GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – THE WORD ON THE STREET!

It was about 4:40 AM in Cannes last Friday morning, when I woke up to make sure I wouldn’t miss my 10:30 AM flight home. Of course, I also woke up to check out ESPN.com and see if a) The NBA lockout had resolved and b) The Detroit Tigers had kicked the Yankees out of the playoffs. As I received my answers, “no” and “yes,” I started to ponder how I would describe what trends emerged from MIPCOM and how these trends would affect you, the independent filmmaker.

Then, eight hours later, after Edward Stencel and I spent two hours sitting on the plane while remaining grounded on the runway, we learned our fate: the plane was broken; our flight was canceled, and we were stuck in France for 24 more hours. I would no longer get to help my wife read books to our three-month old twin daughters on Friday night. I’d also have to miss attending the UCLA football game with my buddy Myron on Saturday night, (which resulted in a rare UCLA win) and I’d be too jet-lagged to drive to San Juan Capistrano on Sunday to see my high school friends Bob and Wendy’s son Ben Grosser lead his band “Supercharge” at the Southern California “Battle of The Bands” finals. Just like that, my plans were screwed, even if I was stuck in “paradise.”

However, my travel hiccup created a perfect analogy for the word on the street regarding the current state of indie films: they may seem “stuck,” but at least they’re stuck in paradise.

Thus, today we’re going to explore “the word on the street” from the domestic and international buyers and sellers who attended MIPCOM. Getting “the word on the street” from people in Los Angeles or New York is good, but getting a feel for where things are headed from people in Cannes during a major market like MIPCOM is priceless, because the “word” tends to echo generally accepted worldwide trends. So, here’s what people who can positively change your life, tax bracket and entertainment industry worth are saying.

There Is Not Enough New Product Being Sold
The most predominant sentiment being uttered by worldwide buyers and sellers is that there is a severe lack of new product out there. With both studio and independent production slowing down, sellers are schlepping the same films and TV series they were trying to sell last year. The main reasons for this are a) less independent product is being financed and produced and b) most of the product being made lacks the “star power” needed to force buyers to make an offer.

The Good News: Everyone is openly looking for good product, so if you have it, or are about to make it, it well definitely sell.

The Bad News: New product will only sell if it’s star on genre driven (preferably both). Others need not apply.

One exception to the “bad news” above is that certain genre’s like Sci-Fi and smart action/thrillers can sell without major stars attached, but remember, those sales are great deal smaller than sales that have “names” involved.

The “Machine Gun” Sales Approach Has Less Ammunition
A few years ago, several sales companies would handle anywhere from 30 to 300+ products, because if they could sell 100 films/TV series for a mere $10,000 each, they would have $1 million in sales. However, these days, 95% of independent product is unsellable, so it makes no sense to handle 300 films, when only about 15 of them will have any sales.

I’ve said the following statement before, but it remains true “if the cost to mail a DVD to a buyer is greater than the total amount the product will earn, then why represent the product?” Gone are the days when sales agents would take on a “hard sell” just because they love it. These days, sales are so hard to come by; that most sales agents and international distributors only want to handle things they know they can sell. Thus, over the next several months, sales agents and international distributors will make one of these two moves:

1)  Accept fewer products.

2)  Accept the same amount, or more product, but charge filmmakers upfront for doing so.

The Good News: Getting a sales agent/international distributor to rep your film will mean that you may actually see some sales done.

The Bad News: Regarding move #2 above, in many cases, the distribution company will charge upfront for films they don’t think they can sell. Unless the company’s mandate is to charge all films up front for representation (which is criminal in itself), paying someone to sell your film, before they actually sell it, is downright idiotic.

By now you may be thinking, “where the hell is the paradise portion of this article?” Well, worry not. Here it is.

Online Sales Opportunities Will Monetize Greatly Soon
Representatives from YouTube state that those who monetize their heavily watched product on YouTube can earn a notable income (more than $100,000 + per year in some cases). Making six figures on a YouTube series is extremely rare – but it is possible – and “possible” is all good filmmakers need to show what they can do.

The Good News: If the “lucky few” are breaking the six figure barrier already, they’ll be breaking the $1,000,000 barrier within a few years, at which time many filmmakers will be able to make the current $100,000 barrier online “no big deal.” This is because advertisers will spend more money on Internet advertising in the coming years, which, in turn, will create more income for those who create online product.

The Bad News: None, outside of the “waiting” period. Waiting for paradise is not easy, especially since most online films for sale earn less than a few dollars per month. But, hang in there. The seeds are planted and a fruitful harvest is on the way, you just have to wait for the seeds to grow.

Okay, everyone. That’s what is trending out of MIPCOM 2011. The future is bright, even if it seems a bit dark these days. If you are an independent filmmaker, it’s time to go find your sunglasses and have them ready, because it’s going to get blindingly bright for you pretty soon.

Thanks again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Lonelyseal.




Posted on October 11, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by
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