Film Financing

Film financing and financing movies for independent filmmakers is one of the most challenging aspects of the movie making process. You can have the greatest screenplay, the most talented cast and stellar movie locations – but without movie money, you are just another would-be filmmaker with a dream and a passion. The film finance articles at Filmmaking Stuff provide tips on how to view independent filmmaking as a business.

How To Make It In Hollywood

If you want to know how to make it Hollywood, you’re obviously not alone. It is easy to dream about becoming the next Hollywood hotshot. You get to town and everybody around you is doing amazing things. Typical conversations revolve around careers in entertainment:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a director.”

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I met these people a lot. We went to fancy cocktail parties, all of us wondering how to make it in Hollywood, posing as if we already had awesome careers. I naturally assumed that, like me, my creative colleagues went home and worked all night on their projects.

But as I am sure you can imagine, that wasn’t the case.

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Photo © tsuneomp / Dollar Photo Club

How To Make It In Hollywood

In the years since, I now realize Hollywood has a way of filtering out people who are not serious about the work. As I started getting more and more legitimate entertainment gigs, many of my dream-filled friends stopped dreaming and left Hollywood.

The reason for this is simple. I think many hopefuls discover a secret few are willing to share about Hollywood success. The idea you can somehow “make it in Hollywood” is totally flawed. It leads many hopefuls to believe that all you gotta do is win some sort of career lottery and you’re set for life.

This is not true. Your Hollywood success will be defined by your ability to churn out multiple projects over the course of your career. Heck, even my most successful friends still have to hustle.

The only way you can truly make it in Hollywood is by doing the work!

And then doing it again and again.

And this is good news. Thanks to technology like YouTube and inexpensive camera gear, there has never been a easier time to make, market and share your work with the world. You don’t have to ask for permission. In fact, you should NEVER ask for permission to be successful.

In terms of a real world example, you will have a hard time finding someone that works harder than indie film producer Tom Malloy. If you don’t know Tom, he is an actor and a filmmaker. But what makes him unique is his never ending hustle.

When he couldn’t get acting gigs, Tom Malloy simply decided to produce his own movies and then cast himself among other, more well known actors. His efforts paid off. To date he is responsible for raising over 25 million dollars to produce his movie projects!

Obviously I wanted to find out how to do what he does. So that’s why I was relentless in getting Tom to help me create the Film Finance Guide. And in the guide we actually role play what it is like to cold call and get a meeting with a prospective movie investor.

But my point is simple. If you want to find out how to make it in Hollywood, you really only have to follow three distinct laws.

  1. Create solid Hollywood relationships.
  2. Maintain a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable.
  3. Hone your ability for picking up the phone and cold calling.

Since Tom and I launched the Film Fiance Guide, many filmmakers have participated in the program. The positive feedback has been overwhelming. However, every so often I receive emails from Hollywood Hopefuls asking if Tom would simply provide them with his list of investors.

One woman in-particular asked me to find her an investor, and then pitch her movie idea for her.

I don’t need to tell you why this the the wrong approach. This woman is a Hollywood dreamer. She’s asking other people to do the work for her. And this is why Hollywood dreamers fail fast.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Getting a project off the ground is challenging. Maintaining Hollywood success is even more challenging. You face a lot of rejection. And nobody is going to do it for you.

Sooner or later, YOU will have to decide if doing the work is worth it for you. And doing the work is the real secret on how to make it in Hollywood!

How To Find Movie Investors

A lot of filmmakers are looking for movie investors.

Many of these filmmakers are looking for movie investors in the wrong place.

Living here in Hollywood, I can tell you that most hopefuls hold the misguided belief that there is some secret list of movie investors who can’t wait to hand over hard earned cash to filmmakers. And the truth is, these places exist. And they aren’t so secret.

Ready?

The popular movie investors are Universal, Paramount and Fox.

The problem is, everybody wants a piece of their action. And while navigating the studio system is one way to find movie investors, it’s impracticable and slow for most newbies.

Instead I would invite you to look elsewhere. While it’s true that many movie investors are here in LA, there are prospective business investors in just about every state and every country on earth. In fact, according to this article in LA Times, there are now 9.63 million millionaires in the United States.

This means you don’t have to look very far to find, introduce yourself and build business relationships with people who could conceivably invest in your movie.

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How To Find Movie Investors

The challenge in finding movie investors is taking time to reach out through your network and find out who you need to telephone. And assuming you get traction, your next goal is to convince a traditional investor that joining the bandwagon of movie investors is a good idea.

There are two tools you can use to find movie investors.

  1. Your network.
  2. Your telephone.

When I tell you to leverage your network, I mean just that. You may not know this, but you know someone who knows someone who has enough money to be considered an accredited investor.

Once you locate a prospective movie investor, your next goal is to grab your phone, call their professional office and ask for a meeting. This is known as a cold call.

While this type of telephone prospecting can feel scary – Take comfort in the fact that your prospective investor gets these types of pitches every day.

In fact, what we are talking about is similar to any entrepreneur working to get a start up off the ground. Your start up just happens to be an indie film. And like any start-up entrepreneur, you are approaching prospects (prospective movie investors) who are new to filmmaking.

From their perspective, you, your movie and your movie business is a new concept. As a consequence, many of your first meetings will be spent educating and building trust. And this could mean a very long process.

It is during this time that many filmmakers give up. They pull-the-plug on prospecting too early, lose momentum and fail to get their movie funded.

I am sad to say this, but many filmmakers will quit at the first challenge.

Maybe you make a telephone call to a prospective movie investor and he fails to return the call. Or you get hung up on. Or his assistant says “he’s in a meeting.”

Maybe it’s something else…

And if you have never cold-called a prospect before, you may give up before you even start.

Crowdfunding To Prove Your Concept

One of the reasons prospective investors do not invest is because of risk. Even though you are convinced your movie will be the next Paranormal Activity, many movie investors may think differently.

Odds are good they are comparing your movie to other, less risky investments like real estate or the stock market.

To mitigate your risk, you will need to include elements that attract an audience. I talk a lot about this in my guide to distribution. But for the sake of this article, it’s important to know that having “name” talent as well as a clear marketing plan can help put prospective movie investors at ease.

The other part of your initial plan should involve crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to pitch your movie ideas to crowds of people online, who are enthusiastic about sponsoring movie projects.

Many filmmakers try to raise their entire budget via crowdfunding and fail. I do not recommend this. Instead, consider limiting your crowdfunding campaign to a few thousand dollars.

Why? Because if your movie has a real budget, you are going to need real money outside of the crowds. In this context, the more important reason to utilize crowdfunding is to test your movie concept and source your initial audience.

Going into a pitch with a prospective movie investor is much stronger with a successful crowdfunding campaign under your belt.

“We just tested the concept and essentially pre-sold over one-thousand units!”

A successful crowdfunding campaign allows you to prove there is an interest for your movie in the marketplace. And because you have already garnered a few thousand dollars, you now have a much greater incentive to finish what you start – You wouldn’t want to let your sponsors down, right?

While there are no guarantees in business, especially the independent movie business – having the ability to test your concept, source an initial audience and set up shop in the many popular video on demand marketplaces might just help you move prospective movie investors to invest now, instead of later.

If you would like more information on how to find and build relationships with prospective investors, you might want to check out my get movie money guide. In the guide, you will get valuable step-by-step tips on how to build relationships with rich and successful people in your home town. Find out more here.

How The Short Film ‘The Garden’ Raised Over $14,497 On Kickstarter

The Garden is a short sci-fi film we set out to shoot independently in New York City in the beginning of March 2015. The film, originally written for the Directing Workshop for Women at the AFI, tells a story about a rebellious ballerina Luc stuck in the Garden—a post-apocalyptic transitional camp where humans get converted into Artificial Intelligence constructs in order to survive.

Luc is a gifted but rebellious young dancer, and she would rather die than conform. But when she meets an odd robot-boy Azul, the idea of integrating into a better version of herself and living forever suddenly sounds tempting.

The Garden

How The Garden Raised Over $14,497 On Kickstarter

We launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film to raise 50% of the budget.  The whole budget is $23,000, which is not low for a 14-minute film. We knew, however, that in order to create a compelling post-apocalyptic world, we’d need the money.

The campaign began shortly after Thanksgiving and was designed to last two months to account for the difficult holiday period. By the end of week six, IndieWire picked The Garden as their Project of the Day, Yahoo listed it as one of the “5 coolest crowdfunding projects” of January 2015. From there we received an endorsement from Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay who described its future world as “being realized with a lot of independent ingenuity by Natalia Iyudin and her collaborators.”

How We Got Attention

Much of this modest success can be attributed to the fact that we worked very hard on creating a series of teasers that would focus less on us as filmmakers raising funds for their dream project, but more on the style, feel and story of The Garden. Our vision was inspired by Solaris and Blade Runner with a tough female protagonist at the center.

We also loved the idea of creating a look evocative of a totalitarian regime—the tyranny of robots—along the lines of Orwell’s 1984 and Soviet propaganda. We wanted to create a futuristic world that’s inviting and cinematic, but decided that we can leave certain things ambiguous as long as we suggest a compelling conflict and mood.

Our Biggest Challenge

The most time-consuming and pricey part of preproduction turned out to be the art department: from costumes to wigs, to reflective contact lenses ordered from the UK, which arrived the night before the scheduled shoot.

We hand picked every detail to make a perfect robot. Kristy Strate, a phenomenal make-up artist, worked for an hour before we started shooting to turn Heather Hollingsworth’s face into a blank, soulless mask.

We filmed the four teasers in the course of one cold day at a legendary, abandoned train station in New Jersey secured by our producer, Marta Harasymowicz, which fit perfectly with our vision of an industrial garden turned into a futuristic prison. Heather, who also co-created the concepts for all four teasers, plays the A.I. doctor. We looked to Tilda Swinton for inspiration, but also wanted the acting to be creepy-sweet.

Planning Our Production

We had two set ups: one for The Doc, and one for the ballerina Luc. Because the film is still in the process of casting, the girl playing Luc is turned away from the camera.

The other three teasers, which were released at different points of the film’s Kickstarter campaign, were focused on The Doc only, as she discusses different aspects of being an A.I. It was relatively simple to shoot all of it at once and the static shots are not hard to execute.

They just need to be well composed to keep production value high. The visual design, which was created by Hypatia Porter, was used by director/animator Bartek Kulas as the background, with superimposed logos and propaganda posters, all animated in After Effects. Director of Photography Autumn Eakin used her Sony PMWF50 and only two lights (including a ring light) drawing juice from a simple generator.

Post Production

We cut all four pieces, did color and special effects in two days. Sound design took the longest, with recording Dmitry Iyudin’s haunting score inspired by Twin Peaks, Drive and Stalker, and Benjamin Horn’s original mix of spectral sounds and resonant special effects.

You can become one of the co-creators of this Kickstarter Staff Pick project by backing it: http://kck.st/1s9CjB4

– –

Natalia Iyudin is a New York City based Writer/Director, Film Curator, and Editor, as well as a member of Film Fatales, a prestigious collective of US film directors. Her short films, documentaries, and music videos screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Oberhausen Film Festival, Starz Denver Film Festival, and aired on Direct TV and Current TV. She has collaborated with MTV, PBS, MoMA, National Gallery of Art, San Francisco Film Society, SONY Pictures Classics, and Film Society of Lincoln Center.

5 Questions For Indie Film Funding

Finding Indie Film Funding is one of the most challenging aspects of getting your movie made.

While there are many reasons that prevent you from closing the deal, if you find your pitch is consistently rejected, you may need to take a look at your marketing plan. While I am sure your plan cites how a half-dozen comparable (successful) movies were sold and distributed, most savvy investors will agree that movie comps are malarkey.

Reducing investor risk requires that you go a little further.

If you’re like most filmmakers, odds are good you haven’t taken time to plan out a marketing, sales and distribution plan that YOU control. And without a refined strategy on how to get your movie into the marketplace, you simply do not have a business. You have a very risky hobby.

As a general rule, most investors would rather invest in businesses over hobbies.

Finding indie film funding gets a lot less complicated (notice I didn’t use the word easier) when you take time to view your movie like a traditional business. This means you will need to answer some tough business related questions.

indie film funding

Photo © Sergey Nivens / Dollar Photo Club

5 Questions For Indie Film Funding

So here are the 5 questions for indie film funding. Take some time to really answer each question:

  1. Who is Your Target Audience?
  2. How Large is Your Target Audience?
  3. How Will You Reach Your Target Audience?
  4. What is Your Marketing Strategy?
  5. How Many VOD Sales to Break Even?

These questions are not easy to answer. This is because each movie is different. And each movie requires a unique approach. But if you take the time to answer these questions, you may leapfrog all the other yahoos who are just winging it.

If you are looking for indie film funding, you may benefit from the Film Finance Guide.

No-Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

Like it or lump it, there are a lot of backyard indies being made each year. Thanks to inexpensive production technology, no-budget filmmaking is not only possible, but has become the norm for many first time feature filmmakers, web series producers, YouTube artists and short filmmakers.

These days any filmmaker with passion and a story can make a movie. And unlike years past, backyard indie filmmakers are not prohibited by cash or creativity.

Yet despite the no-budget filmmaking movement, many of my high profile “professional” friends in Los Angeles, have made a conscious effort to ignore the rise of backyard indies. Why?

Because no-budget filmmaking isn’t real! (At least, that’s what some of the old school pros would tell you.) When it comes to no-budget filmmaking, some common questions asked by these Hollywood hot-shots are:

  1. Who signed the SAG agreements?
  2. Who contacted the Unions?
  3. Who notified the MPAA?
  4. Where is your theatrical distribution deal?
  5. Who do you think you are?

Good questions. Why don’t you go back in time and ask Roger Corman!

But the thing is, if you create a good movie – Your audience doesn’t care if the movie was an official union indie or a backyard indie made for pocket change.

no budget filmmaking

Photo © Jacek Krol / Dollar Photo Club

No Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

The demise of traditional DVD distribution coupled with the growing market domination of iTunes, Amazon and Netflix had leveled the playing field. The big difference between a $10,000 backyard indie and a $2,000,000 dollar indie isn’t the budget – The difference revolves around the film that gets the most eyeballs (and sales).

Think about it. Hitting breakeven on a 2M feature is going to require a lot of sales.

As a rough example, to recoup 2M dollars, the filmmaker will need to to sell (roughly) 200,000 video on demand downloads at $10 a pop. These first sales will cover the 40% cost allocated to VOD providers (the real winners here), after which, the filmmaker will still need to sell an additional 200,000 downloads to repay the investors.

400,000 VOD downloads x $10 = $4,000,000 minus $2,000,000 in VOD fees = the initial $2,000,000

Meanwhile, through no-budget filmmaking, a backyard indie only has to sell 2000 VOD downloads to recover the initial 10K costs.

While nobody wants to make movies for pocket change, many filmmakers still believe we can somehow continually produce unprofitable (movie) products and expect the money and the subsequent jobs to keep rolling in.

And unlike years past, filmmakers can no longer approach investors with the cliche pitch: “Filmmaking is a risky investment – if we are lucky, we might win Sundance and get a deal.”

Now, with transparent distribution options available to all filmmakers, that line of give-me-money reasoning is reckless, no longer applicable, and in my opinion, unethical. And for these reasons, no-budget filmmaking makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the initial challenge of sales and marketing, the ripple effect reveals an even greater conundrum:

How will you raise enough money to pay your cast and crew AND still pay back your investors?

I mean, what’s the new sweet spot?

How can we once again make independent filmmaking profitable?

“I CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY MY CAST AND CREW. WHAT DO I DO?”

Here is the modern moviemaking model on how to save the movie industry.

(And you thought this was going to be your typical no-budget filmmaking article.)

To survive in this ever changing world of indie filmmaking, we have to change our strategy.

Instead of focusing on making that one big awesome indie, we now need to focus on building a genre specific movie library and spend all of our downtime building a ginormously targeted email list.

Step 1: Find your top-ten closest filmmaking collaborators. Form a company.

Step 2: Write a business plan, but instead of putting all of your focus on making one movie, concentrate on making 3-5 feature films.

Step 3: Make sure that you include a sales and marketing plan for each movie. To do this, take your proposed budget for all movies and work backwards. Start asking yourself, “How many units do we need to sell to recoup our investment?”

Step 4: In this model, instead of paying freelance day rates, you’ll have to hire long term employees and provide each with a salary and back end points (sort of like stock options) on each title.

Step 5: When the title wins, you all win. Over the years, your titles will add up. And the real compensation will come back in the form of residual movie income.

While this is not a fully refined model, it’s a start.

In my opinion, creating a sustainable business model is better than ignoring no-budget filmmaking and pretending backyard indies are not real movies.

We are experiencing a time of change.

This is the indie movie distribution equivalent of the automobile replacing the horse drawn wagon.

You can choose to ignore this movement, and you can probably succeed for a few more years. But there will come a day when all entertainment will be on-demand and cheap to produce and cheap to consume.

The question is, will you ignore the no-budget filmmaking movement and continue to play your distribution lottery ticket in hopes of winning the dream deal, or will you  join the movement and help us filmmakers figure out a way to make indie movies profitable?

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