Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Problems with the DIY Trend for Filmmakers

The DIY, or Do It Yourself, trend allows filmmakers to feel like they have control over their film's destiny. I love the idea that I have the power over my film to ensure it has a future in the market. If I can't find a sales agent or distributor to take on my film, I can sell it or distribute it myself. Or if I want to save on agent or distributor fees, I can take on those roles and position myself to recoup more funds from each sale. These are great options to have.

However, in my opinion and personal experience, there are some definite downsides to this trend that every filmmaker should take into account. For me, I have found a hybrid approach of Doing It Together (DIT) works best.

1) DIY really isn't DIY. This is one of the major fallacies of the DIY trend. You really aren't doing it yourself. As a producer, it's incredibly stressful to think of taking on every duty involved with getting a film in front of an audience. The truth is, you can't and you shouldn't completely do it yourself or you may as well start digging your own and your film's early grave.

You should still be working with a team of people who expect to get a return on their efforts to make, market and sell your film. The idea of DIY is that you are not relying solely on professional sales agents, publicists, marketers and distributors - who can take high fees or all of your rights - to get your film in front of an audience. Or maybe the pros don't want to rep your film and you need a means of getting your film to your audience. Either way, the result should not be a DIY approach -- it should be DIT or Do It Together.

The downside to thinking that DIY is Do It Yourself is that some filmmakers are not building proper teams to get their films to an audience. Some are believing they really can do it themselves and without the efforts of a team, you will be overwhelmed and the performance of your film will suffer. And you will become less prolific as a filmmaker because you will only have time to focus on one film for years at a time.

Build your team. Delegate duties. Share the revenues that are certain to be greater from a team's efforts.

2) Lack of relationships. As we know, Hollywood is all about who you know. The same goes for buyers and retailers. Sales agents and distributors spend years, 24/7, cultivating relationships in order to sell their products. A filmmaker who has never dealt with the buyers and retailers will inevitably have a harder time getting his or her film considered and bought by as many buyers or retailers.

You may get lucky and find some buyers who will take a chance on your title. But can you honestly say you can sell theatrical, DVD, PPV, VOD, Pay TV, Free TV and foreign as well as someone who has spent years developing relationships in these areas? I can't, which is why I like working with sales agents and distributors, when I can and it makes sense for the film.

3) Only so much time in the day. Lack of relationships leads me to: there's only so much time in the day. As a creative producer, I want to make movies. I don't want to spend all of my time marketing and selling them. And if I do-it-myself on all of my films, I know I won't have time to make more movies. I will be spending the majority of my time getting to know buyers and retailers and building an audience when I should also be getting to know new writers and directors and investors.

It's fine to be well-rounded and know a ton of people, but it's also okay to spread out the duties. Don't be scared to bring on those who can be real assets to your film and share the profits with them. Your film will most likely perform better as a result.

4) Marketing is an art of its own. I will admit that I am not the best marketer in the world. I give it a good shot but when I look at the marketing area of my films, I know that it benefits greatly from the efforts of my distributors. They have many more avenues in place for getting the films noticed than I do myself. Those marketing efforts by the distributors yield sales, which can hopefully help to offset the distributors' cut and expenses.

On the films I handle myself, marketing is still a struggle but I try to improve in that arena every day. But again, the lack of time becomes a major pitfall so finding that team member, even on the titles you know will not be repped by pros, who can help with marketing is smart.

5) DIY takes money. Do It Yourself does not mean it's free. Putting on screenings, doing a small theatrical, placing ads, and all of the time you spend promoting takes money. Even if you aren't cutting checks for these duties, it's costing you money in the time that you could be earning funds elsewhere. So don't look at DIY as the cheap alternative. It may cost less in cash but there is a definite cost in time as well.

You may be thinking, look at all the money I'm saving going DIY, when in reality the professional sales agent and distributor could potentially make you more money due to their relationships and the fact that you aren't spending every waking moment pushing your film yourself. Something to keep in mind as you evaluate whether to go DIY with a title.

So what's the solution to the above problems? Go hybrid and DIT.

Evaluate each of your films on a case by case basis. One may be perfectly suitable to go the traditional route as you have the big name actors and the marketing bucks to go pro. And you know from the sales projections that going pro should still yield results for your investors. One word of caution: going pro does not give you a license to give up. You need to work with the pros and help them get the word out. Work as a team with them. They welcome it if you are not a pest about it.

And negotiate the ability to sell the DVD on your own site too. That way, you can yield sales over which you have complete power as the distributor and other retailers are selling too! Hybrid all the way!

On the other hand, you may have the little film with no-name actors for which the professional sales arena doesn't make sense. Either you can't find a sales agent to take it on because they don't feel they can sell it or you know your title will appeal to a niche audience that is readily accessible to you. In that case, a DIT approach can work with you building a team who can help you with a grassroots effort to promote the film. And perhaps you can sell it yourself to some buyers too!

There are so many tools to get your film in front of an audience. Try them and see what works for you and your film. But again, work as a team, not on your own. If you must work on your own, take it day by day and know you are doing your best.

DIY is a powerful tool that should be carefully considered for each film. It offers a sense of control to filmmakers but it should not be considered a complete replacement of the traditional routes of distribution. Every film is unique and can definitely benefit from a team approach, whether the team is a group of pros who have been doing it for years or a group of smart individuals ready to take on and spread out the immense duties that go with making, marketing and selling your film.

To conclude, I do think reputable sales agents and distributors are getting a bad rap. I work with some really great people who deserve their cut of the sales and pay us on time. It's true though that some titles or even some sales agents do not perform as expected and it can be hard to see all of your hard earned cash go primarily to the sales agents. No one ever wants to see that happen. It's a sad reality that has lead the indie world to this DIY approach. The key is to not forsake the traditional routes entirely. Instead, build a team that you respect and you feel confident are doing their jobs to represent your title well -- pro or not.

I must give a shout out to David Garber, our producer rep on Not Since You. Without his efforts, I know we would not have sold in as many territories. Thank you David! You are an integral part of our team.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Totally agree with the points raised here. Great article!