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      making money making movies

        There are 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.

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