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Show Me the MONEY! Indie Producers Making It Happen #atozchallenge #indiefilm #distribution

'THE APPLE PUSHERS,' directed by Mary Mazzio, examines such hot-button issues as food access, the obesity crisis, immigration, entrepreneurship, and what it really takes to achieve the American Dream. There is a crisis among independent filmmakers and many of us don’t even realize it. We have what I would call the starving-artist syndrome and something is definitely wrong with that picture.

We're too passive about valuing our work. At the same time, we must also be realistic about what we have and what it's worth and use this knowledge to out-work those who are making money (in the arts as well as most all other industries) while we wait on the sidelines for a fairy godmother to rescue us with distribution deals and/or a big fat check, investing in our next movie.

Camille Landau and Tiare White, filmmakers and authors of WHAT THEY DON'T TEACH YOU AT FILM SCHOOL, suggests that there are many more ways to make money than through film. I can attest to their point because making movies has certainly cost (and continues to cost) me more money than it's brought me. Part of that is my fault. Part of that is our culture of "free" (and stealing) where everybody expects to get their entertainment without giving anything to the makers of said work. But a huge part of it is that it’s just the nature of the business -- at least where independent filmmaking is concerned. What I gain in creative freedom, I lose in fiscal capacity.

Make no mistake about this -- I still want the money, but for different reasons than I once had. Earning revenue from my work would afford me the ability to do several things:

  • To make more movies.
  • To make better movies.
  • To do work that I enjoy without having to supplement it with less-than-desirable work to put food on the table.
  • To be able to present/showcase my movies in their best light.
  • To support causes that I believe in. 

Scilla Andreen's production of an IndieFlix commercial.Contrary to what we may believe about art and money -- either due to ignorance or negligence in looking beyond the surface -- many independent filmmakers are able to earn money for their work. Co-Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky earned well over six figures with their documentary “INDIEGAME: THE MOVIE.”

Vermont based “NORTHERN BORDERS” director Jay Craven also brought in thousands of dollars from his movies and Zeke Zelker became a master of the $10,000 screening for his drama “InSEARCHOf.” So, what’s wrong with the rest of us? Why are we constantly broke and settling for opportunities to gain exposure over seeking out earnings for our work? Filmmakers don’t know anything different; it has been our conditioning,” says Scilla Andreen of IndieFlix – a service like Netflix that provides unlimited streaming of independent films, anywhere in the world.

Scilla Andreen, CEO of IndieFlix, one of the largest and fastest-growing aggregators of independent film.“I was the same – I’m a filmmaker. I was just grateful to get exposure; are you kidding?!! My movie was going to be on the shelf at Blockbuster -- that’s HUGE! Did I make any money? NO.

Being on iTunes only, are you going to make enough money to live? NO. Being on Netflix only? – People think when you’re movie is on Netflix, 30 million people are going to watch it; are you buying a new house? A new car? No, I got $10,000 for my movie and they’re going to pay me out over eight quarters; 120 days after the quarter ends, in fact, is when the check comes; and there’s no interest on that, and my movie costs $100,000 to make or $750,000 to make or $3 million to make – and I got $10,000 from Netflix for my independent movie, which hasn’t even made a dent in my [investor’s pocket]”. - Scilla Andreen

Through IndieFlix, Andreen facilitates the kind of monetary returns that filmmakers aren’t used to seeing -- taking action on solving the gap between art and commerce. All the while, documentary film director Mary Mazzio conditioned herself for results early on – as a former Olympic rowing athlete who later left a lucrative career in law to make movies. My athletic background gave me perseverance and discipline, which means thinking about who your audience is and what the strategy is; so you’re not making a movie just because you want to make it, but you’re making a movie that you think can find an audience – and when you find an audience, then there’s revenue. Being a young lawyer also gave me the skills to think strategically and like a businessperson,” says this CEO of production company 50 Eggs, Inc. that has successfully sold several of her films on DVD.

'TEN9EIGHT' director Maggie Mazzio with LeRoy McIntosh, Sadeek Morrison, Christopher Graham and Jerry BarryMazzio, whose acclaimed film “TEN9EIGHT” garnered a historic partnership with AMC Theaters, emphasizes the importance of filmmakers thinking through all aspects of our projects.

She adds “How am I going to market this? Who’s going to watch it? How do I get them into theaters? How do I get them to buy the DVD? Why do they want to buy the DVD? – If you think of all those issues and you address them upfront, then you’re likelihood of success is going to be that much greater.” Andreen also strongly recommends doing the homework before even making your movie, as the most efficient thing that filmmakers can do when their ready to distribute their film. “Have a marketing strategy and start building a fan base early on so that by the time you actually are ready to distribute your movie, [there are] people who want to see it. You don’t want to have to start from scratch,” says Andreen.

IndieFlix CEO Scilla Andreen, cutting out the middlemen!Having researched distribution, this Emmy nominee warns filmmakers to not give up all our rights to someone who is promising all this money for our movies. “I firmly believe that it’s important in today’s landscape. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to distribute a movie. I prefer hybrid, split-rights deals to get content out there and – of course, it depends on the movie – but if a distribution company turns up with a deal and big fat advance that will cover the cost of your movie, you might want to do that, but don’t be afraid to self-distribute and work with multiple platforms. It’s not called “self-distribution” anymore; it is the way of the world.” – Scilla Andreen

As Mazzio preps her latest film “UNDERWATER DREAMS,” about undocumented Mexican immigrants who compete against MIT students in a robotics competition sponsored by NASA, she understands the advantages of using numerous outlets; bringing in multiple sources of income for her work – an important move given the bleak future of DVDs.

Director Mary Mazzio and Cinematographer Richard Klug during production of 'Underwater Dreams.'Over time, it’s really going to go the way of the dinosaur but right now the on demand stuff usually [caters to] the personal consumer market, so schools are still using DVD,” says this Georgetown Law school graduate who thinks filmmakers selling DVDs would fare better pursuing the educational market.

“We have ‘THE APPLE PUSHERS’ on DVD but it’s also on iTunes, Netflix and might be on Hulu now – we have a distributor for that and they organize public screenings around it,” allowing her to tap into several markets at once.

As film festival submission fees, shipping expenses, packaging rates, promotional materials and the cost for deliverables start to add up and I continue wondering whether festivals (and movies themselves, for that matter) have any real benefits for me, I know that starving is a choice; and I’m not interested in it. The time has come for independent filmmakers to stop settling for less, stop waiting for permission and quit whining about what we don’t like about our current situations. We could stand to learn a thing or two from go-getters like Scilla Andreen and Mary Mazzio. We must challenge ourselves to step our game up, just like these two women in film who refuse to scrape by for pennies. 

What would YOU attribute to the common disconnect between art and commerce?

Does society play a role in perpetuating the starving artist mentality?

How do YOU watch movies these days (theater, DVD, TV, Netflix, iTunes, On-Demand, etc.)?

Read yesterday's post What's Love Got to do with it? A Closer Look at Making Movies.


What’s LOVE Got to do with it? A Closer Look at Making Movies #atozchallenge #IndieFilm #LA #Photography

l-r: Actors Rodney Benson and Mike Gaudioso shooting a scene in the short film ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER.Although my interest in being a film director blossomed from a childhood fascination with an uncle’s video camcorder, I’ve since realized that cinephiles who want to dip their feet into filmmaking are in for a rude awakening. 

Just because you love watching movies, or have been in awe of people making them doesn't mean it's reason enough to want to create films yourself; No amount of fondness in the world will sustain you through the crap that comes with production and other aspects of the job.

Do I believe we should all do what we love? Yes, but to an extent.

I've loved basketball for some time, but that doesn't mean I ever wanted to compete against Dwayne Wade for an NBA championship title. I also love “LAW & ORDER: SVU” and “CSI: NEW YORK” and used to think being paid to write about those shows was among coolest gigs I ever had -- until that job got old real quick. I eventually dreaded having to not only watch these series, to also pay attention to aspects of each episode that, when I was just a regular television viewer, didn't care to notice.

Self-Portrait by L.A. Photographer Estevan OriolStill, it seems that a love for one’s art, at least at some level, must be present if we are to see our ideas and goals come to fruition – for it is part of the recipe for success. For me, I have to love what I’m doing so that I can feel like doing it. Otherwise, it’s just a job,” says Estevan Oriol, a world-renowned photographer and documentary film director based on Los Angeles.

Given Oriol’s lasting experience in the arts – he’s a former tour manager for rap groups Cypress Hill and House of Pain, and directed music videos for various artists including Eminem and Blink 182; I recently invited him to address the impact, if any, that love has on the quality of one’s work.

He quickly points out his certainty that love is required to make great art. “Sometimes, there are jobs that come up that I have to do, where I must focus on the art; I have to check myself and tell myself that even though I don’t want to do it, I have to get into that ‘love-what-I-do’ zone, or else I’m gonna put out some shitty stuff,” says Oriol, who also points out how the work suffers if it’s creator doesn’t fancy their art.

Chevy Bombs Car Photo by Estevan Oriol“If you do it half-ass because you don’t feel like doing it, it’s gonna show. So, you have to get in the mood to do it -- even if you’re not; and put everything into it because sometimes people won’t have enough money to pay what you normally ask or what you’re worth, but when you do the job, you have to do it just like they can afford [your work].

If you have one job for $10,000 and you have one for $5,000 -- the rest of the world doesn’t know what you’re getting paid, so you have to put [the smaller gig] out like you’re doing a $10,000 job or everybody’s gonna be like ‘oh look, he must have only gotten paid a little bit of money for this; because it’s poor quality work.’” – Estevan Oriol

The thought of making movies seems exciting, and it can be, but after writing screenplays, producing short films and trying to develop a feature length project, I’ve found some comfort in knowing that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. That goes for any of the professional or personal paths we’re on. It's a whole new ballgame when you're suddenly depending on the thing you love to put food on the table. Film is an expensive and physically, mentally and emotionally draining hobby. I believe that more benefits must be factored into the equation, for one to choose film as a profession and stay the course; what started as a fun activity fizzles quickly when you’re in the trenches of trying to finish that last scene, for the 6th, 7th – or 18th time.

New York based film producer Ted Hope once said “If we don’t want to lose sight of what is needed to make a great movie, we have to make sure we don’t lose sight of why we want to make the movie.” I understand how his train of thought factors into making the best work possible by understanding what your intentions are and operating from a place that supports those objectives. I’d like to think that we all want to make work that we can be proud of; how that measures up to seeing a return for my efforts, however, has more to do with what form of payoff it brings and less to do with an adoration for filmmaking.

'Plain Us' by Amir MotlaghIt often feels like I lost a lot of the love I had for making movies and all the while, other factors kept (and keeps) me going. Time and more experience will only tell if this stifles my work’s potential in any way. Besides, “’Great art’ is a concept,” according to director Amir Motlagh, who helmed several award-winning short films, a feature film “WHALE” and more recently, the electronic pop EP “MEAT ON YOUR LONELY BONES.”

While Motlagh shuns the notion of preferential treatment for in the arts, he does recognize an underlying thirst for making fresh ideas come to life, which manifests itself on screen. “Aside from getting into a pedantic treatise, I would assume that you have to have a binding passion or drive for doing something so fleeting as working almost solely with the imagination. I don't even want to mention the uncertainties, as that's almost an afterthought. Why else would you want, or better yet, need to tell stories?” he says.

There are moments when I’m so wrapped up in editing or shooting that no other activity measures up to the pleasure that comes from the task at hand. Then, there are many other instants where it seems like I’m either just going through the motions or am ready to throw in the towel on being a filmmaker. So far, I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way -- that having a love for cinema is not the only reason to make movies. One should be able to get something else out of it beyond the sheer joy of creation.

Is LOVE the driving force behind YOUR career of choice?

Do YOU agree or disagree that the value of one’s creations (or even one’s output in the workplace) are influenced by the amount of LOVE one has for producing it?

Be sure to read the previous post about Killing Your Babies! A Lesson from Kevin Smith.


Monday Movie Meme – A Thin Line between Love and Hate

The theme for this week’s Monday Movie Meme is based my 2014 A-to-Z Challenge post on Letter L, about whether love is necessary to make great art. Given that it’s about love, I figure we might as well flip the script: A Thin Line between Love and Hate. Here are my selections for this week’s Monday Movie Meme.


Share on your blog or in the comments section, movies featuring characters who hate their jobs.

On the Waterfront

Although this is the first movie that came to mind when I thought of this week’s theme, I wonder if it still counts; given that some workers don’t hate their job per se – they hate the union controlling their jobs.


There are some scenes in this movie involving a guy who works as a short-order cook  (he’s on parole or something, right?) who can’t stand his job.

What movies have YOU seen that feature people who hate their jobs?

Be sure to read the previous A-to-Z Challenge discussion on Killing Your Babies! - A Lesson from Kevin Smith and check out today's post about What's Love Got to Do with It?!