10 Lessons to Help You Navigate Our Rapidly Changing Industry
The Entertainment Finance Forum enlightens Hollywood about what's next in film and television production and budgets. Here's what you need to know.
No Film School went on a field trip to the Skirball Center in Los Angeles where we sat in on some amazing discussions about the future of the entertainment industry, including topics about finding startup capital and financing, getting your project on streaming platforms and working with brands and influences.
Panels were hosted by industry recognized vets Claire Scanlon, Thomas Jane and Effie Brown, among others. Since we know most of you couldn't make it, we took the top ten things we learned and made a list for you.
So without further ado, let's dive into the future.
10 Things We Learned at the 2020 Entertainment Finance Forum
The Entertainment Finance Forum is an incredibly informative event. Not just because of the quality of the speakers, but because of the insane changes happening across our industry. We are living in the third most important time in entertainment history. The first was the creation of the movie camera, the second was the invention of television, the rising in streaming ranks third – though when you look to the future streaming may outweigh both that have come before it.
1. Don’t wait until the package is complete
One of the biggest takeaways from the event was the idea of packaging. Right now we know the ATA and WGA are fighting over agents packaging and taking fees, but in the independent and TV markets, studios, networks, and streamers are all flocking toward buying things that are packaged.
That means they have a writer, director and talent included.
Traditionally, packaged items needed to be fully packaged to draw attention. Now, if you have one big name, it's not too early to go out. Truly, this depends on the size of the product, but creators who have buzzy names are worth almost as much as talent nowadays. You only need one to really garner attention.
So when you begin to package your script, don't wait too long. Talk with financiers and see what their preference is, you might not want to sit on something too long. Begin by asking around and looking for loose attachments for your project.
2. Network everywhere you go
Every event you attend is an opportunity to meet people. The Forum had an entire networking hour built into the event. But the one thing many of the producers and directors who attended stressed was some of their best ideas came from networking at social events and asking people questions outside the movie theater or talking to strangers in line.
While that might seem like overkill, the one thing this industry has moved completely away from is the idea of the "lone wolf" creator. Sure, you may see auteur theory in modern studio movies but most people have a team they work with or a network they send their work to on a regular basis.
3. Create a realistic budget
In almost every pitch packet people read, creators say the phrase "We can do it for a price." They say it so much that those words don't mean anything anymore. If you're serious about a project and taking it out for financing or to be packaged, know what it will cost.
That may involve hiring a line producer to show the numbers, or having a general idea of the price plus comparisons to similar projects with similar expenses. At this point, most companies have dealt with projects going over budget enough to know what's realistic. So don't try to lie to them or to fudge the numbers.
Sure, people want things that cost less because of the profit margins, but if you're doing something expensive, best to be upfront about the cost and about the realistic returns.
4. Know your platforms
Is the show or movie you're producing good for theatrical or should it play online? What's the difference between steam, network and cable TV?
Right now, Disney+ is outpacing every platform with subscribers. It's creeping up on Hulu and Netflix and has passed every other. Last year, there were 530 scripted series on the air and 646,000 unique shows on streamers alone. Not episodes, not seasons, 646,000 unique shows. Thank about that.
While that sounds like a lot of competition, knowing the platforms will allow you to spend time pitching to realistic landscapes. Disney+ is not going to buy your hitman TV show. But HBO might.
Along with these platforms comes rights issues, as in, when they buy the show, who owns the rights to it? Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime will want to own the rights to make as many seasons as they want. Shows they don't own, don't last long.
If you're making movies, does the platform have a pathway to cinemas? What about worldwide distribution? Martin Scorsese made sure the Irishman would hit theaters. And Lulu Wang turned Netflix down because they couldn't give her that guarantee. So know what your ideal outcome would be and seek out platforms that help you achieve it.
5. Margins matter
First and foremost, this is an entertainment industry. It's a business in a capitalist system. Sure, art is involved, but every company you work with is trying to make money. It's what keeps their doors open and their employees paid. Never forget that.
So how can you frame your content with the biggest profit margin?
We know about making realistic budgets, but think if your show actually makes sense to a specific network or platform. Netflix knows that if it gets to season four of a show, it has to pay huge dividends out. So maybe when you pitch to a platform like Netflix, tell them your series ends after season three.
Accompanied with this, how do you make money? If you're on a streamer, how do they pay backend? Most places won't tell you who viewed what, so make sure they pay you a lot upfront for the content. If they own the rights to it, fine, but have a lawyer build information into the deal that takes care of your backend or keeps the rights to the show with you.
6. Don’t think just theatrical
So many of us got into the movie business to see our names in lights. To watch them scroll across the biggest screen possible. While it might do that at the premiere, if there is a premiere, there's a better chance it will do it on the TV set at home.
Theatrical is great, but the town is getting more and more selective with what they spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting. That means event movies and things with stars. If you're in the indie world, never fear. While theatrical may not be in your window, every streamer is dying to get their hands on more content.
That means you could have a negative pickup, where a streamer buys your produced movie to show, or a cost-plus scenario, where they buy your movie AND pay you a fee on top of it to own the rights or to stream it.
The times are changing. The "Straight to DVD" market used to be a bad thing, now you can brag to your friends about accessibility and your parents can post links to their Facebook walls.
Don't limit your vision to one platform. Think about all of them.
7. Streaming helps inclusivity
The doors for people of color, women and other minorities have been close in Hollywood for far too long. The rise in streaming has diversified the playing field in ways we never could have imagined. Now people can seek out content targeted for them. They don't have to watch content targeted for others. The best part of this scenario is that streamers understand this and want to fill as many markets as possible so there's room for everyone to succeed.
Creators can now be specified with their stories. Don't try to make it too broad, let people into your window and you'll attract people who want to take a peek inside something they've never seen before. While things are by no means perfect, they have changed for the better.
8. IP or awareness titles help sales
Look, I know you're sick of sequels and seeing the same Robin Hood title over and over...but the fact of the matter is that titles that have brand recognition play well at every level. They're a real boost if you're a nobody in the industry pitching. People see these know equities as part of the package.
So when you're brainstorming the next thing, take a look at everything in the public domain and see if there's something there that can interest you. Think about legends, myths, poems and biblical epics that could help you sell what you want.
Aside from that, can you think of anything you can build your title around to be noisy? Movies like Mother's Day and JFK are about things that are part of the cultural lexicon. What's a new idea you can tap into that gets some extra oomph from the intellectual property?
9. Monetize a perspective
Original ideas are not dead, they just need a clear way to make money.
We talked about diversity is on the rise but perspectives go beyond people of color and both genders. They dig at the core of what makes you unique. Think about a movie like the excellent Instant Family. It took an experience, foster care, that many people would not have and gathered an audience that way.
So what do you have to offer that other people do not?
Again, be specific.
If you're a producer, what are some perspectives you think you can sell? What are some companies that have a distinct perspective that might align with your own? Obviously, Blumhouse is somewhere you'd take any horror idea, but they wouldn't be interested in your rom-com. That might go to Reese Witherspoon's company.
Know who buys and sells what perspective and you won't knock on the wrong doors.
10. Selling finished products vs ideas
Selling an idea is very, very hard. You need clout, a huge package, and low overhead on making it. But in today's market, if you have a script or an independent film that's finished, people are more likely to take a look.
While both options provide viable ways into the industry, each has its own hurdles. It would be hard to say if one was better, but in terms of writing, a finished script can go to more people and more places than just a pitch.
Depending on the movie budget, you may just want to make it and then try for a negative pickup or a distribution deal as well.
Bonus: Be a content omniverse
The main takeaway from the event is that the industry has changed more than anyone could have anticipated and it will continue to change over the next decade. The rise in short-form content at places like Quibi presents an uncharted territory where new pioneers will make names for themselves.
So what can you do to get work?
Be an omnivore. Don't limit yourself to just writing movies or TV shows, or for streamers, or network. Go after EVERYTHING.
Network and get meetings at different places, come up with pitch documents for every format, rework old ideas and come up with new ones for emerging sites. Get to know who wants what and deliver it. Just get out there and get things on paper and ready to go. The sky is the limit in this new decade.
So get ready to fly.
What's next? How to break into Film and TV in 2020!
It's a new decade and the old ways of breaking in aren't cutting it. So, what's new in the film and TV industry?
Click for more.