How To Overcome Your Indie Filmmaking Challenges

Over the past year, we have seen a lot of developments in the indie filmmaking space. New technology coupled with non-discriminatory distribution has enabled many would-be filmmakers to finally get a feature made and distributed.

While most of us in the indie filmmaking community welcome these changes – The downside to these innovations is the market is now saturated with backyard indies.

The other day I asked members of the Filmmaking Stuff Facebook community to describe their biggest indie filmmaking challenges. Minutes later, it became clear that the most glaring obstacles revolved around:

  1. Film Finance
  2. Movie distribution.

This seems right. Like you, there was once a time when I had no idea on how to finance, make, market, sell and distribute a movie. I remember spending countless hours reading everything I could get my hands on. Most of those filmmaking resources let me down. None of them helped me overcome my particular indie filmmaking challenges.

So I decided to address both points below and offer solid solutions you can utilize to get your movie made, seen and selling.

indie filmmaking

Indie Filmmaking Challenge – Film Finance

You know you need money to make a movie. Your indie filmmaking challenge here is obviously finding the money.

Read any of the books out there and the solution almost always involves some ridiculous scenarios where you either hire a seasoned producer to raise the money (wouldn’t that be nice) or find someone with disposable income, like a doctor or dentist. I’m sure you heard this useless crap too. I am tired of it.

So here is your non-magical solution to film finance. Notice I DID NOT say easy. What I’m about to share is not easy. I am sorry. If you don’t like a challenge, choose another profession or simply buy another indie filmmaking book that promises fame and fortune. But for those of you wiling to do the work, here are the steps for raising money:

  1. Write or acquire a great script.
  2. Break your script into a schedule and budget.
  3. Create a business plan that outlines how you will make, market and sell the movie.
  4. Have a lawyer draft a Private Placement Memorandum.
  5. Approach prospective investors and ask for the money.

While the entire indie film finance process can be broken down into five basic steps, it may take you months or even a year or more to get your movie fully financed. At this stage, your indie filmmaking challenge is to decide if you want to keep going, or perhaps save your blockbuster for another time and focus on making a smaller movie now. I personally think it’s better to make a feature than wait. But only you can decide what’s right for you.

Regardless of the scope and scale of your project, most prospective investors will want to know how they will benefit from your movie. Tom Malloy talks about this quite a bit in our film finance guide – But the basic thing to remember is that each prospective investor is looking for a different payoff. Some want a financial return. But some simply want to get involved in the movies.

It is important that you do more listening than talking. Figure out what the investor wants and then provide that.

In all scenarios, investors will likely ask what your plans are for marketing, sales and distribution. And that leads me to address the next point in your biggest indie filmmaking challenge – Distribution.

Indie Filmmaking Challenge – Distribution

There was a time when film distribution required someone picking up your move in exchange for a tremendous outlay of cash. Those days are over. Thousands of filmmakers flood the market with cheaply produced backyard indies. DVD distribution has been replaced by VOD distribution. And traditional distributors (with minor exception) no longer offer minimum guarantees.

filmmaking_challenge_solved

The cast of Special Dead.

Sounds pretty wacky, right? Wrong.

Many traditional distributors still pretend it’s 1995 and avenues to the marketplace are limited. But this is not true. Getting onto iTunes or Amazon or any number of VOD outlets is simply a matter of choosing one of the popular encoding houses and shelling out a few thousand bucks.

I cover a lot of this in my indie guide to digital distribution. But the bottom line is, you no longer need a traditional distributor to grant you access to these marketplaces. (Especially if the deal is not good!)

Here are your steps to distribute your movie:

  1. Create a marketing plan and launch strategy. (Note: This should be part of your initial business plan.)
  2. Get your movie onto popular VOD platforms like Amazon, iTunes and Pivotshare (and others).
  3. Come up with an advertising strategy that pays for itself and provides a profit.

Once again, I oversimplified this. Your indie filmmaking challenge with distribution is creating a strategy that makes sense for your movie. You need to move enough units of your movie to show a profit. Otherwise, you will be operating at a loss. And nobody wants to lose money… Because that’s not a real business.

If you’re like most indie filmmakers, you want me to prove that this works. You want Video On Demand Sales Projections to show your prospective investors. The truth is, most investors will see your projections as fluff. The reason is simple – Just because The Polish Brothers were able to have one of the highest grossing movies on iTunes does not mean that your movie will have similar success.

There. I said it.

More important than any VOD sales projections is figuring out how you will leverage VOD sales, to sell more movies. In short, there are some old fashioned direct mail formulas that will serve as an awesome starting point for actual scenarios. You can utilize these in your business plans. And savvy investors will understand.

You need to plan both your financing and distribution strategy as if you are your own mini studio. Because you are. If you plan to make, market and sell movies – you now have the technological firepower to take your filmmaking dreams to the big screen. And the best part? You don’t need to ask me or any other film professional for permission.

But you have to take action and make things happen.

What is your biggest indie filmmaking challenge? Feel free to tweet this and comment below.

 

 

5 Tips On Independent Film Financing

If you’re looking for independent film financing, take a number.

Every filmmaker on earth wants an easy solution for finding the money.

It’s a BIG challenge. (But you already know this!)

In the years since I started, social media and various crowdfunding platforms like Seed&Spark, Indiegogo and Kickstarter have emerged with the goal of accelerating the independent film financing process. And while these tools aim to make the process easier, you will still need to infuse your efforts with resilience, passion and a game plan.

And here’s the deal. . . Even guys like Tom Malloy (who’s raised over 25M to produce his own movies) would agree that there is no easy solution to independent film financing.

Any person who says there is a “done for you” solution that requires absolutely no work on your part is a fibber.

(Please note: With the proper strategy the independent film financing process can get a little easier. Especially when you create a game plan. But getting the money will still involve pitching and possible rejection.)

And before we start talking about independent film financing tips, let me provide a little context.

I don’t know about you – but when I was starting out, I knew nothing about independent film financing. I met with quite a few “producers” who were happy to drill me for information. They wanted to know what I knew. . .  But for some odd reason, they refused to share their film financing secrets with me.

That aspect of the process was a bit annoying.

But through the years I uncovered a fundamental truth about independent film financing. . . Ready?

Each indie film is a start up. And because start-ups usually depend upon raising money, the process of raising money is nothing new. This means most prospective investors are used to hearing business pitches.

Independent Film Financing

The traditional ways people raise money in the United States, aside from going to a bank and getting a loan (which I wouldn’t recommend as an independent film financing strategy),  usually works like this:

  1. Meet with an attorney and put together some complex paperwork (which includes a private placement memorandum) in-line with the Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.
  2. Creating relationships and meeting with prospective investors.
  3. Asking for money – and then getting the check!

While I distilled the whole independent film financing process down to the bare essentials, each step will involve considerable time and effort on your part. My suggestion here is to plan for more than a few months of heavy (and I mean HEAVY) grinding.

How much money do you need to raise? Do you need a few million to make it? Or can your project be made for much less?

This budget factor alone will highly influence your strategy. Just keep in mind – If you’ve worked really hard to eliminate costs in your budget, then it’s possible to make a fancy looking movie for much less than you think.

Risk Versus Reward

It’s not enough to have a movie project. What you need to constantly ask yourself is: “What’s in it for the investor?” In other words, given all the other investment opportunities like stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate – Why should your prospective investor dump their money into your project.

This comes down to risk versus reward. In the game of independent film financing, you will need to ethically convince your prospective investor that no other investment (at this time) offers the same benefits. How will you personally eliminate risks and increase the reward? (Each investor has a unique risk tolerance.)

5 Tips On Independent Film Financing

Lets take a look at some traditional action steps for independent film financing:

  1. Cultivate a legitimate friendships with rich and successful people.
  2. Get an attorney to write up something called a private placement memorandum.
  3. Figure out how you’ll spend the money (Hint, this is your movie budget!)
  4. Figure out how you’ll get the money back.
  5. Over a million and you may run into some trouble getting a return on your investment.

Independent Film FinancingNow again. Raising money is a super simple subject (just find rich people and ask for the money) – but the laws and rules and regulations mean that you’ll need to know a few things about protecting yourself and your business from liability.

If you’re looking for more independent film financing resources, you may want to check out the system I produced with Tom Malloy. Check out our film finance guide by going here.

 

Independent Film Business Plan

Creating an independent film business plan allows you to fully understand the business aspects of your project. You will want to outline your budget and show how the money will be spent. You will also highlight your team, your objectives and importantly, your marketing, sales and distribution strategy. Completing an independent film business plan is a great step towards getting the money,  but this is not the only step.

In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission was set up to protect uninformed investors from scams. With the creation of the SEC, several laws, regulations and guidelines have been put in place to protect the innocent. In order to stay compliant you will need to talk with a qualified entertainment attorney who focuses on securities law. The reason for this is simple. You want your movie project to be taken seriously.

With your attorney’s help, building off the information outlined in your business plan, you will create a set of documents called a private placement memorandum. Your PPM will outline the goals for your movie. It will explain the possible upside to your project, but more importantly, it will help prospective investors understand the inherent risks. The name of the game is compliance, transparency and trust.

In addition to creating a PPM, your attorney will probably advise you to set up a legal business entity such as a corporation or limited liability company. While most anybody can bring litigation against you at any time, it is important that you find ways to keep your movie business separate from your personally assets. Taking this step is essential and worth the far more than the price you pay for the paperwork.

If you need help writing an independent film business plan, this this resource may help. And if you have the plan, but need help creating relationships with prospective investors – this film funding resource may help.

How NOT To Get Your Screenplay Read

Get Your Screenplay Read

Get Your Screenplay Read. Image via Wikipedia

A few years back I finished the first draft of my first screenplay ever. Like a lot of folks who dream of Hollywood success, I was eager to share my work with the world. Problem was, I had no idea what I was doing.

Through a friend of a friend, I was put in contact with an “entertainment attorney.” I put the words in quotes because while there are tons of people with a strong work ethic and great integrity, this particular guy was not one of them.

I remember getting off the phone. I was super excited because this guy had agreed to read my screenplay and offer me feedback. So like most writers, I sent off my screenplay – packaged with the appropriate cardstock cover and two brass brads… And a few weeks later I get a email:

“Jason. Thanks for sending me your screenplay. I read it. Because you want to produce your own movie, I think you will need a lawyer who understands how to put together a private placement memorandum. And also, while we did not talk about this prior, you owe me $250 dollars for the hour I spent reading your script. Please send me a check ASAP.”

These days I would tell him to go “F” himself. But back then, I had no idea what I was doing. So I sent him his money. And to make it even worse, $250 dollars represented an entire week’s salary.

The whole point of this is – if someone agrees to do you a “favor,” it’s best to get reciprocal expectations in writing.