We’ve been talking in this blog about distribution versus self-distribution. Well, if after reading several of my posts you’ve decided that self-release equals misery, then what are your other options?

Timothy made a great point in his comments last week. He said, to paraphrase, in this day and age as an indie moviemaker, either you can make your movie for less money or you can make it more marketable. Any other option will result in financial loss. And, actually, I agree with him. So let’s start with the less money question.

At this point, I don’t think you can be a fiscally responsible independent moviemaker unless you make a movie for less than $100,000 (sure there are exceptions, but there are also people every year who win the lottery). But how many of us really want to spend our careers making features for less than $100,000? I know I don’t. And so if you’re like me and want a little more money for your projects, what is your other option? You can make it more marketable. But then, who are you really targeting?

The indie players today:

Tier 1
Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Senator Distribution, Overture Films, The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics

You’ve got the top tier category. With Picturehouse, Warner Independent and Paramount Vantage closing shop, there are really only six distributors remaining that fit this category. These companies have the deepest pockets, and if you’re fortunate enough to have them behind you and your project, you will have the best shot at the movie getting out there. But look at the projects these companies are distributing. Most of them are in the $7.5M to $25M budget range. Not the $1M to $5M range.

Tier 2
Magnolia Pictures, The Samuel Goldywn Company, Lionsgate, IFC Films
These are all great companies, with tons of experience distributing movies. They know all the arthouses and have relationships with all the festivals, exhibitors and media. But they don’t really have the ability, in this market, to offer moviemakers very sizable advances. Really, more often than not, with all of these guys you should expect an advance of less than $100,000. And that may very well be the only money you ever receive for the movie.

Tier 3
Kino International, Zeitgeist Films, Koch Lorber Films, Seventh Art Releasing, a few others
These are the real boutique distributors. From what I know, they will get your movie into some theaters and onto DVD. But, if you’re going with them, it’s for the exposure and definitely not for the money. You probably won’t make very much money (if any) with one of them.

That is the landscape right now as I know and see it. So, once again, where does that leave you, 2009 moviemaker? Well, you can make a movie for $7.5M or more and hope to land one of the six top-tier indie distributors, and you might make your money back. You can make a movie for $100,000 or less and land one of the distributors in the second category and maybe make your money back. Or you can make a movie for between $100,000 and $7.5M and…

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors.