An Indie (Independent) Film Producer's Foray in the World of Film Distribution

So I attended #Cannes2015 in beautiful Nice, France, in May 2015 (my first time there).

I also attended the #AmericanFilmMarket (#AFM) in Santa Monica, in November 2015 (my 2nd time there).

But first, a little bit about me.

So I'm a techie and a marketer. I spent 20 years at General Motors (leading technology and procurement activities) so you can pretty much conclude that a creative "right brainy type" I'm not!

I began exercising my "right brain" when I launched Jenesys Group, a web marketing firm back in 2004. But filmmaking wasn't an area I ever expected to crossover into.

The reasons don't matter, (although it's an interesting story too) but in 2013, I decided to produce a feature film. Four phone calls to four amazing friends, and I had already gathered up enough to produce a low-budget film. I had raised funds before I even had a script ready (yes, that's how blessed I am)!

Armed with an MBA, I thought I could make a film happen. After all, I had experience tackling multi-million dollar projects with global teams, and with bosses that were more difficult to please than a mother-in-law, lol.

So in 2014, Paid in Full movie came to life. The challenges I faced before, during, and after the production of Paid in Full were incredible.

From people trying to scam me, sue me, and tell me daily "honey you don't understand filmmaking"; to people leaving work unfinished, holding my film files hostage, lying, threatening, sending nasty emails, and leaving town without fulfilling their obligation; you name it, and I experienced it!

I looked in the mirror everyday, thinking perhaps there's a "I'm stupid" tattoo on my forehead that made all "THEM" people gravitate towards me. I haven't found it yet, so who knows why I attracted them, lol... Anyway.

[But I must say that I met and worked with some amazing, hardworking, and talented people who busted butt to film Paid in Full, within the time and financial constraints placed upon them. Those people will have my undying gratitude, forever. And I will never leave a movie theater ever without reading ALL the credits, cause it is the crew that makes the actors look so good.]

In Nov. 2014 I attended the American Film Market for the first time. And I realized that as challenging as "producing" Paid in Full was, I had seen nothing yet.

But then, a miracle happened. A "name-brand" sales agent acquired the rights to my film in January 2015. And I thought Hallelujah! What was I so worried about? My film was acquired. I was promised a "Berlin Market Premiere". The film wasn't even finished yet (post production was still underway) and I was already envisioning writing out checks to the investors, and telling them that they were being "Paid in Full", lol!!!

#Berlin came and went, some other insignificant markets came and went, and it was time for #Cannes2015, but there was nary a peep about "the plan to sell" Paid in Full from my esteemed sales agent.

Then came THE phone call, a huffed and puffed discussion about my "impatience", yet another "honey you don't understand filmmaking & especially don't get distribution", and a gauntlet was thrown down: "We don't think we can work with you". I made sure my thrill didn't come through the phone lines and dejectedly (& without sounding eager) accepted the option to "terminate" the sales agreement. And we were separated, just like that!! Irreconcilable differences and all. (THANK YOU GOD.)

I went to #Cannes2015 then. Just to see. To understand. To network. Ha! Nice was absolutely, positively beautiful but the rest of the experience shall remain untold.

The next few months after #Cannes2015 were spent prodding (my right brain to come up with ideas), researching, talking to others, and in general thinking "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE, PERHAPS I REALLY DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS THING CALLED FILMMAKING!".

Then I went back to the #AmericanFilmMarket in Santa Monica in November 2015. And this time, I went with a completely different goal in mind. No more "begging" for meetings with sales agents who had impressive libraries of films, with even more impressive star lineups. No more pitching to deaf ears about "this wonderful film raising awareness about an important cause; sex trafficking". My goal was simply to validate what I had already concluded. That I was going to self-distribute Paid in Full or die trying. (And I am going to help other indie producers self-distribute their films, cause I know what needs to be done!)

In conclusion:

  • The indie film distribution model is not just broken, it is non-existent.
  • Producing a film is LESS challenging than selling a film.
  • Don't make an indie film without at least ONE brand-name actor. (Thanks to my director for drumming this in my head, when we were scouting and soliciting actors. We didn't so well, but still we did ok, given the money we had available.)
  • Save your film festival submission fees. I'm serious. Just trust me on this.
  • People want to see indie films. Reaching those people directly through creative means is how your (and my) film will get distributed.
  • A sales agent is NOT the be-all for your film. Most of us don't understand the value of "holding on to our film rights" until you talk to indie producers who've given away their rights to sales agents, and haven't seen a penny, years after their films have been acquired
  • No one is going to be as passionate about your film as you are. Ok. Duh! But seriously. No one. So the passion that made you MAKE the film is needed to SELL the film.
  • Film buyers don't care about causes. Isn't that a shame?
  • Create extra content for packaging with the film. Documentaries, bloopers, behind the scenes, and any other ideas you have, make it happen.
  • For films with budgets over $50K, earmark a minimum of $10K for self-distribution. Trust me on this too.
  • Don't produce low budget indie films with yourself or other unknown actors in it, unless you are doing it for fun and have no interest in monetizing them.

I'd love to hear your comments, feedback, and insight. If you disagree with me, I'd love to hear why.