With husband Ice Seguerra at the
recent Cinemalaya Film Festival
With husband Ice Seguerra at the recent Cinemalaya Film Festival

You've experienced the applause, maybe even a standing ovation, but after the curtains have closed and the winners announced, you are left alone with your film. You then ask yourself, what's next?

After months of blood, sweat, and tears to produce your masterpiece, sourcing and looking for family, relatives, and friends who would support your endeavor, you are now confronted with the reality — how do I get back the money I spent to produce my film? In other words, how do I recoup the financial investment?

I hope by now, this experience reiterates that while Philippine cinema goes beyond championing a sustainable film industry, we cannot deny that film, at its core, is still a business venture. No matter the content, whether this is an arthouse film or a commercial film, there is a business aspect that is involved in filmmaking.

Many people have a romanticized idea of what filmmaking is like. It's rare to think of filmmaking as a small business. As independent filmmakers, most of us create art first and hope the money will follow. But in reality, producing a film involves many aspects, including sourcing investment from people who will give you the funding.

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But there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially if the lunch comes from private entities expecting something in return. Producing a movie is not cheap. This is why you need to create a clearly thought out, well-researched, realistic finance and business plan or find a producer who could help you.

But what if you do not have a business plan? And all these next steps on how to recoup have become an afterthought. Is there a way to still get some revenue and earn from your film?

Here are some tips to maximize the possible return of investment on your produced film.

1. Revisit your contracts. Right after the festival, revisit your contracts with various partners. First, your principal contract vis-a-vis other arrangements you have signed to secure financing for your film as well as other agreements. An average independent film project deals with a multitude of contracts.

Film contracts and agreements protect the rights of your film and are necessary to avoid miscommunication and risks as you start identifying revenue streams for your finished film. These contracts need to be aligned and should be able to spell out how you can exploit your film and what rights you're allowed to license.

Understanding your rights is crucial for your next steps because these rights will dictate how much revenue you can earn and what kind of licensing deals you can engage with sales agents and distributors. The worst thing that could happen is to license rights only to realize that you do not own these rights in the first place.

2. Submit to international film festivals. Festivals are a crucial aspect of the filmmaking industry, especially in the Philippines, where filmmakers produce many arthouse and auteur films with a specific market. Whether you're an established filmmaker or a newcomer finding the right audience for your film, festivals are an essential platform to raise awareness and possible distribution for your film.

But not all film festivals are created equal. It is very important to remember that when it comes to finding the venue where you will first showcase your film, the first one that accepts you becomes the basis of the perceived value of your film on the festival circuit.

That is why having your "World Premiere" at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, Toronto, Locarno, Karlovy Vary, and San Sebastian is a dream for any filmmaker. Premiering first at small festivals before submitting to the more prominent ones can be detrimental to your film because you will be disqualified from larger festivals for playing a smaller one first. In the Philippines, because most local festivals require a world premiere of participating films, you must look for A-list festivals that allow an "International Premiere" so you can still preserve the premium value of your film.

3. Find sales or be showcased at festivals. After joining your dream film festival, the next question is, what is your goal? If the goal is to get your film distributed, you should think twice about going on a full-on festival tour because all you're doing is making your film older and worth less money. If your goal is to be still able to find commercial distribution, play some key festivals, then participate in markets so you can get your film sold while it's new and fresh.

But if playing in key festivals and being in markets doesn't get your film sold, proceed with your around-the-world tour with your film. That way, you are still maximizing the value of your film by creating visibility and building a network.

4. Find a sales agent. For a film to generate revenue, it needs to be distributed, not through festivals but commercially — in the marketplace.

Whether it's theatrical distribution, streaming services, or direct-to-digital release, you can best exploit the revenue streams of your films by licensing the various rights you have as a producer that you can offer to distributors.

Having a good sales agent will be crucial to distributing your project successfully. Production of films is totally different from sales and distribution. A film sales agent can provide the filmmaker with some sense of the estimated value of the film before she brings it to the film market and festival circuit.

In the Philippines, sales companies are almost non-existent, especially if your content is not a blockbuster film meant for domestic distribution in local cinemas. The Film Development Council of the Philippines has a program called UniPhilippines that offers mechanisms of support to assist producers in finding distribution, like participating in film markets so they can find international sales agents to represent their film to international distributors.

5. Sell to streamers. Another option available is to engage directly with streamers for them to acquire your film through a licensing agreement. This model needs eyeballs, and a lot of them, to recoup. For it's not just about getting the film on Netflix, Amazon, or HBO GO; it's about getting people to watch it on these platforms.

While the best way to do this is by partnering up with a distributor or aggregator, as they will know how to handle the pitch and will already have a direct relationship with major streaming platforms, in the Philippines, you can actually reach out to the country representatives or acquisition managers representing these companies.

Netflix and Amazon have country reps you can engage with if you want to show your film. But when it comes to self-distribution, you'll need to assess if you can take on the responsibilities of a distributor. Do you have the marketing power to get your film noticed? Do you have an existing audience? Are you ready to hustle your butt off for the next year or two, working to promote your film? If not, your film might be lost in the shuffle. And that's not going to lead to revenue.

Film remains one of the most important mediums of our culture and experiences as a people. It tells our stories and our dreams. While our passion drives us to make the world's greatest films, it is important to keep in mind that sustainability would allow us to continue pursuing our dreams to make the films we want to make.

It is important to realize that there is an exciting life beyond the walls of these local festivals, and it is up to us to maximize the fullest potential of our films. Proper planning is key, and ideally, the best time to create these plans is before the film even goes into production.

Good luck on your film journey. Have a blast!