GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “THE DIAMOND COLLECTION!”

Hi Everyone! I hope you had a wonderful week. Welcome to the Going Bionic “Diamond Collection.” That’s right; this article is the 75th installment of bionic opportunities and strategies for independent filmmakers. So, in honor of our diamond anniversary, I thought it’d be a good time to go over some recent “web gems” from previous Going Bionic articles. Since I’ve done a few of these “looking back” articles before, this glance into the Going Bionic rear view mirror will only go back to June, 2011.

While these insights may not change your life, week, day, or even hour, they just may help you explore what’s possible while presenting what’s probable. Furthermore, these insights are listed chronologically by their original publication date, thus they will bounce around various topics. So, without further ado, here are a few diamond web gems to consider….

More Broadcast Outlets Equals A Lower Price Of SaleJune 7, 2011
Back in the day when ABC, NBC, and CBS were the only major players on TV, HBO was too new to be significant, and FOX was merely an idea that hadn’t broadcast a minute of programming yet; movies of the weeks would secure licensing fees in the millions of dollars. Soon thereafter, HBO became relevant, grew powerful and started paying several hundred thousand dollars for independent films (decisively less than what movies of the weeks were getting from the networks, but still quite a healthy amount). But, ever since the number of viable broadcast outlets swelled from five to 500, the amounts those outlets are willing to pay for indie films has fallen drastically. In fact, these days it’s not uncommon for an independent film to be offered $10,000 or less for their broadcast rights. That’s a far cry from the millions of dollars movies of the weeks used to get, so it’s probably a good idea to keep your budgets as tight as possible in order to give your film a shot to break even financially.

Find A Home Interested In Renting Your Show A Room June 14, 2011
Outside of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO and Showtime, very few networks, cable or satellite channels have enough money to fund the production costs of their TV shows. Thus, in lieu of providing a healthy amount of cash, they offer airtime. The first key to finding a home for your TV show is to find a place that is willing to carve out airtime in their schedule for your show.

Once interested, the network, cable or satellite channel will provide you with all of their specs; including their audience reach (i.e. how many millions of households is their potential reach) as well as the viewers’ demographics and spending patterns. They may also provide you with their Nielsen ratings. These facts and figures are what you are going to need in order to present your show to sponsors (advertisers) for the purpose of having them commit to buying advertising on your show.

See Your Partners At Their Worst Before You SignJune 21, 2011
Producing partnerships, like most relationships, are rosy and beautiful in the beginning, but true personalities will eventually come to light. Thus, you should know if your partner is a screamer, depressing negative freak, or an otherwise unpleasant person, before you sign. One way to learn this early on is to pay attention to how your partner treats people, (i.e. waiters, waitresses, assistants, interns, etc). Don’t fall into a trap where you convince yourself that even if your partner treats most people like the pile you flushed away this morning, they treat you great, so it’s all good. Remember, a dick, by any other name, is still a dick (yes, I’m using the term “dick” for both male and female producing partners).

The Sum Is Greater Than The PartsJune 28, 2011
The biggest mistake I see made with writing partnerships is when the writers involved fail to realize they will not be as valuable, coveted, or in demand, if they leave the partnership. The primary reason for this is during a successful run, the powers that be (i.e. studios, agents, production companies), never actually know which writer did what in the script. Thus, writers wanting to fly the coup may have a difficult time finding a nest as big, as comfortable, or as financially rewarding, as the partnership they just flew away from.

Writing partnerships, like relationships, marriages and championship sports teams, require a delicate balance of understanding, respect and trust in order to survive. However, maintaining the right dose of each ingredient above will at worst create a positive creative environment, and at best catapult the partnership into the hemisphere of “thriving” as opposed to just being “surviving.”

The Thanksgiving BluesJuly 12, 2011
Thanksgiving week is when all “pending” deals, like turkeys, die a sorry death. In fact, the last feasible time to close a deal occurs on Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. After then, the entire deal-making portion of the film industry goes into hibernation until after the new-year. Thus, “act now” is not just my homage to bad infomercials; it’s what you need to do

Reassess Your Budget - July 19, 2011
Quite a few films financing deals fall apart in the eleventh hour because the budget doesn’t support the projects projected potential. While there are some exceptions, the theatrical and DVD grosses of most films fall within a projected range that’s devised before the film gets funded. This earnings projection is based on the performance of previously released films in the same genre, actor quality and budget. Therefore, no matter how much a financial entity loves your project, they may pull the plug, simply because the numbers don’t make sense. The way to combat this situation is to find out if there is a budget amount the investor/investment entity will say yes to.

  • For example, if you have a $3.1 million dollar project that falls apart, ask the financiers what they feel the investment is worth. If they say they will fund it “if you can make it for $1.68 million,” it then becomes your job to carve the budget down.
  • One manner, in which you can achieve this, is to reduce your own pay. Taking less money will show your investors that you are sacrificing comfort and financial stability to make the project happen. Since all investors, no matter how wealthy they are, feel they are sacrificing financial stability every time they invest in an independent film, taking less money for yourself will help the investors feel like you are suffering alongside them. This is a good thing, since misery loves company!

Think TVJuly 26, 2011
While you may feel your project deserves to be a feature, what it deserves more is to get made. Thus, consider changing your feature into a product more suitable for TV or cable. The budget will be lower and the “stars” may be fading, but actually getting a project made will advance your career at much faster clip than being the proud owner of an unsellable indie film. Besides, your project may not have to sacrifice too much in terms of its content by going on television. Network TV is always trying to redefine how far they can push the FCC envelope, with shows like Modern Family, while cable TV enjoys not even having an envelope, as evidenced by shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, South Park, Californication, Weeds, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, among several others. Of course, it’s entirely possible your project is best served as a feature film, in which case you may want to continue to fight the good fight to find your beloved project a home on the silver screen.

Anatomy Of A Pay-Or-Play Clause August 2, 2011
Here’s an example of an actual pay-or-play clause in a recent contract that was sent to me:

“The full budget of the Picture is funded and (insert actor’s name here) is made unconditionally pay-or-play with full fixed compensation placed in a mutually approved escrow account prior to commencement of principal photography, but in no event later than the earlier of (i) the time at which any other person rendering services in connection with the picture is deemed pay-or-play, or (ii) the time at which (insert actor’s name here) is requested to travel in connection with the Picture.”

Wow. That’s a mouthful. In an effort to simplify, here’s what the two deal points mean:

(i) If you want my actor in your film, you’re going to put his or her fee in an escrow account in a bank that we (the actor’s representatives) can verify and have full access to, so if you try to screw us, or if your film dies before it’s born, we can make sure our actor client gets paid.

(ii) The second you give someone else a pay-or-play on this film, we get one too.

The funny thing is the actor this clause was written about is barely on the “B” list, much less an “A” list name. In fact, the only way this person would ever be considered to be on the “A” list is if they had a box-office smashing, Oscar-winning breakout performance, or if someone opened-fire on the alphabet, and the letter “A” was the only survivor. Short of that, this person deserves to be on the “A” List like I deserve to be a starter on the Lakers (if you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous that analogy is).

Film Packages Have Lost Their StrengthAugust 9, 2011
Since we live in a time when even triple A-list stars don’t shine bright enough to get their films made by attaching their name, the value of indie feature film packages with A minus, B plus and B actors are suffering mightily. In fact, these days, getting an indie film package to fall in your lap is like getting a shiny new VCR for Christmas. It might be shiny and it may look new, but it’s a VCR, so it’s worth less than the holiday wrapping paper it was hidden in. Thus, it’s not just about the names you have attached anymore. It’s about the names, how much you had to pay to get them, and how well you utilized them in a genre they have a proven track record in. Only then will indie film packages be valuable to distributors and buyers in today’s market.

Negotiate Festival Rights EarlyAugust 30, 2011
This applies to popular music from established artists. Film festival rights tend to be far cheaper (free in some cases) than the rights to a popular song in a widely distributed film. Thus, negotiate the “film festival rights,” and at the same time, negotiate the final price for the songs upon distribution.

Remember, it’s always cheaper to negotiate something when your film is an unknown commodity. Once your film gets into Cannes, Sundance, Berlin or Toronto, your price for the music upon distribution will multiply in cost, because your film will be seen as one that will rake in the money. Whether your film pays off your debt and buys you a house or not, the cost of the music in your film should never be based on an assumed perception of what is going to happen.

Original Screenplays Roar Into The Lion’s Share September 6, 2011
Clearly the most surprising discovery for me is that based on the 471 films the above study was based on, 234 of them (43.22%) came from original screenplays. While this may be a sign that the cinematic apocalypse may not explode in 2012 like the world is predicted to, we must take into account that many of these films produced from original screenplays were not as financially significant as their major studio tent pole counterparts. Never the less, original screenplays have earned $3.028 billion at the box office in 2011, so it looks like the pendulum is swinging back toward original content, so if you’re a writer, start formulating those original thoughts again.

Avoid Companies Demanding Up Front FeesSeptember 27, 2011
It never ceases to amaze me how often filmmakers will get duped into paying up front fees for distribution. The truth of the matter is if your distributor/sales agent is demanding money up front, then they are not very compelled to earn money for your film. For example, if a distributor asks for an up front fee of $15,000, and then settles on $10,000 after you beg them to take less, you may think you’re “getting a deal,” but in actuality, you’re likely buying them a new car, or worse, a house. This is because your distributor is making the same offer to 600+ filmmakers, hoping to lasso 100-200 suckers. Think about it. If 200 filmmakers say “yes,” the distributor earns $2 million ($10,000 X 200 = $2,000,000) before a finger is lifted on any one of the 200 films. Furthermore, paying a distributor up front also kills any incentive for them to make sales. This is because under the scenario above, the distributor has already made $2 million on a crop of films that may not achieve total sales of $2 million collectively, even if they tried to sell them 24/7. Yes, it’s harsh to say that 200, non-star-driven indie films will make less than $10,000 each in international sales, but that statement is painfully true, especially in our tumbling world economy. So, while the distributors whom engage in such practices won’t “take the money and run,” they will “take the money and sit,” meaning they will keep farming on new crops of filmmakers year after year, and they won’t worry about those filmmakers who got angry and took their films away from the distributor.  A film lost here and there means nothing to these distributors, because they were paid for their services up front.

Remember, reputable distributors will never ask for up front fees. Thus, the rule of thumb is simple: if the distributor doesn’t think he or she can sell the prospective film, then they shouldn’t be taking it on.

There Is Not Enough New Product October 11, 2011
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.

Okay, people. Thanks for going down “recent memory lane” with me. Hopefully these tidbits will someday help shape the future of your career in a positive manner.

I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’d be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @Lonelyseal.




Posted on October 18, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by
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One Comment on "GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “THE DIAMOND COLLECTION!”"

  1. shamim Zaidi on Tue, 18th Oct 2011 5:41 pm 

    Very well done.


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