…devote a pittance to market it. You earmark bubkes in your film’s budget for the long-haul slog of landing an audience.
Think about how crazy that is?! You spend scads of time developing your story, spending your own savings and your 401(k) to gain it some escape velocity in the process. You kit out your crew with the most cutting-edge gear, cast the best actors SAG Indie Agreements money can buy, but leave fumes in your bank account for marketing and distributing your picture. It’s that tree falling in the forest thing again. It’s déjà-vu all over again. It’s worse than that: it’s unthinkable!
It’s heartbreaking as a PMD to see this happening so often. So little planning goes into what happens after a film passes the post that it almost seems like a fault in the programming somewhere, like a vital DNA breach in the indie filmmaking species.
Indies seem to be majorly missing the plot on this one, believing it’s someone else’s responsibility to address marketing, packaging, advertising, and distributing their pictures. Oh crap, that business stuff again, they say. Now isn’t that the sticky wicket…?
Without reading further, you know I’m going to chide you. You also know we PMDs stand foursquare against this sort of thing and it’s our job – if we’re brought on from inception – to ensure there’s rocket fuel left over in the tanks for the 3 to 6 months after your film’s in the can to pay for the deluge of marketing and sales G-forces set to assault you.
Oh why, why, why?
“The New 50/50:”
It’s actually basic common sense to which Reiss simply gave a catchy name: leave something in the piggy bank for a rainy day, that’s all. Don’t blow your load.
Call “The New 50/50” your vital contingency fund. Don’t touch this cash for at least a couple of months, half a dozen if possible. Don’t be tempted to spend it on gear, bling, your actors, your crew, your insurance policy, your craft service, or your executive producer’s next spa treatment.
If you’re the kind of person who has trouble controlling your purse strings, hand this money over to someone else to sock under their mattress. And if they have problems keeping their digits off your stash, invest it in some kind of escrow or collection account at the bank, complete with double-signature access so that you can’t reach it easily, because you will be tempted. Trust me. All of us eventually get there.
What “The New 50/50” is saying is this: if you succeed in raising $100,000 to make your movie — whether those sources come from your savings or from private equity or crowdfunding — allocate at least $50,000 of it for marketing, prints, advertising, and distribution. That’s right: fifty thousand dollars will be needed for the long-haul push to get an audience to (basically) buy tickets to see your film and you’ll need to have it on hand somewhere, later, in order to entice them to come, via a variety of methods.
And now for a handful of other expenses you’ll likely incur once you reach post-:
- film festival applications will run you an average of $100 each, even for Tier 2 cities.
- flights, hotel stays, incidentals, per diems, and spending cash at festival cities doesn’t come cheap.
- cellphone expenses (could get very expensive, especially if you travel outside the US/Canada), monthly office overheads, internet expenses (like an expanded Dropbox account or backup storage media – USB keys, exterior drives, Zip drives).
- basic marketing costs for printing your film’s 1-sheets, postcards, business cards, DVD replication, and press kits will run you several hundred to several thousand bucks.
- hiring a good publicist to promote your story at film festivals will run you several thousand.
- expenses related to the preparation of your Electronic Press Kit/EPK.
- expenses related to your Deliverables List, mandatory to prepare your film for receipt by distributors – and there’s a huge standardized list.
- music rights clearance fees (not to mention auxiliary use fees to release the film’s music for your trailer!) can run you several thousand clams and more if not done correctly at the outset! Distributors will expect that if you’ve used a certain piece of music in a trailer or within your film (in the DVD you’ve sent them in the package) that it’s been rights cleared. It’ll cost you majorly if not done right from the get-go.
- trailer and teaser production fees, which is a separate task performed by a separate editor and a separate creative shop.
- legal fees to vet all your production contracts, approve your releases and waivers, and litigate matters for you if you run into any kind of dispute along the way.
and that’s only a partial list of ten of the dozens of items you’ll be required to spend on come post-.
And just so there’s no confusion, most of the indies I talk to on the phone have no idea what I’m talking about.
A typical phone call:
I spend a fair amount of time taking phone and email inquiry from indies around the world – mostly the States, truth be told, though the occasional international call comes through – about assisting them with their marketing and distribution duties.
One of the first questions I ask — which would probably save a whole lot of time for all parties involved, much as I love hearing about new projects — is: “how much money have you set aside for DIY marketing and distribution?”
The answers invariably range from:
- “We have no money left for marketing and distribution.” I’m next asked if I could come aboard and work as part of a back-end deal or payment deferral because, of course, the filmmaker in question realizes there’s a need for audience engagement of some kind, just not the kind you pay for. Sorry, friends, PMDs are above-the-line.
- “Just a few hundred bucks, actually…” Okay, better than the previous response, but not nearly enough cash to get it done right. DIYing your marketing and distribution on a shoestring is almost worse than doing nothing. In cases like these – which I call “damage control” (and position I commonly find PMD-For-Hire in) – I try to salvage what’s already been done. At the same time, though, I’ll caution that more money will be needed as we go along because the few hundred bucks (including clients’ PMDing fee) will dry up quickly.
- “We’re planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to pay for it all.” All fine and well, I say, but don’t count on crowdfunding as anything other than a budget top-up, or a bonus cookie, and never your primary source of financing. I notice too many indies adopting a bizarre sense of entitlement with crowdfunding – almost as if they believe that by merely hanging a shingle at a site like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo the masses will suddenly come a-flockin’ to their campaign to fork over their hard-earned shekels. ::: buzzer sound ::: Not going to happen! A crowdfunding campaign – like this one for Loren Feldman’s SoMe – is a daily grind with a very specific set of behaviors and tasks in order to succeed, especially at all-or-nothing “Reno-style” platforms like the now-ubiquitous Kickstarter (I’ve already worked with two clients who didn’t take my advice on crowdfunding and both failed to hit their targets, thinking that theirs was a unique case to which the rules didn’t apply – um, don’t say I told you so…).
It’s amazing that even with all this DIY/indie literature out there (not to mention the hundreds of blogs) professing the need to be fiscally responsible in 2012, the need to budget accordingly for the very expensive (as you’ve seen) series of steps that follow post-production, and given the oversupply of films in the distribution area which basically makes it a Buyer’s Paradise, that indies still think they can self-distribute, self-market their pictures on a hope and a prayer and some favors from their buds.
In cases like these, I generally advise filmmakers to go back to the drawing board and do more research.
I also advise them at the same time to salt away cash if they plan on doing anything further with these films, because an indie film marketed and self-distributed incorrectly is almost worse than a film not marketed at all. That’s right: you can do more harm to your film’s intellectual property by not having enough cash and trying to constantly cut corners.
A new and better approach:
It’s time to take a sober look at your financial situation and realize that only the “great” films get distribution, not the “good” ones. I’m fond of saying this, as those of you who read this blog regularly already know, but the point is that the great films are having a tough go of it getting distributed, so where does that leave the thousands of merely good films? In limbo, that’s where.
Also, indies need to realize that hybrid or purely self-distribution is never-ending work. You can’t imagine how much…
- You’ll have sleepless nights.
- You’ll be spending almost your entire day in front of an LCD screen of some sort: either your laptop, your desktop, or your iPhone/smartphone.
- You’ll be putting out fires all the live-long day: troubleshooting cast issues, crew snafus, or in conference with your strategic hires (egs. your publicist, sales agent, producer’s rep, content aggregator, and/or foreign sales agent, and sometimes several of these in conference call).
- You’ll have paperwork to file, and constantly.
- You’ll have banking to keep on top of. Payments to process. Deliverables to prepare.
- You’ll have content to create/curate as part of your “extra-diagetic” campaign for your behind-the-scenes features in order to keep audiences engaged throughout the long process of going from script to screen.
- You’ll have routine emails to respond to. Comments to moderate. Blogs to write. Blogs to read, even, not to mention social media channels to stay on top of.
You’re probably thinking I’m telling you not to go through with it. I’m not.
I’m merely saying that if you do plan to go through with the whole rigmarole of trying to mount an independent production of some sort, you’ve got a colossal amount of work ahead of you and it’s going to cost you a ton of money, more money than you presently have or are ever going to have (but that’s why you’re an “indie”). So start saving your pennies. Yesterday.
And take the marketing function just a wee bit more seriously. Please.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Marketing and Distribution Services for Indie Films and Documentaries
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