Friday 2 November 2012

The Truth about filmmaking

The film industry is pretty simple to break into if, first, you understand some basic concepts. The basic concepts can be learned pretty quickly, despite what industry moguls tell you.

However, there is some basic bullshit that surrounds the industry that keeps first-timers away from writing, directing, producing or starring in a movie.

1st Lie: Filmmaking Is An Art

If filmmaking was an art, you would go get some film stock, rent a camera, make your 'art', and then line up on Piccadilly on a Sunday morning with the other buskers and try to sell your art to a passers-by, or give it away for free for others to enjoy. But we both know that it doesn’t work like that.

To make a movie you need to write cheques—and lots of them. When your movie is finished, you will want to negotiate the best possible deal for the greatest amount of revenue. Therefore, filmmaking could be discussed as writing cheques, negotiating and revenue potential. To me, that sounds like a business. And everything in the British film industry is about business. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you are likely to succeed.

2nd Lie: Filmmaking Is A Filmmaking Industry

The film industry spends more money marketing a film than making it. You have probably heard about the way a distributor 'opens', 'releases' or 'markets' a film. So if it costs so much to open, release, or market a film, then surely the film industry is more concerned with this, than with the actual making of a movie. Technically, in the film industry, the marketing budget is called 'the P&A budget' (prints and advertising). And the two elements of a movie that the industry markets are: Who is in the film, and What is the budget.

When you make your first independent feature film, you should know what it costs to strike a print and what ads (print, radio, TV, etc.) cost. At the very least you must know this to market your film to distributors at a film festival. But please, always remember that the film industry is a marketing machine that creates perceived values every weekend.

Hint: You’ve made a film. A film has no value. No one pays for a film.

Everyone pays for a movie. When does a film become a movie? The answer is, “when it’s in a cinema”. When it’s in a cinema, you see newspaper ads and movie reviews in newspapers. When you see a newspaper ad you think "It’s a movie." It’s in a movie theatre. Are movie theatres free? Answer, “No!” Thus, movies cost money to see. Films you can see for free.

When your film is picked up by a distributor and they put in their “P&A” money, it now has a value of $10. This is the normal cost of buying a ticket at a movie theatre. In America there are 280 million people. If only 1 out 100 people see the movie it translates into 2.8 million ticket sales, times $10, for a GROSS of $28,000,000.

Distributors and filmmakers don’t see that $28,000,000. That’s what cinema owners collect. Box Office Gross! Do filmmakers see Box Office? Of course not. But the moviegoer has now been taught that your free film is now worth $10. W
hat do the other 99 out of 100 potential ticket buyers now do? At least half of them, when they see the newspaper ads, say “I’ll rent it”. Is it free to rent at Blockbuster. No, that costs money too. When you walk into a video store and see a piece of plastic you know you could buy blank from a stationer for 40 cents, yet now with the wrapper on it it is worth $10-20.

That’s how Hollywood works. Hollywood takes a film that has no value, puts in newspaper ads, and gives it a $10 value, knowing that, at the most, 1 out of 100 will see it at the theatre. However, the other 99 people—thinking it’s worth $10—will now rent it at the video store where it only costs $4. The Film Industry is a film marketing industry, not a film making industry.

3rd Lie: What The Budget Is

Is there any industry that tells you the cost of manufacturing the product you want to buy? Why is it that in the film industry we always seem to know what the budget is? Do you think the film industry really tells you the truth? And if anyone asks you what the budget of YOUR film is, tell them to mind their own business!

There are only 4 budgets in the movie industry. (1) the Blockbuster Budget, (2) the Hyphen Budget, (3) the Million Dollar Budget and (4) the Micro Budget.

The Blockbuster budget is a budget so big that it is marketed as the most expensive film in the history of cinema. The first was Gone With The Wind, the next one, the first million-dollar film ever, was Cleopatra. Films like the Titanic, Waterworld, etc., are marketed as hugely expensive so we, the punters, will go to see what 100+ million looks like on the screen.

The Hyphen budget is marketed as between 40 and 45 million, as if the anal accounting department can't remember what happened to five million dollars! Can you believe that? It is the budget of a standard Hollywood film, and the actual production costs on a thirty-to-seventy million dollar film are at most a few million, with the balance spent on stars and promoting the film.

The Million Dollar budget is your typical entry-level independent film and the budgets are expressed as: 1.4 mil (sex, lies and videotape) or 800 thou (Lock Stock) 1.1 mil (Shallow Grave) 1.1 mil (Blood Simple) These films don’t usually have stars, and are story driven.

The Micro budget is broken down into three sub categories:
Under a million = Low budget
Under 500 thousand = Micro Budget
Under a hundred thousand dollars/euros/pounds = No budget. Films like Pi, Blair Witch, Clerks, and the brilliant Following by Raindance alumni Christopher Nolan, fall into this category.

The budget of your feature film is going to be one of those four
categories. For more information and details on how to make a $1,000,000 Feature Film by spending $200,000 then check out the Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking book offered by Raindance. But stop thinking that you know what the true budget of a film is. The film industry lies!

4th Lie: The Film Industry Makes Deals With Filmmakers

The problem with all filmmakers that want to make a film is that they are perennially attempting to Make-a-deal to get the money to Make-a-film. This will never happen. You are putting the horse before the cart. You must first Make-a-film to Make-a-deal. I know this is confusing, so allow me to use some numbers to explain the concept.

If you desire $20million to make a feature film, you must go to one of the seven major distributors (Warner, Paramount, Sony, Disney, etc.). And all they ask you to do, to get their
$20million, is to first Make-a-film with a $2million budget... that makes money. Because Hollywood (Lie #2) is a film marketing industry and the distributors want to be able to market "From the Producer Of," "From the Writer of," "From the Star of," on the poster and ads.

Thus, if you want $20million, make a $2million Feature Film... one that makes money. Now, how do you get $2million to get started? It’s simple. First Make-a-film! Make a $200,000 feature film... that makes money. Are you getting the point? And how do you get $200,000? You first make a $20,000 Feature Film!

First, Make-a-film! And, if that film makes money, then you’ll get to make a deal!
The Truth about filmmaking first appeared as "Hollywood's 4 Biggest Lies" by Elliot Grove, on the Raindance website.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

"the film industry is a marketing machine that creates perceived values every weekend"
This article deals with the film making and marketing side of filmmaking, which seems cynical but true.
The 'creating perceived values' throwaway line is a strong comment about how the public is affected by movies and would take a philosopher to explore.
Thanks for the article, Henry.