Film Schooling- Insider Insights On Indie Filmmaking Part 4: Developing The Money

By Chris Hood

(This is Part Four of an ongoing series to help educate aspiring filmmakers on the process of making their first film. Previous articles in this series can be found at BleedingCool.com and MovieIndustry.com)

At this point, under my supreme guidance, you're continuing down the hopeful yellow brick road of filmmaking that you'll soon finds actually bypasses Oz leading instead to the Radioactive Wasteland of Failed Dreams (read the book, it was cut from the film).  Anyway, you now have your producing partner, the script you're going to turn into a work of genius and a professional business plan to present to your potential investors. Now it's the hardest step of the process. Getting the money. This is the part that sucks the most. But there is hope. There are options. I'm here to try and pull you out of this Pit of Despair, though I'm not sure if I'm the guy without the brain or the heart (or both).

Fallout

Now, how much you're hoping to raise is going to have a direct bearing on your likelihood of success. This amount has already been predetermined by the budget you put in your prospectus, but hopefully, you haven't made a bad decision this early on…or that you at least go back and fix it if you have. If you're trying to raise $1,000,000, you had better have a pretty impressive list of friends and family that you can hit up AND that think the world of you.

Most first films are $100,000 or less. The good news here is that with the proper talented and professional people on your side, you can make a slick, sellable film of great production value with this kind of money. You won't get "names" in your film at this level, but you can make something that can sell and, quite possibly, get your investors paid back. This should always be Goal One – if your investors so much as break even, they'll almost always invest with you again and that means you get to keep making movies!

The upside to being your first project is, many, if not most, people can scrape together $50k or $100k through savings, friends, family and credit cards. Of course, when I say most people what's implied is "most people that have their shit together." If you're a smart, focused, well-liked individual that people around you take seriously, they'll usually trust in you and your endeavors. If you've been working toward a dream of filmmaking for a while, you'll have credibility. By the time I went out to put together money for my first film, I had gone to school for film, shot a no-budget feature length project that turned out nicely, lived in L.A., worked on a number of film and TV shows and written a dozen screenplays. Everyone who knew me knew this was the dream, not a hobby, not a lark. They knew I was serious. As brilliant and charismatic as I am (just ask my mom!), I doubt I would have been able to raise $80k if filmmaking had been my latest in a long line of random, morphing career interests. Will the people you talk to take you seriously? If not, you'd better have someone leading the charge that they do. At this point in your career, it has almost nothing to do with the project, but the people behind it.

The reality is, it is these friends and family and your personal funds that get this first project made. And I believe many, if not most, aspiring filmmakers can put a film together this way. Most of us know some people with money. Not a lot of money necessarily, but most of us know people who can write a check for $1000 or $5000 or even $10,000 dollars.  All of the money for my first film came together this way.  My parents, my sister, my girlfriend, my best friend, my best friend's father, a wealthy friend of my sister and a business associate of my father all put money into the project. I still feel tremendous gratitude for the faith these people showed in me.

I wish my first film, Impact, had done better. Despite a degree of success in the film festival circuit and being a movie I'm very proud of, I chose poorly. {insert knight fro Last Crusade here} I tried to make a film that would win Sundance and get Miramax calling. I was terribly naïve, but that seems to be the mindset with the vast majority of new filmmakers I talk to. They all want to make the next Brother's McMullen when they should be looking to make the next El Mariachi. Because if your Brother's McMullen doesn't win Sundance and get Miramax calling (which it won't), that film is going to die on the vine, never finding a home. If your El Mariachi doesn't get Harvey Weinstein to notice your greatness, you still have an action film you can sell.  And guess what? People like and want action films whether they've won film festival or not. Be smart, my little chitlins.

So I put together my $80k in units of $1k, $5k and $10k, my girlfriend and myself putting up the largest share. And, of course, I had my credit cards waiting in the wings to finish the job (which would get called into service). Those options were available to me and I used them. And you can do this too, but know that you can do it ONCE. If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter how good the film is or how proud you are of it, you cannot go back to people that lost money on your first film. Hell, even if you get close to making them whole, you have something there.

impact

Another popular route for indy film money is crowd funding. Yet here I'm going to take some more wind out of your sails (I'm like the Grim Reaper of film news waiting to use my scythe to impale your clueless ass!). The crowd funding dynamic has changed. The competition is fierce. That's not to say it can't or won't work for you, but it takes a lot more than a slick video on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Your project needs to stand out and that's a much tougher prospect than most people realize.

Part of the problem, aside from the glut of artists vying for the same finite funds, is big fish exploiting the system. Assholes like Zach Braff have fucked things up for all unknowns trying to raise money this way. The quick back story about this selfish fuck stick is that he wanted to make a follow-up to his film Garden State. It's bad enough that Toolbag Braff, with a net worth of over $20m, could certainly finance the film himself, but he even mentioned (boasted) that he had studio funds available to him to make the movie, but felt he would he would have more "creative freedom" if funded by Kickstarter backers (i.e. suckers). So he raised a record $3.1 million which, conveniently, isn't an investment and doesn't have to be paid back.  I don't know, but it strikes me more as a way to exploit your fans and get a free $3m check than actually making a stand for "creative freedom." And yes, you read that right – he had the money available to him to make the movie from a production company and this multi-millionaire of excremental seepage still went to his middle class fans to give him the money to make it. So that's the tale of that douche bag (but really, I like the guy, much the same way I like constipation and gonorrhea).

Zach_Braff_comicSo what was once a somewhat level playing field is now far from it. If someone can put their $20 bucks in a Zach Cuntly Braff (actually on his birth certificate) film or your project…why would they go with you? That is what you have to sell if you go this route. That's not to say it can't be done, but what is your "angle?"

There is one thing that seems to help considerably in the crowd funding space: A built-in audience.  Now you as a first-time filmmaker won't have this, but perhaps someone or something about your project has it. If you have an actor committed with some kind of following, you might be able to use that. If your source material has a fan base, that's something that could help you. Do you have a "theme" that people want to inherently support? A movie about substance abuse or religion or gay rights or a real hero can inspire folks to pony up some dough (Which means a film about a physically deformed, gay, Christian folk hero with a substance abuse problem, is a home run, baby!  Oh, wait, they made that movie…it was called "W"). If people have strong opinions about something, they're far more likely to support you even if they don't know you. The downside is that these are the kinds of films I'm warning you not to make. Sadly there's nothing inspiring or controversial about a guy running around the woods hacking up drunk college kids…seems the sadist contingent in crowd funding circles is relatively small, unfortunately.

The third traditional approach to finding your money is reaching out to strangers. Now, I'd be remiss to not mention that there are laws about this sort of thing. The S.E.C. has always had strict guidelines about this so if you decide to go this route, you should make yourself aware of what those rules actually are (or don't for all I care, I've said my peace). The good news is that as part of the new JOBS act, the restrictions on this sort of thing are being notably relaxed.

The tough part about this type of soliciting is getting in touch with these people. How do you reach them? Generally there's going to be a cost associated, be it a finder's fee or advertising and the conversion rate for something like this is almost impossibly small. The reality is, pretty much everyone knows the odds of making money on this type of investment is almost zero. So what are you selling if you do get these doors open?

Of course, there are many other routes to seek funding, but I've stuck with the main ones; the ones that are most worth pursuing and most often used, but be creative. Think outside the box. Make sure you always consider things from the perspective of why the other party should want to help you. It's obvious what you get out of this, but what do they get out of it? If they don't know you personally, what's in it for them? Most people know investing in an untested, untried new filmmaker won't end well financially. Why should they trust you? Why should they invest in you? The fact that you really, really, really want to make a movie doesn't cut it. Make them WANT to be involved.

There are people with more money than they know what to do with and financial return is not always their primary motivation. There are people who have money and want to be involved in something creative. There are angels who just like to help other people realize their dreams. There are men who invest in film because they think they can be a big shot in the movie business and get the related perks and bragging rights. Some men and women just want the excitement of being involved in a film project. Although most investors look at the feasibility of the investment first and foremost, there are others who have different agendas. Some of those agendas you can accommodate. The same rule applies to investors as people you're making the movie for – "Know your audience."

In Part Five we'll jump in to pre-production as I'm confident you'll have all of your funding by next week. I'll see you there!

Chris Hood is a writer, producer and director of such films as "Counterpunch" starring Danny Trejo and "Dirty Dealing 3D" with Michael Madsen and C. Thomas Howell.  He is also owner of Robin Hood Films, a Las Vegas-based distribution company representing English language films around the world and operates a film blog at MovieIndustry.com.  He's also dead sexy.  (Mr. Hood denies any involvement in the creation of this mini-bio.)

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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