Everyone could use funds to fund their film. How about if you could sell it to an International Distributor for an advance before you make it?
Filmmakers that made a film, went to film school and learned all they needed to know about plot, structure, character and all necessary elements to a film must have a great film and in fact they do. Most, if not all filmmakers need to promote it. So they look up many distributors as they can and send them DVD screeners of their material after researching them. They now wait a month and they get discouraged, but the next day after they receive three letters in the mail, they all say in so many words or less, their production doesn’t have any A-list ort B-list actors, it is not the quality they would like and they should invest in a new prosumer camera and they want to know why you think you movie will sell in a 45 page Film Investment Memorandum?
This is what countless filmmakers have happen to them, but if they plan for this type of engagement with the distributor before they spend their inheritance, a filmmaker must know that distributors will fund you. Yes, for the entire movie and only adding a small amount of your money to the budget. If this sounds too good, it must be hard to do. This is true; filmmakers that want investment money probably have to do an enormous amount of research.
There are a lot of possibilities of funding your production by use of a presale, Stacey Parks, the author of “Insider’s Guide to Film Distribution defines it as “literally a sale of your film to a particular category before the film is made” (pp.2). If anyone should get a pre-sale they are to be considered lucky. Back in the earlier 1980-90’s it was easier to secure this because of less movies that were on radar at a certain time. However, Parks says that many filmmakers could finance their movies through just 2 or 3 presales and most presales happen internationally more than in the U.S, and they do happen all the time in certain genres such as horror and animation. Edward Jay Epstein of Slate Magazine summarizes that it is a little harder than it seems. He says most indie producers unlike studio producers cannot get a distribution deal until they finish the movie. He also says that once a filmmaker gets a presale keep in mind that “ presales are nothing but promissory notes and the indie producer must borrow against them from banks to pay for the movie.”
Before a filmmaker can do that, he must first convince the banks that the films will be delivered to foreign distributors. He also says that since many huge insurers back these presale funds, there is not a big risk to the bank to lend the money. This is a sigh of relief for many young independent producers out there.
Parks says that at the worst of free film funding now is that “ it is hard now for distributors to agree to paying you the full license fee up front and you should be prepared for payment plans over time.” (Parks, 3) This is a shocking aspect, because if you want to really fund your film, it is not becoming easier. Assuming this also too is a generalization, we’ll now refer to objective numbers to calculate royalty or box office share to the independent distributor. Malcolm Ritchie, Co- Managing Director of Qwerty Films and Skillset.org reports that the share of revenue for independent filmmakers is 45-55%. Warren Buckland, author of Directed by Steven Spielberg, says ‘you have to make 5 times your negative costs to make a profit on a movie. ”Buckland, 98”
So let’s do the math, say a filmmaker does $300,000 gross hypothetically speaking, that means that costs to produce it may be $60,000. If these distribution companies are letting out payments over time and your cut is about half what they get- $150,000, how long could you survive after such a tremendous effort of making a movie?
Parks, further says that you can expect a royalty check 9 months after you sign the distribution deal. She says this is because DVD companies must recoup their marketing and manufacturing costs before they pay you. She chides at this saying that this might because “ you can walk into a Wal-Mart and buy a big studio blockbuster for $7.99, which leaves you with your $1.99 independent rack.”(pp.34) It’s best to avoid royalty only deals, or have your accountant with you.
Distribution companies seek out new ideas all the time, they watch screeners of your film, go to private screenings independent filmmaker’s throw and attend all film festivals they can. Many distributors go out of business because they lose too much money on an investment or a few investments and also on advances to filmmakers. If a production has an A-list or sometimes B-list actor attached to the project, the producer brings new funding to the table and the producer has a track record of delivering the product as promised, distribution advances should be available according to Parks.
If you can sell yourself, you can sell your film. Check out my blog post on Film Distribution Research and get started on a film distribution memorandum.