Sunday, May 26, 2013

If you want to make movies, start small

The movie business is going through a dramatic transition: The major movie studios are focusing on expensive action- and special effects-based productions that they can sell worldwide, and are giving short shrift to the kinds of smaller, more plot- and character-driven movies that independent filmmakers do best. On the other hand, the tools necessary for professional filmmaking are less expensive and more available than ever. Thus, the paradox: It's easier than ever to produce an independent film, but it's as hard or harder than it's ever been to get it distributed.

That hasn't stopped people from trying; one estimate is that as many as 5,000 independently-produced films are available for U.S. distribution each year. However, only a tiny fraction ever get any theatrical distribution. In 2012, the Motion Picture Association of America reported (based on Rentrak figures) that 677 movies opened in at least one theater, of which 128 were distributed and/or produced by one of the major studios. Some of the remaining movies were distributed to the home video market via DVD, Blu-Ray or streaming video--but there's not much demand for full-length movies that never got theatrical distribution.

Many, if not most, people who produce independent films do so in order to get the attention of a movie distributor. They neither plan to nor have the resources to distribute the film themselves. However, if they can't get theatrical distribution, there's very little chance of ever recouping even a fraction of the money they spent on production and post-production.

If you're thinking of producing your own movie, you should consider producing a short film rather than a full-length feature. Here's why:
  • It costs much less to produce a short film that it does to produce a feature-length one, so you can spend less time raising money and more time producing your film.
  • From inception of the project to completion, it can take as long as three years to produce a feature-length movie. On the other hand, you can produce a short film in a few months.
  • A short film requires the same elements as a feature film: Writing, acting, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, special effects, etc. It demonstrates talent just as well as a full-length movie.
  • It's much easier to self-distribute a short film; you can post it on YouTube or Vimeo, make it available to film festivals, license it to be included in short film collections, etc.
A short film is much easier to finance, produce and distribute than a full-length movie--and it's far more likely to be seen. 
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