"Making The Film" versus "Getting The Film Made"
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I recently interviewed filmmaker Mark Lipkin on his new feature film Wail Away. In the interview, he discussed how you really have to enjoy the process of making a film in taking it from blank page to distribution. If you do not, the motivation to keep going will just not be there, and this is due to the fact that there is a big difference between “making a film” and “getting a film made”.
What is the difference you ask? Most filmmakers will be able to tell you, and they will usually do it with a cynical chuckle.
When you first start out as a filmmaker, the key thing you have to do is start making films. In today’s world of readily available technology, anyone can pick up a camera and start shooting. Making your own films is the key to learning. It is likely that your first films will not be all that good, but that’s okay; the experience will inform you for how to do it better. So get out there and do it! Eventually, once you hone your skills and refine your style, you will grow as a filmmaker and make better films, which in turn, will showcase your skills to the industry and audience.
Making a film, as you will then discover, is the easy part. Films are made to be watched by an audience. A film really has no point to exist if nobody sees it, other than giving its makers the experience of putting it together. So after you have made your film, your next task is to get it seen by people, and this is where the real fun begins.
Any filmmaker will tell you that finding an audience for your film is the hardest gig in the industry. The dream for all filmmakers is to secure a budget prior to filming, and usually this is done with a studio and/or distribution company. This is the process of “getting the film made”. The advantage of this is that the investors will usually have contacts and relationships that will get your film screened in the cinemas.
The vast majority of filmmakers however do not get this opportunity. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it boils down to your bankability as a filmmaker; did your last film make money? If your film has not made a significant impression on the market place, your chances of securing such a deal are virtually zero, unless you know someone on the inside. And if you cannot secure a deal, how can you make a film that will make an impression on the market place? Catch 22.
Film festivals are a way to get a deal, but even these are notoriously difficult to get in to. If you make a bad film, you definitely will not get selected. If you make a good film, you still only have a slim chance of being selected, and it largely comes down to whether or not your film fits the festival’s program, you are already known to the festival, or if the festival programmer woke up on the right side of the bed that morning and your screener was on their bed side table. I am sure festival programmers have the right intentions and they want to give as many good filmmakers as possible a chance, but many great films do not get selected for festivals; and conversely, some questionable films get selected. The fact that you have to pay to submit your film only rubs salt in to the wound, and makes the whole process financially unviable, especially if you mount a substantial festival campaign.
The internet has certainly made life much easier for the independent filmmaker. It is possible to upload your film and have it accessible to any one with an internet connection; a potentially huge audience, but you will still have to do a lot of work to bring people to the site hosting your film. Do not assume that “if you build it, they will come”. You have to get your online presence noticed. The fortunate thing is that a lot of these techniques are within your grasp, and there are possibilities to make money for your film via advertising and pay per download systems, if you are willing to put in the work. Platforms such as Film Annex are a great place to start.
Mark and I chatted for a while after we did the interview and we had a good laugh about all of these issues. We both knew however that we would still be making films regardless of the stumbling blocks. This is the true key to success in filmmaking; if you love doing it, those stumbling blocks become more bemusing than frustrating, and no one will be able to stop you from making films.
Watch the interview with Filmmaker Mark Lipkin on Digicosm TV.