I wrote this article for a Raindance newspetter in 1993 or 94 – I can’t quite remember. It’s based on the teachings of Dov S-S Simens who first came to Raindance and Europe on April 4th 1992. This article has been cloned and copied dozens of times. Here I make my claim to being the first! Maybe you can add to the list using the comments box below.
The film industry is pretty simple to break into, if first, you understand some basic concepts. The basic concepts can be learned pretty quickly, despite what industry moguls tell you.
However, there is some basic bullshit that surrounds the industry that keeps first-timers away from writing, directing, producing or starring in a movie.
1st Lie: Filmmaking Is An Art
If filmmaking was an art, you would go get some film stock, rent a camera, make your ‘art’, and then line up on Piccadilly on a Sunday morning with the other buskers and try to sell your art to a passers-by – or give it away for free for others to enjoy. But we both know that it doesn’t work like that.
To make a movie you need to write cheques–and lots of them. When your movie is finished, you will want to negotiate the best possible deal for the greatest amount of revenue. Therefore, filmmaking could be discussed as writing cheques, negotiating and revenue potential. To me, that sounds like a business. And everything in the British film industry is about business. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you are likely to succeed.
2nd Lie: Filmmaking Is A Filmmaking Industry
The film industry spends more money marketing a film than making it. You have probably heard about the way a distributor ‘opens’, ‘releases’ or ‘markets’ a film. So if it costs so much to, open release, or market a film, then surely the film industry is more concerned with this, than with the actual making of a movie. Technically, in the film industry, the marketing budget is called the P&A budget (prints and advertising). And the two elements of a movie that the industry markets are: Who is in the film, and What is the budget.
When you make your first independent feature film you should know what it costs to strike a print and what ads (print, radio, TV, etc) cost. At the very least You must know this to market your film to distributors at a film festival. But please, always remember that the film industry is a marketing machine that creates perceived values every weekend.
Hint: You’ve made a film. A film has no value. No one pays for a film.
Everyone pays for a movie. When does a film become a movie? The answer is, “when it’s in a cinema”. When it’s in a cinema you see newspaper ads and movie reviews in newspapers.. When you see a newspaper ad you think it’s a movie. It’s in a movie theatre. Are movie theatres free? Answer, “No!” Thus, movies cost money to see. Films you can see for free.
When your film is picked up by a distributor and they put in their “P&A” money, it now has a value of $10. This is the normal cost of buying a ticket at a movie theatre. In America there are 280 Million people and if only 1 out 100 people see the movie this translates into 2.8 million ticket sales times $10 for a GROSS of $28,000,000.
Distributors and Filmmakers don’t see that $28,000,000. That’s what cinema owners collect. Box Office Gross! Did filmmakers see Box Office? Of course not. But the moviegoer has now been taught that your free film is now worth $10. Of the other 99 out of 100 potential ticket buyers what do they do? Probably, at least half of them, when they see the newspaper ads, say “I’ll rent it”. Is it free to rent at Blockbuster. No, that costs money too. When you walk into a video store and see a piece of plastic you know you could buy blank from a stationer for 40 cents, yet now with the wrapper on it it is worth $10-20.
That’s how Hollywood works. Hollywood takes a film that has no value, puts in the newspaper ads and gives it a $10 value knowing that, at the most 1 out of 100 will see it at the theatre. However, the other 99 people thinking it’s worth $10 will now rent it at the video store because it only costs $4. The Film Industry is a film marketing industry, not a filmmaking industry.
3rd Lie: What The Budget Is
Is there any industry that tells you the cost of manufacturing the product you want to buy? Why is it that in the film industry we always seem to know what the budget is? Do you think the film industry really tells you the truth? And if anyone asks you what the budget of YOUR` film is tell them to mind their own business!
There are only 4 budgets in the movie industry (1) the Blockbuster Budget, (2) the Hyphen Budget, (3) the Million Dollar Budget and (4) the Micro Budget.
The Blockbuster Budget is a budget so big that it is marketed as the most expensive film in the history of cinema. The first was Gone With The Wind, the next one, the first million-dollar film was Cleopatra. Films like the Titanic, Waterworld etc are marketed as hugely expensive so we, the punters, will go to see what 100+ million looks like on the screen.
The Hyphen budget is marketed as between 40 and 45 million, as if the anal accounting department cant remember what happened to five million dollars! Can you believe that? It is the budget of a standard Hollywood film, and the actual production costs on a thirty – seventy million-dollar film are at most a few million, with the balance spent on stars and promoting the film.
The Million Dollar Budget is your typical entry-level independent film and the budgets are expressed as: 1.4 mil (sex, lies and videotape) or 800 thou (Lock Stock) 1.1 mil (Shallow Grave) 1.1 mil (Blood Simple) These films don’t usually have stars, and are story driven.
The Micro budget is broken down into three sub categories:
Under a million = low budget
Under 500 thousand = Micro Budget
Under a hundred thousand dollars/euros/pounds = No budget Films like Pi, Blair Witch, Clerks and the brilliant The Following by Raindance alumni Christopher Nolan fall into this category.
The budget of your feature film is going to be one of those 4 budgets. For more information and details on how to make a $1,000,000 Feature Film by spending $200,000 then check out the Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking book offered by Raindance. But stop thinking that you know what the true budget of a film is. The film industry lies!
4th Lie: The Film Industry Makes Deals With Filmmakers
The problem with all filmmakers that what to make a film is that they are perennially attempting to make-a-deal to get the money to make-a-film. This will never happen. You are putting the horse before the cart. You must first make-a-film to make-a-deal. I know this is confusing so allow me to use some numbers to understand the concept, which is “First Make-A-Film to Make-A-Deal”.
If you desire $20,000,000 to make a feature film you must go to one of the 7 major distributors (Warner, Paramount, Sony, Disney, etc). And, all they ask you to do to get their $20,000,000 is to first Make-A-Film with a $2,000,000 budget…that makes money. Because Hollywood (Lie #2) is a film marketing industry and the distributors want to be able to market “From the Producer Of, from the Writer of, From the Star of” on the poster and ads.
Thus, if you want $20,000,000, make a $2,000,000 Feature Film…that makes money. Now, how do you get $2,000,000 to get the $20,000,000? It’s simple. First Make-A-Film! Make a $200,000 feature film that makes money. Are you getting the point? And how do you get $200,000? You first make a $20,000 Feature Film!
First, Make-A-Film! And, if that film makes money…then you’ll make a deal!
For detailed information on how to make your first feature film knowing that you only have access to 20,000 to 200,000 dollars/euros/pounds attend the Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking class at Raindance.
Once again you’re damn’d right !!!
It’s good to see someone who is not afraid to tell the truth about what the movie market is really, instead of flattering the ego of wannabe filmmakers.
Talent and (good)will are – unfortunately – not enough to break into the movie business nowadays. And without a strong promotion and marketing strategy tailored to achieve specific goals, filmmaking turns quite often into deception-making !
Keep on telling the “good word” !
Directeur Général / Managing Director
INSOMNIA World Sales
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75020 Paris France
Tel: +33 1 43 58 08 04
“An article about lies that itself if full of lies. I like it. It’s funny. Ironic. Of course, by ‘lies’, we both mean half-truths and misconceptions. Thanks for sharing yours, Elliot.”
Interesting article. I have some knowledge of the South Asian film industry, and these rules apply bang on over there too. Rule 4 has to be the most interesting, and they have an interesting way of going about it.
The movie is primarily sold on the cast and budget etc, but they go a step further. The actual selling happens after a few of the songs have been produced and the sequences have been shot. That is shown to the distributor and the movie is sold. The rest of the movie is made late.
salve Elliot & Raindance
feedback / comment on ”Hollywoods 4 Biggest Lies” article
“anyone interested in lies and hollywood should also watch
the movie “”F for FAKE from Orson Welles””