Beyond Measure

Having spent many articles pounding on the issue of metric measurement and film finance and production, I need to take a moment to admit that not everything is about measurement. I have to make this admission. Otherwise, I end up sounding like one of those stupid spam e-mails for cheap Viagra.

Last time, I explained why many elements in film-making can be handled with metric measurement and data analysis whereas some aspects are more fluid and need to be treated differently. The whole process of getting a movie financed, filmed, and ultimately released has a quality that often resembles an unraveled ball of yarn. Lots of crazy loose ends and countless tangles. Sometimes when you give it a yank, a nice long piece easily untangles. Most often, it just knots up.

That doesn’t mean these other aspects cannot be evaluated; they simply require judgment and interpretive guidance, to go along with the numerically quantifiable elements. This is not the first time I have cautioned that the numbers are not the final step or advocated for the role of solid human analysis of data results

Some of other non-data elements were neatly summed up in a recent e-mail exchange I had with Sheri Candler. If you are an indie filmmaker, you ought to know her name. If not, you might want to make yourself real familiar with her ideas. She has a surprising habit (at least surprising in this business) of knowing what she is talking about (as demonstrated in her book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Candler is extremely expert in the rapidly changing field of marketing and promotional work for indie movies, which is why her thoughts (all her quotes below are in bold italics) went straight into the areas that exist largely outside the metric zone:

I think the analysis should take into consideration not the age of those involved in the production so much as their social following. That is becoming increasingly important to distributors who want talent to help push the films, and not just the onscreen talent. 

Most approaches to metric measurement in film will factor in various versions of the age range. Age is a number, so it is measurable. Social following isn’t. It could, maybe, be factored in, but the process is going to be complicated. 

Also take into consideration if the production will be crowd-funded by donation because that indicates an early success with audience outreach. If they have a significant number of people who have given money to see a production made, that indicates a willingness to spread the word later on its release, no matter where that release occurs, digital or theatrical. Number of donors could be an indication of potential audience revenue later.

Again, Candler makes an extremely important point (and you should take note). However, this process (crowdfunding) is still new enough that I personally would distrust the validity – at this moment – of any statistical model built from it until there is more data. This needs to be factored in, but I feel it will (for now) involve the human analysis, not the statistical.

Also an affiliation with film-making labs. Is the producer/director/writer an alum of a major lab in the US or even overseas (Sundance, IFP, FIND, San Francisco Film Society, Rotterdam etc)? As an alum, certain filmmakers and their projects have early recognition as having merit and the ability to make early connections to the industry that might either bring money to the table, preferential consideration at major festivals premiere, early sales shopping to more prominent distributors, talent agents who can bring higher profile names to the project. Those labs are hotbeds for agencies, festivals and distributors looking for the new blood talent and they keep those filmmakers on a tracking board so to speak. If I were an investor, it would sway me to know that a filmmaker or a project is showing an early trajectory for success based on how recognized they are already by industry insiders.

In other words, solid networking. Networking is all part of the human side of the process. So this is the moment when the computer analysis takes a very long coffee break.

Basically any kind of pre recognition for the audience is going to help in the ability to get people interested in seeing the film. Does the production have any affiliation with large organizations? Having a verified partnership with Komen, Heart Association, Greenpeace etc means that the film will have significant help before it reaches the market. This is not just advice for documentaries. Narrative films with an issue or interest group affiliation will also benefit and especially if the film is made for under $1mil.

Privately, I have given the same advice to many filmmakers. This is both networking and promoting.

Finally, Candler kind of summed it all up:

Take most successful independent films and trace back to where they started. Probably in a filmmaker lab, probably a recipient of some kind of grant, probably an alum by way of a short film at a prominent festival (only Sundance), Cannes (in competition, not SFC), Toronto, Berlin or a student Oscar or Oscar nominated/winning short, probably based on a pre existing story that gained some prominence. You’ll start to see that most successful indie films don’t really come from ‘nowhere,’ they received some kind of nurturing well before they were made and premiered. Doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure does separate them from MANY of the others being made without any kind of past validation.

And again, this represents some of the many factors that the human analysis has to make while accessing the figures achieved through the metric measurement process. Obviously, I view metric measurement analysis as an important and necessarily part of the filmmaking process. But the numbers do not exist in a sterile universe.

They have to interact with these other factors as well. And this set of relationships are best understood by people who can analyze and understand both the numbers and the process.