When I wrote the business plan for Justice Is Mind in 2010 it called for certain assumptions based on what I knew at the time was working, or not working, for independent filmmakers. The plan called for actually “renting” theatres for a limited theatrical run and going with a distributor we already had a deal with (and still do if I want to engage it) to get on certain VOD platforms. The dramatic change in distribution and marketing in three years has been unprecedented.
As of today, Justice Is Mind has enjoyed a limited theatrical run of nine theatres with no rental involved (full disclosure, one was fully sponsored). Rather we are actually being compensated on a split arrangement. We proved the point. A truly independent film can have a theatrical run without a distributor involved. As I mentioned to my investors and producers last week, I’m fairly confident that if we had a distributor involved in these theatres, after their expenses, the run would have been a financial loss. It was the exact opposite for us. With a track record of revenue and attendance attached to the film, we can approach theatres with confidence. We are working on additional theatrical dates for Justice and hope to make some announcements shortly.
In 2010 a distributor I had planned to work with on Justice had a revenue sharing system that I could project from. Since then they have retooled their compensation and minutes viewed has now turned to literal pennies. However, another VOD platform I’ve been working with for just over a year has delivered real cash of over $1,000. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or expert in this industry to see the change in distribution revenue models. A couple of posts ago I talked about the amount of “product” coming into the market. I think this is a great thing. Audiences want more films. But distributors are playing catch up. One distributor (with some limited success) who was introduced to me a few months ago said that the days of them just loading up content to the various VOD providers is gone as even their content has to be approved. Obviously this is not the case for all films, but I’ve been hearing similar coming out of various trade interviews.
This change, particularly on the digital front, has created a ton of new platforms eager to fill the gap. Some have raised millions with new technology to get your film in front of the right audiences while others enable you to sell your film directly off your website. But, in my humble opinion, as they have no track records they need to be watched as well. One we worked with on the short film Evidence (Constellation TV) has since closed after all kinds of positive press, which is a shame because I thought they had a great idea. So what’s my point? Sure, I’m all for new technology and trying new things, but I think it’s important to be part of the established landscape as a fail safe as there’s only so many ways to reinvent the wheel.
We know there are no guarantees in this business. The reports from Sundance concluded that while getting your film into that festival is obviously great there’s zero guarantee of a distribution deal. The Hollywood Reporter’s story on Ron Howard’s acclaimed Rush losing over $10 million was particularly eye opening. And how many stories do we need to read that having “A listers” in your film is no guarantee of anything. The New Yorker summed it up “The trick is that no one knows which films are going to be excellent or genre-bending before they are made, or even before they are screened.”
I’ve always viewed business plans as flexible documents. Yes, you have the product you want to produce and you estimate revenue based on understood norms at the time. But by the time you get to market, the market you may have planned to be part of probably will have changed somewhat if not completely. It all comes down to what audiences want to see and how they want to see it. So as I write the business plan for SOS United States, I look at what’s being done presently with Justice Is Mind.
There are a few things I do know and can predict. There’s a lot of wonderful talent on both sides of the camera. They rely on producers to rise above the noise and have their work seen. I believe in discovering new talent. I know from our screenings this is what audiences want. At the end of the day they want a good story.