Most producers don’t submit their scripts to rigorous analysis... but then most producers don’t make successful films either. Every year thousands of naive newcomers think they can beat the system with nothing but their own intuition, and every year thousands of films worldwide end up unsold, undistributed and unprofitable. [Here's Stephen Follows with some UK stats].
The serious, well-balanced, producer knows that betting on a hunch will simply result in misery, and that the only real way to carve a lasting career and run a long-lasting production company is to exercise due diligence on behalf of the investor — and to give buyers something they actually want.
There are many tactics to maximise the value of a film investment and mitigate against a possible downside, but let’s be clear: the only serious ways for a producer to influence a film’s income are marketplace-aware script development and talent packaging.
Quite simply the added value that your film derives from focusing on development and packaging is at least an order of magnitude greater than its cost to production, and very likely far more. The path to success is littered with the corpses of producers who thought they couldn’t afford development — whereas real producers know you can’t afford to skip it.
The distribution paradigm has changed radically and continues to do so as the competition for eyeball-hours heats up. Every minute of the day, 100 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube*. This, and virtually the entire filmic output of the past 100 years of cinema coming online, is now your competition. There is no more room in the middle. High quality storytelling with high-calibre, internationally known actors is now the only market still available.
Not coincidentally, those are precisely the two areas where my consultancy firm Legwork has been actively developing its expertise — and continues to do so in an Executive Producer capacity on three very different upcoming projects. Also, since both our producer and investor clients need to keep costs down, our deferment model finally makes that expertise affordable to all. Just in time for the coming democratisation of content creation.
Will this change the way producers approach the marketplace? It already has for some. The people with the best end-to-end understanding of the value chain of the independent film industry really get this stuff. Those who know that the best way to sell to a sales agent is to give them something they can sell onwards to their guys. It’s astonishing how many producers still don’t think this way, but I honestly don’t think they’ll be able to get a foothold in the film industry of the future. They will flounder from failure to failure losing their investors’ money on unsold product no one wants to watch. They will not last long.
Sales agents that I speak to tell me that everything is about quality now. Without a world-class script you’re unlikely to attract the director and cast needed to sell your film, and you’ll be relegated to competing with skateboarding dogs on YouTube for audience share. If you’re serious about producing in the coming decade, you’ll be forced sooner or later to get serious about development, it really is as simple as that.
* Source http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/