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Top Talent on Indie Films Leads to Wide Distribution: But How Does that Happen?
An essay that builds up some common understandings…first in a series... if I get comments and heart likes I will post the next two parts!
By Rachel Kadushin (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3857458/)
Lower budgeted films is one of the most frequent ways to see new talent, however unless you actually know one of the talent personally, lower budgeted films are most often not a commercial success unless they have “recognizable” talent.
In this case, “talent” refers to directors, actors, writers and producers. However in the US market the actor’s are most often associated with this term, and in Europe the directors are often considered first. World-wide genre and story get equal attention to star actors or star directors. Since the US market tends to be 35 to 60 percent of the box office, actors usually win out on “which talent is most important” to distribution.
Recognizable talent is the level before “big star” and “A-list” talent. This means that they have fan-base from their previous appearances in film, television or even music. Something about them has a portion of the public knowing who they are and wanting to spend time with them. One of the ways that film-fans track stars is through their IMDB listings, and IMDB has a new way for fans who do not have IMDB pro to know a star’s relative listing. An example is Pam Grier (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000427/ ) who ranked in “the top 5,000.” If you have IMDB pro, you can see that she’s actually pretty close to the top 2,000 right now.
Brent Spiner (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000653/ ), more known for his television roles, has actually broken to the top 2,000 this week. However most movies with "recognizable talent" on the top are not going to be considered for wide distribution on just their names alone. They would add to the value of a film in the $3 million to $10 million range, and perhaps be able to be a star lead in a film under $3 million that goes through the festival route.
So how would you get their attention, or even the bigger star’s attention? Through a combination of the quality and reliability of the other talent being considered. In these cases other star actors, a good story, a reliable human being as the lead producer, or a director who has had work that has been widely distributed are factors.
This brings me to topic of top talent in indie film. The goal of any indie producer, besides making money for their investors, should be a mix of new talent and star talent. Otherwise there would never be any new talent!
Top talent wants to make top dollar, but not always in the film business. While the business side is driven by film business and not film art, a frequent debate on boards for independent filmmakers, film is still a commercial art. This means there is in fact an art element.
While the experience level and star rating of the talent – including the director, writer and producers will count on attracting star actors (and vice versa), the potential to make a good story, an entertaining story, or something artful are also attractive.
This brings me to the topic of getting top talent “on discount.” The truth is that it is somewhat unlikely to get top talent for scale. Scale is there to make sure that people who aren’t famous get paid. However, depending the budget range of the film – under 3 million, 3 to 8 million, 8 to 12 million, 12 million to 30 million, the producers might be able to offer them more. The discount here, is that the production would still be paying less than their studio rate.
It may seem like a catch 22, because to make money you eventually need some kind of wide distribution, usually studio distribution. However, a project can be developed independently before making compromises for studio or studio distribution. If there is enough star talent on board, distribution will get on board.
The art of the producer in the development and pre-production process is to get enough star talent on board without breaking the budget. One way of doing this is to offer a multiple of scale to the “recognizable talent” that works with the budget. Another way, with the bigger stars is to create “favored nation status.” What this means is you set an egalitarian cap for the rate that the top talent gets paid – the actors, the director the writer, and sometimes even the producers can not get more than X amount. Perhaps all of the bigger acting stars get paid a flat “x” amount equal to each other.
The next speculative stage will be – do you have to screen the final version at a festival to get the final commitment from the distributor, or will a private screening firm up a tentative offer?
In some cases just having certain talent onboard and giving the distributor the script to read will be enough. The most common practice in films under $12 million is the screening at festivals. But that doesn’t mean that the distributors may not have seen them prior to the festivals.
Here is where the on-going publicity and public relations efforts begin to pay-off. Also part of the producer’s job. However, it can be delegated. Every producer has skill sets that they are better at than other skill sets. Who they delegate to can be as important as what they can to themselves. Therein lies leadership.
1. I chose Pam Grier, because she is talent under mutual consideration for one of my projects close to going into pre-production; and Brent Spiner, because I’ve met him in person, I like his work, and he amuses me.
2. Feel free to ask specific questions in response to this blog for member's mutual education about the film business or film production process. You can also send me a private message.
3. This blog premiered on Stephie Pahlavi Zan's network, Prive on June 13, 2011.
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