Filmmaking continues to be a high-risk investment, but one that can potentially be extremely lucrative. There are more films are being made now than ever before due to technological advances in camera and editing equipment making filmmaking accessible to more people.
In New Zealand film distribution and exhibition brought in $348 million in 2011, a 6% increase from 2010. Producers who sold films, in New Zealand and internationally, generated $116 million (Statistics New Zealand, 2012). This proves that although competitive there is still an opportunity for independent films to compete in the marketplace.
Film Festivals – Historically independent films would have one ultimate goal, to enter an A-list film festival – specifically Sundance, Cannes, Toronto or Telluride – and sign a six-figure distribution deal with a large distribution company. Unfortunately, due to the large number of independent films being produced, this is no longer a realistic goal (Kaufman, 2011). Sundance, for example, screened 110 in 2012 chosen from over 9,000 submissions (Fernandez, 2011). Of those 110 only 20 received deals within the low six-figure range (Reiss, 2012). This shows that applying to A-list festivals and achieving a distribution deal could be a shot in the dark for independent features.
Applying to second-tier film festivals, although not likely to garner a distribution deal, can still be an option for generating exposure for your film (Parkes, Film Distribution Primer, 2012). These festivals are held in major cities all around the world and include festivals such as Palm Springs, Chicago International, Austin and Raindance. Utilizing these festivals to gain press for independent features could be an excellent marketing tool as well as providing the opportunity for the film to play theatrically to audiences the distribution budget may not allow it to reach otherwise. Film festivals do however require an application and acceptance process and there is no guarantee that the film will be chosen to play.
Changes in Distribution Opportunities – A large market trend is the current change in distribution methods and the chain of distribution utilized by filmmakers. The main trend within the film distribution market is a move towards alternative distribution options, such as Video On Demand. This is evident with the larger traditional distributors as well as smaller independent films (Abrams, 2012). Self-distribution is also becoming more of a lucrative option for independent filmmakers (Parkes, The Insdiers Guide to Independent Film Distribution. 2nd Edition, 2012).
Foreign and Pre-sales – Foreign sales has always been an important and potentially profitable area for independent films. In order to facilitate deals with foreign distribution companies filmmakers generally engage the services of a sales agent – this is also touched on in the distribution section following. Foreign distributors can also be approached during pre-production of a film to get pre-sales in certain territories. This money can then be taken to bank in order to get a loan against the guaranteed sums. A filmmaker would generally need a bankable actor or actress involved in the project to be able to put these deals in place – a bankable actor is one who is popular in the foreign territories and can generally guarantee a certain number of sales (Ulin, 2010).
Foreign sales without stars can still be lucrative for finished films. Using figures from recent sales estimates Independent features could be looking at roughly $25,000 from traditional DVD markets internationally and around $36,000 for broadcast rights. This could increase to a total of $105,000 if the film managed to secure all rights deals – deals that encompass all forms of distribution for a specific period of time (Parkes, Worldwide Sales Projections Per Territory, 2012). These figures would be dependent on finding an international sales agent.
Merchandising – Even though people are currently pirating movies they still buy merchandising. This has become a popular option for independent filmmakers (Kirshner, 2009). This has been used to compliment offering the film for free on the Internet and it has been successful for some filmmakers – Independent film ‘Star Wreck’ has generated $430,000 in merchandising on a film that cost $21,500 to make after offering the film for free (Rajesh, 2009). Just like there are currently websites available to assist in distributing films internationally, there are also websites for merchandising. Sites such as Cafepress.com and zazzle.com can make merchandise on demand, when someone purchases an item they will make it and ship it and you receive a portion of the profits(Kirshner, 2009). This, of course, is a less profitable means of merchandising then if you brought the merchandise in bulk and sold it yourself, but it means little up front investment and little long term responsibility making it an attractive option for Independent features Film to pursue. Merchandising can also act as promotional tool for the film, with anyone wearing a t-shirt essentially becoming a walking billboard (Weiss, 2011).
Summary – Even in this highly competitive marketplace there is still an opportunity for Independent features to be financially successful. By using innovative marketing tactics, including second-tier film festivals and other elements explained throughout the plan, utilizing technological advances in distribution and engaging a foreign sales agent Independent features could create a pathway into the market. By exploring merchandising as another income stream there is further possibility for income.
Abrams, R. (2012, March 16). Distribs focus on niche opportunities. Retrieved August 03, 2012 from Variety: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118051531
Fernandez, J. A. (2011, November 30). Sundance Film Festival Unveils 2012 Competition Lineup. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from The Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/risky-business/sundance-festival-2012-lineup-267587
Kaufman, L. (2011). Sell Your Own Damn Movie! United States of America: Focal Press.
Kirshner, S. (2009). Fans, Friends & Followers. United States: CinemaTechBooks.
Parkes, S. (2012). Film Distribution Primer. United States: Film Specific.
Parkes, S. (2012). The Insdiers Guide to Independent Film Distribution. 2nd Edition. United States of America: Focal Press.
Parkes, S. (2012). Worldwide Sales Projections Per Territory. United States of America: Film Specific.
Rajesh, M. (2009, December 26). Why Indie Directors Give Movies Away Free Online. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from TIME entertainment: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1950005,00.html#ixzz28V8PMvxl
Reiss, J. (2012, June 19). Top 5 Misunderstandings About Self Distribution. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from John Reiss Filmmaker, Author, Strategist: http://jonreiss.com/2012/06/top-5-misunderstandings-about-self-distribution/
Statistics New Zealand. (2012). Screen Industry Survey 2011 National Tables. Statistics New Zealand.
Ulin, J. C. (2010). The Business of Media Distribution. United States of America: Focal Press.
Weiss, E. (2011). 101 Ways to Market and Distribute Your Film. US: Free Focus Publishing.