How Corona has created avenues for Independent Film Makers
The Covid 19 has had a disastrous effect on the entertainment and production industry especially film & television industry, and in the process creating a ripple of the impact across all art sectors. The cinemas and movie theatres are shut, festivals are postponed or cancelled – the biggest of the films have moved their release to a future date still unsure of a potential date they would release it. Some most anticipated projects which were due to go on floor has been stalled or stopped – dreams of several people couldn’t see the fruition of their dreams .Due to the lockdowns, the global box office has lost billions of dollars affecting film exhibitors worldwide. The uncertainty of what’s next is is evidently visible on everyone’s mind.
The Old Normal
It wasn’t too long ago when a cinematic phenomenon broke numerous box office records. Avengers Endgame was the movie event of 2019. Two years in the making, with a budget of $356 million, the film went on to gross $2.7 billion and catapulted the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as the top mega franchise in the US.
The success of the ‘Avengers Saga’ excited fans all over the world for Marvel’s future installments. Phase four (4) was to launch a new batch of superhero films starting with the long-overdue Black Widow which was slated to be released in November this year. It would have been, if not for the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. Dr. Strange somehow overlooked this particular timeline.
“For more than a century, movie theaters have been a refuge, a communal escape.” Before the spread of the virus, cinemas were packed as hordes of cinephiles flock to see their most anticipated motion picture. However, the last three months saw the devastating effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the film industry as people were forced to hole up inside their homes to flatten the curve. “Even as India on Monday relaxed its lockdown, easing most of the restrictions for the 1.3 billion population, experts believe that it will take a long time for the [mainstream] entertainment industry to return to its vibrancy.”
Some studios have restarted production, however radical changes to shooting a feature film have to be taken into consideration as safety guidelines are still put in place to ensure everyone involved doesn’t get sick. Filming, in the traditional sense, especially for big-budget movies could be risky.
Right now, While the concern is to ensuring people to follow the guidelines –We cant deny the fact that film industry is indeed very vulnerable because both the production as well as the audiences are large numbers of people huddled together in closed spaces. While we hope the government comes up with some clear support for the people how we’re going to be able to get going again remains a big question.
For upcoming and new film makers – Our problems will be to get visibility of our films – how will we ensure our films getting seen. Especially the movies which relies heavily on film festivals like Toronto or Cannes or Telluride. But perhaps none of those will happen this year.
This time last month or so, Bollywood was excited. The biggest block busters , makers and brands were announcing films & releases on strategic dates for the films. Filmmaker Karan Johar was due to shoot his next film Takht in Europe – as always a massive production – big period drama – this April. He is unsure about the future as well. As one of the most successful producers in India, he has two films ready for release and seven others in production. That’s just Dharma Productions – Similarly several companies, studios are facing similar challenges. With no clarity on when things will get back to normal – and how many footfalls can be expected at the cinemas.
Among other things, production’s “‘new normal’ will include having no more than 100 people in any area of filming per day; no intimate scenes; the male actors won’t wear make-up, and there will be a nurse on set.” So how would a studio like Marvel make a suitable version of ‘Iron Man’ whose third film had a total of 3000 crew members? Is there such an alternative?
When it all ends – the landscape would have changed – while it may still take time for the theatres and mainstream cinema to start functioning normally – the Pandemic has also opened a new type of opportunity.
Lucky for studios and OTT companies, there absolutely is.
In the (temporary) absence of old-school theaters, streaming services took over the responsibility of providing entertainment in the comfort of every movie buff’s home. While OTT platforms are not new in providing quality content to their subscribers, the pandemic provided a renewed opportunity for them as more people crave for content day by day. In Singapore alone, online engagement in entertainment increased by 12% in March compared to the month before.
Fast Exhausting Content
With millions of people locked in to their homes and watching streaming platforms for major part of the day – the content list on the streaming platforms are getting exhausted faster than ever. This is leading to a huge demand for more exciting content .The viewers are switching from one platform to another searching for better content. This set the streaming platforms against competition in seeking out more films and content for the platform.
Not only that the platforms are opening the doors to film maker for more content – they need it faster than ever . This also gives opportunities to partially made or already made films – to sign a deal faster.
This tremendous increase in consumption cannot be further overstated. In 2016, an individual spends an average of one hour and 33 minutes a day streaming; this year, due to the lockdown, a person averages eight hours a day of binge watching TV series and movies. The upside to this is that streaming services gained unprecedented revenues; on the flip side, there is an urgency to supply a growing demand of these ‘virtual escapes’.
So How to utilize this avenue.
Brave New Normal
The theatre’s loss could be streaming platforms Opportunity
Several studios were already beginning to shift their mid to low budget films out of theatres to the popular streaming services. Now the corona outbreak could provide a better excuse for them to move more of their film onto the internet where consumers can avoid crowded public places.
While none of the streaming platforms were originally created with a pandemic in mind. But the current situation and unpredictability of the global market will definitely become a saving point for the producer.
So how’s this an opportunity you ask.
Compelling Micro budget films maybe a faster sale
Low-budget films have been overlooked for years both by production companies and moviegoers alike. And because it’s often snubbed, some up-and-coming filmmakers find it rather difficult to get a breakthrough until the industry witnessed a shift in recent years as more and more independent film companies proved they too can produce equally good, if not better, features. In 2015, Whiplash, with a budget of $3.3M, and filmed in 19 days, was critically acclaimed and was consequently nominated for an Oscar.
Some Examples in Hollywood Micro Budget.
- El Mariachi Directed by Robert Rodriguez – Budget less than 6 lacs (USD 7000)
- Paranormal Activity Directed By Budget: Less than 10 Lacs ( USD 11000)
For general view producers usually categorize 3 Crores – 6 Crores and less at times to be micro budget as well. It is dependent on the amount a producer can spend on a project. The most attractive aspect of shooting low budget movies is the great opportunities it offers for filmmakers. For producers the stress-levels decrease while working on a micro budget movie because the risk is much lesser in comparison.
Films budget constraints pushes directors to experiment and be more creative and spontaneous with the performances. The power and control of the film remains with the director in micro budget film as you do not have to cast a big name to recoup your money. And instead of waiting around for the perfect deal or film budget – a micro budget will allow the film makers to create content which is close to their heart. And often the budget constraints and limitations will help director to surpass many of his contemporaries due to the freedom and spontaneity.
While we lament the catastrophe that COVID-19 has brought upon the world, it is hard to deny the opportunities this cataclysm has gifted us in one form or another. Creativity is often born out of necessity. Now more than ever, independent filmmakers are in the forefront of filling this gaping creative hole that is the dearth of online streaming content. One only needs to take the bull by the horns.
Where others see only the limitations (financial constraints, logistical challenges), the most creative minds perceive limitless possibilities – especially in telling stories which is what the art of movie-making is all about.
The DIY model of independent filmmaking allows for more freedom to the creator to tell whatever story he wants. Compared to mainstream movies, however, indie films are observed “to have a greater focus on the individual characters and offer a more “personal” experience than an IMAX or Blockbuster film would.” Moreover, “micro-budgets favor performance and story over technical aspects.” And all these hinges massively on one important key to the entire creative process – the script.
Directors play a vital role in ultimately seeing the film’s vision through to the end. Actors carry out the critical task of breathing life to the characters and giving them justice through their performance. While the writers bear twice that weight by putting into words that “vision” and by meticulously drafting every single action and dialogue that needs to happen.
Before this COVID-19 ordeal, many great script writers were waiting patiently for their work to be adapted into film. Those scripts are probably still tucked safely in a drawer untouched. But now, it’s time to get those drafts out. It’s about time to tell those stories. People need them- their prolonged physical isolation and emotional separation urgently need a cure.
I am preparing with my next feature film venture as well – a unique love story amidst Covid lockdown . Cant wait to go on floor with it.
Remember - Its all about the content
Making a feature length film will add no value from a business perspective or career if the created film doesn’t have a compelling plot and is not executed right .
The Script – logline needs to compelling enough to be able to win over these streaming platforms. The treatment of the film needs to be fresh and unique for it to make financial sense and to trust that that it will get its required returns in streaming.
The visual Quality and Direction – The film needs to look professional and should have a content which can hold the audience for 90 minutes. The Direction and Execution also needs to follow specific guidelines of shoot. For example Netflix has put out of a list of approved cameras and formats that they expect content to be.
While an independent film is completely your baby and you can choose what type of story to tell- remember that it needs to have a
USP – Unique Selling Point – why should a studio or streaming platform buy this in 1 line.
Ensure to create a clear business plan even before you set out to make an independent film – The document will need to clearly narrate what your vision of the movie is – with a logline, Synopsis, Treatment etc . It can be a PDF document, and should include information such as cast and crew – information about shoot and formats etc.
This will help you to share information about your movie in a professional manner.
There is a detailed section in my Film Making Mentorship Program on how to prepare a business plan and how to set up your film marketing documents. Selling your film is as important as making the film.
You can check out all about my mentorship progam here.