Simple Observation: One Reason It Is Hard To Finance Films

Movies don't have the same value as they used to, but they now cost much more to market. Okay, maybe this simple observation is not as simple as I first thought.

When I started out in the film business, it was considered reasonable to value North American rights on a feature at 50% of negative costs.   If I was asked to value such rights today, on the average, I would say they were either zero or they would be a negative.

When I started producing movies, a well packaged and developed project could anticipate get 80% of it's negative cost from licensing foreign rights.  The value of foreign rights has been dropping consistently for years.  What were once major territories in terms of revenue they returned, now seem virtually impossible to do deals in.  Television rights abroad supported acquisition prices for years, but now those slots are increasingly difficult to obtain everywhere.  If an independent film can piece together 50% of its negative cost from international, I think they are pretty fortunate.

When I started producing films, the luxury of making specialized films were that they were inexpensive to market.  Sure it required making good movies that people wanted to see, but the benefit of making "review driven" films meant that was all one needed to make the film begin to work: a good review from the NY Times.  Those days when everyone was reachable through a common source or soap box are long gone.  Audiences have fractured, dispersed, and become increasing distracted as thousands of opportunities compete for their leisure dollars.

Is it a bit clearer now?  What's the conclusion?

The formula doesn't work, granted.  Unfortunately it is not so easy as, say, lowering the cost of production, as that decreases the scope of stories that can be told and the methods one uses to tell them.  As much as everyone speaks about this wonderful tool of the internet, we still don't have many examples of filmmakers and their collaborators harnessing its power and increasing a film's reach while decreasing the costs.

Is there a way to increase the revenue that could be returned via a film or an artist so that their is greater reason for an entity to market them?  The music industry has explored "360 degree" deals with both big and small acts.  Yet film remains primarily a single product industry (one that is available in multiple formats) and the benefits of such an arrangement are a bit harder to see.

You can always design your movie so that the value vastly exceeds the cost of making it.   Simple, huh?  Isn't that how it used to be done.  That is actually still how the typical studio film is greenlit, but if it was so simple everyone would be doing it.

Where does this leave us, this simple observation?  I do think there are answers.  I do think it is worth pondering.  Yet the real necessity is recognizing that this is the present reality and most filmmakers are designing their work around an old model when it was reasonable to thing you could make something at a price point and market it at a cost that lead most people to assume there would be a profit at the end of the day.  The simple observation is that those days are gone.

Now what?

Old Is New Again

I have often felt that you could do a shot for shot remake of Godard's A WOMAN IS A WOMAN and win Sundance with it. It feels as fresh today as it did when it came out -- which is both a testament to the quality of the film and condemnation of our current culture. We haven't exactly moved forward in terms of our art forms and storytelling. One thing that has reinforced my conviction that remakes could be the freshest thing on the planet, is Eddie Burns' series of "homage" trailers he's done around his latest film NICE GUY JOHNNY. If I saw this trailer without the context of what Eddie is up to, I would run to the theater to catch the feature. Even knowing that this is the third in a series of trailers that Eddie has done, it still makes me want to see what he's been up to lately. Clearly he's been inspired, and is having a lot of fun.

Okay, so this homage is not to the french new wave, but it is to a film that was heavily informed by all that those folks were up to, and filtered it through a big Hollywood lens. Did you name it? Got it after the jump.

The Next Big Thing? Homage Trailers

Yesterday, I posted how Edward Burns has found inspiration in the classics, or at least in the classics' trailers.  I get a huge kick from his "remakes"  that he has created around his new film NICE GUY JOHNNY.  "Homages" to the greats are both funny to watch and a great discovery tool.  So if you had a jones for more after yesterday's serving of Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA, why stop there?  Here's Eddie's remake of Godard's CONTEMPT:

And of course, the original:

NICE GUY JOHNNY opens everywhere on all platforms October 26th.

Let's Remake The Greatest Movies Of All Time!

Okay, let's let the the great movies be the great movies (at least for now), but who says we can't have fun with their various extensions?  Eddie Burns is on a role.  He's always gotten a great deal of inspiration from the greats.  THE BROTHERS McMULLEN had a bit of Woody Allen -- in Irish drag -- as it's patron saint.  He's found new inspiration and energy from an embrace of DIY and social media, and as much as he's looking forward, he's drawing on the past.  To get us all ready for his new film NICE GUY JOHNNY (opening on all platforms Oct. 26), Eddie has looked at  the greatest movies ever made, but hey he's a busy guy, so he doesn't have time to watch the whole feature and has settled on the trailers. Does this trailer remind you of anything you've seen before? It should, because it is L'Avventura.  Eddie won't leave it there either; he's got more to remake.  This sort of inspired homage, playful and accessible, is a great example of the sort of innovative approaches filmmakers embrace when there is no corporate overlord lurching above.  You can picture that soon, we will be able to see the entire Criterion collection's trailers remade by Indie filmmakers having fun as they seek new ways to aid audiences in discovering their work.  And hey and if it brings a few fans back to the classics as a result of recognizing the originals..., that ain't so bad either.

Here's the trailer for Antonioni's original:

More Thoughts On The New Film Festival Model

"Blood Simple" was the first film I bought a ticket for at a film festival.  It was screening at the NYFF and I soon came to recognize that the films accepted to that fest were of a exceedingly high quality.  The curatorial taste behind that festival choices was something I had confidence in.  They gained my trust precisely because they have never tried to be all things for all people, and for that I have always been willing to pay a premium for. The NYFF was, and is, a trusted filter. Too many festivals these days program too many films without revealing, or reveling in, their curatorial hands, diminishing the power of their brand in the process.  If festivals are going to become the new curators, that will have to change.  Festivals must emphasize their unique taste, if not overall, then within sidebars at the festival.

One of the reasons festivals once mattered so much to indie filmmakers was that acceptance in them was a virtual badge of quality for the filmmakers to display.  As festivals proliferated and premieres became a matter of policy, the filter aspect of festivals vanished.  Festivals seemed to open up the gates to anyone and anything.  Where's Waldo?  How do you spot the curatorial hand in swarm of over 100.  The question then becomes how do festivals regain that curatorial stamp?

A return to less could be more.  If less films were selected, it would mean more for the filmmaker, in terms of prestige and discovery.  More for the audience, in terms of a filter and confidence.  A common complaint heard in industry circles is that films "get lost" at such and such festival.  I have always liked the idea of a festival within the festival, curators within the larger curation.

Another benefit of smaller selections could be that more festivals could develop distinctive flavors making them more of a required stop by the cineaste (particularly if they also transcended their geographic boundaries).  Festivals need, just like movies, to sell their individuality.  I was excited to stumble upon Saskia Wilson-Brown's post (at the indispensable Workbook Project) on the relevance of small festivals today (it is a good post and well worth your time).  She articulates what festivals provide quite well:

Empowering a community and its artists through coherent promotion; leveraging the festival name to garner publicity and opportunity for its participants; facilitating radness in general– Art for art’s sake, as it were. The efforts of the core team, then, were mostly spent on promoting and advocating for micro-communities through programming decisions, and fostering creativity and creative collaboration in our neighborhood and beyond.

Acceptance to a festival used to always mean a review by a major critic at a major publication because their was a major critic at every major newspaper. That itself was worth whatever other risk the festival brought with it (because they do bring risks). With the dismissal of the film critics from the US newspapers, there are a few such critics left -- and there is no way that they can cover all the films at all the major festivals.  Movies get lost at festivals with a wide swath.  Sure, the blogsphere's picked up a lot of the slack, but those reviews are hard to garner the same interest or generate the same want-to-see from audiences.  How can web reviews be used to generate more interest?  Can the different review sites team up and time review releases simultaneously or even post to a common site so that more traction can be generated with audiences?  Where are the new ideas that can make festivals once again a value-added proposition?  Festivals should be transparent with filmmakers upon acceptance as to how they will help market the movie to the festival's community (and beyond).

If the VOD model is going to work in these days of never-ending supply and availability, reviews are more than necessary.  They need and are needed to get traction and facilitate action.  Review aggregators should drive traffic to the VOD platform.  We need widgets that link these two services seamlessly.  Shouldn't we have all this stuff integrated by now?  But alas, we don't.  So what can we do in the interim, in this in-between-days sort of time?

In considering the joining of film festivals with a VOD extension, it is hard not to see the logic of the relationship.  Festivals offer the overwhelmed consumer a filter -- the curatorial service.   Festivals serve to generate the reviews that films need so much.  If festivals can leverage their brand and marketing muscle to heighten awareness for the individual films, maybe a film has a chance of popping out of the crowded herd at the end of the dial.  If a festival can help a filmmaker understand how to make the most of this opportunity, more power to them both.

But if the films that are offered by a festival on VOD don't arrive with that flavor and spice, the rhyme and reason of why they are in a festival in the first place, will anyone really pay attention, particularly after the novelty has worn off?  Doesn't it precisely require more than just the brand of a festival but also the highly selective curation that festivals once promised?  The potential of festivals to provide the allure of a red velvet rope and shining spot lights is there.  Will we get to see what it looks like?  It is going to need to be a lot more than public twitter boards.  If the festival can not really add a lot of value in the marketing and positioning of their specific selections, aren't they taking advantage of the films they invite?

Festivals have always been a great place for the cineaste -- and not just because we get to see good movies.  The important part of festivals has always been the conversation.  What we expect from quality content is an even better social experience around it. Online users only spend 30% of their time looking at content; the rest is search and social -- discovery & discussion.  For film festivals to successfully evolve into a cross-platform non-geographicly specific discovery tool, they have to offer not just the added value of promotion, but heightened level of conversation & appreciation.

I know festivals can provide a lot more than currently do.  Particularly with a little help from their friends.  There's a lot of good thought going on about this, but when you see that filmmakers are questioning the very value of a film festival attendance, we can all discern that festivals are not offering enough value for the films that participate in them.  The answer is to offer more.

I have written about the need to utilize something like Festival Genius.  I think expanding the festival beyond it's geographic confines is similarly key.  A clear and understandable hand in the curating should be a given.  Guided and memorable conversation that transfers leisure time into intellectual capital and social capital is of the essence.  What more do you want?

Update Tuesday 4/20:  There's a lot of good conversation on what ideal festivals would look like.  Thom Powers recently held a breakfast discussing what a new Doc Fest in NYC would look like.  Brian Newman contribute a thoughtful post encouraging community, embrace of new tools, a focus on conversations over panels, a de-emphasis on formats, an abandonment of the demand for premieres, and a true collaboration with filmmakers by sharing data, audiences, and the opportunity to sell.  And yes, to pay filmmakers.

Festivals are going to change for both audiences and filmmakers. It is going to be exciting to see who really takes the lead.

Should Movie Poster Tag Lines Be Transformed

"Earth.  It Was Fun While It Lasted."  Armegeddon's tag line sticks with me, because I instinctively substitute "Earth" for "Indie Film" when I read it. In these days of RampantFilmBizChange,  everything is ripe for reconsideration.  MCN hipped me to AdWeek's collection of "66 Great Movie Taglines".  Sure the list gets a smile regularly from me, but I walk away deadened and jaded.  The sell is obvious.  The dominant clever factor feels like a child beauty pagents' related icky. "Look at me!  Look at me!  Give me a trophy!  Now!!!".  Get me outta there.

Can't we do better?  Or at least do different? What once was called "Indie" has never been proud enough of it's differences.  Isn't now the time -- this the age of absolutely no acquisition market that makes much sense for the majority of work -- to stop the sell and instead embrace the collaboration?  Or the participation.  Or something else entirely different.

A good number of "Indies" show up on Adweek's list.  For me it is clear articulation of the past.  We have moved on.  That is not our culture anymore.  Okay, it's not the only culture anymore.  Yet it feels to me, the creative community is still living in the past.  We have to move forward.  Move further.  And soon.

What thoughts do you have on how we could innovate this process?  How can we bring taglines inside the narrative?  How do we make them about the experience, about the process, about something more than sounding clever and hip?

Sundance Observation

To me, the filmmaking community (the artists, the business folk, the curators & promoters, the appreciators & fans) have to embrace that we are in a seismic shift to an artist-centric collaboration with the audience and away from the corporate controlled supply & attention. This requires a redefinition of cinema by its creators to embrace the discovery, engagement, presentation, promotion, & appreciation processes as much as we do development & production. We have to erase the lines between between art & commerce and content & marketing. We have to stop thinking of films as singular objects and refocus on how they are bridges for the ongoing conversation we have with audiences. Specifics like VOD numbers are important, but we miss the point if we don't look first at the big picture.


Cheat Sheet #4:Jon Reiss' Web Marketing List

Today's post is again brought to you courtesy of Jon Dieringer, and is part of continuing series of cheat sheets from prior TFF posts.


Jon Reiss’ web marketing list:
1. Go to Godaddy.com and purchase a domain name. Get one that ends with .com. Get your movie title. If it is unavailable add “movie” or “themovie” or “film” to the end. (You don’t need to purchase any other services during check-out.)
2. Sign up for WordPress.com. Make your blog the title of your movie/ domain. Start posting press releases and other articles, such as reviews.
3. Sign up for Youtube.com. Make your username title of your movie/ domain. Post your trailer, or you can do a video “pitch”.
4. Sign-up for an account on Facebook.com.
5. Sign-up for Flickr. Get your username title of your movie/ domain.
6. Sign up for an account at del.icio.us. Bookmark your domain, facebook page, blog page and you tube page.
7. Sign up for a google account, to use their alerts, place connect with people who talk about you.
8. Sign up for Box Office Widget. Place this on your website and on your blog. Use it as your signature on forums.
8. Sign up for Spottt. Place this banner code on your myspace page, blog, and the thank you page from Box Office Widget.
10. Go to Yahoo! Groups and find all the groups that may have interest to your film and join. Participate in the group, rather than just spam the group.