On November 20th, 2012 the Film Collaborative posted an interview that Sheri Candler conducted with Ariel Veneziano of Recreation Media about the sorry state of independent film sales. Here are some excerpts, focusing on the bad news that Ariel Veneziano delivered about indie film sales:
"People go to movie theaters to see independent films much less than they did [even just 5-10 years ago]." In addition, "[h]ome entertainment revenues have been shrinking. DVD is progressively becoming marginal, and while broadcasters are multiplying, the license fees they are paying, especially for independent product, are getting smaller. While VOD and digital distribution are on the rise revenue wise, there is also an overabundance of product being made because of the sudden availability of low cost production methods. Piracy is a threat to revenues. People still watch movies, but they don’t always pay for them."
In short, the business of selling independent films has gotten harder and harder...
What does this mean for indie filmmakers, those who insist on bucking the odds and making a privately-financed film in the hope of getting a distribution deal?
"[Y]ou have to be smarter with the budgets, keep them low."
But, paradoxically, foreign buyers will not make advances unless your indie film has elements that are typically only part of a bigger budget film: They "want to know the film will have a wide domestic theatrical release. Some domestic distributors can promise that like Weinstein, Summit, or if you are an international sales agent who struck a deal with a studio early on to release the film with a minimum 1000 screens, buyers are receptive to that. Cast of course makes a difference. Certain genres like action do very well. Everything related to action travels well. So, adventure, sci fi, thriller, fantasy are all cousins of the action genre and those typically do well."
Any genres that filmmakers should avoid if they want to make a deal overseas?
"Coming of age drama is one of the worst for travel; that and comedy."
What about docs?
"Docs are a little bit different, but it depends on what they are about. If it strikes the right chord with something timely, you find the right broadcaster who is filling their schedule with a thematic type of programming and your doc fits that profile, then boom you have a deal. A small deal probably, but still a deal."
I strongly recommend that prospective indie filmmakers read the entire interview before starting down the road of financing and production. The more you know about the market for films, the more you can plan strategies to pay your investors back (e.g., attach stars and make popular genre pictures, or keep your budget so low that a few paid screenings promoted by a core audiences can allow you to recoup).