Saturday, July 21, 2012

Where Oh Where Is the Business Model in Indie Filmmaking?

I'm an independent filmmaker, investor and entrepreneur - and I'm very frustrated about the independent film industry. My colleagues are too.

Looking out over the independent film landscape, I see a whole lot of hard work going on and lots of struggle to earn the money back on a film.

Now I realize that if you work hard on a flawed product then the monetary gain may not occur. That's not a surprise. But I'm seeing it happen on films that are entertaining and award-winning.

This is largely due to the lack of any kind of business model in indie filmmaking that offers a win/win for both the filmmaker and the buyer. The recent recession gave a great excuse to buyers, distributors and sales agents to pull back on offers and to remove protective measures for filmmakers and investors.

As a result, budgets have gone from multi-millions to hundreds of thousands and less. Filmmakers are working harder for less. And filmmakers are on the hook for ALL upfront cash expenditures these days. We aren't the ones with the deep pockets yet we are the ones expected to pay for EVERYTHING.

Buyers have created a business model that ensures their financial security and leaves the filmmaker and investors dangling in the wind, hoping the buyer will market the film, report properly, keep expenses low, and pay royalties in a timely manner and at all.

Advances are a thing of the past so filmmakers and investors are now bearing ALL of the risks and being paid last.

Frankly, I'm tired of buyers, distributors, sales agents and aggregators and even the unions taking advantage of our hard work first and leaving us to hope we will see revenue from our films. Luckily, I have been working with reputable buyers and sales agents who do pay and report on time. (Some of my colleagues have not been as lucky.) But even in the best scenarios, independent filmmakers have to wait months and even years to see a return on their films due to this current imbalance in the revenue chain.

It shouldn't be a matter of hoping. It should be a reality that if we make a quality, entertaining, and award-winning film that we will make our money back in a timely manner.

Independent film needs a sustainable business model in order for indie film to survive. Independent filmmakers cannot keep taking all the risk and watch the buyers reap all of the rewards. We will go bankrupt and I don't think the world wants to see that happen.

Here are some ideas for change (hey, if you don't ask, you'll never receive):

1) Advances need to make a comeback.

2) Sales and distribution deals need to offer returns to the filmmakers from dollar one.

3) Aggregators need to take less of a percentage from a film's sales. 

4) SAG needs to stop demanding royalties from foreign sales when the producer hasn't seen any money from those sales.

5) Distributors need to report on time, lower their expenses, have reasonable caps on expenses, and pay the filmmakers and offer a corridor of money to the filmmakers from dollar one. Appallingly enough, some distributors just don't pay or they pay really late.

6) Self-distribution avenues need to get stronger and better and more popular. They need more support from the indie film community. If we all decide to take our films to self-distribution platforms then consumers will have no choice but to buy indie films through means that offer filmmakers the most gain.

7) We need to make it easier and more enticing for consumers to buy our product through less traditional means. Give the consumer the incentive to leave iTunes and Amazon and buy our films from a more obscure Web site.

8) Platforms, i.e. iTunes, need to allow filmmakers to go direct to them to sell their films.

9) Distributors and sales agents need to pay for deliverables, including E&O. They're receiving the first payments thus they should pay for the deliverables. 

In conclusion, we need to take our frustration with the independent film industry and work on creating the means for success, recoupment and profit. Let's get crackin!


Chiggers TV said...

I agree. Ironically, it is often the indie filmmakers who have great stories to tell. But we are often forced to make films and forget about making profits. And to think getting the money to fund the film is near to impossible. I should know.

wellywood woman said...

Jane, I think you're wonderful! Post after post you inspire me! & this one is especially terrific! Thank you! Marian