IF there is one constant rule among all Indie filmmakers I’ve ever personally met, it’s that they don’t have a fundamental understanding of how business works. And because they don’t have an understanding of how the movie business in particular works (and often don’t want it – some weird superstition about the very knowledge will kill their “art”), they have no idea when they Are and are Not getting screwed until it’s way too late to do a damn thing about it.
So today I’m going to explain for the n00bs how the movie business works, and believe me, this is a blade thin slice of the biz I’m talking about.
As an illustrative example, I’ll use an Oscar winning A-List Director and an Oscar winning A-List Actor as a point of reference.
Except in special cases where a director or actor or even a movie franchise has a proven track record, the box office take for any given theatrical released film is half the box office in the U.S. If the movie survives 4 weeks at the BO, the theater generally starts taking a slightly bigger cut. Add to that is the fact that every 1000 screens is roughly equal to an additional $10 million dollars in the film reels and shipping to those screens. These are distributor costs and distributors get their money back plus profit – first – before the Money Back meter starts running for the film company. If the distributor also paid for advertising (usually $1 million minimum), then add that in also.*
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese both have their built in audience and for good reason. The problem is, they don’t have a profitable audience for the budgets they demand.
The Scorsese Caprio duo made Gangs of New York for $100 million and it returned $77.8 million. Which is a good return on a movie that cost $30 million.
The Aviator made $102.6 million on a film that cost $110 million. Ouch.
The Departed cost $90 million and brought in $132.4 million. Remember, the film company gets half the box office receipts after distribution costs.
SHUTTER ISLAND cleared around $125 million on an $80 million dollar budget.
Every one of these movies, with the exception of SHUTTER ISLAND, I think were good movies. Every one of these movies were also inordinately long movies that all suffered from scene and story padding.
Read any number of reviews (at least 5 different ones) from whoever you like and you’ll generally come away with the following.
Gangs of New York took 2 hours and 40 minutes to tell a 2 hour story.
The Aviator took 2 hours and 48 minutes to tell a 2 hour story.
The Departed took 2 hours and 30 minutes to tell a 2 hour story.
SHUTTER ISLAND took 2 hours and 18 minutes to tell a 90 minute story.
For the indie film makers reading this? Imagine how much money could have been saved from the budget if Martin Scorsese didn’t insist on having every single DiCaprio movie be a sprawling epic. Especially stories like SHUTTER ISLAND which were never written as epics sprawling or otherwise. SHUTTER ISLAND in both novel and graphic novel was written as a personal human drama that takes place on a very small island.
And this isn’t some half-assed schlub making these movies, this is Martin freaking Scorsese! Now I have no idea who is reading this, but among the thousands of people who do read my website and Facebook and the hundreds of you who may be indie film makers? I’m going to take a wild guess here and say, you sure as shit ain’t no Martin Scorsese! Not even close!
Now that any possible over-indulged – yet unproven ego – is out of the way…
It’s important to bear in mind, when it comes to budget and run time, that if Martin Scorsese can’t pull off a solid profitable movie – 4 straight times in a row – even with the likes of Oscar winning performances by Danial Day Lewis, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, and Leonardo DiCaprio, then maybe you should just pare your own little epic down to a more reasonable cost that matches your talent (and by talent I ain’t just talking about your actors) and keep the time to 90 minutes Or Less! The minutes cost money.
I recently spoke to an Indie film maker who told me they had considered going with Amazon.com to distribute the downloads of their movie, but Amazon wants 50% of the sales price, so they said “Whatta rip-off! No way!”.
This, they felt, was unfair.
HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!
Heh! (wiping the tears of mocking laughter from my eyes) Okay “Mr. Cameron”! I look forward to seeing YOUR business model. Go ahead and pay a fortune to press your own discs, print sleeves, buy cases, and see if you can somehow LUCK into having Best Buy or Target or WalMart sell them off the shelves. See how much Ka-Ching of the profit THEY’LL give you on retail!
Hey! Take your show on the road to Netflix and see what your percent is! HA!
Hey, maybe you should just pay for your own dedicated servers and T1 lines and build the security and payment software yourself and then market your movie up to the point where it will draw as much attention on YOUR site as it would at amazon! Prices at decent hosting sites that can handle the heavy streaming you require, start at a mere, $1,059 a month (that’s without firewall, virus protection or other security. It’s also without a database. You’ll need all of those things).
Yeah, you Gofrit!
*An edit of this originally appeared as my post at Facebook in 2010.
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