1) Myth and secrecy are rampant in the film industry. No wonder no one knows the true state of the industry or what to base their decisions off of! Filmmakers won't talk (or their investors won't let them) about how much is spent making their films because they are trying to get a sales agent or distributor interested in buying it and paying as much upfront as possible, but how can anyone possibly know what is achievable and what is fantasy?
Secrecy in the industry is probably not really a revelation to you, but by holding back information in the hope of sales that mostly aren't materializing, it keeps anyone from really knowing what budget level films should be made at if recoupment is part of the plan. Solid decisions, both by filmmakers and by investors, can't really be made if no one knows the truth, both about the budgets and about the profit.
2) A realistic budget level for indie films. In order for an indie film using a hybrid or DIY strategy to see recoupment and possibly more, the production AND marketing and distribution budget must stay low. Based on our case studies, that number is below $200,000. Films that went over this budget level were far less likely to recoup within the first 2 years of release, none of the cases over this amount in the book have recouped in full yet.
3) Marketing and distribution are the production's responsibility and must be part of the budget. Many of our cases did not plan or budget for taking on this expense from inception and were caught in that familiar scene of thinking a distributor would be found and scrambling to make a plan and raise more money to implement it when low offers or no offers materialized. Over and over again our participants noted they could see now why it was important to think about this work, they remarked on how big of a job this is and that they would need to get some help on board much earlier in the process, and why a clearly defined audience was important to maximizing their efforts at reaching them.
4) Financial gain is not always the main goal. This was particularly true for the subjects of my chapter who are using file sharing sites to distribute work. Most of them were first time filmmakers and mainly they are interested in reaching the widest audience possible for the least cost and building names for themselves that could be used to get attention from the industry. Publicity and word of mouth play a huge part in this. Most of the time when filmmakers say they want to reach the "widest audience possible" what they mean is they want to make the most money possible.
Those 2 things do not always go hand in hand and it is especially so for complete unknowns. For filmmakers who have very little financial resources to reach wide audiences, it is better to spend as little budget as possible to make the content and spend a lot of time engaging with audiences and figuring out how to cost effectively distribute the work.
5) The importance of research before you sign with anyone. With the internet as pervasive as it is, there is no reason not to do your due diligence before you sign a contract, including research on sales agents and distributors. Don't just rely on a company website to inform you of their reputations or a few media write ups of some well known films they handled. Really take the time to contact a cross section of their client accounts and see if you are getting the clear picture.
You should also know what all the terms of your contract mean and don't be rushed to sign because your big premiere is happening. If you have someone on board who is solely responsible for the marketing and distribution of your film, have them get samples of contracts and really understand what you will be agreeing to, what you can negotiate, how you can terminate if the agreement isn't being followed and how to protect yourself should the company go bankrupt.