The Latest from Stephen Follows

Posted Tuesday 02 Aug 2016

Today he is looking at what types of low budget films break out (i.e. films budgeted between $500k and $3 million which make at least $10 million producers net profit). Ok so the numbers are big for NZ, but remember he's writing for an international market and we know we have no money so we have to be smart in NZ!

This is a piece he co-authored with Bruce Nash from, on commission from the American Film Market.

You can read the full article at

They found that the vast majority of low-budget which hugely outperformed their peers fall into one of four categories:

Extreme, clear-concept horror films

Documentaries with built-in audiences and/or powerful stories

Validating, feel-good religious films

Very high-quality dramas

What's fascinating is how clear and distinct the four groups are, each with their own common patterns and traits.  For example, the documentaries and dramas all had extremely high ratings from audience and critics, whereas the horror and religious films received average-to-poor ratings.

Also interesting is what's missing, namely:

  • No action movies
  • No thrillers
  • No musicals
  • Virtually no comedies
  • Virtually nothing directed at kids

The research suggests three clear lessons for independent filmmakers who are hoping to make breakout hits:

Some "niche" audiences are large enough to make for a very profitable market if you can reach them. The "faith-based" film audience stands out, but there are also receptive audiences for certain types of documentaries. Having a very clear idea of your audience is the first step to making a financially successful film.

If you're aiming for a more general audience, quality matters. A lot. Honing your screenplay to what you think is perfection and then having it ripped apart at a workshop may be hard work, but it's almost certainly what it takes to get a dramatic film to work ultimately with audiences, and to make back its investment.

Look for good actors, not big stars, and do the same with all of the technical crew on a film. Fun fact: Affonso Goncalves, who edited list member Beasts of the Southern Wild also edited fellow list member Winter's Bone and 2016 Oscar nominee Carol. Finding a good editor, cinematographer, production designer and other key members of the crew is more important for a low-budget film than blowing a big chunk of your budget on a famous (or, just as likely, previously-famous) actor or actress.

To read more detail on the four categories which break out, and to see the full list of films head over to

From the Archives: Some filmmakers may be surprised to see that dramas can perform well, as the sales and distribution side of the industry is always keen to point out that dramas are very tough to sell.  The truth is that both points of view are correct; very few dramas return a profit but if you're luckily enough to be in the top 1% of dramas then there is a lot of money to be made (relative to the budget).

A few years ago Stephen looked at the UK film industry's obsession with making dramas, and how there isn't a comparable demand from the audience.  You can read the article here