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Thinking outside Hollywood & Indiewood time frame for DIY success

What is the Hollywood & Indiewood time frame for the initial most significant period of distribution of a film & making money back from the project? I'd say usually 12 - 24 months. Within that time a film will have its theatrical wide release (if Hollywood) or have its premiere at one of the famous film festivals (if Indiewood, and now some Hollywood films too) and, if Indiewood, may go on to some level of theatrical distribution (most Hollywood theatrical goes far wider), or will go to DVD and other markets (both Hollywood & Indiewood stuff). All that happens within a 12 -24 month period, as far as I can tell, for most Hollywood & Indiewood projects with a theatrical & DVD distribution component. And through all that the Hollywood or Indiewood companies that own the films may make a lot of money, and may make the film and its director and perhaps some if its actors famous. And all that work would have been accomplished by spending a lot of money (hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars) and having dozens of people work on the marketing & distribution of the project. So that is success by working within the Hollywood/Indiewood time frame.

What about fame & wealth through DIY filmmaking & distribution? Usually, on DIY indie projects the filmmaker is also the distributor and can often be the sole worker engaged in getting the movie out to the audience. The bright side of this is that less money (less than for a Hollywood or Indiewood project) needs to be made in order for the project to be profitable. But due to lack of a large amount of capital to widely market & distribute the film within a 12 - 24 month period, the successful DIY films have a different time frame for the completion of the initial most significant distribution phase of the project.

Let's take a look at three DIY indie films: The Last Broadcast, The Debut, & Funny Ha Ha. Each film can be considered a success due to the following reasons: Lance Weiler's film The Last Broadcast reportedly has earned over 4 million dollars as of 2006, Gene Cajayon's The Debut reportedly grossed $1.8 million through 20 months of theatrical self-distribution (also is a project that spent 11 years between conception in 1992 and being available on DVD in 2003), and Funny Ha Ha made its director Andrew Bujalski relatively well known among film critics & festivals which most likely led to his second film Mutual Appreciation getting significant film festival and critical attention and receiving (I believe) comparatively wider theatrical self-distribution (Mutual is still being shown theatrically, and is currently available on DVD). Time frame wise all three projects worked outside of the 12 - 24 month Hollywood/Indiewood time frame identified at the top of this post, in order to achieve the successes mentioned above. The Last Broadcast was first made available to audiences in 1998. Both The Debut and Funny Ha Ha spent over 2-3 years each getting through festivals and theatrical self-distribution.

So what's the bottom line? Don't worry too much about how long it takes for you to make your DIY film famous (at least in the indie world) and for the film to earn a significant amount of money (let's say over $100,000). Do the work at your own pace, in an affordable & manageable fashion. If your film is good (receives a positive response from the target audience), as long as you continually work on distributing the film, it should eventually be seen by a large number of people and it should eventually earn a significant amount of money. There is no rush. Hollywood or Indiewod can't fire you because you did not achieve significant success in 12 - 24 months because you are a DIY filmmaker & you own your movie. You have the rest of your life to show & sell your movie because you are a DIY filmmaker and thus are able to operate outside of Hollywood time.

- Sujewa


Jacky Treehorn said…
Well written post SE. Very pursuasive and logical.

Karsten said…
Yeah, that was a fine post. Wish you'd let us in on some of the numbers concerning Date Number One, though...
The Sujewa said…
hey karsten,

i've mentioned the known DNO sales $ stats so far, in an earlier post: about 500 audience members total from the 12 screenings in '06 (some paid $5 for entry, some $6, some $8 or $9, depending on the venue. also there were quite a few who were guests/got in free.) When the '07 screenings & DVD sales are done, will share more detailed figures. No profit yet and I have more important things to do right now than figuring out exactly how far we are away from profit :), but I have a rough idea - there is quite a ways to go. I do think the project will become profitable in '07. the DNO distribution project phase 1 will not end until the middle of '08, after that I should have more detailed info.
then there may be phases 2, 3...10 whatever. my secret plan is to build distribution of the film up to a domestic (US) mainstream wide level in the coming years/before this decade is over if possible, little by little. Thanks for the positive words about the Hollywood time post.

- Sujewa

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