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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Why Filmmakers Are Crazy (and how I plan to help)

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Why Filmmakers Are Crazy (and how I plan to help)

Forest Conner

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A graphical look at the the success/failure of 2013's Sundance acquisitions. [credit Seed&Spark]
A graphical look at the the success/failure of 2013's Sundance acquisitions. [credit Seed&Spark]

Anyone who decides to produce a film, market a film, or distribute a film is taking a giant risk. If they are taking that risk with their own money, one might consider institutionalizing them. The likelihood of making your money back is exceedingly low in the independent film world. Investors spent $3 billion on the 4,000 feature films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival this year. They will likely recoup 2% on aggregate. The risk is high and even the most successful projects return revenues less than what other industries provide. This is why filmmakers are crazy. Not because they chose to enter this business, but because the business itself is broken.

I'm no Ron Swanson-esque supporter of unrestrained capitalism. But the free market at least provides a transparent link between seller and buyer. One of the largest problems in the film industry is that filmmakers do not sell to the people watching their films. They sell to distributors.

Distributors exhibit oligarchical power over market demand. Given the few number of buyers, they pressure filmmakers into selling films below market rates. Distributors go on to control the cash flows from that point on. They offer limited data on expenses and revenue, no input on strategy, and no information about the audience.

In the end, the filmmaker trades knowledge of their audience and control of their brand for a few dollars. They are playing the lottery instead of working for a living. They do this because there is no other way.

That is, until now.

There has been a groundswell in artist services over the last few years. Preproduction help in financing comes from Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Digital filmmaking has lowered production costs. Direct distribution platforms like VHX and Vimeo On Demand allow for direct selling. Each of these services aims to help the artist find their audience and engage them.

My research will hopefully propel this sea change to the logical step: direct marketing. The goal is to allow filmmakers to reach an audience based on data and exhibited preferences in purchase behavior. It is a massive undertaking, but necessary for the sustainability of the independent film market.

I will present my research in three parts:

  1.   The examination of what data about audiences exists and is available, as well how to use it
  2.   The redefinition of films in a more complete, actionable format around the ideas of branding and personality
  3.   The connection of those films, using this classification, with the audiences who would pay to see them

By the conclusion of my fellowship I intend to show filmmakers a better way to reach their audience. I will demonstrate ways to leverage their own markets without selling their rights to another entity. Finally, I hope to create a framework that artists can follow to take advantage of new technology and information.

Stay tuned, it should be a fascinating year.