Microbudget independent (indie) films are all the rage. New technology and resourcefulness coupled with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding opportunities have helped level the playing field. Great low budget films are being made for a few thousand dollars. Some films are even made for just a few hundred dollars.
Filmmaker are showing creative genius when it comes to making films for almost nothing. However, with the limitations in film funds comes a definite limitation in film-making. In filmmaking, there are certain things for which there is no substitute for money or access to money. If a filmmaker have established himself as a repeat low-budget filmmaker there will come a time when six-figure and below film budgets just don’t cut it anymore. Inevitably, it will be necessary to move to the next level, particularly if a long term career is needed.
There is a saying in the film biz that if one is to be trusted with a $10 million budget he/she must first prove trustworthiness with a million dollar budget. Here are ten ways to help filmmakers get ready to make a $1 million film.
1. Attend Local Film Festivals. There’s no reason to spend a fortune traveling to Park City, Utah or Berlin just to attend a film festival. There are many film festivals right in your own back yard. Visit a film festival and subscribe to its newsletter so you can see what films sold or what films have distribution going into the festival. Gather as much information as possible and start building your “must contact list”.
2. Attend a Film Market. Film markets are different from film festivals because market have the explicit purpose of creating an atmosphere for buying selling films. The American Film Market (AFM) is the largest film market in the United States. Some film festivals also have film market components. For a list of film markets by event, check the here . The reason to attend a film market is to find out what types of films are selling to distributors. Distributors tend to buy what they know. This means if a distributor bought an action thriller last year he/she will probably buy that more films in that genre again next year. Most importantly you’ll get a chance to meet these folks face to face and ask what type of films a distributor is likely to buy. Hint.
3. Hone your Pitch (1). If you attend a film market make sure you reserve your questions for the later half of the market. For example, if you’re attending AFM, wait until the second half of the market before approaching distributors. When you do, tell them up front that you aren’t there to pitch a movie. Tell them you there to learn about their business and the films that interest the company. Get your pitch down quickly. Once a distributor is convinced you aren’t there to sell them anything they will open up and tell all their business.
4. Note the Actors in films at Markets and Festivals. Make a list of the actors appearing in films that have sold to distributors. It is a common misconception that filmmakers need so-called A list talent to sell a film. Not so. The world is a big place. Actors who are not very well know in the United States (or actors consider far below A talent) often have substantial followings in Europe and Asia. Also, never count any actor or actress out. For example, I was surprised to see Zoe Saldana in an ensemble film with Dylan McDermott that only cost about $10 million to make. I was sure Zoe was way out of my league. The fact that she was in an ensemble film with her acting peers and the budget was only $10 million told me that she wasn’t as unreachable as I thought.
5. Develop or find a project that meets a distributor’s needs, not yours. This is a no-brainer yet very few independent filmmakers take this road. Many filmmakers spend years developing a personal passion project. Then they spends ten more years finding someone with money who is as passionate about the project as she. If you’re trying to make a million dollar film for the first time passion projects are like putting the cart before the horse. Forget them…for now. The project you find, develop or create should be based on 1-4 above. You can find short scripts on InkTip and have the writer develop a feature script. You can find genre filmmakers and writers on Twitter and Facebook. And if you have the skills, you can write your own genre film.
6. Understand Presales. Many people talk about presales but most don’t understand pre selling distribution rights to certain territories. The way presales should work: You met XYZ Productions at AFM. You noted their interested in erotic thrillers. You developed an erotic thrills and attached an actor who’s worked in three films XYZ has distributed. You go back to XYZ with your proposal. they love it and want to distribute in the UK. You pre sell the rights for XYZ to distribute in the UK. If you’ve done your homework you also take that film to ABC who handles France. You pre sell the theatrics rights in France, DVD rights in South America. You bank all the cash and now you have the money to make your film.
7. Make a Kick-Ass Prospectus. A film prospectus includes a logline, synopsis, graphics, budget, comparables. above-the-line crew, attached talent, and any images the represent the look and feel of the film. A good thing to include is a mock video trailer. This video isn’t the official trailer of the film (because you haven’t shot the film yet) but it should be a good representation of your directors (or producer’s vision). Everything about your prospectus should represent the final look, feel and theme of the finished film. For example, don’t use a dark ominous background with white lettering if your film is a romantic comedy.
8. Make your film project appealing to your prospective audience rather than to you. When you ask for $1 million dollars your goal is to offer a film that appeals to the movie-going, money-spending audience — the film does not have to appeal to you. Gore film lovers love gore. Don’t try to replace gore with emotional content and context. Romantic comedy film lovers love it when the guy and girl hook up at the end. Don’t toss any real life, un-fairytale like endings. Give the people what they want and they will buy it from you.
9. Under sell and over deliver. Your project will come in a small package. But when it’s read and absorbed by the people with money it must look bigger. I packed so much drama, emotion and martial arts into my film project, Legend of Black Lotus, that everyone who read the script was floored. It’s epic. It’s a fantasy. It’s a martial arts film. It’s a love story. And it’s a fairytale. And it’s a family film. When you film looks bigger than it is people see dollar signs. When they see money, they’re ready to invest money.
10. Talk and act like a million-dollar filmmaker. If you can’t talk about a bouillabaisse you have no business in a chef’s kitchen. Get rid of your microbudget filmmaker mentality. The small times are over. The big times are in. Stop thinking in terms of $100 dollar a day crew members and think about $1000 a week salaries. Understand the need for insurance, union fringes, and then use that understanding to manipulate the figures in your favor. The last thing a distribution company wants to feel is fear when they cut a check to you for half a million dollars. The first person who must believe that you belong in the million dollar film arena is you. If you believe it, everyone else will too.
This information is taken from my personal experience in coordinating the financing for my $5 million film, Legend of Black Lotus. In a years time I’ve gotten to the point where the script and prospectus is drawing the attention of people and distribution companies from around the world. Belgium, Japan, China. Hong Kong, Toronto. Things started to happen when I decided that I was worthy of making $5 million films.