When I talk to filmmakers, way  too often I have a version of the following conversation:

Sam Mestman (MM): What’s your movie about?

Filmmaker (FM): Well, it’s a love story. Sort of a When Harry Met Sally meets Casablanca.

MM: What’s your demographic? Have you thought at all about what type of person will want to pay for your movie?

FM: Yeah! Anyone who loves great independent movies.

MM: Can you be more specific?

FM: Well, my friends and family, obviously, and everyone in my home town in (insert random state) knows about it.

MM: What’s your distribution plan?

FM: We’re gearing up for the festival circuit. Going to try and get our film into Sundance and hopefully a distributor will pick it up. We’d love to get a theatrical release, and then probably move on to DVD, iTunes, and Netflix.

MM: What’s your distribution budget?

FM: What?

MM: You know, how much money do you have to pay a publicist, do internet marketing, or anything else necessary to separate yourself from the other movies that will have much bigger budgets than yours?

FM: We put all of our money into making the film. But we’ve got a Facebook page up, now, and I have a cousin who’s going to help us with our website. We really feel like the film doesn’t need all of that. It’s good enough on its own.

MM: Who did you cast?

FM: We actually have a really great cast. A couple of our actors have really big movies coming up. And you remember that guy from “Growing Pains”? And that girl from “Saved by the Bell”? They’re in it, too, and they’re amazing.

MM: That’s great. How much can those guys get you on the foreign side? What territories are they popular in?

FM: I don’t know. I think the distributor is going to figure all that out.

MM: Have you ever had a distributor pick up one of your movies before?

FM: Well, no.

MM: Have any of your films had a theatrical release before?

FM: No.

MM: What percentage do you think film festivals pay you for selling out a screening at their festival?

FM: They don’t really pay you anything, right?

MM: What percentage of the 5,000 or so films submitted annually to Sundance actually get in? And how many of those actually get distribution?

FM: Well, I know the odds are against us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There are a lot of bad movies out there. Ours is really good. I met with a sales agent last week who loved our film and says he can get it into the hands of all the major distributors.

MM: What is the sales agent’s fee?

FM: Well, he’s charging $7,000, but that’s full service, and they guarantee a distributor will take the film or I get my money back.

MM: Oh, I’m sure some distributor will make you an offer. Speaking of which, did the agent give you a firm advance guarantee figure from that distributor?

FM: Well, no.

MM: Do you realize that most deals from distributors these days don’t pay an advance, and generally don’t return a single dime for your investors once the distributors’ marketing expenses and deliverable costs get deducted? Do you realize you’ll probably be paying $7,000 for the right to get your movie distributed to places that you can already distribute to yourself? And did you know that now you’ve more or less guaranteed most of your distribution proceeds won’t go to your investors?

FM: Sounds like you’re really bitter, man. I’m sorry if something like that happened to you, but it won’t happen to me.

MM: Did you get your E&O insurance and finish your closed captioning, M&E track, HDCam SR master, DCP file, dialogue lists, and key art?

FM: Wait, what? What’s all that stuff? Is it expensive? Can I make it myself?

So, what’s the lesson here? First off, the filmmaker in the conversation above used to be me. I’m not him anymore, but since I evolved, it appears I’ve been cloned a few thousand times, given different heads, and been placed on independent film sets everywhere. My clones are a danger to themselves and independent film investors everywhere. They have just the right combination of naïveté, hustle, arrogance, stubbornness, and inexperience to lose every single cent an investor gives them for their first feature. And If you would give a similar answer to any of the filmmaker responses above, it’s time for you to start doing some research. Here are a couple things to check out to get you started:

First off, check out the We Make Movies website.

Next, peruse these resources:

Distribution resources: http://www.wemakemovies.org/resources-2/distribution-resources/
Production resources: http://www.wemakemovies.org/resources-2/production-resources/
Post Resources: http://www.wemakemovies.org/resources-2/post-production/

When you’re done, you might want to scroll through these articles:

Screening formats round-up: http://www.wemakemovies.org/resources-2/post-production/screening-formats-2/
Film Sales Agents & Producer Reps: What’s the difference and Why Should I Care? http://distribution.la/sales.html
Producer Reps: Good Lobbyists or Used Car Salesmen? http://distribution.la/reps.html
Why Film Festivals Suck and How To Make Them Better: http://www.wemakemovies.org/2011/02/why-film-festivals-suck-and-how-to-make-them-better/

And, by the way, if you want to meet a group of people who want to hustle and make movies cool again, you should come hang out with with us. Check out www.wemakemovies.org, and come get involved! MM