Imagine you bought a new mobile phone. You turned it on. It displays some random images and then turned off. You turn it on again, the same thing happens. You take it back to the shop and ask for a replacement. But the shopkeeper tells you that “you don’t understand, that it is a piece of art. The edge of the phone is perfectly curved like no other phone has ever been able to. You are paying to watch the most beautiful photos ever taken by man. ”
This is what he intended when he made the phone and he is not going to repay you. You are either going to crack his head, if not, take him to court. When you pay for something, you expect it to deliver a certain value in return.
What People are Paying For
Filmmaking, to me, is both an art and a business. If you are in for the art, for making films that are a form of self expression to you, then by all means do that. But do not expect the world to pay to watch and applaud your masterpiece. If you want people to pay for something you create, you need to deliver them something of value.
“A novel or short story can have, in a sense, no story or dramatic progression, no conflict or crisis. Maybe some forms of experimental and personal cinema have little need for dramatic tension, but a narrative fiction film is (more often than not) something else. Dramatic tension generally requires an element of conflict.”—Alexander Mackendrick
People pay to watch films at the cinema halls because they want to see drama, tension, conflict. Even the best of romance and comedy works only when there is conflict; the girl’s father opposes the boy, or if it is a comedy it could be the girl’s dog, and story goes around how the boy resolves these conflicts.
Asking to Pay to Watch
Your film’s trailer, its posters, are all giving the audience a certain promise, that the film will deliver a certain something if you pay to watch it. If it is comic in nature, people expect to laugh. If tragic in nature, people expect to cry. If it has a lot of set pieces, people expect a blockbuster and so on.
Even as you read through this article, you are expecting to learn something out of it. My promise could be the title, the summary you might have seen, the first paragraph, the way it is written and structured etc. Had I been beating around the bush and not getting to the topic you would have left already.
By all this I do not mean to demean personal artistic cinema. My films are all personal to me. But at the same time I am aware that I am in a business transaction and that I need to deliver. I try to ride a line in the middle. If the film you want to make is an artistic self expressive piece then please do that. Film festivals and cinema halls that screen art house films might be your way to go. They too make a lot of money, though perhaps less glamorous. Forgive my ignorance in the regard.
Your Film’s Value
Films that have an artistic merit and at the same time is something you create for someone else to consume, that you want them to pay to watch, those need to deliver as your marketing has promised.
Being artists, filmmakers are not usually concerned about its business aspects. We are probably not used to selling either. But while making a low budget film that you are planning to distribute yourself, it is important that you know that you are asking someone to pay to watch it. Even if it is an artistic expression, you are in a business transaction, perhaps for a different audience. They are bearing the expenses of flying down to a film festival because they are looking for something.
It is your job, as the creator, to be aware of the value your film is offering, to whoever the audience you believe it is for. This will guide you in the steps ahead, of selling your film, be it through cinema halls, film festivals or other means, which we will look at tomorrow.