Investing in Your FilmOne of the most difficult challenges filmmakers face is making people care. First, you have to construct your narrative and capture it on film, tell new stories in interesting ways and be better at it than anyone else.

And then the real work begins.

Telling a great story doesn’t matter if no one stops to listen. The new 50/50 marks a shift in thinking  among filmmakers. Now, instead of investing all of your time and resources into your film’s creation, people are beginning to allocate at least half of their budget to film promotion and distribution. Filmmaking and promotion are not distinct processes, but part of an organic whole.

Investing your Time

Expect to spend the same amount of time releasing your film that you spent creating it.  Just as it took you years to develop your ideas into a film, it will take years to shape your film into a blockbuster. Fortunately, after an initial intense period, the work will taper off and you will be able to divide your focus among your other projects.

Todd Sklar, owner of the guerrilla distribution/marketing company Range Life Entertainment, points out that in industry, one half of the work is spent creating a product and the other half is spent getting it out to the public.

GE would never create a new dryer and leave the housewives to discover it on their own. Think of it in another way: in a restaurant, half the work goes into preparing the food and the other half goes into running the business—keeping the cost of production low and making sure there are people to feed. Each half is equally important.

If the food is bad, you won’t sell many plates. If no one knows where your restaurant is, or food cost is out of control, you won’t make any profit. Once filmmakers realize the amount of work it takes to release a film, Sklar believes creators may decide to make fewer, higher quality films. Why invest so much of yourself into something you only half believe in?

The production team behind the Sundance-premiered, award-winning film, “Good Dick” put it another way. Creating a film is much like giving birth to a child. You don’t abandon your child if parenthood isn’t working for you after a few months. Instead you work with your child to help it reach its full potential. Whether you like it or not, you made a commitment and that child is going to be with you for quite a while.

Meaning, the more work you put into your release, the better your release will be.

It takes a lot of work to successfully release your film and requires skills many artists struggle with—organization, marketing and sales, for instance. Fairly or unfairly, the new model of distribution, places much of the burden for marketing on filmmakers.  The success of your film, from the quality of your photography, to the scale of your release, rests entirely with you.

Investing your Money

Just as you invested half your time working on your release, expect to spend about half your budget on marketing your film’s release.  The 50/50 rule is most prevalent in the studio system. It is not uncommon for a $100 million film to set aside at least $100 million for its total marketing and distribution costs.

The kind of release you can plan depends largely on how much you have to spend—a $100 million release looks a lot different than a $50,000 one. Traditional theatrical releases are extremely expensive, even when you use your money creatively and efficiently. Theaters will be hesitant to book you if you are not spending enough money on publicity and marketing.

In New York and Los Angeles it is not uncommon for theaters to require you to spend a specific amount advertising your movie, usually about $2,500 in each market at the very bottom end.  In some cases you may be required to hire a specific, approved publicist, easily costing you another $8,000.

DIY releases can be cheaper, but not much.  At the very, very low end, expect to spend between $30,000 and $50,000. At the high end, your DIY release can cost around $200,000.

There are a lot of great options for releasing your film for free. However, putting a little money into your release dramatically increases quality and viewership, especially when you don’t have very much to spend. Think carefully about the things that will actually add value to your customer’s experience of the film. The more time you have to plan, the further your dollar will go.

Before you start your film you need to come up with two figures:

  1. How much money do you have, and how much can be used for your release? This includes what you can set aside and what you can raise.
  2. How much do you actually need? Before you shoot anything, you should have a budget for your release—the same way you have a budget for your production.

Getting the Most Out of Your Budget

Invest in a Marketing Team

In the same way you can’t make a movie on your own, you shouldn’t be marketing your film on your own.  Marketing and distribution is a big job, consider creating a Producer of Marketing and Distribution position.  This person coordinates all of the publicity while the film is being made and handles marketing and distribution for the release.

Consider Investing in a Distribution Co-Op

This is a great way for filmmakers to spread their resources and experience in distributing and marketing films. Distribution co-ops were started as way for filmmakers to share the intense amount of work distribution involves.  By utilizing each other, content creators don’t have to start from scratch each time they release a film, and have a greater say in how revenues are handled.

Get Creative with your Funding

There are a lot of great of resources for filmmakers to fund their projects.  Finding investors is important, but not the only way to fund your film. Take a careful look at what you have.  Would your fans be willing to invest in your idea? Then maybe Kickstarter.com would be a great option for you.  What is your film about? Would a company or organization be interested in sponsoring you? Think creatively. Grants, loans and investors aren’t your only options.

Keep Production Costs Low

Taking control of your production costs allows you to put aside money for distribution and marketing.  It is much better for the success of a film to have production costs total $50,000, with $50,000 set aside for publicity, than it is to make a $100,000 film and have nothing left to get your film to audiences.

The challenge here lies in having the discipline not to dip into the distribution budget when things get tight in production and post.

Think about Creating an LLC

Structure your LLC so that a certain percentage of the money raised must be set aside for distribution and marketing.  Then it becomes a legal requirement and somewhat less of a concern.  This is a great option if you already know you’ll have trouble sticking to your budget.