Micro budget movie making is king!
Like some of you reading this post, I had grand dreams of being a Hollywood superstar. It was my aim to direct multi-million dollar movies, and to be placed in the same conversations as my heroes, Spielberg, Coppola and Rodriguez. But as I approached my mid thirties something dawned on me… Micro budget filmmaking is king!
The Hollywood Myth
The myth of “Hollywood” is just that, it’s a myth! It’s a myth that we create for ourselves. It consists of the idea that success (in this business) is solely tied to fame and fortune. I discovered that the real form of filmmaking success, is being able to make great stories no matter the budget, make movies when you want, and still being able to provide a good life for yourself and family. Fame may or may not come. Fortune is really what you consider wealth, and the truest form of freedom is creative expression! Storytelling is what excites me.
Its not always who you know
Despite having a network of mentors, which include Academy and Emmy Award winning legends, I profited nothing from any Hollywood studio, nor have I been given any favorable breaks by anyone, including all the cool people I know! I have actually never made a movie in Hollywood. Yet, most of my titles have seen worldwide distribution, and some have gone on to win awards, and have been placed on the same shelves as major studio movies.
My Filmmaking Icon
If I had to decide which filmmaking example inspires me the most, it would be that of Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola, despite his major successes, has lived a remarkably out-of-the-spotlight career. He forged his own company (American Zoletroph) nearly fifty years ago. He has spent a great deal of his life promoting the talents of others, not only within his family, but other creatives around the world. What’s even more remarkable about Francis Ford Coppola, is that even working outside of the Hollywood system, he has still managed to put out exceptional movies and timeless classics. His career should be a great benchmark for any independent movie maker. It’s certainly something I aim to simulate.
The Changing Market
Let’s face it, the industry that we all once aimed to be a part of has changed over the last thirty years, yet its myth still manages to string many young movie makers along. The demand for high value ancillary properties is through the roof. There are several emerging economies across the globe, such as China, and that market is demanding familiar American brands at rapid rates. It’s also a fact that one major entertainment company now owes nearly 27% of the market share of all new movies being released. I bet you can guess who I’m referring to… It’s mascote has big ears and a tail.
Moreover, the cost of making and marketing entertainment has gone up nearly doubled since the nineteen-nineties. The risk factor is more than tripple what it once was. With so much risk, entertainment Goliath’s like Disney and Sony have staked their futures on the ownership of major brands. Large brands offer more consumer value in other sectors of the business, including franchising, video games, merchandise, travel, toys, and of course sequels. To offset the risk of a movie flopping, studios are betting the farm on brands that have great track records and huge built-in ancillary value. Additionally, Hollywood is also in need of new content that has global appeal. With emerging markets like Asia, film studios need to craft content that can appeal across language and borders.
Hollywood takes less risk
Over the last decade, Hollywood has taken very little risk on fresh ideas. The rate of original (spec) screenplays being purchased by major studios has dropped substantially according to a Los Angeles Times article dated January 19, 2018. And, although there is still hope for budding screenwriters, the heyday for original optioned content has ended.
A New Hope
On the flip-side, Companies like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu have picked up the reigns and have invested substantially into new ideas and storylines. Their business operates in Tonnage. The more titles they have, the more they can charge their subscribers. Plus, these platforms have spend ungodly sums to recruit the best talent to help them win Emmys and Oscars. What’s great about this new system is that even though companies like Amazon and Netflix are going for critically acclaimed prestige, they still have windows of possibility for aspiring new voices in the industry.
For movie makers like you and me, its a wasted effort to go fishing in that big Hollywood studio pond. If you want to make a go at ol Hollywood, you would be better advised to learn law and economics, and try to get a job with a studio finance department. I have several friends and colleagues that have left to pursue a career in Hollywood, and have yet to direct their own films or even have their screenplays produced. Hollywood is great for getting a job, but not making your movies.
Micro Budget Filmmaking is King
Over the last few years I’ve been asked a lot about the $30,000 budget range. I like that number actually more and more each year. It sounds ridiculous to some people, especially people coming from the Hollywood-mindset. They think, “How can you make a movie for $30,000?” Well, I’ve done it, and there would have been very little difference in the outcome of these movies had I made them for $100,000.
I’m learning that the closer you can keep your budgets to zero, the more effective you will be as an entrepreneur. The reason for this is actually very simple. In today’s indie film marketplace there is little difference between people that are making $250,000 movies and those making movies costing $10,000 – $30,000. The buyers are all the same, and everyone’s competing for the same attention on video on demand platforms and broadcast.
The punchline is that you want to try to keep your budgets very, very low. Do not get caught up with the notion that your budget range reflects your talent as a movie maker. Storytelling is a gift. Good stories will find their way to success regardless if they are unionized, or if they were filmed on a DSLR vs a Alexa. Good storytelling outweighs the importance of budget. Now surely budget plays a major factor in your ability to tell certain types of stories within a particular market expectation, but do not be fooled. Practice the art of telling stories with less, so you can become a valuable resource for distributors and other producers looking to hire you.
Don’t wait for Hollywood to knock on your door. Make your own Hollywood!
That’s all for now. Make Movies!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy © Nominated filmmaker who has written directed and produced 6 feature films, dozens of music vides and commercials, and has owned successful media companies in Las Vegas.
Kelly also does one-on-one consulting for filmmakers. Click here for more details.
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