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By Admin | January 24, 2012

Hi everyone. I hope all of you had a wonderful week. Today we’re going to answer more reader questions. Like last week, I’m focusing on questions that will be helpful to independent filmmakers. Of course, if any of you have any questions for me, I will definitely answer them via e-mail, regardless if I answer them here in the column or not.  So, let’s dive into answering three more excellent questions from our bionic readers.

Question 1:

What is the best way for production companies to see a maximum return when their product is a Blair Witch?  Is it outside the Film Market system?

Answer:  What happened to The Blair Witch Project (1999) is highly doubtful to ever happen again, because major studios will never allow an independent film to earn so much money outside of their system again. To further explain this, let me give you my experience with The Blair Witch Project.

In 1999, I took a “meet and greet” meeting with mega-super agent Steve Rabineau. My meeting was delayed by twenty-four hours the first time around. Then, when I was fortunate enough to carve out a bit of Mr. Rabineau’s time, he told me our meeting was delayed because he flew to Florida the day before to sign a few new filmmakers of an incredible little “scary as hell” film called, “The Blair Witch Project.”

When negotiating the sale of The Blair Witch Project to Artisan, Steve Rabineau made a strategic move that became the single greatest “game-changer” in the world of independent films:  The filmmakers’ bonuses were based on “performance bonuses” based on how well the film did at the box office. What that means is that the distributor (Artisan) couldn’t use accounting magic tricks to say the picture never turned a profit. The filmmakers’ bonuses were solely based on the film’s box office returns, as reported in the film trade magazines (Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter). Since the Blair Witch Project needed to hit dauntingly high earnings at box office before any funds were due to the filmmakers, Artisan felt confident that they wouldn’t have to pay any bonuses out to the filmmakers. However, as we all know, The Blair Witch Project” was a huge hit. The film made $140,539,009 at the domestic box office and another $107,760,901 internationally, totaling $248,300,000 worldwide, earning the filmmakers bonuses of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000 each.

The second the studios realized that a little known company like Artisan pocketed more than $100,000,000 off Blair Witch, and the overtly novice, new-kid-on-the-block filmmakers were paid out greater numbers than the studios paid their highest paid Academy Award winning, $200 million dollar budget tent-pole summer blockbuster making directors and producers, the studios decided to never again allow small films to make big money outside of their studio system. From that point on, the studios themselves would buy an independent film that showed potential to be “the next Blair Witch.”

Thus, in answering your original question, the best way for production companies to maximize their return when they have something like The Blair Witch Project is, to create so much heat on your film that a bidding war between studios gets started. Snagging great reviews, getting television interviews, or having the Internet blow-up over your film most often accomplishes the practice of creating heat. Thus, you should budget for a good PR firm to represent your film. While some PR firms are more costly than others, you should expect to pay $2,500 to $8,500 per month for great public relations. Also, the studios will demand for you to sell them worldwide rights, so make sure you add what you may have made overseas to your sale price. Remember, creating a bidding war only works if more than one studio or buyer wants your film. Bidding wars aren’t things you can demand. They are unique situations that happen themselves.

As for film markets being a place to maximize your return, they are only great places to do so if your film is littered with A-list stars. Thus, If your film sports a non-A-List cast, don’t expect film market buyers to offer very much at all.

Question #2:

I am handling the film festival circuit for a short film that has won at almost every festival it has played such as Pusan, Palm Springs, etc. It is an Indonesian film about lost love. It has played in Asia and the US, but Europe just won’t take it! I’m frustrated because I don’t understand the problem. Is there a different approach with European film festivals? Am I missing something, or do they just hate it? 

Answer: Have you ever watched an entire European film and not dozed off, even if only for a few minutes? I can only think of a handful them (most of which were incredible works of art) that didn’t make me sleepy. Now don’t get me wrong, I love European films, but I’m not conditioned to their pacing. European films are far slower than American films. I didn’t say they’re worse, or less professional; I just said they’re slower in pace.  Thus, your short film may be a wonderful cinematic achievement, but its pacing may not jive with European tastes. I highly doubt they hate it, so relax and enjoy your festival run.

Question #3

I’m talking to a few sales agents about my film, but I’m not happy with their offers, so I’m thinking of selling it myself. My producing partner and I want to rent a booth at EFM in Berlin or Cannes and sell our film ourselves. Any advice?

Answer: Of course I have advice, don’t do it! Trying to sell your film yourself to legitimate buyers at a professional film sales market is like trying to do your own heart surgery. Hence, it’ll be damn expensive and it won’t ultimately work. Only fly-by-night, bottom-of-the-barrel buyers who have absolutely no intention of paying will deal with you. Legitimate buyers won’t touch your film with a 10-mile pole, because they don’t know how you are to work with, or if you’ll be able to “deliver” the film professionally and on time. Thus, your best bet is to find a sales agent that you’re comfortable with. Remember, during these economic times, sales agents are being far more picky with the films they sign, so if they are interested in your film, they are pretty sure they can sell it.

Okay, people. That’s what I have for you today. I thank you again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

I can be followed at Twitter @Lonelyseal.

The article image is “Letter and mailbox…” via Shutterstock

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  1. Bwakathaboom says:

    While being the next shaky-cam, found-footage headache inducer might be tempting from a financial standpoint, if your career goal is longevity in the industry I would vote against being “the next Blair Witch / Paranormal Activity”. For all the success of these once-a-decade films they have done nothing to further the careers of those involved. IMDB the directors for profiles in sadness.

  2. shamim Zaidi says:

    Well done.

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