If I had a dollar for every person who said “you made a killing on “BLEEP”, I would have actually made a killing. Even though “Bleep” is still considered one of the highest grossing documentaries in US history and has numbers thrown around like $30 million dollars would wide gross (no one actually knows- but it’s a good guess) – the truth is it still hasn’t made it’s money back. Between theaters, distributor and other fees, it’s still a struggle to squeeze any of those dollars back to the film makers (that’s me). Why you ask?
Here’s the gross thing about gross – there are a lot of fingers in that pie. It starts with theaters. When you go see a movie and complain about those high ticket prices – you probably think ‘those greedy little filmmakers!’ But the truth is, most Indy films see maybe 5-10% of that ticket price (And that’s a BIG MAYBE!). After the theater takes it’s cut (usually around 70%)- the money goes back to the distributor and they take out their expenses and then their cut (usually between 25-30%) – and if there is any money left over- then the filmmaker gets about 60% of that! (Ok is anyone else confused!)? And that’s just for the theatrical- then there is foreign sales agents, foreign distributors, VAT taxes, distribution fees, legal fees and on and on and on. That poor little filmmaker is lucky to get a dime when it’s all said and done.
So how do you make money-making films? I know I said it-“Make money!” “Gross!” especially in my genre “spiritual films” everyone thinks it should be for free! People seem to forget that you had to pay that guy with the camera and that girl with the mics. (I know- we should all eat for free and make our own clothes.) Now days everyone is waiting for Netflix or to download it for free; and right now, your not going to make any money from Netflix- that elusive advance seems so amazing when you hear about it- but after the checks clear and everyone has had their fingers in your pie- it’s not so appetizing.
I refer back to my 3 Golden Rules– ok so you did that, now what? Patience, creativity, more patience and flexibility!
Patience because guess what – it’s going to take a long time to make your money back. Be ready to stick to it for the long haul.
Creativity because finding a way to convince your audience that they should leave their house to see your film is as daunting as making the film. But it is possible, if you know your audience. Think of your film as a brand. It’s not enough just to have a movie- what’s your call to action? Why should I spend my hard earned cash to see your movie?
And finally Flexibility, because what you thought you knew about distributing your film today will be obsolete tomorrow. You need to be ready to distribute your film in ways you didn’t think of before – find those revenue streams. They are out there in the most unlikely of places. One of my favorite things to do is to figure out new ways to get my films seen. (A little weird that’s how I spend my free time… but we all have to have a hobby!)
I can’t say it enough – filmmaking is combining art and commerce, which isn’t always the best combination. Don’t skimp on the commerce part, just like you wouldn’t skimp on the art part. Be as creative with your distribution as you are with your filmmaking. And by the way- hire someone smart like me to help you. The best money you can spend is on the right person to help shepherd your film, someone who understands your audience and how to reach them.
p.s. To all my readers who maybe aren’t filmmakers: I hear from many of you the same thing “I’ll wait for Netflix” or “I can find it for free on the web”. I have a message for you. Please Please Please go out and support these Indy films. If you don’t then there won’t be anymore. I wish we could make them for free and give them away, but the truth is- the only way we’re going to create the space for these types of films in the mainstream is if there is an audience willing to pay to see them. I also hear alot of “Hollywood isn’t making the films I want to see” – well then you need to show them what films you want to see! And most importantly – DON”T DOWNLOAD FILMS FOR FREE!!!!!! Unless of course your willing to come to my house – feed my kids, buy them shoes and clothes, etc and or provide your services to me free of charge – you shouldn’t expect any filmmaker to do the same- Just sayin’