Field notes: ROI

stowe-art-center.jpg A contingent from Massachusetts (including our new film office Executive Director Nick Paleologos and LEF Foundation director Lyda Kuth) made their way up to Stowe, Vermont to the Helen Day Art Center this past weekend to hear presentations on film financing organized by the Institute for International Film Financing. The presentations revolved around the economics and business mechanics of securing investors for film projects.

It was an interesting day- with a mix of real life examples from filmmakers who are setting up hyprid non-profit/for profit ventures, lawyers who explained the nuts and bolts of the business contracts needed to request and secure an investment, and the historical perspective of Sandra Shulberg, founder of the Independent Feature Project. Thomas Trenker, founder and Chairman at the Institute for International Film Financing ended up the day (with a very abbreviated presentation due to the fact that we were running well past the end of the scheduled day) with my personal favorite item of the day: a graph that he had prepared which detailed the return on investment (ROI) by budget and genres based on a database of some 2,500 films that had a theatrical release. The numbers were pretty astounding. According to Mr. Trenker, the documentary genre leads ALL genres of film with the highest ROI. Documentaries showed a 377% return as compared with a 52.5% for comedies and 17% for drama. With these kinds of numbers, why aren’t we all making money?

The thing you need to remember here is that his numbers are based on box office figures…so I thought I ‘d take a look and see what I could find out about just what those numbers represent. I don’t yet have Mr. Trenkers breakout of his data, but I did a little looking around on my own.

First question I had was about the number of documentaries that hit the big screen each year. Just how many are there after all? According to THE NUMBERS, if you look at the listings for the top-grossing genres from 1995-2007 , there are a total of 5,263 films listed. I was really kind of surprised by the number of them that were documentaries- 497. But, you will notice, that despite being 9% of the total number of films, documentaries grabbed only less than 1% of the market share in total gross.

Nonetheless, The Numbers reports that those 497 films had an average gross of $2,148,969. That sounds pretty good… I clicked on the documentaries genre to see the Box office history for the genre. Its a pretty interesting list- and you quickly note that much of the large box office totals come from either a couple of major films, or from IMAX movies. If you look at the bar graph along the top, you’ll notice that the market share trend spiked in 2004 (Fahrenheit 9/11) and has slid downward from there once again. The year by year market share at the bottom of the page enables you to see precisely what films by what year make up that 497 total.

For those of you who have been asking about business plans, or who are planning on approaching investors, you will want to review these numbers carefully. If you take a look at the box office history for “Based on Real Life Events Movies” you can also see a comparison of some of the films budgets as well as their gross.

For another look at numbers, you can go to Box Office Mojo and look at their totals for the documentary genre. They list the films by lifetime gross, as well as list the opening gross and the number of theaters. Of course, all of these figures assume that you even GET a theatrical run. Most documentaries do not.

Its important that independent filmmakers as well as the wider field get a handle on what the real numbers are for sales and support for documentaries. Much is being made about investment opportunities and finding new business models to support the genre. And many funders who have traditionally supported documentaries and independent filmmakers are backing away while the distribution of films is in flux. New forms of revenue and financing are definitely needed….as well as the investors to go with them.

So, in the end, what was my weekend ROI? Looks like I’ve found more questions running around my head than answers…but, there are some intriguing numbers to be looked at. Keep watching here as we explore those numbers in more depth.


3 responses to “Field notes: ROI

  1. “Of course, all of these figures assume that you even GET a theatrical run. Most documentaries do not.” I am completing a documentary that will air on PBS in 2011. But will not have a theatrical run. It’s an hour-long one-off. Do you have any numbers related to that arena? How much might one expect to sell in 5 years? 10 years? Desperately seeking info.

  2. Global Invest Ltd


    Dear Sir/Madam,

    We are direct providers of Fresh Cut BG, SBLC and MTN which are
    specifically for lease, our bank instrument can be engage in PPP
    Trading, Discounting, signature project(s) such as Aviation,
    Agriculture, Petroleum, Telecommunication, Construction of Dams,
    Bridges, Real Estate and all kind of projects. We do not have any
    broker chain in our offer or get involved in chauffeur driven offers.

    We deliver with time and precision as Seth forth in the agreement. Our
    Terms and Conditions are reasonable, below is our instrument

    The procedure is very simple; the instrument will be reserved on euro
    clear to be verified by your bank, after verification an arrangement
    will be made for necessary bank documents and stock testing expenses,
    the cost of the Bank Guarantee will be paid after the delivery of the

    Description OF INSTRUMENTS:

    1. Instrument: Bank Guarantee (BG/SBLC)
    2. Total Face Value: Eur 5M MIN and Eur 10B MAX (Ten Billion USD).
    3. Issuing Bank: HSBC Bank London, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank Frankfurt.
    4. Age: One Year, One Month.
    5. Leasing Price: 6% of Face Value plus 2% commission fees to brokers.
    6. Delivery: Bank to Bank swift.
    7. Payment: MT-103 or MT760.
    8. Hard Copy: Bonded Courier within 7 banking days.

    We are ready to close leasing with any interested client in few
    banking days, if interested do not hesitate to contact Info below:

    Mr. Johnson Wayne
    Skype: j.noble50

    Mr. Johnson Wayne
    Global Invest Ltd.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s