It’s close to Thanksgiving, but I’m not thankful, I’m distracted. I’m “reworking” the budget for my script “Press>Play” from 3.5 million down to 1 million. “Press>Play,” is an erotic journey of obsession, a drama about manipulation. Paul Beck is a video vulture, exaggerates news stories, edits images and facts to generate entertainment. Vivian DeBeche is an aspiring actress with little talent, playing out roles from old movies. A modern day couple that communicates, emotional and sexually, using a camera and Internet voyeurism as their tools. I wrote the first draft in 1990. At that time it was more science fiction, then slice of life. Check out the website, PressPlayMovie.com.
When talking about new media and unconventional films, I think this project fits the bill. So does the producer at Blue Horseshoe Productions, just not at 3.5 million, not in today’s economy, not if you’re making a non-genre independent film. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories, they’re grim. Seems every day there is another article in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety about the economy taking it’s toll on making independent films. In the Sunday, November 23rd issue of the Los Angeles Times, Rachel Abramowitz writes how as funding gets scarce, filmmakers must become more creative. Last week at the American Film Market (AFM) everyone looked dazed and disappointed. Few people were buying. I guess this talk of how difficult it has become to sell an indie film started with CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax) Mark Gill’s now famous “the sky is falling” speech at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Indiewire still has it posted up on their website. Basically, Gill lists Paramount folding Paramount Vantage, Warner Brothers closing Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse, many other smaller companies laying off employees or closing their doors as just a small sampling of the dying breath of indie film. The glut of films and high costs of advertising are also destroying the business. In a world with too many choices, companies can’t risk the marketing money on most movies. Now, the credit crunch has further squeezed the independent filmmaker. Many banks have just stopped giving money to films.
So what is someone that has a project like my feature, “Press>Play” to do. Well, one of the things Gill believes has hurt independent movies is all the other forms of alternative entertainment that exist today, iPods to Xboxes to Tivos to YouTube videos and excellent cable television shows. Well, isn’t that the Unconventional Media mantra. If we can’t beat them, let’s join them. That’s what makes a film like “Press>Play” so perfect for this day and age. It’s a film that uses these alternatives as part of its story. We will also use this new media to promote and distribute. It just won’t be made in Los Angeles because there are no financial incentives like there are in most of the other States. As I chip away at the budget, I’ve got to make a bunch of compromises, location being one of the first. It’s depressing, but I want to see the film get made.
In the October 30 issue of indiewire, Anthony Kaufman writes about the cash crunch and the difficulty of raising funds, but some producers are still getting movies made, and new financiers have appeared. He believes the real problem is in distribution. There just aren’t as many places to go anymore and the distributors that do still exist are being very careful. That’s what I was seeing at AFM. No risk taking. And why should they, not when it takes a huge publicity and advertising budget, sometimes more then it cost to make the movie, to get seats filled in a theater. Certainly, the distribution strategy can’t be that your film is going to win at Sundance and then get picked up, because even some of the winners are not playing theatrically anymore. Independent distributors are even promoting the idea that getting your feature film on the Internet is better for your film then a theatrical run. Yikes, how can our investors make their money back?
Mark Gill believes “if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.” Thankfully, Stacy Parks offers some more positive solutions through her terrific organization, Film Specific. It is her belief that any budget over 5 million needs a name attached and studio backing, so keep the budget low and hire up and coming actors, terrific, future names. In fact if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be a name by the time your film is completed. I found it interesting that she warns against shooting DV tape because of the difficulty to sell the film overseas. An Independent film has such a slim chance of success without global sales, so this is important information. As indicated in previous posts, I’ve become a huge proponent of the RED camera which I think may change up these odds and still keep the budget low.
Parks also warns against inflated numbers, keep the sales projections realistic. It is very unlikely that your independent film will make millions, so don’t lie to your investors. You just want to show that the film will make a profit. This can be done by finding niche markets on-line and elsewhere. If you want to do the work, you can also self distribute, which has a much better chance of higher return. I’ve been experimenting with this idea recently with my short film, Travelin’ Trains. Searching out the other train websites, fansites, etc and leaving a link to the website for my film. It seems to be working. I think Arin Crumley and Susan Buice did this brilliantly with their Slamdance feature film winner, “Four Eyed Monsters.” They showed the film at festivals, created websites, even edited the film into webisodes for YouTube. Their experience is really a how-to on self distribution, too bad they didn’t make much money.
So I’m now back to reworking the budget. It’s a lot of work. I guess Mark Gill is right, “it’s not enough to have access to the moviemaking process. Talent matters more.” I’ve had great reactions to the screenplay, many envision a good film. Now, if I could only get the damn thing made and seen, it will be worth the 18 years I’ve spent developing the project.