On the back of the BFI's shocking stats last week, many investors and producers must be wondering what the point is of even trying to make money in the film industry at all. Granted; for some investors it is just a bit of fun, a way to be involved in the glamour of the film industry, but as one commentator shrewdly observed "there must be cheaper ways to meet Scarlett Johansson".
It is worth pointing out that the figures released in David Steele's speech include those for certain Film Council supported films which were never actually intended to make a profit. They exist for cultural purposes, or box-ticking purposes, and so really I'd like to see another set of stats for just the films that did actually intend to return their investors money.
Nevertheless it is no secret that film investment is inherently risky. What can producers do to maximise the chances of being among the top-performing film releases that do see profit?
One of the best ways is to make a film that appeals to audiences in multiple territories. More sales equals more income. Get a good home video and / or TV deal in multiple countries as well, and you're well on your way to recouping a lower budgeted film. (It's partly for this reason that high-concept horror is widely seen as a safer bet than most, but I digress).
When an investor asks (my consulting company) Legwork to appraise a project we're essentially being asked to perform due diligence in advance of a very pricey business transaction. When a producer hires Legwork it's because they're cognisant of the importance of adding value to their investment offering, and making the investors pick them instead of all the other tasty investment opportunities out there.
For both cases we've developed the proprietary checklist below in order to formalise the process of building marketing into the project from concept to logline to script to trailer and beyond.
This is a series of questions intended to ensure the producer is making the best film possible, as measured against every important metric, and is not leaving any value on the table unnecessarily. All these conditions must be satisfied before we will sign off on a project.
1/ Are story, characters & dialogue at a stage where the script will attract a high enough calibre of film star to ensure international sales?
2/ Are the above-the-line talent (stars, director, etc) sufficiently attractive to international sales agents and distributors that they can envisage the film doubling its investors money?
3/ Does everyone creatively involved in the making of this film have the same vision? Is everyone trying to make the same film? Are the huskies all pulling the sled in the same direction?
4/ Is the budget right for the genre, the film’s elements and its likely income? Do sales estimates from reputable sales agents or pre-sales agreements confirm that this budget level is justified?
5/ Is the genre one which is sought after by a large enough global market to garner sales capable of doubling the investors’ money?
6/ Within an established set of genre expectations, is this story remarkable in its individuality in some way that will get significant numbers of people talking about it? Does the story or its elements innovate in a way that will differentiate it in a crowded marketplace and increase the number of territories sold, prices per sale and ancillaries within each of those territories?
7/ Given the nature of modern, fragmented audiences, have we done all that we can to identify and allow for the engagement of possible “tribes” in the Seth Godin marketing use of the word; niches of communal interest, sizeable groups of people who can get behind the film and spread word-of-mouth?
8/ Have we done all we can to explore additional revenue streams, such as sequels, spin-offs and merchandising (books, games, art, fan sites, fan art, apps) — within reasonable and tasteful bounds and with respect to the story and the filmmakers? Are there ways these might contribute to the depth of the central dramatic work to a consumer, rather than just as added revenue or mind-share?
9/ Have we done all we can to identify all possible PR angles, in as many territories as possible, that will garner this film media attention in print, television and online, thus offering significant added value, and revenue, to that distributor?
10/ How could we collect emails or social media follows for permission-based marketing or otherwise maximise our customers’ awareness of this and similar future films?
Robin TJ Kershaw & Laia Enrich, 2013
Check out the Legwork 10 Step Checklist and download a pdf to share with colleagues at www.legworkfilms.com/10steps.html