Everybody makes mistakes. Some of us make a lot of them. It’s no different when you start making feature films. Every feature film process – script development, pre-production, production, post, festival strategy, distribution – has A LOT of moving parts. You can and probably will screw up multiple times on any given day. The hope is that your screw-ups won’t be fatal to your project. And most of them aren’t but they can certainly set you back in terms of time, money and heartache.
In the spirit of sharing let me tell you about the biggest, most costliest mistake that we made on our first film: paying for music.
I know, I know, you’re thinking that you should pay for music. After all, musicians work hard to create to create their song, usually involving several people and even a lengthy process. It’s true. And for that reason you shouldn’t try to rip musicians off (or your cast and crew) and you should always try to give them the best experience and best conditions for the use of their music.
I should clarify that I’m speaking here about pre-recorded music, not composed tracks that you get a composer to specially create and arrange for your film. Like other post-production talent, you’re more likely to have to pay them unless you know them or they’re looking for their first feature film credit.
But on our first film, we used mostly pre-recorded music in our soundtrack from probably a dozen different bands and musicians. To coordinate all this and search out good tracks for us to use, we worked with a music supervisor. He did a great job finding music for us but he insisted that the artists get paid. Again, not unreasonable.
It ended up costing us $5,000+, a third of our (already too high) post-production costs.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit because the solution was so obvious and would have saved us all that cash that we could have put elsewhere in getting the film out there. But we were newbies. It happens.
The truth is that there are thousands of bands and musicians out there who, just like you, are trying to get exposure for their music. They put it up on bandcamp.com and hope that someone, besides their friends, listens to it and likes it. And if you live in a city of any size there’s probably dozens, if not hundreds, of local musicians and bands trying to get exposure.
You’re not getting paid, your crew didn’t get paid. Maybe even your cast didn’t get paid. It’s not unreasonable to approach musicians and ask if you can use their music for free, with the promise that if your film makes money you will pay them. You can even advertise on Craigslist and/or Kijiji. Some will say no but many more will be excited to have their music featured in your film. You can find some great tracks this way and you can return the favor by promoting the band on your Facebook fan page, in your crowdfunding campaign, your twitter feed, etc. If your film gets any traction you can even sell the soundtrack (if you’re distributing through Gumroad it’s easy to add merchandise to your page and track sales) and give them the proceeds minus expenses.
Adding $5K to our post-production budget meant we had to go further into debt, which was painful. But we survived and learned our lesson. Hopefully this lesson will help you not make the same mistake as us. Just make sure you get contracts with any musician or you won’t be able to distribute your film. You will need them to sign both a Synch License and a Master License.
What do you think? What was your biggest film mistake?
Click on the image