David Geertz on "Are Indie Filmmakers Slave Drivers?"

How do we truly think about film? Do we ignore the truth even when it is right before our eyes? Are we sometimes willing to compromise our ethics in order to achieve our creative goal? Would we be willing to defer that goal in order to maintain the ethical standards that we otherwise embrace?

I named David Geertz as one of Hope For Film's Brave Thinkers (2009 Edition) for a new start up he had then. That venture may now be gone, but David is still very much a Brave Thinker, as his guest post below, and his commitment to more, attests.

So you’re planning on producing an independent film -- good for you, join the club. You are now officially a Slave Driver.

Before I begin this post I’d like to state that this post is mainly precursor of a series of posts to come for filmmakers and backers who see film as both an art form and an enterprise. An enterprise that pays skilled people a living wage, and provides an opportunity for those who fund those endeavors a chance at seeking a return on their money, while providing the needed funding for best and the brightest to continue to push boundaries within the moving image.

Let’s play a numbers game first before we dive into this post. Here are some assumptions that I am going to make on your behalf about your unmade film stuck in development hell.

1.    # of pages in my script - 90
2.    # of characters in my film - 10
3.    # of days on average that my talent will be on set - 7
4.    # of people on my crew - 20
5.    # of days I need to prep - 6
6.    average # of crew during prep - 8
7.    # of days I need to production - 15
8.    average # of crew during production - 20
9.    # of days I need to post - 30
10.    average # of crew during post - 6
11.    # of hours a day in production - 12

Using these tidbits you can get a rough idea of what it will cost you in labor to produce your film. All you need to do now is to assign each member of your crew an average dollar per hour for all their hard work. Here are some results.

2 bucks per hour       $14,352
5 bucks per hour       $35,880
10 bucks per hour       $71,760
25 bucks per hour       $179,400
40 bucks per hour       $287,040
70 bucks per hour       $502,320

Never before has it become so easy to access technology to make and deliver these cultural snippets that are part of the every day fabric of modern storytelling. I mean all you have to do is buy a cheap camera and some editing software and BLAMMO you are now a full on filmmaker!

The question is: Are you a slave driver?

Never mind about all the marketing, publicity, travel, deliverables, legal, accounting and banking mumbo jumbo....lets just get the film done.

And lets also forget about all the services like food, hair and make up, gear, locations, wardrobe, props, permits, insurance, hard drives, etc etc....

Lets focus on the people and assume that they will make up the majority and the rest you can do for a paltry 50K.

So....whether or not the people working for you feel like....well...slaves....here are a few more questions.

1. Where are you going to find the money?
2. What are you going to offer in return?

Perhaps before you try and answer those questions it’s a good idea to think about the people who are funding you and what their needs are. I think it’s a good idea knowing where your backers ‘donor fatigue threshold’ is as well as their ‘opportunity threshold’. There are two things that will make it easier for you to obtain this said funding (providing that you have all the creative, technical and management issues ironed out in your package but I’m not here to talk about that) and these are those things::

1. Provide easy access for people to fund you.
2. Provide an even easier method for those same people to recover.

Seems simple, but how do you do this without having to jump through the regulatory hoops, hire for a bunch of underwriters and lawyers? Even if you do this properly how do you ensure that the people who helped you out are going to have the best chance for a return on their money, or that your true fans get to see your film in the best light without having to wait for it to come out on Netflix?

Over the coming weeks I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts here. These posts will cover a range of topics mainly dealing with aspects of these subject matters.

   -- enterprise and/or hybrid crowdfunding
   -- theatrical and online digital distribution of your indie film
   -- building a promoter mindset inside the film community
   -- learning how to accurately find and engage your audience prior to a funding campaign
   -- how to put a fair pre-funding valuation on your film prior to approaching people.

I hope you’ll join me and clobber me with all your questions and concerns regarding all of these issues as we try and find a happy middle ground not only for producers, but for crews, backers and consumers of independent film.

Join me and find out if you are indeed - a slave driver.

“You're unhappy. I'm unhappy too. Have you heard of Henry Clay? He was the Great Compromiser. A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and I think that's what we have here.”    -- Larry David

David Geertz has worked in the film business since 1992 and is a partner in Binoir Media, a diversified holding company that has a focus in the content sector and is heavily engaged in building social utilities for the producers to assist them in funding, marketing, distribution and audience participation of independent media based projects. David's work currently focuses on finding the new sweet spot for ensuring a balanced approach to funding and profiting in the content sector through his newest technology company SoKap.