How to Raise Money for Film
Filmmaking is a unique business. Every film is like a new start up company, designed to disappear in a year, give or take. It’s business and creativity all rolled into one and it can get really messy if you are the “creative” who doesn’t understand the “business finance” and it can get really frustrating if you are the “business” who is less interested in the “creative process”. These types of misunderstandings can be the reason films don’t get made, never get finished, investors lose money or pull out of the project entirely. Understanding how the two necessarily work together can help you find success. I lean heavily toward the creative side of this industry, I am a writer, but I cannot emphasize enough how much it has helped me in my creative process to know more of the business side of this whole thing. Thinking through and planning marketing strategies, writing with a budget in mind, understanding the risks involved for the investors has really leveled up my creativity because I understand what’s at stake and what is required of me, especially as a rookie. The design of this article is to provide you with the “oh crap” realization of just how much things like marketing costs, so that you can aim for success. Dreaming is great, but there is a certain level of realistic required to reach that dream. Are you ready to be sobered? Here we go!
You Need Proof
The first thing you need in order to get investment is: proof. Proof you can get sales. What do you have that people want to buy? What do you have that is worth paying for? What do you have that is worth someone risking hundreds of thousands or multiple millions of dollars on? While I was researching this topic, I chose to look into this from the investor’s point of view. I thought, “If I was new to film investment, what should I be looking for in a film?” Most of the advice I got was, “Don’t, it’s too risky. But if you really want to invest in film, make sure there is a name attached somewhere in the cast and crew.” The “name” could be an actor, director, producer… someone involved that has a good following. Someone that draws attention. Someone that is really good at what they do. How do you get these people involved? You start by asking. Sometimes people will get involved because it’s a project they are passionate about, this isn’t too common, though. You can ask Casting Directors to pass your script on to the “name” you are thinking about. Otherwise, network by going to film festivals and after parties and wherever else you can go that you can meet people in the industry that you want to get involved in your film. Another way to “prove” you have something worth investing in, is to have a letter from a distributor. Films only make money if people pay to watch them. I know, it sounds like a “duh” statement, but really. I know investors who have basically had money stolen from them because the business plan wasn’t worked out on the production end and the projects never got to the point of people seeing them. The cast, crew and producers got paid, but the investors are left scratching their heads with a hole in their pockets. Investment is always a risk, but, come on… let’s not be thieves. If you do well by your investor, you are likely to get money for your films from them in the future and have a well funded career.
Plan for Distribution
Remember, like, two seconds ago when I told you that the only way for a film to make money is for people to pay to see it? You need to make a plan for that. What is your target audience and how will they watch it? Will it be in theaters? How many theaters? Local? Nationwide? Are you heading straight to DVD? Would Netflix pick it up? YouTube? Facebook Watch? Have you spoken with any distribution companies to figure out the cost and requirements? Research film distribution and decide on the most realistic and logical path for your film. But you must have your detailed plan laid out in advance so your potential investors can decide if your project is worth the risk.
Where Has All the Money Gone?
I’m just going to say: that’s a bad question to be asked. Unfortunately, that’s an all too common question. And not even just in film. Do you ever ask this of yourself at the end of the month? Yikes. Yeah, budgets are important. Detailed budgets are important. When I was growing up, my dad had me take a class on personal finances. One of the most important things I learned from that class was: every dollar has a name. Every dollar belongs somewhere. Once your script is ready, you sit down (or you pay someone to sit down) and go over your script line by line, assigning dollars to each and every piece. If you don’t know how to do this, please pay someone to do it. If you do know how to do this, good job. In addition to obtaining your production budget, you’ll also need to factor in your marketing budget. Remember, people need to pay to see your film, so you need a Marketing budget (P&A: commercials, billboards, radio, sponsorships, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.). Your marketing budget will, at a minimum, have to match your films production budget up to $35M. If your film hits theaters, at best, you will only walk away with 35% of each ticket. Let’s math...if you sold $100M worth of tickets, your distributor would only see $65M of that amount, at best. And if you had a $33M production budget with a $33M p&a budget, you just broke even… barley. Alternatively, if you make a $3M film that you sell to a SVOD company like Netflix and sell it for $5M you profit $2M off the bat. Your script doesn’t deserve a $50M budget because you said so, it needs to earn it by having the business, actors, directors, and studios to back it to make a profit. Filmmaking is fun and I am, in no way, trying to deter you from pursuing this career, but there is more to consider than what a good story might be. Business and creative have to work together to make a successful film.
Once you have your proof; distribution plan, marketing strategy and budget worked out, it’s time to put those basic details and story line in a neat little package called a “Pitch Deck”. The pitch deck should be less than 20 pages, but less than 15 is preferred, anything more would be a waste of their time, if they aren’t interested in investing in your film. Make your pitch interesting and enticing: an offer no one could refuse. And be professional. When you hand a prospective investor all the answers to their most glaring questions in one package, they’ll feel more confident choosing to work with you because you have their best interest in mind already. Once you are ready to pitch your script, you can find some tips here.
Maybe you couldn't nail down a “name” that will draw an audience. What do you do then? You have a couple options: Drive down your cost as much as you can so you can increase the likelihood you’ll have a good return on investment. Show proof of concept beyond attaching a name. This can be accomplished by: creating a short film (that you could enter into film festivals), providing visual concepts, or another creative way of proving you have an audience/following like a blog or some sort of opinion poll (depending on the topic) social media has some great tools. I, myself, am experimenting with a few different blog ideas to see if this approach has merit. I’ll keep you updated. Just because you hit a bump in the road, doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. There’s always a creative workaround. Maybe you don’t want to compromise the budget on your film because of the nature of the story, it may require a lot of CGI. That’s fine, I get that. In that case, consider saving your indie film with a copyright or registering it with WGA and come back to it once you’ve built up your resume enough to get the names attached. In the meantime, write something your resume can handle. Maybe something that could even be a crowdfunded film. OR make a crowdfunded short film related to your feature film that you could throw into your Pitch Deck as a “pitch video” providing both a proof of concept by visual aid and proof of interest by the crowd that funded it.
Filmmaking is fun and filmmaking is a pain in the butt. Compromise where you can, increase your creativity and strategy, work hard and make something you’re proud of. It’s a long road from concept to script writing to investment to production to marketing and distribution. Even the biggest names and best funded, established production companies take years to get to their finished products. Keep moving forward.