Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?
That’s the question I asked myself as I packed everything I could into my car.
I had spent the previous year grinding towards filmmaking success in New York City, while sleeping on an inflatable air mattress. And after burning through my bank account, I was looking for a change. Hollywood seemed like a much more exciting alternative.
It took me 10 days to drive the country. Two of the days were spent in the never ending Texas highway.
Seriously, if you never drove across Texas alone, don’t!
Little did I know, but Hollywood is full of guys like me. In fact, year after year thousands of Hollywood hopefuls answer the “Should filmmakers move to Hollywood” question with a definitive YES.
And I understand that you know this.
But you don’t really know this until you’re here. Within the first week, you will see your doppelganger, a lot. You will overhear conversations too. Literally everywhere you go, someone is talking movies or “the industry.”
And even though you sort of suspect that the odds of YOUR filmmaking success is greater than the next guy, deep down you know you’re just a small fish in a big pond.
But you can’t deny it.
No matter where you are in the world, Hollywood represents a much bigger game.
And the only thing that differentiates you from the gazillion other Hollywood hopefuls is the work. Nothing matters more than actually picking up a camera and making something – Anything.
I guess my experiences in New York served me well. When I arrived, I immediately met up with some equally ambitious filmmakers and together, we produced, marketed and sold our first feature. It was a silly zombie movie.
The movie went viral. It opened the door for a few of us. My buddy Jared wrote it. He got an agent.
And I ended up working professionally in video on demand distribution.
In the years since, I have consulted with more than 273 filmmakers on their distribution strategy. And if I learned anything, it’s the fact that everything has changed in filmmaking.
Since making our first feature, there have been some serious developments in production technology. And this forces us to confront the age old question.
In fact one of our Filmmaking Stuff newsletter readers named Jake asked the following question:
“My filmmaking friend in LA told me NOT to make anything in my small town because I would just be wasting my time. He told me no one in the industry will take me seriously if I make my 1st feature outside of Hollywood. So instead of making what I CAN make right now, I’ve been working to move to LA to start doing something… My question is this: is he right?”
So dear reader – Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?
. . . my response to this question is a big fat NO!
Unless you plan on working for a major studio, you no longer need Hollywood.
If you are a filmmaker with an idea and the passion to create a feature film, you can do it from anywhere on earth.
Here are two reasons why:
1. Getting Money In Hollywood Sucks
2. Everybody in Los Angeles is competing to find someone (or some studio) willing to back their movie project.
Can you imagine a town where your waiter is an aspiring actor, your cable guy is an aspiring screenwriter and your taxi driver is an aspiring producer?
Hollywood is saturated with an over-supply of willing, talented, aspiring workers.
And they are all waiting for their big break.
Even if you do raise the money to make your movie, you’ll have to raise a lot more to shoot in LA, because everything (locations, equipment, props, and permits) makes making movies in LA cost prohibitive and a royal pain in the butt.
What a mess!
On the other-hand, if you live in small town and you have good material and ambition, you’re in luck.
If you can get past the fact that all your non-filmmaker friends think you’re crazy, you can build a team, find cheap locations (and other resources, including free food) and you can take action.
Heck, you might even make the nightly news…
When this happens, just make sure you advertise your movie website and start building your audience list!
And. . .
Unlike trying to get a meeting with a busy, semi famous studio executive who never heard of you…
If you call up the local rich guy to make a pitch, your odds of getting a lunch meeting are pretty high.
And let’s pretend for a moment that your town has no rich people. Well, thanks to crowdfunding sites like indieGoGo and Kickstarter you can now reach an entire global audience of people who may be interested in sponsoring your work.
** Filmmaking Equipment is Now Cheap **
When I was getting my start, I saved up an entire summer to buy a used Arri BL 16mm Camera. I shot a short film over a weekend. And then I spent the entire winter saving up enough money to process and transfer the film to video.
Times have changed.
These days, if you want to create cinematic quality content all you have to do is go to your local electronics store and pick up an HDSLR camera and start producing your backyard indie. As long as you take time to understand lighting and camera angles, your end result will look pretty amazing.
** Distribution Changes Everything **
Read this part carefully.
Everyday I am amazed that more filmmakers are not getting naked and running into the streets cheering (Ok. I’m kidding.)
But here is the deal…
The biggest, most awesome change in cinematic HISTORY is distribution. And modern movie distribution changes EVERYTHING!
Thanks to flat fee for service aggregators, for a little investment you can now get your movie into sites like Google Play, iTunes and other VOD outlets – Without giving away all of your rights (for life) to some distributor who will likely never pay you what they promised.
What does this mean for Modern MovieMakers?
This means that instead of raising money and crossing your fingers for a dream distribution deal, you can now create a marketing plan within the context of your movie business plan.
This is important and liberating.
Non-discriminatory distribution allows filmmakers to treat their movie business like any other business.
You do not need to ask permission to create a product, access a marketplace and make sales!
In other-words, as long as you have a camera and internet access, you can now make, market and sell your movies without asking permission.
(Ok, if you really want to get naked and run into the streets, I won’t stop you.)
** A few words about marketing. **
Whenever I put on my film distribution talks, invariably someone will ask me about marketing.
And it’s a good point.
Because distribution is now part of your movie making business, you will need someone on your team who can market.
But there is a big disconnect…
Hollywood (and traditional sales agents and distributors) will tell you to leave distribution to the experts.
They will tell you to give up the rights to your movie because their company has been in business for a gazillion years.
But this kind of talk is crap. I mean, obviously if these guys offer you a huge cash advance, it might make sense.
But if there is no money involved, what value are they giving you?
The promise of getting your movie seen and selling on iTunes and Google Play?
You can just as easily access iTunes and Google Play too.
Unless these old-timers know how to source the appropriate target audience (and they openly share their marketing budget with you and are fully transparent with each marketing step) then there is no value to give away your rights in exchange for validation. Validation and a crappy distribution deal does not pay the bills!
Should Filmmakers Move To Hollywood?
Wow. I intended to write a quick reply to this BIG question and I totally blasted you with my filmmaking passion.
Instead of asking: “Should filmmakers move to Hollywood?”
Consider a better question:
“Given the resources that I have now, what is the movie that I can make this year?”
P.S. Hopefully you are now inspired to make, market and sell your movie from anywhere on earth.
About Jason Brubaker
Jason Brubaker is a Los Angeles based film distribution executive specializing in direct to consumer distribution strategies. He consults with media companies, rights holders and content creators to develop strategies to source content, maximize distribution, grow audiences, build buzz and create community around each title.
Previously Brubaker served as the Manager of Content Acquisitions for Chill, a direct-to-consumer video on demand platform funded by Kleiner Perkins and William Morris Endeavor (WME). While at Chill, Brubaker was responsible for sourcing and acquiring content.
Prior to that, Brubaker also served as the Director of Operations for Distribber, a film distribution company that delivers content to Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Prime, while allowing the filmmaker to keep 100% of the revenue.
Additionally, Brubaker is a contributing author of The Independent’s Guide to Film Distributors, he is the founder of Filmmaking Stuff, a professional resource for independent filmmakers, and his articles on independent movie marketing and distribution have been featured in Film Slate, The Independent and Movie Maker Magazine.
As a speaker, Brubaker has lectured at the UCLA Film School and has spoken or participated in panels at numerous film festivals, including Sundance, Action On Film Festvial, Broad Humor Festival, DV Expo, Filmmaker Summit, FirstGlance Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, Idyllwild CinemaFest, LA Post Production Group, New Hampshire Film Festival, Nosotros Los Angeles, Maine Media Workshops, Santa Monica Film Festival, Showbiz Expo LA and WestDoc.