The real filmmaker who had a similar deal to offer A (the delivery cost was actually a little worse in his case) did so against my vehement ridicule, because he just wanted to say that the film was rented out and didn't have to worry about it Sales efforts worry. I may not think these are a filmmaker's primary goals, but it is still a (relatively) free country and he is entitled to priorities of his choice regardless of whether the asshole producer at NYEH Entertainment agrees to them. Just like G.I. Joe, knowing what your sales goals are and choosing the film that best meets those goals is half the battle.

The other half, thanks to advances in technology that determine how audiences find, buy and consume content, know that no potential distribution partner has you over a barrel. It is no longer possible to remain without a path to distribution. The tools are now available to everyone and their costs no longer matter. Controlling your own sources of income through self-distribution is a realistic option on current and future content marketplaces. The associated stigma that filmmaking is a kind of failure has to change. Yes, monetizing content is more difficult than ever because of a number of factors. However, if filmmakers take the time together and strive to understand the market, we can eradicate the intermediaries who have exploited the artist since the beginning of art and art.

The hard way is still filmmaking, a case study of three narrative features under $ 250,000 that I recently produced, and a kind of successor to a similar letter that I published in 2013 – filmmaking, the hard way – that questioned the production process of mine first features (All God & # 39; s Creatures). I have worked in production and / or production management on 16 features and countless projects in a shorter form in the last ten years. During this time I made a few mistakes. My goal at SFtHW was to pack as many of these mistakes as possible and share them with early-stage filmmakers who they hadn't done so they never had to – or at least better diagnose mistakes like they do.

Given the random and unique problem that each film project presents, I can't call it a "how-to", but it's a gritty and exhaustive tour of every step of the soup-to-nut process for every film. Particular attention is paid to details and transparency in the financing and sales phases, which in my opinion are traditionally more opaque in independent films like these. The book will be published on all common suspects of the digital platform – Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, many more – and on July 1, 2018 as a paperback. More information is available at

Thank you for reading,

Josh Folan


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