Now that we are coming the close of our movie project, I want to take a few minutes to share some of the learnings along the way, because there are many!
To start with, I want to talk about independent film distribution, because of all the various steps of this process, distribution has been the biggest mystery of them all. In all honesty, finding the story, raising the funds, assembling the crew, producing the film, and finalizing the edit were all quite easy compared to distribution.
There are certain steps you can take to increase your chances of having a successful independent feature film. Here are four key areas that you need to focus before you shoot your first shot:
1. Name talent: It’s the number one question I was asked when I told distributors that I had a feature film for sale. “Who’s in it?” Name talent is an essential ingredient for financially successful independent films. Is it always the case? No, not always, but if you want to increase your chances of success, then you can instantly move through the clutter of films by casting name talent. Your investment into a well-networked casting director will pay the highest dividends on your project.
2. Strong Story: Second to name talent comes story. Story is so important, so essential. It’s where every film project must start–with a good story. And not just a good story, but a well-structured, well-thought out, fully developed story. There are so many good books out there today on screenwriting. It’s easy to learn good story structure. Everything they talk about becomes so important in filmmaking–act structure, inciting incident, plot points, character arcs, beats, etc. All of it is needed for a good story.
3. Solid Production Quality: You can have name talent and even a good story, but if the production quality is not there, then you leave your audience with an inability to suspend their disbelief. If your audience keeps getting pulled out of the story, then you’ve lost them.
I remember going to see a movie at a theater in a small Texas town. They had forgotten to put on the projector mask that masks out the 35mm print into it’s correct aspect ratio. With nothing masked, I saw boom mics, camera flags, cables, everything. It was terrible. I can’t even remember what the movie was about.
Anything that pulls the viewer out of the story is detrimental to your film’s success. Some of the key areas to focus on that will increase your production value are lighting, acting, camera framing and movement, editing and color, sound design and music.
4. Distribution Plan: Before your first day of shooting, you should have a solid distribution plan in place. And, it needs to be realistic. If you’re thinking your film will be different, your film will be better, your film will break all the rules and be the next Blair Witch Project, then you are setting yourself up to be one of the thousands upon thousands of indie films that never see the light of day. You’ve got to plan. You’ve got to think ahead of time.
We’re in the process of putting together our next film project. Distribution is the number question to be answered before we get started. It will determine what genre we shoot, what script we select, what actors we cast, what locations we scout. Distribution will be the filter through which every decision will be made.
Obviously, there are others steps that can be taken to increase your chances of success, but in my experience on Fissure, these four areas are the foundation of success.