How to Make $500,000 Selling a No Budget DSLR Indie Film with Michael Polish
I'm always looking for indie filmmaking models to study. I like to analyze how other filmmakers make successful indie films while doing through a new DIY method, self-distributing their film or achieving critical and fan respect for their work.
Well, I found a film that checks all the boxes, For Lovers Only create by the Polish Brothers, Michael and Mark Polish (more on that film later). These filmmakers have been making films, on their terms, for over a decade now.
Since premiering at Sundance with their debut feature, 1999's Twin Falls Idaho, the brothers have remained steadfast in their commitment to creating personal, character-driven films.
Michael Polish has created a filmography of critically-acclaimed features, including the karaoke-themed Jackpot (2001), the self-financed period piece Northfork (2003) and the sci-fi drama The Astronaut Farmer (2006). Yet the Polish brothers have always maintained a collaborative—as opposed to competitive—spirit when it comes to finding success in Hollywood
In 2005, he and his brother published the must-read book The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking: An Insider's Guide to Making Movies Outside of Hollywood, a how-to guide for first-time filmmakers.
How to Make $500,000 on a DSLR Feature Film
How does one make money shooting a feature film on a DSLR? The film in question came from a screenplay that Mark Polish wrote more than a decade ago called For Lovers Only, about an American photographer who runs into an old flame while on assignment in Paris. The film follows the rekindled lovers around Paris, France in a series of quiet vignettes that gradually reveal more about the complications in the couples' lives.
Inspired by the guerilla style of the French New Wave filmmakers of yesteryear, Mark and Michael Polish came up with a simple plan: they'd fly over to France with only a Canon 5D Mark II camera (which they already owned) and one actress (Castle star Stana Katic) in tow and just go out and shoot feature film. Oh did I mention it was in black and white?
With no budget to speak of they went out into Paris and captured it's stunning beauty for free. Additionally, shooting solely on a DSLR had quite a few advantages. Not only was the camera extremely portable, and allowed for filming in tight spaces (such as the small alcoves in French churches), it gave the film the level of intimacy it needed.
No one stopped them since they were such a small crew and the camera was a still camera (with video capablities) everyone thought they were a married couple simply on vacation.
Screenwriter and actor Mark Polish explained the process.
“It was me, Mike and Stana, and that was it. We shot for 12 days, and the whole point was to capture this really intense intimacy between the two characters.”
Most of the team’s hotels and meals were comped by their contacts and friends; their only expenses were food and a few taxis, but Mark and Michael Polish don’t consider that part of the budget since those charges would have been incurred if they took a vacation instead.
Michael Polish said that their hotels and some meals were comped; they shot and edited with equipment they already owned; and they don’t consider the few grand worth of meals, taxis and the like to be part of an actual budget.
“There was not one dime that came out of our pocket specifically for this movie — besides the food we ate, but we had to eat, anyway."
Now what makes the filmmaking story really interesting is the film made of $500,000 through self-distribution. Yup, that's right. How might you ask?
Using Social Media to SELL!
Michael Polish was extremely smart for casting Stana Katic not only for her amazing beauty and talent but she also had a huge fan base from her hit ABC television show Castle. At Michael Polish's request, Stana tweeted out to her over 67,000 twitter followers that the film was available on iTunes and word spread very quickly.
Michael Polish leveraged not only his and his brother's own social networks and also Stana's. Katic's rabid Twitter and Facebook followings spread the word.
Then Michael Polish found that the film's #hashtag was drawing over 1,000 tweets an hour, he drafted up posters using the Twitter raves in place of critics' quotes. Those posters went viral on Twitter and Tumblr, and further helped create an amazing amount of iTune pre-sales.
I can't express to you enough that they created this enter film completely in the DIY, no budget filmmaking process. From shooting it to marketing and selling it. This is a model that should be studied by all indie filmmakers. Now you can find the film on all the usual suspects of VOD (Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon & Movies on Demand via FilmBuff). Since he and his brother own the film, they keep all the profit.