Carlo Dusi: How to make money selling a feature using the independent and the studio models

Another icy morning, another warming breakfast and another 80 or so film-makers hungry for an inspiring talk. And the chance to meet Ridley Scott.

Well not quite… Carlo Dusi is Head of Business and Commercial Affairs at Scott Free London, the younger smaller sibling of the American office. Chris kicks things off with the elephant in the crowded room…. Will Ridley read my script?


Nope. But it’s really good! Still no. And besides, he’s busy at the moment.


Carlo however has been around the block enough times to share some great pearls that are far more valuable than Ridley reading your script.

Whilst the focus was the money and monetisation, the theme quickly became career strategy in the independent market, and his focus throughout was market awareness. As we all know, you’re not just a film-maker – you’re an entrepreneur.

1. Choose your first film carefully: it’s not always wise to start with the passion project. Start with smaller films that are within your budget range – the film you love could be your 3rd of 4th.

2. Don’t be ordinary though. Erin Creevy, director of Shifty and then Welcome to the Punch, pushed the boundaries as much as the market place would allow – he got as much on screen as possible for the smallest amount of cash, but didn’t overstep the mark.

3. In order to do this, you must be aware of where your project belongs in terms of genre/concept.

4. Then research, research, research. Know your market then knock off 30/40% from your expectations – that’s probably what your film is worth. And don’t just research the successful films!

5. If you can, talk to Sales Agents. Take them for lunch, get them drunk, ask how much those films actually cost to make and how much they actually made. Figures online are hardly ever true. And remember, whilst only 7% of British films in the last 10 years have been ‘successful’, success can be measured in many different ways. A lot of people have to feed off your film. Box office takings and profitability for the production company can be misleading.

6. So you’ve selected your film, done the research. The next bit is crucial: the market will always, always, always tell you to make your film for less. Too many films are made for too much. As film-makers we’re led to believe that the bigger the budget the better for us… but that’s not the case. Work out what the film should be made for based on market conditions, not what you want the film to be made for.

7. So you’ve decided on your budget – how do you get it? It’s based on the same things that are going to sell your film and it’s worth reiterating:

  • Some kind of recognisable cast is paramount and getting more so. Above the line talent is crucial.
  • If you can’t sell on the actors, it should be the director – their vision with track record might just get you a budget.
  • If you can’t get named cast, then you need something groundbreaking… not just different, but groundbreaking. The concept, the style, the way it’s told.

8. His next point ties in with the above – Carlo’s biggest grudge is when people say, “all that matters is that you make a film.” No! All that matters is that you make a GOOD film. If you’re an unknown director without a feature, there’s always the chance someone will take a punt on you. But if you’ve made a bad film – ie you’re a proven idiot – game over. Actors and writers can get away with it if the script/performance was solid. But for directors? Absolutely not.

9. Finally, Carlo is asked by Chris for the best overall advice he’d give to new and emerging film-makers:

  • Know your industry and your marketplace. You won’t get there otherwise.
  • How are you going to make your life sustainable? How are you going to pay the bills? Be a business person – realistic and strategic.
  • Get yourself out there and get involved. 95% of opportunities come through chance encounters, relationships and word of mouth.

As I discuss with a few people afterwards, Carlo’s advice reminds me of Nolan and his first film Following. He was an unknown director with unknown cast so he wrote a risky and innovative script, and then made it for $6,000. It was a good film that almost worked, not quite. However, it was bold, demonstrated a high level of ambition and showed he understood what it takes to get noticed. His next gig was Memento and the rest is history.

Be realistic. Be bold. And above all… do your homework.

Tom Kerevan

Tom is a screenwriter and producer whose feature film Tear Me Apart is shooting in June 2014.

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