Sure, you’ve lost all your friends and gone
through hell and credit card high water to make the film you’ve
envisioned. It’s been extremly difficult to get this far,
and your feelings as a filmmaker are pretty much that you have
delivered. In spades! But from a distributor’s point of view,
you’re only halfway there. This is where your $30,000 budget
starts to balloon dramatically. You remind yourself, though, that
you’re lucky to be in a position like this. Man, you’ve
got a distributor who wants your movie! This is where your vision
takes its first real step toward the marketplace, right? Maybe
– but hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. When I started
Courting Courtney, I had visions of a roughcut being seen at the
IFFM as a work-in-progress and quickly being snatched up by Miramax.
It worked for Ed Burns and Kevin Smith, after all. I figured Miramax
would likely front me the money needed to get my negative cut and
a print made. But I left the market with little more than a pocket
full of business cards from people who liked my trailer, but needed
to see the finished product.
My $28,000 was enough to shoot and edit the film
because I could show people a finished movie on video. I’d
thought, in some adrenal filmmaker’s high, that my feature
would be the Next Big Success Story; that my next real problem
would be what to wear on Conan O’Brien.
But no, not so fast. At this point you need to really
hunker down, first-time featuremaker. Because in most cases…if
a company is interested in buying or being the sales rep for your
movie, the contract probably has an appendix that has the heading.
Delivery of Items.
Some of these items are not a problem at all. Like
a full list of the film’s credits. Or a copy of the script,
or a biography of the director. All these are pretty much cost
free. You’ll need a copyright on the film and the screenplay
at a mere $20 a pop. This, along with all the copies you’ll
need to make will cost a total of around: $50 to $100.
Not bad, not bad at all! At first, this whole delivery
thing appears to be a snap! But further down the list you come
to the “access letter” – and this is where things start
to get complicated. Because in order to have an access letter,
you need to have something to give access to. Your no-budget film
is about to double its budget. More and more lower-budget moviemakers
are finishing their projects on video (I did, with much help from
the kind people of Lightworks and Christy’s Editorial). They’ll
submit these tapes to buyers and film festivals without really
considering what it takes to eventually screen a film print. The
first set of delivery items I’ll go over are the ones you’ll
need to just get your film from the edit room to a film festival
Delivering to Festivals.
Even if you haven’t gotten a distributor yet,
you’ll need a print to take to the festivals. Festivals, of
course, are a great way to drum up interest in you and your movie,
if you’re lucky enough to get invited. However, even they
are far from fool proof, as I attended a total of eight and never
got signed by a distributor despite high attendance (sold out screenings
in Rotterdam) rave reviews (voted Festival Favorite in Palm Springs),
and awards (Spirit of Independent Film Award in Fort Lauderdale).
A great many of the films I saw at these festivals are still in
search of distributors. And make no mistake about it, they were
very good films made by some extremely talented people. But indie
moviemaking these days is a heavily competitive marketplace. The
elements you’ll need to have a shot at selling your film or
even getting it seen at festivals are:
Original Cut Negative.
Having your negative conformed to your video cut
can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. And that’s assuming
that your film is shot in 35mm. Not that all sales are contingent
on having a cut negative…or that it be 35mm. But many do. Plan
on spending $6,000 to $10,000. If you shot your film in 16mm expecting
that to be a big savings, this is the step where your savings may
fly out the window, because many distributors require a 35mm negative,
and you’ll be forced to create a blow-up, which will cost
from $12,000 to $40,000 dollars. Ouch.
You’re figuring that you’ve got this. But
what you don’t realize is that you’ve got to have a fully
mixed soundtrack. Complete with an M&E (more on that later).
The mixing process is costly, but don’t skimp on it, as a
lousy soundtrack takes a serious toll on the overall feel of your
film. You’ve come too far now to skimp. Also, you should mix
to a film print to catch any drifts in sync. Again, it costs more,
but if you go through a whole mix and answer print only to discover
drift in a reel, your savings go out the window with a lead weight
attached. A conservative guess of a mixing budget would be: $7,000
to $15,000. As I mentioned, the sound of a film is key. If you’re
dealing with a dialogue-driven film, as I was, you may not have
to license a stereo system. But if your film is more action oriented,
I’d advise you to do it. There are basically two ways to go
with this, and both estimates are scary for lower budget filmmakers
– ULTRA STERO – $2,500; DOLBY STEREO – $2,500 – $9,000. (continued)
Optical Soundtrack Negative.
Your soundtrack must be shot onto optical negative
so it can be married to the print for projection. This can cost
anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.
Assuming you’ve got all of the above, each print
will cost approximatly $2,000.
So these are the elements you’ll need to get
as far as the festivals. They’re also key deliverable elements
that you will need once sales are made. But there’s more.
These are the additional elements you’ll find on most delivery
lists you’ll be expected to fulfill:
Low Contrast Print.
Many distributors will require this element. It is
used primarily to create a video transfer. Even though you must
deliver a transfer, a “lo-con” may also be needed in
the event another transfer needs to be created to satisfy finicky
territories such as Germany. Add another $3,000.
Textless Soundtrack In/Ip.
Remember those credits that cost so much to have
run over picture at the head and tail of the film? The establishing
statements that run under scenes like “FIVE MINUTES LATER” or “TUESDAY”?
Well…they’re gonna cost even more. Because as your film
was shot in English, it will be shown in other countries where
the credits will have to be redone in the local tongue. In order
for this to be done they will need a textless background. The cost
for this can vary from zero to untold amounts. Avoid doing titles
over picture at all costs! Sure, the makers of SEVEN had some neat
credits. But you’re trying to keep your budget low. If the
film’s story doesn’t rock, all the fancy credits in the
world can’t help you. Keep it simple. White letters on a black
background. It’s good enough for Woody Allen, so it’s
good enough for you. If you do decide that you simply must have
those credits over picture, that there is no creative way around
it (shame on you), then expect to pay in the ballpark of: $3,000
to $5,000 more.
This is showbiz code for Music and Effects Tracks.
Sounds harmless at first, until you realize that each and every
sound effect that appears in your production track (i.e. a door
closing, a car crash, a pin dropping…) must appear on your effects
track. This track is used if and when your film is ever dubbed
into another language, so that when a character – while speaking
the local tongue – closes a door, it’s not in silence. You
may have to add sounds that you never caught on location, such
as footsteps and the sounds of papers on a desk…this is called
the “foley” process and it’s time and money-consuming.
This, along with a sound FX editor (and their Pro-tools set-up)
at your indie filmmaker discount (and provided you’ve made
a primarily dialogue-driven film) may cost another $5,000 to $10,000.
Music Cue Sheet.
This is a simple listing of all the music cues, song
names and durations, publishers, and artists (if other than your
composer) used in your film. It’s necessary for when the film
is eventually (cross your fingers!) aired on television, as many
broadcasters have licensing deals with music publishers such as
ASCAP and BMI. That’s right, the composer may make money from
the film before you do! The music cue sheet is something that in
most cases your composer/music supervisor can put together for
you at no cost…but that’s something you should check with
them on first! Make sure that you have all rights to your music
before you mix it into your film – Don’t mix in the Rolling
Stones and figure your distributor will foot the bill later…this
is not going to happen. There are short term “festival licenses,” but
I urge you not to fall into this trap. Once the music is mixed
into your film, you have to do a totally new mix if you can’t
get the rights. If you can’t afford it now, you can’t
afford it later.
You will need to create (and since many films never
receive a theatrical release, this is how most people will see
your film so this is really important) a DIGIBETA NTSC and PAL
This is not a one light transfer, but a time-consuming,
scene-to-scene (sometimes frame-to-frame) color-corrected transfer
with the sound taken from your print master. You will also need
to have additional tracks for the M&E on this tape. It’s
a good idea to do this with your original DP as he/she will be
a tremendous help in saving time and making the film look as good
as it can. Approximate cost: $5,000 to $20,000.
Most companies will not require a trailer, as they
prefer to create one on their own (Of course, you’ll get the
bill for it later) to conform with their marketing views. You are
better off creating your own trailer (so long as you do not have
to finish on film – this is too much additional expense). No one
knows your film like you do. This is your chance to sell it to
the masses; to put the film’s best foot forward. Assuming
that you do finish on video and not film, the estimated cost of
this with an off-line edit system (you can do a decent on-line
edit on an AVID 8000) and library music (usually licensable for
$300 a cue) will cost you approximately a thousand dollars.
Publicity Stills (B&W and Color).
This is a biggie, and perhaps the most overlooked
delivery item of all. I cannot stress the importance of having
good stills. In the end, these stills will be the first impression
most people will have of your film, whether it is how they are
incorporated into your poster, or their inclusion in film festival
books. Make sure that your on-set photographer understands exactly
what you will need. I had an on-set photographer who took hundred
of unusable photographs. In the end I had to set up a “special
shoot” for my stills with my lead actors, who were supportive
and patient enough to come back a year after the film was shot
to do the stills shoot.
Make sure the photographer gets not only shots of
the scenes, but singles of each of the main cast, including photos
STAGED simply for publicity purposes. Also make sure you get “behind
the scenes” photos of the crew, especially the director.
The original photos should be taken in the form of
slides. Provided you’re not paying the photographer, the costs
will run approximatly $500 to $700.
You will need this, perhaps even before the film
is finished. The best way to promote your film is with a poster.
You can reduce it to a postcard, which makes for a good means of
promoting by mail. If you take your film to festivals the poster
is a great way to build awareness of your film. And at a festival
that may be showing 100 or more films, awareness-building is key
to attracting a crowd to your screening. You don’t want to
be at a film festival and not draw a crowd. Film festivals are
the single best place for you to generate “buzz” – and
that’s not happening without a crowd. Plus, many distributors
will request (but usually not require) a poster.With today’s
computer programs and scanners available you may be able to do
the poster cheap. But in the even at that, and without paying an
artist, scanning (get the high-res drum scan), printing and other
assorted costs will still put this at approximately $300. Add another
$300 if you print postcards for a total of $600 – to one thousand
As with the M&E track, this will be necessary
for translating your film into other languages. This isn’t
a copy of your script, it’s a word for word transcription
of the dialogue in your film in its final form. Needless to say,
you can do this on your own (making sure to prepare it in the acceptable
format). But a service will charge you approximately $300.
If nothing has scared you up to this point, this
one will. This policy will cost you in the neighborhood of $6,000
to $10,000. I guess what’s most hurtful, like with any insurance
policy, is that it’s a lot of money for esentially nothing
tangible. Along with this you will need to run a “title report” and
a “copyright check” at approximately $850.
An MPAA Rating.
This one isn’t always necessary – I didn’t
get one, at least not yet. But some will require it, especially
if your film dabbles in sex, violence, and drugs, because these
are the things that get people nervous. And when they get nervous,
they need some sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Hence,
the MPAA. This will set you back another $3,500.
These are necessary elements if your film is going
do a theatrical run, as you will not want to be striking multiple
prints from your original negative. Also, it’s a good way
to insure your negative. Keep the IN/IP at a different location
than your negative. This can cost you $20,000, although like so
many other prices, it’s based on your lab deal and the footage
of your film.
LOW TOTAL: $75,000HIGH TOTAL: $170,000
Never forget that this is a business like any other.
Every deal is different (and make sure every deal is first looked
over by a knowledgeable lawyer of yours – Distributors love using
the term “standard” as if it means “written in stone” –
and there simply is no such thing). Be sure to approach your assorted
vendors for price cuts, deals, even a scenario where you might
be able to work off some of the costs. Just be clear on what kind
of work you’ll be expected to do. You may scoff at many of
the prices I’ve quoted here and think that’s just what
the BIG BOYS pay. They’re not. These are rough ballpark prices
I’ve compiled from my efforts and those of several other micro-budget
moviemaker friends. You may be able to work out a deal with your
distributor/sales agent where they pay for some elements. But keep
in mind that this will be considered “completion funds” and
they will then become a part owner of your film. This will entitle
them to not only their sales costs and fees, but a percentage of
the film’s profits. You’re in a far better position coming
to the marketplace prepared to make a sale.
Beware: Don’t ignore this information! A lot
of first-time filmmakers are eager and think that they’ll
work out all the deals later. They think their film is different
from all the rest and will therefore rise to the top and be plucked
off and ushered into the inner sanctum of the studios.
It’s not that easy. Film festivals are becoming
more and more difficult to get into. Distrbutors have no reason
to give filmmakers the deal of the century. If you want to make
a sale, you’ll be expected to deliver. If you can’t,
the sale may go south. Creating these deliverables does not guarantee
a sale. But it is the first step to making one possible.
Are you still with me!? Good! This article is meant
to be a help to fellow filmmakers, it isn’t meant to scare
you from following your passion. I’ve often said that making
my film was a matter of tossing aside all reason and going into
the storm. An ignorance is bliss sort of thing. But that attitude
will only get you so far. Best of luck to you all! MM
Check out Courting Courtney, starring Dana Gould,
Eliza Coyle, Kathy Griffin, Sean Masterson, Taylor Negron and
Ryan Stiles. Written, produced and directed by Paul Tarantino.
Produced by Serge Rodnunsky. Released by Broken Twig Productions
home video; available in Blockbuster and other outlets around