Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Moneyball Concept Applied to Film

There is a great thought provoking article on Slated by Colin Brown. And this is my response to it. 

There's a fatal flaw here.

In terms of financing, what are we looking for in a first time director? We want to make a film for as low a budget as possible with as high a return as possible. That is the financial appeal. But first time directors are unknown. They aren't sitting on the bench with a track record of hits.

You say, pair up with a producer. So where's the analogy with Moneyball? How does that producer evaluate you? Why would they bother? You're unknown with no track record, no stats.

You say it's like dating. Yeah, I get it. I married the girl no one noticed who went to Saturday dances with her grandfather. She didn't date much. A wallflower. I stumbled on her. I didn't seek her out. She was perfect. So much for that analogy.

The find a producer/dating thing is good advice. It's also the traditional model. I'd love to. Fat chance. Something like 40,000 filmmakers are looking for producers annually. There's a stat for you.

Hooking up with a producer is the traditional model. It is not working. Macaulay says do the speed dating thing at festivals. Festivals curate. Oh really? Guess what. Festivals are corrupt. Paid publicity agents get you in them. Some sucky films get in. Some good films don't. Do I need a publicity agent to help me find a producer?

The major fallacy in your analogy with Moneyball is that baseball, like most sports, is a numbers game. You win by racking up points. Statistically though, it's about numeric scores. Not money. It's not about the popularity of the player. And that popularity would be a more accurate analogy with the traditional film business model.

I love the Moneyball premise. But that premise actually is not statistics. The premise is finding the overlooked talent. In film, when you sit on the bench, you are ignored - you don't exist. It's not like you fill out the roster.

The overlooked filmmakers are the guys who made Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch, before they made them. If you came across Oren Peli with his script before he ever made Paranormal Activity, or even after it was completed (with Peli as writer, director, producer, DP, CD, and editor) would you fund his project? Hell no. Film is collaborative. You need talented people in each department - so says the conventional moneyball wisdom. Obviously this is bullshit as proved by Peli.

Blair Witch is a bit different with Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez as writer-director-editors and nothing else. And yet their producers and cast were also unknowns. Names meant nothing. Producer connections - pretty much non-existent.

Thinking in teams? Yeah, they had teams, mostly me, myself, and I, plus a few more unknown but talented enough people they could round up. I pay a DP $300 a day, actors $100, an editor $3K. I have a team. I don't need a team. I need money to buy one.

You may say those films sucked anyway. You wouldn't want to produce them. But they had the one element that is truly important and is missed in all these insightful articles, and that element is a huge captivated audience. They were also dirt cheap with huge returns. Lucrative.

It's not about finding a producer. It's about finding an audience. As Ted Hope says, that is the hardest part. And the value in a producer is recognizing this fact and helping you make it happen. Because without a compelled audience, your film will fail and your producer's track record will be hurt. The connected producer can then affirm that, yes, your film will attract an audience. And the connected producer will want to see that audience element in your project.

Conventional moneyball wisdom says these unknown successes are outliers. These are rare cases. And that is exactly my point. We need to find the rare cases. We need to make the path open for them, or more likely, they need to make themselves known. The problem is that statistics can't be used here. The unknown filmmakers are unknown. They are on no one's list. They are in the vast void beyond even the 11,840 or so who applied to Sundance and didn't get in. And they are ignored or non-existent in producer email in-boxes or at festival speed dating events.

The real task at hand for the filmmaker is to be distinguished as having an audience, or the ability to have one. Crowdfunding could do that. But that is also a special skilled endeavor.

This is not a problem with an obvious solution.

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