Filmmaking is a very interesting creative endeavor to pursue, as the medium of film provides the opportunity for filmmakers and storytellers to create characters and worlds that are yet to be seen. From the public view the challenges of making a film is seen in the production stages. People look at the hard work that is done on set and in edit rooms when brining a film to life, however there are many steps that occur behind the scenes not many people tend to think about when getting a film made. In this essay I will be looking at two key aspects that are needed for a film to exist and viewed: cost and distribution, and seeing the difficulties that stand when trying to secure these two deals, as well as how obtaining them has changed.
It is common knowledge that without any funding a film does not exist. Money is a key factor in getting a film made but raising it or finding investors to provide a budget is a very difficult task.
Financing is a very broad topic when talking about films there are many ways to gather money from investors, whether it be approaching public people who have money and asking them, getting government funding or earning and spending your own money, there are many options to chose (Kroll2014). Traditionally what a filmmaker would attempt is taking a script to a production house with investors and try to get the funding.
However these corporate entities are the ones who are most reluctant due to the fact that the biggest thing they face is the fear of risk, if they invest millions they would be the ones who lose out. A studio head would be more secure investing in a script that has a structure that they know would work (Adams 2013). Chris Anderson stated in his article about the 20th century entertainment being one that was about creating hits, and that hasn’t changed, what has changed is the what films kinds of films are determined to be hits.
The current Hollywood culture is one that is adaptations and reboots, where studios revisit older films with a strong brand name and update it for a modern audience or they make films based on a successful pre-existing source material, the most notable example would be the current superhero franchises studios have running (Beeli 2014). One example would be the Spider Man franchise produced by Columbia Pictures, between the years 2002-2007 they produced three Spider Man films, each film almost grossing more than the other, with the first grossing 821,708,551, the second 783,766,341 and the third 890,871,626, earning the studio over two billion dollars in total (Box Office Mojo 2014). Five years later they decided to reboot the franchise, with a new story, cast and crew with a film titled The Amazing Spider Man, which grossed 757,930,663 a hundred million less but still a lot of money (Beeli 2014).
From this example what we can see about modern day Hollywood is that they are willing to recycle the same idea over and over just as long they know it would guarantee them a return. I feel like what this has resulted in is that studio heads now deal more in brand names instead of good material, which is why there have been many films with interesting an original concepts that have never made off the ground because the people behind couldn’t see its value beyond its lack of recognition.
An argument could be made with a film like Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan; a blockbuster that made 825,532,764 dollars (Box Office Mojo 2014) worldwide that had no pre-existing source material and was very successful. However I would counter argue that it did have name recognition through Christopher Nolan, as his previous film The Dark Knight earned 1,004,558,444 dollars (Box Office Mojo) worldwide and was based on the Batman character which was already a very successful franchise containing over seven decades of material from comic books, films, TV serial and films. The Dark Knight was a film that was not only financially successful it was critically successful. Professional film critic Jason Lynch from People Magazine opens his review of the film by stating, “Step aside Spider Man 2 and Superman 2: The phenomenal The Dark Knight now reigns as the greatest superhero film of all time”. There are many more reviews from critics and viewers who claim that The Dark Knight is the best of the bunch and it was nominated for two academy awards, winning the category for best supporting actor.
My point is that the success of this film allowed Warner Brothers to agree to produce Nolan’s film about dream thieves, and the name recognition Nolan received from The Dark Knight was what motivated people to watch Inception, which just shows that the studios always look for a name that can deliver, which is one of the reasons why many films don’t get made, the studio would look at script that doesn’t necessarily operate in the conventions of traditional story telling, and they interfere with the creative process and the vision of the filmmaker and his crew and it becomes a clash of vision in which nobody can find any agreement resulting the studio heads to pull the plug on a project.
However a new development has risen, that helps struggling filmmakers to produce their projects. This new method is crowd funding, which allows filmmakers to communicate with the online community of people from around the world and seek financial contributions from them to get the film made. One high-profile example would be actor/director Zach Braff who is famous for being the lead on the his sitcom Scrubs, for eight years, and who directed his first film Garden Sate in 2004, went on Kickstarter to help get the funding for his second film titled Wish I Was Here. The attempt was made after Braff spend the decade after making his directorial debut trying to get investors to put their trust in his vision for the project. The following video was his pitch for the kickstarter audience:
Trailer for the film:
The interesting aspect that I find to crowd funding is its contribution to network literacy. Network literacy essential means the ability to participate as a member in a rising development of networks (Miles 2007). Kickstarter is a network in the sense that it brings people from all over the world to help bring an idea, that they have common interest in, to life even if they don’t have an initial background or understanding of the conventions of the development of the idea. Another example would the development of the revolights, which are bike light system that light up an entire bike so you can ride in the dark (Fankovich and Pettler 2011). Now from a public view a layman, like myself, wouldn’t understand the engineering and the technicality that would be required to develop this idea, but the interaction that kickstarter allows between the creator and the investors, would provide and opportunity for the developers to explain the logistics that go into making this project and help the investors understand everything about the functions before a single one is made, therefore the investor grows in knowledge of a particular field.
Caption: A Sketch showing the basic design of the revolights was shown on the KickStarter page.
After getting the cost and finishing all stages of production, the next key step would be getting a distribution deal. “…making a movie is not nearly as difficult as getting it distributed. Because of the enormous amount of cost in money and time involved in distributing a movie…”(Tyson 2000).
Caption: Steps of Distribution
Getting a distribution deal is key as it guarantees that a film will be released for public viewing and as this quote from Jeff Tyson states it is very difficult process. The image above gives an overview of the steps; once the production is completed the film is sent back to the studio, who then makes a licensing deal with the distribution company, who then decides who many prints of film must be produced, once decided they show the product to potential buyers i.e. theatres, and once those negotiations are sorted the cinema would agree to show the film for a number of weeks (Tyson 2000).
A quick example of the cost of distribution would the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which had a production budget of 115 million dollars and had a distribution budget of 20 million, which covered for all the theaters and various promotions of the film (Star Wars Celebration 1999).
The difficulty of film distribution is that films only get distributed if the distribution or production company wants to pay for it, as they look towards the long term to figure out what movies have the potential to attract and audience and be successful at the box office (Tyson 2000). This once again this goes with Chris Anderson’s statement of entertainment being about making hits.
Much like the development of crowd funding, distribution itself has shifted into different mediums resulting in the online distribution model (Anderson 2004). The economy of hit making doesn’t stop with studios and distribution companies looking for what films are going to be box office smashes in the theatre, in continues on to the smaller scale of distribution with DVD sales (Anderson 2004). Retailers are only willing to make shelf space for products they know are going to sell over the long run; this means less shelf space for items that were not among the mainstream (Anderson 2004). Now in the digital age with websites such as Amazon, Netflix or iTunes, have taken away this limitation and now has an abundance of product available in every media category, music, books, films, for everyone to access despite the popularity of the product (Anderson 2004).
Anderson uses the example of the book Touching the Void, which gained good reviews upon its initial release but was soon forgotten by the public but remerged after a decade later as a result of Amazon’s recommendation list.
I wondered if this was possible for films. Can they find distribution online if they unable to gain traditional distribution? As a result it turns out the answer was yes. Jason Blum a Hollywood film producer found success in 2007 with a micro-budget business model that allowed him to make films at a low budget and distribution cost and still earn a profit (Masters 2014). Since the time of his early success the quantity and quality has wavered, he has started to take multiple projects under his belt, and the quality of his films have become questionable (Masters 2014). An example would be the most recent installment of the Paranormal Activity series titled The Marked Ones, was financially successful taking in 90,894,962 with having a budget of five million dollars (Box Office Mojo 2014), but was critically panned. Film critic Ed Gibbs stated, “This latest instalment in the found-footage, domestic-horror franchise opts for far greater supernatural silliness than its predecessors.”
The result of these reactions for these films have resulted several of Blum’s films having their distribution pulled and not even being released (Masters 2014). His most recent of these would be the film Stretch starring Patrick Wilson which was slated to hit theatres March 2014, was removed from its released just two weeks before the date (Masters 2014). Universal studio’s allowed the Blum and the director, Joe Carnahan, to find other distributors (Masters 2014), failing to find any other studio head who would accept the project they turned to online distribution and the film did end up getting a release on Amazon and iTunes (Orange 2014).
What these two developments in the areas of cost and distribution show the continuing change in traditional methods bringing forth new network literacies. Having the benefit of experiencing both the traditional and the introduction of the new in my life, with my consumption of media for example going from buying VHS tapes now to buying it off iTunes, I wonder how much further can it develop, and where will I end up creating my content. My aspirations to be a filmmaker hoped that I would one day be able to create films like the ones I was raised on, however now I think that it maybe a possibility that the creation and distribution of content could one day permanently be online.
Adams, S 2013, The Not-So-Secret Formula Behind Every Hollywood Movie, viewed 22nd October, http://blogs.indiewire.com/criticwire/save-the-cat-hollywood-blockbuster-formula
Anderson, C 2004, The Long Tail
Beeli, J 2014, Do Movie Remakes, Reboots and Sequels Ever NOT Make Money?, viewed 23rd October 2014, http://www.equities.com/editors-desk/stocks/consumer-discretionary/do-movie-remakes-reboots-and-sequels-ever-not-make-money
Box Office Mojo, updated 23rd October 2014, viewed 23rd October 2014, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/
Fankovich, K, Pettler, A 2011, Revolights Join The Revolution, viewed 24th October, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/revolights/revolights-join-the-revolution
Gibbs, E 2014, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones review: Horror Made Spooky-Cutter, viewed 24th October 2014, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/paranormal-activity-the-marked-ones-review-horror-made-by-spookycutter-20140124-31cad.html
Kroll, N 2014, How To Raise Money For Your Indie Film, viewed 16th October 2014, http://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/how-to-raise-money-for-your-indie-film/
Lynch, J 2008, No Joke-Heath Ledger Makes The Dark Knight Unforgettable, viewed 23rd October 2014, http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20212604,00.html
Masters, K 2014, ‘Jason Blum’s Crowded Movie Morgue: Down Side of Micro Budget, viewed 24th, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/jason-blums-crowded-movie-morgue-683212
Miles, A 2007, Network Literacy: The New Path To Knowledge, Screen Education, pp 24-30
Orange, B 2014, Stretch: Gag Reel with Chris Pine and Patrick Wilson, viewed 24th October 2014, http://www.movieweb.com/stretch-movie-gag-reel
Star Wars Celebration, viewed 23rd October 2014, http://web.archive.org/web/20060103042824/http://www.starwars.com/community/event/celebration/f19990430/
Tyson, J 2000, How Movie Distribution Works, viewed 16th October 2014,