• Lindsay Spiller

Drama or Genre? High or Low Budget? What makes a Successful Film?

Updated: Nov 7

Entertainment attorney Lindsay Spiller interviews Michael Hayes, the owner of Prolific Pictures, an international film sales agency. The interview took place during the American Film Market (AFM) on November 2, 2022, in Santa Monica, California.

Michael has been a writer, film producer, director and is now a sales agent at Prolific Pictures (email: michael@prolificpictures.com; tel: ‭1 (310) 498-6075‬).


TRANSCRIPT


HAYES:

My name is Michael Hayes. I'm with Prolific Pictures. We're a boutique sales agency located in Los Angeles and we're here at AFM 2022, finally back live.


SPILLER:

How did you get in this crazy business?


HAYES:

I got into it first as a writer, then as a producer, and then finally got into the sales side.


SPILLER:

What things should a filmmaker be aware of when they try to pitch a sales agent about their film?


HAYES:

There's a lot of things to be aware of. One of the primary things to be aware of that you're not necessarily aware of when you're on the other side is how reductive this side of the business is. That films to some extent, not a hundred percent, but to some extent are just widgets. They're like any other product. They have a buyer, they have a seller, and it's just about the seller meeting the buyer's needs. And it's not necessarily that the buyers don't care what the product is intrinsically, but on some level that they don't. Yes, they want a good story and they want good performances. They want a good film but if the business relied on quality films there wouldn't be a business. So they know that that if they don't check enough boxes they may be able to just check a few boxes. That's not to say that you want to not try to make the best film that you can make but it is extremely reductive. For instance, buyers typically don't want dramas - they don't even want to talk about dramas - same with documentaries. So it's a very difficult sell to to get a buyer to actually look at something that you feel good about that you want them to look at (that is a drama or documentary). And it's not that they won't buy it - it's just that their initial position is that they didn't want to have a conversation about it. To a large extent nobody wants a drama so don't make a drama.


SPILLER:

So what do buyers want then?


HAYES:

Typically they want a genre film, horror, Sci-Fi, Action, or Thriller.


You can have drama elements but typically what we see is that filmmakers are making dramas with a little bit of a genre element in it and trying to sell it as that genre and that doesn't work. Buyers know that trick. That's been done for years and years and years and it used to work better but in the age of streaming and, with the proliferation of content out there now, it doesn't really work anymore. Not to say that it won't sell, but it'll have to sell with its drama being more forward than buried somewhere and hidden. I think the thing for filmmakers to be aware of is that you have to be really deliberate about what you're making and make sure that if if you have a horror film it's horrific if it's a thriller it better be thrilling um not just thrilling in in a way that you think it's thrilling but you need to test it and talk to people and particularly talk to sales agents because they will tell you, "no this isn't thrilling." You think it is but it's not because we've got to know a million people on the platform that are going to tell us that it's not and we've seen it happen over and over again and we've seen it enough that we know it won't. So to some extent filmmakers need to trust that sales agents and buyers on the distribution side know what is going to sell. That's not to say that your movie won't be a fantastic film. It just isn't going to sell even if it's really good a drama. For instance, if it's extremely good yet with no cast and has no festival Laurels of of note - like top tier - it's not going to get traction no matter how good it is. It just won't because buyers aren't going to take a chance. They need someone else to tell them that it's good. So a festival will do that. If you have cast, cast can do that. But otherwise you're really gambling a lot by making a drama and hoping that you're going to get into Sundance or Tribeca or South by Austin. I mean you know there's a small pool of festivals. You can have 20 Laurels on your poster but if if one of them doesn't say Sundance or Tribeca, then a buyer doesn't care and they don't care because it won't help them sell the film because when they put it out their audience doesn't care.


Attaching cast absolutely will help the film. The film still has to be good. I just had a conversation with a colleague that had a very well-known, recognizable actor in this film, yet nobody's buying this film because the film is awful. So cast only goes so far and certainly doesn't go as far as it used to go. Studios know that by now. So the film really really has to be good. It has to be whether it has cast in it or not and it has to really be well-performed and well-told. Performance -- you can know in five seconds whether the performance is bad and that is the thing that usually kills the film across the board. It is just miscast --- people cast in roles that they're not ready for. So if your performances are super solid and your story is well-told you really have a much better chance of making a sale no matter what you've got -- Drama, genre, whatever. Every buyer wants cast. They don't get it so they have to go to the next thing which is -- what is the film? Is it interesting? Does it have a hook? Does it have art that will sell? Does it have a trailer that will sell? And then, beyond that, is it a good film?


SPILLER:

How important is art?


HAYES:

At least from a sales standpoint, it's been almost more important than the film itself. I mean it is the first thing that people see whether it's an audience on a platform or a buyer, and then the trailer is usually the next thing. That's sort of the series of steps that invest them in the film and invest them in clicking the button that says "buy" or "watch" or whatever. So it's insanely important. I think filmmakers should think about their poster before they even finish their script. They certainly should think about that before production. They should know absolutely what the poster is going to be before production and they should know more or less what elements they want in the trailer because what will happen is we'll get a film that's a decent enough film and we want a certain art for it but we don't have that because we don't have those elements. Either the filmmaker hasn't thought at all about the art or the filmmaker is positioning the film in a way that we wouldn't position the film.


SPILLER:

Somebody comes to you with a fully completed film. What are the mechanics involved in doing that? Should they give you a link to the screener?


HAYES:

We prefer a trailer. There's only so many hours in the day so we can't just just watch a film all the way through without seeing something first to know that we should be watching this film and it's a good fit for us. So a trailer is generally what we would want to see for a completed film.


SPILLER:

Isn't there a significant misconception among filmmakers as to MG's (minimum guarantees) and the type of money that they are likely to make?


HAYES:

Yeah, the reality is that a market where a generic genre products could be more or less guaranteed to make back a budget of say a SAG ultra-low budget, which is I think now like $250,000, those days are over. We have heard there are people with a model out there and they have certain buyers, and they're making a product at two or three hundred thousand and are somehow making that money back. That used to be a model that that was deployed by everyone but that's not the case anymore. There may be a few people that still have relationships that can still support that level of budget. Again I'm talking about a generic genre film -- generic meaning something that doesn't have cast, that doesn't have a top tier festival, or any other element that is going to sell the film other than the film itself in its genre. So for us, filmmakers really should be making films at much, much lower budgets -- $50,000 or less. Less preferably. $30,000 would be ideal but not not bulletproof. If the film is really not good, you won't make that back, or if it's good but just doesn't have an audience.


SPILLER:

Is there such a thing as MGs (minimum guarantees) anymore?


HAYES:

Oh, yes, minimum guarantees, absolutely. We try to strictly work on MG's. By and large, we have partners that we trust that we do straight distribution for as well but not many. So yeah for us, MG's are the way to go.


SPILLER:

What would be the range of MG's filmmakers could expect?


HAYES:

For us, with the level of product we have, the range can be insanely low. I mean we've had offers -- we haven't taken them -- but we've had offers as low as like $500 for two years in a foreign territory. Probably a more typical MG is somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000 maybe. A bigger deal would be somewhere around $20,000 or $30,000, but those are much fewer and further between than they used to be.


SPILLER:

If filmmakers want to reach you, how can they reach you, Michael?


HAYES:

They can email me at michael@prolificpictures.com.


SPILLER:

Thank you for the interview.


HAYES:

Absolutely.


 

Spiller Law is a San Francisco business and entertainment law firm. Feel free to arrange a free consultation by resorting to the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, feel free to call our offices at 415-991-7298.


 

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their own legal counsel for specific advice.

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