about 15,000 independent features in production at any moment.
All but a fraction of those films have gone into production
with no thought as to their marketability or distribution.
The bones of thousands of independent producers and their
investors are strewn along the road to feature filmdom because
they fail to realize that the film business is first and
foremost, a business. There was a very interesting comment
from a panelist at Sundance when asked about art over profit.
"Screw the investor," she said. If that's your position,
don't read on.
There are two types of independent producers in the world,
as John Lee Jr. defines them in "The Producer's Business
Handbook,"- balanced and unbalanced. Unbalanced producers
make up the vast majority of independent filmmakers in the
world. They go into production believing that Paramount
is going to "pick- up" their film when it's done? They rent
a screening room, cater refreshments, and invite all the
acquisition people they can. When the lights come up, the
room is pretty much cleared out except for perhaps a couple
of obscure Iranians who are ready to sign you to a deal
from hell. Balanced producers realize that the creative
process comes at perhaps a distant seventh in importance
after the business elements of the film. If you look into
your heart of hearts, you know that it is dishonest, unethical,
immoral, (add some of your own words here) to take someone's
money, especially a family member's, and spend it on the
production of a film that you have no idea how, where, or
if it will ever make any money. That sense that you're different
and that success is waiting to snatch you up is the same
sense that little old ladies in Las Vegas have every time
they pull that slot machine handle. It's bogus, it's a lie,
and it will leave you destitute and playing a blame game
that will destroy once cherished relationships.
Legitimate businesses survive on unbalanced producers. Everyone
from the raw stock suppliers to labs, rental companies and
transfer houses thrive on this massive industry of false
assumptions and guaranteed failure. It is amusing to watch
the DV industry encourage you to produce your next feature
on DV. They sell lots of cameras, but in reality there isn't
a single feature produced in NTSC DV that has ever received
any legitimate distribution. "Oh yea! George Lucas," you
scream. George Lucas has never shot NTSC DV on a feature.
He shoots 2K straight to hard drive with no compression.
That process actually costs more than shooting traditional
35mm film. One day it will surely be a feasible process,
but not yet.
There are really only two ways that feature films are produced
that result in a profitable experience and they are both
done only by balanced producers. The first is the studio
model of production and the second is the way the top 20
independents like Ron Howard produce their films. Both processes
begin with development and the green light process. This
is a painstaking process of proving the viability of the
story long before production begins. Studios control all
aspects of film development, production and distribution-
especially controlling all revenue streams. Balanced producers
actually do the same thing through business, banking, and
foreign distributor relationships. John Lee JR's book, "The
Producer's Business Handbook," (Focal Press) is great reading
on the topic.
I've gone through a grueling process of discovery over the
past several years because I've been hired to produce several
feature films for unbalanced independent filmmakers. Some
of those films made millions of dollars for their distributors,
but the money never ever trickled back down to those who
financed and plowed their lives into those films. The final
death cry of those unbalanced producers before they started
their new 9 to 5 job was, "Well I didn't make any money,
but at least someone saw my film." That is a pathetic tragedy.
I've vowed not to be a part of that process ever again,
hence the effort to find out how things really work.
I've discovered that everything has its price in life and
that price transcends currency... including a good film
that is profitable to the investors and producers. Films
don't look and turn out great by accident and they never
ever make money by accident.
If you are beginning a feature film and you want a chance
at surviving the experience, contact us. I really believe
we might help.