Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pulling Back the Curtains: Being an Independent Film Producer Is F'ing Hard!

There I said it. I probably think it every few minutes each day.

I am starting a feature on this blog of pulling back the curtains on independent filmmaking. I will try to provide really honest insights into this maddening world of independent producing.

I'm really not sure why indie filmmaking has to be so difficult. You would think that if you find a script that you enjoy and you hire a talented crew and cast to make it that you would be able to find a few hundred thousand in this huge world of ours to watch it. Well, I'm sure we can find people to watch it, but to actually pay for it is another story.

And then there are those distributors who did get money from your film and don't pay you. Ehem.

The other day I wrote this long diatribe on why I'm so pissed right now at the industry I so love, but I decided not to post it. It was just too negative - even for me. I figure I got it out of my system and it can sit in my Drafts folder as a therapeutic entry. I can just pretend I posted it and re-read it periodically so I can vent to myself.

Even this entry is getting a little dark for me. But it's the truth. Independent film producing is hard.

I am constantly wracking my brain for ideas that I think will make a splash. Will it have legs to be a festival darling? Or is it a straight-up genre flick that we can sell to the hungry genre audiences? Or is it really castable and a great actor will really eat up the part.

And then the journey to find these scripts is even harder. Man, it truly is like searching for a needle in the haystack. Choosing a script to produce is soooo subjective so finding a script that speaks to you on a very personal level when you haven't been part of developing the idea is nearly impossible.

What's even more difficult is finding that script you love and then thinking about, well, who is going to want to finance it? But first, I need to schedule and budget it so I know what kind of budget I need. From there, I will need a business plan so I can approach investors. Schedules, budgets and business plans are a lot of work!

And meanwhile, let me hit up my manager and agent friends and see who is willing to read it for their clients when I have no money. And let me bug sales agents for sales projections and who means what these days to the deteriorating box office. Don't even get me started on the Web productions that are blowing up. And TV is where it's at these days. It's mind-boggling to navigate it all.

Okay, so let's say you make it through all of these benchmarks, you have your script packaged and you have enough money to make the film. Next you need to find crew and vendors willing to work for indie rates and pray you make your days so you don't go over your unrealistic 18 day schedule.

Then you finish your film and suddenly you find out that you weren't accepted into Sundance or Toronto or Cannes - if you are, that's awesome, but you're still not off the hook. Next you land that sales agent who then tells you that you will be lucky if you find any deals to fully pay back the investors, especially if you didn't get accepted to a major festival - and forget about getting a return in a timely manner. It's gonna take years!

All the while, you deferred most or all of your fee so you're essentially working for free on this film that is kicking your ass. And you're scraping by on production gigs or a day job or consulting fees and thinking what am I doing? I'm smart. I'm talented. Hell, I am a CEO of multiple businesses (as each film is a business). So why am I not a multi-millionaire in my mansion? Producers are wealthy, right?

And then you smack yourself and realize that independent producers are not wealthy unless they come from money or they have had that elusive hit that everyone dreams of and even then, the distributor probably took most of the money earned by that hit for their expenses. Totally jaded right? But it's a harsh reality, which is why it's so important to learn how to protect yourself in this industry. You need a good attorney, a great support system who will give you lots of hugs, and a savviness and confidence about what you're worth and what you're creating.

Okay, why am I working the hardest I have ever worked for the smallest pay of my life? Some days, I'm not sure, but it makes me sick to think of bagging it all and walking away. It's not in me to give it up. There's always that fire burning right below the surface - sometimes it's just a pilot light - but it's that fire in my belly that keeps me going. It's that desire to have creative and financial freedom some day that I believe indie producing can one day provide.

Why do I believe that indie producing can bring me freedom? Well, I have seen it with my own eyes. Friends and colleagues who have found a niche that works for them. I just need to find that niche. And I firmly believe that risk-takers are the ones who really have the ability to build a career on their own terms. And if you fail, it's not because you didn't try. The greatest rewards come with the greatest sacrifice. It also helps that I have a very entrepreneurial soul. I can thank my grandparents for that.

What do I say after all this introspection? Throw some fuel on that fire and get back to work! We are creators and we have an audience to serve. All it takes is that one YES! Buck up bitch! You can do this!


Mark said...

Wow, thank God someone else feels my pain! This sounds so familiar it hurts. But what are we going to do? Get a real job?? Work for a studio?? I don't think so. So, we dust off our sleeves and go back at it again. Thanks for commiserating so eloquently!

janekk said...

Oh, I feel your pain Mark! Haha! Let's keep trying to figure it out.


Phantom of Pulp said...

Jane, I always describe the business as a heaven/hell existence, an addiction to a drug that has many side effects and a few amazing highs.

Like you, I really want to get the best deal for investors. It depresses me when the horizon line often angles downwards.

The trick is finding a system that works both creatively and commercially.

It's more a vocation than a career, and it comes with the paradoxes of a vocation.

I don't ask myself IS THERE A GOD?, but I do question the presence of sanity sometimes.

It is frustrating that many people make themselves so hard to reach. Unfortunately, I find most don't share like you do.

Your free and honest spirit is quite beautiful.