With comments by Sydney
Some of them are obvious or secret or genius or lame. But they came out of the mouths of the experts at last weekend's 'Produced By' Conference during panels devoted to the financing, production, and distribution of independent films and documentaries. Here are the 35 tips compiled by a DHD stringer with comments by Sydney.
1. Change the title of your indie film to begin with an “A” or a number to get higher placement on iTunes. Cheap shot, but OK try it. Better to have relevant keywords so people find something which interests them.
2. “Experiment and try new ways of getting your indie film out there.” Absolutely. If you don't know how to begin, find an expert to help you in self distribution, exclusivities vis a vis internet platforms.
3. Clark Hallren, Managing Director of the Entertainment Industries Group for JP Morgan Securities warned, “Guys it’s tough. Phenomenal events that statistically cannot happen did happen: we’re at an interesting point in the business.” Huh?
4. Lisa Nitti of Greenberg Traurig offered a financing checklist and the necessary groundwork that indie producers must complete to have a shot at getting money: a preliminary financing plan, a solid budget and schedule, and an understanding of Hollywood guild requirements. Always good.
5. Foreign pre-sales are not as readily available as in years past. This is a cycle which endlessly repeats itself. When there are many completed films on the market, presales subside. Then the films have been acquired and are not doing as well as hoped, presales begin again. When they aren't paying off as expected for distributors who prebought, the distributors begin waiting for films to be completed before acquiring.
6. Established indie producers with a successful track record have a somewhat easier time than newcomers in getting attention from international sales companies. That's for sure! You need a track record or to be THE BREAKOUT film from Sundance or Toronto and occastionally another festival like San Sebastian, Locarno, Guadaljara, Venice (where the trade looks for breakouts).
7. Genre always makes a difference. Forget costume dramas and spoofs. Unless they are your passion projects. Always be true to your passion. Make a genre film if it's your passion or if you are specifically and carefully planning to hit a specific target, e.g., horror fans.
8. “Indie producers must have names that mean something to TV worldwide; [before pre-sales can be made] international distributors need time to talk to TV folks who are covering 60%-70% of minimum guarantees,” said Edward Noeltner, President of Cinema Management Group. We love Edward Noeltner!
9. The number of banks involved in indie film financing has constricted and greatly impacted funds available. Previous to the financial market meltdown, there were 30 to 35 players. That number has been cut by 2/3s. Yeah, well banks always play it as safe as possible and weren't financing any but the best companies anyway, e.g., Summit, Focus, etc.
10. Financiers basically want a return on their investment. “I encourage indie producers to understand their film’s audience as much as they can. Understand what you mean when you pitch project. I want to support a film, but I care about capital and return on that capital. I just want to get my money back,” explained banker Hallren. Yeah, well banks always play it as safe as possible and weren't financing any but the best companies anyway, e.g., Summit, Focus, etc.
11. Risk tolerance by investors is at an all-time low. "We’re all in a back-to-basics environment,” advised Danny Mandel, Managing Director of Newbridge Film Capital. “We won't return to where we were; now investors are all about preservation of capital.” Yeah, well banks always play it as safe as possible and weren't financing any but the best companies anyway, e.g., Summit, Focus, etc.
12. Mandel predicted that by 2010 indieprods could see more capital available. OK, but banks always play it as safe as possible and weren't financing any but the best companies anyway, e.g., Summit, Focus, etc.
13. In indie producers favor: distributors will always need new product to fill pipelines. Absolutely. Be sure to target the top 20 to 30 out of 400 international sales agents who sell to the distributors you need for your product.
14. At the Cannes Festival, Mandel met five international distributors who wanted a movie with "Wedding" in the title. Great comment made to Nikki Finke's blog: "Looking forward to “My Big Fat Spiritual Gay French-Jewish Wedding” in 2010. Comment by TT — June 11, 2009 @ 11:30 pm"
15. New financing models are having some success, says Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of IndieGoGo. She cited documentary producer Robert Greenwald as an example of a new paradigm: Greenwald needed $200,000 to finance his Iraq For Sale. He turned to his substantial email distribution list. Nine days and four emails later, he had raised $276,000. Think of it as “raising money Obama-style,” suggested Ringelmann. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, look at IndieGoGo.
16. Build a fan base for an indie film before it’s even made. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, look at IndieGoGo, explore the internet options, read David Meerman Scotts' THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR.
17. The disappearance of a number of local and regional film critics is a major concern because it makes it tough to launch an indie movie, noted Lawrence Bender, the Oscar-winning indie producer of Pulp Fiction, An Inconvenient Truth, and the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. So Bender said indie filmmakers must now be content with “tweets and the craziest things,” but not the critical insights of years past. Acquisitions have changed so drastically that critical acclaim for a film often means more to the financial interests and those who greenlight acquisitions than the gut feeling of the acquisitions executive who was hired for his/ her "eye".
18. Roger Corman, the quintessential indie producer (Death Race 2000, Grand Theft Auto, Rock N' Roll High School) sees the Internet as a “ray of hope” for indie producers. We love Roger Corman and his wife Julie!
19. Corman envisions a day when distributors and theaters are gone and an ASCAP-type organization collects revenues for indie producers. We love Roger Corman and his wife Julie! ASCAP-type organization can collect from distributors and theaters as well and such collection agencies already exist, e.g., Fintage and one or two others. Filmmakers always need an agency to collect for them, even from their international sales agencies.
20. Concensus advice on how to get an indie film made: never give up. If it's your passion, never give up. If you get so many passes over such a long period that you can't take it anymore, get a real job. This is not a business for everyone.
21. Finding a documentary subject that’s worth a two to four year commitment comes down to “you know it when you see it,” related Marina Zenovich, Director/Producer/Co-Writer of Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, Director/Producer of Who Is Bernard Tapie?, Director/Producer of Independents Day Zenovich. We love Marina!
22. “Always good to get an idea from a financier,” quipped Davis Guggenheim, Director/Producer of It Might Get Loud, Gracie, and Director/Executive Producer of An Inconvenient Truth. Guggenheim was lucky enough to be pitched by financier Thomas Tull who asked, “Do you like the electric guitar?" Good idea!
23. RJ Cutler, Filmmaker and President of Actual Reality Pictures (The September Issue, The War Room) noted that marketing and outreach for every documentary film is something of a riddle, but advised producers to investigate ancillary revenues. He pointed to Morgan Spurlock who had significant returns in the educational marketplace for his feature Super Size Me, which he cut down to an hour and created an accompanying curriculum and guide. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, explore the internet options, read David Meerman Scotts' THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR.
24. Before an indie film gets to the marketplace, producers must know who the audience is for the film, counseled Dennis Rice, Founder of Vision Entertainment. “If you can’t market your film, you shouldn’t make it. If there’s no audience, you can’t get a return on investment.” Basic Business for Filmmakers 101
25. Once an indie producer knows who the film’s audience is, reaching them cost effectively is the next hurdle. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, explore the internet options, read David Meerman Scotts' THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR.
26. There’s no longer a one size fits all model for indie distribution; patterns and windows are changing as are the means of distribution. New strategies include video-on-demand, checkerboard release patterns, digital downloads via iTunes. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, explore the internet options, read David Meerman Scotts' THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR. Or contact us at Sydney@SydneysBuzz.com
27. “There are at least 10 distribution structures out there, and new companies popping up,” offered Liesl Copland of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment's Global Finance and Distribution Group. Among the new companies she cited: Big Beach, End Game, and Zip Line. All have been smart about marketing spends, she says. Liesl know what's up. If Big Beach is Marc Turtletaub's company, then that's a good option. I don't know these other companies and would welcome comments on them from the producers they have handled.
28. Indie producers need to move past the old distribution model and learn from experimentation. Absolutely look at Robert Greenwald, look at Peter Broderick's Website, explore the internet options, read David Meerman Scotts' THE NEW RULES OF MARKETING AND PR. Or contact us at Sydney@SydneysBuzz.com. But try the old distribution models because those "old" distribution companies are also looking at new models and are experimenting. If they want your film, ask them about what they're doing with new models and ask if your input is encouraged, then learn with them.
29. Copland advised indie producers to think about own their own consumer habits when making movies in this kind of market “though clarity hasn’t surfaced in new revenue streams”. Is she saying "To thine own self be true"? That's good.
30. Ted Mundorff, CEO of Landmark Theatres, sees video on demand pre-release and then theatrical release is working for some indie titles like Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. (Bubble ignited the trend. But Mundroff worries about cable companies saturating the market with titles.) He's talking about IFC's model and IFC is buying everything at cut rate prices whereas Landmark can distribute indie producers' films but makes more by distributing third party product via distributors. But Landmark is the theater chain to watch (along with Laemmle) for indies.
31. David Straus, Co-Founder and CEO of Withoutabox (a division of IMDb.com), implored indie producers to find ways to connect directly to audiences. “You don’t have to throw a ton of money to push a film to an audience; in an ideal world, the audience pulls film to them.” It's a MUST for every filmmaker with a finished film register for free on Withoutabox and use it for festival submissions.
32. Aggregating an audience is the lynchpin of this new world order. But is it something that impresses banks enough to lend money? Doubtful. Yeah, well banks always play it as safe as possible and weren't financing any but the best companies anyway, e.g., Summit, Focus, etc.
33. It’s not all doom and gloom despite the disappearance of studio-backed indie film divisions like Warner Independent. Films and film companies rise from the grassroots and the grassroots have room to grow and expand when old non functioning ideas fade from the scene. Warner Independent and Picturehouse and New Line were all owned by Warner Bros. whose purchase of AOL bogged it down and whose top management never understood the value of its special divisions.
34. There is opportunity for indie producers as long as they don’t get hung up on a 35mm theatrical film release. Ira Deutchman, CEO of Emerging Pictures, explained: “With digital, we can begin to play around with release patterns.” We love Ira Deutchman!
35. Deutchman also recommended that indie producers “aggregate your communities.” He finds that his network of theaters does well with Jewish, gay-themed and French films as well as those that are spiritual and have "Wedding" in the title. We love Ira Deutchman. He was the godfather of my 21 year old company FilmFinders which I sold in 2008 to IMDb and which can now be seen on FilmFinders on Pro. He gave me the Q&A database in 1987 which got us started. We love Ira Deutchman!