From a Producer’s Perspective: How to Think About Budget, Genre, and Distribution

by David Kaufmann - updated on January 3, 2019

As much as we like to deny it, this is a business that works like any other. We provide a product (content) that delivers a service (entertainment) in exchange for consumers' money. 

These days, the power is in the consumer’s hands. You can purchase more content per month than there are hours in each day for less than the price of a burger and a beer. Competition on the sell side is on the rise too. Even if you do everything right, it’s really hard to put a project together that will rise above the fold. So how can we give our ideas a fighting chance?

David Kaufmann goes even deeper in his book, The Producer's Brain. Get it on Amazon now.

First and foremost, you need to find a story that HAS to be told. We discussed in my last blog how to find and acquire great IP. We’ll assume that’s taken care of already. So what’s next? 

When any good producer gets their hands on an exciting story, the wheels begin to turn in their head and they ask themselves…How the heck can I get this made? 

If the producer you are working with isn’t thinking about this and doesn’t have at least a loose plan of attack, you might want to consider finding a new partner. After all, the role of your producer is to do just that, PRODUCE. Things don’t always work. When they do they take a long time. My promise is hard work and a thoughtful strategy and you shouldn’t accept anything less.

In a previous post, we discussed how to choose a project that will attract early financing, so today we’ll focus on some additional things that are always on my mind…genre, budget, and distribution strategy. 

Your primary job as a writer is to tell a great story with fascinating characters, so keep your focus there. An amazing script is an amazing script and in no way should this line of thinking stifle your creativity… but in the back of your mind make sure to consider these questions:

1. Who is the audience and what’s the genre?

When I was in business school, my professors used to constantly harp on product/market fit, meaning that you want to be in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. 

It’s easy to think about the content ecosystem as a single market, but there are several sub-markets within it that fill different consumer needs. Sometimes you come home after a hard day and all you want to do is watch a comedy. Other days, you may feel like a more intense drama. Some people love horror films, other people hate them. 

Defining your genre is important, otherwise it can become very difficult to market your project. Think about how you search through Netflix…sometimes you aren’t sure what to watch so you browse a specific genre category or take a recommendation. The company collects data based on these choices and they decide their buying priorities accordingly. It’s terribly frustrating when you can’t figure out what to watch, so try to make things easy on the viewer. They will reward you with their eyeballs.

Genre choice is also extremely important for international sales. One way to finance your film is through territory pre-sales (in case you ever wondered what happens in Cannes). Buyers have specific pricing models based on genre and cast. The better aligned you are with them, the better your chances.

Obviously, some of the best films of all time cross genres. This becomes easier when you are already an established brand as a filmmaker, à la Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg. A Spielberg Movie is almost a genre to itself. 

Genre choice is also important when you are tackling the next question…

2. What’s the budget?

While you don’t need to know exactly how much your film will cost to produce, you do need to think about the type of financial bucket that it will fall into. The more money your project will cost, the more money it will need to take in to be successful. A film that makes $50M in its opening weekend can be considered a flop or a huge hit. It all comes down to cost.

In order to have your project greenlit, it needs to hit the right genre at the right budget. That’s where the magic happens. If either of these is off, no matter how great your script is, it will not be produced. This doesn’t mean that you need to line produce from the page or leave out a great scene because of potential cost. It means you have to be aware of how big the film is that you are writing. There’s a reason that many director’s first films are single location thrillers.

Budget makes a big difference in how your producer will build their plan of attack because it affects their ability to answer the last lingering question…

3. How will we distribute? Is this a studio project, or is it in an indie?

The process by which your producer will begin the long journey toward production differs greatly by whether they are trying to sell the idea to a studio or they are trying to raise funds to produce the film independently. There are certain producers who specialize in both crafts. I’ll approach my Rolodex much differently depending on where I see the project going. 

If budget and genre don’t align, they make the question of distribution murky. If you put together a fantastic character study for an awards season audience that also has several mine explosions and lots of CGI, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.  Your project will fall in-between distribution models and the math will never add up.

Many studios and producers have very specific models. Take Blumhouse, for instance... they produce studio horror fare at a lean budget. If a writer sends me a great script that fits this model, I know exactly who to call to get the ball rolling. 

By putting on your producer hat and thinking about genre, budget, and distribution early on, you’ll be well on your way to seeing your name in lights. 

Next time, we’ll explore how to find your own luck in a business that depends on it.

David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.

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