A $500K+ marketing budget could solve all your problems. But only in the short-term…
Dear Filmmaker, this industry is unfair. It requires a great deal of research and education and experience to create a traditionally profitable feature film in the general distribution/aggregation/licensing model. You may be brilliant, I assume you ARE brilliant, but even then, the transactional audience engagement will be uneven in response if measured in “financial” success. There are many more ways to measure success, but movies cost money. The only way to make a sustainable career is to show “financial” success to the industry at large to be in consideration for new work. Winning awards is GREAT, but prestige will only get you so far towards regular employment. It is not your fault that your movies are not financial successes. Truly.
Dear Distributor (Licensor), this industry is unfair. It requires picture-perfect high-value elements to catch the eye of the consumer. You do not, on average, have the best goods to garner upward momentum without sacrificing picky quality for quantity each year. There are companies promising better reach, better cuts, better engagement, and better deals on paper than you – but you do not have to compete at the cost of your integrity. Licensing, legal work, asset creation, marketing, strategy, accounting, and all the other many moving parts of your job cost MORE than what you charge. They do. Distribution costs money. And your ‘average’ filmmaker accounting reports should be your primary selling materials in conversations with filmmakers, not your miraculous top 5% of titles. You cannot reasonably respond with substance to every single filmmaker’s email on your roster and sending out accurate quarterly reports is a LOT to do. Do less, but be up front about it. The filmmaker does not know how hard your job is and does not know that this job does not pay well. And they do not know that platforms/outlets write really mean or hurtful things (pretending to be blunt and honest) about films to you and you absorb those truths every day.
Dear Filmmaker, your distributor is not a bad-person/company. They may not be accountable and they may not give you your money right away and they may be stingy and greedy, … but they did not start their company with that intention and something is broken in the current distribution/licensing model. They want to do better for and with you, but many are unable to sustain that effort. You may fall through those cracks or be the victim of greed, stay vigilant, but be aware that oftentimes that’s not the whole story. The platforms/outlets, pay models, and access change year to year and the distributor is learning the trends alongside your experience.
Dear Distributor, your filmmaker is not being unreasonable. They are in the dark about your expectations and experience. You know more and have more access to information you do not HAVE to share, but you could choose more and more transparency. Some distributors sell “well-managed expectations” as their advertising model and even though some of those distributors are trashed at first, they become valued partners by repeat filmmakers. Do you want repeat filmmakers who value you? Or first time/last time filmmakers to be your primary partner? You need high-quality films to keep moving forward as a company, BUT that’s not going to deliver more money. It is an industry-wide issue, not your filmmakers’ issue. Have you told them?
Dear Filmmaker, share your experience in distribution with your distributor (write it as if it were to be published, your kindest yet most honest words).
Dear Distributor, share your experience working with filmmakers (write it as if it were to be published, your kindest yet most honest words).
Dear Filmmaker & Distributor (Licensor), your jobs are not at odds with each other. Very little low-budget films are currently making a profit, I’ve done the research AND I’ve experienced it first-hand. This is well understood. Very little films are coming out with the necessary value-added-elements that catch the eye of the consumer in large enough quantities and reasonable pay from platforms/outlets to create a livable wage for the filmmaker OR the distributor who bundles titles. You are both having a hard time because the industry as a whole is having a hard time. You are not doing a BAD job, you may be brilliant, I assume you ARE brilliant. But the averages are low. And you are both under a great deal of stress to report back to the original investor that the film industry is hard.
Dear Filmmaker, I’d like to help make the film industry a place with access to more grants, more crowd-funding education/support, more financing companies that can bundle varied genres, more social justice philanthropy, more studio upward mobility for indie producers over inexperienced execs, and more corporate patronage. And I wish that each filmmaker would raise a $500K+ direct-to-consumer advertising campaign for each film before release, but usually ya don’t know that until after your first film is made – so it’s hard to predict what you don’t know until you know it (even $30k minimum can make a difference). I cannot make films cost ‘less’ investor money today, but that is the stress that makes the filmmaker and distributor relationship contentious. The source of your pain and anxiety is usually the imbalance of equitable pay and reasonable return. You’re not doing it wrong, even when everything works out perfectly, there are flops beyond your control that offset any progress. Your lens needs to be focused on the long-term while your heart needs to create in the ‘now.’ And you have to carry that. Have hope. Many of us are working towards a better future together. Keep moving forward, glacial is still movement. Your voice and point-of-view should not be silenced by hopelessness. Tomorrow will be better.
Dear Distributor, band together with other distributors/licensors for the exchange of knowledge, solidarity, and organization towards a more powerful position. You are powerless to the platforms/outlets/deals that are offered to you by an ever-changing system. Say ‘no’ en masse to cuts and rev-shares that are not fair or balanced. Bundle deals with other companies instead of chasing the unsustainable quantity over quality model within your own company. Charge more if you need it to do your job well, but deliver more when you are fairly compensated. There is a great deal of toxicity behind closed doors, I have seen it for myself – find a way to stop working with those people or report to their partners/superiors/whomever to get bad apples out from behind closed doors. Publish their words if you must. You have more power than you think you have. And take filmmakers who shine, who are meant to be filmmakers, and feed them your knowledge, experience, and partnership towards a growing career. Foster filmmakers into valuable partners. Together, your power dynamic may inch us forward, glacial is still movement.
Dear Filmmaker & Distributor (Licensor), we can and should work together.
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