How to Beat the Odds when 99% of Independent Films Fail

How to Beat the Odds when 99% of Independent Films Fail

There was an interesting turn of events at SXSW 2016, someone told the truth. I don’t mean that in a, “Surprise, a politician told the truth,” kind of way (though, ’tis the season). I mean that even though artists live to portray truth, the tend to ignore honesty when it comes to one little thing: Success. The truth? If you are an artist and you want to make something (like, say a movie), then the chances are that you will fail.

What does that mean? That’s an existential question that’s worthy of debate, but I’m going to define it here. If you don’t fit this definition, let me know. Here we go. Failure can come in any combination of 4 ways:

  1. Inability to actually complete the creation process.
  2. Inability to have your creative work seen by a reasonable (subjective term) sized audience.
  3. Inability to move or invoke emotion or thought in the audience that sees your work.
  4. Inability to profit from your work.

Now that should spark debate. Let’s not talk about the impoverished greats of our past and how their work was ahead of their time or underappreciated. Let’s also not argue over the fact that some works are profitable while others are not.

Why not argue? Because I agree.

Focusing on film, not every movie makes money. Not everyone appreciates a film. Not everyone sees real art on screen. I agree. However, these maxims are more often true than not! They are not the exception to the rule, they are the rule and what a waste of beauty that rule imposes.


There was a panel at SXSW 2016 that was noted by how the moderator David Kaplan pressed the panel with some tough question and a lot of honesty came back. Producer Dan Janvey pointed out that the independent market was 8000 or so movies, but that only the competitive few (about 10) are talked about painting a picture that there is healthy success in the market when the reality is that 99% are unsuccessful. Kaplan admitted that while everyone at in the panel have made “successful” film, none had really seen a financial upside.

The whole panel is hard hitting about the industry and the risk-reward ratio to being a filmmaker (which often means writer, director, producer, and everything else). A great summary was posted by Ryan Koo for No Film School March 22nd.

The fact is that if you want to make movies, you really have to define what success means to you and the purpose for being a filmmaker. Maybe your definition of success doesn’t fit what I’ve listed above. Maybe your more complex and you weight the four criteria in some way. Or perhaps you weight each project individually and average that over the life of your planned career (cause you really only need a few commercial successes right?).

Whatever you do the fact is that being a filmmaker is tough. I want to make it a little easier by getting you to use film analytics (which is just regular data analytics applied to filmmaking).Movie Steps.png

There are a few basic concepts to this business: Get idea, raise funds, make movie, sell movie. Analytics can help you narrow in on the most profitable and efficient ways to do any of these steps. Furthermore, it can help you figure out my favorite missing step: Define your audience.

Every film has a group of die hard fans. In the traditional marketing world they call this a “love group.” If you find your love group then you can find a buyer for your film. While that sounds easy enough it is actually one of the hardest things to do. It’s something that major companies spend a lot of money researching. But times are changing rapidly and that information can be at your fingertips now.

If you find your love group I guarantee (legally I’m not allowed to provide any guarantees whatsoever) that you will have success in three of the four success criteria I mentioned above. That is, assuming you can successfully complete your film.

Let me hear about your filmmaking career. What defines success to you and is it possible to reach it in today’s market?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *