Today on the show we have Filmtrepreneur Mark Harris. Mark is a self-taught filmmaker. His movies have been distributed by major distributors and he’s self-distributed many of his earlier films and sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the US and overseas. Mark was born and raised in the Englewood community of Chicago.
The same community Bermic Mac, Jennifer Hudson, Lorraine Hansberry, Janet Hubert, and Derek Rose are from. Mark is the Founder of 1555Filmworks a film production company that produces feature films and he’s the Founder of the Englewood International Film Festival. Englewood is known as one of the most dangerous places to live in the United States. The crime rate, although reported most frequently, can not overshadow the hope for the future of this Chicago area. The goal of The Englewood International Film Festival is to change the imaging and condition of the people in Englewood.
I had a ball talking shop with Mark. Without a doubt, he is an Indie Film Hustler and the living embodiment of a Filmtrepreneur.
Enjoy my inspiring conversation with Mark Harris.
Alex Ferrari 0:02
And today's guest is Mark Harris, who is a filmtrepreneur by the definition I laid out in my book Rise of the filmtrepreneur. This man is a filmmaker who started off with micro budget films, sold over 10,000 DVDs by himself self distributing it and built himself and indie filmmaking Empire over the last decade, and now is shopping for his own backlot in his hometown. He is an inspiration. And originally this was just going to be for the entrepreneur podcast, but I just couldn't help myself. The indie film hustle tribe needs to hear this episode as well, Mark and I get into the weeds on how he did it, what he did, how he's serving and being a value to his niche audience, how he understood his audience, how he's making money with his films, besides just selling his DVDs, which by the way, there's some amazing little tips and tricks on how he was able to package his movie with some other events that he was putting on. So he can sell more DVDs and get his brand of cinema out there. It is just a very, very inspirational story. So without any further ado, please enjoy my inspirational filmtrepreneurial conversation with Mark Harris. I'd like to welcome the show Mark Harris, man, thank you so much for being on the show, brother.
Mark Harris 4:44
Alex. Thank you my brother. I truly appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
Alex Ferrari 4:48
Man. You know, I got to I got I wanted you on the show, man because hustle recognizes hustle.
Mark Harris 4:54
Alex Ferrari 4:55
And you my friend hustle a lot and I I see it all. I don't see it often, but when I see it, we can smell our own. When it comes to hustle, and I saw you a pass through my feed, and when I heard your story, man, I was like, Oh, no, this, this guy has to be on the show. I gotta dig into some of this stuff. I gotta ask your question. So before we get into it, man, how did you get into the film business, which I know a little bit of that story, but please tell the audience.
Mark Harris 5:25
So I started off. As you know, when I was when I was in college, I used to write poetry, but I never ever thought that I would actually make films and never just enter my mind as far as to go into the film business. But I always had a love for movies from you know, john Hughes, often and gentlemen, he has feigley. You had Kevin Smith, Quintero 18. Oh, Martin Scorsese was my favorite, but always had this love for movies. Right? And it was around 1997 is when I decided, you know what, I'm going to start just writing screenplays. I never wanted to direct I just want to write screenplays and sell my screenplays. That's it. And as you know, you may not be familiar with you know, to sell a screenplay play is pretty hard. What have you
Alex Ferrari 6:17
No it's easy. It's you just write the screenplay, you send it in, they send you a check. It's just the way it works.
Mark Harris 6:22
Yeah. So with me as like, I was like, you know, so it took a while It took a while. So but at the end of the day, I went out of all Sid fields, screenwriting book, I read a lot of screenplays. I just, you know, take that time to actually learn the craft. And from 1997 to 2004 2005. It was just writing, writing, writing, writing, and then I will the situation I took place where I used to write for people, you know, and I didn't get paid for it. You know, I used just writing in the hopes of Okay, my script is going to be turned into a movie and nothing happened. And so I had this situation where a filmmaker told me Okay, if you write this for me, this is gonna be my next project. And I did it. It wasn't his next project.
Alex Ferrari 7:14
Shock. Shocking, sir. Shock. You mean to tell me you spoke to a filmmaker who told you one thing and did something else? in this business? That's unheard of. I've never heard anything.
Mark Harris 7:24
And then I was like, okay, so I was, it was frustrating. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because at that moment, I said, You know what, at this at this time, if I'm going to write in Africa, if I want my stories told I have to do it myself. I never, I never ever stepped on a film set. I didn't go to film school. I just brought in people who knew a little bit more than what I knew. And then we made our first project. And that was the end of it, you know? 2005 I made my first my first film and then we haven't looked back since then.
Alex Ferrari 7:56
Nice man. 2005 The technology was so challenging. It was in 2005 I made my first short film I wrote my first major short film which I shot on the I want to kick it old school for everybody listening on the Panasonic dv x 100 a camera on mini DV edited on Final Cut. Yes for I think and that was called graded on that but I use a television just a normal television to color grade. And, and then we did some visual effects and shake back in the day. So what did you use for that first movie? I'm just curious.
Mark Harris 8:30
Oh, we shot on my dp she had a Panasonic camera, but it was the mini DV. Two mini DV is probably the same one. The same? The same thing? Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 8:38
It looked very good. It was cinematic as hell wasn't it? Yes, it was. It was fun. It was nice. I know. We're laughing about it now. But man, for people listening you have to understand in 2004 2005 when someone just said 24 p we're like, What is going on? It was because all we had was that 30 p video stuff from Canon. The Canon XL one or two XL two or something like that. And that dv x came out Boy, that was a beautiful camera man. I love that camera. I shot a lot of stuff with that little camera man. It was it was great, great little camera. Alright, enough of going back and showing how old we are. So you also had some form of you you kind of learn to hustle from your other businesses you did prior to getting into filmmaking. So what some what were some of these other hustles you were doing and how did they translate?
Mark Harris 9:27
Okay, so I started off you know, I used to sell pagers and
Alex Ferrari 9:30
what's the page sir? I put two pages I've never heard of that. I don't understand what that is.
Mark Harris 9:34
You don't like what the doctors you they used to look pages and you mean a beeper, you mean a beeper, a beeper? Yeah, it will beat you and you will be getting go to a from a payphone in
Alex Ferrari 9:46
Payphone What is that? I'm joking. I'm joking. I'm joking. I'm
Mark Harris 9:50
All of, all of this is like obsolete, right? Yes. And so I would. I want to page your business on business and what I would do is I started off first initially was selling beepers out of my briefcase. So I would go door to door, I would go on the street and just had a briefcase, let me sell the beepers. And then I decided, like, you know what, I'm open to business. So I opened a beeper, actually a store, out the one in Chicago, then I had, one I had to Chicago was a matter of fact, and I had one in Indiana. And so from that point, you know, we had then I opened up cleaners, and then, which was, in my community, where I grew up at, we opened a cleaner. So I learned the hustle from, you know, just opening businesses in heaven, you know, failed businesses, and just learning, you know, just the hustle happened to go out to market the business. You know, I haven't to go out to talk to different people to customers. So I take that same load, or that same format, when I went into the film business, and I just did the same thing.
Alex Ferrari 10:53
You just hustled he just a straight up. Yes, man, I tell you, sometimes I tell people, like you know, I wish you nothing but struggle, when you're first starting out, I always tell people that like I really do, because that really is what makes you It teaches you how to walk the path. And that's why in my new book, I use this example is like, that's why lottery ticket winners, 80% of them are broke, and in worse financial situation within five years than when they before they won the lottery is because they they just got to this they got the goal without doing any of the struggle, there was no struggle for that gold. And they had no, they didn't have the skill set to handle the success. So I always have like, I wish you nothing but a slow process going up so you can learn the skills you need. And you did that. But not even in the film industry. You did it outside the film industry, but you brought it into it. Right? Yes. Yeah. I mean, I still I mean, I mean, I've told this on the show many times, I used to have an olive oil and vinegar, gourmet shop here in LA, for three years. And I've learned a lot, you want to learn about hustle, go to a farmers market, and you want to learn about competition, you learn you're literally six feet away from your competition, I'm not joking across from it, and a customer walks in, and you got to get them to come to your booth. That that is competition. That is you guys hustle, and you got to look somebody else in the eye go and you're not going to eat tonight. So that's what you said, I love that. I love that. That's where you kind of got this hustle. Now, before we continue, man, a lot of people are probably wondering, so why is this guy on the show? For my understanding, you have built a career on your own outside of Hollywood making the movies you want to make selling the movies, you want to make creating revenue streams for these films, and able to replicate again and again. and up to date, you have I think 19 or 20 feature film under your belt that you've produced, directed written, and you've been hustling at the entire time. So that's why if everyone listening, that's why I have him on the show, because we're going to get into how he's doing this because you as we like to call in the business are a unicorn Sir, you are it doesn't happen. It's very rare to find someone like you in the business, at least from my point of view, who I talked to so many filmmakers, you've actually led with the business, but you also have that art aspect of it as well. So can you break down how you created a sustainable filmmaking career? I know it's a big question, but do the best you can
Mark Harris 13:28
Oh well. So, what I would do is initially and it took a while It took a while to build up my customer base. And I will say from 2005 until I say 2009 around 2009 2010 is I was working to you know, I was working I started working for a furniture store I did a page of business went out of business when I started working for this this very well known furniture store in Chicago called Harrison furniture and I was selling the furniture but at the same time I was building my customer base base up and I was shooting films on the weekends and with with a good friend Ricardo easylist and who also is you know who also has made about 2025 films as well. So, what I would do is I would produce his films and he was shooting with dp will be much he will shoot and edit my films. So, we would trade off so you know, so we would trade off. And at the same time what I was doing was I was I would just get DVDs pressed up. And when I get DVDs pressed up, I will just go out door to door, I will go out on the street and I will sell the DVDs. So I will get I will get like like 1000 at a time. And all my whole different events like I will hold a poetry event. And from the poetry event I would do like a package deal meaning that for $25 you get a DVD, you get some music and you get like a plate of food. It was like a $25 Saga all these different types of events. Where I will get 300 people to come out. And what I will do is when these 300 people come out, I will make, I will build a email list that will just keep them updated of what's going on what I'm doing, and things like that. So we got to the point where, where I had this massive email list and is massive email. So when I did this movie called Black Butterfly in 2009, I was it was a movie that we made for 90 $500. And I met with each one. Entertainment, what I had a meeting with them with this guy to Alan Blackwell, and he was over like the urban division. And he was like, Okay, how much do you want for the film, I say, make me an offer. So he made me an offer for the film. And from that point, when he made me not offer the film, I just took that reinvest in into another film. And Dean,
Alex Ferrari 15:55
Do you mind telling me what that offer? Was?
Mark Harris 15:57
He paid he gave me 50,000.
Alex Ferrari 16:02
Fantastic. Livin the dream, baby. What year is this?
Mark Harris 16:08
This was in 2010.
Alex Ferrari 16:10
So the world was very different back then. was very different back then, as far as content and streaming was just just stepping out.
Mark Harris 16:20
Right. And so I don't know, if you're familiar with indie flicks, of course.
Alex Ferrari 16:25
I facili on the on the show. Yeah, she's Yes,
Mark Harris 16:28
Yes, yes. So I worked with her out to the stream, it was just I packed my earlier films on her on her platform. And if she would pay, like she will pay. And so those are some of the things that that we done, you know, that we were doing in order to bring in revenue. And so
Alex Ferrari 16:45
You would do that you would do a sell out to each one for that film. So that was 50 grand. they own it. And that's it. That was it.
Mark Harris 16:51
It is a license
Alex Ferrari 16:52
for like five years, seven years or something like that.
Mark Harris 16:54
We did it for seven years.
Alex Ferrari 16:56
So seven years, but basically that covers your your it definitely covers your nut and you made a profit. Yes. Okay.
Mark Harris 17:03
Yes. Yes. So we you know, and we made a profit, and then we took it, and we reinvested it into other firms. And we just kept going, No, just so after we did, after we did Black Butterfly, we did a film called black coffee, which is a film that we did, and it had a limited theatrical release is a film that we do RLJ entertainment. And so initially, I was I was going to do the film with entertainment one, but for some reason, there was a miscommunication. And then we actually did the film with RLJ entertainment, you know, which was great, which was, which was cool record RLJ entertainment. And one of the things that I just want to stress is that don't do it outside of your project. The objective is to create me to own or do ownership or to license your project. So even when you look at Black Butterfly, if you look at black coffee, those movies that I made, like 10 years ago, I'm still making money off these fans, because what I do is I can realize as these fans so because it's still doing well over he won. He was gonna they relicensed the fan. Right. So the objective is, to the objective is ownership. And so that's how we were able to continue to, you know, make films continue to this is what I do for time, this is what I do for time and you don't have a family and things like that so
Alex Ferrari 18:29
They can play around. We can play cable around we had the days of eating ramen in the one room apartment by yourself those days. Those days left because I think you and I have similar vintages if I'm not mistaken. So yeah, well we did in our 20s we can't be doing in our 40s Yes. So I mean, what I love about your story, man is you're basically the personification of what I preach. I preach long the long game, creating assets creating revenue streams, creating keeping ownership of your projects, being smart how you do it, you doing your movies for a smart number, you didn't make black car or you didn't make a butterfly for $200,000 like a lot of filmmakers would have the like, Oh, I'm gonna we'll make it I'm gonna make this is going to be the movie you're like, no, this is one movie of a career of movies. I'm going to make the first smart money so I can flip it. And and keep going.
Mark Harris 19:24
Yes, so I already knew like even when making that movie for 90 $500 or less, I wanted to keep it for less than $10,000 already knew even if I go out and sell DVDs, I don't want to make their money back. Right You know, and so happens that you know, we got a trailer and he wants to say they're interested in it and and they picked it up but I already knew a and if I have to do just a sub distribution for the film. I know I can do some distribution and make that money back and then so
Alex Ferrari 19:51
what I also preach a lot of what you're doing is obviously you know your niche. You are creating a product for a niche audience. That is You are a card carrying member of obviously, like, you know, like I when I make my movies I made my last two movies are based around the film but filmmakers and film industry so I know that niche extremely well so you know your niche very well and you've built an entire business around that niche audience and in creating a being of service that our audience and create and filling a hole that honestly, you know, that needed to be filled with with content that they're looking for it the bare, similar to what Tyler Perry has done. Tyler's done it on a scene level. But, but again, that's the other thing I like to tell people too, is that you don't have to be a billionaire. You could just provide for your family and keep doing what you love doing. Isn't that the dream?
Mark Harris 20:44
Yes, yes. Right. Yes. Because at the end of the day is, you know, um, so one of the things I love you mentioned, Tyler Perry is the fact that he No, he just opened his own studio, man, you know, what inspiration. But he knew he did not deviate from his own audience. He knew that he had that black Christian audience. And what happened is that they continue to support what he's doing. He never deviated from that path. He never tried to go outside of outside of of his audience. So he just kept looking at him now, you know, he didn't he, you know,
Alex Ferrari 21:23
he's right. He's right. He's right. He's, he's doing okay. He's, you know, he's, you know, what do we can do? No, but you know, he is you're right, he never tried to make a mass, he never switched over to a mass media, or, you know, a large, not larger audience, but to, to, to cater to another audience. He's like, this is my lane. I'm gonna stay in this lane, I'm gonna do this lane really, really well. And I'm gonna just keep pounding for 20 years. And at the end of these 20 years, I'm going to have a studio that's bigger than Disney, Warner Brothers and Paramount's backlog, I'll put it together. Like, it's obscene, what he's been able to put together. And I preach that constantly, man, it's like you understand who you're aiming at. And I'm assuming when you're building these, when you were from your very first movie, you knew who your audience was, and you knew who you were, you knew who your audience was, you knew how you were going to sell it. And how are you going to recoup your money? Am I wrong? Absolutely. Yeah. Because you were, you were thinking like a businessman?
Mark Harris 22:17
Yes, absolutely. This is a product. Yeah, like my first film we made for my very first film, we may for $500. And it was like a feature fan. We made it for 500. My second we made for 500. But again, I knew already knew, okay, I'm just gonna, you know, print some DVDs. That's when DVDs were very high present DVDs, go out, sell DVDs, you know, so I already knew the audience was,
Alex Ferrari 22:45
and you just literally hustled on the street, you just like, Hey, here's, here's my, and then you start building that I love the whole concept of building events around your movie, like, hey, you're gonna get some poetry, you're gonna get a food, play a plate of food, and you're gonna get my DVD. So you just kind of like snuck your DVD in there. Yes. Because they'll come up with the poetry and the food generally, but like, oh, wait a minute, I get a movie too. And, and I'm assuming later on when you created these events, did you have multiple copies of other movies? Okay, if you guys want to buy some movies over here, too. Did you do something like that? Or no?
Mark Harris 23:14
Whenever? Well, my movies just yeah. Yeah. So when I had like, every time I would release a movie, I would have always have the other movies there as well. And so but I also did festivals, too. So you know, we have in Chicago, we have festivals, and during the summertime all day long, so I went, and I will always no matter where I went, I will always keep a I don't do it now, while always keeping my book bag with me into my book, but I was always have DVDs. And so people always seem to say, Well, every time I see you have you have your movies, no matter where I went, I always always had my DVDs with me. You know, and I was able to sell them and people who like and people were buying them I will go I will be everywhere all over the
Alex Ferrari 23:55
city. Man. That's like I said hustle, respect. So brother, that's that's easy. That's the thing, man that a lot of filmmakers don't understand that this is you know, to do what you're doing. takes a lot of time. takes a lot of hard work. And you just don't you just don't stop. Like you were smart. When you started off you like you didn't like oh, my first movie I'm gonna make for $50,000 like, No, I don't know enough. Like I saw one of your interviews. She's like, your whole first movie was all wide shots.
Mark Harris 24:22
Yes. Everything was washed. I saw I said to the editor he's like was the rest of the movie. Oh.
Alex Ferrari 24:33
And it was in 2005. So it's not like you could go crop in on an SD image. So you can't really like you know, make a closeup out of it. So your whole movie was basically master shot theater. It was a play. You recorded a play basically is what you're saying. But you made it didn't Tyler do something similar with his plays. He actually like filmed this plays and sold it before he ever started making these movies.
Mark Harris 24:54
Yeah, so he was all right. He would do his plays. he would he would film them and then what happened was the Lakers Gatto, and a bootlegger style, selling them in a barber shops and stuff like that. So now everybody was talking about my deal. You know, and so that's what like, you know, so when he did his first movie, then it made like, I believe, like $90 million. It was a big Yeah. And it was only like, I think the budget was like 6 million, you know, even if it was 6 million, but he made like $90 million.
Alex Ferrari 25:24
Yeah, he was he did all right on that one. And that's the thing, a lot of times filmmakers, and I'm not saying I'm not advocating for bootlegging, or for piracy, but in the music industry, that's happened that happens all the time. And then sometimes bands literally just released their music for free. You know, for bootleggers or for piracy to go through with it. Because then they like, you're gonna pay to go see their show. And you're gonna see you're gonna buy a T shirt, you can't pirate a T shirt, give or take, you know, you can't download a T shirt. So that's how they build out their business. Now, there was a boat. There's something online, I saw that you say you sold 10,000 DVDs? Yes. Is that basically just what we've been talking about? Like just hustling constantly?
Mark Harris 26:04
No, no, no, no, this is this from one movie. We did this movie called I used to love her. Oh, that's amazing. Okay. Yeah, so I always aren't gonna argue but my Li actor always correct me on this. Because when I say I told I sold 10,000 movies, I'm saying Personally, I sold 10,000. But what we will do is, he will get some printed up Molly, it was his name is Mira Mira Rob, and he will get his DVDs printed out. And I would get my DVDs printed out but separately, and so he would be out there selling his own. He saw he saw he sold a tremendous number of DVDs as well. But me personally, I sold 10,000. Like me, with a film called I used to love her. And we did what we did was also we did a screening at ice theatre, which as I stated was one of the most well known theaters in Chicago now Is this our studio movie grill, but we will rent out the theater and it was 300 like 296 seats, like a 300 seater theater. And we saw we sold it out like 10 times. And people will just keep coming back. Keep coming back. And while people will come back, and then we'll be we may for $3,000 of course. Come back here. Sorry. 30 $500. Sorry.
Alex Ferrari 27:21
Let's add that extra 500 because that really helps a lot.
Mark Harris 27:25
Amazing. Yeah, they will. We will sell the DVDs, you know, the DVDs ready for them as well. And so yeah, I mean, it was but at the same time, you
Alex Ferrari 27:37
know, I was gonna ask you so your your your actor selling? Is he keeping that money? Or do you guys have a deal? How's that work? He's keeping the money. So that was the days Yeah, you can so you basically go act in the movie for free. Whatever you could sell is yours. Yes. I'm not sure how good a long term business plan that is. But it worked for that movie. Yeah. And I but but at the budget range, you're just like, why not? It makes perfect sense. And it gives him I mean, for him that's actually really great. I there's another story I another filmmaker who does the same thing that has his actor sell his movies. And there's nothing more there's no more motivation than an actor trying to sell a movie that he's the star and
Mark Harris 28:18
yeah. Oh, and I'm gonna get paid. Yes. And he got he made he made like his name is Matt. Robbie, always correct me. And he's like, Mark, like, you have to forget, we sold more than two, you would sell 10,000 on your own. He said you forget the number that I've sold in America is a point to like, when I will do the poetry, the poetry, he will, he will host the port, he will host them. And so we will probably do a feels like a partnership. And he has been he's been in like, maybe like four or five of my movies. You know, so it was I was like a partnership whenever like he was in my first movie. And we saw a ton of those DVDs. Like that's all we did with that first movie is just the one we shot all last shot. It was all white shots. We still put it together and we went out and it's
Alex Ferrari 28:59
Are you still sell? Are you still selling it? Did you license it? No. No, yes. So that is your that anymore? So let me ask you, man, somebody's having too much fun, man, because I forgot what I was gonna ask you. Or your marketing strategy on DVDs. So DVDs. Were a thing when you started. DVDs aren't as prolific now in as far as selling your movie. So what are you doing in? I mean, I'm assuming their budgets have gone up since then. You know, how is that working? Like, how are you actually making money? What is your distribution plan now? What are your revenue streams now? In the last like, three, four years?
Mark Harris 29:42
Okay. Oh, thank you for that question. So I've been doing a lot of stuff for television. And so I've done things for like TV one, bt The last project that that I've we done and they actually got distribution. It was a film that we call who called Blocking privilege by one which is on Netflix. And I would love to I know there was a there was a scene on that people like when that went viral. Or as far as the blocking preference, there was a scene that went viral that I'm definitely going to talk about why do we actually edit the scene the way we did? So with that feeling, we made that sale for like, 40 $500 Oh, come on, stop it.
Alex Ferrari 30:24
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You put that on, you put that on? Netflix, it get on Netflix. Yeah. How did you? How did you get it on Netflix? I'm just curious.
Mark Harris 30:44
I have I have, like my email list, again, that email list. And so like, my email list is like massive. Like, is this really? So? Those are some of the things you have like for me, I had to like show
Alex Ferrari 30:56
like it's an asset. It's an asset.
Mark Harris 30:58
Yeah, yeah, it is. And so so that one, we just know, we like we license it out to Netflix for one year. You know, so after a year, what happens is that we get it back, and we can take it back to Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, you know, you know and make more money off of it.
Alex Ferrari 31:16
So you made that movie is currently for $450?
Mark Harris 31:19
Yes. 45, no 45,000.
Alex Ferrari 31:22
It's still $45,000 is still that's still fairly low budget film. So you made that film for 45,000. Everyone's getting paid. Everyone got paid. Everyone's getting paid. And you license it to Netflix, which I'm assuming it I don't know if you're comfortable telling us what the price was on that.
Mark Harris 31:42
Did you? Okay, talk about the price. But it was it was it was it was more it was
Alex Ferrari 31:46
more than what you paid for it? Way more. That's all we need to know. That's Yeah, that's good. That's good enough. Yeah. So way more than you paid for it. And and that's current. Alright. So other than these, like, that's a one off? I'm assuming what like odd the onion because you make so many films a year? How are you generating revenue? Now other than just like like that, what I'm assuming you're not licensing all your movies to Netflix?
Mark Harris 32:10
No. So I have I have movies out to most mostly, every movie has played on every like black network from bt TV, one, Aspire, bounce. Like, every last one. So what I do is I do a like a six months a year license, you know, they pay. And once they pay, you know, I can take it somewhere else like, like, give you an example black coffee, right? Black Coffee has been eret has been aired on bt, bounced in a spire. So that's like three different networks, you know, that has been aired on and once it's the licensed over with Aspire, we may take it over to Netflix because of the success of what like in practice is doing. So you know, you ought to that's the key, the key is, is to license your project. And you always make money because people need one of the things they never do is they need content. And if we're providing content, and then not only are we providing content is that we providing a marketing, marketing a company that we have, that we're going to market the film and make sure that people watch the film. So whenever my you know. So whenever my films, air on any of these networks, they always, always successful.
Alex Ferrari 33:28
So because you're working, so if I could break this down for everyone listening, you have now only created an asset with your projects, you've actually created an asset with the marketing because you've built this massive email list that you should bring to the table as as a package deal with any bisaya. If you sell to bt, or you license your film to bt for X amount of dollars, you tell them I'm going to give you my movie, and I'm going to get you're going to pay me this, but I'm also going to support it with marketing, because I know exactly who my audience is. And I can target that audience and tell everybody that it's on bt. Yes. And then bt is like, great. So that's what Netflix wants. And that's what everyone listening. That's what these streaming services, what all the streaming services want eyeballs, they want subscribers, they want action, and if you can provide them that especially in a niche audience, like like the urban market, like you have. That's excellent. And another thing is to and you've become kind of just like a leader in this space, because you just been doing it so long. You know, all of a sudden, they're like, Oh, this guy's been doing this since 2005. He's been doing this 15 years. He's got 20 movies under his belt. He must know he must be doing something because he's making quality projects and they're being licensed. So regardless if you know what you're doing or not, they're just like he must know something about this market. Am I Is that a fair statement?
Mark Harris 34:48
Yeah, yes. Yes, we are. We've we've been blessed. We've been blessed. And also I mean, I have I have a great team, a great team of people that I work with and and we just We make them and put them out. How many do you do here? I try to do two movies a year, just to, yeah, just to. So well, so the objective is, so my objective is, and what we're working on is, like, when I look at, like, when it comes to like, a filmmaker, like, I love Martin Scorsese, he's like, He's the God of it, you don't? Well, when I look at, like, the inspiration, my inspiration, I look at Tyler Perry, as far as like, Okay, this is what I want to do. So when I look at the studio, I'm like, so this is one of the things that, you know, we're working towards, whereas, you know, we're actually not just doing my projects, we're taking other people's projects, you know, and producing their projects as well. And so, you know, and within my community, from a community here in Chicago, called the NGO community, and for the last year or so, we just been working and we finally found some land that we can actually say, Okay, this is what we have, we can build on it. So we look into open to our own studio as well, you know, fresh Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah. So my inspiration like when that when, when my inspiration is always been following, following you know, because I do a lot of research, I do a lot of research and I just, you know, it is very important, is research and just to study different people just to study, you know, what is what, what is Tyler Perry doing is making him successful, what is Spike Lee's doing is making him successful, what is more Mark Scorsese doing, you know, just studying these different people and studying the different? How does different studios are able to do what they're doing? You know, even though I know you said that, even though Tyler Perry, they, you know, we say that his studio is bigger than some of the main studios. In theory. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 36:53
The law of the land, the land, the land, it's bigger. It's not bigger than Disney is not bigger than Warner Brothers is not bigger than paramount. But the actual studio land and facilities. Yes, they are.
Mark Harris 37:05
Yes. Yeah. And so I think people get confused, but to to, like, you know, like, they're just, they bring in a billion dollars for one movie, so
Alex Ferrari 37:16
they bring in a billion dollars off the dresses that they sell off the characters of that one movie. Are you kidding? So yeah, so I don't see a lot of Medea dolls in merchandising. No, I think I think I'm a dia DOM. I do. Well, I'm just saying, If Tyler's listening. He's gonna have it out. No, I have to ask you. So the only way you're making money with your movie is just straight up licensing. are you creating any other revenue streams from your films in any other way?
Mark Harris 37:45
No, I'm not. So here are some of the things that we are we are planning on doing or not planning we have been in the works is that one of the things we will open the cafe, I am open to one of the things that we're working on is a cafe called black coffee, which is named after my family. Within this cafe is going to be tailored to sell the merchandise from my different fans. What is t shirts, hats, coffee, coffee mugs, you know? So that's to be also is to be like a merchandising store that we're gonna be going to see all the products
Alex Ferrari 38:18
but you're gonna it's also a coffee shop. But it's also a coffee shop. Yeah, nice. Nice. So you're building out a business and you just you're just leveraging people loving coffee and obviously like in the movie, and I'm sure you'll have the movies playing in the background and trailers and all sorts of stuff so so it'd be like the Disney Store but for for your projects.
Mark Harris 38:36
Yes. So you know, so we have this awesome meet you know, I have to study like Disney's to see how they have a theme parks and and stuff like this. This is amazing. You know, so they have to have I have so much so much revenue coming in is crazy. So
Alex Ferrari 38:51
what I'm gonna send you a copy of my book, my new book coming out called the rise of the film shoprunner, which is how to make money with your business, how to create multiple revenue streams, from your business, from your film your films, and you need to read this book, because I think it's going to make your mind explode. I got a lot of ideas, a lot of case studies in there about how you can actually make money with your Thank you In addition to what you're doing, because you're killing it. Don't get me wrong. You don't need my help. You don't need anything I gotta say. But in addition to it, I think you there's you're leaving money on the table, sir. Just from my point of view, you're leaving money on the table?
Mark Harris 39:29
Absolutely. Yeah. I'm looking forward to reading your book because I know that that book is definitely something that I need. Now, let
Alex Ferrari 39:39
me ask you a question about what is your experience with the good old fashioned traditional distributors that I hear? They're honest, I hear they're very fair. And they take good care of filmmakers they pay on time, and they're very easily found on the phone and the contracts are fairly straightforward. So can you tell me what your experiences with dealing with films
Mark Harris 39:59
theatres, work with have an entertainment attorney that understands the deals. So when you deal with certain companies, certain companies work more honorable than other companies like you know, Iwan is a from, from our experience, then what you want, whenever the check is due, whenever payment is due, then it's all tied up from working with RLJ entertainment. Oh is now owned by AMC. Whenever I'm owed a check, or an a payment, everything is all tied. But there are other companies, which I'm not going to name, which is smaller companies, who, you know, you have to you have to hunt them down for your money, like, what's going on, you know, you have to, you know, you have to have your attorney to say, you know, to reach out to them, so, and also you have, like, 123 This is how a lot of distribution companies get over all filmmakers. And this is what I saw, I have put a film out through Maverick entertainment called I used to love.
Alex Ferrari 41:06
I'm from Florida, I used to work with an African attainment. Um, so hold on, let me get, let me get that dirt off of me. Because I feel I feel I feel a little slimy. I I worked with them early, early in the early 2000s, over Maverick entertainment down there in Florida. So um, yeah, sorry, sorry about that, people. Let's move on.
Mark Harris 41:25
I totally understand. So one of the things that I did was, look where my family is. You can't put marketing in like no way that I need you to market my phone because you don't market your fam. So what they do is they put a marketing budget in my $50,000 or so. And you are never see a dime coming back. Because the reason you'll never see a dime coming back is because they always want to have a recoup their marketing. And that's what companies do in and also, you know, if they are going to do if you do want them to do marketing, that ask them where they want to market your film to the different platforms, the different blog sites, things like that, and you want to see like, a list of who they paid and how much they pay. You know, you're entitled to those things. You know?
Alex Ferrari 42:15
You're You're adorable, sir. You're absolutely adorable. If you think I feel distributors gonna give you that kind of break. You are entitled to it without question.
Mark Harris 42:23
You definitely never going to get it. Yeah, so you're never gonna so what I did was with them, it's like I told him, I don't need you to do my market. He just put out the fan. You know, and it's all but don't like Don't fall for the whole marketing trick. As far as I'm telling you, they're gonna do all this marketing for your fan, because they're not going to do it.
Alex Ferrari 42:41
Yeah, without question. And let's not even get into that. There's so many ways that they can screw you. It's not even funny. It's just obscene amounts of way. I actually wrote two chapters in my book about predatory distributors just breaking it all down. The 20 to 25% What did they call it? Which was that? Well, there's what there's a 25%. rates. Whatever the cut of 25% Oh, 25. Oh, that's for prefer physical media. Yes. For physical media, restocking fees. Let's not talk about Don't forget about cross collateralization. Let's not even get into that. And there's no people listening like what is that? Like? You'll have to read the book. But there's so many ways I have a fill a fill market? Don't forget the fill market? chargebacks? Yes. Oh, those are fun.
Mark Harris 43:31
They charge you for any job, even if they end even if they're out there and about a bottle of water. They charge you for it.
Alex Ferrari 43:38
I just, I just look man, I just saw a report come in from a filmmaker who was charged $230 for closed captioning. What for a 60 minute movie it was it was a 60 minute movie. And wait a minute. We sent in the closed captioning. And they charge you for and it's it's a thing. So because it's probably default or template. Like it's kind of like boilerplate like, yeah, we're just gonna say we charge them for this. We're gonna say we charge them for that. We're gonna say we charge them for that. And they don't even look at it until the filmmaker calls. I'm like, Hey, what's this? Like? Oh, sorry. If you're not on top of it, they'll just take advantage of you left and right.
Mark Harris 44:16
And oh, yeah, also, Oh, do you can do all closed caption, do your own artwork to the trailer, job trailer, just do all of that all the marketing stuff. Just do all the promotion stuff is dressed up yourself.
Alex Ferrari 44:29
It's cheaper. Well, of course that's what I recommend all the time is like give them as many elements and deliverables as humanly possible so they can charge you for a damn thing. So because that's where they're gonna approach up, charge you. I saw people charging for closed caption of 15 $100 man 15 $100 for a movie, man. That's just absolute pure rape. It's just it's horrible, man. It's horrible. Now, why In your opinion, man, why do most independent films lose money? I don't know. I don't know if they really lose money. Yes, they do mean they all lose money. There's like 95% of independent films don't make money. I want to know, in your opinion, like you are a unicorn, Sir, you are a unicorn, there's not many filmmakers who make a lot of money in this business, let alone, they might make one movie or two movies, but to have access to string along 20 movies, in a course of 15 years is an unheard of fee. It is a rarity. I've seen it, I know it, trust me. So in your opinion, what are some mistakes that filmmakers make that could better their chances to make money? Let's put it that way.
Mark Harris 45:33
Okay, I think I think what we just discussed, is very important, meaning that when you do your budget, try to keep your budget, pretty low, you know, without, you know, ruining the quality of the what you're putting out. But at the same time, make sure you put in your budget, you know, room for a trailer, your, your, your artwork, and you know, things like that. So you have to definitely deal with entertainment attorney. And not only that, is that you have to there's the distribution companies have to know that you will audit them as well, you know, they have to know that like, you know, like, you're not afraid, like I was gonna Well, one company. Now, I don't want to name a company, but I was dealing with one company that I had told them like, you know, look, if we don't get this thing straight, I'm at the audit you all, you know, and that's what we had to do. And you know, and every time you audit a company, you want to trust me, you want to find money, every single time. So if if distribution distribution companies were more honest, filmmakers can actually you know, honest filmmakers can actually make a living out of doing this. By this time. Yeah. Yeah. But at the same time filmmakers have to be, you have to think like this as a business. And if you'd like for us who you know, if you don't understand like the business aspect of it, get people around you. Who knows the business Don't be afraid to sit down with a person or a business owner and say okay, or actually getting your book and read your book and doing your research he like you know, every single day, you should be finding out what is going on with Netflix, what is going on with Hulu? What is going on with Amazon? What is going on with the major studios, things like that, you know, what is going on with companies?
Alex Ferrari 47:14
So it's going on with companies in the business and stuff. What what are you are you not self distributing yourself like you only licensing Are you not going to like s VOD yourself a T VOD yourself or a VOD or anything like that with your films, or you're not self distributing, or other no other other revenue streams coming in other than licensing it to TV and licensing to other places.
Mark Harris 47:36
Well, so I have foreign to you, I have foreign so. So I so I have whenever I do a deal. So when I do a Netflix deal, I have a I have a guy who takes it over to Netflix for me. So So Alan Blackwell, who I've been working with since who gave me my first deal. So what he does is, you know, I take he takes the family takes to Netflix. But outside of that I'm doing everything else. Like, I don't deal with M net, which is a company out and out of South Africa. So in any other any other companies that we deal with, I'm doing those deals myself.
Alex Ferrari 48:13
Now, you said something really interesting in another interview, and I had to bring it up here and I've been dying to hear this. You say that black film, most people say black films don't travel well, that it is a and you're saying that's a myth? Where like the urban films in the whole sub genre of urban films, African American films by films that they don't travel well, like they don't go to well, Europe, they don't go to a well in the Middle East and Asia and things like that. What's your experience?
Mark Harris 48:41
Well, my experience because here's the thing, my experience has been absolutely amazing. Here's why. Even like even when you deal with comedies in general, comedy, in general don't do very well. Very well. So we're looking at most black, black films or comedies. But if you're looking at the more serious films in like my films, you take a film, like, let's just say like Black Butterfly, or a film like black imperialists, right, like those films, a film like black coffee, don't film films have done very well in Africa, because you know, we got one point like 1.8 billion people in Africa, you have all these people in the Caribbean shell people, all these people in Europe. So my films have done very well like like a guy in Nigeria, sends me a inbox and he has a pitcher of black coffee in his been bootleg over Nigeria, you know, in Nigeria, and so so I have I have I know from experience like even when I did the film, I used to love her. I used to love her. I've sold so many copies I sold copies and Amsterdam like and this was me doing sub distribution and just this is a DVDs DVDs or CDs or DVDs. I would just melt these DVDs off.
Alex Ferrari 50:01
But this is self distribution. So you're just targeting those people yourself, you're not actually making deals with distributors in that in those areas.
Mark Harris 50:09
Right? This is this is me, going directly to the people, not to the distribution company. But as far as you're talking about black coffee, black and privilege, like driving privileges on m&a, I'm sure you're familiar with M net M. net is like the major broadcast television company in Africa. So you don't away so but they read it, they reach like 50 off, I think, like 50 countries in Africa. And so when you deal with him, that's the idea directly with him that not the only market that I haven't hit as far as with or net. And when it comes to like, network need the broadcast companies is the Caribbean market. And that's one of the things I'm working with. I'm working with a guy named Joel, he's out of St. Maarten. And after what the I did a workshop in St. Maarten. And so I'm working with him now to see how we can get our projects over to the Caribbean market. You know, so there are those these markets, whereas what the thing is, is that we know comedies don't do well, obviously. So if black people just putting out comedies, of course, like they don't understand the comedy. You know, they don't understand the material. They don't understand I think the those type of the jokes,
Alex Ferrari 51:19
But the thriller but the thrillers in the dramas they do
Mark Harris 51:22
the thrillers in the dramas they do. You know, and those do well, those do well like I have done very well in those different markets.
Alex Ferrari 51:31
And and yeah, you gotta read that book, man. There's so much money you leaving on the table? I want I want to, I want to help you, man, I want to get you more money for your projects. Because it's I think, I think you're doing such an amazing job, man. Really? You are an inspiration question, man, you're an inspiration. I hope everyone listening, you know, gets up off their butt and stops complaining about and stops with this lottery ticket mentality. Like this movie is gonna blow me up. This is the one that's gonna get me the Hollywood deal. And you're like, Nah, man, I'm gonna, you're out of Hollywood, you're out of the system. So you're in Chicago, and you're just making you're, you're making your movies, you're doing your thing. I'm selling it locally, I'm doing this, this and this. And you're building a business for yourself, man, and you're supporting your friends, your family, your partner, your team rely on you and what you're doing. I mean, it's it's really wonderful, man. Really, really is wonderful mess. I congratulate you 100%. Brother.
Mark Harris 52:25
Thank you, brother. Appreciate it. Thank you.
Alex Ferrari 52:28
I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Mark Harris 52:36
What the best advice I can tell you is to break into the business today is just go out, go out, have you get your screenplay? Make your movie? I mean, because with the technology we have today that we didn't have 20 years ago. I mean, there's absolutely no excuse at all not to make a movie. You know, no excuse now you have so much talent that you can find on on a on even on social media. You know, so much talent, you know, and, and people just want to work you have, you know, just reach out to them. I think a lot of us are afraid to even reach out to the sag office. Just keep in mind they're saying they're saying rules and saying laws and saying fees or that the act of sag actors can work for the sag office and make sure you know and hire sag actors. You know, I think it's like 125 a day, something like that. It's 125 a day now. Yeah, yeah, one to 125 a day and actors want to work so go out and just make your field nothing could stop you. Nothing can stop you.
Alex Ferrari 53:34
Yeah, the technology is cheap enough now, man they mean and what do you mostly shoot on? Just I know a lot of people are gonna ask that. What do you shoot down? What do you edit on?
Mark Harris 53:40
So now? We're shooting on the red. Okay. Oh, de risk on it. And then the Vinci
Alex Ferrari 53:48
if you speak my language, Brother, you speaking my language before that way you were shooting? What were you shooting? The King okay. Yeah, that's a silica camera is it's fine. And the red and the vinci's now so you're solid, you solid? Yeah. Solid man. Okay, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? The lesson of patience? If that's the that's like the number one answer, man.
Mark Harris 54:15
Yes. Patience. I mean, like patience. You know, one of the things I think you said that was key was everybody thinking like, you know, that with this one movie is going to break them into Hollywood. We have to, like it took me took me a while to realize that's not my objective. You know, and, you know, I don't want to be I never know, I don't want to be a hired director. You know, I want to I want to be a content. I want to create movies quick create content. I want to partner with distribution companies.
Alex Ferrari 54:48
Your film, Chuck, you're a filmtrepreneur, sir. You're a filmtrepreneur.
Mark Harris 54:52
Yes. So patients just be very patient. And don't look don't look to see how how you Can not just be a hire director, but how you can like, look long term, look long term and study the people that went before us, you know that me, I always I had to study and I had to look at Spike Lee right? Spike Lee been in this business for over 30 years. And maybe maybe like two or three years ago, he went to go, and this is not a knock against my knee. But he went, Oh, go Go Fund Me to finance to raise a million dollars for one of his movies. And I'm looking, and I had to think to myself, why does he have to go on? Maybe he just didn't want to use his own mind. But why does he have to go go go for me to raise a million dollars to one of his movies, I never want to be in that type of position, that I have to go to people and go to a GoFundMe to get money for people to get their hard earned dollars to make my movie, you know, without them getting something in return, you know, in return is return on their investment. So I owe you know, or I want to be in a position where I could put up the all my own million dollars to make my movie or my own $5 million to make my movie and go to somebody like a screen jam. So a screen jams or Lionsgate and partner with them say okay, I want you to just be my distribution company. You know, that's the vision that I think we all should have. Because times are changing now, you know, times are changing. And you know, you don't just want to see yourself as a hired director, so, and at the end of the day, you can leave like if you create, let's say, like all of my films that I've created, if something happens to me now they're gonna be passed out to my son, my sons. And so revenue revenue will keep coming in and the revenue will keep coming in. So you want to keep that legacy going and going and going, you know, and that's the most important thing
Alex Ferrari 56:46
I was talking to. I was talking to somebody who worked with Verner Hertzog. Are you familiar with that Werner Herzog, the famous director, if you saw his face? Yeah, we're Werner Hertzog. Right. And Warner's early movies. He told he told the guy I know Klaus told him He's like, if it wasn't for my early films, he how he owns all his early films, his first five or 10 movies that he shot in Germany, he owns them. And he licenses them out all the time. He goes, that's what kept me. That's what kept me alive. All those years while I was still hustling, I'm still trying to get seen. And so it was those early movies that I owned, and I kept licensing and I kept making money, and it's residual income constantly coming in. And that's how you have to think I mean, you got to look at what Tyler did. You know, Tyler Perry partnered with Lionsgate, you know, he partnered, he partnered with Lionsgate Lionsgate makes a lot of money because of Tyler Perry. They don't own him. They don't own his movies. They're not hiring Tyler to make movies. They're partners in this. And that's how that's what I'm preaching is trying to become more thinking about it as a partnership and not like, oh, you're the only way I'm going to make money. And I got to trust that you're going to take good care of me, because we know how that works out with film distributors, you've got to set that you've got to set that deal up in a way that you are partners in it. And if you're not, then that's where the problems lie. And that's where all your hard work is. I call it a non tax deductible donation. Like if you sign one of those, it's a non taxable deductible. donation you're giving to a film distributor, basically for seven years. Yes. Right. Unless you get paid or able to do something with it. Now, what is the biggest fear you had to overcome? To make you to make your first film?
Mark Harris 58:32
Oh, the biggest fear was? Confidence. Yeah, I need it, you know, and it took it took a while, you know, because when you don't never been on a film set before, you know, no, you know, you want to film say you don't know what you're doing. You try to figure it out as you go along. And as you know, the more films you make, go on and on and on. Because like my first month, like my first like six or seven films, it was as V, my dp, my gaffer was like three of us just making films. And I didn't make I didn't have a real crew, until I shot black coffee, in LA, is when I hit a record real creative, we're first ad, you know, but I've never had those type of things. When we were making our own films, there's three of us just running around making movies. And you know, and so I hit that, you know, I was know, each film, I would get more I get, be more confident in what I'm doing. You know, and so that's what I had to call the fear of, you know, of not knowing, you know, I'm not knowing what I'm doing. I'm not knowing the art side of, you know, I understood the business a little bit, a little bit, you know, but just understand the fundamentals of making a movie, you know, and so that's why, you know, every day is a learning process every day, every day we continue to learn even even can this well, he said, You know, I was just reading the interview. He said, like, every time again, we'll say he's learning something. He's learning something new. You know, and so we can't get into in a position with the thing that we just know it all every day is that you got to continue to learn, and continue to continue to condition your mind and you know, extremely,
Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
You know, yeah, without question. That's one of the benefits of having the show is I get to talk to people like you and I learned something new every day all the time. As long as I'm mean, I've been on I've been doing this thing for 25 years, man, I've been doing this hustle 25 years and in the film business, and every day, I'm learning from something new every day, I just know, one thing I realized is I know nothing. And I have to keep that that cup has to be open. And it can't be full. It has to be it has to be at least halfway filled. So as new stuff pours in, it doesn't overflow. You got to keep getting that information in as much as you can and educate yourself. Now the toughest question of all sir, three of your favorite films of all time.
Mark Harris 1:00:48
Oh, okay. That's it. That's not tough. Okay. I love black Orpheus. That's my all time favorite. I will have to say, um, do the right thing. in office in a gentleman.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:09
I love Lou Gossett man and Richard Gere. And oh, great. You know, people don't understand that do the right thing was so good. That people kept showing up to spikes movie for the next 20 years in hopes that they would see another do the right thing. Is that a fair? Is that a fair statement? Absolutely. And then we find I think we finally got it with blacks, black Klansmen? I was like, Ah, here we is, here it is. But do the right thing is still man is still still his best but without question. Now, where can people find you and the work that you're doing?
Mark Harris 1:01:44
As easy as you can just google 1555 film works as 155 filmworks or Mark Harris films that you know this My name is very common name. So you can I think the best way to do it is 1555 filmworks.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
Got it. Got it. Mark, you have been an absolute inspiration. Man. You've dropped some great knowledge bombs on the tribe today. I really, truly, truly appreciate you taking the time because I know you hustle. And right now I'm sure you got to go hustle, do something right now after this interview. So I do appreciate it, man. But thanks again for being on the show. Man. I appreciate it.
Mark Harris 1:02:15
Appreciate you, brother.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:17
If this doesn't inspire you to get off your butt and start building your own indie film Empire, I really don't understand what else can do. I mean, Mark, thank you, man so much for coming on the show. dropping your knowledge bombs and sharing your inspirational film intrapreneurial story, man, thank you, again, so so much. If you want to get links to Mark's movies, or anything else we spoke about in this episode. For indie film, hustle, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/376. And for filmtrepreneur, head over to filmtrepreneur.com/037. Also, guys, if you've happened to have bought my book, or listened to my book, and read it and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Audible or Amazon. It really does help a lot. So if you haven't just head over to filmbizbook.com, click on wherever you bought it and leave a review. It means the world to me. And thank you all for your amazing comments. And you know, the schools that I've actually been calling me about purchasing bulk copies of the book to start teaching in their schools. I'm humbled by the response of this book. And I hope it continues to change the way filmmakers think about making movies. There has to be a mind shift in all creatives in all filmmakers, and I hope this book sparks that change. Thank you guys for listening so much. As always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Be a film shoprunner and I'll talk to you soon.
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