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Hey dude, why does DIY filmmaking suck?

  • Yes Beavis, DIY filmmaking literally does suck.

    Let me tell you about my experience producing Quality of Life.

    Each day, I worked a full-time day job and then put in 4 - 8 hours more on the film at night. I still declared personal bankruptcy during pre-production.

    Then I was fired from my job for focusing on the film too much instead of my work.

    My girlfriend nearly left me since she never saw me.

    My friends stopped returning my calls for fear I'd ask for favors for the film.

    And in the end, the entire "indiewood" film industry basically ignored us. Sundance, the speciality distributors, the major indie film press outlets and of course just about anyone with money couldn't be bothered.

    And that was all before we decided to self-distribute the movie and things really got rough.

    So listen up: DIY filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. It sucks.

« Interview with Film Ireland on ultra-low-budget filmmaking | Main | Crowdsourcing your film with Timo Vuorensola of Star Wreck »

January 29, 2010

Comments

Miles Maker

GOOD stuff! Thanks for thinking of your fellow filmies by layin' this down for us--much appreciated.

Your comments on DVD merchandising and sales is particularly useful and it makes sense--when you have a unique product and there are limited ways to access and consume it DVD sales will remain strong for indie auteurs for years to come, especially when collectible editions boast extras and even tranny content you mentioned as bonus material--reasons to buy if you appreciate the work and support the filmmaker.

There's no better time for guerrilla filmmakers who can produce quality pictures on a modest budget. Your options are plenty with a hybrid distribution model and it's all upside with win-win situations galore. If your break-even is in the $50K range you're bound to see your money back in time + the exposure generates early anticipation of your next feature provided you can harness your audience.

Best wishes with your sci-fi feature, "In-World War."

Miles Maker
A story author, content creator and entrepreneur whose creative ventures encompass three current web/tech sector megatrends: mobile, social, and real-time.
@milesmaker

DJ Bad Vegan

Thanks for the comment Miles. I agree that while the sky is falling on "indiewood" films with six figure and up budgets, there's hope for those of us that can keep our budgets low that we can at least make our money back.

But it won't be easy -- it's going to take more work to activate the audience than necessary to make the film in the first place. Filmmakers have to be prepared for that long haul. That's what we learned from doing this all with Quality of Life.

Best of luck.

David Ellis

Excellent Summary including several things I did not know and didn't even know I didn't know!

Ben Van

Miles-Thanks for all the info. Transmedia sounds like the present and future. Did you use it for Quality of Life?

Juliangough

I'm coming at this from a book background, but... If you're doing a small run of DVDs, design the inlay with some nice blank space (inside or out), and get the star and/or director to sign them. All of them, in the warehouse, before they go out to shops. Maybe make it a numbered edition while you're at it.

People want to make a human connection with the creators of the work, and they like signed copies. Hell, I like signed copies... My last novel came out in paperback, but we also did a run of 1000 hardbacks. I spent a couple of hours in the warehouse with a couple of lovely middle-aged ladies telling me rude jokes and helping me (opening the books to the right page, taking them away), and I signed the whole run. And we sold them all. (Hardbacks aren't supposed to sell these days, for indie novels).

Digital is the future, sure, but while you're still selling physical objects (like DVDs) try to make them unique, and physically connected to the makers in some way... Use their physicality, the fact that they're not a digitally identical copy.

Handprinted graphics on unusual paper are good too (woodcut, linocut), make your DVD stand out as proudly indie, hand crafted. Has to be a good, strong design, though, to work. A band here in Berlin brought out a CD between two blocks of wood, and hand-branded the name on the wood, on every album, with a branding iron. Nice...

Good piece, by the way, enjoyed it.

DJ Bad Vegan

Ben: I think you're referring your question to me, not Miles. We wrote a book about making the film and self-published it. It then got picked up by Soft Skull Press and published for real. The book is still really essential in our sales strategy, since we offer a DVD+Book deal on the Quality of Life website that actually sells fairly often (compared to stand-alone DVD sales). It's not a new story set in the same universe or anything, but it is technically part of the whole experience (includes photos from the film and from the subculture the film is set within).

Julian: You've been reading my business plan for In-World War! That's exactly what I want to do: handcrafted DVDs, posters, etc. Basically, offer artisan products as an attractive alternative to digital downloads.

After all, I consider myself an artisan filmmaker rather than an industry filmmaker. Everything you suggest could have been lifted from the plans we've drawn up.

Either great minds think alike, or we're both doomed.

Benjamin Morgan

Excellent article, Brant. My favorite line: "my soul is for sale and it's priced to move." Werd.

It is possible for artists to make a living doing what they love. But, as you noted, it takes relentless diligence, determination and collaboration. As we learned on QoL, you can't be content with just being an artist. You have to become adept at the business and marketing side as well. Unless you have a trust fund...

It's an exciting time for DIY Filmmaking. It will be interesting to see if/how the industry responds (ala Paramount). Tackling pay inequity for above-the-line would be a good place to start. Not holding my breath (for film, or US Biz in general).

Thanks again for the article. Keep it up!

summershines-dot-com

Kedar Korde

Thank you so much for this article, Brant! After reading this and doing some research, I submitted my film, X's & O's, to Adam at Distribber.com, and it has been accepted by iTunes. This is huge because up until this point, filmmakers were forced to use a revenue syphoning middleman to get their films on iTunes. Filmmakers have been at the mercy of sales agents and distributors for far too long, and with people like you, Brant, providing valuable information and insight, filmmakers have the opportunity to start navigating through the distribution fog. Thanks again!

Bad Vegan

Kedar: that's fantastic. Great work and glad that I could help.

Michael L. Wentz

Freaking great stuff! I loved the post and sent it along to my executive producer. We're putting together two low budget sci-fi features and we've got some crazy ideas, too.

Bottom line: In the new world it's not about making a million dollars, but making one dollar a million times.

Michael Wiese

Thanks for your great energy and sharing these insights. You are spot-on in your observations. To make the indie model work you have to create multiple revenue streams and figure out how to carve up your "body of knowledge" in many different products. The distribution landscape is in constantly flux and so you need to try everything - some of it will work and some won't but having gone through it a few times you'll sort it out. Thanks again! Michael Wiese

Bad Vegan

Thanks Michael, your work and the books have been a huge source of inspiration and knowledge. I even saw you speak many years ago at the film arts foundation in San Francisco. Thanks for everything you've done and do for filmmakers. Glad you enjoyed the post. - Brant

adrian

im thinking of going back to my alma mater making a mumblecore with the students and then going on tour.

awesome post

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