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.
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.
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.
Mazzio, 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.
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.
“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.