Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's my film worth? The Stones, Nokia, Apple, and Google?

I was observing a twitter conversation the other evening between Indie Film consultant Miles Maker and filmmakers/ radio hosts David Branin and Karen Worden aka Film Courage The subject was the new emerging paradigm in distribution, particularly no-low budget filmmakers and how to set pricing as well as different releasing models.

For those two of you who may not know, Film Courage released their quality film Goodbye Promise. (They were able to raise completion funds on Kickstarter two years ago.) It initially had a one week theatrical run at the downtown Independent Theatre, shunning film festivals, or a traditional distributor. The film, by all means, was very well received and had a few great reviews. They followed up their successful theatrical run with a unique online release in which one can see the film by simply making a minimum 1 or 2 dollar donation Much of the Film Courage thesis has to do with transparency and alternative means of connecting filmmaker and audience.

In the exchange between Maker and Film Courage, Miles pointed out something I thought was very astute. The 1 or 2 dollar min is a very low threshold that may subliminally indicate what releasers of the content think it's worth. Now, it needs to be said the average donation for seeing GP has turned out to be about $8 per. And, it's certainly more than some get on bit torrent sites or youtube (see the film Ink or listen to this interview w/ Gregory Bayne It got me thinking about my own work's distribution and how it coincides much w/ what filmmaker Jon Reiss writes about in Think Outside the Box Office:

As this month comes to a close, I calculate my films have brought in about a car payment's worth of revenue, a sort of pricey car payment like when you put no money down... Roughly, between The Real Casino and Warriors of the Discotheque and an early film that embarrasses me somewhat, (hey, even Kubrick had Fear & Desire:) I took in about $500. Now, that doesn't sound like much in and of itself, but when you consider that The Real Casino came out well over 10 years ago, and still kicks in some decent revenue. The film first came out on a show called Split Screen produced by Indie guru John Pierson for IFC/Bravo back in 1998: longer incarnations came out subsequently on PBS in 2000, French distrib TF 1's 3 disk Special Edition DVD in 2003, and it's own stand alone DVD w/ extras and additional footage from SRS Cinema in 2004. It's also available through a pretty shady distrib called Shorts International. They bought a huge catalog of shorts back in 2003 from Wellspring/ Hypnotic, who did an awesome job of getting my film on pay cable, airplanes, etc. And, lastly a new 2 disk special edition just last summer. I also made the film available online via Amazon VOD. Through all these variations the film to date has brought in about 16K over the years, which isn't bad considering it started as a 7 min short costing about 5 grand. If you add in all the vhs dubs, DVD's, fest submissions, press packets, etc. it comes to more like $7500 or so. Still, it's more than doubled it's money over time, and it's still trickling in.

Warriors of the Discotheque has brought in revenue much quicker, so much so that within a year of the film's release the budget has been recouped and then some. Now every dollar that comes in is pure profit. WotD started as a short back in '09, when it preemed at the USA FF in Dallas I immediately realized that if I'd have put together T-Shirts, posters, and some DVD's I'd have cleaned up. This is something Reiss talks about in his book when discussing Bomb It's preem at Tribeca in '08. He could've made a few easy grand right off the bat had he prepared his merchandising machine immediately. Nonetheless I made a DVD available very quickly thereafter as well as Amazon VOD (AVOD) and within about a year or so I'd made back the budget of 2 grand or so. Of course, this wasn't enough to finance a feature, but thanks to some screen writing money I was able to make the feature length version. When I preemed the feature at the very same USA FF in April of 2011, I was fully prepared w/ my merchandising machine: I had cool T-Shirts made. as well as small posters, CD's of the soundtrack, and some DVD's. In addition, I started selling all these items actually a few days prior to the fest preem, and not long after (less than a few weeks after the fest screening) made the film available on AVOD. In a matter of days, including the event itself, the film sold about $1,800.00 worth of merch. (In just a month or so that amount tripled.) I put together various packages: DVD/T-Shirt $19.95, DVD/T-Shirt/Poster $29.95, or all 4, DVD/T/CD/Poster for 40 bucks... Individually, I'd sell these items for $14.95... After a few months I brought price of the DVD down to about 9.95 sometimes even less as I'd do short specials, i.e. just for this week 7.95 S&H included, etc.

About a year later, just this past spring, I decided to do a full on, packed w/ extras DVD, professionally replicated, in which I did a 1,000 disc run which came out to a very agreeable price per disc. Shortly, there after I signed a deal w/ fantastic Indie distrib. Microcinema International and had another event at the USA FF in Dallas in which we showed the deleted scenes, which we cut to play as a short film. Once again, armed w/ the merch and a deal w/ a great local DVD store called Premiere Video, as well as a pre- order w/ my distrib. sales on my website, I had the cost of the latest DVD release covered in just a month or so. My deal w/ MC is for DVD and digital rights (netflix, itunes, Hulu, etc) I'm able to sell the film still on my web site and I'm able to pursue Cable/ TV. My entertainment attorney happens to have been a buyer/seller/ finalizer of foreign TV/Film sales going to places such as Berlinale, Rotterdam, Venice, Cannes, Mipcom, etc in her former life. She now specializes in intellectual property/ entertainment law, but still has those foreign cable TV connections. Also, the film still hasn't been released on the aforementioned digital platforms. One thing I noticed about the DVD sales: when I offered a more comprehensive product i.e. DVD w/ deleted scenes, commentary, history of MDMA, short version, short out takes, photo galley, and trailers I was able to charge more as a stand alone product. My sales increased when I offered the fully loaded DVD for 14.95 plus another 3.50 S&H vs. the sub $10 version. Also, people were okay paying even more when a T- Shirt or CD was included. The same is true of The Real Casino. I was selling the old DVD for about 6 or 7 bucks online via ebay or my website. When I came out w/ my new longer version w/ new footage, new stills, characters I could now identify 'cause they'd passed away, (the film is about the real wise guys Casino was based on.) I included the new bonus version and called it a 2 disk special edition. I was able to charge over 10 bucks w/o people batting an eye lash. It's been selling pretty well, contributing to my car payment this month:) Actually, my car's paid off so that money's going in my pocket... every month.

What's my take away on all this? Remember the Jimmy Fallon character from Almost Famous, "You have to get what you can get, when you can get it, 'cause if you think Mick Jagger's still gonna be doing this in his fifties, you are sadly mistaken." Well, almost, right? The fact is, people still have a desire for content they can put in their hands, they still want an "experience" whether it be festival or theatrical screening. And speaking of the Stones, I have a friend who made a decent living for a few years selling unofficially, unreleased concert CD's and DVD's from bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zep, and The Stones. In particular, the Stones sold very well because, for reasons that are too lengthy to explain here, they were unable to officially release any live material from 1969-1977, hence the long period between Get Yer Ya Ya's out to Love Ya Live. But, for the serious Stones fan this is the band at their peak w/ sizzling guitarist Mick Taylor and all their best records in this period Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, etc. Some of their best live performances ever: Ladies & Gentlmen- The Rolling Stones from the '72 tour, legendary '72 tour doc Cocksucker Blues, The Brussels Affair- '73, Paris 1976 on DVD all unavailable from normal channels until just recently. People were paying $30, $40, even a $100 or more for these rare DVD's and CD's. These things had value to the hard core fan.

Lastly, just consider the mobile phone and tablet market. At one point, Nokia used to own the cell phone market, then this thing called the iphone came out, then Google's Android phones. Nokia made a great phone, it was very affordable, it was cheap, but it wasn't a smart phone. Back in '07 when the iphone first came out Apple was at $70 per share, Nokia about $40.... Now, Apple's $660 plus, Google $670 and Nokia... $2.76. Think about that for a moment. Yes, Nokia's partnering w/ Microsoft and getting ready to get in the smart phone game for real, but ponder those numbers long and hard when you think about what the value of your film may be worth...


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