Hello readers! We’re pleased to be back with a follow up to Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. In the interim since we published the book, we are so thrilled to have read about more and more filmmakers all over the world making proactive decisions about connecting with audiences and getting their work seen. We hope our book played at least a small role in that decision making!
This follow up book is intended to be ebook format only and will available for free from this website as a PDF. We are aiming to release the PDF just prior to the Festival de Cannes in May 2014. Our focus this time around is on productions that originate outside the US. As many of our lucky colleagues know, governmental funding plays a much bigger role in how films are made outside of the US, but those films aren’t going to be our focus either. In keeping with our commitment to highlight those who are making truly independent work, we will be looking at films made outside of any system. These works were self financed, crowdfunded and/or self distributed. As government funding is shrinking worldwide, but self financing and crowdfunded donation is on the rise as a means to bankroll production, we want to share with readers how forward thinking producers are leveraging the power of the internet to fund and distribute their work.
My first case study comes from the UK. It involves a narrative film, Papadopoulos and Sons, that succeeded in reaching a niche audience, despite not starting to connect with them until a few months prior to theatrical distribution. MANY filmmakers can identify with this dilemma! Writer/director Marcus Markou was not unlike the typical filmmaker who believed his main job was to tell a good story on film and a distributor would buy the film and bring it to market. But unlike his European counterparts, Markou self financed his film, so he wasn’t just going to sign over the rights without knowing what would happen financially.
“I had no idea about how the film business worked. I assumed it worked like any other business, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. It’s a den of snakes. There are LOTS of games being played. What I know now that I didn’t know then is they want your film for free. Really, there is no intention of paying you anything.
I was trying to work out how people get paid for making their films, and I finally worked out that no other business is funded this way. Our films [in the UK] are mainly funded by tax payers, from various film funds, or through film finance schemes that effectively help wealthy individuals and corporations reduce their taxation on profits by investing in a movie. This money isn’t really the production’s money. In meetings with sales agents, there was the assumption that I would sign a 20 year contract; the agency would take 40% of any sales as well as deductions for their costs. How would any independent film producer or investor in an independent production get their money back outside a tax scheme? Why does anyone sign these terms? Because it’s not their money at risk. Producers receive their fee, the director and everyone involved in making the film gets their fee, which comes from the people investing in the film to reduce their tax bills or from the taxpayer via film funds, so basically who cares if you give the film away for free to a sales agent? I quickly realized this wasn’t going to work for me at all, and I started scrambling around to try something new.”
Markou did finally sign with a sales agent, Maura Ford, who did not insist on the excessive terms on which her colleagues run their businesses. She took the film to the Marché du Film at Cannes to broker deals and she did close a few, but not for the UK. So Markou started his own investigation into how he could self release the film in his home country. His early discussions with Martin Myers of Miracle Communications had him pondering the value of that method.
“I talked with Martin and he said he could probably book it into some Showcase Cinemas all around the UK. And I said, ‘Where are these cinemas?’ He told me places like outside of Salford near Manchester and odd places. I asked what that would do. He said it helps get a DVD deal. It is known as a service theatrical deal, that’s the phrase. You pay to have your film shown in the theater, no one comes to see it, but the film will get some reviews and that helps encourage interest in a DVD and VOD sale. I told him that this was not what I had in mind. But platforms like Netflix insist on a one week theatrical run before they will consider a film for distribution. You do it to get press and awareness for the film.”
When Myers came back to him with a potential for 10 screens through Cineworld, one of the biggest cinema chains in the UK, it came with a caveat. In order to convince Cineworld to book the film, they wanted to see some proof that a sufficient marketing effort would be made to drive audiences to the screenings. That’s when Markou devised a marketing plan that would precisely outline how he intended to reach the core audience of his film, get their attention, and get them to the theater. With a small amount of additional funds, he managed not only to do that, but found Papadopoulos and Sons was among the highest per screen average films of its opening weekend and went on to have a 7 week cinema run!
Find out more about how he identified the audience of his film, how much he spent to reach them and what the outcome has been both financially and professionally when the latest edition is released.