Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scripts sell unmade films, completed movies struggle

The New Zealand Film Council offers several e-newsletters available free to subscribers anywhere in the world. The first 2012 sales and marketing bulletin notes a rising trend among international distributors to buy into projects largely on the basis of the script, long before the movie itself goes into production.

As a consequence, completed features are struggling to find themselves a distributor in what is increasingly a buyer's market. When a finished film works, producers can expect competitive bidding and sales in multiple territories, according to James Thompson, head of sales and marketing for the NZFC.

But if a completed feature doesn't attract attention, it can wait years to get an all-rights offer of only a few thousand pounds. So what does help a finished film get noticed? Five star reviews. Major talent attached to the project. Getting screened by an A-list festival. All of them execution-dependent factors.

The good news for writers is that distributors now prefer to buy into projects on the basis of a script [and, no doubt, some talent attached, such as a name director]. Distributor money upfront helps get films made. Many completed features never get shown [more than those made in Britain, IIRC].

Writers can ignore all of this. But I believe the more you know about all aspects of the business you're in, the better you'll be able to do your job. That's why I try to attend filming for my Doctors eps, why I go to short courses in script editing and storylining, why I'm taking a feature writing night class.

Why spend months, even years working on a project which has no hope of ever getting made [let alone seen]? Isn't it better to spend time every week soaking up industry knowledge? Doesn't mean your writing need chase bandwagons. But I believe you improve your chances by being better informed.

Put it another way: La chance, c’est comme le Tour de France. On l’attend longtemps et ça passe vite. Quand le moment vient, faut sauter la barrière sans hésiter. That's a quote from Amelie, written by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Translation: Luck is like the Tour de France. You wait, and it flashes by you. You have to catch it while you can. Not a bad philosophy for writing. Onwards!

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