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By Hammad Zaidi | February 11, 2014

Greetings from Berlin, and welcome to Going Bionic, #198! While this time of year, I’m usually bitching about how cold it is, how much snow I have to endure, and how dangerous the iced sidewalks here in Berlin are, that simply isn’t the case this year. In fact, not only is Berlin void of snow, but also it is actually warmer here than it was in NYC/NJ last week when I was on my annual birthday trip to the Super Bowl. To be fair, the weather on Super Bowl Sunday was an unseasonably warm 49 degrees at kickoff, so I can’t really bitch about that either. What I can bitch about are the changes that have emerged at the Berlin Film Festival/European Film Market. Then again, I’m not really “bitching,” I’m reporting, and these changes weren’t unexpected; they are merely just the next step in the ever-changing world of film distribution. So, without further ado, let’s examine a handful of changes here in Berlin that affect the indie landscape.

More Countries, Less Private Companies
The single most alarming/disappointing/telling/revealing thing here at the European Film Market is the exorbitant number of sales booths hosted by countries, not private companies. What this means is the money made on indie films has dried up so incredibly much over the last few years, that most independent companies can’t afford to have a sales booth at markets any longer. That’s why most of the booths here are paid for and/or at least subsidized by the country in which the sales company is from. Unfortunately for my company, Lonely Seal Releasing, and the other American-based companies here, The United States doesn’t subsidize any part of us being here.

So, the “good news” is…
Since it seems as though half of the globe is represented here, such representation brings millions of dollars of development and production funds. Thus, filmmakers who are interested in co-production opportunities would almost certainly enhance their Rolodex here in Berlin. Remember, these days, the world actually is your oyster, and so it is quite feasible to get motion picture financing from various countries on continents. All you have to do is take the first step, and start asking around to see who wants to join you on the journey to get your film made.

Side Note: For you younger filmmakers, a “Rolodex” is an old school name for the “contacts” saved on your smartphone.

Platform For Announcing A-list Packages
Over the last few days, the “breaking news” here at the European Film Market has centered on studio films that have had their rights acquired, and announcing what company was handling international pre-sales. Such announcements are meant to hype the film, so international distributors and will be willing to buy the picture for their country. The interesting thing here is that these films are not made, they are just packages looking for completion funding. However, Berlin has emerged as a key platform for studio films looking for international media attention. Simply put, the more attention you get, the more investment money you can generate.

Platform For Showcasing A-List Completed Films
Much like the A-list packages, many completed films with budgets north of $20 million are also being showcased here. While some of these films are “official selections” of the Berlin Film Festival, others are only at the European Film Market looking to garner international sales. In other words, EFM is quickly morphing from a film market that showcases independent cinema, to one that highlights “star-driven, healthy budgeted” independent cinema. With the value of small independent films hovering below the cost of a coach airline ticket to fly to Berlin, it’s only natural that EFM would focus on supporting much larger productions.

Small Genre Films Are Finding ‘Suitable’ Homes
While the value of indie films has divided instead of multiply, well-made genre films are still finding “suitable” homes. By “genre,” I mean action films, some thrillers, sci-fi and family entertainment. By “suitable homes,” I mean these types of films are finding distributors who are paying decent amounts of money, but certainly not enough money to retire on.

For example, a well-made $200,000 genre film can expect to make $250,000-$400,000 back within 12-18 months after its completion. That’s a 25%-100% profit, which is far greater than almost every investment out there. Of course, film investment is risky as hell, and in the great scheme of things, far more money will be lost than made. However, if you are smart with your genre, and if your budget is snare drum tight, you can still make a mint on smaller productions.

Okay, filmmakers. That’s what I have for you today. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I’d be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday, when I’m back in sunny Southern California. Until then, have a wonderful Valentines Day! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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