Prior to writing First World back in 2006 I would follow the film industry like most of the free world. You would learn about an upcoming film from TV, print or radio and then you would go to the theater and watch the film. From what I can remember most films in the late 70s, 80s and 90s had pretty good attendance in their first few weeks of release. Of course, VHS and DVD added substantially to the coffers and was a welcome lifeline to films that underperformed at the box office.
As I did in publishing over two decades ago, it’s one thing reading a magazine, it’s another learning how that magazine arrived in your hands from an industry point of view. But like that industry’s transition from print to digital, the independent film industry is also going through this same painful process. This article in Variety pretty much summed up the latest Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s one thing when you work in publishing and you’re managing a downturn in paid circulation (thankfully I never had to experience that), it’s entirely another when someone or some company has advanced seven to eight figures to produce a movie and is waiting for a distribution deal to materialize. The magazine has revenue, albeit less, the film has zero. Because there is so much misconception about the independent film industry, let me be clear—just because a film gets into a major film market/festival is no guarantee of distribution. There’s also nothing wrong and everything to gain win self-distribution.
What I firmly believe this all comes down to is budget and marketing. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but there needs to be a reality check on what can seriously be recouped domestically and internationally. It’s no longer about just getting the film produced, it’s about making an effort with a marketing plan to reach a target audience. Marketing takes time. Believe me when I tell you it takes longer to market a film than make it.
I don’t know. Call me old fashion or just a consummate planner. There are some solid lessons to be learned from the magazine industry. I just couldn’t deliver my magazines to our distributor and wait for revenue to roll in, I had to market on a regular basis. I had to bring enough awareness to my magazines to either get a paid subscription or a single copy newsstand buy. This all has to sound familiar if you’re a filmmaker. How do you get people to watch your film or buy it?
Stacey Parks asked in one of her blogs “You Making Money on Amazon?” Every month I get paid from Amazon from my four films running on their platform. Yes, some do much better than others. But there are sales every month. I post three times a week to their respective Facebook pages that auto post to their Twitter accounts and other broadcast functions I have set up. Google Alerts notify me of an interesting article that may warrant a pitch to an editor or, yes, a film financing entity or producer.
This all being said, I strongly believe in the future of independent filmmaking. For me the glass is always half full not half empty. It’s about coming up with a solution to a problem and seeing it through. I always pity the naysayer that says to me, “You can’t do this or that because…” Those are the people you give a wide berth to as you have, a…
Although I wrote a screenplay when I was in grade school (I wonder where that is), First World was my first “professional” effort. Aside from my passion for all things NASA and my love of science fiction, I’m not sure where the initial idea came from. It was in 2006 and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Before I knew it I purchased Final Draft and just started to write. Many months and drafts later First World was born. Great, I finished a screenplay now what do I do with it.
Just because I was living in Los Angeles it didn’t guarantee any more access than if I was living on a remote island. So I started to submit my screenplay to film festivals and by my shock it was being selected. When First World was nominated for Best Screenplay at the California Independent Film Festival in 2007 I figured I was on to something. Did I win? No. But being nominated was good enough for me.
In so many ways I think it’s good to start out in this industry being a bit naïve. But one does learn quickly. Raising money for a feature film was harder than writing an original story, much harder. But I wanted to at least introduce part of the story to develop interest in the concept. So, I condensed the story and produced a 25 minute short film version with my friend Adam Starr. Since First World Adam has been part of all my films.
After the short was produced in 2007 I found myself presenting it at sci-fi conventions around the world. It soon found itself in India as the only film at the inaugural First Ever National Discussion on Science Fiction. As a magazine publisher, I knew distribution and promotion. This was one area of filmmaking that I didn’t shy away from. Suffice to say I was relentless in introducing this project to anyone that would take the time to read what I was pitching. Some paid attention, most didn’t, but those that did just continued to build awareness for the project. In the end First World screened at 21 sci-fi conventions.
Some years later when the VOD world started to emerge an upstart website called hulu was born. Through my distributor IndieFlix I got First World on the site. There was something quite glorious to see First World run on VOD with ad interruptions. Remember, it’s either advertising or a subscription fee that pays for these services. Filmmaking and the VOD platforms are not a free enterprise!
After the hulu run I placed First World on Amazon’s Create Space. It was a relatively new service, but I was all about experimenting. Soon after Amazon ripped First World from our submitted DVD (yup that’s the way they got it on their system in those days). It took about three months but then it happened…my first payment from Amazon. Every month since I’ve been paid something from Amazon Create Space for First World.
But then something else happened in 2016—Amazon announced Amazon Video Direct. Short of it, filmmakers could now take advantage of the same system that distributors did. All we had to do was enter the required data, upload poster, film, trailer, closed caption file and presto we are worldwide across all of Amazon’s platforms. It took quite a bit of doing, but I was able to render a large enough file for First World.
First World has been on Amazon Video Direct for a year and has generated 464, 172 viewed minutes—translation this short film from 2007 has been watched over 17,000 times in the past year.
Since First World I have gone on to write, produce and direct three other films – Evidence, Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program—all of which are on Amazon Video Direct. But like this article that recently ran about Amazon Studios, I also believe in theatrical distribution. While VOD is a godsend to filmmakers, a theatrical release showcases a film.
Am I still waiting to turn First World into a feature? Yes. But as Evidence brought forth my first feature film with Justice Is Mind, time will tell if that happens with First World and Serpentine. The entertainment industry teaches us patience and that it is ever changing and sometimes volatile. But there is one thing that this industry looks to when considering a project…