Yesterday, while scouting a location with the producer of the short film I've been working on lately, we got to talking about the amount of money required to get a feature film made that has some amount of production value. Shooting on weekends and not paying everyone, he seemed to think you could get most films done for under $10k (assuming you aren't blowing things up, of course), with most of that $$ going toward feeding people and equipment rental.
Me, I think the number is probably a bit higher if you want actors who aren't your college roommate, but still I see little reason you couldn't make a lot of films for under $30-40k, less depending on what your film is about. (i.e. hand-held with minimal lighting is cheaper than something more composed, if for no other reason than the time required to set the shots up)
Still, that's not a lot money.
But what surprised me was that no one in the city seems to have a pretty solid idea of how to reliably raise that sort of money, other than out of the filmmaker's pocket.
Is it that hard to find 10 people with $3k to invest?
I can't imagine it is, but part of the problem seems to be that so few films have a reasonable expectation of ever making a dime of that money back. Sure, you can play some festivals and sell some DVDs, but you've got to end up with a really good film to get any sort of theatre release.
Or do you?
Over at this blog, Sujewa Ekanayake has been chronciling (sp?) the process of self-distributing his film Date Number One, which may or may not be good (I have no idea. I haven't seen it), but the fact remains that he's self-distributing it, and apparently to some success.
Probably at least enough success to recoup at least a portion of the investment.
It strikes me that we're about to see a lot more of this in the next 2-3 years, as the stigma of self-distribution fades (hey, even David Lynch is doing it) and HD becomes cheaper, meaning that the projected no-budget picture gets better, and internet makes self-promotion through YouTube and MySpace all that more viable. I've long thought that we're on the cusp of another French New Wave, only in the ultra-indie realm, and this could be a key component of that movement. If through self-distribution and other creative means those $30k films can start making even as little as, say, $60k, then that may open the door just enough.
Part of it, I think, is in how you "sell" your self-distribution. If you go with the whole "boo hoo, Hollywood doesn't love me" thing, that won't work. But, if you approach it as a "fuck Hollywood. this is how I'm distributing my film, even if they do want to buy it", that'll go a lot farther in people's eyes. It's all about perception.
Me, I'm using this short film I'm doing as a little bit of practice as far as promotion for when I do make that feature I've been working on forever. One perception thing I'm doing is promoting the short by using my name as the draw, even if my name isn't a draw. My theory is that if you use the filmmaker's name (not just the "from the director of..." line, but "a [name] film") as if it's a name that's strong enough for audience recognition, then people will do one of 2 things: assume they should know who this director is, or make an effort to find out who it is. Because, why would they use a name no one recognizes? Call it 3rd level promotion.