Friday, October 31, 2008

Indie Film Financing Now Follows Pulp Formula

From Today's Variety commenting on the upcoming American Film Market:

Banks are also becoming more selective in the projects they take on. Comedies, action, horror and thrillers are easier to finance, but dramas require the involvement of major actors. "All those themes that used to dominate the independent space -- death, suicide, social causes, women's issues -- are tough to get financed. I can't get the presales or have the confidence to cover my gaps," Hutkin says.

Well, duh.

And that's not to say that these dramas are bad films. It's saying that dramas are a much smaller audience than the average moviegoer demographic. If a movie has a huge budget it NEEDS a huge audience. Dramas traditionally don't deliver those numbers.

Answer - make these dramas inexpensively. Make it to fit the audience and their needs and don't try to shoe horn it into mainstream audience wants and needs.

To take this further: One of the largest publishers in the world of romantic fiction (what some have termed "Women's fiction") is Harlequin. They publish many volumes of affordable romance novels every month, and they have even branched out into online romance fiction.

In other words: They make them cheap, relevant to the audience, and in bulk. They don't put all of their financing eggs in one basket, on one book, nor even on just one romantic theme (click the list of their imprints on their web page). They see lots of little niches and inexpensively come in and fill them.

Now imagine applying that strategy to indie movies and TV. Instead of these bloated $100 million indie dramas about sharecroppers in the 1930's, you would get more intimate movies that cost $10M. Because seriously, the cost to shoot a field crop with a camera costs the same whether it's a $100M or a $10M film. You could send two guys out with a camera or you could send ten, and that little image inside the frame would look the same...

And that is all that counts.

This economic downturn is the reality check the Hollywood system has needed. Anyone can make a watchable film at a $100M budget... it takes a genius to produce one for next to nothing. That's when you know whether or not the writer, director, DP and actors (as well as the crew) have the chops and the drive to really entertain you. The $100M film has such a steep hill to climb to make money it's almost a losing proposition from the start - especially so for movies with niche appeal. If it fails, people are out of jobs. The doors close.

But if you make that niche movie for next to nothing and it fails? Well then banks and other lenders don't go out of business. People move on to the next one...and maybe if you're good enough they'll take a chance on you and finance your project.

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