Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Money, Money, Money, Money.... MONEY!

Well, folks, I wish I could say that the success of your film is dependent upon your brilliant script, your daring direction, your stunning cinematography or your heartfelt performances.  Of course, your shot at success is much greater if all those things are true, but, in the end, it comes down to money.

Money for two things:

A name actor.

And advertising.

You need the money for a name actor to attract the interest of a distributor who will actually spend money promoting your film.  Without that, you're dead.

It is much easier to get a film distributed than it is to actually make money on a film.

I know what you're thinking.  What about "Paranormal Activity?"  What about "The Blair Witch Project?"  They didn't have name actors and they each made a fortune.  True, but those films were anomalies.  For each low-budget film that sees the inside of a commercial theater, there are literally thousands of others that failed.  And, keep in mind that PA and TBWP both made their millions after the studios spent millions on advertising and promotion.  Yeah, you say, but I can get on the internet and get a buzz going.  Really?  I don't think so.  Everyday, the internet gets bigger and bigger.  There's so much to see.  There's so many distractions.  What's going to point people to your movie's webpage?  Plastering links to your trailer all over the place simply isn't going to cut it.  If someone has managed to return a profit on a film with a six-figure budget using only the internet for promotion and sales, please contact me and teach me how you did it. 

It takes money to go viral.

The major studios don't spend tens of millions of dollars promoting films because they have money to burn.  They spend the money because if they don't, people won't show up at the theaters or buy the DVDs.

And most independent filmmakers don't include any marketing money in their budgets.  Most of them don't even allocate enough money to go on the festival circuit.

My thoughts on the value of advertising have evolved over the years.

Initially, it frightened me when a distributor promised (or threatened) to spend x-amount of money promoting your film.  My first thought was:  The film is going to have to earn all of that additional money back before I get a penny in royalties.  Plus, it is definitely true that some distributors shamelessly pad those expenses in order to cheat filmmakers out of their profits.  Time and time again, I have heard filmmaker friends complain how they feel they will never reach that constantly rising break-even point.  And they probably never will. 

However, unless a distributor spends money on advertising you will not sell enough copies to warrant any royalties anyway.  As a filmmaker, you are caught between a rock and a hard place.  If you don't spend the money, you never make any money.  If you do spend the money, you go deeper and deeper into the hole.  So what do you do?  You've got to hope your distributor spends the money.

Discretion prevents me from discussing any details, but I've seen the facts in black and white.  I've seen quarterly reports that clearly revealed that relationship between sales and promotion money spend.    One quarter a film sells 40,000 DVDs.  (Those are good numbers for a low-budget indy.)  The next quarter they pull the advertising and it sells 4,000.  That's the difference between being a full-time filmmaker and staying with your day job.

Do you think Walmart or Kmart or Best Buy are going to stock your film if you don't have any advertising dollars behind you?  You'll be lucky to get in the discount bin.

And, trust me, Blockbuster and NetFlix will want to know how many ad dollars you have allocated per unit they purchase.  If you don't have any, bye, bye.

When a distributor expresses interest in your film, let one of your first questions be:  How much money are you going to spend promoting it?

If it's a lot, you might be in trouble.

If it's not a lot, you're definitely in trouble.


  1. Sad, but true! I have never heard of most of the movies that are trying to get into theaters, or even go straight to DVD.
    My next door neighbor had no idea faith-based movies existed until I told her. I had no clue until I joined Facebook, but I don't notice every single film being promoted. Goodness knows, I talk alot, but it definitely takes more than a few fans to bring a movie the attention it needs to make it financially.
    (Although, of course, no one expects Christians to want to make money...but that is a topic for another day.)
    I'm not even in this business, but I prayerfully support and spread the news as much as I can!! I hope you get a ton of suggestions on just what does work. Well, other than controversy!!

  2. Thanks, Cindy. I always appreciate your posts on Facebook.

    Faith based films are like any other kind of films. The better they do financially, the more of them there will be. There is a large potential market, but it has to be mobilized. And respected. To me, the best way to respect it would be to create honest, entertaining films which reflect their worldview -- without treating them like children that need to be shielded from the ugly realities of the world... Ooops, sounds like a lecture coming on. I better stop.