What if you wanted to make your own movie? Part 2 of 2

If you missed it: Part 1 with cost, approach, equipment, and budgeting


I consider Distribber to be one of the best aggregators (distributor) for movies. They cater to independents and try to make it easy. They know the format required for each outlet, and have relationships with them. Placement with an outlet isn't guaranteed.

Most of the outlets will cost you money (around a 1000 for each outlet), but if your movie is successful, each of them is well worth it.

My statistics are 2 to 3 years old, and things change rapidly in the online outlets. But at that time, gamebox services were the biggest outlets because that's the way most movies were streamed. So, Xbox and others are good bets.

Netflix and Amazon are really good, but Netflix isn't known for paying that well because they are strictly a subscription model.

Outlets like VUDU are prime territory.

If you can develop a relationship with a company like Crackle, that distributes over Roku, that's a good outlet.

You can find distributors who work with satellite companies for PPV movies. I did.

Working with cable companies for PPV is much more difficult. You have to approach and negotiate with each one of them, and there are a lot of regional cable suppliers.

The difficult thing is matching your release strategy with your advertising strategy. You want to release in some test markets to see how your movie performs at the "box office," but performance has everything to do with advertising, and you don't want to put much money into advertising into you are in all outlets.

Amazon is one good place to test. You can get it into Amazon for free. (Distribber will also get you on Amazon.)

Distribber and the distributors mentioned below, try to get your movie featured at the outlet.

Other distributors are: Film Buff, New Video, The Orchard, eOne, Gravitas Ventures.

Next: Advertising

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I was a marketing and advertising manager for two companies, so this isn't drivel.

Some totally bad Hollywood movies have made money after advertising coaxed people into theaters during the first week, before public opinion got out. It's an important lesson. Advertising works.

If you make a movie and put it on your Web site, and do nothing else, there is no way for people to know it is there. So in great masses, people will not see it. Not one. If you mention it on a post on social media, a few will see it, but it will die a sad, prolonged death.

If you put it on YouTube for free, it likely will be panned because people will have no idea it is there. Free is meaningless, and is likely to be associated with bad quality. Some people will pay a couple of bucks to watch anything that looks good, if they know it is there. People don't think much about dropping $10.00 for something they want. A fast food meal. Parking. A movie that appeals to them. Although $10.00 may not maximize views online.

A movie may be featured on an online outlet, get a few views, but still not get a lot of views. Then it may sink into obscurity. Don't expect the outlets to advertise for you. They do very little except feature the movie on their site.

Paid advertising works. Advertising is about numbers, and getting people to take action. Of 325 million people in the US, you probably have a total potential audience of maybe 100 million online viewers. Netflix alone has 75 million, but some of those are in foreign countries. When you separate by genres, you may be looking at 20%, or less, of that 100 million. And Netflix is not the best indication because it is subscribers, so Netflix doesn't pay like pay per view outlets.

What if you had a potential audience of 5 million in PPV outlets, and you make $2.00 for each view? That's $10 million. Actually you will be lucky to get your movie paid for, but that in itself is a big deal. If it cost you $40,000 to 250,000.00 to make your movie, plus $30,000.00 advertising, and you paid yourself a salary in that, you just got paid to make a movie.v

Advertising has to be done properly or it's a waste of money.

Things to think about in advertising:

  • You have only a few seconds, or a brief glance to get people's attention.
  • In advertising for most products, the person has to see the ad around 7 times before making a decision and responding.
  • You appeal to people's wants and needs. "What does the product mean to me?"
  • People don't respond to the same images or colors. Nothing is right for everyone.
  • You need a way to respond in the ad that people can do as immediately as possible.
  • Ads need to speak emotionally to people to be memorable.
  • TV is the most effective, and most expensive advertising. But least expensive per person reached.
  • Social media ads are the least cost-effective.
  • Advertising is a numbers game. You will snag maybe from .01 to up to 10% of the audience.

Movie ads are more interesting to people than ads for scuff erasers. People go to movies even when financial times are difficult. They may skimp on detergents, or buy lesser brands, but they watch movies. So ads for movies can be done differently.

If the movie trailer is interesting, they will keep watching. If it is emotionally gripping or compelling, they will want to see the movie. But that's the attention grabber of the minute, and in the next 30 seconds their attention is grabbed by something else and they forget your movie. So repetition is key. The first ad you run can be a 30 second trailer. Thirty seconds is the sweet spot for ads. You need to run it often enough, and in enough outlets and time slots, that most people see it. After that, you need to run an ad as a refresher. But it no longer needs to be 30 seconds. Run the most compelling parts of the ad in 15 second ads, or less. This will refresh their memories.

Advertising has diminishing returns. Reminders can be less and less frequent. So for both reasons, after the initial advertising, make reminders further and further apart.

Advertising is enhanced by seeing ads in other media. It's a multiplier effect. So if they see it on TV, and it appears on Web sites, it's more effective.

TV advertising

You might think television advertising is too expensive, and it can be. Broadcast television ads, including broadcast networks seen on cable, are 10 times the cost of cable and satellite ads. It's because they have at least 10 times the reach. But there is no fixed price. Everything is negotiable, in broadcast, cable, and satellite, and it depends on the time slot, the number of expected viewers, and the popularity of the program. Prime time viewing from 7 to 10 is most expensive, and of course that's where the most viewers are. Slots are often sold through bidding.

Strategy helps a lot. You probably won't advertise an action movie to those watching a food show. The audience is too diverse. You want to target to people with those interests. So for action movies, an action oriented crime show would be a good spot. Or address an audience age demographic (you should), such as on some show that has something to do with technology.

My first rule of advertising is, "Be where people will look for or see my product."

You can try to saturate the audience with 30 second spots in non-prime time slots. And then go to 15 second ads during prime time.

You can advertise multiple movies, such as a friend's movie that is in the same outlet as yours, in one 15 second ad (but put both names at the end because they will forget).

Always give your audience an action to take. Say, "Watch for it tonight on...." Always display the outlets where the movie will be shown, or say, "Look for it at your favorite online outlet." Give them a Web site for the movie, to follow and see more. Many people have their laptop on while watching TV.

A specialist will probably do a better job for you. And the advertising departments at networks and stations are always ready to talk and helpful. They want to sell you time, and sell you campaign time.

Make more than one trailer, and test them in different markets to see which one performs better. You will likely be surprised. You can also test them on SurveyMonkey.com, where you can select audiences to view them. You need help to design the questions. I can guide you to an extent. I do these, but I don't design questionnaires for free.

Common rates for cable TV national advertising for a 15 second spot:

  • CNN: $3 to 4.00
  • FX: $2 – 20.00
  • Hallmark: $2 – 15.00
  • History: $2 – 20.00
  • Independent Film: $2 – 6
  • MTV: $2- 8.00
  • Spike: $3 – 19.00
  • SyFy: $3 – $5.00
  • USA: $3 – 9.00

Online Advertising

Google runs a very effective online advertising service for Web pages. They target interest groups. You can set an advertising budget for each day, set hours of advertising, and demographics. Your ad will be shown to people who are more likely to be interested, on a huge number of Web pages. You can pay for the number of clicks, rather than the number of times the ad is shown.

YouTube purports to be as effective as TV for advertising, and it has the advantage of, the user can take immediate action. It also targets ads, and has wide demographic reach.

Ads for Web sites are done through a bid system. You are in competition with a large number of other big pockets for the eyes of those Web page viewers. Twenty-five cents per click is a typical cost. However, you can bid less and appear in a less than premium spot. That strategy may be more cost effective - you have to experiment.

Web site ads are less cost-effective than TV ads, although this is disputed.

Social Media

Social media is a third choice for advertising, and can be used to support campaigns in other media. If you create a page for your movie, no one will see the page on social media unless you pay to promote it. If you are going to advertise on social media, create a page for people to look at and follow. But keep in mind, you have to promote (pay for) posts for them to actually see it. But you are advertising to those who have expressed an interest, so it's not all bad. However, if you are promoting to people who have already seen the movie, that isn't helpful. Be very aware of what you are advertising through social media.

On social media, you can put the 30 second ad on through a campaign that selects people who are most likely to be interested (targeted advertising). Of course, it will cost you.

Someone who specializes in social media advertising is likely to be more effective than yourself.

Billboard advertising

What if you had the opportunity to advertise to 100,000 people every day? Interstates carry this many people, and many more, into cities every day. A simple billboard advertisement lasts for weeks, so people see it over and over, and they are effective. A city with several interstates running into it, has enormous billboard advertising potential. You can't show trailers, but you can show still shots or art with messages, and on electronic billboards, you can change the message frequently. After commuters have seen it 20 times, they are less likely to forget the movie and the outlet. A social media or Web page ad may be enough to get them to move on it. If you get 1% of travelers, that's 1000 views for one interstate coming in. Multiply that by 6 interstate locations in each city for 25 cities, and you have bought yourself 150,000 views.


An effective campaign goes in stages, during which you evaluate response and effectiveness, and make decisions.

1. Test your advertising content. You will want multiple versions of your movie trailer, and also of still ads. Test them in the same media to see which ones are more effective. You can also test targeted demographics to see which ones respond. Online advertising, and social media, are good places to test ads. But you can also do it on TV. Broadcast networks send ads to different regions through local stations. Local stations accept ads for just that local area. Cable TV, despite being run by large companies, has regional and local sales.

2. Launch your most effective ad, give it some time for the audience to see it multiple times, and gauge the response. Poor response - don't waste any more money. Statistically promising response, go to the next phase.

3. Launch in multiple media. Watch response rates.

4. Note when response in different media falls to the point you are no longer making money from those parts, and then stop the campaign, or stop parts of the campaign.

Next: Quality and uniqueness are king and queen





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Quality and uniqueness are king and queen

People are primarily engaged by three things in a movie: dramatic action that comes from the script, the acting, and the unique qualities. You could shoot a good script in limbo (no setting, few props), on a desert island, in the desert, in an apartment, in a phone booth, and the effect would be the same. Great dramatic action = very engaged audience. The rest is.... well it's helpful, but the other things don't make a movie. But production values help a lot.

Unique is what sells. The same old stuff sells some, but unique really gets an audience.

In independent movies I see a number of problems that limit the success of the movie.

1. The script is crap. I worked as a senior development analyst for several years, and read a lot of scripts, and helped the writers develop them. The initial reading on most of them gave me a headache, which is why I rarely do it now. I rarely saw any scripts come in that rated over a 3 on a 5 scale. Nothing made them stand out in the crowd, which is what is needed. With feedback, some writers could get them to a 4. But 5 was out of reach for most writers. Often other writers could take the script and make major improvements in it, including mine, but most writers hated that. And many writers would not, or could not, make any changes at all. Those writers might as well stand the script on a shelf as a tribute to themselves, and not put any money into it.

2. The script isn't marketable. Just because it interested the writer and maybe a few others, doesn't mean the investment in making a movie is going to pay off. Pay attention to what is doing well in the market now. The market is fickle. TV shows are good indicators of where the market is going. Watch what goes to a second season. Watch what is fading. If your story is unique, it has a better chance.

3. Good actors who can't act. I'm college trained in acting, both Method and Meisner. I teach acting and writing. I start with the same premise in both: Act out the scene without words first. Find the emotion in the scene and the sentences. You have to know how to communicate without words, and how to put the emotion in. The emotion has to go into the drama and come out first. It comes out through body language and facial expression, then through verbal emphasis. Doing this is not only a great exercise, it's a great way to get your actors into the scene. It's also a good way to know if your writing is bogus.

Acting is action followed by reaction. I often see actors who are not reacting to the other actor, but just saying his lines in a predetermined way. It's boring. Actors have to be in the moment and reacting.

Sadly I see good actors say lines as if they were reading them. They can't reach the level of emotional delivery needed. Or I like to say it this way: they can't say anything as if it was important. Say every line as if it was important, or don't say it at all. Don't rush it. Say it distinctly and with emotion. Emotionless delivery leaves the audience cold. I don't recommend the delivery used by William Shatner (everything is very important - and yes, I do like Shatner and his delivery for him - that's Shatner), but if it isn't important then it shouldn't be in the script.

4. People don't know how to use a camera. It's as if they think the latest camera trick is required to tell a story. Story telling isn't about camera tricks. Anything different like shaky shots, and shots from ankle height, put the audience attention on the camera, and take attention away from the drama. Sometimes there is a need for a camera to follow someone, and that works. The camera is the eye of the audience. (I direct as well.) Where are people's eyes? They are at 5 to 6 feet from the floor. That is camera height. You put your camera at the height of your taller actors, not at 4 feet. You don't want to be looking up actors' noses, or under their chin. Those aren't attractive places. Cameras shouldn't see under chins, and lighting from above should cast a shadow under chins. Don't believe me about height, ask Tom Hanks.

Know all of the techniques for image stabilization if you are using shaky cam. Shaky images draw the audience's attention out of the drama and into the equipment. First, there is the rig, which simply uses physics to keep the camera stable. Next is the in lens stabilizer, which is mechanical. It's kind of like moving things in water - it slows the change. Third is the in camera electronic stabilization. Fourth is stabilization in the editing program. Use them all. But you must shoot your image larger than what you want, because in editing stabilization, the program zooms in some to find objects that are always there.

Two big mistakes I see is that the camera is not close (personal) enough, so the drama falls flat. The other is the camera is too personal (close) all the time, so nothing stands out as more dramatic.

Another mistake I see way too much is that the camera is not catching reactions. When one actor says something, the other actor reacts. Reaction is a huge part of dramatic action. It's what the audience wants to see. Sometimes actors forget they are in the scene when they aren't saying a line and stand there like chumps. And sometimes the cinematographer forgets the actor is in the scene when the actor isn't saying a line. And sometimes a poor editor forgets there are reactions. But the reaction shot is just as important as the shot of the actor speaking. To get reactions shots, use multiple cameras from 30 to 45 degree angles so you aren't asking method actors to wear themselves out with emotion and remembering poses, doing the same scene over and over again to get different shots.

Another mistake I see is the immediate reaction delivery of dialogue. The actor being spoken to, instead of allowing his reaction to be seen, immediately spouts out his next line.

These mistakes ruin movies, and immediately telegraph that the movie is a bunch of amateurs, not well trained actors and team. When you do callbacks for actors, weed out the ones who don't react, and who can't say a line with expression.

The quality of the script and the acting has everything to do with audience reaction and sales numbers. You should submit your script to several industry evaluators first and find if it rates high and is marketable. Don't depend on just 1 evaluation - it may be a new film student reader or an industry pro, and it will vary widely. If you are looking at an average 6 on a 10 scale, rewrite it or forget it. There are a lot of 6s made and not making money, and barely garnering an audience. You need a 7 or above; preferably an 8, but 8 is a high mark for independent writers.

Next: Getting started

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Getting started

Getting investment financing or sponsors is very difficult when you are not an experienced producer with a good track record. Financial people back things that are more likely than not to be successful, and they want to see an experienced team and known actors in the production. Investors and sponsors are not the only way to start production.

Many Web series are picked up by Roku channels, Internet channels, and by cable channels. Web series can also make good on Youtube. Web series are relatively easy to make. Episodes are in the realm of 3 to 12 minutes, with 7 being the sweet spot. You can record seven minutes of screenplay on Saturday, and edit it on Sunday. Part of the 7 minutes will be the program intro and extro, which are very short on Web series, so you are only recording and editing 5 or 6 minutes.

You can create these series at minimal expense, for fun, and use actors who are also working for fun. Poor performances are a major setback, so I highly recommend thorough training of the actors to get the best performances.

When other producers or studio people see your work, either online or when submitted through review channels, they may pick up the production. They may also change all of the people in it, or simply buy it and make it themselves.

A final note. Producing will keep you incredibly busy. The more you try to do yourself, the less time you have to breath, let alone rest or think. Try to spread the responsibility to others.

The advantage of producing yourself, besides seeing your work come to life, is you learn first hand what works and what doesn't. For example, I learned, "I want that character to just shut up!" If you are open to it, you will likely learn from others what works and doesn't. The experience will make you a much better writer.

End of series.

If you missed it: Part 1 with cost, approach, equipment, and budgeting

Reference, Legal

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Mention of any business in this article is not intended to endorse, disparage, or favor any business.

Movie names that are mentioned are not given reference citations. This is because numerous studios are involved in production, and they then assign distribution rights to multiple distributors, and these rights can be sold to other distributors. For production and distribution information on any movie mentioned, consult the Internet Movie Database, or other authoritative listing.

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