Monday, December 15, 2008

Bloggin Drunk (Again)

Via Bill Cunningham, a rant on the death of the indy film business model. A few things in a row caught my eye.

Begin snark.

  • "Story - a guy trying to make little cheapo guns ‘n boobies sci-fi movies on the ultra cheap - make 3 a year. He got no bites on international distribution at some film market, and sold all domestic rights for $16K. That’s half of what he needed just to break even.
Dude. The plural of anecdote is not data. C'mon -- we make little cheapo guns 'n boobies sci-fi movies on the ultra cheap. 3 a year is what we try to do (we missed this year -- I sorta made two, but really just one). If you got no bites on international then I'm 'fraid to tell you -- your movie really freakin' sucked. Actually, all three of your movies really freakin' sucked. Or your sales rep sucked. Actually, you were able to score $16K for domestic this year (even if that's for all three pictures) and you didn't get any overseas sales at all? Yeah, your rep sucked.

That's like saying "Oh we made a horror movie but never got any distribution." My grandmother could make a horror movie and get distribution. If you couldn't get distribution for your horror movie -- any distribution at all -- then you made a world-class suckkity movie.

Also, don't talk to be about anecdotes which are more than 24 months old. I don't know if this one is or not, but anything longer ago than 24 months is ancient history.

  • "Another story - similar tale of someone who, after all the other fees and cuts and whatnot were done, got $2 per DVD as producer. OK - sold about 5000 units. That’s $10K compensation for making a feature film.

Get over it. That actually sounds pretty good right now. Sell overseas to make up the difference.

  • "True Tale - a big box retailer has out and out STOPPED taking content from indie distributors - if you aren’t coming through the big boys, they don’t want your stuff.

I don't know why he doesn't attribute who the big box retailer is. Is he talking about Blockbuster or Wal Mart? I'm fairly certain he's not talking about Best Buy as we just had a movie in there earlier this year. We only sold a bit over 500 units, but they were on the shelves. Why don't you just say who it is? It's certainly not a secret to anyone selling to the retailers.

  • "-talking to someone involved in movie financing, I said I guess it sounds like you shouldn’t even try if you don’t have $10M. Without even pausing to look up from her salad, she instantly corrected “20 million” before she took a bite. Think about that - it seemed so intrinsically obvious to her that it wasn’t even worth looking up to make eye contact."

And I gotta say, "What on Earth are you spending 10 to 20 million dollars on?" Well, if you're a financier who needs to say the number "20 million" I can assure you of one thing: you don't know the answer.

You'd really have a tough time blowing more than about $150K on 35mm film, developing, camera rental, camera crew, and the cost of a DI or whatever you want in the way of post color correction to get to a release print. But hey, money is no object so let's say:

  • $250,000 Camera, camera crew, color correction, and suchly
OK, but you want to blow up some spaceships and have a horrible purple alien attack your crew in the first act. Oh, and every car every character drives will explode, on a superhighway, in the rain. Twice.

Again, money is no object at all so you throw three million dollars into CGI at one of the smaller, but well - known, effects houses. For $3M they do everything, including sending someone over your house to make you toast every morning and they never ever complain about your camera plates.

  • $3,000,000 CGI
You're going to spend $100K on sound in production and post - production. You're going to need a gaffer, a grip, a swing, and maybe a dedicated dolly grip on a 45-day shoot at a cost of $500/day each.
That's another $100K.
You want the best food you've ever tasted for the shoot, that's another $250K.
You deign to hire a script supervisor and some assistants because you want your shoot to look more like a real movie shoot and have way too many people running around with radios -- another $100K.
Because you have all the money in the world you spend $100 on G&E's equipment because you love how those HMI's look sitting inside the grip truck even when you light your entire picture with Dedo lights and a couple banks of Kino's (did I forget to mention that your gaffer had to be competent, not one of these clowns who takes over an hour to light a closeup?).

  • $650,000 "set operations"
Basically you're spending a million in production and 3 million in post - production (for CGI). What's left?

Actors. Damn actors. You can spend any amount of money from $250,000 through $100,000,000 on them (on a full SAG contract). The costs of an actor include their trailer, their chow-chow's life coach, and whatever else they negotiate. Oh, and if they're on a W-4 then multiply their salary by 1.23 to get an idea of how much it costs with taxes to employ them. Now we want this picture distributed, so let's get a name talent -- a star to show up for 20 days for $5,000,000. That'll include all transportation and what-have-you (which means we offer him $4,000,000).

We'll spend another $450,000 on a bunch of New York actors, paying somewhere between SAG scale and $1000 a day to each of about 20 or 30 of them. That'll include moving them around, housing them in remote locations, and giving them vitamin E shots or whatever.

  • $5,450,000 "talent"

Let's go ahead and spend $200K on picture edit and music. And another $200K on insurance, legal, office, copies, telephones, liquor.

  • $400,000 "back office"
And let's throw a million dollars at the art department and costumes. After all, it is a period piece which takes place on the planet Zyglore 16 where a hundred starships compete in an 18th-Century pod race. They need to build three unique spaceship sets and the part of the city on Zyglore as well as that Paris street from 1744. You plan what you need to shoot and shoot only that. A million dollars will do. Tell the art director to quit whining and pick up a hammer.

  • $1,000,000
So in this model of film financing we're throwing money around like it's going out of style. We're making a big exploitation picture with lots of stuff blowing up and huge set pieces. And still we only barely broke ten million dollars ($10,750,000).

The reason things get so expensive is fear. People who haven't shepherded a feature through to distribution are afraid of all of the tiny things they don't know -- tiny things which each and individually can completely skunk the entire movie and cost a lot of money. You must be able to deliver DM&E tracks. That's an expensive pain-in-the-butt thing to do. And many people just clam up with terror when they hear those things. So fearful producers just throw money at the problem and hope it goes away.

You know why I can't work on other people's movies anymore? I can't keep my mouth shut. I watched once as an "art director" tried to tell an (especially idiotic) director that it was going to cost two thousand dollars to build a pair of walls. I said (and note that I was the sound mixer on the show) "It can't possible cost more than twenty dollars a lineal foot." And don't get me started on most cinematographers.

Once I was told by a producer "You know why nobody listens to you? It's because nobody understands what you're talking about."

Now, admittedly, I come from a somewhat weird background: theater and sound (not in that order). But c'mon. Can't you producers learn? I mean, didn't you learn from your 2nd feature? You didn't?


Oh look -- it won't be 'till tomorrow that the second reel is done rendering and I can begin to work on the sound edit for it.

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