I get a lot of clients who find it difficult to choose comparable films right off the bat. I wrote this article to help them, and help others, even if they do not become clients. Bona Fortuna to all!
How I Go About Choosing Comparable Pictures
In a given year I might prepare projections and financials packages in which I have to help producers choose hundreds, even thousands of titles for comparison to their prospective film. Every producer comes to this a little differently, but I thought it might help some of you if I talked about my own point of view when approaching this task. Whether I am involved in your process or not, I hope this helps in the way you approach it. First, the comparable films chosen should be seen as “models” for your film. They can be creative models, but they are also business models, and we are seeking insight from the information those models bring to us. In my case, mostly business insight for strategies and value. So, what are some key questions I think you should be asking and answering to discern comparable titles.
1. I like to start with films of Similar Themes.
Many producers think they need to use films with similar stories. This is often, in my book, a real stumbling block. A film uses its plot elements to explore themes, rather than themic elements to explore the plot. So, focus on the theme. If your film is a kidnap, then choosing only kidnapping films, for example, could actually miss the mark of your film, and make your choices far narrower than they really might be, than if the positioning of your film was as a drama of how an individual can get caught up in events that snowball unintentionally into great tragedy.
2. Of course we want to start in the Budget Range of your film.
There is a little bit more I will have to say about this later. But the lower the budget of your film, in some ways, the narrower the range of budgets we might have to work in. So, a $5 million film, we might look at titles from $3 or $4 million, to $10 million. If your film is $100 million, then we can reasonably look at films in the $70 to $200 million range, for example. Of course, with lower budget films, there could be reasons why we might broaden the range of budgets, some of them might include a sharper comparison in target market, for example. Sometimes, we may be dealing with a film that has few thematic, story, target market, and so on films that are in the same budget range of our film. In that case, we may need to choose higher budget films, or some at our target budget, and one or more at a completely different budget level.
3. If possible, we would like to work with films Released More Recently.
Various elements of the release and markets in these changing times may be much more indicative of how your film might perform as we go forward, than a film released ten years ago.
a). Still, however, your film might be so unique that similar films come along relatively seldom, so that we have to take them from the time periods in which they have appeared. That might lead us to choose films from fifteen or even twenty years ago, if they also fit in other ways.
b). As well, if we understand the range of the domestic box office, at least that can give us a starting point for understanding the possibilities of our prospective film’s value.
4. Understanding Your Film’s Target Market.
This is an important element in helping us determine good comparable films. Just today I was working on a middle ages Action Adventure with a relatively low budget, but when studying the target audience of two higher budget Action Adventures, and analysis of Action Adventure audiences from an exhibitor overseas, it was remarkable the similarities in audience breakdown. Understanding your film’s target market is crucial in many other ways that will serve you through the whole process, including the range of target distributors and the distribution method.
5. Style of Release or Distribution Method.
The viable selection of distributors, the possible number of screens in release, the size of the target market, all are encompassed in the understanding of the style of release of your film, and its comparables. At certain budget levels, a Producer Controlled Release is viable, even if it is not your preferred method and you go a different way. At others, unless you can mount a studio-style release, you must find and work with a studio partner to achieve the market dispersion your film and budget needs, and your target market(s) can support.
6. What is the Look and Feel of Your film?
The style of your film can tell us a lot about where it belongs in the continuum. That continuum encompasses Budget and Target Market. A comedy that is quirky, or a film that will be cut with a fast pace will likely have a younger-skewing audience, and may be less suitable for an older audience, unless there are thematic elements that are more suitable for older audiences. I suppose, then, what you see from my answer to this question, is that these things are all inter-related.
7. What is the Target Cast or the Negotiated Casting of your film?
Of course, given that you can achieve and afford your target cast, what does this say about target market, and, commensurately, what does that say about the style of release. Now, sometimes, a producer will think it might be easier for me than for them to make choices of comparable films. In many cases, it can be much harder for me. And, then you might understand why I charge for this service, and why it is better for you to start with your own choices, and then I might be able to help you refine that list.
Let me tell you some of the reasons why:
1. You probably know your film better than I do.
2. You likely know what about your film inspired you, better than I do.
3. You know your own influences and desires for your film better than I do.
The influences for your film, whether you are the writer, the producer or the director, or some combination of the three of them, are likely the most insightful place to start. So, I always like to start by asking you to help me see the film the way you see it. No matter how smart I might be, my goal and job is to help you achieve your film, and comparable films that I deliver are a suit of clothes you will wear, not one I will wear. The following is a set of questions we ask our clients to think about in choosing comparable titles. This comes from our Project Intake Form for packages where we are doing Comparables and Projections, Business Plans and the like: Comparables – in look and feel, market, budget, cast, distribution strategy, story, or a combination thereof. These should be films you think are the best matches for comparables, but be assured we look them over fully, and make sure we don’t think others might be better (Our criteria for choosing comps are:
1. Does it share target audience
2. Is it story style comparable, not story comparable (many get hung on this)
3. Is it distribution comparable (studio, methods, etc.)
4. Is it budget comparable
5. Does it evidence broad or deep interest in the subject matter
6. Did it come about the same way (outsider production, or insider production)
7. Is it casting level comparable
8. Certain other items may include production methods, etc.
9. Does your team feel comfortable with it, can they represent it)
Onward and Upward! Jeff
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