Why are box office numbers public, but not VOD, DVD, and PPV? A call for indie analytics

Indie film consultant Brian Newman (@bnewman01) has posted a call for better analytics in order to figure out the future of independent film. To Bryan, "the biggest problem facing the indie film field is the lack of transparency around the numbers. Which numbers? All of them." I wholeheartedly agree and this is exactly why I'm trying to share my own metrics -- for now, it's just blog revenue, but in the near future it will be video views/income as well.

Some salient questions from Bryan:

  • Is there any correlation between playing a regional film festival (for word of mouth) and eventual box office (or ancillary) performance in that market?
  • What has been the total investment by foundations and donors (even approximate) annually into documentary films, and what has been the return on this investment, purely in dollars?
  • An analysis of the top five DIY "success stories" over the last ten years. For example, if you assigned the federal minimum wage to everyone involved, totaled their hours worked on self-distribution for the entire distribution cycle of each film and subtracted this (plus marketing and other hard costs) from their returns, did any make more money back than their best minimum guarantee from a distributor? How many are still making films 5 and 10 years later?

And my favorite:

  • What percentage of successful indie films (pick a measure of success, any measure - box office, awards, festivals played, etc.) are made by film school graduates? From which schools? How many graduates are working in film, in any capacity, five and ten years after graduation?

Link: SpringBoardMedia: Some things I'd like to know

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Your Comment


But what motivation does a company like IFC have to share these stats? Isn't that helping their competitors?

May 8, 2010 at 10:25AM, Edited September 4, 7:26AM


That's a good question. I think it only helps a competitor who has BETTER stats they can bandy about, to entice a filmmaker to sign for less of an advance. But since no one's sharing, no one knows.

May 8, 2010 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 7:26AM

Ryan Koo

A different way of seeing:

Information is power. I want this info as much as everyone else but everyone knows Hollywood box office and budget numbers are all cooked and tweaked for PR. No one but the accountants, CEOs and CFOs really know what is going on because that is what allows them to profit and stay in power. Indy films is no different. We are all human and most will protect their competitive edge.

The real story is that as the cost of production drops with the advance of technology so will the financial return to the filmmakers, except for those rare break out exceptions: Sex Lies and Video Tape, Blare Witch, Paranormal Activity, etc. In those cases the profits are so big (compared to budget) that they can't hide it all.

Unless you knock it out of the park, making your second film will most likely be as hard or harder than the first film.

Being an "indepedent DYI filmmaker" is a working class job (with respect) which requires one to assume that you will work all the time to just get by and under the constant fear of not sustaining a "living wage".

Under these conditions, the less you know the better.

Spend more time writing great scripts and less time sweating the math because if you really do the math you'll discover that you're insane if you expect to make any real money doing this.

It turns out DYI filmmaking is a lifestyle (habit?) most often supported by a day job, a credit card, a trust fund or rich parents. That day job may be making web videos, commercials, reality TV, etc. (all of which I have done for the last 12 years) but that is not "feature filmmaking" which is what we all aspire to as our avocation.

Nothing wrong with that but always better to see the world with clear eyes.

So if you can't get rich or famous, why are you doing this?

My answer is: I have no choice. I make films. I always have and I always will. It gives life meaning. Wealth and fame are always welcome but never expected.

And the greatest thing about the DYI revolution is that now I can make films for the rest of my life with little to no financial support. Granted, there will be many many limitations in terms of scale and cast but beyond that I'm truly free to tell the stories I want to tell and that is priceless.

Good luck on this long journey. May you find what ever metrics you need to keep telling stories.

November 9, 2011 at 11:11AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Matthew L