I came across this excellent Q&A, The State of International Sales for Independent Film, with Ariel Veneziano of Recreation Media on the Film Collaborative Web site. I thought I would share it.
Everything that Ariel discusses in this Q&A rings very true based on the experiences I've had with international sales. In today's market, what we have come to find out is that indie dramas really have no foreign sales value unless they were directed by an A-list director and premiere at a major festival (Cannes, Berlin, Venice) and star major actors. I find it interesting that according to Ariel, the foreign market doesn't care about Sundance or Toronto premieres (two of the most coveted premieres for American indie filmmakers).
No foreign value for indie dramas actually goes against what a large number of indie filmmakers with minimal foreign sales experience believe. I often hear new filmmakers say, I'll make money in the foreign market because other countries like dramas much more than the American market.
Well, it's quite possible that foreign audiences may like indie dramas more than American audiences (I'm not sure that's true), but that doesn't matter if foreign sales agents won't rep them and foreign buyers will not buy them. And that is exactly what is happening.
So when you are putting together your business plan for your indie drama, do not expect foreign monies for your film. This breaks my indie filmmaker heart but we all need to come to terms with this reality and plan appropriately for our next films.
Also, from my experience, sales projections can change based on the current economy and they have the ability to plummet should certain sales not be realized. So make your film for the least amount of money that you possibly can because sales projections can radically change on you, often due to factors outside of your control.
1) There could be high expenses that eat up your revenue.
2) You could have a dishonest sales agent who doesn't pay.
3) You could have a sale you were counting on, fall through.
4) The world economy could sink just as it has in recent years, resulting in less sales and lower advances and even no advances.
I will often budget a film for as low as I can and then cut it in half and figure out how to make the film for that amount. The cuts hurt but I can usually figure out how to make the film happen and I have delivered every film I've made to date. I have never had to stop filming or the finishing of a project because I ran out of money. Where there's a will, there's always a way!
This report is discouraging but it's also a wake-up call that we all need to hear. There's no way indie filmmaking can survive if we aren't realistic about the sales market and creating appropriate business plans for our films and investors.
I know you are probably thinking, how can I make an indie drama as a first-time director with no-name actors? And you're right to be asking yourself this question. You need to figure out why you want to make this film - because money will not be the goal. Then you need to decide if your reasons are worth the money needed to make the film.
For example, you may decided that you want to make this film as a calling card for your writing, directing or acting career. If that's the case, you and your investors may decide that is worth $60k, knowing you may never see that money back. It's quite possible you will make the money back, but you need to go into it being okay with the fact that you may not get your money back.
Having no guarantee of a return on a film is true for any film investment for films of all shapes and sizes. Even the studios can struggle making back their money on $100 million movies, directed by top directors and starring A-list actors, so we're not alone in the battle for film investment recoupment. But let's make sure when we go into battle that we are well-armed and have a great battle plan. Hoo-ah!