Gatekeepers: Who Holds the Power to Get Your Film Made (and in Front of an Audience)?

You sometime hear people claiming that their ideas for a film would easily make hundreds of millions of dollars if only they could get past the gatekeepers of the film industry and finally find the finance to produce their films and/or to get them in front of a mainstream audience. Let us get past the fact that ideas need to be first developed into screenplays, that the screenplay needs to attract creatives and financiers, that these people need to actually produce a film, a film that distributors will be comfortable marketing to the ‘mainstream audience and that predicting what a wide audience wants to see can be almost considered to be a supernatural power, and let us concentrate on the gatekeepers. Who are they?

If you are interested in gaining a better understanding of the Business side of the Film Industry, I recommend to invest some of your time (roughly (6 x 3hrs) in the FutureLearn free online course The Business of Film, created by The Open University in association with Pinewood Pictures. This course written by Richard Miller and Gerard O’Malley ended in November 2015 but it still available to browse (without partaking in the discussions). “Using the value chain concept and important independent film case studies, the course provides a practical and in-depth exploration of the key business decisions.Why do films fail? Why are intellectual property and copyright important? Why do films get public funding? What is the relationship between marketing, box office returns and overall film success?” and more.

In its first week the course asks the question: Who holds the power? Who has the power of making things happen? The ‘things’ here are getting your movie made, getting it front of an audience and remunerating everyone along the way from development to exploitation. Meet the The Triangle of Power (by Richard Miller) which splits this power between Talent, Distribution and Money.

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Let us be frank and let us start with money. Money is what most of the parties involved are interested in, business is business and we all need a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, at least. You will need money to develop your ideas, to produce them and to market the finished product to an audience. Making films is not exactly cheap. If you have that kind of money in your pocket and you are not quite sure what to do with it, call me. The reality, however, is that to convince anyone to part with their money will need the right incentives, those incentives being, most of the time, more money at the end of the venture. Private equity investors, banks and governments all hope to see a return on the money they send your way (this return could be simply cultural or driven by vanity but money could as well be easily hidden behind those two). So, the money holders will need to be promised more money to ‘give’ you some money. Where will that future money come from? It will come from the distributors.

Distribution is the ability of getting a movie in front of an audience. The audience needs to know your movie even exists, that calls for some form of marketing to occur. The movie needs to be delivered to the audience, the theatres, the computers, the televisions and more, and for that it needs to be mastered, converted, transported, stored, etc. All of this will require the distributors to spend some money (here it is again) and therefore carries a financial risk. The distributors might have access to the ‘channels’, but this does not mean that exploiting those channels comes free of charge. What could make these distributors more comfortable with investing in your movie? Talent.

Quoting from the course, “by ‘talent’ we don’t mean people that are talented, we mean people who are recognised as talented, i.e. have some kind of star power.” Whether it is a famous actress or actor, a famous director or a famous writer, if some kind of a name is attached to the film it is more likely to attract a wider audience. Audience are more inclined to go and see a name they already know and this makes the distributors less nervous (and therefore the money holders more tempted). The question you might ask is how can I get a name talent to embark on my project? Should I crash VIP parties? Should I go on a mission to their mansion? Should I stalk them around town? Should I send them my script with a bow an arrow? Probably not. Talents have representatives that will filter the madness for them, agents, managers and lawyers. Those are the channels you should attempt to exploit. Your own lawyer, manager or agent could assist you in these search. For on-screen talents, you might even try to go through a casting director, but all of it will depend on your reputation.

Reputation is the key, and there are no shortcuts (that I know of) about it. Financiers will look at your financial reputation, distributors will assess the reputation of your creative package, talents will assess your reputation to deliver on creative (and financial) promises. It is that same reputation (central to the triangle of power) that the audience will rely on in judging your project and its talents. Sometimes, it will rely on the reputation of source material (adaptations, franchises, biopics). Building yourself a reputation, step by step, is key for all the parties involved. Where does reputation starts from? The key word here is trust.

You got to be trustworthy. It will start one connection at the time. If you say you are going to do it, you do it and deliver.  Be mindful of the scale of your project. Does it fit your genre? It is appropriate to the audience you might be expected to reach? In the 21st century production and distributions costs have been redefined, and so have the words financing and distribution. Equipment and some distribution channels have become more accessible and crowdsourcing has become a solid reality.  What is available to you will define your budget and the kind of talents you can attract and therefore will set the scale of your project in the first place.

What is important to remember is that you are probably not the only person needing to build a reputation. There are other people with the same need, together you can invest your time and the little funds you can gather to produce a ‘small’ project and get it to a limited audience. Hopefully, that first step will improve your reputation and more people will start to trust you. Maybe, you will gain access to wider channels of distribution, people will be tempted to invest in your projects and more valuable talents will want to work with you. Start where you can, finish what you start and hold your promises. Then, scale up and repeat.

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