Steven Lewis Simpson

Filmmakers inevitably have a lot of time wasted so calculate the long term use of time to create a sustainable production company.

The sad reality for any filmmaker is that most of your career will be spent on work that will ultimately be wasted. The classic one is the years we spend trying to get films off the ground and that normally is much more of our time than we actually making them. Much of that time is doing budgets of many levels for films that never get greenlight or writing endless scripts and most will never get financed, or the endless meetings ending in knockbacks. There comes a time when it is best to have a hard look at your priorities.

This is how I look at it. It is inevitable if you’re a writer/director like I am that you’ll write way more than you produce, but with this, I feel that as difficult as it can be to write scripts that never get made, you always gain as an artist from writing more and more. I’ve written about 25 scripts so far and have filmed 5 of them so far, and that is a pretty good batting average. But I am a much better writer for the 20 that have yet to be made.

Financing is the area that really can be a black hole when it comes to time. Getting the script done is all down to you but financing can be in the lap of the gods and it is not unusual for filmmakers to lose years without ever getting anywhere. I had one producer who I did some writing for 20 years ago that plowed mid 6 figures into a best-selling book and tried to got it made and continually failed over these 20-years. Last I heard, he’d lost his house over it.

I’ve just lost the last 3+years of my life self-distributing my last feature Neither Wolf Nor Dog with what has become the longest first-run theatrical release of any movie in the US in over a decade (and I self-distributed into theatres in 3 other countries too). Now many people have asked whether it was a bad use of my time rather than making other movies instead. Certainly, theatrical distribution first time out is a massive undertaking (far bigger than making the movie in this case), and most of it is time truly wasted as we’ve sent hundreds of thousands of emails between cinemas, other venues, media, and audience outreach and most of it gets ignored. But the numbers can still stack up to merit the time. We’ve played the film in over 600 theatres and other venues and have sold well over 100,000 tickets, so the maybe 2-3% of those messages that worked, bore a lot of fruit. But was it worth 3-years? Well, the mechanism I’ve created will be there for my next movie so 90% of that database creation and relationship building work is now done, so it will take a fraction of that time with the next film.

But the crucial part is this. Because I’ve released it myself, I’ve not been ripped off by a sales agent or distributor and the money has all come back into my companies, which means I can walk out and shoot my next movie the moment I have the script and the cast that I want (I don’t spend millions on a movie). And the key is that I’ll own this new movie too (I own all 6 of my previous features), so it is fantastic to not have to step into that film financing black hole again with the next film. The thing that I find hardest when dealing with these passages of time in this business is not having any control over it during the financing stage. So now I have bypassed that. With my model, the only thing holding me back is how hard I am prepared to work. That is a starting point that I can live with, though self-distributing is exhausting. Without a theatrical, my last film would barely have existed so if you have a movie, you should fight hard to get a film into theatres first. (see my other posts on self-distribution)

I cover every stage of indie film-making imaginable in my upcoming Ultimate Indie Film Masterclass. Click on the link here to find out more.


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