The scenario: You’ve got an amazing script. The dialogue is smart—it wastes no time; the story is powerful and moving, featuring endearingly flawed characters who no one can help but root for all the way up to the heartwarming end.
This script isn’t like Peter Schmidt’s from screenwriting who’s convinced his 30-pager about a depressed guy is the next best thing.
No, your script has vision. It needs to be made.
Hell, you may have even made it already. Maybe it’s not just a script anymore, but a pilot, a proof of concept, or maybe even the entire feature film. Maybe it’s even been screened at a well-respected festival, like Tribeca. You even have representation now, but still… nothing’s really happening.
If any of these scenarios describe your own circumstances, then you’re probably reading this to find out: why aren’t the big guys biting?
Where are the investors? The distributors? The producers?
I’ll take a guess.
I bet you they’re on the Internet doing the same thing that many brands are doing these days: they’re looking for influencers.
Social Media Has Changed Everything
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.—all these channels have turned us all into our very own brands and marketers. For artists, this is actually a very good thing. We now have the opportunity to develop a following without having to rely on managers, labels, distributors, etc. We have all the tools we need to build our very own audiences. But… how many of us are actually taking advantage of that?
Nine times out of ten, I’ll hear indie filmmakers say they’re making their movie to send through the festival circuit. This reflects the underlying reliance on someone else to bring exposure. And back in the day, this made sense. Producers, agents and distributors had much greater responsibility in determining what audiences wanted to see. But now, we have quantitative reflections of engagement and pretty much everyone is making content.
View counts, reactions and shares have taken a lot of pressure off the risky gamble of guessing what an audience wants. Now, industry leaders can forage social channels for budding creators with healthily growing fan-bases.
Bottom line: good content without engagement just isn’t enough anymore.
Wait, but film should be art, not a business!
Okay, sure, you can make that argument if you’re loaded and don’t mind dropping all that money on feeding people, paying people, transporting people, building sets, getting insurance, renting equipment, etc. …with a very slight chance of profit.
Movies are insanely expensive—even on an indie level. Unless people are working for free, it’s extremely difficult to even pull off a polished short film without spending a few thousand.
And then let’s think about the return on investment.
According to research from Market Mogul, only 5% of produced films make money, 15-20% will break even and 65-75% go in the red. These statistics include Hollywood films. And keep in mind, breaking even means you’re grossing at least 2-3x the budget.
Given the odds and stakes, it’s hard to blame industry players for thinking in terms of franchises and existing followings. Producers and financiers only put their money at stake when they think there’s a chance for profit. Today, the best way to weigh these chances is by looking at the hard numbers now widely available through the Internet. It’s for this very same reason that so many franchises are being beaten to death in sequel after sequel. An existing audience translates directly into ticket sales.
But people really will love my story!
Okay, but saying that just isn’t enough. Even having a reader tell their boss that isn’t enough. If people will love your story, you need to have the proof. Put your story out in the world in some way or another—if you can’t do it in the visual medium, write it as a story first, or a graphic novel, or produce it as a radio play. (Tip: Episodic content is better since it has the potential to grow a larger following). Focus more on engaging with the people who will appreciate your story most, and soon enough you’ll be growing your own little following. It’s a long game, but if you stick to it, you’ll be far likelier to hear from the right people who want to help you tell your story in the bigger way you’ve always wanted.
If your goal in the industry is to maintain creative control and helm your own projects, learn to market yourself with social media. A strong following is more valuable today than a screening at the most respected of festivals. Don’t stop at being the writer, the director, or even the producer. Learn to be the marketer, too, and take time to push your stuff (tactfully). Once you’ve proven that an audience exists for your creative endeavors, producers will be coming after you soon enough.