The story of getting a film made ........again!

Malcolm Gladwell and Irish Film

Social Media IconsStudies suggest (according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”) that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 20 hours a week for 10 years and he cites many instances where his thesis has proven to be the case. If, (as I do) you accept Gladwell’s idea, then the flip side of the coin says: Do something sporadically, intermittently and on the whole not very often, then you won’t ever be very good at it and possibly even worse than that.

Let’s now look at filmmaking and Gladwell’s idea. Whichever way you raise the funds to make your film, it’s going to take time and effort. You then shoot your low budget opus (with actors no one’s ever heard of, nothing wrong with that, but it hinders distribution possibilities) and spend months, if not years putting the edit together. Now you turn your attention to festivals and attempt to navigate that murky world in search of distribution. After spending a not inconsiderable sum on applications you perhaps attend a handful of festivals where you feel there is maybe a remote chance that a sales agent or distributor will pick up your film. Once you have finished celebrating and read the fine print of the contract you just signed, you’ll begin to realise there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing much money – ever. (Not even enough to pay for your night’s celebration)

Most people who make a first film, never make a second. Reason: Too much effort, too little return, in every sense. And those who do will find gaps between projects of 4, 5 or 6 years or more. Sooner or later you come face to face with this question. “Why do I want to make films”. And the answer should tell whether you’re on a fools errand or not. If you make films because you love this particular process of creation, then you can ignore everything else that came before. But if you make films to a. break into the industry or b. sell your film to finance the making of your next film, then you have chosen a rocky path for yourself and heart ache will follow in it’s wake. That is unless you’re smart.

So is there another way. What is becoming clear now is that indie filmmakers are waking up to the concept of selling their own films themselves to the consumer over the internet. Industry traditionalists have largely scoffed at this idea saying, (not too loudly) what do filmmakers know about selling films. And they’re right, most filmmakers don’t know a lot about selling and in a lot of cases, don’t want to know. It somehow doesn’t sit well with creatives to roll up their sleeves and learn how to hawk their wares.

But it goes back to what you want to get out of filmmaking. I think the numbers from Sundance are something like this. About 3,600 films applied last year, 12 were picked up and I’m pretty sure that some of those deals wouldn’t have had significant money up front and will most likely result in paltry sums at the backend once the distributor adds up all expenses.

Significant names like Ed Burns and Kevin Smith have successfully shunned traditional distribution in favour of  self distribution on the web. While we can learn from these guys, they’re not really a good template because they already had a name in indie film.

Whether there are films out there (and I’m sure there are) from unknown filmmakers returning revenue to the creatives and who knows, perhaps even returning a profit, I have no doubt that this trend will grow and become more and more significant.

But here’s the thing, it’s not going to happen unless indie filmmakers accept that they need to learn a whole new bunch of skills loosely termed as digital marketing. That’s everything from email, social media, seo, Google Adwords and Facebook Ads and so much more. And here’s the upside if you commit to this. One day you could have a business as a filmmaker where all the films you make return their costs with profit and enter the long tail scenario. And if this happens, you are now making one film after the other and quite likely will get very good at it. Now you are truly independent, speaking directly to your audience with no one in between. Sound like a plan? I think so. Let me know what you think.

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  1. First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like
    to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how
    you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
    I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out.
    I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted
    simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

    Many thanks!

  2. Fiachra says:

    Well there’s NO excuse anymore! For the years people now have a chance to make a feature film every month if they wish using digital video. However, there are lots of old mainstream film directors who made dozens and dozens of films yet no-one has heard of them. Alan Dwan is a good example. Just because you can make a film doesn’t mean you should! Sadly, Ireland is not the kind of country that would accept a one-man film industry spitting out feature after feature similar to Rainer Fassbinder did (now THERE’S a director). Go to film school, make a few shorts, apply for IFB loan, make your first feature. That’s a good decade from your life. Then give up exhausted and move into television to make a proper living! That the model about 90% of our filmmakers use so the chance of repeating their work until they finally achieve ‘talent’ will never happen.

  3. Fiachra says:

    You know Smith/Burns are not good filmmakers. Certainly successful but there are lots of more talented low-budget directors out there.

    • Hi Fiachra,

      I don’t dispute what you say, but it kinda misses the point of the post which is, a self sustaining model of filmmaking means more films more often which in turn (according to Gladwell’s theory) leads to better and better films, simply because you are doing it more often. We have seen this to be true time and time again and not just in film.

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