You can’t sit down at an Austin bar and not bump into someone who calls his or herself a “filmmaker." The problem is there are only a few who are making money at making films, and you probably know their names. Most filmmakers must either take a second job to pay off the credit cards and loans or expand their business scope to include commercial production and contract work.
Jon de la Luz wants to change that. He’s an independent filmmaker, yes, but he’s also an entrepreneurial businessman working on a new way to monetize the creative profession. As a self-described “mad scientist,” he’s experimenting on himself.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent here [in Austin],” he explains. “The bad news is, many of the people who are very talented don’t have a business background. You must know how to break even at the very worst.”
Breaking even in the film business is hard, actually making money is often just a dream. Of course filmmaking is an art driven by passion, but it’s also a business. And making movies is expensive with little chance of return.
“I’ve run into so many filmmakers who felt great that they were able to raise the money for a movie and they made a movie,” says de la Luz, “and I get real excited for them and say, ‘That’s great, now what?’”
For most, the plan is to take their independent film onto the festival circuit, hoping someone with influence, money or both will see it and then distribute it. While every director wants an opportunity to play their movie in a full darkened theater, the truth is that few ever will — and de la Luz suggests most should not.
“Theatrical distribution is one of the worst things you can do for your movie," says de la Luz. "It’s a very romantic idea but from a purely pragmatic point of view it’s tremendously expensive, often costing as much if not more than the film itself.”
And waiting for a miracle is not an option: Investors expect a return on their money; loans accrue interest.
De la Luz thinks he has an answer and he’s trying it out on his own indie film, “Agenda,” which he completed five years ago. Now, rather than continue watching the film sit on a shelf, he is trying a new method of distribution: He signed a DVD deal and then released it for free — in episodic form, on the Internet.
“I sought to embrace the ‘freemium’ financial model. We’re creating word of mouth and giving people a unique sneak preview.”
He first looked for a DVD distributor willing to try something innovative. Once he found one, he broke the film down into 17 chapters. “We can slice up stories so a filmmaker with no opportunity to get the film seen, now not only has a chance, but we may be able to help them put together a DVD deal.”
Beginning a couple weeks before the DVD release, Agenda appeared online with new chapters released every few days.
“My agenda is to take care of my investors. They were good enough to allow the blessing of getting this film made, so now in return I have to go into the marketplace so that our film, Agenda, can distinguish itself in the marketplace.”
Agenda is a thriller of a film, well-directed and well-acted, with a surprise ending that de la Luz hopes will have audiences wanting to go back and see it again — this time all at once by buying a DVD.
The film made its international debut at the Cannes Film Festival, won a Grand Prize at the New York Independent Film Festival and won a Remi Award at the Houston International Film Festival.
De la Luz is not ready to go into details about his business plan, but he’s sure he can begin monetizing films from the start. Frankly he isn’t sure it will work, but he’s studied the music industry models and says he’s got some “secret sauce” involved. If the model works, de la Luz hopes to turn it into a business.
“If it works for me, I want to encourage other filmmakers to come to us so they can take their movies and we can see what we can do with their film.“
“We want to be sure we do not interrupt the viewing experience by avoiding sponsorship distractions. There must be a more elegant, efficient way to monetize it.”
In the end, de la Luz wants to get good unknown films out of the can and onto the screen, no matter what size that screen is.
“I’m excited for filmmakers who have the great passion to create a story and share it with the rest of the world.“
On Tuesday, July 24, de la Luz hosts a free theatrical premier at The Marchesa Hall and Theater, 6226 Middle Fiskville Rd Austin, TX 78752. A reception begins at 6:00 p.m. and the movie starts at 7:00 p.m. Free tickets are available via www.agendathemovie.eventbrite.com.